Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Just pay your Taxes and Speak when Spat at

It looks as if weekly refuse collections are no longer on the list of reasonable entitlements that we can come to expect in return for our council tax. Having pledged last year that a once a week service would return under a Conservative government, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles completed something of a U-turn when he conceded that local authorities who are "accountable to their electorate"..."could not be forced" into bringing back weekly collections. It's possibly another unfortunate consequence of coalition, but remains an immense disappointment nonetheless.

It does not surprise me one iota that it is frontline services that are amongst the earliest casualties of the slashes to public expenditure. That is what we were warned by the statists, and they were right, not on grounds of principle or wise judgement, but because they held the levers of power to fulfil their own prophecy. People are now being advised to "reduce waste" and use their bins more carefully, as if we have spent the last decade throwing stuff in there for no apparent reason. It is indeed sad that a great many council taxpayers, some well-intentioned and others just plain stupid, have bought into this notion that we should expect less for more, and adjust our behaviour accordingly to meet reduced provision.

The average council tax bill doubled under the Labour government, and so you have to throw this fact into the argument when trying to understand exactly why the reduction of a basic service like refuse collection from once every seven days to once in fourteen has occurred in more than half of the local authorities in England. Where did all this extra money go? Some research into this subject at the start of 2011 produced some disturbing findings. Local authority payrolls increased by £67 billion between 2002 and 2009, with £14 billion of this accounted for by management pay rises. 15,000 coucil employees now trouser £58,000 or more per annum with the median hourly rate of employees of the taxpayer now sitting at 30% higher than that of their private sector counterparts.

This is clearly something to ponder next time the local council announces cuts to a frontline service. There is of course nothing to stop those in the higher echelons of such bodies from acknowleding that the party and the bonanza are well and truly over, taking a voluntary pay cut across the board and freeing up council taxpayers' money to retain the functions it was supposed to be spent on. Nor is there any viable reason not to conduct an audit of different levels of management within councils themselves - where are there too many fools making too many rules, therefore doing more harm to the operation than good? How much management do we actually need to oversee the provision of the services which people require on a day-to-day basis?

There is of course a very good reason for them not asking these questions of their own organisations, as it remains in their interest to peddle the false choice of 'reduced frontline provision vs the status quo, and the sky-high taxes needed to pay for it'. In a disgusting act of gerrymandering, Labour loaded a further 180,000 people onto local authority payrolls while in office, and took the numbers performing no obviously necessary function up to just a fraction below 750,000. Those employed in such non-jobs are of course highly unlikely to become turkeys voting for a Christmas which closes down their source of income. As a result, this both strengthens the position of the Labour Party, who are of course part-funded by public sector unions, and blunts the teeth of anyone balancing the pursuit of power with an urgent need to clean up the mess.

Three interesting statistics were also disclosed by one of my favourite pressure groups, the Taxpayers' Alliance. They found that in 2010, local authorities had spent £5 million on 141 political advisers, a further £6 million on european officers and a whopping £10 million on agents to fight the war on climate change. Now why is it unsurprising that when we talk about the monumental waste of other people's money, the issue of climate change never fails to appear in close proximity? A 'climate change officer' is of course the ultimate non-job, combining all the local authority traditions of a hefty salary, a prestigious title and a phoney cause. It also follows the long line of nonsense occupations which have appeared on the public payroll in the last decade, more than willingly advertised by the Grauniad in its jobs pages.

Something that is never likely to happen, but would go a long way towards solving the problem, is complete transparency of where our money is going. If you go into a council building, there is sometimes a brochure available to you titled along the lines of "this is what we, your cute and cuddly council, spend your hard-earned money on". All you actually get is a pie chart broken down into areas of expenditure that the local authority has defined for itself - ie 'law and order', 'fire service', 'health', 'education' and 'local services'. Also self-defined is exactly which jobs fall under each heading, so the presentation of openness is pretty useless in reality.

What should replace it, and in fact be a legal requirement of all local authorities is a booklet or online spreadsheet detailing every job title employed by the council (naturally with names removed to protect the individuals concerned) and the basic salary that you as a taxpayer are handing over to that employee. The majority of roles and numbers would be of little consequence, but anything more than a perfunctory scan-read would hopefully flush out a few issues. Firstly, we would see exactly how much the managerial sector of the council is taking, and could form our own judgement as to whether or not this was a fair and proportionate reward for their work. Moreover, the non-jobs, the diversity co-ordinators and suchlike, would be immediately illuminated, and in all likelihood eliminated out of sheer embarrassment.

Birmingham city council spent £1.9 million on diversity enforcement last year, justifying the expenditure by wheeling out a spokesman, "We do not have 'diversity officers...we have officers working within the equality and diversity division who engage with other public agencies and community groups to ensure that everyone has the ability, knowledge and confidence to know how to access services, what help is available and what help they are entitled to." What? If someone legally residing here asks what services they are entitled to then the answer is quite simple - the same as everybody else by law. Discrimination was a criminal offence long before the PC mafia took sole ownership of the public payroll, and I'd love to know how someone, anyone, can justify spending £1.9 million to answer that question in Birmingham, and £20 million for 543 diversity agents to answer it nationwide in 2010? That works out at just shy of £37,000 each on average by the way, assuming my mental arithmetic is correct.

I nipped out for a quick cigarette break halfway through this piece - I know I should probably see one of the council's smoking cessation officers about that. But I'm aware that pieces on here can get quite humourless, so I thought I'd share this brainwave I had while indulging my filthy habit, and see if you smiled at it like I did. Remember that Karel Fialka song, 'Hey Matthew', the rather sweet father and son synthpop effort that cracked the top 10 in 1987? If not then no worries - I've posted the link at the end, but it takes the form of Karel making a series of deep observations while watching television with his son, then posing a similarly meaningful question. Matthew, clearly too young to operate on the same intellectual plane as his father, responds with a string of literal answers as to what he sees or wants to be. Had he written the song two decades later, then it may have sounded somewhat different:-

"Hey Matthew what'll you be? I want to be a bouncy castle attendant, a diversity agent, a cheerleading development officer, a walking officer, an LGBT facilitator, a future shape programme manager, a smoking cessation officer, a street football co-ordinator, a health, safety and wellbeing officer, a putting people first programme manager, a business improvement partner, a political assistant, a community space challenger co-ordinator, a climate change officer - nice work if you can get it".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0LvdAuK9tA

In the meantime, I'm away on other business tomorrow evening, so in my place will be the quite brilliant Colonel von Houghton, who I'm deligthed to have on board with us at OutspokenRabbit. I'm sure you'll find the second part of his piece on Francis Fukuyama to be of great interest, as the opening instalment was. Take care and I'll catch you again on Thursday.

11 comments:

  1. Richard Littlejohn wrote a piece about public sector pay profligacy in 2008 and found that Nottinghamshire NHS was advertising for an assistant director of equality and human rights with a salary of up to £77,179 per annum.

    I used to be a member of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) in my former days as a public sector Administrator, and I distinctly remember them circulating political propaganda about more autonomy for Puerto Rico and the ostensible evils of the Cuban trade embargo. None of these issues had anything to do with the basics of their members’ interests in pay bargaining, yet the people at the top of the organisation were seemingly obsessed with undermining the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) cultural identity and constantly reminding us that ‘we are all diverse but all equal.’ It seems to be these people that are creating the types of superfluous jobs where social engineering is the be all and end all, and the desire for matching political representation to the prevailing racial demographics of the country is now their latest crusade for social justice. It is a tragic age we live in…

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  2. Voice of Reason14 June 2011 at 23:44

    Mr Daz,
    You speak some convincing arguments at least convincing to your Tory friends, but your sums don't add up. Your "sixth form" economic theory suggests that you are too young to have paid council tax for long enough to back up your claim that average council tax bill has doubled under labour. I have and I can confirm that it hasn't.

    You seem to be putting forward the argument that councils have saved money by only doing collections once a fortnight and are using the money to spend on lavish salaries for staff doing unnecessary jobs.

    The simple truth is that we cannot continue to send everything to landfill or dump at sea, we have to recycle. Our landlocked european neighbours are years ahead of us on this.

    Collecting and disposing of separate rubbish streams is more costly than just lumping it all together. My council collects general waste and recyclable waste on alternate weeks. This is perfectly sensible. If one recycles thoroughly, then the general waste is reduced and a fortnightly collection is acceptable. If councils recycled and continued to collect weekly then your bills really would have doubled.

    On the question of public sector employees being paid more than their private sector equivalents this is a spurious argument. There are no private sector police officers or firefighters, paramedics etc, to compare with the real thing. There are private sector school teachers and nurses, but you will find that these are actually paid more than their public sector equivalents.

    It is simplistic to take the view that the public and private sectors are mutually exclusive. It is also false to believe that every job in the private sector is good and value adding and that every public sector job is a drain on the tax payer. There are many private sector companies that rely almost exclusively on the public sector for its customer base. BAE Systems is a case in point. There are a lot of very well paid private sector employeees there working on goverment funded projects. Do they all add value? I think I would prefer to pay for more diversity officers. By the way if I was an old and vulnerable and wanted to know what services were available and what I was entitled to. I would not want to be told "the same as everyone else by law".

    Finally if you believe that the average salary of a diversity officer is £37,000 then you have a fundamental misunderstanding of employment costs. The £37,000 includes pension contributions, employers NI contributions etc, the actual salary is much lower.

    Basically yor arguments have proved that you are a very, very silly boy and its well past your bedtime.

    So go on off to bed and don't let me catch you reading Mein Kampf with a torch under the sheets. Oh and by the way you wouldn't produce so much waste if you weren't such a fat fuck! Lay off the donuts!

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  3. Voice of Reason15 June 2011 at 00:07

    Colonel Von Houghton,
    Your name says it all!
    Get back in your messchierscmidt and fuck off back to you Anglo Saxon fatherland. I am a black, lesbian, amputee, vegetarian, muslim, single parent with HIV and fucking proud of it. You Anglo Saxons are ruining our country your worse than the Vikings. At least they only raped and pillaged and didn't force us to drink real ale.

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  4. Voice of Reason - afternoon and thanks for reading

    It's ironic that you suggest I'm dabbling in student discourse then throw a trademark NUS 'Nazi' jibe in at the end. All I can ask is you check my comments on civil liberties issues and then contemplate if they're really the thoughts of a fascist.

    Racialising politics is of no interest whatsoever to me, and I'm as sickened by genuine discrimination as you no doubt are, so you're firing well wide of the target on that score.

    First up - of course the move towards recycling is a good thing. Although I do what I can, the culture of compelling people to do it, fining them for accidentally putting something in the wrong bin, just strikes me as statism at its worst.

    Of course private and public sectors are not mutually exclusive you're right. I didn't say anything of the sort and if you believed that wa an implied meaning of my comments then you're just plain wrong.

    The single biggest issue I have with statists is that as they continue to find ways to spend our money they lose sight of exactly whose money it is they are spending. You asked me should we spend a leftover amount of money on the military or diversity officers? How about not spending it at all and letting people keep some of what they earned? That thought never occurs to a statist though, does it?

    Every non-job costs money that should be spent on the front line - public sector jobs that of course do have real value - so in that sense yes it is a straight choice. If a private individual wants to pay a mate to do an imaginary job then that's none of my business as it's his money and not mine he's frittering away.

    Diversity officers and special services aimed at minorities have no justification. If someone is obstructed while trying to obtain a public service on grounds of sexual orientation, race or whatever then the law of the land will quite rightly back them up.

    If the 'justification' is the myriad of equality laws we have then these laws need re-visiting, simplifying and the diversity police removing as soon as this is done. One very simple law prohibiting discrimination on any grounds is all that is necessary IMO.

    Duplicating services just creates inefficiency and waste.

    Yes I'm old enough to remember that under Labour the average council tax bill rose by 112% (yes that's 'only' 70% allowing for inflation). Look it up and you'll see this is accurate.

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  5. Voice of Reason,
    Your comment about it being a spurious argument to compare wages for similar roles in the private and public sector is a bit far-fetched. To have a private sector police force would undermine the sovereignty of a nation-state, hence Max Weber’s oft-quoted definition that a state must have a monopoly on the legal use of violence. It is also for this reason why members of the British Union of Fascists were banned from wearing military attire under the 1936 Public Order Act, precisely because only His majesty’s legally constituted armed forces could have the privilege of doing so. Why use this futile example to try and show that comparisons cannot be made?
    Clearly there are various jobs that exist in the both the public and private sector where a comparison can be made for wage differentials, but you choose to ignore the large chunk of administrative jobs and only focus on the higher pay for nurses, teachers and doctors in the private sector. You would make a damn good politician because you have been selective in your argument and have decided to dismiss anything that will dilute your (admittedly) refreshing argument.
    I somehow doubt that most Administrative Assistants (AA) working for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in Preston earning the maximum gross wage of £15,727 (as agreed in the June 2010 pay scales) would be able to command the same wage for a similar job in the private sector. The only comparable private sector job listed in the Preston area on Reed.co.uk today is offering between £13,650 (£7.00 per hour) and £14,625 (£7.50 per hour), and that is with a requirement of two years’ experience. A new starter at HMRC would get £14,255, yet a new starter on the lowest pay rate in this job would take home only £13,650 – that is £605 less per annum. Even if the successful applicant gets the highest offer of £14,625 they are still getting £1,102 less than they would as an experienced AA in the public sector. (See job post here: http://www.reed.co.uk/job-details/Preston/Administrator/Administrator/?JobID=20161908&l=Preston%2c+Lancashire&lp=10&s=177&ns=True&FromSector=1)
    You also misunderstand this article when you condescendingly warn that ‘it is false to believe that every job in the private sector is good and value-adding and that every public sector job is a drain on the taxpayer.’ I believe in a strong and efficient central state and would never be inclined to think that our armed forces, police, fire service, nurses, doctors and teachers are a drain on the taxpayer. I might take issue if we had a bloated Officer Corps doing nothing but sitting behind a desk for decades or if there were too many bureaucrats working for the Lancashire Constabulary. But I would be assessing it from a utility point of view and not from some instinctively, anti-statist viewpoint.

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  6. Daz, spot on squire..

    And to the two or three wanna b smartarses who want to devolve in to semantics and muddy the water the simple solution would be to get proper jobs and enlighten your perspective somewhat. Most of the people on the left who cook up these arguments are typically either on the public payroll themselves or are a "brick in the wall" in biggish company. Or alternately they're pursuing self interest by supporting those who support their political agenda as mister pierce pointed out.

    Try running your own business, right after pulling your head out of your arse, it'll give you a different perspective on some of the twaddle your average local council beauraucrat comes out with.

    And i say this as someone who has experience in local councils. You can sneer about "Daily Mail Readers" all you want, there are a lot of very fed up people in the UK and i sincerely believe it's only a matter of time before people have had enough.

    The bottom line in the private sector is if you fail typically you go bust or someone loses their job, in the public sector you just put the rates up the next year.

    Outspoken rabbit keep up the good work if you're annoying statist numptys you're doing your job properly.

    "the public sector is made up of doctors, teachers, emergency services blah blah blah..."

    What? are there 7 to 8 million of them??!! Really? And they're all or at least predominantly front line services?

    Keep taking the tablets.

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  7. Voice of Reason17 June 2011 at 01:35

    Daz,

    You really are spending too much time reading the Daily Mail or maybe even the Daily Express. Not only have you fallen for the private sector versus public sector propganda, you are now spouting off about "front line" and "back room" services.

    The simple fact is that no business would have back room admin staff if they were not necessary. This idea that admin jobs are "non jobs" is again completely spurious. The idea that you can take out layers of backroom staff without affecting front line services is just headline grabbing rubbish. An airforce made up solely of pilots would not stay in the air for very long.

    I'm all for improving efficiency, it's my stock-in-trade. I am a self employed business consultant who has spent the past 30 years going into businesses both in the public and private sectors trying to convert them from being fat,bloated and constipated to lean and effective. Yes I fully accept that there is duplication of effort in the public sector. But the worst examples I have found have been in the private sector. A lot of companies have workforces that have grown fat dumb and happy through captive market, long term contracts, cost plus agreements, monopoly and legislation and regulation hampering competition. All of a sudden market conditions change and the company is not able to react. In a lot of ways the market conditions are more severe for the public sector than the private sector. There is no price elasticity because the public constantly demand and expect better services and are not prepared to pay more for it. Everybody wants Scandinavian levels of service with U.S. levels of taxation. The idea that this can be achieved by cutting a few backroom staff is just plain daft. If it was that easy I would not have had a career for the past 30 years. Oh and by the way Colonel von Houghton I employ an admin assistant and I pay a lot more than £15,727. I could not perform my role without someone providing support as is the case for a lot of front line staff in the public sector

    Finally Daz if you really have been a council tax payer since May 1997, when the last Labour government came to power which I very strongly doubt please provide some evidence. Your arguments whilst coherent and well thought out lack the maturity of someone who has actual experience. I would imagine that you are under 30. When I was young I was often told by my elders that I would think differently if I had lived through a war. I never had that experience but I did live through the early 1980s and the pain that was inflicted on communities by Thatcher's policies. The target in those days was old fashioned industries and the unions. The outcome of that was very high unemployment which did not begin to subside until mid 1987. This really was the start of the benefits culture. Now it is happening again with the public sector. The Colonel's admin assistants on 15K, who are supposedly underemployed will end up being made completely unemployed and end up picking up nearly as much in benefits as they were getting paid, after tax and National Insurance, so how does society benefit? Next the government will bring in a welfare to work programme so they have to work for their benefits. Well they were working in the first place! Unemployment is an inevitable by product of capitalism. There will always be booms and recessions, there will always be people with the wrong set of skills for the workplace. Whilst it cannot be eradicated it should at least br minimised and every sensible society therefore overstaffs its public services, it keeps people off the streets! Don't say we can't afford it we can just print more money! If you don't believe its that simple lets have a debate on it, but I have got a Masters Degree in economics (and politics by the way so the Colonel was right)

    Now off to bed boys, I'm sure you have got another chapter of Mein Kampf to read. Have you got to the bit where he joins the army yet?

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  8. Hey, Daz.

    You have attracted some trolls. Not great quality, I admit, but absolutely essential for a good blog.

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  9. Hey Pagar - thanks for contributing

    We have a few trolls here and yes that's a sign of progress. However, the Voice isn't one of them - unlike a few others he does actually argue the points raised and only fires the personal stuff in at the end.

    Legitimate disagreement is vital to making this work, so I'm glad he's here.

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  10. Not sure I called anyone a troll.

    However it seems a few have been keen to self- identify.....

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  11. pagar: er, did you read your own comment?

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