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Look west to see how a council can use social media

A few months ago I spent a pleasant hour-or-two talking about social media with Mark Bee, the leader of Suffolk County Council. It had been arranged by the council press officer, Andrew St Ledger who had invited me along with another blogger and a MSM journalist.

I remember saying that social media involved two way conversations and that people at the council had to be trusted. They would have to be brave and accept risks, to gain the benefits.

Since then I have not seen much sign of change (these things don’t happen overnight), but think Mark Bee and his colleagues, might like to know what is happening at Monmouthshire County Council. Or, rather, let Helen Reynolds, a communications officer at the Monmouthshire council, tell them.

She has written an excellent blog post at We Love Local Government, about what has happened since they opened social media access to all staff. she writes:

This seems to be a rare thing in the public sector, I don’t know another organisation that has done it. People often ask how it’s going and my answer is usually ‘well, the world hasn’t ended’. In fact, it’s really breathing life into our council and communities at a time when our organisation is going through a lot of change.

As we said in the staff e-zine when we first opened access, one of our values is openness and our staff are trusted to make the most of the networks and conversations possible using social media. Social media is a great way for us to engage more effectively with colleagues, residents and partners so it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed.

We’ll make some errors and we still have work to do on getting better at using these channels but we’ve made a start.

I usually take these “look how forward thinking we are” pieces with a large pinch of salt. But I have taken a look, and think they really are doing something fresh which almost certainly reflects a big cultural change in the Cwmbran offices.

Here are some links for those who want to explore:

I found it exciting. I hope the people in Endeavour House, Ipswich, can see the possibilities.

Winsor’s police report ‘outrageously snobbish’

My concerns that the professionalisation of journalism has led to the media loosing understanding of large parts of the community it should serve, must now extend to the police.
 

Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator who has turned his attention to policing, uses the term “blue collar” in a way which is symptomatic of attitudes to manufacturing, the decline of which we are all regretting now.
 

His report is an epitome of middle classes converting skilled work into “professions” with qualifications which ensure their own children get the jobs.

This is what he says in in the final report of his review of police pay and conditions:
 

For too long, policing has been unfairly regarded by many as an occupation of an intellectually largely undemanding nature, with more in common with blue-collar work for skilled manual workers who clock in and out. The roots of policing are firmly in such an environment, and for many decades that is what it was. Policing today is entirely different, and yet so much of its ethos is of the past. The attitudes of some police officers today remain fastened in that mindset. It holds them back, and it reinforces or corroborates the lower social and professional standing with which too many people wrongly associate policing and police officers. If policing is to become the profession which it deservedly should, police officers must come to think of themselves not as the blue-coated workers of the past, but the practitioners of a profession which requires skills and attitudes which are distinctly above those of factory workers. Policing should be a career and a vocation which is attractive to the brightest and the best in our society, as well as the people of considerable quality who are already part of it.

It is the most outrageously snobbish thing I have read in a long time. It is elitist, reeking of prejudice against making things. If it was not so clearly prejudiced, it would be deeply insulting to many fine people working in the police now.
 
Of course, the police need very well educated people to deal with very sophisticated and intelligent criminals but they also have to be in touch with the communities it polices by consent.
 
The increasingly national police force does need reform but not change which will make it more remote from the unemployed of Newcastle and the girl on the 37 bus through Clapham.

 

Perhaps we need to look at the idea of having national or provincial police forces for serious matters and local forces for day-to-day matters. That is the way they do it in many countries and it has the benefit of ensuring there are policemen who know their communities very well.
 
All the national newspapers have reports of Widsor’s report. The Guardian’s is here.

Suffolk: And now there are eight little libraries…

The collapse of the Ipswich libraries co-operative (previous post) is a huge blow to Suffolk County Council’s plan for community governance, almost halving the number of libraries in pilot schemes.

When the pilots were announced there were 14 libraries and now just eight remain to test something which has not been tried anywhere else.

None of the large libraries are among the eight remaining: Aldeburgh, Bungay, Sudbury, Thurston, Wicham Market and Eye, Debenham and Stradbroke (as a cluster of three).

Pilot libraries with local management organisations are intended to be the first to sign agreements with the Industrial and Provident Society. This would make them members of the IPS and entitled to vote for its directors. The first elections must be held within the next 18 months.

Under the heading, Enhancing governance… vision: stronger community governance, a report to the council last year said:

This model has local governance at its heart, and provides an additional incentive for local organisations to take on library services. The IPS itself, providing central services and coordination, is governed by the organisations running local library services. The Company Board is elected by these local organisations with democratic “one member one vote” principles, and all Board members have to be part of an organisation running local library services and using the central enabling services of the IPS.

There is a risk around governance if many communities do not take on local library governance. The IPS would then have limited number of members and uneven representation of libraries.

And since then the council has changed the rules setting the hurdle, for community library organisations to become members of the IPS, higher.

James Hargrave has an excellent blog post on this today. In short, the rules have been changed so that instead of setting up a simple association, communities would need to register limited companies, probably with charitable status. This would mean all the overheads of two annual reports, audited accounts and require about 270 people to become directors, if all libraries are to be represented.

As we know know the six libraries in Ipswich will be run directly by the IPS , for the time being at least, the threat of “uneven representation” is looking very real.

Whether all the remaining pilots will consider it worth going through the administrative hoops is unclear.

The analysis looked at what would happen if the IPS failed after the service had been transferred to it. This is what it says:

The reputational damage to the County Council may not be too significant, as the County Council would have genuinely tried to do something different with the library service empowering communities to run the service.

The change in the IPS membership rules is something of a mystery. We know that the county council has been advised by The Guild, a business support consultancy, in Norwich. The advice changed at some point.

But the biggest problem remains that the IPS was set up for political reasons against the overwhelming response to the consultation calling on the council to continue running libraries.

The expressions of interest were largely made by communities believing that if they did nothing their local libraries would be closed.

The council cabinet seems to have buried its collective head in the sand and believed that there was enthusiasm to set up local bodies to running libraries. There was not, an is not.

Biggest Suffolk libraries pilot scheme collapses

The biggest of the pilot schemes for a divested Suffolk library service, a co-operative in Ipswich, has collapsed.

The news, first revealed by James Hargrave on his blog, was confirmed in an email to library supporters in Ipswich. It reads:

After several months of hard work we have decided that the Ipswich Libraries Co-operative proposal did not fit with the ambitions of the Ipswich County Library and that of the Gainsborough Community Library. With the best intentions of the users and staff in mind it is felt that an independent activity would be more able to meet their needs.

Each of the Ipswich libraries will now be working directly with the IPS until it is clear what form of governance for each library will best work within the new set-up. We will of course let you know when we have made alternative plans, please do get in touch if you would like more information or would like to offer your assistance. We understand that this may have caused inconvenience but we believe that the decision will lead to a better future.

This will be a blow to the County Council which had established a number of pilot schemes to test various approaches to local management of libraries under a county-wide Industrial and Provident Society.

The IPS itself is looking increasingly fragile, under the chairmanship of Clive Fox whose library manager in Aldeburgh, another of the pilots, has resigned over the plans there.

Another pilot scheme, the cluster of Debenham, Eye and Stradbroke, has yet to make much progress because of the range and complexity of property issues to be settled first.

The County Council has always know that the IPS to run the service under contract to the council was the riskiest of the three options it considered.

As the risk analysis considered by the council said, the deciding factors between a continued in house service and the IPS were, “likely to be the risk appetite of the County Council and the level of commitment to community governance”.

On both counts they seem to have called it wrongly. And there have been scant signs yet of leadership from the IPS. There are whispers that contingency plans are being prepared.

Nuclear planning reports fail to mention storm flooding and shutdown

Three major reports on sea defences for a new nuclear power station do not mention a storm surge which shut down an earlier nuclear plant on the site.

1607 — England's worst natural disaster. Severn estuary has long history of storm surges

A fourth report now says there has been a loss of “corporate memory” about earlier events, the most serious in 1981. And it says, data used by consultants, who did not have local knowledge, goes back only to 1990.

This revelation comes after the uncovering by newspapers of another previously unpublished analysis which puts 12 of 19 nuclear sites in the UK at risk of flooding (Guardian).

A map shows that the risk of flooding at Sizewell, Suffolk, is “high” now and towards the end of the century, as is the erosion risk. The East Anglian Daily Times quotes EDF, which owns the station, saying they were confident the site was adequately protected.

The report, prepared for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also considered that the risk of flooding at Hinkley Point in Somerset was currently “low” but would rise to “high” by 2080. The erosion risk there is also “high”.

Hinkley Point A and B stations

Hinkley Point A station on left looks across Bridgwater Bay. Picture: Richard Baker

But events at Hinkley Point on December 13, 1981, have only now been put in the public domain, among the papers for the Planning Infrastructure Commission’s (PIC) inquiry into plans for a “C” station. Preliminary hearings start later this month. The document has the less than informative file name HPS-NNBPA-XX-000-RET-000180.

It was prepared by Dr Rob Kirby, an internationally renowned research scientist (BBC), who has devoted most of his career to the Severn Estuary. His paper was commissioned by Cefas (Centre for Enviroment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science).

He says the three earlier reports were, “largely based on the recent timescale (from 1990) during which Hinkley Point has had a permanent tide gauge. Much greater attention should have been allocated to the various consequences of the 1962 and 1981 storm surges.”

The 1962 surge, inundated the site while the “A” station was being built. In 1981, “The shaft to the deep set pump house just behind the seawall flooded, inundating all 6 electric motors and shutting down the “A” Station for a prolonged period. The “B” Station was unaffected,” says Dr Kirby

I have been waiting 30 years to see confirmation of this in the public domain. I had a cottage in a nearby village but was not there during the storm. A few days later I went into the nearest pub to Hinkley Point and found frightened workers talking about what had happened.

Water, I was told, came over the sea wall and entered the electrical control area. They had to put the plant into emergency shutdown. Newspaper coverage at the time concentrated on the huge flood and storm damage to the Burnham-on-Sea area on the other side of Bridgwater Bay.

Later I talked to journalists (I was not working for newspapers in those days) but their enquiries were met with denials from the Central Electricity Generating Board which then ran the station. They did not gather sufficient evidence to write a story.

With the coming of the internet I have from time to time looked for that evidence but there was none — until this week when I found Dr Kirby’s report. It was written in 2010 but seems to have been put in the PIC site at the start of this year.

It will form part of the written evidence. Most of it is very technical, as its title suggests, Hinkley Point Sediment Transport — Potential Impacts of New Structures.

In his conclusions he says he evaluated “good calibre” reports by Pye & Blott (Ken Pye Associates), Larcombe & Fernand (Cefas) and HR Wallingford, and adds:

The stance taken in these three reports is considered slightly biased in favour of the period 1990-2010 when there has been a tide gauge at Hinkley Point, as well as, in some aspects, an undue theoretical focus at the expense of a longer timescale and local practical perspective. This report attempts to fill these gaps.

I worry that after the 1962 surge, during construction of the “A “station, the sea defences were not increased to defend it from the 100 year storm that came in 1981. Only after that were the defences strengthened.

It is not as if the Bridgwater Bay area does not have centuries’ of history of storm surges. Indeed the country’s “worst natural disaster” (sometimes wrongly described as England’s tsunami) happened here in 1607. Hundreds of square kilometres were flooded. Rising sea levels now increase the danger, although sea defences are much stronger then they were 400 years ago.

And it is a concern that three important pieces of research for the planning of a new “C” station did not consider the site’s history of storms.

A further nuclear station is also being planned for Sizewell which is even more low-lying than Hinkley Point. Both sites are affected by longshore drift.

The Hinkley “C” station would be built on higher ground to the west of the earlier power stations. Both sites are now run by EDF Energy.

Library manager resigns over policy of chairman of new Suffolk libraries organisation

The manager of a library at the centre of Suffolk’s Big Society plans has resigned because he does not share the vision of the county council appointed chairman of the body to run their 44 libraries.

 

Iain Rousham who left Aldeburgh library at the end of February says that Clive Fox, chairman of the new countywide library organisation and the Aldeburgh library Steering Group, initially wrote in the Group’s press release that Rousham was retiring.  Iain asked for this to be changed so it reflected more accurately that he had resigned.

 

Rousham has  made it clear that he disagreed with the plans put forward by the Steering Group and its refusal to consult further with Aldeburgh people after the county council promised all libraries would stay open.

 

He also deplores the way in which SCC has divested itself of direct responsibility for running libraries.

 

Clive Fox, chairman of Suffolk's Libraries IPS

Clive Fox: Policy disagreement led to resignation of his local library manager

The appointment in January of Fox, by Judy Terry the county council cabinet member responsible for libraries, to head the Industrial and Provident Society which will oversee libraries, was a surprise.

 

His views, demonstrated in the Aldeburgh proposal, are not widely shared among those who responded to the consultation, many of whom are now involved in pilot schemes to test a variety of approaches.

 

Rousham suggests, “Judy Terry, like a drowning woman, clutched at Clive Fox as a man who could deliver her plan.”

 

The Aldeburgh response to the consultation on the future of libraries last year was almost alone in not saying its first preference was a continuing county library service.

 

It proposed the Aldeburgh Triangle Knowledge Hub. The closely-typed 17 page document supported both the now abandoned Suffolk New Strategic Direction and the government’s then heavily promoted Big Society.

 

Income generation through a cafe and other retail, fines increasing over three years, charging for internet access and rising income from DVD rentals among them.

 

The Aldeburgh plan envisages more than half the costs of the library being met from commercial operations.

 

At the time it was thought that community libraries which were not taken over by local bodies would be closed. And communities would have to save the council 30% of its costs to keep their libraries open.

 

Later in the year the council said all libraries would remain open and that the contribution required from communities with be much less.

 

Rousham believed that Fox and the steering group at Aldeburgh should revisit the plan and have more consultation in the town.

 

“I asked the Steering Group,  three times to go back to the community, but they refused,” Rousham said.

 

In a farewell message to Aldeburgh library users Rousham says:

 

I regret that the group did not then return to the community, as promised, for discussion and ratification. However, they have the best of intentions and I wish them well.

 

He also thanks the staff and describes his years working at the library as “the golden years of my working life”.

 

Earlier this week, Aldeburgh was the only library pilot scheme not represented at a meeting of the pilots called by the IPS to discuss the current situation.

 

Later: In a reaction to this post James Hargrave writes on his blog: “To my mind the appointment of Fox as Chairman is looking more and more like a mistake and it will be interesting to see if he survives this early embarrassing incident.”

Space and eco standards reduced to cut cost of free schools: report

The cost of new Free Schools is being cut by relaxing space and environment standards, according to Building, the leading construction industry magazine and website.
 
“Michael Gove’s free schools were meant to rip through red tape. But it’s not just the curriculum that has been relaxed – increasingly, sustainability and space requirements are being dropped too. Now fears are growing that this latest austerity measure could spread to all new schools,” says a web report (registration required) today.
 
A new school in Reading was originally designed to be a zero-carbon Passivhaus building with negligible running costs, but the space standards were reduced by about 10 per cent and it does not have environmental certification.
 
A source told the magazine:

It simply wasn’t a priority – green is not a priority for the Department for Education (DfE). That’s the reality. They have very little interest in sustainability and certainly not if it costs more than another route. It’s all about the cheapest possible capital outlay.

A few days ago the magazine reported that Department for Education said it planned to relax space standards for schools, with a reduction of the overall gross area averaging 15% in secondary schools and 5% in primary schools for the entire school build.