According to the Daily Telegraph the Scottish Government is spending £25,000 every single day during the Olympics on hiring out an exclusive gentleman’s club to entertain businessmen and dignitaries.
The First Minister officially opened the Army and Navy Club on London’s Pall Mall, which he has renamed Scotland House for the duration of the Olympics, before the Opening Ceremony last week.
The Scottish Government says the arrangement is aimed at showcasing Scotland and attracting foreign investment as well as for hosting formal events and receptions. The cost of hiring the venue, which will total £400,000, is being split between the Scottish Government and five of its quangos.
This astonishing sum of money is being spent despite the fact that the Scotland Office’s Dover House – a building which overlooks the Horse Guard’s Parade and beach volleyball – is available to Scottish Ministers to use free of charge and is only half a mile away on Whitehall.
After years of complaining about the cost of the Olympic Games and the damage it is doing to the Scottish budget, it’s absurd that nearly half a million pounds is being wasted on a vanity project for which there is clearly a cheaper alternative.
Thanks to Guido Fawkes blog, I’ve discovered the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is looking for a Deputy Director, Stakeholder and Ministerial Engagement. Paying £80K a year, this is essentially another PR man for the department. Here’s part of the job description:
The success of BIS and its policies relies much on how the Department is regarded. We want our diverse stakeholders to understand, advocate and embrace our policy agenda and to act as ambassadors for it. We’re looking for an experienced and seasoned communications practitioner to lead strategy and delivery in this key area. A member of the BIS Communications management team and heading a small team, you’ll drive a measurable Department-wide stakeholder strategy which builds capability and impresses with its impact. With a significant track record in communications, you’ll have proven your ability to create, negotiate and handle excellent and productive relationships in a highly complex environment. Personal credibility, political nous and sound judgement will be essential.
BIS describes itself as the ‘Department for Growth’. It seems the only thing growing is the amount of spin doctors.
Applications for the next non-job that passed over my desk at the beginning of this week closed on 27 July, however it’s still worthy of a mention. Peterborough City Council increased Council Tax this year, despite the offer of a Government grant which would have allowed the council to freeze it. How is it spending council taxpayers money? By looking to recruit a Schools Carbon Reduction Officer.
Are you interested in engaging with schools and pupils to reduce the carbon footprint of our schools?
The post holder will need to be able to establish a carbon management programme designed specifically to engage the city’s schools.
To proactively support schools through the implementation of carbon saving initiatives
To provide ongoing project management support and seek and obtain external funding as required
The post holder will need to have knowledge of environmental issues and be able to communicate same through meetings and presentations to schools and larger audiences.
Not only is the council wasting money employing someone in this non-job, the successful applicant will also be required to chase grants too, costing taxpayers even more. I bet when it comes to setting the budget next year, Peterborough Council will say it can’t reduce costs any further and is forced to increase Council Tax again.
It will then be time to remind them of this non-job and the £4300 food bill for councillors. Just two areas where fat can be trimmed.
The House of Lords splashed out on nearly £175,000 worth of new paintings and statues in the last financial year. Lords’ authorities revealed that the House of Lords Works of Art Collection Fund spending rocketed by around 1,000 per cent compared to the year before. The majority of the money was spent on decorating the new offices at Millbank House in Westminster.
The Collection Fund owns more than 8,000 pieces of art, many of which are not even on display, but collecting dust in storage. During a time of economic difficulty, it is hard to see how those administering the Collection Fund thought this to be appropriate. While they claim this is only a one-off, taxpayers will still be left wondering why they are picking up an extravagant bill for unnecessary new artworks, some of which they will never be likely to enjoy themselves.
Reports say that Hampshire County Council has spent £223,000 on streaming equipment so that residents can tune in to watch council meetings. But despite terrible viewing figures – just 57 tuned in to the last meeting – council leaders insist it’s “a good use of taxpayers’ money”.
The channel has seen plummeting audiences since it started, with 800 tuning in to watch February’s pilot meeting, 167 in April, 108 in May, falling to a paltry 57 this month. One councillor even admitted that the numbers were boosted by his relatives tuning in, he said:“My daughter watches from Hong Kong to see what her father is up to”. Very nice but there are, of course, many other ways for relatives to stay in touch.
This is an exceptional waste of money but rather than admit it’s been a flop, it’s ridiculous that some councillors continue to sing its praises. Thankfully not all of Hampshire’s councillors are as deluded as the Conservative leadership. Councillor Keith House, Liberal Democrat opposition spokesman agreed it was a “waste of money”.
Councillors in Hampshire need to end this costly scheme and try to claw back some of the £223,000 of taxpayers’ money it’s already spent. Streaming the meetings live on the web may help the Council to be more open and transparent, but it’s simply absurd to think that it costs nearly a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers’ cash to do it.
The mayor of Swindon’s expenses are under the spotlight after it was revealed his office expenditure totalled £110,000 in just 12 months.
Figures uncovered by the Swindon Advertiser show that £83,400 was spent on four personal staff for Mick Bray. He also received a £10,000 personal allowance and £15,000 was spent engraving mayoral chains. This comes at an important time. Only recently Swindon Council threatened elderly care and grass cutting budgets; both more worthy of £110,000 than the mayor’s extravagant office. But the civic leader is adamantly unapologetic. He believes that no savings can be made in his budget due to the standards expected of him. He claimed that without an office he would not be able to function effectively in this role.
But is this true? There are many other mayors who don’t run expensive offices at a huge cost to taxpayers. The mayor of Doncaster slashed his own pay from £73,000 to £30,000 when came to office, got rid of his limousine and cut the council’s free newsletter.
The mayor of Royal Wooton Bassett also shows how an office can be run on a much smaller budget, although in a far smaller town than Swindon. The mayor enjoys an allowance of £3,200 through which he must manage all of his annual costs incurred by mayoral duties in his 400 functions per year (Swindon’s mayor is believed to participate in around 500). In Royal Wooton Basset’s mayor’s office, a volunteer occupies the role of town crier, mace bearer and sword bearer and when required an admin officer doubles as a secretary.
Clearly a mayor’s office can be run more efficiently than Swindon’s costly example. The mayor needs to look for more ways to rein in his budget because it clearly can and must be done.
The raison d’etre of the London Assembly is to hold the Mayor of London to account. As the Assembly’s website states, “the 25 Assembly Members hold the Mayor to account by examining his decisions and actions to ensure he delivers on his promises to Londoners.”
The London Assembly is advertising for a Communications Manager – Assembly External Relations, to provide maternity cover for up to 12 months. After reading the job description though, you have to ask yourself why this job was created in the first place:
Are you ready to take on the challenge of competing with the Mayor of London for media attention?
The London Assembly is looking for a communications professional to lead on the provision of advice, guidance and support on media issues. Managing a small team, you will plan and implement media strategies to deliver coverage across both traditional and new media. You will provide a comprehensive proactive and reactive media service to promote the work of the Assembly and its committees.
Of course there has to be a communications department of some sort to deal with things like Freedom of Information requests and calls from journalists, but since when was it a competition to grab more media attention than the elected mayor? As the Assembly’s website states, “all Assembly meetings are public so Londoners can stay informed about the Mayor’s activities, and the Assembly can publically review his performance.”
As Assembly Members are all members of political parties (12 Labour, 9 Conservative, 2 Liberal Democrat, 2 Green) they have party spin machines behind them. If politicians have something they want us to know about, they always find a way of communicating their message.
Perhaps if the communications team thought more about their raison d’etre (ensuring information is made freely available to the public) and less about competing with the Mayor, perhaps they could be fewer in number?
Taxpayers in the Weymouth area from today might be lucky enough to see where £500,000 of their money has been spent as the floating Nowhereisland moors off the coast.
As part of the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ the Arts Council England pumped vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into 12 questionable projects, Nowhereisland being one of them.
But before great swathes rush off to visit the island, you can’t. In fact, the island will remain moored off the coast and taxpayers will have to admire this folly from a distance.
With the final cost of hosting the Games unknown (but already much bigger than originally planned), it’s outrageous that taxpayers are unwittingly funding costly and ridiculous projects under the Olympics banner. Nowhereisland is yet another example of a wasteful project and as the recession deepens taxpayers deserve better.
BAE Systems test pilot Peter Wilson said the plane’s stealth technology is “worth its weight in gold”.
You’d hope so. Because, weighing in unloaded at 13,300kg each, if they were gold, the entire planes (not just the stealth bits) would cost about £475 million each. And that’s even at today’s extraordinarily high gold prices. But a decade ago when Gordon Brown sold 395 tonnes of Britain’s reserves at record low prices, you could have picked up a JSF made entirely from gold for about £80 million a piece.
The actual cost of the JSFs is over £100 million. Each.
Failure to plan ahead for the Deputy Chief Executive’s retirement has left York taxpayers footing the bill for their council’s incompetence to the tune of thousands of pounds.
Bill Woolley, the former Deputy Chief Executive, retired on 9th June, something the Council had known about for several months. But instead of finding a replacement and organising a hand-over period, taxpayers are footing the bill for an expensive temporary replacement.
Neil Taylor, interim Director of City and Environment Services, is receiving a generous salary of £3,000 per week via a recruitment agency. Mr Taylor, who will hold the position until a permanent replacement is found, is pocketing over £1,000 more per week pro rata than the highest advertised salary for the post (£102,000).
Only earlier this year, the Council chose to reject the Government’s offer to freeze council tax, instead burdening local taxpayers with a 2.9 per cent increase. But this shows that they can’t be trusted to spend taxpayers’ money wisely as it is.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, they will be lumbered with the bill for their council’s incompetence. Let’s hope the Council learns from this mistake and in the future tries to deliver better value for taxpayers’ money.
In January HS2 Ltd were advertising for Community Liaison and Stakeholder Managers and Advisers, and Community Forums Managers. I commented in May they were also recruiting a Head of Public Affairs. Of course, recruitment is still ongoing as the Government intends to carry on with this huge and wasteful vanity project.
If you take a look at HS2′s website, you will find they are looking for six Community & Stakeholder Engagement Advisers, an Editor who will be responsible for written material, a Head of Promotional Strategy, seven Property Acquisition Managers, and many more vacancies focusing on communication. Here’s part of the job description for a Community & Stakeholder Engagement Adviser:
As part of the Community Liaison and Stakeholder teams, you will be central in engaging with local authorities, communities and stakeholders across the London West Midlands Route of the HS2 project, from inception to completion, though with a particular focus on a dedicated area. You will play a pivotal role in working with local communities, HS2 area engineers and environmentalists, to identify local priorities and explore opportunities for developing local community benefits and brokering solutions.
As the majority of people living along the proposed route are against the project, as are the majority of affected local authorities too, the job won’t be easy. Not that it’s just those living along the route who are opposed to this white elephant. In an opinion poll we commissioned last year, only 34% of the public are in favour of HS2. 48% want it scrapped, and this figure rises to 59% in Scotland.
One thing I am certain of though is as it becomes increasingly difficult for HS2′s spin machine to win more hearts and minds, more people will be recruited by the Communications Department in a vain attempt to convince us we really need to spend tens of billions of pounds on this rich man’s train.
With only ten days to go until the Olympic opening ceremony and London already grinding to a halt, it will be months until we know the true cost of hosting the Games.
But the direct costs of stadia, accommodation and security aren’t the only things for which taxpayers have to pick up the tab; lots of hidden costs are cropping up too. Only yesterday the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced plans to revamp county boundary signs in Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Norfolk and North Yorkshire “to boost the country’s tourism industry on the back of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”. These six counties have been selected for a pilot scheme which is estimated to cost taxpayers a cool £2 million.
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State in charge of the department, says the current signs are too boring and just aren’t enticing enough for tourists. But a picture of a windmill on a motorway sign marking the border for, say, Norfolk is hardly going to stop drivers from taking their holidays in Thailand or Tenerife. It’s this sort of naivety that inevitably means massive bills for taxpayers. Throwing money at unenticing signage won’t suddenly ignite the tourist industry in destinations across the UK.
Taxpayers shouldn’t have to fork out £2 million just because the minister finds the signs “boring”. If he’s right, let the local businesses who would supposedly benefit from a change pay for them. Why not approach private businesses to help cover the costs – because if they really believe they will benefit from the increased tourism they’ll surely help. Throwing more taxpayers’ money at projects in the name of the Olympics is insulting to taxpayers. The Government needs to be more imaginative in how it funds these schemes instead of always fleecing taxpayers for their pet projects.
Taxpayers in Crawley have been left to pick up a £600 bill for translating just one copy of their quarterly magazine into Urdu. The 12-page publication, which is sent to all Crawley Homes’ tenants, contains advice on renting and lifestyle tips, ironically including advice on prudently managing finances.
Of course translations are sometimes necessary to publicise vital services like the police or hospitals; but to spend over £600 of taxpayers’ money translating a booklet doling out patronising advice for a single resident is wasteful. But don’t take our word for it; another resident claimed that the magazine was “routinely just put in the bin”.
This isn’t the first example of councils wasting money translating pointless publications. Back in 2009, we came across an equality leaflet which Southwark Council had translated into Bengali, Chinese, French, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.
Glossy magazines are an expensive waste of money in English, let alone translating them for one resident. Crawley Council has a responsibility to spend taxpayers’ money more responsibly and should learn lessons from this costly case.