Monday, 6 January 2014

What's My Line?

Don’t Call Me Dave was browsing Essex County Council’s website when he was reminded of the 1950s game show What’s My Line? hosted by the late, great Eamonn Andrews. In this show, celebrity panellists would try to guess the occupation of contestants from a series of cryptic clues.

DCMD happened upon the biography of senior officer Dave Hill, who is paid £175,000 per annum for his services. Mr Hill is described as Executive Director for People Commissioning. No, DCMD didn’t know what this meant either; but fear not, dear Reader, because his duties are listed on the website and include: (DCMD’s comments in blue)

  • To be accountable for managing the statutory role of Director of Public Health and have responsibility to ensure that statutory obligations are met. [That’s nice and clear]
  • Through understanding the needs of Essex residents, ensure the most efficient and effective allocation and use of resources (financial and non-financial) in order to reach the desired outcomes. [Still relatively clear, but slipping into management speak]
  • Bid for budget from Cabinet to deliver against specifications and select potential delivery providers and allocate a budget envelope for delivery. [Allocate a budget envelope? Is that more management speak or a shopping list for Lidl?]
  • Through subject matter expertise, understanding of National developments and best in class thinking across the public and private sectors design the specifications to commission and achieve the required outcomes. [This is meaningless bollocks]
  • Be accountable to the CEO and Members of the Council for the achievement of people related outcomes, including evaluation of providers to select optimal partner in each case. [DCMD is losing the will to live]
  • Be accountable for safeguarding for both vulnerable adults and children. [See, it’s not hard to be clear and concise if you put your mind to it]

Apparently, Mr Hill manages an FTE of 3,588. What is an FTE? Florida Tomato Exchange? Flight Test Engineer? Ford Truck Enthusiast? Why do public bodies insist on using incomprehensible management speak and unidentified acronyms? Are taxpayers not entitled to know precisely what it is that highly paid officers do? To his credit, Mr Hill has responded favourably to DCMD’s request for his biography page to be re-written in plain English.

What is crystal clear from the web site is that Mr Hill carries out two vital statutory roles - Director of Children’s Services and Director of Adult Social Services. This is quite a substantial workload and, arguably, justifies his £175,000 salary. But, equally, there is a valid argument that these two functions are too important to be under the control of just one person.  

DCMD supports councils cutting out waste and bureaucracy. There is little doubt that most local authorities employ a surfeit of pen pushers who can safely be put out to pasture. But given that Mr Hill’s job entails risk management, perhaps he should carry out an immediate review of his own position to determine whether combining two statutory functions under the control of a single person increases the risk to highly vulnerable people who rely on council services.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Money For Nothing

Don’t Call Me Dave has now established why Chigwell Parish Council increased the precept by 27% (£60,000) for the 2013/14 financial year. He is grateful to the parish Clerk, Kay Canning, for directing him to the council meeting of 9th January 2013.

Under agenda item 2b (Budget – Finance and Precept) it states that the council had received a petition from residents asking for a £10 per household increase in the budget to: “Provide funding to allow for the best interests of Chigwell and its residents to be met, in particular in relation to Epping Forest District Council's proposals to build houses on various sites around Chigwell as cited in the Local Plan: Issues and Options (2012).”

The council debated the matter and agreed to the request. DCMD wholeheartedly supports the right of residents or resident groups to petition the council over any issue of concern to them. In principle, he also supports any campaign to prevent over-development and building on the green belt. However, due to a lack of information on the council’s website, the circumstances surrounding this petition and the consequential tax increase leave many questions unanswered:

  • How many people signed the petition?
  • What percentage of the electorate does this represent?
  • If only a small percentage of the electorate signed the petition, what steps did the council take to establish the views of the majority?

DCMD is particularly concerned that the wording of the petition is somewhat vague. There is no indication as to how the council intends to spend the money. Is it to lobby the district council? In which case, why does the parish need to raise money at all? 6 of the 11 parish councillors also sit on the district council. You don’t need to spend public money to lobby yourself! How will the council measure the effectiveness of the expenditure?

There is a further question as to whether the council’s constitution allows it to spend money on what would effectively be a political campaign, without a mandate. Despite two written requests, DCMD has yet to receive a copy of the constitution.

Unsurprisingly, DCMD has been advised by a parish councillor that the council has yet not spent the money, which raises further questions:

  • Have the funds been deposited in a ring-fenced account?
  • If the money is not spent, will it be returned to taxpayers or put into the general fund?

Chigwell Parish Council has an absolute right - arguably a duty - to stand up for residents on planning matters, in particular those which may be imposed by a higher local authority such as the district council. But it also has an obligation to spend taxpayers’ money wisely and lawfully.