Non-job of the week
Aug 2012 15

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.


Leicester’s Curve theatre debacle
Aug 2012 13

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.

Government savings infographic in perspective
Aug 2012 10

Matthew Elliott recently congratulated the Government for saving £5.5 billion during 2011-12 in the Daily Mail, as announced by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude. But he also pointed out that many departments such as the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are still hiring even more staff, undoing the good work of those other departments which are making savings.

To illustrate from where the savings have come, the Cabinet Office have produced an intriguing infographic:

While it is useful and interesting, it doesn’t illustrate how much progress towards closing the deficit and, therefore, lacks perspective. Fortunately, we have created another infographic to illustrate just that point:

As you can see, the small light green box represents the savings made during 2011-12 but it is dwarfed by the deficit and total government spending. The red square represents how much the Government has increased spending by even after the savings. While welcome, the announced savings are small in comparison to the scale of the problem. The deficit accounts for 18 per cent of total spending but the savings mean that spending increased by ‘only’ 0.8 per cent instead of 1.6 per cent.

Trendy departments like DECC must learn from their more successful peers to be more prudent. High Government spending is choking off economic growth and Britain simply can’t afford it. Every department, council and quango must be careful when spending taxpayers’ hard-earned cash so that total spending can come back down to a level taxpayers can afford.

Non-job of the week
Aug 2012 08

Greenwich Borough Council is looking for a Carbon Reduction Officer, paying between £33,510 – £36,306. Here’s part of the gobbledegook job description:

As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability and carbon reduction the Royal Borough of Greenwich is seeking to recruit to its well established Sustainability and Renewal service to help drive the improvements required to ensure the Royal Borough continues to be at the forefront of innovation and good practice.

In this post you will play a key part in ensuring compliance with the requirements of the CRC Energy Efficiency scheme, shaping and implementing the Borough’s sustainability and carbon reduction strategies and supporting the development of other policies linked to this agenda. Keeping fully abreast of the latest developments from government and best practice, you will provide expert advice to elected members and senior officers as well as implementing and monitoring programmes designed to ensure that the Royal Borough meets its sustainability and carbon reduction commitments.

If the job a Carbon Reduction Officer pays up to £36K, it makes you wonder how much the Sustainability and Renewal Service costs. How large is this department? What exactly does it do?

The next offering is from North West Leicestershire District Council who wishes to employ an Equality and Diversity Coordinator. There seems to be some confusion in the job advert as to whether this is a full-time or part-time position, therefore I took a look at the full job description on the council’s website. The post is indeed part-time, for 18.125 hours a week – or 18 hours 7.5 minutes to be precise!

Reading the information pack I discovered this little gem:

In accordance with current legislation and codes of practice we aim to ensure that no councillor, employee or prospective employee will be treated unfavourably on the grounds of marital status, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins, trade union membership or activity, political or religious belief and unrelated criminal conviction.

I know has to be included in every job application pack, but it rather sums up why there doesn’t need to be an Equality and Diversity Coordinator. Many councils don’t feel the need for them, and nor should North West Leicestershire.

Home Office spent £600,000 on luxury hotels for staff in just six months
Aug 2012 06

The Home Office spent around £600,000 putting up staff in some of the world’s most luxury hotels, the Sun has revealed. Information uncovered by Shadow Treasury Secretary, Rachel Reeves, shows that Home Office staff have enjoyed stays in exclusive hotels across the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa and the USA, all at taxpayers’ expense.

The findings included £2,300 spent at the four-star Hyatt Regency in Trinidad in February and £650 spent at the four-star Accra Beach Hotel and Spa in Barbados, one of the island’s most popular hotels. Home Office civil servants also enjoyed stays in the four-star Villa Mandarine in Rabat, Morocco at a cost of £1,900, the four-star Qamardeen in Dubai at a cost of £825 and the four-star Royal Sonesta in Boston, USA at a cost of £860.
Responding to the findings, the Home Office insist that “all expenses are closely scrutinised“. But the evidence suggests they should look a bit harder for savings. Clearly the Home Office could have stayed in more affordable accommodation. The Home Office need to ensure the best value for taxpayers’ money by tightening the controls on expenses claims.
Hyndburn Council flushes £100K down the pan
Aug 2012 03

How much does it cost to spend a penny? For council taxpayers in Hyndburn, Lancashire, the figure comes in at £18.38, after bungling bureaucrats entered the council into a long term contract with the makers of the Universal SuperLoo.

The self-cleaning convenience in Accrington town centre has only been used 1,520 times in the last year. At 20p a go, the council received £304 in income. The annual rent is £28,245. To make matters worse, the council is tied into a contract until 2023.

Now councillors have had enough, and have decided to terminate the contract, as at this rate council taxpayers would be out of pocket to the tune of over £300K. The costs for giving 12 months notice, paying an early termination fee, and having the toilet removed will be around £100K.

One person commenting on the Lancashire Telegraph’s website has done the maths the council should have done before it entered into such a ridiculous contract. For the council to break even, the toilet would have to be used 386 times a day. That’s an average use of once every 3.7 minutes!

Leader of the Opposition, Peter Britcliffe said: “There’s been some awful bad management of this issue. The contract shouldn’t be so expensive to get out of and now tax payers have to pick up the tab – not to spend a penny.”

Hyndburn is a council serving a population of just over 80,000. £100K can easily mean the difference between having and not having a Council Tax rise. Whilst Cllr Britcliffe is obviously correct in his comments, will any heads roll for such a blunder? I doubt it. Perhaps a promotion will be put on hold for a while, or someone leaves the authority with a large pay-out, but that will be all. Until decisions made by officers are truly accountable, expect similar stories like this one in the future.

£25,000 a day spent by the Scottish Government hiring Pall Mall gentleman’s club
Aug 2012 03

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.

Non-job of the week
Aug 2012 02

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.


Lords spend £175,000 on art for new offices
Jul 2012 30

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.

Hampshire Council spent £223,000 filming meetings for just 57 viewers
Jul 2012 30

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.

Swindon’s mayor racks up £110,000 office expenditure bill in just 12 months
Jul 2012 26

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.

Non-job of the week
Jul 2012 25

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?



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