The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) – according to its website – is the professional voice of the UK fire and rescue service. Reading that, you would think it was a professional organisation for senior fire officers, paid for by them. You would be wrong. This is an organisation paid for by us to lobby on behalf of senior fire officers, and it is an organisation that has grown over the years, once again thanks to our money.
When looking at spending above £500 on Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s (CFRS) website, I noticed to payments to the CFOA of £6175 in April this year. I sent a freedom of information request to find out why. It turned out that one of those payments was made in error, however Cambridgeshire taxpayers pay for a corporate membership of the CFOA of £6175 a year. But that’s not all. CFRS also pay the personal subscriptions for the senior management team – eight subscriptions in total. As these subscriptions are below £500, they are not published, and I do not know what the total figure is. What I can say is the figure paid by CFRS to the CFOA is higher than the published £6175.
That example gives you a snapshot of the national picture. I don’t have the time to check the spending of all fire and rescue services in the country, but I can’t imagine the figures quoted will be much different from Cambridgeshire.
Considering taxpayers fund the CFOA, finding out how it spends its money is not easy. The general public can access parts of the website, but much of it is for members only. What we do know is the CFOA is a registered charity that also has created other companies such as CFOA National Resilience Ltd and CFOA Publications Ltd. We also know it intends to expand. If you take a look at Des Prichard’s blog (the Chief Fire Officer of East Sussex) he says he was part of an interview panel for a commercial business and marketing position with the Chief Fire Officers Association.
One of our supporters sent a freedom of information request to East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service asking how much time off from his Chief Fire Officer (CFO) duties he received to carry out work as the CFOA’s Director of People and Organisational Development, but the response was the service didn’t keep a record. Mr Prichard is one of many serving chief fire officers who spend time away from the jobs we pay them for, to act on behalf of the CFOA.
The Presidential Team is made up of the following: Lee Howell, CFO, Devon and Somerset, is the president. The Vice President is Vij Randeniya, CFO, West Midlands, and the Vice President Elect is Paul Fuller, CFO, Bedfordshire and Luton.
This is another example of an organisation funded by taxpayers that’s job is to lobby ministers, but not only are we paying for that, we are also paying to fund business and commercial enterprises to give it more money to lobby and campaign on behalf of those at the top of the fire service. Instead of heading operations in their own areas, many CFOs are leaving those duties behind to work for the CFOA completely at our expense. If the example of Cambridgeshire is the norm throughout they country, they don’t even have to pay their own subscriptions.
It is in everyone’s interests that we have a first class fire and rescue service throughout the country, and there will be times when senior fire officers will be required to meet ministers to discuss possible changes in legislation. This is to be expected. Questions must be raised though as to why taxpayers have to fund an organisation like the CFOA, not only directly, but also indirectly with time off from their normal duties.
CFOA FoI Response:
The Transport Select Committee report on proposals for a new high speed rail line this morning is supportive of the case for the new line on balance but, as Benedict Brogan wrote this morning “its backing is so lukewarm it is almost as bad as a condemnation.” There are a whole series of issues that the Committee argues need to be dealt with before a decision is made, and a whole lot of problems they haven’t dealt with properly that also need to be addressed. The final picture is clear: a project of this scale can’t go ahead without a proper review that answers these questions, and offers a complete idea of the costs and benefits so taxpayers can decide if the scheme offers proper value.
There would be a number of areas a review would need to address. The Committee call for better analysis of “the policy context, the assessment of alternatives, the financial and economic case, the environmental impacts, connections to Heathrow and the justification for the particular route being proposed.”
The new line needs to be properly assessed against realistic alternatives like the plan set out by Chris Stokes for the local authority group 51M. The Committee accept that would meet forecast demand. They call for the economic case is updated on the basis of reduced crowding and a lower value for time savings. That update also needs to apply to alternative proposals.
What they don’t address seriously is all the ways that this project might lead to fresh demands for taxpayers’ money. They note that the London Underground won’t be able to cope with so many more passengers being routed into London Euston, but don’t properly reflect on the huge amounts that could add to the cost. They argue that new services on the current network could compensate for the reduction in services that places like Coventry and Stoke will face under the existing plans. But don’t ask what the bill will be to subsidise those trains (it will take a substantial subsidy to maintain a regular service when most passengers to Birmingham and beyond travel on the new high speed line) and how that can be reconciled with the existing budget including billions in cuts to existing services.
We looked at the potential additional costs in a research note. It is only possible to get a rough estimate without the resources available to the Government investigating this sort of decision. But we produced a research note with reasonable estimates. Meeting Ministers’ promises that towns and cities currently set to lose out won’t, and stopping rises in fares expected under current plans will increase the cost to taxpayers. So will burying parts of the line to address environmental concerns, and building new capacity to cope with the huge number of additional journeys being routed into Euston. Rail expert Chris Stokes estimates that would increase the cost to taxpayers alone from £17.1 billion to £45.5 billion.
And that’s leaving aside the potential problems with the demand forecast. The Committee cite how “some major transport schemes have proved to have had greater economic impacts than their pre-implementation appraisals predicted” but not how passenger forecasts are overestimated for nine out of ten rail projects. In most cases these lines don’t live up to their billing.
If Parliament doesn’t insist that Ministers either come clean about the true cost of HS2, or the many people who may get a worse service, MPs will have completely let down taxpayers. We can’t let this huge project go ahead without proper scrutiny. Politicians should be extremely careful about taxing the poor to pay for a rich man’s train.
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.
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has been in the news this past week. The RPA is an executive agency of Defra, and its job is to administer an EU subsidy for farmers for maintaining their land. It was introduced in 2005.
It has faced much criticism over the years for delayed payments to farmers, and although it is questionable why such an agency needs to exist, I will leave that to one side. The post of Interim Finance Director (which was a job share, and has now thankfully been replaced by someone on a much lower salary) cost taxpayers a massive £425K a year. MPs were rightly outraged when they heard this figure. Conservative MP, Neil Parish said his constituents wouldn’t believe that the highest paid post at Defra was an accountant.
I have regularly highlighted some of the egregious amounts paid to consultants and interim staff. Many of these posts are advertised through recruitment agencies, which of course makes it much harder to pin-point which government department, Quango, health authority, etc, is recruiting. This example though is the worst I have come across, and proves why we need more transparency in the public sector so we can see where our money is going.
Staying on the same theme, the recruitment agency Morgan Hunt is advertising for a Head of Campaigns and Partnerships for a central government department. Once again we don’t know which department, or what those campaigns are going to be. We do know if it for a fixed period of 3 months, and the post pays £250-£400 per day. Is it a non-job? Who knows, and unless there is more transparency, I doubt we ever will.
Morgan Hunt is also acting on behalf of a local government client who is looking for an Interim HR Manager. All we know is this is a London council. The job pays between £150-£200 per day.
This week we can see once again that our money is being spent in large amounts in ways we know very little about. The money spent on the Interim Finance Director’s post at the RPA wasn’t discovered until after the event. The same will apply with the two other posts I have highlighted.
Until and unless there is more transparency this is going to continue. The government will from time to time recruit people to highly sensitive jobs, and for reasons of national security we won’t necessarily know those jobs exist and what those people do. I understand that, but this cannot be said of the examples I have given. We have a right to know how our money is spent.
Concerning news from Barry that £30,000 has been spent installing bespoke bollards. The 30 red and black steel poles cost £1,000 each, and were commissioned by the Barry Regeneration Area Programme. They come in a variety of designs themed on cogs and winches, which, apparently, are meant to represent the town’s industrial past.
The inspiration for these designs came from Barry’s maritime history and from the idea that Thompson Street itself has had an exciting and multi-layered history. The material speaks of winches and dockside machinery, while the forms have some of these same connotations.
Some of the designs imply movement with the cog rolling up and down the rack as you move from one bollard to the next. Elsewhere the cog seems more like a flower head.
While councils are having to make savings, local taxpayers should be asking themselves whether their council is really being prudent with their money. Of course bollards may need to be replaced, but there is no need to get them made in a variety of colours and designed by an art studio. Bollards do serve an important safety purpose, however did they even need to be replaced at all? Even if this was part of essential maintenance, replacing 30 bollards needn’t cost anywhere in the region of £1,000 each – or in other terms around 30 people’s entire annual council tax bills.
Vale Council say that the bollards are part of the Welsh Government’s “on-going attempt to revive the seaside town”. But unfortunately this seems nothing more than a council vanity project. Even in the good times, it would be difficult to defend an expense such as this, however in this current climate it beggars belief that this project ever received council approval. To see the crazy designs, click here.
Based on the premise that you have to keep repeating yourself over and over again before people will start listening, here are some words I wrote two weeks ago regarding Lambeth Council’s search for an Energy Efficiency Manager:
I am sure many of you who have worked in offices will have seen stickers next to light switches reminding you to switch off the lights if they are not needed. These days we also have things like smart meters that tell us exactly how much energy we are consuming. If you have seen one in action you will know that as soon as you switch on a kettle, the energy consumption rises. It doesn’t stop me making a cup of tea, but I know exactly which appliances at home use the most electricity, and if I can find ways of using those appliances less I will save money.
Councils can reduce energy consumption by doing the same. If you are about to go into a meeting for a couple of hours, does your computer still need to be switched on? It may have been dark when you started working this morning, but do the lights still need to be switched on? Letting council workers see how much energy they are consuming will result in a reduction of energy consumption, as happened at Windsor and Maidenhead Council.
In a report last year we highlighted how councils reacted differently to government legislation. Although all councils have to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions, there are councils who manage to do it without creating mini-departments like Lambeth do.
By adopting simple strategies that we all use at home, councils can dramatically reduce their CO2 emissions and save taxpayers’ money.
This week, Nottingham City Council is searching for a Carbon Development Officer who will be ‘tasked with improving Nottingham’s resilience to fossil fuel depletion and climate change, and identifying opportunities for securing investment to support this agenda.’ No prizes for guessing who is likely to be paying for the ‘investment to support this agenda.’
The London Borough of Redbridge is also looking for an Energy Management Officer, who needs to have the skills to forecast the quantity of Carbon Allowances required by the Council each year.
Finally, Broadland District Council needs a Climate Change Advisor who will be raising awareness and promoting sustainable sources of energy and will be required to be inspiring, but credible, and must therefore have sound knowledge of energy and sustainability issues.
My response? As it is often said in the House of Commons: I refer the honourable member to the reply I gave some moments ago!
The Adam Smith Institute has released a report this morning on High Speed 2. What they think about the project is summed neatly by the title of the paper: High Speed Fail. It’s yet another voice added to a growing body that believes the project is flawed.
Alongside the TPA are groups like the Green Party, the Countryside Alliance and the RAC Foundation. Other think-tanks in Westminster like the Institute of Economic Affairs – and now the Adam Smith Institute – also have voiced their concerns. The Economist newspaper had a special editorial and feature on how the project won’t bring the benefits that it’s supposed to.
The groups are opposed to the scheme for different reasons, too. We have raised concerns about the business case, the job creation claims and the potential hidden costs of the scheme. The Green Party have questioned the environmental credentials of the project. The RAC Foundation feel that HS2 won’t do anything to ease congestion on existing roads, which are used by the majority of Britons to get to work in the morning. They also feel that HS2’s cost-benefit ratio is not as strong as other projects. The Countryside Alliance has concerns about the impact of installing a brand new line through the heart of the Countryside. And The Economist questions whether HS2 will correct regional disparities, as is claimed. Indeed, the newspaper believes they could be exacerbated.
Today’s report by the ASI worries that HS2 will be considered a Government liability by debt markets, at a time when Britain’s net interest payments are rapidly increasing. It also says that the chances of a worthwhile commercial return are slim. With this report, the ASI join those that have concluded that the Government has not put forward a persuasive case for the project at all. It should be scrapped at the next available opportunity.
At the end of last year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) appointed Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti as the UK’s Climate and Energy Security Envoy.
It is important to note that this doesn’t appear to be his only duty, he seems to have a real job too. But it clearly takes up a substantial part of his time and you may ask what climate change has to do with the MoD, and why it feels the need to appoint a Rear Admiral to such a role. During an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, this is what he had to say:
I think we – the reason we think that the implications of climate change have broadened from just environmental, socio-economic and political is that we’re beginning to recognise – and this is on a global basis – that the – not the physical changes that occur with climate change, but the second and third-order consequences, the result of rising temperatures, sea levels, increased acidity of the ocean is that we’re seeing the potential for loss of land, of loss of livelihood for people.
And that, on top of all the other stresses they’re facing, many of them related to resources, food, energy, water, etc., has the potential to increase the likelihood of conflict. So, climate change isn’t necessarily something that’s going to start a conflict on its own, but it is what I would call a threat multiplier or a catalyst of conflict.
I still can’t see what he and presumably his team are going to do. If there is conflict as the result of a water shortage, which Rear Admiral Morisetti mentions later in this interview, how is he going to prevent it? What does he do all day? Talk to governments about potential threats they already know about? Rising temperatures (and indeed falling temperatures) are not something that happen overnight. No-one predicted the earthquake in Japan earlier this year, which has contributed to energy supply problems there.
Later in the interview he talks about Afghanistan:
One of the challenges we have to look at, for example, is operating in Afghanistan, where we’re dependent on convoys to bring our fuel in from Karachi through to our operating bases and a lot of that convoy’s taken up with carrying the fuel.
So we’ve been looking at ways at which we can reduce our dependency on fuel by being more energy efficient, optimising the way we operate our equipment, perhaps changing our behaviour in circumstances whilst still being able to deliver the operational capabilities that we need.
Adapting to the new challenges facing our armed services is of course important work. No-one is going to dispute that, but surely there are already people inside the MoD who are trying to use fuel more efficiently? Is a Rear Admiral acting as a Climate and Energy Security Envoy – i.e. tasked with engaging with others outside the military – really the right person to get involved in that kind of operational planning?
There are already pressing problems around the world for a man with his experience to deal with. Pirates off the coast of Somalia are regularly hijacking vessels. Wouldn’t his time be better spent concentrating on immediate problems like these, rather than talking to politicians and think tanks about the importance of climate change?
In the face of angry protests outside Shire Hall, Cambridgeshire County councillors have voted themselves a massive 25 per cent pay rise. According to a review panel, councillors were ‘undervalued’ on their existing allowances and a rise to £9,500 was needed to allow ‘local democracy to prosper’. Council Leader Nick Clarke will be even better off. From £29,246, he will now take home £38,000 a year with his ‘special responsibility allowance.’
Councillors cannot justify these increases, especially at a time of supposed public spending restraint.
The total increase in spending is not small. Conservative-majority Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) has 69 local representatives, and with extra payments made to Cabinet members, leaders and spokesmen of all parties, the total amount set aside for allowances will rise by £166,000 to £929,000 a year.
Put into context, CCC is trying to make £161 million of necessary spending cuts over the next five years. Politicians will not convince voters of the importance of savings if they cut with one hand and feather their own nest with the other.
Councillors have explained away their pay hike as the recommendation of an independent review panel, a public-spirited attempt to attract candidates of more diverse backgrounds into local politics. Of course, councils should make it attractive for ordinary people to become councillors. But while other council workers are facing redundancy, largesse for elected officials is unjustifiable.
Instead Cambridgeshire councillors should follow the lead of their chief executive, Mark Lloyd, who took a voluntary 5 per cent pay cut in July. Although he still earns an excessive £186,167, he was right to lead from the front.
From a blog he wrote about Mark Lloyd’s voluntary pay cut, Council Leader Nick Clarke knows the weakness of his own position:
‘One of the most important characteristics of a really good leader, I’ve always felt, is the ability to lead by example.
And when residents are finding life tough, and tightening their belts because money is tight, council’s [sic] can’t be out of step with what the people who pay for services are experiencing.’
Given these comments, Nick Clarke will no doubt forego his extra £9,000, and Cambridgeshire councillors will reverse this pay hike at the earliest possible moment.
The latest in a series of investigations by the Daily Telegraph into public bodies’ use of credit cards exposes the bills run up by local authority chief executives across the UK. Earlier this year we led the campaign to uncover huge amounts being spent by Whitehall civil servants racking up million pound credit card bills, and have exposed similar waste at many of Britain’s biggest quangos.
The findings show that town hall bosses spent £2.6million on luxury perks using corporate credit cards, including concerts, sport events, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, tailored clothing and fine whiskies. Council chief executives themselves have expenses tens of thousands of pounds, despite many enjoying six-figure salaries, and at a time when councils need to make all of the savings they can.
Some of the biggest expenses claims were from Colin Carmichael, chief executive of Canterbury Council (salary £135,000), who claimed expenses totalling £18,181; Tim Shields, the chief executive of Hackney council (£203,376), claimed £34,186; Andrew Taylor, chief executive of Lincoln City Council (£149,445), claimed £11,403; and John Foster, chief executive of Islington Council (£210,000), claimed £14,815.
Here are just a few of their claims:
Of course many chief executives use corporate credit cards to expense small work-related items, and this is often the most cost effective means of doing so. But evidence suggests that, in practice, taxpayers are footing the bill for much more.
Some of the other favourite destinations include the luxury Dorchester Hotel in London; the Hotel Gray D’Albion in Cannes; the Hard Day’s Night, a Beatles themed hotel in Liverpool; trips to the world renowned Belfry Golf Course; a five star spa in Cardiff Bay; and Lushy Beg, a private 75-acre island.
Many of the items claimed for have little relevance and questionable benefit to the residents council bosses work for. Council chief executives already receive more than substantial salaries that, if they feel they need to stay in luxury hotels, mean they could easily pay for it themselves. This sentiment was echoed by an unidentified chief executive of a UK local authority who said:
“If I spend any money for work I just get it reimbursed but champagne lunches and first class travel is shocking. Chief executives incur costs in their jobs but we are paid well and you should not exploit that. No-one expects a chief executive to stay in a fleapit, but there is a big difference between the Dorchester and a fleapit.”
Unsurprisingly, the LGA has leapt to councils’ defence. They claim:
“It is part and parcel of the job that they have to travel to meet top people from the public and private sectors, and this can involve stays in hotels and the proportionate use of hospitality.”
But they completely miss the point. No-one is claiming council chief executives won’t incur reasonable expenses while carrying out their day jobs, but it is unacceptable for taxpayers to pick up the bill for visits to the Dorchester and luxury restaurants that many can only dream of. Such a staunch defence of irresponsible spending suggests the LGA doesn’t care about the interests of taxpayers or residents. If councils were transparent, residents could decide whether they agree with this sort of spending. The LGA claim that the spending is “properly audited and transparent”, but if it weren’t for newspapers like the Telegraph and bodies like ourselves, such waste would go unnoticed.
While they are one of the more cost-effective means of paying for items, corporate credit cards are inadequately monitored. Far too many dubious claims slip through the net and must be brought under control. If chief executives had to pay for the items up-front and then wait before being reimbursed, the number of lavish claims would almost certainly fall considerably.
Procurement cards were supposed to improve this more inefficient system of claiming expenses, but our research, along with the Telegraph’s inquiry, shows that this system needs to be tightened up to stop taxpayers picking up the bill for unnecessary luxuries.
The Ministry of Justice has spent £5.4 million to ensure prisoners can watch digital television on 42 inch plasma screens. A Freedom of Information request has revealed the extent of just some of the excesses of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s department.
The news has already been criticised by Mark Freeman, Deputy General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association. He said it was “shameful so much money has been wasted on upgrading the television system in prisons”. The priorities of the Ministry of Justice must be questioned. Taxpayers would rather see their cash funding prison places, especially with prison numbers at a record high in England and Wales.
Recently it was revealed that inmates in Wales are to claim that access to Sky Sports 2 and 3 is a human right – a claim that was rebutted by our Campaign Director Emma Boon on BBC Radio Humberside last month. The Ministry of Justice’s budget is coming under greater scrutiny, so excessive spending on entertainment for inmates cannot continue.
Inmates are in prisons because they have committed crimes. Prisons are there to punish criminals, not entertain them. It can’t be right to give prisoners a whole range of channels to watch on a large plasma screen, especially when taxpayers across the country cannot afford such luxuries themselves. While prison must help rehabilitate offenders, it should not be a place to enjoy things that law-abiding people can’t always afford. Digital television on big screens isn’t likely to cut reoffending rates, but it will leave taxpayers with a large, unwelcome bill.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that Stoke-on-Trent City Council made 25 members of its staff redundant and offered them a total of £330,000 in severance pay, only to then rehire the workers into different positions approximately a month later.
At a time when most councils are finding savings and making redundancies where they can, it is absurd that a single council could dish out so much of taxpayers’ money only to reassign the workers new roles a short time later.
The revelation is rightfully being blasted as “scandalously wasting vital taxpayers’ cash”. A justifiable criticism, as £330,000 could have been saved by simply moving the redundant employees to different departments straight away instead of creating cost and admin work around making them redundant and paying huge amounts for a month of missed work. Considering a cuts package of £36 million will be required from the authority that, according to Councillor Dave Conway, is “down to its bare knuckles already”, this looks like a massive misuse of funds.
Taxpayers will wonder why HR were unaware there were other roles that departing staff could fill that were about to open up at the council. Sadly, redundancies are likely to be the way to achieve at least part of the savings that Stoke-on-Trent has to make, but the redistribution of the workers within the council should have been the first and most obvious step before redundancies were considered. By skipping it, the workers were given large amounts of taxpayers’ money – effectively giving them a holiday at the taxpayers’ expense.
£330,000 isn’t about to make a significant dent in the national debt, but one wonders where the council’s priorities lie when it is looking at cuts to funding in educational support for deaf children. Helping deaf children seems far more admirable than offering generous redundancy packages to someone who can be hired back a month later.
We’re not talking about a year-long hiatus either. One employee was reemployed at the council just 27 days after his redundancy, and two more waited only 32 days, according to the Staffordshire Sentinel. Further, the notion that these public servants accepted the payments as they walked out the front door only to later come back in through the back door with a new title is offensive and a blatant waste of taxpayers’ funds.