Friday, 10 July 2009
Televisions: The Real Scandal
The Barnet Times has reported a row between Don’t Call Me Dave and Mike Freer over the investigation into the council’s £90,000 purchase of flat screen televisions and audio visual equipment.
Predictably, Freer is trying to divert attention from the real scandal by concentrating instead on the cost of the investigation - reported to be £9,000. This is undoubtedly a significant amount of money, but the investigation could have been entirely avoided if the council had simply told the truth from the start.
Don’t Call Me Dave repeatedly asked officers to show him the documentation authorising the purchase of flat screen television sets for Leo Boland, Emer Coleman and three other officers, yet they refused to do so. Thanks to the auditor’s investigation, we now know why. Councillors had not bothered to ask for details as to how the money earmarked for the refurbishment of North London Business Park was being spent. They just gave them a pot of money and told them to get on with it.
Freer claims that buying the audio visual equipment: “actually saved money as it meant the council no longer had to hire in specialist equipment.” What nonsense! Anyone with even just a modicum of business acumen knows that spending £90,000 to save £4,400 in annual hire charges is nothing short of stupid. No private business would ever make a capital purchase with a twenty year payback period when the equipment only has a lifespan of perhaps five years at best. On top of this, taxpayers will now have to pick up the bill for maintenance, repairs and insurance which were previously paid for by the hire company.
The council seems keener on defending its wasteful bureaucrats than looking for real savings. Whilst council tax and waste are being cut by many good Conservative authorities across London, in Barnet both are on the rise.
For the £70,000+ a year Mike Freer receives from the public purse, he should roll up his sleeves, cut out the business class air fares and tackle the culture that leads to council staff thinking that it is ok to spend £90,000 without making any effort to ensure value for money or check prices with others. If it was their own money, officers would scour the internet for the best price - why don't they do that when it is our money?
Elderly residents facing the demise of their warden service will not be impressed that Freer thinks spending £14,000 on televisions is a good use of public resources. If he attacked waste with the same gusto as he attacks Don’t Call Me Dave, our Council Tax would be going down not up.