“No to Status Quo” – this was the tagline under which a major restructuring of Brighton and Hove City Council was billed.

But 12 months after four £125,000-a-year director roles were created, what change has actually happened?

Not a great deal, say some opposition councillors, who claim nearly two years after plans for a “new way of working” were revealed there is “little evidence” of it actually operating.

Rather than help make the planned £50 million of savings in the next three years, critics add they believe it is actually costing more than £1 million extra a year to run.

But, as those responsible for the new system were yesterday questioned on progress in front of the local authority’s scrutiny committee, council chiefs and city bosses maintained things were on track with the programme for |long-term change.

They added it could be a number of years before the system, dubbed “intelligent commissioning” actually works as planned.

The Argus can reveal:

  • Few services, if any, have been commissioned under the new process despite documents stating it would start in June 2011.
  • Little has happened because council chiefs spent months gathering information they admit, on reflection, they did not need.
  • Experts believe the points drafted in one of four key areas could have been made in one day rather than the year it took the council.
  • There is no indication of when the system could be up and running. Examples given of other local authorities indicate other models took six years.
  • Council chief executive John Barradell could not tell the committee how much had been spent on commissioning pilot schemes in the last 12 month – he did say they were paid for out of “existing resources”.

Meanwhile Labour and Co-op leader Gill Mitchell, chairman of the watchdog committee, said she believes the new structure is currently costing between £1 million and £2 million more a year to run compared to the previous one.

Political choices

Speaking after last night’s meeting she said: “It’s good in parts and where there is a history of commissioning, such as children’s services, there is evidence of it working.

“But in other areas it’s not actually started yet.”

At the meeting last night council chief executive John Barradell was joined by fellow council chiefs, representatives from Sussex Police, the NHS and the Community and Voluntary Sector Forum.

Mr Barradell said it was the council officers’ job to bring the evidence to the table and allow politicians to make choices, particularly around spending.

Council chiefs added change did not happen overnight and the “golden strand” of the new system was already beginning to be seen in decisions.

But the Conservative group of councillors questioned why city-wide commissioning, as it was first sold to them, had not yet been put in place.

Group leader Geoffrey Theobald said:“As far as I’m aware, not one single service has yet been commissioned since the new structure was put in place.”

A council spokesman said the financial benefits will “start being seen over the next two years”.

See the full two-page report with detail on intelligent commissioning, pilot projects and timeline, inside today's Argus.

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