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South Tyneside Budget – a guest post

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George ElsomSome alternative ideas to throw into the melting point from Cllr. George Elsom.

My thanks go to Cllr. George Elsom the Real Independent councillor for the Cleadon Park ward, in South Shields, of South Tyneside  who was tasked with proposing an alternative budget at last week’s meeting of the full council. George was not expecting this task so his proposals were drawn up at very short notice following the unfortunate illness suffered by veteran councillor Jimmy Capstick, the Leader of the Progressive Group.

Although there are many aspects of his thoughts that I do not completely agree with, I welcome reader’s input as to what areas our council should be addressing as they approach a period of stricter financial control, where should spending be reduced, what services (if any) could generate additional revenue, and what new ideas do YOU have that may not have been previously explored or ignored?

This is the verbatim speech  he prepared for delivery to the council:

Response from the Opposition to Budget Proposals

Well Mr Mayor, I don’t believe that there is any councillor sitting here who wished to implement this level of cuts and to make so many staff redundant.
I certainly don’t envy the ruling group the hard choices that they have had to implement in order to make the cuts of £32 million in the budget.

Whose fault is it?

Well the initial blame lies with the last Labour Government who when faced with a problem simply threw money at the problem in the hope that it would go away. If that didn’t work then they threw some more money at it. They created a record number of Quangos staffed by some of their cronies at exorbitant salaries. (Some are over £250000 – twice what the prime minister gets).
They allowed the salaries of senior officers in the public sector to spiral out of control.
The difference between the salaries of front line staff and senior officials is frankly obscene.

However the Coalition Government has gone about the cuts in public expenditure in too brutal a fashion. They should have phased in the cuts so that the in the first year they were at least manageable and councils did not have to make so many staff redundant. Instead they have front loaded them and thus they are much too draconian.

Public service cuts are too large, being implemented too soon and services will suffer.

Of course it is the Government and NOT the Council who have frozen council tax.        So the council should not try to take credit for this.

What can and what did the council do when it learnt of the size of the cuts, is the key to this budget?

Every piece, root and branch, of council expenditure should have been frozen whilst feasibility studies were carried out across the board.

Is this project necessary?

If NO then cancel it.

If YES; can we do it any cheaper? Can we do it another way? Lateral thinking.

I do not believe that this has been carried out in full and I will illustrate this with two small examples.

(i) Traffic calming measures at Lizard Lane. Were there lots of accidents at this site? NO!
Road calming measures have been carried out that are excessive in the extreme.
From 30 to 40 to 20 to 40 to 30. Signs all over the place. We have two pinch points and seven cushions/humps. The road is a mess and a less costly, easier and safer option should have been considered.

(ii) In my own ward at Cedar Grove they are doing a lovely job of blocking off the road. Necessary? They could have trialled a one way system.
Also they are using expensive block paving on the paths. Cedar Grove and the surrounding paths don’t have block paving. So why here? It needs ongoing maintenance and costs a lot of money. I suggested – which was ignored – that we should tarmac. You can get coloured tarmac and even imprint it if you wish. This would save many thousands of pounds across the borough.

There are numerous other examples of the Council simply going ahead with costly schemes without obviously re-evaluating the cost or merits of such schemes. A question of ‘it’s been agreed so let’s just do it regardless’.

The most costly contract that the council has entered into is the Sita waste contract.

£1.6 billion over 25 years.

In light of the cuts this contract should have been renegotiated for less money and over a much shorter period. Technology is rapidly changing just look at phones, tv, cars, etc. so in ten years there will be rapid changes and in 25 years they are likely to be spectacular.

I had a very good meeting with the senior officers of waste management but what I couldn’t accept was their statement that landfill was an option. It is not an option – both on economic and environmental grounds.
Open windows example
Page 34 MTFP also Page 44 shows that the net spending on waste management is over £9 million – NOT a small sum!!
In 2013/14 it is envisaged that the new waste contract will cost us an extra £2 Page 48.
Are you aware that Sita are just taking the grey bin waste?

The green and blue bin waste collections are subject to separate contracts; and if we improve our recycling levels – as we must – then we will have more waste to dispose of and Sita will have less. Our costs to Sita will not drop.

This doesn’t strike me as VALUE FOR MONEY!

I’ve mentioned salaries earlier so I would just like to digress a little and state that did you know that in the borough there are:

2 teaching staff on salaries over £100000 but there are also
126 teaching staff with salaries of between £50000 to £100000?

In comparison at the council we have 4 officers on over £100000;
and 48 officers between 50000 and £100000.

At STH    1 officer is on over £100000 and
9 officers between £50000 and £100000.

There are rent arrears of well over a million pounds.

Regeneration! Regeneration! Regeneration!

That is the number one priority for South Tyneside Council and I agree that we must create more jobs and improve the fabric of the borough for the residents who live here.

The Chief Executive was appointed, in the main, because of his experience in this field.

But I question whether we then needed an Executive Director of Regeneration at around £125000 and then a deputy for another £75000 or so.

The combined figure is around £200000 which equates to 10 staff on £20000.

We should not be paying such high salaries as there is quite a large employment pool what with the abolition of all the Quangos, etc.

Consultancy fees

In 2009/2010 these amounted to almost three and a half million pounds and in 2010/2011 to almost three million pounds.
How much is in this budget? No easy figure to read as it is not shown but is swallowed up in other budgets.

What schools have asbestos in them? A figure of £200000 is on PAGE 49 reference 18.

For the reasons mentioned and for others that I don’t have time to mention I regretfully cannot support this budget and will accordingly abstain.

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Written by curly

March 1, 2011 at 6:42 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately I cannot follow or agree with the rhetoric about the coalition government making economic cuts, too deep, too swiftly, or too soon. Truth is, they haven’t started making any yet!
    So far, contrary to almost universal belief, they have not started to have any effect at all yet. Public spending is up by seven per cent on last year, the state is growing faster than the private sector and our deficit and debt are both higher now than they were under Gordon Brown, thanks largely to the interest plans agreed by the then PM and his side kick Alistair Darling.

    curly

    March 1, 2011 at 6:49 pm

  2. A point that is forgotten in all this, is that cuts in staffing of frontline services were being made by some Tyneside authorities long before Eric Pickles appeared on the scene. Not replacing retiring staff, not recruiting trainees, a cull of managers (some relatively youthful).

    LL.B

    March 1, 2011 at 10:06 pm

  3. It’s unfortunate that councillor Elsom didn’t get involved with the waste strategy when it could have made a difference. When Friends of the Earth volunteers were out on Saturday mornings in South Shields and Jarrow encouraging people to sign up to the campaign for cheaper and sustainable alternatives to what the council has lumbered us with, South Tyneside councillors were nowhere to be heard or seen.

    brian

    March 1, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    • Oh I wish I could reply to the waste to energy debate here, but sadly my organisation would be indentified. But there are cheaper and more sustainable options

      Avatar

      March 2, 2011 at 1:24 pm

  4. At least Cllr Elsom is making a constructive measured contribution to the debate rather than blogging personal, possible defamatory attacks on fellow local councillors.Intelligently written letter in the “Gazette” reminding us of the work of the Lyons Inquiry into Local Government commissioned by previous Labour Government. But, that report’s conclusions and recommendations are based upon the premise that Council Tax remains in place, whereas my contention is that it is people not buildings who consume local authority services, so ultimately the local tax burden should be borne by everyone over the age of 18.Hopefully, local election turnouts would increase if every adult member of the community had a personal financial stake. A friend of mine who worked in a frontline local government professional service once found himself in the ironic position of providing hundreds of pounds worth of free advice and support (applying private sector costings) to a young person proudly wearing a “Pay No Poll Tax” badge.

    LL.B

    March 3, 2011 at 9:14 am

    • There are many people who share your view that the original intention of Margaret Thatcher in relation to local government finance was correct, that all local electors should bear some personal cost towards the services that they use. It was a good premise and , as you correctly illustrate, a stakeholding might just have provided the personal urge to take a more active interest in local affairs. Currently around 25% of electors in South Tyneside feel a chill when ill financial winds blow, the rest are insulated by the state, which in effect means that a council’s administration and executive decisions can carry on regardless without fear of real accountability, until the government steps in to stem the tidal wave of spending.

      Anyway it was good to read yesterday that Alistair Darling admits there would have been some pain if Labour had won the last election, just a shame that the party’s new leader cannot apologise for the excesses of the last thirteen years and tell us just where Labour’s axe would have landed.

      curly

      March 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm

  5. When local authorities started copying the private sector and started creating posts for Directors, Executive Directors etc, salaries and the managerial/admin tiers increased, and accontability was apparently reduced.What does an Executive Director of Regeneration and deputy actually do that benefits Curly, Avatar, myself et al? At least you knew what a Chief Librarian did, or a Chief Highways Engineer…

    LL.B

    March 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm

  6. The penny has yet to drop with the council, the Condems want the council to be a commisioner of services not a deliverer of services. But instead of grasping the concept they are just trying to juggle the finances. This year they are cutting the flesh next year they are cutting into the bone.

    Take STC they are culling staff on one hand but on the other they have created a new post of Dir of Econonic Regeneration with a salary of £75k. Are STC actually on this planet? There needs to be a root and branch restructure of Services, and all those services which are not front line need to be outsourced.

    avatar

    March 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm

  7. Shared services an option for the 5 Tyne&Wearlocal authorities, perhaps.

    LL.B

    March 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm


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