Letters, Friday, May 6th, 2011

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Why the delay in giving information?

ON March 30 I asked Sunderland City Council for the following financial information for 2010/2011 and estimated for 2011/2012 as it was impossible to see this in the information supplied, in the form of a pie chart, with my council tax demand.

1. Total expenditure on employees ie: cost of salaries, bonuses, pension contributions, redundancy/severance payments.

2. Number of employees who earn over £40k per annum gross.

3. Number of employees who earn over £100k per annum gross, together with their names, designations, salaries, bonuses, pension contributions, redundancy/severance payments and expense payments.

4. Total cost of consultants and consultancy services.

5. Total cost for councillors.

6. Total pension payments to ex and retired employees.

I also asked if it was possible to have a more detailed breakdown of the 12 areas of total revenue expenditure shown in the pie chart so that I could understand further what they cover.

For example, over £115million (15 per cent) of the total revenue expenditure is shown as Other Services, Provision for Contingencies, Levies and Capital Financing which to me, an ordinary person, seemed vague.

On April 18, I received a reply whereby I was referred to a website which shows the salaries of the top officials (no mention of pension payments or other perks such as healthcare, bonuses etc) and advised that it would take some time to let me have the rest of the information (if at all as some of it may be confidential) because of the amount of work involved.

I then asked how much the council spent/will spend on IT in 2010-2011/2011-2012 as I thought the information I had asked for should have been available at the touch of a few buttons with the advanced IT network Sunderland City Council proclaims it has.

Having had no response by April 21, I thought it might help if I simplified my request so I e-mailed the city’s freedom of information site and asked: “What percentage of all Sunderland City Council’s 2010/2011 expenditure went on salaries, pension contributions, pension payments and redundancy payments?” and “Could I have the names, salaries, allowances expenses and pension contribution for all Sunderland City Council European Officers for 2010/2011”? (I think there are eight).

Here we are, a month later, with no financial information other than I can see from the website I was pointed to, which tells me the chief executive has a higher salary than David Cameron.

Am I being cynical or was this information being withheld until after the local elections?

Kay Rowham

Road blackspot

SOME two years ago I was talking to a senior Sunderland Transport/Highways official about the Toll Bar roundabout problems.

As the discussions became somewhat heated, I diverted our conversation to the ongoing problem at this blackspot.

I was amazed by his comment that there really was no major problem here and that no major changes were envisaged apart from some high-profile road signs.

I am aware that a suggested roundabout has run into planning problems here, but the Echo can produce statistics about the number of fatalities and other accidents that have occurred over the years, apart from many near-misses.

Action is needed immediately to prevent further problems. Traffic lights on all roads would solve the problem, or at least speed cameras on the main road might help.

Phil Fairclough, Sunderland

Village blunders

IN 1996, I returned to the village of my birth in 1928, here in Hetton. The medical centre was conveniently situated in the centre of Hetton, easily accessible to all.

Unfortunately Sunderland City Council, in their wisdom, decided to build a new medical centre, not in Hetton but in Hetton Downs, a mile from the centre of Hetton.

This new centre was difficult for older people to access unless they had a friend or relation who had a car and would give them a lift. Taxi was not a viable alternative owing to the cost.

To compound this stupidity, they built a bus station exactly where the medical centre should be.

Even for younger and active people this was a foolish mistake, never mind for old and infirm folk like myself.

This is not a mistake in isolation. I could go on, but I’m sure you have witnessed other mistakes yourselves.

J. Defty, Redwood Gardens, Hetton

Twitter success

A BIG thank-you to everyone who took part in the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF)’s first ever Twitter Chat and helped make it such a success.

There were many interesting discussions of the issues surrounding adoption and we hope that everyone found it useful.

The next Twitter Chat will focus on foster care and will take place on Tuesday, May 31, from 7pm to 8pm. If you would like to join in, simply add #adoptfosterchat to your tweet.

For further information about adoption and fostering please visit www.baaf.org.uk

Diane Gault, Director of media and marketing, BAAF, London