Monday, 29 March 2010

Election Posters a Go Go

The Labour Party has invited people to help them design a series of election posters. In a not entirely unanticipated move this has caused some to take the opportunity to make a few spoof versions. There's some good ones here.

In the spirit of adding a bit of a local flavour Here's my suggestion to be used should everyone's favourite council leader decide to run for Nottingham East, as has been rumoured.

Back to doing some non-childish stuff another day, maybe.

Kiss of Death?

NCC's main supplier for 'British Schools for the Future' IT stuff 'Ramesys' (is it just me who finds that name slightly disturbing? Sounds like the sort of company that might sell this. That link is Not Safe For Work btw) has been taken over by Capita, according to a report on the 'Register' website.

Crapita has become a byword for useless public sector outsourcing and regularly features in Private Eye. NCC used them for external Housing Benefits processing a few years back but even they realised their mistake pretty quickly and found someone else.

Ramesys is based in Nottingham. Rumours of a mass exodus of horrified techies fleeing the kiss of death on their careers that is 'Crapita' appearing on their CVs are so far unsubstantiated.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

JoCo's Pledge Card

You may have seen that the Labour Party are issuing 'pledge cards' so their candidates don't forget which meaningless cliches to spout at those difficult media moments to present their 'core values' in a simple and effective way to the electorate.

What you may not know is that candidates can make their own.

Following news that Jon Collins may be standing in Nottingham East I can exclusively reveal that he has already done his

Cheap and a little bit obvious I know but I am very easy to amuse and it does keep me off the streets.

Friday, 26 March 2010

We're On a Slow Boat...

A recent NCC press release proudly proclaimed how our good city is attracting 'overwhelming interest' from China. Seeing this reminded me about how selective our vision has become in the human rights field since China took over the world.

This is of course the same China that has the death penalty for 68 offences and is rumoured to hand out up to 8000 death sentences per year. It's another area in which they are a world leader.

The same China that invaded Tibet and continues to hold it in an iron grip with detention without trial, torture and enforced isolation of the country from the outside world all featuring.

The same China that uses adminstrative punishments such as 'Re-education Through Labour' without trial.

The same China that, in the lead up to the Olympics, actually increased human rights abuses, often against human rights activists. This included sweeps of 'undesirables' from the streets in order to present a harmonious front to foreign media and forced evictions and land seizures.

And we haven't even mentioned Tiananmen Square yet.

But as long as a few Nottingham businesses rake in a bit of cash what's the worry eh? And it's not difficult to see the appeal to JoCo and his mob of a regime that doesn't feel the need to tolerate dissent.

Nottingham claims to be a 'Fair Trade City'.

JoCo to Jump out of the Small Pond?

We don't normally do stuff about MPs here but the news that John Heppell is standing down from Nottingham East at the election has significant NCC ramifications.

Not least because the stated reason for quitting, his wife Cllr Eileen Heppell's illness, means we are presumably looking at a by-election in Bulwell.

To my mind Eileen is the bigger story here and it seems a little callous that she is only meriting a footnote in the media reports. Let's hope she makes a full recovery.

Further issues surround JH's replacement, with speculation that a certain McDonalds troughing* council leader is in the running. Presumably he wouldn't see any need to resign the leadership if he were to be elected. Or his council seat. Or the Chair of 'One Nottingham'. Or the Chair of the Crime and Drugs Partnership. Or...(that's enough resignations. Ed.)

*I'm presuming that multinational burger chains weren't expected to be in attendance at MIPIM.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Naughty Councillors - Allegedly

In what I have to say is a somewhat surprising move, NCC has replied in full to my Freedom of Information request asking which councillors have been referred to the Standards Committee.

So, in no particular order the three alleged miscreants so named are as follows -

1) Cllr Brian Grocock.

We knew about this one, he referred himself after getting all sticky in the Nottingham City Homes mishmash.

2) Cllr Hassan Ahmed

It seems like, oooh, HOURS since we last wrote about Cllr Ahmed and he hardly seems to have been out of one sort of trouble or another in the past year or so. He was in the Evening Post only the other day because they'd discovered that he hadn't quite been truthful about his interests. And of course he was arrested (but never charged) over an assault which NCC obligingly kept secret until he was rumbled.

3) Cllr Mick Newton

A surprising one this as I hadn't heard a peep about it until I got the FoIA response so I've no idea what it's all about. I hear a rumour that he hasn't been seen for a while chez NCC which probably doesn't bode too well for him.

All three of these cases are still at the investigation stage and none have been completed. This really is pretty poor, not least for accountability but, as we have to recognise innocence before guilt is proved and obviously we don't know whether that will be the outcome, it's hardly a good thing for the individuals concerned either.

A surprising omission from the list was Cllr Mohammad Aslam who was at the centre of a major discrimination case brought by the former Chief Exec of the Nottingham Black Partnership last year. I'd have thought that he would have been a shoe-in.

CEHRNN and Hassan Ahmed - A Conflict of Interest?

Thanks to Alanadale who pointed out in the comments to an earlier post that Cllr Hassan Ahmed may have been involved with an organisation called 'Nottingham Equal'.

On checking Ahmed's register of interests confirms that Nottingham Equal is listed as an organisation "...of which [he is] a member or in a position of general control or management."

As Alan says, there could be some overlap between the two organisations' functions and one wonders whether Cllr Ahmed has been entirely unpartisan over his decision to end CEHRR's funding.

Mind you, at least he did register the interest this time, which is an improvement.

I would suggest that this decision is one which would be suitable for the underused 'call-in' procedure. It's totally inappropriate for such a major decision to be made by just two councillors, even if the decision itself were to be justified.

An article in today's 'Post' does give us a bit of insight into the reasons behind the decision. If factually correct they would give cause for concern. However, be that as it may the question remains as to whether it is within the council's constitution for such a major decision to be made under individual executive portfolio holder powers.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Farmyard Animals Drafted in to Improve Neighbourhood Management in Forest Fields

This is a bit surreal.

Forest Fields councillors have agreed money to "fund a billygoat* to improve the service to the residents of Forest Fields."

No, it really says that, go and look.

Next week, the Chief Executive is replaced with a small poodle so as better to carry out the required lapdog functions for Cllr Collins. Rumours that any councillors would be replaced with farmyard animals were strenuously denied on the basis that they are all efficient enough at keeping their noses in the trough already. Arf.

*Ok, I'm presuming it's not REALLY a beardy ruminant of the male persuasion we're talking about here, although I truthfully haven't got any idea what they are actually talking about.

Update; I am told via the magic of Twitter that it's all about one of these. Which is just dull.

A Bit More on CEHRNN and Its Funding

A bit more digging around 0n this strange business of the apparent removal of NCC's funding for the Council of Equality and Human Rights Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (CEHRNN) has turned up the fact that its predecessor organisation Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Racial Equality Council (NNREC) was awarded £122k pa in the latest 3 year funding round i.e. no small beer. This was awarded to help them provide training, advice and hate incident monitoring.

As I said in my previous post I think that it's doubtful that a decision of this significance can be made by an Executive Portfolio Holder under NCC's constitution. If you look at p22 of this document from NCC's constitution, although it is within the financial limits of a portfolio holder decision, a decision that is significant in its effects on two or more wards in the city must be made by the Executive Board. As CEHRNN works across the city and is the biggest anti discrimination organisation in Nottingham I really don't see how that condition cannot be said to apply. I think this opens the council up to the possibility of legal challenge.

Almost as importantly, there is no justification for keeping the decision secret. The claimed reasons for doing so don't really hold any water. The fact that it "contains information relating to both the financial or business affairs of any particular person" would apply to any such decision and you'd hope that "information relating to consultations or negotiations, or contemplated consultations or negotiations" would have been completed before any such decision is actually made.

Radford Unity Complex - A Solution?

With a bit of luck it seems that the groups based at the 'surplus to requirements' (but not actually empty) Radford Unity Complex will not be out on the street after all.

According to a NCC press release on its website -

"The new premises are at the former Douglas Primary School in Ilkeston Road, less than a mile from their old base. The building, which is currently empty, offers similar space to Radford Unity Complex and provides a large hall, catering kitchen, an IT suite, outside play area and off-road parking and is in better condition than Radford Unity Complex..."

I hope it is as wonderful as they claim.

But it raises questions as to why a building that was still in use was labelled 'surplus to requirements' when an apparently similar property, standing empty, was not. You also have to wonder at the mentality of an organisation that runs the risk of closing apparently popular groups serving BME communities, handing their political opponents a PR gift weeks before a general election before looking down the back of their metaphorical sofa and finding them a replacement which just happens to be perfect and not currently in use. A free PR tip guys (not to mention common decency), next time, do that last bit right at the start, you'll save yourselves a lot of grief.

If I was one of the Labour Party's East Midlands strategists I think I'd be having a quiet word with Collins and his numpty squad.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Councillor Hassan Ahmed Still Not Out of the Woods

The Evening Post has today claimed that Hassan Ahmed, the Executive Portfolio Holder for employment and skills at NCC, has not been entirely straight over previous claims to have ended links to companies that constituted a conflict of interest with his council role.

Ahmed had previously been caught out not registering these interests and, on being exposed, quickly putting them on record and acting as if nothing was wrong.

Interestingly, the article reveals that Ahmed is being investigated by the Standards Board for England. Normally, investigations into councillors are looked into by NCC's Standards Committee, cases normally only go up to the national Standards Board if they are more serious and the local committee don't feel able to deal with it properly.

I've already written quite a lot about the apparent effectiveness or otherwise of the Standards Committee so it's quite reassuring that the matter has been taken out of their hands.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Council for Equality and Human Rights Nottingham and Nottinghamshire

Anybody know anything about this bunch? They don't seem to have a website although they do seem to be something to do with Nottm and Notts REC. It might even be their new name but it's difficult to tell because, at time of writing, their website is on the blink.

The reason for my interest is that Hassan Ahmed and Graham Chapman appear to have just made a portfolio decision to withdraw NCC funding for this organisation (see decision #659) but they don't want to tell us why. NCC's website claims the decision is exempt from publication.

In the light of a complete lack of information I can only speculate that there will be trouble ahead over this. Removing funding from what seems like an anti discrimination organisation would normally cause uproar. What's more, how NCC can claim that such a decision won't have a significant effect on two or more wards in the City, and therefore suitable for being decided by a portfolio holder rather than the Executive Board or full Council is a bit of a mystery to me, unless the NCC funding share is extremely small.

Can anybody enlighten me further? Comments or email, you decide.

Update; have now established that CEHRNN is the new name for the organisation that was Notts REC. Notts REC was effectively the local branch of the Commission for Racial Equality and I presume the local name change was due to the CRE's absorbtion into the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In other words this isn't some two bit local community group. So what on earth is NCC doing pulling its funding?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Am In Da Paperz

Big hello to any new readers who have found us via the 'Eve Post' article.

Oh and hello to the rest of you who have been here all along of course.

PS if you're interested you can find a link to my employment tribunal decision via this earlier blog post. In particular note the tribunal's comments about Head of Housing Benefits Lisa Black, who should be sacked immediately.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

And the Band Played On...But Probably Not at Victoria Embankment

The next battle in NCC's blitzkrieg against the city's arcitectural heritage looks set to be over the 1930s bandstand on the Victoria Embankment.

You may have heard that there is a major project being undertaken to revamp flood defences along the Trent's left bank (taken as if you are facing downstream so the city side). It's already run into a few problems upstream at Attenborough with pesky locals getting in the way and demanding a say.

The scheme extends along the Victoria Embankment and will therefore help protect the meadows from flooding. NCC has teamed up with the Environment Agency to redevelop the park area nearby. All good stuff so far.

Unfortunately, as it's laconically put by NCC (para 1.11), the final plans have

"...until now been based on the demolition of the bandstand, which is not currently a listed structure..."

which seems a bit of a shame. It's not clear as to why this assumption had always been made and there's no argument in the report that such a route is vital. Apparently a listing application has since been submitted and is being considered 'urgently'.

A campaign has been put in place and NCC's comments on that look a little sinister (para 1.12)

"Furthermore, a local resident has been campaigning to save the bandstand. He has collected names of 500+ people suggesting they are in favour of saving the bandstand and may be submitting this to full council in the near future. However, the 'Friends of Victoria Embankment' (FOVE) held a meeting to gauge opinion on the future of the bandstand on 2n February; despite the 500+ petition only 22 people attended the meeting."

Ooh sneaky, you see what they've done there? Rather dishonestly suggesting that the petition may not be all it's cracked up to be because 'only' 22 people turned up to a meeting.

NCC knows as well as anybody else that getting people to go to a meeting for a cause is very difficult and not necessarily representative of prevailing opinion. People tend to have lives to lead and stuff like that. And anyway, the petition is now up to 1200 signatories.

The report continues (para 1.13)

"In order to address this question more directly it is proposed that a more focused piece of consultation will take place to determine people's opinion on the future of the bandstand which will better inform any decision being made following on from the English Heritage assessment."

Call me a cynic but this seems to me to be code for 'doing a Viccy Baths' i.e. when faced with a grassroots campaign that appears to be gathering momentum, NCC uses its vastly superior resources to rig the vote and get the answer it wants. And remember, they are not averse to manipulating schoolchildren in order to achieve this. If your child goes to school in the local area, expect to have to help them with their 'Why Bandstands are Stupid and Should be Pulled Down' essays imminently.

As a side issue I hope that English Heritage do list the bandstand. It is one of the precious few art deco structures in Nottingham (not that anybody at NCC knows their art deco from their arse) and, as far as I know, none of them are listed and to me that's a major omission. It's not as if bandstands per se are not worth listing, both the Arboretum and Casle bandstands are Grade II listed and the latter is little more than a store room for stacking chairs. Both of these are of the more 'traditional' bandstand style but that adds to the argument for listing the Victoria Embankment bandstand because it is of a markedly different architectural style and one that is pretty rare in Nottingham. Furthermore it's a strong argument for it not to be buldozed.

A BBC report on the campaign.

Monday, 15 March 2010

[Not] Jon Collins Personal Mentor

Bit of a rum do this business in the 'Post' of JoCo supposedly spending over £100k on a 'personal mentor'. JoCo is, of course, in full denial mode saying that the payments to a Harold Tinworth was for policy advice and support to himself, other members of the executive, senior officers and 'One Nottingham'. Kind of sounds as though HT is running NCC single handed in which case he sounds pretty good value for money.

But as Alanadale has already said, this attempt at a defense from JoCo shows that, in the political phrase du jour, he simply 'doesn't get it'.

What's a bit odd though is that there's very little info about Mr Tinworth in his role as a consultant. A Google search for his company (the 'Post' says he runs a firm of consultants called 'Regional and Local Associates') and a search for him mostly seems to bring up stuff about his local authority background. A search on the NCC website reveals he was once an adviser on the reform of (forerunner to 'One Nottingham') the 'One City Partnership Nottingham' (see p16 of this report) back in 2005 but I think that work was done for Government Office East Midlands rather than freelance.

I have to admit though that, just because I can't find something doesn't automatically mean it's not there but if anybody can enlighten me on this chap's background please do via the comments or email.

A little bit more worryingly, although subject to the same proviso as above, is the fact that there appears to be no record of a decision to approve the funding of HT's work for the council. At this level of expenditure any approval would be via a portfolio holder decision, most likely by JoCo himself. Yet I've painstakingly gone through the list of portfolio decisions back to the beginning of 2005 (that's a couple days of my life I won't get back) and I can't find anything remotely relevant to Mr Tinworth or his firm.

So it's all a bit mysterious and the lack of info makes it rather difficult to comment properly. Someone should have a bit more of a look into this business about the approval decision to employ him though.

Monday, 8 March 2010

A Response to my Formal Complaint

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I submitted (several) complaints to NCC about their rather silly legal letter they sent to me to try and stop me being a naughty boy.

It seems that it's third time lucky and not only that, the reply came from Jane Todd herself. There, I knew you'd be impressed by that. And here it is -

"Thank you for your letter of complaint dated 16 February 2010.

Having looked into the matter, I acknowledge that the Council received your original letter of complaint via our website on 20 December 2009 and also a reminder dated 5 February 2010. Unfortunately, the original letter was overlooked and the reminder was not forwarded to the relevant service area. I apologise for the fact that the Council did not acknowledge your correspondence and deal with your original complaint sooner.

I have now considered the contents of Jon Ludford-Thomas’ letter to you dated 17 December 2009 on behalf of the Council and which is copied in its entirety in your letter to Cllr Collins and me dated 16 February 2010.

I do not agree, as you state, that the sole intention of the letter was intimidation of you and an attempt to silence your criticism of the Council. I consider the letter was a legitimate request, politely made, by the Council, to remove from your website and not post further potentially distressing, personal, derogatory comments regarding certain councillors and employees of Nottingham City Council. It made no threat of legal action by either the Council or the individuals in question and did not seek to restrict you further other than desisting from making personal, derogatory comments. As such I cannot agree to your demand for an apology regarding the contents of the letter.

If you still feel that this decision is wrong you can have your case looked at independently. You can contact the Local Government Ombudsman and ask them to look into the details of your case. You can use the form I have enclosed otherwise the contact details for the Ombudsman are below..."

We haven't given the NCCLols Translation Service an airing for a while so I think this is an ideal opportunity. Here we go then -

"We threw away your earlier complaints. What did you expect?

And no we're not going to apologise. Instead we'll hide behind some nonsense fiction that we were acting in good faith. Nottingham City Council never apologises. Never. NEVER!!! Do you hear?

Here's the Ombudsman's details but only because we're obliged to give them to you, don't go thinking we're going soft."

What was I saying about it being a bit early for the 'Least Surprising News...' award?

The matter has already been sent to the Ombudsman so I'll have to update them with this most recent development. Can't say I'm over optimistic about them doing anything, in my experience the Ombudsman is less than keen to criticise Local Authorities when there's a nonsense fiction they can hide behind instead.

Update on Radford Unity Complex

The 'Post' is reporting that, despite the first ever 'call-in' in 10 years of the existence of the procedure, the decision to close Radford Unity Complex will not be reconsidered.

In retrospect I should have headlined this 'Least Surprising News With Smallest Amount of Shock Value of the Year'. But then it is only March and that might have been a bit rash.

Interestingly, the 'Post' reports that NCC have found a buyer for the buildings but are refusing to say who it is.

Bearing in mind the speed with which it was all done, with allegations that the groups based at RUC were given notice before the decision was even made to close it, I think it would be very interesting to know when that potential buyer first arrived on the scene.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Closure of Radford Unity Complex

This is another of those 'coming late to the party' moments for me. I did see it but completely failed to take in its significance until yesterday.

Radford Unity Complex is an old Victorian school building in Radford. As well as housing some NCC staff it also caters for a number of BME voluntary projects including Nottingham Teaching College and the Sikh Community and Youth Service amongst others. The NCC staff are all moving out, mainly to the new NCC HQ at Loxley House.

Some of you might already see where this is going. Essentially, NCC saw an opportunity to save money and, via a portfolio holder decision by Cllr Jon Collins, they decided to close it down.

Now I did see this but, as I say, I didn't think much of it. After all, it's not that controversial for councils to consolidate their property portfolio and the report attached repeatedly states that the groups "can be relocated to alternative accommodation" with "better facilities". Naively, I assumed that this meant that alternative accommodation had already been found.

This turns out not to be the case. From 'Evening Post' articles here and here it seems that the groups were simply given 90 days notice to leave and it's very unclear exactly what support to find new premises is being given. What's more there appears to have been very little consultation with those affected, beyond establishing that they wouldn't have the means to take the building over as a community enterprise. It's worth reading some of the comments to the articles which appear to have been added by people connected with the groups, although you do have to navigate around the usual racist bollocks that the 'Post' insists on tolerating on its comments boards.

So, to my mind, the report supporting JoCo's decision to shut up shop is extremely economical with the truth and there seems to be quite a bit of spin going on. Plus ca change you might say.

Finally, I was checking Twitter and I saw some references to the issue on Cllr Alex Foster's Twitterfeed, which I've reproduced below -

I was very interested to see the phrase 'first ever call-in sub-committee'.

Some background. In the year 2000 most councils changed their governance structures following an Act of Parliament. There were a number of possible different options but NCC decided to go for an Executive Board, comprising of a number of Executive Portfolio Holders. Essentially the idea is that, as full council is somewhat unwieldy it would be required to make only a small number of the most important decisions like approving the annual budget, other 'key decisions' would be taken by the Executive Board and most other decisions, defined by financial limits and other factors could be taken by Executive Portfolio Holders. The decision to close the RUC was one such decision.

However, such decisions are subject to 'call-in' where the Overview and Scrutiny Committee can set up a sub-committee to examine at the decision and ask the Executive to look at it again. It's all that exists in terms of checks and balances on these decisions and in fact it's pretty toothless because if the Exec decides not to change the decision there's nothing else that can be done. These arrangements have all been in place for 10 years.

Like I said, I was very interested in that 'first ever' bit. As you can see from the list of agendas for the call-in sub-committee, as Cllr Foster says, there has never been one before in 10 years. So much for checks and balances.

Back to the actual issue involved I was even more interested in Cllr Foster's report that Cllr Long had picked up that the groups based at the RUC had been given their 90 days notice BEFORE the decision to close had actually been made. That really does smell of a big piece of fish.

So, to sum up, jumping the gun re starting the eviction process, little or no consultation, somewhat uh, 'generous' NCC background report and the serious prospect of six community groups working with the BME community out on their ear. Very 'community cohesion'.

And all topped off with the revelation that the only check and balance on portfolio decisions has never been used before. Isn't local democracy wonderful?

[Interesting side note not specifically connected to NCC; a request for call-in has to be signed by three non-executive councillors and in this case it was three Tories. Now fair play to them for that but I'm just saying it's the first time I've seen the Tories on NCC get involved in any issue not connected with Wollaton Golf Club. And if you look across the river at the County you might well conclude that their party's reputation as community champions has yet to be firmly established.

Radford Unity Complex is of course situated within Nottingham South constituency which is a target for the Tories in the upcoming general election. By some extraordinary co-incidence, Tory PPC for Nottingham South has also been getting involved in the campaign too.

If you live in Nottm South (especially NG7 area, maybe not in leafy Wollaton), expect to see this issue feature in Tory election leaflets, coming through your door soon.]

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

PFI Scheme Overruns and Costs Increase Shocker

Every now and again, you really need to know that you're part of the gang, one of the boys/girls, part of the in-crowd. It's that feeling of belonging that's needed, the reassurance that you're not out there on your own.

Nottingham City Council must have felt like that when just about every other public sector organisation had got involved with the horror story that is the Private Finance Initiative. How they must have longed to share in the dizzy excitement of timetable overruns and ballooning costs.

Happily, NCC has managed to embroil itself in such a scheme and there are reassuring signs that it is conforming to type.

It seems that NCC has started on the long and winding road of setting up a PFI scheme to renew and maintain the City's street lighting.

The thing about One of the many things about PFI is that there is quite a bit of groundwork. You have to get approval from central government, you have to get bidders in and then you have to sort out the detailed specifications of the scheme and sort out the contract. All of which is very complicated and as such requires a lot of money spent on helpful input from consultants.

It seems that the story of this particular scheme started in February 2006 when an Expression of Interest (EoI) was submitted to the Department for Transport (known as DafT to readers of 'Private Eye'). This was then followed up a year later by an 'Outline Business Case' (OBC) and a report submitted to the Executive Board at their meeting in May 2008 recommending that the scheme be pursued.

It doesn't take long for this report to make interesting reading. At para 5.1 it explains that, since the submission of the EoI barely 15 months earlier, the anticipated cost of the scheme increased by £11m to £44.6m. Oh dear.

At para 8.1.c the report states that the development costs to take the project from OBC to completion (that's just completion of setting the contract up remember, it doesn't include so much as changing a light bulb) had increased from £500k to £750k. This doesn't bode well.

The OBC was appended to the report and this included the proposed timescales which anticipated that the contract would be ready to go by 9 April 2009.

Fast forward now to March 2009 and it seems that not everything is going to plan. The development costs have now increased to £950k, an increase of £200k. Cllr Katrina Bull made a portfolio decision to approve this increased expenditure, along with an extension to the timescale which now estimates completion in January 2010. Reasons for this include changes to government rules for such schemes, one of the major banks pulling out (RBS) and one of the bidders taking over another. It's all starting to look a shade dog's dinner fashion.

So now it's March 2010 so everything is signed, sealed and delivered right? Wrong. The development costs have just increased by another £62k requiring another portfolio decision to approve it. Completion date is now expected to be September 2010.

So the original estimate for the full cost of the scheme increased by about 1/3 over the course of about a year without so much as a WTF and now the development costs of just getting the contract in place have increased from the initial estimate of £500k to £1.012m, of which £778k is going to outside consultants.

Is this really the best we can do? It must be said that most of this mess is not NCC's fault but it is of course them (i.e. us) who end up picking up the tab. It also demonstrates one of the many pitfalls in PFI in that it puts more of the risks of any major project on more volatile elements beyond NCC's control, something that doesn't have a happy record in the history of PFI.

I also think it's a bit dodgy that any cost overruns in the development stage are waved through on the stroke of the portfolio holder's pen, a situation that could theoretically continue indefinitely. I would have hoped that, seeing as the damn thing is 18 months behind schedule and has more than doubled in cost that alarm bells would be ringing and the matter would by brought in for more detailed scrutiny.

And of course it's not over yet. Assuming that everything does now go to plan, which I suppose is theoretically possible, the current street lighting workforce will transfer to the new private sector contractor, a process which is often associated with it's own world of pain. Then the contract itself will start and we'll start to find out how the private sector manages to deliver cost savings while making a profit and shelling out for the greater borrowing costs than would be levied on the public sector. Or we find out how much extra we end up paying...

Finally, I'm a bit miffed that, until I saw the most recent cost increase decision and started doing some digging around, I knew absolutely nothing about this. This suggests that very few other Nottingham council tax payers do either, as I don't think it's blowing my own trumpet too much to say that I probably take more notice of such things than the average Nottinghamite. I think this will be one to watch.