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?
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