Non-job of the week
May 2012 16

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.

Non-job of the week
May 2012 09

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.


Non-job of the week
May 2012 02

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.

Non-job of the week
Apr 2012 26

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.


Non-job of the week update
Apr 2012 19

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.

Misleading Unison response to our report on council pension deficits
Apr 2012 13

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.

Non-job of the week
Apr 2012 04

Lambeth Borough Council is looking for a Customer Experience Improvement Officer in Parking Services. According to the job advert, the successful applicant

“will maximise customer engagement; undertake all aspects of quality assurance to ensure our services meet the needs of our customers; proactively engage with all service users and stakeholders to critically assess the service; and resolve complaints and service issues ensuring effective outcomes are achieved. In addition you will work with our Service Development Managers to identify development opportunities across the business to improve the overall customer experience.”

If they are looking for a complaints officer, why don’t they just say that? Otherwise isn’t parking all about people finding somewhere safe to leave their cars, paying a fee either before or after they have used the space, and getting on with the rest of the day? 

Test Valley Borough Council wants to recruit a Recycling Development Officer for a fixed term of 12 months. Here is part of the job advert:

The successful candidate will be part of a team to promote recycling and waste minimisation within households, including the use of bring bank sites, through educational activities via schools, parish Councils and Community events. A knowledge of waste or cleansing services and of the Test Valley area would be an advantage but not essential.

It seems notwithstanding the fact councils already provide residents with information on what can and cannot be recycled (at least my council does) taxpayers have to also pay for someone to visit our children at school, speak at parish council and community events to tell us again how to recycle and minimise our waste.

The winner this week though is a trio of jobs from Horsham District Council. The council’s wellbeing service  is ‘part of a county-wide programme in West Sussex to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent ill-health in our local communities. The Horsham District ‘Wellbeing Hub’ provides information, advice and signposts local people to ‘wellbeing services for help and support.’

Therefore the council is looking for a Healthy Weight Coordinator, a Physical Activity Coordinator, and a Workplace Health Coordinator. All are on fixed-term contracts until 31 March 2013.

It seems that we need to be told what a healthy weight is, and if necessary the Healthy Weight Coordinator will design and develop a family and adult weight management programme. If you shun that offer, then there is always the Physical Activity Coordinator whose purpose is to reduce the number of sedentary adults by ‘identifying and signposting them to wellbeing activities across the District.’ Big Brother really is watching you!

If you think you can avoid the council by going to work, you’re wrong, as the Workplace Health Coordinator wants to meet your boss to encourage them ‘to deliver and increase access to healthy lifestyle programmes to their staff e.g., NHS health checks, smoking cessation, healthy eating, physical exercise etc.’

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.

Whitehall fails to turn over a new leaf when it comes to waste
Apr 2012 04

Spring has sprung, and that means big bills for fresh flowers in Whitehall. The Times reported(£) Tuesday that in the past year, thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent by Government departments on plants and flowers. The Ministry of Justice topped the list of offenders, spending £14,000 on greenery in the past year alone – a “very minimal” amount, according to Secretary of State Kenneth Clarke. Others include:

  • Between May 2010 and March 2011, the Department of Health spent £12,383.80 on plants and trees
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport spent £4,527.26 on flowers since May 2010
  • Last year, the Northern Ireland Office spent £2,994 on cut flowers alone, and an additional £1,960 on pot plants

Flowers may be a nice touch but this level of spending is excessive, particularly as these departments should be focused on finding savings and delivering value for money.

Unfortunately, the waste does not stop there. Another area of incredibly high unnecessary expenditure is on taxis and hospitality. These issues are nothing new – we published a paper on the misuse of taxis in 2009. The Ministry of Justice is again near the top of the list, spending £460.29 on taxi fares for ministers in the past 6 months alone. A few more examples:

  • Jeremy Hunt’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport has spent £51,295 on refreshments
  • £219,700 of taxpayers’ money was spent on hospitality in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spent £1,132 on taxis for ministers in the past four months, and an additional £28,858 on taxis for officials
  • Addison Lee and Raffles enjoys a £151,990.60 contract with the Foreign Office
  • The Home Office spent £165,927.73 on taxi fares for its officials.

The Government continues to disappoint the taxpayers that voted them into office. Despite promises to make “reductions in discretionary spending, including travel, expenses, advertising, consultancy and office supplies.” this latest report shows that this has not been the case. In fact, only about 25 per cent of planned cuts have taken place so far, according to Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary. This is an exasperatingly low figure; one would think that two years should be ample time to make significant savings.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing such an egregious bill for taxis, trees and tulips.  Ministers are always talking about a new era in Whitehall, it is about time they started to practice what they preach. Whitehall still needs to make some serious savings, and fresh flowers simply are not essential.  They need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on cut flowers, and try their hand at cutting costs.

Non-job of the week
Mar 2012 28

In January last year, it was reported in The Guardian that Camden Council, along with others like Lambeth, were displaying posters in bus shelters informing residents that cuts to services were a result of cuts in government grants. In a propaganda war, using taxpayers money, those councils were trying to convince us there wasn’t any fat to trim.

If you look at Camden Council’s accounts for 2010/11 (pages 143-148) you will see the number of officers earning in excess of £50K increased from 229 to 236. There were four officers with a remuneration (excluding pension contributions) in excess of £150K, and a further 14 receiving more than £100K. These include the chief executive, directors, assistant directors, and some departmental heads. Beneath that you have assistant heads and a vast array of other managers. The levels of bureaucracy inside our town halls is not only staggering, it is very expensive. 

With all these well paid officers in Camden, you would think they would be able to transform and improve services without taking on additional staff. Of course not, and Camden is looking for a new Head of Project and Programme Management with salary of £61,364 – £70,000. Here is part of the job description:

The main objectives of the role are to:

  • Lead the co-ordination of major programmes and projects across the Council to ensure alignment to strategic priorities and effective and efficient delivery through a “one council” approach
  • Build capacity as the head of profession to ensure the Council and its staff have the relevant tools, skills and capacity to deliver programmes and projects
  • Provide professional advice and support on the governance and delivery of major programmes and projects – with a particular focus on the key corporate priorities.

Compare this approach to that of North Lincolnshire Council. Councillors there have saved hundreds of thousands of pounds slashing the number of directors and assistant directors. They have taken political control of the council and have actively looked for savings that have helped protect essential front-line services. They have certainly not found the need to employ extra staff to ensure ‘effective and efficient delivery through a “one council” approach’. They have adopted a business approach to running the council and have done what anyone who runs a successful business does.

There are many councils throughout the country who quietly get on with cutting waste and improving the services they provide for residents. Naturally, they do not make the headlines, but their good practice ideas should be spread widely for other councils to draw on. Good councils are constantly looking at ways to deliver first-rate services at the best price. I only wish there were more of them.


Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet
Mar 2012 27

Some readers may remember Alan Bradley, a Coronation Street character who met a sticky end in front of a Blackpool tram. It seems Blackpool Council is concerned something similar could, erm, happen again.

Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet was unveiled by Ken Dodd last year, and was constructed at a cost of £2.6 million. Now just five months on, part of the granite and concrete carpet has been destroyed by council contractors because it was too close to the tram lines. You would have thought this would have been obvious to council officials before the carpet was installed. Apparently not, and this week’s award for stating the obvious goes to Alan Cavill, assistant chief executive at Blackpool Council.

“After observing how visitors interact with the carpet, many are seen to look down while reading the phrases and frequently step back to look at the comments.

“Regretfully if a visitor to the carpet was to step back off the very end of the carpet into the line of an oncoming tram then this could potentially be very dangerous.”

Indeed it could be very dangerous, although I don’t think we needed Mr Cavill to tell us that. Leaving aside whether or not laying the carpet was a good use of public money, you would have thought the council would have attempted to remove the area that was destroyed, and place it elsewhere? According to the council, the Comedy Carpet Company quoted the council £50,000 for the work, however this has since been revealed as not true. The company quoted somewhere between £3,000 – £3,600 in an email to the council last year.

Questions need to be asked of planning officials. Surely they should have realised what was going to happen placing the carpet so close to tram tracks? It seems once again the joke is on taxpayers who have to pay for the council’s incompetence.

Away-days at BIS cost taxpayers over £100,000
Mar 2012 27

It has been revealed that taxpayers have paid £137,000 for staff members at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to take 64 away-days in the past year. There’s a real need to find savings and cut unnecessary spending, but BIS has spent an exorbitant amount on corporate away-days. A shocking £25,000 was spent on a single event, held at the QE2 conference centre in London.

For readers living outside London, the QE2 Conference Centre is across the road from the Department’s huge head offices. Surely they have ample room in their own building to hold events, without having to pay handsomely to go across the road?

A statement from BIS claims that,

“a change of environment can help teams to focus on the objectives of the day, to ensure they are successful. Officials at all levels of the department make every effort to ensure that all such spending is clearly value for money for the taxpayer.”

It seems unlikely that there is true value for money in spending so much to send staff members to Kew Gardens and the National Archives, or even to a hotel next-door to BIS, which is where 23 of the 64 away-days since May 2010 were held.

If BIS really cared about giving taxpayers value for money, they would find more cost-effective ways to help their teams “focus on the objectives of the day.” In fact, if finding savings was one of those objectives, maybe they wouldn’t waste £100,000 of taxpayers’ money on corporate picnics.

Taxpayers foot the bill for Olympics chopper opera
Mar 2012 19

Another report emerged last week that the Olympics budget will vastly exceed initial estimates. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) recently came out with a report which claimed that the Olympics will cost over £11billion. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), of course, claims that costs will remain under the current budget of £9.3billion. This estimate, however, does not include many additional costs – the cost of land is £766million alone!

There have been hiccups in the plan for months now. Just before Christmas, it was revealed that the cost of security has soared. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) originally estimated that it would need 10,000 staff members, but now finds that it will need 20,000. This puts the price tag for security at well over £1billion, over twice the original budget.

The £9.3billion budget also does not include “legacy costs,” which are estimated to be an additional £826million. This additional cost includes the many cultural events that will be happening under the Olympics banner up and down the UK, including an opera being staged in Birmingham.

Birmingham Opera Company announced that it will be putting on an opera in August as part of the Cultural Olympiad. This is no “Don Giovanni,” however – the Daily Mail reports that Stockhausen’s “Mittwoch Aust Licht” will last for five hours, require 150 performers and will include four helicopters. The opera will be performed four times for a total of 2,400 guests. It will cost £1million, and it will largely be funded by taxpayers.
It will be the first time that this opera has ever been performed in its entirety, and it’s not too difficult to see why, considering the huge expense. The four helicopters will be used for a string quartet, with one member of the quartet in each helicopter. They will play in sync for 40 minutes, with the sound of the whirring helicopters as a backdrop for the piece.

Emma Boon, our Campaign Director gave her reaction to the piece:

“It is incredible that huge sums of taxpayers’ money are being spent on this absurd opera at a time when the public finances are in such a mess. Details like the four helicopters will all make for a hugely expensive and over-the-top spectacle that many hard-pressed taxpayers will view as a self-indulgent and grotesque use of their money. If opera fans want this and it is going to be such a success then the creators should have no problem finding financial backers for it. Looking at the details it’s no surprise that the only mugs who’d pay to put on something like this are those who are spending taxpayers’ money, not their own.”

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