Cllr Stephen McLoughlin – who awarded himself a 34% pay increase this year whilst creating a £2.4million over spend – has replied to conservative criticism on ConservativeHome in relation to his council’s overspending we blogged about here. Let’s fisk it:
SM: Bournemouth Borough Council is a unitary authority with a budget in excess of £450million p.a. One of the Executive Directors (Major Projects) retired in April. The Council always planned to recruit a replacement, but we have decided to change the job description to reflect the national agenda (particularly CSR 07) and our local agenda. The new job title is 'Executive Director - Transformation'.
TA: Did the outgoing executive director take early retirement on a gold-plated pension, I wonder? More to the point, Cllr McLoughlin’s opening paragraph looks too much like council double-speak to come from the man himself. I see bureaucrats pulling those strings.
SM: The target for cashable efficiency gains amounts to £15.9million over three years, much of which will come from new business processes facilitated by ICT investment, including better procurement. We are also exploring the opportunities that a Strategic Partnering arrangement may offer the Council and other public sector organisations.
TA: So they’re making efficiency savings of 3 per cent, give or take, over 3 years. This year McLoughlin’s council increased council tax by 4.9%. The taxpayer will still suffer if you're taxing people at a higher rate than you're making savings. You need to go further in the efficiency drive so the savings can be returned back to the people in the form of a tax cut.
SM: As Leader of the Council, I and my colleagues have made an 'Efficient Council' one of our key priorities in response to the views the public expressed during the Council elections last May. The previous Liberal Democrat administration was perceived as ineffective and inefficient. We won a landslide, with a net gain of 25 council seats (out of a total of 54)- the best result in the country.
TA: Before you and your colleagues could do much, you hiked up council tax and gave yourself a stinking great pay increase. Perhaps you should have provided some efficiency savings and reduced council tax before lining your pockets. Moreover, don’t play the oldest political game in the book – blaming the previous incumbent. When the Lib Dems took control of the council, they too won on a landslide. Would you say the previous Tory administration was just as ‘ineffective and inefficient’ due to the last Lib Dem landslide?
SM: An organisation of this size needs the appropriate level of leadership and skills to deliver, and this appointment will ensure that this happens. As a Conservative Council, we putting right years of Liberal Democrat mismanagement, and we are keen to attract the best professionals to make this happen as part of the new leadership team.
TA: Again, stop blaming people and come up with the solutions – why else are you using our money to hire all these policy officers and apparatchiks if they’re not going to come up with the good, eh? What you should have done instead of employing a new bureaucrat – whose job depends on inefficiency existing to secure their future employment – is make tough decisions like Hammersmith and Fulham who cut staff, embraced competition in services and outsourcing where possible.
What is clear from Cllr McLoughlin’s ‘response’ is, first, that it wasn’t written by him. Only some overpaid council robot would ever talk like that. You could easily play a game of council bingo every time you read ‘strategic’, ‘stakeholder’ and. ‘partnership’. It all means nothing to taxpayers who want real solutions and lower taxes.
Second, the Conservatives will have to knock a few heads together in local government if their policy to freeze council tax is to be implemented across the board. Will this lead to capping and other measures to ensure spend-crazy local politicians stop using our money to fuel the fire? I wouldn't expect it to be ruled out given the timidity from some Conservative councils in their attitude to tax cuts.
Finally, Cllr McLoughlin’s response shows just how powerful the local government officer corps actually is. On a Conservative focused website, Tory grassroots were tearing him a new one. Yet his reply is neither personal, personable or, well, humane when it had to be. It’s a bureaucratic jumble that tries to shift the blame on the previous administration. Again, I come back to Hammersmith and Fulham who didn’t moan and whine, endlessly blaming the previous administration, but got to work cutting taxes.
If you want to see how Hammersmith and Fulham have managed to cut taxes twice in two years, have a read for yourself here.
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