Last Thursday, Stoke-on-Trent councillor and TPA supporter Gavin Webb made an interesting proposal to full council, yet the reaction of his fellow members will dismay those who’d assumed their elected representatives would be exploring all avenues with a view to eliminating the authority’s huge £12.1 million deficit
Cllr Webb’s motion read as follows:
"This Council agrees to invite and cooperate with the low tax, better government pressure group the Taxpayers Alliance to scrutinise the whole of the City Council's finances in preparation for the Budget Council to be held on 26 February 2009, with a view to identifying waste and needless spending, in order to reduce the overall tax burden to the City taxpayer and help make City operations more effective."
" Now, the City Council spends thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on consultants, and of course I’m proposing that we invite yet more consultants to carry out work on our behalf. Happily, I can say that the Taxpayers Alliance has kindly offered to do this work for free, at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer. With such a generous offer, I can’t see how the City Councillors could possibly reject this motion”.
But reject it they did, with only a Potteries Alliance member and a non-aligned member voting with Gavin.
So, even in such difficult economic times, Stoke-on-Trent City Council look a gift-horse in the mouth and the offer of free consultancy is declined. It seems the council’s attitude to consultancy is something along the lines of, ‘if it’s too cheap (or free!), we don’t want it’.
Surely this can’t represent the views of local taxpayers, many of whom are currently looking for savings in their own personal finances? Perhaps these councillors are worried that any practical cost-cutting suggestions made by the TPA might hit them where it hurts – their perks, pay, publicity and pensions. Whatever the case, they’ve decided that the best advice is no advice, and having got themselves into this mess they’d rather bury their heads in the sand than admit that some fresh-thinking might improve what appears to be a pretty desperate situation.
And how far would the TPA even have to look to make some decent savings? This is a council who have their own anthem (yes, that’s right) and who – in the spirit of goodwill and merriment – gave all their staff an extra day off at Xmas last year costing local taxpayers no less than £600,000. On top of that, our latest Council Spending Series paper shows that their spending on publicity has increased by a huge 262% in the last ten years. There is, most definitely, fat to trim.
With or without the TPA’s help this council need to find some real savings. Today The Sentinel announced that council tax will be rising by 3.95% next year, so clearly part of the plan to recoup this money involves leaning on local residents for extra cash, but we can only hope that Stoke-on-Trent City Council have their priorities straight and before frontline services suffer to the further detriment of Stoke taxpayers, they’re suitably ruthless in cutting away the various and costly frills they’ve accumulated over recent years.