H&F has managed to produce substantial savings by competitively tendering council services, cutting waste and bureaucracy and by introducing new ways of smarter working. “As a council we want to focus on delivering high quality public services and cutting red tape and inefficiency,” said Councillor Greenhalgh. “That’s why we have been given the highest rating of four stars by the Audit Commission for the quality of our services and that’s why resident satisfaction is up for the second year in a row.”
Around £90 million worth of services are being market tested in a bid to drive up standards while reducing the cost to taxpayers. “We expect this to yield up to £10 million of efficiency savings without impacting frontline services,” said Councillor
Greenhalgh. For example, grounds maintenance for parks and open spaces is to be awarded to Quadron, saving up to £200,000 while improving the quality of the service. The result will bring about improvements to grass cutting, tree maintenance, weeding and the planting of shrubs and bulbs.
Meanwhile, more than £4m has been saved in agency costs, reducing the budget from £24m to £19.6m. In fact, the very first cost saving move was to cut personal advisers to Cabinet Members – at an immediate saving of over £300,000 a year. Savings have also been made in other backroom operations – for example by allowing people to renew parking permits online. Overall the council’s award winning Customer Access Strategy has delivered £4m in savings while substantially improving our service to customers.
Smarter working has also paved the way for a reduction in office space, saving taxpayers £468,000. "And it has achieved this at a time when official government
figures show it is delivering better services for the taxpayer,” added Councillor Greenhalgh. This week the Taxpayers’ Alliance highlighted H&F as an example for other local authorities to follow by reducing expenditure on communications. Cuts in spending include a £300,000 saving on the Council’s newspaper, partly from increased income on commercial advertising, and £300,000 saving by contracting out print services.
While cutting tax, the Council is pumping in £1.5m as part of a £4m investment over two years in 24-hour policing in town centres. H&F is also planning to invest £1.5m in parks in 2008/9. Clean streets, recycling, tackling anti-social behaviour and promoting affordable home ownership remain top priorities, along with improving health, and planning for £100m of investment in secondary schools under the Council’s vision to make H&F a ‘borough of opportunity’.
“Apart from cutting tax, this is a council with a real vision for what kind of borough we want,” said Councillor Greenhalgh. “We are investing in schools of choice with 21st century educational facilities, we are determined to increase the number of affordable homes across the borough and we want to regenerate and renew run down our most deprived areas by unlocking high land values.”
Following last year’s three per cent reduction, H&F Council’s value for money approval rating rose 16 per cent, according to the 2007 annual residents’ survey. Hammersmith & Fulham’s Audit Commission rating also increased from three stars to the top-rated four stars. Councillor Greenhalgh concluded: “This shows once and for all that you can reduce the tax burden on residents while improving the way the council runs things.”
Well done to Stephen Greenhalgh and his team. Their example is one that many other councils up and down the country could learn from.