Cutting jobs and red tape: Oxfordshire County Council ‘transformation plan’ to save millions of pounds revealed

Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall NNL-160721-122114009
Oxfordshire County Council's base at County Hall NNL-160721-122114009

Oxfordshire County Council has revealed a ‘transformation plan’ to overhaul how it operates by cutting jobs and ‘red tape’ in a bid to save £33m.

The proposed changes, which include cutting administration costs, using new technology such as emergency drones and remote testing fire alarms, are estimated to save between £34-58m.

Cllr. Ian Hudspeth, Oxfordshire County Council leader. NNL-150411-132940001

Cllr. Ian Hudspeth, Oxfordshire County Council leader. NNL-150411-132940001

But compulsory redundancies are expected, with a potential reduction of approximately 600-890 full time equivalent posts at the council over a two to three-year period.

The council is adamant the plan ‘protects and improves’ frontline services for residents and councillors will discuss it during September.

Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “These proposed changes are a crucial part of the county council’s commitment to supporting thriving communities for everyone in Oxfordshire.

“Over the last eight years, the county council has taken some difficult decisions so we can meet the growing demand for services while staying on a sound financial footing.

This is a golden opportunity to make real changes that would at one and the same time save money and benefit the public.

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth

“We are now looking to the future to create an organisation that can provide services that Oxfordshire people and communities want and need.”

The new ‘operating model’ was developed after a review of every aspect of the way the county council works by professional advisors PwC.

PwC found the council had successfully managed reductions in government funding over the last eight years, but needed to fundamentally change to meet future challenges of rising demand for services.

Cllr Hudspeth said: “This review has shown that we can provide more support by cutting red tape and reducing the costs of ‘back office’ administration and making sure taxpayers’ money is spent on providing council services.

“The advice from PwC will more than pay for itself by finding financial savings that we could not have found on our own.

“This is a golden opportunity to make real changes that would at one and the same time save money and benefit the public.”

As well as reducing the costs of administration, the programme is also looking at innovative ways to deliver services differently, including better use of technology.

Ideas being considered include: opportunities to improve the efficiency of home to school transport provision, remote testing of fire alarms, use of drones in emergency situations and assistive technology to help disabled children.

According to the council, the reduction in staff is hoped to be minimised as the annual staff turnover is about 650 posts so the number of compulsory redundancies is likely to be much fewer.

Cllr Hudspeth added: “We are committed to reducing the number of redundancies by retraining staff wherever possible to fill the new jobs that would be created as a result of the proposed new council operation.”

The estimated one-off costs of up to £18m to implement the new operating model, including the necessary digital investment, would be paid back from the savings made, according to the council.

Like all councils, Oxfordshire County Council has had to manage a significant reduction to government funding since 2010 while coping with rising demand for services, particularly adult and children’s social care.

Annual savings of more than £300m have been made over the past eight years, with most of this money being used for social care for vulnerable children and adults.

The sharing of HR and finance services with Hampshire County Council, and reducing the number of managers, has added to the efficiencies.

Cllr Hudspeth said: “The report clearly says that we can makes these changes without reducing the quality of services for residents.

“Our systems currently do not support staff as well as they could do in order for them to do the best job they can – and we know how frustrating that is because staff tell us that.

“There’s no doubt they are working hard and trying to do their best for Oxfordshire, but our systems, structures need to better support them. We have a duty now to act on that.”

A decision on the plan will be taken by cabinet on September 18, before being considered by all councillors – if agreed, members would meet again in October to consider how best to implement the operating model.

Savings could then be made from the start of the next financial year.