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.