BURY Council must make £12m of savings this year to balance the books. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN looks at what town hall bosses are planning to cut.

DIRECTORS at the council have set out their plans to save millions of pounds at the town hall.

They must find a combined total of £11.9m by the end of the financial year in April.

This means the cost of caring for children, waste collections and repairing the roads must come down.

At a time of increasing pressures of £3.5m, mainly on children’s services, and slipping standards in education, the children and young people department must make savings of £3.3m.

Karen Dolton, who heads up the department, said she has two options: to sack people or commission fewer services.

The executive director is trying to reduce the number of children in care.

She said: “Our looked-after children strategy is to stop children coming into our care in the first place. And if they do come into our care we want them to be looked after where possible with in-house foster carers.”

Mrs Dolton told a scrutiny committee this week that, if successful, this would be cheaper for the council and result in better outcomes for the children.

However, she came under fire from councillors who doubted how achievable the strategy is.

Cllr Susan Southworth, who sits on the council’s corporate parenting board, asked Mrs Dolton where the extra money for early help would come from if the department was making cuts.

She said: “This idea that we can save money to put into early help – we have heard it again and again. This seems to be an aspiration, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.”

No voluntary redundancies are planned in the children and young people department, although the head count is expected to fall as some posts will be absolved when they become vacant.

Labour councillor Stella Smith said there are two contradictory aims in the strategy to reduce staff numbers while creating teams that work more effectively.

Mrs Dolton said: “The fact is that we have to have a balanced budget. We have to balance these two things all the time.”

Concerns were also raised about the slipping standards in education, but councillors noted that the local authority is limited in what it can do to help schools.

The council is focusing on inclusion ahead of an Ofsted inspection which will take place in the next three weeks. There is also likely to be a full inspection in September.

Veteran councillor Roy Walker spoke of a time when Bury was considered a model education authority.

He urged directors to focus on education standards, rather than just promoting the inclusion agenda and mental health support. But he was sympathetic to the problems facing the department.

He said: “Demands are increasing, resources are decreasing and we are expecting people to do more and more for themselves.”

Conservative deputy leader, Cllr Nick Jones, asked whether jobs would be cut and how much it would cost the council.

He made reference to the £23,179 paid to an education chief who left the local authority earlier this year. Paul Delbridge-Smith received the sum for notice pay and outstanding leave.

Finance boss Andrew Baldwin said: “Each case will be considered on its own merits. Whether it will be a cost to the council. By law we have to make severance payments.”

There are also savings targets for waste collection which could see the council collaborate with other authorities.

Bury Times understands that there are no plans to reduce the number of bin collections.

Interim director of operations David Brown also told councillors that his department is looking at the future of its fleet of 300 vehicles.

Electric bin lorries could be used in the future at a cost of £300,000 – double that of a diesel equivalent which operate at an average of two miles per gallon.

Mr Brown said there could be a long-term business case for the purchase of electric vehicles but the biggest challenge would be installing the charging infrastructure.

He added: “In 20 years time, we’ll look back and laugh that we used diesel.”

The operations department is reaching the end of its £10m pot for roads resurfacing.

Next year, an extra £10m will be used for “surface redressing” which will eventually cover all highways the local authority is responsible for. This will involve making “cheap interventions” to stop the highways from deteriorating in the future.

The department is also trying to make the process of reporting pot holes easier.

The contract for parking will be retendered this year with a view to making a saving by using an “intelligence-based” system. This would alleviate the need to send enforcement officers around on a route.

Mr Baldwin, the council’s chief financial auditor, told councillors how the departments would be restructured. He said: “There’s a lot of good work that takes place within and across the five departments, but duties and processes are duplicated.”