Greenwich Council's 'Rethinking Services' transformation programme is "severely behind schedule", prompting the Labour administration to set up a Rethinking Services Financial Management Board after months of calls for this from Opposition Conservative councillors.
News of the establishment of the new Rethinking Services Financial Management Board emerged at Wednesday's Council meeting at Woolwich Town Hall, which saw councillors debate a Labour motion complaining about national policy around local government finance.
In September the Council admitted its overarching services transformation programme - the main vehicle through which the council needs to balance its budget in the coming years - had again been delayed, with only £2.4 million in savings achieved by September against a projection of £11.2 million made only in February 2023. Council Cabinet Member for Finance Denise Hyland confirmed the establishment of the new Board - which Conservative councillors had called for in order to ensure the successful delivery of the programme - in answer to a further question on this from Opposition Leader Matt Hartley.
Speaking at the Council meeting, Councillor Matt Hartley, Leader of the Opposition said:
"The Rethinking Services programme is severely behind schedule. We’ve been told for years that this programme, in its various guises, has not been about cuts – despite what Councillor Hyland said to me in he in her response to me at the October council meeting. Despite what she seems to think, it’s not about cuts, but about improving outcomes for residents, about transforming services to do better. To do more, with less. That’s the council’s corporate approach to Rethinking Services. Why is it that I seem to be more supportive of the council’s corporate approach to this, than she is?
"The Rethinking Services programme was delayed due to Covid, which I entirely understand. Everybody will understand that. What I do not understand, and the question I have been asking as Leader of the Opposition, is why is it the case, since we passed the Medium Term Financial Strategy in February – and since Councillor Hyland’s appointment shortly after that – why is it the case that the Rethinking Services programme been delayed again?. It's now running roughly a year behind schedule.
"I asked earlier, again, what specific governance is in place to ensure the successful delivery of Rethinking Services – it’s a question I’ve asked officers, and raised in Scrutiny – and I’ve been told that there is no specific dedicated governance structure ... And I've learned this evening from [the Cabinet Member's] answer to me is that there is now a Rethinking Services Finance Board which is really important - because for months, as I've been raising, it has been clear that that approach is needed."
In a heated debate, Conservative councillors highlighted that despite Labour's repeated claims that central government funding had fallen in the current Parliament, Government funding for Greenwich Council has increased by £40.3 million since 2019 - with an increase of £18.8 million going into the current 2022/23 financial year, the third significant increase of this Parliament.
The new Leader of the Council's forthcoming decision to hire a taxpayer-funded Special Adviser - having already significantly increased communications spending in the first year of his administration - also came under criticism.