Bradford Council have recently announced a package of drastic cuts to its budget, including:
- cuts to adult social care of £16M over the next two years
- shutting the Bradford Ministry of Food
- closing all but one of the districts public toilets
- saving more than £1M over the next two years from school nursing and health visiting
- cutting the events and festivals budget of £150,000
- saving £1M over two years by stopping grants to voluntary and community groups which run healthy eating or exercise programmes
- saving £100,000 by pulling staff out of more libraries,
- closing seven community Halls,
- stopping all maintenance of sports pitches and bowling greens,
- closing two out of four of the districts visitor’s information centres
With these cuts comes a rise in Council tax of 4.99%.
The Labour-run council blames these cuts on the Tory government and their programme of austerity. Whilst we accept that there have been austerity cuts imposed by the Tories, it does not shy away from the fact that our Council’s finances have been appalling badly managed by Labour.
Millions have been wasted on vanity projects such as £29m on the Connect Superhighway Cycle lane that very few people use and £24m on the Mirror Pool at City Park. The council claimed that the latter would bring in 6000 people a day; a grossly optimistic figure. Other smaller projects include £15k on a metal statue of a baby and £13,000 on fitting colour-changing lights to the top of a Bradford city centre tower block. The latest vanity project is a £7,000 upgrade to the five-room suite of offices at City Hall, used by the Leader of Bradford Council. The plans have been blasted by the Taxpayers’ Alliance and opposition groups, with one councillor saying it “beggars belief” at a time of multi-million pound cuts to services.
In addition, the Council spent nearly £100,000 over the three years from 2012 to 2015 with an external public relations (PR) firms, despite having its own press and communications team. The TaxPayers’ Alliance branded this spending “totally unjustifiable” at a time of austerity.
Are these really the kind of projects that the Council should be spending OUR money on, when basic services such as the gritting of roads is cut.
There has also been a lack of forward planning for revenue generation. For instance, the Odeon cinema refurbishment could have been undertaken by the Council and not by private financiers. That way the Council could have reaped the benefits from the income generated out of the building. The refurbishment of St Georges Hall, financed partly by the Heritage Lottery Fund, could have been a prime example of spending money for future revenue generation. Can you imagine Leeds City Council ever letting their city getting into this state of disrepair?
There are other projects that have been abandoned; £1.2m was wasted on a feasibility study for a swimming pool in the City that will now not go ahead. Surely at the time the £1.2m was spent, the Council knew that austerity measures were coming?
The general public have already suggested how various savings could be made. For instance, the £17m project on the upgrading burial grounds and crematorium could be put on hold. There is talk of replacing the Jacobs Well Council building and building a new Council Hub in the City at a cost of £20m; the agreement for this was signed in 2015, during the austerity cuts. Has money been set aside for this? Or consultant’s fees already been spent? Surely there are empty buildings in in City that could be used instead? A further £19m has been set aside to turn the old Keighley College into yet another “Council Hub”. This is despite the Labour Councillor there stating that there was not the need for another hub, the three current ones in Keighley already being under-utilised.
So what are UKIP’s solutions?
Can we just blame the Tory government who initiated the programme of austerity. Or the Labour Council who mismanaged the money? That would be too easy. Instead, UKIP has come up with its own suggestions:
Firstly, we would always argue that council tax should be as low as possible, whilst maintaining essential services. Our council should cut its annual wage bill of £542m, or £225m if you exclude staff in schools. It should not be cutting front-line staff and services such as gritting, waste collection and community centres.
Secondly, a full review of vanity projects undertaken by the Council should be undertaken. These have already been described in detail above.
Thirdly, the Council’s advertising and self-promotion budgets should be cut. Why does a Council need to self-promote itself?
In terms of the council’s wage bill, there are numerous ways to reduce it; by looking at Councillor’s salaries and allowances and by cutting highly paid council executives’ salaries.
Its already been established that 650 MPs is too many and the Boundary Commission are looking to reduce the numbers to 600. Has it occurred to anyone that 90 councillors for a population of 530,000 may be too many? Each ward has 3 councillors and this could easily be reduced to two, if not one. You would struggle to find a member of the public being able to name ALL 3 of his councillors. As well as reducing the Councillor wage bill, local elections would only need to be held every other year, providing an additional saving.
Have our councillors taken a reduction in salary? No, they have taken a 1% payrise on their basic salary. Granted, a freeze in pay and reducing the number of Councillors isn’t going to save the Council £millions. But it is going to send the right message out to the constituents that “we’re all in this together”. A step in the right direction, so to speak.
Another saving can be made by cutting the Special Responsibility Allowances of Councillors. In 2015/16 Councillors were paid £13,463 a year with Special Responsibility Allowances (SRAs) amounting to a total of £589,260 between them. A suggestion by a UKIP Councillor in a full Council meeting that the SRAs could be cut was met with stunned silence.
The Councillors have reduced the number of Executive members from 7 to 6, with the creation of 6 Executive Assistants, now reduced to 3. But in a meeting on 4th November last year, they decided to award these 3 assistants a 50% increase in their SRA. The justification was that they were now doubling their workload as they had been reduced from 6 to 3. But these were all fairly new positions anyway!
The SRA’s mean that at least 4 of the Councillors earn over £40,000 a year. And is it right that Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of the Labour party in Bradford Council earns over £50k a year?
After all, she has a Chief Executive, Kersten England, earning £178,476 a year and below this a team of at least 8 Directors and 18 Assistant Directors. Of these Directors and Assistant Directors, 7 earnt over £100k per year and 4 earnt between £95-100k per year during 2015/16.
Whilst some senior manager posts are due to be merged, UKIP believes there should be a full review of executive pay. The Prime Minister, with far greater responsibility, only earns £142,500; is it right that the Chief Executive of Bradford Council earns nearly £36,000 more than the Prime Minister? We can understand that profit making companies wanting to attract the right kind of people to their top positions would pay more than this. But the Council is not a profit-making company; it is a public service body operating for the good of its residents.
It seems to me that there are too many admirals and not enough ships at our Council. Admirals sit there with their excessive salaries, self-promotion budgets and vanity projects whilst residents are left with their essential services cut BEYOND the bare minimum.
Sara Hardman, UKIP Bradford & District