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Bonkers Blog January 2014

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31 January (Part 2) - Services cut. Fees and salaries up

ChairmanProbably that headline is not entirely fair. Council services have been cut steadily over the past four years and fees have been raised, some by huge percentages - parking permits spring to mind - but salaries have been frozen. The next four years will bring more of the same except that pay levels will rise by 1% in April. Few will argue that the council’s foot soldiers deserve a break but why the same should apply to those on around £100,000 a year and more should defy government policy is more difficult to fathom. Chief Executive Will Tuckley it should be said, has announced he will not take the rise.

The General Purposes Committee met on Wednesday to further discuss the pay increase and some other staffing matters.

Something bad had happened to the sound system in the two days since the Cabinet meeting. The same loudspeaker which provided clear sound last Monday was not working at all and so only the clearest of voices could be heard. Will Tuckley and councillor Colin Campbell who took the trouble to address their microphones came over loud and clear, and chairman Lucia-Hennis was at a just acceptable level, but councillors O’Hare, D’Amiral and Cheryl Bacon did not speak into their microphones and were close to inaudible.

Colin Campbell Bacon Cheryl BaconThe first item of note came from the Chief Executive who said that the Director of Finance and Resources, Mike Ellsmore had decided to retire and he set out his plan to find a replacement and redefine Ellsmore’s role. In essence the Resources function would be removed from the post.

Councillor Campbell also commented on Mike Ellsmore’s “wider [than finance] role” and his experience of “where the bodies are buried”. “Pressures would be coming off other officers, one of the pressures being 2 Watling Street but it would be a great mistake not to retain a Director of Finance on the Board”. He suggested Mr. Moore, may be able to take up some of these roles and “now is the right time to do it”.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon was substituting for committee member Maxine Fothergill and mumbled that she had “some reservations about the Director of Corporate Services taking over some of that role” and that she “had some concerns about the way that the role of the Director of Corporate Services had grown”. She wondered if the proposals were a “temporary fix”. Another of her concerns was “the possibility of any downgrading of that vital [Director of Finance] role”.

Will Tuckley said he did not want to see any downgrading either and his proposals were not a temporary fix.

Councillor Alan Deadman spoke for a minute but a combination of the opposition being seated back to the audience and the poor PA system made his comments impossible to follow. Whatever Alan’s comment may have been, councillor Campbell thought it “was a very good point”.

Councillor Nick O’Hare’s one contribution to the meeting was to say that finance needed a strong leader and a strong team. Councillor Campbell reminded the committee that Mr. Ellsmore’s finance team included a number of officers close to retirement.

The next Agenda item was about council tax. The PA system and the distance to his nameplate prevented positive identification of the main speaker but I’m pretty sure it was council officer John Peters. Fortunately he spoke clearly but his speech was largely ‘technical’ in nature. I learned that collection rates have been improved and several new housing construction schemes had pushed up the tax base.

Nick HollierItem 8 was the Pay Policy Statement by Human Resources Manager, Nick Hollier. The same Nick Hollier who refused to interview a vital witness when I complained about Cheryl Bacon’s lying account of her ’Closed Session’ meeting and who made no effort to answer my complaint, preferring instead to label me abusive, offensive and unreasonable. You may judge whether my email deserved such cavalier dismissal for yourself.

Mr. Hollier began by saying that “the council has a strong track record of publishing its remuneration policies on its website and through accounts” but failed to mention that it objected to the government guidelines and even now fails to comply.

Councillor Campbell said the government guidance is “one of those bits of guidance that makes you put your head in your hands and wonder what they were drinking the day they made it up”. Isn’t that true of almost everything that comes from this Coalition?

Councillor Deadman was not happy with “drawing back retirees taking bucket loads of pension being re-employed as consultants on £1,400 a day”. “You have to wonder why you let them go in the first place.” Mr. Hollier told us that this happens only in the most exceptional circumstances. At the vote Alan Deadman registered his dessent.

Item 9 was Nick Hollier again. The only interesting thing to my ears was that average staff sickness rates had fallen to 5·1 days a year which he said was very good. I can only agree; when I was responsible for almost exactly the same number of staff as Will Tuckley I struggled to get the number down below nine. Perhaps that is why I was only paid a fifth of Will Tuckley’s quarter million.

The meeting was closed 37 minutes after it began. Given the state of my internet connection I have not received any information about what may have happened outside after councillor Lucia-Hennis decided she would rather spark another row than accept a question.


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