The front page of the Evening Star yesterday was dominated by a picture of a kettle with the single word headline Steaming above it. The story was about the County Council spending £59,095 on tea and coffee for employees in its offices.
Today in the East Anglian Daily Times there is a report, based on figures from the Taxpayer’s Alliance (TPA), saying that Suffolk County Council’s bill for mileage is the seventh highest in the country at £6.3m.
First, the bill for tea. Probably about half the employers in Britain pay for tea and coffee at work and across all the employees who benefit it is going to be a very small perk.
The council says it it is financed from the £3 a day employees pay for car parking. That is sophistry. Many people have to pay for public car parks when they go to work and an all day ticket for the Portman Road car park around the corner from Endeavour house is £4.50.
In the normal scheme of things such spending on drinks would go unremarked, but the council appeared mean-minded when it cut school crossing patrols across the county to save little more than twice the tea and coffee bills.
Many business do cut small perks when they have the need to make savings, although they can be counter-productive if they further damage already low employee morale. However, it often has to be done partly because of the message it sends to the customers/taxpayers.
Cutting back on mileage can also hurt morale especially if managers are forced into questioning every mile on an expenses claim. Trust can be seriously damaged.
Suffolk is a large, rural area and mileage is naturally going to be relatively high. A note on the figures given by the Taxpayer’s alliance suggests that some action has been taken with the stopping of lump sum payments at the end of October last year.
The more significant thing to emerge from the TPA figures for 2008/09 and 2009/10 is that some authorities cut mileage spending while others did not.
In Suffolk county we see a rise of £168,000 which would almost have paid for the school crossing patrols for a year.
Forest Heath, Ipswich Borough, Mid Suffolk and Waveney councils all managed to reduce their mileage payments in the same period between them cutting their bills by around £87,000.
Both stories cast further doubt on Suffolk’s spurious claim to be one of the most cost-efficient councils in the country. While both can be delicate labour relations matters (does Suffolk County Council have the skills to manage such issues well?) the overwhelming impression is that the council is failing to look after the pennies….
And that leaves us worrying about their ability to manage the pounds.