Monday, November 01, 2010

Crunch Time approaches

We're half way through a 3 year programme of reviewing all council services to see if they need to be done, if they can be done with less money or if they can be done better with the same money or should they be transformed into a different kind of service ..... or some mix of these.  The Environment committee is engaged in a review of the Built & Natural Environment - ranging across car parking, blue badges, school crossing patrols and urban design.  We've had evidence from Stockton Council officers and from Sunderland City Council who've just transformed their Blue Badge operation.  We've got pages and pages of facts and figures and now comes the time when councillors have to agree on recommendations to go forward to Cabinet.
Some serious questions have arisen - should disabled people have free parking or is it enough to have designated spaces near to shops, offices etc?  Should we continue to have free car parking in some shopping centres of the borough but not in others?  Are school crossing patrols really necessary?  How do we make sure that we maintain the expertise we've built up in small specialist teams when funding is so short?
We've had evidence that crossing patrollers are sometimes the eyes and ears which can alert other services to children who are experiencing problems.  We've heard about the worries over keeping our town centres active and vibrant during recession - if people have to pay more for parking than they do at present will they stop going to the centres? Should we try to sell the services of our specialist teams to other authorities who haven't got that expertise?  What happens if they're so busy on a piece of work for a client that they can't do the necessary policy development work in Stockton council?
So far we've more questions than answers - these are just a few of the questions we've posed over recent months.  But over the coming weeks we have to sift the answers we've been given and make sure we check all the angles before coming to our conclusions.  At the end of the process we need to save money but ensure we're still able to meet our obligations, not just the bare minimum legal obligations but those we have towards the residents of the borough who have a right to expect a council that's giving them real value for money in all senses of the phrase.
Watch this space.

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