Hertfordshire County Council has brought in a team of consultants – as part of a £16m project to slash up to 400 jobs, improve efficiency and cut costs.

Staffing, buildings and technology are all being scrutinised as part of the ongoing review, which is highlighted in the council’s 24/25 budget proposals.

The work is expected to result in changes that will save £16m a year, from 2025/6 onwards – reducing staff numbers by an estimated 400.

As part of the review, consultants are looking to identify duplication and to highlight any gaps at the council – looking at whether departmental services like finance, communications and business support could be "consolidated".

They are analysing the council’s structures and teams, as well as efficiencies of processes and technologies.

And they will also consider how technology could streamline processes and improve access to services, as well as improving how the council uses and responds to data.

Senior managers have already been surveyed on the shape and size of the organisation – as well as the ways of working – as part of the review. And that is now being used to shape future plans.

Deputy chief executive Scott Crudgington says the "organisational resourcing" review is being driven by the council’s financial position and a focus on protecting front-line services.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service:  “We have launched a number of transformation and change programmes that are primarily undertaken to protect front-line services.

“Councillors are crystal clear we need to do everything in our powers before we start having to make cuts or reduce front-line services.”

However as well as cutting costs, he suggests the changes could make the council a better place to work and better for residents to access too.

In an earlier drive to reduce costs, the council has already brought in a ‘recruitment prioritisation’ policy – freezing recruitment to all but essential roles.

And it has moved the vast majority of staff to move away from its landmark headquarters at County Hall, in Hertford.

But Mr Crudgington says that even after all this – and with further cost-cutting measures across the council – there is still a ‘sizeable gap’ that the council needs to address.

Budget proposals for 2024/25 rely on £46m ‘savings’ and the use of £13m reserves. And a £22m budget gap has already been identified for 2025/26.

Mr Crudgington says that the ‘organisational resourcing’ review  – which will ‘invest in technology to ensure systems work more efficiently’ – is expected to bring staff numbers down to pre-pandemic levels.

And although he says the council is not looking at compulsory redundancies, he cannot guarantee that there won’t be any.

“I appreciate this is going to be unsettling for staff,” he said.

“But I want to give the organisation assurance that we are looking to use the approach of vacancy freezes and redeployment to do our best to avoid compulsory redundancies.”

Staff and unions have already been told about the review and Mr Crudgington says there will be further seminars over the next month.

According to the budget proposals £10m will be spent on the review in 24/25 – with a further £6m allocated in 25/6.

Estimates suggest the resulting changes will result in £8m of savings in 24/25 – increasing to £16m a year from 25/26.

In the budget document – known as the ‘integrated plan’ – council officials point to ‘significant and concerning financial pressures’.

And with public finances ‘unlikely to improve’, they say it is ‘critical we adapt now in order to meet the challenges ahead’.

But they also stress that this latest review is ‘about much more than just cutting costs’ – suggesting it will make the council better for residents and staff.

And, they say it will enable the council to maintain focus on the delivery of services to residents in the long term.

“Embracing innovation, removing frustrating processes to improve colleague experience, and directing funds at the things that matter most to residents are all fundamental objectives of the programme,” says the report.

“We want the organisation to be a better place to work because of organisational resourcing.”