Islington Council has sparked controversy by spending £38,307, or £339 pounds each, on 113 banners advertising its borough-wide 20mph speed limit. But that’s not the worst of it—they paid way too much for the banners in the first place!
The 20mph banners are placed high up on lampposts on main routes through the borough which are not controlled by TfL, and along which there is already a plethora of 20mph speed limit signs as well as road roundels. It is difficult to see what these signs add, other than another distraction for drivers who will have to take their eyes of the road to read them. The Council claims the signs are ‘essential’ if drivers are to be made properly aware of the new limit, but I cannot think of another instance anywhere in the UK in which the imposition of a speed limit has had to be advertised by anything other than the normal speed limit signs.
The banners have been condemned by opposition councillors as a waste of taxpayers’ money at a time when the Council should be trying to cut unnecessary spending. It is hard to disagree with that assessment. What struck me, however, was not just the obvious wastefulness of the whole exercise, but the sheer cost of the banners.
I have some knowledge, from previous experience in manufacturing and publishing, of printing costs on various materials and it seemed to me that these banners were extraordinarily expensive at £339 each, even taking into account installation costs. So I decided to do some research to find out whether or not the Council had even got value for money in its spending.
I measured one of the banners, on the Blackstock Road close to my home, and took a good look at the fittings associated with it. I searched for suppliers of printed PVC banners and post mounts, as well as sign installation contractors. The whole exercise took me an hour or so and some phone calls and emails. I was careful to get more than one quotation for each item, and to match the specifications the Council used as closely as possible.
At the end of this process, I found I could have the same banners printed and installed, including the use of the costly spring-type post mounts used by the Council, for under £21,500. In fact, I found that had the Council opted for equally robust rigid rather than sprung post mounts (the latter type are mainly to protect banners in high winds, not usually a feature of Islington in the Spring), the whole job could have been done for less than £13,500—or £119 each!
One is compelled to ask why the Council paid over £38,000, or nearly 80 per cent more to put up these banners than it would have cost anyone else. Their overspending is even more egregious if one accepts that rigid post-mounts could have done the job just as well for even less money. In the current climate, when taxpayers are being asked to put up with significant levels of council tax and reductions in services, it is quite wrong to ask them also to tolerate such huge inefficiencies in council purchasing.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, it is highly likely that this sort of entirely avoidable overpayment for goods and services is endemic, not just in Islington, but throughout all local and central government.