Leeds City Council chief on cuts challenge INTERVIEW

Staff at Leeds City Council have put forward over 1,000 ideas on how the country's second biggest local authority can save money as it faces tough budget cuts.

The suggestions flowed after bosses asked the workforce for cost-saving ideas and it is a response that Tom Riordan finds encouraging as he settles into his new 180,000-a-year job as the organisation's chief executive.

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Leeds – like councils across the country – is bracing itself for swingeing cuts when the government ministers reveal the outcome of a comprehensive spending review this autumn.

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And the new man at the top is acutely aware that it will require a united approach from everyone at the council and its partners in the private and voluntary sectors if the city is to cope with the tough times ahead.

Mr Riordan took on his new role two weeks ago and he said: "One thing I have noticed already is a sense of public service and commitment.

"They want to make a difference and do a good job. Our financial position and the likely settlement we are going to get in the autumn means we will have less resources to provide the same or better


"It's a challenge I think we are up to. We have had over 1,000 staff suggestions on how we can save money and that augurs well.

"People accept we have a challenge and will have to get more for less."

With finances so tight, Mr Riordan knows the question upper most in the minds of many staff: "Is my job safe?"

Until the results of the government's spending review are announced, he says it is a question he cannot answer.

What is clear is that the council is a big organisation that in recent years has been getting smaller as jobs are shed and posts left unfilled. It is a trend that is likely to continue.

Mr Riordan said changes would need to be done in phases and stressed the importance of the council drawing up a financial and policy strategy to help the council deal with the challenges over the next four years.

Married with two children aged eight and six, Mr Riordan was born and educated in Northallerton before taking a history degree at Trinity College, Oxford.

After university he was put on a fast-track management programme with the civil service and worked on environmental and climate change issues.

The civil service sponsored him to do an MBA at Imperial College in London before Mr Riordan returned to Yorkshire in 1997 to help establish Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency. He was head of strategy before becoming chief executive in 2006.

Outside work his interests include football. He finds himself in the unusual position of being a keen Middlesbrough fan who would love to see Leeds United achieve Premiership football once again.

He said: "It would give people a lift and help when it comes to promoting the city."

Whether or not United clamber back into the top tier of English football, he is confident Leeds is well placed to cope with the tough financial times ahead. He cites a new independent think tank report that forecasts the Leeds economy will grow faster than that of Milan or Paris over the next five years.

Mr Riordan said: "Leeds is a great city and it has got a lot going for it. There is a strong manufacturing sector along with the financial and service sectors. Leeds has not had the level of European and other support of many other cities but it has still been successful and that success can continue."

(from left) Nick Butler, Jane Butler, Sir Anthony Milnes-Coates, Tricia Stewart, James Naylor, Lady Harriet Milnes-Coates, Joey Clover at the Two Ridings Community Foundation Annual Charity Ball

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