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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Andrea Hill’s future remains uncertain as council committee adjourns

A meeting of Suffolk County Council Dismissals Appeals Committee,  considering the future of Chief Executive Andrea Hill, was adjourned this evening (Thusday, June 30).


The committee will meet again on Monday, July 4.  The previous meeting decided that while some issues had been resolved the independent inquiry into allegations about the treatment of staff, should be extended to to cover hotel expenses.
Ms Hill has been effectively suspended since she returned from a holiday eight weeks ago.

Barnet council recognises bloggers as ‘valuable asset’

Recognition of the growing importance of local news/blog sites from, of all unexpected sources, Barnet council. In its State of the Borough report (pdf), it says:

The local blogging community has expanded during 2010-11. In the last six months, almost 1,000 stories about Barnet have been posted on local blogs, and roughly 300 tweets make reference to Barnet (the Council, the place or other areas within the borough) every day.

An active and involved citizenry should be regarded as a valuable asset. The challenge for the Council and its partners is how to engage productively with residents to develop a balanced dialogue using new channels.

Not the Barnet Times Mr Reasonable, The Barnet Eye, Broken Barnet, Barnet Bugle, and, no doubt, others have been examining the council closely. Their  latest success has been to expose the MetPro security scandal which came into the public eye after bloggers noticed members of the public being filmed coming into a council meeting.

Here in Suffolk there has also been a growth in blogging and tweeting about the county council. Reports suggest the same is happening in many other places.

Communities ‘Paying the Bill’ for carnivals

If the police want to be seen as a part of local communities they are going about it a funny way here in the East. And apparently around the whole country.

A big item on BBC Look East last night was about carnivals in crisis. The reason: charges for police road closures as parades pass through towns and villages.

At Caister, Norfolk, the carnival is jeopardy after this year the procession took place around the King George V playing field instead for through the village.

Parish council vice-chairman Tony Baker, told the Great Yarmouth Mercury:

I think it is a great shame that a carnival in a village like this, which has a very good relationship with the police, is going to lose one of the main parts of the carnival just because the police can’t provide the officers for the road closures and carry out the traffic patrols on the route itself.

At Aldeburgh in Suffolk a procession through the seaside town will go ahead but the organisers are facing a funding crisis because of a £5,000 bill for policing, according to the East Anglian Daily Times. The carnival is on August 13—15.

Lowestoft carnival procession has been cancelled and in Beccles the route has been changed to avoid policing charges.

Carnival processions are a quintessential part of English summer life. Events at which the police can show themselves as a part of the communities in which they work.

But we seem to be drifting into a national police force, removed from its roots. The Association of Chief Police Officers has issued national advice which includes charging carnivals up to 75% of the cost of policing.

The guidance document (pdf) headed “Paying the Bill” — is the pun intentional?— covers a whole range of charges and runs to 63 pages.

At the same time forces around the country are expected to provide “mutual assistance” to London during next year’s Olympics. Presumable no charge for that.

County’s employees fall by 850 in year

The eight per cent fall in the numbers employed by Suffolk County Council, reported by the East Anglian Daily Times today, is substantial. But there is little in the way of an answer to the question of whether it is the right people who have gone.

Jane Storey, deputy leader of the council, told the paper:

We are restructuring the county and that is meaning that the number of jobs is falling. Most of those jobs are in administrative roles, coming from the restructuring, rather than in frontline services because we are aware that people still need the services we offer.

The information that a quarter of the 80 top paid staff have left in the past year, tends to confirm that claim.

But Cathy Pollard, the opposition leader, said:

Part of the problem is we have to take these figures at face value because there is no longer an effective human resources panel at the county.

Having said that, it is not clear whether this news is good or bad. We want the council to be more efficient and this should be going along that way – but we don’t really know whether these jobs are administrative or frontline.

The drop in the number of senior managers has saved £1.8m, out of a £7m estimate, in nine months. Redundancy costs are not known.

The total number of employees has fallen by 851 to 9,605 in a year, contributing to cost savings of £18m last year. This was about £2.8m more than expected.

Ms Storey said the number of carers had remained the same while there were now more social workers supporting vulnerable children and adults.

New date for meeting to consider Andrea Hill’s future

The delayed meeting to consider the future of Suffolk County Council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill, will be held on Thursday.

The meeting was to have been held last Friday but has been rearranged and will be given a report on further investigations which include an examination of expenses claims for hotel stays.

Ms Hill has not been at work since returning from holiday on April 18. She was asked to take extended leave allegations about treatment of staff in the legal department were investigated.

The Dismissal Appeals Committee agenda for the meeting at 2pm on Thursday, from which the press and public will be excluded, is here.

Private Eye on Suffolk libraries plan

Much excitement today about an item in Private Eye’s Library News which compares Suffolk county Council’s suggestion that a community interest company should be responsible for its libraries with problems over a CIC in Glasgow.

The Eye says:

Before Suffolk rushes ahead, a glance at Glasgow might be informative. in 2007 the city council there outsourced all its museums, libraries and leisure centres by setting up Culture and Sport Glasgow, an arms-length charitable company with a CIC to operate as a “trading arm” and do the things a charity legally couldn’t.

There are cuts and redundancies facing all the services provided through Culture and Sport Glasgow, now expensively rebranded as Glasgow Life.

But while we know little about Suffolk’s plans, which seem to be for a social enterprise, possibly a CIC, to administer the county libraries, the comparisons with Glasgow are limited.

The CIC in Glasgow was set up to handle trading parts of the organisation, in much the same way as other major charities use them to run their shops. It represents a tiny part of the service.

Glasgow Life is a charity, funded largely by the City Council, which has got to make savings of £10m over three years (BBC). But this is on a £100m plus annual budget (Glasgow Life annual review).

That is a small cut compared with the 30% saving Suffolk CC is demanding in its library budget over thee years.

Outsourcing and contract management in Suffolk and Barnet

The easyBarnet outsourcing scheme, to which Suffolk’s New Strategic Direction bore some uncanny similarities, has come under pressure this week with a damning audit report on a security contract.

Patrick Butler, in his cuts blog at the Guardian, examines how the MetPro scandal was uncovered by bloggers. His post starts:

After the demise of Suffolk’s “virtual” council (and the electoral scuppering of Bury’s “enabling” council) it is the turn of the daddy of all Conservative-led, outsourcing-driven council reforms programmes to come under the critical spotlight: Barnet’s Flagship “easy council” project.

MetPro was given the security contract without any of the basic checks and without putting the work out to tender. But it was filming of members of the public attending council meetings that brought it to attention of Barnet’s effective group of bloggers.

It was also Barnet bloggers who first spotted the co-incidence of the similarity of the Barnet and Suffolk councils policies and the common factor of Max Wide, who had been seconded to both councils by his employer BT.

He has been described as playing a pivotal role in both policies. See my earlier post, Has BT gained too much influence in local government?

As in Barnet, the control of contracts is an issue in Suffolk. Michael Gower, who resigned from his job as head of supplier relationship management at SCC a year ago, told the Guardian he had made proposals to cut costs in the £100m Consumer Services Direct deal with BT. He continued:

Every attempt to make these changes was frustrated, mostly as a result of interventions by the chief executive.

Suffolk county council is not getting value for money out of one of its largest contracts. We were incapable of making the decisions needed to deliver the multimillion pound savings to the benefit of the council taxpayers of Suffolk.

Realistically, the new leader of the Suffolk Council, Mark Bee, has not had the time yet to address this issue and follow his mantra of transparency by telling us what he has done.

The council has announced it is to press ahead with the sale of elderly care homes, after the Southern Cross debacle (Evening Standard). The company owns eight homes in Suffolk.

Lib Dem councillor Caroline Page has quoted Age UK as saying:

In future, we would like to see all home care providers having to demonstrate to regulators a solid business model. Without this they should not be able to run care homes. The sector would benefit from greater transparency.

It would have been good to hear a similar endorsement that view from Mark Bee and the ruling conservative group.

And this week the scrutiny committee’s libraries report included this recommendation:

that the Council retain the ability to ensure that the terms offered by the community interest company were sufficient to maintain a sustainable service.

Why did the all-party committee feel that needed saying?

It is reasonable to expect that SCC should provide credible evidence that its risk assessment, supplier management and audit systems are capable of effectively dealing with the complexities of outsourcing to private companies and social enterprises.

High court halts Gloucestershire library closures

The High Court today issued an injunction stopping library cuts in Gloucestershire until a hearing next month when  a challenge, supported by campaigners, will be heard.

The injunction’s terms include a bar on the county council transferring or agreeing to transfer any library building or lease or responsibility for any existing library, and transferring any mobile library or other library asset (such as computers, shelving etc). No funds can be withdrawn or library closed while the injunction is in force.

At the hearing next month the council will challenge the injunction.

The BBC quotes theleader of Gloucestershire county council saying:

This is very frustrating for council taxpayers and community groups. They are being forced into a costly legal process at a time when 20 communities have stepped forward with innovative and exciting business plans to take over their local facility.

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries said:

Whilst we regret it has come to this we did warn Gloucestershire County Council from the start that this would happen. 15,000+people signed  a petition calling on them to pause and carry out an impartial, independent review of their proposals. The“consultation” feedback shows  that the public overwhelmingly rejected their plans. There was coordinated day of protest in every library in the county. All of this yet they refused to listen and have instead chosen to walk into an expensive court case. We welcome this news we received today. At last there is some hope. We support the legal challenge and are raising funds for it.

The progress of this case has been followed closely, since its inception, by campaigners in Suffolk. While many aspects of the situation here are different there are significant similarities.

Sources: BBC, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries

Libraries: hopes of new meeting of community groups and Suffolk CC

On Wednesday I was a rather pessimistic (earlier post) about the previous day’s Suffolk County Council scrutiny committee where I feared the opportunity of opening further constructive talks on libraries had somehow slipped away.

Today things are looking more hopeful following a press release from the council and the reaction of one of the campaigners who gave evidence to the committee.

The press release, issued quickly and before formal minutes are available, clarifies the committee’s recommendations.

Colin Hart, who chairs the committee thanked those who had given evidence and said:

This was a valuable exercise in scrutinising an issue before decisions are taken and I hope and expect our recommendations will make a positive contribution to the new policy that is being developed.

The release which includes the valuable recommendations of the committee has not yet appeared on the county council website, but my copy is here.

James Hargrave, one of the campaigners who gave evidence to the committee, reacted on his blog saying:

I am hopeful that there is now an opportunity for all sides to sit down and discuss the situation and work together for the good of the counties libraries.

During the meeting on Tuesday a meeting was suggested, but it seemed to me that the opportunity faded away. Now, I hope it is back on track.

The press release quotes Judy Terry the council cabinet member responsible for libraries saying:

I am extremely grateful for the comments from committee members, representatives of various campaign groups and those who have submitted bids. We’re continuing to listen and will base future policy on exhaustive consultation with the people of Suffolk.

The scrutiny committee recommendations are:

  • the classification of County Libraries and Community Libraries referred to in the Consultation document is not a reasonable basis for a policy;
  • the potential community interest company agrees individual budgets for each library;
  • the business case considered by Cabinet should clearly demonstrate how the community interest company service would operate across the whole of Suffolk;
  • that the Council retain the ability to ensure that the terms offered by the community interest company were sufficient to maintain a sustainable service;
  • any claims on secondary taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk;
  • due consideration be given to innovative ideas that have already come forward and any others that are received  from communities on how their services might be run;
  • the policy on mobile libraries be clearly stated in the report to Cabinet;
  • the Council provide absolute clarity to communities interested in running their libraries on issues they were likely to raise such as finance, staffing and legal issues;

East Anglian Daily Times calls for 10% pay cut for top 79 county officials

Another day and another story about Suffolk County Council and money in the Archant newspapers. The East Anglian Daily Times “reveals” the pay of the top earners (79 of them).

The median pay is about £70,000 a year. The average would be  higher, largely because of the huge differential between Andrea Hill (£215,000) and the next highest paid (£125,000).

Jane Storey. deputy leader of the council, tells the paper: “Suffolk County Council published these figures last October as part of our efforts to be as open and transparent as possible.”

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Yes, they were published and I found them several months ago. But a look at the press release archive shows no evidence of a public announcement.

Publishing on a website without telling people is hardly being transparent.

The money paid to these senior people will shock many and some salaries will shock most people.

But caution is needed. The rates for many of the jobs need to be compared to those of other professionals, doctors, lawyers, head teachers and accountants for example.

The 10% (figure amended to correct error) across the board cut advocated by the EADT would almost certainly throw up examples of injustice.

While the paper produces the salaries as a list (not online), the  source document which is online is in the form of organisation charts. I am not management consultant but it looks to me top-heavy.

Do we really need to have three tiers of management above the head librarian? But that post has been made redundant while the upper layers remain intact.

In fact, a number of jobs in the list are now redundant or vacant.

A flattening of the organisation structure would not only bring savings but would make the whole organisation more responsive.

The EADT also mentions research by the Lib Dems showing that the total wage bill for high earners at the council had gone up from £6m to £16m over the last five years.

Ms Storey tells the paper that the number of senior management posts had been reduced and the council has the lowest cost executive management pay bill in all counties in the Eastern Region.