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Friday 9 March 2012

TPA – On The Sick

The dubiously talented array of non-job holders at the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) are known for their routine sniping at public sector bodies and their workforces, but on occasion this drifts – apparently effortlessly – beyond the pale as the demonisation of those who have the temerity to choose public service as a career turns plain nasty.

How low can the Comfortable of Tufton Street go?

This has been pointed up superbly by the TPA’s “grassroots coordinator” Andrew Allison – the classic example of a non-job holder, the TPA having no grassroots – who has complained that those who work for Hull City Council are having too many days off sick. Thus he easily matches the earlier TPA carping about civil servants accessing websites that did not meet with the TPA’s approval.

Allison claims – though he provides no citation for his figures – that the average number of days taken on sick leave at the Council is over twice the private sector average. He then dismisses the causes of much long-term absence – stress, reorganisation and significant numbers of redundancies – as an “excuse”, and then falls back on the usual TPA “costing taxpayers money” line.

Andrew Allison does not provide a single case study, or any other example, to back up his cheap and nasty attack. He does not consult with, or otherwise engage with, any council officer or councillor before forming his conclusions. His only information source is the local paper. He provides no example of the kinds of jobs involved, and the day-to-day issues faced by staff in accomplishing their tasks.

All that Andrew Allison does is sit on the sidelines and carp. And in doing this, he renders an invaluable service to anyone not yet aware of the TPA and its modus operandi. As with his whingeing about “non-jobs”, where he selects job titles and says “that’s rubbish because I say so”, his patent lack of research should mean that media organisations see through him – but they do not.

Instead, the BBC’s Look North regularly gives Allison airtime. Local presenter Peter Levy is almost deferent in his softball approach to him (a failing that is fortunately not replicated by the Corporation’s local news team in Manchester). Partly this is down to the TPA understanding the media, and always having a talking head ready to do a piece to camera or visit the studio.

But it is also down to the media organisations themselves: only with their acquiescence do folks like Andrew Allison get to parade themselves as legitimate arbiters on a range of subjects about which they actually know very little. It is high time that these media outlets treated the TPA strictly on merit, and on the strength of the attack on council workers in Hull, there is little of that going for them.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how much lower the TPA will punch.

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