Let me ask you something. Do you think that someone whose salary you pay should be accountable to you? From your hard earned taxes, the government employs civil servants, bureaucrats and, what really gripes us, town hall fats. They live off your money, so they should be accountable – all of them, elected or not. So you see our logic in asking those we pay what they earn to see if we get value for money in return.
The politicians make the policy and, in theory at least, the bureaucrats implement it. As taxpayers we judge their results according to whether we get value for money. But Peter Gilroy, the Chief Executive of Kent County Council (pictured) and the highest paid Council Chief Executive in the country, thinks you shouldn’t know who in local government are the biggest earners and some of the most influential and powerful people in your Town Hall.
Thank you Mr Gilroy, you’ve just got yourself in a whole lot of trouble. You can’t just ignore the Freedom of Information Act because people were ‘abusive’ to you. Perhaps if you did a better job they wouldn’t be.
The Freedom of Information Act is there so we, the taxpayer, can know where our money is being spent. That includes our taxes spent on your bloated salary. If you don’t like it, give Kent’s taxpayers value for money services at a lower cost to the taxpayer. For example, Kent council lands in the top ten in all three of our reports into council spending, as well as having the highest paid Chief Executive in the country and it still spends well over £6.5million on its own self-congratulatory publicity.
Clearly there’s room for improvement, which is why we will continue to hold you to account. And when I say ‘we’, I mean our 18,000 supporters and activists. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.
Please contact Kent County Council’s Chief Executive, Peter Gilroy, on the following contacts:
Kent ME14 1XQ
Telephone: 08458 247247
Email: [email protected]
1. Why he thinks the taxpayer shouldn’t know what he earns?
2. How he justifies a, probably underestimate, salary of £230,000 when Council Tax has doubled in ten years and taxpayers see services decline?
3. Whether he would like it, if he were on a fixed income or pension, paying for someone’s unaccountable salary if they were failing in their duties as a public servant?
You can also send this blog round to other taxpayers angry at high levels of Council Tax and officers’ desperate bid to dodge the Freedom of Information Act. Remember the FOIA is your only way to find out where your money is going. So please take only 5 minutes out of your day to send an email or make a call to defend your right to know where your money is being spent!
There was a very telling poll of political attitudes out over the weekend, commissioned from Yougov by the Daily Telegraph – the full results can be found here. While the newspaper reports headlined on the growing pressure on Michael Martin, there were some very interesting figures on the question of politicians abusing expenses and allowances.
They make pretty sobering reading from an MP’s perspective. The vast majority of the public think that a large proportion of MPs are dishonestly taking advantage of taxpayers’ money. That isn’t to say that they are – as it happens, I think the majority of MPs are probably honest (in terms of expenses, anyway) – but that the public think they are.
It is at this point that mant politicians throw up their hands in horror and say that they are more sinned against than sinning, and that it is unfair for them all to be stained by the activities of a minority.
Few people will shed a tear for their predicament, though. If the public’s assumption is unfair, MPs only have themselves to blame for not disclosing their expenses in detail.
Who can blame the public for thinking the worst when politicians resist something so uncontroversial as telling people where their money is being spent?
If MPs don’t agree with the moral argument for transparency, perhaps this poll will make them do the right thing for more selfish reasons. An act of enlightened self-interest, if you will.
It is in MPs’ best interests for this public cynicism to be dispelled; it certainly can’t be very nice to have everyone assume you’re a con artist, and it is probably electorally unhealthy, too. Until there is full disclosure and transparency, this cloud of suspicion will continue to hang over the majority of MPs – probably unfairly, but entirely understandably. If the suspicions are so unfair, as MPs claim, then they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from opening up their books for the world to see.
TPA Activist Brian Sturman (see left) is a prolific letter writer for the low tax cause and consistently writes letters holding our wasteful politicians to account. His letters routinely find their way into the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News and have reached as far away as the Northumberland Gazette. So regular are his letters that we’ll be adding a new feature to the TPA Grassroots Campaign blog: Brian’s Letters. Here are his two latest offerings, his first attacking the scandalous way tax protester Richard Fitzmaurice was treated:
For withholding £1,568 council tax, a pensioner gets a month in prison, costing taxpayers many thousands. We also learn that early release prisoners are given £168 plus £70 rent per week in order to make vacant cells in over crowded prisons. Their unpaid council tax will be written off.
Where is the cost effectiveness in locking up a pensioner because he is reacting to the forcible extraction of a third of his annual state pension? How can a month deterrent stop repeated imprisonments, particularly those genuinely already having to choose between heating house costs and eating?
It is clear that this tax is reducing elderly people into greater poverty, and even creating criminals of vulnerable citizens desperately hoping for a sensible solution from the out of touch “fat cat” politicians living in their luxurious Westminster village.
Today Brian has highlighted the sharp contrast between life at the top in the public sector and life as a pensioner having to struggle to make ends meet:
Local newspapers report top Norfolk and Suffolk council bosses increased salaries up to £220,000. 220 pensioners must each pay £1,000 (about quarter of their inadequate state pension), to provide one top official salary. There are many more top officials like this around the country.
Do these fat cat bosses have any shame for causing further reduction in the already low standard of living for so many poor pensioners? I think not, the evidence is they even use their powers to prosecute and send pensioners to prison in handcuffs (Norfolk magistrates, 19 Feb, Richard Fitzmaurice), just for reacting to this exhibition of taxes wasted on excessive salaries while Social Care Services to pensioners are cut.
Brian’s not the only activist who writes letters spelling out exactly how frustrated taxpayers are at the waste of money going on in government. How long will it take you to write a letter the length of Brian’s? With your letter highlighting waste, high taxation and over-spending, you can shift the debate and encourage more people to take up the gauntlet and fight for lower taxes. It’s your money, fight to stop the taxman taking more of it!
Independent East Herts Councillors Nigel and Deborah Clark have been hard at work fighting for taxpayers. Despite having their alternative budget rejected – a budget that would have lowered councillor allowances and cut the council tax rise in the borough – they are now fighting to save the local Citizens Advice Bureau from closure.
Their plan would see councillor allowances – meant to pay for postage and other expenses – reduced to save the East Herts CAB from closure. Councillor Deborah Clark argued that by taking only £210,000 a year from the massive £482,500 reserved for councillor allowances will save the CAB as well as reducing Council Tax. Set in context, East Herts council pays its councillors far more than neighbouring councils and could easily afford cuts to prioritise essential services. Therefore the savings can be made.
As you’ll see from the newspaper clipping above, the council fudged the issue, stating that councillor salaries are set by an ‘Independent’ Remuneration Panel that only makes recommendations, recommendations the council votes on, however, and can reject. Therefore they’re trying to pass the buck, like they do when they blame central government for high council tax.
This is where you can come in to pressure the council. Tell East Herts council to support Nigel and Deborah Clark in their campaign to seek value for money for taxpayers. Please write to the Hertfordshire Mercury and show your support for lower taxes and those councillors who actually vote to put taxpayers first! If we can get a thriving public debate going, we can show that the people want tax cuts and their money spent on frontline services and not more snouts in the trough.
Here is TPA South West Surrey Organiser Peter Webb’s February Campaign Diary. Hat’s off to him, in one month he’s been regularly quoted on the front page of the Surrey Advertiser, continues to hold Councillors to account and coordinates letter writing campaigns with other SW Surrey TPA Activists. IF you’d like to do exactly what Peter’s doing, then get involved today. Contact me or call our Grassroots Hotline on 0203 051 8144 to carry on the campaign for lower taxes and better government.
Brought forward: Nil response to call for volunteers for Guildford BC Independent Remuneration Panel re Councillors expenses and allowances.
1st Surrey Ad published letter on Equality and Diversity procedures as non-productive and wasteful of resources.
4th Submitted a Response on own account to BGI (Better Government Initiative). Messaged County Leader Nick Skellett re schools financial accountability and charges to schools budgets for services by County Hall. Chased Audit Commission re audit of Use of Resources, Surrey County confusion over schools accounting, and delay in audited Annual Reports and Accounts
6th Asked to comment by Surrey Ad on Anne Milton employment of Husband @£13k over 2 years
8th Quoted in Surrey Ad on 4.8% County Precept rise 2008-09. Quoted on TPA survey of middle management pay in local govt. Peter Rauch letter to Surrey Ad published on County confusion about numbers employed. Quoted on front page of Guildford Surrey Ad re MP Anne Milton employing Husband. Talk to Wonersh U3A on Council Tax in Perspective and Lower Taxes and Better Government
12th Wrote MP Jeremy Hunt with 5 big questions (see also c/fd below)
15th Received detailed reply from County Council re schools financial accountability. Await changes in reporting/ financial interpretation.
21st Forwarded C Melsom (Isitfair) call for active eg letters to Ministers re imprisoned council tax protester Richard Fitzmaurice.
22nd Personally messaged Ministers re above. Audit Commission answer (see 4th) received
25th Wrote/messaged all Surrey Councils seeking prompt Annual Report and Accounts (supported by Audit Commission)
28th Talk to Cranleigh Rotarians on Council Tax in Perspective and Lower Taxes and Better Government
29th Steve Bowers letter published in Surrey Advertsiser challenging County leader Nick Skellett to justify tax council tax precept increase.
C’fd In concert with Peter Rauch (Guildford – Anne Milton MP) message Jeremy Hunt MP re their involvement with County on 2008-09 grants and council tax precept – including our report of 23rd Meeting at County Hall. P Rauch leads on arranging meeting with Anne Milton with Steve Bowers and PW (25th April date unfixed) to get answers on question to be put. County Leader Nick Skellett continues not to answer letter of 19th November (copy handed to him on 23rd January- subsequent PA promises. Soon to contact offline TPA supporters.
This is an ideal opportunity for TPA activists to hold Camden Councillors to account and see that they abide by the council’s code of conduct.
This may not have a direct effect on Camden Council’s tax and spending policy, but you will play a valuable role in holding them to account. Are they misusing taxpayer-funded council property? Have they voted for an eye watering pay increase, yet not increased their workload accordingly? There are plenty of questions you can ask to defend the taxpayer’s interest.
You find out more and apply here.
Please do get involved. It’s up to us to change things, and change starts with you rolling up your sleeves and telling the politicians they’re public servants, not the masters of the people!
Taxpayers celebrate in Edinburgh last night
When we published the second Council Spending Uncovered paper on councils’ massive publicity spending, Edinburgh City Council came in for quite a bit of criticism when it was revealed they were the biggest spender on spin in Scotland – splashing out £3.4m a year.
So I was delighted to read this article in last night’s Edinburgh Evening News:
SPENDING REVELATION LEADS TO CITY SPIN DOCTOR REVIEW
AN independent review of the city council’s public relations department is to be launched to ensure it is run efficiently.
The measure, which could lead to cutbacks, comes after it was discovered the local authority spends more on publicity and spin doctors than any other council in Scotland.
Figures published by The Taxpayers Alliance showed the council spent GBP 3.37 million on public relations in 2006/7 – up 118.4 per cent on 1996/7.
The cash has been spent on measures such as press officers, adverts and Outlook, the council’s free newspaper.
The council’s head of corporate communications, Isabell Reid, said: "It’s important to us that both the members and the people of Edinburgh have confidence we are delivering an efficient and cost-effective service."
If this a genuine review that is seriously looking to make savings, it is great news for Edinburgh’s taxpayers. It is also an encouraging message for everyone campaigning with the TPA – we are making a difference.
The thinking behind the Council Spending Uncovered series has always been that people deserve to know how their money is being spent, and that taxpayers should be allowed to make their own minds up as to whether their local council’s spending is justified.
We’ve drawn attention to some areas where we think savings can be made on the basis that if taxpayers agree it will put sufficient pressure on councils to tighten things up. There are also many councillors out there whose instinct is to save money and cut out waste but find themselves faced with such a big job, and sometimes with obstructive Officers, that savings can be difficult to pin down. By offering a few suggestions, we hope we can help willing councils to move in the right direction and marshall sufficient public pressure to force even unwilling authorities to make savings.
Edinburgh’s decision vindicates that thinking – and congratulations are due to them for doing the best thing for their taxpayers. Of course it doesn’t end here; we will be keeping an eagle eye out to see what savings are actually made as a result of the review, and this is the first step on a long road to relieving the appalling burden on taxpayers. Now we’ve shown the power of this kind of campaigning, though, these kind of victories will be repeated. Taxpayers One – Councils Nil.
Click here for the full text of the letter sent by the TaxPayers’ Alliance to Mr John Lyon, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, requesting an investigation into Michael Martin MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, regarding taxi expenses and alleged attempts by someone in his department to mislead the public over expenses claims:
Being an activist in the TPA means you’re not just joining a political pressure group, you’re a guerrilla in our taxpayers’ army. We want to equip you with all you need to be able to hold your politicians to account as well as securing victories for the taxpayer. With our national grassroots campaign we’re out to see that you can win victories for your community. This chapter in our activist guide can help you with direct lobbying, that is pressuring politicians to do what you want them to do!
As a vindication of our ‘story creating’ chapter in the activist guide, we were alerted to the potential councillor pay rise on offer at Bournemouth Council. Seeing this, I blogged but thought that we could go further. Comments on the Bournemouth Echo website were extraordinarily hostile to the pay deal. Yet complaining on a website wouldn’t help. We had to go directly to the councillors, show the force of our numbers and introduce them to the reality on the ground – taxpayers were not happy with Bournemouth Council increasing Council Tax and increasing their pay. It just wasn’t on.
Therefore we rallied TPA activists to lobby and persuade councillors to vote against the pay deal. We may not have defeated the pay deal, but we pushed the opposition on the council to endorsing an independent, taxpayer remuneration panel so that such ridiculous increases can never happen again.
Our problem was we didn’t have enough activists lobbying Bournemouth Council. We should have had so many people email Bournemouth Council that their system should have crashed under the weight of our emails. They should have known the minute they logged into their email account that they were facing electoral disaster if they voted for that pay increase. That is what we need. That is your job. This can be your victory.
This is your campaign to stop the taxman taking your money. When set piece events such as a crucial vote at Full Council arise, set up your own lobby campaign. Here’s how to get a lobbying campaign going where you can potentially save the taxpayer money:
1. Let me know of the story at HQ so we can draft in activists nationwide to help you and raise interest in local media. But we’ll be relying on you to build the campaign up.
2. Find out when the issue affecting your borough is to be voted and where, is it on at a committee, Cabinet or full council meeting? This way we know how long we have to lobby and who we have to contact.
3. Find out the contact details of the councillors you need to lobby. You can find out either by going to the ‘Your Council’ area on the council website or by contacting the ‘Democratic Services’ department at your local council.
4. When communicating with councillors, be polite. We have the moral high ground by the virtue of our arguments, there’s no need to give it away with abusive language.
5. Then you’re set. Tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours to get lobbying; you have all the information you need to hand. You’ve made it simple to contact your local councillors and given anyone interested a timeframe to contact your councillors. Councillors will react to constituent emails first, as is the case from our Bournemouth campaign so your role is extremely important in recruiting local activists to get involved. Remember: Politicians only fear losing! So the more people in your community you get on board, the greater likelihood they will listen!
6. After sending the initial communication, wait a day or until you get a response. Then fire off your enquiry again. But keep it simple. Ask them how they will vote, why they will vote that way and if they will consider changing their mind.
7. Finally: Never give up! Our campaign can only get stronger if we can tell taxpayers that we’ve saved communities an £X value. This shows our campaign is working and that your activism in the TPA gets real results.
There must be hundreds of instances where your council is voting to throw away yet more of your money. Be it on their expenses, salaries or perks, or on pointless pork-barrel projects, their votes make it happen. You can change their vote; you can save the taxpayer money. For too long I heard the phrase “nothing will ever change”, that political action is pointless. Then I looked around, I looked long and hard at the people telling me nothing will ever change, and saw how they would give in whenever they faced difficulty. The politicians live the high life, services decline while taxes soar. They never acted and they suffered the consequences.
Are you going to give in and open your wallet to your council or government to take whatever they want whenever they like? Or are you going to stand up and do your bit? Political action needn’t be the deferring defeat to the political class, it can make a real difference to your community.
Bournemouth Council, in all its arrogance, voted itself the proposed pay deal we tirelessly campaigned against over the past two weeks. Last Thursday the Council awarded themselves a 17% pay increase, the Cabinet gave themselves an astonishing 32% pay increase and the leader awarded himself a 34% pay increase. In the same meeting, the Council voted for a 4.9% Council Tax increase, the maximum amount given the 5% cap imposed on councils. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know where your Council Tax rise is going.
Despite persistent lobbying from hard-working TaxPayers’ Alliance activists and campaigners, we managed to rally the opposition on Bournemouth Council to stand against these rises recommended by an independent panel which, as it turned out, wasn’t that independent at all.
Bournemouth Council is yet to publish online the minutes for the Full Council meeting, but nevertheless if you are still unaware how your councillor voted you can click the link here to find your councillor’s contact details. Already the Bournemouth Echo story reporting the massive pay hike has 94 comments from apoplectic taxpayers demanding action over such snout-in-the-trough greed. Feel free to add your disgust at this prime example of gravy-train politics.
If you’re angry, then help us form a Bournemouth branch of the TaxPayers’ Alliance. If you want to hold these politicians to account, then join us and contact me to get involved. We showed Bournemouth Council our strength in the sheer number of activists who lobbied and contacted Bournemouth councillors to protest against the pay increases. Although we didn’t get the result we wanted, we came close as I understand there were wobbles from several Tory councillors who knew just how unpopular this pay deal was. With your help next time, with your input we can force the politicians to climb down and see that you, the taxpayer, have had a direct say over how they spend your money. Nothing will change if you don’t get involved!
SEE UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE
Tonight at 7PM Bournemouth Council vote on their allowances, which we have been campaigning and lobbying against for the past week. Thanks go to Jonathan Sheppard, Peter Roberts, Christopher Way, Linda Berkeley, Vivienne Reed, Ed Hallam, Mohammed Hasan, John Sheperd and many others who helped lobby for lower taxes and against such outrageous salaries for a council Cabinet clearly failing the taxpayers in Bournemouth.
Yet, tonight we also see another example of local government snouts in the trough. We were alerted to this story by TPA supporter Robert Halfon.
Harlow Council will vote at their full council this evening on their medium term financial strategy. As part of this strategy is a cost cutting measure. That cost cutting measure involves the top 10 officers earmarking themselves almost £100,000 for a "pay review" before 2010. Do you see the problem?
In addition to this, £98,000 has also been set aside for future pay increases for senior officers. Finally, and this is all we know from the story so God knows what we’ll find when we dig around, a further £106,000 is allocated for the possibility of a vacant strategic director post to be filled after 2009. You can read the full story here.
We’ve well in Bournemouth, and who knows we might even win tonight, so let’s do even more in Harlow to keep the momentum going. This is your money going into the pockets of Council officers, unaccountable bureaucrats taking more and more money from frontline services, the services you expect and demand. The Audit Commission only give Harlow Council 2-stars for the handling of its finances and providing value for money, so this is hardly surprising. Now is the time for you to make yet another stand for your rights as taxpayers. Here is a list of every councillor in Harlow, please contact them and ask them to vote against this shocking pay hike for Town Hall fat cats:
Cllr Sean Folan (Labour) – (01279) 427575 / [email protected]
Cllr Leslie Rideout (Lib Dem) – (01279) 437541 / [email protected]
Cllr Robert Thurston (Lib Dem) – (01279) 864777 / [email protected]
Cllr Simon Carter (Con) – (01279) 429443 / [email protected]
Cllr Tony Hall (Con) – (01279) 445897 / [email protected]
Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con) – (01279) 865673 / [email protected]
Cllr Rob Eschle (Labour) – (01279) 425785 / [email protected]
Cllr Eleanor Macey (Lib Dem) – (01279) 324193 / [email protected]
Cllr Christopher Millington (Lib Dem) – (01279) 864777 / [email protected]
Cllr Michael Garnett (Con) – (01279) 437401 / [email protected]
Cllr Muriel Jolles (Con) – (01279) 432242 / [email protected]
Cllr Sue Livings (Con) – (01279) 422339 / [email protected]
Cllr Jean Clark (Labour) – (01279) 423474 / [email protected]
Cllr Anthony Durcan (Labour) – 07967 138663 / [email protected].
Cllr Mike Danvers (Labour) – 01279 425934 / [email protected]
Cllr Margaret Hulcoop (Labour) – (01279) 452252 / [email protected]
Cllr Gregory Peck (Labour) – (01279) 433604 / [email protected]
Cllr Mark Wilkinson (Labour) – 07866 433991 / [email protected]
Cllr Eddie Johnson (Con) – (01279) 324689 / [email protected]
Cllr Joshua Jolles (Con) – (01279) 432242 / [email protected]
Cllr Patrick McClarnon (Labour) – (01279) 441702 / [email protected]
Cllr Ian Jackson (Lib Dem) – (01279) 416138 / [email protected]
Cllr Linda Pailing (Lib Dem) – (01279) 305802 / [email protected]
Cllr Edna Stevens (Labour) – (01279) 324183 / [email protected]
Cllr Su Lawton (Lib Dem) – (01279) 300938 / [email protected]
Cllr Lorna Spenceley (Lib Dem) – (01279) 324676 / [email protected]
Cllr Lee Dangerfield (Con) – (01279) 833515 / [email protected]
Cllr Nicholas Churchill (Con) – (01279) 621094 / [email protected]
Cllr John Paul Goddard (Independent) – (01279) 416455 / [email protected]
Cllr Sarah-Jane Dangerfield (Con) – (01279) 8335515 / [email protected]
Cllr Kevin Brooks (Labour) – (01279) 302856 / [email protected]
Cllr Bob Davis (Labour) – (01279) 319117 / [email protected]
Cllr David Carter (Con) – (01279) 420340 / [email protected]
A few points to note:
1. Independent councillor John Paul Goddard is quoted in the story as wanting to block the pay increases
2. This is a matter of taxpayers’ money being misspent
3. Harlow Council is no overall control, so use that to your advantage when lobbying the councillors to vote against this pay increase for council bureaucrats.
Keep up the great work, folks and spread the message. The more people we have involved in our grassroots campaigns, the stronger we will be and the more the politicians will listen. Now, once more into the breach…
It appears that, after an outcry, the council have overturned these plans for big pay rises. False alarm.
This Thursday will see Bournemouth Council vote on its pay increases we detail here. Since last Thursday we’ve been lobbying hard for the full council to reconsider this plan and we have to keep up the pressure. How can it be right that a council loses a star rating from the Audit Commission then uses a 4.9% Council Tax increase to push their salaries up by well over 17% for councillors, and 30%+ for the cabinet.
In the real world, if you or I don’t get results – we lose our jobs. Yet Bournemouth’s Cabinet think they can get away with rewarding failure.
Not on my watch!
If you’re free on Thursday evening and live in or around Bournemouth, please go to the Full Council on Thursday 21 February at 7PM and sit in the public gallery, as is your right. You can also put a question to Bournemouth Council’s Cabinet by simply emailing [email protected] with your question on councillor pay BY 6PM TONIGHT.
Ask them why they want to reward failure with taxpayers’ money!
Please turn up and make your voice heard. But also if you can’t turn up, please continue to lobby Bournemouth’s councillors. You can find the contact details of those we have not heard replies from here.
It’s times like these that we can challenge the mistaken belief that you can’t change anything in politics. We’re close to achieving a breakthrough for direct taxpayer lobbying, normal people campaigning to stop politicians wasting our money. You can make that change. By just taking that small amount of time in your day to lobby Bournemouth Council, you could save the taxpayer money. Not bad for 10 minutes work…