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What is the purpose of eastern region newspaper blogs?

Wordblog had its origins as a media blog before I retired. Since then there have been several small attempts to revive it but I just could not find the subject which would work. Local affairs seemed interesting at times but I could not a rationale, or audience, which would make it worthwhile.

That changed on Monday evening when I went to Winston school room to hear Andrea Hill, chief exec of Suffolk Council Council talk about local government in an age of austerity. This is something which needs a much bigger debate than it has been getting, and that debate should not be only on the terms dictated by the council through its consultations.

The job of blogs, certainly the sort I write, is to engage in and foster debate. Certainly I achieved that with Wordblog in its media guise. The trade press included it in its list of the 12 most influential media blogs in the UK.

Successful blogging requires people to read and comment on your own posts. At the same time you must go out and comment on other blogs. You link to sources of information and comments whether on other blogs or elsewhere, in newspapers for example.

So, I find myself now looking for others with whom to engage in the conversation which is at the heart of blogging. This is how I came to be looking at blogs at the East Anglian Daily Times.

This leads me to revert to my media blogging days. Back in October 2006 I asked: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs? The response was immediate and I followed-up with several more posts on the topic. I like to think I played a part in rethinking the important role of blogging in national newspapers.

Now I am looking for East Anglian blogs with which to engage and naturally considered those on the East Anglian Daily Times site. There are eight of them and they   bring me back to the question: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs.

EADT blogs

  • The Psyclist — last updated September 2010
  • Unspun — a bit better with three posts this month
  • North Stander — two posts this month
  • StUs blog — three posts this month
  • Flying with Witches — the author announces “2011 and I’m back”. Nothing since then and the previous post was last September. This blog comes up on an Evening Star page.
  • Take One — The last post, in April last year asks: Has Hollywood run out of ideas? The author Andrew Clark clearly has.
  • Unmissable — last post in September last year. Obviously become a couch potato.
  • Dines Days — Surely there has been something to blog about from parliament since July 7 last year.  Compare with Nick Robinson’s blog at the BBC.

Perhaps this was an EADT thing so I took a look at the Evening Star in Ipswich. Much the same state of affairs there. Even EdBlog, by the editor Nigel Pickover who has written excellent posts in the past, has been silent since October last year.

The picture at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich the picture is much the same. All three newspapers have the same over Archant, so it looks as if this has something to do with overall editorial direction.

In the four years since I asked the purpose of blogging in national newspapers there has been real progress. Blogs now provide a two-way conduit though which they engage with their readers.

Libraries have big economic value and boost house prices, US report

Suffolk County Council did not commission an independent economic impact study of our libraries before taking an axe to spending on them. Philadelphia has conducted an enquiry, by the the University of Pennsylvania, and found its libraries created more than $30 million worth of economic value in the 2010 financial year.

The American Libraries Magazine says:

Particularly noteworthy is the library’s impact on business development and employment, which has rightfully become an ongoing national concern. Survey respondents reported that they couldn’t have started, sustained, or grown an estimated 8,600 businesses without the resources they accessed at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Direct economic impact: Almost $4 million.

Librarians have come to expect that data will back up their positive effect on the creation of jobs (1,000 found work thanks to FLP [Free Library of Philadelphia] resources, pumping $30 million in salaries into the economy) and tax revenue ($1.2 million) in a given community. The Fels [university institute] study also offered a pleasant surprise: Researchers found that Philadelphia homes located within a quarter-mile of a branch library were worth an average of $9,630 more than homes outside that radius.

While this is an American report on free libraries in a major city the findings are fascinating (download a copy). At the very least they suggest that the county council should have carried out a proper investigation before deciding on cuts.

The consultation on Suffolk libraries is now open. I am not going to engage in in their options which make a mockery of the word consultation. But I will respond saying they need to go back to the drawing board.

Kathy Pollard, leader of the Lib Dem and Independent group on the council, also makes the good point that Suffolk libaries are among the cheapest in the country to run.

The American Libraries Magazine says: “As stressed as U.S. libraries have been by the economic downturn, the crisis seems to pale in comparison to public libraries in Britain”

Later: The East Anglian Daily Times is running a story headlined Suffolk: Why can Norfolk protect ibraries and school crossing patrols yet we can’t. Norfolk has larger cuts to make and the paper highlights the much more meaningful public consultations carried out by the northerly neighbour.

Whitehall boss orders inquiry into erosion of democracy

Gus O’Donnell, head of the British civil service has ordered an inquiry into the Government’s localism reforms and growing concerns that its “big society” plans risk eroding the basic democratic principles of transparency and ministerial accountability, according to the Guardian.

This is a pretty exact echo of the issues that are concerning many about Suffolk County Council’s new strategic direction. Yesterday Woodbridge councillor Caroline Page wrote about Suffolk Tories “riding roughshod over democracy“. I linked to her post and added some of my own doubts about the council’s claim to democratic probity.

The Guardian reports:

There are fears by those at the top of Whitehall that parliament’s fundamental right to hold the government to account for its actions is being tested by the scale of the coalition’s ambitions to devolve power from the centre to local communities and outsource services to charities and the private sector.

Gus O’Donnell, the head of the civil service, has asked a senior colleague to investigate the democratic impact of the government’s localism bill, which is intended to end Whitehall’s domination of the political system and devolve power to local people.

One of the problems we have is that there is no Suffolk official to make a similar investigation. On Monday evening I asked Andrea Hill, the chief executive of SCC whether her role was akin to that of a civil servant or traditional council chief or whether she initiated policy. She explained her role and did not deny initiating policy.

So locally we have no officials like senior civil servants to raise and examine such issues.That is a further democratic deficit.

Councillor says Tories “riding roughshod over democracy”

Caroline Page, the Lib Dem Suffolk County Councillor for Woodbridge, today accuses the Tories of “riding roughshod over democracy”. The issue is consultation over the future of care homes which she rightly describes as “a sham”.

She describes a meeting last week at which borough and district councils were invited to to “Have Your Say on the Future of Suffolk County Council’s (SCC) residential care homes”. It opened with the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services saying:

We have made a decision at cabinet level that we will no longer pay for care homes. So if you have come here wanting us to continue running care homes, you’re wasting your time. The decision has already been made.

Read Page’s post. It provides a good example of the lack of democracy at the heart of the county council’s cost-cutting new strategic direction.

A document described as “The New Strategic Direction Explained” uses a meaningless diagram of overlapping circles in an attempt to suggest democracy is at the heart of there scheme.

Under the heading “Democracy” it says:

In the future, the council will continue to make important decisions and as such democracy must remain at the heart of the council. The council’s emphasis on local solutions for local areas places an added importance on the role of all elected members as community leaders. Councillors will be encouraged and supported to work closely with their community to facilitate solutions to local problems and mobilise community involvement.

The diagram does say a lot: Divestment and something called Community Capacity have equal space with Democracy. And the policy for care homes is all to do with Divestment, not Democracy.

I am certainly do not support a policy which has at its heart reducing the pay of care workers. Andrea Hill, Chief Executive of SCC, this week gave as example of the ways in which this policy would be cheaper — while council care homes paid care staff overtime, private ones did not.

Hill herself of course refuses to take a pay cut.

High paid council chief seeks ways to cut pay of others

On Monday I went to the nearby village of Winston, Suffolk, to hear Andrea Hill, chief executive of the county council talk about local government in an age of austerity.

She is paid £218,000 a year putting her among the best paid council bosses in the country. Not much austerity there then, although she has passed on two pay rises which would have taken her pay to £229,000.

It would be very interesting to know what her total package including allowances and pension contributions is worth. Perhaps that is something the East Anglian Daily Times (EADT) which today called on her to take a pay cut whould like to investigate.

One of the things that surprised me at Winston was that she said one of her tasks was to find ways of transferring staff to other organisations without them taking their county council terms and conditions of employment with them.

Not surprising that this is something she is trying to do, but surprising that she should say so in a public meeting.

Finding ways to cut other people’s pay must be a reason why she is paid so highly. It is also a horrible reflection on the society in which we live: talk about building a “big society” while screwing others.

The “strategic direction” (aka cutting costs) at Suffolk County Council involves contracting work out to charities, social entrepreneurs, parish councils and using volunteers to do work which has been done by honest paid men and women.

The EADT wants all of the 250 or more people working for the council on salaries of more than £50,000 a year to take pay cuts. I suspect that many of them will have no choice if they are forced out to work with some of the new organisations which will provide the contracted-out services. Ms Hill is determined to see people who are transferred to other employers, move on less favourable terms.

Kathy Pollard, a Lib Dem county councillor points out in her blog that the bill for managers earning over £50k has gone up from £6m five years ago to £16m last year.