Near Seven Million for Three Months on Consultants?!

Graham Smith of the BBC has blogged about a staggering amount of money that has been spent by Cornwall Council on consultants in January, February and March. It is a eye watering £6,873,635. It is broken down by the following: January £1,774,978, February £1,858,619 and in March £3,240,038.

You have to ask yourself why these payments were made and who received these payments. What justification is there, and more importantly, where are the improvements that have come to about by hiring these consultants.

These question need to be answered, and I have written to the Head of Finance asking for answers to these and other questions.

Morale at Cornwall Council

A recent survey was undertaken by Cornwall Council to gauge the morale of its staff. A lot has happened in the last two years with the disbandment of the District Councils and the formation of the Unitary Council. Add the funding pressures it has been a difficult time. Huge credit should be given to the staff who despite the uncertainly have carried out their roles with professionalism.

10,648 employees were invited to take part in the survey which was carried out across all areas of the Council between 2 and 18 February. Out of these invites 4,176 employees completed either the online or paper questionnaire. This is response rate of 39%.

As with all surveys it has mixed responses the positives being:

• 60% of employees are satisfied to be working for the Council and 73% would like to be working here in 12 months time.
• 60% are committed to what the Council is trying to achieve
• 80% (up 5%) felt that all the Council’s customers were treated fairly regardless of their background
• 91% are happy to go the extra mile when required
• 79% believe they make a difference in their day to day work
• Overall job satisfaction is high – with 67% saying they are happy with their jobs – the average for local authorities we compared against.
• 91% of managers felt they had the skills and competencies to lead their teams
• 85% felt that the team they worked in co-operated to get the work done
• 61% felt they could meet the requirements of their job without regularly working excessive hours, with 67% saying they were able to strike the right balance between their work and home life.
• More employees ( 85% – up 12% ) now have a better understanding of how their work contributes to the objectives of their service area

This is followed up with the negative, or what a Council would say ‘areas for improvement’

• Managing change – only 15% of employees felt the Council managed change effectively – however this is actually an increase of 1% since 2009. However only 11% felt that changes were being made for the better and just 23% said they had the opportunity to contribute views before changes were made which affected their job.
• Appraisal – Less than half of employees (46%) felt their last performance review was helpful, although 58% felt that the review accurately reflected their performance, and 74% felt they were clear about was they were expected to achieve.
• Improving morale – only 26% felt morale was good where they worked, just 35% felt valued and recognised for their work they did, with only 33% felt they were valued for what they offered the Council. Although 62% of employees said they were happy to be working for the Council, only 37% said they told people it was a good place to work and less than half (42% ) said they were proud to work for the organisation.
• Pay and conditions – although 14% of employees said they had personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination whilst at work, this figure has actually fallen by 1% on the figure in 2009, with 82% said they knew who to go to if they experienced this. Just over a third of employees (39%) felt that their pay was fair given their duties and responsibilities and 49% would like their pay to be more closely linked with to how well they do their job.

A concern is why only 15% of employees felt the Council managed change effectively and more worryingly, 14% of employees said they had personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination whilst at work. These two areas must be address as a priority.

At the end of the day I welcome this survey and think it is a step in the right direction, but it will be all for nothing if the negatives are not addressed.

Council Office Refurbishment – Money Well Spent?

Much has been made of the proposed refurbishment of County Hall; members are asking whether this money well spent, or indeed needed given the present financial climate. I myself have queried the amount and the rational behind it. Even during the budget a couple of Members raised it again. This plan is part of the bigger project of the types and numbers of Council Offices around Cornwall.

Only the other day I received an e-mail from one of my electorates questioning why we were spending this amount after they saw an article in the Helston Packet. I have been considering how many other people had the same thoughts. So, I have decided to give those who read this blog the facts and not the many other stories that are being banded around.

I am grateful to Peter Marsh, Head of Property for answering my many questions on this subject. The investment at New County Hall is part of the Councils office accommodation vision which, after a thorough review, was endorsed by the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet. The purpose of the investment in NCH creates additional capacity in the building which contributes to the release of:

– £3.3m of revenue savings per annum from property

– Over £16m in capital receipts

– Reduces carbon emissions from the office estate by 30%

– Equates to 140 front line jobs retained.

The investment is funded by capital receipts and therefore represents the re-use of capital already tied up in existing property assets. Such capital funded money is not available for paying revenue costs of staff. The money cannot be released without the investment to create additional capacity in the retained buildings.

The next phase at New County Hall is the Public link due to start in April 2011. This is refurbishment of the reception space, and former democratic services space. It will provide new meeting facilities, a replacement catering facility from its current temporary home, and IT training facility to replace that which currently exists in a leased building at Threemilestone. A key benefit is to provide meeting rooms in the publically accessible part of the building in which it is easier to meet residents, partners or clients. This will release space currently taken up by meeting rooms elsewhere in the building.

The wider refurbishment is due to continue after the Public Link and we are currently re-visiting the specification, costs and details.

So there you have it, the facts. Now over to you for your views and comments on this subject

Temporary Staff at Cornwall Council – Numbers

Sometimes, you don’t know there is a problem until it’s has been pointed out. As a Councillor, it would be impossible to be aware of everything that goes on at Cornwall Council. I like others do try, but it’s very difficult without permanently living in County Hall. Take the issue of interim staff; it was not until the details of these payments become public via the West Briton that any backbench Councillor knew the huge amounts that were being paid. I decided being remiss of not knowing in the first place to look into this matter further to see if what the West Briton had written about was just a small issue, or the tip of a Titanic sinking sized iceberg.
Firstly, I would like to say thank you to the HR staff who took the time to answer my many questions. I did ask quite a lot, and was very happy to receive all the answers. Cornwall Council has currently around 850 temporary workers (full and part-time) engaged in various roles across the County. Of these, 50 earn an hourly rate which would equate to a permanent salary of between £20,000 and £40,000. There are 60 workers that earn over £40,000. So that leaves 730 workers who are possibly on less than £20,000 per year. That of course is depending on the hours worked, and the rate they are paid.
I also asked for clarification as to who authorises the hiring of interim staff. I received the answer that it all depends on the length of the appointment. Typically any post that will be needed for over four weeks will need to be approved by the Directorate Leadership Team (DLT). Any post which are either statutory, or make up critical front line services (e.g. care assistants) are exempt from the DLT approval. The question is who really knew and collectively authorised the payments to those at the top end. I doubt it very much that one person authorised these huge payments
As to whether the interim iceberg would sink the good ship ‘Cornwall Council’ I doubt it. Sure, the huge payments paid to those at the top of the scale are hard to justify and have done damage to Cornwall Council, but overall most of the temporary staff is on below the national average wage. Maybe that area needs to be address and all our staff should be on (working full time hours) the national average wage?

Cornwall Council Interim Staff – Update

A week ago I posted about a Head of Service being paid £1000 per day. This has caused some outrage amongst Councillors and the public. I sent a e-mail to the head of HR asking for points of clarification on this item and other items about staffing at Cornwall Council. I have not had a detailed response as yet, but a reply saying that my questions would be answered in due course.
In the meantime the Leader of the Council in his weekly newsletter informed Councillors of various other positions filled with interims and the pay scale. I would like to thank the Leader for being open and honest in publishing them. Below are those details with rates of pay and termination dates.
  • Assistant Head of HR – £600 per day (pd) – Termination date March 2011
  • HR Resources Business Partner – £600 per day (pd) – Term date Jan 2011
  • Deputy Group Accountant (maternity cover) – £522 pd – Feb 2011
  • Group Accountant (being advertised) – £620 pd – March 2011
  • Learning Disability Services senior manager (being advertised) – £441 pd – Feb 2011
  • Head of Safeguarding – £907 pd – December 2010
  • Head of Specialist Services (not yet filled) – £400 – March 2011
  • Elections Manager (part time, covering sickness) – £250 pd – when employee returns from sickness
  • Telecom project manager – £400 pd – 2010-2011
  • Finance project implementing new Govt standards – £530 – Feb 2011
  • Procurement manager – £575 pd – Jan 2011
  • ERP project manager – £500 pd – Jan 2011
  • IDOX Planning System program manager – £500 pd – April 2011
  • Shared services project manager – £825 pd – March 2011
  • Shared services project manager – £960 pd – March 2011
  • Shared services project manager (part time) – £250 pd – March 2011
As you can see there are some hefty daily rates. I am unsure if this is just a taster list, or the full list, but I hope more clarification will be given once my questions have been answers. To most people these wages would seem extreme and it would be hard to justify them. I think if those people are delivering what they are tasked to do and in return saving money they might be worth it. But how many would work for half the amount? The Council would still get the same results, but at a lesser cost.  I think that’s the question that needs to be asked.

Cornwall Council – Staff and Sickness

Again at Cabinet Meetings you get a lot of statistics in the monthly reports. It’s good to know some of these facts, but sometimes you have a memory over-load in just trying to read and make sense of them all. As everyone in this Country knows, there are going to be some massive cuts, especially in local Government. The trick is how do you manage these cuts without affecting services.

Currently at Cornwall Council there are 19,970 people employed across the board. There are also 1,374 vacant positions with only 109 of these being advertised. Now it looks on paper that one way to implement cuts is to reduce the amount of staff. This looks all fine and dandy on paper, but what about those staff left? They have to take up the slack from those missing positions.

This in turn can lead to an even greater problem. You find that the staff become over-worked by picking up the slack. They then can go off sick with various illnesses like stress. Currently sickness is a problem at Cornwall Council and one that the senior management say they are addressing.

On one of the reports on targets it lists sickness this is taken from April – July 2010. Click HERE for the report. The report lists days off per staff. These figures are not just for this period, but what they would be over the entire year. It gives an indicator of how things are proceeding. The current figures are by Directorate the figures are: ACS 4.35 days, EPE 2.71 days, CSF business units 2.36 days, Communities 1.71 days, CE 1.41 days, Schools 1.37 days, Resources 1.32 days.

I do worry that not having the right number of staff in positions will lead to a poorer service. I understand the need only have the right number of staff and not pay for someone to sit around, but I do really fear that we are not covering ourselves with the right staffing levels.

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