Protest Storms KPMG’s Cost Reduction Measures for Toronto

Michelle Remo, “Big 4″ observer
July 25, 2011 /

Consultants from KPMG have proposed several belt-tightening measures for Toronto, which are expected to help the city save $25 million amid protests from different progressive groups seeking to abolish the report.

In an executive committee meeting on February, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and other poverty groups protested before the city hall room, with OCAP President John Clarke addressing the crowd: “This year they’re only delivering the first blow. Much worse is to come. The vision that Ford has of this city is a police force and a few privatized services operated by non-unionized cheap labour. If we’re going to stop that, we better fight. If you don’t fight back, they will crush you.”

Some proposals of KPMG’s review include collapsing its disjointed back-office functions, merging pensions, according to KPMG’s sixth of eight reviews on Toronto’s Government Management programs which will be made public by Thursday.

Previously, the report endorsed contracting out park maintenance, closing zoo and farm attractions, and scrapping the Toronto Environment Office, which were contained in the fourt release.

Still, the review concluded that the city needed to sell parking lots, contract out the Toronto Transit Commission Wheel Trans program, eliminate late-night TTC bus service, shut down some public library branches and reduce hours at others, sell the Toronto Zoo, reduce police salaries, eliminate or reduce dental health programs and sell or integrate city-run arts theaters.

“Opportunity may exist to eliminate the Toronto Environment Office, as its activities are largely discretionary,” the report stated.

“There are opportunities to eliminate some non-core services, particularly the urban agriculture and farm and zoo activities,” it added.

But these were met on Thursday with dissenting voices from community organizations that stormed the gates of the KPMG office on Bay Street, criticizing the report and the mayor’s planned $740 million budget cuts to environment programs, public health and public transit.

“The first thing we would like to say to KPMG is that you are a group of inhuman, bean counting, purveyors of human misery and social retrogression and you have no business at all, sitting up there in your tower, and telling us in our communities what services we should or shouldn’t have,” the OCAP organizer said.

“We know your record; we know your international record, KPMG. We know how devoted you are to the agenda of austerity. We know that you proposed megacity and amalgamation. We know where you stand.”

More recently, KPMG proposed cutting a wide range of services from solid waste collection and snow removal to daycare spaces and the merger of emergency and fire services.

The belt-tightening measures were triggered by the city’s $774-million budget deficit.

New proposals include combining 311 with 211, outsourcing custodial duties, utilizing online tax payments, outsourcing payroll functions, harmonizing accounting software city-side and centralizing the accounting and administrative functions in more than 100 agencies.

“Why do we need all of these procurement, real estate and fleet management functions scattered among all our agencies, boards and commissions? This all needs to be looked at,” said committee chair Paul Ainslie.
According to Ainslie, the proposals would save $25-million over the next three years.

Moreover, KPMG suggested harmonizing the complicated network of pension plans currently under city management with the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, which could turn in large financial gains.

“We’ve been looking into that for two or three months now, so really this validates some of the things we’ve already been doing,” Ainslie said, adding that many of the proposals would be difficult to enforce without willing councillors to sit on agency boards.

“The biggest barrier will be political willpower. One problem I’ve often seen is that we appoint a councillor to a board or a commission to represent the city’s best interests and, all of a sudden, they do a 360 and that board becomes more important to them than the city they were sent to represent,” he said.

What tops the city’s concern is the possibility of job losses as part of KPMG’s suggestions.

“If we can’t rationalize services without layoffs, it’s unfortunate, but it’s something that will have to be done. I don’t think people are comfortable with paying taxes to see services duplicated. It’s all about making sure people get best value for tax dollars,” Ainslie said.

The Government Management Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss the rest of the proposals.

 

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