Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where will the money come from to refund motorists?

Once the millions of pennies start to drop that unlawfully derived income contained in council's accounts MUST be refunded the councils' spin machines will set to work saying that if they are forced to refund then that will mean cuts in services.

Perhaps we should have a look and see where that money could really come from and let the ones whose failings have caused the problem have their fat cat salaries slashed.

Let us hope, in the first instance, that no bonuses are paid to those responsible for the credit card surcharge fiasco.

Peeping through the audit window – it’s a sight for sore council taxpayers
Camden New Journal
Published: 20 August 2009

A recession, but top 25 bosses still pocketing fat bonuses
• Nearly £100k in payouts for errors
• Thousands shelled out on their own parking fines

SECRET details of spending at the Town Hall on everything from parking fines incurred by the council’s own staff to meaty bonuses for high-earners have been uncovered by a New Journal investigation.

Using the little known powers of the 1998 Audit Commission Act, we have accessed a series of previously confidential documents which show how the council has handled its finances during 12 months of economic turbulence. They show that despite the tough times, the council has been able to find money to reward its top earners with incentives and to pay out for scores of parking fines slapped on their own vehicles.

Documents seen by the New Journal show:

* Highly-paid senior staff have together been treated to more than £170,000 in incentives.

* Camden has spent nearly £2million on severance payments in order to sack people.

* Council staff racked up £15,000 in parking tickets while on work business – effectively £300 a week spent.

*£80,000 was spent on hiring an interim manager who ran the rule over changes in the parking department for little more than six months.

* Compensation pay-outs to members of the public who have suffered as a result of council errors total nearly £100,000.

The details of financial matters are normally locked away in the accounts department but once a year Camden Council is obliged to let people inspect the paperwork during a month-long window.

This requirement under the Audit Commission Act is rarely used by the public, however, and even many of the council’s own officers are unaware of how the “audit window” works.

Other requests for information are still being prepared for the New Journal but the initial figures have already stoked a political debate – especially over the thorny issue of staff bonuses.

The Town Hall was yesterday (Wednesday) defending the use of bonuses to staff, some of whom already take home six figure salaries, insisting that the policy has been in place for several years.
The top earner is Moira Gibb, the chief executive. Critics say that the bonus system, set up during healthier economic times, is hardly appropriate in the current climate. Officials were yesterday (Wednesday) insisting that bonuses to public servants were fair in the context of running a large London authority. Nevertheless, the sharp contrast of pay and income at the Town Hall is open for all to see.

Chief officers earning anything up to £199,000 before any bonus is paid can on any day share a lift at the council’s headquarters with a contract cleaner whose pay does not even hit £7.45 an hour, that’s the Mayor of London’s suggested minimum pay for people working in London.

Labour councillor Theo Blackwell said: “The council now seem utterly confused on pay policy. They accept that higher wages are useful to attract the best, if they are referring to the leader and the chief executive, but in the same breath claim no link between pay and high performance for the lowest paid.”

Cllr Blackwell is now working on an investigation into poorly-paid council staff. He has challenged the leaders of the administration to set a minimum wage for contractors, but was told at one scrutiny panel meeting that policy would not be “made on the hoof”.

Moira Gibb’s predecessor Steve Bundred, now head of the Audit Commission, wrote an article for The Observer last month in which he suggested that council workers should accept pay freezes. A gloomy outlook of hard times ahead has been hammered home to staff with regular reminders that budgets may be cut in the near future. Politicians from all sides have warned of “difficult decisions” for whichever party wins overall power at next year’s boroughwide elections – but yesterday (Wednesday) there was no sign of the bonus system being dismantled.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ralph Scott – the council’s treasurer – said he had not been briefed on who got what under the bonus scheme. “Clearly in the tough economics, everything needs more scrutiny and we need to be careful with resources but this is one of the ways we reward staff for good performance,” he said.

Cllr Scott said it was not a case of paying out bonuses while youth projects and other worthy causes were starved of funding. He added: “I don’t have the details in front of me but obviously it is done on a case by case basis. It is a way of giving encouragement to staff.”

Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Marshall said that the council would have to “keep an eye” on high salaries and bonus payments if the recession worsened.But he added: “These payments are built into the salaries so that there is some performance-related element to what they are paid. I think that’s right. Staff are rewarded for the valuable work they do.”

Bonuses £175k to keep the elite officers sweet

A BONUS system operating at the Town Hall is reserved only for the highest earners and has been retained despite Camden’s diminishing resources in the recession, the figures released to the New Journal show.

The breakdown reveals that £174,760 was paid out on top of basic pay last year with many of the performance-related incentives handed out to staff already on six figure salaries. Among those who qualify for the extra money are chief executive Moira Gibb, whose salary is roughly £185,000 a year, and department directors who can take home £150,000 under the council’s pay scheme.

In total, 25 bonus payments were made to staff in the last year. The New Journal understands that as part of the bonus system senior management sits down and agrees a series of targets that they need to hit in order to qualify for the extra money. A council spokeswoman said yesterday (Wednesday) that those who received the bonuses had large responsibilities and therefore deserved to be given extra money.“Camden demands a lot of its chief officers and we need to attract and retain the best talent in local government,” she said. “Having an element of pay at risk – for example, if a chief officer under performs no bonus would be paid – helps to ensure we have high performance.”

There are no plans to halt the bonus scheme despite the current downturn.The spokeswoman added: “The average bonus is normally around 5 per cent of salary to ensure the scheme is measured and appropriate.”

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