Budget Proposal from The Reform Group

The following press release was issued this morning to the local newspapers and privately funded adverts will appear in them over the next several days. The full budget paper can be downloaded at the link below. This can still be the subject of change between now and 11 February, the day on which the council budget needs to be agreed. If you have comments or alternative proposals, please feel free to make these.

BUDGET PAPER DOWNLOAD>   budget paper 20 january 16

ARGYLL & BUTE COUNCIL

REFORM GROUP PRESS RELEASE

For immediate use

The Reform Group on Argyll & Bute Council (Cllrs Dance, Breslin and Marshall) have been working on an alternative budget for some time and we are now pleased to make this public.

Council officers have still to make some final comments on technical aspects of our budget but we release this now because the broad thrust of our proposals will not alter even if some elements of it do. It is also released now to allow anyone reading it to make comment on it as there is time to amend it before the council meeting on 11 February where the council budget will be agreed.

The council’s Service Choices process is widely accepted as being flawed. Audit Scotland criticised it in their recent Best Value report but the council administration’s budget proposals will be based on that flawed and visionless process. Our view is that their proposals will be damaging to our area.

Our alternative budget proposes radical reform of the council by:

  • Decentralising the council to the 4 area committees to the maximum possible extent and thereby making decision making local again as well as service delivery.
  • Reducing the corporate management costs of the council by some £1.4m.
  • Reducing unnecessary travel to and from Kilmory through decentralisation and a greatly increased use of technology.
  • Initiating a ground up review of all budgets from April this year by involving local staff, service users and our customers, the business and people of Argyll & Bute.
  • Moving the council over the next year to a position where year on year cuts after that will not be necessary based on current forecasts.

The reduction in funding means we need to save £10m+ in the coming year. Our budget achieves this and the full detail is attached. The contacts for any queries are:

 

Cllr Michael Breslin

michael.breslin@argyll-bute.gov.uk          01369 707 165

Cllr Vivien Dance

vivien.dance@argyll-bute.gov.uk               01436 658 780

Cllr Bruce Marshall

bruce.marshall@argyll-bute.gov.uk           01369 707 154

20 January 2016

Alternative Budget from Reform Group

I had hoped to publish our alternative budget proposals this morning but this needs to be put on hold for a day or so.

We gave strategic finance staff a copy of the draft on 8 January and were told on Friday afternoon last week  that “there may be some competency issues”. I am not sure what these are but we have agreed to let strategic finance share the draft with Mrs Loudon as chief executive and Mr Hendry as monitoring officer. We have asked that they respond by close of business today.

There will be an update later tomorrow with either our budget being published or an explanation as to what the issues with it might be.

Meanwhile, there’s not been any response from Cllrs Walsh or Morton to the email they were sent on Friday morning last week which can be seen on this blog dated Friday last week.

Dunoon Gourock Ferry and How Argyll & Bute Works

 

I was intending to follow up the theme of the last blog but the work on an alternative budget got in the way. This will appear here early next week.

In the meantime something else has arisen that I believe the public needs to know about. I was prompted this morning to write to Cllrs Dick Walsh and Ellen Morton after several totally frustrating weeks of trying to get some sense into the charges we levy at Dunoon Pier. I failed, of course. There is no need to say other than what was in today’s email. The email follows and this was copied to all councillors. I have had to insert the word BLANK below  because the scandal I identified about BLANK  has so far been kept secret by the council so I don’t wish to give them the opportunity to submit another complaint against me. The attachment referred to in the email can be found at the link below.

paper on harbour charges

Dick and Ellen, my view is that your stance yesterday over the charges we levy at Dunoon for the ferry service was yet another sign of both corporate and personal failure. I am copying all councillors in because they need to know about this. Mind you,  previous failures reported to my fellow councillors seem to have fallen on mostly deaf ears. Here’s a summary:

·         We make a public commitment in 2013 to the consultants commissioned by the Scottish Government to assess the route’s viability, saying we will review the charging structure. http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/report/j278759-00.htm Nothing is done.

·         We are told in 2014 by the ferry action group that we are losing money hand over fist on the route and, in effect, handing the operator a hidden subsidy of about a quarter of a million pounds per annum. Nothing is done.

·         I write to Ellen and the harbour board on 25 November asking that we treat the review of harbour charges at Dunoon as a matter of urgency. It’s urgent because our charges are far too low for a passenger service (ie we lose money and favour a passenger only service) and far too high for a vehicle and passenger service, (ie we deter vehicle and passenger bidders). I don’t get a reply.

·         I write again on 14 December because the issue was raised at Dunoon Community Council. Ellen replies the next day saying the charges will be on the agenda for the harbour board yesterday. My hopes are raised.

·         Officers, on 7 January, confirm the claim from 2014 (yes, almost 2 years later) that we are indeed losing money at Dunoon to the tune of £5,500 a week. This is £287k per year or £1.7m over the contract Argyll Ferries have. You would think this huge loss in itself would initiate an urgent review but not here.

·         On the same day, I see the papers for yesterday’s meeting and they don’t remotely address the urgency of the Dunoon harbour charges. My email to the harbour board on 25 November has been ignored. What is proposed instead is a rather leisurely review of all charges despite the imminent tender of the Dunoon Gourock route. I prepare a paper on Wednesday and send it to Ellen (attached) and call her that evening. She tells me “senior officers” have advised her this tender is a Scottish Government one and not really a matter for us, ignoring the fact we’re the monopoly owner of the only port this side of the Clyde and one with a charging regime based on financial fantasy rather than fact. I get nowhere.

I attend yesterday’s meeting and explain as well as I can the above and attached. Dick doesn’t speak till near the end of the debate which you know means he wants to stick the knife in. (Dick represents the Dunoon ward in case anyone has forgotten.) Dick does stick the knife in, supports Ellen, and in so doing makes absurd claims about any additional charges we might make to Argyll Ferries being passed on to the paying public.

Ellen sticks to her guns and my request to treat the matter as urgent is kicked into touch.

Dick and Ellen, as I said to the other members of the harbour board, the measure of any organisation is how flexible it is to variation in demand. You have both demonstrated that you just don’t get this concept at all. That failure to be agile and responsive has been a feature of this council for far too long, possibly for as long as you have both played your parts in it. Is there a connection I wonder?

Before you release your budget proposals, which presumably will be based on the inadequate Service Choices process (Audit Scotland’s criticism of this process was something you forgot to mention Dick when you spoke at the seminar on Monday), these will no doubt heap damaging cut upon damaging cut as if to prove beyond all doubt that neither of you has any vision for Argyll & Bute.

And when we get your harmful budget proposals, we need to recall a few things about your financial track record:

·         The Castle Toward fiasco that has cost this council’s reputation and which will have cost us £700k+ in security and other costs to keep empty, assuming it’s actually sold in March. You both played key roles in this debacle.

·         The £1.2m that the BLANK has cost us when Ellen accepted a poor quality paper in 2011 that said the BLANK would produce “year on year” profits, with not a shred of evidence to back this up. When I wrote to all councillors on 3 January this year saying that the year on year profits were, in fact, year on year losses that will lead to a £1.2m waste of our money, guess who didn’t reply? The council leader and his depute didn’t reply.

·         The £1.7m loss referred to above.

There are more examples than these but the 3 above total £3.6m. That’s  a third of what we need to save in the next financial year. A quick trawl through your proposed job cuts from Service Choices to get to this figure of £3.6m also equates with about 140 job losses, mostly lower paid ones. I hope this way of looking at things is a useful reminder of the effects of waste.

You were both correct to say that the report in the Dunoon Observer today about harbour charges is further reputational damage to this council. But, inexplicably, you both blamed me for that even though the press release didn’t come from me but from the ferry action group. This council deserves today’s bad press because this council should have acted on harbour charges in 2013, 2014 and yesterday. That is serial failure.

You both chose instead to blame the messenger. Leadership?

Regards to all

 

Procurement Surgeries

It’s essential that we keep as much work as possible in Argyll & Bute and the council is holding what they have called procurement surgeries to assist local businesses. The press release about these that came out yesterday is shown below. Please pass on to as many local businesses as possible.

Council is keeping local contractors informed of new opportunities

Argyll and Bute Council is doing its best to keep local contractors informed of opportunities available to them when tendering for contracts for council services.

The council already awards a greater percentage of work to local suppliers than the average for Scottish local authorities. Last year 34% of council contracts were awarded to suppliers in Argyll and Bute.

Now it is hoped to increase this percentage during 2016 with a series of information events aimed at informing local contractors about a new approach the council has launched of tendering for capital works contracts with estimated individual values between £25,000 and a new upper limit of £500,000.

The type of contracts vary in cost and size, and may include re-roofing, fire alarm installations and upgrades and replacements of heating systems, refurbishment of buildings, electrical works, coastal protection and bridge strengthening, parking machines installation and traffic management works.

These surgeries will provide an opportunity for local suppliers to meet with procurement staff to hear about the council’s new procurement procedures, find out more about forthcoming contract opportunities and learn about the support available via the Supplier Development Programme.

The council’s Policy Lead for Customer and Support Services, Councillor Dick Walsh, said, “The council’s singe outcome agreement supports a diverse and thriving economy and this new approach gives local contractors a real opportunity to bid for work. Everything is to benefit them, get them involved and make them aware of changes in tendering requirements.

“These events will provide a great opportunity to come along and meet the council’s buyers for these works contracts and find out more about the new approach to their procurement.

“I would urge any contractors interested in tendering for these types of contracts to come to one of these events. It could only be beneficial in the long run

“While EU procurement rules mean we are unable to discriminate in favour of local suppliers, the council is committed to making sure that local businesses are aware of the opportunities and can access support to help them tender successfully.”

Individual appointments will also be available with council officers and any contractor interested in bidding for contracts is urged to make an appointment.

The surgeries will be held in Lochgilphead on 27th Jan, Dunoon on 3rd Feb, Oban on 16th Feb, Rothesay on 3rd March, Campbeltown on 23rd March and Helensburgh on 30th March 2016.

Notes

The surgeries will take place from 10.30am –12.30pm at each location. To make an appointment please contact Gillian Allenby, Procurement Analyst, at least seven days prior to the date of the event you are interested in either by email to procurement@argyll-bute.gov.uk; or telephone 01700 501 358. Please provide your contact details, which event you would like to attend, the nature of your business and any topics you would like to discuss to allow the buyers to prepare in advance and make best use of the time available.