This week the Guardian website has well over 600 vacancies for jobs in government. Ranging from local to national and policy jobs, they’re paid for by the taxpayer. One thing I will note, however, is that there are still plenty of communications and similar jobs on offer (as we have revealed the costs of in our Council Spending Uncovered series of reports) but they’re sneakily being advertised through recruitment agencies – so we don’t know which government body, council or department is spending your money on communications positions. It’s an interesting point, one that shows how effective our research into local government spending has become.
Some of the stars of the non-job roster this week include:
A position as the ‘Head of Economic Policy’ at Central Bedfordshire council, showing that elected councillors have outsourced out yet more policy competences to unelected, unaccountable officers.
Kent County council, seemingly with more money than sense (remember Iceland?), lavishes out on a head of Equality and Diversity with a starting salary of £41,112 a year.
But our non-job of the week comes from Merton council:
“"Consultation and Community Engagement Officer
£37,692 - £40,314
There couldn’t be a more exciting time to join Merton, as we embark on a major transformation programme that will help us deliver even better services to the borough. We’re committed to involving local people in the decisions that affect them, making this a key role in our drive for improvement.
You’ll develop innovative, sustainable policies and programmes for consultation and engagement and provide expert advice to managers, councillors and partners in this specialized area. High on your list of priorities will be ensuring we meet the requirements of the Duty to Involve and capitalizing on the opportunities presented by new neighbourhood governance arrangements. We’ll look to you to promote cultural change, disseminate best practice and respond to changes in legislation and Government policy.
Versatile, self-motivated and highly organized, you will have experience of consultation and community engagement policy work in the public sector or a similar organisation. This will have included engaging seldom-heard groups, advising at senior level and working with local communities and partner agencies. You will also have proved your ability to organize community engagement events, work with decision makers and deliver projects to demanding deadlines. Strong qualitative and quantitative analytical skills will be vital, together with a high level of IT literacy."
This is an interesting position because Merton hasn’t exactly been that engaging with local residents and is fairly hypocritical to admit it has. On council allowances – my own bugbear – Merton does not have an independent remuneration panel, like most boroughs outside London. Instead it defers to a panel of three hand-picked by the unelected, unaccountable quango London Councils. Behaviour like that doesn’t exactly demonstrate a record of inclusion and consultation.
When we were campaigning in Merton earlier this year, I asked some of our supporters to enquire about applying to join Merton’s own IRP. After three or four attempts, we were told there weren’t any vacancies because Merton doesn't have one, despite the law saying it can. But when we were campaigning on the streets telling people about this, Merton council's PR department called us up to ask “why are we picking on them?” Simple – they increased taxes and adopt an opaque system of recommending council allowances.
That brings us to this post. Will this non-job change much, including more people into the political process? I doubt it. For all the job adverts that promise inclusion, they mean it in the PC, trendy-left definition of the word. What we want is real inclusion, to have local taxpayers sit on remuneration panels for all councils and to have more opportunities to consult, via local referenda. We want more open government at all levels that the politicians themselves can enact. Simply throwing more taxpayers’ money around won’t solve the structural problems within local government.