“Almost 150 members of staff attended the latest round of staff briefings,” said Chief Executive Donald Graham. “Although I was delighted to see so many members of staff, questions were limited. Please know that your input is important and the exchange will never be confrontational – my aim is to answer your questions as fully and frankly as I can.”
At the sessions Donald gave an outline of the financial and economic challenges facing the council. He explained that the Local Government Association has anticipated a £14 billion shortfall in funding by 2019/20 and believe that 60% of councils are no longer able to meet the budget challenge through efficiency improvements alone. We have faced a cut of £875,000 in grants, have increased expenditure - including the cost of a 2% pay award for staff - combined with this being the sixth year we have frozen our part of the council tax. So, what is our approach to this? “We are becoming an entrepreneurial council,” said Donald. “We need to maximise our income through investment, fees and charges; continue to maximise efficiency; use our resources to support an increase in our revenues; review our assets; continue to explore shared services and partnership working; as well as maintain our support to the voluntary sector and invest in staff through training and development.
We also invited staff from across the council to provide an update from their service area. Corporate Communications Manager, Cath Shepherd, gave a quick overview of the residents’ survey, which was conducted between mid-November 2014 and mid-January 2015 with just over a thousand residents over the telephone. It covered overall satisfaction with the council, our services, online council information, contact with us and the local area. The results were generally very positive, with the survey echoing the results of previous years. Ninety per cent of people surveyed are satisfied with Hertsmere as a place to live, with the way the council runs things (89% satisfaction) and the quality of our services (84%). You can see the presentation given at the briefing or read the full results.
Jo Bateman from Electoral Services explained the change in our electoral cycle to whole council elections, which means all our councillors will be up for election at the same time. So, this year's general election will be combined with 83 local seats. The 2015 elections have also seen a change to the Electoral Registration system, which took place nationally in June 2014. Under the old system, electoral registration was taken at face value – a name, address and signature. The new system, called Individual Electoral Registration (IER) means that every applicant has to apply individually and provide personal identifiers, via their National Insurance Number and date of birth. These are sent to the Department of Work and Pensions to verify, making our electoral system more secure and less prone to fraud. A major improvement introduced under IER is the introduction of online registration, which has modernised the electoral registration system.
Jo urged other departments to signpost people who may not be registered to vote to electoral services and to check they themselves are registered. She also reminded staff to get in touch with her or Ben Magill if that want to work on 7 May, either at a polling station or at the count.
The sessions ended with presentation and video from Health and Safety Officer Andrew Turton. He reiterated what we all need to do to stay safe during a fire after our previous fire drill showed it took us seven minutes to evacutate the building. He explained it was vital to keep fire doors closed to slow the spread of smoke and the fire; to keep escape routes clear as visibility is greatly reduced; and to never block fire exits. He also stressed the importance of leaving the building at the nearest available exit, not necessarily by the way you came in; not stopping to collect personal items or drinks; to report to the assembly point; and to never return to the building unless told its safe by the Lead Fire Marshall.
To emphasis his session, Andrew showed a video of a fire at Bradford Football Club, which shows just how quickly a fire can spread and the dire consequences of fire doors being obstructed. The video is harrowing, but does show the importance of getting out of the building as quickly and safely as possible.