City of Calgary zero-based review pilot program under microscope
By Christopher Walsh
It only took six months and a $225,000 review of the City of Calgary fleet services department to discover everyone is doing a good job, says the head of the Calgary and District Labour Council.
Alexander Shevalier says the City of Calgary is wasting money on zero-based reviews that could add up to needlessly spent millions of dollars over the course of the next few years as the city broadens its scope to include all 36 municipal departments.
“We went through this exercise with very little benefit,” he said. “The reality was, if you read through the report, they didn’t find any efficiencies, really.
“How much money are we going to spend to ensure we’re spending money wisely?”
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The review by consulting firm KPMG was the first test part of the city’s new scheme to conduct zero-based reviews of all 36 departments with the hopes of finding departmental savings through different efficiencies.
The City of Calgary picked the fleet services department to run the first zero-based review because it is thought to be an easy, isolated department to review. But Shevalier questions the legitimacy of the reviews and the time and costs associated with it.
“We’re coming to the point where we’re doing a lot of navel-gazing and not a lot of planning,” he said. “What happens if you go into a complex department? How much money is that gonna cost us?”
Ald. Peter Demong says he is in favour of performing zero-based budgets, which would take a department’s budget from zero and build it back up, while reviewing how efficient and effective the particular department’s services are. But, he says, council wanted to take the less intrusive zero-based review process as a test first.
“The whole concept was to fine-tune what exactly we’re going to be doing before we go into the larger departments like parks and roads,” he said. “We need to know what we’re looking for and how to do it.”
Demong added savings will be found for the other department’s zero-based reviews by determining after this one what exactly the consulting firm would need from the city. Instead of paying the firm for collection of data, they could instead pay them for only the analysis of the data supplied by the City of Calgary departments. That would mean future reviews are conducted at a lower cost.
While Demong says he was concerned with the price tag of this review, he added it was money well spent to open up the department to review their efficiencies.
“Out of the [money] spent, I think we will find at least that, if not double that [in savings],” said Demong. “So, that makes me happy.”
Those savings in fleet services are expected to come from possible outsourcing and streamlining other services, although no final decision on where exactly to save money within the department has been made.
The next department to undergo a zero-based review will be the parks department, expected to begin sometime next year. The evaluation on the zero-based review project will come back to council in the fall.