Nov 2007 28

Stoke-On-Trent City Council are at it again with sky-high salaries for ambiguous bureaucratic positions. After losing their assistant chief executive to ill health, they’re now advertising the post with a bumper salary of £125,000.

Many party leaders at the council question not only the salary, but the need for the role at all. Potteries Alliance leader Peter Kent-Baguley is quoted in The Sentinel:

"I think there should be another look at whether this job is actually needed. There is already a council manager and chief executive and I would have thought he could give the strategic lead and co-ordinate directors. I don’t see why we need a second tier of management. This money could go on front-line services."Moneydownthedrain

Stoke Council is no stranger to throwing money away, most recently they’ve started re-branding despite being one of the worst councils in the country. They’ve also thought fit to invest taxpayers’ money in a council anthem – which might be funny if it wasn’t so shocking.

This council’s cavalier attitude to spending money is beyond belief. As services decline, the gimmicks just seem to multiply along with the extra management positions.

If Stoke-On-Trent truly have this money to splash then instead of buying surplus bureaucrats and theme tunes they really should consider giving it back to their residents as a tax cut, and letting them decide how they can best spend their own money.   

Nov 2007 28

EyeEver since we came across a story on the BBC website advertising for residents to join Lancaster City Council’s ‘independent remuneration panel’, we’ve found that all councils have to have some form of panel to initiate hearings and make recommendations on councillor allowances.  This is where you can get involved as TPA activists.  Call your council, ask for the democratic services department and enquire about joining your borough’s independent remuneration panel.  They don’t meet often, however the decisions they make can have a real impact on taxpayers.

It’s time to get low-tax activists onto these panels to see that decisions on council allowances take into account the interests of taxpayers.  Norfolk County Council recently agreed to increase its councillor allowances by 28%.  We have a chance to stop such increases and keep council tax down.  So do your bit, get involved and make that welcome difference for your community. 

As always, if you do get on a council panel, then please let me know so we can give you any support and assistance you need.

Nov 2007 28

SmallbluebinAn article in today’s Guardian is suitably entitled “the business of governing is much harder that we would like to believe”.  Although on a completely different topic to what you will read here, it strikes a note especially when you cast your eyes over our non-job of the week.  We’ve chosen a set of “welfare rights” jobs from Lambeth council:

Welfare Benefits Project Officer
£30,018 – £32,094

Lambeth is building a team to ensure that vulnerable people in the borough get access to welfare benefits advice. If you are passionate about maximising income for vulnerable people and you have excellent skills and experience in welfare benefits work, then this could be the job for you.

This is one of three posts that will work on our new campaign, funded by Lambeth Council and Lambeth PCT, to improve benefit take up. The campaign is called Every Pound Counts and is part of Lambeth’s Local Area Agreement. It is delivered in partnership with local advice agencies and targets older people, people living with ill health and disability, and their carers, including families caring for disabled children.

This is a key role supporting Lambeth in achieving its Local Area Agreement stretch target for benefits uptake. Working with voluntary and statutory partner organisations to ensure excellent co-ordination of benefits support to clients, you’ll project manage the take up campaign. Activities will include monitoring the contracts with local advice agencies, working on the campaign and developing and delivering a programme of outreach and publicity activities.

We are looking for someone with experience in welfare rights advice, managing contracts with voluntary agencies, and presenting and producing information for a variety of audiences at all levels.

Successful candidates will be asked to apply for an Enhanced Disclosure from the Criminal Records Bureau. Further information about the Disclosure can be found at www.disclosure.gov.uk and in the application pack.”

The objection to this job isn’t that it’s providing benefits; it should form as a critique of the complexities within our government.  Referring back to the title of the Guardian article I mentioned at the start, government doesn’t have to be as difficult as it is.  Vulnerable people shouldn’t be dumped in a state of confusion within a complex benefits system.  Our taxes shouldn’t be employing bureaucrats to solve a problem created by government in the first place.  Not only are we employing (yes, us, it’s our money) bureaucrats to help those befuddled by the system, but we’re also financing overpayments officers because sometimes the benefits officers get beat by the system too.  Talk about two wrongs making a right…

The solution, clearly, is a simple tax and benefits system.  It’s not as if alternative ideas aren’t out there.  Look at the flat tax phenomenon gripping and propelling the former Eastern bloc into the developed world.  Charles Murray’s plan to replace the Welfare State creates a national minimum whilst doing away with whole swathes of public sector bureaucracy.  It’s becoming a regular feature in debate on this to raise the personal threshold where one starts to pay income tax.  The ideas are out there and we clearly have to change the way our benefits system works.  The complexity burns more of our money whilst leaving vulnerable people in a dire situation.  The cost of a complex benefits system takes funding away from frontline services.  The long run implications of an ever-increasing public sector pay roll will be to swell the size of the state as well as higher tax bills.

Please make this point to the leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Steve Reed, and ask him what he will do to lower council tax bills in Lambeth. 

Also get a local debate started, send your letters to:

South London Press
2-4 Leigham Court,
SW16 2PD
Email: [email protected] (please make your subject ‘for the attention of Hannah Walker re: letter to the editor’)

Nov 2007 28

Irwin Stelzer writes an important piece in today’s Telegraph, with some wise words for the Conservative Party. It’s worth quoting him at length:

"Voters are eager for an alternative to a tired Labour Party. The Tories’ problem is that they won’t have very much to offer when it comes to running the economy. Never mind that any good ideas – and even bad but popular ones such as reducing inheritance tax – will have been stolen by whoever replaces poor Alistair Darling.

More important is the box into which the Tories have put themselves by promising to spend as much as Labour if they are entrusted with the keys to the Treasury.

They have also promised not to lower taxes lest, and this is the risible excuse, lower taxes produce economic instability.

They have promised to follow the same tax-and-spend policies that Brown has inflicted on a public groaning under the burden of successive tax increases, watching its money disappear without any significant improvement in public services.

Offered a choice between two parties that intend to tax them until the pips squeak and divert funds from the efficient private sector to the wasteful public sector, voters might just as well vote for the original, rather than a carbon copy…

One would think that in such circumstances voters would turf out those who were in charge when Joseph’s wise words were ignored.

But they will be faced with much of a muchness from the Tories – a pledge to keep to the fiscal policy laid out by Labour, at least for the immediate future.

So let’s hope the economy overcomes its ills and that the Tories decide there is indeed something better to offer than allowing spending to grow and keeping taxes at levels that will sooner or later stifle work and risk-taking.

Unless, of course, the voters don’t believe it’s the economy stupid, but instead, to borrow from an American politician, "it’s time for a change".

Unfortunately for Tory students of history, that slogan didn’t get Tom Dewey very far in his effort to unseat Franklin D Roosevelt, who went on to win his fourth general election."

A good lesson for the Conservative Party, and indeed the other parties. Voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the high-tax, high-spending political consensus. British politics is in a remarkable position where the three main parties are committed to spending and taxing the same amounts overall. The only arguments are over the mix of spending and taxes. In effect, each party is saying: "My revenue-neutral package is better than yours". This will not excite the electorate.

It’s worth repeating some of the conclusions from the TPA’s September opinion poll of 2,000 people, conducted by YouGov, which found that voters are increasingly warming to the idea of lower taxes overall, even if this means some reduction in government spending:

  • 64 per cent think "The government spends too much and therefore taxes us too much", compared with 18 per cent who think "The government has got the balance about right" and just 4 per cent who think "The government spends too little and therefore taxes us too little".
  • In answer to the question "Thinking about the present levels of tax on the one hand and the state of the public services (like health or education) on the other, do you think the party you support should pledge to increase taxes, hold taxes at their present level or to reduce taxes?", 6 per cent said "increase taxes", 38 per cent said "hold at present level" and 44 per cent said "reduce taxes".
  • In answer to the question "If the party that you generally support signed a public pledge not to increase taxes in government, would this make you more or less likely to vote for them, or would it make no difference?", 40 per cent said "more likely", 5 per cent said "less likely" and 44 per cent said "no difference".

Getting serious about reducing the overall burden of tax, and explaining that argument to the electorate, is the next big political winner. Whichever party goes first will reap the electoral rewards.

Nov 2007 28

When Mark Rees was head of the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust he sacked 600 workers and cut 190 beds in order to try and bring the trust’s finances under control (reported in the Daily Mail – not online).  These are similar measures to the ones Rose Gibb, who – in a strange quirk of fate – is his partner, put in place that contributed to the tragic outbreak of C. difficile that killed at least 90 people.  They have failed to restore the trust’s finances and it was £30 million in debt when he stepped down "amid claims of weak leadership".

Markrees_2

Despite this he is to get a £170,000 payoff with £127,500 for nine months pay in lieu of a notice period and £42,500 for ‘loss of office’.  Taxpayers shouldn’t be made to pay such extravagant rewards to managers who fail so thoroughly.  Unfortunately, the recent TaxPayers’ Alliance Public Sector Rich List showed numerous cases of such rewards for failure.

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