Earlier this year I wrote about the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA). This is the ‘trade union’ for Assistant Chief Constables and above. It was revealed that taxpayers not only pay the individual subscriptions of senior officers (£275 per year), but we also pay an additional £2,197 per year for each senior officer to provide them with legal cover.
As I said at the time, it can be argued that CPOSA offers protection to those senior officers who may get sued (at times mischievously) whilst doing their job, and it is only right to insure against that risk. However, the insurance policy also pays the legal bills for those officers facing disciplinary action. This is what happened when Grahame Maxwell, the former Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, used the fund to run up a £250,000 legal bill before eventually admitting gross misconduct. Mr Maxwell’s actions were not without consequence. The amount all police authorities pay into the fund, per officer, has almost doubled from £1,130 in 2011/12 to £2,197 in the current financial year.
Today the Yorkshire Post has revealed that Sean Price, Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, is also benefiting from this taxpayer funded scheme. He is currently suspended from his job and is on police bail on allegations of fraud, corruption and misconduct. He is alleged to have used “undue influence” to appoint the daughter of former Cleveland Police Authority chairman Dave McLuckie to a junior clerical role in the force. He also faces 18 further gross misconduct allegations, including misuse of a corporate credit card and misspending on foreign travel, but no dates for hearings have been set.
Now Mr Price is trying to stop disciplinary hearings by mounting a judicial review in the High Court. Judicial reviews are not cheap – this one could cost £50,000 – and once again we would be picking up the bill. Judicial reviews also take some time to reach a conclusion, and because his contract expires in March next year, if he is successful he may never face disciplinary hearings for the various gross misconduct allegations.
How Mr Price spends his own money is up to him; however he is not spending his own money – he is spending our money. The more he racks up in legal bills, the more taxpayers will have to pay in insurance costs. Julian Smith, Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon said taxpayers will look on with “disbelief” at the latest revelations. The Association of Police Authorities has said it is urgently reviewing the situation. But what is there to review? It should be simple. Taxpayers’ money should not be used to both prosecute and defend a senior police officer facing personal gross misconduct charges. They should pay for their defence out of their own pockets.
On 15 November (unless you live in London) we go to the polls to elect Police and Crime Commissioners. I hope every candidate states that if elected they will stop this abuse of taxpayers’ money. They should also stop us paying the individual subscriptions for senior officers to CPOSA. It is their professional association, and they are more than capable of paying the fees themselves.
A quick glance at the NHS jobs website will tell you there are over 150 executive vacancies. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think they are all essential, however when one of the new Commissioning Support Units requires two Customer Services Directors, paying £115K each, it does make you wonder.
The University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust is looking for a new Head of Environmental Sustainability. This is all to do with the Trust’s desire to reduce its carbon footprint in line with the Department of Health’s report ‘Saving Carbon, Improving Heath‘. This report was published in 2009 by the Sustainable Development Unit.
The fact the Trust is looking for a new Head of Environmental Sustainability implies the new recruit will not be working alone. How many people are in the Environmental Sustainability team? Do all PCTs have a similar team? How many people work in the NHS Sustainable Development Unit? I ask these questions because reducing energy consumption naturally brings with it financial benefits, and this is outlined in the job advert.
What concerns me is that rather than do the simple things like ensuring lights are turned off when no-one is using a room, computers are switched off when no-one is using them, or the heating isn’t belting out at full blast when most of the windows are open, the NHS instead employs an army of bureaucrats. I’ve said it before, and I won’t apologise for saying it again, when Windsor and Maidenhead Council installed smart meters energy consumption fell by 15% overnight. They did this without employing climate change officers, environmental sustainability officers, or whatever you want to call them. Food for thought as the NHS continues to look for financial savings.
Two years ago, I was on a panel appearing on the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire edition of the BBC Politics Show. We were discussing the state of the economy, and crucially, how the Government could save money. One of my fellow panellists was a union representative who boldly stated there is no such thing as a non-job in any council. Everyone employed by councils had a vital role to play. To make any of them redundant would mean a poorer service for residents.
You would think we would have moved on from that rhetoric now, but thanks to a supporter who spotted this week’s non-job, we can see we have no not.
The London Borough of Sutton, whose corporate strap-line is “take part, take pride” is looking for a new Community Involvement and Innovation Officer paying £30,987 – £33,510 per annum. Here is part of the job description:
Sutton takes pride in its strong reputation in community involvement and the innovative approaches used to ensure local people are able to have their say on important issues which affect them and their borough. We are looking for a creative, outcome focussed person to join our Community Involvement and Innovation Team, which is part of the Chief Executives Directorate.
As part of a small and dedicated team you will be involved in delivering excellent engagement opportunities to our residents and partners, from developing our first ‘Sutton Question Time’ events to managing our online resident’s panel. You will work closely with colleagues to involve the local third sector as well as ensuring young people are actively engaged. You will also have the opportunity to develop and support innovative approaches to working across the council, in particular through running our internal ‘Innovation Challenge’ programme.
My initial question when reading that was: what are local councillors doing with their time? Finding out residents’ views is traditionally part of their remit. They hold regular surgeries and are elected to represent the people’s views to the council – not the other way around. Having a local ‘Question Time’ event is not a bad idea, but why does the council need to organise it? There are many voluntary residents’ groups who would organise similar events. If that happened though, the council would not decide on who appeared on the panel.
Either way, why do council taxpayers in Sutton have to pay for a ‘small and dedicated team’ to supposedly listen to their views? This is the job of councillors. Or are councillors, along with the Community Involvement and Innovation Officer, merely representing the council to the people?
Sunderland City Council appears determined to press ahead with their astronomically expensive answer to the Golden Gate Bridge despite condemnation of its design and cost by experts. The Wear Bridge, which is in the middle of an industrial estate, has fervent cross-party support on a council eager to embark on a taxpayer funded spending binge to construct a vanity project of highly dubious efficacy and structural merit.
The design, which been lambasted by numerous experts, is expected to cost a whopping £133million – a truly eye-watering figure considering that the far larger and more useful Zakim bridge in Boston in the United States was built on time for half the cost. £31m of this will come from Sunderland City Council’s coffers whilst the Department for Transport will cough up the rest.
In their unrelenting efforts to force through the wasteful white elephant, the council conducted a public consultation. This was however a thinly-veiled rubber stamp which only offered a choice between two designs, rather than a choice on location, or whether a bridge was needed at all. Just 1,700 of Sunderland’s 280,000 inhabitants responded in favour of the “iconic” design.
Residents of Sunderland will be well aware that the city’s other 3 road bridges are rarely, if ever at capacity and that the Wear Bridge will merely funnel traffic off an existing road into the city centre. Despite vehement expert objection to the bridge on both financial and functional grounds, work has already begun on the project which is due for completion in 2015. Taxpayers can only hope that that the Department for Transport pulls the plug on this “scandalous waste of public funds” during a time of (supposed) austerity.
It was reported in the Daily Telegraph this week, the new NHS Commissioning Board (NHS CB) is struggling to recruit staff. The NHS CB is the new body that will replace primary care trusts and strategic health authorities next year. Even a recent drive to find nine ‘local team directors’ paying £140K a year, is struggling to find candidates of the right calibre. One of the reasons for this is blamed on the location of the board’s head office in Leeds.
Imagine my surprise then to read that despite these recruitment problems, NHS CB is advertising for an expensive non-job – a new Director of Insight, paying £102,500 per year. Here are some highlights from the job description:
I am sure you get the gist. It seems as if the NHS still has money to burn. Remember this non-job the next time you hear of operations being cancelled and wards closing. It seems despite reorganisation, the NHS is still enormously top-heavy on senior management. Some things never seem to change.
Politicians in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have spent an astonishing £230,000 of taxpayers’ money on a selection of paintings and busts to adorn their offices, the Sun has revealed. Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett posed for a painting in Parliament costing taxpayers £12,000 and 19th Century PM William Gladstone has a £23,000 bust in his honour. But not all MPs indulged, Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman was also in line for a £12,000 portrait but snubbed the offer at the last minute.
In total MPs billed taxpayers for £55,000 worth of art but peers were responsible for the lion’s share, clocking up £175,000. With the country mired in recession it is incredible that politicians remain so out of touch with hard-pressed families. The Parliamentary authorities need to clamp down on this to ensure that taxpayers aren’t forced to pick up yet another bill for these lavish projects.
Scotland’s outgoing Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, has reportedly spent thousands of pounds on a reception to mark the end of his tenure. According to information released under the same Freedom of Information laws that he championed, his office spent almost £3,000 on a parliamentary reception to mark his departure from office. The requests show that over 130 politicians and civil servants gorged and guzzled their way through £1,361 worth of canapes and £665 worth of wine. Guests were invited via designer invitations which cost £150 while the same amount was spent on commemorative photographs of the reception.
Kevin Dunion’s role was to uphold information rights in the public interest and promote a culture of openness and transparency in public bodies. Freedom of information laws should make public sector bodies more accountable, creating a level playing field where the idea that those in power know best no longer applies. The irony of such profligate spending by the very person whose duty it was to uphold standards in information access will anger taxpayers across Scotland.
Since May 2007, the Scottish Government has spent more than £8 million on a record numbers of flights – an average of 25 flights for every working day since taking office. Earlier this year, nearly £50,000 was spent on a 4-day trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco where Alex Salmond attended the US premiere of the animated fantasy film Brave, which is set in the Highlands of Scotland.
In the last five years, Ministers and officials have travelled on more than 32,000 flights, over 4,000 of them on business and first class journeys, to destinations all over the world.
One ticket to the US cost £7,000, while more than £20,000 was frittered away on five luxury business class tickets for staff to travel to locations like Doha and Abu Dhabi.
The figures, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, also reveal that several Scottish ministers have spent thousands of pounds on short flights between London and Edinburgh, despite pledging to cut costs and carbon emissions from flights.
Our previous research shows that it is not just Scottish politicians and bureaucrats who like the jet-set lifestyle. Just last week we revealed that nearly £500,000 was spent on flights by councils in the North East over the last three years. TPA activists in Hampshire also uncovered £135,000 worth of flights spending over two years. We also found that councils in the Midlands (excluding Birmingham) spent £275,000 on flights over the same period.
All of those flights can be viewed on this interactive map.
With modern communications and technology, many long distance journeys are now increasingly unnecessary. Public sector bodies are having to make savings so they should be working a lot harder to cut their travel costs.
Cambridgeshire County Council spent over £1.6 million last year on temporary staff. Freedom of Information requests revealed that seven social care staff were employed by the council on a temporary basis in 2010/11, with the cheapest of them costing an eye-watering £450 a day. Five of the staff had a daily rate of more than £600 and the most expensive was paid £690 for every shift worked. These startling levels of pay meant that temporary staff were earning well over £100,000 a year whilst the council attempted to find permanent replacements.
The most shocking example was a member of staff that cost taxpayers £348,000 over two years, almost as much as the salary of the council’s Chief Executive over the same period.
Interim staff should ideally be in place for short spells while the Council looks for permanent replacements. But in this case, the group of consultants were in post for over a year, each earning more from their daily rate of pay than many council staff are paid in a week.
The council’s cabinet member for resources, Cllr Steve Count, described the use of the agencies as ‘cost-effective’ but taxpayers are likely to take a very different view.
Last week we produced new research revealing how much North East councils spent on flights to destinations around the world.
Most councils responded fully to our request for information in full and on time. But there was one noticeable omission among the 12 local authorities in the region: South Tyneside.
Our request for information was sent in February and therefore a was due in March, under the rules of the Freedom of Information Act. So they’ve had more than enough time to respond and plenty of opportunities after repeated prompting by TPA activists. But only on Monday, just a few hours after we had briefed journalists on our findings, did a full response magically appear in our inbox.
South Tyneside revealed that since 2009 they spent over £2,000 on flights to Paris for twinning visits and over £1,100 to the French Capital for a project called “Tyne2Seine”. But perhaps the most astonishing revelation is the £3,250 of taxpayers’ money the council made disappear by paying for guests to attend their International Magic Convention with flights from Gothenburg, New Orleans and Los Angeles.
It’s unacceptable that South Tyneside council has failed to honour their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act. Not only is the council legally required to reply within 20 working days but they also have a duty to justify how they spend every penny of taxpayers’ money. It isn’t hard to understand why the council would want this embarrassing information to remain behind closed doors but it simply isn’t good enough.
Councils are pleading poverty and frontline services are being threatened but it’s clear that there is plenty of unacceptable waste that should be cut to save taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Full transparency on spending is one of the best ways for local residents to identify waste and improve services and value for money. Councils like South Tyneside shouldn’t wait for media enquiries before coming clean about how they spend taxpayers’ money.
HS2 is recruiting again. Advertising on the Guardian’s jobs website, we will shortly be paying for a Senior Press Officer, two Policy Advisers, a Parliamentary Bill Assistant Manager, and a Parliamentary Bill Evidence Manager. Expect more of the same in the coming weeks and months as the HS2 spin machine goes into overdrive.
This next non-job is only available to employees of Cardiff Council including Cardiffworks and Agency Workers currently engaged with the Council. Why this is, I don’t know, however it would seem that only those currently working for the council in some capacity have the qualifications to become the next Appetite for Life Coordinator. Here’s part of the job description:
A unique opportunity has arisen for the post of Appetite for Life Coordinator, on a 12 month secondment, to work with Cardiff Catering, the Council’s in-house Education Catering service.
The successful applicant will be required to coordinate the implementation of the Appetite for Life Food and Drink Standards in schools across Cardiff and to develop initiatives to encourage the uptake of school meals through links with schools, parents, children and local health groups. The post holder will represent Cardiff on various related groups and promote partnership working.
You will need to have a sound catering and/or nutrition background with relevant skills, qualifications and experience of working within schools. You will report to the Catering Services Manager and work within a team of professionals in this forward thinking and award winning service group.
So once again children and parents will be told by the council what can and cannot be consumed in the school dining hall. If parents choose to send their children to school with a packed lunch, they will have the Appetite for Life Coordinator contacting them telling them how to feed their children. They will also speak to the children either during lessons or in the school assembly hall, and make sure schools have enough literature to hand to children and to parents.
Don’t think this is far fetched. How else will the Appetite for Life Coordinator encourage the uptake of school meals through links with schools, parents, children and local health groups?
If school meals are so bad in Cardiff, I am sure parents and children will complain. This is what happened in Argyll and Bute, when a nine-year-old girl, Martha Payne, took photographs and blogged about her experiences. Despite the council trying to ban her, she eventually won the day. If children prefer a packed lunch, what’s wrong with that? Any responsible parent will ensure their child has nutritious food, and some treats. They are kids after all. Which child doesn’t enjoy fizzy drinks, chocolate and crisps? It’s all about the right balance, and parents are responsible for that balance, not someone from the council.
Last week, Leicester’s elected Mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, launched a scathing attack on his predecessors at the City Council over their hapless management of a theatre project. The Curve theatre cost more than twice what was originally budgeted and was labelled as “the most disastrously overspent project in the city’s history” by Sir Peter. It is all too reminiscent of a similar waste of taxpayers’ cash over in the West Midlands – the now infamous The Public, in West Bromwich.
Of the initial £26million budget for the Curve, the council’s contribution was supposed to total £4.4million. However, changing designs, increasing costs and insufficient sponsorship led to the project running more than £35m over budget with the council’s final input clocking in at £36.8million – an increase of more than 700 per cent.
When Sir Peter’s comments were put to Councillor Ross Willmott, who led the council when the project began, he dismissed them as “absurd” before adding that “It does no good talking down a project that has proved a success.” But his remarks completely miss the point if important lessons can be heeded from these costly mistakes.
Meanwhile, Haymarket Theatre (the Curve’s predecessor), lies empty in the city centre. A buyer is yet to be found for the site on which the council has a lease until 2073 and has set an asking price of £500,000. The disused site is costing Leicester’s taxpayers £120,000 a year in maintenance costs and empty property rates.
Residents of Leicester can only hope that Connecting Leicester, the mayor’s new plans to improve parts of Leicester city centre, do not turn into another taxpayer-funded farce.