This is an article I started writing before I decided to set up this blog.
Torridge serves just 65,000 people, living in approximately 30,000 homes. The income from council tax is just £3,244,000. This is because Torridge only retains about 9% of the total council tax, with the majority going on to county level. It receives a further £5,085,000 from business rates. £786,000 from car park revenue, £70,000 from licensing, land charges and Northam Burrows, giving a total sustainable income of £9,185,000 (it must be noted that the business rate goes into a National pool and is redistributed and, at the time of writing, I have not found the exact figure Torridge gets back).
Before we even begin, Torridge has a staff wages cost of £8,355,000. That’s 2½ times the income from council tax and leaves just £830,000 from the self generated income (excluding Government grants and loans). Corporate buildings cost £822,000, leaving £8,000. The Chief Executive’s office costs £1,114,000 (this probably includes some £500,000 in wages of the top 8 staff which would have been included in the total wages costs, bringing this down to £614,000) giving a deficit of £606,000. And it hasn’t actually done anything yet.
My argument is that Torridge is far too small a population to warrant the costs of the corporate machine which is the local authority. The towns and villages it covers should be incorporated into the surrounding authorities.
It’s quite difficult to find what Torridge’s budget actually is. It spends £10 million a year on contracts, ranging from such essentials as £276,342 on photocopiers and ‘multifunctional devices’, through £29,000 on the Torridge View Magazine (whom few read and even less would miss) to £50,000 resurfacing and line painting the car park at
Syndey House in Torrington (it must be stated that some of these contracts spread over 2 or 3 years). It’s Annual Report claims that it’s net spend on services is just under £10 million. Another source gives their budget as £16 million. Its Annual Report gives its gross expenditure as nearly £39 million, its gross income as £28 million and its Net expenditure as nearly £11 million (this probably includes the total income from council tax, most of which is passed on to county level, police and fire services). So unless you are an accountant, there is no definitive statement for the average bod on the street to see Torridge received x. Torridge spent y, breaking down into a% on wages, b% on the actual running of the council without it actually doing anything and c% on services from which we, the tax payers actually get to see something for our money.
One thing is certain, however. Last year, it spent £1,114,000 on the Chief Executive’s office alone, which was over budget by £94,000. Not until we get to waste management, do we reach a figure which tops this office, which would be immediately saved with amalgamation of two or more local authorities. It would appear that this figure includes over half a million a year on the wages and perks of just 8 staff (if it does not include these wages, this expenditure is even worse). That includes just a smidgen short of £100,000 pay for the Chief Executive (£114,194 including pension and benefits). This is for doing a part time job. How do we know this is a part time job? Because this Chief Executive is also the CEO of Teignbridge for which she receives a further £114,000 sharing the workload 50/50 with Torridge, who pays £25,000 to Teignbridge for her services. She has
two part-time jobs, for which she is paid two full-time wages because she doesn’t have enough work to do running one local authority.
Torridge and Teignbridge claim this to be a milestone. Two local authorities without shared borders have the same CEO and different elected parties running the council. If that is the case, then what is the point of the democratically elected council? This is a cost we clearly do not need.
The Chief Executive’s salary takes up 3% of the income from council tax, taking the total yearly council tax revenue from, on average, 19 homes in Torridge to pay the CEO’s wages for one week. It takes the council tax revenue of over 1000 homes to pay the total yearly income and benefits paid to the Chief Executive – for a part time job. With 2,900 business properties in the Torridge area, paying £5,085,000 in business rates, that’s, on average, the rates of 65 businesses in the Torridge area to pay the CEO’s salary and benefits. If you have a business and a home in Torridge, your council tax and business rates bill for the entire year (that which goes to Torridge) will not cover the CEO’s salary for a week. If you only have a home, it will take your council tax contribution to Torridge for the next 20 years to pay the Chief Executive’s wages for one week.
The top 8 jobs take over 6% of the total wages, and 14% of the total council tax income. That’s the council tax revenue to Torridge of over 4,000 homes or 285 businesses to pay the wages of 8 people. The Chief Executive’s office takes nearly 1/3 of the total council tax revenue. That’s the council tax revenue from 10,000 homes or 635 businesses – that’s over ¼ of the business rates – just to pay for the CEO’s office, which was £94,000 over budget, the revenue from 900 homes or 53 businesses.
If we combine the two waste management departments (that’s the management of waste, and the waste of management) £2,574,000 constitutes over 79% of the total council tax revenue. This includes around £50,000 a month being given to South Molten Recycle (yearly business rate for 28 businesses, per month – around 300 business rates per year). Now, surely, if South Molten Recycle can make a profit from this, something as large as a local authority should be able to run such a business themselves, reducing the costs to the tax payer, because Torridge, not the company it contracts, is then making the profits. A wise authority may then contract out their own business to other councils. Indeed, councils could, thus, share their resources, reducing costs to the tax payers, providing better services.
Such a strategy could also include the actual recycling of paper, plastics, metal and glass, rather than shipping it abroad. If the council really is serious about environmental issues, why waste all that fuel shipping these things to France and China, when it could recycle milk bottles here to make part of the uniform of living in this part of the world – the fleece jacket – and manufacture recycled glass and paper products, increasing employment in the area.
It has to be said that Torridge’s waste management is excellent if their bin men are anything to go by. Certainly in the Holsworthy area they are to be held as an outstanding example. They are clean, efficient, friendly and reliable. We do not mind paying for this essential service. But the objection is in paying the corporate structure behind it. The vast majority of that structure would have to be in place if waste management was the only service Torridge provided. It would, being a local authority, have to have the chief executive’s office, the planning department (which brings in revenue) the council tax collections department, the benefits department, health and safety, food safety, environmental protection, human resources, legal services etc. etc. etc. Therefore, we can cut out all the et ceteras by combining councils.
Combine Torridge with other councils and we will immediately save the tax payer the £1,114,000 spent on the CEO’s office. Of the remaining £7,800,000 spent on wages (taking out the top eight) clearly the waste management staff would be maintained since they cover a geographical area. But staff at Riverside would not need to be transferred to those other councils and can be dispensed with.
Councils complain of the lack of revenue from buildings applications. Clearly there is too little for the staff to do, but if two authorities were joined, the new single authority would gain all the income but need only employ one set of staff.
Such cuts in staff would result in a rough and ready estimated saving of £6 million (from the £7,800,000 currently spent on staff wages). We are already saving over £7 million and we haven’t even started on the buildings costs and contracts. Corporate buildings cost £822,000, taking us up to just short of £8 million. Contracts constitute £10 million, but some of those contracts, such as the car park at Torrington, are for actual work. The vast majority, however, is for the running of the corporate machine, so we can easily add another £9 million to the total without breaking a sweat, taking us to £16 million.
Torridge is said, in the Comprehensive Area Assessment (CAA) report to have helped developers build over 100 affordable homes last year. Torridge’s annual report states that it spent £185,000 on affordable housing last year, that’s just £1,850 per home. So – what are they building? Portaloos?
The CAA report goes on to say that Torridge has worked hard to improve the area’s economy. Yes, that’s why shops are closing and being replaced with Charity shops who don’t have to pay the extortionate business rates. Torridge spent £221,000 on economic regeneration last year. That’s less than the Chief Executive earns in a year from her two
part time jobs.
It is pleasing to note that the CAA report states that “satisfaction of local people with how the council is doing is worse than other councils.” This is very true. The people of Torridge are sick of Torridge manipulating its figures and declaring itself to have won all manner of awards, when those awards are for how it looks after itself, not for how it looks after us. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how well it looks after itself if it is too small an authority to justify the expense of “city hall”.
The costs of the corporate machine must be off-set against the population and the average income of that population. The population of Torridge does not warrant its own local authority, unless the corporate machine is prepared to make ruthless cuts in its spending from the top down. However, the damage has already been done and Torridge has its corporate building to be paid for. It could rent out office space, but it isn’t going to do that because it is not an efficient beast. It may well have a good report from the CAA for its efficiency, but that efficiency is entirely relative. It is a public sector efficiency, not a private sector efficiency.