Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Hold the Front Page! A Bit of Info About the Housing Scandal has been Allowed Out!

Only a little bit mind you. And what has come out simply raises more questions than it answers.

Okay then. As you know the housing allocations scandal has been going on forever with NCC desperate to prevent any info about what went on, and more seriously, why nobody has been made to answer for it, getting out into the open.

My own FoI request has been going on since May 2011 and there has been allegations of vexatiousness (quickly but wordlessly dropped), exemption bingo and a thoroughly unsatisfactory Information Commissioner's decision which brought us back to square one.

Since then NCC has withdrawn an appeal against another requester's case where the Commissioner ordered disclosure of some information and, as my request overlapped with that one, I got the info too.

Considering what has come out, the suspicion that NCC is frankly taking the piss with resisting FoI requests is somewhat reinforced. It is pretty fucking outrageous that public money has been spent stopping this information getting out.

So, what have we got? Well, only information from 2006 unfortunately consisting of
  • Hand written notes of a meeting between NCC and the Police on 15 May 2006 where removing IT equipment from housing offices for examination was discussed (note also the reference to 'players'!)
  • A detailed briefing document summarising a meeting on 11 July 2006. This clearly shows that the Police were on message with investigating the matter, had formed an initial view on what the focus of the investigation should be (this is redacted but I think we can safely assume it to be 'The Sports and Social Club That Must Not Be Named'). If anything, NCC are saying that the Police have been a bit directionless and seem fired up with getting further info together and passing it on.
  • A brief summary document on the three meetings that had occurred between NCC and the Police that year.
And that's it. My request asked for quite a lot more, in particular later meetings, so I have written back to remind them of this fact. Probably best not to hold my breath...

But the upshot of this is that it seems clear that the Police were well up for investigating the matter. So why did this attitude change, leaving NCC to spend £100k on external solicitors covering for its own legal team carefully looking the other way investigating the matter, with no prosecutions?

The answer will presumably be in the minutes of meetings in 2010 (which we know happened from earlier disclosures. Note also in there, Notts Police Head of Fraud Kevin Fidler. This shit writes itself). As such, I suspect a continuing battle to get hold of them.

Wish me luck.

Addendum; Following a comment on Indymedia I went back and checked some dates and it does seem that the July-Sept 2010 meetings that likely decided the fate of the police investigation were hot on the feet of JoCo being appointed Chair of the Police Authority and installing his 'Change Management' team. Which is rather an amazing coincidence.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Why I think It Is Worth Voting In the Notts PCC Election

So, we have the elections for the Police and Crime Commissioners coming up on the 15 November. You can see the line-up of chaps (and yes, it is all chaps) for the Notts job here. I'm claiming this post as not 'off-topic' because as far as the police are concerned, Nottingham City is included in Nottinghamshire.

So, I'm somewhat ambivalent as to whether PCCs are a good idea. I have reservations that having a high profile single person being elected will lead to populist policing policies and of course, there is the danger that policing becomes a party political plaything.

But the thing is, they are happening whatever you or I think. This is not like the elected mayor question, this is not a referendum on whether Notts will have a PCC. Our government has 'benevolently' decided on our behalf that a PCC is what we are going to have and whether 20 or 200,000 people vote in this election, there will be a man in post on the morning of the 16th.

So, in my view we are in a damage limitation exercise. Long-term readers will know I am not a fan of not voting or spoiling your ballot paper (though I confess I'm really struggling to think of what to do in the next general election). So here are my recommendations of who to vote for, using the time honoured principles of picking the least worst option.

Now we have four candidates, Labour, Tory and two Independents. Now, starting from the point of view that letting mainstream party politicians get their mitts directly on the police is a no-no, that leaves us with the two Independents. My view on this is that Labour's candidate, former MP Paddy Tipping, is, according to what I've heard, very much on the 'useful idiot' wing of the Labour Party and, given that there will also be 'Police and Crime Panels' including members of the force area's local councils 'scrutinising' their PCC, Tipping is likely to spend his entire term with JoCo's hand up his arse.

So, the two Independents then, Raj Chandran and Malcolm Spencer. Firstly Chandran is a former Tory PPC and, although he says he is no longer a member of the party, he is likely to still be a Tory at heart. More worryingly perhaps, he happens to be a Freemason. Quite why anybody connected with the Police is still allowed to join such secretive boys' clubs is beyond my reckoning, suffice to say that in my mind, this disqualifies him from getting my vote.

So, without even going into their individual policies, we are left with one candidate that I can conceivably imagine voting for, let's hope he's not a horror story eh? In fact Spencer is a former copper himself and appears to be proposing nothing that will frighten the horses policy wise. My main concern about him is that he doesn't appear to have any experience of high level leadership so may be at risk of being dominated by both the small and large 'p' politicians. Still, as far as running the police is concerned, solid and conventional beats frothing ideologue any day of the week.

So, not exactly a ringing endorsement then but I hope I've presented a reasonably rational argument for going out to put your cross on the piece of paper. Turnout is expected to be very low so there is a real likelihood of your vote making a difference.

And remember, there are a lot of Tories out in the County and they are probably the people most likely to vote...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Better Late Than Never? Not much...

NCC's consultation exercise on its replacement for Council Tax Benefit is now over. As such, they now deem it safe to respond to the questions I asked at the consultation event I went to in Bulwell, as I can no longer use the info to come up with clever-arsed objections to their ideas.

Not that the info they've provided would have been much help. I'll reproduce it in full here;

"Dear Mr Platt,

Thank you for attending our recent information event on the changes to Council Tax Benefit. There were a few questions on the day that we couldn’t answer so please see below for our response as promised.

- You asked for the savings generated by each proposal. We are unable to provide the estimated savings generated by each individual proposal because the proposals are inter-dependant and will not show a true reflection of savings if treated separately. However, if we assume that all proposals in our draft scheme are applied then the savings generated would be:

Estimated savings generated



*An assumed collection rate of 70% has been being used in the calculation of the net savings figure.

- You asked what collection rate these figures were based on. Please see answer above.

- You asked to see the Equality Impact Assessment. A full EIA is not required at this stage as the scheme is still only a proposal and isn’t to change or introduce a new policy/service/function. Due regard to equality has been applied throughout the development of the proposed scheme and the consultation process itself forms part of the EIA. A full EIA will be completed to accompany the decision on the final design of the Council Tax Support Scheme following the period of consultation with all interested parties.

Nottingham City Council

Consultation Team"

There isn't really very much there is there? So why did that take a month to provide?

It's also fairly dodgy to claim that they couldn't provide the individual costings. I think it's disingenuous to claim that they are all interdependent. Yes, there may be diminishing returns as the cumulative effects of each change eventually knock individuals out of eligibility, preventing further provisions having any further effect in that individual case but this doesn't apply to all. In particular, the minimum 20% proposal can at least be partially calculated; I previously estimated that it would raise £3.5m from those currently receiving full CTB alone.

The confirmation of the expected 70% collection rate is also a red flag warning of the laws of diminishing returns. As this huge drop in collection rates is entirely attributable to the proposals, surely this demonstrates that some of the proposals are doing more harm than good?

This claim suggests that NCC simply grabbed together a random selection of cuts to apply and calculated the expected overall cost. This doesn't sound very strategic. Surely there must have been substitute calculations demonstrating effects of only including one of the provisions, or all except one etc? That would have given me some idea of the effects of each one.

As for the claim that no EIA has been carried out. All I can say is that's not what they said on the day. So why has the story changed? Is it that it's just in 'draft' form and showing us would give the impression that the proposals were a done deal and the consultation was a sham? Perish the thought...

This is deeply unsatisfactory. I still have an open FoI request, currently subject to review as they didn't answer my original request (not like them eh?) so hopefully this will produce more info. Failing that it's time for legal advice on possible judicial review and demanding the info via court production procedures.

It goes on...