Saturday, 10 May 2008

Boris Johnson and the 'Lynch Mob' service cuts

A councillor renowned for cutting services and a journalist renowned for cutting criticism of David Cameron: just two of the panel charged with investigating and reducing waste at City Hall.

When Boris Johnson announced an investigation into spending at the LDA and GLA, it was broadly welcomed. The Evening Standard had revealed a number of cases where money had been misspent or funds had been stolen by outside organisations. Any investigation that would help tighten up procedures would therefore clearly be a good thing.

But as details of Boris' 'forensic audit panel' came out it soon became clear that the panel have been hired for political rather than just administrative ends.

Of the panel of five, two are Conservative councillors and one is the ex-editor of The Sunday Telegraph. Of the five, four are known to be heavily involved in Conservative politics and only one has any expertise in forensic auditing. And as far as we know, his role in the group is only thought to be an advisory one. 

One of the two councillors is Stephen Greenhalgh. Greenhalgh is well known in his borough for sneaking through cuts to voluntary organisations. While at Hammersmith and Fulham Council he made the following cuts to services that he believed were 'not a political priority':
While stringent about these cuts in spending, he was much less stringent about those to his own income. At the same time that caretakers in his borough were being asked to accept a cut of 50% to their pensionable income, Greenhalgh agreed a 14% increase in his own allowances on top of an 18% increase to his salary.

Greenhalgh's new colleague Patience Wheatcroft is also no stranger to cuts. While editor of The Sunday Telegraph, she heavily censored a column by Christopher Booker that was critical of David Cameron. Booker said that it was the first time it had happened to him in the sixteen years he had written for the paper. 

Why she felt the need to so rigorously defend the Conservative leader is not known. But it certainly does not bode well for her role in the 'independent' review that Boris promised to establish.

It is also still not known just how much this investigation will cost, or how much it will duplicate a similar investigation already being carried out. 

What is known however, is that the group will report back within just a month and conclude within just two. And given the partisan makeup of its panel, we may well need another group to independently investigate whatever findings it presents.


BenSix said...

Again, excellent work Tory Troll. It'll be interesting, as well as reading the report, to find out how much the thing cost.

The Tory Troll said...

Thanks Bensix. Unfortunately despite Johnson's promises to have all expenses online 'from day one' we still don't know what any of his new initiatives and advisors will cost. Hopefully he will get round to doing it at some point this week when he's not touring a Sikh temple or posing with a fire engine.

angelneptunestar said...

Patience Wheatcroft was interviewed on The Politics Show today on BBC1 and she was asked for the cost of the investigation. She replied they were all working for free for the good of the tax payer, therefore the cost would be nil.

The Tory Troll said...

Oh I see, they're all doing it out of the goodness of their hearts then.

Thanks for pointing out the show to me. There was some revealing comments in the interviews with Wheatcroft, Bloomberg and Malthouse. I hope the BBC keep up this level of coverage over the next four years.

Tim said...

Iraqi Association?
Horn of Africa?
Kurdish Association?
Third Age Foundation?
over £300,000 saved?

*our* council tax should not be paying for this unaccountable, unelected bollocks.

If people choose to donate to such services, that is their prerogative - council tax payers have no such choice (or they'll end up in court, and/or prison)

As for the 'independent' review - any parallels between the shameless nepotism and back-scratching at Red Ken's City Hall?

Christ, we love the 'Left' when they're so open and balanced...

And you've 'moderation' (censorship) on this blog, so you probably won't even publish this!

People voted for Boris as much *against* the brand of state-controlled, 'pet-project' subsidising balls that the above represent. You would do well to remember that.

The Tory Troll said...

Support to the homeless?
Housing advice?
Domestic violence intervention?
Pre-school learning?
Legal advice?

Of course we could just leave all services to charity. Make everyone rely on handouts from one giant 'Mayors fund for London.' Alternatively we can make sure that those people with the least money don't have to go and beg for the assistance that the wealthiest take for granted.

I know it's not very fashionable at the moment, but some of us on the left (and right) still believe in these things. You would do well to remember that.

As for me putting moderation on my blog comments, I have to observe the same rules as any newspaper. Contrary to what many people believe, libel is still libel even if it is published in the comments section of a blog like this one. And if you or one of your angrier fellow tories posts a libelous comment on my post, then it is me rather than them that is liable for it, as I am the publisher.

Also, there are a fair few nazis that have some some things to say about my posts on the BNP. It is necessary for me to sieve out the worst of their bile, so I keep the moderation on.

Your bile has so far been publishable, so I've left it in. Any further bile can be deposited in the usual way.

Tim said...

Credit where credit's due, Troll. I honestly didn't think that you'd publish my comment.

But the point still remains. You seem to be confused as to the relationship between 'services' and 'charity'. All of the organisations so 'shamefully' cut in your post *are* charities.

Council tax *already pays* for the services that you state.

Support for the homeless - worthy, indeed - and obviously homeless charities do a lot of good work. However, official responsibility for policy on the homeless, at least in principle, rests on the state - i.e. we already pay for the state to do this without unaccountable grants being made by local councils.

Housing advice - a council matter.

Domestic violence intervention - a police/council matter.

Services supporting the deaf, or otherwise disabled - again, a state matter, no doubt rigidly scrutinsed by the new 'Equal Opportunities Commission' and a legal obligation as a result of the various DDAs. Immensely worthy charities such as the RNIB and RNID do very well, without having to resort to handouts from local councils.

Pre-school learning - the state organises this.

Legal advice - again, I'm sure that there are some perfectly worthy organisations out there - but let's not forget how much greedy solicitors fleece the public purse out of dubious 'Legal Aid' cases.

You get the picture.

The examples I raised ('New Age Foundastion, anyone?) hardly count as 'services'. You end up sounding rather like the Ken livingstone (ironically enough) parody on that remarkably prescient episode of Yes, Minister all those years ago.

My central point remains - the provision of the services you mention falls under the statutory legal responsibility of councils. Completely unaccountable grants do not. Again, council tax payers do not have a choice about this - unless they boot out the leadership, as in Hammersmith and Fulham. Diddums - there's democracy for you.

You're right on one thing though - it's true that defending such grants aren't very fashionable. The reason why, of course, can be found in the anger of council tax payers to see that their bill has, on average, *doubled* in the 10 years of Labour rule.

Remember, after all, that the issue of such unaccountable grants form the root of the whole Lee Jasper controversy - and that's why the issue (quite rightly, imho, attracted such criticism. Many voted purely against Ken on that issue alone - Boris was the most likely candidate to get Ken out. Tactical voting isn't just the preserve of the Left!

Anyway, rant over. I should be revising :p

The Tory Troll said...

You seem to be confused about the role of councils and how services are funded through council precepts. That's understandable, as it is a bit of a mess.

Firstly you list things which you believe are somehow funded by this entity called 'the state' which aren't funded by this separate entity 'the council'. You then get confused between the two:

"Domestic violence intervention - a police/council matter."

Well which is it? And how do you think the police are funded themselves? I could go on, but six months of studying for my local government exams is still too fresh and painful a memory.

You then go on to argue against the provision of these services (because that is what they are) through external organisations despite this being precisely what the modern Tory party pretend to be most keen on.

You then descend into a trolling rant which is almost entirely irrelevant to my original post.

Needless to say, it is pretty pointless for us to go through every one of the cuts in the table and argue which were worthwhile and which were not.

The reason I listed them was to show that the audit of the LDA will be used as a means to cut services (you call them grants or pet projects or handouts) to people that need them.

Greenhalgh has been pretty ruthless about these kinds of cuts in the past without being so ruthless about spending on his own earnings. Is it possible that such ruthless self interest will be shown in his new role? We will see.

Birdoman said...

Maybe I'm being naive, but surely a service from the council shouldn't be dictated by arbitrary definitions - if local politics is anything, its about plurality and unusual circumstances.

As a firm believer in the benefits to society through redistribution (which is, I grant, a philosophical issue), doesn't the three grand to the lille road 5 a side league seem like a very effective use of the cash - especially with Cameron's belief in charitable and holistic solutions to social problems?

While I don't know the statistics about legal aid, the provision of a legal recourse to state decisions is perhaps THE fundamental right of English law.

While giving money to 'scarily named' organizations like the Iraqi Association seems to you a waste of money, the cultural roots and ideals of tax-paying immigrants (and they do pay tax) have as much right to be expressed and supported as anyone else's. If you want to avoid the ghettoisation of other cultures, integration is the answer. For example,

"The Iraqi Association is a non-profit organisation that exists to enable Iraqis to settle and integrate in this country with rights to express their cultural identities."

Better to spend 25 grand now on integration than 50 grand later on coercion.

HF said...

Worth pointing out this sort of voluntary sector funding by councils usually supports huge amounts of volunteer (i.e. free/cheap) effort put in by the group concerned. Hence generally v good value for the relatively small sums put in. And in fairness the H&F Tories have given some grants to new groups which didn't get a look in before.

The big cut in Law Centre support was simply because it got far too skilled at making sure LBHF didn't try to take legal shortcuts. With lots more cuts in the offing, LBHF does not want to risk legal challenge.

As for Cllr Greenhalgh, I trust he will not be drawing his councillor (and leader) allowances for periods spent working for Boris?

The Tory Troll said...

Thanks for the background on that HF. As far as I'm aware, Greenhalgh and co are not going to be drawing a salary so as to avoid problems over politically restricted posts. Unfortunately, while this saves us some money it does not remove the problems over independence and conflict of interest that apply to Greenhalgh and to Kit Malthouse and Simon Milton.

Brian said...

Tim doesn't seem to realise that David Cameron wants more services provided by charities and voluntary groups - "It's time to open up the state monopoly to new providers, to new ideas and new pioneers" he says. How on earth these "new providers" are supposed to deliver services when Tory councils cut their funding we can only guess. The reality is that Tories, as always, will just want to use this as a ruse to cut services.