As the furore continues over budget cuts at local councils, the media are getting ever more desperate to point the finger of blame at wasteful councils. The latest such finger-pointing has been levelled at Tameside Council in Greater Manchester.
In 2006 it was identified that sickness and illness were costing the council millions of pounds. Action was taken, and thirty thousand pounds was spent to reduce these levels and make Tameside the healthiest of the ten Manchester boroughs. Money well spent? That thirty thousand pounds saved several million pounds. Pats on the back all round at the council.
Fast forward five years to the massive budget deficit created by bailing out the banks and propping up an economy to save thousands of jobs across the country. Massive cuts are required at councils up and down the land. Thousands of jobs are on the line. The media are combing through financial records hunting down every last scrap of wasted money. And at Tameside, they found that five thousand pounds of the thirty thousand was spent in an urban walking scheme: producing leaflets identifying safe routes and encouraging staff to walk when possible. Headlines scream that £5k was spent on 'teaching people to walk' when savings of £100million are now required.
Hold on a minute Mr Media. Is that the best you can do? Five thousand is a minuscule proportion of a hundred million. In addition, it was part of a larger scheme that saved millions. How about the grand spent on "putting big rocks on a roundabout in 2001"? Or the fifteen grand spent painting the outside of blocks of flats in 1996? The Media Must Try Harder. There's every chance that if the toothcomb is fine enough, £15.60 was spent on a taxi to send some documents from one office to another in 2004 could be found.
Alternatively, focus on why the cuts are needed in the first place.