Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Two Years of Blogging About Conniving Incompetent Twats Pt 2

Right! Now where had we got to? Ah yes...

June 2010

Lib Dem councillor Alex Foster attempted to get a resolution at council calling on Portfolio Holder for Adult Services and Health to lobby the blood doner service to allow gay and bisexual men to be allowed to give blood, which they are currently banned from doing so. Despite this the resolution was amended to remove any reference to gay men, with said Portfolio Holder apparently heard to say "I have gay friends, but..." Enlightened times. Serious criticism from the Audit Commission over NCC's subsidy claims for housing benefit and its administration of the Bridge Estate charity came to light and JoCo and his mates' continued appropriation of Notts Police Authority upsets a few more people.

July 2010

We find out that NCC's website is woefully unfit for purpose for those who want to conduct business with the council online, putting NCC in breach of an, admittedly obscure, EU Directive, we point and laugh at Comms Chief Stephen Barker getting his priority driven prioritisations, erm, prioritised and the world of politics is upended when the Labour Group torpedos a Tory motion to help rehabillitate offenders. Collins gets quite undone over the Parliament St sex shop attempting to renew its license while Cllr Cat Arnold outs herself as a former high class (self defined) escort, causing schoolboy sniggers over the fact that she is the 'executive assistant for leisure' and setting a wonderful example for the city's schoolchildren. On the plus side, it probably helped to sell her book which came out at the same time (currently available for £6 off at Amazon, if you're interested).

August 2010

A slightly quieter month this one. NCC's planning section decrees that one type of solar panel is 'in character' with an Edwardian conservation area but another type isn't, Harold Tinworth is formally awarded a contract to do the work that he's been doing for the last four years, after a scrupulously fair and open tender exercise obviously, and NCC puts the kibosh on this year's East Midlands Vegan Festival by refusig to allow use of the Council House on spurious 'wear and tear' grounds.

September 2010

That decision to award Tinworth the contract was subjected to 'call-in. We went beyond the call of duty and went to observe the meeting which was as dull as you'd expect and just as much of a blatant cover up. After having initially lied about not employing consultants to sort out the lifts maintenance problems NCC suddenly remembered that in fact, yes they had done after all. Michael Williams bids a tearful farewell, inadvertently exposing the complete lack of thought in NCC's senior management restructure last year and we are heartened by an apparent outbreak of good practice at One Nottingham. I did say apparent...

October 2010

The Post reveals the shocking misuse of confidentiality in local government rules when Harold Tinworth's offer to provide political advice at public expense to Labour councillors is exposed following the call-in meeting, Cllr Mick Newton gains my respect by outing himself as a mental health problem sufferer (next month - he loses it again), NCC's reasons for not allowing the East Midlands vegan Festival to be held at the Council house start to unravel and we have some fun chatting to some councillors for Local democracy Week. We end the month with the Information Governance team clamming up because there's some information that NCC wants to keep secret but they're not sure if the law allows them to do so.

November 2010

The Standards Committee stretches credibility beyond the call of duty by ruling that JoCo has no case to answer over his misleading the call-in sub-committee over the selling price of Radford Unity Complex. We get hold of pretty good evidence that oh yes he bloody does have a case to answer and demand a review of their decision. Don't hold your breath. Just show there's no hard feelings we give JoCo valuable advice as to how he could still make it to MIPIM despite NCC's lack of enthusiasm to fund it any more. In 'that took longer than I expected' news, Nottingham Equal is given an amount of funding suspiciously similar to the amount taken from CEHRNN earlier in the year and NCC admits that CEHRNN would have been a competitor for such funding streams had they not been sabotaged. My local councillors disappoint, but don't surprise, me again by steadfastly ignoring my emails and One Nottingham destroys our illusions that they might actually be jolly good chaps by deciding not to cough up about how Nottingham Equal got their money and by installing JoCo's mate as Chief Exec without so much as expecting him to apply or attend an interview.

So, that's my second year of blogging. Obviously I wrote about a few more things than the lowlights above, partly due to lack of energy and partly because I don't get to find out about everything. Readers can help with the latter of course, we are always looking ou for disgruntled NCC, One Nottingham or even voluntary sector employees with information to share. Check my prfile for an email link.

Will we last for a third year? Will NCC's secret agents* 'take us out' or will we simply lose the will to live? Tune in regularly to find out.

*It's alright, I don't really think that NCC has secret agents.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Two Years of Blogging About Conniving Incompetent Twats Pt 1

Yes folks the NCCLols blog has been going for two years now. I like to feel we've found our feet and, unlike the first year, I haven't had that tribunal hanging over my head.

So pull up a chair, grab a small sherry and imagine part one of this annual review being a bit like one of those 'talking heads' shows on Channel 4, if only we had some money and media expertise...

December 09

We were a bit demob happy after the tribunal finished but then we got a weak and inept sort of legal threat over being a bit sweary and insulting. I politely wrote back and suggested that they may want to reconsider bringing the matter up ever again.

January 2010

Fairly quiet start to the year, just seemed to be the usual ineptitude to write about along with a few more tribunal issues. We helped promote the campaigns against the closure of the Viccy Baths (eventually unsuccessful) and the attempt to rip off some of Stonebridge Farm's land, which went a bit better.

February 2010

Moving into February there was more of the same. JoCo got a bee in his bonnet about legal (i.e. with permission) graffiti before announcing that he would be heading down to MIPIM on his bike this year. It's all about him isn't it?

March 2010

Things hotted up in March with a number of big issues starting, some of which are still rattling on today. We had Hassan Ahmed's rather shameless attempt to shut down the Council for Equalities and Human Rights Nottm and Notts, the decision for which so far remains secret, and JoCo was accused of having a personal mentor, due to £110k being passed to Harold Tinworth for no discoverable reason so that was the best guess that anyone could come up with. These two issues have occupied a lot of space around here...On a lighter note we were featured in the Nottingham Post, for being belligerent sweary gits.

April 2010

Never let it be said that NCCLols is all work and no play, we started the month off with our first ever April Fool and a hearty chuckle we had with it too by George. Less fun was being completely ignored by nearly all of my elected representatives when I tried to spur them into action over the CEHRNN funding issue. JoCo starts making his presence felt at Notts Police Authority as well as sticking his oar in just about everywhere else. We'll hear more of this later...

May 2010

Despite being briefly distracted by the General Election, the rest of May happened. It was a month for crooks as Brian Grocock was made Lord Mayor and Hassan Ahmed claimed he'd been 'completely exonerated' by Standards for England when in fact he had been found to have failed to register a number of interests. These included Nottingham Equal which turned out to benefit hugely from his earlier decision to rip off CEHRNN of its funding. And we had the first signs of things not all being well in the world of lift maintenance.

Well, that's me pooped for now, look out for part 2 tomorrow or, alternatively, at some other completely different time, we'll see.

Not In the Public Interest? Or Just Plain Embarrassing?

We appear to have another example of an NCC committee getting a bit mixed up over the difference between keeping something from the public because it's in the public interest and doing so because it's politically embarrassing.

This time it's the Appointments and Conditions of Service Committee who are meeting next month to discuss a report on how to reduce expenditure on temporary and agency staff and the (probably deceptively) benign sounding 'managing the impact on colleagues of the financial challenges affecting the council'.

These are the only two issues on the agenda and they are both due to be discussed in secret yet, bizarrely, the standard info for spectators is added at the bottom of the agenda -

"CITIZENS ATTENDING MEETINGS ARE ASKED TO ARRIVE AT LEAST FIFTEEN MINUTES BEFORE THE START OF THE MEETING TO BE ISSUED WITH VISITOR BADGES"

Might have been an idea to add that there really isn't any point because you're not going to see anything.

NCC has been criticised before about its spend on consultants and temporary staff, mostly on here but also by UNISON. And before you say they're not the same thing we do seem to find consultants being drafted in as temporary or 'interim' managers, sometimes using consultants who in turn employ other consultants. So it's likely that a discussion of their use will result in embarrassing disclosures. On the other hand, the agenda item is being described as as 'approach and phase 1 report' so it seems unlikely that it will involve discussing PricewaterhouseCoopers' most intimate business secrets and the few confidential financial matters that do creep in could easily be banished to an exempt appendix. But no, NCC makes the lot secret and my bet is that, if challenged, they would indeed justify it on there being financial matters involved. It's just coincidence that the embarrassing stuff also gets kept under wraps you understand. No really.

Of course this is nothing new, the call-in sub-committee tried to hide the fact that Harold Tinworth was planning to provide political advice at taxpayers' expense and Hassan Ahmed and Graham Chapman made the decision to end CEHRNN's funding in secret and since then Ahmed's downright duplicitous behaviour and conflict of interest in making the decision has come to light.

NCC Comms Chief Gets a Bit Upset

It seems that NCC's Director of Communications is back in the social media scene, this time blogging under his own name rather than hiding behind his 'Bulcote Cowby' moniker.

He seems to have got a bit hot under the collar (warning - there are asterisks) about an investigation about local authority mismanagement. Not the most neutral writing on the subject I'd agree, some of it does descend into Daily Mail reader porn but there are valid points in there and in some cases they seem to have been a bit kind. However, it seems to have hit one of Stephen's sensitive spots for some reason.

In an effort to play nicely I added a comment. I put quite a bit of thought into it so I was most upset to find that it is still 'awaiting moderation'. So here it is -


"Let me help with the link then people can see what you’re on about

http://thebureauinvestigates.com/

Unfortunately some of the criticisms are valid. I take your point about not dropping employees as soon as they go off sick but high levels of sick leave can be symptomatic of a wider malaise such as workplace bullying. NCC got off very lightly with my constructive unfair dismissal damages, pity they spent around £20k on legal representation and an estimated £10k on staff time for senior managers who fancied a few days out of the office to go along and watch.

As for the junkets, some of these might well be considered unnecessary. Certain local civic dignitaries popping over to USA to investigate theme parks springs to mind, if it has to be done at all what’s wrong with Eurodisney? £40 on Squeasyjet and you’re laughing. And don’t get me started on MIPIM.

Oh alright then, there is absolutely no justification for anybody from NCC having attended MIPIM ever. The interviews with porky businessmen telling wonderful tales of parties, rubbing shoulders with a Lord, and, oh yes I got a couple of leads in Coventry and Derby. As for flogging the Guildhall, nobody needed to go to the Riviera to clinch that deal. Notice how the private sector has suddenly lost interest now NCC doesn’t want to throw and cash at it any more?

As for redundancy, again, councils can’t be criticised for complying with the law but high levels of redundancy can signify poor recruitment and retention issues and bad planning and, annoyingly, we have to accept that public employees advantageous redundancy terms compared to the private sector are a matter for public interest. The issues around early termination settlements is moot though and there can be no excuse for a council like NCC getting through 3 Chief Executives simply because of the Leader’s personality problems. The common man/woman in the street also wonder why it is that if they’re not up to the job they just get sacked with no pay off, yet top brass seem to do very well out of it. 

On the other hand, sometimes employers including councils do have to dismiss staff on performance grounds but councils’ HR services are uniformly so poor that they can end up creating an unfair dismissal case when there was no chance of one before. Nobody at NCC HR even understands their own policies and tend to interpret them as what they would like them to mean rather than what they say. Mind you they’re so badly written that’s not surprising.

Then of course there is the matter of pay offs as part of a compromise agreement due to the workplace bullying. All I can say on that is don’t bully your staff and force them to resign, eh Stephen?
Where the report shoots itself in the foot is quoting criticism from a consultant “who has advised the government and councils on efficiency and remuneration” criticising waste. Huge irony and a pity he doesn’t mention the untold sums wasted on consultants (who sometimes do little more than find another consultant and charge for two profit margins).

So I agree some of the criticism is unfair but councils could help by not providing ammunition. Sadly their usual response is to waste huge amounts of cash on control freak PR to try and paper over the cracks and pointless glossy Pravdas delivered to your door."

What a pity Stephen can't control the whole media and blogosphere so easily eh?

Friday, 26 November 2010

It's That Radford Unity Complex Again

The 'drip drip' of information coming in on this continues.

I've managed to get sight of some of the emails that were exchanged between Nottingham Studios' representatives and NCC when negotiations started to turn sour. You may recall that NS were somewhat unhappy about having to allow some of the community groups to stay on in the building for an indeterminate period. NS were quibbling over the rent that NCC were going to pay on the groups' behalf.

One of the emails I've seen was from somebody called David Smith at NCC and it includes an extraordinary admission which I don't think has seen the light of day before, here's an extract -

"You will be aware that we have to address a Local Government Ombudsman case regarding the disposal of this building. The payment of a rental sum for accommodation within the property to a new owner will be viewed upon as most extraordinary, when the new owner is purchasing the property for an amount which falls well below the figure which the Council would expect to obtain, were the property sold in the open market, partcularly [sic] when an offer for the property has already been received at a figure close to the £350,000 at which it has been valued."

So NCC had received an alternative much greater offer for the building yet were still pushing for a sale to NS for a much lower figure, completion of which would have cost them even more for renting half of it back. The use of the word 'already' suggests to me that this higher offer predates the one from NS, which the council proactively invited. You can see why Mr Smith was worried.

As far as I know this fact of the alternative offer was never put before the call-in sub-committee. It would surely have put the handling of the sale in a different light if it had. It's still very much open to question how much JoCo knew about all this. At call-in it was said that he wrote to the tenants at RUC on 29 December 2009 to tell them that the building was to be sold, some weeks before he made the official decision.

In addition, one of the emails from NS' rep says -

"1. Last autumn the Studios group was invited by NCC to consider the purchase of Radford Unity Complex at a price of 150k. NCC indicated a valuation of 300k for the property but there was acknowledegment of significant potential remedial building work."

All this makes the Standards Committee's Assessment Sub-Committee's claim that the only thing Collins knew about the matter was what was in the report appended to his decision seem all the more extraordinary and unlikely. I've pointed this out to them in my request for a review of their decision not to investigate Collins' conduct at call-in.

I've been told separately that one of the groups based at the complex, who are affiliated to a national organisation, had made an offer for the building and I'm attempting to confirm whether that is the case and whether it was the same one that David Smith was referring to.

But essentially, it is clear that, even before the serious incompetence set in with legal services' failure to give the tenants proper notice, NCC was already nearly £200k down. For some reason, it seems that somebody high up really wanted the building to go to Nottingham Studios. I have no idea why but maybe there's a clue as to the who in one of the emails from David Hill, Nottingham Studios' agent on 19 March 2009-

"My understanding is that the Leader is very keen to see this sale go through and the resulting project to support artists.

I assume that any response to our final position will be endorsed by him."

Thursday, 25 November 2010

No, We Always Do It This Way, Honest

FINALLY got a response to one of my outstanding FoIA enquiries. They'd failed to provide a response within the statutory time limit so I asked for a review. The time limit for that is up today and, lo and behold, it appears. As such they took the absolute maximum amount of time without the involvement of the Information Commissioner.

Still, they take the opportunity to reassure me that -

"...we are currently carrying out a thorough review of all our office procedures to minimise the possibility of any future delays." 

That looks familiar. Let's have a quick look at a reply to an older query from June 2009 that had also been delayed -

"Please be assured we are currently carrying out a thorough review of all our office procedures to minimise the possibility of any future delays."

That's quite a long review! I imagine that no stone has been left unturned in finding a solution to these delays and that 'reports' and 'action plans' are being wielded as we speak.

Anyway, to the substance. I was trying to find out the current employment status of One Nottingham's Chief Exec, Nigel Cooke. He'd been described as 'acting' for a while which seemed odd. It may also be relevant that he is a very old mate of Jon Collins, erstwhile Chair of ON.

It turns out that Mr Cooke is now the permanently appointed Chief Exec but he didn't have to apply for the job or be interviewed. He was 'slotted in' to the job in June this year. It is, however, entirely above board -

"The restructuring procedures, agreed with the Trade Unions, involve comparing the job description of the post holder, whose substantive post has been deleted (in this case, Head of Service, One Nottingham) with that of the new post (Head of One Nottingham).

There was found to be a match of 66% or more and therefore the person at risk was eligible to be redeployed into the new post. No other at risk people were found to have 66% or more match and therefore no ring fence interviews for the new post were held."


You see? That's how they always do it.

It's worth a bit more of a look though. I did have some involvement in considerations of redeployment issues at NCC when I worked there.

First thing is you are comparing the posts rather than any individual postholder's skills so you're not supposed to include any task included in any 'acting up' capacity. It's also worth mentioning that Cooke's previous job was Head of Service and this post reported to the Chief Executive. In other words they are saying that there was a 66% overlap between two senior management posts, one of whom reported to the other.

If that really was the case then that was some serious top heavy management. The only other explanation would be that the redeployment process was rigged and, despite the fact that I'm sure JoCo wants to see his old mate do well and also to ensure that he leaves a friendly face at the top of ON when he departs the chair, I have absolutely no reason to believe that to be the case.

Last little fact of note. The salary is of the range £57,288 to £66,762. That's quite a bit less than the new Director of the Crime and Drugs Partnership (Alan Given's replacement) who I am reliably informed started on £89k.

Addendum; in case you think this all sounds a bit conspiracy theory you might want to bear in mind that Collins is onto his fourth Chief Exec at NCC with well documented rows with Michael Frater who then went on to uncover corruption and mismanagement at Surrey County Council. Shortly after Collins assumed the chair of Notts Police Authority the Chief Exec was hoofed out and it's widely rumoured that his current favourite Alan Given is being lined up for the job. And of course the arrival of Collins as chair of One Nottingham and the departure of previous Chief Exec Andrew Balchin occurred suspiciously close together with Cooke 'acting up' to the role pretty much straight away. Coincidence? Yeah right.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Keep the Public Informed...When It Suits You

The Post has two major bad news stories today. One about NCC cutting over 200 places in homelessness hostels, the other about the government deciding not to fund the PFI scheme to do up the Meadows.

Only one of these stories made it to the council's homepage, can you guess which one it is?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Shameless Cover Up

Kevin from One Nottingham has been back in touch, thought I'd heard the last from him. Here's what he had to say about my request for a copy of the tender meeting minutes and other documents -

"We have taken the decison not to supply the information you requested, in our considered opinion, release of this information would damage the commercial interests of Nottingam City Council, One Nottingham and the parties involved in the tendering process.

I would refer you to my email dated 2nd November 2010."


NCCLols translation service; "We're not giving you the info because that would let the cat out of the bag about the dodgy backroom deals we've pulled." 

Looks like it might be time to put plan B into operation. 

Notts SOS Demo

I attended the Notts SOS demo yesterday, was heartening to see such a good turnout.







I have to say that I always feel slightly ambivalent at these events listening to hypocritical bullshit from Nottm City Unison about how Tories only look after themselves and the like. This from an organisation whose branch chairman Gary Ward lied to help one of their stewards stitch me up.

Still bad apples and all that and I retain my strong belief in the Trades Union movement as a whole. It's only that which has so far prevented me from writing the full story of Nottm City Unison's part in my problems with NCC. Still mulling that one over...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Lack of Engagement Woes...Again

Unfortunately I have to report that my initial optimism at One Nottingham's response to my request for a copy of the decision to award Nottingham Equal funding appears to be misplaced.

As I said before, ON's PR chap Kevin Bartlett provided me with copies of board minutes but said that the decision to pick NE was made by a tender panel, a detail not mentioned in the NCC decision to provide match funding. That just mentioned a lack of other potential organisations.

I have written back to Mr Bartlett, twice, asking him for a copy of the tender decision and meeting minutes as their guidance says that this should normally be provided under the Freedom of Information Act and Kevin did say he would deal with my request under FoIA principles. Not a peep back from him sadly and he sounded so friendly at the outset.

What have they got to hide?

The next tactic I think is to test just how independent ON is from NCC by putting in a FoIA request to NCC itself. NCC's financial regulations state that contracts over £50k must have three bidders. The financial regs can be dispensed with if a justification can be provided but according to Kevin that didn't happen. We'll see what they say.

In other clamming up news, after encouraging all and sundry to write to their councillors about discretionary housing payments I made a point of doing so myself. Ten days ago I wrote to my own local councillors, Cat Arnold, Rob Lee and Mick Newton, the three party leaders and relevant portfolio holders Graham Chapman (resources), Eunice Campbell (adult services) and David Liversidge (housing).

Wanna know how many replies I've had? One, from Lib Dem leader Gary Long who said he would support DHPs being sent for scrutiny. Hats off to him at least. Nothing from anybody else, not even my own councillors which is an absolute disgrace. I've never had a reply from any of my local councillors apart from one from Mick Newton and that was when he was off sick.

These wasters are a disgrace to democracy. How can they complain about people not voting or otherwise engaging in political life when they steadfastly ignore people who do? How often do politicians howl in condemnation when people dare to take matters into their own hands and riot or stage other forms of direct action? We hear them mewling and puking that we should effect change by democratic means but ignore us when we do. It's not a party political thing, they're all part of the same disease, although we do have a particular problem with councillors being little more than vote fodder at the beck and call of the leadership in Nottingham. The last thing that elected representatives of that calibre want is for people to take an interest in what they're doing.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Another Day, Another Report on Housing Benefit Incompetence

Next week's Audit Committee meeting will have another opportunity to enjoy what is becoming a regular ritual; the presentation of yet another report detailing what a bunch of fuck-ups the housing benefits service is. I say fuck-ups but there is the hint of something more sinister going on, more on that in a bit.

This latest installment consists of NCC's Internal Audit services latest report on the housing benefits service which it seems they now do annually. I wrote about the 2009 edition before. The 2010 version was prepared in February of this year but we only get to see it if it's one of the sample of Internal Audit reports that are put before the Audit Committee. As such it was done at the same time as the report from the Audit Commission that tore HB a new one and resulted in the possibility of them having to pay a £2m subsidy overclaim back to central government. As far as I know that's still under dispute.

So what did this latest report say? Well they picked up on the total lack of quality control that the Audit Commission was so scathing about. This included a lack of checks on claims processed by external firm Mouchel which is just asking for trouble. As a reminder, Mouchel got over £266k of our money in 2008/9 for who knows how much worth of benefit claims processed. I'd want to keep a close eye on that myself.

A very interesting piece of detail concerns the reporting of different types of overpayments. Essentially, it seems that if errors in benefit assessments caused by the council itself (as opposed to claimants) are below a certain level (approx £616k) NCC still gets full subsidy on it. If it's between a certain range (£616k - £693k) only 40% of subsidy is paid and above that latter figure they get none. In other words there's a pretty strong incentive to keep council caused errors down, which makes sense.

Other types of error are treated differently (see para 400 onwards), for example, error caused by claimants always attracts a 40% subsidy. Errors which are the fault of the DWP or HMRC are fully reimbursed.

Now, this wasn't mentioned in the Audit Commission report but it seems that NCC is prone to incorrect classification of overpayments, occurring in 25% of a sample checked by Internal Audit. From the report -

"For 2008-9 we claimed £0.5m LA Error but would receive no subsidy if the figure exceeded £0.7m...

...Failure to follow proper procedures results in incorrect subsidy classification – we understand that, despite training, experienced staff continue to shortcut such a procedure. Our testing of 20 overpayments showed 25% where failure to follow procedure led to overpayment classification errors. Overpayment classification has not been checked since Jun 08."

It's not explicitly stated but by reading between the lines you get the feeling that the results of incorrect classification only go one way i.e. to reduce local authority error and retaining the subsidy. This would not be inconsistent with the Audit Commission's conclusion that a major overpayment of subsidy had occurred.

And the slightly tart statement about 'experienced staff' who 'despite training' tend to 'shortcut' the classification procedures. Which results in lower rates of overpayments caused by local authority error. And more subsidy...

Hmmm. Like I said, it's not explicitly stated.

Anyway, as I've said before, Internal Audit would have to march on the Audit Committee wearing rainbow striped lederhosen carrying a 30ft banner saying 'Housing Benefits Staff Are Wrongly Classifying Overpayments So We Get More Subsidy' before it would even raise an eyebrow. I predict a total lack of concern along with a side order of vague promises including 'action plans*' and 'targeted training' etc next Friday.

*If you ever have the misfortune to work at NCC you will soon notice that they love 'action plans'. Generally speaking, in NCC's usage of the phrase it means close to the exact opposite of what it says resulting in very little action and the absence of anything resembling a plan. At NCC, 'action plans' and 'reports' have become the end in itself, instead of the means to an end.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Freedom of Information Round-Up

The latest installment in what I'm sure I'm obliged to call an occasional series on NCC's contempt for the Freedom of Information Act.

We have the following cases outstanding and significantly delayed -

Request about area based grants. Submitted on 28 September and no response so it is over two weeks out of time. Internal review requested.

Question about One Nottingham's recruitment process for its Chief Exec. Submitted on 25 September, completely ignored bar an initial acknowledgement although they didn't bother acknowledging my review request. Approx 3 weeks out of time.

Requests for copies of portfolio holder decisions withheld 'in the public interest'. Two cases here and they are both absolute shockers in the deliberate and cynical use of BS legal arguments and delaying tactics. The first one was submitted on 18 August and got an (expected) refusal pretty quickly. I requested a review which they initially refused to carry out at all which is unprecedented and indefensible. Since then there has been a mixture of delaying tactics including a promise to provide a response on 1 November which never materialised. In other words they told a bare faced lie. It's now with the Information Commissioner.

The second portfolio decisions case is similar except they didn't bother with the refusals but went straight to the delaying tactics. It's now been outstanding since 2 September but, because of the delaying tactics, including an undelivered promise to provide a response by 28 October, I didn't get a review request until then.

Not to mention Stephanie Pearson's desperate attempts to imply to the Information Commissioner that there is something untoward in my requests for information (it's called campaigning luv).

So lies, delaying tactics, stonewalling and false implications of impropriety. All of these cases have something in common; the answers are likely to be embarrassing. Does it get any more cynical than this?

Christmas Fayre Exposes the Lie Behind Refusal to Host East Midlands Vegan Festival

You may be aware from previous witterings on here and elsewhere that the East Midlands Vegan Festival is not going ahead this year due to NCC refusing to allow the use of the Council House due claimed problems with 'wear and tear'.

It already seemed likely that this over-protectiveness was being selectively applied and I have to say that this (entirely worthy) event reinforces that. A Christmas Fayre open for 10 hours with 50 stalls and a champagne bar is likely to cause as much, or more, wear and tear than the vegan festival shutting at 6pm where everyone is meticulously counted in and out.

Again, please don't get the impression that I'm in any way against the Council House being used for a Christmas Fayre in aid of Nottingham Hospice, like the Deaf Awareness Day I think it's exactly the sort of use that our historic municipal buildings can be used for and I hope that NH got use of the building at a reduced rate or for free. It's just that I think that EMVF is an appropriate use too and this clearly exposes the lie of the 'wear and tear' excuse.

Anyway, apologies to Nottingham Hospice for the overly negative introduction. Their Christmas Fayre is on 6 December 12 noon to 10pm in the Grand Ballroom at the Council House and entry is free.

The Continuing Adventures of Councillor Hassan Ahmed

Councillor Hassan Ahmed does keep us busy here at NCCLols.

You will be aware of his difficulties in remembering who he worked for and which charities he was trustee of and the understanding and sympathetic attitude he received on this from Standards for England, something that shocked even the supremely supine Standards Committee at NCC.

Well, I've managed to get a bit more information about that in the form of the (heavily redacted) full report on the case against him from Standards for England. I am still trying to get as much of the redaction removed via the Information Commissioner but I'm not over hopeful. And it's more than I got from an identical request to NCC who refused to provide anything.

This document provides more insight into the thought processes behind SfE's decision making, I'll quote a few examples, see if you can spot a pattern emerging -

"...At the same meeting, the executive agreed to fund Nottingham Training and Enterprises Ltd [one of Ahmed's interests] for £50,000 per annum over three years. At the time of the council executive's decision, Councillor Ahmed was not a member of the executive. He did not attend the meeting or take part in the decision..." 

"...Forest Fields Advice and Neighbourhood Centre [another interest] received a grant of £3,092 during 2008-2009. The decision to approve funding to this organisation predated Councillor Ahmed's appointment as portfolio holder. I have seen no evidence that Councillor Ahmed was involved in the decision making process in relation to funding the Advice and Neighbourhood Centre..."

"...Nottingham Training and Enterprises Ltd and FEBA [both Ahmed Interests] also submitted bids to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Bids for ERDF monies were decided by the East Midlands Development Agency (EMDA). The city council participates in a commissioning group, which assesses preliminary applications...At the time of Nottingham Training and Enterprises Ltd's ERDF bid in 2008, the group was chaired by Councillor Graham Chapman, the deputy leader of the council...

...FEBA was awarded two ERDF grants in July 2009 of £179,810 and £230,468...That decision predated Councillor Ahmed's appointment as portfolio holder..."

There seems to be quite a lot of reliance on the fact that Ahmed had not been appointed to the Executive at the time funding decisions were made. But he was Graham Chapman's Executive Assistant. Who jointly made the decision to cut CEHRNN's funding with him.

Then there's this -

"...I do not consider that Councillor Ahmed was required to declare an interest in Central Education and Training Ltd at the time he met with an officer from EMDA, as this was not a meeting of the council. At that time, no application had been made for ERDF funding..."

WTF? I can only assume that slipped through the redaction process because there's no mention of this meeting anywhere else. But essentially, SfE sees nothing dodgy in the fact that Ahmed was meeting EMDA officers when he was a director of two organisations that had not been declared on his register of interests, shortly before those organisations submitted funding bids to EMDA. Because it wasn't a City Council Meeting. Words fail me.

Anyway, it seems like Ahmed's forgetfulness in keeping his regulators up to date extends to Companies House and the Charity Commission. On 28 October this year he resigned as a director for 'Voice East Midlands' and yet the Commission don't seem to be aware as he is still listed as a trustee. Needless to say his NCC register of interests is yet to be updated. He also seems to have a habit of notifying Companies House about changes in his details with regard to one company but not with others; for example, in October 2008 he updates his address details for First Enterprise Business Agency, a local small business advice agency of which he is chair* but there is no corresponding notification for Nottingham Regeneration Ltd or Voice East Midlands. In April 2009 he does update address details for VEM but to a different address to the one notified earlier to FEBA. Again, no corresponding notification to FEBA nor to NRL, although he does deign to inform the latter that he is usually resident in the UK.

Let's hope that he advises FEBA's clients to act more appropriately.

*Or at least that's what he says in his annual report but I'm not sure what is real any more.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Take Action Over Discretionary Housing Payments

I have been writing about Discretionary Housing Payments almost from the start of this blog. I have occasionally written to councillors about them and have generally been fairly unimpressed with their responses, especially when taking into account the lack of real results from their interventions.

And of course I am just a lone sweary blogger with a chip on his shoulder so they can afford to ignore me. But the local election is on next May and if people wrote to their councillors to raise their concerns about the lack of action over DHPs and their concern about the post benefit cuts future they might take a bit of notice.

So I have drawn up a little toolkit below should you feel inclined to write to your local councillors on the subject and here it is -

List of local city councillors including contact details

Suggested standard letter - you are encouraged to adapt it to your own style and preferences

Link to table of DHP stats in case you wanted to include it

Full history of DHP articles on the blog

Shorter history if you're in a hurry

Shelter information on DHPs

Shelter information on proposed Housing Benefit cuts

Remember, with the cuts to Housing Benefit more people will be relying on Discretionary Housing Payments in order to be able to afford their rent. If NCC's system isn't improved from its current basket case status then a horrible situation will be a whole lot worse.

Our local representatives don't seem to know this. Please tell them.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

More Emails From La Dewinton - But No Apology

I mentioned before that Cllr Dewinton had responded to my email to tell me that she had forwarded it to the 'Director for Strategic Finance'. Still waiting for my apology though, despite a reminder.

However I did just receive a further somewhat bizarre email from her forwarding a response from an unnamed person at Housing Benefits (it's just a guess but I bet it's the same person who has previously lied their way through an internal HR investigation and to an employment tribunal).

Here's the quote from the Housing Benefits bod -


“In terms of DHP Mr P has had as much detail and information as is available and there is nothing further to add to previous responses provided, both in terms of the communication with Councillor Dewinton and the Freedom of Information requests that have been responded to. Therefore, I do not propose a subsequent response on the matter.”

Cllr Dewinton is silent as to whether she considers this to be an adequate comment on the matter.

Frankly this representative of the Housing Benefits service appears to be under an illusion that I give a shit what they think. I don't. And I wasn't looking for any further information either, I've already demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that discretionary housing payments have been persistently and comprehensively mismanaged. Rather than explain things further to me what I want now is for housing benefit managers to explain themselves to elected members and for there to be a serious and effective action plan to be put in place to get DHPs working properly.

DHPs will be the only means of mitigating the quite terrifying housing benefit cuts that we are facing. It is also a means of bringing central government money into the locality and that's not to be sniffed at these days. So there is an economic development case for action as well as a social justice one.

A small light at the end of the tunnel; Cllr Dewinton has passed the matter to be considered for scrutiny. There is therefore a small hope that the matter will go before the Overview and Scrutiny Committee which may at least drive some improvement. I won't be holding my breath though.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Nobody Mention Dobbie the House Elf...

I think it's about time we had one of our occasional 'separated at birth' japes...


Here we have a control freak politician...and Vlad Putin. And they do share a penchant for being rufty tufty outdoorsy types.

It's only satire...

More NCC Incompetence on Freedom of Information - Or Stonewalling?

NCC is proper taking the piss on a couple of my Freedom of Info cases, in particular this one.

I requested information about a bunch of portfolio holder decisions because there was a slew of them that were claimed to be 'exempt' from publication under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. I've been suspicious for a while that NCC is abusing this provision in order to hide things which would be politically embarrassing as opposed to being genuinely against the public interest to publish. The outrageous attempt to cover up the attempt to commission political advice paid for from public funds is an example of this.

Uncharacteristically quickly, albeit unsurprisingly, I received a response refusing my request. I therefore requested a review, so far, so routine.

Then it got a bit weird because Information Governance wrote back saying that they would not be 'actioning' my request. This was a flagrant breach of the Freedom of Information Act and I wrote back saying that I was treating their response as a refusal of my review, at which point they wrote back, grudgingly agreeing to provide a response.

The issue resolves around the interaction between the Freedom of Information Act and the myriad other bits of legislation designed to keep us in the dark. The FoIA has a number of exemptions, some of which involve a 'public interest' test, some of which are absolute. One, under s.44 says that if publication is prevented by other legislation then it is absolutely exempted under FoIA, the idea being to prevent two bits of law conflicting.

The Information Commissioner has previously ruled on whether s.44 FoIA applies when Sch 12 LGA has previously applied and has decided that it doesn't, saying -

"50. The public authority has argued that schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 operates as a statutory bar to disclosure and therefore the exemption at section 44 of the Act is engaged.
Schedule 12A sets out categories of information considered to be “exempt information” – i.e. information that is exempt from the duty to disclose under the Local Government Acts. It has been
replaced by Schedule 12A of the Local Government (Access to Information) (variation) Order 2006 (SI 2006/88).

51. It is the Commissioner’s belief that schedule 12A operates only
to exempt information from being disclosed for the purpose of the formal decision-making process and other local government
proceedings. The Commissioner does not accept that information which is exempt under those provisions for those specific purposes is necessarily exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of
Information Act. When a request to which the Freedom of Information Act applies is received, the relevance of any exemptions under that Act must be considered as at the time the request is received.

52. Accordingly, it is the Commissioner’s view that schedule 12A
does not operate as a statutory prohibition to disclosure under the Act and therefore the exemption at section 44 of the Act does not
apply in this instance."


In other words Sch 12A doesn't automatically trigger an exemption under s.44 but it is still possible that one of the other exemptions may apply and a public authority is obliged to consider the request under those terms.


Anyway, it all went quiet for a bit and I wrote again to check they were still intending to respond and they said that they would do so by 27 October. This date passed, another reminder from me and a promise that yes, a response will now be provided by 1 November. It will not surprise you to hear that I am still waiting so I have sent it off to the Information Commissioner.

In the meantime I received a final response on another case which turned on a similar point and gives a clue as to their thinking. They said -

"Firstly, it is the current position of this Authority that Schedule 12A can provide a prohibition on disclosure and that as a result, section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 may be engaged as the Schedule 12A prohibition, if remaining relevant, could act as a prohibition under another enactment. Further, and as has been previously stated to you, section 44 of this Act is absolute and no test of public interest is required in order to apply this exemption and withhold the information, although it is accepted that in the case of Schedule 12A applications, the Schedule 12A must be re-assessed to see if it is still relevant, and in making this re-assessment a public interest test has to be applied."

Rather looks to me that they have (deliberately?) misinterpreted the Information Commissioner's ruling. They think that all they have to do is to have another think about the public interest element of their original Sch 12A decision and, if they consider it to apply, s.44 of the FoIA is automatically invoked which provides an absolute exemption. I think that the Information Commissioner is saying that Sch 12A doesn't provide a bar to publication and FoIA refusals must be based around the exemptions specifically set out in that Act.

If you're still with me you're probably wondering what's the difference, you're still not getting the information?

Well, I'm betting that NCC will be arguing that only they have the right to decide whether information is exempt from publication under Sch 12A LGA and that an absolute exemption is triggered under s.44 FoIA, meaning the Information Commissioner has no right to intervene. Ergo, no external scrutiny of how they decide which information they decide to keep secret and no external scrutiny of their idea of a public interest test.

If, on the other hand the alternative interpretation holds the Information Commissioner will have the opportunity to assess whether a current FoIA exemption applies, including considering a public interest test. This holds out the possibility of ending what I suspect is a practice of abusing the provisions in the LGA to hide politically embarrassing information.

The unnecessary delays and initial attempt to persuade me that they didn't even have to carry out an internal review suggests a desperation to keep the matter out of the hands of the Information Commissioner. This may give an indication of their optimism that their argument will sway the day.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Response From Cllr Dewinton Regarding DHPs Following Our 'Chat'

Following my online 'chat' with some councillors last month Cllr Dewinton has sent me a briefing on Discretionary Housing Payments, presumably to back up her claim that I was 'under an illusion' that NCC may not be doing all it can.

If you want to read it and see whether she has succeeded you can download a copy here.

I have responded to Cllr Dewinton's briefing as follows -

(update - Cllr D has forwarded my email to the Director for Strategic Finance who will apparently send me a response)

"Dear Cllr Dewinton,

Thank you for sending me the briefing, I have some comments to offer.


Firstly, the response looks very similar to a response I received last April via Cllr Trimble, with a few additions


http://ncclols.blogspot.com/2009/04/councillor-response-to-dhp-email.html


I did a critique of this at the time


http://ncclols.blogspot.com/2009/04/huff-and-puff.html


There also appears to be additions similar to the responses I have received via the Freedom of information Act


http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/details_of_discretionary_housing#incoming-120779


It is not very clear what the 'working group' has actually done beyond hold two informal meetings for which no minutes were taken. I am particularly concerned that no attempt seems to have been made to draw up local decision making guidance to ensure consistency, priorities and fair budgeting throughout the year. National guidance from the DWP is no substitute for this because what happens in Nottingham is not necessarily the same as what happens in Newham or Newport.


I draw your attention to the table of expenditure contained in your briefing. This demonstrates that central government funding for DHPs has dropped year on year almost from the beginning. A case of unfair treatment of local government by central? Not really. If an authority underspends its allocation of funding then the allocation next year is dropped


http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/s1-2009.pdf


and as it is plain to see NCC has underspent consistently until 2009/10.


I have an extended version of the table that you were provided with, drawn from FoIA responses, which includes the total numbers of applications and the success rates for each year


http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_TQ03WGKxnYo/THL4G1KR0FI/AAAAAAAAANY/ZfwT8r4eogs/s1600/DHP+Table+2010.jpg


You can see that, apart from two years which included 2001/2 which wasn't actually a full year, the majority of applications have been refused. And yet NCC was not even spending its full central grant never mind the maximum total spend it was allowed. You can see that the number of applications reached its high point in 2005/6 then dropped each year until recovering somewhat in 2009/10 which, coincidentally I'm sure, was when I started making some noise about the matter. The number of applications is sill less than in 2005/6 but I do acknowledge that some work has been done here and hopefully this direction will continue. However, these figures don't say much for historic take-up activities, especially considering the high profile 'We're On Your Side' campaign which was launched in response to the recession. And evictions due to rent arrears were reported to have increased by 42% at the end of 2008


http://www.thisisnottingham.co.uk/news/Evictions-soar-Nottingham/article-562797-detail/article.html


and you have to wonder how many of those could have been prevented by more payments of DHPs. I calculated that, if the central allocation for DHPs had increased at the same level of inflation each year instead of decreasing an extra £500,000 would have been payable.


The Task and Finish Panel on Debt Collection was told of low success rates in DHP applications and underspends in Sep 2006 yet no effective action appears to have been taken, despite numerous promises made


http://open.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/comm/download3.asp?dltype=inline&filename=24255/Hsgbenefit.doc


This appears to be a pattern of promises unfulfilled. The fact that the central funding was exceeded in 2009/10 is as much, if not more, to do with the year on year decreases in funding caused by underspends.


To conclude, you accused me of being 'under an illusion' about Nottingham City Council when forming my views. The above demonstrates that my views are informed by evidence and expert knowledge. I will not claim that my conclusions are beyond challenge but the bar is set high enough to expect any challenge to be a detailed, reasoned and evidenced one, rather than unfounded accusations of delusion. I would be grateful if you could reply to acknowledge that fact and to apologise for your earlier slur. In addition I believe there is a strong case for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee taking a detailed look at DHPs considering the increased importance they will have following the government's horrifying cuts to mainstream HB, in order to ensure that NCC's system is as robust as it can be. It is looking as though Nottingham will be among the worst affected in the East Midlands.


http://open.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/comm/download3.asp?dltype=inline&filename=24255/Hsgbenefit.doc


I look forward to hearing back from you."


We'll see if anything comes back.

Friday, 5 November 2010

No More Powder Monkey

The Post is reporting that NCC isn't going to be attending MIPIM in 2011 because for some reason, and despite the fact that we have a nice new business friendly Tory government who are going to make things all right again*, the private sector doesn't feel able to stump up for the booze soaked jolly on the riviera important and vital source of business leads.

We already knew that NCC had decided to pull the funding for next year and according to the Post article had only contributed £20k this year, thanks to JoCo saving a bit of cash and popping down on his bike. Frankly it could hardly be said that they were winning the PR war either, everybody who attended went straight to the media and talked about nothing but the parties they went to.

I was half expecting JoCo to announce a sponsored pedalo trip down there for next year. If he got one of those four seater jobs he could hold the 'vital' business meetings while pootling round the harbour.

The 'Invest in Nottingham' pedalo, christened 'Powder Meercat', yesterday

So the business leaders will have to find somewhere else to

"... rub shoulders with city leaders and heads of major companies, have lunch with a Lord, be interviewed by national newspapers and magazines and raise the profile of my company in front of a diverse audience of potential clients from across the world..."

next year and chase up those valuable business opportunities in Derby and Coventry by, er, going to Derby and Coventry instead.

It's the end of an era...

*Or tip us screaming into a world ending double-dip recession, whichever you prefer. Under the circumstances, what do you think our local business community is expecting?

Housing Benefit Cuts

Interesting article in the Guardian linking to a spreadsheet of estimated losses per tenant expected from the coalition's housing benefit cuts.

These are figures released by the DWP so make of that what you will but it's clearly not alarmist hyperbole drawn up by a bunch of anarchists or whoever governments like to blame these days.

I've taken an extract showing the effects on the three East Midlands cities. For a bit of a giggle I included leafy Rutland too. Guess which one is affected the least?

LA                       S/R     1br    2br    3br   4br      5br

Derby UA             -4      -12    -9      -13    -14      -26
Leicester UA        -3      -7      -7      -8      -15      -28
Nottingham UA              -15    -12    -13    -18      -30
Rutland UA           -2      -5      -7      -8      -15

So, unless you live in a shared house it's not looking too good for Nottingham tenants. The only mitigation is an increase in the budget for Discretionary Housing Payments. This doesn't bode well considering how well these have been administered before.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Nottingham Equal Funding Decision

At long last we finally have the release of a funding decision for Nottingham Equal's grant aid of £86k. The money is ostensibly to enable NE to develop a network for BME groups in the city.

I have no idea why it's taken so long for the decision to be made, especially since NE were confident enough of getting the money to have been recruiting some time back


As you can see these posts had already expired by 27 September.

Parts of the rationale behind the decision warrant a further look. 'Options considered' included 'not to provide grant aid'. This was dismissed because it '...could result in the winding up of Nottingham Equal...' Horrors! How would we survive without an organisation that was only incorporated in February 2009 and consequently has no track record of delivery?

Another potential solution was to 'fund another organisation' but this one was discounted because 'no comparable organisations exist'. This is explored further in the appended report; it points out that Nottingham Black Partnership no longer exists which is true and is a sorry story in itself. It then goes on to dismiss the possibility of funding the Council for Equalities and Human Rights Nottm and Notts on the basis that it is '...undergoing major change and difficulties resulting in both the City and County Councils withdrawing funding...' Regular readers will be aware that I have already written extensively about CEHRNN's 'difficulties' and I think it might be fair to say that the withdrawal of funding was more the cause of those difficulties rather than a consequence.

Interestingly, the report says that NE's BME network will '...complement other third sector networks being developed by NCVS'. Was NCVS invited to bid for the funds to set up the BME network as well?

Some of the money has been provided by One Nottingham so it's worth a quick look at NE's relationship with them. Part of the job for NE will be to 'support' the BME rep on One Nottingham's board, a job to which they are no doubt suited as it was them that facilitated the removal of CEHRNN's chief exec from the role.

Sorry, what I MEANT to say there was that NE facilitated the election in which CEHRNN's chief exec lost his place as BME rep on ON's board. Which, coincidentally, was a couple of months before NCC removed their funding.

I have been trying to get hold of a copy of ON's decision to pick NE as the recipient of their funding. As well as being sent copies of ON board minutes which didn't mention NE specifically I got this response -

"If you are after a written decison from the One Nottingham Board to award the funding to Nottingham Equal there is not one.

As I explained in the previous email, the ON Board approved the amount and purpose for the funding but not the delivery organisation.

A tender process was organised and the tender panel comprising of partner organisations involved with One Nottingham selected Nottingham Equal through this process."


I'm surprised that this tender exercise wasn't mentioned in the NCC portfolio holder decision or the supporting report but no biggie. 
Lastly, let's have a quick recap of some of the personalities involved. We know about NE's Chief Exec Tyrone Brown, he of 'legging it after NCH homes allocation scandal' fame and I would certainly question the wisdom of funding any organisation with him involved. Still, NCC are perfectly happy to throw money at his other little fiefdom PATRA so any concerns appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Similarly, Hassan Ahmed who was a founding director of NE but resigned when he got caught out not declaring it on his register of interests. He was jointly responsible for the decision to end CEHRNN's funding. I've been saying for a while that CEHRNN was a potential competitor organisation to his latest pet project and this decision provides the first direct evidence. He is now the chair of ON's 'Fairness Commission' which wasn't formally involved with this particular funding decision but, well, you know...

One last mention must go to NCC's Head of Service Equality and Community Relations. He was responsible for the dodgy Equalities Impact Assessment carried out on CEHRNN and was significantly criticised by CEHRNN for the manner of his involvement with them. He now turns up as a contributor to the report recommending funding of NE.

Addendum - NE has recently registered as a charity

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

"I Knew Nothing" Says JoCo

Funny isn't it? You send email after email and you are ignored. Write some stuff on a sweary blog that's read by a few hundred people and suddenly you get a response.

I've now had a reply from NCC Monitoring Officer Glen O'Connell including the Standards Committee's Assessment Sub-Committee's deliberations on my complaint about JoCo's conduct during the Radford Unity Complex fiasco.

Essentially I complained that JoCo appeared to have misled the call-in sub-committee over the amount that RUC was to be sold for. The minutes record him claiming it would fetch £320k whereas Nottingham Studios had already been offered it for £150k.

And yet, the Standards Committee said -


"4) ...that the Portfolio Holder Decision and supporting documentation had been prepared by professional officers and the Subject Councillor was entitled to rely on their content when taking the Decision and when participating in the Call-In Sub-Committee meeting on 4 March 2010;

(5) that there was no evidence before the Sub-Committee to suggest that the Subject Councillor was aware of Property Plus negotiations at the time of the Call-In Sub-Committee meeting on 4 March 2010..."


In other words he didn't know.

Now, what we need to remember here is that this is an assessment sub-committee. Its role is to decide whether there is a case to investigate. It's totally disingenuous to state at this stage that there is 'no evidence' that he was aware of 'negotiations'. That's what you do investigations for, to see if there is evidence.

And yet there was evidence that JoCo was quite involved in the matter. The Post quotes Nottingham Studio's agent telling NCC in an email -

"My understanding is that the leader is very keen to see this sale go through."

Now that's not proof that he knew every in-and-out of what was happening but it does suggest that he was maintaining a close interest. There are other potential explanations too but then, in order to discover which explanation is the correct one you carry out an investigation.

The Assessment sub-committee is effectively expecting me to prove the case before it will even agree to investigate. That is a perverse outcome. I have the right to request a review of the decision and I intend to do so but first I am going to see if I can get hold of any more evidence. I have one or two lines of inquiry but if anybody can help with this please email me via the link in the blog profile.

Care Charges Increase

NCC is to consult service users about increases to charges for care services.

Using my skill and judgment I predict that not many of them will be in favour. It's a skill I have, this prediction thing. I don't know where I get it.

The decision makes the valid point that increases will be mitigated by 'Fairer Charging' means testing. The only information I can find on how this works is this leaflet which is out of date but it explains the basis of how it is worked out (it says that more information is available on the website but in fact following the directions only really gets you here which in fact contains less info than the leaflet does but hey ho).

To me it looks like the biggest effect may be caused by the proposal to scrap the maximum weekly charge for home care. Means testing will indeed protect some but not everyone agrees to a financial assessment, presumably seeing the maximum charge as a reasonable price to pay for financial privacy. These people may well be hit hard and some may choose to reduce the level of care they receive as a result. People with savings higher than the qualifying limit for financial assistance may react in a similar way.

Other increases include fees for meals, day care centres and transport.

NCC estimates that it will raise an extra £182k pa from the measure to remove the maximum charge alone and that the changes will raise a total of an extra £485k pa.

Interestingly the decision talks about ensuring that charges do not exceed those imposed by the County Council for care charges. I'm so glad that Tories in the leafy county are indirectly affecting policy by our Labour council. If I was still working at welfare rights I'd be somewhat worried in case this example of shadowing Tory policies spreads any further.

Monday, 1 November 2010

What Does She Mean?

Just been sent copies of correspondence between NCC and the Information Commissioner's Office concerning my request and complaint over getting details of officers in possession of delegated powers. One or two interesting little bits and bobs in there.

NCC's Information Governance Manager, Mrs Stephanie Pearson, appears to be raising some odd points, For instance, here's an extract from an email she sent on 1 October -

"Mr P has submitted 17 separate requests to this authority since the start of the year. He has requested internal reviews on 6 of these, of which, this case is one, and which he has ultimately pursued through you."

Well, what DO you think she's implying by that?

She goes on to say the following -

"Mr P's internal review request to this authority focused solely on the document that was provided to him being out of date and not on the fact that he expressed to you that we misinterpreted his request."

This appears to be an attempt to muddy the waters with a bit of amateur sophistry and falsehood by implying that I changed my grounds of appeal.  In fact it was the ICO caseworker who initially suggested that NCC had 'misinterpreted' my request. That's a lot kinder than I would have been, I thought they had blatantly fobbed me off with an out of date document in the hope that I wouldn't notice that they hadn't bothered to keep track of delegated powers for more than a decade.

Moving on to a further email Mrs Pearson sent to the ICO she appears to let her frustrations get the better of her -

"...this individual has previously worked for the council and therefore is aware of some of the areas of record keeping that needs to be improved. he appears to be seeking to exploit these areas..."

My, is that the sound of little stampy feet I can hear? That appears to be a fairly clear accusation of bad faith to me, not sure I'm happy about that at all.

Just for the record the only FoI requests that I've used previous knowledge on are those I've submitted on Discretionary Housing Payments. When I worked for NCC I had absolutely no idea of delegated powers arrangements, frankly I had far more distressing things to worry about. Everything I know about it now has been gleaned from publicly available information.

It's currently not looking too good for NCC's chances in this one. They have already moved the goalposts themselves and the above shows that they are trying to blame it on me. That said it doesn't mean that we will be getting the information any sooner because, as I say they haven't been keeping track of the various changes in delegated powers since 1998. But hopefully the embarrassment will motivate them to put that right sooner rather than later.

Standards Committee Fail 2

The Standards Committee is finally meeting on 8 November. This is the first time it has met since 21 June so that's nearly 5 months off.

At that last meeting all they did was to review the report by Standards for England about Hassan Ahmed. Despite the justified complaint that SfE appeared to have stretched logic to ensure he got off scot free (more on this soon) one can't help noting that at least SfE does actually get round to hearing its cases.

True to form the Committee is not going to be considering any of the (at least) four outstanding cases against serving councillors. After all, it's starting to get close to the elections and I'm sure none of the councillors concerned would welcome the bad publicity.

And, true to form, Monitoring Officer Glen O'Connell is still ignoring my emails about the two cases I referred. If he doesn't get back to me by Friday it's going to the Ombudsman.