There is no lull on the non-jobs front this week, and though there’s a tangible reduction in the number of vacancies on offer, we’re still finding the sort of non-vital – and in some instances, plain barmy – roles that really need to go if government are to make savings.
Salford City Council are under the same pressures as all local authorities, but they’ve clearly decided to prioritise their image as they advertise for ‘a number’ of ‘Marketing, communication and press and PR posts’ on the Guardian jobsite today. They’re apparently concerned with ‘reputation enhancing’, so Salford residents will be paying out for spin they can’t afford just to remind themselves how great the council are. But with £39m of cuts needed over the next three years we should really be questioning whose best interests this new recruitment drive is in – surely not the taxpayers who’ll be shelling out for the very wool that’s being pulled over their eyes..?
And speaking of skewed priorities, on the jobsgopublic.com website North West Leicestershire District Council are hiring two new part-time Equality and Diversity Officers (£11,110 – £12,736) to make sure their PC agenda is right up to date, and Elmbridge Borough Council are after an Arts Development Officer (£11,827 – £13,911) to cultivate and co-ordinate what comes naturally anyway (alongside the usual bilge about contributing to the '2012 Cultural Olympiad').
This week’s non-job, however, is being advertised by Brighton & Hove City Council, who appear to have lost all sense of perspective (and possibly their minds) in their efforts to be trendy. This authority are preparing to cut 200 jobs and have to save a steep £45m over the next three years to keep their heads above water. Yesterday’s Daily Mail revealed how they’ve spent £300k on consultants advising them on how to save money…it’s a pity they didn’t tell them to chop away nonsense like this:
“Skate Park Development Worker
£22221 – £23708 per annum
Hours: Part-time, 12 hour per week
This exciting role will co-ordinate and develop a programme of activities and events at Hove Lagoon skate park, and linking with other skate park sites across the city. The work will seek to increase participation and accessibility by linking with other organisations and Hove Lagoon skate park, ensuring that all activities are delivered efficiently and safely, supporting the needs of young people and supporting volunteering and community relations.
Follow us on twitter @BHCC_jobs”
Who’d have thought that building and maintaining a skate park would become such a complex and expensive thing? Why can’t Brighton & Hove City Council just leave young people to it? Skate advisers, skate supervisors and now a skate development worker. Unnecessary, costly and with few beneficiaries – what an insult to taxpayers who are struggling and council workers facing redundancy.
Well there’s no doubt about it, there are definitely fewer public sector jobs going up on the Guardian jobsite. On the 11th November 2009 we reported that the number of jobs advertised had hit 556, and today there are just 188. Though there are still a number of PR and communications-type posts, such as the Communication & Engagement Officer (£22,221 – £23,708) at Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, alongside general community busy-body type roles, for this week at least the weird, wacky and downright outrageous jobs we’re used to seeing are pretty thin on the ground. Has the penny finally dropped?
Well, we won’t be retiring Non-job of the week just yet, as they’ve certainly not disappeared entirely (as they should’ve done in these straitened times), and on jobsgopublic.com – another expansive site dedicated to public sector jobs – there still lurks many a dubious vacancy.
In amongst the throng lies a Consultation & Community Relations Manager (£41,421 – £48,060 per annum) and a Neighbourhood Action Team Officer (up to £36,099!) – healthy salaries for such questionable roles that may well have more to do with PR than improving services.
Our non-job this week however can be found on the faithful old Guardian website, and is advertised by London Councils:
“Head of Fair Funding
£45,901 – £57,111 pa inc
There has never been a more exciting – or testing – time to be involved in local government finance. And London local government finance is a roller coaster ride of change and opportunity.
Change, because we all know the UK’s funding for public services is reducing, and local government finance – at around a quarter of all public spending – will face major cuts. Opportunity, because London’s local authorities are among the highest performers in the country: this makes London an exciting place for innovation and leadership. And London’s local councils are big business: total turnover is £25 billion a year. On top of that London’s councils invest billions each year in buildings and other infrastructure. So, we’re talking big money … and there’s a lot at stake.
London Councils represents the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. We work to both advance and defend London’s funding. London’s communities are enormously diverse and mobile: this throws up challenges for fair provision of public services, and for fair funding to support those services. London Councils Fair Funding team analyse, provide evidence, build arguments, lobby, and work with public affairs and media to make sure that our voice – on behalf of London – is heard loud and clear. We want to be listened to, our arguments accepted and acted upon. So we have to be compelling and persuasive in argument: fully fluent in data, information and evidence in order to be influential with government, elected politicians and other stakeholders.
As Head of Fair Funding, it will be your job to lead this work. You will work closely with colleagues across all policy areas, from children’s services to the Olympics, and with our media and public affairs team. You will work with London’s leading elected politicians. You will commission research, and design and deliver work to put the best possible financial case for London. You will network with finance directors across London, and be a high profile presence. You will be at the hub of a fast-moving, highly important, very visible wheel travelling a sometimes rocky road”.
Hmm. Just last week Eric Pickles announced that there would be new, tougher rules to stop ‘lobbying on the rates’ and yet this new post has it written in to the job description. This ‘Head of More/Fair Funding’ will be using taxpayers’ cash to vie for…well…taxpayers’ cash in order to avoid the sort of necessary cuts London councils need to make in order to combat government debt.
We all want our local authority to protect frontline public services as best they can, but if every council created a role like this to lobby to protect their budget, well then we’d get in to a situation where relative taxpayer needs and wants become almost irrelevant and the financial position of local and central government deteriorates yet more.
We might hearing about the strain on government budgets, but unfortunately public sector recruitment websites seem to be telling us a completely different story. Today both the Guardian jobsite and the very popular Jobsgopublic.com are jam-packed full of questionable roles – so much so that today’s non-job of the week blog features something of a medley of new (and costly!) vacancies.
Who’d have thought that, at a time when frontline services are under threat, our authorities would go and prioritise equality and diversity positions? Well, that’s what seems to be happening as an “Equality and Diversity Project Manager” can expect to be paid £300-£450per day in Sheffield, and the Legal Ombudsman are offering £40-45k for a “Equality, Diversity and Accessibility Manager” for their Birmingham offices.
At North East Lincolnshire Council they’re after an “Environmental Improvement Manager” to help save the planet in exchange for £33,661 of taxpayers’ money each year (fingers crossed the ‘Climate Change Strategy’ they implement will be what’s needed to reverse global warming…); Woking Borough Council are offering £25k pa for a “Communications Officer for the Cycle Woking Project” so not only are we paying for the project itself, we’re also paying for someone to proselytise about it; Brighton and Hove City Council are keen to hire an “Audience Development Officer” (£19621 – £23708pa) to ‘engage communities’ and develop ‘learning and participation projects’ alongside writing an activity plan for their “Parks for People” project; and Burnley Borough Council want to build their casual pool of “Healthy Lifestyle Tutors” (£11.38 per hr) to stop people smoking, that’s right, just like the NHS.
Last but not least however, is our non-job of the week being advertised by Oxford City Council:
(£25,472 – £28,636pa)
Oxford is known throughout the world for its long history of academic excellence, its architectural and cultural heritage, as well as its innovative, contemporary achievements in scholarship, literature, manufacturing, publishing, medicine and science. Oxford City Council employs over 1,200 people who are helping achieve the Council’s goal of building a world class city for everyone. Our people support the City’s communities with services to promote Oxford’s reputation and maintain its and growth as a world class city. Oxford City Council provides a friendly yet hardworking environment for employees to develop and good career opportunities for individuals to grow.
We currently have a vacancy for a Go-Active Co-ordinator
Main Duties & Responsibilities include:
To work to increase and retain participation in Sport and Physical Activity within Oxford City through the Get Oxfordshire Active Project
Deliver direct Sport and Physical Activity interventions aimed at getting people more active
Work with partners in developing and delivering interventions within Sport and Physical Activity
Experience in developing and delivering direct interventions in Sport, Physical Activity or related fields
Experience of working and developing relationships with partners
Project management experience
Experience of delivering Sport and Physical Activity projects with partners
Knowledge of the Sport, Health and Leisure Industries and issues involved in these
Knowledge of County Sports Partnerships
Degree in appropriate subject or equivalent level of education
For an informal discussion about the post please contact Hagan Lewisman, Development Manager on 01865 252706 or email [email protected] . Or alternatively Antonia Bridges Active, Recreation Manager on 01865 252600 or e-mail [email protected]"
This certainly speaks of a local council with rather skewed priorities – the jazzy title, the salary (pushing £30k!), the dubious mandate…are Oxford really saying that at a time when they've had to sell off buildings to recoup money, this sort of job is a justifiable allocation of funds?
The emphasis on these sorts of roles nowadays would make you believe that without them the sporting world would collapse, no one would run or kick a ball and we'd all (obviously) become hugely obese. The reality is that they've actually done next to nothing to combat our expanding waistlines and yet the cost has spiralled as whole departments have sprung out of nowhere. The only fat that needs trimming where the council are concerned involves axing positions like this.
In a release from the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude last week vowed to dispose of hundreds of needless and costly government websites. This is part of the government’s drive to cut £6.2 billion of wasteful spending and reduce the deficit. It is hoped that £95 million can be saved through cuts in IT spending to be reinvested into further education and social housing.
The figures are staggering. 46 websites cost £94.5 million of government money to build, with staffing costs of £33.5 million. £22.7 million was spent on design and built costs, £23.8 million on hosting and infrastructure, and £24.1 million on content provision. In March 2010, the government reported running 794 websites, with the Coalition government identifying 26 more. As part of the Spending Review in September 75% of the websites will close with a target of 50% spending cuts for the remainder.
The review will look at all 820 government websites to determine how they could share resources better, savings costs. The creation of new websites will be restricted to those which successfully pass a stringent exceptions process, and are cleared by the Efficiency Board chaired by Francis Maude and Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. Hopefully better value for money will be achieved in the procurement stage. Maude stated:
“This Government is completely committed to getting the government web back under control. The days of “vanity” sites are over. It is not good enough to have websites which do not deliver the high quality services which people expect and deserve. That is why we will take tough action to get rid of those which are not up to the job and do not offer good value for money and introduce strict guidelines for those that remain.”
The problem here seems to be that public sector bodies rarely get it right when it comes to IT jobs and consultancy work. They tend to favour the higher priced, more trusted IT firms that they have used for years, without properly tendering contracts which can save money. Government website businesslink.gov.uk spent £35 million in total with only an eighth place return for total visits from 2009-2010 behind departments that spent significantly lower amounts. Businesslink.gov.uk was the second most expensive website per visit with £2.15 spent for every hit, to uktradeinvest.gov.uk’s £11.78 per visit.
Furthermore, money was wasted because of competition between departments with the DECC and Energy Saving Trust bidding against each other for Google search terms. Some quango websites also competed with other parts of central government. In the case of the Potato marketing Board’s lovechips.co.uk, it competed against the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign on healthy lifestyle. Tit-for-tat battling between government departments does not serve taxpayers’ interest, especially when money is being poured down the drain in wasted schemes. So while it may be easy for the coalition to talk the talk, changing procurement practices and stopping many public bodies’ culture of self-promotion will be more difficult than it may look at first glance.
Considering all of this, it may not be too much of a surprise to learn that four government departments spent almost £6 million to guarantee that their websites appeared on search engine results pages. The Department for Communities and Local Government spent over £750,000 endorsing campaign websites including those for Home Information Packs, Eco Towns and Energy Performance Certificates. In addition the Department of Energy and Climate Change spent more than £309,000, primarily on the ‘Act on CO2’ campaign. The Department of Health was the worst offender, racking up a bill of £4.4 million in ‘paid search fees.’
The NHS budget has been ring fenced with expenditure set to rise to £122 billion from 2010-2011, and this shows where some of the money goes. The Public Accounts Committee concluded that it was impossible to assess whether websites were economical as over 25% of government websites did not know the costs of their websites and there was no system of measuring costs in place.
This self-promotion of government departments has left the taxpayer very short changed. With so much talk of efficiency, the government have to ensure that every penny is carefully spent.
Once upon a time, long long ago, welfare was paid to the poor. And only to the poor.
But these days, welfare is available to pretty well everybody. Even rich bankers on Canary Wharf can get welfare. It doesn't matter how rich you are, there'll usually be some way of getting your snout into the welfare trough. From Child Benefit, to free bus passes, to the winter fuel allowance, the opportunities are there. If you want some, you can get some.
We've been reminded of this by reaction to last week's TPA report on welfare reform. It's been pointed out that our proposal to redefine the poverty line – lowering it from 60% of median income to 50% – would remove welfare support from families who, while not poor, would lose a substantial chunk of their current welfare income.
Now as it happens, the Office for National Statistics has recently published its latest annual report on the effect of taxes and benefits on household incomes. It covers 2008-09 and it shows us just how much welfare is received by households at different income levels.
Let's leave pensioner households out of it (as we did in the TPA report), and focus on non-retired households. The ONS figures show that households on around median incomes (gross incomes of £32-35k pa) on average get well over £3,000 pa in cash benefits. A 10% top-up to their own not insubstantial incomes from welfare benefits.
And here's how it looks across the entire income distribution (non-retired households only – excluding pensioner households):
So as we can see, under our current welfare system, even the richest 10% of households, with average gross incomes in excess of £100,000 pa, still get welfare – in their case averaging £1300 pa.
On what possible basis can this make sense?
The alarming and unpalatable truth is that after 60 years of the welfare state, pretty well all of us have ended up on welfare.
Paying income support to those who are already around median income or above means paying them with one hand and taxing it back with the other. Which is not only administratively expensive and wasteful (we have previously estimated the direct administrative cost of this so-called fiscal churn at at £5-6bn pa), but it is also certain to distort the way people choose to work, and to spend their own earnings. And as always, higher taxes mean lower economic growth.
This is no way to run a 21st century economy, already burdened with a massive fiscal crisis, and facing a huge competitive challenge from the emerging economies.
In the famous words of our most famous playboy prince during a previous economic crisis, something must be done.
This week sees the start of a six-week summer holiday for the majority of state school children. It also marks the end of another £530 million annual Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) payout. Around now, those 16-19 year olds who have remained in education beyond GCSEs will receive their second £100 bonus payment of 2010, assuming they have met the easily achievable criteria set by their education establishments with regard to attendance and attainment.
The EMA was established in 2004 as a means of keeping teenagers in education beyond the age of sixteen. The scheme pays deprived students up to £30 per week, depending on family income and as aforementioned, additional bonuses on top. In our book, How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election), we called for the EMA to be scrapped.
Back in 2008, then Shadow Education Secretary, Michael Gove, seemed to be in agreement with us, citing figures which suggested a mere 400 pupils stayed on directly as a result of EMA payments. However, one month before the General Election, he seemed to have changed his tune. In an interview with The Guardian, he said: “Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.” If the Government stands by Gove’s statement when the spending review comes around in the autumn, it will be a big mistake. More money from the public purse, more money wasted. If however, they do proceed to scrap the scheme, it may cause more embarrassment for Gove but it will be entirely sensible.
The fact of the matter is that the EMA is not working. As the chart above shows, participation rates have not altered since its inception; increasing from 75.7 per cent in 2004 to 79.7 per cent in 2008, but this is only in line with historical trends. Having just finished A-Levels myself, I have become aware of young people conning the system with ease, such as by proclaiming only one parent’s income within a separated family or, more innocently, making use of their parent’s asset rich – low cash income situation. Getting £30 per week for going to school or Sixth Form College is, of course, easier than getting a Saturday job in many people’s eyes!
There are some difficult choices ahead for the Government. Abolishing the EMA is an easy choice. The theory is good and it would be wrong to say that it is not of huge assistance to those young people who cannot fund their education beyond the age of sixteen. Nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves and a new, more cost effective way of helping underprivileged students must be found.
By Jago Pearson
Labour blogger Hopi Sen has read our report on welfare reform and perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn't like what it says. But it's worth running through his objections because they highlight some key points about our argument.
The most important issue is the definition of the poverty line. Sen writes:
"If you’re the Taxpayers’ Alliance, the way to cut the gordian knot of Welfare reform without spending any money seems to be to redfine poverty to a much lower level, reduce support for those a little above that level, and abandon pretty much all support for those on medium-low incomes.
In other words, if you’re near the current definition of poverty, struggling to get by, and find tax credits and child benefit and income support useful- Watch out. They’re coming to get you."
As readers of our report will know, the fundamental question we seek to address is a tough one – how to break the welfare trap for the able-bodied working age poor without spending money the country can no longer afford. Although we can all agree on the need to cut the scandalously high 70-80% effective marginal tax rates faced by the poor (mainly because of benefit withdrawal), that's the easy bit. The difficult bit is to say how the money will be found.
Our proposed solution is to redefine the poverty line from its current 60% of median income back to 50%, which is where it originally started out. We calculate that would save £20-30bn pa, which would then be available to substantially reduce those high marginal tax rates. In fact we calculate that we could afford to cut them to a uniform 55% – still too high, but a vast improvement on the current situation.
Unfortunately, while he slams our proposal, Sen offers no alternative. Like the left in general, he doesn't say where he'd get the money from. All he says is that the TPA is out to get the poor. In reality – as we hope is clear in our paper – our aim is to help the poor, by providing a practical and affordable scheme to make work pay.
Turning to a specific point Sen makes about our modelling work, he objects to the way we derive our figure for median income from the official household survey data. The median income is important because under the current British welfare system it is the benchmark against which the poverty line is drawn.
As explained in the paper, we derive the median from the net income of households before taking account of any welfare payments they are receiving. We acknowledge that the official statistics currently derive it after welfare payments, but we believe that's a circular and misleading calculation. It means that both median income and the poverty line are artificially inflated by the welfare system itself. The system ends up chasing its own tail towards ever higher costs and an ever worse welfare trap.
This touches on a key difference between us and the left on welfare. Whereas the left see welfare as a tool for compressing income relativities throughout the income range, we believe that for able-bodied adults of working age, welfare payments should, in principle, be confined to a safety net, designed to relieve absolute poverty among those towards the bottom*. Paying income support to those who are at or around median incomes means taxing them with one hand and paying it back with the other. Which is not only administratively expensive and wasteful, but also certain to distort the way people choose to work, and to spend their own earnings.
Sen makes much of the fact that there'd be some losers from our proposal. Indeed there would be, as we recognise in the paper. And that's why we urge the Department for Work and Pensions to conduct a detailed analysis, identifying precisely who the losers would be, and reviewing the need for transitional arrangements. Nobody says it would be easy, still less pain-free. But then again, given where we are, none of the choices before us are easy or pain-free.
We also need to remember that the current system itself has serious problems for the poor. It is so complex that take-up rates for many benefits are very low (just 57% in the case of the Working Tax Credit). And it leaves many people living in severe poverty – an estimated 6% of the population, up from 5% a decade ago. Fraud and error are rife, running at an estimated £4.5bn pa.
The key point about our proposal is one that Sen doesn't pick up at all. It is to give the able-bodied working age poor a clear financial incentive to escape the welfare trap and take control of their own lives. It's a goal we believe worth fighting for, and as our paper demonstrates, even in these tough fiscal times we believe we can achieve it.
*Footnote – The dispute over the definition of poverty goes back 50 years. The left have argued that we should focus on relative income distribution, and they have prevailed - hence the current definition of the poverty line at 60% of median income. But that's not what most people actually think of as poverty, which tends to focus on not having enough food, or a roof over your head, etc. That is the traditional definition of poverty, known as absolute poverty, and in principle, it is the approach we favour. Which is why in Appendix C of our paper we recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions conduct some proper analysis in this area and publish a measure of absolute poverty, comparable to the one produced by the US Census Bureau.
It’s non-job time again and many of you have sent in nominations this week which is always appreciated!
Unfortunately, this week we’ve been ‘spoilt for choice’ with a whole raft of dubious vacancies going up for grabs. Thanks to those of you who spotted the Partnership Support Officer advertised by Ashfield District Council and the Breast Feeding Support Co-ordinator at NE Lincolnshire Council, but we can raise you with an Athletics Network Development Officer (Barnsley Council) and two Enviro-Crime Enforcement Officers (Waltham Forest).
Once again, it’s been a close call this week, but pipped-to-the-post and in second place is a position at Leicestershire County Council (who want to save £9.9m and are making job cuts left, right and centre) for a Smokefree (Tobacco Control) Alliance Co-ordinator on between £29,295 – £41, 043pa! Apparently, this post will “contribute to a reduction in smoking prevalence” but if you’re a local taxpayer I wouldn’t expect to be presented with any evidence of this for your £40k investment…
The winner this week though is a contemptible waste of money in the context of public finances, redundancies and the recent recession, no surprises then that it’s being advertised anonymously (and expensively) through a recruitment agency on behalf of a public sector organisation, but the Guardian category quite clearly states that the ‘industry’ is Central Government:
“Director of Communications
£80000 – £120000 per annum + benefits
My client is looking for a Director of Communications to lead on the communications and stakeholder management of the organisation, necessary for the successful delivery of its strategy and the enhancement of their reputation and influence.
The role reports directly to the chief executive and is responsible for a large division, as a member of the executive team, you will normally be required to attend Board meetings. You will have responsibility for the development of positive senior stakeholder relationships, (Government, WAG, Whitehall etc), and works closely with the Chief Executive and the Board to jointly achieve this. You will lead all aspects of the organisation's interactions with the media, both proactive and reactive and be responsible for ensuring the organisations reputation is maintained and enhanced.
The successful candidate will have a degree level qualification or equivalent along with experience of influencing within Government at senior levels, having board level support and interaction and pro-active media management skills. The ideal candidate would also have successful implementation of policy related strategies within a public sector environment and strong economic literacy. The role will be based in various locations around the UK, so the successful applicant will need to be willing to travel on a regular basis”.
This is an enormous salary, and when we’re being told that the axe must swing is more spin really the best use of our money?
When it comes to our horrendous fiscal deficit, there are many who still maintain we can afford to wait before starting on retrenchment. Yesterday's rather nasty public borrowing statistics underline just how dangerous that argument is.
Because once you strip out the effects of the various financial sector support operations – which the government has always insisted are temporary – then borrowing in the first 3 months of the current financial year was actually higher than that in the same period last year. And that despite the fact that the economy almost certainly grew during the intervening period (we'll get the official GDP update on Friday). And despite the fact that public sector investment spending was squeezed down.
So what happened?
What happened was that although tax revenues increased by £8bn – boosted by a £4bn jump in receipts from the higher rate of VAT – all of that increase was used up covering a 6% increase in current spending.
6%? Can they be serious? Here in the midst of Austerity Britain, HMG has somehow allowed its current spending to shoot up by 6%? What on earth are they doing?
For sure, some of it is accounted for by an increase in the welfare bill, as might be expected with higher unemployment. But when we scrutinise the figures, we find that only acounts for 1% of the 6% overall increase.
The rest? Well, spending on goods and services (staff and procurement) rose by 3%. Which is somewhat alarming, given all the talk of budgets being pared to the bone.
But the biggest contributor - by far – was the explosive growth of debt interest payments. The ONS says the cost of central government's debt interest grew by an alarming 54%, acoounting for half the overall increase in current spending.
We've blogged the looming debt interest crisis many times (start here). But let's just remind ourselves of the key point – the longer we go on running these horrific deficits, the worse it's going to get. Our outstanding debt will increase, and there is always that risk that the markets will take fright and rack up the interest rate they demand from HMG.
And even though Mr Osborne has announced tighter targets for public spending than Mr Darling's, the debt interest bill is set to spiral anyway.
So next time you hear that we can afford to wait before facing reality, remember this. Remember that the debt interest bill is already sending shockwaves through the public sector accounts, and that we taxpayers are picking up an ever larger tab.
If local government is feeling the pinch, then you wouldn’t know it from looking at the Guardian jobs site today. There are 234 positions advertised, perhaps fewer than we’ve seen in the past, but many of those featured are posted by councils offering particularly hefty salaries for non-vital roles.
Central Bedfordshire Council, for example, are advertising for some Communication Manager ‘positions’ (they fail to state the exact number) on between £39,855 – £46,251, the London Borough of Southwark want a new ‘Community Participation Manager’ who can expect to earn £44,463 – £55,674 for interacting and engaging with ‘different communities’, and Marketing Birmingham – who receive £5m of funding from Birmingham City Council – are hiring for no fewer than three ‘Investment Development Managers’ on up to £65k+PRP.
This week’s non-job however was a toss-up between two less handsomely waged positions found on the jobsgopublic.com website, namely Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council’s ‘Skate Supervisors’ (and Skate Marshals!) who should be ‘experienced rollerskaters’ capable of assisting with ‘rollerskating activities’ (…) and this from Rochford District Council:
£24,646 to £26,276
Rochford Council has recently made huge steps forward in recycling and we are determined to keep the momentum going. We are therefore seeking a highly motivated and enthusiastic team player, who can promote partnership working and work in a high pressure environment.
You will support the work of the Senior Recycling Officer by communicating with the general public, schools and other interested parties and encouraging public participation in recycling, waste minimisation and composting initiatives. Data inputting, contract supervision, partnership working and customer care activities will be part of a daily routine.
You will have a good standard of education, be computer literate (Microsoft Office), and possess the ability to gather and analyse information and to generate effective solutions to practical problems.
You must be able to demonstrate the best principles of customer care. A working knowledge of recycling would be desirable. You will hold a valid driving licence and have access to a vehicle”.
Okay, so maybe the Skate Supervisor should have won the non-job title, but at the very least they need to have a discernable skill and, on occasions, may even help prevent someone from breaking a leg. It is only ‘desirable’, however, that this recycling officer has any working knowledge of recycling whatsoever and – let’s face it – having an additional jobsworth ‘encouraging’ the people of Rochford to recycle is unlikely to make any sort of tangible impact on preventing anything.
It’s not as though this recycling officer is even collecting the recycling, or sorting the recycling or anything quite so practical. They’re analysing the recycling, and inputting data about recycling, driving around in a car or a van for undisclosed reasons and generally regurgitating what we’ve all heard a thousand times before about why it’s better if you chuck something in a different bin.
Also what’s striking about this vacancy it how low their expectations are considering the decent salary up for grabs. “Be computer literate and able to use Microsoft Office” – surely that’s within the capabilities of most people who’ve ever been acquainted with a computer? So really it should say ‘you should have used a computer’. And “Possess the ability to gather and analyse information” – another fairly basic expectation. Even if we’ve never done it before, most of us ‘possess the ability’.
So there you go, another job that's costing taxpayers (and let's not forget the supporting department and the Senior Recycling Officer mentioned…) and offering almost nothing in return.
Yesterday the Office for National Statistics published a very interesting paper on public debt. For the first time in an official publication, it brings together estimates of all those off-balance sheet Enron items we've blogged so often – public sector pensions, PFI, state pensions, bank bail-outs, nuclear decommissioning – the lot.
And it gives a pretty evenly balanced commentary on the kind of liabilities involved, and some of the estimating problems. Yes, much of this material has been published in dense technical form before, but this paper is much more accessible and mercifully much shorter (a mere 26 pages).
The paper opens with a statement it's worth quoting in full because we might almost have written ourselves:
"Just as for companies and households, the public sector’s balance sheet is central to assessing its financial health. Such a balance sheet would set out the public sector’s assets – what it owns or is owed – and its liabilities to others. A limitation of traditional balance sheets is that the liabilities they include are defined quite narrowly and so exclude a range of potential obligations to others. To ensure that fiscal policy setting expenditure, taxes and government borrowing – is as well based as possible, and in the interests of transparency, the publicly available information on the range of public sector assets and liabilities needs to be as complete as possible."
To which we can only say, hear, hear.
The bottom line is that the ONS is now actively considering whether to include a whole raft of those Enron items in the official measure of public debt. And here's their summary of how that might look (you'll have to click on image to read):
So what does that lot add up to? The Mail's Steve Doughty has done the sums and makes it around £4 trillion – that is, well over four times the current official £0.9 trillion National Debt (Public Sector Net Debt – PSND). The largest additional items – all of which we've blogged many times – are:
Now, the ONS has not committeed itself to adding all of these to the monthly figures for Public Sector Net Debt, but it does sound as if it intends to publish regular updates of wider public sector liabilities. Which we wholeheartedly support.
Of course, in estimating these wider liabilities, we will expect the ONS to maintain its own high standards of integrity and impartiality.
For example, the official figures it quotes for unfunded state pension liabilities are almost certainly a serious under-estimate. Whereas they quote £1.2-1.4 trillion, external analysts calculate a figure at least twice that (eg see this excellent IEA paper by Nick Silver, which conservatively puts it at £2.75 trillion, and this blog for how, in terms of the ongoing liability, it isn't difficult to come up with numbers that are a multiple of even that).
Also we're not convinced by the ONS practice of netting off liquid assets in its main published figure for public debt (PSND). What taxpayers need to know is the size of our gross liabilities. Sure, there may be some assets to set against those liabilities, but those assets can never be entirely secure even if they are supposedly liquid. For example, the deposits our local authorities placed with the Icelandic banks were netted off as liquid assets, but as we later found out, they were most assuredly not secure. And the same goes for the liquid assets of RBS and Lloyds, which ONS are proposing to net off against their liabilities. Doing so will reduce the net debt figure by about £1 trillion, even though taxpayers are actually on the hook for the entire gross debt.
Still, overall, this is another step in the right direction. It is absurd for the nation to depend on external analysts and bloggers with fag packets to calculate the real National Debt, when we employ an army of statisticians who could do the work so much more thoroughly.
The ONS must get cracking and publish the results openly and fearlessly. It's time for us to know the complete and unexpurgated truth about our finances.
“Let’s be blunt,” writes the new Local Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, “there are going to be tough choices to make in local government over the next few months.” Love him or loathe him – he’s right, these choices are inevitable. He’s pretty apt in stating that there’s “still a long way for some councils to go in terms of cutting out waste – especially in terms of some of the more ludicrous "non-jobs" you see advertised.” Right again Mr. Pickles. And where has the Rt. Hon. Gentleman aired his learned views; in the Mail, Telegraph or Express perhaps? No, in the Guardian no-less – ironically the same paper where this week’s (and most other week’s) non-jobs are advertised.
It seems the Guardian jobs pages are a second home for councils and agencies, filled to the brim with highly-paid, taxpayer-funded positions, where one must be good at decoding the riddle of convoluted and pretentious nonsense to understand what they’re actually applying for. From ‘Local Democratic Officer’ (£30,851) to ‘Head of City of London Police Corporate Communications’ (£48,030) there are plenty of non-job adverts to decipher.
I thought the following was a good candidate for the non-job of the week title – the ‘Engagement and Partnerships Officer' (£37,029 – £42,491) for the Metropolitan Police Authority which will provide a first point of contact for “borough stakeholders” – (that’s residents and businesses to you and me) and will consult with “stakeholders” over “effective crime reductions strategies.” I thought that was what local neighbourhood policing units were supposed to do?
But this week’s winner of the non-job title comes from the Government’s ‘Change 4 life’ Scheme. You may have seen the adverts; the ones where the little plasticine people and Suggs tell you that eating copious amounts of junk food and doing little exercise may lead to health problems. The campaign is costing £75million over 3 years, and the directors of the scheme have to think of innovative ways to waste your money. Their latest imaginative jape is to spend £25,000 on a
‘DANCE 4 LIFE CO-ORDINATOR’
Lincolnshire Dance (LD) seeks a creative and highly motivated individual to co-ordinate this exciting county-wide programme which will increase the dance infrastructure and develop dance opportunities for adults. The post holder will have opportunities to lead practical dance sessions as well as co-ordinator and administrative tasks.
Closing date 5pm Wednesday 21 July 2010 – Contact Keyna Paul, director on 01522 811 811
This job fits in to the broader argument over the taxpayer funded scheme. You’ll get people who will say that obesity is becoming a major health problem that could perhaps cost as much as £50 billion a year to treat in the not so distance future. They will say that if the £75 million scheme can cut just 10% of those future patients then the state may save something like £5 billion a year.
I am sceptical that such a scheme can produce such results – when you consider the huge amounts already being spent on nanny state projects to almost no effect, this is throwing more money down what has already proven to be a bottomless pit.