The council is transforming the way it delivers public services. This is the first line of the job advert for Newham Borough Council’s Change Project Portfolio Manager. Paying a salary of £43,368 per annum, the new recruit “will have overall responsibility for the integrity and coherence of the change projects allocated within the Customer Access Programme.”
Is the fact it needs to advertise it’s transforming the way it delivers public services an admission that it wasn’t very good at delivering them in the past? Or is this an excuse to get on the ‘change management’ bandwagon that seems to be sweeping over councils at the moment? Councils seem to be making staff in lower grades redundant, and then employing managers on higher pay to make the changes that only a few years ago they didn’t think were needed.
In a report last year, we highlighted how councils interpret government legislation in wildly different ways. Although the legislation that has poured down on councils has been great, some have set-up new, mini departments, whereas other councils have taken the legislation on board, but have not found it necessary to employ a battalion of extra staff. For example, Birmingham City Council (the country’s largest council) employs 28 Diversity Officers at a cost of almost £2 million. Manchester City Council (another large authority) doesn’t employ any.
The BBC is in the process of recruiting staff for its new Salford Quays Development, and is looking for a Diversity Talent Executive. This is an eight-month secondment aimed at increasing the number of disabled managers within the BBC. Here is the job description:
You’ll research, create and implement a robust Diversity action plan that will enable Children’s to build and maintain a diverse workforce. You’ll proactively seek new ways in which to attract new diverse talent including:
- Creating new strong partnerships with both internal and external stakeholders in order to source new diverse talent.
- Building upon existing relationships / forums / networks that will maximise our ability to develop and source diverse talent
It is illegal to discriminate against someone because they are disabled – and rightly so. In new, modern premises, like Salford Quays, wheelchair access will not be a problem, so why the need to employ a diversity manager? Political correctness should not get in the way of appointing talented people, and this policy does just that.
Any employer will tell you they want the best person for the job, and I am sure there are many disabled people who will make great managers for the BBC. Equally there will be many women, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, you name them, who will make great managers too. It should be a level playing field, and cream will rise to the top. With so much employment legislation on the statute book these days, non-jobs like this one are not needed.
Nile Gardiner at the Heritage Foundation has written for the Telegraph blog about the strong statement that the Government had to make at the United Nations in New York last week. In response to Argentina’s “increasingly belligerent stance”, as Nile puts it, the British delegation stated that we remain “fully committed to defending the rights of the people of the Falkland Islands to determine their own political, social and economic future.” That raises a critical question: why are we financially supporting a country that is threatening British territory and people?
Britain is a major shareholder in the World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and rightly has considerable influence over the World Bank’s policies and priorities. Argentina owes the bank over $5 billion. New programmes are regularly being approved, like $30 million for a project aimed at improving public sector management, among other things, in the Province of La Rioja earlier this year.
It isn’t just the World Bank. An EU aid programme running from 2007 to 2013 is providing €65 million to Argentina. We pick up the tab through our contributions to the EU budget. We are responsible for over ten per cent of total gross contributions, which means we are paying nearly €8 million (nearly £7 million at the current exchange rate) to Argentina.
The Government should be fighting against this misuse of our money by Brussels. But there is a more immediate opportunity at the World Bank.
The Obama administration in the United States is resisting further programmes in Argentina. At a hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services, Representative Robert Dold asked why the World Bank was supporting a country which was refusing to pay many of its debts and ignoring international arbitration judgements, despite sitting on over $50 billion in reserves. The Assistant Secretary for International Markets and Development – Marisa Largo – said that a country which “falls squarely within the ranks of middle-income countries” and failed to engage properly with creditors shouldn’t be getting funding and the United States would continue to “vote no”.
Please write to your MP – this website makes it easy – and ask them to tell the UK Government to fight EU programmes sending our money to Argentina, and support the US move to ensure we aren’t backing loans to them from the World Bank.
The BBC spent more than £8 million on consultants in 2010-11 despite huge cuts to programming and job losses. Figures obtained by the Telegraph under Freedom of Information laws reveal the extent to which the BBC indulged in advice estimated to be the equivalent of producing one of their flagship dramas like Spooks, or 54,983 licence fees.
A more detailed itemisation of the expenditure shows £769,045 was spent on “change management” and £1.9 million on “strategy”.
Tracey Morris, head of sourcing at BBC procurement, defended the expenditure:
“The BBC in common with other large organisations does employ consultants but only when we need specialist advice and resource on projects that are outside of the normal course of our business and where it would not be cost efficient to maintain those specialist skills in-house.”
The problem is the BBC is not like any other large organisation. It is funded by a tax on televisions and has a responsibility to spend every penny carefully.
Earlier this year the BBC sent more than 250 staff to cover an event marking the start of the one year countdown to the Olympics, 10 times more than their biggest news rival.
Michael Crick, former Political Editor of Newsnight warned that spending cuts might damage leading BBC programmes. But there are clearly visible cuts to make which needn’t affect programming or news production and their lavish spending sheds some light on their priorities. In another Telegraph story over the weekend, it was revealed that the BBC booked more than 1,600 nights of accommodation to house its staff when staging Radio One’s Big Weekend. Overall more than 210 staff were sent to Carlisle, some up to 2 weeks prior to the event amounting to 1,437 night of accommodation for Radio One staff and 190 for BBC television employees.
It is not surprising the BBC has been heavily criticised for out of control spending when attending major events. A National Audit Office report has criticised the BBC for not knowing in advance how much attending or staging events such as Glastonbury and Radio One’s Big Weekend will cost.
With a licence fee which leaves little change from £150, the BBC needs to act immediately to bring costs down. Thoughtless spending cannot continue.
Ordnance Survey bureaucrats spent £8.7 million on government credit cards, research by Charlie Elphicke MP has revealed in The Sunday Times (£). The MP for Dover obtained credit card statements from the government cartographers using parliamentary questions and they reveal a corporate life in the fast lane with trips to five-star hotels around the world and ‘subsistence’ at upmarket restaurants Caviar House and Loch Fyne.
Officials also spent £113 during a trip to chocolatier Hotel Chocolat and over £300 at Majestic Wines. They spent £3,037 staying at the five-star Taj Coromandel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World club, where rooms include Jacuzzis, fresh flowers, executive desks with personalised stationary and a ‘24hr invisible butler’. Previous guests at the hotel include Presidents of the European Commission, Presidents Carter and Clinton of the United States and Queen Elizabeth II. Mr Elphicke condemned the spending:
Spending taxpayers’ money on caviar, oysters, swanky hotels and designer sunglasses is frankly disgraceful and, to top it all, they’ve then had the nerve to reward these bad practices by buying themselves gifts like golfing equipment, Disney toys and fine chocolates
Ordnance Survey responded to the criticism by praising the cards’ efficiency for making payments for low-value items:
This is particularly beneficial for small and medium enterprises. The use of government procurement cards has resulted in reduced administration costs and quicker payments to suppliers.
All items… are subject to a review and approval by management and the finance department.
The efficiency and speed with which taxpayers’ cash is channelled into “low-value items” is not the issue and it speaks volumes that Ordnance Survey appear to think it is. The issue, especially at a time when ordinary taxpayers are feeling the pinch as taxes rise and the economy is faltering, is whether spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money on extravagant luxuries is what government agencies should be doing. In case there’s any doubt: no they shouldn’t. The Ordnance Survey makes a significant surplus using taxpayers’ assets but that doesn’t excuse waste and profligacy. As long as it is in the public sector, it should be doing all it can to keep costs down and maximise returns to ease the burden on hard-pressed taxpayers.
Waltham Forest Council have spent £15,000 taking a company to court after a cardboard box bearing its name was found among fly-tipped rubbish. The boxes had been given to a passer-by who said he could make use of them. However, one ended up being dumped and the council wasted little time in taking action against the company whose name and address was listed on the packaging. It went to court and Judge Alex Milne QC described the case as a ”monumental waste of public time and money”.
Fly-tipping is a problem. But instances such as this shows councils should apply discretion, proportionality and common sense. To spend such a large amount on a small non-case is a waste of Waltham Forest taxpayers’ cash.
Had the company been found to be in the wrong, it would have set a dangerous precedent for businesses wanting to get rid of their empty boxes by giving them to someone who can make better use of them. Everyday, community-spirited gestures might have stopped for fear of future prosecutions. If, say, someone is moving house and asks their local shop or pub for unwanted boxes, they may be loath to cooperate. And anyway, local authorities taking firms to court in cases as ridiculous as this just isn’t the best way to say that their area is open for business.
The Telegraph’s David Hughes points out the local authority’s Band D council tax payment is almost £1,500 per year, meaning that ten households’ council tax for the year has been blown chasing after a cardboard box. The council should be finding the best value for taxpayers’ hard-earned money, not prosecuting businesses on pointless cases that serve no legitimate purpose.
The last Government’s scheme aimed at merging fire control rooms crashed and burned last year, leaving the nine regional fire centres it created unable to stop £469 million of taxpayers’ money from being burnt in the process, according to a recent report. The six-year old plan began in 2004, was scrapped by December 2010, and in essence became a poster child for Murphy’s Law.
Originally, “FiReControl” sought to create nine regional centres as opposed to the 46 local control rooms previously in place. Though the then Labour Government pledged the change would increase reaction time toward major events, such as national floods, fires, or terror attacks, in the end it did little more than waste time and taxpayers’ money.
The debacle of a scheme was “branded as a ‘white elephant’ in Parliament” for its “bungled budget” and “wasteful spending”. According to a June 2010 article in the Yorkshire Evening Post £6,000 coffee machines were even put in to at least one of the buildings.
Costly caffeine fixes for ghost buildings were just the tip of the half a billion pound FiReControl iceberg – it gets worse. The Daily Telegraph has claimed that the up-keep of these tailor-made centres, eight of which sit empty, is £4 million a month. With such absurdly uneconomical decisions made, it is no wonder the Commons Public Accounts Committee said the disastrous scheme was “’flawed from the outset’ and ‘one of the worst cases of project failure’ seen for many years”.
It is this lack of planning, budgeting, and general failure that is intolerable when taxpayers’ money is being sunk into any scheme. Planning and execution should have been overseen more closely. Heads should roll for such egregious waste
Yet no one has been held to account and the careers of most of those involved in this debacle have carried on as if nothing had gone wrong. John Prescott, former deputy Prime Minister, has been doing the rounds in the media today, quickly thrusting the blame toward the civil servants involved in the scheme. He told The Daily Mail, “They spent a lot of money on managing this project, a lot on external consultants. Nobody did a proper job of management.” In fact, Lord Prescott claims some have even since been promoted, though failing to point any resulting hindrance to his own career.
Unfortunately while some blame civil servants, some the Labour Party, and some technical failures; the fiasco has snowballed into a political game of hot potato. Had all of the smoke and mirrors encompassed in this scheme, not to mention political hot air, rightly set off some kind of alarm, a substantial loss of taxpayer money and political embarrassment could have been prevented.
When a half a billion of taxpayers’ money is being used to do something, people want to believe the Government will make sure it is worth it, and not to muck it up. If they do so, we expect someone to take the blame, and apologise. In the case of FiReControl, we’re all still waiting…
What is a Regional Reputation Manager? I’m not sure, however I know Calderdale Council employs one, thanks to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent by one of our supporters.
The FOI also revealed the Marketing and Communications Team includes four graphic designers, a Campaigns Officer, a Marketing Officer, a Principal Communications Officer, and a PR and Public Information Officer. Some of these jobs must be part-time as the salary bill for 2010/11 was £199,900, and for the current financial year, the bill is set to rise to £216,800.
The FOI also revealed there are 11 personal assistants employed by the authority, and a further two secretaries who carry out the functions of a PA. When you add on costs for council newspapers and other publications, you can see that there is plenty of fat to trim.
The accolade this week though goes to Surrey County Council, which is looking for a Senior Campaign Communications Officer paying £36,615 per annum. Here is part of the job description:
Want to work as part of an award winning team communicating with an audience of over one million people? Join our team of communications professionals who are constantly delivering new and creative ways of talking to our residents and staff.
We have some experience of the new and creative way Surrey County Council communicates. Take a look at this video. There’s no need to adjust the volume settings on your computer. There’s no sound.
If you are left scratching your head after watching that, here’s an explanation from the council:
The proposal to develop an Eco Park at Charlton Lane, Shepperton is a key element of Surrey County Council’s World Class Solution for the county, which aims to manage Surrey’s waste in the most efficient, sustainable and cost effective way possible.
So that’s what it’s all about. The council wants to develop an Eco Park, and decided to produce a video. Through a FOI we discovered the cost of producing it was £15,080. If that’s what campaign professionals come up with, taxpayers can certainly do without them.
The new head of the Local Government Association (LGA) has been hired on a package worth nearly £200,000 a year. Carolyn Downs will replace outgoing interim Chief Executive John Ransford and enjoy a salary of £169,000 plus a generous pension amounting to almost £27,000 per year.
Our Campaign Director, Emma Boon offered her reaction to the news:
“The LGA lobbies government to further its own political interests and
agitates for higher pay for senior council staff, so it’s unsurprising to see them giving their own chief executive such a great deal. This salary is an insult to ordinary families and shows how out of touch the LGA is with taxpayers who fund it and with public sector workers who are subject to a two-year pay freeze.”
Eric Pickles has urged pay restraint across all councils, however the size of this package shows the LGA think such control does not apply to them. This local government lobbying organisation does not act in taxpayers’ interests. Councils spend millions of pounds in total each year in subscriptions to the LGA for supposed benefits many rarely use. Earlier this year Windsor and Maidenhead council concluded they could put their £40,000 annual subscription to better use. As for the services they receive in return, they decided that it would be cheaper for them to source them on an ad hoc basis.
They are not the only ones though, Barking & Dagenham and Greenwich in London, Test Valley, South Cambridgeshire and Rutland councils have all served notice to leave. This is in addition to Rochford, Doncaster, Slough, Barnet, Kingston upon Thames and Sutton councils, who have all served out their notice.
While the eye-watering pay packet is hardly the act of an organisation in touch with ordinary taxpayers, the LGA can at least be commended for displaying the remuneration package of their incoming Chief Executive on the front page of their website. Despite being an organisation funded by taxpayers and entirely concerned with local government, it does not fall under the Freedom of Information Act.
Innovative councils do not need spoon-fed assistance from the LGA and are beginning to leave. The size of the pay packet for its new chief should provides another reason for councils across the country to reconsider their membership of this costly organisation.
The BBC reported this week that Shropshire Council has cut the subsidy it gives to the UNISON trade union by almost £100K. The leader of the council, Keith Barrow said ‘it was not right that money paid to Unison was used in political campaigns against the authority’. This is a good start, and as we have said before, trade union activities should be wholly funded out of members’ subscriptions, not partly funded by taxpayers.
The news elsewhere is not so good. A motion to cut the amount we pay for union activities in Leeds was defeated, and it is the same story in another West Yorkshire Council, Kirklees. We pay £400K to help fund the unions in Leeds, and £339K in Kirklees.
There is some brighter news from London though. The Guido Fawkes blog reports that Jane Pilgrim (the nurse who worked full-time for her union, instead of tending the sick) has lost her cushy number at St George’s Hospital in Tooting. She is now back working as a nurse – the job we pay her for in the first place. There is some justice in this world after all.
If you spot any similar stories in your local newspaper, please get in touch.
The recruitment company, Parkhouse Bell, is searching for part-time Interim Business Development Managers for ‘a number of primes and subcontractors delivering variety of government services’. It seems the consultants bill is set to rise considerably, as those recruited will be rewarded with anything between £200-£600 per day! So much for bringing the consultants bill down.
Not wishing to be outdone, the City of London Corporation is also looking for a new Business Performance and Improvement Officer, earning £34,550 – £39,270. The successful applicant will be part of the Business Performance and Improvement Division based in the City Surveyor’s Department. It seems there are improvement officers in just about every council department these days, as Hackney Borough Council is on the lookout for a Knowledge and Service Improvement Manager based in its new Business and Service Improvement Unit. I can give Hackney Council a tip: stop publishing your newspaper, Hackney Today, every fortnight, and you’ll save a fortune, and in doing so you’ll help local newspapers who are struggling in the current economic climate.
If none of the above are your ‘cup of tea’ then you can always take up Lewisham’s offer and become a Political Assistant. Here’s part of the job description:
A full time political assistant is needed to provide the Council’s 12 strong Liberal Democrat Group of Councillors with invaluable administrative, policy and political support. It is a wide ranging role, with duties ranging from planning agendas and recording the salient points of meetings to assisting the Group in dealing with press and media enquiries. To be effective, you will need to be acutely aware of new legislation and political developments (on a national as well as local basis) and have an empathy with Liberal Democrat policies.
I’m not singling out the Liberal Democrats (as all parties do this), but why does the 12 strong Liberal Democrat Group of Councillors need policy and political support? They are elected councillors, who presumably have their collective ears to the ground (there’s a picture) and understand what’s happening in their wards. Do they really need their hands holding during a radio interview? Are they so fearful of the press that they need someone to whisper in their ears what and what not to say? Are they incapable of answering calls on their mobile phones if a journalist wants a quote? When they have group meetings, can’t one of them record the minutes?
I am not saying councillors don’t need some secretarial help from time to time. They do, and this can easily be provided by existing council officers. They don’t need to employ someone to do their work for them, which is what Political Assistants do.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has spent tens of thousands of pounds on luxury staff perks using corporate credit cards, including bills at 5-star hotels and Michelin-starred fine-dining. The story on NICE spending in yesterday’s Sunday Express is the second in a series of findings following TaxPayers’ Alliance research into quango credit card spending.
The body spent £611 at Apple Computer Inc, £2,354 on the Heathrow Express, £512 on Eurostar and £6,294 at various restaurants including Christopher’s American Grill, Le Deuxieme, Café des Amis and the Michelin-starred Deanes at Queens. You can see why quango staff are attracted by fine dining, coffee shop treats and slick Apple design, but they shouldn’t be leaving taxpayers with the bill.
Despite the economic climate and the Government’s drive for austerity, NICE increased credit card spending on hotels from £35,267 to £39,783 last year, including £19,690 at the up-market Marriott chain. Five-star hotels at which NICE staff spent taxpayers’ money included the Hilton Hanoi Opera in Vietnam, the Corinthia Hotel Praguein Czech Republic and £6,880 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan.
Despite the disappointing waste identified, there are glimmers of hope for taxpayers. While NICE spent £2,419 on taxpayer-funded politics in 2009-10 (payments to political parties, presumably fees paid to attend party conferences to lobby politicians for more of our money), they did not spend any money on this in 2010-11 – at least not using credit cards – and they should be applauded for releasing their credit card spending data for public scrutiny. Many quangos have managed to dream up excuses to keep their spending of taxpayers money secret. Quangos should publish their spending automatically on their websites, and they should stop wasting taxpayers money on luxury perks that aren’t necessary for the job.
In 2007, The Argus asked whether taxpayers in Sussex were getting value for money from SEEDA, the South East England Development Agency. They returned to the topic last week, to coincide with the agency’s closure, and SEEDA’s apparent desire to make the most of it.
Staff are being given pay-offs totalling £5.7 million, an average of £51,000 each. To compound this, the organisation spent £17 million on three offices between 2005 and 2010. Throughout its existence, SEEDA and its counterparts across England have been dogged by accusations of complacency and incompetence. The organisation spent £350,000 on government credit cards during the last two years; their flexible friends funded extravagant trips around the world as well as hundreds of lunches using taxpayers’ money. Its former chairman even spent over £50,000 on travel in a single year.
Given its history, it comes as no surprise that SEEDA plan to splash even more cash as they close down. Despite the numerous failures to live up to the claim, one boss received a golden goodbye of at least £450,000. Another boss, chief executive Pam Alexander, has a £1.3 million pension to look forward to. Profligate in operation, and equally profligate when winding down.