Wednesday, 21 September 2011

What would you cut?

While the youth services and libraries take the brunt of the cuts in Oxfordshire I have been chasing the release of the >£500 spending data from Oxfordshire County Council. Up until yesterday (21/09/11) they had only released up to March 2011. Now they have finally released the data up to and including July.

While running a few sql queries and looking at the data I have found some areas of spending where I don't think OCC have looked hard enough for savings.

For example OCC have under the pay narrative "expenses" between November 2010 and July 2011 spent 5,2 million, this is a average of 580k a month. It has gone down a bit as a monthly figure in the last few months, July was 289k for example, but without the preceding years data we don't know if this is a real trend. And to be honest, 289k is still too high. To pick a single supplier from within this:

Witney Lakes Resort: £6802, this appears to be for conferences and training. OCC have buildings all over the county with conference rooms, why Witney Lakes?

And incidentally, where the pay narrative is "conference" they spent 73k over the period. Again Oxfordshire is full of OCC property with conference rooms, why they have to hire expensive venues is puzzling. They can book our village hall for £6 an hour!

Similarly on non-school taxis over the same period (November 2010 and July 2011) OCC have spend £176,525.73 thousand. An average of 19k a month, peaking in December to 26k and the lowest point being 10k in May.

On payments to Vodafone, there are only a few councillors that have blackberries and some of their numbers are on the OCC site. I don't see any other mobile numbers on there. They have 22 thousand employees and are spending on average 59k a month.

I'm on Orange payg, I have a smart phone (Orange San Francisco Android, its very good!) and I pay ten pounds a month. If every single employee had a phone, it would break down to £3.7 a month. Clearly they all don't have phones and I would imagine the monthly spend for each handset being probably a more than my tenner, why do they all need mobiles anyway. I suspect they are given out as a perk rather than a legitimate business case.

Within the library budget itself, in their CIPFA submissions the other expenditure was 3.2 million and they have estimated it only going down to 3.1 million.

This isn't the direct spend on libraries, this is the internal recharging on HR, admin, payroll etc. The rural libraries are facing 66% cuts, the other expenditure only 3.1%. The actual library budget itself is on 7.9 million, the 3.1 million doesn't sound like it has been subject to savage cuts to me.

This is some of the pivoted data I picked out by month:

I think there is also too much redacted spending, yes there is data protection issues but there isn't really any detail to make any judgement.

For example under "Other Agency and Contracted Services" spending area "SCS and Pooled Budget" there is 6.1 million of spending that has has "redacted person data."

We get no further information at all on this, nothing. I am not in anyway implying anything dodgy, but if there was there is zero visibility on this spending for taxpayers.

I don't for one minute say all of the above spending isn't legitimate, but don't forget this isn't everything they spend on taxis, expenses and mobile phones etc, this is just the stuff they have paid a bill for over £500 pounds during the period. Where they have claimed back on receipts, company credit cards or the bill was less that £500 it won't appear here.

The point I am trying to make is, whenever we argue that front line services should't be cut, we are given a binary emotive argument like "if it isn't libraries then it has to be social care".

The small  amount they are saving by cutting the rural libraries (370k) is literally peanuts in the billion pound budget. Their new website went live the other day (still lots of dead links btw!) clearly other spending is going on that I believe the taxpayers would rather see cut than libraries and youth centres.

Here is the link to the 500 pound spending data:

And if you are feeling brave the full combined dataset, go on its your money after all!

And a previous blog post where I put some of these kinds of arguments to Keith Mitchell, leader of Oxfordshire County Council. The man likes to travel in comfort :D

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