Recently, it has become more and more apparent that Horsham District Council is in disarray; the local plan is behind schedule making the district vulnerable to predatory developers, the planning department is struggling with an immense workload, buildings and property have not been maintained, and staff vacancies have not been filled.
Some of this has been a response to government funding cutbacks, although this could have been overcome by not accepting council tax freeze grant and by implementing small increases. This is something which other Tory councils have done, so that they may continue to provide the services that their communities need.
Instead, this council has ‘balanced’ its budget by reducing reserves, as well as increasing parking charges and introducing a green waste charge, both of which produce an income in excess of the cost of provision.
But most of the difficulties result from a disastrous management restructure in 2009.
At the time, members and officers advised against the restructure, as too much expertise would be lost.
The consequences of this decision are still being felt today, because lack of expertise leads to poor management decisions, and a skills gap that is constantly filled by the use of consultants, many of whom give poor value for money. The council does not even have staff capable of managing the consultants effectively.
Given this scenario, we need strong political leadership to work with officers to address the issues and resolve the difficulties, and to look at ways to move forward whilst continuing to deliver essential services.
Instead, as part of business transformation, it has been decided to introduce a series of changes to staff terms and conditions.
Some 35 per cent of staff face salary cuts of up to £3,500. This mainly affects the more knowledgeable, long-serving staff; in other words the very staff who are currently working their hardest to make sure HDC doesn’t unravel further.
This is a kick in the teeth to staff. It is an unbelievable decision, which is poorly justified, without a full supporting costing, and with no consideration for the impact on staff and their families. This at a time when the council has underspent its budget by £900k. As a major employer in the district, the council should be leading by example, setting the benchmark and respecting staff who work hard on behalf of local residents.
So, I am ashamed of the way that the council has behaved. Staff should not be scapegoats for poor management by the Tory Cabinet and senior officers.
Deputy Leader of Lib Dems on Horsham District Council and councillor for Horsham Park Ward, North Street, Horsham