Friday, December 16, 2011

Taxpayers' Alliance gets it wrong on police commissioners

As usual, the TPA is busy pushing the Conservative agenda. Their weekly email today announces another major piece of research highlighting the cost of police authorities - the current structure for scrutiny and control of the police services. The TPA claims that

Directly elected police commissioners will replace the highly paid, but not directly accountable, chief executives of police authorities
They explain that these chief execs get paid an average of £90,000 a year, as part of the annual operating costs. In the West Midlands force area, the chief executive of the police authority (not the chairman, for the sake of clarity) gets paid £109,000 plus pension costs.


Except that the TPA have got it significantly wrong.


The chief executive will continue. As the Home Office admits (emphasis added)

PCCs will be required to appoint a head of paid staff and a chief financial officer. The head of paid staff will be responsible for employing the administrative staff and for acting as monitoring officer for the PCC. The chief financial officer will be responsible for advising the PCC about their financial obligations and the impact of their spending decisions. The PCC may appoint other staff, but all employees will be politically restricted and appointed on merit. The PCC will be required to publish organisational charts and salaries of all staff. PCC staff will be able to join the local government pension scheme in the relevant force area (this is the same pension entitlement as police staff).
Police and crime commissioners do not replace chief executives. They replace the police authority itself. In terms of allowances, that currently costs about £10 million a year (taking the TPAs own figures). The salaries of individual commissioners alone will eat up £4 million, quite apart from any additional staffing or expenses costs - the new police and crime panels to scrutinise the commissioners will consume a further £2 million. Suddenly we're up to £6 million a year as direct costs and once you account for the costs of the elections (£25-£50 million every four years, working out at about £6 million a year if you accept the lower figure) then you suddenly find out that replacing the police authority will actually cost about £12 million a year (or possibly £18 million if the higher election cost figure is right), dwarfing the current police authority member allowances cost.
Good to see the TPA supporting sustaining public sector jobs and public sector pension schemes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mayorday

I'm an unashamed convert to the idea of an elected mayor for Birmingham. I believe that we need a single point of contact that has a credible mandate drawn directly from the people of Birmingham so that they can go into bat to get the best deal for our city from government and other national and international partners and investors. We need someone able to make decisions, lead on action - and to be held directly accountable for those decisions and their performance, in the way that a council leader isn't.
This isn't a party political issue, even though I remain very critical of the poor quality of civic leadership shown by the current occupants of that office. When Birmingham needed leadership over the summer rioting, Mike Whitby was invisible, pushing his deputy out instead, but the problems are systemic and not entirely Whitby's fault - he just exemplifies them.
Even as an aspiring council candidate, I can see the weaknesses of the current model at both ends of the spectrum. The council is very slow to change and innovation is stifled by a bureaucracy with a fixed mindset and that all too often feels happiest within the comfort zone of their silo. We know that these are difficult times - the most challenging in a century - for our city and we need local government that is agile, responsive and capable of change to suit local circumstances. Birmingham City Council likes the 'one size fits all' mentality, for that offers security and simplicity, but that doesn't fit the needs of our diverse communities. 
Regionally, the council often adopts an 'Our Way or No Way' approach, which drives away other authorities that should be our partners. Why there should be a Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership and a second one for Birmingham defeats me - our futures are tied together and cross-border working is absolutely crucial to both sides of the West Midlands. We need to look beyond our borders into how we should - how we must - provide regional leadership.
Much as the other boroughs may dislike it, Birmingham remains the powerhouse and has the potential to develop global credibility that will enrich the whole region, but Birmingham's leadership needs to recognise that it has the responsibility to head a partnership, not dominate our neighbours. We really are all in this together.
For me, there are two arms to this strategy. Firstly, a yes vote next May to a city Mayor and secondly increased devolution to genuinely localise services. Here there is a political point to be made - the Tory/Liberal Democrat administration adopted the localised model that Labour offered in 2004, but failed to drive it forward as Labour intended, to bring all services right down to the lowest possible operating level consistent with efficiency. The closer you are to your people, the more responsive you have to be. That's why I'm a big supporter of the ward and constituency committee process - instant local visibility of decisions taken.
Richard Burden wrote a fine piece for LabourList a few days ago and it is certainly worth a few moments of your time to read it. Cllr Phil Parkin, a relatively sane Tory from Sutton Trinity ward, is also a supporter and makes the sound point that aside from the councillors in the Cabinet, formal councillor influence on strategy is strictly limited. A separation of executive power might actually lead to greater influence for councillors through the scrutiny system, which may find even more freedom to hold the mayor to account. 

Thursday saw Nick Clegg dangle the carrot of more powers for mayors or local authorities, although he did add the caveat that these powers would be dependent on local leadership being up to the job. Whether that is code indicating the expectation that these powers will go to mayors is up for question - some think so, others think that these powers will be devolved to local authorities in due course. One thing that is clear is that central government wants to have a single point of contact when they need to talk to Birmingham and Birmingham will benefit from having a single voice, with a clear, city-wide mandate able to speak for our needs.
The No campaign is laughably poor. John Hemming is fronting it with all the charm of a bulldozer, appearing on the Politics Show to warn that the public might vote in a lunatic who could only be removed through sectioning under the Mental Health Act. At the moment, short of criminal behaviour or serious personal financial problems, we can't remove our councillors or even our MPs, no matter how consistently embarrassing they might be or how often a judge might criticise their performance.
Aside from that, it is a little insulting to the electorate - some of whom voted for Mr Hemming - to suggest that they would be taken in, over the course of a six month campaign in the full glare of the modern print, broadcast and social media, is rather hard to believe. Similarly, John worries about a 'power freak' - which is a little rich coming from someone who was in the House of Commons for a matter of months before announcing his candidacy for the leadership of his party, let alone a man who remains in tight control of his party locally and expects to be their candidate for mayor, despite his opposition to the existence of the post. Their website offers speakers to oppose the move to a mayor, but wants to set the rules of the debate in terms of the size of the panel and representation from others. There is an argument to be had about whether the mayor is a good move or not, but the No campaign isn't making it. Even the website is titled Vote No to a Power Freak - which isn't actually an option in the referendum, last time I checked. 
Compare and contrast the amateurish nature of the 'No' campaign to the 'Yes' team's more professional offering, which offers a far more positive starting point to the campaign.
Birmingham is not broken. It is a city with a great history and the potential for an even greater future - we just need to make sure that we have the right people and structures to help write the next chapter. A vote for the mayor next year is a step on that road and all journeys have to begin somewhere. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lib Dems opinions revolving


Liberal Democrats believe that European co-operation is the best way for Britain to be strong, safe and influential in the future. We will ensure that Britain maximises its influence through a strong and positive commitment... Work through the European Union for stricter international regulation of financial services and banking... Work with other countries... including bringing forward urgent proposals for a financial transaction tax 

Liberal Democrat manifesto, May 2010

What Clegg said on Friday morning, in the wake of Cameron's disastrous departure from the negotiating table: 

"The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the coalition government was united, were modest and reasonable. They were safeguards for the single market, not just the UK. There were no demands of repatriation of powers from the EU to Britain and no demands for a unilateral carve-out of UK financial services. What we sought to ensure was to maintain a level playing field in financial services and the single market as a whole. This would have retained the UK's ability to take tougher, not looser, regulatory action to sort out our banking system."
Aside from the utter drivel that this government would take tougher action than that likely to come out of the EU, that's Clegg supporting the PM and opening his mouth before he had the chance to understand the full implication of the utter cock-up that Cameron's decision will prove to be for the future of the British economy. William Hague - who was utterly sideswiped on the Today programme on Friday morning as he was apparently completely unbriefed on the increased role for the IMF - has said that Clegg was fully briefed and in full agreement with policy.
Hague insisted the coalition was on board with the deal as he confirmed that the Liberal deputy prime minister and the chancellor, George Osborne, had been kept abreast of developments by Cameron. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that Clegg "signed up" to what had happened.  

Taking us away from the negotiations is ludicrous. The 'Tobin' financial transaction tax that apparently scared the City could only be brought in by unanimity - it isn't subject to qualified majority voting - so Cameron could have retained a genuine veto over that issue. Rather than do so and demonstrate a commitment to working as part of a union with which our future is inextricably connected, Cameron has gone for the short term gain of calming his party and feeding the instant gratification demanded by the City donors. He could have stayed involved and kept Britain in the conference room - a tenet of British policy over Europe for decades under all governments, even under Thatcher - but he chose not to. 
Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Democrats have been in quiet and irrelevant revolt over the past day or so and Clegg is now apparently manufacturing anger to order
Just 24 hours after appearing to back Cameron, sources close to Clegg made clear that the deputy prime minister believed the PM had been guilty of serious negotiating failures that risked damaging the national interest, British jobs and economic growth.
Clegg's fury puts the coalition under the most severe strain since its formation 19 months ago, with Europe now seen by some MPs as a potential "deal breaker".
One source said Clegg "couldn't believe it" when he was woken at 4am in his flat in Sheffield to be told that talks on how to save the euro at the Brussels summit had "spectacularly unravelled".
Accusing Cameron of failing to play the diplomatic game effectively, the source added: "He could not believe that Cameron hadn't tried to play for more time. A menu of choices wasn't deployed as a negotiating tool but instead was presented as a take it or leave it ultimatum. That is not how he [Clegg] would have played Britain's hand."
Publicly supporting the PM and then openly briefing against him within 24 hours isn't good form. But then neither is publicly burning through all the totemic policies of the Liberal Democrats. Tuition fees were only the beginning. 
Still, you can always rely on John Hemming to support his political friends
I think Cameron was right to use the veto on changes to the treaties. It is entirely right that the 17 Eurozone countries resolve how to get greater fiscal unity which is essential for the success of the Euro and consequential success of the UK. However, that does not mean that we have to sign up to that. We should not try to stand in their way and prevent them resolving their difficulties. However, it is not surprising that unanimity amongst the 27 EU states is difficult to achieve.