Major review to determine how to cut city services

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Long-term vision and a radical review of the way services are provided will be needed if Sheffield City Council is to balance its books over the next four years.

So says the new Labour administration, which this week outlined its financial strategy up to 2016.

More job cuts will be needed, as well as a reduction in the cost of services, if the city is to make up a budget shortfall of up to £57m over the coming year, admitted council leader Julie Dore.

“We can’t ignore the financial difficulties facing us over the next four years… It won’t be easy and there’s no short-term fix but we’re confident that we can reduce the gap by operating more effectively,” she said.

“We will protect services as best we can but let’s not kid ourselves that this will be without reduction in services.”

She added: “I refuse to speculate on job losses but we will keep them to an absolute minimum.”

An interim budget report last August suggested a potential revenue gap of up to £219m over the four years to 2015.

In March the council approved a budget that included savings of around £80m.

The latest financial forecast identifies a projected shortfall of £57m next year – as a result of reduced Government funding, redundancy costs, greater highways maintenance contributions and increasing service pressures.

The financial strategy, which is due to go before the council cabinet on Wednesday, aims to set out a framework under which service costs and demands can be managed.

But instead of ‘salami slicing’ current provision, whittling down existing services little by little, the new administration plans to take a long-term approach. That means considering the way services should look in four years’ time and finding a means of achieving that with the resources available.

It is likely to mean taking a radically different approach, admits chief executive John Mothersole.

“We’re not coming out with a big, branded, consultant-led programme,” he said. “Sheffield has tried to be ahead of the curve on policy and finance issues. We’re trying to keep ahead of the situation by planning what we’re going to do differently.”

Officers will be asked to come up with ideas. Workforce representatives and unions will also be consulted, along with local people and businesses.

Any suggestions that could streamline services and reduce costs will be considered.

Some services could be outsourced to independent agencies. Other options include working with friends’ groups or social enterprises.

“We will work with the stakeholders to find imaginative and innovative ways to deliver the budget. But the first thing to do is to identify the outcomes we want,” said Coun Dore.

“We need to find what’s achievable with the limited resources we have.”

Clearly, no change is not an option.

Coun Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for finance, said: “If we don’t do anything at all we’re facing a £23m cut in Government grant next year alone.

“We need to identify how we can deliver an efficient service that’s what people need and want in Sheffield.”