Last year I commented regularly on the amount of improvement managers and officers Oxford City Council was advertising for. The council has previously advertised for a Business Improvement Manager, a Performance Improvement Manager and a Business Improvement Manager (both twice), and a Business Improvement Partner. It is now advertising for a Business Improvement Officer. This is a permanent, full-time position, paying between £25,472 – £28,636.
It will be interesting to find out how much money the council has spent on this new mini-department, and how successful it has been. How much of the work of the new officers and managers could and should have been done by existing well paid staff?
Elmbridge Borough Council is looking for a Recycling Advisor. The salary is modest and it’s only for a four-month fixed contract, however why does the council need to employ someone to knock on doors offering recycling advise? When my council rolled out a new recycling scheme a couple of years ago, all residents were informed of what they could and could not recycle. Since then recycling rates have increased.
In many ways I have sympathy with councils. The more they put into landfill, the more we have to pay in landfill tax. The former leader of my council told me when it comes to recycling his only interest is to reduce the amount paid in landfill tax in order to keep council tax bills down. It’s very difficult to argue with that statement.
I have two issues with Elmbridge. The first is if they had informed residents properly in the first place, they wouldn’t have to employ someone to knock on doors. In this instance it would have saved a salary of around £5K. That doesn’t sound a lot, but as we know, a few thousand here and a few thousand there starts adding up to sizeable sums of money.
The second problem I have is although I accept councils want to reduce the amount of landfill tax that is paid, knocking on people’s doors is not a cost effective method of communication. It also smacks of the nanny state.
Give residents choices by all means, but we don’t pay our council tax to be lectured on our doorsteps.
Another week, another highly-paid public sector worker returns to work after supposedly retiring with a massive pension payout. John Geates, a police chief, has resumed his role as Director of the Scottish Police College in Fife just 24 hours after leaving with a £300,000 lump sum. Mr Geates (aged 49) will also be entitled to an annual pension of over £55,000 a year when he turns 55. Even then, he will still be able to continue his job on full pay. And all of this apparently on top of a taxpayer-funded residence in Tulliallan Castle.
Such convoluted and scandalous arrangements are not unusual in the public sector. Often the problem lies with mismanaged redundancy schemes. In October 2011, it was revealed that a series of NHS executives had accepted large severance payments only to be reemployed on short-term contracts, often costing more than £1,000 per day. Also in October 2011, Stoke-on-Trent Council paid out £330,000 in redundancy payments to 25 staff and then rehired them in new jobs. But a variation on Geates’ retirement arrangement is also widespread. It was estimated in June 2010 that 10,000 public sector workers are paid a pension on top of their salary, a practice derided as double-dipping.
The rationale behind these schemes is often to save taxpayers’ money. Geates got £300,000 because his role has been ‘civilianised’ to save £22,000 a year. But the public sector is not always careful that cost savings are well-planned or well-executed. The Government claims that it takes this seriously and Eric Pickles has promised a crackdown on the practice of double-dipping, but the Geates example suggests that not enough has been done.
These shady pension arrangements are unfair and they lack transparency. Geates was immediately reemployed by the Scottish Police College, his position was not advertised, and no other candidates were interviewed. It may be true that he was the best person for the job, but taxpayers will want to know that a proper process was followed and that this deal was not stitched up behind closed doors.
It’s similarly unfair that some highly-paid public officials can receive full pensions at only 55. Public sector workers are already significantly better paid on average than those in the private sector and they get substantial taxpayer contributions to their pensions. Most taxpayers could never dream of retiring as early as 55.
Furthermore, it is morally wrong that public sector workers should seek to maximise their financial gain at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. In the face of necessary spending cuts, Geates and his like are leeching away money that could go towards more frontline police or a helpful tax cut. As Director of Scotland’s leading police training centre, Geates should set a better example to his recruits.
Camden Council is looking for four (3 full time, 1 part time) Outcomes and Development Officers. Here’s part of the job description:
We are seeking dynamic and motivated individuals to take up the roles of Outcomes and Development Officers within our Communities and Third Sector team. These roles will be integral to the implementation and development of Camden Council’s new Investment and Support Programme for the local voluntary and community sector (VCS).
Camden Council is moving towards a more collaborative approach with local VCS organisations based on investing in social outcomes for Camden residents. This new approach brings with it new challenges for both the council and supported organisations;
- how do we better understand the value of our work?
- What can we learn from each other’s experiences?
- How do we create robust sustainable solutions in a difficult financial climate.
Your role as an Outcomes and Development Officer will be to help VCS organisations find practical solutions to these questions and more.
Involving charities and the voluntary sector more is great, but do they need the council to help them to assist in finding practical solutions to those three questions? If anything, the voluntary sector, which works on much tighter purse strings, could teach the council how to do it.
Enfield Council is searching for a Senior Travel Awareness Officer. After reading the hyperbole, you will see the purpose of this job is to reduce CO2 emissions. If you live in Enfield the travel awareness team will attempt to lecture you in how you travel. You will be told to walk and cycle more. You should leave your car at home and use public transport.
No doubt the council will say it is failing residents if it does not inform them of the choices available. I’m sure the able bodied people of Enfield know how to walk. If they have a bicycle, I’m sure they know how to ride it, and if they want to purchase a bicycle, I’m sure they can find someone who will sell them one. As for public transport, is there anyone living in London who is not aware of the options available to them?
When you hear people say they want the council to stop interfering in their lives, this is one example of what they mean. By all means have a transport policy. If new housing is built in one area it may mean additional bus routes will have to be created, but we are supposed to be living in a free society. How we travel is our business, not the business of councils.
If you have ever wondered what some people do in council communications departments, here is a an example. Waverley Borough Council is looking for a new Strategic Director, and the beginning of the following job advert has certainly been written by someone with a creative imagination:
Could you weave gold into our services?
We don’t really expect you to possess the skills of a tailor. But if you have the gold thread needed to connect our services and communities, you could be ideal for this role.
Talking about communications departments, Islington Borough Council is searching for an Interim Head of Communications, paying £62,460 – £66,366 per annum. If Islington is anything like some of the councils I deal with, they should rename the post as Head of Miscommunication, as there are times when getting a straight answer to a straight question is virtually impossible.
Of course councils need communications officers, and therefore someone to manage them. To justify the salary on offer, the Head of Communications must be managing a fairly large team, and that raises questions in itself, but when you read the following in the job description, you begin to wonder what messages we are paying for:
The council is focused on making Islington fairer by reducing the gap between rich and poor and making a difference to the lives of those in our community who most need our help
The council is there to provide the services we pay our council tax for, therefore those in the community who require the most help should be helped. We do not pay our council tax so the council can try to reduce the gap between rich and poor. That is overtly political, and has nothing to do with its primary purpose. It seems as if Islington regards itself as the North London equivalent of Robin Hood, although it may find that if it tries to steal from the rich to give to the poor, many of them will up sticks and move to another area where the council does not adopt such a policy.
We’ve had Future Shape Programme Managers; Business Improvement Managers; Change Programme Managers. This week Merton Borough Council wants Business Improvement Advisors. Paying between £38,070-£40,716, the council is looking for an unspecified number of these advisors to ‘change the way it operates, leading to a leaner and more efficient organisation by 2015.’
What a pity those in charge didn’t think the council should have been leaner and more efficient in the first place. With many senior officers receiving generous salaries and pension benefits, they should have been been seeking ways to make sure the ship was sailing in the most efficient way possible. It shouldn’t take reduced funding from central government grants to get them to start thinking of ways of saving taxpayers’ money.
Councils are supposed to be the most efficient part of government. It does make you worry just how bad the rest are!
Today we have released a report on council pension contributions, you can read it in full here. We found that council employer pension contributions were equivalent to £1 in every £5 of council tax receipts in 2010-11.
UNISON issued a lazy response to this earlier, strewn with factual errors. They claim that:
Actually, the local government pension scheme costs the taxpayer just 5p in every £1 paid in council tax.
No, it really doesn’t. What UNISON seems to have done is calculate employer pensions contributions as a share of total council income. The response is so bad, that they even go on to explain their own miscalculation in the next line:
Councils get only 25% of their revenue from council tax, 75% comes from other sources, including business rates and local government grants.
Yes, councils get their revenue mainly from central government (that is still taxpayers’ money of course). But employer contributions are equivalent to a fifth of the revenue they receive in Council Tax. If employer contributions were reduced by ten per cent, local authorities could afford a two per cent cut in council tax rates. This is all just simple maths.
Then they wheeled out this tired old line:
When dinner ladies, social workers and care staff retire, on average they will get just £4,000 a year, dropping to just £2,600 for women.
I wrote about this nonsense in a blog in November, when public sector workers were out on strike. But to repeat: if someone works for a council for a year, their pension pot will be small. But they’ll have worked in other places for years and can accrue other pension entitlements while they’re there. That average is meaningless and a dishonest attempt to mislead the public about the value of public sector pensions. Those who spend their career in the public sector do very well out of their pension schemes.
Our starter for ten today is not a non-job as such, but another example of why so many government projects go wrong. The Department of Health is looking to recruit a Chief Executive for Public Health England. The salary is circa £180K. Nowhere in the job description does it cite a requirement for the applicant to have experience or any qualifications in health! Yet the government is willing to pay the successful applicant more than the prime minister’s salary, and vastly more than an experienced hospital consultant.
Despite assurances that senior pay will be brought in line, once again we see a large salary being offered to someone who doesn’t necessarily have the qualifications in the field they will be in overall responsibility of. It’s rather like starting a Grand Prix from the back of the grid. It’s not impossible to win, but your chances are severely hampered.
Our next two offerings are hardly surprising. Once the government gave the green light to High Speed 2 (HS2) I’ve been waiting for all the non-jobs that will be on offer. It hasn’t taken long. Your taxes, and those of your children and grandchildren, will be paying for Community Liaison & Stakeholder Managers and Advisors, and Community Forums Managers. The salary on offer for both posts is between £33K-£60K per annum. We don’t how many there will be, although the advertisement does say there will be phased recruitment.
So what will these people be doing? Put simply, a PR exercise in trying to win over those who live along the route and are currently objecting to HS2. The following is part of the job description In the advert for a Community Liaison & Stakeholder Manager and Advisor.
You will play a pivotal role in working with local communities, HS2 area engineers and environmentalists, to identify local priorities and explore opportunities for developing local community benefits and brokering solutions.
As most major government projects never run to budget or to time, we can safely assume that HS2 will cost much more than the quoted £32 billion, and the line from London to Birmingham will not be up and running until after 2026. By the time it gets to Leeds and Manchester, those MPs so enthusiastic about the project will be enjoying their retirement, that’s assuming they have not left this mortal coil.
In the meantime even more money will be wasted as the spin machine drives forward at maximum speed in an attempt to win over those of us who know this is a white elephant. Expect timetable revisions, increased cost projections, and more non-jobs as the years roll by.
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.