Councillors up and down the land have been hitching a ride on the gravy train – and the gravy in question is rich, meaty and laced with truffle-oil. Luxury hotels, lavish meals and gifts from high-end retailers abound, along with tables at award ceremonies and champagne receptions.Now it seems there is yet another tranche of spending to investigate at the next level down. The Bristol Post has obtained a breakdown of the City Council's expenditure on payment cards for the past year and it makes very interesting reading indeed (there's a list at the end of the article).
These cards are issued to, among others, senior managers, head teachers and 'managers of residential care homes and social workers who need to supply goods to vulnerable people'. That being so, one could reasonably expect a certain amount to be spent on food, clothing and basic furniture to cover emergencies and there are, indeed, substantial payments to Ikea and Asda.
Likewise, shoes, haircuts, cinema trips and inexpensive restaurant meals for youngsters in Council care would probably not be deemed excessive - though eyebrows might be raised at 'multiple trips to Rileys Snooker Club for pupils at the St Matthias Pupil Referral Unit'.
Some of the payments, however, are rather more baffling: £686 on 'iTunes downloads', for example, and '£44 in what appears to be a tattoo parlour', not to mention...
....a one-off £189.50 payment to Gay Times magazine. The council insisted this figure was incorrect, and it actually spent £33 on a subscription to Diva magazine, a lesbian magazine, for its library service.I should have thought that, in this day and age, you could be a lesbian on the internet for nothing. Certainly the only people I've ever seen reading magazines and newspapers in my local library are elderly gentlemen in flat hats who are not, I assume, 'Diva' magazine's target audience.
Most contentious of all are bills for £100 at Ralph Lauren in Spain and £170 for a pair of Ugg boots. Mention of these items brought the Council to the comment section to explain:
- We've tracked down some more detail: the Ralph Lauren purchase wasn't from Barcelona, it's from their UK website which is billed via Barcelona, and was to buy Christmas presents for children in a residential home. The Ugg boots were another online purchase; to replace a stolen pair which a child in a residential home had got for Christmas.Now I know that children in care are probably having a rough time and, in modern parlance, may need to enhance their self-esteem, but Ralph Lauren? A quick visit to the website in question reveals that the cheapest children's accessory - a baseball cap - will set you back £20. Is it really sensible to endorse and indulge (at public expense) an appetite for designer labels among children who, a few years hence, will have to learn sensible management of a limited budget?
I'm not, of course, advocating Dickensian levels of oppression and uniformity, but surely you don't have to desire the return the workhouse to suggest that gifts should be of a less overpriced and superficial nature (though perhaps the impressive £37,800 - over £3,000 a month - spent on Amazon included books and educational toys; we can but hope!). Some of the comments on the article, however, suggest a very different point of view:
- As I understand it a number of these items were bought for looked after children and the boots to replace some for a child whose boots were stolen. Nothing like making a scandal out of the needs of vulnerable people. The journalist should apologise and give the days salary to charity!
- I can't believe that people on here begrudge a Christmas present for someone in a childrens home and to replace some stolen Ugg boots for a child in a childrens home.Try as I might, I can't quite square designer clothing and £170 Ugg boots with 'the needs of vulnerable people'. While it is reasonable that children in care should receive gifts where culturally appropriate, I would never buy Ralph Lauren branded goods for my own children and I have every sympathy with taxpayers objecting to such wanton extravagance being exercised on their behalf.
As for the stolen boots, there are not enough details to make a judgement, but was it really necessary to replace them (assuming they were indeed the genuine article - '99% of all Uggs on ebay are fakes') with something expensive enough to be a liability in a communal setting? Unless council staff were to blame, there is surely no obligation on the taxpayer to do so.
All in all, it looks rather like someone here is playing Fairy Godmother at other people's expense and enjoying a nice warm glow of generosity while the public foots the bill.
An explanation of sorts is, perhaps, to be found in this, from the same author as the second comment quoted above:
There are families around Bristol that have caused trouble. Property has been damaged, anti social behaviour has caused problems and this has perpetuated over time.
Now lets look at the costs. Council repairing property, council sending officers to sort out anti social behaviour, legal costs with bringing asbos, legal costs when pursuing broken asbos, court costs, prison costs and all of the officer costs to do the above, plus the police costs and the unquantifiable cost of the effect on neighbours and the local community.
So now lets look at the programme. It's a high touch programme where council officers help these families change behaviour through the provision of support. The programme has been massively successful and all of the behaviour and costs that I listed above have been dramatically reduced. So the public sector has found a far cheaper way of dealing with problem families.Revealing, I think you'll agree. It will be interesting to have a look at Bristol's crime figures in a few years' time to see how effective this strategy has proved - particularly if this exposure means the supply of Council-funded goodies dries up.