Friday, 27 April 2012

More Housing Benefits Woe

Things have yet to get any better for Nottingham's Housing and Council Tax Benefit claimants. Latest figures for the third quarter (i.e. Oct - Dec 2011, click for the Excel file) show little to no improvement in speed of processing since I looked at their second quarter stats.

Nottingham remains the second worst in Great Britain for processing new claims, although the average time taken has decreased slightly from 60 days to 59. Way to go NCC.

Things aren't quite as bad for the average time taken to process changes in circumstances where NCC is only the 5th worst in the country with 33 days, a slight improvement on the previous quarter's 36.

This demonstrates an ongoing issue of worsening service when you haven't got the Audit Commission popping in every year and awarding you stars leading to nice headlines in the paper.

As mentioned before, NCC recently threw a pile of money at the problem and brought in a team of private agency staff at a time when it is supposedly committed to reducing temp and agency staff (see para 1.3 of this report). This won't show up until the first quarter of next year I'd guess as the agency staff are being hired for 12 weeks (i.e. a quarter) and I suspect it is being timed to ensure that the figures for the first quarter of the financial year show the maximum possible improvement in case Lisa Black is summoned to some inconvenient committee or other to explain why her service is so shit.

Scaremongering A - Go - Go

Good old Nottingham Labour Party.

According to them, not only would a mayor cost £1million, but s/he would inevitably be a racist too! Who knew? Cripes, think of what a terrible mistake we could have all made.

The leaflet has attracted the attention of a pro-mayoral candidate on LabourList and been subjected to a number of pithy put-downs of the '...and most of all, you've let yourself down...' variety. But also pointing out that the BNP don't get any votes in Nottingham. Obviously they don't, voting booths aren't equipped with crayons.

It's not the first time Nottingham Labour have resorted to dirty tricks. Remember their astroturfing escapades at the last local election? I'm sure they're very 'Proud' of themselves.

Btw, there is another debate about whether we should have a mayor on Monday 30 April at 6pm. It's organised by the 'Post' and is being held at the Playhouse. Might see you there.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

More Mayoral Mayhem

Well, 'mayhem's a bit strong maybe but basically, JoCo's been out being a bit of a dick on Twitter again so I simply have to take the piss. As you've no doubt guessed already he's getting increasingly desperate about the possibility of a mayor nicking all his power so he's been doing a sort of 'why vote no for a mayor' series of tweets. We'll take them apart one by one but first, can I warn you that the phrase '£1m Extra Tory Mayor' gets a repeated look-in...

Here we go then, #1

See? Now then, is Cllr Collins comparing like-with-like here? Of course he isn't. His '£1m' cost for a mayor is a total for of the imagined 4 year cost of the mayor's wages, plus referendum costs, election costs (which in fact will be lower because those costs will be shared with the police commissioner election but that's another story). On the other hand the £80m which the government has cut from the budget is for one year. I agree with Collins that one of those costs is very bad and unjustifiable.


Ok, cost is an issue but Collins as leader of the Council gets about £45k, much of which will be lost if a mayor is elected because the post of Leader will be much diminished (you see how this is going?). Futhermore, it's not yet clear how mayors' salaries will be decided so this is all conjecture.


I've touched on this before but clearly, JoCo has to pretend he doesn't read my blog. To summarise, under the current system, the leader of the Council has huge powers already and as far as the legislation says so far, a mayor won't really get anything extra apart from the ability to appoint assistants. So councillors are largely merely cannon fodder as it is, a mayor won't change that. The difference is we get the chance to vote for a mayor, the vast majority of the city has no possibility of any say in who gets to be the leader of the council.

If JoCo really believes this to be the big issue, he could issue a cast iron promise to return power to councillors by re-establishing the committee system if the referendum results in a 'no' vote. He won't do that though because hius agenda is solely based on his own self-interest.


Oh. Em. Gee. He really said that out loud folks. Can I re-refer you to the link above re power of leader vs mayor but there's too many scandals to link to. Let's just say that Collins' problem is that the 'one person' would no longer be him.


Well, it doesn't really does it? Any mayor is likely to be Labour and you'd worry if their manifesto was radically different to Labour councillors. Of course, if a Leader with much reduced power and influence was to make trouble out of personal spite then that might cause difficulties but I can't see anyone being so immature, can you?


Not the strongest of arguments is it? It's failed elsewhere so the whole concept is screwed. If it had failed in the majority of places he may have had a point. It's worth pointing out that the failure of the mayor in Stoke was partly due to wholesale political meltdown in the city. It was within a hair's breadth of becoming the first BNP council. A lot of that was due to the failure of Labour politicians who lost the confidence of the electorate due to complacency.


Ah yes Doncaster, the ultimate Labour political basket case. People voted for the English Democrats chump due to wholesale disaffection with years of corrupt Labour regimes. Is JoCo concerned about a similar situation in Nottingham?


If they stand and the people see one of them as the best option then that could happen. People vote for 'joke' candidates when they are totally disillusioned with the mainstream ones (how do you think Boris got half his votes?) As it happens, the monkey in Hartlepool got re-elected and his administration does at least appear to be functional.

#8. No, sorry 9
Diff'rent strokes etc. It's a different kind of election. And why keep a leader who can't count?


This is, of course, a particular problem for a politician with no discernible personality whatsoever so you can understand JoCo's hostility. But of course, any leadership election has an element of personality to it. You might as well argue against the tides.

Oh, as you can see, I've left a reply in this one. 'Mayor for Nottingham' is run by Stephen Barker, former PR chief at NCC. Looks like things weren't very happy in the hen-house after all.


Yeah, he's supposedly running and if the people of Salford decide that the best person to run their city is an ex-con with a record of violence and no political experience then that's the world you have to deal with and their mainstream politicians need to ask themselves a lot of difficult questions. Who knows, he might decide to run as a ward councillor next time. Is Collins suggesting he should be banned from doing that?


Actually, he might have a point on this one. Another way of looking at it is that it's such a good idea that both Collins and Price oppose it!

So there you go. That's the best our current Leader of our Council, the man who already holds mayor equivalent powers (not that he likes to broadcast that at the moment) can do.

Anybody really want to argue that stripping this idiot's powers and giving them to someone we actually get to vote for is a bad idea?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Leader v Mayor; What Can the Leader Do?

There are a number of issues to think about when deciding whether we should have an elected mayor in Nottingham, some of which I wrote about here. I want to look in a bit more detail at how much power the leader of the council has at the moment, compared to how much a mayor might have.

Nottingham City Council currently operates a 'strong leader and cabinet' model for its executive arrangements. This is a modification of the original form of 'cabinet' arrangements introduced in 2007, designed to give councils a stronger and more visible leadership, apparently.

As a result of these changes, as well as NCC's amended constitution, in particular the part dealing with responsibilities and functions from which I quote below, the leader has the following powers -

"The Leader of the Council may determine to exercise any of the ‘executive’ functions of the Council personally, or may arrange for the exercise of any of the Council’s ‘executive’ functions by:

i) the Executive; or

ii) by another Executive Councillor; or

iii) by a committee of the Executive; or

iv) an officer of the Council." (p8)

'Executive functions' means the lion's share of day to day council decision making. Some decision making is reserved for full council or specific committees, the rest comes under executive functions. As you can see, the leader can decide to take any of these on her/himself, or delegate them.

"The term of office of the Leader starts on the day of his/her election as Leader and ends on the day of the next post election annual meeting (under whole elections) unless..." (p26)

Essentially the leader remains in office for the whole term of the council unless a majority of the council pass a resolution to remove him or he resigns. Previously the leader was elected each year.

"The Leader determines the size of the cabinet (Executive Board) and appoints between 2 and 9 members of the Council to be the Executive Board in addition to himself/herself, allocates any areas of responsibility (portfolios) to them, and may remove them from the Executive Board at any time. The Leader determines the responsibility for the discharge of the executive functions of the Council." (p26)

As you can see, should the leader decide not to take on all executive functions, s/he has absolute carte blanche over who does. If you are appointed as a portfolio holder you gotta stay in the good books or you're out.

"(ii) Who can take Key Decisions?

Nottingham City Council has decided (and included within the provisions of this Constitution) that Key Decisions may be taken by the Leader of the Council, Executive Board and the Executive Board Commissioning Sub Committee." (p108)

'Key Decisions' are the big executive decisions which have financial implications greater than £1m or significantly affect two or more wards. Previously they could only be taken by the Executive Board which at least ensured some collective decision making. Now, the leader can simply decide to take them her/himself. There appears to be no rhyme or reason behind which ones s/he can decide to take and JoCo has so far taken five key decisions himself, as you can see here and here.

So, as you can see, if they wanted, the leader of the council could do pretty much everything themselves other than approve the budget (which they would have been responsible for drawing up) and the more controversial planning decisions. All this power for someone who was only elected by 26% of the electorate in St Anns.

As yet, information as to what powers an elected mayor would have is thin on the ground. What little we have seems to be contained in a new Schedule A1 being added to the Local Government Act 2000 (see part 2) -

"Mayor and cabinet executives

(1)This paragraph applies in relation to executive arrangements by a local authority which provide for a mayor and cabinet executive.

(2)Subject to section 9C(5), the executive arrangements must include provision which enables the elected mayor to determine the number of councillors who may be appointed to the executive under section 9C(2)(b).

(3)The executive arrangements must include provision which requires the elected mayor to appoint one of the members of the executive to be the elected mayor’s deputy (referred to in this paragraph as the deputy mayor).

(4)Subject to sub-paragraph (5), the person who is appointed deputy mayor, unless the person resigns as deputy mayor or ceases to be a member of the authority, is to hold office until the end of the term of office of the elected mayor.

(5)The elected mayor may, if the elected mayor thinks fit, remove the deputy mayor from office.

(6)Where a vacancy occurs in the office of deputy mayor, the elected mayor must appoint another person to be deputy mayor.

(7)If for any reason the elected mayor is unable to act or the office of elected mayor is vacant, the deputy mayor must act in the elected mayor’s place.

(8)If for any reason—

(a)the elected mayor is unable to act or the office of elected mayor is vacant, and
(b)the deputy mayor is unable to act or the office of deputy mayor is vacant,
the executive must act in the elected mayor’s place or must arrange for a member of the executive to act in the elected mayor’s place."

That doesn't look like a whole lot more power than the leader has to me but of course, the story isn't finished yet. There will be further regulations and much will be decided locally in councils' constitutions as at present.

What is new is planned regulations for the mayor to be able to appoint an assistant. I'm not sure if that will mean just one or several but it is grist to the mill for 'no' campaigners citing increased cost of a mayoral system. It doesn't appear that there is any requirement that the assistant would have to be a councillor.

The key thing as I see it is that we currently have an individual with powers similar to those planned for a mayor already so any criticisms of a mayor having 'too much power' don't really stand up. And if we must have a single individual with that much power in the City I would very much like the opportunity to vote for them.

One final footnote. As I read the Localism Act provisions relating to all this, if the referendum results in a 'no' vote the council then has the power to change back to a committee system should it want to. The County Council has already decided to do this. They can do so because they are not being required to hold a referendum as to whether to have a mayor which puts such possibilities on hold. Going back to a committee system would result in a lot less power for the leader and councillors who are currently members of the cabinet. Funny that JoCo hasn't made any noises about that as a possibility...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Call Me 'April Fool' Says Cllr Collins

Yes you all knew what it was didn't you? Best I could do I'm afraid.

With apologies to Grayson Perry and, well the whole trans community probably...


In what will be seen as a brave move, the NCC leader has announced that she now plans to live as a woman and wants colleagues and the public to call her Joan from now on.

In a statement Cllr Collins said -

"In all honesty I have been struggling with my gender identity for years. I think this has been apparent to many people as I have clearly been prone to lapsing into outrageously over the top macho decision making for some time and I think I may have been overcompensating."

The Conservative opposition wished him well but expressed cynicism at the timing of JoanCo's announcement.

"It seems a bit of a coincidence that we have the mayor referendum coming up and Cllr Collins suddenly starts flouncing about in a dress. I do wonder if he's just trying to draw attention away from the issue and he'll be back to his old self on May 4th. In fact I wouldn't be that surprised if things are as they were by tomorrow afternoon" said a spokesTory.