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Manchester legal team survives worst of cutbacks

The legal services department at Manchester City Council appears to have survived the local authority’s severe cutbacks relatively unscathed, it has emerged.

A report to be considered by Manchester’s Executive on 16 February says: “There is good evidence that our Legal Service is more cost effective than external provision and externalising this service would, therefore, only increase costs. In light of the settlement £50k efficiency savings have been identified and the service will work with directorates to consider opportunities for further savings, for example, reducing external legal costs.”

It adds: “We are actively assessing whether collaborative working with other AGMA councils has the potential to deliver longer term improvements, as well as further efficiencies.”

Last month Manchester and Salford City Council confirmed to Local Government Lawyer they were reviewing their legal teams, with a shared service one option under consideration.

Manchester’s budget proposals set out how it will make £109m of savings over the next financial year, rising to £170m in 2012/13. The council said it needed to make 25% savings overall over the next two years, adding that it had needed to find £60m more savings than anticipated as a result of the local government financial settlement.

Key proposals in the budget include:

  • The loss of 2,000 posts, 41% of which will be managers. “We aim to do this through a programme of voluntary severance and voluntary early retirement,” the council said. This will be funded primarily through reserves set aside for major capital programmes
  • Cutting the adults budget by 21% or £39.5m. “The service will have to stop providing some things, charge more for others or ask partner agencies or community groups to provide the service”
  • Closure of Manchester Advice “in recognition of the availability of new city-wide legal advice provision” and concentration on those deemed most in need
  • Reduction of the Supporting People grant by £12.6m or 35%, although the council said it would top this up by £4m
  • Less care will provided to people, eligibility criteria will be more strictly defined and charges for services will be reassessed
  • Children’s services will deliver savings of £45.1m or 26% of its budget. Safeguarding of vulnerable children “remains paramount” and the number of social workers employed by the authority will be increased. The budget for looked after children will be increased by £6m
  • Many youth services will no longer be provided directly. Responsibility for running youth centres will be transferred to partner agencies, but the council will still have a commissioning budget of more than £1m. Centres will be closed if they are not taken over by other organisations
  • The universal provision of early years activities will be transferred, and a more targeted family offer will be commissioned
  • Savings of £31.2m will be made from neighbourhood services (29% of its budget). These will be achieved by changing waste and recycling activities, and reviewing library services and parking controls
  • Three leisure centres and a sailing centre will close but the council will seek alternative management arrangements
  • Local neighbourhood teams – such as Street Management and Manchester Contracts – will be consolidated
  • The “corporate core” will provide £33.9m in savings. At 35% of budget, this is higher than “frontline” departments. The IT, HR and research and policy teams will be restructured, while the council’s property will be reviewed
  • Events such as the annual Lord’s Mayor reception will be cancelled. Council publications will no longer be distributed to every home in the city
  • A 22% reduction in grant funding to voluntary sector organsiations, leaving a commissioning budget of £31m
  • A freeze in council tax for the second year running
  • The creation of a Manchester Investment Fund, with £37m of ringfenced funding.

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: "Putting this budget together has involved the most difficult, and in many ways most unpalatable, process I have been involved in since I was first elected to the Council.

"I cannot and will not pretend that the financial position in which we have  been placed is anything other than bad news. Manchester is the fourth most deprived local authority area in the country but is among the top five hardest hit local authorities. But we are doing everything we can to protect and maintain the services which people need and make sure funding is targeted where it will make the most positive difference."

Philip Hoult