East Herts Council reorganisation: Home working for staff and more online services for residents key to bid to save £1m
East Herts Council is preparing for a “once-in-a-lifetime” reorganisation to save £1m to help plug an extra £3.25m hole in its budget.
On Tuesday evening (July 6) the district council’s Conservative leader was set to tell fellow cabinet members that the alternative was to do nothing and cut services to balance the books.
Cllr Linda Haysey’s report to the executive was stark: “Many councils are facing unprecedented financial pressures brought on not only by Covid but also reduced funding (in real terms) as well as increasing demand for services.
“In addition to the savings already identified as required in future years, a budget gap of £2.389m has been identified for 2022-23 rising to £3.25m in 2023-24 and beyond.”
While the pandemic has blown a hole in EHC’s finances, it has also signposted a partial solution, with remote working for many staff – who numbered 348 in 2020 – and online access for residents at the forefront of a £1m transformation plan.
Cllr Haysey said: “The leadership team has taken this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to review how council services are delivered to the customer and what we can achieve as an organisation to service our residents even more efficiently and effectively.”
She called for an organisational and cultural change, and warned: “This will result in some difficult and unpopular decisions being taken in coming months.”
The council has already been forced to slash spending on Bishop’s Stortford’s new Old River Lane arts centre, replacing a £30m theatre-led development with an unpopular £15.5m scheme centred on a five-screen cinema.
EHC’s new direction puts a question mark over its base at Charringtons House in the Causeway and its headquarters in Hertford.
Cllr Haysey said: “Working remotely has become a way of life for many, but it is recognised that better collaboration takes place face to face and that not all officers or members have found the transition as easy as others.
“Through ‘Transforming East Herts’ it is proposed that blended, flexible ways of working are adopted to help reduce the council’s carbon footprint, supporting sustainability, reduce the required office space, enabling options such as renting out office space to be explored to provide an income as well as a reduction in operating costs.”
For residents, that means a one-stop-shop online and a “My East Herts” portal where they can view all their transactions with the authority and check council tax, benefit payments and waste services.
The council started charging £49 a year for garden waste collections in April and 92% of customers signed up and paid online. Cllr Haysey said: “The challenge moving forward is to move even more customer contact online and to automate processes.”
She told the cabinet: “Projects will not be undertaken unless they deliver financial benefits. Any projects that do not deliver financial benefits will not proceed.”