i've just got back from the programme launch for this year's fourth Manchester International Festival. It is undoubtedly going to be the best yet but as I haven't downloaded a programme yet I'll leave any further comments until later and instead stick with the budget theme. A Blog is a blog not a Q & A but the last but one post, Fighting for Fairness, raised a few questions I thought it was worth commenting on. I won't respond to every point raised not least because many will be answered by actions over the next month or so.
The Fairness petition is in the process of being registered as an e-petition on the national e-government website. As soon as that process is finished I'll post the link here and on Twitter.
The Council's General Fund Reserve is at just about the minimum level recommended by our auditors to cope with unforeseen emergencies i.e. despite what many people claim, the Council doesn't have millions of pounds hanging around that can be used to support the revenue budget. Nowadays, any money carried over to the next year has to be shown as a reserve, so though the accounts will show other and in some cases large reserves, all of this is money is fully committed. An obvious example is the direct school grants reserve which is big and though it appears in the Council's' accounts, it is money that belongs to and can only be spent by Manchester schools.
On to VER/VS. I certainly have no enthusiasm for paying people to give up their jobs or retire early. What I do know though is that a voluntary scheme is much preferable to the alternative of compulsory redundancy and I'm fairly confident now that we will be able to avoid compulsory redundancies for at least the next two years.
That does take me on to the prospects for the next round of cuts. Later this year, the Coalition Government will be carrying out another comprehensive spending review, and if press reports are to be believed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is asking government departments for another round of cuts at least as severe as the current round. Of course we won't know how that will translate into the Council's budget for some time, but does mean that we have to try and make decisions now that anticipate more bad news in the not too distant future.
Finally, swimming pools. Manchester has more swimming pools than the national average. Most of them are old, inefficient and expensive to run. They are clearly well-loved by those who use them but overall they are not well-used. Evidence from here, the Aquatics centre, and elsewhere, particularly Rotherham, suggests that modern facilities are not only cheaper to run but are also far better used. That's why, although we are proposing to close five pools, we are also proposing to build three new ones. In comparative terms, swimmers are getting a much better deal than many other areas of Council service. The overall cut in pools is 10% compared to 14% for adults' and children's care.