Another government minister playing mind games with local government

All junior pupils to be enrolled in a libraryEvery junior school student in the country will be enrolled in a local library, Nicky Morgan will pledge today. The Education Secretary said it is a “national mission” to improve literacy levels of young children. Officials in the education department hope that the drive could stop closures of libraries across the country. Local authorities often close libraries and justify their decision by saying that there are not enough members to warrant continued funding.

So, Nicky Morgan is going to make it a “national mission” is she?  Is she also going to make it a nationally funded mission, so that councils aren’t forced to cut other services just to satisfy yet another piece of government double speak?  I can answer that question, without even bothering to ask the minister.  There’ll be no financial support forthcoming, just more weasel words from ministers, when councils cry foul.

Exorbitant spending on Overseas Aid hasn’t made us any safer

One of the reasons given by David Cameron for his year on year increases in the Overseas Development budget since 2010 – well beyond that of any other European country – is that it will make our country a safer place, by helping those in foreign countries, improve their lot and become less radicalized by political extremists.  It has in fact, done nothing of the sort and will never do so, as long as we give the extremists reason, in their eyes, to see our country as their enemy and oppressor.

Some might suggest that our history as a colonial power, exploring and exploiting the world over many centuries,  had already done the damage, but I don’t believe that, given that many of our previous colonial conquests, remain members of the Commonwealth.  What has done the real damage and made us especially vulnerable, is our much cherished special relationship with the USA and our willingness to march shoulder to shoulder with them, into recent middle eastern conflicts.

Whilst successive Westminster leaders of all political persuasions, have viewed this relationship as the Holy Grail of international politics, giving the UK much great influence and kudos than it might otherwise have, I see it more as putting a target on the backs of every British citizen living and working in some of the most volatile areas of Africa and the Middle East.

Multiculturalism, a legacy of the Blair years, but again eagerly pursued by virtually all administrations, has opened our doors and left us vulnerable within our own boarders, something the Americans have bent over backwards to eliminate, post September 2001.  Live and let live, when those you are letting live in their own extremist ways – Sharia law is a very good example of this, along with female genital mutilation, is an irresponsible and ultimately dangerous political doctrine to pursue.

The upshot of this government’s single minder pursuit of international glory, often described as, ‘punching above our weight’ – a rather unfortunate term to use when you are supposedly trying to be everybody’s friend – is that an increase in spending in one area, has to be matched by a decrease elsewhere.  This applies even more so, when you are in the middle of a global financial crisis, but still determined to spend, spend, spend!  Which brings me to my point and the reason I have borrowed the article below.

Before anybody starts telling me that, despite all the cuts in local government funding, taxpayers haven’t noticed any reduction in services, I’d like to put that in some context.

Yes, most, if not all the essential services have been maintained to a good standard and residents won’t have seen their bins left un-emptied, streets knee deep in litter, or grass too long see over, let alone walk through.  Council houses are still being allocated and maintained and benefits are still being paid out on time.

However, what is suffering and will be cut even further in years to come, are those things we call discretionary – the things councils do because they believe their residents would like that service to be provided, even though the law doesn’t require it.  Leisure centres, youth clubs, play equipment, sports pitches, libraries, public toilets and maybe even usable, or at least affordable, burial grounds, could all disappear from localities, as cuts in local government funding continue for years to come.  Remember, all this is being done under the banner of deficit reduction, whilst the overseas aid budget continues to grow and grow, year on year.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle – 23 August 2014

Author – Tony Travers, director. Greater London Group, London School of Economics

The government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as councils can on highways

Under cover of mid-summer, the government has published two sets of figures about public expenditure.

The Department for Communities and Local Government revealed local authority revenue spending and income totals for 2014-15, while at the start of this month the Treasury belatedly released the annual Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses volume. Together these publications show how the years of austerity have affected individual services.

Although some parts of central government, notably the Home Office, defence and transport, have seen reductions of 100/o or more in their cash budgets, all the biggest programmes have been protected.  Council spending, by contrast, has been forced down at a remarkable pace.  The UK government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as English councils can afford to spend on highways and transport. Housing, roads, environment and planning have seen their cash expenditure fall by almost 30% in four years. In real terms, the cut is over 40%.

Council productivity increases must be among the greatest ever achieved by the public sector.  Planners appear to be processing as many applications in 2014 as in 2010 with barely half the resources. [What the planners are probably doing, is giving up the fight to maintain standards, given that the NPPF was written by developers, for developers and just passing applications to meet the targets set by Whitehall]. 

The government and opposition have no choice but to find additional money for the NHS: fear of public opinion will open the Treasury’s vaults. Pensions, as the biggest part of social security, are triple-locked into inflationary increases. Schools cannot be denied cash.

By 2020, many council spending programmes will have been halved within a decade.

 

CENTRAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING CHANGES

  2010-11  £millions 2014-15  £millions Change %
Local government
Housing

2,733

1,945

-28.8

Highways & transport

6,661

4,814

-27.8

Environment, planning, culture

10,959

9,029

-17.6

Social care

20,851

22,090

+5.9

Central government
International development

5,930

7,870

+32.7

Social security

164,512

184,380

+12.8

NHS

97,469 109,650

+12.5

Education

50,387 54,500

+8.2

Good charities are also good businesses – some are better than others

I’m reposting this, following today’s front page story in the Telegraph. Although they are targeting the £100k+ salaries that some charity bosses now apparently receive, they are also suggesting that this could be a sign of the salary creep that is allegedly happening in the public sector.

It should hardly come as a surprise, that if you push the often complex and challenging community support work done by local authorities on to the voluntary sector, their executives are going to expect to be rewarded for managing that increased workload. As I say below, good charities are also good businesses and good businesses know that high quality management doesn’t come on the cheap.

It’s tempting to see this as some sort of three card trick by government, where they encourage charities to take over more and more local authority work, thereby easing the burden on the public purse. In the meantime, these charities are working their socks off to find the extra funding needed to supplement the often inadequate funding that has been passed on by the already inadequately funded local authorities. The confidence tricks comes when you realise that much of the extra money required comes from the same public that has already paid their taxes to government to provide those services!

Personally, unlike some, I’ve never laboured under the illusion that all those who work for charities, do it out of the goodness of their hearts – even where that charity has no national profile.

When it comes to the national charities and their modus operandi, they are, first and foremost businesses, with a business plans, financial projections and performance targets. As such, when they need to recruit somebody into one of their senior management positions, the last thing on their minds is likely to be the social conscience of the individuals applying for the vacant position.

Indeed, having somebody who is more concerned about doing ‘the right thing’ at every step of the way, even if it costs the organisation money, is more likely to find themselves receiving a thank you very much for applying letter, than one offering congratulations.

So, I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see that some of the most popular charities are paying big bucks to their top staff.

That said, it stills seem slightly wrong to see £60,000 plus salaries, potentially being paid out of the pennies and pounds donated via high street collections and charity shop donations, sometimes by those who can least afford it.

To be absolutely fair, at least to those charities that deserve it, the key number for me, is the % of their total income spent of their raison d’être, charity. Those that achieve 70% and above should be acknowledged for achieving figures similar to the overheads costs seen in most successful and efficient businesses.

Those returning figures below 70% and especially below 50%, should be questioned as to their effectiveness and as for the Age UK figures, well…..

Charity

Income Millions

% Spent On Charitable Activity

Number Of Staff Earning Over £60,000

Cancer Research

£493

70

160

Oxfam

£386

76

35

Save the Children

£333

89

31

British Heart Foundation

£250

46

36

Banardo’s

£245

80

35

Royal Mencap Society

£201

96

39

British Red Cross

£200

67

32

Action for Children

£198

93

38

RNLI

£173

78

42

Age UK

£168

49

41

All above figures copied, with thanks, from the article by Richard Dyson – Sunday Telegraph, Money Supplement, 21 July 2013

Crisis leads to council tax referendum call

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
30 May, 2013 | By Mark Smulian

Herefordshire Council could become the first to hold a council tax increase referendum after an emergency meeting over a budget crisis.

This followed a review by incoming chief executive Alastair Neill, which found the budget set only in February contained errors and weaknesses.

It must now save an extra £8.4m this year and make 290 job cuts, against some 120 originally intended.

The council has saved some £21.1m over the last two years, and must save a further £32.2m over this year and the next two.

Mr Neill’s review found areas in the February budget “where the plans were not sufficiently resilient and [where] additional savings need to be made to ensure that the council delivers its plan within its budget”.

This included £1m of procurement savings which had “slipped and needed to be tackled” and £3.8m of learning disabilities grant which had in effect been counted twice.

Tony Johnson (Con), the council’s new leader, said: “We are facing a very challenging time over the next few years and as such we need to consider alternative approaches to delivering some of our services.

“Inevitably, non-mandatory services must bear the brunt of the cuts and although this will unfortunately involve job losses, it does not automatically mean the loss of services.”

The extraordinary council meeting agreed that the cabinet would consider holding a referendum to increase the 2014-15 council tax above whatever cap level is imposed.

Some 25% of Herefordshire’s income comes from council tax, which it had frozen from 2011-13. It increased it this year by 1.9%, equivalent to £1.5m.

Cllr Johnson said: “We must consider the possibility of raising council tax responsibly and proportionately across the county, as we begin to consider next year’s budget.”

Before doing so, he wanted to gauge whether residents “would be prepared to vote in favour of raising taxes to protect the county’s vital services”.

The coalition dropped Labour’s council tax cap, but substituted a system where tax could be raised above a nationally defined level only following a local referendum.

No council has yet held such a referendum, fearing both the cost and the likely outcome. In Herefordshire’s case a referendum would cost £100,000 to conduct.

In a joint statement with Unison, Herefordshire said it had agreed to reduce from three to two the number of days of unpaid leave to be taken during the Christmas period and to increase redundancy terms from the statutory minimum to 1.5 times that level.

Unison would prefer to keep in-house provision but will engage “fully in consideration of alternative business models that may be required in areas of service, where the council has to reduce or withdraw funding”.

More weasel words on Overseas Aid budget farce

How much longer do British taxpayers have to suffer cuts whilst their hard earned cash continues to flow into countries that are more than able to pay to look after their own citizens, but just don’t want to? They must be laughing their heads off every time they cash our cheque.

And the sternest statement our MPs can make on this scandal? ‘Tory MPs want Britain to use the meeting to call for bigger contributions from other countries’. WRONG! The British people want the British Government to stop lording it around on the world stage and cut these contributions without further delay.

British aid supports schemes in Iran and China
By Colin Freeman Sunday Telegraph 7 Oct 2012

FRESH concerns over Britain’s spending on foreign aid were raised last night as it was disclosed that the country is helping support projects in Iran and China. The Department for International Development (DfID) is a key supporter of the World Bank, set up to help develop poorer countries.
The bank, established after the Second World War, is funded by developed countries to provide capital to lend on interest-free or easy terms to poorer countries, and to use as collateral to raise further funds on the international money markets.
It also provides grants from cash given by donor countries, of which Britain is fifth largest, behind America, Japan, Germany and France. However, the level of aid given to the World Bank raised new worries last night over how aid funds are spent, and there is also concern over some of the bank’s loan schemes.
Inquiries by The Telegraph found a number of projects that bore only limited relevance to Britain’s development goals. They include:

• £50 million in loans for a road safety campaign to improve Iran’s appalling road accident rate. The country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, holds a PhD in traffic management.

• A £30 million loan towards the cost of a Confucius “cultural heritage protection” project in China.

• £122,000 for a “radio reality format” project to encourage women in central India to use water more efficiently.

Last year DfID contributed £953.4 million to the bank. In stark contrast, China gave only £98 million in 2010, while Russia gave just £70 million. Additionally, Britain is still giving aid to “middle income” countries through its contributions, despite the Government’s recent pledge to restrict handouts to only the neediest nations.
In a major review of aid 18 months ago, ministers promised a “tighter focus” on 27 of the poorest nations. However, among those in receipt of World Bank grants are Moldova, Cambodia and Kosovo, which were on a list of 16 countries for which DfID stopped direct funding.
The three receive grants totalling £56 million from the World Bank’s International Development Association, a fund to which Britain paid £2.64 billion – 12 per cent of the total – in the last round of contributions in 2010. On that basis, roughly £7.6 million of the grants to Moldova, Cambodia and Kosovo came from the British taxpayer.
The money is part of the 0.7 per cent of national income that Britain spends on overseas aid, which critics say must either be reduced or more carefully monitored. The lack of control that Britain has over how its foreign aid budget is spent by international bodies was highlighted by The Telegraph last week, when it was revealed that British aid cash channelled through the European Union is being spent on projects such as tourism parks in Iceland and energy-efficient holiday complexes in Morocco.
This week, the World Bank will hold its annual meeting in Tokyo, when talks will start on the next round of handouts, due to be finalised next year. Tory MPs want Britain to use the meeting to call for bigger contributions from emerging economies, especially if they want a greater say in the bank’s affairs.
“As a layman, I would have imagined that the voting rights should follow the money,” said Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley. “By anybody’s standards, we appear to be overpaying relative to other countries, and it is more than we can afford in this time of austerity.”
A DfID spokesman said the Government had not made any decisions about its future contribution to the World Bank’s aid programmes. But he added: “We are committed to a faster programme towards poverty reduction worldwide – this includes pushing other countries to increase their contributions.”

Cameron disappoints on the EU relationship

David Cameron happy to stay in Europe – that’s disappointing and immediately puts this country on the back foot when trying to tell the EU it’s got it wrong!

Continuing to tell us that it’s all about getting the relationship with right, totally ignores the fact that the whole EU bureaucracy is a corrupt and voracious monster. Trying to improve a relationship with something as self-serving and greedy as the EU, is like trying to reason with a boat load of gun toting Somalian pirates, as they are climbing aboard your boat.

Where there’s blame there’s a claim!

It looks like, having accepted (on our behalf?) that all the troubles of the world are the fault of the British, or should that be just the English (devolution and all that) David Cameron is now determined to use taxpayer’s money to fix things.

Apparently, whilst Pakistan is busy spending £1billion on submarines we, the taxpayers, will be generously giving them £650m of our money, so that an extra 40,000 children can go to school.  Nothing wrong with kids getting an education, but can their government please do it with their own, obviously plentiful, cash.

It’s almost a perverse form of the no win, no fee system we have in this country, except that these ‘victims’ don’t have to prove anybody is guilty (call me Dave’s already done that) or even put in a claim, in order to get a nice big payout.

Closer to home, the taxpayer will be hit, along with all the other burdens being imposed by increased taxation, increased NI, government sponsored inflation, increasing food prices, etc, with a further cost in the form of a carbon tax on energy companies.  Apparently this slipped in under cover of the rest of the Budget, compliments of George Osborne.

This will add hundreds of pounds to the average energy bill, as the companies will seek to pass it on to consumers.  This tax, which will be unique to the UK, will not only hit ordinary people in the pocket, it will have a direct impact on the competitiveness of British businesses, just when many are struggling to survive.  It would seem that whilst the rest of the world suffers natural disasters, our government have decided to be proactive and create its own.