Monday, 21 February 2011

Nice work, if you can get it!

Labour Councillor, Jack Davies is to step down from his safe Ashton St. Peter's seat and retire from politics in May. I've been told he isn't well, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's more to do with the feud between him and Councillor Quinn in the mean way Kieran took the leadership from Roy Oldham.

I'm told there was two contendors for the seat which is a battle of the councillors husbands. Councillor Denise Ward's husband from Denton North East (I don't know his first name, so lets just call him "Mr. Ward") and Frank Travis who is the current Ashton-under-Lyne town centre manager and husband to Waterloo councillor, Lynn Travis.

Frank was hoping to take home a nice severance pay from Tameside Council for voluntary redundancy and be selected for the Labour stronghold of the St. Peters ward. It would of meant he could of continued to sponge off the taxpayer, whilst ripping them off claiming they lost their job. I'm told that Kieran Quinn also promised him a position in the cabinet if he was to get elected.

Unfortunately, he only got two votes. A slap in the face for Kieran Quinn as his favoured candidate failed to meet the mark. So Denise Ward's husband is now the candidate. It looks like Wankie Frankie is to set sail into early retirement. Or perhaps Kieran Quinn will keep him in a job for the time being?

He isn't the only one taking a redundancy pay and becoming a councillor. Yvonne Cartey, GMB Union Rep for Tameside Council (yes, she is one of the paid union reps costing us a quarter of million each year) is continuing the trend of Labour blood-letting by replacing Councillor Bill Harrison for the St. Michael's ward. No doubt, she will be claiming her severance pay.

It's a pitty that the 800 staff facing redundancy can't just take a few grand from the council with the promise that they're going to be on a nice earner from a safe seat as a Labour councillor.

I ask councillors to read the letters pages of the Tameside Advertiser. What do you see? Week after week, people asking for councillors to take a pay cut and even reduce the number of councillors. Yet at each occasion, I have tried to raise this at full council, it has been rejected by the Civic Advisory Panel. Who selects the Civic Advisory Panel? The councillors themselves!

According to research carried out by the TaxPayers' Alliance in 2007, a report said that Tameside Councillors had the 9th highest average salary in the country at just over £19,000. At the time this was more than the average salary of someone in Tameside working in a full time job. That's in contrast to a councillor who works on average of 15 hours a week according to the LGA. It's no wonder that when I went through the councillors register of interests, that no more than 8 councillors had a "second job". It appears that some are more equal than others!

Other local blogs from Tameside Tories and Northern Voices have attacked cabinet pay. I wont repeat what they have said, but click on the links to read the excellent points made.

Nice work, if you can get it!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Incompetence of Robert Landon, Sandra Stewart and the Civic Advisory Panel

For time now, I have been submitting questions to Tameside Council's Head of Democratic Services (and I use the term democratic loosely), for the council's rather undemocratic Civic Advisory Panel. The Panel is made up of has-been politicians and those representing "community" groups with their own vested interests and egos, with a view to climb the political ladder themselves. So lets have a look at their members:

Margaret Eddowes - Former Conservative Councillor. Only one that bothers to turn up.
Manilal Mistry - Labour Party Member.
Lord Pendry - Former Labour MP for Stalybridge & Hyde.
Lord Sheldon - Former Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne.
Kathleen Carey - Unknown affiliation, but never turns up like the above three.

If you want to ask your council a question, you have to go through this panel who will decide whether your question is worthy of them asking it on your behalf. But before you do that, you send them to Robert Landon first and he will send them to the CAP along with his "recommendations". He told me over a phone conversation that it is his job to advise the panel on what response to give. But why do the panel need a response? They are merely asking questions and not giving the answers themselves. Isn't this just the council leaning on what's supposed to be an independent panel?

More often than not, questions are rejected on the basis that they are personal attacks, deemed to political for the council to answer or not the right forum (I asked about cutting councillors allowances and that was rejected). Examples of a personal attack would be asking the now deputy leader who had responsibility for the borough's security, Councillor Taylor if it is right to support vigilante justice where the Ulster Volunteer Force beat a suspect up without trial to then hire a private security force to patrol problem areas with Rottweiler dogs.

Here's what I asked on the 16th of Novemeber 2010:

Question for Councillor Taylor. In January 2008 when the Daily Mirror covered an article where a boy was beaten up by the violent Ulster Defence Force on suspicion of theft without a trial with him having a sign stuck on him on a busy road saying "I am a thief", you commented on your own website "I bet this lad does not reoffend I understand the number of criminals on this estate is nil". When you said this, were you inferring to the same level of patrols in Tameside where you have appointed Peak Close Protection to patrol streets of Tameside with Rottweiler dogs?

2. Question for Councillor Taylor. What areas do the militant patrols carried out by Peak Close Protection or any other private security company carry out in Tameside. How much is this costing the taxpayer and when were other elected members of the council and members of the public consulted on your proposals which you have carried out regardless.

3. Question for Councillor Taylor. Given that the police oppose the private patrols carried out by Peak Close Protection, will the council remove any private security guards from patrolling our streets with immediate effect.

4. Open question. To ask the council if there is a conflict of interest with the appointment of Peak Close Protection for hired security given the connection with Councillor Sean Parker-Perry who in his register of interests declares that he is a "Business Development Manager" for Whitesails Training who force youths to take up their rehabilitation courses.

5. Open question. To ask the council what other services are carried out by Peak Combined Services. I understand that Peak Catering provide the catering for the Greater Manchester Pension Fund.

And here was the response from Robert Landon on the 24th of November 2010, just 45 minutes before the council meeting took place so I could not challenge the response:

Dear Mr Billington,

I refer to the questions you asked to be raised on your behalf at this evening’s Council Meeting. In accordance with the Council’s Constitution I referred the matter to members of the Civic Advisory Panel to determine firstly whether they think the questions fall within their remit and secondly who would ask the questions. I have received responses from the Civic Advisory Panel who have determined that the questions do not fall within their remit due to the personal nature of the questioning.

Therefore you questions will not be raised at this evening’s Council meeting.


Robert Landon

Head of Democratic Services

I sent more questions as I blogged about a few days ago. However they have also been rejected as they were not sent "five working days" before the meeting. I sent them on the 16th of February, which in my opinion is five working days. Not according to Tameside Council or Robert Landon:

Dear Mr Billington,

With regard to the questions you have asked to be raised at the Council meeting on 22 February which I received at 11.51 on Wednesday 16 February I have to inform you that it is not possible to submit the questions as they were not received before the deadline for receipt of such questions set out in the Council’s Constitution. The Constitution states (section 31.12 of Part 4a (Procedural Standing Orders)):

11. Members of the Civic Advisory Panel may speak on behalf of the citizens of the Borough at Council meetings, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Standing Order 31.12 below.

12. At Ordinary Meetings of the Council, members of the public can submit a question to be asked on their behalf by members of the Civic Advisory Panel on matters that are relevant to the Council.

All questions must be submitted:-

1. in writing; and

b. at least five clear working days before a meeting i.e. not including the day of despatch, the day of the meeting, Sundays or any other days which the Council Offices are normally closed (Bank Holidays and during the Christmas period).

As the day of the meeting and Sundays are not included in calculating the five clear days rule all questions to be raised at Council via the Civic Advisory Panel must be received by the Tuesday of the preceding week. There is no discretion in interpreting the rules.


Robert Landon
Head of Democratic Services

The irony in all this is that I sent a FOI to Tameside Council over 20 days ago and guess what? I haven't had a reply. It's late! So it's OK for the council to bend the rules, but you can't send in a question if it is not sent giving Tameside Council's definition of "five working days". Imagine if a member of the public was to pay their tax late? Would Tameside Council be so lax?

Basically, the FOI was about the Civic Advisory Panel. They never attend any of the full council meetings. So what's the point in having this panel if they never turn up? Does this panel really represent the people of Tameside by not answering questions?

So, Rob Landon and Sandra Stewart have shown themselves big time. As I know Sandra just loves reading the local blogs, please can you answer my FOI requests on how much taxpayers' money you are GIVING AWAY to a hospital in Kenya and my FOI on councillor standards which you still haven't answered since May! This sort of gross incompetence in the private sector would have you sacked.

The Civic Advisory Panel should go. I don't want them to represent me or ask questions on my behalf. Why should they act as judge and jury, when they aren't independent and can be leaned upon by the council?

UPDATE: Rob Landon has responded to my FOI. He said I sent it on a Friday at 23:27. So Monday was classed as a working day. Regardless, he sent his reply after the working day had finished on the 21st at 6:56PM. Nevermind.

Also I have found out the number of meetings CAP members have turned up to for this municipal year.

Margaret Eddows - 5/6
Manilal Mistry - 1/7
Lord Pendry - 0/7
Lord Sheldon - 0/7
Kathleen Carey - 3/6

31 questions have been submitted over the past 3 years. Yet the Civic Advisory Panel have only asked 5 of these! Excuses are given in the document.

Rob Landon has also told a porkie by saying the council doesn't advise a response for CAP members. He has told me he does this. This was by a phone conversation and unfortunately not by email. But if you look at my previous correspondence which I have highlighted above and Landon states:

"In accordance with the Council’s Constitution I referred the matter to members of the Civic Advisory Panel to determine firstly whether they think the questions fall within their remit and secondly who would ask the questions."

Why does he need to ask if questions fall within their remit?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tameside Full Council Questions

The next full council meeting will be on the 22nd of February at 5PM at Ashton Town Hall. I think Kieran Quinn will be giving some idea as what he will be cutting as other councils have done so in their meetings. I have asked some questions (most are duplicated or amended as the Civic Advisory Panel or Margaret Eddows (former Conservative councillor), refuses to ask them. Yet it's OK to have planted questions to ask for a Conservative mayor. Really, who gives a fuck about who is mayor? It's a paid jaunt to be chauffeured about, cut the ribbon of a new opening for a poundland store and get pissed. You also get an additional allowance of around £15k. So no wonder John Bell wants it in addition to the £40k+ he's already getting from the taxpayer.

Below is my email to Robert Landon, Head of Democratic Services:

Dear Mr. Landon,

Please find my questions attached. As the questions refer to the CAP members, I don't think they are suitable to decide whether these questions should be asked or not due to conflicts of interest. Please may I have a copy of all correspondence between yourself and any other interested party such as the borough solicitor, CAP members or councillors in regards to my questions. It maybe best to CC me in all correspondence. If for any reason my questions are rejected, I would like a full explanation as to why for each individual question as to why they are rejected. Please could you give me this information in advance to prepare a response, rather than the usual five minutes before the council meeting itself. I have given you five working days notice, which is more than enough time to prepare a response, it is only good manners that I receive the same.

Best regards,

Liam Billington

1. In a recent Freedom of Information request, I found that Tameside Council has spent over £30,000 in the past five years on events for staff wellbeing handled by 16 "wellbeing champions". Events included "the diversity breakfast", lifestyle clinics, a money matters event which told staff how to handle their own finances (it's a pitty they can't handle the taxpayers') and £5,000 from the Older People's Partnership budget was spent on leaflets to staff and councillors giving tips on how to walking routes to take on their lunch breaks. This was all done by a task force of 16 staff who took time out from their duties to become "wellbeing champions" plus a further two members of staff from the HR department were trained to become "walk leaders". The true cost is actually unknown as the council doesn't monitor the time taken by staff to "volunteer" as wellbeing champions, or how many staff attend these events, despite being told they were well received.

a) Does the council agree that if 16 members of staff have the time to take time out of their paid duties, that the council is overstaffed?
b) Are council staff intelligent enough to research their own exercise in their own time and not at the expense of the taxpayer? Indeed councils and local health authorities bombard you with this information, so why does the council need its own?
c) Why were external consultants needed when Tameside Council employs plenty of their own fitness instructors at sport centres across the borough? It seems to me that the council is duplicating roles and taxpayers are paying for the same thing to be done several times over.
d) Will the council stop all funding for any further wellbeing activities for staff.

2. 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. It's no wonder so many of you opt to be full time councillors with the vast majority of members not having a job.

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 frontline public services which the taxpayers' of Tameside deserve and rely on.

3. 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 frontline 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.

4. 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 this council put Tameside people first and please give a total figure of monies given to Kiagware Hospital directly or by proxy via a UK charity.

5. I am concerned that previous questions 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?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tameside TPA

Just a little public service announcement. Few of you may know that I have started the Tameside branch of the TaxPayers' Alliance. You can find our blog at the Tameside TPA website.

I've just done a blog post detailing how Tameside Council spent £5,000 of taxpayers' money on leaflets teaching staff how and where to walk. Criminally, the budget came from Tameside's Older People's Partnership.

The TPA are looking for like minded members who also support low taxes and reducing government waste. So if you're interested, you can sign up for free here. If you have some information you would like to share then contact me at