February brought the news that the vast majority of top tier councils were going to hike council tax by the maximum 4.99 per cent available to them. This wasn’t a surprise to taxpayers - give councils an inch and they tend to take a mile. But it will still have come as a nasty shock during a cost of living crisis. Hats off to Central Bedfordshire, where rates are being frozen, and at the district-level, to Harlow and Fenland councils, who have frozen and cut council tax respectively!
Unsurprisingly, our attention turned to council bottom lines, to see if budgets were really as stretched as some local authority bosses claim. It turns out there is much more to the story. Because 2022 was the year of the bumper bonus and the golden goodbye. Take Northern Ireland, where Mid and East Antrim Council spent over £1 million on exit packages for staff. Now clearly any sensible council looking to cut costs will have to use redundancies as a means to trim staffing budgets in the long term. But Mid and East Antrim gave out packages worth over £100,000. There were five in total above £70,000. The Belfast Telegraph covered the story. Excessive exit payments caused huge controversies in places like Northumberland, and are something of a litmus test for financial incontinence.
Meanwhile, news that Bradford Council had used covid money intended for local businesses as bonuses to staff hit the front page of the Yorkshire Post, and rightly so given the council failed to deny that bonuses even went to the top execs! Over £170,000 was spent on these bonuses in a story which understandably caused a stir locally.
And if that seems a bizarre thing to do, well try this one on for size: Arun District Council is spending half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on building a luxury bed and breakfast! With residents furious about the plan, the TPA has been campaigning hard, leading to coverage in The Telegraph.
Councils need to remember that their duty is to provide efficient, high quality services at as low cost as possible. They should cut out the pet projects. None more so than the waste of time and money that is the UK City of Culture and London Borough of Culture, where failed bids have run into the millions, with our research covered in the Daily Express last month.
If the council tax increase wasn’t bad enough, Transport for London fares also increased recently. But still, at least tube users will be able to enjoy a handful of roundles dotted around stations to celebrate the tube’s 160th anniversary. But Londoners might not enjoy the £23,000 bill that the Mayor is hitting them with to pay for them. Our investigation was covered in the Evening Standard.
On a lighter note, we also revealed in February that the cost of providing vegan meals to prisoners in police custody has more than doubled in recent years - one of the many costs of eco-warriors!
Keep your eyes peeled for more council waste next month, and details on our investigation into the ULEZ expansion.
If you suspect public bodies of wasting money and want us to investigate, let me know at [email protected]