02:07PM, Wednesday 10 November 2021
The council has taken a first look at what changes may need to be made for its future budget to save money in the midst of its ongoing financial crisis.
At an Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting last Thursday, councillors looked into the council’s expenditure in 2021/22 and possible money-saving moves for its draft 2022/23 budget.
A report highlighted that the cost of updating the council’s Telephony system and agency staff placements have contributed to costs of around £387,000, while it is facing legacy costs of £265,000 for customer services.
Though these are offset by the COVID grant from the Government, staff costs continue to eat up some of these savings.
While business support has a projected underspend of £200,000, this is offset by an equivalent overspend on governance.
ICT is also overspending to the tune of £100,000, with an equivalent underspend in HR.
More work needs to be undertaken on automation and self-service, the committee heard.
Due to the council’s current financial pressures, it is looking to start ‘bearing down’ on certain services, said leader of the council James Swindlehurst (Labour & Co-Operative, Cippenham Green).
For example, the council is looking to save money by ceasing subscriptions of digital communications platforms (such as BlueJeans) it no longer uses.
Some savings could also be made in building management costs. 2021/22 saw £535,000 spent on this, partly down to cleaning regimes as a result of COVID measures.
These could be trimmed as more people are vaccinated, the committee heard.
As well as needing to invest in upgrades to its IT systems, the council had to recruit staff to address current ‘significant technical skills gaps’.
It has ‘struggled’ to recruit certain team members and has ‘critical’ capacity gaps where it cannot afford to have a vacancy.
The training of staff ‘remains a challenge’, which will be addressed over the next year.
The council is also finding it cannot fill vacancies in its democratic services.
It is hoped that around £440,000 of savings can be made from deleting posts the council cannot fill, then shifting existing staff around, in departments such as human resources.
“We can live within our means and have leaner, fitter HR function going forward. Before we have padded things out with agency (staff),” said Cllr Swindlehurst.
But hiring changes will present ‘significant recruitment challenges’ in social work functions, particularly in children’s services, he added.
Another of the identified weaknesses has been the effective monitoring of contracts, said Cllr Swindlehurst, including legal contracts.
There are also plans to dispose of ‘significant levels’ of the council’s assets in the New Year.