Councils blow a fortune on calling the speaking clock

Watch salesmen should do a brisk business round the council offices of the North East after it's been revealed that staff from four local authorities up that way blew £2,500 on calling the speaking clock.

The BT service costs 31p a minute from a landline, though it's free online, but staff at Newcastle, Durham, Northumberland and North Tyneside councils have blown the equivalent of calling the service constantly for five days.
It really is unbelievable. And at a time when, no doubt, they are seeing colleagues and maybe even themselves laid off as their councils try to save money.

On top of this, they spent a further £50,000 calling premium rate phone numbers, despite claiming they had systems in place which prevented such calls. Maybe they want to check the small print on the service contract there, particularly the bit where it says, 'this service will not block premium rate calls'.

They should all head down the road to South Tyneside council which has an automatic bar on all phones ringing the clock service. They could even take some sandwiches for the visit and make a day of it.

At Newcastle City Council, a spokesman said premium rate calls to services like the speaking clock or directory inquiries could only be made with a manager's consent. Cue new managers.

Of course there are many excuses being trotted out by these councils as to how this waste occurred. You know, new telephony services, engineers testing equipment, renegade staff, aliens, that sort of thing.

Maybe all those are true but what the councils fail to see is how this all looks to the taxpayer. The taxpayer who gets nothing but a fortnightly bin collection to show for a regular and expensive contribution to the council coffers.

I don't know why I'm surprised at this because every new day brings yet another sorry tale of council waste that beggars belief. Yesterday there was Bury council buying iPads for the binmen and today it's calling the speaking clock like a lovesick teenager.

Give us strength.

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