Councillors refuse to cut their ranks to save cash.
Thursday 7th February 2019 @ 08:25 by Anna Fletcher
Community News

Councillors have refused a proposal to slash their numbers to save taxpayers cash – despite claims it’s time for them to ‘feel the pain’ of squeezed local government budgets.

The plan to cut the numbers of Oldham councillors from 60 to 40, in a bid to save £290k next year, was knocked back by a scrutiny committee on Tuesday night.

It had been proposed as part of a number of budget amendments put forward by the opposition Liberal Democrat group.

One Labour member told the panel he was already ‘rushed off his feet’ as one of three ward councillors, and another suggested the proposals might mean ‘more work and bigger allowances’.

But deputy opposition leader Councillor Chris Gloster said the one area that had been safe from cutbacks so far was the benches of the council chamber – while money was getting ‘thinner and thinner’.

However the performance and value for money committee, which has a Labour majority, refused to implement all 12 of the alternative council cuts, or fund five alternative investments.

“Councillors may have to work harder, but notwithstanding that it is a potential saving and it is a reasonable proposal,” Shaw ward Coun Gloster argued.

“There is a ongoing saving that, if looked at and done, will save this authority a significant amount of money.

“Somewhere along the line councillors have to feel the pain and if you have to work harder you have to work harder.

“But at the end of the day money is getting thinner and thinner, with £22m to lose this year.

“Over the next three years the projections are pretty clear that there’s a similar figure of around £20m to lose and anything that we can do to stop this cycle of cuts to our budget needs to be done and needs to be looked at now, not when it’s too late.”

But Failsworth West Coun Peter Davis said: “You come up with the same thing every year and when you were running the council you made this proposal and it was shot down in flames.

“I don’t think you’ve really looked at the financial side of it because the election commission might come up with proposals where if you did cut the amount of councillors the allowances might have to go up, other members of staff might have to do more work, and you might have to employ more people.

“You’re saying there’s no need for these councillors and yet you’re saying you should still keep the parish councillors.

“Isn’t this a case of the Liberal Democrats feathering their own nests?”
Acting chair, Coun Jean Stretton added there would be ‘no saving’ in the forthcoming financial year because of the length of time it would take to implement.

“But the facts of the matter are much more complex than are being presented here – it is not in our gift,” she said.

“We would have to have to apply to the local government boundary commission for this to be investigated, there is absolutely no guarantee that they would agree to it and there is absolutely no guarantee that what they would come up with is the reduction that you suggest.”

Coun Clint Phythian added that reducing the council chamber by 20 members ‘just wouldn’t work at at all’.

“I’ve been a councillor since June 2017 and I work full time and I’m rushed off my feet, I’ll be honest with you,” he said.

“So if you reduced it – say I was the only councillor in Royton North – how could I do it? It would be impossible, you need your colleagues to help you.”

Other cost saving measures put forward were continuing the freeze on the training budget for town hall staff, reviewing car mileage allowances for councillors and reducing the amount of trade union support subsided by the council.

Plans to dramatically slash the communications and marketing budget, with the loss of two full time members of staff to save £350k over three years, were also rejected.

The Lib Dems had also proposed spending an extra £5m on highways and footways, and establishing an ‘environmental task force’ to tackle flytipping and dog fouling across the borough at a cost of £500k.

Coun Gloster said: “I don’t envy the task that my administration colleagues and our officers from the treasury team have in finding these savings.

“Local authority funding is on a precipice. Year on year we need to cut more meat off the bone and still need to cover the core services for our communities.

“Any councillor that talks to residents will be more than aware of the concerns that are expressed – roads and footways not fit for purpose, flytipping is on a grand scale, health issues and dog fouling to name but some.

“Our budget amendments reflect the concerns communities that have been voiced to us and our aim is to the increase the service to our communities by these amendments, but no burden them with additional costs.”

The borough’s cabinet is set to approve the administration’s budget for 2019/20 on Monday, before going to full council on February 27.

It will see the town hall seek to save a whopping £22m from its running costs.

By Local Democracy Reporter Charlotte Green.