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.