Council blows £150k on measuring greenery

mowing the grass

Basildon Council in Essex has hired a firm to spend nine months measuring greenery in the borough. It is defending the decision to spend £150,000 on the project.

So does this make the list of the craziest ways councils spend our money?


The Telegraph reported that the idea of measuring the greenery was to enable the council to determine just how much had to be maintained, so it could be included on its tendering documents when hiring contractors. The aim is to ensure there are no problems with the new contracts - after an old contract proved to be a disaster.

The council argues that there's a huge amount of greenery and you can't just take a stab in the dark and guess at how much work is involved. But surely there's a middle way: something that lies between a random guess and a £150,000 project.

You have to ask whether this is the best way to spend money in these testing times - especially given that according to the Daily Mail the last measuring was done in 2008 at a cost of £45,000.

However, if this is going to make the list of the most outlandish ways that councils spend money, then it has some stiff competition.

1. Wages

It's hard to argue that councils shouldn't be able to spend the money they need in order to recruit the talent they need. However, there have to be some limits.

In May it emerged that over 2,500 council staff in the UK are paid more than £100,000. The TaxPayers' Alliance also discovered that 636 were earning more than £150,000, and 42 earned over £150,000. The highest-paid council Chief Executive (excluding those paid redundancy sums) was Derek Myers, Joint Chief Executive of Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea councils, who received £266,911.

2. Junkets

Councils have always had their junkets, but many people would have assumed that these would be one of the first things to go when councils pleaded poverty.

However, last summer a TaxPayer's Alliance survey discovered almost £470,000 was spent by councils in the North East jetting their staff overseas. This included Middlesbrough Council, which spent over £1,700 on flights to Germany for town twinning events.

3. Gifts

In 2011, when the database of council credit card spending was published, an enormous list of 'staff gifts' emerged. Tendring council, for example, spent more than £8,000 on long-service gifts. Their bills included £515 for Tiffany jewellery and £632 for a Gucci purchase. East Lothian, meanwhile, spent over £1,650 on Wiis and Xbox consoles.

4. Perks

More details from the credit card database in 2011 revealed that councils had spent £1.6 million on food and £500k on drinks in the previous three years - entertaining foreign officials, and throwing parties for staff. Brighton and Hove, for example, spent over £1,600 on a networking event in Kensington, West London.


All this is shocking enough, but when you consider the cuts councils are making elsewhere - claiming they don't have the funds to pay for vital services - it becomes even more outrageous.

The Local Government Association warned that if the 2015/16 spending round delivered more funding cuts to councils it would mean many councils would "have to close children's centres, libraries, museums and sports centres, as well as slash pothole fixing budgets, increase bus fares and switch off streetlights between midnight and dawn."

But what do you think? Are local councils unfairly maligned? Have they done a good job of cost cutting? Is their spending just misunderstood? Let us know in the comments.

Where are Britain's highest tax bills?
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Council blows £150k on measuring greenery
St Albans come in second on the list with a total income tax bill of £10,900 per person.
Windsor and Maidenhead came third with a total income tax bill of £10,200 per person.
The Surrey town of Guildford was fourth on the list with a total income tax bill of £9,830 per person.
England's capital city came fifth with a total income tax bill of £8,580 per person.
Wokingham has a total income tax bill of £7,490 per person. Putting it in sixth place.
Dacorum in Hertfordshire comes in joint sixth place with a total income tax bill of £7,490 per person.
The leafy towns of Reigate and Banstead have a total income tax bill of £7,000 per person.
Tonbridge and Malling take joint seventh spot with a total income tax bill of £7,000 per person.
Wycombe comes last in the top ten with a total income tax bill of £6,820 per person.

A small corner of leafy Surrey has taken the top spot in the league table of the highest income tax bills per person. Residents of Elmbridge pay an astonishing £1.18 billion in income tax every year. That puts a number of the major cities in the shade.
The leafy towns of Esher, Weybridge and Walton-on-Thames are filled with mansions, private estates, country clubs, golf courses, and riversides packed with millionaires. The proximity of Chelsea's training ground in Cobham has also brought well-paid sportsmen to the area.


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