201 ways to be wrong

It may have escaped your notice, but yesterday the good fellows at the (Non-)Taxpayers Alliance proudly announced their latest report 201 ways to Save Money in Local Government. Local Government fans may fondly remember the Government doing a very similar thing not so long ago, to the routine mocking of, well, pretty much everybody. Clearly that did not deter our friends at the TPA from doing something bigger, and better!

A first observation is that if it has taken nearly a year for the TPA to produce almost exactly the same bloody thing that DCLG did, that’s hardly a sterling example of efficiencies of other sectors. But needless to say I ploughed on through their suggestions, and came to the conclusion that the authors either know nothing of local government, or nothing of, well, anything.

Let’s take a look at their greatest hits, shall we?

Share services with neighbouring councils

Ring up every Council Chief Executive in the country, this is an idea we have never heard of before! The fact that the next 4 suggestions say the same thing but with a different twist shows they mean business on this.

Scrap political advisers

No Council I know of employs these. If they do at the public expense, they are idiots.

Place more children up for adoption. Reducing the number of Looked After children by placing more of them in permanent loving homes is principally good news for them. But it is also good news for the Council Tax payer. Social workers are often risk-averse about adoption but it overwhelmingly offers children better life chances than keeping them in care.

Yeah. Let’s screw due process and making sure that we don’t give children to any Tom, Dick, or Harry. This also ignores the fact that the recent adoption reforms are showing early signs of success. And where is your evidence that Social Workers are often risk averse? They want what is best for the child for god’s sake, not to meet some stupid target to get more kids adopted because you say so.

Minimise the use of taxis for taking children in care to and from school. The cost is huge as they usually require escorts as well. It also causes a stigma for the children being marked out as different. If the children are too young to go to and from school themselves, it is better for them to be picked up and dropped off by their foster carers.

I don’t know where to start with this. Firstly, there is a statutory duty placed on local authorities to provide school transport to kids aged 16 or under (subject to certain criteria). Secondly, providing taxis is often a better value solution than other options like providing a school bus. Thirdly, school transport is offered to those in greatest need and who are less likely to own a car at all. And finally, is there any evidence at all that being dropped off is better for children?

Stop funding translations/interpreting for Council documents and services. This money is much better spent teaching people English. But even redirecting some of it you should still find some room for Council Tax cuts.

Yeah, screw being inclusive and helping those in the greatest need to access our services. And have you never heard of adult learning courses?

Don’t employ Climate Change Officers

Local authorities have a statutory duty to address climate change in their area. So unless you want us to break the law some Climate Change Officers are here to stay.

Don’t employ Diversity Officers or ask residents to fill in monitoring forms for ethnicity, sexuality and religion

Same as the climate change stuff, really.

Cease funding Law Centres. (A double saving as they often sue the council so the Council Tax payers end up paying for the lawyers on both sides.)

Evidence of this, please? And imagine the inhumanity of ensuring that the most vulnerable have access to legal advice. It’s barbaric I tells you!

Use “hot desking”.

That idea is sooooo 2004. It’s all about home working now, provided that the Government’s latest security advice on public networks which stop you accessing your email unless you are directly plugged into the network don’t stop it dead in it’s tracks.

Cancel your annual subscription to the Local Government Association. This is a surprisingly significant sum.

Translation: We don’t like this group as they actually stand up to us and represent you, stop funding them please. Oh, and the LGA have reduced their subscription prices.

Cancel payments for diversity training/consultancy provided by such bodies as Stonewall.

See above.

Sell surplus assets. This is a crucial means of reducing debt and thus the debt interest payments which are often a big component of what the Council Tax funds.

Selling stuff for other uses. Why didn’t we think of that before? Perhaps we can loudly announce it like the Government so undermining our bargaining position, rather than getting a fair market value.

Or, radically, we could buy land through borrowing, develop it, and sell it at a profit. Nah, that’ll never catch on…

If you don’t have debt and have reserves in the bank. Why are you keeping the reserves? You will only end up being tempted to spend it on something. The reserves should be diminished by lower Council Tax. Remember whose money it is.

Yeah, why are you undertaking prudential financial planning, local government. I mean, it’s not as if you have been affected by the collapse of banks or anything (we got lucky that we got anything back at all). And it’s not as if local people want us to be prudent with their money.

And where has this idea that debt is bad come from? So long as there is a good business case for your investment then taking on debt is fine. If debt was bad, why aren’t the TPA slating all homeowners nationally?

Employing full time Disabled Access Officers in the Planning Department is poor value for money. Planning applications have to meet statutory requirements for disabled access but it should not be for Councils to engage in “gold plating.”

Who the hell does this? Frankly, if they do and all Planning Officers are trained in equalities (oh, you hate that don’t you) they deserve to be named and shamed.

Use sprinklers in care homes, allowing a potential reduction in night staff and a safer situation for elderly residents. Homes that do not have sprinklers can be more dangerous when a fire occurs as it sometimes takes several members of staff to carry one resident to safety. This has been proven not only to save money but to save lives. The National Fire Sprinkler Network has done marvellous work on this.

Yeah, because the staff are only there to put out fires. It’s not as if they will be there to, I don’t know, help out the elderly when they fall or deal with emergencies that don’t involve fires raging through the building. Plus, even if the sprinklers work, I think the general advice from the Fire Brigade in the event of a fire is to get the fuck out of the building. A bit hard for the elderly if there are no staff on site, eh?

Shop around for your insurance premiums

Obvious, stating, are, you, the. Rearrange those words into a sentence.

Cease to collect trade union membership subscriptions – at least without charge.

Dock staff pay for something that they have a legal right to have. That’ll do wonders for staff morale. I know you hate the unions, but try not to make it so blatant. Besides, we laughed this off when your pal Eric Pickles suggested the same thing.

Review street lighting usage. Some councils have excessive street lighting. As with much else, this is probably due to a culture of being unduly risk averse over health and safety. Aside from the cost, we cause light pollution and increase our carbon footprint. Councillors should consult residents to see where the lighting is really needed or where it may be switched off 30 minutes or an hour earlier.

Again, many of us are already doing this. But when reduced street lighting may increase the number of accidents and increase the amount of crime and anti-social behavior, we are somewhat averse to it. And when the hell did the Taxpayers Alliance start giving a shit about carbon footprints?

Councils should not be running leisure centres. They could still pay for subsidised swimming for local residents or particular groups should they so choose. This will tend to be more cost effective than running the whole operation.

Why the hell not?

Where appropriate use cattle and sheep to graze on council land rather than spending money on grass cutting.

Oh Christ where the start on this one. Who will manage all of this livestock on a daily basis? Feed it, ensure it is well-watered, ensure they are in good health or haven’t escaped? How will we pay for their transport? How much will it cost to buy them, and also to put up fences (and repair them) to control them? We can’t have the flock shitting all over the playing fields can we?

This strikes me as somebody went to the countryside, saw some sheep in a field, and thought why not? You don’t just let them out in a field and leave them alone you know.

Oh, and they tried this in Brighton. Didn’t work out too well.

Scrap requirements for contractors, for instance, requiring a building firm tendering for work to produce an “equalities policy”. All firms have to abide by plenty of statutory requirements on equality as it is. Councils should not be involved in gold plating. It imposes a double cost. Putting off contractors tendering who can’t be bothered with an equalities policy possibly means ending up with higher costs. There is also the staff time taken up with the “assessment” of the equalities policies.

Hang on, so if they comply with equalities legislation and policies, where is the double cost in this? And if they aren’t and doing so is a cost, why should local authorities contract a supplier that is breaking the law? Besides, you know full well that most council contracts are decided on cost, and equalities is just a minor part of the assessment.

Speed up the planning process. Give clear guidelines about the basics such as good design in the initial stages but reduce the gold plating demands on matters such as health and safety and disabled access. A lot of officers spend their time on such matters but the statutory requirements are quite onerous enough.

Oh I would love to see the evidence of this. And if “gold plating” means making sure that planning applications comply with the law, then gold plate away.

Don’t be too proud to constantly check if other authorities are achieving lower costs or higher standards for a service and, if so, whether they are achieving this through greater efficiency. Benchmark. Benchmark. Benchmark. After that do some more benchmarking.

Don’t you want us to do away with monitoring?

Set maximum word limits on the length of reports submitted by officers. Long reports that nobody reads are a waste of officer time and a means of avoiding accountability for spending.

How the hell this saves money outside of literally a few pieces of paper I don’t know. And for ‘avoiding accountability’ I read ‘explaining technical detail with as much clarity and precision as possible.’

Cease employing European Officers. I understand they are particularly prevalent on county councils. Essentially they are propagandists for European integration.

In other words, we don’t like them because they are part of the EUROFACISTS WHO WANT TO TAKE OUR FREEDOM!! If you don’t like the EU that’s fine, but these officers tap into vast funding streams like Habitat, Marco Polo, and Civitas. They probably raise more in one year for local government than the TPA raises in several.

Ensure you have the highest possible penalties for staff engaged in fraud.

Like getting fired and being prosecuted? You clearly haven’t read the terms and conditions of your average local government officer.

Would it make sense for a county council and its constituent districts to form a unitary authority? Councillors in Wiltshire have said this has saved a fortune through efficiency savings after they formed a unitary authority in 2010.

Give your pal Pickles a call. We think this is a stonking idea, but he doesn’t. You are clearly in his good books so can you have a quiet word? Thanks.

Joint procurement.

You mentioned this right at the beginning of your list. In fact I count at least 20 points which are just reiterating ones earlier in the list. Clearly an example of public sector inefficiency. Oh…

Publish all spending on suppliers – not just items over £500.

You know that there is a staff cost with doing this. If you want transparency with spending, that’s fine. Just don’t pretend that this is a money-saving measure.

Use a Car Club for staff. This has saved Croydon Council half a million pounds.

Stone the bloody crows, this is a good idea!! To be fair there are a few good ideas in this list, but being a transport person this one stuck out for me.

Scrap “Equalities Impact Assessments.”

We have a statutory duty for promoting equalities, so by doing this you clearly want us to break the law and get sued. Perhaps we could be sued by a benefit scrounger living in a 15 bedroom council house with their 5 kids, represented by a solicitor employed at a council-run law centre. I’m sure you’ll love that.

Prioritise “reablement.” This is the process of making practical adjustments which
allow the elderly to return to living in their own homes.

Where the hell have you been for the last 10 years? This is standard practice for god’s sake.

Publish the job titles of all members of staff. This doesn’t need to include salary information but it will give taxpayers and other staff members in the council a sense of the council’s priorities and allow unnecessary jobs to be rooted out.

By rooting out you mean pester them because you think their job is worthless without trying to find out what they actually do. And yes, I have seen this happen, and it’s bloody awful seeing a junior officer getting harassed by somebody who thinks they know better. So forgive me if I say “sod off” to this one.

Don’t spend money on youth gimmicks such as youth parliaments. Instead look at initiatives that don’t really cost money. Hosting school debating competitions at the town hall, for instance – which can also provide a positive opportunity for children from state and independent schools to mix. These can be organised by the schools themselves without employment of Youth Workers.

If you know of an electric supplier that provides electricity for free can you give me their number? This would also require co-ordination by council officers, which I am sure is done for free also.

Improving digital communications can save staff time. For instance, providing a subscription service for email alerts means residents can indicate the sort of thing they are interested in. Parents will be interested in school closures, motorists will be interested in road closures, etc. This means that fewer residents will call help lines unnecessarily.

Our authority is in the dark ages internet-wise, but even we do this.

Incentives for recycling – for example vouchers can be negotiated with local retailers.
Windsor & Maidenhead have offered Marks and Spencer vouchers in the past.

Hang on, this sort of thing costs money and really isn’t what the Council should be doing. Oh, this is the joke entry, right?

Alternatively, we could deliver things that both reduce costs and boost recycling. Something like fortnightly bin collections which have been an unbridled success at doing exactly that.

Provide council tenants with rewards for carrying out their own repairs.

I can just see council tenants rewiring their own electrics for a few M&S vouchers, rather than getting the local authority to do it for free and with an approved tradesman.

Withdraw funding for speed cameras.

Clearly killing more people reduces the burden on the taxpayer. That’s much more of a priority than ensuring that people don’t actually die on our roads and improving safety around things like schools and collision blackspots. Besides, aren’t speed cameras cash cows for local authorities?

Don’t pay membership subs for the Royal Town Planning Institute.

What have the RTPI done to piss the TPA off? Has an RTPI-accredited officer refused an extension on a TPA Director’s house or something?

Don’t just renew contracts. Retender.

You do know that retendering can be a costly exercise, and contract renewal can be the best value for local authorities, right?

Don’t spend any money seeking design advice from the modernist Commission for the Built Environment (CABE)

What the hell have CABE done? Apart from be experts in their field and provide a wealth of quality advice on design issues? The TPA really do hate everyone, don’t they?

Don’t advertise for jobs in Guardian when you really do need to recruit – use your council website instead

Firstly, most of us do this anyway. Secondly, advertising the position wider means we get a variety of quality candidates for each position. And thirdly, we know you hate the Guardian. Stop bleating on about it.

I could tear into almost all of the suggestions made, but frankly it’s getting late and I’m tired. Besides, it means that I will have to repeat all of this politically-motivated clap trap, and I don’t have the time for all of that.

Oh, and in case the TPA do happen upon this, I wrote all of this in my spare time. So don’t worry about me wasting council tax payers money, not when you should be worrying about wasting the money of your donors on stating the obvious and a whole lot of wrongness.

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2 thoughts on “201 ways to be wrong

  1. H Henderson

    Stop employing project managers. They don’t do anything. They fill in paper, hold up decision making & never stand up to be counted when issues pointed out by professionals but ignored by Project Managers go wrong. Biggest money making middle management racket existing in almost all Government.

    Reply

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