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.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

IT Trubs

A while ago I noticed that there were hints of IT security trouble up at t'mill but I couldn't find anything concrete about it. There were a couple of references to confidential reports in meeting minutes but no detail because the public were excluded.

A little bit has come out now via a report to the Audit Committee although some of it has been kept confidential.

Apparently 14 areas of high level of risk were identified of which 4 remain. The report reveals that NCC were caught by the Conficker virus (although not as badly as Manchester City Council as the report falls over itself to point out). Perhaps most seriously, a new security manager identified a serious flaw in the credit card payments system that could have resulted in a fine and/or the loss of the ability to take credit card payments if it hadn't been addressed. The report doesn't describe the nature of the lapse but any combination of the words 'security lapse' and 'my credit card details' would be enough to give me the heebie-jeebies.

Apparently they've sent the IT team on some training as well. Which is nice.

Update; Found an earlier report describing some of the fallout of the Conficker infection here. Some of the cost was due to a need to replace 350 computers at a cost of £185k because they were too old to apply the MS Malicious Software tool and other anti-virus gubbins. This probably gives you a clue as to how old these machines were.

Friday, 24 July 2009

I am Sheriff of Nottingham, Hear Me Roar

This is one of those where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. No, scratch that, its laugh all the way.

In a 'somebody left the work experience kid to do the press releases while the rest of the office pops down the local of a Friday' moment NCC is reporting that The Sheriff of Nottingham is 'getting tough' on, wait for it, people feeding Canada Geese. Presumably he'll be working his way up to dangerous armed outlaws when he's done his sheriffing exams.

So what is Cllr Leon Unczur (for it is he, in fancy dress) going to be doing about these nefarious goose caterers? Well, he's going to.....PUT SIGNS UP AT THEM!!!!! RAAAAAWWWWWWRRRRRRR!!!!!

I dunno, sheriffing just ain't what it used to be eh? Back in the day he wouldn't have been putting wimpy little signs up (not unless they said something like 'Reward 50 groats, dead or alive' on them) he'd have been locking the perpetrators up in a dark and dismal dungeon, or they'd have been hung drawn and quartered without any tea.

But, thanks to the namby-pamby elf 'n' safety nanny state you can't be doing that any more so signs it is.

But he's still got some menacing words for us - (imagine a pantomime villain Keith Allen voice)

"Nottingham is my city and I will be after any one who feeds these birds and causes a nuisance for people visiting the area."

Run! Run for your lives its the Sheriff, he's got signs and he's not afraid to use them!!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Roshni to Lose NCC Funding?

Getting reports via Pickled Politics that Roshni, the refuge and support service aimed at South Asian women and their children, is under threat of losing its council funding.

Details are a bit sketchy but they have a Facebook page and have set up a petition.

An alarming prospect, Nottingham can't really afford to lose ANY of its support services for women fleeing violence and while I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that every single ethnic group absolutely has to have its own little set of separate services I think there's a pretty cast iron case for a specific group providing domestic violence support for the South Asian Community.

Hopefully we'll hear more on this and be able to comment in more detail.


I'm really not sure what to think but, well, just look at it

(thanks to veggiesosage for the pics, reproduced under creative commons)

I suppose its fun in a way and there aren't really enough truly ridiculous things in life so maybe there's room for a beach in a midlands city's Market Square.

And clearly there is cos they've gone and put one there.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

School Clothing Allowance Reductions

Councillor Mellen has just made an Executive Portfolio Decision to reduce the grants available to low income families to help pay for school uniforms.

The reductions, to be implemented next year, range between about £10 to £48.

The allowances are hardly generous to start with and only pay for one basic uniform per child.

I admit I don't have any children myself but in my previous career as a child (grades small to teenage) I'm pretty sure I got through clothing like a good'un by growing inconveniently fast and indulging in the usual range of childish adventures. Cheap school trousers rarely stand up to a 10 year old running full tilt across the playground before tumbling arse over tit (having not seen the skipping rope stretched across his path) and sliding to a halt on his knees for instance.

There was, of course, a consultation which resulted in the shock result that consultees disagreed with the idea to reduce the allowances, so Cllr Mellen did it anyway.

To soften the blow eligibility has been widened and schools are to be told to be more 'inclusive' with their uniform policies and not to favour single clothing suppliers, a point raised in the consultation as being a factor increasing uniform prices.

Aside from the obvious callousness of reducing any allowance or benefit to low income families during a recession there is an issue of procedure here.

Regular readers will know that I've been banging on about the use of 'Executive Portfolio Decisions' for a while. Certain decisions cannot be taken by Executive Portfolio holders alone because they are defined as key decisions and therefore must be taken by the Executive Board (see page 22 of this document).

There are financial limits involved but the definition of a 'Key Decision', importantly in this case, also includes a decision that is likely

" be significant in terms of its effects on communities living or working in an area consisting of two or more wards in the City."

Surely this latter condition would include a decision to reduce school clothing allowances across the entire city? In the decision notice Cllr Mellen claims it doesn't but he's clearly off on a working break to cloud cuckoo land if he truly believes that.

In my view this decision is unconstitutional so it shouldn't be allowed to stand. Wonder if any opposition councillors would feel able to take the issue up? I also think that the matter could be subject to judicial review as well so if there are any affected parents (who would probably be entitled to legal aid if they are entitle to school uniform vouchers) they might want to consult a solicitor.

The constitution issue is maybe one for the train spotters but it could provide a route to challenge it. And I doubt that there'll be a press release from NCC heading over to the Evening Post on this one.

Update 3 Aug Eve Post finally catches up.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

CCTV Decision

Wrote before about hearing that the decision whether to install CCTV posts in Forest Fields had gone through, now the Executive Portfolio Decision made by Cllr Jon Collins has finally been posted on the Council's website.

Have a look at this bit from the supporting report -

"Residents asked that the whole of Forest Fields be consulted and that it went to a vote which was included in the second letter. Neighbourhood management are of the opinion that this has skewed the results as only one vote per household was allowed therefore biasing multiple occupancy households."

I don't know about you but to me that reads as though they are claiming that the consultation biased results in favour of multi occupancy households when of course the opposite would have been true. Pulling the wool over eyes or just badly written?

And have a look at this bit, I wasn't aware of this before -

"Concern has been expressed that 2 of the 3 proposed columns are outside mosques."

In response 'Equalities and Diversity' recommend -

"To work with the Muslim Communities Steering Group (MCSG), Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and the targeted communications strategy to tackle the negative perception."

Yeah, I'd do that.

A quick note about these portfolio decisions. A portfolio decision is one which has revenue implications of less than £500k or capital implications of less than £1m. The decision must also not affect 2 or more wards. If the decision does not fit in with these restrictions then it must be taken by the Executive Board unless it is one of the decisions that must be taken by full council as set out in the Council's constitution.

Clearly the idea behind delegation of authority in this manner is that large numbers of councillors' time is not taken up with making every single decision. Fair enough in principle, nothing would get done.

But as you can see it still leaves quite big decisions within the gift of one individual. And should the inner circle decide that a controversial policy (like CCTV) needs to be imposed with the minimum of democratic interference all they need to do is ensure it is rolled out on a ward by ward basis, thus making each individual decision a 'portfolio decision' to be taken by just one individual. Just saying.

Surely area committees should have some say over genuinely area specific decisions? Otherwise what's the point of them?

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

That A-Boards Issue I'd Forgotten About

The Post is reporting that NCC have backed down on its rather mindless plan to ban all A-boards in the City.

The Council had previously claimed that all A-boards were deadly agents of death and that any business using one should be bulldozed with the owners inside. They now accept that the problem may just lie with one or two of them and that it was a minor issue that could be sorted out by a chinwag over a cuppa and a biccy.

A dangerous city centre sign, yesterday (see how this selfish business has just placed it in the middle of the thoroughfare with no thought of passers by)

So in a radical step the council met with traders and they talked to each other. After a while they came up with the revolutionary idea of a compromise on the issue and even kept open the possibility of talking to each other again one day.

"We'd never thought of doing that" said council spokesdroid SB1. "All this time we've been handing out diktats telling people what they'll accept and it never occurred to us that one day somebody would be unhappy with that approach."

Apparently 'guidelines' will be 'drawn up' setting out what type of A-Boards are acceptable, although who's going to do the drawing up wasn't mentioned. It remains to be seen whether this touchy feely approach will continue or whether new rules will simply be imposed.

PS I want props for not calling this one 'All A-Board' or somesuch.

Freedom of Information...Will be Along in a While (reprise)

I love this site, it could pretty much write the blog for me, although you'd miss my rapier like wit and repartee.

No, you would.

Anyway, we talked a little while ago about NCC's seeming inability to respond to Freedom of Information requests in a timely fashion and I mentioned that someone had made a FoI request about this.

Well NCC has responded, although by my reckoning, a day late. They could have put a bit of effort into presenting the data as well.

The questioner has helpfully added an annotation with the percentages of responses made in time by year -

2005 - 53%
2006 - 34%
2007 - 40%
2008 - 26%*
2009 - 37% so far

Overall, they have responded to FoI requests on time in 31% of cases. Not particularly good in my opinion.

There's quite a bit of other interesting data about other issues such as the number of occasions where data wasn't held and stuff.

On a related note, I'm becoming increasingly concerned that NCC is quietly sitting on information that it has stated it would routinely publish on its website. I'm talking of the decision to install CCTV in Forest Fields which has still to find its way into the 'Portfolio Decisions' section of their website. It is mentioned in a 'Local Issues' report to the next Area 4 Committee meeting but all it says is that the matter has been referred to JoCo to make a decision, which is a bit out of date.

I'm also wondering what has happened to the Standards Committee, no minutes for the last meeting on 21 April and no agenda published for the next meeting due on 20 July, less than a week away. The Standards Committee is of course looking into Cllr Grocock's 'alleged' part in the housing scandal. Funny how they should go off the radar at such a time.

* NCC would probably want us to point out that 2008 included an exceptionally large number of requests due to lots of staff writing in to find out how their terms and conditions would be affected by single status. Some might suggest that the information should have been handed over at the start of the process. I'm just saying.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Fair Trade

I've finally decided, after a lengthy evaluation period, that Twitter is useful after all.

There are a couple of councillors on Twitter and one of them has been merrily tweeting away from today's full council meeting. Apparently NCC have just voted unanimously to support Fair Trade goods and to keep its status as a 'Fair Trade City'. Hurrah, they've done something good at last.

This counts as my monthly 'good news' story, I'll go back to being a cynical bastard now.

Update; well Twitter WAS useful until the US conservative spammers turned up.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


This has got to be the all time most confused and garbled explanation for refusing a Freedom of Info request on grounds of commercial sensitivity of all time.

Can anyone make head or tail of this bit?

"In considering how the release of this information may prejudice commercial interests we have taken into account any harm that would likely to be caused to this authority. It has been confirmed to me by the relevant department that the bus shelter adverts, CIP adverts, A-Z directory adverts and Arrow adverts are conducted at a preferential rate specifically for the council. Whilst the council produces these publications internally, it does receive funding from external companies, whose commercial interests need to be considered. Releasing details of the preferential rates given to service providers could result in other service providers attempting to “undercut” the current providers, which could effectively damage their business both financially and for future contracts. This would ultimately affect this local authority negatively, as we could lose a service which is for the benefit of the public."

As far as I can tell they are saying that telling us the cost of advertising their 'service' in their own publication would result in upsetting some private company or other. WTF?

As for the public interest case, how can other suppliers offering lower prices harm Nottingham City Council?

And lolz at the "...service which is for the benefit of the public" bit. The 'service' they're talking about was advertising a crackdown on benefit 'cheats'.

Any better understandings of this to the usual address please.

Note; found this giving rates for the 'Arrow'. Implies an opportunity cost of £3000 at least.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

That Petition....please don't be put off...

I walked a friend through the process of signing my petition earlier. I have to admit it wasn't as easy as when I signed it for myself.

I'm sorry everyone, I now realise that the site may try to get you to pay them money. I must reassure you that it's not compulsory.

The way through is to sign as requested, click 'sign', and unfortunately 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.

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.

And if you feel you should donate the money doesn't go to me so I'm staying out of that decision.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Standards Committee Comings and Goings

An anonymous comment on a previous post asked what might happen to Councillor Aslam who was found to have harassed Aneela Asim, the former Chief Executive of Notts Black Partnership. Well, something may have started.

Councillor Aslam has resigned from the Standards Committee. This would presumably be the body charged with the responsibility of judging his conduct as a councillor in this matter and of course he can't sit in judgment of his own actions.

Of course I feel obliged to point out that there may be no connection whatsoever but we'll have to wait and see.

Talking of the Standards Committee, still no sign of their last meeting's minutes on NCC's website, nor of the proceedings against Councillor Brian 'he's my grandson honest' Grocock.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

How Much!!???

Well the Freedom of Information responses are coming in thick and fast now, I'm having touble keeping up with them.

This one is probably the juiciest so far and concerns the use of consultants and external benefits processors by NCC's Housing Benefits services.

Our story starts back in 2002. Essentially, NCC Housing Benefits were shit. No I mean really, REALLY shit, so shit that even Geoff Hibbert was embarrassed and that's saying something.

So they brought in 'change management consultants' Kendric Ash (now owned by Northgate) to sort it out. This work carried on until 2008 according to the FoI response from NCC.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, over that period NCC paid them a total of £939,577. Which is a lot.

Interestingly, the only mention of the tasks they were asked to perform that actually mentions 'customers' (that's benefit claimants to me and you) was improving 'customer access'. So at least you can get in the office a bit quicker.

A clue to the true agenda lies in this sentence

"Develop a Performance Framework and culture to provide demonstrable, sustainable service improvement and deliver consistent, underlying improvement against all KPIs."

KPI = Key Performance Indicator and is the set of measurements that the Audit Commission uses to rate the effectiveness of services. I've blogged before about how Housing Benefits see their primary customer base as being the Audit Commission rather than service users.

Meanwhile, again due to being a bit shit, NCC were having to pay outsidde companies to carry out a chunk of their benefits processing for them. These companies included Crapita (ye gods, that's desperation for you although they didn't stay long) and Hyder Business Services who morphed into Mouchel.

Anyway, Mouchel are still on board and were paid £266,279 last year. In 2003/4, the year of highest spending, a total of £750,749 was spent between two companies. In total, between the years 2002 and 2009 NCC has spent £2,165,540 on private sector housing benefits processing.

Again, I've written briefly about this before, when I was shocked to hear for the first time that NCC were using external processing (its amazing what they keep from you, even when you work for them as I did at one time). NCC's own internal audit service say they "...have been critical of external contractor performance."

So, to sum it all up, NCC paid consultants nearly a million quid in order to make Housing Benefits not shit, and they only succeeded to the point that Housing Benefits still had to pay an average of over £300k per year on external processing by companies who were regarded by NCC internal audit as being a bit shit themselves.

But they got their 4 star rating you see and that's what it was all about, you don't worry about having the worst accuracy rate in the entire East Midlands or that your Discretionary Housing Payments scheme is a complete shambles.

And you certainly don't worry about what the money could have been better spent on, we leave that to the unions...

We Pays Our Money...Or Rather JoCo Does

Days after reports of Nottingham City Council overspending by £3.4m (it was actually formally announced at the last Executive Board meeting), we hear that NCC has decided to hand over £30k to PricewaterhouseCoopers (as we're legally obliged to write it, fuck knows why) for

"a report identifying the financial costs and savings of providing a range of services through a trust or Non Profit Distributing Organisation."

This is just the first phase of the investigation, if it concludes positively then a 'detailed business assessment' will be undertaken. How much that will cost isn't mentioned.

I touched on this briefly before as the intention to look into these alternative management arrangements was mentioned in the Budget. The whole idea baffles me as I can't for the life of me see any real prospect of saving any money. I'm also concerned that NCC's first step is to chuck a load of cash at some accountants when surely the expertise in this sort of thing already exists either in other authorities or the LGA. Its not as if it's never been done before, a quick search found two general reports on the issue (here and here if you fancy some background reading), the second of which certainly has an ideological rather then pragmatic flavour to it.

So why haven't you heard of this elsewhere? Well it's one of those 'portfolio' decisions where one of the portfolio holders on the Executive Board gets to decide things without discussing it with anybody. I'm not sure of what exactly makes a decision a 'portfolio' decision* as opposed to one that's got to be discussed with other people but I presume the process is for minor decisions of relatively low expenditure, although clearly £30k is quite a bit.

The last one of these 'portfolio' decisions that I wrote about was the one to pay Carl Froch £1000 an hour to have a pic of Robin Hood on his dressing gown and open a few supermarkets. So I'm pleased to see that he will be earning some of that money next Monday.

Mr Froch will be in the Market Square for £3,000 worth of his time promoting the 'Proud of You' awards, another chance to vote for your favourite bin man or whatever.

Actually we could have some fun with these as it includes a 'Champion of the Environment' award. Anybody know the name of the person behind the abortive Ratcliffe power station protest?

*Actually I've now found the definition of a portfolio decision (or Executive Portfolio to give its full title), it's on page 23 of this document.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Press Releases

You might have read in the 'Post' yesterday that NCC are hoping to bring back the death penalty for littering and having the wrong colour paint on your windows.

What's weird is that this didn't appear in their press releases (which we feed to over there -->) yet today NCC feels obliged to tell us that a document shredding company has moved to Nottingham.

Perhaps it's a metaphor for their attitude to Freedom of Information...

What's NOT weird is that NCC have jumped in for yet more populist authoritarian measures which are most likely to affect vulnerable poor people the most. That, unfortunately is par for the course.

Btw, we sent a press release to the Post about the petition, not seen sight nor sound of it yet.

Forest Fields CCTV

(Thanks to

I'd previously blogged about the prospect of CCTV being installed in Forest Fields and that the idea wasn't universally popular. There were also suggestions that the methods of 'consultation' were a little flawed.

Today, Indymedia is reporting that the scheme has "has been approved by Councillor Jon Collins". The information apparently comes from a letter to the campaigners from NCC.

Presuming it's true, this doesn't say a lot about democracy or even the much vaunted 'area working' within NCC. The Area 4 Committee didn't even mention CCTV at their meeting on 21 May, despite the fact that campaigners had written to Berridge Ward Councillors raising further objections on 1 May, not to mention the public meeting on 23 April.

Still, JoCo wants it ergo it happens.