County council praised - for the way it has cut costs

Authority has reduced costs while protecting services and jobs, says Audit Commission report.

A new report by the Audit Commission and Local Government Association praises Devon County Council as a national leader in how to cut costs while protecting services and jobs.

The council is one of five case studies - and the only shire county - to feature in the report.

‘Meeting Local Needs with Lower Workforce Costs’ concludes: “As government funding for councils shrinks by over a quarter between 2011/12 and 2014/15, councils need to reduce their workforce costs substantially while still providing much needed services.”

It says a jobs freeze in Devon was introduced early and effectively and has resulted in no large-scale redundancies in either 2010/11 or 2011/12.

The freeze was introduced in November 2009 and managers were told to recruit only to fill vacancies in frontline services.

To date, Devon has reduced its workforce by almost 1,800 posts as a result of the jobs freeze.

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The report concludes: “The process requires strong discipline and close checking.

“In 2009, the new administration made it clear that minimising redundancies and redeploying staff to keep skills and knowledge was a priority.

“The key to the council’s successful pay bill reductions is the fact it started early and anticipated challenges.”

An effective redeployment strategy was introduced to avoid redundancies and to retain the experience of valued employees. So far over 100 people have been redeployed, says the report.

It adds that Devon has maintained close communications with its trade unions for the last two years and, following consultations, was able to make changes to its terms and conditions which saved �1.6 million a year

All services were reviewed and organised into a streamlined structure.

Four strategic directors were reduced to two and around 30 heads of service reduced to 14.

“The new structure sees a fall from between seven and nine management layers to a maximum of five,” says the report.

“For the longer term, the council is considering alternative business models that can provide better value for money, including social enterprises and joint ventures.”

Council leader John Hart said he was pleased that the work done in Devon was being recognised nationally.

“The Audit Commission is a well-respected, independent organisation,” he said.

“For Devon to be selected as a national case study, and the only shire county, demonstrates what we are achieving.

“I have always pledged to protect services for the elderly, the young and the vulnerable and to avoid large-scale redundancies if possible.

“At the same time, we have had to make significant reductions in our spending.

“I believe we are now a more efficient, effective and businesslike authority that is able to deliver value for money services for the people of Devon.

“We will continue to ensure we get the best possible value for every pound we spend.”