Residents will be able to call Medway Council at the evening and weekends to arrange more services than ever before under new changes being brought in.

And people will be able to pop into the council’s five town centre libraries for advice on a much wider array of council issues, and even pay bills.

The changes will come about as a result of the council today (Monday, 23 April) launching the next phase (phase 2) of its Better for Less programme, aimed at driving down costs while maintaining the front line services residents rightly expect.

Medway Council is part way through the three-year programme aimed at making savings following significant cuts to the funding it receives from central government.

But unlike some other local authorities where significant cuts and closures have rapidly been made to specific services, it has thought long and hard about how it can reduce costs by changing the way it works instead.

Medway, which provides around 140 services to nearly 260,000 residents, has consistently been judged as providing value for money.

And it has the lowest council tax in Kent and one of the lowest charges among unitary councils across the UK.

The Better for Less programme will create a total of £14million in savings over three years and is one of a number of ways in which the council aims to lower its overhead costs to take account of central government funding cuts.

The government made an unprecedented 11.9 per cent cut in the council’s funding last year and 8.3 per cent (or around £7million) for this financial year. More government cuts are expected to follow in future years.

When the council started Better for Less, it concentrated on introducing new ways to deal with the hundreds of thousands of telephone enquiries it receives from its residents annually.

This is still ongoing and this new phase will see more services use the shared administration and customer contact hubs now in place.

As part of the improvements, the public will soon be able to call the council for a larger range of services between 8am and 8pm on weekdays and between 9am and 1pm on Saturdays.

The proposals mean the council will continue its programme to create a community hub in each of Medway’s town centres. This will see customer contact point and library staff becoming a joint team providing services under one roof.

This will allow people to go into Medway’s five town centre libraries to order services, and seek advice across more council work areas than they have been able to do before. They will also be able to pay many bills.

These changes will allow the council to maintain all of its 16 libraries while bringing about the savings needed due to government funding cuts.

The council will also introduce a new council wide approach to procurement and commissioning allowing it to save money when it buys in goods and services.

Currently, many teams commission and procure goods and services independently meaning that they may not achieve the best price.

In order to achieve these changes, the council will centralise more support teams and has today started consulting with around 280 staff.

Many of these staff are being consulted over the 90-day period as their roles are changing, and the council expects to delete the equivalent of 70 posts.

Cllr Alan Jarrett, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: “I think it is fair to say that councils, like all other organisations, are facing challenging financial times.

“We have been looking hard at ways we can improve services while saving money and we have now launched the second phase of our Better For Less programme.

“This will help improve the services that residents expect and demand of a large local council like ours and also deliver significant efficiency savings.”

FACT PANEL

The council’s total proposed net revenue budget for this year is £333.440m, of which £127million is a government grant for schools.

Medway Council receives funding through a government grant known as a total formula grant, council tax and other grants.

Its total formula grant, which has now been cut for a second year running, stands at £78,280million for the 2012/13 financial as opposed to £85,402million in the previous 12 months.

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