Saturday, 29 January 2011

NCC Bigwigs Afraid to Engage In Debate?

As mentioned before both JoCo and his Alistair Campbell wannabe Stephen Barker have blogs.

However, both seem to have missed one of the points of blogging which is to engage in debate with your readers via the comments system.

Barker in particular seems to have had a hissy fit when I made a detailed comment on one of his blog posts, the comment remained in moderation for ever and now his original post has been deleted completely. JoCo, as mentioned yesterday, has still to allow my comment about his lack of enthusiasm for publishing financial data, as requested so politely by our dear Tory government.

What's up chaps? Are you chicken?

Bwaaaaak bwak bwak bwak!

Friday, 28 January 2011


Blimey, JoCo's got himself a blog.

Modestly titled 'Leading Nottingham', he's used his first post proper to label housing minister Grant Schapps as a 'fool' and Eric Pickles a 'buffoon'. Powerful stuff that's got the Post in a lather but is this really the sort of language that a politician who wants/expects to be taken seriously should use?

Don't get me wrong, I can't fault Collins' assessment of these two Tory twats but last time I used words which could be described as "personal, derogatory comments" about some of Collins' colleagues I got a letter from the City Council's legal department. He presumably has no problem with using council officer time "trawling the internet to find these stories" when it's used to threaten local bloggers with an implication of legal action. My subsequent complaint about this was first ignored then flatly rejected.

Anyway, it keeps him off the streets I suppose and it's probably no coincidence that the local elections are coming up. I'll add him to the blogroll so we don't miss out on any future giggles.

(Hat-tip, Ben Barton)

Update - I made a comment on the latest post this morning but, funnily enough, it has yet to make it past moderation.

Updateagain - as it's still not made it up here's my comment -

"Except of course you won’t be in the same position as FoI because you build the financial reporting into ongoing systems so it’s done routinely. You might actually save overall because fewer FoI requests will need to be made because the information is already out there.

You don’t help yourself when you’re publicly going up against one of the few ideas the Tories have had, and with your record of backroom deals (Radford Unity Complex) and secret/illegal spending (Harold Tinworth) the City Council is badly in need of more accountability."

Thursday, 27 January 2011

What We Told Them

You might have heard that there's a bit of an issue with cuts to NCC's budget coming up. Depending on who you believe, NCC's central government funding has been cut by either 8.9% (government version) or 16.5% (NCC version). The latter is probably nearer the reality because government figures refer to changes in 'spending power' which includes funding from the NHS and other sources.

As the Guardian wrote last week, the story is even less clear when we look at specific services like Supporting People. NCC says it's the government that has cuts Nottingham's budget, the government says the real figure is something like 10%. However, as SP central funding is no longer ring fenced NCC is not obliged to pass on the alleged cut wholesale which it seems to be trying to imply. It is NCC that has decided that SP projects will see the full 45% cut while protecting funding for Community Protection Officers and Childrens Centres.

This decision not to make any cuts to the CPO budget has been sold to us on the basis that we told NCC that we didn't want them to be cut in the answer to their surveys. I was a little sceptical about this because NCC doesn't have a particularly happy history of carrying out consultations fairly. Well, now we can see what they mean because the results of the budget consultations have been published.

So the headline findings of the first survey are summed up in this short extract -

"For each service a mean average has been calculated out of 5. The top 5 services rated most important by respondents are:

1. Tackling crime and anti social behaviour (4.3 out of 5)

2. Refuse collection (4.2 out of 5)

3. Services for elderly and vulnerable people (4.2 out of 5)

4. Child protection (4.1 out of 5)

5. Public transport (4.0 out of 5)"

So yes,  'tackling crime and antisocial behaviour' did get the highest average rating of 4.3/5 which I suppose does support retaining all funding for CPOs theoretically. But 'services for disabled and vulnerable' scored 4.2, a mere 0.1 percentage points less yet Supporting People gets a 45% cut. How does NCC square that?

The fact is that you could probably make a pretty convincing case for protecting just about any council service you care to pick so surely no one service should be immune to seeing cuts passed on. It seems pretty clear to me that the cuts have their own ideological element and NCC has always liked it's men in uniform.

Secrecy Issues

One of the few things that I agree with the Tory government on is the initiative to require councils to publish details of all spending over £500. As you might have guessed I'm a big fan of accountability in general and, as I've found out via my own freedom of information requests to NCC there are frequently bits of spending that NCC would prefer we didn't find out about.

It therefore didn't come as a huge surprise that, according to a report in the Post, this idea doesn't meet with the approval of a certain council leader. JoCo is quoted as having 'flatly refused' to comply with the requirement on the basis that council officers have got "much better things to be doing". Like illegally awarding themselves council houses for example.

This whole idea that it will all be far too much work is an obvious red herring. The initial work would be quite considerable but presumably the ongoing publishing could be built into financial systems. And the more information that is routinely published the fewer freedom of information requests that the likes of me will need to submit which will be a significant saving in itself.

It's an easy accusation to make that the reason for Collins' lack of enthusiasm is because he and his cronies are obsessed with secrecy but my experiences of trying to get information out of NCC does support such a view. I've got at least three outstanding requests where NCC has simply not bothered to respond and they all involve spending commitments involving significant dodginess.

Amusingly, someone has already put in a FoI request for the financial data concerned, asking for it to be provided in the format the government has specified. It will obviously be refused, almost certainly on cost grounds which will be a massive political faux pas for a Labour council in the face of a requirement by a Tory government.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

News Round Up

Couple of stories in the media that are of interest.

Firstly, an excellent analysis of NCC's Supporting People cuts in the Guardian yesterday. There's a bit of a ding-dong going on between Housing Minister Grant Schapps and JoCo over whose fault the cuts to SP are and, as is so often the case there's no straight answer.

Have a look at the article but my take on it is that it is mainly the government's fault beause the level of cuts imposed on NCC's formula grant is shocking. However, NCC could do more to alleviate the effect on vulnerable people. For example there are no cuts to the Community Protection Officer budget and I can see no reason why this service should be immune as it's largely a waste of oxygen and second hand police uniforms, why can't some of their funds be moved across to SP?.

The second thing is the news that Cllr Tony Sutton has written to the IPCC to ask that they look into Notts Police's lack of an investigation into the housing allocations scandal. Obviously an IPCC investigation isn't the most terrifying thing to happen to a police force and I doubt it will go anywhere but at least someone's having a go.

Update - Cllr Sutton has submitted a motion to the full council meeting on 7 Feb requesting the council to back his call for the IPCC to look into the issue.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Jon Collins Demonstrates His Unfitness for Public Office Yet Again

I am sure that all readers of this blog will know about the collapse of the trial of the remaining six climate activists who were accused of planning to shut down Ratcliffe on Soar power station.

Notts Police Authority is the body that is supposed to 'oversee' the work of Notts Police. Its Chair is Jon Collins who is also leader of Nottingham City Council and has been known to feature in these pages from time to time.

In a way, the revelation by undercover police officer Mark Kennedy that the reason for the prosecution being abandoned was that covert recordings made by him conclusively proved that the six had not agreed to join any alleged conspiracy has taken the heat off JoCo. He was previously being put through the media mill by the scandalous decision to end the investigation into the housing allocations scandal.

As such he's featuring prominently in Notts Police Authority's bleatings that they 'welcome' the investigation into the matter by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, presumably because that organisation can usually be relied on to cover up the worst of police incompetence and malpractice. Unfortunately that also means that he has had to put a load of bullshit in print. Lets have a closer look.

Firstly, we have this -

"Nottinghamshire Police Authority has welcomed both the IPCC investigation and an Internal Review into the events leading up to the collapse of the trial of six green campaigners after an undercover police officer offered to give evidence on their behalf."

Well no, that's not really what happened. It wasn't that the undercover cop had agreed to give evidence on the protesters' behalf, he wouldn't need to because after he revealed the existence of the tapes mentioned above the case was dead in the water. Notts Police, whose work is overseen by Notts Police Authority remember, had previously decided to keep the existence of these recordings secret and this was clearly no longer possible. This is as clear a case of perversion of the course of justice as it's possible to get. This para is probably still within the realms of spin, now we come to the outright lies.

"This followed a successful investigation by Nottinghamshire Police, after a total of 114 people were arrested on 13 April 2009 on suspicion of conspiring to disable a major power station and thereby disrupt a critical piece of the national energy infrastructure."

A successful investigation by Nottinghamshire police? Apart from the fact that it was an undercover Met officer doing the work, there were 114 people arrested yet only 26 charged and the cases of six of those were abandoned. That's not what I'd call a successful operation by any means, especially as the operation cost £700k and resulted in nothing more than community sentences and the judge going out of his way to praise the activists for their care and dedication to the environmental cause. What a result.

More serious is the claim that the action would disrupt 'a critical piece of the national energy infrastructure'. This, as has been repeatedly shown, is bollocks and is part of the deliberately false police line being used to justify what was a totally disproportionate action by the police. If Ratcliffe had been closed down then the national grid would have taken up the slack because, well, that's what it's designed to do. Nobody would have noticed except E-On who might have lost some generation revenue. But of course, that's the police's main job these days, protecting big business.

Then the actual quotes from Collins come in and things go downhill.

"...a great many people showed their professionalism and commitment in terms of both the policing of the event and the subsequent investigation."

Withholding evidence that proves a person's innocence is 'professionalism' is it Cllr Collins? Smashing up the Iona school is 'professionalism' is it? You bullshitting twat.

"When policing major public order events, such as this protest, it is necessary that the police use all the resources available to them to maintain public safety."

Again this is thoroughly misleading because the only public safety issue was the police going in tooled up. There was no public safety issue from the protesters because they would have been charged with something more serious than conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass. Obviously when the shit hits the fan Collins will be emphasising that NPA has no role in operational issues and so it has nothing to do with him but people need to remember, with the elections coming up, he's quite prepared to put his name to this rubbish when he judges it politically advantageous to do so.

Notts Police are really not looking good at the moment with this and their failure to even attempt to investigate the housing allocations scandal. Collins has of course been in central roles with NPA and/or NCC throughout so it's reasonable to assume that he had some say in what was going on. Considering his record of completely ignoring proper procedure in his appointment of Alan Given (no stranger to helping cover up police scandals himself) at NPA, the Harold Tinworth and Radford Unity Complex affairs, I'd guess that in reality he was barging his way to the front of the action throughout.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

More on the Whitewash

The Post has an article today quoting a former senior police officer saying that he is 'baffled' that the police haven't investigated the housing allocations scandal. There are later subtle hints about the closeness of the relationship between the police and senior members and officers of the council.

More interesting to me though is the following extract -

"The city council has now decided to drop the investigation, claiming it had spent £100,000 on in-house solicitors.

The majority of this money was spent on employing other people to carry out the solicitors' normal work while they conducted the investigation."

I did question the use of in-house solicitors carrying out the investigation the other day on the basis that NCC is normally very keen to bring in external consultants so it's strange that they don't bother in one of the situations where it would be extremely appropriate to do so. Now it seems that they DID bring outside lawyers in but not to do the investigation, just to free up the internal legal teams who presumably could be relied on not to look in the 'wrong' places.

This just gets murkier by the day.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

I Thought 'Legal Graffiti' Had Been Banned?

Here's an odd one.

Last year JoCo went on one of his occasional macho trips about banning stuff and this time it was 'legal graffiti' that got it in the neck. Apparently, even legal graffiti of the sort done by youth groups etc in an attempt to get young people engaging in art forms that they are better able to relate to makes the place look untidy and the realm of yobbos.

Unless of course it's three of NCC's councillors who want to install a 'wildlife graffiti mural' under the bridge over the Leen near the church, then it's all ok.

Don't get me wrong, it's a nice idea, I just can't understand why one form of graffiti done with full permission is 'bad' when another is 'good'. I would email one of the councillors concerned Cat Arnold to find out but she doesn't reply to emails so there's no point.

Monday, 10 January 2011

What to Do?

What with the latest developments in the housing allocations scandal there have been numerous comments on the blogosphere etc wondering what to do, with many suggesting that the solution is to vote these chancers out. Leaving aside the question of who to support in their place, I have to point out that there may be a few difficulties with that.

A major problem is that turnout in local elections is shockingly low and Nottingham is no different. In 2007, turnout was 32.1%, up from 29.1% in 2003. So, in response to my blogging colleague Alanadale's question, I fear that yes, this city is too apathetic to effect significant and lasting change at the ballot box in the near future. But please don't let my pessimism stop you trying.

Strangely though, while turnout is only slowly creeping up, applications for postal votes are rocketing. In 2003, there were 10,893, by the 2007 elections this had risen to 19,601 and by April last year the number of postal vote applications stood at 31,591, out of a total city electorate of 191,994. This means that 16.5% of potential votes are postal and the numbers are increasing rapidly.

The problem is that the Electoral Reform Society sees postal voting as a major source of electoral fraud so it follows that more postal voting will mean more fraud. Comparing the actual voting figures from 2007 with the number of postal votes cast there are few if any constituencies where the majorities of the elected candidates exceeded the number of postal votes meaning that postal voting could be pivotal.

Clearly this argument is based entirely on potentials, coulds and what-ifs but it is surely enough to raise concerns. After all, I wouldn't have believed that the housing scandal could have happened until it was reported and if there are enough willing to actively engage in fraud or follow orders supporting that amongst housing staff there are probably enough to do so within the elections service.

A final thought. In 2007 when support for Labour nationally was in decline, the vote for Labour actually increased in the NCC elections that year. Postal voting had nearly doubled since the previous election. As evidence goes that's circumstantial at best but I smell a rat.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Nottingham City Values

Police investigation and trial of 20 environmental activists for conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass - £700,000

Curiously abandoned NCC self-investigation of massive housing allocation fraud by useless in-house legal team, complete with NO POLICE INVESTIGATION - £100,000

Getting yourself to be leader of NCC and Chair of the Police Authority, thus meaning you can get yourself and your corrupt mates off scot-free while wasting taxpayers money trying to lock up dedicated activists, about whom even the trial judge couldn't find a word to say against - priceless.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Collins (and others) Cover Up #2

You will probably have read the Post's coverage of NCC's decision not pursue the housing allocations scandal any further.

Not the world's biggest surprise admittedly, especially as JoCo had been implicated early on and we couldn't have him being looked at too closely could we?

Similarly, despite the more concrete allegations regarding Cllr Brian Grocock's involvement he was still installed as Lord Mayor, presumably so that someone well-behaved would be chairing council meetings. And I'm sure it's just coincidence that the Standards Committee is stalling over its investigation into what he got up to.

Lastly, we have Tyron Browne who legged it as fast as his little legs could carry him when the shit hit the fan but is comfortably ensconced in hoovering up grant aid from NCC via PATRA and now Nottingham Equal, which is a whole other den of iniquity involving One Nottingham and Cllr Hassan Ahmed (who the Standards Committee also seem to be dragging their feet over investigating).

What is funny is that NCC has supposedly spent £100k on its own solicitors investigating the matter. This from the council who drafts in outside consultants at the drop of a hat and whose legal department couldn't find their own backsides if it was a foggy day. Strange that in this context which would benefit from an outside objective look they decide to stay in house.

And of course the Notts Police (prop. J. Collins Esq) have also decided not to investigate.

Other than that I think the Post's coverage speaks for itself and there's not a lot to add.

PS Happy New Year all.

Addendum - Here's the actual report recommending no further action. Could've sworn that wasn't there before...

Collins Cover Up #1

Before Christmas I received notification from NCC's Monitoring Officer Glen O'Connell that a Standards Committee Review Sub-Committee had confirmed that no further action is to be taken against JoCo over his 'erroneous' claim that Radford Unity Complex would raise over £300k for council coffers when it had already been offered for sale for £150k.

The Assessment Sub-Committee had previously found that JoCo couldn't have known about the lower sale price. However, for the review sub-committee I had managed to get hold of emails that demonstrated that Collins had involvement in the matter for some considerable time, making it somewhat unlikely that the only things he knew were what he had been told in reports from officers.

Yet the review sub-committee decided that 'no additional information' had been provided.

I'm going to stick my neck out here but that is bollocks on stilts and wearing fire-engine red lederhosen. My conclusion of all this therefore is that this is a cover up and the Standards Committee is corrupt.