Eric Pickles – Doing Well But Still Lots of Fat to Cut

Eric Pickles speaking to volunteers
Still A Lot to Get His Teeth Into – Eric Pickles – image by Department for Communities and Local Government via Flickr

Eric Pickles has announced that the Department for Communities and Local Government, which he heads, will publish all items of spending over £250. They previously only published items over £500.

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at a month’s published figures. So I looked at the figures for June 2012.

Most of the spending is grants to local authorities, and of course Mr Pickles has been onto that pretty hard, with local councils squealing in protest. Of the rest, there is lots of stuff like photocopiers and electricity and so on that you can’t really check if you aren’t in the department.

I did find, though, this item:

Expense type: Revenue support grant payable
Expense area: Localism
Supplier: Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government
Amount: £2,437,500

That’s for one month, remember.

So just who are the IDA for Local Government?

According to their website, this is what they do:

LG Improvement and Development (formerly the IDeA) supports improvement and innovation in local government, focusing on the issues that are important to councils and using tried and tested ways of working.

We work with councils in developing good practice, supporting them in their partnerships. We do this through networks, online communities of practice and web resources, and through the support and challenge provided by councillor and officer peers.

We also help develop councillors in key positions through our leadership programmes. Regional Associates work closely with councils in their areas and support the regional improvement and efficiency partnerships (RIEPs).

“Networks, online communities of practice and web resources, and support and challenge provided by councillor and officer peers”, eh?

Looks like Mr Pickles still has quite a bit to get his teeth into. The total cost to the DCLG over 12 months of this pointless quango is £29 million.

What a shame the Telegraph chose to concentrate on the £17.95 they spent at McDonalds.

Incidentally, as far as I can see from the DCLG website, they have been publishing all amounts over £250 since May, so Mr Pickles’ announcement of transparency is not new.

But what about other government departments? A similar breakdown for the NHS or the Ministry of Defence really would be interesting.

This Blog’s Political Hero in Action Again

Eric Pickles, British politician and Chairman ...
Image via Wikipedia

Eric Pickles, a real Tory in a Government of Fakes

The government has announced that it is to allow local councils to keep the business rates they collect.

At the moment, councils have to hand the business rates over to the government, which then redistributes them to councils across the country as a grant, according to a funding formula.

This time Nick Clegg gets the glory for the announcement.

However, the BBC was reporting back in March that Eric Pickles, as Local Government Minister, was looking at the idea.

Never mind the Liberal Democrats with their alleged “localism”. In reality this is Mr Pickles again (who seems to be single-handedly carrying out almost everything useful that this government is doing).

It’s a good idea, of course, because it means that councils will have an incentive to welcome businesses into their area because then they get extra business rate income. (Before you ask, there will be transitional arrangements so that no council will get less money than it does already when the scheme is introduced.)

The idea, by the way, is also UKIP policy and featured in the UKIP Local Election Manifesto 2011.

Well done again, Mr Pickles.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Eric Pickles Goes Down Fighting

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference
Image by conservativeparty via Flickr

Eric Pickles: Trust Matters Even More Than Winning

Eric Pickles has been battling to get weekly refuse collections restored.

Today the BBC reports that

The government has admitted it cannot force councils in England to provide weekly bin collections.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had hoped to include the measure in a new waste strategy but it was watered down following a row with officials at Defra, the BBC understands.

The BBC says that Labour branded the move a “personal humiliation for Mr Pickles”. It says:

Eric Pickles was pushing until the last minute to get a stronger commitment on weekly collections into the waste review.

It quotes the Labour spokesman thus:

But shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint, for Labour, said: “This latest evidence of the government in chaos is a personal humiliation for Eric Pickles.

He has spent years leading people on with overblown promises to restore weekly bin collections, despite Labour’s warnings that he would never be able to deliver.

The local government secretary should learn the lesson that chasing headlines is no substitute for properly worked out policies to make communities cleaner, greener and better places to live.

Well, she certainly knows how to talk rubbish. Far from “warning” Mr Picles that he would not be able to deliver weekly collections, Labour actually put pressure on local councils to go to fortnightly collections when they were in office. They are directly responsible for the current laws, which allow councils to fine people for minor infringements of the rules like putting the bin out on the wrong day.

Mr Pickles may have backed down on the idea of forcing councils to collect rubbish weekly. But he is at least pressing on with scrapping those laws about fining people. In future, councils will only be able to fine people for criminal offences like fly-tipping (which the BBC sees fit to describe as “the most serious rule-breaking”).

Mr Pickles may have been defeated on this occasion, but at least he was pushing hard to deliver the commitment he had made, to get weekly collections reintroduced.

Personally I am quite happy with fortnightly collections. However, Mr Pickles is open about what he believes, and fights hard for it, but is sometimes defeated. Give me a politician like that any day in preference to the New Labour spinmeisters. Or indeed in preference to his boss, who has the same tendency as they do.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Inflation and the Deficit

Eric Pickles
Image via Wikipedia

Eric Pickles – Showing the Way

The latest economic figures make gloomy reading – and a wake-up call for the Coalition.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI), the older and trusted measure of inflation, last month hit the highest level for 20 years, at 5.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the newer Consumer Prices Index (CPI) is now at 4.4 percent. “More than had been forecast by economists”, notes the BBC, as usual.

Clothing, footwear, toys, books and financial services all contributed to the increase, along with transport, which was pushed up by higher fuel prices. The only bright spot was alcohol, which fell by 1.1 percent – so we can all drown our sorrows.

The British Chambers of Commerce, predictably, are keen to encourage the Bank of England to hold down interest rates even in the face of the steadily rising inflation. Their Chief Economist is quoted by the BBC:

The MPC must be careful before it takes action that may threaten the fragile recovery, particularly in the face of a tough austerity plan.

The fact is though, that the tough austerity plan is not yet, at least, in evidence. The same BBC article notes:

The ONS also announced that public sector borrowing last month was £11.8bn, a record for the month of February.

The official figure was nearly double the £6.9bn forecast by economists.

The present government have been in power now for nearly a year. They have talked tough on spending – and spending has grown signficantly. They have claimed to be instinctively in favour of low taxes – and have put taxes up significantly.

And despite the tax rises we have seen, spending has in fact risen so fast that borrowing levels are up rather than down. We are already a fifth of the way into the government’s programme to eliminate Britain’s deficit crisis – and so far, the deficit has gone up. All of which, of course, has not stopped Labour claiming the government have been imposing “savage cuts”.

There has been only one area where real cuts have been in evidence, and that is local government. Eric Pickles, as Local Government Secretary, has been conspicuously successful in restraining that part of public spending.

I suspect the reasons for Mr Pickles’ success are two-fold: first, that he himself is personally committed to cutting back local government spending, and probably more importantly, that there is no love lost between the national civil servants in his department and those local councils. Most government ministers have no doubt been struggling to get support from their departments for the necessary cuts, whereas Mr Pickles has probably had sterling support from his department.

The deficit is destroying our country, and it simply must be brought down. So far the Tories and Liberal Democrats have had little success doing that. They still have time – but the clock is ticking.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Reforming Local Government is an Obvious Way to Save Money

Eric Pickles
Image via Wikipedia

And Your Next Mission, Mr Pickles, Should You Choose to Accept It…

In the area in which I live, and in many parts of the country, there are three levels of local government.

We have a County Council, whose main responsibility is running the local schools, and also has a number of assorted other responsiblilities.

We have a District Council, which sorts out things like refuse collection (but not disposal – that’s the County Council), planning, housing and a few other assorted bits and pieces.

And we have a Town Council, which covers an area pretty much the same as the District Council, and is responsible for … hardly anything actually. (Maintenance of graveyards and swings seems to be about it.)

Do we really need all those three layers?

It is completely clear to me that the Town Council could be abolished tomorrow and all its few responsibilities transferred to the District Council, with no ill effects whatsoever, except to the staff at the Town Council who would lose their jobs. The Town Council serves absolutely no useful purpose, and the District could easily take on everything it does within a couple of weeks.

Any attempt to abolish these “Town Councils” seems to get bogged down in some irrelevant debate about parish councils, which are legally similar but in practice a very different animal. Parish councils in villages are arguably useful. Town Councils, which often simply duplicate their local District Council, are not.

And then we come to the District and the County. Do we really need both? I believe not not, actually.

This will become especially clear as the government continues steadily converting schools to Academies, which are centrally funded by Whitehall.

The case for merging County Councils and District Councils is not as clear-cut as the compelling case for abolishing Town Councils, but it is still rather hard to argue against.

Of course, the front line staff would all remain in place. But all those administrators, all those HR people, all those clerks and indeed all those unnecessary councillors, could go.

John Major’s government made a half-hearted attempt to carry out this reform. They succeeded in places like West Berkshire, which has been running quite happily with single tier local government for some time now. But in most places their review concluded that “no change” was the best policy. In other words, they bottled out.

In the area in which I lived at the time, two of the local District Councils came up with a plan to merge and take over the responsibilities of the County, but were overruled on the grounds that local people did not support the plan. (Needless to say, the truth is that hardly any local people expressed an opinion either way.)

This is an “easy win” for the government, as it tries to get its finances under control, and the man responsible for this area of policy is one of the government’s most robust and forceful operators, Eric Pickles.

How about it, Eric? Are you up for finishing the job Mr Major started but didn’t have the balls to finish?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Local Council Settlement Isn’t Really Even a Cut

A percent sign.
Image via Wikipedia

Councils average 4.4 % spending power cut screams the BBC headline over today’s article explaining the local council grant settlement for next year.

It’s worth pointing out yet again that the figure of 4.4 percent is in real terms. In other words, it’s after inflation.

Now let’s see. What’s the current inflation rate?

The current retail prices index is 4.5 percent. RPIX (the rate excluding mortgage interest payments) is 4.6 percent.

All of which means that the 4.4 percent “cut” is actually an increase of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent.

Caroline Flint, for Labour, said that the figure would mean “unprecedented” cuts in jobs and services.

Stuff and nonsense.

What it actually means is that if council workers want pay rises next year, then some of the posts that fall vacant naturally through retirement or people leaving will need not to be filled, to provide the money for the rises.

These aren’t cuts. They are restraint on increases. And if local councils cut services as a result of this settlement, then they are doing it because they want to.

Enhanced by Zemanta

At Least Eric Pickles Gets It

Eric Pickles
Image via Wikipedia

Eric Pickles, Local Government Secretary and Former Leader of Bradford Council

The BBC reports that local councils are just about to learn how the cuts will affect them.

The cuts overall are expected to be 15 percent over four years – in real terms.

In other words, their money will “only” increase by a few percent over that period. As I’ve said before on this blog, that kind of discipline is normal in the private sector. But to the public sector, it’s a bit of a shock.

The BBC quotes Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, with the usual doom-laden mutterings from the Left:

There’s been nothing like this in modern times … If you look at, for example, Denis Healey’s efforts in the late ’70s to cut public spending, it had a one or two year impact on public expenditure – including on councils – but nothing like this.

And he said there would be nasty impacts on local services “including social services for elderly and children”.

Eric Pickles, as ever, was robust in his response:

I believe it is possible to cut significant sums out of local authorities by simply improving the way local authorities operate … I’m expecting local authorities to be able to provide more for less, I’m expecting them to be able to provide a reasonable level of service and I think local authorities shouldn’t have some kind of alibi in feeling that these have been imposed from the centre and therefore they’ve got to provide every single cut on the front line.

Well said. The bloated public sector really needs to get its head around this. The words on every year’s council tax bill about how tax increases have been limited by “efficiency savings” need to stop being just words.

The private sector has to actually deliver on increased efficiency every year, or go out of business. The public sector needs to stop treating the private sector as a cash cow, and start treating efficiency as a serious issue.

Enhanced by Zemanta