I went to bed last night thinking I’d made a massive blunder (wouldn’t be the first time) because the figure of £20 million received in DWP grants for housing benefit and £19 million paid out seemed way too high. It must have been £2 million and £1.9 million. But of course this isn’t just council tax benefit, it’s paying people’s rent as well.
But during the course of my investigation into this, I came across a questionnaire about the annual report and general fitness of the council. Filling this in, there were questions about the amount spent on various things, including £922 on the collection of household rubbish and £1.4 million on recycling. Now that just doesn’t tally with the council’s figures of £1,460,000 spent on waste management. This would bring that figure up to £2,382,000. Hmmm I wonder if they have taken the figure for waste management as a whole and given that to recycling, whilst taking off the £500,000+ spent on recycling, leaving around £900 for household collections. It does seem odd that the figures do fit that way.
Oh yes, and while I’m on the subject of annual reports … I was looking at a couple of others last night and, well, I do have to give it to Torridge, their website is uncluttered and very easy to use, and their annual report is open and clear. But one thing struck me – West Devon also share their chief exec with another authority, but they only pay half his wages. This is stated clearly on their annual report. I have not seen that this is the case with ours. So, until I do, I have to assume she gets two full time wages for two part time jobs.
This resource sharing between authorities in Devon is an excellent idea … why don’t they do it with everything? It is a clear admission that the authorities are all too small to warrant the costs and it is more sensible to share resources. So why not do away with all the small authorities … keep North Devon, Exeter and Plymouth (because they have higher density populations and a different set of skills needed to understand the conditions), lump Bideford in with North Devon, and leave the rest to be run by Devon. If the others have similar costs to Torridge, this would reduce the spending on Devon by £105,000,000 – let me put that in words … a hundred and five million pounds. That’s to say one hundred and five million pounds of our money is wasted on the running of local authority structures which really do not need to exist.
The idea of devolving control to smaller local areas is all very laudable, but there is no intrinsically good or bad type of government, there are only good and bad governors. If all local authorities were abandoned and everything was run from central government, this would not be a bad thing if central government employed the right people with the right understanding of the local needs and had the flexibility to react to local conditions accordingly. Local government, on the other hand, is a wholly bad thing if it is run by people with no understanding of the local needs and must, then, waste millions on reports and surveys to tell them that which any local resident could have told them.
So, giving up the local authorities in Devon and handing over the reigns to Devon itself, leaving the dense areas to deal with their own resources, frees up the costs of 7 x staff wages, 7 x council offices and 7 x resources. A hundred and five million pounds worth. Now, if we paid the same and got £105 million extra spending on jobs, enhancing the agricultural and fisheries industries to make this a sustainable area, not dependent on prostituting ourselves to tourists, increasing public transport, and other local amenities, wouldn’t you be happy to pay for that? I mean, what would you rather spend £105 million on … bureaucrats or real jobs? Government offices or genuine land and water management enabling local people to stay in the local area, working with the land to provide proper food? Computer software to run the latest change in accounting, or buses to reduce pollution and increase the ability people to travel without the need for a car? Management consultants or local businesses providing local products to local people?
Seriously, aren’t there more productive things on which we can spend £105 million … per year!