All those fat cat teachers

I noticed on Friday that the Gazette had picked up the previous week’s “research” paper from the TaxPayers’ Alliance that looks at people earning more than £50K in local government.

Would it be too much for the Gazette to do a bit of elementary fact checking before they just swallow the TPA’s press release wholesale? 154 of these “fat cats” are in the Borough’s schools. Now some people might say that paying £50K-plus to 154 heads, deputy heads and other senior staff in our 65 primary schools, 12 secondary schools and 6 special schools is a misallocation of resources. Please do say if you think so.

Now we have reduced the number of council fat cats from 326 to 172 perhaps we can heave a sigh of relief? If we take the TPA’s figures at face value, which would be a mistake, Ealing is ranked 21 out of 33 London authorities (ie 21st lowest) in terms of spending on highly paid staff per head of population. So we are probably not horribly out of order.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the TaxPayers’ Alliance. I was involved with them in their very early days. I helped them with their initial fund raising and organising but I got disillusioned because their first publication, The Bumper Book of Government Waste, mixed up capital and revenue and different years and wasn’t really a serious analysis of waste – at least not one that was any use to anyone.

The headline of their press release was:

COUNCIL SPENDING UNCOVERED: COUNCILS EMPLOY 22% MORE MIDDLE MANAGERS THAN LAST YEAR

This is utter nonsense. They make no effort whatsoever to put any of this in any context or to compare like for like. I had a look at their figures for London boroughs. They had the Brent population figure wrong (71,600 instead of 270,000). They haven’t tried to work out whether or not teachers are included. Most boroughs include them and are roughly comparable. At least six don’t include them so look better than they otherwise would – Ealing is probably better than 21st. The City of London is an exception as it has a tiny population but loads of businesses to deal with.

The TPA could be really useful if they upped their game somewhat. Much of what they do though is to pull out facts and figures from published sources without understanding them. Ealing’s own figures for people paid over £50K are published on page 23 of our Statement of Accounts and anyone can pull them off our website here. All public bodies publish these tables. At least when I do this stuff to my friends at Transport for London I explain my workings!

This entry was posted in Ealing and Northfield. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to All those fat cat teachers

  1. Vinno says:

    Phil, it is you who too often makes ‘no effort whatsoever to put any of this is any context or compare like for like’.
    Do you conveniently forgot how you always carp on about public waste and civil service pay? In a previous article you remonstrate about 996 civil servants earning over £100k even thought this was spread over 25 public sector organisations! Even the 170+ you have weaned Ealing’s figure down to still sounds a lot for just one public sector organisation.
    Ealing Council tax payers are having to shell out £1/4 million for Messrs. Singh and Stacey alone! Value for money? Gravy train for fat cats more like it!

  2. Phil says:

    Vinno,

    Nice to hear from you. You are digging up a very old posting there – December 2006. Not that I have changed my mind since then. In general I do think we have too many people, paid too much in the public services.

    If you look at Ealing’s published Statement of Accounts you will see that Ealing only employs 12 people over the £100K mark. For my money this is probably too many, too much too.

    I have posted in detail on councillors allowances in the past, here for instance. I said in December:

    Our leader, Jason Stacey, is a bargain. He gave up a very good job to become a full time leader. You only have to look at some of the timestamps on his e-mails to know what kind of hours he works. On top of the long hours he is actually a real star. £40K really is a steal.

    Again, only in December I made a reference to Chief Executive, Darra Singh’s very high rewards, see here. Again, Darra is another real star and he has made a big contribution to this borough. I think he is worth it.

    What do you think Vinno? Do we have too many people paid too much in the public services in general? Do you think there is a particular problem in Ealing?

  3. George says:

    Phil,
    How can what you say be verified? How can we verify whether your results are star quality? How do we know that Councillors are worth what they are paid?

    In a PLC I worked to personalised and group objectives, and plans agreed in writing. I was assessed by results often evident in documentation which were measurable against the written documentation.

    As public servants your INDIVIDUAL plans etc should be open for the taxpayer to see. What are the objective measuring sticks we the public can use and where are they to be found? For example did you or one of you fail, meet,or exceed your objectives last year? How well are you doing this year?
    Or does life for you people work differently? In which case please illuminate us.

    If you can give a factual and objective answer to these questions I hope to be fascinated by your reply. I hope it will not be too complex, else I most certainly will agree that Ealing is overstaffed.
    Thank you

  4. Eric Leach says:

    ‘Darra is a real star’.

    Hmm…

    How do you evaluate this?

    How is his performance measured?

    What were his 2007/8 objectives and did he achieve or perhaps over achieve on them?

    As for as me and 1,000s of Ealing rate payers are concerned, Mr Singh is invisible. We don’t know what he does; how well he does what he does; what his views on Ealing’s future are; and what his plans for the borough might be. Is Ealing ‘doing well’? 1,000s will tell you that it’s not doing well at all.

    As for Ealing’s vast salary bill, I think you agree it’s too high. You are on thr Council Cabinet – so get it reduced.

  5. George says:

    Eric
    You may well be right, but, correct me if I misunderstand, you are making a political point.

    I am looking for an answer which allows me, and you, to make a more informed objective and intelligent assessment.

    Two friends, one a former council in the 1970’s and the other a Cabinet member now in another council, both recently said that they think politics now is much more about making prepared political speeches to each other rather than using plain speak so we can all understand.

    What annoys me is that politicians are so selective in their answers, and they refuse to answer when faced with something challenging.

    So I am hoping that Phil is going to pop out of his cupboard. Let us see!

  6. Phil says:

    George,

    I myself have worked in larger PLCs and understand the whole management by objectives philosophy. Ealing council staff also work to personal and group objectives, most of which are quantified as far as I know. I believe in openess but publishing this kind of stuff would not be a good way of motivating people in my opinion. I don’t think many companies would think it would be very positive either.

    As for councillors you get to decide for yourself what you think about our performance every four years. Do you think your streets are cleaner? Do you think Ealing is safer? Have we bought council tax under control? You decide. That’s the deal.

  7. George says:

    Phil. Do not agree, and I think you opened the cupboard door by just an inch . Shares go up or down dependent on Board performance and regular technical analysis which is partly available frequently in the Financial world. We know something of their objectives. I don’t want to see the written objectives of my street cleaner, (although I have brought about an improvement by being firm with local Council management). But because I pay taxes I want to know what return I am getting for my money. Similar analysis is simply not available. That is because Councillors up and down the country are just too chicken to give it. I think constitutionally I am correct in saying that Councillors are the ultimate managers of each Council. So it is reasonable to know their plans or at least the plans of the Members. They get paid quite a lot to do this job. Why should’nt I know more about what goes on – the successes and failures. And certainly I want to know what results any CEO is achieving. Please answer this.

    A 4 year deal is a shallow deal and Councillors need to grasp the nettle that the world has changed and you should be changing with it. Any intelligent person, particularly who has had management experience wants to know what return is being gleaned from investment and funding. So I do want to know what you get up to in far more detail. I want you to change. I want you to give us measuring sticks. Can you not see that change is needed?

    Else I am going to go on being insulted because I (at your behest) just have to make ephemeral decisions on whether your planning or parking or security or cleaning or rate in the pound is better/worse than before. If so then let us be cajoled by you politicians into our continuum of cynicism. Let us see our children continue, (unlike the 1960′ to 1970’s) in in a contemptuous vaccuum of political unawareness.

    You believe in openess. What does this mean to you?

    Please engage.

  8. Eric Leach says:

    Councillor Taylor, like all the other 68 Councillors, you were elected in May 2006 to serve the interests of your 11,000/12,000 Ward constituents.

    I wonder how well you think you are performing? I know of many local residents who have written to you and on blogs and web sites complaining about parking, street lamps, Arcadia, Dickens Yard, libraries, the Heritage Quarter, Officers’ performance, and accountability – to name but a few. Where’s the evidence that you have raised these objections and criticisms with the Council Cabinet or with the Officer elite?

    You earn more than the average UK worker in your role as Ealing Council Cabinet Member. It’s not unreasonable that local tax payers should be able to see the evidence of your fulfilling your role as Councillor. After all it’s our money which is helping to pay your Council wage.

    I’ve formed the view over the last 2.5 years that most Councillors represent the interests of their political parties first; and the power bases of the Officer elite in second place – with the poor old tax payer residents’ interests way way down the pecking order.

    As ever you won’t answer my questions.

    And going back to your original rant – as an ex-teacher and ex-Governor at two Ealing schools I do accept that good school teaching and schoolo management is very hard work, and has been for over 40 years in my experience. I’ve interviewed head techer applicants on selection panels and the quality of many of them was appallingly poor. No amount of extra salary would have improved these candidates. Also no amount of reasonable extra pay would allow any Ealing teacher to buy a home in Ealing at the moment. It is changes in society which is making life so unpleasant and possibly dangerous for school teachers and heads. No-one seems to know how to ‘solve’ these social problems – but throwing more cash at teachers and heads will, I suspect, make no difference whatsoever.

  9. Phil says:

    George and Eric,

    You are covering a lot of ground here. The council does have a very well developed performance management system which is publicly scrutinised by councillors. It might be useful if you looked at the agendas, papers and minutes of some of the scrutiny panels and see if some of the information there satisfies your desires to better understand the council’s performance management.

    It might be useful to look at the work of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee (see here). For instance they considered the Q2 Performance Report at their meeting of 4th December.

    There are a number of scrutiny committees you might be interested in (full list here). The public are often invited to contribute to these meetings, representatives from bodies such as Ealing Chambers of Commerce, voluntary groups are often co-opted to sit as full speaking members on these committees and people often approach committee chairmen to ask permission to speak or raise matters for debate.

    Please have a look through the papers of these meetings and tell me you can’t get any insight into performance.

  10. Honey Weeks says:

    Amazingly enough I agree with you on this one, Mr Taylor. It is just a shame that Mr Singh is so invisible. You would think that on his salary he might be a little more accountable. If we placed him on the same level as the Managing Director of a publically listed company he would have to answer questions at the annual shareholders meeting. There seems to be no such accountability in the public sector.
    As ever,
    Honey.

  11. George says:

    Phil.
    We are covering a lot of ground. Was that slightly plaintive? We are talking about an extremely important issue regardless of political leaning. How do we know that you make informed decisions? Unless we know this by the publication of more readable material we cannot assess if you are doing a good job.

    I am so aware of the Council papers to which you refer. The ability to extract these in a simple and QUICK way is well nigh impossible. The website is a disgrace. Both the public and Council staff have the same complaint. As it stands the website is a very nice (in its old meaning) piece of evidence of appalling communication skills which as an ex PLC person you will know is critical for management. Does this failure come under the Customer Services function? Answer please.

    There are so many documents. Why do they not have a proper referencing system at the foot of each document?

    I see a decision appears to have been made on 27/1/09 to abolish 24 bus lanes in Ealing. How do I as a layman know if that will happen or whether it is subject to GLA approval. The minutes are unclear. Things need to be put into context. Why did it take so long to come to this conclusion. Were the relevant councillors kicking the proverbials for progress?. Then under the same date from Scrutiny comes the observation that the times of these restrictions will vary in different parts of the borough. But then how did someone choose some of those times – some of which, in the lack of information I think are plain stupid.

    The dreaded Appendices. So well referenced are they?. How can any researcher find the correct Appendix?

    You don’t want me to cover more ground on this subject. Just go and do it properly and tell me when that will happen. So I can have the process measured.

    But going up one level the current situation militates against open government – almost completely. It must also waste a substantial amount of officers time – my taxes.

    Quarter 2 Performance. Page 7. Time to process Housing Benefit. So it is an IT problem is it? Why did that happen anyway? I have taken you to task on statistics on this subject in the past. In that Scrutiny report there is no contextualisation of how bad Ealing is on HB/CTB processing. Shame about the victims who suffer. I have dealt with very many. Do you care? But that is not the issue here. The issue is about management success or failure and this is where a Member has direct responsibility to me the voter.

    If you are offering this dreadful pottage of paperwork as a means of bamboozling me into accepting that the job is being done properly then we have a credibility problem. That is why I said in this thread that there is plenty of independent analysis for PLCs but little for Councils that the ordinary voter can see. Again on the HB issue it took me a layman to analyse the truer picture. I do not intend to spend the rest of my life taking the documentation apart.

    What would have been good is that the Member published that s/he had found things wanting and that he had ordained a timescale by when the system would have been costed tested to destruction and then commissioned. He would then be telling us when the processing timescale would be among the top five in London. By that example we could judge if a Member was outstanding average or poor. And so with many other policy functions.

    To summarise. Exercise vision and give the public what they need in a modern world and bring in change and tell us that you are delivering results and what they are and stop hiding. All of you. But keep blogging.

  12. Honey Weeks says:

    … a follow on… I was pleased to see the rationalisation of two positions in the recent restructuring that I never ever dreamed could exist in Ealing Council: in the area of Libraries that of Ethnic Publications Officer (Ealing cannot afford to provide comprehensive English-Language support; for example the Spohns range of construction reference and pricing publications which it once stocked, and database access to UK births/marriages.deaths, so why do we need an Ethnic Publications Officers? An extra £30K spent on books instead seems a much better idea), and in the area of God-knows-what one of the two Somali Relations Officer posts. Both of these positions smack of 70s Marxism,
    Well done,
    Honey.

  13. Phil says:

    Honey,

    The lines of accountability are different in the local government than they are in business and they have to be because we are spending your money not shareholders’ money. The point about the political layer is that you can change it at 4 yearly elections. The officers stay in place. provide continuity and carry out the wishes of the people, albeit indirectly and imperfectly, as directed by the ruling group of councillors essentially.

    Any council chief exec is necessarily pretty invisible because it is the political leader’s job to do the frontline accountability and communications work that a PLC chief exec would do. In some boroughs in London these roles have been merged into an executive mayor. The model hasn’t been very widely taken up and I don’t think many people think it has been wildly successful.

    I don’t think I am being too complacent when I say that I think that the team we have in place here in Ealing is pretty widely seen as being successful. I talked to about 30 people on the doorstep in Northfield on Saturday 25th and everyone I talked to was happy with the borough, without exception.

  14. Honey Weeks says:

    I don’t think that anyone is unhappy with the Borough as a whole. However, there are some areas that seem to emerge regularly. Planning, housing benefit, the Health Authority, Parks and Countryside, that would seem to merit greater transparency and accountability. The areas of Clean, Value for Money, and Safer Streets are being effectively addressed. I think that it may be time to extend the political agenda with the same pragmatic approach that has been taken in these area.
    Honey.

  15. George says:

    Phil. I accepted your invitation to look at more Council papers.

    The following cut and paste is about what seems to be a Capital underspend for the current budget year.
    ***********************************************
    Report Item 12 page 12 presented to cabinet 27/1/09

    4.5.6. Capital Budget
    The revised capital programme budget for 2008/09 is £156.2M. The forecast outturn against the budget is £91.18M, which shows a (£65.1M) variance against budget, relating mainly to slippage to future years. Actual spend to month 8 is showing £34.8M, which is around 38% of the forecast spend for the year. The £65.1M variance relates to slippage in the following areas:

    Service Variance
    £M Variance on budget %
    Schools Service (2.3) (8)
    Adults Services (0.4) (23)
    Cultural Services (8.3) (38)
    Corporate Resources (2.9) (34)
    Housing General Fund (1.4) (22)
    Housing Revenue Account (42.1) (74)
    Other incl council wide (7.7)
    Total variance (65.1) (42)
    ***********************************************
    This seems to me to be a massive variation on the Budget. Reasons given include a fair amount of slippage, rather than withdrawal of funds say from central government agencies. If slippage is right why is this? Is it bad planning. I cannot really believe that. But the report is thin on reasons. Also if only 34.8M was sent in 8 months (if that is what the badly worded sentence means) then it would be some feat to see the revised forecast of 91.18M being achieved. When I used to produce reports like this for the Board directors of my PLC it was demanded that we showed two columns of percentage variances. One was controllable. the other not controllable. That really focused the mind.

    Would you like to comment?

  16. Eric Leach says:

    It’s a comfort Councillor Taylor that you choose to ignore answering George’s questions as well as you choose not to answer my questions. I am not alone.

    I’m afraid amongst my friends Ealing Council’s Overview and Scrutiny is referred to as Controlled Whitewash – and after attending many Ealing Council O&S meetings over the last two years I can certainly see why.

    I do think that there are people who are unhappy about alot of things in Ealing. Some of the problems admittedly are regional and national problems. Lack of responsiveness, openness, transparency and self-evident social justice by Ealing Council only breeds confrontation though.

    I also agree with George – keep on blogging everyone.

    And WEN’s Forum still awaits Councillor Taylor’s arrival on it.

  17. Phil says:

    Eric,

    Between George and you you have written about 2,000 words above. Whilst I am happy to publish them don’t expect me to forensically respond to every point you make. First off life is too short. Secondly, Eric, you always want the last word which takes us back to life is too short. It’s my blog Eric. Deal with it.

    I do occasionally look at WEN’s Forum but it is a bit small, only 253 posts on its General Discussion area. It is not only small but very general. I don’t have much to say about “Snow etiquette”, sorry. I’d rather expend my energies here.

    Still the WEN Forum is much more successful than Saving Ealing Centre’s bulletin board. SEC had to take it down as it was showing them up rather. It only had 21 postings, most from 2007 and about half in favour of the schemes that SEC is trying to thwart. The tiny number of comments either meant that no-one can find the SEC website or that the town centre developments were not stirring up quite the level of negative feeling that SEC asserts. One of these must be true.

  18. Phil says:

    George,

    On your specific point about capital budgets the variances mean that capital spending we want to do hasn’t yet been completed or won’t be completed by the end of the financial year. This money will still get spent. The political leadership is obviously keen to see things done quickly but we also don’t want to waste money by getting projects wrong.

    I would be interested to know the name of your ex-employer if they are such a great model? Are they still around? Healthy?

  19. Eric Leach says:

    The Secretary of State has called in the Ealing Council Arcadia planning decision. So no-one has yet to have the ‘last word’ on this one yet…

    Life could be rather long on this one.

    You’ll certainly have to ‘deal with’ this one Councillor.

  20. George says:

    Phil
    I really do not intend to make a habit of writing many words -you will be most relieved to hear. When I did the budgets my ex employer was one of the largest and most successful PLCs in the country. I cannot speak for their budget practices now as I do not know their current process.
    But that is no reason for the Council not to be open and rigorous.
    I have asked you why the variance was so enormous. Slippage to budget people means due to circumstances in or outside the control of the spenders. I politely gave you the URL to save you time. If you don’t want to tell us then please say so. I can ask someone else and you could give me a name. But as a Member I think you should answer, because you along with a few other Members are directly responsible ror agreeing the Budget and its variances. Do you have a problem with this? I don’t want a five page answer but such a huge variance is really serious and it would be incredible if Members did not know what is going on. Is my query unreasonable? If so please explain and I shall be grateful. Thank you

  21. Phil says:

    George,

    I thought I had answered you. Sorry. In addition the report you yourself linked to goes into quite a lot of detail. Capital spending, ie building things, does not always fall neatly into financial years.

    To give one example £2.37 million of spending on Pitzhanger Manor is slipping because we are holding it against a Heritage Lottery Fund bid. Should we spend it now and forgo a HLF grant?

  22. George says:

    Phil.
    I share your view that it is indeed very time consuming to unravel the mysteries of Council budget/spend but you gave me an easy answer, and on just one solitary point (and in that case I support what you say). You did for example not explain reasons for slippage on Parks or the Gurnell roof replacement some £1.2M of slippage. These items I think are under your watch.

    1) What I don’t understand is does slippage mainly happen because central government or other agencies provide funds at their own speed, or have your project managers got their in house planning wrong? Non Controllable or Controllable? Please answer on JUST these two — but no more projects on this thread.

    2) Because I also don’t understand, what I really want to know is how much in the pound on my council tax bill do I pay towards capital expenditure? (sadly this is not in Around Ealing). As there has been slippage, will I pay less in the pound next year because I have already paid the money into the old oak chest towards projects delayed this year. If not why not?

    You can now see why I am raising these important principles with you. Was it Tory Wandsworth who staggered Londoners by a substantial reduction in CT years ago?

    It may be that you do not know how to answer to points 1 and 2. If so, please would you get the answer from a council officer and then publish it, and let me know that you are doing so.

    Many thanks

  23. George says:

    I forgot. The report in January 2008 showed a significantly lower reforecast variation than in January this year.

  24. Phil says:

    George,

    I think you are being obtuse. I told you building things does not always fall neatly into financial years. It is our money and it is typically “controllable” and it is up to us to spend it.

    When we draw up a capital budget it is effectively a cap on what we can spend in a given year. If the money is not spent then it will likely be rolled over. Council tax helps pay the interest and principal associated with the actual amounts drawn down and spent.

  25. george says:

    Phil
    Thank you for your response.

    I suspect you may think I am witch hunting which I hope is the only reason why I consider you are being defensive, and so not answering my questions. OK I have from time to time taken you to task because of your manifest selectivity tendencies, so I can appreciate that you are wary, but here I am genuinely interested in wanting to learn how the system works. Is that a sin? Rightly or wrongly I believe I am addressing the correct person. Why is it such a difficulty if I ask how very senior public servants, such as your good self in Ealing Council, are deciding how my taxes are spent?

    I have produced some very substantial multi million pound budgets, done reviews etc, etc and had to do board reports in a way that was not going to result in my director being seriously compromised. Capital and Revenue. I was for a while the acknowledged budget expert in my division and that lead later to me revolutionising the way Revenue was analysed, saved and reported. I have also been a project manager doing new works and have had to do timelines etc, etc. I know about lengthy capital cash flows with regard e.g. to new builds which still dominate some skylines of London. We nearly always worked well within 10% annual capital variances at most, and Revenue far less. You don’t or won’t and I want to know why. I do know from a previous Council leader that part of that is because government policy sometimes messes you up (Non Controllable). But the other part????

    You, your very self, say CT pays in part for interest AND principal, by which I understand capital. That being the case, the questions are simple. How much in the pound did I pay for principal/capital monies this tax year? Why has there been slippage? Are you a can do person able to give the answers – Yes or No?

    In the immortal words, pray would you be so kind as to find out.

  26. Phil says:

    George,

    This is a blog not a class in local government finance.

    Can’t you work it out for yourself from the Statement of Accounts?

  27. george says:

    Perhaps I could, but this thread is a very clear testimony to bringing the Council into disrepute.

    The 6th May 2010 falls on a Thursday. Not long to go.

  28. Iain Cheyne says:

    George:
    You clearly have too much time on your hands. About 10 comments ago (I can’t be bothered to count) Phil wrote:
    “Between George and you you have written about 2,000 words above. Whilst I am happy to publish them don’t expect me to forensically respond to every point you make.”
    Get a life and do something more useful than picking arguments on blogs.

  29. Vinno says:

    Game, Set and Match to George, I think, for out-detailing ‘Mr Detail’ himself!

    Well done George! Please carry on – don’t be put off by apologists for
    Mr Taylor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *