Saturday, November 03, 2012

Worth Every Penny!

You'll see from the photo I've discovered the secret directions to Tracey Emin's studio but catching-up with the local news over the last week, I see that outside of the fiasco surrounding the development of the Pleasurama site in Ramsgate, the announcement of a rise in Council Tax next year has been causing some heated discussion. One letter, in the Thanet Gazette, even suggested that Councillors should sacrifice their allowances to cover the rise.

While I don't believe that radical proposal from a member of the public, would quite cover the looming shortfall predicted for the Council's finances next year, there's a kernel of truth in there which the local paper has missed.

It was the present Labour administration, shortly after seizing control, with the support of John Worrow's TIG's at Christmas, that promptly created another Cabinet position and voted-in a rise in Councilllors' allowances, which the Conservatives, led by Cllr Martin Wise, the Shadow portfolio holder for finance, argued fiercely against.

if you happen to be a fan of detective novels, then you'll be familiar with the expression: 'Motive, Opportunity and Ability;' the fundamental constituents of any crime. One might argue that in politics the same expression is frequently true, so why the rise you might ask; particularly in the middle of a deep recession?

Normally, when an administration takes control in Thanet, there are three, best-compensated, 'plum' committees, which go to the 'movers and shakers' in any political group; normally based on experience, ability and service. These are Scrutiny, Planning and Audit.

For Clive Hart's Labour adminstration to seize control as it did last year, he needed the support of the 'Fabulous three,' Councillors Worrow, Driver and Cohen. So while no Party could sensibly conceive of handing responsibility and with this, a generous allowance to any one of these eccentric political characters within the present system, Labour had no option but to cut a very Faustian deal to turn the Council around. As I predicted here, this is what actually happened.

That left the bigger beasts in the Labour group, without anything more than their modest Councillor allowances and so while the Conservatives had been saving money, running a very lean Cabinet; for example, I had both Planning and the Environment portfolios on a single special responsibility allowance, Labour promptly created another Cabinet role and consequently increased the expense to the local taxpayer.

But let's not forget what consistently takes place when Labour takes control locally perhaps or even at Westminster. Allowances increase and this is exactly what happened here.

So, Motive, Opportunity and Ability, all neatly wrapped with a 4.8% increase in allowances to keep the rank and file happy. But of course there may be a perfectly simple and alternative explanation for all of this that eludes me for now.


Michael Child said...

Simon I think the problem here is a simple one and that is that at all levels of government and in almost all public services, the number of bureaucrats continually increases, while cuts seem to be made to front line staff and services.

Frankly the rise in councillors allowances is very small compared to the cost of the higher paid officers. Also councillors live in Thanet, so money given to them tends to be spent in Thanet, while nearly all of the higher paid officers live outside of Thanet.

The solution here can only be to reduce the number of officers that don’t produce tangible council services, my guess is that part of the problem is that when the Conservatives are in government the relationship and similarities between higher paid officers and Conservative councillors runs to close, and when Labour are in power there is no real imperative to cut.

Simon Moores said...

You may recall that the Conservative administration of which I was a part, cut back the officer structure to achieve savings. Since we swapped with Labour you may have the impression that the headcount is creeping back under te radar

Michael Child said...

Canterbury council have announced the likelihood of a similar increase today I think, however the too many chiefs and not enough Indians problem seems to be at the heart of the matter again.