One of the things that is so remarkable about the leadership at Suffolk County Council is their perverse combination of parsimony and prodigality.
On the parsimony side, they stand up straight, cross their fingers behind their backs and declare straightfaced that they simply haven’t the money to spend on inessentials like road crossing patrols and libraries.
Yet it was just before Christmas that they spent literally hundreds of thousands of pounds on setting up Suffolk Circle, a membership-based social enterprise that had apparently worked well in Southwark. (Where, I would suggest, there is less sense of social cohesion and a greater turnover of population than in Suffolk).
What none of Suffolk’s Cabinet seemed to have asked, of themselves or of anyone else was “Is this necessary?”
Kathy Pollard’s blog makes clear this is a question that should definitely have been asked: Suffolk Circle is currently offering services that were already available free in Suffolk! And, when SCC spent £750,000 on Suffolk Circle, this really means that every man woman and child in Suffolk has been asked to subsidise this social enterprise to the tune of £1. Without consultation. Perhaps they might have decided there were other services they preferred to spend their money on? (Update: April 2012 we currently believe the sum spent on Suffolk Circle to be ‘only’ £680,000)
Suffok’s leaders seem genuinely confused about the value of our money, letting it flow through their fingers like water on inessentials yet defending core cuts as unavoidable. “Do as I say not as I do” is their mantra over and over again. It’s as if they genuinely cannot tell the difference between right and wrong decisions!
Nine months ago – just as the cuts began to bite - our leaders decided to allow the Chief Executive to spend £122,000 of public money (thats sixteen pence from every Suffolk resident) on unspecified ‘services’ from three consultancy companies : Fields of Learning, Scintillate and DNA. This decision was voted through at the May 2010 Council meeting, by the Conservative majority after an earler attempt to to slip the decision through Cabinet without further publicity was called in by the Lib Dems. We said that this was a grossly inappropriate use of public money at a time of belt-tightening.
Deputy Leader Jane Storey’s response? “This is a tiny proportion of the county council’s budget!”
I kid you not. I wrote down these words as they dropped from her mouth.
It is a tragedy that SCC is being run by people who consider £122,000 a small sum of money to spend without further authorisation of disclosure on ‘consultancy’ , £500,000 a sensible amount to ensure closed mouths for former council employees, £750, 000 a reasonable sum to set up ‘pay-for’ friendship groups in a county where friendship and support groups proliferate and for free – yet think £150,000 a good sum to save by closing the Bury Park and Ride and £174,000 to abolish our School Crossing Patrols.
As many members of Suffolk will remember, one of the above consultants, Bedfordshire-based Fields of Learning had previously been used by Suffolk County Council – who spent nearly half a million pounds of Suffolk taxpayers money in 2009 on “neuro-linguistic programming” courses for the deputy leader and her colleagues. Yet, if you google ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ you will discover it described as one of the 10 most discredited forms of intervention in published research – on a par with ‘equine treatment for eating disorders’ and ‘dolphin assisted therapy’.
What on earth is the Tory leadership doing spending public money on such things while insisting that the rest of us have to tighten our belts so dreadfully? Come to that, why do they pay for meeting rooms in Ipswich when Endeavour house echoes with underused space? Why do they get so antsy when we suggest they cut their own mileage bills by 10%?
Back in November, Colin Noble, Portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services disclosed his difficulties on his blog when he wrote “as I get older I realise I know less and less about more and more.”
I think that says it all.
Chinese saying of the day:
朱门 酒 肉 臭， 路 有冻 死 骨 (zhu men jiu rou chou lu you dong si gu)
behind the doors of the rich meat and wine go to waste, while out on the road lie the bones of the frozen