Saturday, 6 August 2011
Plymouth City Council Leaders - have they lost the plot?
Perhaps Vivien Pengelly, Barry Keel and other council senior officers have completely lost the plot? I was led to believe that the council were there to serve the people of Plymouth, to lead by example and to spend our council tax wisely. I thought that we paid our taxes so that we could enjoy basic services such as road re-surfacing, mending of pot holes and bin collection but now when the council carry out such a service they seem to want a badge to congratulate them, if they repair a road we see a sign stating 'You've been upgraded', I would rather the council saved money on unnecessary signage and just got on with the job in hand.
The Mayflower steps are a perfect example of the councils sheer ineptitude and an example of a simple repair job that should have taken priority over the big white elephant that is the Plymouth Life Centre (I'll come to that one later!). The Mayflower steps are part of Plymouth's amazing waterfront and world renowned maritime history yet they have been left to decay for years, finally the council manage to secure some funding to repair the steps and we are are expected to congratulate them on doing a job that should and could have been done years ago.
If I were to list the council blunders over the last 10 years I would probably run out of server space or if I published the ridiculous photos of our council leaders in hard hats, hi-vis jackets brandishing spades I would waste an equal amount of web space.
In light of the council's disappointing performance I find it hard to see how they can continue to justify their over-inflated salaries and why they have taken so long to consider a pay cut especially when you bear in mind how eager they have been to cut the salaries and working hours of those offering front line services.
Several months ago I challenged the senior council officers to consider a severe pay cut, I started by re-publishing information printed in both the Herald and on the Taxpayers alliance website. The figures stated that senior council officers had received pay-rises of up to 18%, this is vehemently denied by the council but the taxpayers alliance still stand by the figures. When I re-published the figures I faced a vicious verbal outburst from Vivien Pengelly that could be simply described as bullying, she shouted over me, refused to let me have my say and threatened me with legal action, I have never received an apology from Vivien even though she attacked my personal character in public, not the sort of behaviour one would expect from a senior politician.
Vivien's threats were followed with this e-mail from Richard Longford, representative of the chief executive:
I understand through the media that you are still claiming that the chief executive received a pay increase. The chief executive and senior management salaries are a matter of public record and I can tell you categorically that they have not received pay increase. We will be issuing a media statement confirming this and passing on all materials repeating this claim to our legal team.
The e-mail had no Dear Madam, or To it was merely written as above in bold letters, more examples of the bullying techniques used by our council and displayed again in a statement from Finance chief Ian Bowyer last week threatening major job losses if staff did not agree to pay cuts and negative changes to working conditions.
So why have the council been so reluctant to take up my challenge to drastically reduce their rather cushy pay packets? Well this was my original request followed by the council's response:
The Plymouth Pay Protest was actually campaigning for cuts to senior council officers rather than the many cuts to public/frontline services and the cuts facing those on the lower end of the pay scale. I did attempt to explain this to Vivien Pengelly at our first event but was not given the opportunity as Vivien raised her voice and talked over me. Perhaps you or Vivien would be able to comment on our proposal:
The Plymouth Pay Protest aims to reduce the divide between rich and poor in Plymouth by asking for a £50,000 cap on the salaries of senior civil servants. We feel that £50,000 is a fair, living wage for anyone living in this city and working for a public service.
We challenge those currently in council positions earning over £50,000 (please bear in mind that our chief executive Barry Keel is earning in excess of £170,000) to either accept the pay cut or find an alternative job in the private sector in Plymouth where they can match their current salary/pension. Whilst our senior officers impose cuts on those at the lower end of the pay scale we feel it is essential that those cuts are matched at the higher end of the pay scale. I do intend to follow up this campaign and look forward to your response to both the Pay Protest and Plymouth City Council's threat of legal action against me.
The reply from Richard Longford - chief exec's office:
Salaries of those leading private businesses of this size tend to be much higher. If local government is to attract and retain the right calibre of people to lead large and complex organisations at times of great change, it needs to pay appropriate salaries. (N.B.This has been proved to be completely untrue in recent studies, many media sources have reported stories about this inaccuracy - check this article from the Telegraph - see I can use bold text too!!)
The salaries of all Council staff, including senior managers, have been frozen this year. The proposed terms and conditions changes affect senior management more in some areas than other members of staff, including reductions in holiday allowance. The Council's budget plans for the next two years also include substantial savings in its senior management structure. We cannot say any more about this at this stage.
As far as I am aware, no public sector organisations have capped pay in the way you are suggesting. The City Council has no plans to do so at present, though I cannot speak on behalf of elected members or say what they may decide in the future.
It now seems that the council leaders have not decided to lead by example but instead have been ordered to do so by national government.
I sincerely hope that Plymouth City Council leaders step up to the challenge of a serious reduction in wages and a commitment to putting Plymouth and its people first. Unfortunatley my faith in the current electorate is dwindling, their decision to put 65 million pounds of taxpayers money into the Life Centre was surely the worst decision they have made to date, I know they keep telling us how well used it will be by a handful of Olympians but sadly the Olympics are not a regular event for the UK! The Life Centre will not attract tourists (we probably won't have any tourists soon anyway as we will have no airport, no motorway and decaying rail links.. The Life Centre will be too expensive for most local people and the local transport links in Plymouth mean that if lots of local people did decide to use the centre there would be traffic gridlock. RIP the rather badly named Life Centre.
Plymouth City Council (Best achieving council - what a joke!) - Please watch this space or do the right thing. To sum it all up I will leave you with a link to this marvellously apt tune from Dan le Sac entitled 'Stake a Claim' the lyrics are just perfect.