Dec 2007 03

With council tax bills having doubled over the last ten years, the TaxPayers’ Alliance has launched a new series to review expenditure by local authorities in all corners of the UK and highlight areas of spending that could and should be reduced.

Thczcover0712 The Council Spending Uncovered series challenges the claim that Town Halls are short of money by publishing figures that will allow council taxpayers to decide for themselves whether their local authority is spending their money wisely.  These figures have never previously been compiled in one place because the TPA is the first non-government body to have collected the accounts for all 450-plus councils.

The first paper in the Council Spending Uncovered series examines the increase in town hall spending on publicity over the last decade, which is itemised in the annual accounts of all councils. 

Key findings

  • The average local authority spends almost £1 million (£985,000) on publicity.
  • The average local authority is spending double the amount on publicity than it did in 1996-97:

- Without taking account of inflation the average local authority spent £430,000 on publicity ten years ago.  The average spend today is a 130 per cent increase on that 1996-97 figure. 

- In today’s prices the average local authority spent £550,000 on publicity in 1996-97.  The average spend today is an 80 per cent increase in real terms on a decade ago.

  • The total local authority publicity bill is £450 million.
  • There is one local authority, Birmingham City Council, that spends more than £10 million on publicity.
  • There are 8 local authorities spending more than £5 million on publicity.
  • There are 73 local authorities spending more than £2 million on publicity.
  • There are 141 local authorities spending more than £1 million on publicity.
  • The total spend on publicity is not broken down in a uniform way in the various local authority accounts.  It is possible, however, to identify 44 councils that spend at least £1 million and 4 councils spending at least £2 million on staff recruitment advertising – despite the increased use of websites.  If all local authority accounts provided a full breakdown of publicity spending, the number of councils spending at least £1 million on staff advertising would almost certainly increase.
  • The doubling of average publicity spending per local authority in the last decade is extremelyNottingham_logo_gallery_470x470  disappointing.  There are, however, a number of councils that are actually spending less on publicity than ten years ago. For example:

- Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council spent £669,000 on publicity in 2006-07, down 11 per cent from the £751,000 spent in 1996-97. 

- In 2005-06, however, the council spent £1,030,000 on publicity, meaning that the 1-year fall in spending was 35 per cent. 

- If Hammersmith and Fulham can reduce publicity spending by 35 per cent in one year (in part by allowing advertising by local businesses in council publications) make other efficiency savings and reduce council tax by 3 per cent, then it must be possible for other councils to follow suit. 

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said:

“It’s important for council taxpayers to see just how their hard-earned money is being spent by town halls.  With council tax doubling in the past decade, it’s extremely disappointing that councils have chosen to double their publicity budgets over the same period.  With the internet cutting the cost of communication, it shouldn’t be difficult for local authorities to find savings in this area and bring council tax down.”

Click for full report:

Download Council Spending Uncovered, No. 1: Publicity (PDF)

Click for regional tables, to be read in conjunction with the full report above:

Download East Midlands Regional Table (PDF)

Download East of England Regional Table (PDF)

Download London Regional Table (PDF)

Download North East Regional Table (PDF)

Download North West Regional Table (PDF)

Download Northern Ireland Regional Table (PDF)

Download Scotland Regional Table (PDF)

Download South East Regional Table (PDF)

Download South West Regional Table (PDF)

Download Wales Regional Table (PDF)

Download West Midlands Regional Table (PDF)

Download Yorkshire and the Humber Regional Table (PDF)

Dec 2007 02

Flashy new buildings fail to improve school

In the news this week:

£25m Blair "super-school" heading for closure- "A pioneering £25million "super-school", opened by ex-PM Tony Blair, has been put into special measures by school inspectors. Bishops Park College, built five years ago to mop up a predicted boom in demand for school places, was hailed as an innovative new venture. But now the state-of-the-art facility in Clacton, Essex, which has 900 places but only 560 pupils, is threatened with closure. The report is the latest blow for the beleaguered school in which inspectors said standards in maths and English were "exceptionally low". Teachers were also judged to have "too low" expectations of what the children could achieve academically." (Telegraph 1.12.07)

£150,000 on unneeded Whitehall survey- "They say you shouldn’t ask a question unless you’re ready for the answer. Perhaps that’s something Whitehall officials should have borne in mind when they spent £150,000 on a survey into public attitudes to migration. They had hoped to produce reassuring data to comfort ministers wrestling with the shambles of Labour’s asylum and immigration policy. Instead, an overwhelming majority of the population said there were too many immigrants in Britain and strict quotas should be imposed on the numbers entering." (Mail 1.12.07)

£200,000 for left-wing propaganda- "A glossy ‘voter’s guide’ for teenagers backed by the Commons Speaker Michael Martin has been accused of political bias. The pamphlets, called Voting Times, and sent to 600,000 households a year to remind young people to register to vote when they turn 18, cost more than £200,000 to produce. But they were at the centre of a row last night after critics complained they offered a list of "Left-leaning causes" under the title "Identify the issues that matter". Produced in the style of a glossy magazine complete with a picture casebook telling the story of one politically motivated young man, the pamphlet reads: "Identify the issues that matter. Your unique experiences in life mean that you have a unique view of the world. "Global poverty, the environment, healthcare, education, training and jobs are just a few of the issues facing Britain." (Mail on Sunday 2.12.07)

£83 grand expenses for another high-rolling cop- "The police chief tipped as the next Scotland Yard Commissioner is facing scrutiny after running up expenses of more than £83,000 over the past three years. Sir Hugh Orde, the £130,000-a-year head of the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI), has spent the cash on flights and hotels in the UK and the US since 2004. The figure is higher than any other UK Chief Constable – but Sir Hugh, 48, has denied using taxpayers’ cash to meet his long-term mistress Denise Weston." (Mail on Sunday 2.12.07)

Total for week- £25,433,000

Nov 2007 30

Worcestershire County Council have been criticised today for running up a bill of over £1million for “self indulgent” refurbishments to the County Halls.

Councillor Wells, who has sparked the controversy is quoted in the Worcester News:

"At a time when the council is making savage cuts across key areas of services, it’s indefensible to be allocating £1 million to the council chamber. I would argue that it’s unacceptable and self-indulgent."_1524748_worcestershire300

Indeed this is a council that is trying to make £25million in cuts, so this does seem like an obscure move, especially considering all the added extras that the £1million includes – such as a £103,000 audiovisual system which will project the faces of speakers onto a big screen. A novelty for councillors perhaps, but not of much use to taxpayers.

Once the elected members have tired of seeing their magnified heads projected for the benefit of the chamber, they are still left with lots of money to find.   

Too often councils are seen to be indulging in trimmings and superficialities, all designed to give the impression of a slick operation when actually they function as something of a disguise.

If, as Councillor Wells states, key areas of service are facing “savage cuts”, presumably effecting quality, then pouring money into meeting rooms and flashy technology all to make councillors’ lives more easy is truly unforgivable.

Councillors are public servants and should act accordingly, and that means serving the needs of their public before they tend to their own.

Nov 2007 30

Peterwebb3Surrey South West TaxPayers’ Alliance and Surrey Tax Action Group Organiser Peter Webb updates us on the campaign in Surrey:

Pre and ongoing: Prolonged dialogue with County Council on the effectiveness of roads contracts management and work supervision.
Reflecting on development of TPA branch organisation
2nd November: Non-job letter on 3 Relationship Managers published in Surrey Advertiser
Sent above to all County councillors with comment
Sent to all other Surrey papers
3rd November: Made the front page in Surrey Times with a quote in a report on MPs expenses.
5th: Enquiry from Staines Herald following circulation to all other Surrey newspapers of non-job letter (but from outside their catchment area) about 3 Relationship Managers. Put in touch with STAG supporter in area.
7th: Replied to MP Jeremy Hunt letter of 31st October on council tax and localisation. Stressed government malfunction and basis of need for Better Government
Anne Milton MP wrote inconsequently  after my letter to her on Grant settlement 2008-09 following phone discussion at her request.
11th:  Steve Bowers writes (published) West Sussex County Times re pensions inequity
16th:  Non-job letter, Senior school and Parent Consultant, published in Surrey Advertiser.
18th: Circulated latest non-job letter to 80 county councillors with comment and to all other Surrey newspapers.
19th: Letter to County Leader Nick Skellett introducing TPA, chasing outstandings and anticipating next precept increase.
Letter to Surrey Advertiser re Equality and Diversity procedures as revealed on CC web-site.
Completed exchange with top of Waverley Borough Council re short form annual report and accounts to 2006-07. Located on web-site. Audit Comm joined me in commending 2005-06 version.
Steve Bowers writes again to West Sussex County Times re top paid West Sussex County Councillors
20th:   Brian Haran of Croydon Advertiser called for more info and pic after 18th
21st:   E&Q letter copied to all County councillors with comment
To MPs Jeremy Hunt and Anne Milton “we don’t hear you complaining” about  £billions to Europe ‘good for Britain’ when accounts not audited for 13 years
22nd:   E&Q letter sent to all other Surrey papers
Wrote to District Auditor (cc Nick Skellett and Chief Executive Richard Shaw)  questioning audit of County use of resources (poor ?) in light of non-job and risk analysis and Equality and Diversity procedures.
26th: Response from County Leader Nick Skellett re Relationship Managers.
Comment sought by Surrey Advertiser regarding Independent Review Panel report proposing 27% increase in Guildford Borough Council Members allowances and expenses. Seek volunteers to apply for position on IRP.
28th: County invite STAG for 23rd January pre-budget talk alongside Business and Industry leaders.
30th: County Councillpr Ernest Mallett (Residents Party, West Molesey) will to sign up to TPA.
Generally: TPA leaflets to Angela, Barry and Ernie for distribution, and Alastair Campbell.

Well done to Peter on a fantastic month with some impressive breakthroughs in local Surrey newspapers and the County Council.  Keep up the excellent work!

Nov 2007 29

Whitefatcat Now here’s an interesting question for you, who spends £30,000 wining and dining at four star restaurants in the South of France, including £10,928 for a drinks reception and dinner, £8,625 for a cocktail party, £2,469 for three business breakfasts, £4,406 for a welcome barbecue and £3,868 for a launch party?

Elton John? No, guess again. They also spent:

- £298,394 organising 19 conferences and events (£140,673 of that total going on their own self-congratulatory conference).
- £759,000 maintaining offices in Japan, France, Germany, Brussels, Sweden and America.
- £50,859 on airfares.

Trying to recall the names of particularly extravagant tycoons? Here’s a clue – you helped foot the bill.

That’s right, it wasn’t some Arab Sheikh, it was the overpaid bigwigs at Advantage West Midlands – our local Regional Development quango! Luckily whilst in Cannes they stopped short of sending to Italy for a pizza…

These figures were published in today’s Birmingham Post following a Freedom of Information request by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, asking for the expenditure of all RDAs for the financial year 2006/7. Baker says: “No elected politician would get away with this and there is no reason why obscure, unelected, unaccountable officials should either”.

These figures are just expenses, but the fact that they run into the hundreds of thousands really is indicative of the reckless attitude of these undemocratic bodies towards our money. The fact that AWM was one of the better RDAs is really quite worrying.

A WMTPA supporter and one of the authors of the West Midlands NO! site has a petition running calling for the abolition of these excessive and unnecessary agencies. Sign the petition HERE

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