I noticed today that one of the first decisions of Newcastle City Council which was run by the Lib Dems before the May elections but is now run by Labour was to to reinstate neighbourhood warden posts.
This sounds like a popular move - but on balance a rather foolish one.
Crime fell when Lib Dems were in control of Newcastle and the administration was nationally-recognised for the way in which the Council and the Police tackled issues in partnership.
I have confidence that Lib Dem councillors in Newcastle (several of whom I know well from my work on the Local Government Association) would not have restructured the warden service unless it was to improve use of resources.
The 'Notes to editors' at the foot of the Council press release caught my eye:
" The six reinstated posts were originally part of 11 street warden posts - five of which were vacant and deleted, and six of which were filled by staff who took voluntary severance.
Their work will be directed by the Safe Neighbourhoods and Problem Solving (SNAPS) process which co-ordinates the police and council to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime based on community intelligence.
Now six vacancies will be filled by staff whose jobs are at risk as a result of the council’s Service Transformation and Efficiency Programme designed to help the council save £44m this year.
Reducing the 11 posts would have saved the authority £300,000. Reinstating six posts will cost about £180,000 and will be funded from the council’s underspend for 2010/11. It will however avoid making six staff redundant and so save the council redundancy costs.'
So only weeks after getting back into power Labour in Newcastle are racking up more debt and adding to the financial pressure on other Council services.
I wonder if the new Labour administration will do the same in Reading?
Labour councillors in our area actively campaigned against our plan to merge frontline warden services which aimed to deliver a more efficient and cost-effective service.
As I blogged back in March:
"The review [of the warden service] identified waste and duplication of resources under the previous scheme operated by Labour.The new warden service which we are launching is an excellent example of doing more with less.
Survey after survey the Council conducted of residents found that local people wanted to see action to tackle environmental crime. This came as no surprise to me or my Liberal Democrat colleagues - residents have been telling us this on the door step for years!"So will the new Labour administration bring back their original warden scheme or is this another of their pre-election promises they have no intention of keeping?
If the latter is true this is a shameless manipulation of residents' fear of crime.
If they reverse the saving what service will they cut to pay for it?
A reminder of Reading Labour's original warden scheme:
- Under Labour three different teams of Council staff from two Council departments carried out walkabouts in the same areas of Reading.
- In Labour's scheme all three roles involved estate inspections in the form of 'neighbourhood walkabouts' and regular liaison with the public through Safer Reading and Neighbourhood Action Group (NAG) meetings.
Our improved scheme delivered:
- Enforcement powers to enable RBC officers to issue fixed penalty notices for offenders.
- A team of 12 officers dedicated to working on the frontline line.
- 6 focussing on environmental enforcement.
- 4 officers working on crime prevention.
- 2 officers assisting residents with waste and recycling issues.
Does that mean going back to their original failed scheme?
I think local people have a right to know and I hope Labour councillors will think carefully about consequences before they try and turn the clock back.
I see over in Oldham the new Labour administration is reversing the decision by the previous Lib Dem - Conservative Council to close a care home. The new administration is planning an 'emergency budget' in July.
In a report on the proposal which is due to go to Cabinet to be agreed next week officers admit the former Council-operated home does not represent value for money to the taxpayer:
'The next cost of each bed in 10/11 was £43,000 per annum, compared to £14,000 in the private sector. There are considerable risks as to whether this significant cost differential could be afforded in future, as budgets face futher reductions.'Lib Dem Council Group Leader Howard Sykes hits the nail on the head when he says:
"They are entitled to do that but my question is how are they going to pay for it. That’s the bit the Labour group a very silent on. We’ll see when they get this emergency budget out.All sounds rather familiar, don't you think?
"From memory only 50 per cent of Limecroft was occupied and others are already being operated by the health service and providing a better service than before. You have to ask where are they getting the money from to re-open this."