Taxpayer's Alliance advises councils to use sheep to cut the grass
Ever since the financial crisis hit, reducing wastage has been a key theme of austerity measures. Public sector budgets have come under intense scrutiny and various groups also sprung up to help rant about how much money the Government is wasting. In keeping with this theme, the TaxPayer’s Alliance (TPA) has come up with 201 things local government can do to stop squandering council tax receipts in an effort to show that they are still serious about tackling inefficiencies. Unfortunately, it seems some of these tips are ‘seriously’ ridiculous.
All 201 tips have been penned by Harry Phibbs, a councillor with Hammersmith and Fulham. Far from making the TPA sound like a concerned advisor, the organisation is coming across as outdated, intolerant and a bit like a pedantic child.
Of course, not all of the points are patently ridiculous, such gems as use energy saving lightbulbs (108), use double sided printing (120) and scrap political advisers (6) are eminently sensible, although we can think of a few downsides to closing all public lavatories (23). Scrapping stuff is a central tenet of the document and other things that should be scrapped according to the TPA include arts-funded theatres, museums, art galleries, fair trade and diversity officers. Phipps also thinks that councils should “stop funding translations/interpreting for Council documents and services. This money is much better spent teaching people English.” Inclusive.
However, many of the items are a little far-fetched, like the suggestion that, where appropriate, councils ought to “use cattle and sheep to graze on council land rather than spending money on grass cutting (70)” or “Place more children up for adoption(10)”. We hope this latter point refers to children already in care, after all adopted children are paid for by parents, like non-cared for children so they wouldn’t have to pay foster carers. But paying foster carers is still preferable to paying children’s home costs, which are apparently so extortionate, boarding school would be a cheaper option. Putting the care back into care services in Hammersmith and Fulham.
Mr Phibbs is clearly not a fan of professional subscriptions. Points 35-37 advocate non-payment of specific subscription fees, singling out certain organisations like the Local Government Association, but he clearly tired of this as point 38 suggests councillors should “cancel your membership subs to most other bodies of which you are members”. A Local Government Association spokesperson said: "The TPA seems to have lost its bearings. This is a list of things councils have been doing for years peppered with a number of frankly ridiculous ideas, some of which are downright dangerous."
But the report has also been criticised for stating the blinding obvious, like checking what other councils charge in order to “Benchmark. Benchmark. Benchmark. After that do some more benchmarking (97)” and “set maximum word limits on the length of reports submitted by officers. Long reports that nobody reads are a waste of officer time 98)”
Unite local government officer Fiona Farmer said: "The credibility of the TaxPayers' Alliance has to be seriously questioned when ideas taken from medieval times, such as grazing sheep, are wheeled out in its endless quest for publicity. Has the alliance worked out how much it is going to cost to buy these animals and pay the substantial veterinary bills?
"The prospect we face is hundreds of these animals freely roaming around municipal parks ignoring health and safety considerations when children are playing - and being a prime target for urban rustlers," she finished. And you thought urban rustling was dead.
Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Far too often we hear unimaginative councillors insisting that they have no choice but to raise council tax and increase the burden on already hard-pressed families. But there are hundreds of ways in which local authorities can save money before even thinking about increasing the council tax."
So is this a genuine attempt to shoehorn an imagination into councillors or a mis-firing publicity stunt? Does anyone even care so long as council tax stays frozen, as most councils have done following a Governmental mandate?