Ken Thornber, leader of Hampshire County Council, is a keen Star reader and notes our readers' laments about rocketing rates.
We publish part of his long justification for rates rises on page four: in summary it is that the Government has withdrawn £48 million over two years from Hampshire's grant. Ken thinks that he and his colleagues cannot save this much and keep our rates from rising. He is no doubt sincere - but sincerely wrong.
I got the following figures about Hampshire County Council's employment numbers, dating from the year 2000/1, when there were 20,848 employed by the County Council, two thousand of them based in "The Kremlin," the vast corporate headquarters at Winchester. The total yearly cost of their wage bill and overheads was £237 million. Don't tell me their numbers could not be drastically cut; that's what a private firm with cash flow problems would HAVE to do. Hugely successful private companies, like Hanson, made a point of running with just a hundred or so people in head office, which is where the least useful work is done.
Private companies who work for the council also have offices at The Kremlin and it is highly unlikely that they will recommend doing nothing. Thus it is that we get an endless stream of silly ideas for blocking off streets, narrowing roads and generally making motorists' lives unpleasant and Hampshire a worse place to do business in .In fact Hampshire's "Blue Ken" is as bad as London's Red Ken in this respect. A colleague was driving with a friend down the A30 dual-carriageway towards The Ely restaurant, and the out of towner remarked that here was a decent bit of road at last. Make the most of it, said my colleague - Blue Ken's boys are about to destroy it and render this bit of road as useless as much of the rest in Hampshire, by reducing it to one lane in each direction.
Another colleague, Cliff Mogg, has suffered from Blue Ken's men meddling in the village of Old Basing, hardly the hub of motoring problems. At least, it wasn't until the HCC brigade moved in with humps, bumps and all the usual baloney, in an area with few pedestrians and no accidents. Now they have installed two large signs warning drivers not to exceed 20 mph- in an area where their idiotic schemes have reduced the maximum speed to 10 mph!
All this costs a great deal of (wasted) money, Mr. Thornber. As with the "all-time most stupid" road chicanes in Elvetham Road, Fleet, which repeated entreaties have failed to get removed (Blue Ken knows best - sforget democracy), it would have been better if well enough had been left alone.
The biggest saving all county councils could make would be to abolish their largely useless but hugely expensive education departments, which duplicate most of that Whitehall does, which in itself is just red tape for its own sake. As a former school governor I can assure you, Mr. Thornber, that schools can manage very well without endless "guidance" and interference from above. In fact they thrive if left alone. That's a major reason why independent schools, with no administrative "tail", do so much better than county controlled schools.
Teachers, like my eldest daughter, rather like being left to teach, instead of being constantly asked for assessments, figures and whether the latest politically correct doctrines from the thought police are being imposed.
Art - so called, for within that title many horrors lurk - is another way in which our money glugs down the drain. Here's a press release from the taxpayer funded Arts Council which brags that south east artiness will consume over £30 million a year shortly with 22 Hants and nine Surrey organisations dipping into the bran tub.
This is just a small addition to the massive handouts all the arts centres, arts trusts, "Art Asia" and the rest already get from a variety of taxpayer-funded budgets. If you want art, pay for it. Stop picking my pocket to pay for your amusement - and councillors, I mean YOU! Providing bread and circuses and tossing subsidies in all directions should no longer be a function of local or central government.
Ken Thornber thinks he cannot cut waste any more. He and his ilk have not even started. If they cannot get to grips with the problem of spending more than people can bear, they should quit and make way for tougher minded people who can, people who know that you "cut your coat according to your cloth."
Meanwhile I'm thinking of applying for the week's cushiest "public service" number, just advertised locally. Blackwater Valley and Hart NHS Primary Care Trust - a Government boondoggle this time - is looking for "smoking cessation community workers."
You will earn £24-£25,000 a year pro rata for an 18.5 hour week, "engaging in meaningful discussions" - the ad really does say that - with "yoof" on the subject of the wicked weed. You know, the unspeakable stuff that the Government makes so much money out of - tobacco. You will need specialist training, of course - three days in London on "smoking cessation."
Any country whose taxpayers keep putting up with this rubbish has suffered a collective common-sense cessation.
Taxpayers, wake up - and revolt!