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The budget fact check - questions and answers

All councils are facing huge budget challenges due to increasing costs and insufficient funding. Understandably, this brings council budgets into sharp focus and places them under greater scrutiny. Often council budgets are the focus of online discussions. We've taken some of the questions that are often put to the council and provided some answers. We hope you find this useful.

06 February
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All councils are facing huge budget challenges due to increasing costs and insufficient funding.

Council budgets are often discussed online and in the media. We've taken some questions that are often put to the council and provided answers.

Why don't you stop giving council staff bonuses?

  • Answer: Council staff don't get bonuses. Staff pay is determined within agreed pay scales which align with job descriptions.

Why don't you stop giving council staff free lunches?  

  • Answer: Staff do not receive free lunches

Why don't you reduce the amount of managers that work for the council?

  • Answer: We have already taken steps to reduce management where possible and focus on front line service delivery. Excluding teachers, managers account for only 2% of the council's total workforce, and the number of management roles in the council has reduced by 7% in the past year.

Why doesn't the council reduce the numbers of managers and high earners?​​​​​​​

  • Answer: West Lothian Council operates a lean management structure, and aims to have the minimum number of managers required to ensure effective service delivery. A recent independent report by the independent Local Government Benchmarking Framework (LGBF) network showed West Lothian had the fourth lowest support costs of Scotland's 32 councils.
  • Around 65% of the council's highest earning staff are in Education, such as school head teachers, whose salaries are determined by a national agreement rather than the council. Out with Education, the number of council staff on the highest salary levels has already reduced by around 25% between 2012/13 and 2017/18. 

  • The number of council staff paid over £50,000 in 2012/13 was 51.  With inflation factored in, a £50,000 salary in 2012/13 would be equivalent to £58,000 in 2017/18.  The number of council staff paid over £58,000 in 2017/18 was 38, which represents a fall of approximately 25%.

Why don't you stop your final salary pensions?

  • Answer: Council staff don't receive final salary pensions. Apart from teachers, council staff are part of the Lothian Pension Fund's (LPF) Local Government Pension Scheme which moved to a career average salary scheme in 2015.

Why did you introduce slim bins? That must have cost lots?

  • Answer: Slim bins actually save the council money, which is a big reason they were introduced in the first place. Councils have to pay to dump non-recyclable waste in landfills and these costs are very expensive, and increasing.

    Yes, we did have to buy new bins but the amount of money we save on landfill costs outweighs the cost for the slim bins.

    They have also helped West Lothian record the largest rise in household waste recycling rates in the whole of Scotland.

You have a budget underspend. Why don't you just spend that?

  • Answer: The council's budget gap represents a recurring position where, on an ongoing basis, unless action is taken to balance the budget, expenditure would be greater than income.  Although the council had an underspend in 2017/18, which was fully committed to specific projects and pressures, prudent financial management means one off amounts should not be used balance budgets.  If the underspend was used to offset proposed savings in any one year, the benefit would be for one year only, meaning the saving would have to be found in the following year.  This would not eliminate the need for saving, but only delay it by one-year.  The council is forecasting an overspend for 2018/19, as reported to Council Executive in September 2018, so there would be no underspend for this year.

    Put simply, it is not the answer to balance the council's budget gap.

You have lots of pool cars sitting doing nothing. Surely that's a waste on money?

  • Answer: The council is reducing the number of pool vehicles by 33% in line with reductions made to business mileage. This reduction in vehicles will drive an increase in utilisation and the council will continue to use available technology to monitor and improve pool vehicle use.

Why don't you stop staff taking council vehicles home?

  • Answer:All staff members that take vehicles home must have a good business case to do so. For example, one of the main reasons for staff taking work vehicles home is that it increases efficiency. The driver will travel straight to/from their first/last on-site job each day and will not visit their normal work base or depot first.

    Basically, if a council joiner stays in Whitburn and works mainly in Armadale, it is more efficient for that joiner to take their vehicle home and go straight to their jobs in the morning, rather than travel from Whitburn to Livingston (work base) each morning, pick up their council vehicle, then travel back across the county to Armadale to begin work. Then, at the end of the day, have to leave a job earlier to take the van back to Livingston.

    Home to work transport also covers staff who are on-call standby and work over weekends and evenings. There are strict rules around the use of council vehicles and each arrangement is reviewed each year.

Why do I see council staff sitting in their vehicles doing nothing?

  • Answer: Staff are entitled to breaks throughout the day.  Many council staff involved in the delivery of essential services for local residents, such as roads maintenance, waste collection and social care, work a variety of hours and shifts as their role requires.

Councils are bureaucratic and inefficient. Surely you could learn a thing or two from the private sector in terms of modern working practices?

  • Answer: Council officers have undertaken many initiatives to streamline and remove duplication in processes, including the greater use of technology.  Council services benchmark service delivery with other councils, local community planning partners and the private sector.  This lets us identify best practice can be used to improve and modernise working practices and processes.

The council is full of highly paid consultants. Why don't you stop paying expensive consultant fees?

  • Answer: This is not true. The council makes very limited use of consultants (for expertise not available from existing staff) and has been decreasing spend on consultants over a number of years.  Total consultancy to support service delivery in 2017/18 was £54,000, which was a reduction of just under £150,000 from the council's consultancy costs in 2012/13.

Why don't you stop building expensive new offices?

  • Answer: The council's office modernisation project has focused on consolidating buildings into one location and has generated substantial savings.  In addition, the introduction of partnership centres, whereby smaller council buildings are consolidated into one facility has also generated savings for the council.

Why don't you stop giving away free prescriptions?

  • Answer: We don't. The council has no control over this national policy, nor do we pay for them.

Why don't you reduce MPs and MSPs salaries?

  • Answer: This is out with the council's control. MPs and MSPs don't work for the council.

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