Saturday, September 07, 2013

Partnership Working - The Sop for Swindon's Budget Cuts

Whether it's the Big Conversation, or the One Swindon Partnership, Swindon Borough Council seems eager to keep making a lot of getting by with very little.

In the run-up to the 2010 General Election, much was made of how government departments and agencies would need to work closer, sharing budgets, staff, equipment and more as budget cuts were coming. This policy was embraced strongly by Swindon Borough Council with both arms, as they rushed to work out how to save £15 million from one year to the next. Much was made of moving the council towards just being an 'enabler' (which sounds creepy) that would let contracts to companies to do all the jobs the local authority had previously carried out.

Another main plank was getting departments of the council, it's 'partners' (mainly it's hugely contracted-to-do-everything Capita and Swindon Commercial Services) and even, in the longer term, other neighbouring local authorities, to work in partnership to provide service and projects.

It seems even nearly 4 years later, if the word 'partnership' can be tacked onto anything, no matter how unnecessary the service or project, it's elevated to a solid level of respectability. However there's a big problem that's now being hit and that's money.

Getting departments and organisations to get to know each other and build up local knowledge is fine and should be encouraged, but trying to squeeze the same amount of productivity as pre-2010 from a council that has mostly part-time staff, tiny departments and have lost much of their local knowledge is trying to simply deny the simple truth.

If you want greater productivity and a council that plans properly for the future, we need to spend money on it. Otherwise all that'll be left is a person manning a telephone desk and a warehouse full of orange paint.

Are their any councillors arguing for investment into council manpower? Strategies and partnerships don't empty the bins.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Swindon's Buses : Our Local Councillors' Political Panic Room

If you catch the bus in Swindon, whether it's Stagecoach, Thamesdown, Wilts and Dorset, or even National Express, you may not have realised that your method of transport has become a political safe ground for the town's politicians.

Since the reduction in bus subsidy locally by Swindon Borough Council and the reduction in the Bus Service Operator Grant, the attitude of councillors towards this method of transport has become something to observe.

But even back in May 2010, we got an early warning of what was to come in terms of councillors attitude (

However, after the cutting of carparking charges in the town centre and the rise in people walking through the town centre, those two events were linked as cause and effect. Something that was not taken into account included businesses taking car parking spaces for their employees (that would also show up as a 'shopper' in the council view of things, with an office worker walking past the cameras recording the numbers whilst doing their Monday to Friday '9 to 5') and the number of 'shoppers' traveling to and from the town centre by bus (or indeed train).

Why was the effect of bus travel on town centre footfall not distinguished? It could be the love-hate relationship that Swindon Borough Council appear to have with their own bus company, Thamesdown Transport. Don't forget, the council own Thamesdown Transport. Love, because in the good times, it can generate a welcomed income for the council and the fallback is always available of selling TT if things get really bad and we build even more roads to nowhere at Wichelstowe and we suddenly have to really pay for them. And hate because councillors can (and indeed have been doing a lot recently) of faux outrage when TT announce a proposed change to a bus route to keep themselves in the black. 

These route changes wouldn't be needed if Swindon Borough Council hadn't decided to cut it's bus subsidy in half from £400,000 to £200,000 to balance it's books. What's made worse is that councillors continue to play politics as they 'battle' to save services that everyone knows don't have a hope in hell's chance of lasting commercially because there aren't enough passengers.

But instead of explaining that the only way to keep them running is to put council subsidy into them, councillors rally against the bus companies (including Thamesdown, which the council and therefore every single taxpayer in Swindon owns) and blame the big bad bus companies!

So once and for all, Swindon councillors, stop cutting bus subsidies for unprofitable routes and then blaming the bus company when they can't make it pay it's way with a handful of passengers a day and need to close it.

The town, it's bus passengers and especially all those staff at Thamesdown Transport deserve better transport politics than using the bus as your political safe ground.