Outrage over Barnet’s voice coaching bill

WITH so many frontline services facing severe budget cuts, Barnet Council has caused outrage by splurging thousands on voice training for their top brass.

Between last October and December, they paid out �15,044 in fees to Voice! Business Associates, a firm which teaches vocal and presentation skills.

More than �9,000 of this figure was assigned to the office of acting deputy chief executive Andrew Travers.

But the council says that Mr Travers is not the only staff member to benefit from the training because it has been given to the whole of the senior management team.

The vocal coaching has also been extended to workers being made redundant to help them get another job.

But the disclosure of how much has been spent on the voice courses has sparked anger among residents and opposition councillors.

The revelations caused particular upset because they come just weeks after the council doubled residents’ parking charges – while awarding free parking to its own councillors.

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Hampstead Garden Suburb resident Gary Shaw said: “We’re absolutely sick and tired of this. Only an organisation as arrogant and vain as Barnet can do this.

“Officials throw away council taxpayers’ money, spending incontinent amounts on themselves and then coming back and trying to expropriate more through vastly higher parking charges.

“Maybe it’s time for people to start seriously questioning the appalling value for money which Barnet provides.”

Mr Travers, 50, already came under fire in February for pocketing �63,000 in one three-month period as a temporary member of staff.

Lib Dem Child’s Hill councillor Jack Cohen added: “It’s an astonishing and unnecessary waste of money.

“If our acting deputy chief executive and other top managers are not able to communicate – and I believe they are – why are we paying huge salaries for their services?

“What this demonstrates is that the Conservative council are basically financially incompetent and I wouldn’t blame residents when they say this is outrageous.”

Voice! Business Associates is based in Somerset and advertises itself as “experts in public performance”. On its website, it tells prospective clients: “We work with you on the psychology, physiology and the practicalities of the voice.”

It has also emerged that Barnet spent a whopping �9.7million on consultancy fees in the same three-month period, equal to around �40million per annum.

Among the organisations they made the payouts to were Freestyle Food and Fitness Ltd, the British Psychological Society and Mousetrap Theatre projects.

Barnet’s other major spends included more than �2.6million on agency staff and almost �1million on hiring taxis, cars and coaches.

Meanwhile, �279,331 was spent on legal costs, �35,036 on conference expenses and �580 on tea for the family assessment and support department.

But council finance bosses have dismissed claims that their spending programme is wasteful.

They say that a �7.3million of the consultancy costs relate to the delivery of new schools and almost half the conference expenses went on an event organised by children’s services – which was recharged to its participants.

Meanwhile, they explain that the taxi and coach hire budget is spent almost entirely on adults and children with special needs.

They also argue that all spending on agency staff comes within the existing staff budget and so is not an additional cost.

A council spokesman said that most temporary staff was used for cover, adding: “Agency staff are also used to backfill posts which are currently vacant or being recruited to. In anticipation of this year’s budget, we have chosen not to permanently fill posts so as to give staff facing redundancy a wider pool of opportunities to apply for permanent posts.”

Barnet’s resources and performance boss Cllr Daniel Thomas added: “The council does need to employ staff and spend money to supply services. I think we do so wisely.”