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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Suffolk libraries plan is ‘novel’ and untried

It seems that Suffolk library users are the guinea pigs in an experiment. Library staff in the county have been asking their senior management questions about the plans to divest libraries to communities and getting answers.

This Q&A from earlier this month is from about 60 closely typed pages which have been released as a result of a Freedom of Information request:

Can you tell us of any examples in other industries or government where this rather fragmented model of service delivery runs successfully?

(reply 14/3/11) This is a novel approach, developed in Suffolk. Other library services have put libraries into community control, but have not attempted to retain them in a network of service points.

This is the penultimate response in the documents (it is less confusing to read them from the bottom) which contain a lot of information which is likely to be useful to any group making an expression of interest in running a library.

The PDF documents can be downloaded here. Q&As July-Nov 2010 and Q&As December 2010- March 2011. They are also available at Wikisuffolk. I will be reading them carefully and posting other extrcacts in the next few days.



Another attack on Andrea Hill — pressure mounts

It is not surprising that the Mail on Sunday ran a comment article on Suffolk’s high-paid county council chief executive, Andrea Hill yesterday. Its sister paper the Daily Mail has had its teeth into this story for months.

What is surprising is that it was written by Kathy Pollard, Lib Dem leader on the council, and her colleague Caroline Page, who represents Woodbridge. It underlines the breakdown in relations between Pollard and Hill which was revealed last week.

Pollard and Page write in the MoS:

The chief executive of a publicly listed company is tasked with taking shareholders’ money and making it multiply. They need to be entrepreneurial, risk-taking. The value of their shares can go down as well as up and it is fair to remunerate them accordingly.

The chief executive of a county council, on the other hand, takes no risks, makes no profits – all they are asked to do is to spend our money wisely on our public services. Far from being entrepreneurs, they are glorified quartermasters.

Yet a lot of these executives have little experience of real life. All they have ever known is how to ‘administer’ things in a local government context.

Unelected, unaccountable, graced with what ordinary people often feel are screamingly undeserved salaries, they have risen without trace within the largely unaudited, unquestioning world of local government fiefdoms.

There can be no doubt that a large proportion of the Suffolk taxpayers see Hill as the problem. Her wages are considerably higher than those of David Cameron. And on top of that she spends their money on seemingly whacky training, a glamorous photo shoot and more.

Yet the extent to which she is responsible for the policies which are seeing school crossing patrols and lower-cost travel for students ended, recycling centres closed, retirement homes likely to be sold, bus services reduced and libraries under threat is unclear.

These are decisions for the Conservative cabinet and the overwhelmingly Tory councillors. But there is a lack of clarity about where the policies are really originating.

If council leader Jeremy Pembroke and his cabinet colleagues would take a much more public stance in explaining their policies and justifying them it might take some of the pressure off Hill. It may well be too late for that as Hill has become the story of Suffolk County Council.

The attacks on Hill are the most obvious symptom of the frustration of people who feel they have little chance of influencing policy. Something needs to change, and change quickly.

Footnote: Two more Suffolk political blogs, neither of which are known for leftist views, have, over the weekend, called for Hill to go. They are Bridge Ward News and A Riverside View.

Why is Andrea Hill under attack rather than political leaders?

Suffolk is in national newspapers — Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph — again this morning for the wrong reason. It is, of course, the on-going saga of Andrea Hill, the county council’s chief executive.

This time the story is about the row between her and Kathy Pollard who said on her blog that it was time for Hill to go (see my previous post) and the rise in the cost of “gagging” orders on former employees.

When the “gagging” orders story broke locally with a story in the East Anglian Daily Times in February, I was rather dismissive. This clause is often in agreements when staff leave in acrimonious circumstances but a settlement is reached before the case gets to an Industrial Tribunal. I would be very surprised if the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and Archant (the owner of daily papers in Ipswich) had not also used them.

But the fact remains that the cost of such settlements at SCC has doubled in a couple of years which suggests an unhappy workplace.

The unwritten story beneath this saga is the question of who is making policy in Suffolk — Andrea Hill or the Conservative political leadership?

The transcript of a presentation on the New Strategic Direction (becoming an “enabling” authority which does not directly run services) shows it was made by Hill and Pembroke, the Conservative leader, was relegated to answering a question.

Looking at press coverage and the council’s website it seems clear that Hill is the main explainer and justifier of the policy, not Pembroke.

The cuts in services because of reduced government funding seem to be worse than needed because of the costs of the New Strategic Direction. School crossing patrols are going as are youth clubs, retirement homes are to be sold or closed, libraries are under threat, reduced travel fares for the young have gone, recycling centres closing.

The common belief in the county is that it is really Hill behind the painful policy. And there is a lot of anger about the way she spends money and her pay.

Today’s story links: Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Eastern Daily Press.

‘Irretrievable breakdown’ in relations between council chief exec and opposition leader

The “irretrievable breakdown” of the relationship between Suffolk County Council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill, and opposition leader, Kathy Pollard, while not surprising, is a serious rift.

The Evening Star reports on its front page today:

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard wrote a blog in which she said the county council’s chief Andrea Hill had become an object of hate on the streets of Suffolk and added “if I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.”

At a meeting Mrs Hill and Mrs Pollard had a “forthright” discussion about the blog, which resulted in Mrs Pollard saying that their relationship had “irretrievably broken down.”

The county’s communications department did not want to comment on what was seen as a “political” attack on the chief executive.

However, the Conservative administration said it was wrong for a politician to attack a council officer who was not in a position to answer back.

Evening Star front pageThe full story is in the print edition but not online.

A council chief executive has a responsibility for ensuring that both cabinet and backbench councillors receive all the facilities and officer support necessary to fulfil their respective roles (source: Department of Communities and Local Government).

Kathy Pollard wrote on her blog on March 9, after an Evening Star revelation about training costs at SCC: “If I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.” She referred to two blogs which had called for Ms Hill to resign.

Since then the two women met for what should have been a regular quarterly meeting. Afterwards Cllr Pollard told the Evening Star:

We had a very forthright discussion. She said she was not happy with my blog and I said I was reflecting the views of the people of Suffolk and that people were talking to me about this all the time….
I said I thought our relationship had irretrievably broken down.

There are conventions that council officers are politically impartial and that politicians do not attack them. Those two conventions seem to be at the heart of this row.

As background, it is illuminating to read what Cllr Pollard wrote in her blog of February 23. She then said that the decision, in March 2008, to appoint Ms Hill was taken by a five-person selection committee at which three Conservatives voted for the appointment. Cllr Pollard and the Labour leader voted against. Opposition, to the appointment and salary, was carried into the council chamber when the appointment was ratified.

A statement from the Conservative cabinet to the Evening Star today says:

We are all aware that Cllr Pollard is engaging in political point-scoring in the run up to the local elections.
To do so by criticising council officers — who, as she knows, are prevented by protocol from answering back — shows up their complete lack of actual policies to move Suffolk forward.

I have not asked Cllr Pollard to comment but, for the record,  at the last full council meeting she proposed an amendment to the Conservative budget which would have kept all libraries open, maintained school crossing patrols, and retained funding for youth clubs and the eXplore card, among other things. The money would have come from alternative savings and reserves.

Libraries: statutory requirement checklist

The Save Doncaster Libraries campaign has obtained the checklist below through a Freedom of Information request to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It comes from a presentation made by the MLA to the Donacaster council but their advice to other councils is likely to be very similar.

The statutory requirement of the Public Libraries Act to deliver a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. This requires understanding of:

  • The council’s local priorities and financial constraints
  • The profile and needs of different local communities
  • Delivery models and best practice from elsewhere
  • Comparative impact of alternative approaches to delivering the service

What resources are available and how does this match the needs?

  • Have you analysed and considered need and demand?
    specific needs of adults and young people?; all ages? (and what contribution are communities able and willing to make?)
  • What are the needs of those living and working and studying in the area?
  • How accessible will the service be- transport / physical access?
  • Have the communities been consulted? How?
  • What are the views of users / what do we know re views of non users?
  • Have you done an Equality Impact Assessment?
  • What implications are there for other strategies – info from other partners?
  • Are there other partnerships that can be tapped into?
  • Will the service be adequate – how can it be better used?

How efficient is the current service?

  • Are the buildings fit for purpose in terms of access, condition etc?
  • Can the facilities be used more flexibly?
  • What other delivery partnerships could be formed inside and outside Doncaster? (Y&H/other similar authorities)
  • Who else is serving the needs of the target communities?
  • Is the current mode of delivery both meeting the demand and cost efficient?
  • Is a physical presence needed?
  • What is being done to encourage use (and maximise income?)
  • What scope is there for combining services?

You can see the full FoI request and response at Save Doncaster Libraries.

Two council chief execs take redundancy as Mid Suffolk and Babergh merge

The chief executives of Mid Suffolk and Babergh district councils which are being merged will between them get redundancy pay and pension contributions totalling £500,000. This is not as much as suggested by the online version of the front page East Anglian Daily Times story which is headed, “Departing Babergh and Mid Suffolk council chiefs to get £500,000 pay-offs” (note the plural).

To most of us it is a lot of money. But they have held down responsible jobs and this is what their contracts entitle them to. Pat Rockall at Babergh will get £95,700 in redundancy pay plus £173,800 in her pension pot.

Andrew Good at Mid Suffolk will get £84,500 in redundancy money and £159,200 for his pension.

Political leaders of both councils stressed that the two chief execs, who did not apply for the job at the unified council, were being paid only what their contracts required. But Tim Passmore, leader of Mid Suffolk council said he was not happy about the high figures involved.

The size of the pay-offs does not worry me greatly, but I am concerned that too often mergers are much more costly to implement than than initially suggested. And frequently the economies which are promised fail to materialise. As a Mid Suffolk tax payer, I hope I am wrong about this.

The new chief executive Charlie Adan will earn £111,467 a year. This is mid-way between the pay of her two predecessors. So that is one tangible saving of more than £100,000 a year.

National Chimney Academy opens in Suffolk

With Suffolk schools seeming to be converting to academies as fast as the application forms can be processed, this headline caught my attention: National Chimney Academy opens in Suffolk.

But is appears vocational training has not been extended to sending little boys up chimneys. The report in Heating and Ventilating News is about a new “training facility”, said to be the largest in the country, opened by a company called Specflue in Sudbury.