Nov 2007 21

It appears that hiring illegal immigrants and presiding over general misconduct within the workplace are just the tip of the iceberg for Birmingham City Council, as the Birmingham Post reports the details of just some of the millions of pounds worth of discrepancies presented to the financial audit committee yesterday.Anarchy_2

The list includes:

•    £37,000 that they continued to pay to a foster carer four years after she ceased to look after children.
•    £3,000 lost by a member of staff on collecting petty cash from the bank.
•    £2,000 lost from the safe at a children’s home after a member of staff left the key unattended.
•    The suspected illegal use of 1,181 disabled badges issued in the names of people who have since died. The badges were used by family members who never handed them back.
•    22,000 people claiming for single person council tax discount when they are suspected of living with another person. This is believed to cost the city £6million-per-year.

All this and deputy leader Paul Tilsley claims that the council deserve credit:

"I think we deserve credit for bringing these, and other internal cases, out into the open. In the past the result of the audit investigations would have been sunk without trace. Nobody would have known about them."

So we must praise them for being honest about their incompetence rather than burying it and keeping their residents in the dark? How any council representative could have the audacity to put a positive spin on these details is astounding.

And if you thought that was it, then you’re wrong. The Birmingham Post report continues:

* The council corporate fraud team concluded 240 investigations in 2006/07 into corrupt practices valued at £3.3 million;
* During the first quarter of 2007/08, 34 investigations into fraud worth £1.2 million were under way;
* The council’s own employees were found to be involved in 26 cases involving housing or council tax benefit fraud;
* However, there were only 90 successful prosecutions in 2006/07 and 132 in the year to date;
* Investigations into suspected benefit fraud during the first half of this year uncovered overpayments amounting to almost £2 million, with 2,320 separate inquiries taking place.

But at least they’re honest, eh?

Nov 2007 21

According to a report in yesterday’s Birmingham Mail no less than 50 illegal workers were caught in a swoop at Birmingham City Council.

This investigation was called for after earlier this year one Ugandan employee, an illegal immigrant, managed to steal in excess of £1million from the council’s social services department, buying himself a flash new car and five houses.

Although 50 were caught as a result of recent council action, others seemed to have slipped through the net as several employees left of their own accord once news of the crackdown spread.

That so many illegal workers have managed to gain employment at Birmingham City Council really does reveal the poor quality screening process in place which has now resulted in expensive investigations and no doubt prosecutions, not to mention the cost to taxpayers of any stolen money or goods as in the above instance. A thorough vetting and interview process would surely have avoided this expensive fiasco?Anarchy

Unfortunately, illegal immigrants are not the only cause of Birmingham City Council’s staffing woes. According to the same report eleven officials had to be sacked for downloading pornography and 25 were handed disciplinary warnings. These were amongst the 75 employees whose “net visits pointed to serious internet misuse”. Do these people not have managers? Are they not monitored? It’s sad that this sort of information has to been thrown up by a swoop.

There’s more. One council official was shown the door for being on long term sick, whilst all the time working full-time for another local authority. Unbelievable.

The cherry on top comes in the form of the comment given to the paper by one of the investigators:

"We also found employees whose multiple employments resulted in poor timekeeping and a failure to adequately discharge their duties, but the action we were able to take was limited due to poor timekeeping records – a serious issue we continue to raise with managers."

So this is what local residents are paying for? A complete free for all. Poor timekeeping, bad management, abuse of the internet (also amounting to time wasting), unsuitable employees, illegal employees, absent employees, theft that goes unnoticed until it escalates to a ridiculous level, and lamentable employee screening.

The fact is that Birmingham City Council can’t keep on top of who is coming and going, what they’re background is and how they are behaving in the workplace because it is just too big and unwieldy. The need for any such probing investigations could be eliminated if the council were to slim down and improve lines of communication rather than adding to their endlessly expanding and increasingly untrustworthy bands of bureaucrats.

Over the past few years Birmingham City Council has grown and grown and it seems that the taxpayer is paying for more than just their salaries. In an environment where management are consistently overlooking these abuses there is a real need to reassess, and that doesn’t mean throwing good money after bad and hiring more bureaucrats, but truly cutting back with a view to improving the quality of services through streamlining and efficiency.

The HMRC Helpline (and what it tells us about government)
Nov 2007 21

HMRC have announced that any of the 25 million people whose personal and banking information has been lost or stolen can now phone 0845 302 1444 for information and advice about the “organisational failure” and how to protect themselves against any resulting risk of fraud or identity theft.

Given the gravity of the problem and the number of people affected, it has taken HMRC a remarkably long time since yesterday’s announcement to set this phone line up and start publicising it. If you consider that they’ve actually known about the data loss for more than 11 days now, it is another disgraceful delay in a story full of squandered time.

Worse is the fact that, having finally set up the number, Revenue and Customs have used an 0845 number which is not even free to call. Having caused 25 million people great anxiety (and it is still entirely possible that it will yet cost people money or their identities) the idea that those people will now have to pay to get advice on how to protect themselves is insulting. People are furious about this gross error – and the Government’s bungled handling of the issue is only going to make things worse.

This Agency messed up horrendously – their budget should be tapped for the resources to help put it right. HMRC should be paying for these phone calls, not the innocent victims of HMRC incompetence.

If we wanted to find some areas in the HMRC budget that could provide the funding, we could do worse than start by looking at the senior management. Eight HMRC senior staff members appeared in the TPA 2007 Public Sector Rich List at a total cost to the taxpayer of £1,212,350. Perhaps some room could be found in that sum to help finance a phone line?

If Government Departments knew that if they make errors, their budgets or bonuses will have to bear the costs of setting things right it would be a useful incentive to run things properly in the first place.

Nov 2007 21

The Inland Revenue fiasco will go down in the history books as one of the most unbelievable acts of incompetence by a British government.  It does, though, give us a prime example to use in our campaigns on the merits of low taxes and smaller, better government.

Firstly, small government is necessary.  To those who think that government knows best, show them the level of incompetence it took to lose 25,000,000 private records full of sensitive information.  Now transfer this to public service delivery.  Can, or should, the government be the sole provider of services given that it is so prone to managerial mistakes and human error?  As the sole provider of a service, when the state fails, we suffer and a great majority live without the option of transferring our custom to another provider in health and education.  Therefore we can add the Inland Revenue failure to our list of reasons to support public service reform and liberalisation of state services.

Secondly, the government shouldn’t have so much information on us.  As George Osborne and others were quick to point out yesterday, this is a key reason why the ID Cards system should be scrapped before yet more sensitive information is handed over to the government and potentially lost in the post. 

Finally, this also gives us added impetus to call for reform of the benefits system.  In having to hand over our personal information in exchange for benefits, we run the risk of falling victim to benefit fraud.  Rather if the government raised the personal tax threshold and cut taxes on the individual, the worst off would be taken out of tax and therefore not have to apply for benefits or hand over their personal, private information.

Over the past ten years government has got bigger and sought to do more.  Usually we highlight instances and minor examples of waste when contrasted with the big picture.  The Inland Revenue debacle, however, allows us once again to make the big picture arguments, that small government is necessary; a government that works best because it does less.

Nov 2007 21

SmallbluebinMelting ice caps?  Drought?  Global Warming?  Fear not because Southwark Council are coming to the rescue.  Feel free to roll your eyes at yet another local government non-job using taxpayers’ money to appease a guilty conscience.

Southwark Council this week have four jobs aimed at ‘tackling’ climate change.  I use inverted commas precisely because these jobs will hardly tackle climate change.  More likely these jobs will preach from Al Gore’s green handbook all the while diverting scarce resources from frontline services, listed on the Southwark Council website as street cleaning, flood defence etc. 

Previously we’ve had these green jobs as our non-job of the week because local government won’t stop greenhouse emissions or the like when China is building a coal power station every week. 

So our non-job of the week comes from Southwark council:

Sustainable Learning Manager
£27,807 – £32,961

Are you ready to conduct detailed analysis and drive high profile projects against climate change? Can you build on the track record established by our Energy Team?

Leading and inspiring a number of Sustainable Services Officers, you will bring our Education for Sustainable Development Strategy to life. This will involve overseeing educational provision within schools, building positive relationships with Junior Streetleaders and “Young Friends Of…” groups and engaging young people from every walk of life to share your passion for environmental issues. So as you can imagine, we need a real self-starter with a great personality and the ability to devise learning experiences that are fun, involving and closely linked to the National Curriculum.

Working with communities, hard to reach groups and external agencies should be second nature to you, and you will be capable of producing world class publicity material, managing high profile initiatives and controlling significant budgets. Most importantly, you’re an innate leader with everything it takes to encourage recycling, responsible waste management and the cultivation of biodiversity – and you’re ready to make your mark from day one.”

Just for comparison sake, a band D property in Southwark pays £1,180.94 council tax a year.  Are you in Southwark, are you getting value for money?  Let us know by leaving a comment below or contacting us.

Also get involved, write to the Southwark local paper and tell them we want our money put to local services, not green ‘education’:

Please send your letters by:
Post: Unit A302, Tower Bridge Business Complex, Clement’s Road, London, SE16 4DG
Email: [email protected]
Fax: 020 7237 1578
All letters should include a street address.

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