Sunday, 21 August 2011

House of Spad/why Spads are bad

It seems most of the front benches these days are populated by ministers and their shadows who are former SPAD's (special advisers to departments/ministers).

David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander and no doubt many others are all former advisers to other politicians. I would have no problem with this in itself if they had gone off and achieved things in the world outside of politics, but sadly this isn't the case. I'll do a quick google biography of each leader to see what life experience they bring to their politics and policy.

David Cameron:

Eton College and Oxford University, studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics and gaining a first class honours degree. After graduating he worked for the Conservative Party Research Department and then as a Special Adviser in government, first to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then to the Home Secretary. Cameron spent seven years at Carlton, as head of corporate communications, travelling the world with the firm's boss Michael Green, who has described him as "board material".

He went straight in as head of comms at 27 despite having no experience of the communications industry. According to the Guardian he got the job because his girlfriend’s mother Lady Astor was good friends with Michael Green and he started on a salary of £90,000 a year.

He stood for the Stafford seat in 1997 which he lost and then in 2001 he was picked for the safe tory seat of West Oxfordshire, former seat of Douglas Hurd.

Ed Milliband:

London School of Economics, where he obtained a Masters in Economics.
The only non-party thing I can find anywhere is that “Ed worked briefly as a journalist “ but I cannot find out where or for whom. The rest of his career has been within the Labour party as a tea maker, speech writer, and adviser to Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown.  In 2002 he took a 12-month unpaid sabbatical from the Treasury to be a visiting scholar at the Centre for European Studies of Harvard University.

Nick Clegg:

Clegg studied social anthropology at Cambridge, was awarded a scholarship to study for a year at the University of Minnesota. Then worked as an intern under Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, in New York. He then went to Brussels to work for the G24 co-ordination unit, worked for a year at GJW a lobbying group (GJW had at one point lobbied for Libya). He then worked for the European Commision and then as European Union policy adviser and speech writer for Leon Brittan.

From there he was elected as a euro MP for the East Midlands. After that he was part of political lobbying firm GPlus as a fifth partner.

He was selected for the seat of Sheffield Hallam after the previous Lib Dem holder was Richard Allan was given a seat in the Lords. Although it isn’t a safe seat, since 1997 when the Tories lost the seat the Liberal Democrats have always got at least 51% of the vote.

I won’t do biogs of all the other spads mentioned but needless to say none of these people have really had jobs in the real world. If parties did choose their candidates on merit then these people wouldn’t be MP’s as they haven’t actually done anything to prove themselves. Instead we have a system of nepotism and patronage when who you know and not what you know is the most important thing to get ahead.

Thanks to the county voting no on the AV referendum it seems we are stuck with safe seats in this country for the foreseeable future. What we should have in this county is open primaries for candidates. I think it was something Cameron had suggested once before the election in 2010 but nothing has been heard of since. The local people should have a say in who the party puts up for election since we know that the current system means the candidates are chosen by central office and the local party committee, both of which are not elected by local people. In safe seats especially this is wholly undemocratic. 

It would be nice if a similar system could be brought in at local level too. Most of the council seats where I live in rural Oxfordshire never elect a non-Tory. Since the introduction of cabinets in councils democracy is even worse. There are 10 cabinet councillors who in Oxfordshire between them were voted for by 2.4% of the population. They make the decisions despite 97.6% of us never voted for them. It is hardly a shining beacon of democracy we teach to others.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Keith answers some questions

Thank you for answering, I honestly didn’t think you would so it is appreciated. I find your sketching of my political leanings as a lefty Daily Mail reader interesting, I have no political leanings (other than to distrust politicians and the political process) I believe in things that are proven to work. I think that its probably the pot calling the kettle black considering the amount of people in Oxfordshire who don’t like your style. Hopefully one day the county will have an elected Mayor who is truly accountable, unlike under the current political system where it is a question of who you know rather than what you know. Below are your answers to my questions and at the end my feedback:

I do not know who you are and I do not like your style.  You are not one of my constituents in the Bloxham Electoral Division and I do not owe you a duty of care any more than the other 630,000 residents in Oxfordshire.  You show a mixture of lefty politics with the ravings of the Daily Mail which is an interesting combination and probably the only reason I am replying to your generally impudent questions and accusations.
Windrush Court in Abingdon. Does something to do with schools, has a office that never has more than five people in it yet has space for about 35. Rent a smaller office.

This is a good question to which I do not  know the answer but be sure I will get it.  I do not believe in maintaining  buildings we do not need.
Average 25k a month on non-school taxis for staff and councillors. Use public transport.

Sorry - taxis are public transport.  When I go to London for meetings, I use taxis to get from one part of London to another quickly and in comfort.  I have not the slightest intention of getting on a bus or a tube train.  I support others who do the same when time is of the essence.
Pay over 50k has gone up, as have the numbers of staff. Doesn’t sound like cuts are being made to me:

We have cut our senior management ferociously and have worked through each level.  There are far fewer people in the organisation already and still a lot more to go.  I do not accept this statistic as suggesting we are on the wrong track.  We still have a huge business to run.  
£96k comms director  get rid of the role.

Absolutely not.  His post incorporates four previous posts at a considerable saving and there is a real job for him to do in the organisation. With people like you and you are not the only one, we must have an effective means of supporting our work through effective communications.  We are not a tin pot little district council; we are the size of a FTSE250 company.
£180,000 on OXONNEWS magazine. Nobody want this, cut it.

Already done!
£225,0000 a year on mobile phones. There isn’t any mobile numbers on the OCC site. There must be cuts here.

No  We are the most rural county in the South East.  Our team includes social workers and social care providers travelling from one town or village to the next.  Our highway engineers and planners need to keep in touch while on site.  Our education support people spend time out on the road and, again, need to work on e-mails and keep in touch.   It is too easy to characterise some costs as unimportant when they are a part of modern management styles and essential.
£68,988 on LGA, complete waste of time. Paying for one part of government to lobby another.

This demonstrates your total ignorance.  The LGA carries out a huge lobbying exercise on MPs and Peers to seek changes to draft legislation that is frequently plain daft.  Without the LGA, local government will become even more supine in the face of a still too centralising government and civil service.
Salary of Chief Exec 184k, other execs in England are actually taking pay cuts, get a shared chief exec with the district councils in Oxfordshire.

A number of issues here.  Firstly, to cut my Chief Executive's pay arbitrarily would be an act of constructive dismissal and very expensive.  Secondly, she is worth every penny;  you know what I earn and I have absolutely no hesitation in supporting her salary. Thirdly, we are the size of a FTSE250 company; we employ 22,000 staff; we have responsibility for a billion pound budget an dour actions impact on 630,000 citizens in Oxfordshire.  We are not a piddling little district council, spending £20 million pa and employing 200 or 300 staff.  In any case, you clearly fail to understand the politics of local government because district council leaders would run several miles before getting into bed with a county council.  They are terrified of our scale and strategic role.    
£115,105 pa on full time union reps . This has to be cut, we shouldn’t be paying for this!

I am afraid this also shows your naivety and innocence.  How do you think we are delivering huge cuts and redundancies without disputes and strikes?  Supporting a small trade union unit in this way works hugely to our advantage and to the staff of the council. 
The savings in the Library consultation would save £371k a year. Cutting the pointless magazine, paid union staff and a little squeeze the other stuff would easily save the front line staffing in the libraries.
We have done most of these things.  If I could squeeze anymore money out of back office functions, I would want to put it into social care where the real need lies and not into comfortable middle class libraries where our middle class residents in towns and villages can easily support them and keep them going.  ... and this from the Leader of a Conservative Party allegedly driven to listen to the strident voices of his middle class voters.

And that is your lot .....

1. Thanks for looking into it, property rates are not cheap and any savings made are good, OCC has property all over the place and I would have thought this would have been reviewed already.

2. It’s easy to spend money when it isn’t your own, London has a fantastic range of buses and tube stations, you should try them, as should your staff. 25k a month on taxis in any financial climate is shocking. It would not happen in the private sector.

3. The numbers of staff on over 50k have gone up by 5 as has the spend, how exactly you can support the phrase "cut our senior management ferociously" when you own data disputes this is beyond me.

4. The communications role provides the odd quote for the mail and maintains the completely pointless twitter feed. Local authorities shouldn't be using expensive spin doctors.

5.Hurrah! :D

6.Highways engineers and planners are outsourced to Atkins in a £350 million contract, this is spending by OCC staff not them. Mobiles should be given on a business case, I expect a lot of your staff have expensive BlackBerry phones whether they are required or not. In fact do you have one? Should you really be using it to tweet insults at voters?

7. Are the LGA a third chamber in Westminster then? They spent over 27 million on consultants in 2010. They (consultants) are similar to the “ambulance chasing lawyers” you so hate but they prey on public bodies instead. I think the work of the LGA is what Sir Humphrey Appleby would call "useful work" to the minister and “creative inertia” to his civil servant colleagues. I'm sorry but they are an unelected, unaccountable kleptocracy that adds nothing in value to the taxpayers.

8. I wish councillors would stop comparing public sector executives to those in the private sector, it isn't the same thing. She isn't accountable to shareholders, doesn't take the decisions (councillors do that I hope!) and if she makes mistakes the elected officials will take the blame. I have nothing against her personally, she may as you say be fantastic at her job but she is overpaid. You are out of step with your own party leadership on this issue and there are examples councils cutting the salary of the role by 50k (Islington Council for example) because of public pressure.

9.Paying for union employees I think is a throwback from the closed shop, I have little time for unions when their own leaders are on 100k plus salaries and have grace and favour houses for life. What evidence do you have that paying this 115k every year has prevented strike action? Taxpayers should not be funding this. I'm amazed you are happy to pay for it when they are so many areas where this money could be put to better use. The terrible bed blocking issues we have in Oxfordshire for example. The funding settlement is so tight anyway this should really be cut. I find it morally distasteful if I'm honest.

10. I have seen the "if we don't cut libraries we have to cut social care more" line before. Its a very poor argument, I believe in a billion pound budget the choices are not as binary as this. It is emotive political line that I believe has no basis in fact.  I would have thought that the very poor sats results for literacy in Oxfordshire would mean cutting library funding would be the last thing you would want to do.  The study published in November 2010 by the MLA clearly states that libraries are not a middle class resource like museums and the arts, they are used equally by people from all social back rounds. People are really squeezed Keith, we have to work long hours for our money and cannot claim expenses for the commute to work like you can. Most of us are not getting 33k a year you get so we are not as comfortable you are either. Also the costs of volunteering for example CRB checks and other training (health and safety, fire marshal etc.) I understand will have to be funded by the friends groups, in other words we are going to have to pay to volunteer. We had fully funded libraries pre 1997 so I don’t see how you can blame the Labour spending on any of the front line cuts, you never turned down any of the extra finance during the Labour years either.

Thanks again for responding I do really appreciate it, I don’t expect any further response as clearly you have plenty on your plate as there is a lot wrong at OCC that you need to sort.