Friday, 12 November 2010

Questions for Tameside's Full Council Meeting 23/11/2010

Tameside's next full council meeting is on at the 23rd of November at 5PM. I would strongly recommend more members of the public attend as it does show you how clueless our elected representatives are.

If you want to ask a question, then you have to go through the council appointed "Civic Advisory Panel" who will decided if you question is appropriate to be asked.

Here are my questions...

Civic Advisory Panel
I am concerned that a previous question of mine on councillors allowances was rejected. In a reply from the Head of Democratic Services, I was told that the Civic Advisory Panel said that "it wasn't appropriate" on the grounds that it should be directed towards the Independent Remuneration Panel. Who is the Civic Advisory Panel to decide on which questions are asked or not? Who are these political has-beens who are former councillors and MPs? Why is it that only one member of the Civic Advisory Panel regularly turns up to full council meetings? It isn't really an independent grouping when they can be leaned upon their party peers or the council itself, as I am told that the council can advise on a response to give if they don't like the direction of questioning. If a question is rejected, there is no chance for the question to be amended as responses to questions are given usually just a few days or even minutes before the full council meeting when questions need five working days notice. I don't know any other council in Greater Manchester that requires questions to be submitted with five days notice and asking councillors up and down the country, they have never heard of a Civic Advisory Panel. Does the council agree that the Civic Advisory Panel is unnecessary and an undemocratic way of blocking members of the public from asking questions and will it seek to disband the panel and allow the public to freely engage in a democratic debate?

Tameside Councillor Pay
Will Tameside Councillors consider taking a 10% pay cut in their allowances like the Oldham Council Labour Group Leader, Jim McMahon proposed in their last full council meeting? The basic allowance for an Oldham Councillor is £8,950 where is in the neighbouring borough of Tameside it is £11,640, why is there such a difference? Research carried out by the TaxPayers' Alliance in 2007 stated that Tameside Councillors had the 9th highest average allowance per councillor in the country. Why are allowances so high for such a small borough? For many councillors to call themselves socialist and take more than what the average person in Tameside works in a "proper" full time job smacks in the face of those hard working people.

Why is it that many council staff are suffering from massive pay cuts in losing thousands of pounds as a result of mismanagement senior staff, yet councillors pay is protected or worse, going up? Tameside Council has made many bad mistakes over the past years such as cutting £7,500 in funding for books for the blind, yet it could somehow afford to pay near enough £40,000 for a virtual town hall on Second Life. Cutting councillors allowances will go a long way to protect public services which the taxpayers' of Tameside deserve and rely on.


Union Staff
According to a report from the TaxPayers' Alliance, Tameside Council employs 8.4 full time equivalent staff who take time out for union activity at an estimated cost of £227,469. In a FOI I received, there are even staff roles for union staff including a "Union Learning Representative", GMB have their own "Trade Union Convener" and I am extremely perplexed as to why there is a "Unison Branch Secretary" on the public payroll. Just how does this benefit frontline services? Councillor Kieran Quinn described taxpayer funded union staff on his blog as being "Important" and that they "play such an important part in the successful running of Tameside Council". Pardon my ignorance, but how does being a union rep keep the streets clean, empty the bins or keeping any other front line service open when they are sat in their offices doing nothing proactive. In my history of working for the private sector, I have never come across paid union officials - in fact, you would be laughed out of the door for even being a member of one. Why should hard pressed taxpayers bankroll the unions when employees can opt in to make their own contributions? Will the council scrap paid union officials before cutting front line staff and services that taxpayers in Tameside rely on.


Kiagware Hospital
Will the council scrap funding for a foreign hospital which council taxpayers don't wish to pay for. Does the council agree that our own hospital in Tameside should come as a priority when according to the Doctor Foster report, Tameside Hospital had the third highest mortality rate in the country. The report also gives Tameside Hospital one out of five for patient safety. Will the new leadership pledge to put Tameside people first and please give a total figure of monies given to Kiagware Hospital directly or by proxy via a UK charity.


Tameside Council's Wellbeing Officer
According to a article on Personnel Today, Tameside Council proudly boasted of their "urbanwalks" scheme where staff were handed out maps of where to walk to on their lunch along with walking tips. Two members of the HR team have been trained as "walk leaders" and there is even a self-proclaimed "wellbeing champion". It beggars belief that staff don't supposedly know how to walk or direct themselves towards Greggs across the market. Can the council please confirm a breakdown of:

1. The breakdown of the costs for the "urbanwalks" scheme - including how many staff hours were spent on this scheme.
2. What has been the response for the "urbanwalks" scheme. How many "urbanwalks" have Tameside Council staff taken?
3. What training was involved for the "walk leaders" how long was the training for and how much did it cost?
4. Could we please know if Tameside Council employs a "wellbeing champion". What is the grade of this salary? How many other "wellbeing champions" does Tameside Council employ?


Tameside Council Standards
I am deeply concerned that a complaint I have been chasing about emails from a Tameside Council IP address making libelous statements towards a councillor has been ongoing now since the 14th of March 2010. I was given a response on the 1st of April 2010, but this overlooked other evidence. I immediately challenged this, but I am still to get a reply. Can the council please confirm what is being done to address this issue. I have had a letter from the Chief Executive in August confirming he had received my complaint and they would get back to me with a response, I am still waiting for this response.

I also lodged a complaint about the same councillor who failed to declare an interest, despite this councillor having correspondence sent to Tameside's Council Offices on several occasions regarding this business. The borough solicitor requested evidence of this, which I did so on the 4th of March 2010 and this was confirmed by the borough solicitor a day later. I emailed the borough solicitor on the 22nd of April 2010 chasing the matter up. I got a response from you on the 26th of April 2010. I was told that the councillor in question claimed he didn't receive the email and that the borough solicitor sent a letter to him via recorded delivery. I was told that if the councillor didn't give a satisfactory response, the matter would be taken to the council's standards committee. Can the council please confirm what has since happened as I have written on numerous occasions asking for a response, but I have failed to get one.

I am indeed refering to Councillor Sean Parker-Perry. More details to follow about Active Longdendale, Tameside 2 Kenya and all sorts of other shenanigans he has been getting up to. Look out for a post on Tameside 2 Kenya soon!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sandra Stewart's Rallying Call to Staff

Whilst not responding to FOI's, Tameside Council's borough solicitor and deputy chief executive finds time to write to staff in the weekly staff brief which is usually taken care of by Steven Pleasant. Reading the email, you would of thought it would of come from one of Tameside Council's paid union stooges as she describes the cuts to local government spending as the "biggest external threat this council has ever had to face".

Supporting Employees to Early Retire

You will be aware that the Council faces significant cuts to its funding, as announced by Government in the Comprehensive Spending Review on the 19 October 2010, on a scale and speed never seen or experienced in the lifetime of Tameside Council.

Additionally, the Government is also currently consulting on changes that it proposes to make to the Local Government Pension Fund. Whilst it is not known what these changes are likely to be, it is clear that any changes are likely to have a detrimental effect on the benefits that the Pension Fund will provide.

There is a lot of activity going on across the Council, at the moment, led by the Executive Cabinet Members, because of our need to respond very quickly to the biggest external threat this Council has ever had to face. It means having to look at every single part of the council in terms of what we do and why we do it - in recognition that we will have considerably less money for next 4 years.

Nearly all our costs are the wages of the people who deliver our services. There is no doubt that faced with these unprecedented and severe cuts means we will need to employ fewer people and become a much smaller organisation over the next few years.

We have, therefore, been considering opportunities we can give to employees to access their pensions early whilst saving money to protect services and secure jobs.

Consequently, where there is a financial business case to do so the Council is enabling employees, who are 55 or over, to exit the Council on beneficial terms to the employee, which will also result in savings to the wages budget as vacant posts will not be filled at the same level if at all. This is because we will have to find new models of delivery that protect our frontline services and keep delivering to those in our community, who are the most vulnerable and in need of our support. We need to do that in a way that protects people’s jobs and livelihoods.

I am aware that discussions have been taking place directly between managers and staff during the summer about the potential to enable early access to pensions and a number of employees have taken the opportunity to secure their pensions. However, feedback has been received from a number of employees indicating they do not fully understand the offer made to them and the potential changes to the pension fund scheme.

Given the circumstances and the feedback, it has been decided to send a letter detailing an early retirement offer to any employee who is 55 or over and whose individual exit package can be afforded. Whilst the Council would like to offer everyone who is over 55 access to their pension, this is not possible because such an offer must be affordable and generate significant savings. It is extremely unlikely, given the current financial climate and proposed changes to the pension fund, that the Council will be able to support such retirements in the future.

Letters will be sent to eligible staff next week setting out full details.

Tameside Council has been told to scale down their budget by £100m over the next four years. This is as much as Manchester City Council who have a larger budget. It tells you that Tameside has had far too much for too long.