UP to 1200 jobs are to go from the city council as it switches to a “Tesco-style” self-service approach for dealing with the public.
Everything from reporting potholes to routine complaints over council tax and registering children for school trips would be processed online in a bid to decrease the amount of “avoidable” contact with residents.
Senior council sources said they wanted the public to be able to interact with the council in the same way shoppers “beep” their goods through self-service check-outs at Tesco and other supermarkets, dramatically cutting the need for face-to-face contact.
They are acutely aware that every time council staff deal face-to-face with a member of the public it costs £20 to £30 to the public purse compared to just a few pence for an online transaction.
A senior council official compared the proposals to Tesco-style self-service checkouts.
He said: “We have financial challenges but we also have customer challenges and a changing demand in what our customers want.
“Customers are demanding very different ways of getting their services so we’ve got to react to their needs and modernise. We’ve been engaging with people and getting their ideas. However, this is still a work in progress and we will keep consulting.
“This is a vision of creating a leaner and more agile council. We feel it can be done and want to get on with it.”
The change is part of a comprehensive overhaul of the way the city is run – billed as the most radical in nearly 20 years – which will see powerful departments dismantled and decision-making in key areas devolved to neighbourhoods.
It is hoped that the transformation will unlock savings of up to £49 million over the next five years, as cash-strapped council leaders battle to slice £138m from their spending over the next two years.
And in a hammer blow to Edinburgh’s army of voluntary workers, nearly £11m could be slashed from grants paid out to third sector organisations operating across the city.
Among the other essential services set to be affected under the management revamp are:
• Primary, secondary and special schools
• Housing and homeless accommodation
• Nurseries, early years centres and support for learning
• Libraries and community hubs
• Youth justice
Just over 1200 council posts face the axe under the plans – roughly one in 20 of the 19,000-strong workforce – although city leaders stress there is a no compulsory redundancy policy and hope to achieve most of the reduction through natural staff wastage.
Council officials hope to save more than £5m over the next five years by making it easier for people to carry out as much of their day-to-day dealings with the council as possible online.
The move to digital transactions will be welcomed by many especially younger professionals because of the time and effort it will save them, but it is likely to concern many other, particularly older residents, who are either not online or who are less comfortable conducting their businesss online.
And the changes could mean swingeing job cuts in areas where workers find themselves made redundant by “self service-style” arrangements.
School librarians across Scotland are already among those facing the axe, with East Renfrewshire bidding to save £131,000 by getting rid of full-time staff and replacing them with senior pupils and self-service points.
City bosses have acknowledged the concerns, adding that all existing means of communication will remain open for those who want to use them as the shift towards digital transactions takes place.
They said the proposed changes were ambitious but necessary as the Capital battles to live within its means amid ongoing pressure on central government grants to local authorities. And they warned that a wide-ranging and controversial package of proposed budget savings would not be enough to balance the books over the coming years.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said: “Having got this far, it’s been very clear to us that the methodology we’ve used to achieve the savings so far is not going to get us over the line to achieve the total amount of savings we need to achieve over the lifetime of the administration.
“That’s why we’ve been looking through the programme to find these additional savings in a different way – through a transformational way of looking at the council’s service delivery, through making it much leaner, fitter and more agile, and making it much more user-friendly for residents and the business community.”
Another key element within the council revamp will be transferring decision-making in areas such as schools and libraries from powerful central directorates to city neighbourhoods.
Council chiefs said the change would be made possible by carving up the Capital into four main “localities”, each with a team of dedicated managers. But they said a number of services would continue to be controlled on a city-wide basis “where it is more economical to do so”.
Planning, roads management and trading standards are among the responsibilities set to be protected under the re-structure.
Cllr Rankin admitted many of the changes would not be easy but stressed that they were not solely about making cuts. “Overall what I think we’ll see is some real positives coming out of this – it’s not simply about finding reductions, about squeezing savings out of the budget,” he said.
“It’s about maintaining and improving services wherever we can. We’re looking to build new schools, for example. That’s an indication of the investment that’s still going on in the city, despite the climate that we’re in.”
He added: “The overall objective, as ever, is to maintain frontline services as far as possible, and to make them as efficient as possible.”
Grants to voluntary groups to be slashed by £11m
GRANTS paid to the Capital’s voluntary groups are to be slashed by nearly £11 million under proposals aimed at achieving the most radical restructuring of the city council in almost two decades.
Council bosses have revealed plans for a ten per cent cut in the £108m they hand over to third sector organisations working with residents and communities across Edinburgh.
They said they were faced with delivering essential frontline services despite acute financial pressure and that they wanted to “challenge partners to be equally innovative in their future approach”.
But rather than just imposing cuts, they said their aim was to work with volunteers in a “totally cooperative way” to help them change how groups operate.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, stressed that there had already been extensive discussion over funding reductions.
And he suggested that considering whether organisations should move to cheaper accommodation was one way core running costs could be reduced.
“There has been quite a lot of elected member contact with the third sector about this,” he said.
“There was a standstill in the budget, which they knew was coming.
“I stressed to them and they have listened and they understand a great deal of the message, which is that this ten per cent does not necessarily mean a ten per cent reduction in the service they deliver, because there are things they can do to be more efficient.
“They can move into a less expensive property. They could move into council property, for example. They could do things in different ways.”
And he said there was an acceptance of the need for efficiencies.
“Although you would expect them not to particularly like the message, they well understand the overall position of the council and why we’re having to do this,” he added.
“I think in principle, in any case, there is a very good argument that we ought to review the amount of money we give to the third sector and look at how far they’re delivering on council objectives.”