Jan 2008 10

According to yesterday’s Express and Star 12 council staff at Black Country housing company, Sandwell Homes, were given “mind therapy sessions” costing the taxpayer thousands of pounds.

The report claims that the one-to-one therapy sessions for maintenance and housing managers encouraged employees to share their thoughts on a “search for excellence”.

The therapy was given by Richard Elwell, who runs ‘Ethical Influence’. He has trained with Michael Breen, who in turn is known for his work with TV hypnotist Paul McKenna.

Each of the staff were treated to five sessions of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), made popular by Mckenna, each lasting an hour and a half. Elwell insists that there was no element of hypnosis:

Hypnosis “It is merely conversation, asking them how they would like to do better. It’s a search for excellence”.

Despite this sounding like something managers can discuss amongst themselves or with their superiors completely gratis, the newspaper reports that One Essex NLP practitioner charges £55 for an hour and a half. If Elwell’s prices are similar the taxpayer is looking at a bill of nearly £3,500, and yet the tangible benefits are far from clear.

This is another example of public servants indulging themselves at our expense. Taxpayers’ should not be expected to pay the extortionate fees of someone brought in to practice something that sounds a lot like psychobabble to the rest of us.

Whether these sessions included Paul McKenna-style hypnosis or not, one thing is clear – that this money was not put to good, practical use. Instead Sandwell Homes have siphoned money from the public purse to experiment with the sort of newfangled and questionable middle management coaching that yields little and costs a lot.

Local residents pay their taxes for services, not psychology.

Jan 2008 10

Stuff_from_the_tpa_camera_023What a great start to the New Year the TaxPayers’ Alliance is having.  Over the Christmas and New Year period, when we publicised our Christmas Tax and Non-Job reports, we managed to recruit 35 new activists.  Activists differ from supporters because they are committed to recruiting, campaigning and promoting the TPA and lower taxes, voluntarily giving their time and energy to the cause.  Our activists are the seeds of our future grassroots growth, so thank you to all those who have signed up as TPA activists.  If you wish to sign up as a TPA Activist you can register here, contribute or contact me directly to get involved.

One activist in particular became our 500th TPA Activist.  His name is Kevin Taylor from Omagh and is busy recruiting to form a branch in County Tyrone.  Congratulations to Kevin on helping us reach this milestone in our grassroots development.  Now it’s up to our TPA activists to get recruiting so that we can congratulate our 1000th activist in the not too distant future.  Just think, if every activist recruited only one activist, we could reach 1000 activists in no time at all!

The Christmas season also didn’t stop our activists recruiting in our 10 Friends Challenge.  Evelyn Brazier, who, when she joined, recruited 25 of her friends and neighbours, signed up another 10 taxpayers to the TPA.  Jessica Blossom recruited 10 more supporters in Sussex and London and Ivy Newman has helped us build our membership in North London.

Keep up the excellent work, everyone.  We have a big task ahead of us to secure those essential tax cuts, but with the public behind us we have every chance of success.  Also keep an eye out on the website tomorrow with the announcement of the first TaxPayers’ Alliance protest for lower taxes.  2008 promises to be a big year for the TaxPayers’ Alliance grassroots campaign!

Jan 2008 10

Thar she blows! And we’re paying

The Guardian has surveyed the cash wasted on Whitehall’s abandoned IT projects. According to their survey, the known cost of projects abandoned since 2000 is now £2bn. They highlight:

  • Downing St led projects- "the much-derided £486m computer upgrade at the Child Support Agency (CSA), which collapsed and forced a £1bn claims write-off, and an adult learning programme that was subjected to extensive fraud"
  • Department for Work and Pensions- "responsible for squandering more than £1.6bn by abandoning three major schemes — a new benefit card which was based on outdated technology; the upgrade… which could not handle 1.2m existing claims; and a £140m streamlined benefit payment system that never worked properly"

The article doesn’t detail all the abandoned projects, but notes that £2bn will be a significant underestimate of total costs. That’s because there is no official record covering everything, and also these figures exclude the cost of unworkable systems that are not abandoned per se, but which incur huge modification costs to coax them into some stuttering form of life. Examples include the disastrous NHS Supercomputer, and the hopeless system for the Rural Payments Agency (see many previous blogs for both).

The Guardian figures also exclude two projects abandoned just in the last couple of weeks. The Police Portal was a web-based system for members of the public to report "non-urgent" matters. Despite reportedly working properly, it’s now been abandoned- wasting up to £60m (blogged here).

And just yesterday we learned that a wildly ambitious £1bn system for "integrated prisoner tracking" had been abandoned by the Ministry of Justice. It’s probably safe to assume the Guardian’s £2bn total has racked up a good few notches.

Meanwhile over at the State Child Directorate, they’ve decided to do some more Simple IT Shopping. Schools Minister Jim Knight (see many previous blogs) has been put in charge of negotiating a good deal for broadband with public spirited Internet Service Providers like BT, Virgin Media, and Sky.

Knight reckons a million poor children don’t have access to a computer at home, and they need one for all the usual arm-waving education reasons. So the commissars are going to force all parents to get one, along with broadband. But the cost will be split three ways between the parents, the internet providers and yes, you guessed it, us taxpayers.

Now, see if you can guess what proportion of the cost will be borne by each. In an entertaining article, the Register gives us some clues. Under the excellent headline "Schools minister touts ‘one interweb per child’ pork barrel", it reports:

"The minister said he reckons the negotiations will be "crunchy", but that the government will effectively recruit millions of new customers for broadband providers. Which is jolly sporting of them.

The Department for Education, Schools and Families said it could not provide any more information on the talks, their schedule, or anything else about the plan. "There might be something more next week," a spokesman told us.

A spokesman for BT told us that it "keenly welcomed" the talks, but said they were "at a a very early stage", and refused to comment further."

We’ll just bet he did.

And what’s more, as the Register points out, it’s only a month since Balls was blaming too much time spent on computers for our abysmal showing in the recent OECD reading tests (see this blog). Plus, there could be "child safety concerns in households where parental supervision might not be A-1".

There’s more. Knight promises: "Technologically we can deliver the ability of parents to be able to log into a school intranet, be able to see what homework has been set or look at lesson planning, whether the child is attending, see what the timetable is like, all of that is possible."

Reg says: "Possible, but is it likely given Westminster’s track record on massive IT pork fests? If the Knight and co. can bring down the cost of IT to even anywhere near private sector levels, they’ll have succeeded where dozens of projects have failed before them.

Still, with the stock market headed south, we’re sure the industry will be very glad to be handed the public purse again."

We couldn’t have put it better.

Jan 2008 09

SmallbluebinSome people never learn.  Our report into local government publicity spending revealed a half billion pound industry promoting local councils.  This taxpayer-funded pat-on-the-back for local politicians and their council officers brought outrage from taxpayers, and rightly so.  Help the Aged found that 10% of pensioners have to forego buying food and heating just to pay their council tax.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that two million taxpayers struggle to pay their council tax bills.  Yet Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council hasn’t listened and they haven’t learned either.  They are still content to ratchet up the public sector wage roster, spending more of your money on their own self-aggrandizing propaganda and not essential services or tax cuts.  So we present to you this week’s non-job of the week:

STOCKPORT METROPOLITAN BOROUGH COUNCIL
Assistant Chief Executive (Communications
)

We’ve lost our voice.

Package up to £90k

ClownsWe are officially a top performing Council and improving well, something we are very proud of, because it confirms we are serving the public of Stockport well. We are also recognised as a leading Council for communications, and are determined to keep it that way: we want the Borough’s achievements to be the talk of the town. That’s where you come in. Reporting directly to the Chief Executive, and as a key member of the community of senior officers, you will head a 20-strong team to lead all aspects of corporate communications: campaigns, reputation management, press relations, on-line content, public consultation and emergencies, working closely with senior councillors and officers. You will need political nous, excellent written and oral presentation skills, a strategic mindset, great judgement, good management skills, and the ability to work under pressure.”

It couldn’t be clearer.  Stockport’s taxpayers are paying ever increasing council tax to employ spin doctors to hype up the council’s reputation and to constantly make up excuses for their own existence.  All this job does is add to the £1.1 million publicity budget at Stockport Council.  They already have 20 spin doctors, why do they need one more?  So when your councillors attempt to justify another council tax rise, you know where the money’s going – to spivs and not services.

So spread the word.  The Manchester Evening News reported the story when we released our report into publicity funding.  Write to them at:

1 Scott Place,
Manchester,
M3 3RN ,
United Kingdom

Or send an email to [email protected]

Additionally you can contact the Stockport Express and Stockport Times by sending an email to [email protected].

Do keep up the pressure.  We are getting a larger media presence and a more intensive grassroots operation.  It’s time to hold these politicians to account and demand lower taxes!

Jan 2008 09

Today the Better Government Initiative, a group of establishment figures with no relation to our campaign, have published their report (PDF) today and have noted the problem of inexperienced political management:

"Ministers are increasingly drawn from a specialist political background with little experience of the management and operation of large organisations, but they are in a position of great influence in relation both to their own Departments and to deliverers of public services. They need appropriate training. Such training should also be available to potential Ministers within the governing party and to members of the Opposition and Select Committees."

It is great that they have acknowledged the problem but their conclusion, that training is needed, is a mistake.  There is a reason why big, private sector, firms wouldn’t dare to hope than an inexperienced candidate can be prepared for the role of chief executive – an analagous role to that of a minister – with training alone.  Managing large organisations is not a skill that has ever been effectively taught through formal training alone.

Beyond that, even if a Minister knows how to do manage large organisations they will also need to know their subject.  Few have an in-depth knowledge of the area in which they’ll be working so can be, at best, informed laymen.  They rarely stay in a department for long so they won’t be able to build up that knowledge over time or build up a close working relationship with their staff.

All these weaknesses make it harder for Ministers to attempt the already close to impossible task of managing big government departments – huge, monopolistic conglomerates.  Training will not improve the situation.  Instead, we need politicians to get out of management and hand services over to professionals – held accountable either by the politicians or, in most cases, the competitive market.

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