In 2004, the last government embarked on a plan to set up nine regional fire control centres. This was supposed to speed up the response times to major events such as fires, flooding, and terrorist attacks. This scheme was eventually scrapped in 2010, leaving empty buildings, huge bills, £6000 Brasilia coffee machines, and taxpayers £469 million out of pocket.
The story didn’t end there though, and this week Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire highlighted that taxpayers are still paying £5,000 a day in rent for a building in Castle Donnington. This building was going to be the FiRe Control Centre for Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, and Northamptonshire. The building was completed in 2007, but has just been put up for sale. Mr Bridgen told the BBC, “We need a company to buy those premises, and create some jobs, and get this millstone off the backs of the taxpayer.” No-one would disagree with him.
This is what happened to the FiRe Control Centre in Merton. This too was a millstone around the necks of taxpayers, having never been used. Emma Boon commented last year that rent for office space in Merton is around £15 per square foot. The Government at the time managed to strike a deal that saw us paying over £80 per square foot, which is what hedge funds pay for office space in Mayfair!
Thankfully, in February this year the building was eventually used for the first time. It became the fire service’s new National Co-ordination Centre. This has delivered an estimated £600K in savings to taxpayers. At long last, it has been put to some worthwhile use.
Until all of these buildings are sold off, taxpayers will have stump up tens of millions of pounds to pay for rent, management fees, utility bills, and rates. In the South West alone, the bill is over £13 million.
This is an ongoing problem the Government must deal with. This unnecessary burden must be lifted from taxpayers.
Economic Solutions is a major not-for-profit group of companies delivering a wide range of business growth support, skills and recruitment services to employers. It is at the heart of Greater Manchester’s strategy for determining and delivering business growth services and supporting partners across the North West. Our challenge is to harness the skills and expertise of public and private partners to deliver cost-efficient services for growing businesses.
We are seeking to recruit 3 talented individuals to develop and manage a new initiative which will support the 5 North West Local Enterprise Partnerships in understanding and capitalise on environmentally sustainable economic development including shaping future projects and funding opportunities. The role, based in the ENWORKS team, www.enworks.com will include supporting our partners to develop and deliver environmental sustainability action plans for the LEP which will be operational until 2015.
At the bottom of the advert it states ‘this post is part-financed by the ERDF and the Environment Agency.’ How much money comes from the European Regional Development Fund and the Environment Agency I do not know.
I’m not saying all the work done by Economic Solutions doesn’t have any merit. Clearly many businesses use its services, therefore they must be doing something right. It is interesting to note Economic Solutions is one of the organisations the Government is using to help administer its business start-up scheme, costing £82.5 million.
At best, this is about increasing energy efficiency. All businesses are looking to reduce costs. But if they want to reduce energy costs, there are plenty of resources freely available to help them. If they feel they need to bring in experts, they are free to do so, but there is no reason why taxpayers should be picking up the bill.
Part of the job of a Sustainable Growth Adviser is to help businesses find funding opportunities for green projects though. That sounds horribly like chasing grants and other subsidies. Sustainable Growth Advisers partly funded by taxpayers will help others to get more money in expensive subsidies. That is an expensive vicious cycle.
I wrote on Monday about the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA). This is a group that represents the top brass in the fire service, and in the last three years received over £1.7 million of taxpayer funding.
It was revealed in the Yorkshire Post last Saturday that senior police officers benefit in the same way. The Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association (CPOSA) is not an organisation you hear of very much – if indeed you have heard of them before. It was formed in 1995, and has received millions of pounds of our money, yet it does not publish its accounts, so we don’t know how our money is spent.
This is from the report in the Yorkshire Post:
In the current financial year, the public is paying £2,197 for CPOSA’s legal insurance policy for each of its 350 members who are made up of every officer from assistant chief constable upwards in each force, plus some senior civilian officials.
As well as more than £750,000 for legal fees, many police authorities – including all four in Yorkshire – are also paying the £275 individual subscription on behalf of each CPOSA member in their ranks.
It can be argued the 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, such as the former Chief Constable of North Yorkshire who was disciplined for gross misconduct. When setting insurance premiums, risk assessors will take into account claims like this, and of course that pushes up the cost of premiums for all police authorities.
If a rank and file police officer was facing disciplinary action for misconduct, they would either have representation from the Police Federation, or alternatively pay for representation themselves. Because very senior officers do not pay their own membership fees of the CPOSA, they get all their legal costs paid for by us.
What the CPOSA and the CFOA have in common is that taxpayers pay for the individual membership fees for well paid senior officers. This is what Julian Smith, the Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon, had to say:
CPOSA is essentially the unofficial trade union of the country’s top police officers. I simply do not understand why they should not fund their membership from their own salaries as police officers of other ranks do.
Mr Smith raises an important point. We pay the membership fees of chief constables, who will hardly be short of £275. If a doctor wants to become a member of the BMA, they pay their own fees. They don’t expect taxpayers to pick-up the bill.
It is fair to say the majority of senior police officers were/are opposed to the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners. The TPA on the other hand believes this is an important step in making the police more accountable to the public, and in time will reduce the policing bill. The difference is we do not take a penny of taxpayers’ money when presenting our opinions. You can disagree with us, but at least you know you haven’t helped pay for our campaigns.
Both the CFOA and the CPOSA receive our cash to lobby government. They can spend their own money in any way their members see fit – but not taxpayers’ money. When we pay our precept for the fire and police authorities, we expect as much of it as possible to go on the front line – not to prop up taxpayer funded lobbying.
Don’t get me started on ACPO…
Last November I wrote about the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA). The name suggests this is an organisation paid for by those at the top of the fire service. As I pointed out, this is far from the truth. It is taxpayers that prop-up the CFOA as it gets subscriptions from fire authorities across the country. Those same fire authorities even pay for the individual subscriptions of well paid senior fire officers.
I now have a list of what has been paid to the CFOA for the last three financial years by fire authorities across the country. I must stress this is a conservative figure as two authorities – Mid & West Wales and West Sussex – failed to respond to a freedom of information request. The figures also do not contain other costs, such as staff being diverted away from their duties to organise CFOA events. In total, taxpayers contributed £1,730,589.
Topping the list is my own Fire Authority, Humberside. It paid CFOA at total of £61,856.87. Regular readers of this website may remember this was the same authority who managed to waste tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money in increased pension pay-outs to senior officers it gave temporary promotions to.
In the Yorkshire Post this morning, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) confirmed it paid the membership fees of around seven senior officers. You would think they would know the exact figure, but apparently not. It also insisted its membership of the CFOA was good value for taxpayers’ money, but not all Fire Authorities agree. London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority pulled out of the CFOA after it faced a 20% hike in membership fees. Commenting on the decision, London Fire Brigade commissioner, Ron Dobson, said:
At a time when public sector organisations are being challenged to make huge savings across the board, we believe this increase shows a lack of empathy with the financial situation facing all the fire and rescue services that CFOA is there to support.
“In the current economic climate we believe they should be leading the way, rather than simply passing on the cost of savings that we are all being asked to make.
We pay precepts to fire authorities so we are protected if the worst comes to the worst. We expect our money to spent wisely. We certainly do not hand over our hard earned cash for it to be spent on what is in effect a lobbying organisation for senior fire officers.
Ealing Council is advertising for a new Media Officer paying £144.00 – £148.34 per hour. At least that’s what the advert says. Having checked with the council, I can confirm the figures quoted are the daily rate, and not the hourly rate. The council told me they have informed the recruitment agency of the error, however it has not been rectified. No wonder there are so many expressions of interest!
Lincolnshire Police Authority is advertising for a Chief Finance Officer, paying a pro rata salary (based on a four-day working week) of £65K-£70K per annum. This is an interesting appointment as the police authority will have a new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in November. The police authority should not be making permanent appointments six months before the PCC elections, however sources tell me it is making sure its people will be there when the PCC arrives, and firing them will, of course, be difficult.
The London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is looking for a Low Carbon Communities Coordinator. Here’s part of the job advert:
The Low Carbon Communities Coordinator will build upon knowledge gained from previous domestic and community energy efficiency pilot projects to implement borough-wide projects to realise carbon emission reductions and reduce fuel poverty. You will have responsibility for inspiring and supporting local groups to set up and raise awareness of new projects via a comprehensive communications programme.
How the council thinks it’s going to reduce fuel poverty is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it should write to the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change urging him to abandon the Government’s policies on alternative energy, such as wind turbines, that are responsible for pushing up household fuel bills?
None of us deliberately waste energy. We can’t afford it, and simple measures in council buildings can easily reduce carbon emissions. Taxpayers will see the role of a Low Carbon Communities Coordinator for what it is – a non-job.
We are used to senior public sector workers departing their post with more than generous payouts. There are some who leave one council with a large redundancy cheque, only to start work for another council or quanqo shortly afterwards. Mark Hammond is a prime example. He was made redundant from West Sussex County Council, trousering a juicy £256K for his troubles. Eight months later he pops up at the Equality and Human Rights Commission on a £130K a year job supervising inquiries into whether the Coalition spending cuts are being made fairly.
Today, Grahame Maxwell, the former Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police, comes under the spotlight. He narrowly avoided being fired last year for gross misconduct. He admitted trying to unfairly help a relative during a recruitment exercise. Instead, the police authority decided not to renew his fixed-term contract, and he retired from the police force on Tuesday. He didn’t leave empty handed though. He cleared his desk, and walked out of the door £247,636 richer.
This is because he had spent a total of twenty eight and a half years as a serving police officer, and under existing rules, he is entitled to receive compensation because his contract was not renewed, and was therefore unable to hit the magic figure of thirty years service. This is what Jeremy Holderness, the police authority chief executive had to say:
It is important that the public understand that the authority had absolutely no discretion in this matter whatsoever. Mr Maxwell became entitled to receive this payment as a matter of law, following the authority’s decision not to extend his fixed term appointment.
Most conditions of service of police officers are determined through national agreement and, once agreed, are enshrined in statute and this requirement is no exception.
The police authority certainly had discretion on whether or not to fire Mr Maxwell for gross misconduct – a charge to which he freely admitted. He misused his position to try and get a relative a job, and fundamentally that is the reason the police authority did not renew his contract. Mr Holderness also commented that a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) would have to work under exactly the same rules. Whilst this is true, an Elected PCC would also have probably fired the chief constable, and therefore the situation would not have arisen.
Not all the blame lies with the police authority though. The Government is looking to review this regulation, and it should do so as a matter of urgency. No doubt this will be greeted with a chorus opposition from the usual vested interests such as the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association. Unsurprisingly, both of those organisations declined to comment on this payout.
In the meantime Mr Maxwell is free to play golf or whatever else he desires knowing that hard-pressed taxpayers are subsidising his lifestyle.
Last week I wrote about a major management reorganisation at Hull City Council. The council leader, Cllr Steve Brady, said he was looking to make at least £1 million in savings. He also added that the council has ‘a top-heavy structure’ which needs to be addressed.
This is good to hear (although we don’t know the full details yet), and on face value, Telford and Wrekin Council were trying to do something similar. Last year the council made the post of Chief Executive redundant, saving taxpayers a salary of £149,000. For a while, the Chief Executive was also in charge of Children’s Services.
All is not what it seems though. The council then employed its first Managing Director on a salary of £137,000, and in addition to that appointment, it has also created the new post of Head of Children’s and Family Services, paying £109,000 a year, plus benefits.
No-one doubts the importance of child protection, but if the former Chief Executive managed to do the job, why can’t the new Managing Director? When the council is looking to save money, why is it creating new senior management jobs?
It is not just me asking these questions. Here is part of an editorial written by the Shropshire Star newspaper discussing the newly created post:
The twists and turns leading to the new post are interesting. For a while, in a move to cut costs, the council chief executive Victor Brownlees doubled up on roles and became the borough’s children’s champion. The roof did not fall in.
The newspaper also comments on high senior pay in town halls:
Councils love to justify high salaries by making some sort of comparison with the private sector. That works both ways.
Currently, outside the council bubble economy, the private sector is feeling the full force of the harsh winds of austerity. Pay is being frozen, jobs are being lost, and cutbacks are being made.
It is hard to believe that in the current climate a six-figure sum is necessary to attract somebody motivated to help children and young people. It would be illuminating to see how the figure is arrived at, apart from it being some sort of going rate agreed by councils.
Hull City Council is going to cut the number of senior managers, and I am sure the roof will not fall in. Telford and Wrekin Council have had the opportunity to do the same, but have failed to grasp the nettle. Creating new six-figure salaried jobs cannot be justified.
Horsham District Council is on the look-out for a Business Transformation Manager. The salary on offer is £60K per annum for a two-year fixed term contract. Here’s part of the advert under the title, meeting the challenge of change:
We are a successful, efficient and ambitious council and we want to change the way we work and to improve services to residents and customers. This newly created post, reporting to the Chief Executive and working closely with our Corporate Management Team and Cabinet, is an important role in helping to transform service delivery during a time of increasing financial pressures.
This exciting and challenging opportunity will suit an ambitious, highly-motivated and innovative individual. You will lead a newly-formed team to plan, manage and implement a change programme that will challenge existing practices and identify new ways of delivering services that are innovative, efficient and provide value for money.
This is the council that recently advertised for a Healthy Weight Coordinator, a Physical Activity Coordinator, and a Workplace Health Coordinator. Perhaps this is an area where changes could begin? And I don’t need to be paid £60K to be able to tell them that!
On 18 January I wrote about HS2 recruiting Community Liaison & Stakeholder Managers and Advisors, and Community Forums Managers. We don’t know how many of them there will be, but we do know they are being paid between £33k-£60K per annum. Now HS2 is recruiting a Head of Public Affairs on the not insignificant salary of £97,398, plus benefits. Here’s part of the job description:
Since receiving the Government’s go ahead, we have moved to a position of promoting HS2 – one of the most exciting projects of our generation and one of the more controversial. As Head of Public Affairs, you will take the lead in defining the strategy and lead HS2’s relationships with key stakeholders, the public and the media.
Reporting to the Chief Executive, and leading a team of 60, you will be responsible for overseeing the strategy and implementation for HS2 consultations and engagement with local authorities and communities in addition to developing and maintaining the corporate communications agenda and strategy via all communications channels.
So there we have it. The new Head of Public Affairs will be running a spin machine with 60 employees in it. In plain English, their task is to try and win over those councils and community groups who are vehemently opposed to it and know it is a white elephant. I suppose the cost of these salaries is peanuts compared to the ‘estimated’ £32bn this will cost taxpayers, but it highlights the lengths the Government will go to in trying to push this project forward.
To read our research on HS2, click on this link. We have made the case for the opposition. Most people in the UK agree with us. Start looking out for the team of 60 people trying say you are wrong.
I was talking to a supporter on the phone this morning and during the conversation he mentioned that the one thing the government will never admit to is that they spend £x billion on bureaucracy. And there lies the problem. We see questionable jobs advertised every day, yet finding out exactly how many there are is a nigh-on impossible task.
Both of the examples today have been sent in by supporters. The first is on the NHS jobs website – the NHS in the South of England requires a part-time Leadership Consultant. Here’s part of the job description:
The role supports individuals and organisations to create an environment that enables employees to understand, engage with, develop and deliver organisational objectives, often in tandem with managing organisational change.
If you have the time, take a look at the executive appointments on the NHS jobs website. You will see they are in plentiful supply – currently 109 jobs paying in excess of £50K. Is it absolutely necessary to employ another (non-medical) consultant to develop and deliver organisational objectives? Aren’t there enough people earning good salaries to do that already?
The next example comes from North East Lincolnshire Council. Some of you will remember they previously hit the headlines employing a Future Shape Programme Manager. The council recently advertised for a Service Manager – Communications, Print and Marketing. Although the expiry date for applications passed on 30 April, it is still worth a mention. The job pays £50,133 per annum, and here is part of the job description:
It’s a tough job, but a great one, too. We’re committed to improving outcomes across the Borough. We have an amazing story to tell. And now we’re looking for an amazing individual, a creative, determined Service Manager – Communications, Print and Marketing to help us tell it to the communities we serve, our partners and beyond.
Leading the Communications, Print and Marketing Team, you’ll be responsible for building and protecting the authority’s reputation as a well-managed council, providing vital, people-led services to those who live in, work in and visit the area.
So, council taxpayers are being charged to employ someone whose job it is to protect the authority’s reputation as a well-managed council? It reminds of the communications allowance MPs used to get – £10,000 a year to tell their constituents how great they were and what a wonderful job they were doing.
It will be interesting to see if the council is willing to defend this appointment at a time when it is cutting back expenditure. What has this role got to do with providing front-line services? There is already a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) across the Humber area that is tasked with promoting businesses, although the Government should be aiming to make the whole country an Enterprise Zone.
The council is employing a spin doctor on the rates, and no matter how hard they try to hide that in the job title and description, local taxpayers will see it for what it is.
Ribble Valley Borough Council is looking for someone to act as a temporary Healthy Lifestyles Referral Officer. The current incumbent is about to go on maternity leave. I had no idea such a post existed, and a thank you goes to an eagle-eyed supporter who spotted it. If you know of any similar positions in your local council, please let me know.
Islington Council is on the look out for a Climate Change Programme Officer on £30,345 – £33,306 per annum. Here is part of the job description:
A unique opportunity has arisen for a dynamic individual who takes pride to manage project delivery, and provide sustainability support and advice on a wide range of programmes. You will be a flexible, organised and confident person capable of adapting to the needs of a changing working environment.
Tower Hamlets Council is looking for a an Environmental Sustainability Officer paying between £31,152 – £44,910. According to the job advertisement, the successful applicant will ‘lead a programme to measure and monitor the councils progress on assessing and managing climate risks and opportunities’.
In our report in 2010 on unnecessary jobs, climate change officers were highlighted as one of those roles that could be scrapped. In 2009/10, there were 350 full-time equivalent council employees working as climate change officers, or had climate change in their job title or description, at a cost of over £10 million. Islington employed three, costing local taxpayers almost £165,000. In contrast, Windsor and Maidenhead installed smart meters and council energy consumption dropped by 15 per cent overnight. This is an example of a more sensible policy that allows councils to meet climate targets, rather than employing additional staff.
Thankfully there are fewer non-jobs these days than there were, although there are still some corkers around. Two weeks ago I highlighted Horsham District Council’s search for a Healthy Weight Coordinator, a Physical Activity Coordinator, and a Workplace Health Coordinator. Applicants had until 10 April to submit their applications, with interviews taking place this week, but it appears as if the council is having difficulties finding suitable people to fill two of those roles.
Yesterday the council re-advertised for a Healthy Weight Coordinator and a Physical Activity Coordinator. The adverts are almost identical to the previous two, but this time interviews are taking place w/c 28 May.
Just in case the council didn’t get the message from us and our supporters, I will repeat what I said two weeks ago:
No-one is saying we shouldn’t lead healthy lives, but most of us have our vices. We know smoking is not good for our health. We know drinking too much alcohol is bad for us too. We know if we are overweight we could be storing up health problems for the future. We don’t need the government or councils to chase us, and ram this message down our throats.
If you live in the Horsham area, perhaps you could write to your councillor and send them the same message? With budgets tight and every penny needing to be accounted for, non-jobs like these are taking resources away from essential front-line services.
Unison make three points in response to our report this morning on the black hole in council pensions. They pretend that there is something wrong with us “comparing liabilities to assets”; try to play down the cost to taxpayers; and cite the same misleading ‘average’ public sector pensions figure they always cite when the high cost of generous public sector pension provision is scrutinised.
There is nothing wrong or even unusual about us comparing the estimates of local government pension fund liabilities and assets that are given in their accounts. That is the best way of working out the extent to which the fund has enough money set aside to cover its commitments. Similar comparisons have led the OECD to conclude that local government pensions in Britain are “severely underfunded” and Anthony Mayer, Chair of the London Pensions Fund Authority, has argued that local authority pension funds should have defined asset to liability ratio targets of around 80 per cent to ensure that any future pension commitments can be honoured. If the funding ratio fell below that level, then the fund would have to submit recovery plans to restore their funding over a defined period.
These deficits are real, equivalent to around £2,000 for every family in Britain, and, while improvements in the value of the assets might close the gap to some extent, taxpayers are on the hook.
Then their claim that we are wrong to state that employer (i.e. taxpayer) contributions to council pensions are equivalent to £1 for every £5 raised in Council Tax. Again that is a simple and entirely legitimate sum. Employer contributions were just over £5 billion in 2010-11 and Council Tax raised £25.7 billion that year. That means employer contributions were equivalent to £1 for every £5 raised in Council Tax. Of course, that isn’t the only money councils get. They are also funded by grants from central government and other taxes and charges. Unison therefore prefer to quote the, still substantial, 5 per cent of councils’ total budgets.
But most people don’t know what their share of their council’s budget is. So Unison’s preferred figure doesn’t help them understand the scale of council pension costs. They do know how much they pay in Council Tax. So that figure is a better way of helping them understand how important these costs are.
At the same time, quoting a share of Council Tax gives a better idea of what could be possible if these costs were cut. For example, you can easily see that a 10 per cent cut in pension costs would, without any other savings, save enough money to allow a 2 per cent cut in Council Tax.
John O’Connell has written for the TaxPayers’ Alliance about the ridiculous union statistics on the “average” pension before. As he pointed out then, they are absurdly misleading:
If you worked in the public sector for a short amount of time, your total pension pot would be understandably small. But to add these pensions into an ‘average’ calculation is misleading. Look at the online calculators for the schemes themselves to get more informative results based on a career of work. A local government middle manager who retires on £60,000 a year can expect a pension of £30,000 a year. And the lower paid? A more junior worker at a council who retires on £25,000 a year can expect a pension of £12,500 a year. These are based on 30 year careers, too. You can add more to these figures if someone spends their entire working life in the public sector.
What about the NHS? A worker in the NHS who retires on £40,000 a year could expect a pension of £15,000 a year and a lump sum of £45,000, again based on a career of 30 years.
Unison’s team can’t really be aggressively stupid enough that they can’t understand those figures don’t fairly represent the generosity of a public sector pension. It would be like quoting the “average” lifetime cost of cycling to work including someone who used a Boris bike one sunny day. They must know that this is misleading the public.