Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Barnet Council Bosses - Fat Cats, Monkeys or DoDo's ?

Who runs Barnet Council. Well according to Mike Freer, elected Council leader, it's CEO Leo Boland. When asked how he'd have time to run for Parliament and run the council Freer at the same time he said that Leo Boland did all the work and he was just there to keep an eye on him (or words to that effect). Well as we ponder a £27.5 Million loss of council money in Icelandic banks, we may well wonder if Mike Freer should have kept a rather closer eye on council business (but that's another story).

That is not what I'm writing about here. There have been many comments about the 5 council officers on salaries of over £100,000 per year. All of these guys got themselves nice flat screen tellies for their offices, courtesy of the Taxpayer. Leo Boland leads the way in the Salary stakes on £170,000 per annum. Now to many of us this seems like rather a lot of money. I've seen many comments describing him as a Fat Cat, but is this fair? A good friend of mine runs a recruitment agency, which specialises in public sector appointments. I said "Is £170,000 for a London Borough CEO in Barnet excessive". His reply was to be rather surprised. "No, actually most of them in London are on over £200K per annum". He added that as Barnet was a nicer environment, they could probably get away with paying a bit less than somewhere like Tower Hamlets.

This got me thinking. Brian Coleman said in his column on the Barnet Press that "If you pay Peanuts you get Monkeys". Could it be that rather than the Fat Cat we all thought we had, we have a "Monkey" in the job. I found a report in on the Daily Telegraph website from 2003 stating that £200K salaries are not uncommon for the job. The same report states that Boland's salary rose that year by 22% (not a bad rise). Before the rise in 2003 he was on a meagre £114,000.

Now the justification for the big salary is that you need to pay top dollar to attract the best candidates. Like the advert for the Nationwide, the mythical rival states "You have a big juicy rate to hook em". Well surely we'd already hooked Mr Boland on the "Monkey" salary. Whilst I can see the "juicy worm" logic, surely if we follow Mr Coleman's logic, we hooked a "monkey" and then increased his salary to the Fat Cat level.

Now having proposed the theory that we may have a "monkey" in the job, it is only fair to test the theory. Have we got "Superceo" or do we have a duffer? The only fair way to judge Mr Boland is to see what has happened on his watch. He's the boss so what foreseeable banana skins did he fail to avoid.

First, there was the issue of the Sale of Underhill to BFCH. Now to be honest, I haven't followed this debacle and I don't know the ins & outs. What I do know is that over £1,000,000 of taxpayers money has been spent on auditors fees, court cases, indemnities etc. The question is, if Barnet council's executive had done their job properly could this have been avoided. The answer is Yes. That is without question. If you read any report on the matter, they all say "procedures have been tightened". You pay top dollar wages to avoid failures such as this, and proactively put your procedures in. Then there is the issue of the Tellies on officers desks. In these days of credit crunches and low pay rises for council staff, what message does this send out? You got it "I'm all right jack". That isn't quality leadership to me. There are many similar examples, but the mother of them all is the "Icelandic Bank" debacle. Unless central government (ie Gordon Brown) rides like a knight on a white horse to the rescue, Barnet's finances have been destroyed. The Tories put up the Council Tax by 40% to fix a £10 Million black hole they claimed existed, when they took over from Labour in 2002 (guess who was CEO then). This is nearly three times as bad. You'd better pray Gordon is feeling generous, because if he isn't you'll be looking back fondly on the good old days when council tax raises were merely 40%. Was it avoidable, well I've seen various evidence that shows at dozens of red flags on these investments. Barnet Council and it's top officers missed them all.

President Truman, former US president, used to have a sign on his desk saying "The Buck stops here". I will happily pay for one of these, made from the finest wood, if someone at Barnet Council tells me who to give it to. If you were to ask me whether I thought Boland and his team were "FAT CATS" or "MONKEYS" I'd say no, I think there career's at Barnet should soon be DoDo's. They have failed and we'll all foot the bill for decades, through local or central taxes.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

At long last someone else gets the point about the Underhill scandal. People can blame me as much as they like over the costs, but if the council had acted lawfully in 2002, none of the investigations would have been necessary.

All of the key figures responsible are still in their jobs, but earning vastly inflated salaries. The council says that lessons have been learned, but the truth is they haven’t. The democratic process is abused on a regular basis - the purchase of wide screen televisions being a prime example.

Where I disagree with your otherwise excellent posting Rog, is your suggestion that Gordon Brown should bail out his buddy Mike Freer if we lose some or all of the money frozen in Iceland. It is bad enough that the government has bailed out the banks at our expense, without the kind of scrutiny and debate which we saw in Congress. Why should the general taxpayer now bail out Barnet? Not all councils have been reckless with their money and their taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidise those who have.

It would be really unfair to burden future generations because of the incompetence of the current Administration. If the money is lost (and let us hope that it is not) then we will have to take the hit for it now, and punish those responsible at the ballot box in 2010 if they have not already left the council in shame. Perhaps the government should force all local authorities which have lost money to state quite clearly on future Council Tax bills how much of the charge is to plug the hole in the finances.

Rog T said...


I've thought long & hard about the Brown bailout. Whilst I have many reservations, there are several reasons why I would support it.

1) The regulatory system, which is the responsibility of central Government, should be robust enough to ensure dodgy and speculative investments are illegal. The council owes us a duty of care, which they've failed in, but the system should make it clear that councils should avoid risky schemes.

2) There was no democratic discussion regarding these schemes and no scrutinty by full council. I would suggest that this should leave the officers and cabinet exposed to sanction. The factthey aren't is again a central government failure.

3) The voters of Barnet did not expect a part time Mike Freer administration. This from a man who gets paid more than the average Barnet resident for his responsibilities. In fact they dind't vote for a Mike Freer administration at all.

If we'd elected a part time Mike Freer administration who had debated the policy in full council I would completely agree with your point. I don't think even the blue rinse brigade who run the Barnet Tories really expected their party to sanction this massive punt.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I understood that post Hammersmith & Fulham, it was unlawful for councils to speculate. If the council has been involved in an unlawful act, then the people responsible should be sacked and surcharged.