Just say “No”

Yesterday I was asked to speak to a ruling group of Councillors – not in Wokingham. They wanted my advice on how to cut their budget more.

I asked if they had imposed a staff freeze to take advantage of natural wastage. They said they had, but then confessed that in the case of the last four posts that had become empty they had allowed the officers to fill from outside recruitment. They need to say “No” to any such requests. If the post is essential, recruit from within.

I asked if they had closed off the temporary staff and consultancy routes that some Council officers to use to thwart staff number controls. They were hazy about that. They need to terminate temp and consultancy contracts wherever possible.

I asked if they had forced a de-stock on supplies. They had not. They should impose immediate restrictions on ordering and purchasing, until they are satisfied stocks have been brought down and cash freed.

They confirmed that their staff turnover is still running at 5.7% leaving every year, so it gives plenty of scope to cut costs and improve exisiting staff members prospects of promotion.

I was pleased to learn this morning that at the MOD new officials are being brought in as bosses with the remit of controlling defence procurement costs. There are cuts I want to see in the defence budget. The sooner we get out of Afghanistan the better. We cannot afford a war in our current financial plight. We could also bring the army home from Germany. The army is overstetched, so why not leave continental European defence to the European continentals. We need to concentrate on home islands defence, maritime and expeditionary. If we withdraw from Afghanistan and from Germany we could run with a smaller army for a bit by recrutiing fewer new people whilst we rebuild our financial strength.

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40 Comments

  1. nonny mouse
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    OK, lets take this one step further.

    In the coming parliament, whenever a MP dies, or leaves the house for some other reason, lets not replace him/her until the next election. The plan is to reduce the number of MPs anyway.

    Same for cabinet ministers. There are far too many of them too. Oh wait, that breaks your 'better promotion prospects' argument.

  2. Lucy Parfait
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Very sensible ideas. I am absolutely sure that almost all local and central government could function better with fewer chair polishers to make more rules and more paperwork and more costs and more delays etc etc.

    Even more sensible is getting out of a pointless, illegal and un-winnable war in Afghanistan. Having our troops stationed in Germany has been ridiculous for 20 years. I'd go further and forbid having our armed forces permanently based anywhere but sovereign UK territory.

    Looking forward to Chancellor Redwood.

  3. Paul Round
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I served in RAF Germany during the Cold War and have never understood why elements of the Army remained in Germany after the it ended. .About 20,000) remainthere, with no air support, defending nothing.My cousin, a serving army officer, declares that the training facilities there are better than the UK.Why then are there so many deployments to train in Canada?Others say there is insufficient barrack accommodation in the UK.This is patent nonsense.For years, as RAF bases have closed, the Army has taken them over.Now the MoD is selling off RAF bases it closes, such as Coltishall in Norfolk.This alone could house a brigade and its HQ..The 2 carriers are a white elephant, absorbing colossal sums.We need shoals of small, fast ships that can protect our sea lanes and catch pirates and drug smugglers. With decent air to air refuelling facilities, air power can be projected anywhere in the world to back up amphibious operations, which still need organic helicopter support, an area we are woefully lacking, as events in Afghanistan have demonstrated.

    • Bob
      Posted June 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Are you sure we can project air power around the world without carriers?

      • Paul Round
        Posted June 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        In 1982 we were able to send bombers on a 20000 mile round trip to the Falklands.Technology has moved on since then.Carriers need escorts and are intensely vulnerable as well as vastly expensive.Out of 2 vessels, one will always be in refit and therefore unavailable

    • Mark
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      We may have some important Falklands interests to protect. I assume we can still decide where to drill out there without reference to Obama. We might even sell him some of the oil if he's nice about it.

  4. A.Sedgwick
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I am not surprised how financially dumb some councils are.

    Better late than never but glad to see your comments on Afghanistan and Germany – get our Forces out PDQ. It should also be aforerunner of us becoming a much less prominent country in international matters – quite simply we cannot afford it.

  5. shaun
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Lets do the same with all tiers of politics:
    1) Cut the EU overhead/ contributions or withdraw.
    2) Do not replace sitting MP's as they retire/resign are made redundant:- the short term voting rights of the empty seat should be taken over by a nearby (same party) serving MP.
    3) Lets see the headcount fall in the commons/parliament-particularly where productive output is a moot point. (most law is eu driven).
    4) We could look to close most embassies in most EU countries, except recent joiners.
    5) Cap legal aid to all except where the public benefit is served by the case. Endless appeals are in no-ones interest.
    6) wrt to the mod, perhaps , we should be radical and consider much deeper co-operation with the US/EU/NATO and remove whole tiers. Should we retain a expeditionary capability independent of the above.
    7) Cap the amount of out of work benefits to a level which supports incentivises work and a level of independence and the public good. End the something for nothing culture.

    • Mark
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 12:36 am | Permalink

      1) and 4) are mutually contradictory. Either you believe that the future is and should be Brussels, or that the EU will diminish as nations reassert themselves. If you don't want Brussels, it becomes essential to have close connections with national governments and oppositions to help make it happen.

      • shaun
        Posted June 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Agreed to an extent.
        But i cant influence whether we are in the EU or not. We should cut accordingly, but the world has got smaller with better communications so less need for highly paid 'overseas' based embassies when the work could be done potentially in the UK. Think outsourcing to India in reverse.

  6. Jask
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Germany has substantially better training areas than the UK, many of which are required for current ops – and have already been paid for by the UK tax payer. It is actually cheaper to keep these units in Germany than the UK, and provides a better training environment for them. I think it would be wise to refer to the MoD's comparative estimates before talking of relocating German-based units to the UK.

    • backofanenvelope
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      We could just ferry troops out to use the training areas – as we do in Canada and Kenya, and indeed, the USA

    • Paul Round
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Mod's figures are not to be relied on.They write the conclusion first, then the paper.It is nonsense to suggest keeping units in Germany is cheaper than the UK, quite apart from foreign currency considerations

      • Jask
        Posted June 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        It isn't nonsense to suggest that – perhaps you should actually do some research. The Germany-based units are some of the heaviest in the Army, in equipment, manpower, training, operational and resource terms. They are the Army's conventional war-fighting core. They need large training areas of thousands of acres + varied terrain + tank and arty ranges + large-force inter unit training areas. The UK units are mostly light and expeditionary. Relocating the German-based units to the UK would cost a fortune and degrade their effectiveness. It is not easy ferrying heavy armour and everything else out to Canada for large scale exercising, it would also be massively costly. It is a shame that so many commenters here have little or no experience to make an informed comment, and yet still think they should offer their opinion.

        • Paul Round
          Posted June 16, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Your remarks show how wedded you are to an Army presence in Germany still fighting the Cold War.Heavy units, such as you describe, are largely outdated and inflexible, as well as obsolescent as Dreadnoughts.Lighter, more flexible forces, already being advocated by the less hidebound middle-ranking officers of the Army, are the future.
          As to the units still in Germany, they take their turn in tours of Afghanistan, which they could do equally well from the UK .I think you will find that the forthcoming SDR will render your arguments redundant

  7. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Might I also suggest low level cost cutting as well?

    The firm I used to work for went through deep cost cutting at one stage. You could only have a new red biro if you handed in the old dead one. Everybody had to give up their 'squirrel stocks' of forms and copy/print paper (one the promise of rapid order fulfilment). Yes, these are trivial savings (a few thousand pounds for medium size firms) but they encouraged the mindset of justifying need rather than carelessly reaching into the everlasting cookie jar.

    Oh yes. We also banned officially provided tea and biscuits at meetings. Bring your own, or go without. Who needs long meetings anyway?

  8. English Pensioner
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I think many councillors are being bullied by their officials. I was talking to one the other day, and it seems that officials always justify spending the money on the grounds that they may be sued..
    Usually "Health and Safety" is the justification:- "we must do that or if something goes wrong we might be sued" The other seems to be to try to persuade the Councillors that they could be personally liable if they did something that was against the advice of their "qualified" officials. I gather one Councillor is thinking of resigning because he could not afford to take any personal liability, and doesn't believe in what he is effectively being blackmailed into doing.

  9. Richard1
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Do you agree with the last Govt's argument – which seems to be supported by the Coalition – that the army's presence in Afghanistan is essential to the preservation of our security in the UK & that to leave would jeopardise that security? If not why not?

  10. StevenL
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I don't agree with you on recruitment freezes versus redundancies. Going down your route reduces the chances strike action, but does nothing to eliminate waste and non-jobs.

    On top of that, terminating thousands of temp jobs nationwide, preventing new temp jobs being created for years on end and a few year long freeze on new recruitment just shafts the young people who's plight you raised in your last post.

    Your policy will create a massive youth unemployment problem, whilst doing nothing to tackle the waste that exists as a legacy of Prescotts time in charge of local government.

  11. Dick the Prick
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    We're in the dastardly unfortunate position of having lost control of our council because of a Lib/Lab coalition after we'd been in for a few years. Needless to say we took some incredibly difficult decisions about single status employment contracts, left balances in a remarkably healthy state, reorganized senior management, initiated regeneration projects (with no dependancy on the RDA) and now, well, now we're sitting on our hands and doing opposition strategizing.

    The perennial Tory problem – sort it all out and then get blamed for not burning cash on relatively useless stuff. Anyway, we've got our summer back, I can do my house up, there are health issues with some of the party and they can now stop being idiots and concentrate on that and we can tidy up and reassess our options. Needless to say, senior officers have been 'prevented' from talking to us. All a bit odd really – got a Tory(ish) government but don't really have any work to do. Sure it'll work out but really rather irritating.

    Cheers John, will keep an eye on such stuff and monitor how little heed our 'new' coalition attends to them. On a rather standard note – the level of hatred between our Libs & Labs does give rise to significant comedy value and their sheer amateurish ability is quite depressing.

  12. Geoff not Hoon
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Unless I read it wrongly were Brighton Council not in the news this week advertising for FOUR strategy directors at £125,000 each to lead the effort to save £20m. of Council spend. Any guess's what the real cost of four such posts will be and can anyone tell me what the folk who dreamed up the jobs are doing apart from writing internal emails justifying why they dont personally have the time (or interest) to do the work themselves. When it comes to saving's, like every previous cut back/recession it will be those doing the work at the sharp end that will be culled whilst the people responsible for the overspending and waste rise up the organisation or move to even more lucrative posts in other tax payer funded posts..

  13. DBC Reed
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Homeland defence only.Who's going to disagree with that? We cannot afford the House of Lords either.Kabong: an end to the tedious debate about Lords reform.
    There should be very many fewer MP's .I live in Northampton which has two MP's.Kettering; Wellingborough : Daventry have different MP's.Why? Are there interests any different ?We should ,out in the sticks, get back to so many MP's per county representation (possibly with some true proportional representation).

  14. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    All we ladies in our group have been active in the field of business over the years and have run charitable organisations and committees using much the same criteria since.
    It amazes us that the principles of economy and value and sheer common sense are so lacking at all levels of government. In the upper echelons shouldn't prospective ministers and senior councillors be required to sit before a panel of business and financial people to ensure they understand the principles and are up to the job?

    Just a couple of points about your new Comments layout and system:

    1. We found it useful previously to have our comment posted on our own screen whilst it was awaiting scrutiny. Is this possible again?

    2. Our Home Page is set up with our 6 major reference sites, including the rolling latest feature items on each. This is still so with all the other sites but for some reason we're stuck with the same headlines on your site as the day you made the switch. Is it us or something with the new system?

    Reply: I will ask what they have done . I do not see what you see, clearly.

    • THE ESSEX GIRLS
      Posted June 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks. Much appreciated.
      Your site has always been the most user-friendly one we use and these are minor irritations, but worth correcting if possible we feel.

    • Mark
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      I agree your 1. Re: 2. you might like to try deleting site cookies and trying again. I don't have the problem you see.

    • StevenL
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 2:28 am | Permalink

      Change is good, it looks more modern, the product lifecylcle etc. All a good thing!

  15. George
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    If we keep contracting with cuts surely this is going to send us into recessionj. There is real fear and a deep sense of uncertainty in the public sector at the moment. This is causing people stress and is also causing them to refrain from spending money.

    My concern is how do we make efficency savings but maintain peoples wellbeing but also maintain their confidence in spending.

    • StevenL
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 2:29 am | Permalink

      Recession is inevitable, too much spending (public and private) was brought forward.

      It's time to face up to reality!

  16. Ex Liverpool Rioter
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Ah John
    I see Cheery, chubby Ken Clake has hit on the idea of NOT locking up crimo's….He sez that when he was Home Sec he got away with only 45,000 in nick.

    So, we can now expect the prisons to flood 45,000 back to the streets?

    BTW John, we getting "It cost £40,000 a year to lock up someone…"

    How much to house them ?……..how much for other benafits?

    how much to detect their new crimes?…….How much to catch them?…….How much to try them…….how much in thier legal costs…?

    Mike

    • StevenL
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 2:31 am | Permalink

      Weekend prisons are the way forward. You lose your weekend for 6 or 12 months under threat of a suspended 6 or 12 month prison sentence.

      Obviously, dangerous criminals do not qualify, and hang the likes of the Ian Huntley in future.

  17. nonny mouse
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    Maybe the feed changed?

    The feed button on the right of this page points to http://feeds.feedburner.com/JohnRedwoodsDiary

    I'm guessing that somewhere on the ladies page points to this or an older version of this.

  18. nonny mouse
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    There were already plans to reduce the army in Germany announced by the last government.

    Doing a quick Google for numbers I found articles saying it was reduced from 22,000 to 20,000 in 2006 and a further reduction to 15,000 was announced in 2007, to take place between 2009 and 2014. As with all Labour government figures they probably need checking for double counting.

    The Army units in Germany are effectively a reserve. If not, they would have been sent to the middle east by now. On first glance it does seem like common sense to move them all back to the UK, but I'm guessing that there are higher level political issues.

    Our prescence in Germany is important to holding NATO together and NATO is a key part of our national defence – our army is too small to take on any major war alone. Leaving Germany might encourage the USA to leave Europe, and without the USA in NATO the rest of Europe would be even less ready to defend our common interests.

  19. Mike Stallard
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I just want to congratulate you on your sheer commonsense and experience.

    • billyb
      Posted June 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      What is commonsense about excluding Trident costs from examination?

  20. Mark
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Frank Field might recommend re-instituting national service. More Army, not less. The expensive bit is active operations: squaddies' pay and rations are (perhaps shamefully) little more than benefits.

  21. OurSally
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Would it actually be cheaper to move the armed forces from Germany back to the UK? Is not residence abroad a good part of their training? Or is this a prelude to reducing their numbers anyway?

    I work in the defence industry, and we are now feeling the pinch. Projects which were delayed from starting will probably not start at all now. You might think, good thing, we'll save all that money. It isn't saved, though. You need the best kit to be effective; you make it yourselves and keep the money in Europe, or you buy it in the USA. Military projects are long term and high investment; this is the sharp end of development. We are driving the rest.

    And don't say we don't need an army. As long as you have to lock your house when you go to bed, the country needs an army. If the neighbourhood gets dangerous, you get better locks.

    You can subcontract defence to external forces as the Romans did in the end, but we know where that ended. You can subcontract it to your neighbours as the ancient Greeks did, that didn't help them either in the long run. You can subcontract it to NATO, and thus leave it to the French. Would you?

  22. Matt
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    So if there is a vacancy for a trained social worker we should put a potentially redundant engineer in the post?
    And if most of the service is delivered by consultants/contractors (as is the case with a lot of highway services, IT, facilities management across the UK) then we should scrap that immediately?

  23. backofanenvelope
    Posted June 14, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    We should persuade the NATO alliance to return to basics – defence of the NATO lands and adjacent waters. The only additional aims should be maintaining our control of the Falklands and the UK-Falklands route (take back control of Ascension) and Trident.

  24. christina sarginson
    Posted June 15, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Is there not a problem here with the whole philosophy well not the whole one. I agree you need to reduce spending on stationery etc until the stocks are reduced. However, if you want people to leave the public sector and set up with social enterprises how will they be able to do this when the consultancy projects are being reduced? Just wondered!

  25. fedupvoter
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    so where do all these people who cant get jobs inthe public sector get jobs in order to stimulate the economy?

    Banks/non doms/fraudulent mps caused this problem – why are we all getting the blame?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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