Combating the damage done by Conservative cuts

by samalhamdani on 25 January, 2020

This week, the Labour-run Council have announced an increase in council tax of 2.99 per cent. This has brought a range of reactions, largely ranging from resigned acceptance to outrage – but then, in my first eight months as a councillor, I have learnt that no-one loves a council.

This increase comes in the face of savage cuts to the Council’s budget – ones that are not set to stop. In the latest review of funding, Oldham is due to see a decrease in central funding of 8.59% by 2021. That’s over five million pounds. Meanwhile a string of Tory-controlled shire councils will see increases in funding of over 20%.

At the same time, there are huge problems with the way that Oldham Council spends its money. Despite setting a target of 60% local spending, the Council is not yet hitting that target, and other public spending in the borough is a long way away.

Spending locally doesn’t just benefit the business directly. The circular benefits are many. Local businesses employ local people, so more people come off benefits and contribute more to the local economy. The businesses will pay more in rates.

So why has the target not worked?

Primarily, because it needs to change its procurement methods in order to make that target happen – in a way that the Labour group has failed to do.

The Preston model is the most interesting example of a local authority changing its spending methods to benefit local businesses. It required an initial investment in the procurement team at the council to make it work, but it has paid huge dividends to the local community.

They have changed the contracts model – what is called “horizontal slicing” of contracts. Rather than looking for a single company to provide the whole of a contract (which limits dramatically the number of local companies – if any – which can fulfil a contract) it is broken down into constituent parts. For example, instead of having one company provide all the catering for local schools, it is split down into provision of cooking services, and then different parts of the food requirements – butchers, bakers and so on.

So, given how successful this has been, why has Oldham not adopted this? To be honest, I’m not sure. When I raised it at a hustings during the local election, Jim McMahon said that it wouldn’t work in Oldham because we have to be open to companies across the Greater Manchester area.

But changing our contracts to enable more local companies to bid for contracts would still work. Social value procurement allows councils to prefer companies which are locally based, and this combined with slicing the contracts would still make it much more likely for local companies to get council contracts.

A Liberal Democrat-run council would immediately look to introduce these changes to benefit local procurement.

We are being pushed into a hard place by a Conservative Government which is already showing its colours when it comes to removing funding from the North. But there’s no point putting ourselves between that hard place and a rock of our own making.

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