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Bonkers Blog January 2013

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25 January - The Purpose Generally is to confuse and deceive

There was a meeting of the General Purposes Committee of Bexley council last night which was graced by five councillors and two members of the public, me included. It should have been six but councillor Betts was said to have suffered a puncture en-route. Of a tyre one must hope rather than something more painful.

The meeting was a notable first which I have been expecting for some time, it was all over quicker than my bus journey from Belvedere and was adequately chaired by councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis who had dragged herself away from The Charlotte public house in Crayford.

Only two councillors spoke at all, the ubiquitous Alan Deadman who must be rushed off his feet almost single handedly representing the Labour opposition. We really do need some more Labour people on the council to balance the workload. Poor Alan had not even found the time to shave.

Bexley Barber's ShopAlso not looking his best was councillor Colin Campbell who had perhaps tussled with a rush hour motorway and the A274 from Tenterden. With hair on end it was easy to see why his next family business is going to be a barber’s shop. Colin spoke with pride about Bexley being the only London borough that was going to phase in the introduction of Council Tax to those on benefits. A considerate Tory who knocks you to the ground with kid gloves. It’s better than the other sort.

John Peters, the Deputy Director of Finance provided a couple of figures. He was anticipating collecting 98·1% of the Council Tax due in the coming year but admitted the large number of changes to the system made it no more than his very best guess. More interesting was his warning about the number of appeals in the pipeline. The total business rates due each year in Bexley is £174 million but the appeals if all successful and paid out at once, backdated and with interest added, would cost £143 million. It’s just as well the appeals office operates inefficiently at a snail’s pace and is years behind with its work.

Donna Sexton who works for Nick Hollier in Human Resources rather feebly put forward her fantasy that the ratio between the Chief Executive’s monstrous bullion raid and the lowest earnings in the council had improved from 10:1 to 9:1.

As no one’s pay has changed this year and the lowest pay package is unlikely to be above £25,000 a year you would be right to smell a rat. The clever fiddle to achieve a nice result was explained last year. Basically they average the pay of the lower paid staff and compare that with those on gold plated salaries. If the ratio has got better but pay rates haven’t changed there can be only one reason. They have sacked more workers than bosses. Councillor Deadman was the only man to spot this was a fiddle and the only one to have his disapproval put on the record yesterday.

A year ago Bexley council said this…

The Council will publish information relating to remuneration of senior executives in accordance with the [2011 Localism] Act. In addition it will publish information on salaries for employees with salaries over £58,200 in accordance with the Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency. This information will be published by name unless individuals refuse consent. Officers falling within the scope of the £58,200 salary scale will be encouraged to give consent for their names to be published for the purposes of openness and transparency.

…but they didn’t do it. Ms. Sexton said so last night and now they are downgrading the promise to this…
Council statement
Readers who don’t wish to pursue the details of the council’s fiddled figures should stop here. Nick Dowling who is better with things financial than I am has delved a little further into the Accounts.

The pay ratio is a totally made up number based on the salary of notional full time equivalent posts across 27 salary bands and those whose grade has been established using nationally agreed schemes – whatever the second part of that means. So part time workers are counted as full time employees for the basis of this particular exercise in pointlessness. It is an exercise designed to keep the ratio as low as possible. These made up salaries are then put in order from lowest to highest and the middle one selected - the council laughingly claims - so this can be held up to be the median salary package at Bexley.

This undoubtedly hypothetical number is then divided into the salary of Will Tuckley to give us the meaningless ratio of 1:9. All to make the council’s pay package multiple in some way clearer to the residents of the Borough.

It reveals nothing and is totally fatuous of the council to claim otherwise! Why not be honest and quote the salary of the lowest paid permanent member of staff and divide that amount by Will Tuckley’s salary package and then residents would have a meaningful pay multiple from the lowest paid in the organisation to the highest. Instead Bexley Council proffers a feeble double crossing fudge.

The number of staff earning more than £50k. has fallen from 81 to 80 in the past year, however the council is adamant, and repeated it last night, that the pay ratio, [supposedly] demonstrating the relationship between the highest paid and the median salary package, is reduced to 1:9. (1:10 last year.) They are at pains to assure us it has nothing to do with increases in pay but caused by changes in staff numbers. Council code for redundancies.

The staff numbers at the top have barely changed, (81 to 80) but Page 66 of the accounts shows that 143 staff were made redundant or agreed to leave - at the cost of a mere £2 million or so – clearly almost all of these were in the middle or lower salary scale range.

As we have established that more middle or lower paid employees have gone from the council staff list than at the higher end it has the effect of moving any middle value in the ordered list of notional salaries toward the higher amounts and thereby reducing the meaningless pay ratio.

The fact that the pay ratio can reduce whilst the council admits it has done nothing to change pay is a damning indictment of the value of this pathetic figure. Is it not fascinating what you can do with made up numbers?

The foregoing is slightly shortened version of Nick’s submission. His sources were Key requirements of Localism Act and 2011/12 Accounts - page 63 in particular. I would disagree with Nick that it is an “exercise in pointlessness”. The whole point is to deceive the electorate and if only the bloggers they wanted to have arrested would shut up they might get away with it totally. And “why not be honest” is a question everyone must have asked of Bexley council at one time or another.


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