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Council hunt for savings to cost up to pounds 1 million; BUDGETS: Tsar's three-month task to find value for money.

Byline: By Fiona Scott POLITICAL EDITOR

TORIES running Coventry City Council want to spend up to pounds 1 million . . . on running a "value for money" unit.

A value for money tsar, David Parfitt, has been hired on a three-month contract to work with senior officers.

And if he doesn't deliver improvements, he'll be sent on his way, according to deputy council leader Tony O'Neill.

Mr Parfitt - who will be paid about pounds 20,000 for the three-month contract - came to the city council in the new year from Walsall Borough Council, where he worked in strategic development for between two and three years.

During his time in Walsall, Mr Parfitt worked in a similar value-for-money role, looking for savings for the authority, which serves more than 253,000 residents in Walsall and the surrounding villages.

Cllr O'Neill admitted his own job could be on the line if the project flopped, but was adamant it would succeed.

He said: "If we didn't think it necessary we wouldn't do it. This is not about empire-building. Yes, it has a cost infrastructure, but these costs, there is no doubt about it, will be recouped in the future."

Labour leader John Mutton said:"My position is quite clear. As a local council we have to provide value for money.

"One of the key planks of the comprehensive performance assessment (town hall league tables) inspectors is to look at is value for money.

"However, is spending pounds 1 million value for money? My attitude is we pay a lot of money to senior managers and budget-holders who should be looking at their expenditure and procurement policies to make sure we get value for money.

"If we don't, they should be held accountable, rather than bring in a quick-fix expert for three months."

The whole project is part of the budget which will be debated at a meeting of the full council tonight.

Tories, who hold exactly half the council's seats, will need all their members there to get their budget through.

Cllr O'Neill wants to set aside pounds 1 million from reserves to pay for the unit.

He said the unit wouldn't necessarily spend all of that' it would depend on what Mr Parfitt and senior officials discovered during initial assessments. They'll be looking at ways of saving money and of providing higher quality services for the same cost.

He defended the decision to bring in an outsider rather than leave it to senior directors and officials to work out their own efficiency savings.

He said: "His expertise is purely in this area, both in the public and private sectors . . . it will complement and improve the experience and knowledge of our senior managers in providing value for money."

Socialist leader Dave Nellist said: "Before hearing more at the full council tonight, I am sceptical of wizards appearing out of nowhere, being portrayed as able to magically find savings.

"My biggest worry would be the easiest savings to make is always jobs."

CAPTION(S):

DEBATE... Cllrs Tony O'Neil, John Mutton and Dave Nellist' FINANCIAL BRIEF... The costs incurred at the Council House are being explored by a specialist
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 21, 2006
Words:522
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