Charities need to be careful not to bite the hand

Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which must cut spending by £35.6 million, faces a high court battle with disability campaigners who claims cuts to charities have been ‘discriminatory’ and ‘rushed through’. I wonder how much of the taxpayer’s money this council will have to waste defending this case?

Charities and the voluntary sector in general need to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them when it comes to challenging councils on how they spend their discretionary budgets. Unless they can prove that the proposed withdrawal of funding is just a case of rearranging the furniture and that the council will have to pick up the tab in another way, they should accept that this is just one of a number of incredibly difficult decisions councils are having to make.

The logical fallout from this type of action, is that all councils will build in to their future charity contributions something akin to a prenuptial agreement. The agreement would say that, should the council decide to cease funding the organisation for any reason, there can be no legal challenge. If the charity or voluntary organisation is unwilling to sign up to any such agreement, then they can go whistle!

Pickles’ hypocricy continues

Local government continues to be criticised from various quarters, whilst at the same time battling the worst grant settlement in recent history.  Media criticism is a given these days – there’s no news in good news when it comes to the press.  The other, and more damaging criticism, comes from a man who is now clearly demonstrating a pathological hatred of the institution that gave him his start in politics, but appears to have cause him some form of psychological damage in the process, Eric Pickles.

Although given the job of minister for local government and therefore supposedly an advocate for it within central government, this man appears to be on a one-man crusade, but enthusiastically aided and abetted by Shapps, Clark and Neill at various stages, to undermine his area of responsibility to the point of extinction.

The hypocritical utterances of Pickles since taking office just keep flowing, with his latest referring to senior officers’ salaries.  In keeping with his two-faced approach to the Localism agenda, he has now decreed that all councils will publish details of staff earning over £58,000 a year.  Not a big deal in itself, why shouldn’t the local taxpayer know what those running their local councils are earning.  However, at the same time, this ignores completely the government’s cave-in on a similar proposal for civil servants earning ‘fat cat salaries’ – his words not mine – and the subsequent pathetic requirements for them to publicise details of all those earning more than £150,000 a year.  One rule for them and another for the rest of the pond life, as the lower ranks were sometimes called when I was in the military.

The attack from the media comes in the form of an investigation by the BBC Breakfast News show.  It must have been extremely challenging making all those telephone calls to councils – worthy of a bonus, a party paid for from expenses and at least two self-congratulatory award ceremonies.

Apparently, councils are preying on the vulnerable by increasing the charges made for services such as meals on wheels, burials and cremations.  No councillor gets elected on the promise of cutting services, or of screwing the taxpayer for as much money as possible and given the choice, most of us would prefer to reduce the cost of any service the public values.  However, when confronted with a mad fat man in a hurry, whose only priority is to punish local government and grab media headlines whilst doing so, council’s are left with little choice.

Those with access to any of the local government range of publications and in particular the Local Government Chronicle (LCG), would have read numerous articles, written by all manner of so-called experts and informed commentators, some of them from within the government, encouraging councils to be more innovative in the way they raise revenue, with trading and charges being at the top of the list of must do’s.  Trading takes time and money to set up, but increasing charges for services doesn’t.  Desperate people do desperate things and so do desperate councils.