Sunday, 29 November 2009

Annual Review

So, a whole year of NCCLols has happened. Who'd a thunk it eh? Let's have quick look back through time at some of the main events...

November 09 No contest for this one. NCC's barrister tried to upend me in my employment tribunal by bringing my blog into it. And then I won, amusingly.

October 2009 Some of the £1000/hr we spend on boxer Carl Froch is used to persuade Nottingham People that becoming a Community Warden for no payment whatsoever is a really good idea. We weren't convinced and reckon Carl should go back to punching people in the face for a living. Which he did, later that same month.

September 09 We finally got the last of our answers about Discretionary Housing Payments. They had to write a 'special piece of computer program' you know, just for me.

August 09 I still feel a bit guilty laughing at this but Nottingham staged its own production of 'Carry on Lord Mayor' when Jeannie Packer went round to have it out with some woman who claimed to have shagged her husband, resulting in the police being called. The woman concerned (delicately referred to as 'sex row woman' in the 'Post') has now been selected as a candidate for one of the Bulwell wards. I'm sure they'll rise above their personal differences and enjoy a professional working relationship should she be elected.

July 09 We were in full solidarity mode with NCC this month, what's all that about? Well, it was about tram phase 2 and the workplace parking levy which everybody in Nottingham should support unless you're a git. Or a Rushcliffe Tory...Same thing really.

We couldn't keep it up for long though and we had to laugh at the spectacle of the Sheriff of Nottingham getting tough on the Canada Geese on the Embankment.

June 09 Quite a few things this month but, bearing in mind last week's events I think my fave is the revelation that NCC spends vast sums of cash on external representation at employment tribunals. And still loses snee hee hee!

May 09 Can't beat the final public leaking of the Hardmoor Consultants' report denouncing NCC as dysfunctional this month. In fact it's worth you all going and having a new read of it cost it was written at or around the time I was getting all my grief and when I post up the full reasons for my tribunal decision (might be a few weeks before I get this mind) it may put a lot of into context.

April 09 Big event involving us this month was the news that Nottingham City Homes got rid of BNP 'Gold' member and activist Jason Cotterill-Attaway from its disabled tenants' consultative committee. He'd somehow managed to worm his way into the position of vice chair but made a tactical error when he announced it in a post on an Evening Post comments forum. He tried to convince people that it showed that the BNP could involve themselves in mainstream activities until, after a bit of prompting, NCH realised that BNP values were diametrically opposed to its Equal Opportunities policy. At which point they decided that no, the BNP couldn't be involved with mainstream activities after all.

March 09 More a month of things bubbling under the surface although we did have the Budget which was not a happy event and which inspired a reasonably sized demo attended and addressed by top acting person Samantha Morton. We got pictures.

February 09 We had a look at the way the Housing Benefits Service convinces the Audit Commission that it's better than it really is.

January 09 NCH hauled up for scamming the waiting lists. Ok, this was nothing to do with me but it claimed the scalp of a senior manager early on, implicated the then Sheriff of Nottingham (has since gone suspiciously quiet on that one mind) and very nearly ensnared JoCo in its tentacles.

December 08 We finally got Housing Benefits to admit that they hadn't been informing people of their appeal rights on benefits decision notices, as required by law.

I'd like to say it's been a fun year with all this blogging. Unfortunately, it hasn't really, at times it's been miserably depressing with being ill and doing my tribunal and stuff. I do think that writing the blog has helped me get some of my concentration back though which is good, I really don't know if I'd have survived my tribunal otherwise.

So another year of blogging looms, probably anyway. Who knows, I might actually get a life and leave my bedroom once in a while?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tales from the Tribunal Part 3

It seems that Housing Benefits supremo Lisa Black wasn't happy about my likening of her to Little Britain character Marjories Dawes so she tried to get her own back when she was giving evidence at my tribunal.

The judge asked her whether she had thought to answer an email I had sent her when I was still employed by NCC but off sick. She said that she didn't because the email was rude and insulting and she didn't think there was anything she could have said.

She then said that this view was reinforced by the fact that at the time I sent her the email I was blogging about her being like a 'comedy character'. She had her special 'outraged' face on when she said it.

I then pointed out that I didn't even start the blog until November 2008 and the email was sent in April 2008 so there was no way I was saying that about her at that time and in fact was no longer even employed by NCC when I started this blog.

This made her look like a proper charlie. Having attended the tribunal every day up to that point she no longer felt the need to do so after this.

Funnily enough, if the verbal judgment we got on Wednesday was anything to go by, the Tribunal agreed with quite a lot of what I said in that email.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Covering Up

Not tribunal related this one, just some business as usual.

As you know I regularly feature portfolio holder decisions which in turn regularly feature wads of cash finding its way to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Occasionally I complain that not much info is given, e.g. the size of those wads of cash.

Different issue this time, NCC has now decided that they don't have to publish one of Councillor Clark's decisions to approve an NCC investment in some properties. See ref no 596 here.

The reasoning is as follows -

"That the Council in partnership with Nottingham City NHS exercise the option to purchase freehold interests in a number of properties for development. This decision is exempt from publication under paragraph 3 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 because it contains information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information) and, having regard to all the circumstances, the public interest in maintaining the"

And yes, it does stop mid sentence like that which is presumably a clue as to how much thought goes into such decisions.

The question I have is how many portfolio decisions AREN'T about NCC's business affairs? And what happened to the principle of having the right to know what our taxes are being spent on?

Tales from the Tribunal Part 2

An interesting mystery still remains from my tribunal experience.

First, a little background. During the preparation of the evidence bundle for an employment tribunal either party might want to see evidence that only the other party has. Most of the time if you ask for it you get it and everyone gets on fine.

However, on occasions, one party may not wish to hand evidence over. There can be very good reasons for this, the documents requested may include details of other workers and the employer may not think they are relevant to the case, or it may be considered that you're going on a fishing trip. In such circumstances the party wanting to see the documents will need to request a disclosure order from the tribunal and usually a case management discussion will be held and you are expected to justify why you need the info.

This was the situation I found myself in on 3 September, I wanted to see some notes of meetings and NCC didn't want me to have them. In the end the judge ordered a partial disclosure for notes that related to a particular person and a bundle of notes duly arrived some days later. I presumed that was all there was. One of NCC's senior solicitors represented them at this case management discussion.

Moving on to the second day of the full tribunal hearing (or might have been the third, not sure, it's a bit of a blur now) I was being cross examined by NCC's barrister when we had another of those 'rabbit out of the hat' moments. Apparently one of the witnesses (who is a rather senior manager) suddenly remembered that they had some notes of a meeting which proved beyond doubt what a nasty man I was.

Not really good enough, I said, I at least need to look at them overnight, which the judge agreed to. The notes were provided and I put them away to look at later.

You can imagine my surprise when I got home and looked at the notes and found that they clearly should have been provided under the disclosure order. Very naughty. Why hadn't they been provided earlier? Was it the senior manager who kept them back or the senior solicitor?

Anyway, moving on to the next week and it was my turn to cross examine NCC's witnesses and the senior manager took the stand. First question I asked was why she hadn't provided the notes as ordered and, quick as a flash she said that nobody had asked her to. I clarified that the senior solicitor had never asked for the notes and she confirmed that was the case. She said all this on oath.

So you see we are left with a little mystery. Do we believe the witness on oath saying nobody asked her for the notes (and thus selling a senior member of NCC's legal team down the river) or do we assume that a senior solicitor would not be so stupid as to fail to comply with an order of the tribunal, seeing as that would arguably be a breach of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct rule 11.02. Especially when they had been in charge of the case for 9 months.

I don't know, the only way I can think of to get to the bottom of this is to make a complaint about the senior solicitor to the Solicitors Regulation Authority who presumably will be able to investigate and establish the facts. It's more work though and I'm not sure I can be bothered which is why I've left the names out of this story. For now.

What do you think folks? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tales from the Tribunal Part 1

So. I won an employment tribunal case against Nottingham City Council, my former employer. I'll be writing about different aspects of the case for a while but in my usual haphazard, when-I-feel-like-it way.

My blog made a bit of a guest appearance during the hearing. The barrister decided out of the blue that my blog demonstrated that I exhibited 'a certain turn of phrase'.

Think about that, he was trying to argue that because I write disrespectful sweary stuff on the internets then I must talk like that at work and to the people I managed. Which is obviously bollocks.

I should point out that it is extremely bad form to pull rabbits out of the hat like that at a tribunal hearing, you are expected to agree a bundle of evidence before the hearing and to exchange witness statements and there was no inkling of my blog having any relevence in these documents. The barrister claimed that he had no choice because the blog only went up "yesterday".

Which again is bollocks as the blog has been going for nearly a year or so now, when challenged he claimed he meant my most recent post which was clearly about the tribunal. Frankly if he'd wanted disrespectful sweary stuff he'd have been better off talking about this one.

He then went on to argue that, because I was capable of writing a blog and maintaining a photo website then I couldn't possibly have a mental health problem so serious as to count as a disability. To be fair he was on stronger ground here in that at least it was relevant but he quoted a passage from my photo website which was written months ago, somewhat undermining his reason for bringing up my web presence on the day.

In other words this was pure gamesmanship and says a lot about the sort of organisation NCC is when they'll stoop to tactics like that. And that's not the only dodginess they got up to either, more on that soon.

Monday, 9 November 2009

A Lovely Day Out

Word reaches me of an employment tribunal that started recently.

The respondent (that's the employer) decided to call over 10 witnesses which meant that they all had to turn up for the start. This included some VERY senior managers, one of whom earns over £140k.

After about an hour some of these witnesses apparently left as they weren't needed that day.

This still left two really rather senior managers, two human resources officers and a human resources manager who stayed for the whole day. A rough guess of the cost of this is probably between £1k and £1.5k. Just for this one day. They didn't do or say anything, they just sat and listened.

This does not include the barrister's fee or the assistant he had with him. Rough guess at the cost of this would be between £2k and £3k although at least they presumably did something.

There are apparently quite a few days of this tribunal left. Rumours of a visit by the Queen and the Battle of Britain flypast are so far unsubstantiated.

Who would this employer be you might be wondering, who indulges in such largesse?

I'll give you a clue. If you're reading this there's a pretty good chance you're helping to pay for this lovely day out.

Update 26/11 As you probably guessed this was my own tribunal. It went on for 9 days and there was at least 5 NCC staff there each day, usually including at least one Director.

Oh yeah, I won...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Labour Gets Tough

Challenged over news of another Labour Councillor arrested for assault, Jon Collins made it clear that the rebrand starts here.

"Look, this is Labour getting tough" he said.* "You f*** with us and we'll send the Lord Mayor round next time."

Lord Mayor Cllr Jeannie Packer you will remember, recently demonstrated that she was also 'a bit handy' when she saw off a love rival, going round her house to 'have it out' with her. Police were called but it was suggested that they were too scared to do anything.**

Cllr Collins said that the anti-social behaviour strategy was in 'rude health' and that a recent consultation among hand picked cowering members of the public showed strong support for measures such as 'a good kicking' for people with overhanging hedges and 'nutting in the face' for leaving your bin out. Carl Froch# is rumoured to be trawling the dodgier nightclubs doorstaff for recruits for JoCo's private nutting squad as we speak.

Did we say 'private nutting squad'? Sorry we meant Community Wardens.

Asked whether rumours of a secret boxing club being established in the bowels of the Council House were true JoCo replied "Rule one is that we don't talk about 'Boxing Club...' at which our reporter made his excuses and left, weary of another trite film reference.

* This is satire, he didn't say any of this.

**You guessed it, I made this up as well.

#Not too sure about this one...


Posters seen springing up in the saloon bars of Nottingham...

When Councillors Attack (Part 2)

Bloody hell, Nottingham City Labour Councillors seem to be hell bent on an orgy of violence (allegedly, natch).

After the Post revealed Hassan Ahmed's arrest for assault and sexual assault, now we hear that Cllr Marcia Watson has been arrested on suspicion of ABH on the mother of her grandson.

In further developments, the 'Post' is reporting that Hassan Ahmed has been suspended from the Labour party "...after party managers saw details of Coun Ahmed's arrest in the Evening Post" according to a party spokesdroid. Presuming that's true it suggests that Ahmed kept details of his arrest from the party which won't go well for him whatever the outcome of the police investigation.

Usual disclaimers apply, innocent until proven guilty and all that. But we can all point and stare in the meantime.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

CCTV Camera Numbers

Another interesting snippet via 'What Do They Know', a list of the numbers of CCTV cameras by ward in the city.

We last looked at CCTV when JoCo nodded through a new installation in Forest Fields in defiance of local views or any meaningful democratic input.

There are some interesting numbers in there. Both Wollaton wards have only 3 cameras each and they are only used for traffic management. On the other hand, Radford and Park has 361, all but one of which are used for 'crime prevention'. Other high scorers are Dales with 257, Dunkirk and Lenton with 236 and St Ann's with 114. Clifton South has none.

I can't help noticing that the high scorers tend to have relatively large ethnic minority populations...

The response also reveals the running costs of the CCTV systems and the rather salient fact that NCC currently has absolutely no strategy for CCTV, they just make it up as they go along presumably.

What about Bestwood you ask? Have a guess. Couple of hundred maybe? No. Bestwood has FOUR cameras. Just four. That's Bestwood, the home of a major Nottingham crime family, that was the scene of major riots when the leaders of that family were jailed, the area of the city that was said to have been abandoned by law enforcement agencies as that family took over the estate.

Such a gang of criminals would obviously have been keen to avoid CCTV being set up on their patch. Makes you wonder if they had any influence with anybody.

Councillor Accused of Assault

It may be that Hassan Ahmed's climb up the greasy pole is about to come to an end. He is currently the portfolio holder for Employment and skills and prior to that he was an executive assistant to Graham Chapman.

The Beeb is reporting that he has been accused of assault and sexual assault. The offence is said to have occurred on 29 July.

It may not be a surprise to you to learn that Cllr Ahmed 'vehemently denies' the allegations.

He was recently in hot water for omitting some of his business interests from the 'Register of Members' Interests.'

Grab your popcorn, this looks like one to watch.

Update 1pm; 'Post' now reporting that Ahmed has stepped down from Portfolio holder position while case ongoing. The person he attacked is said to be a 47 year old teacher.

Update 5/11; Turns out he was actually arrested in July as well but only stood down when the 'Post' blew the gaff. See article here.