Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Continuing the theme from my last column, I’ve unearthed another five council contracts which show that before pleading poverty and hiking tax, local authorities could be rooting out wasteful spending.
Let’s start with a serial offender when it comes to profligacy. Despite being in debt to the tune of £1.5 billion, Croydon Council tendered a contract worth the best part of £10,000 for a “Cultural Transformation Engagement Programme”. If you think the title is suitably vague wait till you read the description:
“The Council is looking for an experienced Organisation Development provider to work with them to co-design and co-deliver a rapid programme of engagement events across the whole organisation to further confirm the culture we are trying to change from and “cross the threshold” into our new way of thinking, being and working”.
Have you ever heard such a load of nonsense? This may be a relatively small sum of money in the scheme of things, but without doubt, Croydon council has more pressing matters at hand, such as finding funds for essential services.
Not to be outdone, Bedford Borough Council put calls out for the provision of “Weight Management Services for Faith Groups”. According to the authority:
“During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bedford Borough Council Public Health team has built relationships with local faith communities and faith leaders. We would like to build on this by offering further support outside of COVID, and focussing on healthy weight”.
Several questions spring to mind. Why is this the business of the council? It certainly doesn’t seem like a statutory responsibility to me. Why is it focussing seemingly solely on churches? Shouldn’t other groups in the community be included? Given the mess that covid has caused, surely Bedford council has better things to focus its time and resources on. It’s not just Bedford though. Nearby Northamptonshire County Council has similar contracts worth £1 million.
Meanwhile, in Essex, the county council has thought it wise to splurge £500,000 of taxpayers’ cash “Tackling Cycling Inequalities”. The contract states:
“Essex Pedal Power scheme is focused on low-income communities where the need is highest, and the benefits of becoming regularly active through cycling are greatest.”
This is a noble cause but is it the role of a county council? Let’s not forget either, that Essex regularly tops the tables in the TaxPayers’ Alliance Town Hall Rich List series. In 2019-20 it had 40 employees receiving remuneration in excess of £100,000 – the highest in the entire country. Axing some of these staff would be a good way to pay for the scheme if it must go ahead.
Of course it’s unfortunate that not everyone can afford a bicycle. But this is something that would be much better left to private charity.
To Waltham Forest now and another contender for “Most Vague Contract Title”. The borough is set to spend over £60,000 on “Consultancy support for a strategic reset” which seeks to:
“Shape [its] strategic activity over the next year, creating a compelling narrative, working with management team to define and agree priorities and establishing the strategic programme that will enable us to deliver our priorities effectively.”
Just like the title, the contract’s description is wishy-washy. The council needs to set clear objectives of what success looks like so that taxpayers can judge the results for themselves. Waltham increased council tax by five per cent this year. One would hope that this “strategic reset” will focus on how to make savings and ramp up efficiency.
In what many would deem as virtue signalling, Lambeth, Brighton, and North Tyneside councils are set to spend a total of £130,000 towards citizen’s assemblies on climate change. In each case, the authorities are seeking the views of residents on how to reduce carbon emissions. Two thoughts spring to mind. Firstly, if they want to get as many views as possible, why not just email every council taxpayer and ask them to complete a simple online form? The costs would be relatively minimal. Secondly, wouldn’t it be better to spend this money on upgrading existing infrastructure? Replacing diesel vehicles with electric or hybrid ones would be a good and obvious way to reduce harmful emissions.
These examples are just a small selection of contracts I found after a few hours of searching. Thousands more are out there, likely containing more unnecessary spending. That’s why I need your help to root them out. Please send me an email with your findings and the TaxPayers’ Alliance will be happy to investigate further.