Sunday, 25 September 2011

Not 'Vexatious' After All (But We Can't Bring Ourselves to Say It Out Loud)

Remember a little while back I had a couple of FoI requests refused on the grounds that they were vexatious? I got round one of them by getting the information elsewhere but the other ended up going to the Information Commissioner because NCC failed to deal with my request for a review. Which is so unlike them.

However, they have now responded (about 3 months late mind). It's quite interesting.

First thing to notice is that, despite the fact that my original request was clearly refused on the grounds of being vexatious, they seem to have forgotten about it by the time of the latest response. All they say is that they have failed in their duty under s.10(3) of the Act which, as far as I can tell is the provision that allows them to go beyond the normal 20 days for a full response if they are considering public interest arguments under a possible exemption.

This wasn't the situation at all. They refused on the grounds that my request was vexatious (although their reasons clearly showed that in fact, what they meant was that it was ME that is vexatious rather than the request which isn't allowed). This is an absolute exemption so there would be no need to consider the public interest.

It seems that NCC couldn't bring themselves to actually admit in writing that my request was not vexatious and that they were wrong to say that it was. Which is pretty pathetic really. Almost as pathetic as their rather obvious tactic of delaying responses by not dealing with requests properly until the Information Commissioner gets involved.

I'll be writing a separate post about the actual content of the response because a) I can't be arsed to deal with it right now and b) I need to consider how I'm going to challenge it first.

Friday, 23 September 2011

NCC Brings in ATOS Style 'Independent' Assessment for Disability Bus Passes (And Sneaks In Some Cuts to Eligibility)

People with certain disabilities are entitled to a Mobility Citycard which gives you free travel on buses and trams. This is part of the national scheme plus local discretion to include travel at peak times. If you get the higher rate of the Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance you can apply without getting your GP to sign a declaration, if not you have to bother your doctor.

NCC has decided to change this though and has now decided to commission 'independent' assessment of disability by a private company. This is expected to cost the Council £480k over three years.

Such a tactic has echoes of national policy in that examinations for Employment Support Allowance are carried out by ATOS, a private company who has come up against considerable criticism.

The rhetoric involved is not too dissimilar as well. The Portfolio Holder decision (in the name of Jon Collins so don't expect him to have had any input into it or to know anything about it) justifies the cost on the basis that the move is likely to result in drop in eligibility of 15%, meaning a saving of £710k over the time of the contract. In other words, disabled people are swinging the lead and only the free market can save us. Sound familiar?

Another similarity is that there is a reduction in the eligibility rules being snuck in as part of the new arrangements. Disabled users will no longer get free travel in peak times, i.e. before 9.30am or after 11pm so those who have a job and/or a social life can obviously go and whistle. In addition, some disabled people will lose their right to have a companion travel with them. This is justified on the basis that the Mobility Component for DLA includes a payment for this. Except of course it doesn't really.

It's quite likely that it is these reductions in eligibility that will result in the expected savings rather than the use of the 'independent' assessor so why not ditch that and keep some of the eligibility?

Oh and the final comedy moment - Cllr 'Calamity' Jane Urquhart has disclosed that her own GP works for the appointed company, called 'Fit4Work' (can't find any definite info on these, mainly because 'Fit4work' is such an unimaginative name for a company involved in medical assessments that there's loads with that name). As such, to avoid any possibility of a conflict of interest she avoided taking the decision herself and gave it to JoCo, a well known safe pair of hands. Apparently they already do the Blue Badge stuff.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Baubles to You!

You might remember that last Christmas Nottingham City Council rented a big tree for Loxley House.

This was criticised by some due to the cost when people were losing their jobs. According to the Post's story at the time the tree cost £5k but this was offset by "...just over £1,000" in sponsorship with NCC aiming to cover the whole cost from sponsorship.

Unfortunately it a recent FoI response confirmed, as many suspected, that it didn't quite turn out that way.

Yes the tree cost £5k but the sponsorship raised turned out to be, well, only £550, rather than the above claim of just over £1000. It also turns out -

"...that in all cases, sponsorship/ donations were for the purposes of providing Christmas presents for needy children."

So. In fact NO sponsorship was raised to pay for the tree at all, it all went to the kiddies. Maybe the Post misunderstood?*

Addendum - Oh and look what JoCo said on Twitter when challenged back in July -

Maybe his tweet was "prepared by professional officers" like with his portfolio decisions...

*Probably not

(Hat tip - Sam Dixon)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

NCC Finally Completes the Full Circle in Social Work Leadership

Back in the day most councils had a 'Director of Social Service' in charge of a 'social services' department.

This department would be responsible for services to both adults and children, so adoptions, child protection, adult mental health, meals on wheels and all those myriad services were under one roof, with one Director in charge of them all.

Then the tragedy of Victoria Climbie's murder happened.

This resulted in a number of changes to the structure of social services including the separation of services for adults and children as part of the 'Every Child Matters' initiative, as it was felt that children were getting a poorer service by being lumped in with adults. As a result most councils ended up with an Adult Services and a Children's Services department with a Director atop each (Or 'Corporate Director' as they are called at NCC). Education was absorbed into Children's Services departments, as was always intended to ensure integration of the most important services for children and generally, following the hiving off of housing provision to ALMOs or sold off together, the rump of housing services tended to be absorbed into the Adults Services departments. As a result there generally wasn't an increase in the number of senior managers which of course is expensive and generally politically unpopular.

That's the sort of potted general background, now back to the more specific issues at NCC.

Anyway, as you know NCC has made quite a lot of cuts in recent years and fair enough, they reached as high as the Directors as well as the foot soldiers. As I wrote about at the time, Adult Services was absorbed into the Communities department and the Corporate Director for Adult Services took voluntary redundancy. This caused a problem because Michael Williams, the Corporate Director for Communities at the time, did not have any background in social work. A second tier Director post reporting to him was cobbled together to do the actual work but a further issue that this didn't deal with was that there is a statutory requirement to have a (Corporate) Director of Adult Services of the same seniority as the chief officer for Children's Services and, nominally at least, this was Williams.

This was allegedly fine until Williams retired and his temporary replacement wasn't able or willing to take the adult services role on. The solution was to appoint another Adults Services Chief Officer, at least temporarily, less than a year after the post was deleted. Good planning this was not.

Anyway, now things have moved on again because the Appointments and Conditions of Services Committee has considered a report recommending that the Adult Services chief officer role be passed to the Corporate Director for Children's Services. This apparently ticks all the boxes legally and organisationally.

Except, of course for the fact that NCC now has a combined Chief Officer for both adults and children which was apparently a bad idea eight years ago. He also looks after education too which wasn't a responsibility of the old Social Services director.

So we've come full circle. Deja Vu. Something will presumably have to give, it remains to be seen what.