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.