Tuesday 23 February 2010

ASBOs, Public Humiliation and Double Standards

JoCo has just unilaterally approved an extention to NCC's 'class leading' anti-social behaviour service. In a recently published portfolio decision you will find the following -

"For example, in addition to reporting ASB and 'Grot spots', customers should be able to phone up and find out who in their area has an ASBO or Injunction, what conditions they have and even receive a copy of the Order. They should be able to find out what stage their criminal or civil case is at within the Court process."

So, not only do ASBOs in Nottingham turn non criminal behaviour into criminal behaviour by simply labelling it as 'anti-social' you also get publicly humiliated as well. Note that this will include informing what stage in the process has been achieved i.e. potentially BEFORE a court has made any order or decision.

Compare and contrast this approach with how the (Double) Standards Committee deals with councillors who break the rules.

The agenda of the meeting on 15 February lists the establishment of an assessment sub-committee to hear a complaint against a councillor. We have no idea which councillor this is. Well, we can guess, my money is on Councillor Grocock.

The minutes of the previous meeting record the deliberations of an assessment sub-committee hearing two complaints against a councillor. The public was excluded because it would have been possible to identity the councillor concerned.

And of course, what has happened to Hassan Ahmed who the 'Post' caught bang to rights not declaring very relevant business interests? His fate seems to be currently secret/not being pursued at all but I think we should be told. And there are at least two other potential candidates for an investigation into whether the Councillors' Code of Conduct has been breached too.

One law etc...

Monday 22 February 2010

Moving Goalposts

Just a quick one.

Watch out for lots of PR about meeting/beating targets for household recycling next year.

The Executive Board has just agreed to lower the target from 40% to 36%.

Saturday 20 February 2010

More on the Graffitti Madness

A couple of days ago I did a brief post about this issue with legal graffitti sites that a certain leader of a certain East Midlands urban council has got his thong in a twist about. I decided to do a bit more of a look into this rather pointless row.

So what sort of 'public urban art' sites are for the chop then? This one?

No. Not that one.

You see, that's not actually graffitti despite appearances, it's actually an officially sanctioned 'brightening up' exercise, look -

I'm really not sure why this urban art

is good whereas these are bad.

If anybody can explain, there's a handy comments facility you can access to tell us all about it.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

On Ya Bike JoCo

M'Colleague Alanadale has got there first with a posting about this but, unfortunately, I think I may have to give him a bit of a reprimand.

You see, Alan has suggested that Jon Collins' announcement that he is going to this year's MIPIM by bike to raise money for charidee is more for the purposes of his own PR.

Oh Alan, such cynicism, I'm shocked. You wouldn't find such a thing going on here and well you know it (stop giggling at the back please).

In fact I can now exclusively reveal why JoCo has decided to take on this monumental task.

Recently, NCC held a public consultation about proposed changes to its budget. I didn't respond. Not because I'm not interested but because it was one of the most incomprehensible, jargon packed and opaque documents I've ever had the misfortune to clap eyes on. Frankly, it made my eyes water.

But I did pick out a couple of interesting tidbits. Head on over to the document and scroll down to page 21. Or, if you find it easier, use the Adobe Reader search function and look for MIPIM.

You will find, hidden in a little corner called 'minor policy', in relation to MIPIM it says -

"Removal of NCC funding"

So you see, the real reason why JoCo is getting on his bike to go to MIPIM is because if he doesn't, he has no other way of getting there. What could be a greater demonstration of the importance of MIPIM to our great leader than the fact that, with his bus fare taken off him, he gets on his bike and goes anyway.

And we all thought it was all about a holiday in the sun. Shame on us all.

Let's Ban Something on Spurious Grounds to Show how Tough We Are

The Post has reported that NCC have decided to ban previously legal graffitti art sites around Nottingham. JoCo apparently believes that having a legal site encourages illegal graffitti and he wants to stop that.

Um, so how well is that going then?

There's nothing like engaging with the kids eh? And no, that really is nothing like engaging with the kids is it?

Update; there's a Facebook group which seems to be serving as a petition.

(photo copyright Alan Lodge, reproduced with permission)

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Formal Complaint

As you may remember, a little while ago top NCC legal chump Jon Ludford-Thomas wrote to me to tell me off for being nasty and not to do it again. I replied to him by return.

However, it made me a bit angry and my publishing of the letter and reply, posting it to Indymedia and having it picked up by big name bloggers, resulting in large sections of the internet pointing and staring at him didn't quite seem enough. So, just before the end of last year I submitted a complaint via the NCC website.

I heard nothing so I submitted another one. I still heard nothing so I decided to do it properly this time. Here's what I sent -

"February 2010

Formal Complaint

I have twice contacted you via the online complaints system to complain about this matter but I have been ignored. I therefore have no choice but to make the matter public in the hope that this will shame you into finally taking some action.

On 17 December 2009 I received the following letter from one of your senior solicitors, Jon Ludford-Thomas -

“Dear Mr *****,

Nottingham City Council LOLS

I am writing regarding the above, which Nottingham City Council understands is written and/or edited by you and has the following website address: www.ncclols.blogspot.com.

Nottingham City Council notes that the Nottingham City Council LOLS blog (“ncclols”) contains personal, derogatory comments regarding a number of its councillors and employees that could cause distress to those individuals. Nottingham City Council requests that you please remove these personal, derogatory comments from ncclols and refrain from posting similar such comments on ncclols or elsewhere on the internet.

Yours sincerely,

Jon Ludford-Thomas

Senior Solicitor”

This is what I am told is known in legal circles as a 'cease and desist letter' and is normally the starting point of legal action for defamation. It is therefore an extremely threatening and intimidating thing to receive.

You have absolutely no right to subject me to such actions. You have absolutely no legal basis whatsoever to demand that I remove material from my blog and, as a solicitor, Mr Ludford-Thomas would be aware of this and would have advised the council as such. There can therefore be no doubt that the sole intention of this letter was intimidation of me and an attempt to silence my criticism of the council.

Furthermore, the letter clearly states that it is written on behalf of “councillors and employees” rather than the council itself. Individual councillors and employees are responsible for taking and funding their own legal actions so this is a clear misuse of resources.

I demand an immediate and public apology for this blatant maladministration and attempt to impede my freedom of expression.

I am copying this complaint to the leader of the council and the Chief Executive as well as publishing it as an open letter on my blog. If satisfactory action is not taken by 3 March 2010, bearing in mind this is the third time I have raised it with you, I will refer the matter to the Local Government Ombudsman."

And here it is about to be submitted on the website -

And here is the acknowledgement page -

And yes, it really does miss the 'r' off 'your'.

To be on the safe side I also copied it in to JoCo and jane Todd via email.

I'm fairly confident that they can't pretend they haven't received it this time and I shall post up the results.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

The Employment Tribunal Investigations Unit; You Couldn't make it Up (although it seems someone did)

I know I haven't mentioned it much but last year I was involved in an Employment Tribunal case with Nottingham City Council. Modesty prevents me from mentioning the fact that I won obviously.

So you can imagine my interest being awakened when I saw a mention of an 'Employment Tribunal Investigations Unit' mentioned in the minutes of the Audit Committee meeting of 18 December last year. So I stuck in a Freedom of Information request to find out a bit more about it.

Here's the reply I got.

"I have investigated your request and the answer to your questions is that there is no 'Employment Tribunal Investigations Unit' and the mention of such within the minutes of the meeting you speak of was a clerical error."

I mean, what would your first reaction be? Why would someone randomly ask about a fictitious 'Employment Tribunal Investigation Unit' at a meeting? Why not 'Paperclip Accountability Commission'? Or 'Robot Kitten Recovery Squad'?

Then I had a thought and rushed off to check the minutes of the meeting again and yes, you've guessed it, they've amended them. Now, the mention of 'Employment Tribunal Investigation Unit' has been changed to "the Council's approach to dealing with Employment Tribunals". (see minute 54(2))

Hmmm, something smells a bit like fish. I suppose it's feasible that the minute taker misunderstood what was said and conflated a request to look into the approach to employment tribunals as meaning a full blown 'investigations unit' but it's also just possible that NCC would be embarrassed about having such a thing, as that would imply that NCC is subject to quite a lot of employment tribunals, suggesting that they weren't the most sympathetic of employers, and that would never do.

I can't be bothered asking for review, I'll just wait for the minutes of the meeting where it's being discussed.

What's the betting that that they pull the shutters down and claim a public interest exclusion?

Update 14 Feb; I have received reliable info that the 'Employment Tribunal Investigation Unit' WAS mentioned at the December 09 meeting but that at the next meeting it was announced that there was in fact no such thing. In other words it doesn't seem to be the fault of the minute taker.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Tales from the Tribunal Part 7 - What Did it Cost?

Running my employment tribunal case clearly cost NCC quite a lot of money. In this post I'm going to attempt to put a rough guess on how much that was.

What should have been the easiest bit to work out wasn't as simple as I'd hoped. I put in a Freedom of Information request asking how much had been spent on external barristers representing NCC during the dates of my hearing. The answer that came back was £14,050 + VAT but that this was for 2 cases. So how much was for mine?

To be honest, I would have been skeptical at that figure for my case alone. I had 10 full days of a London barrister's time all to myself. One of those days would have been covered by the briefing fee (see below) but still I wouldn't have expected any change from £20k. Still we have to take them at their word I suppose...

Notwithstanding the above, I expect the figure was quoted was mostly down to my case. For my first piece of guesswork I'm going to assume that the work involved on the other case was just a day, maybe a pre-hearing. Certainly I didn't see NCC listed in any other cases on the days I was there, although my case wasn't heard on every day of each week.

So, 90% (for the 9 days of my case) of £14,050 plus VAT at 15% makes £14,605. That's the first bit done.

Now, according to Employment Tribunal Claims, Tactics and Precedents, the way that Barristers charge their fees includes a briefing fee for preparation, which normally includes the first day, followed by daily 'refreshers' for the rest of the hearing. It suggests a rough rule of thumb for the brief fee to cover one day's prep for two days of hearing. So about half as much again basically. All in all that works out to about £22k, so we'll use that for our working figure of how much the barrister cost.

As well as their barrister, NCC also had one of their litigation assistants there every day, apart from a couple of days when our old mate Jon Ludford- Thomas took her place. For ease of guessalculation I'll ignore his extra costs and work on the basis that the LA earns about £25k pa and was there all the time. I reckon that adds another £1300.

Now, right at the start of the hearing, I wrote a somewhat sarcastic post about how many hangers on there were at the hearing, including some very senior staff indeed. At the time I guessed this cost about £1500 for the day and similar levels of attendence conttinued throughout the hearing apart from the last day. So, although this wouldn't have involved any additional expenditure it still represents a cost in terms of time lost to local taxpayers so I'm including a figure of £13,500 for lost time caused by people who fancied a nice day out. However, this does include time spent giving evidence.

So, by my book that makes very nearly £38k for the cost of the hearing itself.

But of course, that's not the end of it because there were three case management discussions where NCC were represented by JLT. Let's guess that took up 1.5 days of his time including preparation and that he earns £40k. That's another £300. Plus £300 for their share of the medical report costs. And of course all of those witnesses (14 in all including a corporate director and two directors) each had to give a statement which, including someone to take each of their statements (presumably the litigation assistant) comes to around £800 at a very conservative estimate and assuming an hour for each statement. Then of course there's £2500 that went to me in the pathetically small damages I got for my life and career being ruined. Lets call that lot about £4k all in.

So, all in all, I estimate my case cost NCC something in the region of £42,000. Which of course gets paid by local taxpayers. Ironically including me. As for the cost of all the BS that led up to it? Frankly that just doesn't bear thinking about.

Monday 8 February 2010

Tales from the Tribunal Part 6 - That Statement of Reasons in Full

Yes, its finally arrived. I have the full Statement of Reasons for my Tribunal decision (note, big file).

I'll add a few highlights here as, being 50 pages long, you may not wish to read through the whole lot. If you do, it might help to let you know that the first 8 pages is mostly legal stuff which is all very interesting for some but others may wish to scroll on by.

"The Claimant's [me] evidence is that Ms [Lisa] Black had given him the impression that it was all his fault and said that she had considered moving him out of his post. The claimant referred to disfunctionality (sic) in the team; to lack of support and added that:

"If various grievances had run to timetable he would have been able to make more progress."

It is the Claimant's evidence that Ms Black responded by saying words to the effect:

"Well, why haven't you then?"

Ms Black confirmed the meeting took place, confirmed the purpose of it and also confirmed that she had raised the possibility of moving the claimant, but denied that she had used the words referred to and had sneered at him. The Tribunal having considered the evidence preferred that of the claimant because he had a clearer recollection of events and generally the Tribunal found the claimant to be a truthful witness, not given to exaggeration..."

That's from pp16-17. Note how the Tribunal makes the point that they found me a truthful witness, at no stage in the decision did they say the same about Lisa Black.

"A further ground of complaint is that the Claimant contends that the Respondent failed to give him the support he needed in his role as Welfare Rights Team leader. The Tribunal notes that, of the three complainants, all of them sought to invoke the Harassment and Discrimination procedure after they had become aware of matters the Claimant as their Team leader had either raised with them or was seeking to raise with them and which might have resulted in disciplinary action being pursued. This was his job, it was his responsibility as Line Manager to raise such matters with them."

That's from p42. I took that as the Tribunal's recognition that the three complainant's may not have been of entirely honest intent when making complaints about me.

"When dealing with the case of Ms Roy, Ms Black called for further investigation to be carried out to address an allegation by Ms Roy of sex discrimination by the claimant. When Ms Black received the additional information she concluded the sex discrimination complaint was without foundation. However, on reviewing the additional information available to her it should have been clear...that it addressed wider issues of the Claimant's management and called into question the motivation of the complainant Ms Roy. The Tribunal finds it difficult to believe and accept that Ms Black did not recognise the significance of the information before her and, in particular, the relevance of it to the claimant...

...Ms Black had met with the claimant on two occasions but on neither occasion was she prompted to provide him with a copy of the report notwithstanding it being clear from the evidence that a copy of the addendum report must have been made available to Ms Roy prior to the step 2 meeting...which contradicts evidence before the Tribunal that there was concern about disclosure of the report because one of the witnesses who contributed to the report feared reprisals [from Ms Roy]...the Tribunal is not clear on the evidence before it upon what basis Ms Black decided it could be disclosed to Ms Roy (but not to the claimant).

From pp42-43. During the internal procedures Lisa Black tried to claim that it 'didn't occur to her' to give me a copy of this extra information. Bollocks.

"There was also a matter of complaint by the Claimant in relation to a breach of confidentiality by Emma Hodgett. At the time it was assumed she had said things to Gary Ward, a Trade Union representative, and which was in breach of confidentiality...Ms Hodgett before the Tribunal denied [on oath] that she had breached her professional standing and that she had said anything to Mr Ward. At the time, the Investigating Officer spoke to her on the telephone and he did not think it appropriate to obtain a written statement from her. Possibly had he done so, in the light of the evidence before this Tribunal...it might have been established that the evidence of Mr Ward was in some way flawed."

During internal procedures Gary Ward said in a statement that Emma Hodgett slagged me off. However, Emma denied on oath that she had said anything about me. Gary Ward didn't appear at the Tribunal despite NCC relying quite heavily on his statements made during internal proceedings. Basically, he made it up.

I'll be writing a separate article about Unison's actions during my sorry time at NCC. For now let's just say I think that some of their actions went beyond honest advocacy for their members.

Well, that's just a few small extracts from the decision. I would have added more but it would have meant retyping reams of material so I just picked out a few bits that hopefully stand on their own.

The Post Describes NCC 'Consultation'

"Initially, a consultation on the future of the building, undertaken by the city council, produced a majority in favour of refurbishing the existing building. Subsequently, the council went into local schools and made presentations to the children. When their views were counted the results were reversed and there was a majority in favour of the rebuild."

Evening Post, 6 Feb 2010

I can't imagine that those kids were unduly influenced by those propaganda sessions presentations can you? After all, young children are notoriously hard headed with fully formed political views and NCC would be completely wasting their time attempting to manipulate them in order to skew the consultation results.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Stonebridge Farm

And in other local campaign newstThe Stonbridge Farm campaigners are cautiously optimistic that they may have been successful in persuading the council that nicking their land is a dumb-ass move. From their Facebook page -

"City says it will write to the farm today (2nd feb) to offer a lease without conditions and go back to the drawing board to see how the farm fits into the regeneration of the stonebridge estate. Has the city council listened to the many friends of the farm? Well going from comments from officers you can judge for yourself "the issue of taking land from the farm has become a nightmare" and even with a new lease the council "can use a compulsory purchase order to remove land from the farm ". Is the offer of a new lease without conditions a political ploy to appear to be protecting the farm or is it a genuine commitment to protect the farm. It may become clearer latter today."

Congratulations to the campaign if the optimism turns out to be justified. Quite how NCC ever thought it would be anything less than a PR disaster trying this on while at the same time trying to encourage more local food growing is beyond me.

Mind you, PR doesn't appear to be the City Council's strong point.

Update 3 Feb - looks any optimism was largely misplaced. From the Facebook page today -

"Councillor Alan Clark today admits that the threatening way the council "negotiated " with the farm was wrong. That a new lease will be offered and then a negotiation will commence with the farm for the removal of 10% of its land for use as residents parking. This change of approach by the council has been achieved thr...ough us making our opinions heard. We unfortunately have not won yet! To strengthen the farms position in negotiation please get friends to sign the petition and write to councilors."

March to "Save Victoria Baths"

I've been asked to let all you good people know about the demo this weekend to demand the Victoria Leisure Centre remains open.

On Saturday 6 Feb the 'Save Victoria Baths' campaign invites you to join them for 11.30am in the Market Square when everyone will march down to Sneinton for 12 midday.

Here there will be music (but not moonlight presumably. And the position on love and romance is up to you) as well as guest speakers and an opportunity to sign the campaign petition if you have not already done so.

There may be trouble ahead for the baths but make your views known by joining the march this Saturday.