We will receive £27m less next year to support our servicies than this year following the government's funding announcement today
— Essex County Council (@Essex_CC) December 18, 2013
This is political shorthand for “We are going to cut your services next year, but don’t blame us. Blame the horrible government instead. Nothing to do with us Guv.”
The Council’s position was fatally undermined, however, by an article which appeared the very same day in the Chelmsford Weekly News highlighting expenditure of over £90 million on consultants and temporary staff over a three and a half year period.
The article states that “Essex County Council spent £50.6million on consultants and just under £39.6 on temporary staff”.
Don’t Call Me Dave rarely agrees with Liberal Democrats, but on this occasion he shares the view of Cllr David Kendall who described the figures as “shocking”.
Council Officers are very highly paid. The Chief Executive, Joanna Killian, received a salary package of £210,819 last year plus a pension contribution of £25,830. The eight most senior officers in the council cost taxpayers a total of £1,433,819 – an average of more than £179,000 each. Essex is not alone in paying sky-high salaries for chief officers. The justification is always that you have to pay the best salaries to attract the best qualified staff. But if we are already paying top dollar for top staff, taxpayers are reasonably entitled to know why we need to spend a further £50 million on consultants?
The council can't have it both ways. If the existing staff cannot provide the necessary expertise, they should either be replaced by better qualified personnel or have their salaries reduced to more appropriate levels for their skill set.
The leader of the Council is Cllr David Finch who, last year, was paid allowances totalling £58,108.32. He needs to get a grip of this situation, otherwise residents might start to question whether he, too, provides good value for money.
Until then, the government is to be applauded for reducing the grant. It might actually help to concentrate the council’s mind. The reduction in grant is less than the amount the council spends on consultants and temps annually. Taxpayers are not a bottomless pit of money and Essex County Council clearly needs a lesson in financial discipline.