Isn’t the TPA railing against “pointless non-jobs” rather hypocritical?

The papers aren’t even trying any more. Once upon a time, they might at least pretend they weren’t simply churning out TaxPayers’ Alliance press releases; today’s articles “Council EU jobs cost £41m” (Express) and “Councils spend £41million a year on non-jobs” (Telegraph) however are utterly shameless about it.

First things first: the TaxPayers’ Alliance report (eurgh, I guess I should link to it) found the cost of all “unnecessary” jobs – in other words, any job Richard Littlejohn might disapprove of – was £41 million. That’s not just European Officers, but Diversity Officers, Political Advisers and Climate Change Officers* too.

The report contradicts itself several times: the TPA point to the fact that different councils employ different numbers of staff as an indication of waste – “the disparities across councils are evidence that the hiring of specific staff is not necessary” – only to later state “As proponents of localism, the TaxPayers’ Alliance believes that local authorities should be granted as much freedom as possible to make decisions that benefit local taxpayers. This will inevitably mean that councils will pursue different policy objectives“. So councils should have as much freedom as they like as long as they only use that freedom to do exactly what the TPA wants?

Their justifications of what exactly makes these jobs useless seems rather flimsy too. “Political advisors: These are employees who are hired to provide political advice and assistance to elected councillors and party groups. The question has to be asked: why do local councillors require such advice?” Yes, why do politicians need advice about politics? I’d rather my politicians were elected and then simply bumbled their way through office without any help!

No evidence is given for the claim that Diversity Officers are pointless. Instead, they just point out that the Equality Act recently came into force, and therefore Diversity Officers are more important than ever – doesn’t really help your argument that they should be axed, guys. They also claim that, again, differences in hiring levels mean the role is useless. Clearly since Derbyshire Dales and West Norfolk get by without a Diversity Officer, Liverpool or the Greater London Authority should too.

Hilariously, their report actually points out that European Officers and Climate Change Officers save councils money. Their argument against hiring European Officers (who incidentally actually do a lot more than just pursue EU grant money) then becomes a flimsy “dissolve the EU” rant – which I’d imagine is a bit beyond the remit of Sunderland City Council – but bizarrely they simply throw in the fact that pursuing environmental policies saved Windsor and Maidenhead Council 15% at the end of their anti-environment spiel.*

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at the data itself.

The first problem is that all the numbers appear to be totally inconsistent. The data has been pieced together from Freedom of Information requests, and it looks like different councils provided the data in different ways. Some simply gave the number of staff, while others gave the “full-time equivalent” numbers – staff who work part time or have multiple remits are counted as fractions of people. Putting the two together produces very misleading results. For example, the TPA points to Birmingham’s 28 diversity officers as a sign of waste – Birmingham City Council’s response however indicates that these are all the people, across all the city’s departments, who have “diversity” in their job description. Likewise, Huntingdonshires’s apparently bizarre 14 political advisors – when no other council hires more than 5 – looks more like a glitch in the data than sign of massive waste.

More importantly though, they don’t provide any context for the data. By pointing solely to the outliers, they gloss over the fact that they sent FoI requests to every council in the UK – all 434 of them, of which 420 replied. Even if we assume that the numbers are entirely accurate, and that mixing full-time equivalence with total numbers hasn’t ruined the data completely, they found a total of 1217 “unnecessary” jobs. On average, that means each council hired one part-time/mixed-remit member of staff working 3 days a week for each role. Some councils – mostly those representing big cities in the north and the densely populated counties around Greater London – hired more, some councils – generally the smaller non-metropolitan districts – hired fewer.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance say they want these roles made part-time, or merged with other jobs, but that councils should ultimately have the last say about hiring staff. Well, according to the TPA’s own data, that’s exactly what happens already.

*The TaxPayers’ Alliance doesn’t outright claim to be denialist, but they call the fact that people are causing climate change an attitude or belief and dismiss government information on the subject as “political propaganda”.

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  1. #1 by MacGuffin on Tuesday, 12th October 2010 - 17:34 UTC

    Good post, as always.

    No mention in the report of the amount of hours wasted by council workers dealing with the TPA’s 433 FoI requests, then?

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