prompts U-Turn on cuts
But Ealing Council to press on with controversial "Response Programme"
Large protests outside a meeting of Ealing Council this month seem to have resulted in a rethink of policy. Swingeing cuts to funding for voluntary groups were being proposed as the borough struggled to keep spending under control.
After discussions with the Ealing Community Network, £275,000 of proposed cuts are being returned to various groups. However, £336,000 is still to be taken from the funding of the voluntary sector in the borough and many groups face closure. In addition cuts in non-statutory service continue.
There has been no indication that the Council is prepared to scale back spending on its "Response Programme" which is estimated to cost over £50 million. Several senior Council Officers have left the Council recently and there is a widespread belief that their departures relate to dissatisfaction over the amount of money being spent and the direction the programme is taking.
The Council reacted to initially being rated "weak" by the Audit Commission by initiating the programme which will involve the creation of the most expensive call-centre ever set up by a UK Local Authority (£7 million) and a £19mn computer system to improve the way queries from the general public are handled. Much of the spending will be on the implementation of a Customer Relations Management system which will centralise the way that residents' queries are dealt with. The Council is also planning a community web portal, to be funded by advertising, which they say will be based on the format of ActonW3.com and ChiswickW4.com.
Concern is being raised that the Response Programme is already leading to a sharp increase in salary cost. The Council recently advertised in the Guardian for a financial manager for the programme who will be paid up to £50,000. They have also appointed Richard Davies, as its first 'Marketing Director'. He was formerly a Director of Swiss Life (UK) plc. As well as bringing together all existing marketing and communications activities within the council, his brief includes new income generation, improving government relations and coordinating a research strategy to ensure that the Council's priorities reflect customer needs.
He said on his appointment, "Ealing Council has committed to a highly innovative change programme and I am very excited to be part of it. We will be using modern marketing techniques to ensure that our customers understand how they can benefit from the changes."
The Council have also employed consultants Live Communication to improve their image. This company specialises in something called experiential marketing which they claim is the fastest growth sector marketing services. The idea involves face to face marketing as opposed to traditional media. Live Communications have done work in this field for Mercedes Benz and Microsoft's Xbox game console. They have used workshops and films to persuade all staff, including road sweepers, that they were the public face of Ealing Council.
Mike Lockett, Chairman and Founder of Live was quoted as saying, �If you can change the way your audience feel, you can change the way they behave.�
At the same
time the latest budget proposals from the Council continue to deliver
cuts to existing services. They are not filling a vacancy in the play
services budget and reductions are being made in school holiday staffing
at the same time charges are being increased.