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.