Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Notts Police Authority Arses and Elbows Mix-Up

You gotta love the NPA. One minute they're proudly announcing the appointment of an expensive new 'change management' team*, a new Deputy Chief Constable and two new Assistant Chief Constables (the latter meaning an increase from two to three in total), someone has to come along and point out how they've got it all wrong.

At NPA's recent 'Finance and Business' committee meeting, a report was considered that said, in no uncertain terms, that compared with similar forces, Notts Police was somewhat top heavy. Overburdened with senior officers and not enough beat coppers. Too many chiefs not enough indians, that sort of thing. Here's a quote -

"The Force’s Business Information Pack produces analysis of the rank mix of the Force. This shows that a comparable MSF would be structured significantly differently from Nottinghamshire Police. A comparable MSF has approximately 50 more PC’s with lower numbers in all other more senior ranks.

The Business Support Team presented a paper at the February Best Use of Resources meeting showing that if the rank mix was akin to that of the MSF, an extra 45 – 60 PCs/DCs could be recruited. Alternatively, the same total Officer Establishment could be maintained for significantly reduced cost."

Oh. 45-60 extra coppers is quite a few.

We haven't got the minutes yet so we have yet to find out what JoCo and his mates made of this heresy.

*We've pointed out before that the new change manager Alan Given is one of JoCo's mates but it also includes a new 'head of Consultation and Communications' who in turn is Steve Youdell, a mate of Alan Given's.

And yet NPA already employs a Communications Policy Officer. How much 'communicating' do they expect to be doing?

And while we're here, a big hat tip to Alan a Dale who spotted that 'independent' NPA member Steff Webber may well be connected to a Steff Webber who happens to work at NCC as an Interim Area Manager in St Anns. She doesn't actually mention this in her NPA profile. St Anns is, of course, Jon Collins' manor.

I wonder who she voted for in the recent election for the Chair of the NPA?

Update - Here is the Post's take on this. Funny, I was sure they wrote about this last week but when I tried to look for it I couldn't find it. Unless I'm developing psychic powers...

Technically True But...

At the 17 June meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Information Governance gave a presentation on their recent performance.

There were some slightly amusing claims such as -

" was known nationally that journalists were using the legislation to have their research done for them by local authorities..."

I think they're confusing themselves with Wikipedia there but more interestingly, there was this -

"...during the last two years, no decision notices, other than one in respect of a case dating back to 2005, had been issued by the Information Commissioner against the Council..."

Ignoring the fact that that does mean that there WAS a decision issued against them within the last two years, this ignores the fact that the ICO is trying to move away from formal decision notices to informal resolution. So the fact that they haven't had any formal decision notices against them is a form of sophistry designed to hide the fact that complainants have successfully taken cases to the Information Commissioner but the ICO has persuaded the council to back down at the last minute, on the basis that a formal decision against them often offends.

Take this example. Last year I put quite a lot of effort into chasing up the appalling success record of applications for Discretionary Housing Payments. This included Freedom of Information requests, appeals and the case going to the ICO. I eventually got the info but only after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and it appears to have been via an informal resolution.

Now I wasn't happy about this so I demanded that the ICO issued a formal decision because I am of the firm belief that councils and other large organisations do not learn unless they are named and shamed (hence the existence of this blog). This they agreed to do last October.

However, this obviously involves doing some work so I am still waiting. In the meantime as a result of this and presumably a number of other similar cases Information Governance can go and claim a pristine record to councillors.

Monday, 28 June 2010

It's a Cliche but What DO We Pay Them For Again?

Roll up, roll up for the Health and Adult Care Select Committee meeting.

It looks like it's going to be a barrel of laughs this time. The 'Post' has dedicated nearly two whole lines to it. And the star turns are filled by Michael 'Why Did They Make Me Bother Turning Up to This Employment Tribunal Hearing' Williams, the Corporate Director for 'Communities', and Eunice 'Friend of the Gays' Campbell who is the Portfolio Holder for Adult Services and Health.

Members of the committee will have the opportunity to question Mickey and Euney about the performance of Adult Services or any major projects etc.

In order to help them with this the Director of Legal and Democratic Services has produced for them a crib sheet of questions they "may wish to ask the Portfolio Holder and Corporate Director" in the event that they can't be arsed to think anything up themselves.

No doubt this kind act will help Mick n Eun in their own preparation of suitable answers too.

Fixed Penalty Notice Lottery

This found its way to me via fellow Nottingham blogger Benjamin Barton who has been having a bit of a busy time with the old Freedom of Information requests to our dear old council.

Ben asked a few pertinent questions about the issuing of fixed penalty notices for littering and the like, what NCC likes to dub 'enviro-crime', and got himself an interesting response.

The council disclosed that, at the time of writing, they had 1898 fixed penalty notices outstanding, by which they mean that the fine is unpaid and over 21 days old. After stating that there is no 'average time' for a summons to be issued (clearly not true, there will be an average time, they just haven't bothered to calculate it but I digress) it gets really interesting, saying that -

"... however there is a statutory bar at six months [for issuing a summons], meaning that if a summons has not been issued within six months of the date of the fine, it is not pursued. It is not unusual for the backlog to push the outstanding fine over the six month bar, in which case no summons is issued."

So, I thought, don't pay your fine and you have a chance that you might get away with it if your case falls off the back end of the shelf. Not a good situation for anybody I don't think. Whatever your view of fixed penalty notices you'd at least want the system to be operated as fairly as possible.

You see, once it becomes inevitable that not all FPNs are recovered, then someone has to decide which ones are allowed to lapse. This could be done by individual officers 'using their discretion' on the fly, which, and I want to make this absolutely clear, obviously does NOT mean dumping their mates' FPNs down the recycling chute or maybe backing off when the local hard man's name pops up a bit too regularly, then using the time freed up to pick on easy to trace types such as disabled and mentally ill owner occupiers. Or it can be governed by a policy, in order to ensure some fairness.

I think it would be useful to find out which approach NCC uses so I've submitted a follow up FoIA request. You can see it here and I'll post again when I get a response. Which of course, as a matter of principle, will be an absolute minimum of 20 working days.

Friday, 25 June 2010

How About Some Good Old Zero Tolerance?

I reckon this is one for Nottingham City Homes to have a look at, and maybe the police too.

There's a somewhat alarming report on Notts Indymedia by somebody who saw a couple of nazi flags being flown from the window of one of the Victoria Centre flats.

The photo in the report isn't as clear as it could be so there may be an element of taking the report author's word for it but presuming  the flags are as stated, i.e. a white power one and an AWB emblem then I suspect that somebody may well be in breach of their tenancy agreement at the least and is probably committing a public order offence.

Now this may be entirely unconnected but, as the comment below the article states, failed BNP Parliamentary candidate for Nottingham North just happens to live in the flats. I have no idea whether that's his flat the flags are flying from but presumably NCH does. And if it's not his I presume it shouldn't be too difficult for them to work out which flat it is and pop round for a visit.

It's funny because normally council officials are very quick to go and remove unauthorised banners in the name of combatting anti-social behaviour, as a little old lady in Clifton and the odd local campaign group would be able to testify. Maybe they haven't got a head for heights?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Is the S**t Flying Towards the Fan?

Ominous article in the 'Post' today.

The HMIC inspector for Notts has been accused of trying to persuade Alan Street, the eventual only challenger to JoCo for the Police Authority chairmanship, to pull out of the contest.

An HMIC spokesdroid claimed that all she said was -

"The HMI expressed her opinion that existing people simply changing jobs did not constitute the 'new' leadership called for by the Capability Review."

 as if that was perfectly acceptable.

Of course we all remember that the other candidate Mike Quigley pulled out at the last minute without explanation. When I wrote about this at the time I wondered at whose behest this move was. I think we can now say we have a pretty good idea.

Why does dodgy shit always seem to follow Collins around?

That was a rhetorical question by the way.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Poetry Corner

So. Farewell then...
East Midlands Development

I knew not what
You did

But you served
As another platform
For the will of JoCo

A shiny future awaits
Of the Local Enterprise Partnersip

To be led by 'elected local authority leaders'

It's all change then
JoCo will be back

With apologies to EJ Thribb

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Solution is Obvious

Further to my post last week about NCC having trouble retaining children's social workers.

The problem is apparently that nearby 'failing' authorities have upped their pay scales in order to attract social workers and not be failing any more. So, what to do?

NCC's solution to this problem is (stop it, you're ahead of me) RECRUIT A CONSULTANT! Costing nearly £40k!! Go NCC with your radical solutions.

Hang on, couldn't the money just be spent on...oh, never mind...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Nottingham City Council Guilty of Benefit Fraud?

Perhaps not, technically, as they (probably) didn't do it deliberately* and to be prosecuted for fraud there needs to be some intent as far as I know. But anyway, what actually happened?

Again, I missed the opportunity of scooping the 'Post'. On Saturday they reported on the Audit Commission's findings that NCC had messed up its claims to central government for Housing Benefit subsidy in 2008/9 and as a result had been paid £2m more than it was entitled to.

You see, councils are only responsible for administering Housing Benefits on behalf of the Dept for Work and Pensions, the actual money is paid back to them by central government, rather than it actually coming from local taxes.

Anyway, I did some digging around and found that the Audit Commission's report had been put before the council's Audit Committee meeting on 28 May, so had been available online for a few weeks but, as usual, I missed it. It will be interesting to see the minutes of that meeting when they come out. But what is clear is that Lisa Black has fucked it up again.

The specific issues that the Commission reported on were -

  • incorrect application of start dates for benefit claims. I have to say this happened to me when I first claimed Council Tax Benefit.
  • incorrect assessment of Tax Credits' effect on claims
  • level of errors much higher than 20078
  • high level of errors means more audidt activity required with resultant costs implications (and this DOES come out of our Council Tax, boys and girls)
  • no quality control activity in 2008/9 being the likely cause of errors
  • no quality control activity in 2009/10 means likely to be similar level of error in that year
These last two points deserve some further analysis. Firstly, and quite alarmingly, NCC's excuse for the lack of any quality control was that the people who would normally do this were engaged in training staff in 'New Systems Thinking'. This is very much the baby of my old muckers Helen Spencer (Shipway as was) and Lisa Black and means that the blame for this mess can be placed squarely with them. Secondly, I think the Commission's view that a similar level of errors will be found for 2009/10 is optimistic. In my experience, if there is no system of monitoring, as time goes on those operating the system tend to relax and not worry so much about errors because they're not going to be picked up, resulting in more errors. Such an approach is exacerbated if management are concentrating on speed rather than accuracy (more on this in a bit). This is simply human nature. I therefore predict a higher level of errors when the Commission comes to look at this next year.

It is also worth having a look into the context that these issues arise in. Last March I wrote about NCC's internal audit service finding that accuracy of claims was very poor, although part of the problem was that NCC was using external service providers for some of its claims processing. I also wrote about the publicly available performance data and its relationship to the now defunct Comprehensive Performance Assessment. I found that, while NCC was getting consistently high ratings for speed of processing it was actually the worst council in the East Midlands for its record of accuracy. What was that I said about management prioritising speed over accuracy? I should also point out that those figures are from 2007/8 i.e. before they stopped quality control in favour of training in 'New Systems Thinking'.

So, in a nutshell, Lisa Black decided to halt quality control in order to carry out training in managementspeak, despite the fact that there were warnings aplenty of the service's already appalling record on accuracy. As a result, the council is likely to have to repay £2m in subsidy that it shouldn't have received (likely? ConDem government, Labour council. I reckon it's a dead cert). Why is this woman still in her job?

Going back to the benefit fraud analogy, I remember that NCC was very proud to have found £33k of benefit fraud by claimants in a year and keen to point out that there was 'no hiding place'. And yet the Audit Commission finds NCC wrongly claiming over £2m! Lock 'em all up I say.

*It's worth pointing out that a benefit claimant can be prosecuted for a criminal offence even if they had no intention to defraud but had simply failed to provide information in relation to their claim without reasonable excuse. You can bet any figures that this relates to will get lumped in with all the tabloid 'benefit fraudsters' figures you hear. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander I say.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

And the Chocolate Teapot Award Goes To...

Another day, another Freedom of Information request.

This time I wanted to know which NCC officers had been formally delegated powers to act on behalf of the council on their own initiative, referred to in the Constitution as 'A Delegated Powers' (see p27 of Appendix 6(d)).

I now have a response, including the list of delegated powers here. Have a look and see if you can work out what's wrong with it. The clue's on the front cover. At the bottom, small writing. Got it?

"Issue Date: October 1998"

So the document they have sent me is 12 years out of date. Clearly it was prepared when NCC got unitary status and hasn't been looked at since. Hardly any of the committees and departments even exist any more and within that time frame NCC has given itself an entirely new constitution. For all I know, some of the functions listed may not even be the responsibility of NCC anymore. And, most importantly, what of delegations that have been made since? Or been modified or removed and placed back with a committee or the Executive? How does anybody at NCC know who's supposed to do what?

This is really rather shabby and of course I've requested a review. However I wonder if they will be able to provide anything else? It really wouldn't surprise me if they haven't kept it up to date. I shall let you know what happens.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

(Un)Fairness Commission

One Nottingham has announced in its latest bulletin that it is to establish a 'Fairness Commission' (see page 4).

According to a report prepared for ON the Fairness Commission's role will be -

" research, promote and hold One Nottingham accountable on issues of equality and diversity."

The Bulletin announces that it will be chaired by Cllr Hassan Ahmed.

I'm sorry but has everyone gone mad? Hassan Ahmed in charge of a Fairness Commission? The very same Hassan Ahmed who decided at a stroke to end the funding for one of Nottingham's major anti-discrimination organisations whilst keeping the reasons secret? Hassan Ahmed, who was caught red handed by the Evening Post failing to declare a number of business interests and as a result was found guilty of breaching the Members' Code of Conduct by the Standards Board for England? Who, having been found guilty, not only failed to apologise to local taxpayers and the council but issued a bombastic and blatantly bullshit statement to the press claiming that he had been exonerated  and that the Standards Board had found that he had 'no case to answer'? Who, despite being arrested for a serious crime, kept this secret and failed to stand down from his portfolio holder position until, again, the Post rumbled him? (should make it clear that he was not subsequently charged)

Yeah, he sounds like the ideal person for the job. Dishonest and secretive, he should know a lot about fairness.

This seems to be a continuation of a trend in NCC of promoting crooks, following Cllr Grocrook's elevation to Lord Mayor. Does it always have to be this way?

Monday, 14 June 2010

Standards Committee Unnecessary Secrecy

The Standards Committee is meeting on 21 June. They don't appear to be doing very much apart from considering the outcome of Cllr Ahmed's case (see agenda item 9 via the above link) before the Standards Board for England.

Interestingly, you will see from agenda item 8 that they intend to do this in private.

What is the justification for this? The decision is a public document and the matter is closed so what do the committee expect to be saying that's not for our ears?

In related national news the ConDems have announced that the Standards Board for England is to be abolished. This is also something the committee will be discussing and I'm sure that will keep them busy for, ooh at least a couple of minutes.

Now I know that Ahmed's case showed them to be a bunch of hapless stuffed shirts and it's not clear what the implications will be or whether there will be some sort of replacement but it appears that there will be no independent adjudicator for councillors' misdemeanors.

This of course means that council's can continue to pack their Standards Committees with ruling party lackeys which and it will be even more unlikely that any meaningful sanction will be applied to dodgy gits like Hassan Ahmed in the future.

Do We Have A Gay Friendly Council?

At today's full council meeting, Lib Dem Cllr Alex Foster tabled a motion requesting the following -

"This Council…

Celebrates today's World Blood Donor Day, which highlights the importance of blood donation.

Celebrates the work of phlebotomists across the UK, and everyone who keeps this vital life-saving service running.

Urges all those who are able to donate blood to do so regularly.

Regrets that the blood service in the UK discriminates unfairly against different groups in our society including gay men and bisexual men.

Pledges that the Portfolio Holder for Adult Support and Health will write to and lobby central government and the National Blood Service, urging them to scrap their discriminatory and outdated policy towards gay and bisexual men."

Nothing controversial there in these enlightened times surely?

Here is Cllr Foster's tweet reporting the result -

Hmmm. Now why would they do that?

Next year local authorities will be subject to a new 'Public Sector Equality Duty' which will extend similar duties of promoting equality to age, sexual orientation, religion or belief and gender reassignment as currently apply to race, disability and gender. Regulations have yet to be finalised so I don't know whether removing a reference to anti-discrimination of gay men from a motion such as this would breach the duties but it's hardly in the spirit of things.

I suspect (and hope) that we haven't heard the last of this...

Addendum - you might want to have a look at this rather self-congratulatory report on NCC's progress towards 'excellence' in equalities to be presented to the rather lovely and benign sounding 'Community and Wellbeing Committee' on June 21. You can decide for yourself whether this decision is consistent with the requirements under the 'sexuality' heading.

17 June - Update via Cllr Foster's blog. Doesn't look like it was a particularly pleasant experience for him but more positively five Labour councillors, including three frontbenchers, abstained which is unheard of.

Update 21 June - The Post's angle on this. It reports that the three Labour front bench councillors who abstained were David Mellen, Jane Urquhart and David Liversidge. Sheriff Penny Griggs also abstained.

CEHRNN are Fighting Back

There was a report in the 'Post' recently saying that The Council for Equality and Human Rights Nottm and Notts were challenging NCC over the decision to stop their funding. However, apart from saying the challenge was based on an opinion that the decision should have been made by a committee there wasn't much info.

I was interested to know what the nature of their challenge was so I emailed them to ask and one of their board members rang me today, which was good of her.

It seems that CEHRNN have started action for a judicial review of the decision made by Cllrs Ahmed and Chapman. Well, I say CEHRNN have but, as is standard practice, one of their service users has done so on their behalf. Doing it this way means that, if the action is unsuccessful, the service user's legal aid will cover the costs. This is possible if the service user can be said to have sufficient legal standing in the issue, something normally accepted by the courts for someone who is reliant on the service that would be lost or adversely affected.

And I am actually quite proud to say that the basis for the action is that it was unconstitutional for the decision to be made as a portfolio holder decision, as I had suggested in a previous posting here. You'll be pleased to hear that, as it's such a good cause, NCCLols has waived its (normally considerable) consultancy fee on this occasion, because deep down I'm such a nice guy!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Children's Service Problems

Thoroughly depressing report in the Post today concerning the staffing shortages among NCC's children's social workers and for once I'm going to try and avoid slagging anyone off.

I have a certain amount of respect for the Children's Services Corporate Director for being (relatively) open about this. In particular stating publicly that part of the problem is that other authorities are now offering better terms and conditions is not exactly on message, as the very clear flip side to this is that NCC's conditions are inferior. Clearly, in his position, he can't actually say that the matter has been made worse by the recent hatchet job on all NCC workers conditions as part of single status but you can read between the lines and his comments leave the door wide open for others to make this very point.

The comments on the article make for some interesting reading as well, with the usual proviso that there are one or two twats who made it through.

However the inevitable questions will be asked such as why Ofsted assessed NCC's children's services as 'performing well' as recently as December 2009 and why Ian Curryer was himself claiming that everything was just peachy only a year before that in direct contradiction to what the unions were saying.

I'm no expert but throughout my working life in the voluntary sector and in various social welfare roles I have been aware of a constant background noise of recruitment problems within children's social services going back to before the City Council took over responsibility when it was awarded unitary status. I don't think it's a new problem.

My own opinion, and I don't think it's a controversial one, is that the media has to take a great deal of responsibility for this issue. And yes, Daily Mail, I'm talking to you. That paper was among the most vocal about the Baby P affair back in winter 2008 but within days was again printing stories about how social workers were barging in too early and upsetting 'decent parents'.

They're not alone though. Our own Evening Post printed a number of rather bandwagoning stories about admittedly distressing serious case reviews in Nottingham. Yet these cases were from 2006 and 2007, so why were they writing about them in December 2008? Di they report on them at the time? It's almost as if they were trying to keep up with the Haringey Joneses, "Look, we've got crap social workers too!"

In addition, the blame is always placed at the door of social workers whereas the police, legal and health services are often involved too. In the Baby P case the police escaped almost without criticism, social workers requests to put him in care were blocked by Haringey Council's legal officers (not Sharon Shoesmith as you might have assumed from the coverage. She, incidentally, has a background in education not social services) and how many people knew that the doctor who missed the poor kid's broken back worked for Great Ormond St? You can't criticise the sainted Great Ormond St you see so social workers were to blame, according to the media. Faced with all this opprobrium, who in their right mind would be a children's social worker?

Clearly, the City Council must do something. They can't do anything about the Daily Mail but it can do something about terms and conditions. IT staff in local authorities are often paid a 'market supplement' on top of their normal pay scale to reflect the fact that wages are normally higher in the sector than the pay normal local authority job evaluations would allow. Maybe something similar needs to be done with children's social workers? They could also do something about the poisonous work culture that pervades across the entire organisation as well, that can hardly contribute to workforce retention.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

In Tesco We Spend...Whether We Like it or Not

There's a helluva hullabaloo (don't ask me to say that out loud) brewing between NCC and Tesco at the moment and you have to admit it couldn't happen to two nicer organisations.

The 'Post' is reporting that Deputy Leader Graham Chapman is ruffling his feathers about Tesco "carrying on regardless" - "regardless" by George! - with its Eastside superstore plans despite planning officer 'advice' that it is unlikely to get planning permission.

This could be for one of two reasons. One, if you believe the developer behind the Trinity Square carbuncle, NCC planning officers' advice isn't worth a great deal. Alternatively, it could be because Tesco is a huge multinational conglomerate which could spend NCC back into the sea many times over and therefore has a lot less to lose from an expensive planning dispute.

If Cllr Chapman is unhappy with this state of affairs he may wish to mention it to the national leadership of his party which, once it had been taken over by accountants (like Cllr Chapman), lawyers and city folk, promptly sold out to capitalism leaving big business with the run of the place.

The Bridge Estate

NCC has had a good old telling off by the District Auditor for its administration of the Bridge Estate, a registered charity which was established in antiquity to raise money for repairs to bridges across the Trent.

The accounts were so inadequate that the audit cost NCC (i.e. you and me) an extra £3.5k in fees to pay for work chasing stuff up. A more serious failing was somewhat tartly revealed in the DA's following comment on the 'public benefits statement' which is required by the Charity Commission but was initially left out -

"The public benefits statement subsequently added to the statements is very limited, particularly in view of the charity's transfer of £1.5m to the council."


The Audit Committee acts as the trustees on behalf of NCC on a day to day basis, or rather they don't as that seems to be another complaint expressed by the DA. Doesn't bode well if the committee charged with ensuring NCC's financial propriety can't even draw up proper accounts or comply with Charity Commission guidelines.

Monday, 7 June 2010

An Example of the Worst Kind of Portfolio Decision

Apparently NCC needs a project manager to carry out a 'corporate transport review', whatever that means. You know what's coming next don't you? Yes, they are going to bring in a consultant.

However, this is a particularly poor piece of decision making and the portfolio holder's decision itself is, frankly, an insult to the principle of accountability.

So, what's wrong with this decision then? Well, the first thing is that Cllr Jane Urquart (for it is she) has agreed to dispense with the normal financial regulations which usually require three tenders for a contract. Schemes worth over £50k appear to have quite involved tender procedures (see pp47-48 of the financial regs). Portfolio holders are allowed to dispense with the financial regs when there are 'justifiable reasons' to do so and in consultation with the Chief Financial Oficer (see p16).

However, where are the 'justifiable reasons' here? We are simply told that the chosen one, a Bill Trattles of 'WGT Facility Solutions' has extensive experience of corporate transport reviewin' and that he'll be a 'catalyst' for blah blah blah.

Ok, so he may well know his job but maybe there is someone who is better for the same price? Or as good but cheaper? Or who can do it in a quicker time? Is the need so urgent that there is no time to look for anyone else? Why do we need Bill?

The mention of price brings me to another of this decision's failings; it doesn't say how much is to be spent. This is crucial. What's the point of publishing these decisions if it's not that the public can see how much of their money is being spent as well as on what?

Interestingly, do a search for WGT Facility Solutions and you get this*. Very informative, I don't think. A search for Billy T himself seems to suggest yet another ex council manager setting up on his own and trading off his old contacts. No need for a proper website or other marketing, just pop down the golf club for a bit of word of mouth. Not dissimilar to Mr Harold Tinworth in this respect, one can't help wondering.

This failure to mention the cost has happened before but this decision represents a nadir in accountability and suggests that portfolio holders feel quite comfortable with taking the piss.

Related news; in another case of suspected dodgy portfolio holder decision making our old mate Hassan Ahmed has issued a decision (see #704) entitled -

"Approval To Tendering Process for Procurement of External Human Resource Consultant Facilities for Staff Arising From Single Status Implementation"

I suspect this is something to do with his mad scheme to provide 'legal advice' (now rebranded as 'external human resource consultant facilities' it seems) for employees on single status, in a move that clearly isn't designed to undermine the unions at all. I use the word 'suspect' because the decision document has not actually been published. No explanation given for this whatsoever. I did email asking why but haven't had a reply as yet, will let you know if I get one.

Update 8 June - the decision is now up. While it is clearly connected to the single status negotiations it isn't to do with the 'legal advice' bit but is concerning recruiting a bunch of people to negotiate with employees who refuse to accept the nice shiny new considerably worse than before terms and conditions. You see, if someone doesn't agree for their contract to be changed for the worse, NCC intends to dismiss them but immediately re-engage them on these worse conditions anyway but they are legally required to 'consult' with each employee before they do so.

This is a legally dubious method of imposing new terms and conditions (e.g. what is the reason for dismissal which is required for it not to be unfair?) and relies on people realising that the alternative is not to have a job anymore. The County did the same thing when they went through the process a few years back.

*Not long after I posted this that website had this snidey message added

"Please note that this website is under construction. This is a test site and of no official use. Maybe the construction picture bellow and the useless web address does not give this away enough?"


And it's still under construction so maybe it's time to get a new web designer eh Bill? One who doesn't leave a barely started website up for weeks which a search for your company leads to? 

Just my bit of advice, let me know where to send the bill.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

NCC Annual Meeting

I just found the minutes to the council's annual meeting. That's not to to say that I'm claiming they were previously well hidden, simply that I hadn't really bothered to look.

Anyway I was interested to see the minute of the exchange between Tory Councillor Georgina Culley and Cap'n Collins over his alleged 'personal mentoring'. For more details on the background to this see here. Let's quote it in full -

"Councillor Culley asked the following question of the Leader of the Council:

Could the Leader of the Council explain the nature of the personal mentoring that he has received since 2005/06, and what value the public has received from the £111,000 spent to date?

Councillor Collins replied as follows:

Thank you Lord Mayor. As I have previously made clear in a question to Council on this matter, I have not received any personal mentoring. I cannot therefore comment on the nature or value of something I have not had."

Remember, these are the official minutes of the meeting and are therefore supposed to accurately report formal replies in full even if (and they often do) go on a bit.

Two issues strike me here. One, if that is all he said, it is a woefully inadequate answer to a question about over £111k public expenditure which nobody seems to be able to trace. Secondly, and possibly partially in Collins' defence, Charles Walker at the 'Post' seemed to hear him say quite a bit more. Shouldn't all that have gone into the minutes? (Update - see comments for an explanation of what actually happened)

I do note Collins reference to a previous reply to a question to Council and maybe the extra detail was given there and Walker or his sub-eds conflated the two for simplicity. I haven't been able to find any trace of this earlier question on the issue and I'll keep looking but if anybody else can enlighten me please do.

By the way, I received a message from the District Auditor telling me that she had been in Nottingham last Friday but hadn't been able to conclude her enquiries at that time. It does look like there is quite a bit to look into.

As to why this is an important issue, well there is of course the value for money question, what did we get for the cash? This appears to be the only aspect that the Tories were looking into (happy to correct this if one of them wants to get in contact). However, to me, a bigger issue is the lack of accountability behind the spending of this money on our behalf.

The fact is that Collins could have quite legitimately made a portfolio holder decision to employ a consultant to do whatever it was that Tinworth was doing (presuming it was within his remit, if not I'm sure he could have got the relevant portfolio holder to do it for him). This decision would have been published and we would have some idea of what was going on. He could also have quite legitimately formally decided not to go to an open tender because NCC's finance rules allow it to do that if the circumstances justify it. That would also be recorded on the portfolio decision. Essentially, two pieces of paper and a couple of signatures would have made it all above board.

The thing is, when the Leader of the Council doesn't follow those simple accountability measures, and over a hundred grand gets spent on somebody who Collins does appear to have history with (Tinworth was involved in trying to rescue the One City Partnership, the predecessor to 'One Nottingham' which Collins has been running as his personal fiefdom until very recently*) then we have the right to wonder if there is a bit of a stinky fish involved.

Anyway, moving on. I was interested to see that both opposition parties tabled some fairly detailed amendments to the budget. With the current political make-up of NCC their amendments had no chance of being passed so you might wonder why they bother. I for one am glad that they did. If nothing else it gives us some insight into their parties' thinking on the issues (e.g. both seem to want to see expenditure on the Arrow reduced and the Lib Dems also suggested ending the ridiculous 'Proud' campaign, the use of Executive Assistants and to scrap the Viccy Centre 'rebuild') and at least keeps alive the impression of democracy happening. Must be a thankless task drafting those amendments for what may be essentially a symbolic gesture but again, I'm glad that they do.

Lastly, there were a large number of questions from the public about the Radford Unity Complex debacle, to which Collins provided the response. He mentions the 'unprecedented' Call-in Sub-commmittee meeting held just four days before but this time doesn't repeat his (subsequently revealed to be false) claim that selling it would raise £320k. In fact, a buyer had been offered it last Autumn for less than half that. It's difficult to see how Collins couldn't have known about that and why he failed to include it in his response. The Audit Commission were keen to look into until the sale fell through which I reckon Collins can count as a lucky escape.

All in all, it's worth reading and comparing the not entirely identical stories he gave to the sub-committee and full council, especially in light of how it all fell apart when the dodgier bits of the deal found their way into the public domain.

*Of course, it's likely that he will continue running One Nottingham as his personal fiefdom via a proxy.

Friday, 4 June 2010


This isn't about Nottingham but the Grauniad has an article saying that Birmingham recently installed a huge number of CCTV cameras in largely Muslim areas which were paid for out of anti-terrorism funds administered by the Association of Chief Police Officers.

The scheme was sold to residents as being an anti-crime measure.

Now I don't want to spread any panic or alarm and it was obviously on a much smaller scale but last year Forest Fields had a CCTV scheme imposed on them which was sold to residents as being about crime. I don't know where the money for it came from.

There was some discomfiture expressed about the fact that two of the three cameras were placed outside Mosques. As I mentioned before, if CCTV was about crime then surely Bestwood would be a veritable forest of the things. In fact, at the last count, they had four.


A Good Day for One Nottingham and the Crime and Drugs Partnership (sorta)

A bit late again I know but that's what breaking your ankle and winding up in hospital for 5 days does to you.

Anyway, as I'm sure most readers will have heard, Councillor Jon Collins has been appointed Chair of the Notts Police Authority. Many will not see this as a good thing.

It wasn't an entirely easy ride for him though, the Post reports that he only won by 10 votes to 7 and that the election only went ahead after Bassetlaw Tory Councillor Mike Quigley pulled out at the last minute leaving it between JoCo and independent member Alan Street.

It's this business of Quigley pulling out at the last minute that fascinates me as it smacks of it being a tactical move in order to assist one of the other players. The question is which side was he hoping to help by not potentially splitting the vote? The fact that he's a Tory would suggest that the opposition to Collins' appointment persuaded him to pull out. The fact that he ended up as a Vice Chair suggests that his withdrawal was requested by the eventual winner.

Still, there was clearly a significant minority who didn't want Collins in the post which might not bode well. On the other hand, they're all professionals and I'm quite confidant that no grudges will be held and everyone will get along famously from now on.

What this means is that we now have a pretty much wholesale transfer of top end management from the Crime and Drugs Partnership to the Police Authority. The CDP was supposed to have been the strategic driving force behind reducing crime in Notts but hasn't done particularly well, as this article in the 'Post' explains (worth reading some of the comments too). Now the people who failed in the CDP are in charge of the NPA and we're all expected to believe that this is some sort of solution.

Still, look on the bright side. JoCo has relinquished the reins of 'One Nottingham' and the CDP so he can devote time to his new role. Rumours that Nottingham's supplies of party-poppers, streamers and Champagne have been cornered by the staff of those two organisations are, well, pretty much confirmed from what I hear.

Always Happy to Help...

I've been getting a small number of hits from a Nottingham City Council address via a Google search for

"Prepare a brief report identifying the main business activities of nottingham city council"

Rather looks like someone's going for an internal job application doesn't it?

By an extraordinary coincidence the 'Appointments and Conditions of Service' committee is meeting to discuss the recruitment to the Corporate Director for Communities post which emerged from the top level restructure that has already done for Sallyanne 'Shit for Brains' Johnson and Barry Horne. The post has been caretakered by Michael Williams who, pre-restructure, was known as the Corporate Director for Community and Culture. His role included, among many other things I've no doubt, making a brief but costly and pointless appearance at my employment tribunal hearing.

Ok, I'm obviously linking the two purely for the purposes of humour but the mental image I have of Williams trying to fill in his application form via google just wouldn't go away and the resulting fantasy that he found stuff here to use made me giggle.

So I'm concluding that Williams is being required to apply for his own job, the background being that a colleague jumped before she was pushed and another failed to make the grade. He might be excused for feeling a little edgy. Do you think this has anything to do with Mr Williams' sterling support for JoCo at the recent 'Call-in Sub-Committee' hearing into the Radford Unity Complex fiasco?