Croydon’s Conservative-run council is in the bad books of the Conservative local government minister, “Big” Eric Pickles. Again.
Big Eric sometimes appears to be a very reasonable sort of bloke. For instance, he cannot understand how Croydon can be cutting services and increasing Council Tax, while at the same time placing adverts to recruit staff in some cases on salaries of £50,000 a year.
The jobs posted most recently are for two senior regeneration managers, each on £52,704 per year, four regeneration managers on £47,907 and three regeneration officers on £38,961 (too many chiefs and not enough indians, anyone?).
The ads were posted just days after Mike Fisher, the leader of the Tory group which controls Croydon Council, presided over the 1.8 per cent Council Tax increase for the coming year.
The job ad says that the successful applicants “will provide a comprehensive property function … to commencement of construction, ensuring an effective cohesive strategy to development throughout the boroughs places”.
None the wiser? Nor us.
But the ad continues… “You will identify innovative delivery solutions including joint ventures, collaborative working with the private/public sector, landowners and third parties. You will have overall client management lead for either the Connected Croydon Public realm programme or the Housing Delivery programme”.
Ah. Well we think we know what they are getting at (though this would never be a winning entry with the Plain English Awards).
Big Eric is less concerned with the Town Hall gobbledygook, and he focuses his attention on the contradiction of recruiting staff when making cuts elsewhere in the council.
Croydon’s explanation is that it is all down to “re-organisation”: we wonder whether this also explains the £20 million spent by Croydon Council in 2011 and 2012 on “consultants” and other staff who were kept “off the books”, not as employees, through temporary contracts.
“Town Halls refusing to freeze Council Tax need to explain to their taxpayers why they have been hiking their highly paid staff,” Pickles was quoted as saying in the latest edition of the small-circulation Croydon Advertiser, which did not make it clear whether the secretary of state was speaking about Croydon specifically, or whether his ire was aimed at Labour-run local authorities.
It is at this point that Pickles’s position as the arbiter of commonsense may lose a little lustre. “There is still massive scope for sensible savings in local government to help cut tax and protect frontline services,” Pickles said. Really?
Unless he has Croydon’s £140 million new headquarters in mind, or the £20 million on “consultants” that our council spends with alacrity, then it would be an interesting challenge to the government minister to come to Croydon and suggest what other cuts he’d like to see implemented. Or to explain why his department persists in providing this borough, with its many social issues and a population larger than all others in London, with a central grant much less than some of our smaller neighbours.
It may just be that the party-line being taken by Pickles and his colleagues in the Conservative-led Cabinet, between now and our triple-dip Chancellor’s Budget, is to call for ever more cuts, specifically on welfare spending. “You take half a per cent out of the welfare budget, you’ve solved the problem in defence – half a per cent,’’ Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, said yesterday.
“There is a body of opinion within Cabinet that believes we have to look at the welfare budget again,” Hammond said.
So watch out the poor, the old and the weakest in our society.
Because while the government girds its loins to fork out at least £20 billion on a replacement for Trident missiles – Britain’s non-independent, out-dated and unusable nuclear “deterrent” – while offering millionaires tax cuts and defending bankers’ bonuses, society’s most vulnerable will be expected to pay.
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