I really must congratulate and thank Nigel Louth, who today joined Nick Tiratsoo of this parish as a candidate for a knighthood for services to the people of Walthamstow. His achievement was the painstaking analysis of nearly 24,000 items of the council's spending among 189 separate categories of expenditure.
The conclusion he has come to is that Waltham Forest Council has spent £15 million on agency staff and "other agencies" in the first 7 months of this year. Nothing odd about that, you might think, until consideration is given the host of dodgy doings, on past form, that this potentially represents at our corrupted two-star local authority.
Moreover, in these times of cuts, the hitherto hidden spending on consultants and agency staff, with all the agency fees associated with that, is being carried out at a rate which will cost us £48 million over the next four years - equivalent to about 80 percent of the £65 million cuts that the council are seeking to achieve over the same period.
Nigel Louth's hard work has highlighted payments this financial year which include £60,000 to consultants from neighbouring Haringey Council, £203,300 to 'Keeping it Simple Training Ltd' and nearly £2million to Waltham Forest Local Education Partnership Ltd. No details of what these consultants actually did for any of this dosh have been provided to the public by the council.
Some consultants will, of course, have been hired properly and do serious and needed work which the council's own staff could not have done. I do not want people to think that I am saying that every single one of them is bleeding us dry. Plenty won't be. However, there is a ghastly track record at our town hall of corruption, unaccountable waste which means these transactions should be ringing alarm bells all over the borough.
The Waltham Forest Guardian's comments section, as ever, provides further frightening details of the kinds of things we need to look out for:
One commenter, md-j, recalls by way of background, that a few years back, when the Museums Manager was fast-tracked up four grades to run our libraries as well (without competitive interview) she had absolutely no qualifications or experience for the latter task. In the wake of this questionable action, a 'partner' librarian was bought in from Haringey to oversee the purchase of some 40,000 new books, at a cost, he estimates, of about £60,000. That was not to buy the books, just to choose them, 'which must be more per book than the authors got for writing them!' As he rightly says, we could have had a qualified libraries manager for that money.
It is also alleged that:
A former chief executive, Mr Roger Taylor, allegedly remained 'an employee and Director' of consultants Pinnacle Public Services Group Ltd throughout his two year stint at the town hall.
It is notable that Council contracts with Rockpools (a Pinnacle subsidiary) blossomed during these years, rising from £96,200 in 2006/07 to £574,024 in 2007/08, before dipping somewhat to £365,814 in 2008/09.
One of these contracts saw Rockpools paid £82,168 to help with 'search and selection of senior appointments', an arrangement that, according to the Council, led to a grand total of four placements (which included Mr Taylor) - meaning that each cost on average £20,542."
When the commenter (NT) recently asked the current LBWF chief executive, Mr Esom, whether in his opinion this represented value for money, he replied:
"The Council must obtain best value from its services and contracts and this requires a combination of efficiency, economy and effectiveness. It is my view, with my knowledge of the executive search market, that the above costs were competitive. The work involved is specialist and skilled in ensuring that high quality applicants apply for these posts and then subject to effective selection processes".
So, according to NT, his head is spinning because "it appears that Rockpools was paid money for a recruitment process which ended in the appointment of...hold on...someone from its parent company."
So is mine, if that is correct. I personallty have no direct knowledge of it. The trouble is, in the light of the long legacy of thefts, corruption, jobs for the boys, incompetence, revolving doors, mysterious resignations, departure pay-off issues, secrecy, arrogance, lies and impunity at our council, I no longer have much confidence. In particular I have no trust that this obvious conflict of interest or any of the other recurring problems which plague our unreformed council could not have occurred and indeed are not occurring still.