'Pathetic' Tory scheme to save money dumped: Marianne Macdonald reports on a council incentive scheme that failed to meet its money-saving ambitions

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A SCHEME which offered council employees prizes for coming up with ideas to save money has been abandoned because it was such a failure.

The best suggestion the workforce could come up with was: 'Ask the public to come up with some money-saving ideas'. In the absence of anything better, it won the pounds 25 top prize.

The second-best idea, which carried a pounds 10 prize, also showed a marked lack of initiative. It went to the bright spark who suggested using both sides of the paper when making photocopies.

The scheme to encourage clerks and cleaners into saving money was the brainchild of the Conservative-led Barnet Council last year. But it was unceremoniously dropped last week by the Labour group who, in the May elections, gained control of the north London council from the Tories, who had held it for 30 years.

The leader, Alan Williams, did not mince his words. 'It was a pathetic waste of time,' he said.

Only 25 suggestions were made in the time the scheme was in operation. Yet the council employed salaried chief officers and managers specifically to plan funding and control budgets. 'These two ideas were the best the staff managed to come up with all year,' Mr Williams said. 'They were the only ones that were awarded a prize and frankly they didn't earn it.

'The rest of them were along the lines of 'move the kettle nearer my desk, thereby saving time'.

'All local authorites are experiencing funding problems. We employ chief officers to come up with ideas for saving money.

'We do not need the type of daft schemes the Tories came up with. It was suggested at a recent meeting we reinstate the scheme with higher cash incentives, but that defeats the object. And I doubt the ideas would get any better.'

Clearly, the council workers have less originality than some of their colleagues. When council gardeners were sacked and replaced by private contractors in Barnet last year, they planted a rude one-word message to the council in Grahame Park.

'I'm told it was a word that rhymes with hollyhocks,' one of their number said discreetly.

The floral tribute was uprooted by officials and the council - then under Conservative control - refused to comment.