STAFFORD’S Shire Hall Gallery could be closed and vacated as part of Staffordshire County Council’s plans to save £109million pounds over the next five years.
The target, announced this week along with the Conservative-led council’s medium term financial strategy, will be achieved not a range of remodels and redesigns and not through a ‘cut and close strategy’, according to a leading councillor.
Deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, resources and transformation, Ian Parry, told the Newsletter it was ‘difficult to say’ how many people would face redundancy or redeployment under the scheme, which will also see youth services across Staffordshire transformed and the possible closure of 38 council-run youth centres.
“I'm fairly sure there will be fewer posts,” he said. “I think we are talking relatively small numbers at the end of the day.
“We believe in keeping redundancies to an absolute minimum and doing anything we can to ensure that people stay employed.”
The report, set to go to the county council’s cabinet next week, identifies areas where savings might be made as well as spending pressures where more money will be needed in the future.
Councillor Parry declined to provide a list of the areas where cuts could be expected.
"You need to go to Birmingham or Walsall if that's what you want. That's not how we do it down there,” he said. “That aint the way we roll in Staffordshire.
“We can't afford the old councils that were in my view over-resourced. We've stripped out £130million from this place and I don't believe we've affected in any way negatively, any services that we provide. That demonstrates this can be done and I think if we are careful and go on that journey and use creativity and care and competence, we can reduce this organisation even further.
"Do you want a council like Staffordshire that does it that way or do you want a council that says yeah, we're going to close all these things and everyone can just suck on it?”
Mr Parry said a consultation would start in January over the plans to overhaul youth services if the plans were approved by the cabinet.
“Our youth services are in a fairly traditional format, and most councils have changed that over time. We think that there are opportunities here to provide services, or provide opportunities for young people that may not currently exist. What they are telling us is that the opportunities that we provide through our service are not what they want.”
Mr Parry said the proposed cuts to youth services would save around £4.5million pounds – with half a million anticipated in year one, £2million in year two and a further £2.6million by year three – as well as possibly generating income in the future through the sale of buildings currently used to host council-run youth centres.
"The bigger problem that we’ve got is that we've got quite a surplus of assets now that aren't utilised sitting there costing taxpayers money,” he said. “What we want to do is see how we can either utilise or dispose of those assets.
“Then we've got lots of buildings where they probably aren't fully utilised so, can we do some sharing and integration that means that actually we've got less buildings overall and we can sell the ones we don't need and we lower the costs across all of the estate.
“There might be a few youth centres in there at the end of the day, I can't guarantee there won't, more than likely there will be but who knows, it depends on the building.”
Another building facing closure and possible sale is Stafford’s Shire Hall Gallery.
The report outlines savings of £1.428million, achieved by relocation of the Shire Hall Library to Staffordshire Place and a ‘realignment of arts provision’ including ‘the vacation of the Shire Hall Gallery and reprovision of the arts offer.
Councillor Parry said he was not critical of the budget cuts from central government.
"I think people would tell you they do believe in smaller councils, that we don't need the big old-fashioned expensive councils that we had in the past. I think this is an opportunity to focus on what's really important.”
Mr Parry said technological changes in society meant councils needed to move fast to keep up and highlighted Staffordshire Place as an example of innovation.
“People criticise us for building a new office over there, but actually what that did was massively improve productivity and performance,” he said. “It's cost-neutral, and it saves us half a million quid a year, plus another, around £300,000 in other operating costs.”
“Surely that's a great deal for taxpayers,” he said. “But then people see it they say 'oh they've spent all this money on this building up there'.
“Facts are different than perceptions some times.”