Our local councils can be pretty incessant in their attempts to ‘wow’ us, but self-congratulatory newsletters and needless awards schemes for staff? Is this really what we pay our council tax for?
A Worcestershire based supporter emailed the WMTPA to complain about the county council flooding out their bi-annual newsletter to the tune of over £50,000 per year. But of the 215,000 copies of WoW posted through letterboxes and hidden in local newspapers alongside other advertising and junk, it’s fair to ask – how many are actually read? Fortunately for our councils, that’s impossible to quantify.
Of course the problem isn’t limited to Worcestershire (though incidentally, the same supporter received a Freedom of Information response which revealed his local edition of ‘A View From the Hills’ (Malvern) was also costing £18,000 per annum), but is prolific right across the West Midlands and the rest of the country – councils promoting themselves to us, their service users, who actually have no choice but to use the local authority anyway. And aren’t these the same councils who continually push the ‘green agenda’ and encourage us to recycle and generate less waste? Pot, kettle, black.
Of course there’s a statutory obligation, imposed by central government, for councils to provide us with certain information, but as more and more of us connect to the internet aren’t cheaper, greener alternatives to these newsletters making themselves evident? Of course, hard copy information could be made available for those without access to the web, but Worcestershire for one are showing no signs of cancelling their 215,000 print run to look for new, more efficient ways of communicating with the public.
This is 2009, and we’re in a recession. Getting rid of such unnecessary publicity – the glossy magazines, the newspapers, the leaflets, the general deluge of ‘information’ that seems to be fast tracked straight into the bin in most households – should be an easy way to cut the fat, minimizing waste and saving the taxpayer money.
But sometimes we might question whether saving money is even on the agenda for local government, or whether such matters upset the Zen of their love-in. Stoke-on-Trent City Council never fail to frighten/amaze, and after a bit of head-scratching they’ve come up with yet another way to reward themselves. An extra day off at Xmas again (nope, that was so 2007...), a big slap up meal at residents’ expense (been there, done that!) - so what’s this year’s understated way of satiating their desperate need for a bit of undeserved back-slapping? Cue, the WOW! Awards...
A website, some design work, a few certificates, a presentation event – it might not be megabucks, but is it really necessary to dream these things up when staff have shuffled along just fine without them? It’s the time and effort involved, diverting employees from their proper task of serving the city of Stoke onto the adult equivalent of a gold star and a round of applause from the rest of the class. How do other authorities cope without such accolades? Why do taxpayers have to shell out to pander to the egos of supposed professionals?
Put frankly, it’s less WOW! And more WHAT?!