Yesterday the Independent reported that RBS and Lloyds are retaining the services of a number of high priced lobbying firms. Given that they are largely owned by the taxpayer, this is our money and spending it on lobbyists is a ridiculous waste.
How is it in our interests to fund banks fighting for their political interests?
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which is 83 per cent owned by taxpayers, paid six firms last year despite losing more than £750m in six months. It also employs its own team of internal corporate lobbyists to influence ministers.
Lloyds Banking Group, which is 41 per cent owned by the Government, retained two lobbying companies.
RBS’s use of PR companies is far greater than its private banking competitors. HSBC and Barclays each employ two firms, while Santander retains three.
Tamasin Cabe from the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency called this “offensive” and Labour called it “outrageous”. They’re quite right. This isn’t a normal company with shareholders who can sell if they think they are getting poor value, or who are – as a distinct economic interest – being represented, but one part of the public sector – the nationalised banks – lobbying another – the Government. The same thing does happen in other areas with councils and quangos hiring lobbyists but this is a particularly egregious example.
The Government’s response is disappointing. They said it “seemed ridiculous” and that the “firms might try and lobby us to do things but that does not mean that we do them”. But even if we trust that is the case, then that just means this is a waste of our money. I don’t want to see taxpayers’ cash spent on effective or ineffective lobbying for the nationalised banks.
Surely they can do better? If the Government, representing these banks’ biggest shareholders, told them to stop hiring lobbyists would RBS and Lloyds really be able to say no?
This is yet another reminder that we need to get the bailout money back as soon as possible, so that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the banks’ spending decisions.
Last year’s Census was estimated to have cost around £500 million. The costs are still mounting up though. Advertising in the Guardian, a government agency is looking for a PR manager on a temporary three month contract. The pay is £180-£220 per day, and the job is ‘developing and implementing comprehensive PR Campaigns around 2011 Census and associated activity’. I suppose the government wants to attempt to justify spending such a large amount of money on the Census, and by recruiting the services of someone in PR to publicise how ‘useful’ the exercise was, is its idea of doing it.
The outgoing Lancashire Police Authority is also looking for a PR professional . It is advertising for a Senior Press and Communications Officer for 12 months, subject to review. It could be argued that as the majority of people don’t have a clue who their local police authority chief executive is, or any idea who serves on the police authority, Lancashire is right to employ the services of someone who can raise its profile. I assume there has already been someone trying to do this for them, albeit not very successfully, but is now really the time to be looking to recruit and train a new communications officer when the police authority will soon be confined to the annals of history? Or could they use the services of someone in Lancashire County Council as and when they needed them?
If you live in Brent, you may be interested to know that your council has managed to find £35K under the mattress to fund a Political Assistant for the Labour Group. This classic non-job is being advertised when the council is closing libraries. I know where I would rather see my money spent, and its certainly not on spoon feeding councillors information about local, regional, and national political developments. This is something they should be doing for themselves.
Political Assistant – Labour Group
Salary up to £34,986 pa inc
We are seeking to recruiting a Political Assistant for the Leader and members of the ruling Labour Group
The successful applicant will have at least two years experience of working in a political environment and the organisational skills to deal with shifting priorities. You will need to demonstrate your awareness of new legislation and political developments (local, regional and national) with particular reference to the Labour Party.
This a post established under section 9 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and is a full time fixed term contract until 10 May 2014.
Please note that redeployees who apply for this post will be given priority at interviews.
A new year dawns, but unfortunately the same old non-jobs remain. Thanks to an eagle-eyed supporter, I’ve discovered that ‘a central government client’ is searching for an Interim Diversity Professional. The daily rate for this non-job is a whopping £375-£400. That’s an annualised salary of around £100K for making sure the government doesn’t discriminate against its employees, even though it’s illegal to do so. It seems as if the war on non-jobs in Whitehall is proving ineffectual when you read job adverts like this one.
Newham Borough council is looking for a Hearty Lives Project Manager. The purpose of this job is to ‘increase children and young peoples [sic] physical activity levels and promote heart health activity to prevent ill health.’Children are already told about the benefits of eating well and importance of exercise during their lessons in school. Does it really need taxpayers to pour in another £1.5 million into a scheme that states the obvious? Isn’t it the responsibility of parents to ensure their children eat well? I think everyone by now knows that a constant diet of fried food, saturated fats, fizzy drinks and chocolate is not healthy!
Oxford City Council is looking for a Service Manager Environmental Sustainability on £41,616 a year. The advert has all the buzzwords you would expect, including ’build, develop and maintain effective networks & good working relationships – with key partners and stakeholders in the delivery of services in the job portfolio.’ It even states that a requirement of the job is to comply with the council’s Equal Opportunities Policy. As if they have any option!
It seems that the point of this job is to motivate staff, ensure they have all the training resources they need, and consult with the trade unions. It seems the whole point of the department is to ensure the council is seen to be green. If this the best way the council can think of to spend over £40K of our hard earned cash?
The winner this week is Cherwell District Council. It is advertising for a Head of Transformation on £73,000 a year. According to the council’s website, this is the person they are looking for:
You will play a critical role in the transformation of the organisations, ensuring that we develop a customer-centric approach to service delivery. Whilst the need for efficiencies is obvious, you will ensure that we also harness creativity and innovation to drive an effective people strategy that ensures high performance and continuous improvement. You will bring significant experience of leading and delivering organisational change and demonstrate a real appetite and drive to develop the organisations further to both exploit the opportunities afforded for shared services as well as recognising the distinct sovereignty of both Councils.
You would have hoped they already had a customer-centric approach. Is this an admission that they don’t? High performance and continuous improvement is something all managers should be doing anyway. They should be already be searching for ways to improve services and give taxpayers better value for money. Why do they need to employ someone else? Is this an admission of failure?
Cheshire East Council, which last week revealed it had a serious budget deficit, has rejected an amendment that would have reduced its mileage allowance for councillors to HMRC recommended levels. Council Leader Wesley Fitzgerald has claimed that the agreed cut from 65p to 52.2p a mile is a victory for spending restraint, but in reality councillors and council staff are still getting a free ride on taxpayers’ money and incurring unnecessary costs for the Council.
Mileage allowances are payments by employers to employees who have to use their car for work. The allowance is meant to compensate for the cost of petrol, vehicle depreciation and repairs. George Osborne increased the recommended allowance to 45p-a-mile in the Budget back in March, acknowledging the high cost of motoring and the pressure this puts on drivers who need their car for work.
TaxPayers’ Alliance research, however, has revealed that many council employees receive far in excess of the HMRC approved rate. In 2009-10, Cheshire East was one of the worst performing in the country, paying out a massive £4,045,601 in allowances to councillors and council employees. The research also revealed that the council increased allowances from 60.10p to 65p-per-mile between 2009-10 and 2010-11, a time when politicians and executives knew that necessary spending reductions would have to be made. While Council Leader Fitzgerald might claim that the agreed reduction is evidence of Cheshire East’s willingness to cut back on employees’ benefits, it’s more like a reversal of a disgraceful previous increase.
Another Cheshire East Councillor, Sam Corcoran, was more critical in November, and rightly so. He said that any payment above the HMRC recommended rate ‘not only wastes money but also adds to bureaucracy’. He also proposed the amendment that the council should only pay 45p-per-mile. Councillor Corcoran should be praised for acknowledging that any payment above HMRC recommendations involves extra administration for the Council alongside the excessive cost. The rest of the council would do well to take his recommendation on board.
Most importantly, however, the failure to reduce the allowance to 45p-per-mile is evidence that councillors are not making enough effort to find efficiency and waste savings before making reductions elsewhere. The reduction to 52.2p-per-mile for councillors will save £20,000 but the total cost of mileage allowances for council employees and councillors in Cheshire East was over £4 million in 2009-10. Council tax has almost doubled over the last decade and it is unacceptable that taxpayers’ money is being used to fund excessive benefits for council staff.
As this is the last non-job of the week feature of 2011, I have been looking back at the examples of non-jobs and ridiculously high pay I have highlighted throughout the year. I won’t pick a winner as the non-job of the year – I’ll leave it to you, but there is no shortage of runners and riders competing for the accolade.
Some councils have been busy building large change and performance departments. Surrey County Council and Oxford City Council immediately spring to mind. Surrey has advertised for a Performance Manager, Performance Officer, Intelligence Officer, Change Officer, Senior Change Manager, and a Senior Performance and Research Officer (Intelligence). Oxford City Council have recruited similar officers and managers, as well as a Tenants Involvement and Development Officer.
Nottingham City Council (the only council not to publish its spending above £500) ironically recruited a Head of Quality and Efficiency Services, and Walsall Council was looking for a Smarter Workplaces Programme Manager. Also this year, the new Future Shape Programme Manager of North East Lincolnshire Council was revealed.
Reading Council was looking for no less than ten Seasonal Personal Travel Plan Advisers. Their job was to contact residents and discuss with them how they travel to work, school, and go shopping, etc. If you think this is bizarre, then what about Waltham Forest’s search for a Laughter Yoga Teacher?
This year, many councils have scrapped their newspapers, but Hackney (surprise, surprise) has not followed suit. Earlier this year it was looking for a new sub-editor for its
propaganda rag newspaper, Hackney Today.
There has also been the usual raft of Climate Change Officers (something I highlighted repeatedly), Political Assistants, and Diversity Officers - including the BBC who was looking for a Diversity Talent Executive!
A London council was looking for a Governance Officer – Openness and Transparency. Ironically, we didn’t know which council this was, as they were recruiting anonymously through a recruitment agency! Those recruitment agencies have been a feature this year. Remember the Interim Head of Parking Services for an unnamed London Council? In March this was yours for £500-£600 a day! This was the most egregious salary of the year. When annualised, a parking manager was due to be paid more than the prime minister.
I could go on, and please have a look through these examples and the others from 2011. It does come with a health warning though. I don’t want your blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas, and here’s hoping 2012 will be a non-job free year!
North Somerset Council is looking for a Waste Minimisation Officer. As far as I can see, the officer will spend a large amount of time either visiting or communicating with schools, community organisations, and other partners showing them how to minimise the amount of waste going into their standard refuse bins.
This is despite the various leaflets already sent out to residents and businesses informing them of what they can and cannot recycle. Does it really need someone to be constantly haranguing them with the same messages? The EU landfill directive keeps increasing the burden on council taxpayers, so I can understand why councils are keen to push the recycling message. There does come a point though where you wonder just how far councils will go. With recycling rates already on target to hit 60% this financial year, this is one job North Somerset council taxpayers can do without.
A central government department is looking for a Senior Integrated Communications Officer based in Leeds, paying £180-£220 per day (£900-£1100 per week). This role requires the jobholder “to gather intelligence about the mood, activities, opinions of key stakeholder e.g. staff representative groups and professional bodies, the national media.”
The job description goes on to say they will be “supporting senior members of the team to deliver communications about pensions reform to staff. This will be vital as elements of the reform ratchet up over next 6 months and will also entail feeding into the Departments industry relations policy group.”
When we published our report on the taxpayer funding of trade unions, we were told by union leaders that union reps needed time off on our watch because it promoted harmony in the workplace. Recent strikes don’t back up that message, but leaving that to one side, it could be argued the government needs to communicate its message on public sector pensions reform more effectively. As TPA Research Director, John O’Connell wrote last week, there are many myths about pensions reform still being articulated in the media – mainly by unions.
Take a look at the job advert. This role predominantly involves communicating with staff and stakeholders, which in turn means the unions. We will be paying someone the equivalent of £45-55K per annum on a temporary full-time contract to tell the unions what they already know – or at least should know.
I appreciate there is more to this job, but as it’s a temporary contract on a daily rate, clearly it’s not going to last a long time. Once again though we don’t know which department it is, as the job is advertised through a recruitment agency, which will also incur additional fees.
This job is unneccessary as the government already has a team of negotiators working with the unions. The unions then pass on the information to their members, with additional employer information distributed to staff. This is an additional expense we can do without.
Like many councils, Sheffield City Council recently embarked upon a £57 million cost-cutting exercise in response to a fall in the central government grant. After council tax bills have nearly doubled across the country in the last decade there is no way taxpayers should pick up the bill.
Apparently unaware of the irony, the council has spent £21,000 sending 230,000 leaflets to residents asking them for ideas how to save money, living up to Sir Humphey’s mantra that it’s more expensive to do them cheaply.
While it is obviously good for a council to talk to voters about a necessary reduction in funding and how to save money, it should be done when it can have a meaningful impact on all aspects of spending rather than at the tail end of the discussions.
The consultation is open until January 6th leaving the Council just three months to prepare and adopt a budget to take effect in April 2012. The opposition Lib Dem leader, Shaffaq Mohammed, claims that decisions must have already been made about next year’s budget, “We are now almost at the door of the final closure of the budget process as far as I’m concerned.”
If this is just a smokescreen for councillors to use to defend their own plans when the outcome is already decided, it is a very cynical waste of money.
Julie Dore, the Labour-run council’s leader, claimed that it cost just 9p to produce each leaflet and this represented “value for money.” But the question isn’t whether they have bought the leaflets at a reasonable price but whether or not the project was worthwhile in the first place, whether it was a genuine attempt to engage with the public or just a presentational gimmick. Taxpayers will suspect it was the latter.
Who watches the watchmen? Taxpayers will be demanding answers after it was revealed that the very agency charged with delivering ‘significant sustainable cost reductions’ in public sector procurement has splurged £1.7million of taxpayers’ money in nightclubs, five star hotels and on trips to New York.
The Government Procurement Service (GPS) manages a vast scheme of government procurement cards (GPCs), some 133,000 of which have been issued since 1997. Civil servants in departments, agencies and quangos can use these cards to make purchases on behalf of government. In theory, it is a ‘fast and efficient way of purchasing different types of goods and services’, speeding up transactions and ensuring prompt payment to the businesses that supply these services. Spending on credit cards has got way out of hand. We need more transparency and accountability and fewer civil servants running up extravagant bills and leaving them to taxpayers. Civil servants have legitimate expenses, but there is no excuse for some of the lavish spending that has been uncovered .
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has attacked wasteful GPC spending many times before:
Today’s news is a stark reminder of how deeply a culture of profligacy can take root. Taxpayers must have trust that there are controls in place to prevent unauthorised and wasteful spending. So when those who should be strict financial guardians indulge their personal fantasies at Newz nightclub in Liverpool (popular with Cheryl Cole) or spend £6,000 in New York hotels, it’s clear that the problem is systemic and won’t be solved by shuffling around personnel.
It’s good news that the Government has begun publishing all spending on GPCs over £500. But £500 is an arbitrary figure and taxpayers clearly can’t trust government watchdogs to be stringent and critical on sums beneath this level. Government should publish GPC and credit card statements in full (personal details redacted, of course) so taxpayers can judge for themselves what is necessary and what is wasteful.
Theatres and arts centres are costly things for taxpayers. Earlier this year I wrote about ‘The Waterfront’ in Aylesbury. Taxpayers give this theatre a £500K subsidy, yet despite this, when the council wanted to hire the theatre on election night, we had to stump up another £20K for the privilege.
It’s not a pretty picture further north in West Bromwich. A controversial arts centre, ironically called The Public, eats up £2.29 million in taxpayer subsidies, and only manages to generate a profit of £58,801.
Looking at the figures, it appears very few people use this venue. One of the excuses for such a poor financial performance is ticket sales are down, but they are down from £54,850 to £34,267. In what is described as a good year, tickets sales only generated a little over £1000 a week.
Conferences generated an income of £174,893 from 240 events. In a £72 million arts centre, there must be plenty of space, so an average income of £728 per event must mean the conferences were very small.
No doubt I will be described as a Philistine for daring to criticise the arts, although anyone who knows me will tell you I am certainly not. As a musician I fully appreciate the role the arts play in our country. I have been involved with small theatre groups in the past, and they had to balance the books. If they made huge losses, they went out of business.
What appears to be happening here is no-one is taking responsibility. Taxpayers’ cash keeps rolling in – even during tough economic times – and for as long as this continues, the incentive to make this venue pay is not there.
This is a classic example of a grandiose plan gone wrong. I very much doubt there was ever a sound business case put forward for the building of this arts centre. It will have been dreamed up as something to put West Bromwich on the map. As so often happens with these examples, taxpayers are left footing an enormous bill.
I would rather have fewer venues that really succeed, are popular, and are a credit to the their town or city, than countless white elephants gobbling up our money, especially when there are many very worthwhile projects for the money to be spent on.
In our report last, week, we revealed that trade unions are subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £113 million. That is made up of an estimated £80 million in paid staff time, plus £33 million in direct payments. This is an increase of £7 million from 2009/10.
One of the beneficiaries of our cash is the Union Learning Fund. This was created by the last government in 1998 with the aim of promoting ‘activity by trade unions in support of the objective of creating a learning society.’
In plain English, this means that instead of unions paying for their training courses out of the subscriptions they receive from their members, taxpayers pick up the tab.
On a day when our bins are not be emptied, many schools across the country are closed, and some operations in our hospitals are being cancelled, we are paying for the staff time to organise the strikes and the courses that teach them how to do it.
Ironically, the TUC is currently advertising for a Media and Public Affairs Officer for unionlearn – the body responsible for administering the Union Learning Fund. This comes with a salary £38,534, and part of this role’s job description is to be responsible for the provision of good news stories and information raising the profile of unionlearn to the national, regional, local, specialist and union media.
This is a non-job as far as taxpayers are concerned. If the TUC wants to employ a media officer to promote its training courses, that is up to them, but it should not be done with our cash.
Grade 7: Salary £38,534 per annum rising incrementally to £39,929 pa including London Weighting
Unionlearn is the education and skills section of the TUC. We administer the government’s union learning fund and promote lifelong learning and skills in the work place. The communications team are responsible for the promotion of unionlearn and its work, for liaising with the media and opinion formers and ensuring that the skills agenda and our work on learning in the workplace remain part of the wider debate on learning and skills.
The post holder will be responsible for the provision of good news stories and information raising the profile of unionlearn to the national, regional, local, specialist and union media.
As well as having experience of writing for publications and/or high quality websites, the successful candidate will also need to demonstrate:
• Qualitative research and analysis including interview techniques
• Participatory research projects, finding stories or data which illustrate issues
• Project management
• Experience of working on public affairs campaigns
• Excellent communication skills including writing press releases, reports and features
• Good computer literacy including handling database programmes and ability to source material from the internet and publish online.
The strike today has been called the “largest coordinated action ever seen in the UK” by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS). The unions claim nearly 3 million public sector staff are not at work today, but the paltry number of strikers outside government department buildings in Westminster this morning doesn’t quite give you that impression.
The strike is over pension reform, and the unions are refusing to accept necessary changes to unaffordable deals. Our response this morning is here, including a calculator which allows you to see the public sector salary required to match your total remuneration.
There are plenty of comment pieces out there this morning perpetuating myths about public sector pensions, so it’s important to knock a few of them on the head. Let’s take George Eaton’s piece in The New Statesman first:
“But as the graph below from the government-commissioned Hutton Report shows, public sector pension payments peaked at 1.9 per cent of GDP in 2010-11 and will gradually fall over the next fifty years to 1.4 per cent in 2059-60. The government’s plan to ask employees to work longer and pay more is a political choice, not an economic necessity.”
Here’s the graph Eaton references:
What Eaton’s piece doesn’t tell you is that this graph shows pension accruals and pensions-in-payment growing with CPI, rather than RPI, which is one of the measures the unions are so angry about. The projections shown in that chart are also the result of assumptions about public sector workforce and economic growth that may prove optimistic. The article also doesn’t tell you that the PCS, one of the unions on strike today, are looking to index their own pension scheme against CPI because their current scheme is unaffordable. They also want members to pay more more in contributions, according to reports. They’re striking against something they’re doing themselves.
Let’s take a look at another. Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of Unison, wrote on the Huffington Post this morning:
“Under the proposals, the low paid will receive only just enough to keep them above the threshold for means tested benefits when they do retire. The average pension in local government is £3,800 a year, but for women, it’s less than £2,800 – just £56 a week. More than half of women pensioners in the NHS receive a pension of less than £3,500 a year.”
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.
Mr Prentis also says:
“Both the health and local government schemes are in good shape, with billions more coming in than has to be paid out in pensions every year.”
Let’s take them in turn, the NHS pension scheme first. There was a cash surplus of around £2 billion last year. That includes huge employer contributions, which are taxpayer contributions of course. But anyway, this is not an indication of sustainability; the NHS surplus is a result of having a growing workforce. Those paying contributions to create the surplus are also building up pensions that will need to be paid in the future. Further, the surplus is returned to the Treasury, it’s not like this is a pension fund where they can realise increases in the value of that £2 billion to pay for future pensions. It just goes back to the Treasury’s general fund to spend on wasteful projects like High Speed Rail.
Additionally, this is the kind of warning sign our research note last week signalled – the NHS pension scheme has a lot more active members relative to ‘pensioners in payment’ than other schemes, but that will be changing rather quickly over the years. Overall the Treasury already had to top up unfunded schemes as a whole by a huge £4 billion last year, and that number is only getting bigger. Thinking the NHS pension scheme is fine now, so therefore it doesn’t need reform, is the kind thinking that got us to where we are now. It’s simply kicking the can down the road, and it’s disingenuous to pick the only unfunded scheme with so many more active members than pensioners to paint a picture of health for the wider public sector.
Now local government. Yes, it’s a funded scheme, with invested assets, and more coming in than paid out at present. Again, this includes massive employer contributions, which is taxpayers’ money to start with. Also, the argument that this scheme is “healthy” just defers any responsibility for paying off massive liabilities to future generations. Our paper on local government pension scheme deficits highlights how big this problem is, with over £50 billion more liabilities than assets in 2010. And it will get worse. Funded public sector schemes in countries like The Netherlands are not allowed to hold assets of less than 80 per cent of liabilities, but a quick glance at our paper shows that many local government schemes are nowhere near this. In fact, some have asset to liability ratios of less than 50 per cent. That’s not sustainable and will have to be paid off at some stage.
When you walk past a striker today, ask them if it’s fair that a worker on the minimum wage pays for generous public sector pensions, while being unable to even nearly afford a deal like that for himself. As I mentioned earlier, the unions’ own pension schemes are in trouble. You’d be forgiven for thinking that peddling misinformation and coordinating strikes is designed to boost their own membership and increase employee contributions, to fix their own broken schemes.
Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis has responded to our report showing the unions getting a £113 million backdoor subsidy. He claims that the facility time reduces industrial strife, and leads to fewer strikes. If that was the case, then surely the public sector – where staff take three times as much in facility time – would see fewer strikes? After all, public sector workers are also better paid and get better pensions. It doesn’t work out that way:
The data on the relative number of strike days lost per worker are from our research last year. You can see the same thing with the ridiculous claim that having hundreds of staff working for the union, instead of the public service, improves public service productivity:
The data on productivity compares the market sector and the major public services. It is taken from the Economic and Labour Market review produced by the Office for National Statistics.
Either something else is going catastrophically wrong in the public sector, and things would be even worse without huge amounts spent on facility time, or union staff paid for at taxpayers’ expense aren’t associated with an efficient workplace. We shouldn’t fear ‘pay up, or we’ll strike’ threats from the union bosses. And our past experience with Dave Prentis shows that he isn’t above misleading the media and the public: