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How many employees are the right ‘fit’?

Clarence Valley Council (CVC) is consulting the public about its proposed $15million special rate variation (SRV) and services cutback. To achieve this, CVC has proposed cuts to staff numbers through the elimination of services. These service cuts result in savings of $2.19 million over the 17/18 financial year – as adopted at the May council meeting and now on exhibition – due to a reduction of 23.9 full time equivalent employees (FTEs). Total savings over the four-year period to 2020/21 are estimated to be $8.544 million, the report to council states. Figures in the draft 2017/18 budget profit and loss statements appear to confirm the savings. Under the heading, ‘Salaries, Wages & Oncosts’, the draft budget shows an increase from the 2016/17 revised budget of $37,274,054 to $ 37,820,388 – an overall increase of $546,344 for 2017/18. However, there is a ‘saving’ of $3,401,300, due to a predicted drop in consultant fees ($616,836) and using council staff instead of engaging outside contractors ($2,784,464). Savings across the above lines in the council’s budget equal $2,854,956, less a $77,166 increase in ‘Other Employee Costs’. The Independent has unsuccessfully sought clarification over the past week regarding how the appropriate number of employees at CVC is ascertained, as a result of an additional clause being inserted into its Workforce Management Strategy (also on exhibition). “The strategy acknowledges council’s preference that there be no nett reduction in the number of full time equivalent council staff employed by the council, after accounting for the adopted forecast reductions that will result from depot rationalisation, natural attrition and other adopted efficiency savings measures,” the paragraph states. This would be achieved, in part, by a “selected reduction in consultant and contractor engagement in favour of council staff to provide the relevant services”. However, it is now unclear whether this is actually supported by councillors. At this month’s (May) council meeting, councillors rescinded these objectives when discussing the legality of that paragraph, initially adopted at an extraordinary meeting in November 2016. The Independent also unsuccessfully enquired about where the council stood on actions taken since late 2012, when CVC adopted the outcomes of a review to its structure, conducted by Blackadder Associates. This review stated in its summary: “In general we find that the current structure must be changed to deliver the productivity improvements and financial savings required for the future to invest in community services and replace assets and infrastructure.” At point 7 of the summary, ‘Measuring Performance’, it states: “The actions on findings will see a comprehensive corporate performance measurement system introduced which will enable the council to review services, identify poor performing areas, head off any emerging problems, and publicly acknowledge significant achievements.” Deeper into the report it states: “The final report will also contain a detailed action plan identifying strategies and actions, timing, roles and responsibilities in delivering the action plan, priorities for delivering the action plan and activities to report on and monitor progress in implementing the action plan. “It will also address the financial impacts of report recommendations.” The council has not provided this report (if it exists) to the Independent. Meanwhile a report that explored CVC’s ‘operational structure’ was tabled at the March council meeting, which was the result of a mayoral minute following the September 2016 election. However, this report was downgraded to a ‘desktop’ preliminary review, instead of a full review, as adopted by councillors (except Cr Toms) at the December 2016 council meeting. This decision effectively removed actions that would involve creating a “performance setting, monitoring and review framework”, as initially called for in Cr Simmons’ mayoral minute. Significantly, the preliminary desktop review made similar observations, while acknowledging improvements, to those highlighted in the 2012 Blackadder report, when it came to “tackling the silo mentality”, “measuring performance”, “creating one council”, and other sub headings; however, these observations were not formally adopted at the tabling of Crest Performance’s report at the March meeting.