Spending £4,000 celebrating saving money is missing the point

November 03, 2011 11:19 AM

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, has splurged £4,000 on a back-slapping dinner for a new member of staff, Lib Dem councillors have claimed. According to Cllr Paul Shannon, Sir Richard issued 270 invitations to wine and dine Manchester’s ‘cultural elite’, with 'supper amongst Ford Madox Brown's Great Hall Murals' to toast the appointment of a new head of the Council’s art gallery. Diners included former MP Lord Bradley, City councillors, the Lord Mayor and his wife, and council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein. Taxpayers will be shocked that town halls still feel able to indulge in extravagant dinners at a time of supposed budget restraint.



For those familiar with the TPA’s research into council spending on award ceremonies, Sir Richard’s justification was typically self-congratulatory. This dinner on the taxpayer was ‘to celebrate the beginning of the innovative new partnership’ between the City and the University of Manchester. Sir Richard had negotiated a money-saving deal for both institutions’ art galleries to share a director, a practical response to the need to cut costs. But local government savings don’t need to be toasted with champagne.

This dinner is even more astonishing given Manchester is cutting £109 million from the budget this year.  Sir Richard Leese has called the cuts ‘unpalatable’ and entirely blames the Government for the ‘financial position in which we have been placed’. Sir Richard has shirked responsibility for taking appropriate and necessary action to cut spending while wasting Manchester taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary dinner. He said he had no option but to cut 2,000 council jobs, but ending taxpayer-funded dinners would be a start.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Sir Richard Leese is out of touch. When asked whether his chief executive, Sir Howard Bernstein, would take a pay-cut (his 2009-10 remuneration was £232,326), he called it a ‘red herring’, a distraction. By his reckoning, it would hurt morale to cut pay for the council’s top brass, even while 2,000 council workers are being made redundant. Perhaps this was his rationale for putting on a lavish reception for Manchester’s cultural elite – he didn’t want to hurt their morale.

Sir Richard has been hoisted by his own petard. According to Lib Dem councillors he has demonstrated that he is free to spend without restraint. This kind of spending, like that in our award ceremonies paper, shows that councils do have some easy choices to make when it comes to making spending cuts. Councils can prioritise the services residents value most if they are willing to sacrifice elsewhere. Not everything can be blamed on the Government.Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, has splurged £4,000 on a back-slapping dinner for a new member of staff, Lib Dem councillors have claimed. According to Cllr Paul Shannon, Sir Richard issued 270 invitations to wine and dine Manchester’s ‘cultural elite’, with 'supper amongst Ford Madox Brown's Great Hall Murals' to toast the appointment of a new head of the Council’s art gallery. Diners included former MP Lord Bradley, City councillors, the Lord Mayor and his wife, and council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein. Taxpayers will be shocked that town halls still feel able to indulge in extravagant dinners at a time of supposed budget restraint.



For those familiar with the TPA’s research into council spending on award ceremonies, Sir Richard’s justification was typically self-congratulatory. This dinner on the taxpayer was ‘to celebrate the beginning of the innovative new partnership’ between the City and the University of Manchester. Sir Richard had negotiated a money-saving deal for both institutions’ art galleries to share a director, a practical response to the need to cut costs. But local government savings don’t need to be toasted with champagne.

This dinner is even more astonishing given Manchester is cutting £109 million from the budget this year.  Sir Richard Leese has called the cuts ‘unpalatable’ and entirely blames the Government for the ‘financial position in which we have been placed’. Sir Richard has shirked responsibility for taking appropriate and necessary action to cut spending while wasting Manchester taxpayers’ money on an unnecessary dinner. He said he had no option but to cut 2,000 council jobs, but ending taxpayer-funded dinners would be a start.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Sir Richard Leese is out of touch. When asked whether his chief executive, Sir Howard Bernstein, would take a pay-cut (his 2009-10 remuneration was £232,326), he called it a ‘red herring’, a distraction. By his reckoning, it would hurt morale to cut pay for the council’s top brass, even while 2,000 council workers are being made redundant. Perhaps this was his rationale for putting on a lavish reception for Manchester’s cultural elite – he didn’t want to hurt their morale.

Sir Richard has been hoisted by his own petard. According to Lib Dem councillors he has demonstrated that he is free to spend without restraint. This kind of spending, like that in our award ceremonies paper, shows that councils do have some easy choices to make when it comes to making spending cuts. Councils can prioritise the services residents value most if they are willing to sacrifice elsewhere. Not everything can be blamed on the Government.

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