HomeA Question of Accountability

A Question of Accountability

Those supposed to check on abuse and poor performance-auditors, senior directors etc lack any real independence. Senior management consequently operate within a ‘carte blanche’ culture where the extended use of external consultants to do the work for which these senior officers are paid salaries that the private sector would be jealous of is now common practice in these public authorities.

Vince cable revealed in a recently published paper the extent of the problem. It shows the remuneration of many Chief Executives to have risen more than 400 percent in the last 12 years. But there is no correlation between pay and performance, add to this the cost of employing various consultants due to the ‘lack of expertise in house’. In this authority alone (Harrow) it transpires that £12 million pounds seems to be the annual figure. The reader would be forgiven for asking the question-‘what do we actually get for our money’? and ‘why exactly is there no expertise in house’?. With senior directors on salaries approaching £200,000 PA you would expect them to have adequate knowledge and expertise to do their jobs. And why  has very little improvement taken place with the day to day front line operational arm of the council. We have virtually lost the trade waste contract (and the considerable income that this used to bring in) to the private sector. Nobody has investigated the real reasons behind this and nobody has been taken to task for these losses.

Instead, one of the remedies being considered to make up this and other shortfalls is the ‘modernisation of staff terms and conditions’. Some will be fooled by the survey put out by the council with questions along the lines of-‘would you like more flexibility in your working hours’ and ‘would you be prepared to work any five days from seven’ etc etc. Read between these lines and you will see an erosion of the hard won terms and conditions that the unions have fought for over the years. Consider working any 5 from 7 days. This means that you could end up working the weekend without the overtime enhancement that is currently in place-a loss to you but a significant gain to the employer. Consider how this will affect the time you have available for your family. Children do not attend school at the weekend-it therefore is the one time the whole family have a chance to be together! Consider the fact that Sunday is a mandatory day of rest in many Christian based religions and consider also the fact that some cynical individuals might say that this survey is a means to circumnavigate full consultation with the unions. Consider now the business case for 24/7 working- guess what there isn’t one. Consider also whether the CEO, main board directors or other senior staff will be working weekends? Yes you’ve guessed it- they won’t.  Now, at this stage, you may begin to start wondering about the true motives behind ‘modernisation’ and the hidden agenda behind some of these proposals.

Once again, the issue of ECU (essential car user allowance) is raised. Not happy with the savings already made in this area some 3 years ago, they want another bite at the cherry! Again, those that rely on it and actively use their cars for council business will be penalised for those that are given it purely on status grounds. Rather than address the poor management issues surrounding the abuses that occur at predominantly at senior levels, the council prefer the easier option of applying the usual ‘one size fits all’ solution based on statistics allegedly showing that there is only some 490 or so actual essential car users claiming mileage. Absolute rubbish. The fact that staff often don’t submit a mileage claim for 6 months or so and that some do not claim the allowance due to the over complicated process in making a claim has not been factored in. If the council can get away with removing ESU fixed sum allowance and applying the much cheaper option of casual car user which has no fixed sum attached to it- it will.

Other spin includes attaining IIP (investors in people) accreditation to obscure some of these poor employment practices-but only for selective staff groups. Those directorates employing senior professionals and other office based staff provided with computers can take full advantage of ‘on line’ training and the training deemed as necessary to meet their CPD (continuing professional development) requirements. But those directorates employing front line staff such as street scene operatives, special needs transport staff, cleaners, loaders, grounds maintenance staff etc get very little in the way of ‘personal development’ since they do not have access to ‘on line’ training during their working day and have difficulty in being released for training due to ‘the service demands’ associated with their jobs. Of course, the visiting IIP assessor is not told about this during the pre selected and arranged interviews. Who is accountable for the unequal training opportunities? Attempts to set up a learning agreement to address this elitist situation between this council and Unison have failed dismally, yet the council proudly boasts an equal opportunities policy.

When anything contentious is being driven through it will be followed by a statement along the lines that ‘full negotiations are ongoing or progressing with the unions’. Often, this is not the case. The union only finds out about an issue at the implementation stage or through leakage of information when there is little or no time left to research the full implications and to formulate an informed response on behalf of affected staff and members.

This council has recently been reported to ACAS for not adhering to its own employment polices and procedures, ACAS determined that there was a case to answer and the council has promised to adhere to its own policies and procedures. One has to ask the question- if the council cannot comply with its existing suite of employment polices and procedures due to what can only be described as a ‘laissez faire’ attitude to employment law and practices, what chance is there with any new policies introduced under the broad umbrella statement of ‘modernising terms and conditions’.

Local authority workers have already done their bit in accepting the 2 year pay freeze (which is in fact a pay cut) in times of increased austerity and rising fuel and rent charges. This has caused considerable hardship to workers, yet brought considerable savings to councils. This council received more money from the central government coffers to cover pay rises of approx. £I.628 million over 2 years. So in fact they have had a double win-win windfall. It is about time similar savings were reciprocated by the employer in cutting back on the generous remuneration packages that senior executives enjoy and the top heavy management structures coupled with the excessive use of consultants which is endemic throughout poorly managed councils. In the recent council published paper ‘Modernising terms and conditions- Staff forum- August 2011’ freely available on the council’s website the council makes the following statement “Progression through the grades is dependant on satisfactory performance”. In the very next sentence they say- “However, in reality, everybody progresses regardless of how well they perform”!. What a damning indictment, not only does it admit to a complete failure in managing the process over many years, but furthermore highlights the complete inadequacy of the IPAD system( individual performance and development) which is meant to achieve satisfactory individual performance. These are blatant and obvious management failures which have resulted in increased wage costs. Yet, here we go again; staff conditions and benefits have to be sacrificed to make up the shortfall due to a failure to manage. Once again the question is posed-‘Who is accountable?’.

This country has had enough of the greed, elitism and divisive culture now evident and clearly portrayed by the so called captains of industry and government. We have seen it with the bankers and we have seen it with MP’s expenses and now we are seeing it with many Local Authority employers. Enough is enough.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 October 2011 09:07

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