Sunday, 7 November 2010

Council tax summonses hit a new high

We all have to pay our council tax, and we know we can be imprisoned for non-payment. The thought of appearing before the magistrates’ court is enough for the vast majority of us to pay up on time, even though we know so much of our hard earned cash is being wasted in town halls across the country.

A story emerged last week that both Hull City Council and East Riding Council have being issuing summonses for late payment as if they are going out of fashion. If you wish to pay your council tax each month by payment methods other than direct debit, East Riding Council insists you pay on the 1st of the month, and Hull insists you pay by the 7th of the month.

There are many reasons why some people do not choose the direct debit option. Some pensioners don’t trust it. Some people may have been declared bankrupt and cannot open a bank account. Many people are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate and cannot be certain to have the cash available at the set time. Surely, it would not be too much to expect councils to show some consideration? If a payment for November is paid in November, does it matter if it’s paid on the 7th of the month, or the 15th? Councils think differently and are making sure those who can least afford it get the nasty letters and demands.

I will give you an example. Someone who I know contacted me recently. He has just had to find over £600 to pay off his council tax bill in full for the rest of the year. His crime was being just two days late on his payments on three occasions in the past seven months. His business is not doing very well at the moment and life for him is a struggle. Like many people in Britain he is having to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. He has never been more than a couple of days in arrears, but is Hull City Council bothered? Not in the least. No offers of help and certainly no notification of what will happen if you pay your bill late for a third month.

People who chose to pay by direct debit are also falling foul of the rules too.  If a bank pays the council a day late because the due date falls on a weekend, that triggers off a nasty letter. Think about it. If your bank pays your direct debit a day late three times in a year, you will be told you have forfeited your right to pay in instalments, and will receive a demand for the full amount. If you don’t pay, you will be taken to court. 

We are only seven months into the current financial year, and already summonses have been issued to more than 10% of households in Hull. At this rate, around 1 in 5 households will receive a summons by the end of March. If a private company treated people in this way councillors across the country would be up in arms. When councils treat people badly, councillors stay quiet.

Council tax bills have doubled over the last decade. All of us have witnessed councils wasting our cash in variety of different ways, and despite public opposition, councillors have not listened. They expect us to pick up the bill. If they hadn’t wasted so much money, council tax bills would be lower and those struggling to make ends meet would find it easier to pay.

If you want to know how your council treats people with financial difficulties, and how many summonses they have issued this year, contact me (, and I will send you a ready made Freedom of Information Request for you to send off.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Council leaders need to ‘think out of the box’

Below is an article I wrote for the Hull & East Riding Mail, published on Tuesday 26 October.

Last week, George Osborne announced details of the long-awaited comprehensive spending review. Over the next four years, the government will make over £80 billion of spending cuts, and although this is a huge amount of money, it is important to put these figures into perspective.

Today the government spent £120 million to pay off the interest on its debts. This equates to over £43 billion a year. In September, the government borrowed £16.2 billion, simply to pay its bills. There is no doubt cuts have to be made, and councils across the country will have to make savings of over 7% every year for the next four years.

Many will think this is impossible and are dreading the worst, but there are councils in the UK who have achieved significant savings in recent years, and importantly, frontline services have not been affected. Necessity is the mother of invention, and these cuts bring both challenges and opportunities.

The Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, once said, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand.” Or as Ronald Reagan once said, “Government always finds a need for whatever money it gets.” Government isn’t good at running things. It invariably makes a hash of anything it gets its hands on. Most capital projects come in way over time and way over budget, so my advice to council leaders is to ‘think out of the box.’

What they should do is come up with a list of services they currently provide and ask themselves if these services could be provided cheaper and more effectively by an outside organisation. For example, what do councils know about running arts centres? Not much, but arts charities do, and can run arts centres in a better and more cost effective way.

Windsor and Maidenhead Council recently installed smart meters in its buildings and the result was a 15% reduction in energy consumption. The London boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham, and Kensington & Chelsea have proposed to merge all their services, from schools and refuse collection to child protection, under the direction of a single chief executive. They estimate they can collectively save £100 million. Although there will be job losses, many workers will jump at the opportunity to retire early or take voluntary redundancy. Perhaps this is something Hull and East Riding councils should think about? Is there a reason why two neighbouring councils should have two chief executives, over a dozen directors, and management teams duplicating the work of each other? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to pool resources?

No doubt Carl Minns and Stephen Parnaby have their own ideas, but what they must do is preserve frontline services. I think they can do that, improve some services, and deliver a reduction in costs. Time will tell how successful they are.

I’m sure many readers will have ideas how their councils can save money. Council leaders are currently looking for ideas, before they start finalising their budgets. Why not contact your council and make your suggestions?

Friday, 8 October 2010

Car Parking in Hull and Sheffield

Last week, I wrote about a campaign organised by businesses in Hull City Centre. They are tired of over-zealous parking wardens driving away potential customers, and are appealing to Hull City Council to show some leadership and rein in the wardens. 

In Hull, free parking in council car parks - apart from a Sunday - is not available. You cannot park on a city centre street with incurring a charge - even on a Sunday - and the parking wardens patrol the city's streets determined to raise as much revenue as possible. 
The government is encouraging us all to be part of the 'big society.' For this to work, local councils need to remember they exist is serve the public. People who want to shop and businesses who want to trade need to be able to do so with councils helping them; not working against them. 
So, top marks to councillors in Sheffield who have listened. As for Hull City Council -it must do better, and with important elections taking place in the city next year, now is a good time to tell the leader, Cllr Carl Minns ( and the cabinet member responsible for parking, Mike Ross ( you want an end to high parking charges and over-zealous parking wardens. The prospect of people not voting for you and your party usually has the effect of changing politicians' minds. 

Friday, 1 October 2010

The parking nightmare in Hull

I’m starting to think about the old-fashioned traffic wardens in a nostalgic way. They were the scourge of every motorist, but – in Hull at least – they generally used some common sense before issuing a parking ticket.

Five years ago, Hull City Council took over the responsibility of parking enforcement and awarded a contract to a private company, Vinci Park. I have no idea if their parking wardens are on commission, but judging by their behaviour, they may as well be.

If your car is parked in a space, but a small portion is hanging over a yellow line, you’ll get a ticket. One lady couldn’t get into a parking space, so decided to abandon her attempt and move into a larger space that had just been vacated. The parking warden issued a ticket because she moved out of the space and should not have used another space until an hour had elapsed. One 89 year-old lady received a fine for displaying her disabled badge upside down.

The behaviour of the wardens has prompted businesses in the city centre to organise a campaign against them. Needless to say the TPA is right behind them. In the current economic climate it is hard to earn a living. The last thing you want is customers driven away by petty jobsworths who have nothing better to do than inflict pain on unsuspecting members of the public who are, at best, guilty of minor infringements.

Hull City Council has said it will listen to the concerns and take them into account when its contract with Vinci Park  is up for renewal. This is where all of us can get involved. The cabinet member responsible for parking is Councillor Mike Ross ( Write to him and tell him how dissatisfied you are with Vinci Park and how tired you are of being treated like a cash cow. If enough people bombard his inbox, he will be forced to take this into account when the new contract is awarded.

In the meantime, I am in the process of contacting people to see how this campaign can be accelerated and given the prominence it deserves. I will – as ever – keep you informed of the progress made.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Bridlington Renaissance Parnership

If you want an example of how not to regenerate a town, Bridlington is a prime  example. These are not just my words; speak to residents of the town, and they will tell you the same. Millions of pounds has been spent on controversial projects and despite local opposition, the appointed guardians of regeneration, the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership (BRP), has ploughed on regardless. One councillor told me many residents have contacted him with complaints, but because the BRP is not under the control of East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) he was unable to put a stop to the excesses.

Yorkshire Forward – along with all Regional Development Agencies – is soon to be confined to the dustbin of history, therefore ERYC has now decided to fund the BRP itself. There isn’t going to be a review into how the regeneration will continue. The same people will be employed to do the same things – the very same things people have been complaining about. Here is a quote from Cllr Geoff Pickering who represents the Bridlington South Ward:

"The cabinet has approved a number of notable extensions to the lifetime of the Bridlington Renaissance Project, but without reassessment of the delivery needs and mechanisms.

"Despite the cabinet's continued support, the council's aims for the town's economy have not been realised. In any other environment, this would trigger a thorough investigation, not another extension.

"There has not even been a basic skills assessment of the posts involved to ensure we have the right job descriptions and right capacity to move forward, instead, an unquestioned extension of all contracts.

"This does not represent best practice and is not a financially responsible position. This report is authored by officers who have a vested interest in maintaining their jobs."

Cllr Pickering sums it up. If public money is going to be placed into the regeneration pot, there must be careful consideration  of the needs and views of local people. In private business, aims and objectives would have to be met, otherwise you wouldn’t be in business for very long. Carrying on regardless – which appears to be the policy of ERYC – not only continues to waste public money, but is a ‘kick in the teeth’ for hard pressed taxpayers paying for it.

Senior ERYC councillors must take political control and do the job they were elected to do. They must no longer give the BRP a free hand. They must listen and act on the views of local councillors and residents. There needs to be a clear business case put forward before a penny more is spent, and those responsible for previous failures need to be told to look for alternative employment.

Put in place the right tax and regulatory regimes, work hand-in-hand with the private sector, and solutions will be found that will create jobs and prosperity. As for the grandiose nonsense no-one wants; confine it  - just like Yorkshire Forward - to the dustbin of history.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Augmented pensions at East Riding of Yorkshire Council

The headline in the East Riding Mail this morning read: Staff Pension cutbacks ‘would save council £255,000 over five years’. It sounds good, but when you read the detail, you realise it’s still very much ‘business as usual’ at County Hall, in Beverley.

Many will remember Sue Lockwood, the former Corporate Resources Director of East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC). The TPA held two protests outside County Hall, protesting against a discretionary payment made to her pension fund of £364,205. She received this outrageous sum because she wanted to take early retirement. This was at a time when councillors were also saying the council could no longer afford to fund some community projects. Where charities lost out, senior council employees won.

ERYC is now proposing a change. As it stands, when employees wish to take early retirement their pensions can be enhanced by 5 years; as was the case with Ms Lockwood. Under new proposals, this enhancement will decrease to a maximum of 2 years, hence the headline in the East Riding Mail. By my calculations, instead of receiving £364K, Ms Lockwood would have received over £145K. Still a sizeable sum by anyone’s standards.

I made my views very clear in the press a couple of weeks ago. Council employees already receive generous, taxpayer funded pensions. If you work for 30 years, you should receive a pension based on 30 years service; not 35 or 32 years. This should be the message coming out of County Hall. Instead Cllr Cross, chairman of the review panel, said these proposals were fair to taxpayers and staff. No, Cllr Cross, they are generous to staff and unfair to taxpayers.

These proposals have yet to be discussed by the cabinet and full council. I will be writing to all cabinet members, and making the TPA’s case that council employees should not receive any enhancements in their pensions. If that doesn’t work, I can feel another protest coming on. Watch this space.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Councillors’ allowances and taxpayer funding of unions

Below is a short article I wrote for the Hull Daily Mail, published on Saturday 11 September.


At this time of year, we learn how much our local councillors have been paid in allowances and expenses, and the perennial debate commences on whether or not they provide value for money. During the course of my work, I speak to many councillors and there are those who are extremely hardworking and, as in any other profession or walk of life, there are those who are not.

This year, though, the leader of East Riding of Yorkshire Council, Stephen Parnaby, announced councillors in his authority will not receive a rise next year and Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council, has announced cabinet members will take a pay cut of 5% from January next year. We in the Taxpayers’ Alliance welcome these moves, as it shows councillors are prepared to lead by example as the inevitable cuts to public services start to bite. My only is question to Mr Parnaby is: Why has it taken so long? Hull City councillors have been on a pay freeze for the last four years. Nevertheless, his decision is welcome news.

What has annoyed me – and many others on the Mail’s website – are the comments from Dave Mathieson, the convenor of the UNITE union in Hull. He has called for all councillors in the city to take a pay cut. This is not a reasonable option – considering they have not received an increase in four years – and his comments prove the old adage, people in glass houses should not throw stones.

Mr Mathieson is not paid by his union; he is paid by the taxpayer. He has received salary increases over the past four years and as far as I’m aware, he has not volunteered to take a 5% pay cut himself. I am not ideologically opposed to trades’ unions. If people wish to join one, it is up to them. I think my views are in tune with the majority of the British people, however, it is wrong that every taxpayer in the country indirectly funds them. If UNITE wants a full-time convenor in Hull, it should pay for it themselves.

I have seen the income from my business fall by around a third in the past couple of years. If only my outgoings had done the same. If Mr Mathieson wants to lead by example, perhaps he should resign from his job at Hull City Council, become a full-time employee on his union’s payroll, and relieve taxpayers of the expense of his salary. If he does this voluntarily, I will be the first person to congratulate him.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Senior councillors take a pay cut

It was announced this morning that Hull City Council cabinet members are taking a 5% pay cut. There are those who will say this is gesture politics, and the net savings to taxpayers will be very small. In comparison to the overall council budget, we are talking about small change, however, what this decision does is send a clear message to council workers and council taxpayers that the cabinet is prepared to lead by example.  This also comes on the back of a four-year pay freeze for the city’s councillors, and a decision to reduce the pay of the chief executive when the post was advertised last year.

Today’s announcement is very welcome news and something we in the TPA have been campaigning for. We hope other councils around the country will follow Hull’s example.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

East Riding councillors’ allowances rise by 25% in four years

This is the time of year when we learn how much councillors have been paid in allowances and expenses. It was reported in the Hull Daily Mail that a total of £1.2 million was paid to East Riding councillors for 2009/10; an increase of £100,000 on the previous year. Although the council leader, Stephen Parnaby has said  there will be a freeze on allowances next year (an election year), this compares very badly to Hull City Council where councillors have been on a pay freeze for the last four years.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2005/6, at total of £946, 208 was paid to Hull City councillors. In 2009/10, this increased to £955,409; a rise of 1%. In the East Riding, councillors were paid £906,000 in 2005/6. In just four years, councillors have seen their allowances and expenses rise by almost 25%. In the past year, when the rest of us have been struggling to make ends meet, East Riding councillors have enjoyed an increase of almost 10%.

The usual excuses will no doubt be reeled out, saying that councillors give excellent value for money, and they are only implementing the decisions of the Independent Review Panel. This is cold comfort for taxpayers who have seen their council tax bills rise, and have had to pay huge sums of money into the pension funds of senior staff who have applied for early retirement.

The gravy train has not hit the buffers, but perhaps, if we are lucky, we can say it has hit an uphill gradient. Time will tell.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Local Enterprise Partnerships

When the government announced the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) I was asked by a local journalist if I was already dancing on the bonfire. It was a little premature as, unfortunately, RDAs will still be with us until April 2012. I had hoped they were going to be abolished next year, as leaving them there until 2012 is rather like letting an animal die a slow death, but at least they are on the way out. Three cheers to that!

When the government then announced RDAs would be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), my heart sank. This sounded like another excuse to form many local quangos around the country. Unfortunately, this is still a possibility, and it all depends on who is your local council leader.

It was reported in the Hull Daily Mail yesterday, Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council are going to form a LEP, rather than have a body covering both banks of the Humber. After speaking to the leader of Hull City Council, Carl Minns, I am reassured to hear the proposed LEP will not have a set budget, will not have additional staff, will not have new offices (existing space will be utilised), and above all will be fully accountable to both councils. He reminded me, as if I didn’t need reminding,  there was no money for all of these ‘extras’, although it is good to have these assurances on the record.

This is the good news, but unfortunately not all council leaders believe in prudence and accountability. The following is from the official news feed of Leeds City Council, and you will see how the Leeds City Region LEP is going to take shape:


Leeds City Region Partnership brings together the 11 local authorities of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire to work across administrative boundaries to promote economic growth and a better quality of life for our communities. With close to 3m people, a resident workforce of 1.3m, over 100,000 businesses and an economy worth over £50bn each year, Leeds City Region is the largest city region outside London.


Isn’t the point of LEPs in the title; local? Doesn’t this rather sound like an RDA with a different source for funding it? It does to me, and I have heard on the grapevine it will have its own staff and offices, and I would bet the shirt off my back that accountability to local businesses and residents will take a back seat to the bureaucracy this LEP will create. When it comes to attracting investment to the area, how will smaller council areas fare, compared to places like Leeds and Bradford? Those two councils will no doubt contribute larger amounts of cash than their smaller partners.

Two of the biggest criticisms I have heard about Yorkshire Forward is its bureaucracy and its failings in helping small businesses.  How is this going to change? It’s not, and that is the problem. At least with the proposed LEP in East Yorkshire, there is a chance of bringing inward investment benefitting Hull and surrounding areas, with the minimum of red tape. This is a model I had hoped other councils would take a lead from, rather than more grandiose schemes, which we thought were going to be a thing of the past.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Proposed Academies in Hull – Update

On Saturday 7 August, I had the following letter published in the Hull Daily Mail:

Dear Editor,

The news that Hull City Council intends to go ahead and attempt to build a new school academy in West Hull, defies all logic. Although Endeavour High School has been beset with problems almost from the start, its buildings are only a few years old and could easily accommodate a new academy. Instead, the council - through the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme - is intent on getting its hands on millions of pounds of our money to build a new school when other services will be facing cuts.

Elsewhere in the city, despite huge public opposition, BSF intends to rob residents of the Princess Elizabeth Playing Fields by building the new Northern Academy. Other sites were available, but thanks to bureaucratic red tape and sheer belligerence, they have been bypassed. It does make you wonder when our elected representatives will listen to the people who elect them? We all want the best education possible for our children, but this does not necessarily mean we need new buildings. It is what goes on in the classroom that matters. Instead of throwing money at the problem, why don't we start getting the basics right? Angering the public and building schools that aren't needed is not the way forward.

A fresh campaign has already started in North Hull.  Residents are once again collecting signatures and writing letters in an attempt to get the council and the government to see sense, and build the academy in a better location. If you agree with them, please write to the press and voice your concerns. Outline planning permission has already been granted, but a strong campaign can still halt the building work.

The same goes for the building of the proposed new academy in West Hull. Write to the Hull Daily Mail or the Yorkshire Post, and voice your concerns. You can also write to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, and tell him what you think. If the government really does believe in listening to us, this is a good way to test the water.

The West Hull Academy can easily be housed in existing buildings. The Northern Academy can easily be built in places other than playing fields that are well used by local people. We can’t do it alone. Please help in the campaign.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Welfare Reform

This is the new video from the TPA, highlighting our new report on welfare reform. The full report can be found here.

I find it amazing that many who are on benefits will only be 26p an hour better off going out to work. Is it any wonder there are too many people claiming state benefits who should be in work?

Millions to be spent on another new academy in Hull

The education system in Hull has taken more than its fair share of knocks over the years. In all fairness to the teachers, Hull is a city where education is regarded as unimportant. Until parents realise their children’s future lies with a good education, very little will change. Today though one school is celebrating. St Mary’s School has received an outstanding OFSTED report and it is the first school in the city to ever receive such a commendation. Well done to the pupils and staff who have worked very hard to achieve this.

Unfortunately, elsewhere in the city our money is being wasted through the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Seven years ago, a new school opened on Beverley Road, called Endeavour High School. It was an amalgamation of William Gee and Amy Johnson Schools. It was beset with problems as soon as it opened its doors. Hull City Council wants to close this school and build a new academy in the west of the city. The academy’s new home could be the Boulevard, the former home of Hull FC Rugby League Club. The council states Endeavour was built in the wrong location! So what? Why should taxpayers have to shell out millions of pounds, especially with the current cuts starting to bite, because Hull City Council wants to relocate after less than 10 years? The last government approved the relocation, and it looks like nothing is going to change. Once a site can be found, building work will take place. All of this is on top of the costs of acquiring land to build the new Northern Academy to replace Sir Henry Cooper School. Whilst none of us want our children to be educated in falling down schools, surely it is what goes on in the classroom that matters.

Schools in the area have been told there is no extra money available to them. So why is it Michael Gove thinks is it appropriate to spend money on a new academy, when the school it is replacing has buildings less than 10 years old?

This nonsense is complete waste of money and I hope the government has a rethink and decides to shelve this ridiculous plan.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Boston Tea Party

On Sunday 11 July, I attended the Boston Tea Party. No, I am not Dr Who on a time travelling adventure. This tea party took place in the original Boston in Lincolnshire and was organised by the Freedom Association.

The tea party movement in the United States has taken the country by storm. Ordinary citizens who are sick and tired of high taxes and government waste, have come together to voice their opposition to the ruling elite. This is what we did a few days ago. As well as dumping tea into the river, we also heard short speeches from Roger Helmer MEP (Conservative), Derek Clark MEP (UKIP), and Robin Tilbrook, the leader of the English Democrats.

We British are not good at taking to the streets and protesting. We tend to complain to our friends and relatives, maybe write the odd letter to the press, and sign a petition or two, but usually that’s as far as it goes. Remember, if you want change, you have to campaign for it. How about setting up a TPA branch in your area? If this interests you, Grassroots Manger, Fiona McEvoy will happily hear from you.

Monday, 28 June 2010

No more handouts in the East Riding

Last Wednesday, the Hull & East Riding TPA protested again outside County Hall in Beverley. For the reasons why we were protesting, click HERE. The protest was also covered by the Politics Show. To see the footage, click HERE, and scroll in 54 minutes.

I am pleased to report three Conservative councillors voted to disagree with the decision to award Ms Lockwood her discretionary payment, and three others abstained. If a few others had the guts to stand up to the leadership, rather than be bullied, the vote could easily have gone against Cllr Parnaby and his cabinet.

I would urge all members and supporters who are tired of seeing their money thrown down the drain, to stand up and be counted. Ms Lockwood may have her money, but payments like this will not take place again, and this is largely through the pressure we have put on the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. In this respect we have won a major victory, and the council knows the TPA will be looking over its shoulder, scrutinising the decisions it makes.

Many thanks to all our supporters who have sent me messages of support. They are appreciated. I cannot do my work representing the TPA without you.

Friday, 18 June 2010

New TPA Video: £20.8 million paid to the EU every day

Yorkshire Forward

Last week I wrote about the abolition of one of the  local regeneration quangos, Hull Forward.  Since then, Hull Forward has been winning the PR war, and there is a popular misconception  in the city that regeneration work will now stop.  It wasn’t helped by Cllr Rick Welton, the cabinet portfolio holder responsible for regeneration, who was interviewed by Peter Levy on BBC Look North. He stated Hull City Council would not be able to do as good a job as Hull Forward, which is complete nonsense, and thankfully his views are not shared by all of his colleagues.

Today, Yorkshire Forward is in the spotlight as it battles for its own survival. The TPA has long campaigned for the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAS). To read a report we published in 2008, click here. There are two main reasons why I would like to see Yorkshire Forward abolished. It is unaccountable to the people it is supposed to serve and it has not been a driver for economic change, and has therefore been a waste of money.

Yorkshire Forward – in common with all RDAs – is only accountable to ministers who fund it. Getting a grant approved involves a hugely burdonsome bureaucratic process and if you look at the accounts of, for example, Hull Forward and the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership, you will find out huge sums of money are paid to those unelected and largely unaccountable local quangos. From what people tell me, the partnership is far from popular in Bridlington. Local small businesses are unhappy that our money is being spent on consultants and architects telling them what is good for them. If they want to complain, their councillors cannot help them in any way, as the ‘renaissance’ is not under local authority control. This has to stop and any future regeneration projects must become fully accountable.

The UK’s recovery must be lead by the private sector. One thing we have learned over the past decade is we cannot afford a huge public sector. Small businesses are the life-blood of the British economy, and it is essential they get the support they need. A reduction in the rate of corporation tax small businesses pay will allow them to invest in their companies. An increase in the threshold small businesses have to pay corporation tax would also help them enormously. This can be achieved if RDAs are abolished, and the money saved put in this area.

We can no longer afford to pump money into ineffective quangos, and handing control of the regeneration purse strings to local authorities will allow you and I to question how our money is being spent. The more accountability there is, the less scope there is to waste our taxes.

I will discussing Yorkshire Forward with Peter Levy tonight on BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Hull Forward to be abolished

The news buzzing around Hull today is one of the local Quangos, Hull Forward, will close-down in September. I naturally feel for the 34 staff who will lose their jobs, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy Hull Forward is going to be abolished.

Some local businesses are expressing regret over the decision, however it is important to note regeneration work in the city will still continue. It can be done by existing staff in Hull City Council, and if the council wishes to employ more people, no doubt some of those who are losing their jobs will be under consideration. It simply doesn't need an additional Quango to do this work. It is an expense the taxpayer can do without, along with another chief executive on a six-figure salary, and after September money spent on attracting businesses and on regeneration projects will become fully accountable. This is a positive move.  
Now that Hull Forward has been despatched, how about some of the other non-accountable bodies such as the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership? More about this local Quango later this week. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Protest Rally, 23 June

The Yorkshire Post reports today that many voluntary and community groups in the East Riding of Yorkshire will miss out on grants awarded by the council which has received applications totalling £134,445. Only £73,000 is in the pot, which the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) cabinet is unlikely to change.

Money is tight and it is the responsibility of councillors to spend our money wisely and I am sure many voluntary groups will be disappointed. I’m sure though those groups will look at some of the recent decisions of ERYC and feel they are being short changed. In 2008, councillors approved large inflation busting pay rises to retain the services of senior staff. Any responsible authority would have attached strings to these deals; such as not allowing them to leave their jobs for 5 years. It didn’t and as a result three senior officers have left (with an enhanced final salary pension) and large discretionary payments have been made to their pension funds. The most recent – and arguably the most notorious – has been the discretionary payment of £364,205 made to Sue Lockwood.

At the beginning of May we protested outside County Hall in Beverley, and on 23 June – the day after the emergency budget – a meeting of the full council will take place. We will be there again on a day when councillors will be able to ‘note with regret’ that the payment to Ms Lockwood has been authorised. We will be also be protesting against the removal of Cllr Gary Shores from two scrutiny committees. Cllr Shores joined us at the last rally, and the leadership has shown if you are a Conservative councillor, you cannot publicly disagree with them without consequences. What is the point of having a scrutiny process if anyone who disagrees with the cabinet is barred from serving on a scrutiny committee? What’s the point of having scrutiny committees? This proves once again that democracy is dead in County Hall.

We British are notoriously bad at complaining and protesting. We tend to accept our lot and moan to friends and family privately. Unless we publicly protest and make our views known, nothing will change. We protested in May, and we need to keep on protesting until they realise we are not going away. Please join us on 23 June, at 1.00pm. The full council meets at 2.00pm, so if you want to, you can sit in the public viewing area and watch your elected representatives in action.

Thank you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Promote tourism and don’t waste our money on gimmicks

Back in February, I campaigned for lower car parking charges in Beverley. Traders were complaining high parking charges were spoiling the cafe culture in the town, as shoppers were thinking about getting back to their cars, rather than relaxing with some coffee and cake. Thankfully, some parking charges have been reduced. This is a way of attracting visitors and not rushing them out of the town as quickly as they came in.

Last week, the cost of the Beverley Town trail was revealed, thanks to a Freedom of Information request from the Hull Daily Mail. Here is a picture of one of the sculptures that some people say will attract visitors.

There are 39 sculptures, and they range in cost from £1,500 to £43,500. The estimated cost in 2002 was £110,000. The actual cost is £350,000. More than half of this has been met with public money.

Beverley is a beautiful town, attracting many visitors. Making the town look clean and tidy is the right thing to do. Expensive gimmicks are not needed, and although this trail was planned during the years of plenty, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire (VHEY) are planning to waste more of our cash, this time installing sculptures along the Wolds Way. From the Hull Daily Mail:

Regional tourist board Visit Hull and East Yorkshire (VHEY) plans to install ten sculptures and six benches along the 79-mile route to attract tourists.

Despite being one of the country's most charming landscapes, the Wolds Way is the most under-walked national trail in England.

The "landmark" artworks will appear at locations including the Humber Bridge, Fridaythorpe, Millington and the dramatic Filey Brigg headland.

So far, £150,000 of funding has been secured from Leader, a European Community scheme managed by regional development agency Yorkshire Forward.

VHEY says it is hoping to secure money from the Arts Council England, local authorities, grant-giving trusts and private sponsorship.

It is a very beautiful part of Yorkshire, and once again doesn’t need any gimmicks. It’s needs better promotion. I want as many visitors as possible to experience what we have to offer. Promote what we have, and don’t waste our money in the process.

LibDem councillor in Hull defects to Labour

On a personal note, I have always thought a by-election should be automatically triggered when an MP or councillor defects to another party in between elections. Voters have elected a candidate under a party manifesto, and are clearly not getting what they thought when they placed their ‘X’ on the ballot paper. It’s not a common event, but it did happen in Hull last week.

Cllr Maureen Bristow, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hull, defected to the Labour Party. This does not change the overall balance of the council, as the Liberal Democrats still hold an overall majority. Cllr Bristow is up for re-election next year.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

£600K wasted by Doncaster Council

A quick factoid for you: If I was to stand up and talk about each Quango for just one minute, I would sit down after a marathon speech of 19 hours and 8 minutes. With over a thousand Quangos in the UK, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not remembering all of them, although occasionally some of the more obscure ones raise their ugly heads above the parapet. This week it is the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), and taxpayers have certainly paid a price for its ideas.

Like many of you, the Internet is my first port of call when I need some information. It doesn’t seem to matter what information you need, somewhere, somehow you will find it on the web. Thanks to advances in technology, I can also access anything I want on my mobile phone. I can send e-mails, check the latest news reports and access information about council services. If I’m having problems, instead of using my phone as a computer, I can dial a number and speak to someone. This is what the majority of people do, and those who do not have access to the Internet can pop down to their local library or use a friend’s computer. In short, it has never been easier for us to get the information we need.

In 2005 – with the encouragement of IDeA -  Doncaster Council announced it would be installing 38 public information kiosks in public buildings and on street corners. It is only five years ago and at the time many people were using computers with Internet connections at home, and the next generation of mobile phones were about to be launched. Why then would you find the need to access information about council services on a street corner? The people of Doncaster answered the question very well; they didn’t and unsurprisingly many of these kiosks were vandalised. There was also - unsurprisingly when it comes to government IT projects – a series of technical problems which added to the costs. Now, five years later, the scheme is being quietly scrapped, with the taxpayer picking up a bill of over £600,000.

There are two morals to this story. When too many people think it isn’t their money, they will waste it,  and when our money is spent in a largely unaccountable way, more will be wasted in hair-brained schemes like this one. Doncaster Council should have known better, although IDeA, in an attempt to justify its existence, pushed council officers in this direction. How many other councils around the country fell for it and how much of our money has been wasted on similar schemes? When the Bonfire of the Quangos starts to burn, I will happily place IDeA on it.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Introducing Direct Democracy – better government for Hull & the East Riding

In 2008, I heard Douglas Carswell speak about ‘The Plan’, a book he co-authored with Daniel Hannan. I immediately bought a copy and after reading it thought this would never become government policy. It didn’t make any difference which party was in power (I didn’t think at the time we would have a coalition at the next election), self interest would always override the idealism leaders have in opposition. Giving away the power you now hold – and have been waiting years to hold – generally never happens.

The new government has made a good start, although I am disappointed I will not be asked in a referendum if I want an elected mayor for Hull. I do. I also think people in the East Riding should have the chance to decide if they want an elected mayor too. I would campaign with vigour for a yes vote in a referendum, but the whole point of direct democracy is letting people decide how they want to be governed. If they want an elected Mayor; let them have one. If they do not; then they won’t.

The plans set out on the Direct Democracy website would make a huge difference to a city like Hull, and would engage more residents in the political process. In local elections, only around a third of registered voters bother to visit the polling stations. Apathy in the political process in rife. So many think if they vote nothing will change, and who can blame them? The top-heavy, one-size-fits-all system of government we have in this country is largely responsible for this apathy.

Take a look at the website and read how these plans will positively affect you and the communities in which you live; and sign-up for the newsletter too. This is the best way we can join together and campaign for better government.

How long do you work for the tax man?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

All for one and one for all

This is from Big Brother Watch. Spend a minute or so to find out how the Ghanaian government is promoting ID cards. I haven’t laughed as much in a long time.


Costs rise for new Police Divisional HQ in Hull

Earlier this week I reported how Humberside Police were going to spend £25,000 on artwork outside their new – yet to be built – divisional headquarters in Hull. The good news today is the authority has backed down. Unfortunately, along with the good news there is some bad news. 

It has also been announced the cost of building this new police station has risen from £26 million to £33 million. I thought the first figure was excessive, but a £7 million hike really is unacceptable. The question on everyone’s lips is: how are they planning to spend this money? The answer is: we don’t know. Humberside Police are very tight lipped on this subject, but hopefully we will be better informed next week, however, looking at the plans it appears the new police station will have beautiful landscaped gardens. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fountain isn’t built to make us feel good when we go in to report a crime.

What really disappoints me is at a time when police resources are stretched, and nationally there are more civilians working for police authorities than warranted officers, the Humberside Police Authority feels it is appropriate to allow costs to rise on capital projects. One wonders when some public bodies will get it. We are trying to reduce costs and bring down the huge government debt that will soon pass the £800 billion mark.

As I said earlier, I should have more information on the breakdown of costs for the new HQ next week. I will report back when I have the figures to hand. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Humberside Police to spend £25K on artwork

Humberside Police are planning to build a new divisional headquarters in Hull, at an estimated cost of £26 million. The existing HQ in Queens Gardens is apparently no longer fit for service. The Taxpayers’ Alliance will be keeping on a close eye on the plans for the new HQ, for we all know major building projects involving public money  are regularly completed over-budget, with our money wasted in a variety of ways.

The Hull Daily Mail reports today that the police authority intends to set aside £25,000 to commission a piece of public art to stand in the plaza leading up to the main entrance. I am not an aficionado of modern sculpture, so I don’t know what £25K buys you these days, however, I do know placing a sculpture outside the main entrance to a police station is not necessary expenditure. I was talking to two police officers last year and they told me how stretched they were on manpower, so instead of wasting money, why doesn’t Humberside Police use it to recruit an additional police officer? Instead of spending £26 million on a state-of-the-art HQ, why doesn’t it scale back its plans and use the money saved to assist in fighting crime?  Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but isn’t fighting crime the main reason we have a police force?

Friday, 14 May 2010

East Riding Council to freeze council tax in 2011/12

In February, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council announced a 1.5% increase in council tax for 2010/11, saying it couldn’t find anymore efficiency savings and that it was dipping into reserve funds to limit the rise. Today it is reported the council leader, Stephen Parnaby, has announced a freeze in council tax for 2011/12. He said freezing the amount people pay would be achieved through savings being made across the authority, including £10 million over the last financial year.

The last financial year was 2009/10, the year in which he said he couldn’t make anymore savings. My response is to ask if it this easy to save money, why isn’t there going to be a reduction in council tax? I have previously stated that the council is overstaffed with managers, and the scope for efficiency savings, year on year, is great. If the council didn’t waste public money by making discretionary payments to senior officers’ pension funds, then there would be more scope to reduce council tax.

I was trying to work out why these savings were not passed in the current financial year, then I realised in May 2011 the full council is up for re-election. I’m not saying this is the reason, but it doesn’t do the Tory cause any harm going into local elections on the back of a council tax freeze – or possible reduction. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A message from Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance

Tax policy under the coalition

Britain has a new Government - and the first true coalition Government in over half a century. Whilst the ink is barely dry on the deal, and the full Cabinet and policy platform is yet to be announced, the first bits of information are surfacing about the tax policies they are likely to pursue.

On public spending, where many absolutely crucial decisions must be taken to battle the deficit and then reduce the national debt, we have yet to hear anything (other than an encouraging rumour about removing the Tory ringfence on NHS spending). We, of course, will be lobbying and campaigning hard to see the ideas for spending cuts contained in the TPA Manifesto and How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election) adopted - but we won't really know more until the emergency budget in around 6 weeks.

So what do we know on the tax side so far?

There were three key tax policy issues at stake going into the coalition negotiations, one of them Lib Dem and two Conservative. They are: the £10,000 income tax threshold (Lib Dem policy); scrapping Brown's National Insurance Rise (Conservative policy); raising the inheritance tax threshold (Conservative).

Each of these has been the subject of detailed negotiations, and here is the current state of play as we understand it:

£10,000 income tax threshold

This has survived the coalition deal, and has been taken up by both parties, widely being reported as a "priority". This is excellent news - it was among the most radical tax policies put forward during the campaign, and the Conservatives really missed a trick by not making it their own in the first place. It is both simple and sizeable, allowing the existing workforce to keep more of their own money - to the tune of £700 for the average worker - and providing a meaningful incentive for people to leave benefits and move into employment.

Scrapping Brown's National Insurance Rise

This has been a big rallying call - rightly - for the Conservatives. It's a tax on jobs, which is the last thing the country needs at the moment. Sadly, this proposal has only half-survived the negotiations, with the plan now apparently being to scrap the rise in the employers' national insurance but not the employees' share. So now it's just a tax rise on working, rather than a tax rise on employing someone, which is only a little better than Brown's original decision. The new Government are apparently saying that this is "offset" by their plan to increase the income tax threshold, but that means it is blunting the impact of that threshold change.

Raising the Inheritance Tax threshold

This has been a massive issue for the TPA, for the public, for the media and, latterly, for the Conservative Party. It's never been a fringe issue, and the Conservatives seem to have forgotten very quickly that when George Osborne announced it, the overwhelming popularity of the policy produced a surge in their poll rating, and prevented Brown calling an election which he may well have otherwise won. Indeed, you could say that the Inheritance Tax pledge was crucial to the Tories reaching Downing Street this week. It is dismaying, therefore, that it has been "put on the back burner" by the coalition with apparently no intention to propose it in the next five years. The millions who oppose this Death Tax will be disappointed, and the message of cutting taxes to encourage aspiration is taking a big hit. We will continue campaigning for Inheritance Tax to be abolished outright.

What next?

It's good news that the Liberal Democrats have forced the Conservatives to take up their Income Tax policy, but a great shame that the Tories have watered down the plans on National Insurance and booted Inheritance Tax into the long grass.

Perhaps this is down to a nervousness about the state of the public finances. Undoubtedly close scrutiny over the next few days and weeks could turn up some hidden nasties. However, the run up to the emergency budget will offer plenty of opportunities to identify new, larger spending cuts. The coalition must pursue the Google Government transparency agenda, which will bring the public into the process of identifying waste. Furthermore, they must listen to and absorb the proposals coming from ourselves and others. If they do that, I believe they could deliver all three of the above tax cuts - and taxpayers would thank them for it.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Together we’re keeping the pressure on East Riding of Yorkshire Council

A big thank you to all supporters who attended the protest rally outside County Hall, Beverley, last Monday. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. As some of you will be aware, I was unexpectedly admitted to hospital for the holiday weekend, and a big thank you goes to Matthew Elliott and Sara Rainwater for coming up from London and filling my shoes. A big thank you also goes to my better half, Becky, for making the placards that looked great on the television, and I’m sure they looked as great for those of you there in person.

It is fair to say I am not the most popular person in County Hall. Many councillors regard the TPA as a nuisance, preventing them for spending our money in any way they see fit. The leadership and cabinet have also become accustomed to making decisions in secret, and they are not used to proper scrutiny. Staring at the disinfectant of light, many of them are shielding their faces, hoping the light will once again turn to darkness so they can return to business as usual.

The leader of the council, Stephen Parnaby, has promised a review into discretionary payments. This is welcome news and we in the Hull & East Riding TPA will make sure no more discretionary payments are made in the future. If any member of staff wishes to take early retirement, I wish them well, but they have to realise the taxpayer is no longer prepared to top-up their pension pots.

We will also be keeping the pressure on the council to ensure senior officers never again receive large inflation busting pay rises and we will be campaigning for a reduction in pay too. If the leadership say it can’t be done, they only need to glance in the direction of Hull. Over the last few years, Hull City Council has reduced the number of managers and senior officers, resulting in a reduction in the salary bill and this year a freeze in council tax. It can be done and decisions can and should me made in a spirit of openness and transparency.

On a final note, all East Riding Conservative councillors received an e-mail from the secretary of the Tory group, Cllr Felicity Temple. She told them if they attended the rally it would be seen as an act of disloyalty to the leader and the group. Anyone attending would also lose any additional responsibilities they currently hold, such as the chairmanship of a scrutiny committee. As a result, none of the Conservative councillors who had planned to attend the rally turned up, with the exception of Cllr Gary Shores.  Many of them were terrified they would be hauled in front of the standards board for simply voicing their opposition to the discretionary award. If you need any evidence that something needs to change in County Hall, then you have it in this e-mail from Cllr Temple.

I will be contacting supporters in Yorkshire this week and discussing with them the practical ways they can help us move forward. The East Riding of Yorkshire Council may want the TPA to go away. We are, of course, going nowhere. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

It’s time to take to the streets and protest

I have posted here and here about East Riding Council’s decision to award Sue Lockwood’s pension fund a discretionary payment of £364,205. On Tuesday 13 April the cabinet made a final decision to go ahead with the award. Ms Lockwood will take early retirement from the council with the taxpayer over a third of  a million pounds worse off. Only one cabinet member, Matthew Grove, had the good sense and courage to speak out and vote against this decision. For this he deserves our admiration.

Apart from Cllr Grove, cabinet members have showed how out of touch they are with their constituents. I challenge those members of the cabinet who agreed to this payment to stand on the doorstep and explain this away. They can’t. Everyone knows you can’t justify the unjustifiable, and all they want is for this to go away. Well, I have news for them; it won’t.

Although we have lost this battle and Ms Lockwood will receive her cash, Cllr Parnaby and his cabinet will realise very soon what the public think of them. A few years ago people marched through the streets of Beverley in protest against an excessive pay rise awarded to the then chief executive, Daryl Stephenson, who is also the husband of Sue Lockwood. On May Day, Monday 3 May, at 2.00pm, you can join us for a protest rally outside County Hall in Beverley. This is not a personal campaign against Sue Lockwood. That would be wrong. We are protesting against the policy of offering discretionary payments to already well paid staff on very generous pension plans paid for by us. We are protesting against the secrecy in County Hall. The leadership never wanted us to know about this payment. If the story hadn’t been leaked to the Yorkshire Post, would we have found out? We are protesting against the £1.4 million already paid out in 2008/9 to those seeking early retirement. All of these payments were made on a discretionary basis, and we are protesting against excessive pay rises and excessive salaries for senior officers, particularly at this time when the government is borrowing over £5000 for every second that ticks by.

If you can join us in our protest, then please drop me a line at If you are a Facebook user, join the Hull & East Riding Group and click here to confirm you are attending. We need to send a message to the ruling elite we are not prepared to be treated as though we don’t matter. We elect them and pay their wages. We can also vote them out and send them packing.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

One question voters should ask at this election

The starting gun has been sounded and now we have a month of politicians dashing around the country, trying to secure our votes. This is the season when politicians will promise you the earth, but at this election there is one question everyone needs to ask: How are you going to pay for it?

Public spending is not spiralling out of control; public spending has spiralled out of control, and if action is not taken immediately, whoever resides in Downing Street after May 6 is going to preside over the effective bankruptcy of UK PLC. Over the last decade or so, almost one million more people now work in the public sector. Not only can we not afford a civil service of this size,  we can’t afford the gold-plated pensions they will eventually receive. The public sector has too many workers either doing very little or duplicating the work of others. Every week the Taxpayers’ Alliance publishes its non-job of the week, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Public spending can be cut, and it does not require drastic cuts in essential public services.

In the East Riding of Yorkshire, residents were told the council couldn’t cut back any further and it levied a 1.5% rise in council tax. I said at the time there are savings to be made by cutting the amount of managers in County Hall. Just a few weeks later, the cabinet agreed a discretionary payment of £364,205 to the pension fund of a senior manager. This is precisely the type of payment we cannot afford, but once again the many pay for the excesses of the ruling elite who spend our money as it if was confetti.

We have published our manifesto, detailing how the deficit can be reduced by – to give one example – reducing the number of Quangos. There are many other practical, common sense measures that the new government can implement. One thing is for certain, if we sit back and do nothing, things are not going to get better, they are going to get worse.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Town Hall Rich List: A view from Hull & East Riding

Today sees the publication of the TPA’s new Town Hall Rich List. When you look at the list, you will see that although many of us are having to endure pay freezes and pay reductions, some senior council officers are living in a land flowing with milk and honey.

Here in Hull and the East Riding, it is a tale of two councils. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Hull City Council has reduced the number of senior officers and mangers at the Guildhall. In 2009/10 (not covered in our report), a new chief executive was hired on a salary 25% lower than the previous incumbent, and the post of deputy chief executive was axed too. There is still more work to do, but Hull City Council is heading in the right direction, cutting costs and getting a better deal for the taxpayer.

In the East Riding of Yorkshire, life is very much different. Recession? What recession? As previously reported, some senior officers received massive, inflation busting pay rises in 2008/9 in order to retain their services. Two have since taken early retirement, with the enhanced pensions the pay rises gave them. A third, Sue Lockwood, will probably have a whopping  £364K paid into her pension fund because she wishes to take early retirement too. Her total remuneration for 2008/9 was £135,646; a 17.2% increase on the previous year. The chief executive, Nigel Pearson, also saw his pay increase by 10% to £176,374.

There has also been a knock-on effect. Some employees immediately below director level have seen their pay move into six figures. I fully expect more to reach this ‘milestone’ in 2009/10.

When a chief executive is paid not far short of the prime minister’s salary, and council directors are getting what a cabinet minister earns, something is deeply wrong. Hull City Council has shown it is possible to reduce senior officers’ pay. East Riding of Yorkshire Council doesn’t seem to care, but the voters do and they are sick and tired of seeing their hard earned cash subsidising high salaries and gold-plated pensions for senior council employees. The local elections next year could be very interesting indeed.

Friday, 26 March 2010

ERYC cabinet to think again about £364k payment

Last week, I wrote about the decision made by the cabinet of East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) to approve a discretionary payment of £364, 205 to the pension pot of outgoing Corporate Services Director, Sue Lockwood. This decision was called-in by opposition councillors, and yesterday the Corporate Issues Scrutiny Committee agreed to refer this decision back to the cabinet, and have asked them to think again. The scrutiny committee voted almost unanimously for this decision, with the exception of the chairman, Cllr Felicity Temple.

The Leader of the Council, Stephen Parnaby, rules the Conservative group with a rod of iron. If you dare to disagree with him, and show some independent thought, instead of being in the Tory fold, you will be left out in the cold. Cllr Mark Preston can testify to this, after the debacle over the fire service cuts a couple of years ago.

As a result of this rule, Cllr Parnaby only allows two Tory councillors to call-in any requests for scrutiny. They are Cllrs Brian Pearson and the aforementioned Cllr Temple. When at least twelve Conservative councillors wanted to call this in, both of them refused. So much for democracy. Readers will also remember it was Felicity Temple who chaired the Car Parking Review Panel who decided to do nothing after a very lengthy review into parking charges. I wonder how many free or subsidised hours £364K would pay for?

This story is far from over. I’ll give you more news when it happens.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Non-Jobs throw our money down the drain

I don’t remember much of 1979. At the time of the general election I was eight years old, but I do remember the images of rubbish piled up in the street, and I remember Margaret Thatcher on the steps of 10 Downing Street. That’s about it. The rest of my knowledge of the 1970s has come from reading and watching documentaries.

It seems as if in 2010, the 1970s are starting to repeat themselves. There are public sector strikes and the reckless strike against British Airways by the UNITE union. The country’s finances are in an even more parlous state than they were in the 70s, and instead of being prudent with our cash and making each pound go further, there are many in the public sector who throw our tax pounds down the drain.

Every council across the country advertises non-jobs every month. If it’s not Equality and Diversity Officers, it’s Sustainable Communities Officers or a recent one highlighted by the TPA, a Head of Behaviour Change Programmes.  Most members of the public haven’t a clue what the job titles mean, but they are aware it comes at a cost to them when they see how much these n0n-jobs pay.

Last week I highlighted how Sue Lockwood, the outgoing corporate resources director at the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, had a £364,205 payment to her pension fund approved by the cabinet. No-one has come up with a satisfactory reason for having a corporate resources director, but I do know it comes with a six-figure salary; plus employer national insurance contributions; plus very generous employer contributions to her council pension. Is it any wonder our council tax bills are so high?

A letter was printed last Saturday in the Hull and East Riding Mail which nicely sums it up:

East Riding Council would appear to be awash with money and confident of its financial future

I glean this from the March edition of East Riding New, in which 38 council jobs were advertised.

These include a Safe Communities Operational Strategy Officer with an annual salary of £26,276 and a Rural Partnership Support Officer on £19,126.

Need I say more

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

East Riding Council approves £364K payout

Just over a year ago, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council awarded large inflation busting rises for senior staff. The rationale was it would encourage those officers to stay with the council and encourage others to join the merry-go-round and move to East Yorkshire.

Just over a year later,  two senior officers, Huw Roberts and Barry Adams, have opted to take early retirement and received much higher pensions as a result of their pay rises. Now a third wishes to leave the authority.

Sue Lockwood, Director of Corporate Resources, has applied for early retirement, and today, in a behind-closed-doors meeting,  the East Riding Council cabinet approved an outrageous payment of £364,205 to her pension fund. Naturally, the public anger at this impending payment is great, and yesterday I wrote to all members of the cabinet urging them not to agree to this move. Predictably, the silence was deafening.

Instead of being ashamed, the council leadership are not happy with the councillor who leaked this story to the Yorkshire Post last week, and are making clear if  anything like this happens again, they will be in front of the standards board. So it seems as if taxpayers in the East Riding do not have a right to know how their money is being spent. The political elite feel they know what’s best for the rest of us and the little we know, the better.

If you live in the East Riding and are struggling to pay your council tax bills and are struggling to pay appropriate payments to your private pension fund, write to the leader, Cllr Stephen Parnaby and tell him what you think of this decision.  Also, come and join us in the Taxpayers’ Alliance. We are one organisation who will not take you for granted and will welcome you to our campaign for better government and lower taxes.

In 2002, people marched through the streets of Beverley, protesting against the salary increase of the then chief executive, Darryl Stephenson, the husband of Sue Lockwood. Perhaps the only way East Riding Council will take our concerns seriously is if we march again. Watch this space.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Toads of Hull

Here’s another one in the ‘you couldn’t make it up’ category.

This year is the 25th anniversary of Philip Larkin’s death. Why we want to celebrate someone’s death is something that has always puzzled me, but leaving this aside, Hull and the Philip Larkin Society want to do something ‘Larkin-esque’ this year, as Larkin was Librarian at the University of Hull.

What do you do though? Leaving people who have too much time on their hands to decide these matters can be dangerous, and unfortunately for the taxpayers of Hull, it is going to be very costly.

Two of Larkin’s famous poems are called Toads and Toads Revisited. Therefore one hundred fibreglass toads are going to be manufactured and placed around the city. If you desire, you can have a wander and try and find every one of them. No doubt the prize will be a toad in the hole in one of the city’s many watering holes.

The cost of all of this is £290,000; and £200,000 of this is coming from a grant from Hull City Council. This news has been revealed in a week when the council is asking the government for more money to repair Hull’s crumbling roads. Indeed the Hull Daily Mail  has worked out 3,500 potholes could be repaired for this money.

Just when you think you have come across all the ways taxpayers’ money can be wasted, someone comes up with something new. Not that Hull City Council is repentant. 

Councillor Rick Welton, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for regeneration, said the toads would attract visitors and publicity to the city during the Larkin festival, bringing in extra investment. He also said they would be used in schools as  curriculum projects promoting poetry and literature.  "Instead of looking at the negatives, I believe there are going to be a lot of positives from this," he said.

So next time you drive in Hull and you think the roads resemble those in Eastern Europe in former communist days, remember in the battle between toads and roads, the toads have won.


UPDATE: This decision has been reversed by Cllr Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council. He told me on the phone that a council officer approved this grant without his knowledge. He was away at the weekend, attending the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, and this morning was the first chance he had to review this decision. He couldn’t justify spending £200k  of our money on such a project.

Well done, Cllr Minns. You have made the right decision. It’s good to see taxpayers’ money will not be wasted.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Follow Hull & East Riding TPA on Twitter

When I joined Twitter about two years ago, I did so out of curiosity. It was a new medium and as someone who is always willing to embrace something new, I think I was keen not to miss out. When I followed some of my friends and saw messages along the lines of ‘Going to the pub. See you all later’, I thought it would never take off and I didn’t bother logging into my account for months. Gradually I heard more about Twitter in the media and started following higher profile figures and news outlets. Suddenly, I realised its power. As someone who is naturally verbose, trying to convey a message in 140 characters was not an easy task, but what you can do is include links to news stories (including blogs) and these stories can be spread around the world very easily. I also learned a lesson in brevity! If it wasn’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t be as well informed.

With this in mind, I have set-up a Twitter account for the Hull & East Riding Taxpayers’ Alliance, to inform as many people as possible of stories that are breaking in this beautiful part of our great country. If you use Twitter, click here to follow.

Hull City Council will not use microchips in bins

‘Lifting the Lid’ – the excellent new report from Big Brother Watch – has exposed the many councils throughout the UK who have installed microchips in the bins of residents.

Not only does this pave the way for ‘pay as you throw’ charges, it is also an unwarranted intrusion into the private lives of citizens. I contacted Cllr Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council, and asked him for assurances he had no plans to introduce this technology in the city. He replied with this statement.

“As the Big Brother Watch Website  shows, the Council does not have microchips in all of its bins. Although increasingly many bins do come with these chips pre-installed, it is our policy not to turn them on and we have no plans, and neither will we develop any, that will involve charging for such a basic service as bin collections. Furthermore I would not authorise council staff   (or their agents) to spy on the waste habits of individual households as this would be a gross intrusion of privacy.”

Good news for those of us who live in the city; Big Brother is not about to spy on us through our bins, and the council is to be congratulated on this policy.

I have also contacted the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, and I will publish their response as soon as they get back to me.


UPDATE: I have received a reply from East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Cllr Symon Fraser made this comment.

“The East Riding of Yorkshire Council remains committed to its published waste strategy, this strategy does not consider microchipping or any other identification of individual householders bins and there are no plans to install or develop the use of this technology in the East Riding of Yorkshire Council's operations.

Our efforts are clearly focussed on continuing to successfully develop the range of recycling facilities available to our residents.”

Just like Hull City Council, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council is to be congratulated on this policy. Everyone living in East Yorkshire can dispose of their rubbish without Big Brother looking over their shoulders.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

ERYC to look again at car parking charges in Beverley

Last week I reported the car parking review panel of the East Riding of Yorkshire Council decided to defer making a decision on parking charges for two years. I criticised this as it has not addressed the problem of high parking charges in towns like Beverley. Traders there have complained their businesses are suffering because shoppers are constantly thinking about getting back to their cars, rather than spending more time browsing and taking a break in one of the town’s many bars, pubs and coffee shops.

I criticised the council on BBC Radio Humberside last week, and as a result  some councillors have said I do not know my facts. This is untrue, as the main thrust of my argument came from traders in Beverley and I was merely voicing their concerns.

I can now report the scrutiny committee has met and has asked officers to look at the cumulative effect of parking charges in Beverley.  The cogs of government – be it national or local - tend to grind along at a monotonously slow speed. I will make sure councillors know this is unacceptable. Traders need action now, not in six months when some of them may be forced out of business.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A classic fudge worthy of the finest confectioners

The long awaited review into car parking charges in the East Riding has been published. You may guess from the title of this post I am far from impressed.

Traders in Beverley have been complaining high parking charges are damaging their businesses. If you want to park in Saturday Market, the minimum fee is 80p which gives you 30 minutes. So if you just want to go to the bank and then get on your way, you have to pay 80p, even though you may only need to be in the parking space for 10 minutes.

If you have ever tried parking in Tesco on a Saturday morning, you will know you have to get there before 9.00 am, otherwise you will find yourself driving around the car park desperately looking for a space. The reason for this is you can park free for 3 hours at Tesco. Park in one of the council run car parks for 3 hours and you will be charged £3.

So what has the review panel done to help those who trade in Beverley? Virtually nothing. The proposals are for a reduction in charges in Butcher Row and North Bar Within. It will hardly make a difference.

Moving on from Beverley, car parks in places like Anlaby and Cottingham will not see any charges introduced until at least 2012. The official reason is because of the recession. I’m sure the impending council elections next year had no bearing on this decision!

Car parking will always be a thorny issue. No-one wants to pay, and the last thing we want to see is parking problems developing in side roads causing residents problems, but surely with some imagination the members of the review panel could have thought up something better.

If you allow free parking all day, there is every chance many people will stay there all day. If you give free parking for a set period, this will encourage shoppers to go about their business, move on, and free up a space for others.

Another way is to introduce a nominal charge of, for example, 20p an hour to cover the costs of parking machines and attendants. This would also help free up spaces so others can use them.

The review panel has failed to make important decisions. We know East Riding of Yorkshire Council will introduce charges in all car parks, but not until 2012 at the earliest, but I can imagine we will have yet another round of arguments then, no doubt wasting more taxpayers’ money in the process. These councillors were charged with making recommendations and used up council resources in roadshows, issuing and processing questionnaires, and endless meetings. The result is hardly anything has changed this side of 2012. A poor show all round.

UPDATE: I gave my views on air to Peter Levy on BBC Radio Humberside on Friday 26 February. It is available on iPlayer until Thursday 4 March. Click here to listen. It is 50 minutes 45 seconds in.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Check out the new-look website

The main Taxpayers’ Alliance website has been given a makeover and the result is a great looking site, colourful, attractive and easy to navigate. Be sure to take a look.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Audit Commission is forcing fortnightly bin collections

One of the many problems with Quangos is they constantly come up with wheezes to justify their existence. Many chief executives know they may be for the chop if the Conservatives win the next election, so they find new and inventive ways of keeping themselves in work. The Audit Commission is a prime example of a Quango determined to remain in the public eye.

Last year it published a new system of rating councils by either giving them red  or green flags. It told us little, but it made the Audit Commission look like it was doing something to improve the standards of local government. Now it is interfering once again in decisions we should be making locally.

Hull City Council rolled out a new recycling system about six months ago. It made it easier to recycle by scheduling collection dates on the same day as existing refuge collections and increased the amount of waste products that can be collected from your home. What it did not do is impose mandatory fortnightly bin collections for non-recyclable waste. This was sensible. Personally, I put out my black, non-recyclable waste bin about once a month and my recyclable waste bin is full every fortnight. I will be perfectly happy to have fortnightly collections, as will the majority of my neighbours, judging by the frequency they put out their bins for collection. If we do move to fortnightly collections it will be as a result of council taxpayers wanting it; not because it has been imposed.

The Audit Commission however are trying to impose fortnightly collections on councils regardless of local, public opinion. Not only is this wrong, as it stinks of the big brother state imposing its will on the rest of us, it also puts another nail in the coffin of local democracy. What’s the point of voting in local elections if the representatives you elect have their hands tied behind their backs at every turn?

If anyone needed a reason of why there needs to be a bonfire of the Quangos and their powers diminished, this is yet another example. The Audit Commission is not interested in what’s best for the taxpayer. It is only interested in gaining more power for itself.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Humberside Police Authority propose a 2.5% rise in council tax precept

Not the news I was wanting to hear. Click HERE for a report in the Yorkshire Post, which includes a quote from me.

Monday, 15 February 2010

NHS Smoking Advert - Update

Last week, I wrote about a bullying advertisement from the NHS published in the Hull Daily Mail. I have been doing some digging since then, and informed sources are almost certain this advert was placed from a central source; not NHS Hull, although I will file a Freedom of Information request if necessary to be 100% certain.

I will keep you up-to-date as soon as I have more news.

MPs fail to pay for their cheap food and booze

One of the perks of being an MP is cheap food and drink. Okay, many companies offer a subsidised canteen, but I don’t see them offering their employees gin and tonics at knock-down prices.

If I was lucky enough to have this perk, I would happily pay-up when I received the bill; wouldn’t you? It seems though 329 MPs want to avoid paying anything at all. Those MPs have run-up a collective bill of £138,046 and being such ‘honourable’ members they don’t want us to know about it. To read more, click HERE.

One can only hope the next batch of MPs will be nothing like their predecessors. The current batch give pigs a bad name. 

Friday, 12 February 2010

Council tax in the East Riding

For coverage from the Yorkshire Post, click HERE. It contains a quote from me.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

East Riding of Yorkshire Council increases council tax by 1.5%

From the Hull Daily Mail:

Households in the East Riding are set to face an increase of at least 1.5 per cent in their council tax bills from April.

The increase in the authority's element of the council tax was agreed at a meeting in Beverley this afternoon.

It means the average Band D household will pay an extra £17 for council services, bringing the bill up to £1,212.

The final amount will be fixed once the police and fire authorities have agreed their precepts.

East Riding Council leader Councillor Stephen Parnaby said the ruling Conservative group had decided against implementing a three per cent tax increase, as recommended by senior officers because of the impact of the recession.

He said: "There is no doubt the economic downturn has affected everyone in some form or other and I believe a very modest increase, together with planning for the future throughout the year, is in everyone's best interests."

Cllr Parnaby said the council would use money from its reserves to subsidise the 1.5 per cent increase and ruled out any prospect of redundancies at the authority.

The planned increase was due to be 3%, and the council has only managed to limit the size of the increase by dipping into its reserves. If the council had taken my advice and the advice of some of its councillors, it would have looked at reducing the number of senior managers it employs and the pay packets they receive. This is one way Hull City Council has managed not to increase its share of the council tax.

Cllr Parnaby may think 1.5% is a ‘very modest increase’, but tell that to those who are experiencing pay cuts, or at best no pay increases at all.  Tell that to those with struggling businesses. ERYC definitely could and should do better.