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Archive for the ‘Waste’ Category

Reducing the number of South Tyneside councillors

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Populist move from one current and one former councillor

Well it certainly might be an idea that gains the backing of a large section of the community eager to see the perceived wasting of money halted, but as things stand these proposals from the former Progressive councillor Greenwell Jewitt, and the borough’s Old Peoples Parliament Forum 50, along with backing from current Independent councillor George Elsom seem doomed to failure not least because they are poorly thought through and poorly presented.

The idea sounds great, bringing the number of councillors down from 54 to 36 and reducing allowances by 50% would certainly find favour with a lot of people, many could probably find popular alternative ways to spend the c £300000 that might be saved (in other words the cash would not be saved at all)  but there is no substance, clarity, or technical detail in the proposals, nor does the proposal take account of what actions South Tyneside Council can legitimately take on its own behalf. Our council cannot decide alone to reduce the number of its elected representatives, nor can it decide alone what level of allowances to compensate elected members with.

These decisions can only be taken alongside the guidance, advice, and support of external organisations set up by statute governing the constitution of local councils in England Wales.

One needs to ask Cllr, Elsom and Mr. Jewitt exactly how they would propose making the reduction in councillor numbers. Would they favour continuing with fewer but larger three member seats and elections held at the same time and frequency as the rest of England and Wales, or would they favour two member wards, which require our council to be completely out of step with the rest of England and Wales? Twelve larger wards across the borough would suit me to be sure, but it would be almost impossible to get all party agreement on the shape, size, and the boundaries of these new wards, it might also lead to a reduction in Labour’s dominance at local level. However this is all academic, in order to facilitate a change in the size of South Tyneside Council, the council would need to pass a resolution requesting that the Local Government Boundaries Commission for England carry out a special and specific electoral review just for this borough, and it is a very rare thing indeed for single borough reviews to take place successfully.

Electoral reviews look at whether the boundaries of wards or divisions within a local authority need to be altered. We might conduct these reviews either to ensure fairer representation at local government elections after any significant changes in the distribution of electors, or at the request of a local authority for other reasons.

Things we look at:

  • the number of councillors on the council
  • the number of wards or divisions
  • whether the wards or divisions should be represented by a single councillor, or jointly by two or three councillors
  • the boundaries and names of those wards or divisions

Our responsibilities relate solely to local government in England.

So, as you can see from the above, this will be a major hurdle to overcome, and certainly would not happen overnight!

I think Forum 50’s idea of collecting petition signatures may be the right way to go to promote the council into thinking of considering their proposal, but a realist would recognise that there can be no political will withing the Labour Party to cut their own throats.

Nice try though guys!

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Written by curly

March 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

Cllr. McCabe’s finest moment.

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Why does one councillor spend so much time effort and risk in attempting to stop a legal action?

Cllr. John McCabe has some fine words published in the Shields Gazette this evening, as we learn that Cllr. Khan’s appeal will add massively to the sums expended by South Tyneside Council as they attempt to umask the mystery Monkey blogger:

“Let’s be clear. The Monkey blog is not some whistle-blowing caped-crusader seeking justice for the underdog. It is a vile, filthy and tawdry blog full of lies, slander and frankly horrendous filth against councillors, council staff, their families and reputable businesses in the borough.

“The council has a duty of care to its staff. Cyber bullying should not be tolerated. Four people, who have been libelled the most, agreed to allow their names to be used in the US Courts to seek to unmask this pathetic individual.

“We don’t know who it is, the council has never suggested it is Coun Khan, but given his frantic attempts to undermine this case it is hard to understand why he would spend so much time, effort and risk so much money trying to stop the legal action.

“Coun Khan’s anti-SLAPP motion was an attempt to stop the council unmasking the individual operating as Mr Monkey, but Coun Khan’s actions were dismissed by a judge as ‘frivolous’ at a hearing in September and costs were awarded in favour of the council. In my view, he owes the council taxpayer more than £40,000.”

It is a strange day which sees the passing of one councillor who cost the council taxpayer so little over 45 years  and another intent on costing us so much over a much shorter period. Instead of prolonging the legal actions in the US why doesn’t Cllr. Khan bring matters to a head and call the plaintiffs’ bluff by inviting them to launch a libel action in the UK?

I’m sure that the majority of us in South Tyneside would like to see the end of this affair in a more clear cut manner than the Suarez/Evra long winded  handshake and subsequent apologies.


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Written by curly

February 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm

How do I “volunteer” this opinion?

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Some South Tyneside “charities” are little more than job protection schemes.

First of all I have not enjoyed having to pick on one particular South Shields based “charity” for this article, it was just that the numbers were of such a great magnitude that it was too difficult to ignore, it is among a clutch of organisations properly registered as charities with The Charities Commission. As we face times of economic restraint and much tighter control of public spending, the state and its various organs, including councils such as ours in South Tyneside, are under enormous pressure to produce savings and reduce the amount of taxpayers cash that they spend. Only in this way will there be any future prospect of us being able to keep a little of our hard earned cash for ourselves.

However there are many charities which receive more than 10% of their income from the tax payer in one form or another, a threshold which ensures that they perennially plead for greater protection and greater funding without having to hand out the buckets in the street or post huge plastic bags through our letterboxes. If you would like to learn a little more about “fake charities” then read on here.

So, as the Prime Minister likes to remind us “we are all in this together” and the third sector is part of “the Big Society”, but that should not preclude many organisations listed at the Charities Commission from scrutiny or a necessary reduction in public funding, particularly if the output that they offer is little more than “public services by proxy”.

Of the South Tyneside registered charities that I looked at, the South Tyneside Council for Voluntary Service caught my eye, mainly because of the eye watering amounts of public finance that it consumes, and the very low amount of genuine public donations that it receives, in my view if a “charity” cannot raise a sufficient funding for itself directly from the public then that could indicate that we do not necessarily support its objectives and aims. the South Tyneside CVS submitted its latest balance sheet to the Charities commission in November of last year, you can download it in .pdf form here.

In the year ended March 2010 it had a total income of almost £1m (991,580), of that income only £1013 came from general donations, fund raising or sponsorship, i.e. this is what the average Joe in the street knowingly and deliberately gave them. Their income resources from charitable activity amounted to £854,117, and a further £136,450 came from activities for generating funds. From their income South Tyneside CVS expended £981,401 including staff costs of £653,813, and this for a head count of only 35! They state that their principle sources of income are South Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Primary Care Trust, Capacity Builders ( a publicly financed organisation), The Big Lottery Fund, and South Tyneside Council Area Based Grants. Clearly, this small group of people rely almost exclusively on the tax payer for their jobs and livelihoods.

Furthermore of the £981,401 that it spent, only £53,000 was passed to partner organisations and other groups in the form of grants.

So the cash rolls in from the public coffers and it rolls out mainly in the form of wage costs, but for what and for whom? Wage costs for 35 people suggest an average of around £18000 per head, but some of those listed are part time, and others are in more senior managerial positions, so some latitude ought to be assumed. The largest wage costs are attached to the Health Trainers, those good people who work in the community telling us what we ought to eat, what we ought not to drink or smoke, how and why we ought to exercise, what substances we ought to stop abusing our bodies with etc. etc. All well and good, very acceptable advice, but shouldn’t South Tyneside Primary Health Care Trust be shouldering the costs directly? Instead, they appear to channel money out of their own budgets to South Tyneside CVS and ask them to administer the wage for these trainers, what comes in then goes out, and whatever savings the CVS achieve they are able to keep for themselves, a very adept means of protecting health service workers!

The CVS managed to make savings of around £10,000 in the reporting year which it keeps to add to its rolling reserve to achieve the required 13 weeks worth of working capital, and from what I can glean from this report we have a mass of cash being recycled from a variety of tax funded sources to help pay for services that ought to have been directly supplied by the grant providers originally. This looks like a convenient way of hiding some of our public services from view and effectively protecting them from scrutiny or the effects of government directed cash savings.

It also provides work for charitable groups to administer the wages and associated costs of these services on a very long term and secure basis, the director of CVS, for instance, has been in post for around 26 years. She must be extremely good at the job and highly valued, it would be difficult to find a director or chief executive of a public limited company holding down such a prestigious position for so long.

It is easier to understand now why public relations drives in the local press appear year after year after year during that six month or so period when councils and other bodies are preparing their annual budgets, although sometimes they garner the type of publicity which is not always welcome.

South Tyneside CVS is not alone in living off the public purse, Bliss=Ability, the Laygate based charity which provides an information service for people with disabilities is also registered at the Charities Commission, although it is diversifying and one arm is now a small company. However in its last accounts submitted in September 2009 (.pdf here) they reported an income of £424,000 of which only £801 was voluntarily donated! Becuase of the greater diversity in their activities they were able to find funding from a more diverse range of public sources including South Tyneside Council’s Social Care and Health Advocacy Service, Links (a publicly funded local networking service), the Carers Support Team, the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, Social Enterprise Europe Consensus Development, Community Health and Development, and a Big Lottery Healthy Living fund. Once again a charity that survives on tax payers cash and paid out over £300,000 of its income on staff costs.

South Tyneside Training and Enterprise Network Ltd is another “small company” also registered as a charity with the Charities Commission (last balance sheet .pdf here), who from a total income of £162,300 had voluntary donations of around £5000, mainly from the Yorkshire Bank, the vast majority of the remainder of their funding was also provided in one way or another by the tax payer. They receive grant aid to assist them in finding work for the unemployed. Unfortunately they tend to spend far more than they receive and in 2010 their payroll costs of £309,462 exceeded their income. Unlike many private enterprises who would have folded without further investment, TENS see themselves as a going concern, and the government will see a need for their services to continue.

Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle upon Tyne had a total income of £2.88m of which only £36,000 was voluntarily donated, they are profitable and spent only around £200,000 on staff costs, they intend to build high quality “carbon neutral” homes on a site in Reed Street, South Shields.

The point that I am trying to make here is that their charitable status is not determined by the amount of voluntary donations by you and I, but by the largesse of the public purse, and if “we are all in this together” then we have to weigh up the balance between costs and value. We often hear the argument that someone may know the cost of everything but the value of nothing, but it is my belief that many of the projects being pursued by these charities were at some point in the past within the remit of a public organisation directly responsible to a minister, or council responsible to its electors. Over the course of time these functions have been farmed out to pretty much trustees who are now charged with administering public funds by proxy. As such, I see no reason why the organisations who are granting the funding to these charities should not take a long hard look at who they are giving our money too, how much value we get for it, and determine whether or not the services offered could be provided either in the private sector or at the direct cost of the public sector openly and honestly without hiding costs in another organisation.

As things stand, we have thousands of “fake charities”  suckling at the tit of the public purse, spending a small fortune providing jobs for themselves, unaccountable to electors and in many cases set up without public consultation or involvement.

Update 20:50

Just as I’m talking about hiding public services away behind a “charity” cover and protecting jobs, what do I find? It must have been a premonition!

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Written by curly

March 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Temple Park, South Shields

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What a load of rubbish!

Temple Memorial Park in South Shields was bequeathed to us with a covenant that it be used in perpetuity for leisure purposes, the Church Commissioners saw no huge building developments upon it after the last war and had no wishes that the position should change, unless it was to add pleasure and leisure to our lives. Over the years we have seen one or two smaller developments come and go there, it once housed a small golf course, a church which was burned down, and we now have a leisure centre which is ailing and expensive to maintain, and a Fire Station, as well as an old civil defence facility buried below one corner of the land.

I received an email from a customer here last week looking for online confirmation that Temple Park had once been used as a landfill site for South Shields’ rubbish, I must admit that finding some sort of online confirmation was near impossible although I was able to find one reference to it in an old Shields Gazette article. My own memories as a child, which are not too clear, was that part of Temple Memorial Park was used to receive our bin wagons, the corner adjacent to The White Ensign and the old King George School on Nevison Avenue comes to mind, that part which is now football pitches.

I know too, that monitors for methane gas are installed in Temple Park Centre and at locations around the immediate area, the presumption is that the amount of methane reaching the surface is negligible and no threat to anyone at all.

However, if readers have any particular memories about the rubbish tip that was on Temple Park then please leave a comment, my correspondent would be delighted to learn more about this period of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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Written by curly

February 27, 2011 at 10:36 am

Some odd perspectives on council spending and accountability

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When South Tyneside Council grants cash to voluntary organisations, ever wondered how it is looked after?

Just musing here about how accountable certain organisations are when operating under the umbrella of South Tyneside Borough Council (or other such councils for that matter), did you know for instance that:

  • South Tyneside Council has no complaints procedure in place after it makes the granting of funds to a voluntary organisation, and that the organisation concerned is expected to have such policies in place to deal with complaints.
  • When BT South Tyneside, the council’s strategic partner, makes a payment to a voluntary organisation it is accountable to South Tyneside Council and that the council is then accountable to the electorate.
  • Some voluntary organisations’ management teams or committees are attended by an observer of South Tyneside Council, who may not necessarily be required to make a report or record minutes that members of the public may scrutinise.

I offer this purely as news for you to consider and ponder over, seems to me a very odd way to steward the money of council tax payers, especially in times of financial restrain when every penny will count.

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Written by curly

June 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Bin collections suspended

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South Tyneside Council amends refuse collection plans

It’s a little more inconvenience to deal with, but I’m sure we’ll cope, if you were expecting your bins to be emptied this weekend in South Tyneside you will probably understand how difficult it is for drivers of the council’s bin wagons to manoeuvre these huge machines around tight back lanes on sheet ice. Therefore until road conditions improve a bit, all bin collections have been suspended until next week, and it would help if you don’t park your car in the back lane.

Here’s the meat from the council’s press release:

The advice to all residents is not to put their waste bins out this weekend. From next week, resources will be focused on normal collections and any extra bags of rubbish will also be taken.

  • Waste bins – residents should just put their grey waste bin out on their normal collection day, together with any extra bags due to delays (please note only domestic waste will be collected)
  • Black Kerb-it box – residents should put their black box out only on the normal collection day
  • Blue wheeled recycling bin – anyone on the new recycling scheme should put their blue bin out each day until it has been emptied.

If you wish you may also take your own recyclable rubbish to Middlefields at Tyne dock, South Shields.

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Written by curly

January 10, 2010 at 10:34 am

South Tyneside Homes “open to fraud”

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Auditor’s judgement

Auditors KPMG found staff at South Tyneside Homes, which manages around 19,000 homes on behalf of South Tyneside Council, were able to make transactions without approval from their seniors.

Their report said: ‘There is the risk that journals get posted that have not been properly checked and authorised. The system is open to fraud and potential mis-statement.

Of course it’s all well and good being open and transparent, but if you need KPMG to be finding these details and pointing them out, then surely that indicates that someone within the management team of South Tyneside Homes isn’t exactly covering themselves in glory!

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Written by curly

September 28, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I quite fancy the Black Eyed Peas new album

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I think I’ll tell my son to take a chlamydia test

Oh damn, we don’t live in London (where he could have got an iPod in Camden)

I’m sure that somebody somewhere is earning an absolute fortune dreaming up new and inventive ways for our public services to waste our cash. One wonders how many educational leaflets the £5000 might have bought, or how many clever teenagers who aren’t even sexually active have taken advantage of the scheme just to get their hands on a free HMV voucher?

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Written by curly

August 3, 2009 at 11:10 am

No pain, no gain

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The “cuts” argument moves into more comfortable areas.

I’m a little dismayed today, some ministers are now openly admitting that spending reductions are on the way, the comprehensive spending reviews has not been shelved just pushed back a bit, but there is still an argument going on in Brown’s cabinet with the likes of Lord High Everything Mandelson refusing to be seen dead in the sane room as ex Tory turncoat Shaun Woodward, but at least the issue of cuts is on the agenda.

Trouble is, both major parties are now looking for areas where spending reductions (not just smaller increases) will cause the least electoral pain, and both seem determined to protect the health and education budgets, I’m not convinced that this is either healthy or learned. As prepares the way to trim off all of the fat cooking on ID Cards, police, and defence, the Tories are planning an assault on quangos, nothing wrong in that, many of them are wasteful, but in the bigger scheme of things they won’t generate the type of savings that are going to delay our impending bankruptcy or even help service the debt charges that Gordon Brown has generated. Yes, it may even be popular with the voters too, but being popular isn’t necessarily the right thing to do when faced with an economic crisis, and both Brown and Cameron seem determined to find the patch ground in the middle of the road which enjoys the most support, however, as I’ve said many times before, the middle of the road is the most dangerous place to stand in politics.

The Conservatives ought to be prepared to look at every departmental budget including the nation’s biggest cash cows, the NHS and education, there should be nowhere for ministers or civil servants to hide when inevitable savings need to be secured. Since Blair brought NuLabour to Downing Street back in 1997, public spending on the NHS has tripled, one needs to ask if we have managed to improve patient services three times over in that period, or improved “customer satisfaction” by three times to match the spending.

Much the same can be said of education, despite throwing mountainous amounts of cash at schools, colleges, and universities, future employers and international institutions appear to be agreed that academic standards have hardly improved in twelve years, despite creating thousands of additional university places. Examination systems and student evaluations seem in permanent disarray and subject to continual inspection and criticism.

What has “improved” in both of these areas of public spending is the growth in the numbers employed and the explosion of functionaries and administrators as well as costly computerised databases which are now proposed to be handed over to companies such as Microsoft or Google, (cue more privacy disasters).

The Conservatives ought to be praised for showing some honesty for their candour in being able to talk about “cuts” where Labour dares not, but their credibility would be much improved if the largest sectors of public spending were brought into the equation, By committing to “protect” health and education both the Tories and Labour will condemn other public services to disproportional budgetary constraints as they perversely try to achieve a balance between financial rectitude and voter popularity, this is a trick which the most accomplished magician would find difficult to pull off.

If we are to to begin the process of managing the debt levels inherited by Brown’s reckless borrowing and bring down the costs of servicing those debts, then any responsible political party ought to be prepared to thoroughly inspect every government department and propose trimming away every area of fat without cutting into the flesh.

There is no real added value in looking for the easy or comfortable options, the commitment to protecting two major departments must be dropped, there will be no gain achieved without experiencing some pain, tough decisions are there to be made and we will all lose out if our politicians shy away from these responsibilities.

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Written by curly

July 6, 2009 at 10:18 am

The sounds of silence

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Stephen Hepburn MP

South Tyneside MPs go mute

The Journal has been digging into Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburns expense claims after I’d decided it was too much of time waster (how wrong can you get?). Although I’ve questioned in the past just how his office expenses were so much higher than those of South Shields MP David MIliband it appears that the Sunderland supporting “honourable” Member for Jarrow has a bit of a penchant for boys toys, gadgets, and all things digital, the Journal found that he’d bought with our money:

  • Canon IXUS digital camera and equipment. £476.41 December 2004.
  • Canon IXUS 900 Titanium £299.89. March 2007.
  • Antler OEM Milan Pouch £5.99. March 2007
  • Digital camera £249.99 February 2008.
  • Mobile phone and memory stick. £319. May 2006.
  • Equipment from PC World. £1,951.47 March 2006.

That’s not a bad little haul in four years is it ? Hepburn had this to say:

“Good communications and constituency casework are a vital part of the work of a public representative. A photo is often more striking than a thousand words and as such photos are used in pressing the interests of my constituents be they about traffic hazards or badly kept public facilities.”

He had one camera stolen, so replaced it (some of us have house and contents insurance to cover these things), he has a fax machine, and four telephone lines for each member of his office staff in Jarrow. Is this a constituency office or a call centre Mr. Hepburn? However, I digress, if he had to go out and buy these items for himself out of his own pocket do readers think he may have driven a harder bargain, shopped around and saved a few quid? Yes, I certainly think he might have done, but when it’s somebody else’s money than why go to the bother, easy come, easy go. As for the eye watering prices that he did pay, then the staff at Curry’s PC World obviously saw him coming!

Another feature of this little story is the “wordless Wednesday” theme, most of the MPs questioned by the Journal had very little to say at all in the way of acknowledging the public anger that their profligate expenditure has caused, in fact their silence is almost golden, apart from this little nugget from Hepburn

“A photo is often more striking than a thousand words”,

here’s a striking little fact about Hepburn and photos, a search on Google images for Stephen Hepburn MP turns up just eighteen pictures in the whole wide world, and I “mashed up” two of them. The football loving, camera carrying, digital savvy, expensive MP appears to be pretty anonymous despite his collection of digital toys. Similarly, David Miliband also invested in a digital camera, yet still pays for others to take pictures of him line dancing, and like Stephen Hepburn, he has uttered very few words of self condemnation or regret about his expense claims.  They are not alone, there are many others in the House of Commons, and even some local councillors, who, when faced with a barrage of criticism over expenses or allowances, zip their mouths firmly shut, close the ears, and hope that the madding crowd goes away. Their silence is appallingly loud, and we hear every word of it.

Our voices will not be silent come the time when Gordon Brown summons sufficient courage to call a general election.

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Written by curly

June 25, 2009 at 1:49 pm