The latest issue of ‘Connect’ flopped through my letterbox, the council-produced ‘magazine for the people of Bath and North Somerset.’ Full of photographs of smiling council workers, it really is just an exercise in public sector self-congratulation. In this age of belt-tightening, do we really need this propaganda magazine? Costing £80,000, this sum of money would cover the £60,000 needed by ‘Off the Record’ to recruit 40 advisors for vulnerable young people.
Surely, any important information in this publication should be passed on to the pages of the Bath Chronicle? Local newspapers are the voice of local democracy and should be first with any council announcements. Still, if B&NES council managed to bury its consultation on whether Bath citizens wanted a directly elected mayor on its website, and the Bath Chronicle only found out about it a day before it was to close, what chance is there of that? By the way, the council received only 48 responses to its consultation: 43 of those wanting a change to the current system.
Congratulations, however, to the council for giving us a consultation on public spending. My advice would be to start with cutting the wages and pensions of the council’s top managers. Last year, there were five senior officers earning over £100,000. That included the Strategic Director of Children’s Services on £155,102, the Strategic Director of Support Services on £134,506 and the Strategic Director of Customer Services on £136,378. Surely, these bureaucratic posts could be filled at a lower cost to the taxpayer? And, by the way, can some one please tell me why it is that Bath councillors of all parties continue to vote increases to the titanic pay of our chief executive, standing last year at £211,959?
Now is the time to express our concerns in the public consultation announced last week in the Bath Chronicle. Oh dear, the deadline has already passed…
Tim Newark, Bath TaxPayers’ Alliance
Finally, and thankfully, opposition group leaders in Cardiff Council have called for the end of the expensive council publication Capital Times, which is run at the expense of the Cardiff taxpayer.
The Capital Times for many years has run articles highlighting the achievements of the ruling party or parties, as well as the various members of executive staff, some of whom get paid more than the prime minister.
The publication continues to feature photographs and articles praising executive members and the Liberal/Plaid coalition. It has been felt within many camps that there is a significant political bias, giving only positive political coverage to those leading the council, and to the detriment of other members of the council.
It is described as Cardiff Council's ‘free newspaper' distributed eight times a year to a circulation of 155,000 homes. In 2008-2009, this ‘free newspaper’ cost £78,273 to print, £76,482 to distribute, as well as £29,984.52 for staff costs, making a grand total of £184,739.52. This makes the Capital Times one of the most expensive council newspapers in Wales, although in its defence the council states £57,000 of this sum is offset by advertising.
It could be argued that this is an effective way to communicate events within Cardiff to residents, but realistically even reducing the frequency of the distribution would reduce costs and increase desirability of adverting space, possibly leading to the paper paying for itself.
Either way, Cardiff taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for this ‘propaganda rag.’
Lee Canning, Cardiff TaxPayers' Alliance
Well, after three and a half years at the TPA, today I’m moving on to pastures new.
The campaign has certainly evolved a great deal since I came on board to launch the West Midlands branch back in 2007, and I feel hugely privileged to have played some small part in its many successes. I’m also immensely proud of the fantastic work my colleagues have done to highlight government waste and publicise the low tax cause. People are really listening to the TPA, and that’s no small achievement.
My time with the campaign has been incredibly varied and hugely enjoyable. From appearing on national television to petitioning in the rain; from riding in the cab of our enormous Debt Clock Truck to after dinner speaking; from brandishing a placard outside Downing Street to meeting with politicians – the learning curve has been steep, every week has been different and I’ll certainly take with me some very fond memories.
I have two big thank yous to make really, the first being to the TPA staff, all of whom are dedicated, formidably bright and fantastically supportive. The team have always been on hand with valuable help and guidance, particularly during the three years I spent up in the West Midlands and that’s something I’ve always appreciated. It’s been a pleasure working with such committed people and I’ve no doubt that the future is bright for the TPA with such capable hands at the helm.
My second thank you is to our supporters and activists, a varied collection of individuals who’ve really made the job worthwhile. You’ve sometimes challenged, often amazed and have always been an inspiration in terms of your belief in the cause and willingness to help in any possible way. I salute you all, and thank you for keeping faith in our young team and the work we do. I know you’ll continue to be the motivation for the TPA going forward.
I wish the campaign every success in the future, and know that it’ll continue to make an impact. In a country with an enormous national debt, where many families are struggling to make ends meet and businesses are finding it difficult to create much-needed jobs, no-one should underestimate the value of the work the TPA do, calling for more money to be spent not by the Government, but by those who earn it and need it.
For over 10 years, the mother of all Quangos has held its spot in Cardiff Bay. The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), acting like any other WAG in Manchester or Liverpool, fritters away millions and dresses itself up to seem more important than it actually is.
It is well published in many a teen magazine, the footballer’s WAG can usually get their own way. In comparison, the Welsh Assembly Government cannot make a law unless it gets parliamentary approval from Westminster.
The Welsh Assembly Government has secured over £15bn in its budget this year, and has just announced that youngsters in areas of Wales with the highest rates of teenage pregnancies are to be offered extra sexual and relationship advice costing taxpayers an additional £450,000.
Figures in February showed Merthyr Tydfil in the South Wales Valleys has the highest teenage pregnancy rate for 15-17 year-olds in England and Wales. In 2008, the rate was 73.5 conceptions per 1,000 girls.
The second highest figure in Wales was Rhondda Cynon Taf, with 59.2 per 1,000 girls.
The Health Minister, Edwina Hart, recently said on the BBC that ‘people must take personal responsibility for their actions.’ This in itself suggests that no matter how much money is pumped into a particular sexual health project, if those in the community are not listening or not even attending sessions, it is money down the drain. At the moment, sex education is provided through a number of delivery points including health practitioners, schools and WAG’s Communities First project, to name a few.
Communities First describes itself as:
‘The Welsh Assembly Government’s flagship programme to improve the living conditions and prospects of people in the most disadvantaged communities across Wales.’
It has been under-fire recently from the Welsh Audit Office, because of the £214m it has cost Welsh taxpayers and the lack of service that it provides. Considering it operates essentially in the areas highlighted for an extra £450,000, questions have to be asked.
Examples of these questions could be: Does WAG need to reassess who manages projects like Communities First, its spending and project approach? Is extra spending on sex education going to cut pregnancy rates? And probably the most imperative question: Does taxpayers’ money need to be spent at all on projects like this?
The BBC reports this morning that Sandwell Council will be axing 700 jobs as it seeks to claw back £67m, and though part of that gesture includes axing 13 top tier management jobs, it looks likely that the cuts will hit frontline services.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the residents of Sandwell who’ll ultimately feel the impact of these measures; after all, they’ve endured years of almost unrivalled profligacy from their local authority.
When the WMTPA launched back in July 2007 we immediately sought to draw attention to the terrific amount of money that had been wasted on The Public gallery in West Bromwich, a project Sandwell had already poured millions into over many years in spite of endless disasters and local opposition. Even now the £72m failure could well be mothballed (again!) and bosses are currently approaching the Arts Council with a begging bowl. It’s difficult to know the full extent of the council’s ‘investment’ in this white elephant – which has quite clearly been destined to fail from the outset – but it’s fair to say it’d make a decent dent in the £67m they want save. As it stands the council are still setting aside £1.5m per year in running costs. It’s a just shame it’s taken so long for them to consider pulling the shutters down on this financial blackhole.
Though The Public stands (and will presumably will continue to stand empty) as a monument to Sandwell Council’s mismanagement and total lack of judgement, it’s by no means a lonely example of their out-and-out wastefulness.
Over the years, the WMTPA has catalogued their, quite frankly, insulting use of public funds, including (amongst many others!):
- Their scheme to give free golf tuition to course vandals, much to the chagrin of respectable local golfers
- A gimmicky project that sent characters such as the ‘Rapping Robot’ and ‘Eco Girl’ into schools to teach them about recycling and the environment
- The unbelievable decision to send their then Chief Executive, Allison Fraser, on a Scientology-inspired ‘self-awareness course’ at a luxury resort in Florida
- The bizarre, misguided and badly executed ‘Sandwell Faith Trail’
- The now notorious ‘Gipsy & Traveller History Month’ for local schools
- A Simpson’s-style cartoon called ‘The Savewells’ intended to patronise/give advice to local residents on how to save money (the irony is not lost)
- No less than £14k spent on a two-day course led by a ‘motivational speaker’ specialising in ‘whole braining training’
And these are just a few examples amongst many that have been dug out by the local press, angry residents and the WMTPA. How many other similarly wacky/costly extravagances passed below the radar is really anyone’s guess…
It seems obvious that for quite some time there’s been a pretty reckless attitude toward the public purse, and these few examples are surely indicative greater problems in terms of spending. So when they talk about making savings and cutting back on provisions, you could forgive local residents for emitting steam from their ears.
Let’s not forget, this is one of the poorest Boroughs in the country. I hope the friendly and good-humoured Black Country residents would forgive me for saying that large parts of the place are rundown, verging on derelict. When, back in 2007, we asked them what improvements they’d like to see they cited very simple things – a swimming pool, a cinema, some recognisable stores on their high street. The things most towns take for granted.
Instead they have a cavernous £72m black and pink blob with no recognisable function, and are facing the prospect of a reduction in the services they pay handsomely for.
In a further missive from Norfolk, TPA supporter John Martin explains why County Hall at present bears resemblance to a large sieve.
For some time now, the Conservative controlled Norfolk County Council (NCC) has wanted to acquire for itself a large incinerator, though only recently has it actually used the i – word. The chosen site is Saddlebow, just outside King’s Lynn and nicely remote from County Hall.
The stage has just been reached when the identity of the “preferred bidder” has been revealed. It is Cory Wheelabrator (CW), a joint venture consortium formed between Cory Environmental Services Ltd and Wheelabrator Technologies Inc, a US corporation. The deal will involve a twenty-five year PFI contract at a cost to residents of Norfolk that at the moment is far from obvious. Like all PFI contracts, however, it will no doubt turn out to be eye-wateringly expensive.
Now, what I know about incineration on this scale, together with four cents, would not buy me a haircut. But already, some pretty persuasive arguments are in circulation here in Norfolk that suggest to me it is not a good thing from the point of view of people’s health. That is as it may be, and perhaps one day I shall very much regret not doing some research, but it is recent events that are perplexing me.
Three days before the NCC Cabinet was due to confirm the appointment of CW, our worthy local rag, the Eastern Daily Press (EDP), carried a front page story announcing that it had seen documents that made it clear that once a contract with CW had been entered into, if for any reason the project did not go ahead, NCC would pay compensation of up to £20m to CW. Such a reason might, for instance, include the failure of CW to obtain planning permission for the incinerator. The compensation would cover bid development costs, bank arrangement fees, planning costs and “sub-contractor breakage costs”.
(Here I interpose. At present, NCC is trying to work out how to save £155m over the next three years, and its best idea so far is to cane the young and the elderly. Please bear that in mind, if you are still with me.)
Now, NCC just happens to be the local planning authority for the purposes of the planning application. As such, it falls under the duty to determine the application strictly in the light of development plan policies and other material planning considerations. Put conversely, it is not allowed to take into account considerations of a non-planning nature – such as being clobbered for compensation running into the millions should it refuse planning permission. But it will certainly be sorely tempted to do so, and the result could well be a planning permission that should never have been granted. How could any authority get itself into such a mess?
Within hours of the EDP’s revelations being published, all eighty-four members of NCC, together with some senior officers, received an e-mail from the prim but interesting Ms Victoria McNeill, NCC’s head of law and monitoring officer, threatening them with every sanction known to man (and woman) if further leaks occurred. Yes, you have guessed it. The e-mail was then immediately leaked to the EDP, and on the morning of the NCC Cabinet meeting the EDP had its second scoop! Cllr George Nobbs, the charismatic but thoughtful leader of the Labour group (of three) on NCC, was quoted as saying: “This is clearly the action of a very rattled council”.
To make matters worse, the Cabinet turned up to County Hall to find a very impressive and well-organised demonstration going on, with some placards demanding that the compensation provision be dropped. Others urged that planning permission should be free from financial blackmail. In attendance were Anglia News and Radio Norfolk.
Dispirited though I feel by these events, two things do comfort me. First of all, the public is increasingly now prepared to make itself heard when attempts are made to keep it in the dark about the ways in which its money is being put at risk. Secondly, there is at least one member or senior officer at NCC who believes in the need to be open and transparent, and this means that County Hall will continue to leak like a sieve until NCC mends its ways.
John Martin, Norfolk
We all have to pay our council tax, and we know we can be imprisoned for non-payment. The thought of appearing before the magistrates’ court is enough for the vast majority of us to pay up on time, even though we know so much of our hard earned cash is being wasted in town halls across the country.
A story emerged last week that both Hull City Council and East Riding Council have being issuing summons for late payment as if they are going out of fashion. If you wish to pay your council tax each month by payment methods other than direct debit, East Riding Council insists you pay on the 1st of the month, and Hull insists you pay by the 7th of the month.
There are many reasons why some people do not choose the direct debit option. Some pensioners don’t trust it. Some people may have been declared bankrupt and cannot open a bank account. Many people are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate and cannot be certain to have the cash available at the set time. Surely, it would not be too much to expect councils to show some consideration? If a payment for November is paid in November, does it matter if it’s paid on the 7th of the month, or the 15th? Councils think differently and are making sure those who can least afford it get the nasty letters and demands.
I will give you an example. Someone who I know contacted me recently. He has just had to find over £600 to pay off his council tax bill in full for the rest of the year. His crime was being just two days late on his payments on three occasions in the past seven months. His business is not doing very well at the moment and life for him is a struggle. Like many people in Britain he is having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. He has never been more than a couple of days in arrears, but is Hull City Council bothered? Not in the least. No offers of help and certainly no notification of what will happen if you pay your bill late for a third month.
People who chose to pay by direct debit are also falling foul of the rules too. If a bank pays the council a day late because the due date falls on a weekend, that triggers off a nasty letter. Think about it. If your bank pays your direct debit a day late three times in a year, you will be told you have forfeited your right to pay in instalments, and will receive a demand for the full amount. If you don’t pay, you will be taken to court.
We are only seven months into the current financial year, and already summons have been issued to more than 10% of households in Hull. At this rate, around 1 in 5 households will receive a summons by the end of March. If a private company treated people in this way councillors across the country would be up in arms. When councils treat people badly, councillors stay quiet.
Council tax bills have doubled over the last decade. All of us have witnessed councils wasting our cash in variety of different ways, and despite public opposition, councillors have not listened. They expect us to pick up the bill. If they hadn’t wasted so much money, council tax bills would be lower and those struggling to make ends meet would find it easier to pay.
If you want to know how your council treats people with financial difficulties, and how many summons they have issued this year, contact me ([email protected]), and I will send you a ready made Freedom of Information Request for you to send off.
John Allen was an 86-year-old war hero who survived many extraordinary brushes with death, but was mown down by a cyclist a few weeks ago in Bath and died shortly afterwards. At the age of 19 in World War Two, Allen’s RAF aircraft was shot down over France. He survived the crash and joined the French Resistance in their underground war against the Nazis. Captured by the Germans, he was sent to a Prisoner of War camp in Poland. Sent on a death a march at the end of the war, he was liberated by the Russians. In September of this year, he was crossing a road when he was hit by a cyclist and died two days later. No one has been prosecuted for causing his death.
It is worth marking this death among recent accidents caused by speeding cyclists, because anti-car campaigners in Bath are still holding up cyclists as paragons of travel and an answer to Bath’s transport problems. They are recommending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money be spent on creating an infrastructure that favours cyclists and public transport over cars.
The problem is that a new generation of bicycles made out of lightweight materials are capable of travelling at greater speeds than ever before and that means they can now be as lethal as cars when they hit pedestrians. It is no good spending our money on road systems that encourage cyclists to hurtle along at even higher speeds with little regard for pedestrians.
In Bath, for example, the road running around the Guildhall leading into Bridge Street is now a one-way system with no traffic in the opposing direction to make drivers and, significantly, cyclists slow down as they speed round the corner of the Victoria Art Gallery. Silently charging down this slope, shielded by parked cars, and frequently ignoring the traffic lights, they pose a greater danger than cars to elderly residents as they cross the road near the gallery entrance towards the Podium entrance. I have witnessed several near accidents here caused by speeding cyclists.
Bath councillors should think hard before spending any more of our money creating racing tracks for cyclists in Bath. A combination of public and private transport, cars, buses and bicycles continues to be the best and safest transport policy for our city.
Tim Newark, Bath TaxPayers’ Alliance
After spending the last three years campaigning against its profligacy and questionable mandate, this year the new Coalition Government’s Emergency Budget announced the demise of WMTPA nemesis and regional quango, Advantage West Midlands, who will file their final accounts on 31st March 2012.
But before you reach for the tissues just yet, let’s remember that the astonishing waste, nonsense projects and the generally misguided use of taxpayers’ money this agency was responsible for. Each year they’d casually blow close to £120,000 on a self-congratulatory conference for their supporters (comprising mainly of civil servants and grant recipients) at the ICC in Birmingham; they eagerly masterminded and funded (respectively) internet flops like Biz TV and Odadeo.com; they ploughed money in to the notorious ‘The Public’ gallery/arts centre in West Bromwich which ran tens of millions over budget; they spent thousands and thousands maintaining offices in Japan, France, Germany, Brussels, Sweden and America; indulged in regular junkets, including wining and dining in the South of France to the tune of £30k in 2007 (including £4.5k for a barbecue!) and then in 2009 they spent £300,000 sending staff to the same conference, after which the Chief Executive himself expressed doubt over whether it was worth it, claiming “It’s difficult to track exactly what happened”.
This unelected, unaccountable middle-tier of government was loathed by many business leaders in the West Midlands, perhaps not least because they failed to make an impact on the economic landscape despite wielding a hefty multi-million pound budget. The recession, if nothing else, made it even harder to stomach as every non-project/event/conference/PC initiative seemed to bear the red AWM logo, just as many small businesses in the area began to flounder.
On the 27th October a collection of the region’s MPs met with AWM Chief Executive, Mick Laverty and former Minister for the West Midlands, Ian Austin, to discuss the wind-up of the Regional Development Agency and the instigation of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
After cuts, the RDA’s budget still stands at a whopping £250m this year, with a further £3m being allocated to the i54 site – the land that cost them over £17m several years ago, after the whole scheme was dreamed up in the late 90s. The i54 was earmarked as a “strategic business park”, but with no developer coming forward it now stands almost fallow and, according to local news reports, AWM have started selling of the site piece by piece. Whatever the case, the one tenant they’ve attracted won’t be delivering the 6,000 new jobs the project promised.
According to Laverty, the agency ‘batted off’ numerous enquiries from distribution companies who were keen to take some of the empty space, but their blind commitment to its destiny as a site for Research & Development now means that the area could end up derelict.
On their website, they optimistically toot:
“The i54 is a 96-hectare (220 acres) high quality business park development. Planned to have its own motorway junction to the M54, the flagship scheme is expected to create around 6,000 jobs, primarily in the technology industry, by 2020.
Around 2 million sq ft of industrial floor space and 376,000 sq ft of hotel, office, retail and leisure floor space will be available.
The search for a private sector developer was announced by Advantage West Midlands at MIPIM 2007 property conference in Cannes. The selection process will begin in the summer of 2007 and completed by Spring 2008”.
It’s the combination of big ambitions like this and a lack of insight/foresight that has seen many of AWM’s projects crash and burn at great cost to the taxpayer, and ultimately the regional economy.
The first wave of redundancies have already begun at the RDA, and Laverty said that the agency is working with the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to see if his staff can find jobs “elsewhere in Whitehall”, which is perhaps preferable to them finding roles in the administration of the new LEPs which, it’s already feared, could have the potential to become local, grant-chasing quangos.
The meeting in Parliament was just a day before Vince Cable’s announcement, confirming the number of LEPs and there was palpable confusion over the role these new partnerships will take, along with the predictable dimissiveness from AWM champions who appeared unable to comprehend that the measure is about dismantling much of the structures they’ve built rather than just passing them on to the new body. Laverty repeatedly stated that plans were “very unclear”, but unfortunately for taxpayers, the one thing the TPA has reason to suspect is that LEPs will be using public money to chase public money, as John O’Connell writes here. Which goes to show that, just because RDAs were the wrong way to promote growth, it doesn’t mean LEPs are the right way.
This little gathering in a small committee room was a long way from the full-throttle evangelistic AWM conferences of their heyday, and the resigned headshakes confirmed that the money they’ve been playing with for the past 12years is now being plucked out of their hands due to misuse. But going forward we need to make sure that their departure doesn’t give way to more of the same, and the TPA will be watching closely.
A further despatch from the rear, as TPA supporter John Martin blogs about Norfolk County Council’s plans to save £155m
Tuesday 26th October 2010 was an important day here. It saw the much-heralded start of “Norfolk’s Big Conversation”, the name given to a consultation exercise launched by Norfolk County Council (NCC). The underlying document sets out NCC’s proposals to bridge a budget gap of £155m over the next three years. Our views are sought.
Somewhat oddly, both the leader of NCC, Cllr Derrick Murphy, and its highly paid chief executive were on holiday at the time leaving only the newly appointed deputy leader to field some pretty challenging questions from the media, and a load of “incoming” from a worried public. Perhaps even odder was the earlier decision of the previous leader, the chubby faced but dynamic Cllr Daniel Cox, to announce his resignation from NCC to do voluntary work in India. This precipitated something of a hurried unseemly contest within the Tory administration, all behind closed doors, to produce a successor. But I digress.
In a nutshell, NCC is proposing to shed up to 1700 jobs, severely cut spending on services to the young and the elderly, reduce subsidies left right and centre and impose charges wherever it thinks it can get away with it. We all have until 10th January 2011 to submit our four cents’ worth, so that the NCC cabinet can debate the issues on 24th January. The full NCC council will agree a budget, based on the cabinet’s proposals, on 14th February.
The question for the cynical is will this Tory administration pay one iota of attention to what the public has to say, or has it already made up its mind on where the axe is to fall. Cllr George Nobbs, the flamboyant but incisive leader of the Labour group (of three), has already been quoted in the press as saying that the consultation is “more like a dialogue of the deaf”.
While the consultation document refers to the need to make efficiencies, unsurprisingly it is light on detail in that respect. Below I set out, therefore, an open letter to Cllr Murphy:
Dear Cllr Murphy
In December 2009, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, John Denham MP, said “Woe betide the local authority which cuts frontline services when it hasn’t made every possible efficiency saving”. I congratulate Norfolk County Council (“the Council”) for at last taking this on board. There are several very obvious areas where prompt change is necessary.
THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE
David White’s total annual remuneration before expenses is currently £263,700. I do not believe that what Mr White does warrants so large a financial reward, nor do I believe that in future the Council can afford to pay any individual such an enormous sum. The Council should ascertain promptly the cost of early termination of Mr White’s contract of employment, and enter into negotiations with him.
THE OTHER CHIEF OFFICERS
The total cost of remuneration of the other five chief officers is £786,300. In many ways, the existence of their posts is one of the justifications for arguing that Mr White is hopelessly overpaid. Nevertheless, their roles will become much diminished as the Council reduces its size and streamlines its future role. The Council should renegotiate their contracts of employment, possibly so that they move onto a four-day week.
Norfolk is going to remain a two-tier county for the foreseeable future. The allowances paid to the members of the Council and the members of the seven district councils (before expenses) total well over £3m annually. This includes just over £1m paid to the eighty-four members of the Council. We can no longer afford this. The members of the Council should be prepared to accept a cut in allowances, or their total number should be considerably reduced from eighty-four.
As the role of the Council changes, so it will become questionable whether a cabinet of nine members (with six deputy members) can be justified. Their cost at present, in terms of special responsibility allowances alone, is £172k annually. It will require there to be, in the near future, fewer members each with recognised expertise working harder on merged portfolios.
The Council in 2009-2010 spent £10.942m on external consultants. This was against the background of the Council at the same time employing a huge top-heavy management team. There can be no excuse for doing both in the future. The Council must address this problem promptly
This is a similar problem. Agency staff are recognised as uneconomic. Research suggests that an agency worker can cost up to three times as much as a permanent employee. In 2009-2010, the Council spent £1.372m on agency staff. It cannot go on.
The legal department (now expensively re-branded as “nplaw”) employs over sixty staff. It has a shocking history of engaging outside firms of solicitors to do aspects of its work. In 2009-2010, this cost the Council £294k. It may be much cheaper to abandon it, and resort instead to a panel of external firms of solicitors.
The Council’s chairman has a budget of £68k for this. That is roughly equal to the predicted savings of turning off street lighting in the first year of that unpopular exercise. There really is no place for such expenditure in these straitened times.
These apparently cost the Council £126k in 2009-2010. Why are they needed? What is the relevance of “political advice”? Political assistants should go.
CUSTOMER SERVICES AND COMMUNICATIONS
The Council simply cannot afford to continue to spend £3.5m on this function. What is particularly unforgivable is laying out £220k annually on four printed issues of a self-publicising circular such as “Your Norfolk”.
For many years, as the Taxpayers Alliance has been actively campaigning to push back the wasteful tides of spending at countless government departments, councils and quangos that exist in the UK, one relatively peaceful, rugby loving nation has stood idly by, watching the funds of the public pocket cascade into the abyss as if were Angel Falls itself. Yes it’s Wales.
Now the Coalition government has announced its intentions with the devolved nations, the Welsh Assembly has to finally use some of its budgetary clout. Instead of resorting to the culture of wasteful spending, it can now reclaim the initiative and put the past ten or so years behind it.
This in itself is an absolute shame. On paper, the Welsh Assembly could be a method of securing less Whitehall bureaucracy, saving millions through redevelopment. Yet in 2008, nine years after the Assembly was created, Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil had some of the largest percentages of workless households in the UK, both at 24.0%, closely followed by Swansea with 23%.
To be a little more exclusive, let’s focus on Cardiff, the home of the Welsh Assembly and the Millennium Stadium. It was once home to one of the world’s largest ports and the vehicle of the British Empire. It is now home to some of the gravest examples of waste.
Cardiff City Council has failed and is still failing on numerous initiatives, and with this has squandered millions. In a campaign being launched this week, one of the simplest and most trivial examples of waste is to be scrutinised; that of public liability. Organisations nationwide are having claims filed against them daily, but in the past four financial years, Cardiff Council has settled 199 cases of liability relating to trips and falls on pavements, but has spent £1,291.029.83 in doing so. In total, there have been 1083 cases brought to the attention of the council, and within the same period, the council has spent £5,149,452 on pavement and walkway repairs. It has also pledged a further £1,135,520 for maintenance this year.
When a council spends more on pay-outs for neglect over four years than it does correcting paving defects within a year, something is wrong. This raises some serious questions about the safety of residents within the communities, the management of finances within the authority and the £1,291.029.83 that could have been invested to cut incidents or reduce the tax bill.
Lee Canning, Cardiff TPA co-ordinator
Last week, George Osborne announced details of the long-awaited comprehensive spending review. Over the next four years, the government will make over £80 billion of spending cuts, and although this is a huge amount of money, it is important to put these figures into perspective.
Today the government spent £120 million to pay off the interest on its debts. This equates to over £43 billion a year. In September, the government borrowed £16.2 billion, simply to pay its bills. There is no doubt cuts have to be made, and councils across the country will have to make savings of over 7% every year for the next four years.
Many will think this is impossible and are dreading the worst, but there are councils in the UK who have achieved significant savings in recent years, and importantly, frontline services have not been affected. Necessity is the mother of invention, and these cuts bring both challenges and opportunities.
The Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, once said, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand.” Or as Ronald Reagan once said, “Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.” Government isn’t good at running things. It invariably makes a hash of anything it gets its hands on. Most capital projects come in way over time and way over budget, so my advice to council leaders is to ‘think outside the box.’
What they should do is come up with a list of services they currently provide and ask themselves if these services could be provided cheaper and more effectively by an outside organisation. For example, what do councils know about running arts centres? Not much, but arts charities do, and can run arts centres in a better and more cost effective way.
Windsor and Maidenhead Council recently installed smart meters in its buildings and the result was a 15% reduction in energy consumption. The London boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea have proposed to merge all their services, from schools and refuse collection to child protection, under the direction of a single chief executive. They estimate they can collectively save £100 million. Although there will be job losses, many workers will jump at the opportunity to retire early or take voluntary redundancy. Perhaps this is something Hull and East Riding councils should think about? Is there a reason why two neighbouring councils should have two chief executives, over a dozen directors, and management teams duplicating the work of each other? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to pool resources?
No doubt Carl Minns and Stephen Parnaby have their own ideas, but what they must do is preserve frontline services. I think they can do that, improve some services, and deliver a reduction in costs. Time will tell how successful they are.
I'm sure many readers will have ideas how their councils can save money. Council leaders are currently looking for ideas, before they start finalising their budgets. Why not contact your council and make your suggestions?