Just a day after The Sentinel reported that political leaders pushed for inflation-busting council tax rises in order to combat service cut-backs we learn that Stoke-On-Trent City Council are running a £660,000 press office and the new chief executive has claimed for £3000 in expenses in just three weeks.
According to the paper, new chief John van de Laarschot has run up no less than £950 in hotel bills and £1600 on travel amongst other costs during his first three weeks. Councillor Mick Salih, Non-Aligned Group spokesman, said: "I'm stunned. We talk about cutting services at the front line and then continue to waste money at the top”. Van de Laarschot has been working part-time whilst retaining his post at Torridge District Council. He’ll move to Stoke to take up his £195,000-per-year post on the 1st January.
The waste, it appears, trickles further down as the press office have similarly been accused of not giving taxpayers value for money. Cllr Brian Ward said that the council are paying for a “Rolls Royce” service they are not receiving, following a catalogue of errors on behalf of well-paid press officers. Cllr Ward said:
"Due to the amount of disgruntled councillors who approach me regarding the press office, I do not feel we are receiving value for money and at a time when the council is under severe pressure to cut departmental staff and realise savings."
It seems that Cllr Ward’s worries are well-founded but now planned cuts to the department (ironically) lay in the hands of John van de Laarschot when he takes up his role in the New Year.
If this council is genuinely strapped for cash to the point of laying-off frontline workers and jeopardising vital services, then it’d first do well to root out profligate spending in the higher ranks of council middle and executive management. There’s no doubt that there’s an opportunity to save the council a substantial amount of money with the right sort of streamlining and downsizing, and these funds could be diverted to the departments that are most valued by local residents. At the very least this should be done in order to demonstrate that cutbacks start at the top, and to reassure a sceptical electorate who are becoming weary of learning about excessive spending in the higher echelons of government.