The claim which Jeremy Pembroke, Conservative leader of Suffolk County Council, has been using that Suffolk is “one of the two most cost-efficient county councils in the country” looks dubious.
Wordblog has established that the claim made by Mr Pembroke and other members of his group is based on National Indicator 179, a set of figures submitted to the Audit Commission by councils.
The Audit Commission defines NI179 as: “The total net value of ongoing cash-releasing value for money gains that have impacted since the start of the 2008-09 financial year.” That is further defined with is a series of explanations of the words it contains.
That is opaque, but it simply counts up the savings councils have made on delivering the same service. And Suffolk has made huge savings.
Crucially, the commission says (my emphasis):
Good performance is typified by higher numbers.
However, the indicator will not provide evidence on absolute value for money against which different councils can be judged. The scope for gains will be different in each area, and the ability to report higher numbers may be limited in any organisation that is genuinely delivering excellent value for money.
In other words, Jeremy Pembroke should not have been using the figures in the way he has been. They are a measure of savings made by councils that cannot be used to compare one with another. Those councils which were already efficient would be lower down the savings league.
The savings shown in a document from the Communities and Local Government are remarkable. Suffolk saved £43.25 million by the end of March 2009.
They were beaten only by Kent with savings of almost £45m.
The average sayings for all English counties was £14.9m. The average for councils excluding the two top savers was £12.75m (This includes Essex, at number three with savings of £27.85m.)
To be able to make such savings seems to suggest that until three or four years ago Suffolk was operating extremely inefficiently.
If you are getting confused by all these numbers the method of arriving at them is simple. This is an example of how they are worked out:
In year 1, council A spends £100,000 on providing service X.
In Year 2, it spends £90,000 to provide the service, with no deterioration in its overall effectiveness and taking account of inflation.
The value for money gain contributing to the aggregate total is therefore:
£100,000 – £90,000 = £10,000
I became curious after I noticing that no other councils were making similar claims about their cost efficiency. Normally politicians are only too keen to highlight the efficiency of their administrations.
I asked Suffolk County Council for “material which validates the statement that Suffolk is “the most cost efficient county council” , “the second most cost efficient county council” or “one of the two most cost efficient county councils”.
The response (speedily delivered) was:
Please find attached our N179 return from 2008/09 which is the document on which these words were based. The link below is to our Budget Book which gives some narrative around the chart on pages 9, 10 and 11 and the two together validate the statement.
I can find nothing in the budget book (if you have problems with that link the document is also stored on wordblog) or the two documents (part 1, part 2) sent to validate the statement.
Mr Pembroke has used the phrase “one of the two most cost-efficient county councils” (with or without the word “two”) in a comment to the East Anglian Daily Times, in response to a question after a presentation by chief executive Andrea Hill, and in a letter to every council tax payer in the county last year.
I can find no evidence of the phrase or anything like it being used by any officer of the council. So how does Mr Pembroke justify it? He is welcome to space on wordblog to explain.