Tuesday 9 December 2008

Miller makes a mistake?

Unlike politicians who never make any mistakes whatsoever, we mere mortals do occasionally slip up. I have always said that if there are any inaccuracies in my blog, I will gladly correct them. It is with this in mind that I must alert you to a possible mistake in a previous story.

On 20th November, I published a blog Boland’s Boston Bonanza regarding soon-to-be-ex Chief Executive Leo Boland’s trip to Boston to attend the BT Vital Vision conference. The article stated that, unbeknown to us all, Mr Boland had attended the conference last year with council leader Mike Freer.

However, according to as yet uncorroborated comments published on the London Daily News website, it seems that Boland did not go last year with Freer, but attended this year on his own.

So how did I make such a basic mistake? Well, the council had previously provided details of Boland’s expenses for the year ending 31st March 2008 which included £1,548.60 spent attending the Boston junket conference. I must confess, dear readers, that I simply assumed he went last year. Given the controversy when details of Mike Freer’s trip first broke, it never occurred to me that the council would be so contemptuous of public opinion as to send someone else this year.

But was the mistake in my previous blog relevant? No, because the essential part of the story was not that Boland had gone to America with Freer but that Boland had gone to America and nobody knew about it. That charge remains.

The council says that they didn’t have to tell anyone because the cost was paid for from the officers training budget. This raises two issues:

First, to the 53 councillors who are not members of the cabinet. How worthless do you feel knowing that the Chief Executive can fly off to America and you are kept in the dark. Maybe you would have approved of the trip. Maybe not. But don’t you think that, at the very least, you should have been consulted?

Don’t you think you should have been entitled to question the validity of this trip given that Freer went last year?

Second, to the junior and middle ranking officers of Barnet council. How do you feel knowing that the budget set aside for you to improve your skills and qualifications has been used to send the chief executive to an overseas conference? Are you happy being told to accept a below inflation pay rise when the Chief Executive flies off to America without asking permission and his deputy Brian Reynolds jets down to the South of France?

The London Daily News’ source of information is an unnamed and barely literate ‘spokesman’ for Barnet Conservatives. He or she claims that Boland attended a different course to Freer. This is simply not true. If you download the programme guide from the BT web site, you will see that the document was produced in 2004. BT have been running the same course for years. If there is any doubt, let Boland and Freer produce their course notes so that we can compare them.

The spokesman says the council were not trying to hide anything. So why did they initially refuse to release the information? If they are not trying to hide anything, perhaps they will now tell us whether Boland made a second trip to America. You will recall that Mike Freer went to Boston in March 2007 and to San Francisco the following October. Did Boland also go to Frisco?

Since August 2007, the world has been sliding into recession. Everyone in the private sector has been tightening their belts. What possible justification can there be for the council to waste taxpayers money in this way?

As I have said many times, the public’s contempt for politicians is growing. It is up to the ordinary councillors in Barnet to now speak out and say “enough is enough.” The council’s Audit Committee must investigate how the chief executive was able to fly off at our expense to a conference which Freer had already attended.

I regret that my original blog contained an inaccurate statement. But I make absolutely no apology for bringing details of this obscene extravagance to the public’s attention. If councillors do not take immediate action to curb the excesses of the Executive and the chief officers then, come election time, the public will be entitled to ask what on earth is the point in voting? The gravy train departing from North London Business Park must be decommissioned forthwith.


Anonymous said...

£1,500 or thereabouts is hardly an "obscene extravagance" David.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Dear Anon

Barnet won’t go broke over £1,500 - I accept that, but that’s not the point. It cannot be right that the chief executive can fly off to America without councillors knowing. Who is in charge here? Even if Mr Boland didn’t legally need their permission, it is the height of arrogance just to go without saying anything.

It is actually made worse by the fact that Mike Freer attended the same conference last year. Wasn’t Freer debriefed when he returned? I just don’t see what the council gets out of two people attending the same conference in consecutive years. What does BT get out of this?

If Boland attended the second conference as well, then the cost rises to around £5,000. Still not enough to break the bank, but totally inappropriate in the current climate. What is the point of Mike Freer proposing to privatise services to cut costs if, at the same time, money is being wasted by chief officers.

Rog T said...

Dear Anon,
£1,500 may be a pittance to you. Ask an OAP on state pension, an unemployed person on Job seekers allowance or a council worker on an average wage if they think it's obscene extravagance.

I know it looks different in the Ivory Tower, but to some people it is several months money.

Anonymous said...

Rog T. If spending £1,500 makes Barnet a better council then it's money well spent. It's called investment.

Anonymous said...

I am sure the council do not have to publish everything from Leo Bolands training budget which is where I am assuming this money came from!

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Dear Anon 15:52

Do councillors need to be told when an officer buys a box of paper clips? No, of course not. Was the training budget intended to be used for the chief executive to fly to a conference in America? I very much doubt it.

The chief executive is unlike any other officer in the council and if he is going to be away from his job, then councillors have a right to be informed. At the very least, it is common courtesy. Boland is a public servant and in the old days, the chief executive knew his place and was answerable to the councillors. Now it seems to be the other way around.

If the council is happy to spend our money sending officers abroad, why not be open and honest about it? It took three attempts before the council reluctantly released this information.

It was an open secret that Boland had been looking for another job for some time. It was an absolute waste of our money sending him to America. Barnet will not get the benefit - if any benefit was ever possible. Perhaps Boris will reimburse us?