Sorry I’m a bit behind with posts but have been pre-occupied with doing the Council’s budget rather than writing about it. Know there’s been lots of questions so hope the following helps.
Q. Is it possible to lose 2,000 staff voluntarily?
We believe it is achievable to keep to our commitment of no compulsory redundancies. In the past Manchester City Council has had to reduce its workforce quite significantly and we've always done it without the need for compulsory redundancies.
But it's not going to be easy. So although we hope to keep to the commitment, it is dependent on how many people take up the offer.
Q. Will there be any more job cuts after these?
This will be a one-off offer of voluntary severance and voluntary early retirement. We will not be revisiting the offer or improving on it.
We don't expect there'll be any need for more job cuts for the foreseeable future based on current budget assumptions.
Q. If we need to save money, can't we cancel the £138m revamp of the Town Hall Extension and Central Library, or the planned Metrolink extension?
The redevelopment of the Town Hall Extension and the Central Library are well under way and too far advanced to cancel. The redevelopment is also about maintaining Manchester 's heritage and building on it as we look to the future. Central Library is one of the most important buildings in the city, needed significant work done to it, and would have had to close permanently if we hadn't acted. The building work has also given us the opportunity to transform the services we provide. When the Extension reopens, it will have in place a brand new customer service centre that will allow us to give speedy, effective and efficient service to Manchester people, improving on what is already being delivered at our new customer service centre in Number One First Street . We will also be able to locate staff at the Extension rather than at rented locations dotted across the city - which saves money. All the Metrolink extensions are contractually committed and are essential to the future economic health of the city. As well as delivering services today we need to continue investing in the city's future
Q. Will senior figures such as the Chief Executive or senior managers be taking pay cuts to help us make the savings?
We need our staff to stay motivated and to work even more effectively and we don't think that the way to do that in these difficult times is to cut people's pay. Singling out individuals for pay is a red herring and a distraction from the scale and severity of the council cuts. Even if they were paid nothing it would barely make a dent in the cuts total.
Q. Will jobs like the Twitter Tsar go before social workers?
We don't have a Twitter Tsar, have never had a Twitter Tsar and have never had or advertised a job that could be interpreted as a Twitter Tsar. We are absolutely committed to doing all we can to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our great city get the best quality services to protect and support them. The scale and severity of the £110m government cuts will have a serious impact on the services we provide. We aren't willing to provide a series of mediocre services or ones that won't deliver. That means we are going to have to make difficult decisions about what we do or do not provide, but at the same time ensuring we continue to grow the economy of the city, create jobs and get Manchester people into those jobs and we need a lot more than simply compensating for the jobs being lost in the public sector.
But the most vulnerable - the most in need - are top of our list.
Q. Will council tax be increasing to help make the required savings?
No. Over the past 10 years council tax increases in Manchester have been either at or below the rate of inflation. It means that we now have the third lowest council tax rate in the country. Next year, the council's element of the council tax bill will be frozen - as it was last year. We know how hard things are for Manchester people at the moment and this is one way we can help. Increasing council tax by 1% generates just £1.3m in revenue for the council - which is barely 1% of the savings we need to make next year alone.
Q. Will the provision of front-line services like schools, children and vulnerable adult services, waste collection, homelessness, benefits etc be affected?
The scale of the cuts means that there will be very few services unaffected
Q. What about BMX Centre, Football Museum , etc (current projects) - will these be still going ahead?
These schemes are currently underway, are contractually committed and have money coming from a range of sources, not just the Council. As well as being very important facilities for the people of Manchester , they also drive economic growth. For example, the National Football Museum is expected to attract 350,000 visitors a year when it opens at Urbis. Those people will come from far and wide and will spend money in the city while they're here - helping our economy and keeping people in work.
Q: Why are these cuts being made?
We have no choice. The government has imposed cuts of £110m in the next year. We always knew we would have to make cuts because of the national budget deficit, but no-one could have anticipated that Manchester would face the scale, speed or severity of these cuts.
Q: Why do you keep saying that Manchester 's been treated unfairly?
Not only have the cuts been "frontloaded" - in other words the majority of the cuts over the next four years need to made in the first year - but money has been diverted away from Manchester to other - more affluent - parts of the country. An example of this is the "Supporting People" grant. This was money Manchester received every year to help some of the neediest in our society. It helped older people stay at home rather than go into hospital, it helped families stay together, it helped make our communities safer. We've received a cut of 35% to that grant next year - that's £12.5m, while other, more affluent parts of the country are actually getting more money.
Q: Why is the Council full of so many non-jobs with silly titles, such as "diversity officers"?
It isn't. The Council does not have lots of people sitting around doing nothing, nor jobs that are meaningless. We don't have any "diversity officers". That doesn't mean we don't work with our diverse communities to ensure we are delivering the best possible service - whether they are old, young, black, white, gay, straight, disabled or able-bodied. We do, and we should.
The staff of your Council is made up of people who are dedicated, who care about your city. They're the people who keep our parks in good order, the people who keep our streets clean, the people who step in when youngsters are being abused, who make sure that older people don't freeze to death in winter - as well as the people behind the scenes who help those people do their job.
Q: Why does the chief executive get paid more than the prime minister?
Manchester 's chief executive in fact does not get paid more than the prime minister. This is a myth that is perpetuated by some parts of the press. The prime minister's basic salary is £142,000 - which is indeed less than our chief executive's total remuneration package. But our chief executive doesn't have a home in the centre of London or a country home paid for by the tax payer, as the prime minister does, he doesn't have a driver on call 24 hours a day, as the PM also has. In fact, the prime minister's package is estimated to be worth more than £600k - that's three times what our chief executive is paid. In any case the real comparison with the PM should be with the Leader of the Council who receives barely a third of the PM's basic
Interestingly, the government recently commissioned research which suggested that the highest paid person in any public sector organisation should not be paid more than 20 times more than the lowest paid worker. That is the case in Manchester . Manchester City Council has driven a fair deal for pay for Mancunians - from the lowest paid worker to the top. That's why we introduced our Manchester Minimum Wage, which is higher than the national minimum wage. The Chief exec salary in Manchester is lower than many other local authority bosses and significantly under the going rate for chief executives in the private sector.
Q: Bernstein and Leese do the same job. Why have both?
Our chief executive is appointed by the elected members of the council to ensure it is run in a smooth, effective and efficient way. Sir Richard Leese is an elected member of the council who is put there by the voters of Crumpsall and is, along with the rest of the elected members, responsible for the budget and overall policy of the Council. As Leader he is also responsible for the Executive decisions of the Council and holding the Chief Executive to account for their delivery. Their roles are different - in a similar way to the way in which businesses have a chief executive and chairman with distinct but complementary roles, or in national government it's like the difference between a Cabinet Minister ( elected ) and a Permanent Secretary ( Civil Servant ).
Q: We need to have a debate about what services people want.
Manchester residents were given the opportunity to let us know what they think about our spending priorities during a recent consultation. More than 2,000 residents told us what they thought and will be instrumental in helping us prioritise spending for the coming years.
We will be publishing our budget proposals in detail on February 8th and there will be a two week opportunity to question and comment on those proposals.
Q: Why don't we sell Manchester Airport as that would get us loads of money?
Manchester Airport is part-owned by Manchester City Council and is incredibly successful. The Manchester Airport Group continues to grow. Every year we receive a significant dividend that is reinvested in delivering front line services to the most needy. It would not make financial sense to sell the airport for a one off fee - particularly in these uncertain economic times when we wouldn't see the maximum return for it's value.
Q: If the Council has to make cuts of £110m, why not use the massive war chest of reserves?
We don't have a massive war chest of reserves - that's another myth. We are sensible with what we keep aside for a rainy day and it is about £20m. This is exactly what our auditort tells us we should have in the bank. There was more money in the reserves - about £80m - all allocated for specific purposes. We will now use some of that money to pay for the voluntary severance and early retirement package that we have announced and borrow for building work we can't cancel.
So we don't have huge reserves, and anything we have set aside will be spent. Once you have spent that money, it's gone. The cuts on the other hand are for good.
Q: Doesn't the council do a lot of stuff that's just not important or necessary - look at the money that's wasted on Christmas or things like Manchester Day.
As well as protecting the most vulnerable people in our society, we also have to do all we can to help Manchester grow and support the local economy. We have 1.3m people visiting Manchester each Christmas for the Christmas markets. If we didn't have the markets those people would not come. Independent research shows that it generates an economic benefit to the city of £50m. Similarly, last year we spent £250k on Manchester Day, but it generated an economic benefit to the city of £4.1m.
World-class events like Manchester International Festival, which pumped £35.7m into the city, have raised the Manchester 's profile phenomenally, safeguarding jobs and benefiting the economy. Holding political conferences in the city means that our influence spreads and grows but we also attract visitors who stay and eat and travel around our city spending money, supporting jobs and helping the economy to grow.
While we want people to have a good time at the events we hold, the main reason we do them is for the economic benefit of the city. That means jobs.