Another day and another story about Suffolk County Council and money in the Archant newspapers. The East Anglian Daily Times “reveals” the pay of the top earners (79 of them).
The median pay is about £70,000 a year. The average would be higher, largely because of the huge differential between Andrea Hill (£215,000) and the next highest paid (£125,000).
Jane Storey. deputy leader of the council, tells the paper: “Suffolk County Council published these figures last October as part of our efforts to be as open and transparent as possible.”
Up to a point, Lord Copper. Yes, they were published and I found them several months ago. But a look at the press release archive shows no evidence of a public announcement.
Publishing on a website without telling people is hardly being transparent.
The money paid to these senior people will shock many and some salaries will shock most people.
But caution is needed. The rates for many of the jobs need to be compared to those of other professionals, doctors, lawyers, head teachers and accountants for example.
The 10% (figure amended to correct error) across the board cut advocated by the EADT would almost certainly throw up examples of injustice.
While the paper produces the salaries as a list (not online), the source document which is online is in the form of organisation charts. I am not management consultant but it looks to me top-heavy.
Do we really need to have three tiers of management above the head librarian? But that post has been made redundant while the upper layers remain intact.
In fact, a number of jobs in the list are now redundant or vacant.
A flattening of the organisation structure would not only bring savings but would make the whole organisation more responsive.
The EADT also mentions research by the Lib Dems showing that the total wage bill for high earners at the council had gone up from £6m to £16m over the last five years.
Ms Storey tells the paper that the number of senior management posts had been reduced and the council has the lowest cost executive management pay bill in all counties in the Eastern Region.
It is not surprising that Suffolk County Council is being very careful with the Andrea Hill inquiry following the Shoesmith judgment by the Appeal Court last month.
The judges ruled that the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith from her job as Haringey’s children’s services director, after the death of Baby Peter was “procedurally unfair” (BBC).
After the meeting of the council’s disciplinary committee yesterday, it was announced that Andrea Hill, the chief executive would remain on mutually agreed leave at least until June 24.
The committee received a report from solicitors Wragge and Co who were asked to investigate allegations, made by an anonymous whistleblower, about the treatment of staff in the legal department.
After the meeting a statement was issued saying that some matters had been resolved but others required further investigation. It also said that “as a result of FOI requests into expense claims by Andrea Hill the committee has asked the investigation team to review those claims”.
The East Anglian Daily Times says today this relates an FoI request it made which revealed the council had paid for Ms Hill to stay at Milsom’s Kesgrave Hall on two nights before early meetings and a night at the Brudenell in Aldeburgh.
When details were revealed of these stays and another at a hotel in Sandbanks at £205 a night during a conference in Bournemouth, while senior councillors stayed in a much cheaper hotel, they appeared to show ill-judgment. But they did not look like serious disciplinary matters.
The Daily Mail also says the hotel stays are the focus of the expenses investigation.
The Daily Telegraph is alone in saying Ms Hill was, “cleared of accusations about her management style, amid claims of bullying and intimidation”.
Intriguingly, LocalGov.co.uk, the online site of the Municipal Journal, referring to the whistleblowing says:
The letter, seen by The MJ, makes a number of serious allegations against more than one senior member of staff at Suffolk.
Whatever path the council is following, there appears to be wide political backing for it. The EADT quotes opposition leader Kathy Pollard, saying:
Obviously the public want a resolution to this but the council is going to have to go through all the procedures and make sure it dots all the Is and crosses all the Ts. People are going to have to be patient.
But the council has to do this properly otherwise it will cost them an awful lot more money.
I don’t think it [extending the scope of the investigation] has muddied the waters, it’s another line of inquiry that the council is pursuing. It’s right to do that.
Blogger James Hargrave wonders if it now the time to reach a deal by which Ms Hill would leave the council. He writes that while it would cost money it would seem an appropriate way for her to go.
But, as Kathy Pollard’s comment says, as well as ensuring the procedure is absolutely correct, they are anxious to avoid a large pay out.
Any settlement would be expensive and politically extremely unpopular. I can see the headlines pointing out how many school crossing patrols and libraries it would have paid for.
I suspect the council is hoping that Ms Hill will review the whistleblower’s allegations and the matters surrounding her expenses and decide to write a resignation letter before it all becomes much more public.
At a time when the “localism” drive by central and local government is making high quality reporting and comment vital, the regional press is in a sorry decline, a shadow of its former self.
Today the BBC reports that journalists at Archant Norfolk which publishes the Eastern Daily Press, the Norwich Evening News and a string of weeklies are to ballot on industrial action over plans to cut up to 20 jobs.
In Norfolk a pork pie maker and blogger invited a former Archant journalist to write on what is happening to her local papers. The guest blogger writes:
A few recent examples of the good work regional newspapers can do include the EDP’s campaigns to save RAF Marham, applying pressure for the A11 to be dualled and fighting for better broadband to bring inward investment to the county.
But it’s not just about the big campaigns, it’s also about the little things. If you’re setting up a new business, the chances are you want to advertise it in the papers and you may well benefit from editorial coverage as well.
If public bodies are making cuts (aren’t they all?) who’s going to tell you about it and who’s going to give you a voice to shout about it?
Who’s going to tell you about crime, both major and minor, on your doorstep? Who’s going to tell you about events in your neighbourhood?
Who’s going to highlight the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to help charities and the community?
Who’s going to tell you the quirky little stories that make you smile over your cornflakes?
This reflects what Roy Greenslade, media commentator, former editor and blogger wrote recently about a dispute at another newspaper group in another party of the country. Greenslade, who loves print and has ink in his blood, wrote:
The net is the future, print is not.
I am often described as a doom-monger, a facile criticism. My analysis of the decline of newspapers is based on figures going back 50 years. It is further informed by the accelerating decline since the rise of the internet.
I know there will be printed papers around for a long time. What concerns me is that journalists won’t be.
I want to see the growth of relationships between a skilled professional journalistic cadre and concerned citizens.
Like Roy, I love print. That is where I started my working life, the smell of hot metal in my nose. Now I see online as the future although newspapers will still be around after I have gone.
That relationship between paid journalists and concerned citizens is developing as was neatly demonstrated by one of Greenslade’s Guardian colleagues today.
Patrick Butler (@patrickjbutler), a writer on social affairs, tweeted:
Struck by quality and consistency of political blogs in Suffolk: @andrewga @IpswichSpy @onlygeek @DeardenPhillips
It is nice to be included and I could add more good Suffolk blogs, some of them overtly party-political and others not.
One reason why Butler is reading the Suffolk blogs is that things of national interest have been happening in the county, most of them related to the county council. He needs information and opinion and he is able to get it from blogs as well as traditional print sources.
A concern that many of us have is that the traditional print media in Suffolk has been cut to the bone and overworked journalists are clearly having difficulty in doing the job they would like to be doing, to meet the demands of the community
To some extent bloggers are starting to fill the gap and answer the thirst for information. One day last week when a big story broke Wordblog (only three months old in its present form) had a thousand visitors.
Whether Archant which also owns most papers in Suffolk, including the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star, will attempt to cut journalists here as well as in Norfolk I don’t know. It is difficult to see how they could as they have already cut to the bone.
In the meantime it is clear that online community journalism is strengthening with extremely local news sites developing and more bloggers coming on the scene.
The front page of the Evening Star yesterday was dominated by a picture of a kettle with the single word headline Steaming above it. The story was about the County Council spending £59,095 on tea and coffee for employees in its offices.
Today in the East Anglian Daily Times there is a report, based on figures from the Taxpayer’s Alliance (TPA), saying that Suffolk County Council’s bill for mileage is the seventh highest in the country at £6.3m.
First, the bill for tea. Probably about half the employers in Britain pay for tea and coffee at work and across all the employees who benefit it is going to be a very small perk.
The council says it it is financed from the £3 a day employees pay for car parking. That is sophistry. Many people have to pay for public car parks when they go to work and an all day ticket for the Portman Road car park around the corner from Endeavour house is £4.50.
In the normal scheme of things such spending on drinks would go unremarked, but the council appeared mean-minded when it cut school crossing patrols across the county to save little more than twice the tea and coffee bills.
Many business do cut small perks when they have the need to make savings, although they can be counter-productive if they further damage already low employee morale. However, it often has to be done partly because of the message it sends to the customers/taxpayers.
Cutting back on mileage can also hurt morale especially if managers are forced into questioning every mile on an expenses claim. Trust can be seriously damaged.
Suffolk is a large, rural area and mileage is naturally going to be relatively high. A note on the figures given by the Taxpayer’s alliance suggests that some action has been taken with the stopping of lump sum payments at the end of October last year.
The more significant thing to emerge from the TPA figures for 2008/09 and 2009/10 is that some authorities cut mileage spending while others did not.
In Suffolk county we see a rise of £168,000 which would almost have paid for the school crossing patrols for a year.
Forest Heath, Ipswich Borough, Mid Suffolk and Waveney councils all managed to reduce their mileage payments in the same period between them cutting their bills by around £87,000.
Both stories cast further doubt on Suffolk’s spurious claim to be one of the most cost-efficient councils in the country. While both can be delicate labour relations matters (does Suffolk County Council have the skills to manage such issues well?) the overwhelming impression is that the council is failing to look after the pennies….
And that leaves us worrying about their ability to manage the pounds.
Media commentator Roy Greenslade finds a bright spot among the latest sales figures for regional newspapers. While some have sales falls of 10% and more compared with a year ago, those in Suffolk and Norfolk are doing pretty well.
There were just three risers – the Dundee Evening Telegraph (publisher: DC Thomson), up 3.4%, and Archant’s two Norwich titles, the Eastern Daily Press and its evening partner, which each put on 0.5%. Their Ipswich titles [East Anglian Daily Times and Evening Star] were not too bad either, down about 3% apiece. So well done to Archant.
Archant is based in Norwich. I am not sure whether it is a reflection of quite how poor many regionals have become, or that in East Anglia we are slower to loose the newspaper reading habit.
I am growing more and more frustrated with the East Anglian Daily Times. Today it has a story about bus service cuts in Woodbridge. It is less complete than a post by Caroline Page, the local Lib Dem County Councillor on her blog five days ago.
There are many local stories I am seeing on blogs and Facebook which just don’t get into the paper. If they do they are often late.
Can it be that they don’t use a news reader to discover what is being said on the internet? Hard to believe, but it most be true. The only other explanation is that they have forgotten the importance of timely news.
Suffolk County Council’s decision to remove a petition calling for chief executive Andrea Hill to take a pay cut on the grounds that it was not “not within the legal power of the council to process” is cobblers.
Hill is among the highest paid council chiefs in the country on a salary of £218,592 a year plus the £49,183 that Suffolk council tax payers put into her pension pot.
Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has insisted that he will no longer tolerate salaries higher than the prime minister’s basic pay of £142,500.
And only yesterday The Guardian reported that the government said “town halls could still avoid some service cuts by reducing chief executive pay….”
So, the signatory to the Suffolk petition ,who has written complaining to Mr Pickles, should get a sympathetic response. But she may not have so much luck with her approach to David Cameron, who has stopped the petitions area of the Downing Street website.
Wordblog had its origins as a media blog before I retired. Since then there have been several small attempts to revive it but I just could not find the subject which would work. Local affairs seemed interesting at times but I could not a rationale, or audience, which would make it worthwhile.
That changed on Monday evening when I went to Winston school room to hear Andrea Hill, chief exec of Suffolk Council Council talk about local government in an age of austerity. This is something which needs a much bigger debate than it has been getting, and that debate should not be only on the terms dictated by the council through its consultations.
The job of blogs, certainly the sort I write, is to engage in and foster debate. Certainly I achieved that with Wordblog in its media guise. The trade press included it in its list of the 12 most influential media blogs in the UK.
Successful blogging requires people to read and comment on your own posts. At the same time you must go out and comment on other blogs. You link to sources of information and comments whether on other blogs or elsewhere, in newspapers for example.
So, I find myself now looking for others with whom to engage in the conversation which is at the heart of blogging. This is how I came to be looking at blogs at the East Anglian Daily Times.
This leads me to revert to my media blogging days. Back in October 2006 I asked: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs? The response was immediate and I followed-up with several more posts on the topic. I like to think I played a part in rethinking the important role of blogging in national newspapers.
Now I am looking for East Anglian blogs with which to engage and naturally considered those on the East Anglian Daily Times site. There are eight of them and they bring me back to the question: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs.
- The Psyclist — last updated September 2010
- Unspun — a bit better with three posts this month
- North Stander — two posts this month
- StUs blog — three posts this month
- Flying with Witches — the author announces “2011 and I’m back”. Nothing since then and the previous post was last September. This blog comes up on an Evening Star page.
- Take One — The last post, in April last year asks: Has Hollywood run out of ideas? The author Andrew Clark clearly has.
- Unmissable — last post in September last year. Obviously become a couch potato.
- Dines Days — Surely there has been something to blog about from parliament since July 7 last year. Compare with Nick Robinson’s blog at the BBC.
Perhaps this was an EADT thing so I took a look at the Evening Star in Ipswich. Much the same state of affairs there. Even EdBlog, by the editor Nigel Pickover who has written excellent posts in the past, has been silent since October last year.
The picture at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich the picture is much the same. All three newspapers have the same over Archant, so it looks as if this has something to do with overall editorial direction.
In the four years since I asked the purpose of blogging in national newspapers there has been real progress. Blogs now provide a two-way conduit though which they engage with their readers.
Today I have some sympathy for the politburo and apparatchiks of Suffolk Country Council which is planning to turn county hall into a giant buying department. It wants to buy in all the services it provides.
The East Anglian Daily Times has today fearlessly posed the questions it believes the citizens of Suffolk want answering.
Here is question 4:
Does Suffolk County Council have the general leadership knowledge, experience and capacity for the scale and pace of changes proposed – and their implications, including unanticipated events?
Is there leadership knowledge, experience and capacity in Suffolk County Council to work through all the detail of the changes in a partnership way with council staff, service users, voluntary organisations and potential service providers?
How will the council build support for what is proposed?
Of course, they will hold up their hands and say “No. We don’t have the expertise to do this. We are going to have to employ consultants at the cost of zillions to do it for us.”
All the questions are just as woolly and can only lead to “political” answers.
For example, on the subject of children at risk and families in need it asks if the council has “anticipated the impacts” and what does it think these will be.
I think I can hazard a guess at the reply: “We have considered the impacts which will be a better service provided by private and charity sector providers as a lower cost of council tax payers.” Something along those lines but probably dressed up with more jargon.
The one thing the questions show is that the editor of the EADT, Terry Hunt, who wrote them, is no John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman. We probably don’t want their aggressive style but we do need clear questions which make political waffle obvious.
There are questions that need asking. They should be incisive. I imagine Suffolk CC is looking closely at the London borough of Barnet (Easy Council) whose “no frills” policy is costing more than it is saving, according to the Guardian.
As for Suffolk, I want the local daily paper to ask much tougher questions which suggest they have really thought about what the voters want to know. It is the job of newspapers to hold councils to account, not to toss them easy balls.
The trouble is that in trying to be impartial the EADT is looking like a plant at a press conference tossing in the easy questions provided by the spin machine.
A ring on the doorbell today took me back to my early days as a reporter. A pleasant young man from the East Anglian Daily Times arrived to tell me that the paper was doing a editorial supported circulation drive in the area.
He said that they had done research earlier this year and had found — would you believe it! — that people felt there was not enough local news in the paper. So they were going to base a reporter in the area and would I buy a ten-week reduced rate subscription at £1.75 a week?
I was immediately taken back to my days on the Western Daily Press when under editor Eric Price it was building circulation. It went from around 11,000 to nearly 75,000 in a few years. With that experience in mind, I suggested that the EADT would need to maintain the better local coverage if they hoped to keep an circulation gains.
They certain need gains with the figures down from 44,755 (ABC) in 1999 to 30,332 in the first half of this year. On a rough calculation they have lost a third of sales in a little over 10 years.
I just hope there has been a change of heart at Archant, owners of the EADT, who I recorded cut a further 20 jobs from the East Anglian Daily Times and its sister paper, the Evening Star, in January last year.
Ever the optimist, I signed up for the reduced rate subscription.