The two cabinet members with primary responsibility for local government cuts have some of the highest numbers of “fat cats”on their own Tory-dominated councils. Chancellor George Osborne and local government secretary Eric Pickles have slammed local authorities over excessive pay packets — but perhaps they should be looking a bit closer to home.
While Eric Pickles demanded that councils vet all salaries over £100,000 and asked officials how they could “look themselves in the mirror each morning”, his own Essex County Council has 36 such officers — the second highest in the UK.
And George Osborne’s Cheshire West and Chester council is arguably worse. With 27 employees earning over £100,000, the authority ranks at number six for pay of top staff — on par with London boroughs and whole cities despite being a sleepy unitary authority with borough status. Self-described “dynamic and inspirational” Chief executive Steve Robinson trousered £266,000 in 2011/12 — the third highest council pay packet in the country.
Strangely, the connection of these councils with Westminster policymaking doesn’t bear mention in the TaxPayers’ Alliance spin accompanying its so-called Town Hall Rich List.
The Conservatives are really honing their inverse Midas touch down in Eastleigh:
They really can’t get anything right.
In the meantime, the Liberal Democrats — who outnumber the Tories ten to one on the council and have much better voter ID — will be hoovering up votes.
Well fed communities secretary Eric Pickles has lifted the lid on how he achieves his “rhinoceros-like” physique:
“Cheese. Shropshire Blue — it’s so high in calorific content you need only rub against it and that’s enough.”
This seems worthy of Peter Serafinowicz’s Butterfield Diet Plan.
A letter from ex-cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell was subject to unauthorised censorship to remove references to fraud on government credit cards – and to Eric Pickles’ department being warned over media ambushes on ex-ministers. Images of signatures published below by Scrapbook, show the fake signature added to a letter — without permission from the UK’s most senior civil servant.
Slapdown for DCLG was hand-signed … but edited letter had fake signature
As the Observer revealed yesterday, John Prescott has demanded an inquiry after correspondence he received from Whitehall appeared to show key elements of a letter were redacted. A note slapping down DCLG for not warning ex-ministers on parliamentary questions concerning them was hand-signed by Gus O’Donnell. But in a Cabinet Office cock-up, Prescott was then sent another copy — with information removed and an electronically reproduced signature.
DCLG attack dog Grant Shapps repeatedly briefed the media on itemised credit card bills from John Prescott’s old department – even though £2,000 of transactions were carried out on fraudulently on cloned cards, for which it was claimed a member of staff was disciplined. The removal of the warning from O’Donnell allowed DCLG to continue its campaign of negative briefings.
And recognising that DCLG had broken rules on prior disclosure of data relating to former ministers, Gus wrote with, understatement characteristic of the senior civil service: “I have reminded DCLG of this process.” Prescott claims the briefings are part of a smear plot to derail his police commissioner bid.
Editing letters from the Cabinet Secretary would be fatal for a SpAd.
Roly-poly Eric Pickles has established himself as a strident advocate of the government’s austerity agenda – except when it comes to the menu at his Eland House headquarters, where he can buy a bottle of bubbly for just £2.10.
The low, low price for a 187ml bottle of Cava is equivalent to just £8.10 for a full bottle. While Pickles has implored Whitehall to learn from the private sector, perhaps someone should tell him that the pub round the corner sells an equivalent bottle of fizz for £14.95.
And those wondering where they can get bottled lager for £1.60 and spirits for £1.20 need look no further. Even the confectionery is below supermarket prices.
Trebles all round!*
*Apologies to Lord Gnome
Readers will be well aware of the transparency crusade launched by Eric Pickles and his sidekick advisers Giles Kenningham and Sheridan Westlake. Having scrapped the Audit Commission, councils have been repeatedly urged to let untrained “arm chair auditors” (the public) cast their eye over the town hall books.
An eagle-eyed reader used our tips contact form to let us know that Messrs Kenningham and Westlake don’t appear to be abiding by their own rules. Data detailing their gifts, hospitality and media meetings has not been updated for nine months.
The gap between rhetoric and reality on transparency is becoming a chasm. This time last year, Eric Pickles wrote to councils last year telling them not to answer embarrassing FOI requests on spending.
Scrapbook will again have to ask: has Eric Pickles ushered in an era of transparency or an era of hypocrisy?
Read more: Prezza wades in »
The government aren’t happy to hear that the number of Freedom of Information requests is increasing year on year; so much so that they’re planning to introduce a range of tariffs to restrict Freedom of Information requests. But at least there’s someone to blame: Eric Pickles.
The government’s “transparency agenda” is leading to the rise in pesky FOI requests, claims Deputy Information Commissioner Graham Smith. The Law Society Gazette quotes Smith explaining that Eric Pickles’ plan for local government to declare all expenses over £500 was just too tempting:
“Ironically, one cause [of the increase] was the government’s transparency agenda: the requirement to publish all items of spending over £500 ‘just puts things out there that cause people to ask questions’, he said.”
Smith also hinted at future plans to toughen up restrictions on Freedom of Information requests to discourage people from making “vexatious” FOI requests which seek to embarrass the government.
Another own goal from Pickles.
Eric Pickles complained loudly that councils cannot profit from waste collection services in light of concerns that a “small minority” were doing exactly that. But the failure to name and shame the culprits seemed at odds with the DCLG team’s passion for a media row. Could this be because they were all Tory controlled?
Back in April 2011, the DCLG published a letter saying:
“…councils cannot introduce ‘backdoor’ bin charging for mainstream waste collections or waste disposal. Such stealth taxes are not legal…”
Thanks to freedom of information requests, however, we can now examine the full list of offending authorities – and it makes for decidedly blue reading:
- Blaby District Council, in Leicestershire, charges £2 per bag, or £38.40 for a second bin.
- Eden District Council, in Cumbria, charges £1.25 per bag beyond a free allowance of 2 per week for households of under 6 members- and apparently has done for quite some while.
- Broxbourne Borough Council, in Hertfordshire, charges £0.30 per bag, beyond a 52 bag per year basic allowance.
- Wokingham Borough Council, one of the Tories’ flagship local authorities in Berkshire who are already planning to privatise library services, will be tonight voting through plans to introduce a £0.40 charge per bag beyond an 80 bag limitation.
Scrapbook wonders what Pickles thinks of his chums’ stealth-taxing ways?