Thursday, 24 December 2009

Jingle Bells...

And so it is Christmas...

In the spirit of joy and goodwill to all persons I'd like to say that I think NCC did a rather nice job with the lights on the Council House this year.

And we'll leave it at that until after the festive period when we'll get back to some good old fashioned blame which is what we do best.

So I'd like to wish you all a merry the hope that doing so will get me mentioned in the Daily Mail for politicalcorrectnessgawnmaaaaaaad and my hits will go through the roof.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Just a Balls Up?

Strange thing appeared on Twitter early this morning, I don't know whether it was just a balls up on the part of the Evening Post or whether they had to later cover it up, either way the link no longer works.

My guess is that a gremlin simply posted an old story because the cuts mentioned look very similar to those detailed in the last budget.

Made me look twice anyway.

No sooner had I written this than this turns up on t'BBC...

...and now this on Eve Post. Original article nowhere to be seen though.

Seems settled then, major cuts at NCC and inflation busting Council Tax rise.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Standards Committee Awakes, Fear Ye!

After a rather long layoff i.e. since April this year the Standards Committee is finally meeting on Monday 21 December. I would provide a link to the agenda but the open.nottingham bit of the NCC website is pished so I'll have to add it in later.

Most interesting bit (that is, the only bit I can remember right now and I can't look at the frickin agenda) is that there are three complaints about councillors being looked at. It's not really clear what stages they've reached and an email to NCC didn't help a lot but I THINK one of them is only at the stage of putting together the assessment committee but the other two appear to be at final report stage. However it isn't clear when any of this is going to be made public.

But three cases? I only know of one for definite which is former Sheriff Brian Grocock. We can all guess the others I'm sure but I've not seen any others confirmed. I may have missed it all and if I have please let me know in the comments.

But it all seems to take rather a long time which helps nobody and there seems to be a level of secrecy that the ordinary chap/ess in the street probably won't get when they're hauled up by NCC for 'grime stuff' and the like, they'll be named and shamed.

Update, looks like they've got the techies in cos the site works now, link added.

Cost of the 'Arrow'

Blimey heck, a Freedom of Info request has revealed that the cost of the 'Arrow', NCC's glossy propaganda rag, has shot up by a factor of nearly 9 times in 5 years.

In 2004/05, it cost £47,968 but this had risen to £417,810 by 2008/09. The big jump seems to have been between 2005/06 and 2006/07 when the cost shot up from £80,299 to £258,106.

But you've got to admit, it's a page turner and no mistake and I'm sure we all agree it's worth every penny.

Update; apparently they've increased the frequency of publication, thanks Cllr Foster

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A Thinly Veiled Threat? Of What Exactly?

Today I received the following communication via email from one of Nottingham City Council's senior solicitors.

"Dear Mr *****,

Nottingham City Council LOLS

I am writing regarding the above, which Nottingham City Council understands is written and/or edited by you and has the following website address:

Nottingham City Council notes that the Nottingham City Council LOLS blog (“ncclols”) contains personal, derogatory comments regarding a number of its councillors and employees that could cause distress to those individuals.

Nottingham City Council requests that you please remove these personal, derogatory comments from ncclols and refrain from posting similar such comments on ncclols or elsewhere on the internet.

Yours sincerely

Jon Ludford-Thomas

Senior Solicitor"

What can they mean?

And my reply -

"Mr Ludford-Thomas,

I'm afraid I cannot agree to your request to remove comments that cause 'distress' nor can I agree not to post further similar comments on ncclols or "elsewhere on the internet".

You see, this is my blog and I will write what I damn well please on it within the confines of the law. I am sure that many of your elected members and employees will find that criticism causes them 'distress' but this is largely due to their inability to understand any world view other than their own combined with their extreme arrogance.

Satire has a long history of upsetting its subjects. Are you suggesting that popular television programmes such as 'Mock the Week' on BBC television should not be allowed to include any material that 'could' cause anybody distress? While I don't necessarily include myself in such lofty company I'm sure you would agree that it would be a very short programme if that were the case.

Satire also has a long history of being used as a vehicle to criticise those in power and to take them down a peg or two. It is in that spirit that I write ncclols and make the comments about some individuals. If that causes those individuals 'distress' I would suggest that is their problem.

Having said that I do take issues such as factual accuracy and defamation very seriously and I invite you to contact me should you consider any of my material to be incorrect or libellous. I would certainly take any allegations of that nature with the seriousness they deserve and would correct or remove such material should I be convinced by your objections. But if you just try and take the piss I hope you'll forgive me if I simply ignore you. In addition, if you engage in baseless legal threats I will treat such actions as harassment and issue appropriate legal proceedings.

Yours sincerely

Andy ***** "

Erm, do the words "PR disaster" mean anything to you?

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Old Friends...

I see that the Deputy Leader has agreed a 'dispensation from financial regulations' in order to award a contract with one of NCC's old friends again.

Not PricewaterhouseCoopers this time, amazingly, but in a portfolio decision Cllr Chapman has issued a contract for carrying out a review of single person discounts on Council Tax to Northgate.

Remember Northgate? They are the new owners of Kendric Ash who trousered a fortune helping Housing Benefits learn how to pull the wool over the Audit Commission's eyes. Good to see them back.

Northgate have teamed up with Experian, Nottingham's own version of Skynet. Presumably they will be providing the data about who really lives where.

As far as I can make out from the document, the plan is that data from Experian will be compared with all the people getting single person's discount and whoever looks dodgy will be getting a letter. One result of this will be that Nottingham's advice centres and CABx will be inundated with people whose NFA/working away etc kids are using their houses as a secure mail drop.

On the other hand, if there's a surreptitious special someone or dodgy lodger you're keen to see the back of, now's a good time to give them their marching orders on the basis that they're no longer tax efficient. Don't worry, they'll understand.

Anyway, it's due to start next year and run into the year after. Remember, Experian knows more about who is living at your house than you do so you have been warned.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Directors Share the Pain

In a blow to the usual assumptions that it is only workers on the lower rungs of the ladder who find themselves expendable when times are hard, the 'Post' is reporting that NCC is planning on cutting the number of Corporate Directors from five to four and the number of Directors from 28 to 21.

The Adult Services Department is to be merged with Communities and Culture with Corporate Director Sallyanne Johnson due to take voluntary redundancy. Johnson is the person who thought it was a good idea to place the Welfare Rights service under the control of Lisa Black and her Housing Benefit cronies which in my book makes her a complete shit-for-brains. Not only did that cause me an awful lot of grief personally but it really is the dumbest idea in the history of the public sector. Welfare Rights services spend a considerable amount of time challenging Housing Benefit decisions so need to be kept at arms' length to avoid conflict of interest. This blindingly obvious fact escaped Johnson. A numpty like that won't be missed.

No word as yet as to which Directors are for the chop but please, please Santa make one of them Geoff Hibbert because he's a cunt.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Full Council Meeting

Now if I was a proper journo, or even a half dedicated blogger, I would probably by now have set up a regular system of writing about full council meetings when they happen. However, as I'm neither of these things (I tend to rate myself as being somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 dedicated) I do it when I get round to it.

So I had a brief look at the minutes of the 12 October meeting to see if there was anything to point and stare at and there were one or two little gems.

I recently wrote about the District Auditor again having to have a quiet word about communications straying into the political and Lib Dem Cllr Sutton decided to ask the Deputy Leader about that. His reply warrants some attention -

"...the District Auditor is happy again that the communications initiative that has been the subject of challenge was lawful. Lawful is lawful, you can’t have half lawful or quarter lawful, it is lawful..."

Well, I suppose you can't have 'half lawful' but you can certainly have 'borderline' lawful which is what the District Auditor said so I'm really not sure how Cllr Chapman can equate that with being 'happy'. Broken bulshitometers all round I suspect.

He went on to add -

"...the Chief Executive has discussed this matter with the Director of Communications and Marketing, with whom final responsibility for sign-off and compliance with the Law and Code on publicity remains.

He will ensure, whenever similar initiatives are run in the future, that more time is allowed for responding to the comments of the Director of Legal Services and any other Director..."

That'll be that Stephen Barker then who has already been hauled up once before for dodgy marketing.

Talking of SB he seems to have pretty much disappeared from the old internet social networking, wonder if that's anything to do with his former habit of posting up videos of his staff on the web? Perhaps the Chief Exec had a word with him about that too mind you it's pretty clear he's another of the 'untouchables'.

Local elections are still a while off in Nottingham but I think we saw an example of something that will become more and more common the nearer we get to them. Here's a question from Cllr Newton that he no doubt thought up all by himself -

"Would the portfolio holder agree that given the cost pressures on local government, how realistic is it at this stage to be promising 0% council tax increases as many Conservative controlled local authorities are doing?"

NCCLols translation service came up with -

"For gawd's sake look at what that loon Kay Cutts is doing south of the river, we might be dodgy as hell but at least we're not the Tories, please vote for us, pleeeeeEEEEAAASE!"

I predict that we'll see more of this pointing at local Tories to inspire terror among the electorate and to be fair they've got a point. By 2011 Cutts and her minions should just about have grown their own devil horns and, the way they are going, are just about the best bunch of next door bogeymen a Labour Councillor could wish to have.

It Could have Been So Much Worse...

Found an interesting little web snippet recently (actually I did briefly mention it before but I've had another look) which is a short account of positive spin on why NCC had to spend a massive fortune on consultants to fool the Audit Commission that the Housing Benefits Service isn't crap fix its Housing Benefits Service.

Anyway, towards the end of the piece is a paragraph called 'Developing People' and it features my old mucker Lisa Black, last seen making a tit out of herself at my tribunal.

Anyway, we are told that in 2002 Lisa was 'Senior Manager for Rents and Benefits' and admits that things 'were not going well'.

"The management team was in a constantly failing environment – we thought there was no way out of it” she says.

This tells you a lot about the sort of person she is. She was head honcho of rents and benefits but she wasn't failing, she was " a constantly failing environment..." It wasn't her fault, it was the environment she was in OBV.

Yeah right. Talk about an inability to take responsibility for your own crapness. Or an inability to recognise it maybe.

The piece goes on to say -

"As a result of the development, Lisa’s management abilities have significantly improved."

Good fuckin grief, what was she like before I had the misfortune to run into her?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

It's Just Numbers...

Been meaning to write about this for a while but was somewhat overtaken by real world events (see Tales from the Tribunal).

You might remember some stuff over the summer about the Sustainable Communities Act? It's supposed to allow local authorities the chance to order up specific local legislation for local conditions and lots of other things involving the word local. NCC did a consultation on it and the conclusions they have drawn from it are here.

The part of the consultation exercise that you are most likely to have seen was the website consultation questionnaire but that wasn't all there was. There were separate consultations with area committees, the Crime and Drugs Partnership's 'Independent Advisory Group', a number of community groups, a business breakfast and others. The collated results are in this MSExcel document.

Not sure what use the 'business breakfast' was, apparently there was "no opportunity for collective discussion and collation of views", presumably too busy stuffing their faces with Full English paid for by the taxpayer. I'm also confused as to how the IAG managed to provide 210 responses to each question seeing as it only has 14 members. Presumably close family and friends were included. This latter point takes on extra significance when you see how differently the various camps responded. The second biggest group of respondees came from the web consultation.

So lets have a look at how the different groups felt about some of the proposals then.

The first suggestion was that drivers should be held liable for littering from cars unless they name the person responsible. It's not clear if respondents were asked how they would deal with the not totally unpredictable scenario where the named driver denies it and blames the driver in return and I won't consider what would happen when your Community Warden is faced with a full MPV. The IAG agreed with this proposal 206-3 (presume one abstained) whereas the web consultation wasn't quite as positive at 118-59. The Equalities Forum was foursquare behind it but the Youth Council disagreed 6-11. Note that implies the YC has 17 members, more than the IAG's 14 but they don't appear to have been given the opportunity to drag up extra votes like the IAG did. NCC decided to go ahead with this proposal.

Next, let's have a look at the proposal to speed up the process of dealing with 'grotty' privately owned houses, giving removing rubbish from gardens and sorting out derelict properties as examples of what this means. NCC suggests that the 28 days allowed to carry out works is too long and should be reduced. The IAG wasn't quite so supportive on this one, only 203 members supported the measure while 7 disagreed. However, the web consultation was split down the middle 90-92. The Youth Council was against it at 2-15 as was NCVS at 3-10. The Equalities Forum was in favour 7-1 but with 4 abstentions. So, considerable disquiet on this one, happily NCC is going ahead with it anyway.

Noise problems next. When there's a noise complaint NCC wants to be able to barge in and confiscate equipment first and ask questions (including asking for clearance from the courts) later. The IAG agreed with this 208-1 with 1 'not sure'. In the web consultation it was 101-73. Hmm, anybody noticing a pattern emerging here? The Youth Council was split 7-7, NCVS was in favour with 9 votes (not sure if the rest were against or abstentions), and the Equalities Forum voted 9 in favour with 3 abstentions but rather hit the nail on the head that reasonable evidence should be obtained to avoid malicious accusations. Hard to see how that could be included but I'm sure NCC will think of something because they're pursuing this one too.

I could go on but there is a very clear pattern of the IAG+friends voting overwhelmingly in favour of all the proposals whereas the other constituencies were far more ambivalent. This includes the 'Community Safety Zones' suggestion where concerns were raised about affecting the right to protest and the fact that buskers add 'colour' and were therefore a good thing. NCC has even responded to some of the concerns by removing any mention of protests, still the IAG voted 200-10 in favour of the measure including protests compared to the web consultation voting against 56-128.

You are left wondering what this consultation exercise would have looked like without the IAG, and also what kind of 'hang em and flog em' type people are members. The difference in voting is so stark as to be reasonably arguable that it has skewed the results. Now I'm SURE that wasn't NCC's intention, why that would be ridiculous but NCC would have had a hard time arguing that the consultation supported many of the proposals without them.

So it seems the war on hedges and swearing in the park is to go up a gear via another wave of populist authoritarianism. Very 'New Labour'. Still, keep the masses at each other's throats over their scruffy gardens and they won't pay too much attention to councillors failing to declare business interests or helping their 'grandson' jump the housing queue.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Tales from the Tribunal Part 4

I was going to wait until I received the employment tribunal's full statement of reasons for its decision before doing another TftT but that's probably going to be some time so I thought I'd write about one of the issues where NCC fell down big style.

It concerns the issue of weighing up evidence and the related matter of deciding the credibility of witnesses. Throughout the tribunal it became crystal clear that, when deciding disputes via its own internal procedures, NCC doesn't bother with any of that.

Take two examples of how Lisa Black dealt with this when deciding on some complaints made against me.

First example. Imagine that you have three witnesses stating that scenario A was true and one witness saying that scenario B was true. Add in the fact that the one witness arguing for scenario B has a strong interest in that being accepted because if scenario A wins the day they are likely to face disciplinary action. Assume that, on the face of it, both scenarios A and B are plausible but contradictory.

Now a sensible intelligent person would conclude that, on the balance of probability, scenario A is correct. You couldn't really go any other way in the vast majority of circumstances.

Now guess what Lisa Black decided? Fair play, she couldn't quite go as far as saying that scenario B was correct but she decided that it was "ambiguous" whether scenario A or B was correct.


It just so happened that this issue had major repercussions on my ability to return to work as my position would have been seriously undermined.

Second example. In one dispute a certain witness made a rather extreme claim that, to be honest, just reading it in isolation would make you burst out laughing. This claim was flatly contradicted by five other witnesses.

In the same dispute another witness made a very specific claim in their written statement but changed their story very significantly in the internal decision meeting. This same witness made another claim that Lisa Black said later that she had disregarded.

During cross-examination Lisa Black made it absolutely clear that at no stage had it even entered her head to consider whether the credibility of either of these witnesses was possibly compromised. During the tribunal she gave a fairly robust explanation why she believed the second witness's account in the main but then couldn't explain how she squared that with disregarding the second claim he had made.

Believe me this is all basic stuff. In any dispute you will get contradictory accounts as to what happened and you have to make a decision as to which is the correct one. You have to give rational reasons why you have made that decision. If you can't evaluate evidence then you might just as well spin the bottle.

As if it were not bad enough that the Head of the Housing Benefits service cannot understand the importance of such basic decision making skills, the decisions of hers that these scenarios (along with many others) fed into were appealed via NCC's grievance procedure. There are two stages to this and in my case each stage was heard by a Director.

At the first stage, heard by Hugh White who is Director of Sport, Lisa's decisions were largely upheld although he did criticise the length of time taken to make them. At the second stage Helen Shipway, the Director of Customer Services, went as far as saying that she couldn't overturn Lisa Black's decisions because they were so well reasoned.

Under cross-examination both Directors had to admit that it did not occur to them that Lisa's decisions may be flawed because there had been no consideration of the credibility of witnesses. In fact Hugh White was almost pathetic to watch as it became increasingly clear that this was a totally alien concept for him, he looked more and more at sea until by the end of his time on the stand he looked like he needed his mum. I found myself checking under his chair expecting to find a little trail of wee but thankfully he was clear in that respect.

This might seem a little dry and lawyerish but it potentially affects anybody currently working at NCC. This total lack of rationality in decision making will potentially affect any internal council processes such as grievance, harassment and discrimination or disciplinary procedures. Take it from someone who knows, such matters can be career destroying and I know I'm not the only one this has happened to.

What's worse is that if you take out the rationality you open up far more scope for nefarious types to manipulate the processes for their own ends. Essentially there are people working at NCC who are effectively untouchable because they have their feet under the table with the right people. They have nothing to fear of people complaining about them because it's so easy for their mates to come to the rescue. I am 100% convinced that Lisa Black is one of the people who benefits from this situation, however, once the decision making got outside of NCC to an employment tribunal she could no longer rely on her protectors and she doesn't come out of it looking good.

Of course the final aspect of this is that NCC's Legal Services didn't see any of this coming. They were absolutely confident of winning and spent who knows how much on a London barrister for what was originally going to be a 12 day hearing. As I've pointed out before, only a tiny number of employment tribunal cases against NCC get as far as a full hearing, the vast majority are settled.

It is essential that Nottingham City Council initiates a comprehensive retraining programme for the people it charges with the huge responsibility of officiating over formal internal disputes. There should also be an investigation of a sample of past cases to establish those who have the least ability to hear cases properly and ensure that they do not hear any further cases until the council has satisfied itself that they have been brought up to scratch.

Not only does getting it wrong cost a fortune, it ruins people's lives. I think NCC has got just a little bit too casual about both.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Annual Review

So, a whole year of NCCLols has happened. Who'd a thunk it eh? Let's have quick look back through time at some of the main events...

November 09 No contest for this one. NCC's barrister tried to upend me in my employment tribunal by bringing my blog into it. And then I won, amusingly.

October 2009 Some of the £1000/hr we spend on boxer Carl Froch is used to persuade Nottingham People that becoming a Community Warden for no payment whatsoever is a really good idea. We weren't convinced and reckon Carl should go back to punching people in the face for a living. Which he did, later that same month.

September 09 We finally got the last of our answers about Discretionary Housing Payments. They had to write a 'special piece of computer program' you know, just for me.

August 09 I still feel a bit guilty laughing at this but Nottingham staged its own production of 'Carry on Lord Mayor' when Jeannie Packer went round to have it out with some woman who claimed to have shagged her husband, resulting in the police being called. The woman concerned (delicately referred to as 'sex row woman' in the 'Post') has now been selected as a candidate for one of the Bulwell wards. I'm sure they'll rise above their personal differences and enjoy a professional working relationship should she be elected.

July 09 We were in full solidarity mode with NCC this month, what's all that about? Well, it was about tram phase 2 and the workplace parking levy which everybody in Nottingham should support unless you're a git. Or a Rushcliffe Tory...Same thing really.

We couldn't keep it up for long though and we had to laugh at the spectacle of the Sheriff of Nottingham getting tough on the Canada Geese on the Embankment.

June 09 Quite a few things this month but, bearing in mind last week's events I think my fave is the revelation that NCC spends vast sums of cash on external representation at employment tribunals. And still loses snee hee hee!

May 09 Can't beat the final public leaking of the Hardmoor Consultants' report denouncing NCC as dysfunctional this month. In fact it's worth you all going and having a new read of it cost it was written at or around the time I was getting all my grief and when I post up the full reasons for my tribunal decision (might be a few weeks before I get this mind) it may put a lot of into context.

April 09 Big event involving us this month was the news that Nottingham City Homes got rid of BNP 'Gold' member and activist Jason Cotterill-Attaway from its disabled tenants' consultative committee. He'd somehow managed to worm his way into the position of vice chair but made a tactical error when he announced it in a post on an Evening Post comments forum. He tried to convince people that it showed that the BNP could involve themselves in mainstream activities until, after a bit of prompting, NCH realised that BNP values were diametrically opposed to its Equal Opportunities policy. At which point they decided that no, the BNP couldn't be involved with mainstream activities after all.

March 09 More a month of things bubbling under the surface although we did have the Budget which was not a happy event and which inspired a reasonably sized demo attended and addressed by top acting person Samantha Morton. We got pictures.

February 09 We had a look at the way the Housing Benefits Service convinces the Audit Commission that it's better than it really is.

January 09 NCH hauled up for scamming the waiting lists. Ok, this was nothing to do with me but it claimed the scalp of a senior manager early on, implicated the then Sheriff of Nottingham (has since gone suspiciously quiet on that one mind) and very nearly ensnared JoCo in its tentacles.

December 08 We finally got Housing Benefits to admit that they hadn't been informing people of their appeal rights on benefits decision notices, as required by law.

I'd like to say it's been a fun year with all this blogging. Unfortunately, it hasn't really, at times it's been miserably depressing with being ill and doing my tribunal and stuff. I do think that writing the blog has helped me get some of my concentration back though which is good, I really don't know if I'd have survived my tribunal otherwise.

So another year of blogging looms, probably anyway. Who knows, I might actually get a life and leave my bedroom once in a while?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tales from the Tribunal Part 3

It seems that Housing Benefits supremo Lisa Black wasn't happy about my likening of her to Little Britain character Marjories Dawes so she tried to get her own back when she was giving evidence at my tribunal.

The judge asked her whether she had thought to answer an email I had sent her when I was still employed by NCC but off sick. She said that she didn't because the email was rude and insulting and she didn't think there was anything she could have said.

She then said that this view was reinforced by the fact that at the time I sent her the email I was blogging about her being like a 'comedy character'. She had her special 'outraged' face on when she said it.

I then pointed out that I didn't even start the blog until November 2008 and the email was sent in April 2008 so there was no way I was saying that about her at that time and in fact was no longer even employed by NCC when I started this blog.

This made her look like a proper charlie. Having attended the tribunal every day up to that point she no longer felt the need to do so after this.

Funnily enough, if the verbal judgment we got on Wednesday was anything to go by, the Tribunal agreed with quite a lot of what I said in that email.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Covering Up

Not tribunal related this one, just some business as usual.

As you know I regularly feature portfolio holder decisions which in turn regularly feature wads of cash finding its way to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Occasionally I complain that not much info is given, e.g. the size of those wads of cash.

Different issue this time, NCC has now decided that they don't have to publish one of Councillor Clark's decisions to approve an NCC investment in some properties. See ref no 596 here.

The reasoning is as follows -

"That the Council in partnership with Nottingham City NHS exercise the option to purchase freehold interests in a number of properties for development. This decision is exempt from publication under paragraph 3 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 because it contains information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) and, having regard to all the circumstances, the public interest in maintaining the"

And yes, it does stop mid sentence like that which is presumably a clue as to how much thought goes into such decisions.

The question I have is how many portfolio decisions AREN'T about NCC's business affairs? And what happened to the principle of having the right to know what our taxes are being spent on?

Tales from the Tribunal Part 2

An interesting mystery still remains from my tribunal experience.

First, a little background. During the preparation of the evidence bundle for an employment tribunal either party might want to see evidence that only the other party has. Most of the time if you ask for it you get it and everyone gets on fine.

However, on occasions, one party may not wish to hand evidence over. There can be very good reasons for this, the documents requested may include details of other workers and the employer may not think they are relevant to the case, or it may be considered that you're going on a fishing trip. In such circumstances the party wanting to see the documents will need to request a disclosure order from the tribunal and usually a case management discussion will be held and you are expected to justify why you need the info.

This was the situation I found myself in on 3 September, I wanted to see some notes of meetings and NCC didn't want me to have them. In the end the judge ordered a partial disclosure for notes that related to a particular person and a bundle of notes duly arrived some days later. I presumed that was all there was. One of NCC's senior solicitors represented them at this case management discussion.

Moving on to the second day of the full tribunal hearing (or might have been the third, not sure, it's a bit of a blur now) I was being cross examined by NCC's barrister when we had another of those 'rabbit out of the hat' moments. Apparently one of the witnesses (who is a rather senior manager) suddenly remembered that they had some notes of a meeting which proved beyond doubt what a nasty man I was.

Not really good enough, I said, I at least need to look at them overnight, which the judge agreed to. The notes were provided and I put them away to look at later.

You can imagine my surprise when I got home and looked at the notes and found that they clearly should have been provided under the disclosure order. Very naughty. Why hadn't they been provided earlier? Was it the senior manager who kept them back or the senior solicitor?

Anyway, moving on to the next week and it was my turn to cross examine NCC's witnesses and the senior manager took the stand. First question I asked was why she hadn't provided the notes as ordered and, quick as a flash she said that nobody had asked her to. I clarified that the senior solicitor had never asked for the notes and she confirmed that was the case. She said all this on oath.

So you see we are left with a little mystery. Do we believe the witness on oath saying nobody asked her for the notes (and thus selling a senior member of NCC's legal team down the river) or do we assume that a senior solicitor would not be so stupid as to fail to comply with an order of the tribunal, seeing as that would arguably be a breach of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct rule 11.02. Especially when they had been in charge of the case for 9 months.

I don't know, the only way I can think of to get to the bottom of this is to make a complaint about the senior solicitor to the Solicitors Regulation Authority who presumably will be able to investigate and establish the facts. It's more work though and I'm not sure I can be bothered which is why I've left the names out of this story. For now.

What do you think folks? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tales from the Tribunal Part 1

So. I won an employment tribunal case against Nottingham City Council, my former employer. I'll be writing about different aspects of the case for a while but in my usual haphazard, when-I-feel-like-it way.

My blog made a bit of a guest appearance during the hearing. The barrister decided out of the blue that my blog demonstrated that I exhibited 'a certain turn of phrase'.

Think about that, he was trying to argue that because I write disrespectful sweary stuff on the internets then I must talk like that at work and to the people I managed. Which is obviously bollocks.

I should point out that it is extremely bad form to pull rabbits out of the hat like that at a tribunal hearing, you are expected to agree a bundle of evidence before the hearing and to exchange witness statements and there was no inkling of my blog having any relevence in these documents. The barrister claimed that he had no choice because the blog only went up "yesterday".

Which again is bollocks as the blog has been going for nearly a year or so now, when challenged he claimed he meant my most recent post which was clearly about the tribunal. Frankly if he'd wanted disrespectful sweary stuff he'd have been better off talking about this one.

He then went on to argue that, because I was capable of writing a blog and maintaining a photo website then I couldn't possibly have a mental health problem so serious as to count as a disability. To be fair he was on stronger ground here in that at least it was relevant but he quoted a passage from my photo website which was written months ago, somewhat undermining his reason for bringing up my web presence on the day.

In other words this was pure gamesmanship and says a lot about the sort of organisation NCC is when they'll stoop to tactics like that. And that's not the only dodginess they got up to either, more on that soon.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A Lovely Day Out

Word reaches me of an employment tribunal that started recently.

The respondent (that's the employer) decided to call over 10 witnesses which meant that they all had to turn up for the start. This included some VERY senior managers, one of whom earns over £140k.

After about an hour some of these witnesses apparently left as they weren't needed that day.

This still left two really rather senior managers, two human resources officers and a human resources manager who stayed for the whole day. A rough guess of the cost of this is probably between £1k and £1.5k. Just for this one day. They didn't do or say anything, they just sat and listened.

This does not include the barrister's fee or the assistant he had with him. Rough guess at the cost of this would be between £2k and £3k although at least they presumably did something.

There are apparently quite a few days of this tribunal left. Rumours of a visit by the Queen and the Battle of Britain flypast are so far unsubstantiated.

Who would this employer be you might be wondering, who indulges in such largesse?

I'll give you a clue. If you're reading this there's a pretty good chance you're helping to pay for this lovely day out.

Update 26/11 As you probably guessed this was my own tribunal. It went on for 9 days and there was at least 5 NCC staff there each day, usually including at least one Director.

Oh yeah, I won...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Labour Gets Tough

Challenged over news of another Labour Councillor arrested for assault, Jon Collins made it clear that the rebrand starts here.

"Look, this is Labour getting tough" he said.* "You f*** with us and we'll send the Lord Mayor round next time."

Lord Mayor Cllr Jeannie Packer you will remember, recently demonstrated that she was also 'a bit handy' when she saw off a love rival, going round her house to 'have it out' with her. Police were called but it was suggested that they were too scared to do anything.**

Cllr Collins said that the anti-social behaviour strategy was in 'rude health' and that a recent consultation among hand picked cowering members of the public showed strong support for measures such as 'a good kicking' for people with overhanging hedges and 'nutting in the face' for leaving your bin out. Carl Froch# is rumoured to be trawling the dodgier nightclubs doorstaff for recruits for JoCo's private nutting squad as we speak.

Did we say 'private nutting squad'? Sorry we meant Community Wardens.

Asked whether rumours of a secret boxing club being established in the bowels of the Council House were true JoCo replied "Rule one is that we don't talk about 'Boxing Club...' at which our reporter made his excuses and left, weary of another trite film reference.

* This is satire, he didn't say any of this.

**You guessed it, I made this up as well.

#Not too sure about this one...


Posters seen springing up in the saloon bars of Nottingham...

When Councillors Attack (Part 2)

Bloody hell, Nottingham City Labour Councillors seem to be hell bent on an orgy of violence (allegedly, natch).

After the Post revealed Hassan Ahmed's arrest for assault and sexual assault, now we hear that Cllr Marcia Watson has been arrested on suspicion of ABH on the mother of her grandson.

In further developments, the 'Post' is reporting that Hassan Ahmed has been suspended from the Labour party "...after party managers saw details of Coun Ahmed's arrest in the Evening Post" according to a party spokesdroid. Presuming that's true it suggests that Ahmed kept details of his arrest from the party which won't go well for him whatever the outcome of the police investigation.

Usual disclaimers apply, innocent until proven guilty and all that. But we can all point and stare in the meantime.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

CCTV Camera Numbers

Another interesting snippet via 'What Do They Know', a list of the numbers of CCTV cameras by ward in the city.

We last looked at CCTV when JoCo nodded through a new installation in Forest Fields in defiance of local views or any meaningful democratic input.

There are some interesting numbers in there. Both Wollaton wards have only 3 cameras each and they are only used for traffic management. On the other hand, Radford and Park has 361, all but one of which are used for 'crime prevention'. Other high scorers are Dales with 257, Dunkirk and Lenton with 236 and St Ann's with 114. Clifton South has none.

I can't help noticing that the high scorers tend to have relatively large ethnic minority populations...

The response also reveals the running costs of the CCTV systems and the rather salient fact that NCC currently has absolutely no strategy for CCTV, they just make it up as they go along presumably.

What about Bestwood you ask? Have a guess. Couple of hundred maybe? No. Bestwood has FOUR cameras. Just four. That's Bestwood, the home of a major Nottingham crime family, that was the scene of major riots when the leaders of that family were jailed, the area of the city that was said to have been abandoned by law enforcement agencies as that family took over the estate.

Such a gang of criminals would obviously have been keen to avoid CCTV being set up on their patch. Makes you wonder if they had any influence with anybody.

Councillor Accused of Assault

It may be that Hassan Ahmed's climb up the greasy pole is about to come to an end. He is currently the portfolio holder for Employment and skills and prior to that he was an executive assistant to Graham Chapman.

The Beeb is reporting that he has been accused of assault and sexual assault. The offence is said to have occurred on 29 July.

It may not be a surprise to you to learn that Cllr Ahmed 'vehemently denies' the allegations.

He was recently in hot water for omitting some of his business interests from the 'Register of Members' Interests.'

Grab your popcorn, this looks like one to watch.

Update 1pm; 'Post' now reporting that Ahmed has stepped down from Portfolio holder position while case ongoing. The person he attacked is said to be a 47 year old teacher.

Update 5/11; Turns out he was actually arrested in July as well but only stood down when the 'Post' blew the gaff. See article here.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Oh, THAT much, possibly...

Some interesting info come through from the 'What do they Know?' site about top NCC bods' pay packets.

Apparently, each year the full Council annual meeting must be provided with a statement of salaries of the Chief Exec and the Corporate Directors, as well as those of any officer receiving more than 65% of the Chief Exec's salary.

So, here is the most recent one. As you can see, JoTo gets £165k and the five Corporate Directors each get £144, 653 per annum. No other figures are given.

This implies therefore that no other NCC officers receive more than 65% of JoTo's salary i.e. £107,250 pa. That's quite a gap between the Corporate Directors' salaries and the next tier down.

So, nobody gets a salary in the range £107,250 - £144,653 then eh? Looking again at the 2008/9 Statement of Accounts i.e. the year previous to that which the above salaries relate to, we find five people in the £140,000 - £149,999 remuneration band which is consistent with the Corporate Directors' salaries above, three people in the £110,000 - £119,999 band and one in the £120,000 - £129,999 band. Where have these four gone?

It seems unlikely that the posts have completely disappeared, nor is there room for them to have moved into higher bands. It's possible that they are representative of severance payments, the table in the SoA does appear to include Michael Frater's.

The other possible explanation is that some posts were left off the list sent to the full Council Annual Meeting. That seems unlikely really.

With more clarity on the senior salaries issue, we also seem to get more mud.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Another Day, Another 'Cash to PwC' Story...

I sometimes wonder if NCC is keeping PwC in profit single handedly.

Apparently, the Head of Service for Neighbourhood Regeneration at NCC has left/is leaving. Apparently it's absolutely VITAL that a replacement is found immediately because of all the high profile projects the previous postholder was leading on.

So, presumably the previous incumbent gave at least two months notice of leaving, due to the urgency recruitment got underway quickly, advert out, say, after a month, interviews approximately six weeks later, new person has to give notice on their current job, vacancy is open for three months max. Somebody acts up in the meantime, after all there is bound to be somebody who has been closely involved in at least some of these vital projects no?

No. That's not the Nottingham City Council way. What you do is go straight to old mates PricewaterhouseCoopers and get them to supply somebody. Maximum of 22 weeks mind, we don't want to go mad. After all that will only cost us £68,000.

Uh what? £68k for 22 weeks? An equivalent cost of £161k a year? You serious?

A Head of Service is not a particularly senior manager, they normally report to a Director, who reports to a Corporate Director who in turn reports to the Chief Executive (the lovable JoTo). So what's referred to as '4th tier' then, a middle manager. Not normally the level of post whose loss causes the wheels to fall off the wagon, even though NCC's wheels are mostly held on with chewing gum.

Oh look here's a clue as to what might be going on. In the box for comments from human resources we find

"It is understood that the person identified, while known to the Director, has been identified by PwC based on..." (my emphasis).

When in doubt, get one of your mates in, THAT'S the NCC way. In return you've got somebody putting a good word in should you find yourself looking for alternative employment at a 'leading' consultancy firm sometime in the future.

Update; comment under 'Sneaky' suggests that using consultants in this way is to get round the recruitment freeze due to the upcoming redundancies. Makes sense. The analysis that is, not the recruitment freeze...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nottingham City Council in 'Dodgy Communiations' Shock....Again

The Evening Post has reported that NCC has been criticised over it's communications, in particular the Stalinist banners that get hung up all round the Market Square.

The District Auditor said that the ones hung up on the Council House earlier this year saying "2 stars, Improving well" were "borderline legal". Cllr Chapman interprets this meaning that the DA " happy with the current initiative". My bullshitometer has just exploded.

Before this latest incident came up I had been thinking of writing about the previous two incidents in 2005 and 2007 when NCC had been told off for having dodgy banners about the place, however it didn't seem very current and I put my rather limited energies into more recent matters.

As one of NCC's 'Statements of Internal Control' notes, the Audit Commission had issued statutory recommendations regarding unlawful publicity materials issued in 1999/2000. Later criticisms of banner campaigns during early 2007 (the notorious 'Proud' and 'Ambitious' campaigns), a mere three months before the local elections led the AC to conclude that the statutory recommendations had not been complied with, leading to NCC introducing further action. In March this, the 'Standards Committee' further discussed publicity issues when it considered NCC's response to proposed changes to the Code of Practice on local government publicity.

So why do they keep getting caught out? The issue has been discussed to death and it's not as if publicity is short of resources. It has a budget of about £2.7m pa and its own senior officer at Director level.

Frankly, if all the Audit Commission is ever going to do is write a stiff letter it's hardly surprising if councillors play fast and loose with the law. JoCo and his mates are hardly known for their reticence and the opposition on the council is just too small (and in the case of the Tories too useless, at least the Lib Dems do at least make an effort to challenge things, it was them who complained about the recent publicity issue). The Commission needs to hold senior councillors to account on this issue. In 2007, after one of the earlier incidents, Nottingham seriously bucked the political trend in the local elections, returning an increased Labour majority. Coincidence? I don't think so, these things have an effect.

However, I can't help wondering if that Director, Stephen Barker (we've had fun with him on here before) is also a big part of the problem. He is known to be close to JoCo and the inner circle and also appears to be close to the Sheriff, accompanying him on his recent US junket chasing Robin Hood. Such personal closeness to the politics may result in his judgment being impaired in terms of the political neutrality of the communications initiatives that he is in charge of. It is part of the role of senior management to provide advice on such issues.

Friday, 16 October 2009


I often write about NCC's prolific use of consultants and generally like to mention how much cash said consultant's trouser each time.

However, they've found a new trick to stop me doing this. Although they have to report a decision to use a firm of consultants they are hiding behind their 'framework agreement' with PricewaterhouseCoopers in order to avoid disclosing the cost of each project. See this decision notice to use PwC for a review of business support.

Ah yes. This was in the local media a while back but I forgot to mention that NCC spends 8.7% of its staffing budget on consultants (approx £12.1m), the highest proportion in Nottinghamshire. It also spends 7.1% of the staff budget on agency workers.

See this report from UNISON for more details.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Somebody gave me a wee nudgette about the 2008/9 Statement of Accounts now being up on the NCC website. I'm sure there's lots of buried treasure in there and once I've stocked up on 'will to live' pills I might have a proper rifle through and see what's what.

In the meantime however, can I suggest that you leaf through to page 56 where you will find a breakdown of senior staff salaries in bands.

As context let me remind you that councillors are currently considering a secret review of senior salaries and of course that they not long ago decided that several hundred redundancies were needed to help balance the books (sorry, "support vulnerable people").

So, what's in the box?

Well, the lowest band in the table is for posts with salaries of between £50,000 and £59,999 and we can see that the number of staff within this range has shot up by over 21% between 2007/8 and 2008/9 from 133 to 161. Bear in mind here that the highest nationally negotiated pay scale was £41,204 in 2008/9.

It gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). The number of senior officers receiving between £80,000 and £89,999 has risen from 12 to 21 and those 'earning' between £140,000 to £149,999 has gone up from 3 to 5.

But here's the big one. In 2007/8 there was one officer in the £190,000 to £199,999 pay band but in 2008/9 this band was empty.

However, a new pay band has been added to the table for the single employee who received somewhere between £240,000 and £249,999 *pause for sharp intake of breath*...

I wonder who it can be? Initial suspicions naturally point to the Chief Executive, Jane Todd but it can't be her because when she was appointed in December 2008 she made a big song and dance about only accepting £165k pa instead of the advertised £185k. And it also appears that she was actually on secondment for most of the year concerned and that apparently isn't included.

Presume it must be Michael Frater's payoff, either that or it was Beryl the cleaner's lucky day...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Staggers Says...

I did (very) briefly feel sorry for Richard 'Stag Night' Antcliff, NCC's Chief Anti-Social Behaviour Officer (actually, surely that should be anti Anti-Social Behaviour Officer).

Because, after THAT incident with the stag night, there were never any charges brought against him. So I think I'm already on record as saying that I think he is entitled to be a bit miffed about that dawn raid the rozzers subjected him to. I know I would be. And of course the papers, locally and nationally, were full of his arrest but we heard nothing of his letting off. Very unfair.

But let's not for one second imagine that there is even the beginnings of a suggestion that there was any kind of backroom deal between Mr Antcliff's employers, Nottingham City Council, and the Police of the County and City of Nottingham. Because despite the fact that that both organisations work together very closely in the Crime and Drugs Partnership, as well as the (anti) anti-social behaviour agenda that Mr Antcliff is in charge of, I have reliable inside knowledge* that this sort of thing just doesn't go on round here. You know you can rely on me but obviously you wouldn't expect me to reveal my sources.

So, with my my new found admiration for 'Staggers', as I amusingly now choose to call him, I was very disappointed to see him talk like an ignorant fucking twat in the 'Post'.

He said the following -

"When we survey people, the things that trouble them the most are not robbery, burglary and other crimes, but the low level anti-social, rubbish and grime stuff"

Oh really. I'd like to see the data that show's that. There is a summary of the results of that consultation they did a while back but it's a bit light on actual numbers. For example, I would like to see the numbers of people who had ACTUALLY BEEN FUCKING ROBBED OR BURGLED who then went on to say that 'grime stuff' was the thing that kept them awake at night.

You see, compared to the number of people who do run into 'grime stuff', the number of people who have been robbed or burgled is relatively low, thankfully. But, speaking from experience of both being robbed and burgled myself, the robbery and burglary tend to be a lot more distressing for the individuals concerned. You will probably lose some property, you may even think that you might die.

Whereas 'grime stuff' might just grump you out a bit, probably very briefly, depending how much time you spend up your own arse. A respectable statistician would have a way of dealing with that before delivering a balanced conclusion.

But fuck'em eh? Staggers says that more people care about 'grime stuff' so that's more important than robbery and burglary. Stand's to reason don't it? He's got the survey and you can't argue with that.

Roll out the fixed penalty notices then, Carl's voluntary army are waiting for something to do.

*Ok, I admit it, I don't really have any inside knowledge that this stuff never happens.

Monday, 5 October 2009

We Want You as a New Recruit...

...but we're not going to pay you.

That's the message that Carl Froch is being paid £1000/hour to deliver on behalf of Nottingham City Council.

Carl is trying to persuade you that becoming an 'Auxiliary' (i.e. voluntary) Community Protection Officer is a great idea and that doing so means that you are a 'champion' like him.

If anybody is thinking of taking him up on his kind offer can I please beg that you consider an alternative? Sign up as a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau instead? You'll learn a lot more, do more useful things and you don't have to wear a uniform or get spat at by teenagers.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Copyright Alert

Not criticising this event in any way at all, in fact it looks like a lovely idea, just think that calling it the Bestwood 'BAFTA' might land somebody in a bit of copyright trouble, that's all.

Can I suggest a swift re-brand?

Now, Now, Children, Stop Swearing

Every now and then I lose the will to live. Ok, pretty much every day I lose the will to live at some point largely because I insist on paying a daily visit to the NCC website to see what our local representatives and their minions have been up to. The arrival of the full council meeting minutes is always good for a little weep as very little actually gets decided, it's more an opportunity for a bit of political argy bargy with planted questions from the nonentity cannon fodder who can't get on any of the committees.

This one caught my eye -

"Councillor Lee asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:–

Would the Leader agree that foul and abusive language in our Parks is unacceptable and would he extend our respect initiative into the City’s Public Parks and Open Spaces?

Councillor Collins replied as follows:-

Thank you Lord Mayor and can I thank Councillor Lee for his question and yes, I do agree that foul and abusive language in our parks is unacceptable and will discuss with the CDP ways that the respect initiative can be extended in the city’s open spaces."

Is this what we want our elected representatives wasting their time on? Nothing better to do than to than try and worm your way into Pope Collins' inner circle? What next, ban farting in the bath?

Councillor Lee is of course one of those who got themselves elected as Lib Dems in the 2003 election at the height of the Iraq War backlash against Labour (and no disrespect to the Lib Dems but in Nottingham they are rather a small pond compared to Labour so a little fish would have a much better chance of being selected). He then defected to Labour via a token period as an Independent to try and make it look like that wasn't what he was planning to do all along. Of course he doesn't mention that little detail in his bio.

To me, and hopefully anybody else who has as much as a passing interest in democracy, that's a hell of a lot more offensive than a bit of swearing in the park. And it's not as if there aren't enough measures already in the various Public Order and Protection from Harassment Acts for the Police to use in appropriate circumstances. And we'll leave it with the police if you don't mind, any of those plastic warden types tries to give me an on-the-spot ticket for swearing will find it re-entering his person via a new bumhole.

Anyway, before Councillor Lee tries to ban swearing in blogs I'd just like to say this. In your stupid potato face Rob Lee you turd-brained turncoat of a twat.

And there is another appearance of the same old 'poor widdle me' passive aggressive silliness I wrote about the other day, this time from Cllr Bull.

Admittedly there were arguably some mitigating circumstances for NCC's hottest councillor, there had been a bit of an ambush of green inked 'questions from the public' and Cllr Bull clearly felt she'd done quite a bit for them already but this sort of thing -

"I have to say though, that I am somewhat disappointed in the questions asked, since I have been working with the group of Churchfield Lane residents directly for over 3 years on these issues."

Well, it's not very dignified is it, kind of a bit schoolma'amish. And she does go on as well, wittering on for seven long paragraphs about all the work she'd done.

Bit of advice. They're not listening. The green ink brigade have their view of the world and nothing you do for them or say will shake it. Keep it simple and factual and get to the pub a bit earlier.

Although I do admit, I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Cllr 'Trembling' Trimble who had to deal with yet another question from Tory Leader Cllr Price on behalf of the exceedingly posh and members-only Wollaton Park Golf Club. Who said class war stereotypes are dead?

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Gift that Keeps on Giving...

A recurring theme of this blog is how NCC likes to help out old friends. After all, if a consultant gives you the answer you told them to before it makes sense to get them to do it again right? What's not to like about that?

And so it appears to be going with old pals Invigor8 (I still can't get the X-Factor boy band contestant image out of my head). Having helped smooth things over the on the 'culture' issue I wrote about how they were now coining it in with training contracts which were exempted from the usual tendering requirements.

And you know what? They've only gone and bloody done it again haven't they?

Last time it was only worth £15k, however, in this latest round they will trouser £95k.

Now why would there be a decision to award a £15k training contract only for there to be another one less than 2 months later for the same thing but this time for £95k? There's a spectacular project management fail if your initial estimate of cost goes from £15k to £110k in seven weeks. Surely when you're planning a training project of this size you'd have a pretty good idea of how much the total cost would be at the outset?

Smells like a little bit of rat to me, I shall be keeping an eye on any more non-tendered contracts for Invigor8 from now on. If anybody has any inside info please let me know via the email link, discretion assured.

Some Thoughts on Passive Aggression

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were laughing about how NCC people who have just shafted you in one way or another suddenly come over all victim mode when you complain and their non-arguments dissolve before their very eyes.

The letter from NCC giving me the further info in response to my FoIA request is quite a good example so let's take the piss out of it for a laugh.

Initially my request was refused on the basis that it would have been necessary to manually look at each and every application for 45 minutes in order to find out how many there were because they apparently had no system to count them in as they arrived.

The trouble with peddling such self evident nonsense is that eventually you have to admit that you were talking bollocks or find some ingenious way of arguing that no, what they were saying was right but they've found a new way of looking at it and have DONE A LOT OF WORK especially for you. At which point I presume you're supposed to feel special and a little bit guilty about putting them to so much trouble.

So the figures for the total number off applications to the DHP scheme was "...information [that] has been generated specifically at the request of the Information Commissioners Office..." and in no way whatsoever was "...information that was readily available or previously held (in this format) by the Council..." and that was why they couldn't tell me before without lots of costly looking through files. Nothing at all to do with embarrassment over the piss-poor success rate of applications from poor people who have probably since been evicted despite a massive underspend of the available budget. Oh no.

But, in a heroic attempt to make me feel better "...a piece of computer program was written..." and amazingly they could get me the info after all.

I kid you not. They really said "...a piece of computer program was written...". You just know that whoever wrote that letter is a real hit with the IT helpdesk with constant calls about how they've saved a document but don't know where and wondering why their computer doesn't work when in fact they've just forgotten to switch the monitor on.

Look, I'm no techie myself but I'm willing to hazaed a guess that the 'piece of computer program' was an enquiry for the database, probably MS Access. A woman I used to work with could sort one of those in a few minutes especially if it was a simple one like 'how many applications have we had'.

And then they go on to explain at some length how the numbers relate only to the number of application forms received which isn't the same as the number of applications because "...some individuals may have need to submit more than one application, therefore some forms received may relate to the same person...". Well, yeah but as far as I can see the only reason why anybody would have to apply more than once is if they were refused the first time and didn't bother asking for a review or their time-limited award ran out. In such cases it's valid to count them as separate applications, I'm not particularly bothered about some being from the same applicant. It also doesn't account for 'human error' either apparently. Of which, being Nottingham City Council, there is probably a lot.

Apparently this is why they initially applied the cost exemption because they thought I wanted an absolutely accurate count and the 'piece of computer program' could only give me an approximate one.

What rot.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Discretionary Housing Payments - Answers at Last

Before we talk about the latest developments I'd recommend that you have a look at these posts for a bit of background first -

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

So there you go, the complete NCCLols history of badgering NCC about DHPs. And you could almost argue that some progress has been made too.

Until now however, there was a sizeable gap in the information we had about how well NCC were doing with DHPs and that was, surprisingly, the total number of applications made to the scheme.

I say surprisingly because surely that is the easiest and most obvious bit of information to record isn't it? How can you manage the performance of any application based scheme if you don't even know how many people have applied to it?

Well, now the Information Commissioner's Office has told NCC to spill those beans so we can finally complete the table we started so long ago back in Part 1.

The key result of this is that we can at last see the success rates of appliations to the scheme.

As you can see, and as we suspected before, application success rates were decidedly low despite a massive underspend of the budget. Ignoring the first and last years in the table (neither are typical, see notes on chart for reasons) we can see that the success rate varied between 21.2% and 41.4%. 2005/6 sticks out, having the highest number of applications (569) and the second lowest success rate (25%) despite only 23% of the budget having been spent. And this despite that budget having been reduced two years in a row prior to this year.

The only silver lining is that the success rates of applications does appear to have risen in later years, although I'm not at all confident of the figures for 2008/9. However, we can probably afford to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

I've not had the final decision from the ICO yet, these figures came direct from NCC on the instructions of the ICO. I may write a bit more if that throws up any more interesting issues.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Video giggles

Not really been covering the spat between City and County councils over the football stadium and that but have to put this in...

Props to Cllr Alex Foster via Twitter for posting this.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Been hit by a wave of spam promoting A4Eblog which is pretty offensive as you can imagine.

Have therefore switched comments to registered users (inc Open ID) but if that doesn't stop it may go into lockdown to make them go away. Have also contacted the company to ask them to sod off.


Monday, 21 September 2009

They Tried to Take Our Parks Away...

Now I only said I was going to be a bit quiet, not that I would disappear completely.

So, I'm popping in to sing the praises of a small community group who I'd only vaguely heard of before, 'Friends of the Forest' (that's just a brief Wiki mention unfortunately, they don't seem to have a website).

As well as playing a big part in the ongoing restoration of the Forest Recreation Ground they had a little run in with NCC concerning the Arboretum, as the 'Post' reports.

It seems that Nottingham High School had been using a bit of the Arboretum as a car park with the full blessing of NCC.

FotF correctly thought that this breached the terms of the relevant Enclosure Act which set aside the Arboretum and the Forest (amongst other pieces of land) exclusively for recreation. In order to bolster their case they asked NCC for a copy of its own legal advice on the matter but, predictably, they were refused. NCC considered that it was subject to 'legal professional privilege' and that there were 'commercial interests' at stake.

Enter the Information Commissioner who issued a decision telling NCC to fess up pronto and it's another victory for the little guy. Cue weasel words from NCC spokesdroids such as "it was temporary" and "reviewing our options" and the like.

What interests me is where does this leave the Park and Ride on the Forest? Of course, pre-tram it was significantly larger but I was once told that NCC had once been subject to some form of action on a similar basis about it i.e. it was in breach of the relevant Enclosure Act. I've searched and searched on the interwebs to find anything but to no avail so if anybody has any info I'd be pleased to hear from you.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Been a bit quiet...

There's not been much from me recently as you may have noticed. Few real world issues been getting in the way, my health has been very up and down, funeral, my birthday and some 'issues' to deal with. It'll probably stay this way for a while but hope to be back up and running at full speed soon.

In the meantime, have a good LOL at Cllr Ahmed, who used to be Cllr Chapman's mini-me but is now a big grown up Executive Portfolio holder himself. The 'Post' has caught him not declaring his numerous business interests in training organisations, two of which have received NCC money apparently. As the 'Post' points out, he could be referred to the standards committee. I bet he's shitting himself (irony alert). Especially as the standards committee still appear to AWOL.

I should also have written about the silly goings on between the City and County Councils over the proposed new stadium, but it's much easier to just link to m'colleague Alan a Dale who's done a good piece on it. Hope he doesn't mind.

Like I say, don't expect a lot from me for a while but I will be back when my blogging mojo returns.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Management Issues

For the second meeting in a row, the Appointments and Conditions of Service Committee is considering a review of senior salary levels at NCC.

So what can I tell you about their thoughts? Bugger all, pretty much. It's all going on behind closed doors, as decided under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972. This provision allows councils to vote to consider an item of business without the public being present if it involves 'exempt information'.

Exempt Information is defined by Schedule 12A of the Act and includes any labour relations matter and this will of course include senior posts. However, there is a proviso in most cases which requires a public interest consideration and discussions should only be kept private if the public interest of doing so outweighs any public interest of it being public.

Interestingly, at the 7 July meeting, the committee was also discussing a report about discretionary compensation which, from context appears to concern the payment of higher than statutory severence payments. However, again I don't know for sure as it's all exempt so the minutes only contain the barest bones of what was discussed. But apparently it was option (d) that won them over...

There appears to be some wider interest in such matters. The Beeb recently reported that the Audit Commission is about to look into the issue of big pay-offs to council Chief Execs, in particular ater a fallout with the political leadership. They don't actually mention Jon Collins and Michael Frater but I reckon that, bearing in mind JoCo's, ah, 'temperament', NCC should be watching this one very carefully, it stands to save us £100ks in the long run.

So, back to my original point. If NCC is conducting a review of senior salaries can they really justify doing it in private? After all, they quite happily disclosed Jane Todd's temporary salary before she got the permanent job. Senior managers accept that there is an element of public scrutiny of how much they get paid. So is this a 'public interest' question or a 'political embarrassment' question? Not that NCC seems to see any difference between the two.

In other news, which doesn't reflect too well on NCC's senior management, the 'Post' is reporting on the last staff survey at NCC. There's a summary here, it doesn't make pretty reading.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Kerchingagain (again)

Nearly forgot to mention, old friends PricewaterhouseCooper have just trousered another £60k for financial advice. This time it's for the planned Joint Service Centre at Bulwell.

They're not the only ones though, local legal bods Browne Jacobson have got a similar amount for legal advice.

They're old City Council favourites as well and have been noted trawling this very website. They also spent quite a lot of time looking at my photo website a few months back when I was in a dispute with NCC which was a bit odd. Whoever set their IT up must be barely literate because their network name is spelt Browne Jacobsen...

Friends and family etc.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lord Mayor in 'Bit of a Fishwife' Horror

At long last there's a sex scandal to write about, I can finally put in my first bid for a lucrative career in tabloid journalism. It's not an opportunity I expect to turn up often.

You've probably seen it already but the 'Post' is reporting that Norman Packer, Lord Mayor Jeannie Packer's husband and 'consort', has allegedly been up to a bit of slap and tickle behind his wife's back with a 38 year old 'lovely' (not bad so far, got an 'allegedly' and a patronising term for a female third party in early on, I can smell that tabloid cash cow already).

Apparently he took the woman off to a hotel Ibis in Chesterfield which shows that he really knows how to show a girl a good time. However, as is usual in these things, the accounts start to differ at this stage.

The woman, according to the Post, has asked not to be named. So you'll have to go and read its national sister title the Daily Mail to find out that she's called Karen Trevis, a fellow Labour Party member. She claims that they did the beast with two backs thang, saying she didn't want to but decided to lie back and think of The Party.

"It lasted a couple of hours" she said.

Now to be honest, I'd want that detail left in but Mr Packer says it's all 'codswallop'. He says that he had a guilt trip and couldn't go through with the evil deed. I suppose we'll never know the real truth, not unless there's some Clinton stylee 'DNA' on a dress somewhere anyway.

And to be honest, if it had ended there, neither would I really care beyond a bit of pointing and staring. But it's claimed that Packer later proposed a vote to have Ms Trevis removed from her (unspecified) party position. The vote went against her but the decision was later overturned. Sounds somewhat less than gentlemanly you might say and I, for one, might well agree with you.

Somewhat more amusingly (and the reason for this piece's title) Mrs Packer apparently went round to Ms Trevis' house to 'berate' her over the matter, to the extent that the police were called. That's something you'd want to see isn't it, the Lord Mayor banging on the door screaming blue murder at the scarlet woman? Good to see that the dignity of this ancient office is being preserved.

In time, a complaint against Mr P was made to party bigwigs who launched an investigation. Packer has since resigned from the party for unconnected reasons, he says. The Packers are currently on their hols 'out of the County' (presumably not wanting to waste that 2 for 1 offer with Ibis) and aren't contactable.

I wonder if that will be the end of the story? There are hints that the whole matter came about due to jealousy and infighting in the local Labour party which I'd like to hear more about. I suppose I could ask Mr Packer, it seems he's planning on continuing with his role leading tours of the Council House so he's easy to reach. For any ladies thinking of going on one of these tours, can I suggest that you go in twos?

Update - More on this from the 'Post' at 6.50pm. Looks like they've now been given clearance by head office to name Ms Trevis. And they're allowing comments on this one now, let loose the dogs of crass war...

Updateagain - They've changed it now, comments no longer allowed. I love the 'Post's' comments policy, race hate is fine but upset the Lord Mayor? Oh no...

Update 26 August - He's gone.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

A Reminder...

A while back I set up a petition in the following terms -

"We believe that Nottingham City Council should publish all Freedom of Information requests it receives along with the responses on its website. We therefore call on Nottingham City Council to implement this simple act in the interests of openness and accountability."

Just a little reminder to please, please sign it here, I really do think it would be a positive step towards greater openness in local government.

Please be aware that, being a free petition site it tries to get you to donate money. It's not compulsory, the way through is to sign as requested, click 'sign', and then you get taken to a 'please donate' screen with no apparent bypass route. However, if you click the 'next' button you get taken to a Paypal site but instead of putting any of your details in, look down the bottom left where there is a small link giving you the possibility of 'going back to ipetitions'. Pick this one, your signature will still work and it won't have cost you a penny.

Please tell me of any problems you have signing the petition, including if you don't feel able to sign it due to the admittedly stupid arrangements.

Friday, 7 August 2009


There's nothing like helping out old buddies eh? That warm feeling of familiarity, mutual backscratching etc and NCC is no different.

Old pals Invigor8, whose name is more reminiscent of a boy band than a management consultancy, have got the job training human resources about competence. And believe me, someone needs to.

If you're a regular reader you'll remember that we last heard from Invigor8 when they were named as NCC's latest 'culture' consultants and we made one or two snide remarks about their apparent obedience and ability to provide the right answers. Purely in the spirit of satire obv.

This time they've got the job under special procedures allowing the normal financial regulations to be bypassed, following the portfolio decision made by Cllr Chapman. They'll be getting another £15k for this. Hmmm...

In another blast from the past. PricewaterhouseCoopers make a welcome return to conduct a review of the NCC's internal audit procedures.

I last mentioned Internal Audit when they confirmed many of my criticisms of the Housing Benefits service, albeit a bit late. Housing Benefits are one of NCC's bright shining stars because they are the most successful at hiding how shit they are from the Audit Commission, so its perhaps not so surprising that the spotlight has fallen on anybody who blows the gaff on them.

This decision appears to have been made under a 'framework agreement' agreed by the Executive Board in November 2008. I'd like to have a look at what that entails but unfortunately I can't find the minutes anywhere so if anybody can help...?

Whatever it involves it appears that individual projects are subject to the normal decision making rules, this time via yet another portfolio decision from Cllr Chapman.

Anyway the costs. PwC Partner Richard Bacon charges £2,142 per day for his time, Principal Consultant Chris Dickens gets £1,533 per day and the two Senior Consultants get £1,350 per day. Bringing up the rear is the Junior Consultant (special responsibilities, fetching sandwiches from Pret, coffee from Starbucks) on £315 per day. Nice work if you can get it.

In all PwC expect to be paid £14,217 for a total of 11.5 person days work, not including expenses which are capped at 10% or £1,422. As well as the coffee and sarnies that should cover them for a couple of Easyrider passes and a box of biros.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Trams and Workplace Parking Levy

Something slightly different today. Firstly, its about an NCC policy I absolutely approve of and wish them all power for a speedy implementation and secondly, we're sort of going into media studies mode. Well, more accurately were re-awakening our little used 'comments by the twats' feature.

So. The Tram phase 2 has got the go-ahead along with the workplace parking levy. Obviously we get an article or two about it in the 'Post' but, for added fun, the 'Daily Fail' has chipped in too, complete with its army of reactionary commenters. And the 'Daily Torygraph'. Nottingham really is the talk of the media today.

The Mail opens its piece by claiming that the WPL has been condemned by critics as a "tax on jobs" but then fails to list any critic that actually uses this phrase. In other words, the Mail is saying its a tax on jobs but they want to give you the impression that somebody who has a clue of what they're talking about thinks this is the case.

Let's deal with the 'tax on jobs' BS because it won't take us long. It's actually a tax on parking. Most of the tax I've paid in my life has been via income tax. I have a job, I get taxed on its proceeds. THAT'S a tax on a job you numpty. Most people in their heart of hearts accept the need for it.

Both the Mail and the Torygraph quote an AA spokesdroid who rather sensibly hasn't provided their name, presumably because their job unfortunately requires them to talk shit today.

"It is discriminating against those employers who have parking spaces, which gets vehicles off the street." s/he bleats.

Note the use of the word 'discriminating' here in an attempt to evoke the language of the struggle against oppression. I mean for pity's sake.

No, you haven't imagined it, the spoke really does go on to claim that parking spaces "get vehicles off the street". And I suppose they do but ONLY AFTER SOMEONE HAS PUT THEM ON THE FUCKING STREET TO DRIVE THEM TO THE SODDING PARKING SPACE. Which probably wouldn't happen if they didn't have a parking space at work provided for them. Sheesh.

No disrespect to the nation's car mechanics but if you needed the spark plugs changing on your car you wouldn't go looking to some Oxbridge educated MP's political assistant to tune the beast up for you. Similarly, I'm not going to ask an organisation of spanner monkeys how to do politics and social policy.

When I used to commute to work on the bus (I'm not working at the mo btw, it's not that I've gone and bought a car) at least 10 minutes was added onto the journey time because Hucknall Rd was jammed with rush hour traffic. It was all too apparent that the vast, vast majority of vehicles concerned were cars with only one person in. So how selfish is it possible to be of a morning? You pollute the atmosphere increasing the chances of global warming and take up far more of your fair share of road space and you complain of a bit of extra tax?

But the real fun starts when you start to look at some of the comments submitted by, presumably, the nutters NOT on the bus. A bit of local logic first from the Post -

"...there were trams on st ann's well road in the early 1900's, look what st ann's is now, a cess pit!"

Priceless eh? Any problems St Ann's has is due to trams over a hundred years ago.

From the Twatgraph -

"Brilliant, a tax on going to work. The 2001 census showed that 14.5 million people travel to work by car, against 3.4 million using public transport."

Ooh look, he's got the 'tax on jobs' chestnut in, that bodes well. Let me explain, slowly and gently, the fact that lots more people currently commute by car is part of the point. Sensible people want that to change so the atmosphere gets better and the roads are actually usable by more people.

But for pure fruit loop nonsense, nobody does it better than the Daily Fail commenter. Take it away tinfoil hat brigade -

"The middle class being targeted by the state, this is like East Germany in the Cold War."

Yeah right, because it just so is, isn't it?

"Highway robbery is this what fighting for your freedom means ,totally shameless..."

Technically speaking, I think you'll find that it's OFF-the-highway robbery. LOLZ!!!111!!! See what I did there?

"Nottingham City Council are a gang of car-hating lefties who loathe the middle class and are interested only in the underclass. They're turning the city centee into a desert - malls full of empty shops, deserted car parks, "traffic" systems designed to block traffic.Anyone decent goes elsewhere to shop as no prestige stores will open there and everything is geared to brat-toting "single mothers"."

Bloody hell, where do you start with that one? Spelling mistakes author's own...

I'll stop with the vox pop now before I lose the will to live. But it's reassuring to know that Britain's reputation as a liberal and philosophical nation remains intact, I'm sure you'll agree.

So yes, we're going to get some more trams, that's a good thing, and something's going to have to pay for it which is inconvenient. Get over it.