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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


On a patrist, a library and views of women.

It is natural that a *patrist should have his head in the past. That he should be so lacking in connection to the present as to write what follows about Suffolk libraries, is surprising

Doubtless there is some woman somewhere who receives a salary to run the organisation. (You can tell that it is a woman in charge because the conversion of Ipswich library into a playgroup is something that only a woman would do).

Perhaps Roger Pearce has been reading too much of St John Chrysostom who, according to the translation in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, wrote: “Of all the wild animals, none can be found as harmful as women.”

Pearse complains in his blog about the time it takes to a copy of Vermaseren’s Mithras: The Secret God (published 1963) from the reserve stock to Ipswich LIbrary. I am pleasantly surprised that they have a copy.

I started off with some sympathy, remembering that in my home town there was a separate children’s library. I like the quiet of libraries but have come to believe that the most important thing is to get children into a room full of books where they can be encouraged to read.

It has been throughout the determination of campaigners, probably the majority of them women, that he can still talk about 46 libraries in Suffolk (many other places are closing them). Our libraries are not as well funded as I would like them to be and there are more cuts to come. But by keeping the libraries open we have the option of improving them in the future.

*A patrist studies the lives , writings, and doctrines of the early Christian theologians.

Mystery over Suffolk CC ‘major’ announcement on emergency services savings

Five weeks ago Suffolk County Council made a “Major announcement to bring Suffolk emergency services together”. It included moving the police station in Debenham to the next door fire station.

Today the East Anglian Daily Times reports on a briefing from the Chief Constable Simon Ash on cuts, including 100 police officers. The paper says:

Woodbridge police station is the latest closure to be announced and bases in Ixworth, Debenham, and Elmswell are currently being looked at.

Yet a month ago Mr Ash was quoted, in a county council press release, saying:

I am delighted that we will be working closely with our Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service colleagues to ensure that our Safer Neighbourhood Teams remain in the heart of the communities in Debenham, Elswell and Ixworth. At a time when our budgets are being cut, we are looking to reduce the costs of our premises in order to preserve police officer numbers where possible and maintain frontline service delivery.

People who live and work in these villages will be reassured by our commitment to keep officers locally based whilst meeting the challenging cuts in funding.

An explanation is required. It may be that someone has looked at the figures given in the press release which showed the Fire Service spending £215,000 on construction and the police £599,000 — a total of £824,000.

The savings annual were said to be £25,000 a year over the the 25 years of the project. That is a total of £625,000.

In other words, even over 25 years the investment would not be recovered. There would still be £199,000 outstanding.

That does not seem to be a good deal in this time of cuts and deficit reduction. It does suggest that efficiency savings are difficult to achieve.

Suffolk County Council: doubts about ability to control back office spending

While the early announcement of proposals to cut £50m from Suffolk County Council spending in the coming two years is welcome it also provides hints about where some problems lie, among them getting the costs of back office services under control.

The purpose is to allow for consultation. The bullet points are:

  • Council-wide efficiency savings (1.5% per year across all departments) – £15m
  • Early intervention, coordination and streamlining adult social care – £15m
  • Reducing the cost of our back office – £6.5m
  • Early intervention and more integrated teams in children and young people’s services – £3.5m
  • Re-letting the council’s highways management contract – £2m
  • Reducing the amount of senior management – £2m
  • Reducing/rationalising office accommodation – £2m
  • Savings from better purchasing of services – £1.5m
  • Saving money on waste management – £1m.

Over the next few weeks a series of consultation meetings are being held. The press release is here.

But it is hard to see how some of these savings can be made without an effect on front line services. Cutting £15m from adult social care, for example, looks difficult.

The Ipswich Spy blog, an an excellent post,  suggests spending on the CSD joint venture with BT which provides many of the back office services has still not been tackled. The Spy says:

Unless Suffolk County Council improves its corporate response to overseeing contracts, not only will it fail to make the savings it has indicated, it will have to make savings to the front line to pay for the failure to properly control spending in the back office.

The best value evaluation of three models for future library services (in-house, county owned company, or a co-operative (Industrial and Provident Society) hints at these problems.

Last week, the cabinet whose the IPS model and the report says:

Models one and two [in-house and council owned company] assume that CSD services will continue to be provided at the same level and cost as currently. For the IPS model, it is prudently assumed that the current costs for HR and Finance (currently charged by CSD) will remain at the same level, with the IPS having the freedom to decide how to use this budget, including the possibility to employ an HR advisor within the IPS. ICT costs within the IPS have been estimated at approximately 4% of the organisation’s turnover. This is in line with industry benchmarks, and represents a lower cost than the current CSD ICT

A few pages further on the report says:

One of the major areas of savings identified in the financial modelling is the reduction in the level corporate overheads which are attributable the IPS library model. It is important to recognise that these overhead costs are the responsibility of Suffolk County Council, and will need to be managed downwards if genuine cash savings are to be realised. The 2012/13 and 2013/14 County Council budget will address this.

Put those two paragraphs together and they appear to suggests no reduction in the cost of the CSD contract relating to libraries is being envisaged. But the IPS would not need to buy them so so the apparent by the independent library service could be illusory.

It is all very confusing. But it is the first time I have seen an admission that CSD is not delivering value for money.

Branding Suffolk’s new library service

Many of the details of Suffolk County Council’s proposals for an Industrial and Provident Society to be an umbrella organisation for 44 libraries, are unclear. (The libraries will be members of the IPS and appoint the board.)

But on Tuesday at the Cabinet meeting we did hear about two of the jobs at the IPS. There will be a general manager and a marketing person. Of how many qualified librarians there was no mention.

On hearing this, I found myself wondering whether the first task of the IPS will be to design a new logo.

Maybe they will need this, because, according to the Best Value Evaluation:

Membership is also open to organisations who wish to start a library with the Suffolk Libraries branding (without County Council funding attached to it), by becoming a member of the Suffolk libraries network and buying the services offered by the IPS.

My emphasis.

Council offers only two years funding guarantee to run libraries

News that Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire is to be run by a private company which has been given a ten year contract, sets me wondering again about the terms being offered to run libraries in Suffolk.

On Tuesday at the County council cabinet we heard that the funding on offer to charitable organisations set up to run local libraries was guaranteed for only two years.

Forget the difference in scale and the politics, there is a basic business planning issue here. With ten years of funding, no doubt under a very complicated contract, it possible to make a committment.

With only two years of funding (we are still waithing for details) I am finding it very difficult to envisage any business plan that I could be a part of recommending to the community here in Debenham.

Thanks to the reader who pointed out the literal in the headline. I had “jlibraries”. Goes to show how much I need a proof reader.

‘Pusillanimous shrinking from responsibility’ at Suffolk CC

One of the things I enjoy about Caroline Page’s blog is her regard for the English language. As a Lib Dem County Councillor, she regularly reports on what is happening at SCC.

In her November report she draws attention a the use of the passive in information she was given at a briefing before this week’s cabinet meeting.

It was about the divestment of most of the highways service to a private company on the basis that “a fully integrated service model is considered to have the greatest potential to drive out savings and efficiencies whilst protecting the resilience of the service”.

She comments:

At the briefing for this I asked who this passive was referring to – eg. who it was who considered this option to have the ‘greatest potential’? I was told it was ‘the market’.I asked who ‘the market’ was? The answer was ‘a number of large and medium-size private companies’  with an interest in making a profit from this option.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to how disinterested this ‘market’ advice was. I would also like to remind you of the success of many past privatisations of public services in terms of customer service and cost. The railways, for example.

R.W.Burchfield, editor of the third edition of Flowler’s Modern English Usage , quotes a previous editor, Sir Ernest Gowers, on the use of the impersonal passive:

It often amounts to a pusillanimous shrinking from responsibility.

Gowers was a senior civil servant who wrote his best known book, Plain Words, at the request of the Treasury. I wonder if there is a copy in the library at Endeavour House. If not, there are plenty available on Amazon, new and second hand.

When Whitehall holds the purse strings councils are left with spin

Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee pledges that his council will not increase its taxes next year in an interview published on the front page of the East Anglian Daily Times today.

EADT front page "no tax increase, county pledge"In truth this is spin — the council has no choice. Whitehall has whispered a mafia-like offer into Mr Bee’s ear.

He heard the grant from central government would increase by 2.5 per cent provided he did not raise council tax. In other words, Suffolk would have to increase council tax by a huge amount to produce even a tiny increase in income from it.

I feel sorry for people like Mr Bee who go into local government because they want to make a difference but find themselves puppets of central government. They are in the business of “local management” rather than “local government”.

They are so dependent on central government funding that their job is not to provide a vision which their electors are prepared to pay for,  but to work out the least damaging way of implementing central policy.

The indications from today’s story in the EADT are that Suffolk is looking at how to make the best of of an unpleasant task, cutting £53m from county spending.

The concentration on cutting back management and the the fixed costs of property to protect, so far as they can, frontline services is welcome. It is also a time to look in every pocket in the wardrobe for money which can be used help pay for services.

The Treasury announcement that the government would find £805m to “persuade” councils not to increase tax is here.

James Hargrave has also picked up on the this topic saying: “We may just as well disband the County Council and save some money. It doesn’t even have the power to make meaningful local decisions (even if it wanted to).”

I am not sure I would go quite that far. But we do need to free local government from the shackles of Whitehall.

James also looks at the matter of democratic debate which I considered yesterday. He was not at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting but writes:

I have however attended previous Cabinet meetings and they are truly depressing for anyone who believes in democracy. Almost every decision is unanimous and there is nothing that would pass for real debate. “Self-congratulatory” is the word almost everyone used of the proceedings.

I guarantee you that your local parish council, village hall management committee, school governing body, cricket club you name it would be a much better place to look for democracy than Suffolk County Council’s cabinet.

He puts much of the blame on Labour’s move to cabinet government which, in the absence of opposition, is fundamentally undemocratic.

I also wonder whether modern photocopiers should take some of the blame. The papers I took away (there were more) from cabinet weighted 570g (1.25lb). It is not surprising that many councillors appear not to have read all the documents.

Providing all the information available has long been the bureaucrats way of protecting their backs. I welcome the depth of information available but it is time for the council to move to all electronic delivery with summaries hyperlinking to source material.

It would save a lot of trees too.

Sound of rubber stamps as Suffolk adopts library plan

It was hard to hear much of Suffolk County Council cabinet meeting yesterday because the sound equipment was badly adjusted. Twice a technician had to be called from some distant part of Endeavour House. And the battery in the roving mic used for questions from the public and backbenchers went flat: someone had to go in search of a new battery.

I could not help wondering why, if the council could not organise such things better, we should trust them with the decisions they were to make. Having a technician on hand at the start of a meeting and a spare battery in a pocket is so standard it should not need a formal risk assessment.

Yet it hardly mattered as the sound of rubber stamps being inked was clear as they started talking about the future of libraries.

Some things would have been better left unheard. Judy Terry, the cabinet member responsible for libraries, told us that 5% of £6m was £100,000. Pity they were not talking about the standards of maths in the community.

I thought I must have misheard her, but afterwards others confirmed they had heard the same. And the East Anglian Daily Times this morning reports (this paragraph is not in the online story) the county council will “finance 95 per cent of the cost of running local libraries, but the final 5% should be raised locally”.

Reading the papers (162 pages of them about libraries) it is clear that individual libraries will be required to raise 5% of what is called “direct costs”. That does give us the £100,000 figure. The total budget for the slimmed down library service is a bit over £6.5 million.

The rubber stamp was applied to the creation of a co-operative to run libraries, rather than a slimmed down in-house service or a company wholly owned by the council on the grounds that it would save most money and would best meet the localism policy.

It hardly mattered that no mention was made of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis which identified a weakness of community governance as: “Lack of direct democratic mandate for local library organisations (unless part of parish/town councils).”

Democracy in action did not seem very attractive in the Elizabeth Room of Endeavour House yesterday morning.

The scrutiny committee had looked at some of the issues before the meeting and came up with ten recommendations. The report to the cabinet said the majority of the scrutiny committee recommendations had been acted upon. Unfortunately it not say which had been ignored.

The only time the meeting (it would be misrepresentation to call it a debate) showed a spark of life was when Sandy Martin, the Labour leader asked a question of the cabinet. He wanted to know what they were doing about the scrutiny recommendation that,”any claims on secondary taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk”.

The reaction to this in the cabinet papers is: “The reference module, and the financial modelling in the Evaluation do not presuppose secondary taxation.”

Ms Terry elaborated saying that any secondary taxation would be voluntary. I don’t think she was suggesting that council tax payers could withhold a part of their payments if their local council decided to support their library.

The most amazing thing was that no mention was made of the overall recommendations of the the 121 page Best Value Evaluation Report. These were:

  1. Options 1 and 3 [slimmed down in-house service and a cooperative] are both considered as serious contenders for the future delivery of library services with the deciding factors being the risk appetite of the County Council and the level of commitment to community governance.
  2. The next phase of the work should include an in-depth review of the risks identified in both the community governance model and the selected structural delivery model in order to ensure that mitigation can be put in place to minimise the impact of risks identified in the adopted approach.

The decision was simply to adopt the co-operative model (an Industrial and Provident Society), without the recommended in-depth review of both approaches. It is subject to endorsement by the full council in December.

Members of the business development team who have clearly worked very hard on the the best value report must be wondering why they are employed by the council.

It is a relief that there is no threat to closure of any of the county’s 44 libraries but confidence in the plans needs the full examination of the risks identified by the business development team.

Suffolk’s new chief exec moves on tiny pay rise

Deborah Cadman

Deborah Cadman

Deborah Cadman, Suffolk County Council’s new chief executive, will be paid £155,000 a year, a very modest rise on her current salary at the East of England Development Agency.

She will probably count herself fortunate to have made even a small increase as her job as chief executive of the agency disappears in March next year as it is closed down as part of the Government’s cuts.

Her pay including a bonus at the EEDA (annual report) for last finical year was £151,000 plus other benefits worth £3,000 a year. There will be no bonus nor automatic annual rises in the Suffolk job.

It is an appointment which sends a signal that SCC which avoided the costs of head hunters is determined to be very careful with salaries from now on. It will even have a national importance as a sign that the executive salaries arms race is over in local government.

She was chosen from a shortlist of four candidates by an appointments board headed by Mark Bee, the council leader, with two of his Conservative colleagues and the Lib Dem and Labour leaders, Kathy Pollard and Sandy Martin.

So it was surprising to read in the press releasethat:

Deborah will also be responsible for leading the redesign of the way the council works, protecting frontline services and keeping council tax down – all priorities for the Conservative administration at Endeavour House.

Why did they make this party political point when the opposition leaders would surely share these objectives? Deleting the word “Conservative” would have made the appointment appear fully consensual. That is, unless the appointment board was divided.

Ms Cadman’s salary is £63,592 less than that of the former chief executive Andrea Hill and will substantial reduce the differential between highest and lowest paid employees.

The announcement of Ms Cadman’s appointment lists her challenges as:

  • Reducing the cost of senior management at Suffolk County Council
  • Working in partnership with other councils, businesses, the third sector and local community groups
  • Reducing the number and cost of public buildings in Suffolk
  • Dealing with increasing demand for council services
  • Delivering Suffolk’s ambitious broadband programme
  • Continuing the council’s openness, transparency and listening agenda whilst finding local, practical, solutions to community issues.

Before joining EEDA she was chief executive of St Edmondsbury Borough Council for six years. He start date at Suffolk has yet to be agreed but there will no doubt be an arrangement which will allow her to become involved at the county council very quickly.

Update: I am pleased to learn, from Lib Dem Caroline Page, that the decision of the appointments board was unanimous.

Choosing new county chief exec from shortlist of four

Will the mystery candidate from a short-list of four emerge as the new chief executive of Suffolk County Council tomorrow (Wed, Oct 19)? Three of the candidates to be interviewed are publicly known (BBC) but one is not and is from outside the county.

Lucy Robinson, who has been the interim chief executive since the departure of andrea Hill, is the in-house candidate. Her substantive job is director of economy, skills and the environment.

Deborah Cadman is head of the East of England Development Agency which is to be closed early next year. She was previously chief executive of St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

Stephen Baker is chief executive of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils who share a senior management team. He started working in local government in 1982 at Ipswich Borough Council.

The fourth candidate to be interviewed at Ipswich Town football ground tomorrow has not been revealed.

The appointments board’s decision may not be revealed immediately after its meeting at 6.30pm if the chosen person needs to inform his or her current employer first.

Mark Bee the council leader will chair the board along with two other Conservatives and the Lib Dem and Labour leaders, Kathy Pollard and Sandy Martin.

I feel sure they will be determined to reach a consensus decision to avoid the political issues which surrounded the appointment of Andrea Hill and her £218,000 a year salary.

We know the new chief executive will get about £160,000 a year. The whole appointment process has been conducted with careful eye on avoiding extravagance. No head hunters or consultants have been used.

Not only has this saved money but has sent a signal to the county staff that they are trusted to do the work themselves.

They whole process seems to have been designed to demonstrate that the council, under the new leadership of Mark Bee, has changed.

The new chief executive will mark a significant reduction in pay differentials. Andrea Hill was paid 18 times the national minimum wage. The new chief executive will earn 13 times more than someone on the minimum wage.

It does look as if Suffolk County Council has heeded the words of Will Hutton in his report on fair pay in the public sector earlier this year:

… some public sector executive pay has been rising for reasons no less opaque than in the private sector with little attendant rationale. There are anomalies and, before the current pay freeze , signs that in the more autonomous parts of the public sector the arms race effects in CEO private sector pay were being reproduced – albeit less markedly. And of course, at the taxpayer’s expense. The public has the right to know that pay is deserved, fair, under control and designed to drive improving public sector performance – and that there are no rewards for failure.