Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Mayoralty cost stings taxpayers

After it was revealed this year that the Conservative Mayor of Medway spent taxpayers money on a snow machine I decided to submit a Freedom of Information request to ascertain the level of spend by the Mayor over the last five years.

This is an issue I have been highlighting for years and time and again ignored by a Tory elite. 

Given the Council budgets have been slashed by some 18% since 2010 it is beholden on all those with authority to be responsible with the public pound. 

The mayor of Medway's expenses have been under the spotlight ever since the Conservative Party politicised the office by scrapping the impartial points based system. The position is now squabbled over in the back offices of the Conservative Group offices.

Figures uncovered show that almost £75,000 has been spent on personal staffing. The Council vehicle cost itself has broken over the budget in four out of the five years. In 2008/09 the cost of the vehicle was 60% over the budget estimate. The civic hospitality budget in 2008/2009 was more than 55% over budget.

The above figure also (conveniently) omits the personal allowances of both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This is a further £13,267 for the Mayor and a further £6,685 for the deputy Mayor. The KM article above has different figures from those provided by the not-so-clever Tories. 

The figures are staggering when you take into account the cumulative spend over an electoral cycle (four years). From 2008/09 to 2011/12 over £500,000 was spent on this mayoralty service. And whilst other service departments saw significant decrease in budgets the allocation for the Mayor went up from £116,522 to £122,540 in 2009/10. Coincidentally the first year Medway Labour exposed costs for the mayor the figure was reduced by only to the same figure in 2012/13. The Tory Mayors have been tighetning the belt but the fat remains.

In some years the Mayors spent over £137,000 per year of taxpayers money. This annual figure is more then a house for some residents.  

Over this same period five year period we saw a number of Medway Primary schools fail OFSTEDs; we saw the failure in the 11+ test process; we saw service reductions; staff cut and budget cuts to front line services. Over this same period the budget for the Mayor has effectively stayed static. 

And what about the fact we are paying for not one person in a gown but two people. Whilst people perhaps see reason for the Mayor they do not see the necessity for a Deputy and the evidence for this is clear.

The Deputy Mayor position is quite clearly not doing very much. Including some of the above events where the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are at shared engagements we are barely seeing two Council events per week for this paid office. This weeks diary has zero Deputy Mayoral events. 

I have been undertaking my own research on the weekly published Mayoral Diary that is published by our Tory-led Authority. The events or 'engagements' include a large majority that are in fact not citizen events; they are other Local Authority spend shindigs or charty events. This is local government wasting massive sums of cash to entertain a small and ostensibly Tory elite; attending another Mayoral event in East Kent is not a useful spend for Council Taxpayers cash.  

Medway Labour reviewed the charitable elements of the Mayors in Medway and what we found was of concern. In many cases only a small percentage of the ticket price for some of the mayoral events actually goes towards the mayoral charities. I believe many people would expect the vast majority of say a £25 ticket to go towards the charity, not just £1. 

It can be argued our Tory Mayors are spending more taxpayers money in holding some events than they make through the event itself. In effect it would be more cost effective for the Council to directly donate and would be a lot more beneficial for the charity itself.

There are many other mayors who don’t run expensive offices at a huge cost to taxpayers. The mayor of Doncaster slashed his own pay, got rid of his limousine and cut the council’s free newsletter. The mayor of Royal Wooton Bassett also shows how an office can be run on a much smaller budget, although in a far smaller town than Medway. The mayor enjoys an allowance of £3,200 through which he must manage all of his annual costs incurred by mayoral duties in his 400 functions per year.

In many other local authorities the Mayor's also attend more events then ours. Swindon’s mayor is believed to participate in around 500. In Royal Wooton Basset’s mayor’s office, a volunteer occupies the role of town crier, mace bearer and sword bearer and when required an admin officer doubles as a secretary. 

The mayor needs to look for more ways to rein in the budget because it clearly can and must be done.

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