Saturday, 20 September 2014

Let's Get NCC to Boycott Israel

Just a quick one.

It's the last few days left to sign the petition asking Nottingham City Council to adopt the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. The deadline is 24 September.

BDS is an international campaign which aims to pressure Israel into respecting international law and to end it's effective apartheid state oppressing Palestinians.

Please do sign up. Over 2000 Palestinians were killed in the recent attack on Gaza. Economic pressure is the only real hope for Palestinians subject to arrest, military checkpoints and military attacks.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

JoCo, Get Ready For Your Close-Up

Nottingham City Council has just agreed a new policy (pdf) allowing 'citizens' to film and/or record public meetings of the council. This is in response to new government regulations saying that they had to.

Of course, a policy like this would have been much more use years ago when the legal right to film public meetings was unclear but there you go.

Here's one of the first examples of legal filming I could find, taken at the very same meeting the policy was agreed...

PS, not my video, link to original here.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Beechwood Children's Home Abuse Scandal

Institutional child abuse. How horrible a concept is that eh? You're taken from an abusive situation as a child to a place that is supposed to be safe, a place where people, part of the state machinery, are supposed to look after you. Except they do exactly the opposite...

The news has been full of stories of such abuse recently, largely because many of the abusers are/were famous and, in some cases dead.

So it's with some trepidation that I'm now going to look at an emerging story of institutional abuse in our manor. Everything I have got hold of is in the public domain. It's all second hand obviously and finding what you might call 'facts' is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. But here goes.

First thing is to set out a basic historical context. Until 1998 children's homes, along with all other children's social services in the city were the responsibility of Nottinghamshire County Council. In 1998, the City Council was given unitary status and took over all services within the city boundaries which had previously been the County's remit. This included all social services, education, trading standards, all sorts. I think it's probably fair to say that, as far as I can tell, the majority of the abuse allegations concerned incidents happening prior to the 1998 handover.

The first allegations appeared in 2011 concerning the former Beechwood Children's Home on Woodborough Road, which closed in 2006. Claims of abuse at other homes locally surfaced in 2013 and hit the nationals. Note the bravery of the individual who gave up his right to anonymity for that story, this led another brave individual to do the same. The latter individual wrote a much longer personal account which you can read here. I think it's fair to say he has been unimpressed with officialdom's attempts to 'help' him. The police have called their investigation 'Operation Daybreak'.

Not entirely surprisingly, it appears that some records have been 'lost'. Knowing local authorities as I do I should say that may not be entirely due to evil intent (as opposed to some dumbass chucking them in a skip) but it hardly lightens the atmosphere or encourages a feeling of mutual trust.

More recently it has emerged that a total of £250k compensation has been paid to some of those alleging abuse. Again, most cases were from the time of the County's administration but there are more to be considered. The information apparently originated from a journo's FoI request but unfortunately, the City's Freedom of Information 'Disclosure Log' gives us the question asked but is one of the many entries that neglects to include the response files (general point NCC, please sort this issue out, it happens a lot).

Anyway, that's the mainstream stuff. This blog doesn't deal with County Council issues, that's for others to worry about with my limited mental energy. According to the media links above, it seems that the City is leading on all legal claims against both councils so that keeps that aspect within our remit. The police? Fuck knows who really makes the decisions there.

Anyway, a bit of simple Google search has thrown up huge amounts of stuff, only a tiny proportion of which I can link to here. But here's one thing that seriously caught my eye, I think it's a bit sinister.

Back in 2003, Community Care magazine ran an article about the death of a resident at, you've guessed it, Beechwood Children's Home. It concerns a 15 year old girl who was found hanged. The article states as fact that she was a victim of bullying at the home. That's a grim story in anybody's language but, sadly, not completely unheard of in the looked-after children sphere. Was it 'just' bullying?

It gets significantly dodgier looking when you read the allegation that the National Care Standards Commission (now defunct/replaced) had previously advised the City Council to close the home on the basis that the home had become “steadily more unstable and difficult to manage”. The Social Services Director at the time said “I don’t recall this recommendation ever being made.”

Hmm. "I don't recall..." There are lots of things I don't 'recall' but that doesn't mean they didn't happen.

I'm presuming that the lawyers representing the survivors have all this because I would've thought it would significantly undermine any claim by the City that they had no idea there were any problems at the home. That's not the same as saying they knew about all the abuse but you know, a kid hanged herself, you'd hope they'd have looked into it.

The final bit for now is the rather disturbing claims concerning a woman called Melanie Shaw.

Most of the allegations appear to come from the blog UKColumn. There are countless other entries on the web but most seem to be a copy and paste from the original.

What is claimed is that Ms Shaw is a witness and a victim of abuse at Beechwood. However UKColumn reported that Ms Shaw has recently been arrested and was being held on remand in Peterborough Prison. This is backed up by a Nottm Post court report. I'm not sure of the political stance of UKColumn but the detail demands that we take the reports seriously, at least until they are credibly disproved. There is talk about a 'secret hearing' at the Crown Court and that Ms Shaw is accused of arson. There is a later report of a further hearing where her remand at Peterborough was extended. I can't verify anything in it but it doesn't make pretty reading, especially about her treatment in prison. What also seems a bit odd is that local media don't seem to be willing to touch Ms Shaw's story with a bargepole.

Whatever the actual detail of the allegations that got Ms Shaw in front of the Crown Court, you have to wonder why an abuse survivor is on remand in a Cat B prison when she just happens to be making allegations against the people who used to look after her. Longtime readers of this blog would not be surprised at a suggestion that Notts Police might be willing to help the City Council out in a time of need. Frankly, I doubt that anybody sensible in the UK would be surprised at the suggestion that the police would be there for the establishment if the shit hit the fan.

Hopefully much more of this will come out. Hopefully, at least some of the police are actually doing their job. We'll see.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Nottingham Labour - Tories in Disguise

As many of you will know the three main public sector unions, along with the NUT, have called a 24 hour strike today.

Here's what council leader Jon Collins of the 'People's Party' had to say about that -

"We understand that people are upset about the reduction in living standards as pensions are eroded and pay hasn't kept up with inflation. However, workers across the private and public sector are in the same position and we don't believe that strike action that closes schools, inconveniences parents and loses pupils a day's education is the best way forward."

Who needs Tories eh?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Councillor Resigns Labour Whip

Big news!

Strange that there's been nothing in the Post about this but it seems that Cllr Emma Dewinton has resigned the Labour whip and now sits as an independent.

I just noticed this now in a report to full council about the resultant rejigs to committee membership. Cllr Michael Edwards made a mention of it on his own blog about 3 weeks ago but I'm not a regular reader so I missed it. Here's his version of her reasons for resigning -

"The gist being the Labour party nationally had not got enough detailed policy and we needed to go into more detail at the council.

And that the scrutiny of detail is being undermined by Labour having too large a majority on the council."

Re that last bit; it's not the large majority in itself that undermines scrutiny, it's the willingness of certain high-ups to exploit that majority to cover things up. Like dodgy council house deals...

Wonder if she'll be joining the Nottingham Independence Party?

Friday, 27 June 2014

What Disjointed Policy Looks Like Pt 94

Buskers. Mixed bag aren't they? For every Sam Lindo there's some idiot bellowing about a BRII-IIIDGE OVERRR TERRUBBLED WORT-ARRRR or blasting away on an annoying tin whistle (tautology alert).

But you know, some people like that sort of thing. A range of abilities is an essential part of busking, all part of the variety and spontaneity and all that.

Nottingham City Council seems a bit confused about what ti thinks about busking, as evidenced by these two tweets -

So only 'authorised' buskers allowed. Have you got a license for that ukelele young man? THE MAN has declared war on street entertainment. Certainly, if I wanted to help kill off a local street entertainment scene, a load of clumsy regulation is probably the means I'd use.

But hang on, what's this?

It seems that THE MAN loves buskers now, we've got the 'Big Busk', all part of the vibrant city and all that. Note that they include a 'code of conduct' as long as your arm although much of it is probably unenforceable.

You also have to apply for a permit, although the legal basis for such a requirement isn't made clear. They've probably simply made one up. Perhaps it's all about getting people used to the idea of being subject to regulation...

So it looks like NCC loves the 'vibrant city' aspect of busking, as long as it's only the right sort of authorised vibrance and that there isn't too much of it in one go. I wonder which committee will get the job of holding auditions.

Personally, just like the public space drinking issue, it's another case of the regulation/ASB fetishists wanking themselves into a frenzy at another opportunity to stamp their authority on the public space.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Bridge LOLs

Human rights organisations across the world have praised Nottingham City Council and tram operator NET for their sensitivity in leaving it for a whole week after the 25th anniversary of the Tiannamen Square massacre before naming a tram bridge in honour of the 'special relationship' shared between Nottingham and Ningbo in China.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals such as his Housing Benefit being cut etc, one human rights advocate said -

"Bearing in mind China's appalling human rights record which includes, among other things, more people subjected to the death penalty than the rest of the world put together, religious persecution and continued occupation and repression in Tibet, holding the bridge naming on 4th June 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Tiannamen Square Massacre may have been seen as grossly insensitive. So it is gratifying that they left it for a week and I am happy to accept that this makes it alright."

The ceremony will commence with a line of Type 59 battle tanks rumbling over the bridge before being met by a lone male holding a couple of shopping bags. Celebrations will end with order being resumed and dissent being crushed.

Addendum; this isn't the first time the City Council has engaged in a China lovefest in apparent ignorance of human rights issues.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

In Ca(stle) Hoots

Before I start proper, can I just clear one thing up?


Sorry about that. I am genuinely pleased at the Heritage Lottery Fund's decision to send a heap of money Nottingham Castle's way. I'm a big fan of the Castle which has a mass of history to it and is a genuinely interesting place to visit. The absolute highlight is the cave tour, something which will be extended under the plans. Nottingham really should be making more of its cave network and this is a good start.

There has been the predictable complaint in the 'Post' comments demanding we knock the current building down and build a 'proper' castle (see above for my standard reaction), ignoring the fact that it's a Grade 1 listed building and that the story of its appearance and near destruction is a big part of Nottingham's history in its own right.

I'm particularly interested in the fact that there are plans to tell the story of the various rebels and rioters, in particular the Reform Act Riots of 1831, from Nottingham's past.

Wonder where they got that idea from?

Mock executions at the Galleries of Justice anybody?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Where Policies Come From

If, like me, you'd often wondered if NCC's 'anti-social behaviour' agenda is piped in fresh from a certain right-leaning tabloid then I present evidence;
Fyi; Errington is the Director of Community Protection which includes the ASB agenda.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Full Council Meetings to Move?

I'm hearing rumours that full council meetings at the Council House are soon to end and will move round the corner to a venue on Long Row.

The new venue, a former bank now owned by the Mellors Group, will apparently allow a number of new synergies.

I'm told the feeling is that, as James Mellors already spends so much time feeding City Councillors, they might as well move into a spare room in his gaff.

A further development is that the current Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support application system will be integrated with the slot machines downstairs. Head of Service Lisa Black explains;

"Everyone knows we couldn't run a bath so we decided to introduce an element of chance into the claims process to get us off the hook. The idea is that you deposit your claim form into one of the slot machines and the spinning wheels all have a selection of instructions on them, such as 'provide proof of benefit', 'give us a sample of your landlord/lady's underwear' or whatever. We've still got to make them up. Just like we make everything up.

"If you get the same three instructions come up congratulations! You are one of the lucky people whose claims will be administered before you are evicted for rent arrears*."

Asked what will happen to the Council House itself, spokesdroid Frila Pool said;

"Oh we'll flog it to Intu. It's a shopping centre after all. They'll wrap it in fibreglass and paint it pink."

*In actual fact your claim probably won't be processed before you're evicted, you're poor so nobody at the City Council gives a shit what happens to you.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Housing Benefit Fraud

I've taken the piss out of NCC's anti-benefit fraud measures before but with new figures available it's time to have another go.

Again, the report before the Audit Committee is the source of our interest here. On page 8 we are told that, during 2012/3, NCC detected 178 Housing/Council Tax benefit fraud, worth a total of £586,490. Even without any help from a responsible adult, I have worked out that is an average of £3295 per case.

The Midlands and East of England average is 332 cases, totaling £698,296, an average of £2103 per case.

I don't think we can make too much of the lower than average number of cases, that average is clearly elevated by one LA (Birmingham?) with 3500 or so cases. But NCC's higher value per case could be said to imply that frauds are not caught as early, which is not a good thing in fraud detection circles. There are probably other potential explanations as well.

But hello, what have we here? (word document) It's a Freedom of Info request asking about how much NCC spends on anti benefit fraud activities. It says that, in 2012/3 NCC spent £586,000 on such work, the money going on

...cost of the fraud staff in wages and then a percentage of all other costs based on fraud staff as a percentage of total benefits staff. Other costs include such things as IT, accommodation, central charges etc.

That's pretty clear, the question was unambiguous and the explanation of the costs makes it plain that the cost of the activity hasn't been confused with, say the amount of fraud detected...

Because the two figures are rather similar aren't they? It seems an extraordinary coincidence that, for a spend of £560,000 anti-fraud activity you detect fraud worth a total of £560,490.

Unless of course you've been a bit lazy and, rather than come up with a system to estimate the worth of each fraud case you catch and collating the results annually, you simply record as the 'cost' of detected fraud as how much how much was spent on the wages, IT and paperclips of your crack fraud detecting team. And in the FoI response linked, they DID say they didn't have an estimate of the value of fraud committed.

If it wasn't for the fact that NCC's housing benefit service has a long track record of pisspoor management information systems (largely due to having pisspoor management) I would find this explanation impossible to believe.

The alternative of course is that NCC's benefits fraud team saves the council the grand total of less than £500/year. Before anybody says that any saving is worthwhile you must remember that many people are investigated for fraud and found to have done nothing wrong. It is always a stressful, sometimes terrifying experience. I sincerely hope it is the 'crap management information' explanation that turns out to be correct because a saving of £490 is not worth a single person being wrongly accused and investigated.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Nottingham, the Hotbed of Blue Badge Fraud?

It's not just wheelie bins that Nottingham's scammers have got their greedy little eyes on, if the numbers are to be believed, Nottingham is by far and away the region's hotbed for Blue Badge fraud.

A report (pdf, page 12) going to the next Audit Committee meeting gives a number of interesting details of fraud against NCC, one of which is that, in 2012/13, 355 Blue Badge fraud cases were detected. The Midlands and East of England average was 18 cases. In other words, NCC is said to have nearly 20 times the average regional Blue Badge fraud rate.

Sounds legit...

We know that assessments for Blue Badges is carried out by an 'independent' private medical company (as mentioned in this 2011 portfolio decision on the related matter of Mobility Citycard examinations) and they may be carrying out their duties with Atos like aplomb. I also suspect a certain statistical sleight of hand, such as assuming that every Blue Badge renewal found to no longer qualify is put in the fraud pile.

I think local media are planning on looking into it so I'll let them do the work and see if any explanation better than NCC seriously shafting its disabled citizens comes forth.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Return To MIPIM

A while since we've heard of the 'International Property Event' held in Cannes each year. I think NCC have still been sending a couple of people down but due to it becoming increasingly unacceptable for public funds to be spent on what is essentially a party on the Riviera it's been paid for by local businesses.

Happily, all that has now changed and it is now completely acceptable to spend our Council Tax pounds* on such a jolly, as there are now no pressures on local authority spending at all (can you check this please? Ed). No doubt this new state of affairs is nudged along by the private sector deciding they are no longer willing to shell out on JoCo's sparkling wine ration. Even though they're the ones who make the most from it.

So approval has been given to pay £65k 2014. This is to be spent on 'promotional activity' in order to 'raise Nottingham's profile'. All good, solid, tangible stuff.

Just a thought, since NCC has decided that even the worst off among us will have to pay at least 20% of the full Council Tax next year, that £65k is equivalent to about 290 IS/IBJSA/IBESA claimants' band A charges.

Send us a postcard, do.