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Monday, September 26, 2011

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Consultants expose inefficiencies

‘Come clean over pool deal’

‘RED TAPE’ BILL TO HIT £600k

BY ALEX CAMPBELL

alex.campbell@thesentinel.co.uk

A DAMNING report today reveals the extent to which Stoke-on-Trent City Council has become engulfed by red tape. Consultants drafted in to help the local authority cut its budget will be paid up to £200,000 more to find extra savings. The decision to extend Vanguard Consulting’s work at the authority could take the firm’s total bill to more than £604,000. A review of the savings identified by Vanguard condemns inefficiencies in a number of the services reviewed – including adult social care and highways. Consultants found that: ■ Arranging for dropped kerbs to be installed took an average of two years, and sometimes up to 1,148 days – more than three years; ■ Making a record of one defect on one of the city’s roads involved 14 separate pieces of paperwork and 16 inputs on the computer system; ■ A request for work on highways took an average of 34 days to file, and sometimes up to 75 days;

■ It was taking up to 93 days for customers to receive benefits after claiming, leaving them unsure about whether benefits were being paid and resulting in some being targeted by debt collectors; ■ Every repair carried out at a council property was followed up with a 50p posted letter – resulting in 1,350 letters being sent out every week at a total cost of £35,100 a year; ■ Maintenance workers were often sent out to repair road defects that had already been repaired; ■ Carers and disabled people contacting Stoke-on-Call to discuss adaptations to their homes were left waiting for an hour before being passed on to another “team” who asked the same questions; ■ It can take more than a year to fit stairlifts, and the £65 equipment costs the council £223 to process. The council said Vanguard has identified savings of £600,000 so far, resulting in a net saving of £200,000. As well as identifying inefficiencies, part of Vanguard’s work involves train-

ing staff to learn its methods. The Buckingham firm was brought in last year with a view to being used for up to three years at a total cost of up to £4 million. Councillor Paul Shotton, cabinet member for transformation, pictured, said: “These are savings that will still be there year on year on year. “We are challenging officers to make sure we see savings and a real return on what we’re spending. There are processes that should be completed in five or six steps that take 20 steps. “It’s important to emphasise that the consultants train our people to think differently so there will come a time when they are not needed anymore. “Savings will eventually be in the millions.” The council is trying to implement budget cuts of £36 million this year, and talks will soon begin on how about £25 million more can be cut in 2012/13. The cabinet is due to approve plans to extend Vanguard’s intervention on Thursday. COMMENT: Page 10

What do you think? Email us at letters@thesentinel.co.uk

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THE Sentinel has apologised to readers who were confused when Saturday’s Weekend Sentinel was published with two different prices on its front cover. Mike Sassi, the Editor-inChief of The Sentinel, said: “I‘d like to think we don’t often make mistakes. However, it seems that on this occasion we’ve made a howler – and I have to hold up my hands and apologise. We’re very sorry for the trouble we’ve caused our loyal customers.” Last Saturday’s cover price mistake has been blamed on a production error. The new Saturday edition of The Sentinel, which is called Weekend Sentinel and includes the New Green ‘Un, The Way We Were and the Sentinel Magazine, was launched earlier this month. Its cover price is 60p.

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A LOCAL authority faced renewed pressure today to reveal the details of a secret settlement with businessman Mo Chaudry following a swimming pool dispute. The Waterworld entrepreneur reached the agreement with cash-strapped Stoke-on-Trent City Council last week after dropping his threat of legal action against them. He had claimed officers broke a deal to close Dimensions splash pool and pay him around £100,000-ayear to offer cut-price entry at Waterworld. Both sides have so far refused to disclose the details of the settlement. Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents group, said: “I can’t see how they can get away with this because the information is in the public interest. There are a lot of people who want to know the details.”


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