Will Ballem's core services review result in "real" layoffs?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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How many Vancouver City employees face the axe under the Core Review process is still in question

Behind the scenes, Vancouver's corporate management team, along with some high paid consultants, are looking through the books of City Hall to see if there are any efficiencies to be found. The core review all stems from a motion brought forward to council by Vision during the 2009/10 budgeting process.

The councillors have already been told that hiring freezes and laying off temporary and/or contract employees can only go so far in bridging the budget gap which grows wider by the day in Vancouver.

While I first thought this motion was simply an exercise in spin control from a Vision government implementing one of the highest tax increases in the history of Vancouver, I've now learned that may not be the case. According to a source who contacted me, Penny Ballem, Vancouver's City Manager is actually serious about making significant changes to the way City Hall is run - and that includes the possibility of signifiant layoffs to help fund the budget shortfall.

Say what you like about Ms. Ballem, she is no fool. Her track record in Victoria as Deputy Minister of Health in helping to reshape and reduce costs in BC's Ministry of Health are legendary. If there is a dollar to be saved, she will find it. You can also expect that with the precision of a surgeon's knife, she will also skillfully remove it.

I'm have it under good authority that initial consultant and management reports to Ballem indicate the current Core Services Review could result in the layoff of up between 150-200 permanent unionized employees whose positions are considered "redundant." That said, you can expect the consultants will likely recommend some sort of buy out package to help ease the pain.

I'm told that Ballem is also seriously looking at scaling back or freezing the pay increases that were provided to the City's management team under the previous Sullivan administration. This clearly isn't sitting well with the people who form Ballem's corporate management team.

The biggest hurdle for Ballem in all of this cost-cutting exercise will be getting the support of her Vision political masters, which have the backing of the labour movement. Surely councillors Louie, Meggs and company are going to be a bit surprised when Ballem reports to them that major layoffs are are the only real option to cut costs at the Hall. This is when the first true test of Ballem's leadership skills will become evident.

I don't think for a minute that Vision really thought when they brought forward their motion to conduct a review of City operations that it would lead to significant layoffs. If that's the case, they clearly underestimated the talents and skillset of their new City Manager to re-shape a public service.

The final core services review report will be delivered to Ballem in August. That's when I predict things may begin to heat up in the age old power struggle between the Office of the Mayor and City Manager's office. It will be interesting to see who ends up on top.

1 Comment

I wouldn't assume that the struggle would be between the Mayor's office and the City Manager's office. One has to ask why such a legendary cost-cutter was brought in as City Manager in the first place, an idea which seems to have been motivated by the Mayor and his people. Remember also that even early in the mayoral nomination process Mr. Robertson promised an "external audit" of the city's finances, which is what this seems to be if external consultants are being used.

But I think you're right about the potential conflict with a couple councillors, especially Mr. Meggs. You might finally get your suspicions proven or disproven concerning who calls which shots.

It became very clear right off the bat that Louie wasn't going to be running things from behind the scenes (as the majority of conspiracy theorists thought right after the election) after his comment that Ms. Rogers wasn't in danger of losing her job turned out to be untrue.

If we see significant layoffs you might have to admit the possibility that City Hall is actually being run by the Mayor.

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