County hall's new cash cuts

SHAUN LOWTHORPE County Hall is launching a fresh cost cutting drive after revealing it spends more than £25m in areas including head hunters, hotels, taxis, and temporary staff.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

County Hall is launching a fresh cost cutting drive after revealing it spends more than £25m in areas including head hunters, hotels, taxis, and temporary staff.

This week householders across Norfolk were hit with a 4.75pc rise in council tax for the county's share of the bills.

And the ruling Tory administration has approved a plan to get cheaper deals on outside contracts as part of a three year bid to reign in increases by saving £4m a year.

Areas of spending being targeted include:

£7m on taxis to ferry youngsters to school

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£3.6m on business and marketing consultants

£2.5m on temporary staff

£630,000 on head hunters

£500,000 on local hotels and conference booking

Tony Williams, cabinet member for commercial services and efficiency, said the aim was to keep down council tax bills while still delivering high quality services.

“We're looking for better value for money everywhere,” he said. “It's looking after the pennies so that the pounds will look after themselves.”

And he insisted that the council was not being profligate with its finances

“It's part of our efficiency drive to get better value for money for council tax payers and continue to provide good services,” he added. “In a large organisation you are bound to get areas where costs have gone up and need looking at. Everything is being reviewed, conferences and hotels are being looked at. By the end of the period more than £4m will be saved on costs - that's equal to 1.5pc spent on council tax.”

Jane Waring, the council's head of procurement said: “The big gains are going to be on things such as hotel bookings and conferences, because we haven't done anything on that before.

“As far as taxis are concerned we might be able to negotiate better rates - it's about trying to make it a more streamlined process.”

Another aim is to produce a list of consultants' rates to give staff an idea of the costs before they decide to bring them in.

“What we are after is some idea of comparable day rates,” she said. There's a national framework available but what we are trying to do is put something in place that's more specific to us.”

In the last six months there were 504 bookings in hotels across the country with the annual total costing around £260,000.

Local hotel bookings for conferences included: De Vere Dunston Hall, Barnham Broom Hotel and Golf Club, Dereham Town FC, Swallow Nelson Hotel, Marriott Sprowston Manor, Holiday Inn, Aylsham Lodge Hotel, Links Country Park and Golf Club, Oaklands Hotel, Caistor Hall, Bell Hotel, and Hotel Wroxham.

The council spent £35,000 a year on air fares with the most frequent destinations being Manchester, Exeter, Bristol and Edinburgh, but there were also overseas trips to Spain, Holland, Sweden and Germany. Over six months there were 256 air trips, including 28 overseas, at a cost of £28,220 - but the authority said it still saved £43,000 after pursuing deals online and with budget air line operators.

The full contracts list under review is:

£2.5m on temporary staff

£630,000 on head hunters

£357,000 on provision of HGVs

£500,000 - local hotel and conference bookings

£1.96m - computer software

£1m - plant hire with operator

£2.6m - general business consultancy

£1m - marketing and design consultants

£30,000 - lone worker protection

£4m - leasing arrangements

£35,000 - air travel

£452,000 - self-drive vehicle hire

£7m - taxis

£1.1m - desk top PCs

£477,000 - office furniture

£500,000 - protective clothing

£1.5m - car provision project

£260,000 - national hotel bookings

£180-£200,000 - rail travel

£43,000 - fire extinguisher servicing.