Minister to challenge councils on 'non-jobs'

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The Independent Online

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will go to war on "council non-jobs" today in a strongly-worded speech challenging local authorities over whether all their staff are providing value for taxpayers' money.

Citing recent adverts for posts including "cheerleading development officer", "audience development officer" and "communications waste strategy officer", Mr Pickles will suggest that councils looking for savings could scrap jobs like these to protect frontline services.

And he will pledge to put all spending over £500 by his department on the internet - just as he has demanded councils do - so that voters can assess whether it is value for money.

Addressing the Local Government Association in Bournemouth, Mr Pickles will say councils could save money by sharing planning departments, lawyers or communications departments, and by combining their purchasing power when looking for deals with suppliers.

Savings could also be made by preventing duplication of effort by chief executives and executive leaders in the same council, he will suggest.

Mr Pickles will say: "Like the Prime Minister has said, we need to 'rip off that cloak of secrecy and extend transparency as far and as wide as possible', so that people no longer think Government has something to hide.

"And it's not limited to spending. Putting jobs on your website not only shows local people where their money is going.

"It will also enable them to question whether those jobs are really needed at all.

"What does an 'audience development officer' do? Is a 'cheerleading development officer' what taxpayers want? One council is even advertising for someone to spin for their bins last week.

"I wonder whether their residents actually want a 'communications waste strategy officer' or whether they'd prefer a few more bin men."

And he will ask: "Is it really right, in this day and age, to have separate planning departments? Lawyers? Communications teams?

"Wouldn't it be better if people were working together?

"That's especially important for the highest levels and the most expensive people... Couldn't chief execs bring more to the table by working across boundaries, rather than replicating what the leader should be doing?"

Mr Pickles will also promise a plan shortly to shake up his own Department for Communities and Local Government.

"Previously it worked to make town halls deliver for Whitehall," he will say.

"Now we want to free you to deliver for the public.

"We're not going to be micromanaging, second-guessing, and interfering in your affairs any more. We're going to get on and let you get on with it."

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It is great that Eric Pickles is acknowledging the problem of wasteful non-jobs.

"Far too often taxpayers' money is spent on absurd and unnecessary jobs because managers choose to build up personal empires at taxpayers' expense.

"To rebalance the books we have got to instil a culture throughout the public sector where they only do what is essential and necessary to serve the public.

"It is now down to councillors to take greater control of their organisations and start stamping out wasteful spending."