Eric Pickles finally outed at last as a force for bad – sort of

Peter Oborne, writings in today’s Sunday Telegraph, are music to my ears, if that’s actually possible – writings, ears?    His contribution to an article looking at the issues around the recent widespread flooding, focusses on the political dimension and in particular, the hamfisted and spiteful involvement of one, Eric Pickles MP.

In my opinion, the position of the local council leader, Mike Fisher (behind Pickles wearing glasses, says everything there is to say about Eric Pickles relationship with local government.
Photo with thanks to Croydon Advertiser

No sooner was Eric Pickles put in charge of dealing with the flooding incidents that were impacting a number of areas in the south of England, than he started apportioning blame and apologising for the supposed shortcomings and failures of the ‘blameworthy’.

Having honed his talents for spite and bile on belittling and criticising local government, he had now set about the Environment Agency, for failing to prevent the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.  By inference, according to Peter Oborne, Pickles was also back stabbing a government colleague, Owen Paterson, laid low by a sight threatening detached retina that required urgent surgery, the cause of Pickles appointment, along with Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the EA.

For those of us involved in local government, this was very much par for the course with Eric Pickles, especially if there was a reporter’s microphone, or TV crew in sight.  However, and morale to anybody suffering from Pickles’s non-stop spite, is that his big mouthed, brute force handling of his new role, has seen him outed as no more the the “blundering Whitehall meddler” we all knew him to be.

      Disappointingly, Peter Oborne suggests that, up until this point, Eric Pickles was actually considered to be a safe pair of hands,           this despite his unchecked assault on local government, as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.  So, unless Owen Paterson and Lord Smith confront David Cameron and tell him in no uncertain terms, it’s him or us, it would seem that local government is stuck with this loud mouthed lout, until May 2015.

Media needs to pick the right target

In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker is taking a swipe at rising levels of public pay, bonuses and benefits, in these times of public sector austerity. He is of course right to be seriously concerned on behalf of the public. It cannot be right that, whilst everything else in the public sector is shrinking, the wealth of those at the highest levels continue to inflate.

However, targeting those benefitting from a corrupted remuneration system, is hardly going to achieve the desired outcome – the wholesale realignment of public sector pay. The present system has evolved over many years of negotiation between recruitment bodies, unions and even individuals seeking senior positions. Much of this negotiation, especially involving unions, has been based on claims that public sector workers are poorly paid, because they have greater job security and receive earlier pensions than those in the private sector. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, and this is where Christopher Booker is right to voice his concerns. Public sector pay has not just caught up, it has, especially at the more senior levels, surpassed the private sector, whilst all other benefits have stayed the same. It is this increasing disparity between the public and private sectors that is creating the current media outrage.

There is also one group that tends to be overlooked when it comes to responsibility for pay inflation – local government elected members. I myself have sat through more than a few debates and subsequent votes on decisions related to the chief executive’s next pay rise. Invariably discussions always focussed on how we needed to pay at least the going rate, having taken soundings from what was called our family group. This family group was based on councils of the same type and size as ours and was supposed to ensure that we didn’t loose a good CX, because we were not paying the going rate. The problem with this approach, is that it automatically builds in inflation which is then made worse by members often unfounded concerns at the possibility of loosing the devil they know. Also, somebody will often throw in a comment about the high cost of seeking a replacement for a senior management post and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve added 5 or even 10% to the cost of employing your chief executive.

Some councils have attempted to justify pay inflation within it’s senior management team, by introducing performance related bonuses. This farcical approach is also widespread across Whitehall and only adds to the outrage felt by those in the private sector, when reading reports such as Christopher Booker’s. If you can’t measure somebody’s performance against a well understood outcome such as profit, you’re stumbling around in the dark, basing your decision on personality and not performance and inviting the sort of pay inflation now common across the public sector.

The thin blue line – business as usual

Read this piece from today’s Sunday Telegraph – Night the thin blue line snapped. By David Barrett and Patrick Hennessy to read an excellent analysis of why zero tolerance policing will fail without many other changes being made.

Sadly, there is a complete generation of fast tracked (2 years on the beat and then no more getting their hands dirty) whizz-kid coppers at the top of our police forces – I refuse to call the police a service, that’s what the refuse collectors do when they pick up my rubbish, they give me a service. As an aside, why did the senior cops of the time roll-over so easily? Why didn’t they tell the politicians to get stuffed and stick their name change?

Unless you can send these senior cops back to the staff college, where they were first indoctrinated in to the PC world our police now operate in, then nothing will change. Even then, this can’t happen in isolation, because as soon as the police throw the PC rule book out of the window, the civil rights lawyers will be all over them like a virulent and nasty rash.

Police officers need to be given the political backing and most importantly, the right training, to apply the law robustly and fairly, if zero tolerance is going to work. I have serious doubts that the American super-cop will last much longer than his first scathing report, or make any difference in the long run.