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CASH AND AGE CRISES PROMPT 'MOST RADICAL RESTRUCTURING'

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Cheshire CC is set to trigger what it says will be 'the most radical internal shake-up of local government ever att...

Cheshire CC is set to trigger what it says will be 'the most radical internal shake-up of local government ever attempted by an English authority'.

'Transforming Cheshire' -sweeping plans for change aimed at creating 'a model council for the 21st century' - will be considered by a special meeting of the executive next month.

Restructuring and re-organisation, coupled with the maximisation of resources and state-of-the-art technology, will affect all Cheshire's 24,000-plus full and part-time employees, from chief executive to trainee.

The efficiency savings produced by a transformed Cheshire are 'essential' to help combat a massive funding shortfall - estimated at£50m-plus -over the next four years.

And the authority also faces intense financial pressures created by the effects of extreme population change.

At one end of the age scale, there are falling birth rates and thousands of empty school desks. And at the other there is a projected 50,000 increase in the elderly population by 2020.

'This is a truly massive undertaking but the scale of the response is dictated by the size of the challenges facing us,' said council leader Paul Findlow.

'Demands for our services are rapidly increasing and escalating costs are overtaking available resources at an alarming rate. Doing nothing was not an option.

'Every part of our organisation will go under the microscope to see whether we can change the way we work, to increase efficiency, release resources and improve services to the public.'

Transformation of the 117-year-old CC is supported by all three political parties and the executive will consider over 100 different service action plans - the first stage of a seismic shift in the authority's approach to its responsibilities.

'Transforming Cheshire' will embrace the corporate plan's strategies for children, older people and transport and its visions for safer, stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities.

The council has already produced its own blueprint to revitalise local governance across the county and locality boards have been introduced to give communities a stronger voice on local issues.

Whilst much of the finer detail is still to be agreed, the new model authority will feature a smaller corporate HQ, joint service centres and contact hubs, providing 'one-stop-shop' advice on all services - with the potential to be shared with other public and private sector organisations.

Delivered through Cheshire's natural communities, services will be more responsive, effective, accessible - whether by phone, e-mail, the web or personal contact - and designed from a customer's viewpoint.

Within the next year Cheshire's customer service centre - which already handles 600 enquiries daily - will expand significantly and electronic access will be further enhanced via the council's website - the seventh most visited local authority site in England.

Labour group leader Derek Bateman said: 'Cheshire CC has a fine tradition of providing good quality services to its public but we have to change the way we operate if we are to have any hope of maintaining that tradition.

'We are leading the way with an organisational revolution and I believe that many other local authorities facing the same severe population and funding pressures will have no alternative but to follow.

'Make no mistake about it, there are some very difficult decisions ahead. But these are decisions that have to be taken if we are to end up leaner, more responsive and efficient.'

Re-organisation on this scale will almost certainly result in a smaller work force but it is hoped that most of the reduction can be accounted for by natural wastage over the four and a half year period of the transformation plan.

Lib Dem leader Sue Proctor said: 'The county council provides 80% of the services received by every community in Cheshire. Its costs are spiralling and the funding gap is becoming ever wider.

'We have to take action now for the future well-being of 680,000 people. There is no way we can simply continue to cut budgets or increase council tax. Other solutions have to be found to what is a national funding dilemma.

'We also want to create new working environments for our staff and better ways of working to complement their dedication and commitment to providing the best services for the people of Cheshire. '

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