Wobbly Stoke-on-Trent City Council have warned that inflation-busting council tax hikes in hand with service cuts will be needed to prevent the local authority decending £17m into the red.
According to today’s The Sentinel, councillors were called to a special briefing where they were told that there’s already a predicted overspend of £7.5m by April, and senior managers added that a further £9.3m of unexpected costs had been identified.
Of course the word ‘recession’ is now coming in very handy as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but in truth, even before the recession hit, this council was one of the most disaster-prone and spendthrift in the region. You only have to look at this blog for proof:
Smoke-on-Trent (July 07)
Council rebranding (Oct 07)
Stoke spent £125,000 on another bureaucrat (Nov 07)
Stoke spends £23,000 a month ‘to keep you in the dark’ (Dec 07)
New head of spin for Stoke-On-Trent City Council (Dec 07)
Stoke Council splash out again (Dec 07)
A big £600,000 ‘thank you’ for Stoke Council workers (Dec 07)
Stoke pays out nearly £700,000 for council staff parking (Jan 08)
Stoke pay over £50k after turning down a freebie (Mar 08)
Stoke hosts £35k dance event (May 08)
Report condemns Stoke City Council (May 08)
Stoke bus stops cost almost £37,000 each (Dec 08)
Stoke City Council reject TPA offer to find savings (Dec 08)
Stoke snub disabled but assist smokers and promote ‘healthy diets’ (Jan 09)
Stoke Governance Board hires ex-councillor and pays £400 per meeting (Feb 09)
Fraud teams and inflated salaries – it’s Stoke City Council again! (Apr 09)
Stoke councillors may pocket an extra £3k (May 09)
Stoke council charge awards trip to taxpayer (Aug 09)
Labour group leader Mike Barnes is similarly sceptical, saying:
"I don't accept that all these different overspends are just down to the recession.
"Sixteen million pounds is a huge discrepancy considering we only implemented the current budget three months ago."
Stoke council currently spend £133m hiring 5,500 non-teaching staff and are planning to save as much as £1.3m cutting back on consultants and agency staff, but worryingly they may be hitting Stoke residents with a whopping maximum 4.9% council tax rise in order to harvest another £1.2m.
That’s right, the very people who are suffering most with the recession will be hit for extra money when the TPA have shown time and time again that there are sensible ways to cut costs without resorting to these tax hiking measures.
In the year 07/08 Stoke spent almost £1.5m on publicity alone (up from just over £400,000 ten years previously in 97); in the same year they spend an enormous £11m on middle management pay – that’s the bill for all those earning over £50k per year – up from just £530,000 in 1997 and £1.7m more than the previous year!; again in the same year employer pension contributions stood at an eye-watering £15m (that’s £62 for every man, woman and child in Stoke!); and what’s more they hired no fewer than seven executives on bumper salaries of more than £100,000!
As an exercise, last year the TPA calculated how much a local authority could save by slicing just 10% from payroll, publicity and pensions spending, and in Stoke’s case the potential saving was a decent £3,152,700. That’s more than double what they’d save from raising council tax and would no doubt contribute to the efficiency of the council itself. And just from looking at the blogs above, anyone could see that there’s an awful lot of waste and fat to trim to compliment this sort of spending cut.
The people of Stoke have already suffered enormously from the horrendous errors of their council, and now it seems fundamentally unfair that they should once again be expected to pick up the tab for bills run-up by extravagant and cavalier politicians and council executives. The powers that be have an absolute responsibility to take a forensic look at the way this run, to eliminate inefficiencies, and to make up this shortfall without further punishing their most unfortunate public.