Thursday, 30 June 2011

Paul Dacre is a Cunt (off Topic Post of the Week)

Paul Dacre is the editor of the Daily Mail 'newspaper'. That on its own is enough to condemn him as a cunt.

However, it appears that the Mail's lawyers have taken to threatening bloggers for 'defamation' when in fact no such thing is happening. In fact, I think this makes it reasonable to label him a dickhead as well. Although, the fact that he is doing so by threatening the web-hosts rather than the author, who obviously have no interest whatsoever in not caving, pushes him more back to 'cunt' territory.

It's a bit like when NCC sent me a letter telling me to stop being nasty, although even they had the decency to contact me direct and weren't quite stupid enough to claim defamation.

So, in my humble opinion, Paul Dacre is a cunt and a dickhead. I look forward to hearing from Google.

Addendum; and he allows stuff like this crass nonsense into his paper

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

(Probably) My Last Word on CEHRNN

I've written quite a bit about the withdrawal of Council for Equality and Human Rights Nottm & Notts' funding already. However, following NCC's reluctant compliance with a long-running FoI dispute, there are a few last little details to fill in.

There is another whole story behind this request which I may write about in the future, if you're very good boys and girls, but I finally got hold of the portfolio holder's decision, made by Cllr Chapman and then Cllr Hassan Ahmed  to withdraw CEHRNN's funding at a stroke, becoming heroes of the EDL in the process. This decision had previously been kept secret and was only provided after NCC ignored my FoI request for nearly nine months. And it's probably no co-incidence that CEHRNN has closed in the meantime.

Anyway, one thing that the decision document confirms is that NCC considered that ALL wards would be affected. As such the matter should not have been eligible to be decided by a portfolio decision, according to NCC's constitution. Still, nobody gives a fuck about such things do they? Certainly not the opposition councillors at the time anyway.

The next item of interest is that the supporting report demonstrates that NCC knew that they were legally obliged to carry out an equalities impact assessment of any decision to reduce funding to CEHRNN (para 8.2 of the supporting report). Yet that never happened. What NCC did was carry out an EIA on CEHRNN as they were operating before the decision to stop their funding, not of the funding decision itself. I discussed the dodgy use of EIAs in the debacle in more detail here.

So far therefore we have an inappropriate use of portfolio decisions (coincidentally these require no debate, not that there would have been at a full committee meeting mind you) and an effective failure to carry out a proper Equality Impact Assessment. That's a breach of NCC's constitution and an illegal omission so far.

It's probably fair to say that CEHRNN was an organisation with problems. However the report repeatedly remarks on the areas in which improvements had been made, before seeking to belittle those attempts e.g. -

"CEHRNN has been providing a service at an individual and grassroots level that has made a difference for some individual citizens and groups and targeted relevant local issues. However, despite interventions by officers, Board members and the Chief Executive challenging the circumstances, there are still clear indications that CEHRNN has not been able to prevent staffing problems from continuing"


"Although some work has been carried out to broaden Board representation, the Board is still predominately weighted towards race as is the membership of the organisation."

"Since the October 2009 review meeting the organisation has achieved some limited progress around staffing and governance issues - however there are still real concerns about the long term ability to deliver effectively against the SLA."

Furthermore, this was a key criticism -

"the organisation has effectively failed to move from a race focus to a broader equalities remit (as agreed in their SLA"

and yet one of the recommendations is as follows -

"The strategy proposes inviting bids from consortia as well as individual organisations, in recognition of the challenge of providing an all-encompassing equality and human rights service."

An acceptance that CEHRNN was set an impossible task? It was never a large organisation, the report mentions four full time posts. Certainly since they were only allocated the funding in December 2008, and this would most likely only have been payable from the beginning of the next financial year i.e. April 2009, it seems odd that the report notes that the above 'concerns' were being noted from May 2009. How quickly can an organisation be expected to solve all its problems?

Another interesting little corner of the EIA says the following -

"There were two similar examples [in the past] where organisations delivering equality related SLAs had experienced staffing or other difficulties. The learning from these examples had been that in these cases, stepping in early to remove funding if an organisation isn’t functioning properly is likely to be an appropriate step to minimise disruption if opportunities to address the issues have been given and the issues remain unresolved."

Does this mean that NCC believes that the need to dive in and remove funding at the first sign of trouble only applies to organisations 'delivering equality related SLAs'? I can say with certainty that there are countless grant aided organisations in Nottingham that have had appalling problems, including huge staffing issues, even embezzlement, yet NCC hasn't said a dicky bird. Frankly the issues that my old team within NCC were as bad as it can get, when I started there were four (out of 11) people off sick, all of whom returned strangely close to the 6 month limit for full pay with nobody raising an eyebrow. And I may even write a whole post about the team member who refused to provide a services for clients with learning disabilities. She's still there, my managers and HR wouldn't let me instigate disciplinary action despite her approach putting the council at risk of legal action. And I haven't even brought up my own Employment Tribunal. Oh, sorry...

So not only was CEHRNN treated in a different way to most grant aided organisations (which was arguably discriminatory due to such treatment only being applied to 'equalities' organisations), it's not as if NCC is in any kind of position to lecture any organisation on governance or staffing matters anyway, having acted illegally, unconstitutionally, in a discriminatory manner and being managed incompetently itself.

So, what has NCC managed to put in CEHRNN's place, seeing as this was a big focus of the report? Well they've given a pile of money to Nottingham Equal as we know. And they are supporting a new hate crime reporting initiative but that's it as far as I can see. Not a lot, especially as one of those is run by a crook former 'friend' of the council. What about measures to support people with disabilites or the LGBT community?

We'll have to wait and see I suppose but bearing in mind the cuts I suspect such groups will be left wanting. And the last thing NCC will want to do when it is cutting services to the disabled is to fund a voluntary group which might encourage service users to mount a legal challenge to those cuts.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Shedding Light on NCC's Hiding, sorry FREEDOM, of Information

More good leaks obtained by the Post last week which gives a fairly illuminating insight into the way that NCC deals with Freedom of Information requests that it finds a bit inconvenient to deal with. Some of these details may explain some of the delays that I've been experiencing.

Firstly, the Post reports on Councillor Jon Collins acting in an uncharacteristically high-handed manner by refusing to let Information Governance staff search his emails in order to reply to an enquiry by former Cllr Tony Sutton concerning communications prior to the 2007 election.

Funnily enough, one of my FoI requests which has been outstanding for 8 months (and 3 months beyond a time limit set by the Information Commissioner's Office for a reply) is likely to involve some of JoCo's emails. I wonder if that's what's holding things up?

The second interesting thing that the Post has uncovered concerns the same request for info from Tony Sutton. It is alleged that NCC's Director of Communications, Stephen 'Pugwash' Barker pretended that certain documents requested were not held by the authority. Then, after Information Governance staff involved Monitoring Officer Glen O'Connell, who isn't exactly renowned for his anti-establishment views, Pugwash "...volunteered to the Council's Monitoring Officer" that he probably could find the documents after all.

Pugwash told the Post that the Info Governance officer, who had expressed concern that a criminal offence could have occurred, had "...a very partial understanding of these matters at the time..." and had "...hold of completely the wrong end of the stick." Yet it's clear from Barker's own quote that he only offered to find the documents to the Monitoring Officer. If Information Governance had 'got the wrong end of the stick', whay was it necessary for the Monitoring Officer to become involved?

We've noted before that Information Governance have to get responses signed off by the Communications Team i.e. Pugwash himself and we wondered allowed what would happen if the truth didn't reflect the required spin. Well, we might have a bit more of a clue to what the answer to that question is now. It certainly looks like Info Governance officers find themselves in a difficult position from time to time.

The upshot of this is that Barker has abused his position as Head of Communications to defend himself personally against a perfectly reasonable concern by an Info Governance officer doing his/her job, somewhat belittling that officer and undermining NCC's handling of FoI in the process. Barker's job is to present information on the council's behalf and is paid quite a lot of public money to do so.

The Council's code of conduct for employees (see p15 onwards of this document) requires officers to advise each other impartially. It also says that officers have the right to be treated with respect. I'm not sure how wrongly informing an Info Governance officer that documents are not held, then slagging off that officer in the press complies with these requirements.

Addendum; NCC is currently being monitored by the ICO. The monitoring period started beginning April and is due to end at the end of June. Whether anything comes out of that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

'Shadow' Mayors Not Happening After All

The Localism Bill has been amended in the House of Lords to remove any mention of the proposal to impose elected mayors on 11 major UK cities, including Nottingham (see column 1142 of the debate) and with it the requirement for 'shadow mayors'.

The abandoned clause would have meant that JoCo would have been elevated to shadow mayor, meaning even greater powers. This will now no longer happen, which is a very good thing.

Collins is on record as being against elected mayors so he will presumably be pleased. My theory is that this is because he would face the choice of running for the job himself (once the shadowship had ended obv) or seeing most of his powers go to someone else. His failure to secure the nomination for the Nottingham East parliamentary seat suggests that he cannot bank on even getting Labour's support for anything beyond his little St Anns burrow, never mind manipulate persuade all of Nottingham to vote for him.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Workplace Parking Levy to Use Auto Number Plate Recognition

Firstly, I should say that I support the principle of the workplace parking levy. I do believe that we need to reduce car use whenever possible and especially short journeys which cause the most environmental damage. This can really only be done by some form of 'green taxation' i.e a means to translate some of the external costs of car driving i.e. pollution etc into a financial cost to car users and the revenue from that used to invest in alternatives i.e. more public transport. In addition, it will be useful to be able to compare the effectiveness of WPL schemes compared to congestion charging and I suspect that this fact is a significant reason for the WPL to be still going ahead despite the change in government since the scheme was first approved.

However, I may have been naive but I had largely misunderstood how the scheme was to be operated. I presumed that businesses would apply for their car park license by saying how many spaces they had and a bloke from NCC would turn up with his tape measure and check. No, it's not as simple as that.

You see, the WPL Order set before parliament says that spaces provided for people visiting the premises but who don't work there or spaces for delivery vehicles and spaces used by blue badge holders aren't charged although must be declared for the license. Therefore employers are expected to work out how many parking spaces are provided for people who normally work there. Of course this has to be checked at some stage to ensure that employers don't suddenly sprout a huge number of disabled employees, or find that they need an awful lot of deliveries. And it seems that this checking is to be done by an ANPR equipped vehicle, which has just been ordered for the princely sum of £93k, including software.

I have concerns about ANPR, mainly around how the information is used and who it is passed onto. There are stories of it being used to identify protesters traveling by car to demos and it arguably requires proper authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I can't see any mention of the use of ANPR in any of the documents on the WPL page of NCC's website (although I haven't read all of them I must admit) and it doesn't seem to have come up in the public enquiry or any of the consultation documents. If anybody knows where there is any previous discussion on this or has any info on compliance (or not) with RIPA please let me know in the comments.

And this is a big issue because as far as I can see the method of monitoring is to drive the ANPR car into the employers' car parks and record the registrations of all the cars parked there. This is done 8 times in a 28 day period and the data analysed to identify the regular parkers.

So unlike the normal use of ANPR which is to monitor car use on the roads, which are in fact highly regulated public spaces, and merely produce data identifying when a person momentarily passes a fixed point*, it will be used to monitor private spaces and will collect data which could establish where an individual spends an awful lot of their time or whether a person is disabled (which is actually sensitive data under the Data Protection Act and thus requires explicit permission to record).

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to work out a whole list of agencies who would dearly love to get their hands on this info from the police to the social security agencies. It really is a whole new order of surveillance.

*Yes, I realise that a network of ANPR can build up a detailed picture of a person's traveling habits but the fact remains that the roads are public and there are good reasons for regulating car use. I'm not saying there aren't valid objections, merely that routine surveillance by the state of private spaces where individuals are staying is a big step up.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Some More on Postal Votes

I've written before about my suspicion of postal votes in Nottingham and, once the 2011 elections had gone by I tried to find out the figures for postal voting that time round. However my search for knowledge was stymied by my FoI request being deemed to be 'vexatious'.

Temporarily stymied that is because someone kindly sent me the figures anyway. They shall remain anonymous but they know who they are and they have my thanks. I should say that this person had the figures entirely legitimately and there is no reason why they couldn't pass them on to whoever they liked so no skullduggery has taken place. Oh and so as not to waste their time, as you can see I have contacted Information Governance at NCC and withdrawn my request for which they are no doubt very grateful.

So, I have tabulated the figures for postal voting from the last three elections (and yes, it took me bloody ages, thank you) and you can download the pdf here. I have included figures for the turnout, actual numbers of votes cast and number of registered voters and I have calculated the postal votes as percentages of both votes cast and registered voters.

First thing to note is that overall turnout increased significantly this time round, probably largely due to the referendum being held on the same day. As you also will be aware, Labour increased its majority again, including the total removal of any Lib Dem representation on the council. The figures show that postal voting increased again, in absolute numbers, the proportion of votes cast and as a proportion of the total electorate.

In the last three elections, the proportion of votes cast that were postal votes went from 19.2% in 2003, to 30.9% in 2007 and on to 32.7% in 2011. Expressed as a proportion of the total electorate the figures are 5.57%, 10.2% and 12.0%.This last increase is not as great in percentage terms as that between 2003-2007 but the rules on postal voting were relaxed during this period so that's when you'd expect the bigger jump.

According to a previous FoI the number of postal vote applications in April 2010 was 31,591. The number of postal votes cast in May 2011 was 23,986 which demonstrates clearly that those who applied for a postal vote were much more likely to actually get round to voting than those who chose to stick with voting in person, around 75% compared to 25% for non-postal voters. You'd perhaps expect this because, having made the effort to arrange the postal vote it would be daft not to use it. But it's still a pretty big gulf nonetheless.

I'm not sure how much a story we can derive from individual ward figures, although the two wards with the highest rate of postal voting as a proportion of votes cast happen to be Aspley and Bestwood (both 43.5%), homes to the Deputy Leader and the last two Lord Mayors respectively. St Ann's isn't far behind at 38.9% (JoCo's ward). However we should perhaps read more into the fact that such figures are partly down to low voting turn-out, especially in St Ann's. Compare these to the numbers in Wollaton West with its highest overall turn-out of 51.7%, postal vote rate of 27.2% of votes cast (relatively low) and 14.1% of the electorate (relatively high). And they elected Tories.

So the trend that made me suspicious before i.e. postal voting rates increasing with Labour's majority continues. However, the trend is not so pronounced this time round and it has to be said that in 2007 it was in the context of a nationwide drop in Labour support, whereas this time it seems pretty clear that Labour, in the East Midlands at least, has benefited from a protest vote against the coalition government. And as I said before, all this info could only ever be described as circumstantial evidence anyway.

Feel free to add your own theories in the comments.

Not About Nottingham...

This is a brief post expressing solidarity to Welsh blogger Caebrwyn who writes a similar(ish) blog to mine but focusing on the trials and tribulations of Carmarthenshire Council.

Recently she attempted to film a public council meeting on her mobile phone. Predictably, officials told her to stop but she correctly pointed out that she was not doing anything wrong and continued. Police arrived and she was bundled away and locked up on spurious 'breach of the peace' grounds.

Outrageously, the police told her they would keep her in overnight if she didn't sign an undertaking not to film council meetings again. Understandably she decided to cut her losses and signed.

Caebrwyn is currently considering her legal options but I hope she takes both the police and the council to the cleaners.

Her blog posts about the incident can be found here and here. The story seems to be hitting the mainstream media as well.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Continuing (and Repeating) Story of the Housing Allocations Scandal

If you've been reading the Post over the last couple of days you'll have noticed that they are going with a 'drip drip' style run of articles about the housing allocations scandal.

Yesterday started with this article claiming that 'sports club members' were among those who benefited from a leg-up the housing queue. Having loftily stated that they weren't going to name the club concerned they brilliantly left the comments open (since removed) and within minutes it was full of jokes about 'West Indians' having a 'cavalier attitude' and similar. This article gives a few examples of cases that (allegedly, legal fans) happened. It includes the one where one of the properties was squatted and a group of blokes came round and violently evicted them, using a cricket bat among other weapons. This incident was reported on Indymedia back in 2006.

Today we have a nice description of a couple of cases that JoCo either got involved with, or didn't if you listen to his personal lawyer NCC Monitoring Officer Glen O'Connell. Because of course Collins himself refused to comment for fear of making a twat of himself like he did when the matter came up at a council meeting. Back then he called Tony Sutton a 'prat' and had to be calmed down by Graham Chapman in true "leave it Jon 'e's not worth it" style. That's the Leader of NCC calling an opposition councillor a 'prat', statesmanlike demeanor fans, in flagrant breach of the councillors' code of conduct.

Interestingly, and it may just be a coincidence, last week there was a big PR push in the Post on the 'zero tolerance' of NCH tenants being evicted for drugs activity. It was hilarious, a second article had Richard Antcliff dipping straight into the 'drugs are bad m'kaay?' catchphrase book, claiming that -

"Drugs can literally destroy individuals and communities". 

Bless him. A housing director, Gill Moy, claimed -

"To a lot of offenders, the prospect of going to prison is something they are not scared of, but losing their and their family's home, is a much more powerful deterrent."

This was somewhat contradicted by the main thrust of the article which was that evictions for drugs activities were increasing, which doesn't really suggest that losing their houses was much of a deterrent at all.

I could witter on for hours about the phenomenon of drugs offences occupying a special place in the crime hierarchy requiring an extra sentence of eviction in addition to what you get from the criminal justice system. One of the commenters correctly pointed out that homelessness is likely to increase the likelihood of recidivism and drugs problems getting worse. Clearly high level drug dealing can be extremely disruptive and may subject neighbours to danger but I can't see why having a crafty toke of an evening when you get back to work should result in you ending up on the streets.

But I digress. The killer quote in the context of the allocations scandal was this one from Antcliff -

"Housing is a precious commodity. There are lengthy waiting lists and we want people in properties who deserve them."

Do you think NCC got wind of the Post's campaign and tried to spoil it by throwing this story at them?

And then this afternoon, and bear in mind that he was unwilling to comment on specific allegations of his own conduct in the affair, Collins was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in a press release calling on Nottingham peeps to 'get behind' Carl Froch in his punchy game this Saturday. Got to get those priorities in order and if jumping on a populist bandwagon draws a bit more attention away from those pesky housing matters then that's just a risk he's just going to have to take.