Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A Note About Freedom of Information

As you can see there's been a bit of a flurry of stories originating from Freedom of Information requests.

The important thing to note here is that I would not have known about any of them were it not for the 'What Do They Know' website.

As I mentioned before the site is building into a handy database for FoI data concerning Nottingham City Council but the rub is they only include requests made via their website. My own earlier FoI request about about Discretionary Housing Payments has disappeared into the ether as far as everyone except me is concerned, for example.

So how much better would it be if there was a central point where ALL FoI data on NCC could be accessed in one handy place online? That's what we're asking for in our petition which says -

"We believe that Nottingham City Council should publish all Freedom of Information requests it receives along with the responses on its website. We therefore call on Nottingham City Council to implement this simple act in the interests of openness and accountability."

You can sign it here. Please do so if you haven't already and what's more, please tell everyone you know about it, link to it on your own blogs, Tweet it, Myspace it whatever.

Thanks to those who have signed it and/or publicised it in some way already, lets keep it up.

The Lawyers Get Rich...

More from the Freedom of Information goldmine.

Nottingham City Council has been spending nearly £100,000 per year on private sector lawyers, purely in disputes with its own former employees.

A Freedom of Information request via the 'What Do They Know' website revealed that during the financial years 2007/8 and 2008/9 NCC spent £195,064* on external lawyers for help preparing for and being represented at Employment Tribunals.

The bulk of this, £131,536* was spent on external representation at Tribunal hearings, despite only 5 cases going as far as a full hearing during this period, averaging around £26,000 per hearing.

All this despite the council having its own legal department, although they couldn't tell us how much was spent on internal lawyers working on employment cases because they apparently do other things as well.

Update 1 July - The 'Post' is reporting that NCC overspent by £3.4m last year. Clearly their lawyers' benevolence fund won't have helped.

*including VAT natch

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Voluntary Redundancies

Some more interesting stuff coming out of the Freedom of Information requests.

As you'll no doubt be aware NCC are committed to axing over 350 jobs and not recruiting to over 300 vacant posts in order to save money.

They have now responded to a FoI request for details of the number of applications for voluntary redundancy and how many of these have been accepted or refused.

It turns out that there has been a virtual stampede of workers wanting to get shut of the place with 407 requests for voluntary redundancy made up to 30 April. However, only 187 have been accepted with the remaining 220 being refused.

Why so many refused? Are they just being belligerent? Maximise the misery of the budget cuts so that the people who want to leave are made to stay while offloading those who still want to keep their jobs?

Surely they can do better than this.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Place Survey and Spin

Fellow Nottingham blogger Alan a Dale has already looked at this one but while he got his heads up from the Post I got mine from the NCC press release. As this gave the impression that the 'Place Survey' released by the Department for Communities and Local Government describes Nottingham as the land of milk and honey I just had to take my cynical little self off and look at the actual figures.

As Alan points out its a fairly mixed message for Nottingham but it really isn't too bad overall for an urban area with some extremely high deprivation figures. Is it really too much to ask NCC's spin doctors to reflect this mixed message rather than homing in, Exocet like, on the bits that make NCC look good?

So lets have a look at a few of the figures that the press release throws at us and maybe have a little peek at some of those it erm, forgot.

"74% of residents are satisfied with the refuse collection."

Not bad eh? I imagine that NCC would also like to trumpet their success in recycling as well....er, no they wouldn't because only 54.8% of us are happy with this service.

And we're not too keen on NCC's ability to keep public land clear of litter either, with only 54.2% of us very or fairly satisfied with that, which is somewhat mid table. But NCC would rather we heard about the fact that 65.2% of us are happy with parks and open spaces. Not to sure how to reconcile those two figures, all I can think of is that Nottingham peeps like our parks with a smattering of empty McDonalds cartons and used condoms, gives the place a bit of character...

And with a slightly triumphal flourish we are given the news that more people are generally satisfied with how NCC runs things (46.9%) than Derby's citizens (35.2%) or Leicester's (40.1%).


Leicester's spin doctors would probably counter that 32.3% of the Leicester population believe that Leicester City Council gives value for money compared with 30.3% for NCC. They would then no doubt say "ner ner ne neeerrr ner, you smell of pooh." Derby is still in the dog house with this one though with only 27.1%. They would probably have to reach for their recycling satisfaction figure of 68.5% in order to claw back a round in this game of East Midlands Urban Council Top Trumps.

But as Alan says, its questionable as to how much use this data is with Nottingham's response rate of only 34%. And Leicester and Derby's were even worse with 30% and 29% respectively.

But my point isn't to embark on an analysis of the figures, I just wanted to take the piss out of Nottingham City Council's pathetic spinning.

Look, we can take the truth, it won't kill us to hear that, although some of NCC's services are very good, some are a little bit crap. Most of us already know that anyway. Just wrap it up in a nice positive sandwich, we'll wipe away a small tear and we'll cope. And we might take NCC's press releases a bit more seriously too.

Addendum; interesting if somewhat off topic analysis of community cohesion figures in the Place Survey and ethnic make up from Liberal Conspiracy blog.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

We're Doing a Petition...

I blogged yesterday about how Nottingham City Council should publish all Freedom of Information requests and responses to its website in the interests of openness and efficiency.

It later occurred to me that it might be possible to do something about it by starting an online petition, so that's what I've done.

Please sign the petition here.

It allows you to be listed as anonymous and, although it asks for your postcode (zip code in the American language) its not a required field. I just thought it might be useful if the signatories could be shown to mostly come from Nottingham so please do consider entering your postcode as well. Email addresses are not shown.

It's a bit of a risk because if nobody signs it we'll look a bit daft but nothing ventured etc. Please pass this on to friends, relatives, strangers you meet in the street or whatever.

Thank you.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Setting an Example

A story in the Post about how Erewash Borough Council is planning to keep a log of Freedom of Information requests (and presumably the responses) on its website.

This is an excellent idea (not that I could find it at time of writing mind) and I'd like to publicly request that Nottingham City Council carry out a similar initiative. Quite a few people from NCC read this blog so perhaps you could all push the idea internally?

It makes sense for public authorities to do this because they must receive multiple requests about the same or similar subjects and if previous responses were available to view on the website it would hopefully mean this would be reduced making information governance more efficient.

It would also be a major contribution towards openness in public administration (that's it, I've just lost the sympathy of any senior NCC people or ruling party councillors), something the excellent 'What Do They Know' site is working hard at along with all the other MySociety sites.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

MIPIM 2009 Expenses

One of the more interesting Freedom of Information requests on the 'What Do They Know?' website has finally been answered, that of the MIPIM 2009 expenses.

I make it a net cost of £90,258 (including 'tax' which is apparently reclaimable, although they neglect to mention how much that would be).

Check my arithmetic by looking here. There's quite a bit more detail including names of attendees.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Carl Froch on NCC Payroll (no really)

Carl Froch is to be paid £32,000 by NCC and others for a "programme of commercial and community activities".

The 'others' are the 'Crime and Drugs Partnership' and 'One Nottingham' who of course have nothing to do with NCC at all. NCC's share is £16,000 split between 'Communication and Marketing' and 'Community Protection' directorates.

The decision was made by Graham Chapman as the 'Resources' portfolio holder. For our £32k we get 32 hours of Mr Froch's time. You can put your calculators away, I've already worked that out to be £1000 an hour.

Apparently CF will also wear a 'Proud of Nottingham' dressing gown before his fights. So its not just library workers forced to wear new uniforms. They really must, MUST get JoCo to pose in a replica.

Um, is this really morally sound when there are proposals to make hundreds of workers redundant? 32 hours of Carl Froch or a year's worth of social Worker? You decide...

Update; Monday's Evening Post catches up with NCCLols.

Freedom of Information...Will be Along in a While

A quick glancette at the current list of FoI requests submitted to Nottingham City Council on the excellent 'What Do They Know' site (there's a feed of ongoing developments over there -->) shows a total of 34 requests for information via the site so far.

Currently 11 of those requests are listed as 'response overdue', nearly a third of the total.

That really is a bit shit isn't it?

Update; in a delightfully surreal twist someone's put in a Freedom of Information request about how quickly NCC are dealing with Freedom of Information requests (it wasn't me before you ask).

Next up - a Freedom of Information Request about how quickly NCC are dealing with Freedom of Information Requests about how quickly they are dealing with Freedom of Information Requests?

Friday, 12 June 2009

Refugee Week

A bit off-topic (again - why don't I just start a general Nottingham or even national general shouty blog?) but next week is Refugee Week.

NCCLols had a go at an online citizenship test the other day and apparently failed so I'm rather glad that I'm not a refugee myself or I'd be on my way back to the clutches of Uncle Bob or some other monster to be 'disappeared' or shot.

Here's a list of the Nottingham events, why not pop in on a couple? I'm not as confident as I was about the 'Who wants to be a Zimbabwean Billionnaire?' quiz at the Poacher...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

NCC "Couldn't Find its Own Arse on a Foggy Day" Say MPs

An influential House of Commons committee has called into question Nottingham City Council's ability to identify body parts.

The 'Distinguishing Features of Arses and Elbows' Select Committee also slammed the City Council for relying too heavily on advice from consultants when trying to tell the difference between an arse and an elbow.

But in a further twist, the council's advisers, Bums and Joints Inc, claimed they didn't give advice, only 'information'.

"We gave Nottingham City Council more than enough information for them to tell the difference between a typical arse and a typical elbow on many an occasion," said B+J Managing Director Bunty Smellyface. "For example, we pointed out to them last September that an arse will typically have a distinctive cleavage, often with unsightly hair, and a buttock either side which may be firm or wobbly. An elbow on the other hand tends to be sharp and bony with that funny wrinkly skin you get."

But Mr Smellyface's defence cut no ice with the MPs.

"Pull the other one guv" said Eric Trough MP. "This council couldn't find their own arses on a foggy day. Its irresponsible to expect them to tell the difference between an arse and an elbow by themselves, even if they have been supplied with detailed descriptions."

A council spokesdroid said "The MPs' report proves that we're really great. Any mistakes we did make are due to the fact that I was spending too much time on my Twitter account and breaching the staff's privacy by putting videos of them on the internet. By the way, does this sleeve make my bum look big?"

Ok fun's over, of course its the 'Communities and Local Government' Select Committee's report on the Icelandic Banks investment fail. I don't think it actually mentions NCC individually but I've not read all of it. It does however talk about Butlers, the council's advisers quite a lot.

What's interesting is the differing approach of the Evening Post and the BBC reports. The Post goes with the blaming the advisers route while over at the Beeb its the councils that get it in the neck. In truth both get a fairly torrid time in the report itself. Is the Post trying to get back into the Council's good books?

One of the reasons why NCC gets away with not receiving a specific mention is that the Select Committee goes along with the Audit Commission's definition of the worst offenders, those who made further deposits after 30 September 2008 which was the date that credit agencies downgraded the Icelandic Banks ratings. The Audit Commission had to draw a major distinction between such councils, which don't include NCC, and say, councils who LEFT GREAT BIG WADS OF CASH in the Icelandic banks after this date despite the warnings. This is because the latter description would have included the Audit Commission itself (as well as NCC) and that would have been embarrassing.

Oh yes and priceless quote of the day in the Post article;

A city council spokesman said: "The report confirms we responded appropriately to warnings from our advisers prior to the collapse of Icelandic banks."

Erm, no it doesn't actually. It does nothing of the bloody sort. Stop spending so much time on Twitter mate its rotting your brain.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Bulcote Cowboy Videos

I mentioned before that the Bulcote Cowboy (yeehaa!) had deleted his dodgy videos of his staff from his Bambuser site.

However, he had left a couple up on his blog and I was wondering whether I should ridicule him some more over it.

However, I'm glad to see that these have now gone too so it looks like the staff at NCC's Communications Directorate can go about their work without having to worry about whether their their arses are all over Youtube and the like.

NCCLols. Helping senior NCC managers not be twats one day at a time. Its a valuable service we provide you know.

Monday, 8 June 2009

NCCLols is on suicide watch

4469 people from Nottingham voted for the BNP.

To think that I might have inadvertantly been nice to some of these people.

Depressing beyond belief, although at least none of their candidates got elected in the East Midlands.

Anyway, the off topic day became an off topic long weekend, back to normal business tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

I like this

I'm liking Alanadale's posts on the local elections in Notts and the potential effects on the City, have a look at his post on JoCo's promise to work with the Tories at County Hall, also his general post on the results from yesterday.

We do link to him over there --> so you can pop over whenever you like but I wanted to highlight his posts on this subject because he takes a wider view than me on this subject and of course because he writes well.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Tram Fallout

Well, I was nearly right about Notts going NOC...

But its in the hands of the Tories. Led by a woman called Cutts! Lets hope that's not a case of nominative determinism.

I don't really consider it my brief to cover County issues normally but the Tories promise to pull out of funding NET phase 2 clearly has a big effect on Nottingham and NCC.

Essentially, as I understand it, a quarter of the funding has to be found locally. The City is proposing to find a chunk of that via the workplace parking levy, the County was to find the rest (there may be other bits and bobs I'm not sure). So if the County do back out, and I can't see them reneging on their headline election pledge, then that leaves the City to pick up the drop, via WPL or otherwise. I suspect this won't be very popular.

So, is it doomed? Anybody know any more about the financial issues over and above my rather Peter and Jane level summary?

Btw, I looked and looked but could not find a Tory manifesto for Notts on the web. Weird.

Update 6 June; encouraging article in the Post.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Off Topic Electiony Votey Stuff

Well I've been and done my sacred duty. Was a bit intimidated by the size of the ballot paper, you could have worn it as a scarf.

Daft story of the day goes to UKIP who are aparently convinced that there's a conspiracy to put them at the bottom of the ballot paper and then hand them out WITH THEIR BIT FOLDED OVER so voters don't see them. Here's a tip - change your name to the 'Aardvaark Army'. Twats*.

Bloggerheads have invited bloggers to join in with their fisking of the BNP's manifesto so here's my contribution on their welfare and housing policy. I'm afraid I don't link to the BNP so do a search yourself or go to Bloggerheads who have a stronger stomach than me if you want a read of the origial policy I'm quoting from.

"Ultimately there must be only one category of welfare recipient: those who genuinely deserve or have earned it. The scrounger entitlement mentality must be discarded. Those who can work but refuse to do so, must face the consequences of their actions on their own."

This fails to consider the needs of sick and disabled people. Although didn't one BNP twat say there wasn't any point in keeping such people alive?


Or for that matter the needs of children of the people the BNP would regard as 'scroungers', after all they haven't done anything wrong yet would presumably starve if their parents didn't receive financial support.

Wouldn't the fact that an army of unemployed people being put to work for free mean that the people previously doing the work for a wage would find themselves unemployed?

"Immigrants come here and are immediately given council homes while Britons are pushed further and further back in the queue."

Well, thats just bollocks isn't it? Homelessess assistance is subject to the habitual residence test which eve EU citizens struggle to pass. And my local council has a local connection requirement in its general council house allocation policy and I'm damn sure it won't be the only one to do so.

"A BNP government will restore the earnings link with pensions and ensure that elderly people who have paid a lifetime of taxes and reared families should not have to sell their homes to pay for care in their old age."

Lovely idea but I'll take it seriously when I see the costings. Approx half the welfare benefits budget already goes on pensions and associated older person's benefits, way more than any other group. The single biggest item of spending is Retirement Pension.

So don't vote BNP cos it means you'll get a load of racist twats in.

Sort of only semi off topic, although we in the City haven't got local elections (you'll know when we do cos there'll be a load of extra 'Proud to be...' banners up everywhere) the County has.

The Tories have pledged to halt Phase 2 of the tram if they get in which is pretty dumb of them and suggests that they only talk to their natural constituency of nimbys and country squires. I really don't think this is much of a votewinner myself.

LibDems are apparently hoping for a hung council as they are likely to hold the balance of power ("Go back to your constituencies and prepare for a minority role in a dodgy coalition that will collapse within months..."). Bless 'em, who says they lack ambition? That said I reckon its the likeliest outcome.

Update; just been having a look at the County's website and there are quite a few Green Party candidates standing. This is probably their best chance of gaining a presence on the County Council. Go Greenies!

* But not as big a bunch of twats as the BNP obv

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Hardcore Hardmoor

Largely irrelevant headline but it alliterates and rhymes (sort of) so its gotta be done.

Anyway, the Eve Post has more on the Hardmoor report, apparently Adrienne Roberts tried to get them to change the key message. Its based on some email correspondence they've managed to get hold of.

Is this the gift that just keeps on giving?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A Few Little Things...

In a not entirely surprising development NCC's Director of Communications has deleted his videos of staff from his bambuser account. An anonymous comment advises that I "...try and keep up..." What, by taking screenshots first maybe?...

Another anonymous comment tells me that Richard Antcliff was never charged so is in the clear. Presuming thats correct, he might be justified in feeling just a tiny bit grumpy towards the rozzers, co-ordinated early morning arrests shouldn't be carried out at the drop of a hat.

JoCo has a blog. There's not a lot there just yet. Just like his Twitter and his two Facebook accounts really...

Cllr Alex Foster's blog was apparently shortlisted for 'Most Humerous LibDem Blog in 2007. I've checked and yes there was more than just him on the list...

Am thinking that I'm not too keen on anonymous comments, may change that in future.