John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Monday, January 31, 2005
  Cabinet
Labour slammed the administration today for the fact that we had not resolved a budgetary problem in Leisure that has existed for at least 3 years during Labour's Administration. We were, however, able to explain what it was and how it will be resolved.

In the mean time if they would like new carpet at a price below £252 per square yard or even £169 per square metre (on average) they could approach Hammond Hill who offer a much better price.

Indeed they might even decide not to have top of the range carpet in their offices.

 
Sunday, January 30, 2005
  Village Jazz Phoenix rises from ashes
The Thursday Night Jazz Session at The Village will be reborn, hopefully this week. Anyone who is interested in Jazz Standards will be welcome to sit in. I need to spend a bit of time hunting up some horns.

The forms are the standard forms (preferred alternate chords in the Best Chord Changes for the Worlds Best Standards series). I will provide a rhythm section based around a Technics SX-KN7000 Accompanier which gives a good walking bass and drums. If, however, a proper bassist turns up then he or she can plug directly into the PA. There are three mikes for vocals or horns. Unusually jazz singers will be welcome - as long as they don't require real time transposition and can sing the songs in the keys in the book.



 
  Bring Them Home
Discussed plans for a potential campaign to bring our boys and girls back from Iraq. Between 700 and 800 injured members of the British Armed forces have not been visited by those in government nationally unlike the US Government.

Now elections have happened there is no reason why British Troops should remain in Iraq. The tensions created merely by their presence make it clear that part of the recipe for peace is the removal of belligerent troops. This, however, causes the US some problems as one of their objectives for the invasion was to keep a military presence.

Notwithstanding that a phased withdrawal of British Troops should start as soon as possible. I am waiting to see what the government's position will be on this, but I have had preliminary discussions today about a "bring them home" campaign in the event that the government seem not to be acting properly.
 
  Holocaust Memorial Day
I chaired Birmingham's Holocaust Memorial event in the Foyer of Symphony Hall today. This was an event both in memory of all atrocities and in memory of the Holocaust itself. It was very well attended with over 200 people there (the first event 5 years ago had about 20 people there).

We had a Normandy Veteran and a survivor of Auschwitz speak as well as a film of what happened.

It is worth dwelling on these matters to remember how bad things can get. There are many tensions in the world and things are being done which exacerbate the tensions.

In Birmingham I was quite clear that we are recognising all atrocities without limit. There are atrocities which continue today in many places in the world. There seems to be some debate nationally as to whether or not this particular event is inclusive or not. In Birmingham it was inclusive. I personally met Christians, Muslims, Buddhists as well as Jews who were at the event.

It saddens me really that people in government (cf Dubya and Blair) have so little empathy that they go around making things worse when actually it is possible to work for a more peaceful world.




 
Saturday, January 29, 2005
  New PA and Keyboard
I have now got my new PA (1kW) and keyboard so should be able to go on the road (at least in Birmingham) with my jazz playing friends. My children are having some fun with the PA which has an onboard effects processor (in the mixer) which gives the standard digital mixes including pitch change - a really entertaining thing for a 4 year old.

If they will give me a visa to visit Bearwood (ask Labour Councillor Bob Piper for that) I might even play as far away as Smethwick.

 
  Electoral Fraud - The Blair Government's Ace of Trumps
The Guardian reports on part of the story about Electoral Fraud.

Electoral Fraud has gone on for many years and there are voters you can find who were happy to give parties their voting card with the assumption that the party will get an informal proxy (aka Personation, which is a criminal offence) for them.

The big stress in Northern Ireland arose when one party started voting for the other parties' voters.

Meanwhile through a combination of incompetence and knowing creation of political advantage the massive increase of postal voting has occurred.

This in Birmingham (and many other large cities) has turned electoral fraud into a mass production industry. In one ward (Aston) I estimate between 1,000 and 2,000 ballot papers have some fraudulent element to them. It is, however, hard to prove fraud. We have two election courts being prepared for in Birmingham.

We may only be able to prove that something like 500 ballot papers were cast fraudulently in Aston (that's 2000 votes, 1,500 in the local elections and 500 in the European Election).

I am aware, however, that in my own ward South Yardley something like 400 votes were stolen from the voters.

I set up a website about election fraud some time ago and raised a judicial review into the situation about 2 years ago. Things have, however, in the mean time got substantially worse.

I would not be entirely surprised if there was an early general election with the result that Labour get the General Election out of the way before the verdict of the Election Courts. However, we are now getting quite close to the time for them to call it so probably the courts will reach their judgement before the general election.

We do then really have to think about having a general election when the elections are being defrauded in some wards to the extent of 25-50% of the votes cast.

My understanding is that the price of a blank ballot paper last year in Birmingham was around £16. I believe £3 was the price of a signed application. There were, therefore, paid canvassers going round getting the applications.

We do have a council investigation going on into electoral fraud, but it has been suspended whilst the Election Courts proceed.

When the court proceedings start I will post more details here. Some things need to remain confidential at the moment.
 
  Broadband Brum
A positive outcome from Friday was a meeting which established Broadband Brum which is a collaboration between the private sector (eg BT), and the City Council to establish cost effective Broadband services in the City. This will be a unique thing for Birmingham.

The conclusion was that Content is a key part of this. A couple of hours later the Strategic partnership agreed to cooperate on this matter. This is something where the members of the BSP can achieve a lot.

 
  Birmingham Strategic Partnership
Friday's meeting of the BSP (erstwhile CSP) was the first meeting that I have been to that seemed to take anything further forward. We are still having a certain amount of Omphaloscopy, but we did manage to move on to a wider consideration.

Where the Strategic Partnership can achieve a lot is by ensuring there is effective communication between different communities of interest in Birmingham and that we don't have lots of disparate groups of people going off doing random things in isolation. What it can do is actually achieve "partnership working". What it should not try to do from the perspective of philosophical principle is to try to control things in minute details. The next step is to have reports considered that are much much shorter. People feel there is a status in writing long and detailed reports. For something considering a city of a million people long detailed reports will be of no great merit if we want to move things on.

What was particularly nice was that there were a number of good new people along and I was not the only voice arguing that we need to sort out the issues of exactly what principles of governance apply. Someone also declared an interest which was good.
(This was someone whose salary is mainly funded by NRF, who made that clear).

The issue of conflict of interest has been bouncing around Birmingham's media ever since I raised concerns about such conflicts being ignored in an organisation (programme actually) called b:cen.

The "Community Empowerment Networks" have been established across the country to "empower communities". A big mistake was made in Birmingham by creating the cen independently from Birmingham's Association of Neighbourhood Forums (Fora?) (BANF).

A Neighbourhood Forum is a sort of formalised residents association. There is then a citywide association of Neighbourhood Fora called BANF.

If the cen had started out as part of BANF things would have been very different. However, what happened is that it was set up separately. So, in Birmingham we have a load of people already in Neighbourhood Forums working with the City Council and other bodies. Someone is given £2 Million (yes £2 Million pounds a year is given by the government [not the council] to b:cen) to encourage more residents groups and other community networks.

What we now have is something I encountered on Thursday night. BANF are organising groups of Neighbourhood Forums on a District Basis (DANF) to link to the District Strategic Partnerships. b:cen are also organising on a District Basis.

The problem is that whereas BANF and Residents Associations generally have constitutions and annual (ish) general meetings (there is a long story about that as well), b:cen are primarily based upon who turns up and have no proper democratic accountability.

So we now have two residents groups competing on a citywide basis. (with a limited amount of overlap).

The meeting I attended on Thursday was a Yardley District DANF meeting of Forum Executive Members. A long stroppy letter had been written for this meeting by the b:cen Yardley organiser. This is not helping in terms of creating any form of cooperation. Still, we can but try.

The really big stress about b:cen, however, comes from some of the things that b:cen have been involved in. I had had complaints for some time about things that b:cen had been up to. (including trying to change a £1,000 cheque through the Hall Green Residents Association into cash - I kid you not, the Residents Association refused to do it - however.)

I, therefore, found out who was responsible for b:cen and found out it was the Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC).

I spoke to the acting Chief Executive on a Monday evening. On the Tuesday Morning I found out all the staff had been suspended. That surprised me as the allegations only really pointed to 1 or 2 of the 16 staff. Still I then passed all my information through to BVSC.

As a consequence of this one of the witnesses I had was harrassed so after that point I refused to pass any more information as to identities of witnesses.

BVSC then appointed Anthony Collins Solicitors to do a report. I raised concerns about this as Anthony Collins Solicitors have had a lot of public money from Government Office West Midlands (and other Government Offices), but BVSC ignored this.

To cut a long story short, the b:cen staff demonstrated two weeks after suspension, the next day a "preliminary report" was produced, BVSC claimed that this cleared b:cen of all wrongdoing. This was back in November. They have then campaigned against me in various silly ways.

The report has also been circulated in an edited form and is available in that form on the net

I cannot comment as to the contents of the unedited report, but have responded in the council chamber on the edited report.

Specifically dealing with one issue (because dealing with all of them would take too long). A grant was paid to the a Forum for something called "Planning for Real".

a) The grant has been paid for which there is no documentary evidence that it was formally approved
b) The meeting at which the grant is reported to have been approved did not have this particular issue on the agenda
c) The Manager of b:cen attended most meetings of the approval panel and was also a member of the organisation receiving the grant
d) No minutes had been written of this meeting at the time of writing the report
e) The application was granted subject to letters of support being provided, but those letters of support were never provided

The Manager of b:cen is also a member of this Forum.

So whereas questions had been asked as why this Forum got a grant so quickly whilst other Forums have to wait ages it turns out that the conditions for paying the grant were not satisfied and so it shouldn't in fact have been paid.

Now, what we have here is an undeclared conflict of interest. It is a minor corruption. The scheme that has been funded "Planning for Real" is an entirely legitimate use of the money. It is, however, clearly against the rules (para 48 Community Empowerment Fund)

One would expect a recognition that this should not have happened, a slap on the wrist for the Manager and then people would move on tightening up on the practise.

What has happened instead, however, is a cover up. Minutes have now been written which, surprise, surprise include a declaration of a non-pecuniary interest (5 months after the meeting). Even if such a declaration was made at the meeting someone decided to pay the grant when the conditions had not been satisfied.

BVSC have declared themselves satisfied with the cover up.

The problem with this is if people will cover up something which is so minor one has to ask what would they do with something much more important.

The challenge now, however, is how to handle the issue. We asked Government Office West Midlands what they thought about it months ago and haven't yet had a response. People all across the city I talk to continue to encourage me to work on this issue as they are not happy with what has happened. We also need to decide whether or not BVSC's record in terms of probity is acceptable as a body that manages £6 Million of public funds including money from the City Council.

Another story that continues.

The whole issue is intermingled on a national basis with the problems with the majority of the New Deal for Communities Companies and many other government funded projects.
 
Thursday, January 27, 2005
  Birmingham offers fourth option for Council Tenants
There has been considerable debate about how to fund improvements to council housing.

Three options are generally made available by government:

Stock Transfer - where all the housing stock moves to an RSL (Registered Social Landlord - aka Housing Association)

ALMO - Arms Length Management Organisation - where the goverment gives the council about £4,600 per property if they set up a remote structure for managing Housing.

PFI - Which is where a contract for managing properties is created.

The fourth option is whereby the stock continues to be managed by the council potentially involving tenants as part of the management.

What Birmingham is doing which is unique is to offer tenants a positive retention option that can be funded. Housing Finance can be a bit confusing. In essence by recycling money that comes in from the sale of housing land we can fund the 4th option. (Which is required to make up the missing £165 Million.)

Essential things in housing, however include:
  1. Efficiency - if you are not efficient then you need more resources
  2. Dealing with bad behaviour - the same issue regardless of tenure actually
  3. Getting enough stable housing - some primary schools have a 20% turnover each year of children through unstable housing.




 
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
  Catch 22
The story so far:

Someone was run over with his own car in 2003 whilst it was being stolen. Another person was caught driving it the next day. On returning it to the owner it was found to have drugs in it.

Clearly it cannot be proven that the person driving it actually stole it. However, the police state that the CPS indicate that it would be "abuse of process" to prosecute the driver for "handling stolen goods" (or more precisely driving stolen goods).

The response from the CPS is that they need the name of the defendant to be able to search up the case and give their reasoning.

The police, however, cannot give the name of the defendant because of Data Protection Regulations.

Seems like Catch 22.

The story is not over yet.

*CPS - Crown Prosecution Service.

 
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
  Boundary Inquiry
There is an inquiry into the Parliamentary Boundaries going on in The Council House today.

I have put forward our case that Yardley, Sheldon and Acocks Green should stay together (as has been the case for about 1300 years).

Whereas as far as Labour were concerned Bordesley Ward had a natural affinity with Washwood Heath in 2004 now Labour are calling for the following seats:

Washwood Heath, Hodge Hill, Shard End, Sheldon
South Yardley, Stechford and Yardley North, Sparkbrook, Bordesley Green
Acocks Green, Hall Green, Brandwood, Billesley

As usual Labour show no real consistency save self-interest.

Another example of Labour inconsistency is on the 2nd runway at BIA where Solhull Labour oppose it and Birmingham Labour support it.
 
Monday, January 24, 2005
  Those Labour Office Costs
The Labour Group have expressed concern as to the accuracy of my earlier report on the refurbishment costs of the Labour Group Offices. To confirm the figures are:
RoomDecorationsCarpetLightingTotal
M1872,3014,5453507,196
M1911,8854,5457007,130
M1853,1204,5451,050 + 3269,041
M1832,5351,2357004,470
M1772,9703,0258806,875
M1792,6003,1857006,485

Total 41,197
 
Sunday, January 23, 2005
  Targets and Street Sweepers
I encountered our new Street Sweeping machine on the Coventry Road in Sheldon today. It had a flat tyre and had been sitting there for about 2 hours.

This shows the problems with managing things through targets and statistics. We don't have a statistic which measures how long it takes the depot to come out and sort out a flat tyre. Common Sense dictates that the depot should move reasonably quickly to sort this out, but Common Sense and the Public Sector don't make easy bed fellows.

There is no sense in having yet another statistic of "how long does it take to fix the street sweeper", but at the same time what is the sense of having the machine in existance if it is merely laid up with a flat tyre.

 
Saturday, January 22, 2005
  Art for art's sake - money for god's sake
Was part of a number by 10cc in the 1980s

Tablature for this is available along with the lyrics. (in the chorus).


Art for art's sake money for God's sake
Art for art's sake money for God's sake.
Gimme the ready Gimme the cash
gimme a bullet gimme a smash gimme a
silver gimme a gold make it a million
for when I get old


Which raises a number of questions.

The role of semantic art - music (with words), poetry, drama, fiction is not clear. What is clear is that it does not operate in isolation from reality.

Much of the saga with Bezhti has remained outside the public domain. This particular dispute was primarily driven by a large number of consultations which put the contents of the play "in the face" of the Sikh community.

I still believe that if the Birmingham Rep had not consulted on the play it would have passed with little comment. The fact was that they highlighted the whole thing with the Council of Gurdwaras then having asked them what they thought refused to change anything.

If they never were going to change anything then they should not have asked. They may have consulted with the best of intentions, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

One of the issues which causes "consultation" problems is that frequently people "consult" when they are not going to change anything regardless of what the "consultees" say. They may "hear what you say", but that means nothing.

What really happened with Bezhti is that following the consultation fiasco, dress rehearsal and production of play it built up to a relatively low level of stress on the Wednesday with about 50 people present. This resulted in a small number of arrests. The reaction of this was

a) A meeting between the Council of Gurdwaras and the Rep Board, which was futile because noone was going to change anything

b) An increase in tension between the police and the generally law abiding religious Sikhs.

On the Saturday, therefore, the ante had been upped. There were about 500 protestors (my prediction for the Rep had been that they could hit 10,000). My sources indicate that there were non-Sikh troublemakers there who wanted trouble. They got it.

I am still not clear who was involved in the violence and vandalism that night. My sources indicate that there was involvement from others than Sikhs. Whoever was involved it was unacceptable, but if there were others out to cause trouble that is an important point.

On the Sunday the whole thing went out of control. When things go out of control there is little that can be done. The only sensible approach is to stop the key irritation.

The important point to remember is that children were attending "The Witches" which was the Christmas production for the Rep.

On the Monday, therefore, things were quite tense. Intelligence predicted a crowd of about 5,000 and that all the spare tickets had been bought up by protestors (see The Playboy of the Western World). If the event had gone ahead it would have put childen in the middle of what was a big dispute and could have continued to be violent.

Anyone who thinks the Rep should have continued to put the play on is insane. Regardless of any ideas about fighting battles for "free speech" it is totally unreasonable to put children in the middle of such a conflict. No one could validly criticise the Rep for pulling this play in the circumstances.

To me the saddest thing about the whole situation is that there were lots of ways the dispute (which got more press than the Ward End Vampire) could have been entirely avoided. Not least not using the ik onkar would have taken a lot of the tension from the play without any changes to the words of the play.

The Sikhs were particularly upset that the Rep used the phrase "It would change the flavour of the play" to justify doing something that particularly upset the Sikhs. The perception was that something that should be quite minor to the Rep was massively important to the Sikh Council, but the Rep continued to refuse to make specific changes.

In any event it is quite clear now that this play is very unlikely to be peformed in Birmingham again. It is sad that the playwright is unwilling (AFAIK) to talk about the issue to anyone willing to try to resolve the situation, but that is life.

The issue about art and its relation to reality has not had proper consideration.

The questions about the involvement of art in the death of Jodi Jones is also a live one.

There is an argument that the lyrics of Marilyn Manson were in part responsible for this sad event.

As a musician I am interested in musical theory. This relegates the issue of the lyrics to the 3rd division. Lyrics and images are, however, important.

I do think that artists need to accept responsibility for any consequences of the art that they produce.

This does not mean introducing censorship for lyrics and plays any more than exists already. However, it is an issue that does need proper consideration.

I personally think this approach is a sensible direction for responses to such matters.

Films such as "Team America - World Police" have very complex messages. It will be interesting to see how the USA responds to a film which has Michael Moore as a suicide bomber and has "Team America" going around the world blowing up Paris and Cairo.

It still brings me back to the original lyrics, however. If artists produce art that hurts other people by encouraging damaging behaviour then they should accept responsibility for that part of the behaviour they encourage.

The "money for gods sake" then can:
a) Go to compensate people for the damage.
b) Create financial responsibility will result in artistic responsibility.

I think that the current laws justify this in any event. All it requires is for someone with a "locus standii" to take action. The burden of proof in a civil action is balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt so I would think there would be cases which could prove an element of causality.

 
  Biscuit Budget - Iron Angle
Iron Angle in The Birmingham Post on Saturdays is an equivalent of the Parliamentary Diary written about Birmingham City Council. Today it features me confirming that yes the City Council does have a biscuit budget.

The background to this is a debate at Full Council where the Labour Leader (Sir Albert Bore) criticised the Lib Dems for having lunch at £14.95 each on the general fund when we spent 6 hours unpaid on a Sunday reviewing council matters. He claimed that Labour paid for all their own group food.

I didn't quite believe this and therefore did some research to find that the Labour group spent thousands of pounds on food and that their group executive charged the Council Tax Payer £113 per month for food. Much that Sir Albert Bore claims that he had paid for it we could not find the cheque. Sir Albert was a bit miffed about this and said he would prove that they have paid for it and he wanted an apology. I am still waiting for the proof.

As part of this process my own group office stopped ordering biscuits (for tea and biscuits). This resulted in

a) One councillor taking executive action and a couple of bits of clingfilm and reclaiming some biscuits which were left over from a committee meeting.

b) Another councillor phoning me to clarify the situation whilst I was talking to the journalist who writes Iron Angle.

We have also found that comparing periods 4-9 in 2004/5 to the average of the same periods in 2003/4 and 2002/3 that the new administration is spending £1,273 less per week on internal catering.

In the mean time, however, I have been investigating more about what happens in The Council House. I find that the Labour Group offices have spent the amazing sum of over £40,000 on refurbishments including over £7,000 on each of the Labour Leader and Labour Deputy Leader's office. Indeed even the council leader has had a new fan at a cost of £657. Oddly enough, however, I have looked at his fan and his fan is older than mine. Mine is not a new fan. The mystery thickens. I am getting copies of the invoices.

I have great difficulty working out how we can spend £4,500 on a carpet in a single office. Does it have real 24ct gold threads?

I am finding the process of spot checks on costs and activity produces dividends. We found a clearup team in Lifford Lane who were supposed to be clearing up for Housing, which Housing did not know about and hence were sitting around drinking tea. They are now clearing up housing land.

I have two interesting questions outstanding. One is why the Swan Underpass was shut off a few weeks ago. It looks to me that someone wants to get some overtime so they go and shut off the Swan Underpass on a Sunday (Double Time).

The second is finding out what graffiti the graffiti team are actually clearing up. I see the lists of requests, but have not seen much about them actually clearing it up. I know they are doing something, but I am not sure what.

The authorisation issue is also interesting. I refused to agree to a payment on one issue so it was charged to another department. When that Cabinet Member asked about the payment it was said that it had been preauthorised by the previous administration. Hmmm.

Various officers keep finding trips I could go on. I prefer staying in Birmingham to look at things - like missing fans and hyperexpensive carpet.

It does seem some times that every City Council pound is only worth 30p in purchasing power. This is, of course, not unique to local authorities. The same applies to central government and its organs.

Some would say that I should only look at the big summary figures. The problem is that the big summary figures are an accumulation of the small "what you pay for" figures. If we can cut the cost of doing things we can do more with the big money.

cf Gershon.
 
Friday, January 21, 2005
  Bush's speech
One of the useful things about the internet is that you can go back to source. Whereas prior to the net it was possible to get hold of the original text. Now it is very easy.

Bush's inaugural speech

has various elements to it.

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

I suppose this is the key change. In the past the US was generally very introspective. Now the Project for a New American Century's ideology has come to the fore. This is not surprising given the Close Associations between the Bush Administration and PNAC.

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."

Tyranny is set as Bush's enemy and Liberty is his objective.

Democracy


Democracy is supposed to be the basis upon which the US is governed. Indeed the US do have elections, but gradually over time these elections have become dominated by advertising spend and election fraud.

Within the UK now a number of representatives at both local government level and parliamentary level depend upon electoral fraud to get elected. The Ukrainian elections were marred by Fraud particularly the first time. However, letter boxes are set on fire, and we have small election riots in the UK.

Democracy based upon the secret ballot is absolutely crucial to proper government, which I why I spend so much time banging on about this. Sadly under our current regime the fundamentals of democracy have been dramatically undermined with thousands of false ballots completed.

Some of the people supporting these changes make the assumption that people are less corruptible than they are. Others do it expecting electoral advantage.

In the mean time the Electoral Commission in the UK are proposing scrapping the declaration of identity. This is something which facilitates proving fraud. So they would make fraud harder to prove and then people would claim there is less fraud merely because it cannot be proven. The Electoral Reform Society have done a review into this.

So, there is no merit in Bush banging on about democracy when the democratic structures in the US and UK are so badly damaged. Personally I would not be surprised if his victory margin was less than the margin of electoral fraud in the USA.

Liberty


There is a challenge in getting the acceptance of any particular position in a country. A fair election can be part of this. It is, however, important to be aware of the political anthropology of any one country before coming to conclusions as to what approach is best.

Furthermore there is a fallacy of imperialism which is that the imperialist assumes that they understand the situation when frequently they do not. That is why it is important to be guided substantially by people in any country being considered rather than assume that a model defined by people in the US or UK will actually work.

Trying to impose a model suited to a class based society on Africa has been part of the cause of famine over time. Unless people understand exactly how the power structure operates it is a mistake trying to do anything to get involved.

Issues like the level of social capital are things which take at least one generation to change and are crucial issues in the operation of political structures.

The worst mistake the West makes is to assume that just because a regime is being nice to the West (eg Saddam Hussain in the 1980s) they are people to support.

Often the US's international adventures have come back to haunt it. (eg supporting Saddam Hussain, Osama bin Laden)

This did cause them to give up for a while.

It would be possible for the West to do something useful. That would be to work on the basis of principle rather than just responding to regimes on the basis of a combination of national interests and whether the regime is sympathetic to the west.

I am not going to hold my breath, however.

My fear of Bush's speech is that he has learnt nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Imposing a western model on a segmented society fails.





 
  City Housing Liaison Board
I attended last Night's City Housing Liaison Board for half an hour. Last time I attended there was an attempt to exclude me from the meeting which resulted in 22 votes for me to remain and 8 votes for me to be expelled.

Last night, however, noone objected to me being there as an observer. It appears that a number of those members of the board who backed Labour when there was a move to exclude me no longer back the Labour Party.

The tenants and leaseholders are unhappy with the Labour Government reneging on their promise of a level playing field for social housing. They also refused to have a briefing from the Housing Department on the "Our Homes Appraisal".

They rightly take the view that they voted overwhelmingly against Stock Transfer and as a consequence the government should accept that.

They agree with us that wasting £1.6 Million on yet another consultation about Stock Options (The "our Homes Appraisal") is a waste of money that noone needs. They were, however, pleased by us sourcing the finance via the Performance Reward Grant rather than Housing Finance Revenue Account.

Housing Finance for Council Housing is quite complex. There is a separate account called the Housing Finance Revenue Account which handles the revenue and expenditure for Council Housing. This has a complex relationship with government who fund costs thorugh the Housing Revenue Account Subsidy. The subsidy basically pays 95% of the rents of tenants on housing benefit and pays all the interest on housing debt, but then taxes the tenants to the tune of £800 per property per year. The ODPM then provides a Major Repairs Allowance.

This arcane arrangement is the reason why many of the arguments relating to Stock Transfer are financially flawed. The council tenants do not actually pay the interest on the housing debt directly in any event. It is, therefore, irrelevant that any stock transfer would clear the debt.

There have been various schemes for housing. I always think the best way of looking at them is on a per property basis. This makes the figures much more comprehensible.

Castle Vale's Housing Action Trust involved a subsidy from central government of about £67,500 per property. Optima's ERCF which covers Lea Bank (aka Attwood Green) had a subsidy of around £17,000 per property. However, Stock Transfer actually took out about £4,000 per property.

Birmingham's big problem (and probably that of other big authorities) is overpaying for work and incompetent work being done. Financially the Housing Stock was not in such a bad state. The debt is actually relatively small compared to the number of properties (about 70,000 now) as being under £10,000.

The current estimate as to funds required for bringing the state of the homes up to "Decent Homes" standard is actually £165 Million (after rents received etc). This is under £3,000 per property.

The big problem with government is a failure to understand the real issues relating to housing. Policies are driven by ODPM in isolation of the realities and the civil servants are not held to account by the politicians.

Everyone gets tangled up in bureaucratic nonsense when the issue is actually quite straightforward generally. Keeping properties in a good state of repair is not that difficult.

In the mean time, however, we now are in a position where people in low paid work cannot afford to find anywhere to live close to their work. Labour look as if they wish to further undermine this situation in the future. Not a good idea.

I am doing my own bit of testing the costs of work. I have collected the costs of working on The Council House and have found the costs are silly. I am, therefore, going back to the basics and reviewing the invoices to find out what has been going on.



 
Thursday, January 20, 2005
  Success of Trojan 3
Councillor John Hemming, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council and Chair
of the Birmingham Strategic Partnership has welcomed the success of
operation Trojan 3 dealing with crime and buses.

Working together the Police, City Centre Management Street Wardens and
Travel West Midlands Bus Inspectors ran an operation entitled "Trojan 3"
around buses and bus stops over a period of 9 days.

The team boarded a total of 392 buses, Checking 5699 passengers, 289 fixed
penalty notices were issued totalling in excess of £3000 pounds. In
addition 14 arrests were made, 1 for theft of dvds, 4 were wanted on
warrant, 2 for non co-operation, 2 for offensive weapons, 4 drug related
one of which was a an A class drug, 1 person was searched, his bag contained
hard core pornographic material, on further investigation he was found to
have absconded from Manchester where he was awaiting deportation. This
offender was known to the Wardens, he had previously been a street peddlar
on the High Street.

John Hemming said, "All the public agencies in Birmingham are committed to
cracking down on anti-social behaviour whereever it may be. I have
particularly requested action to deal with making sure that safety on buses
is key."

"The Birmigham Strategic Partnership will be reviewing this issue next week
to make sure everyone in focussed on keeping the travelling public safe."

 
  Graham Report - 10th report into public standards
The Graham Report has now been released.

I welcome the publication of the 10th Report into Public Standards. This report recognises that the current procedures where councillors have been sacked for:

- sitting in a meeting with a constituent without saying they are a councillor (Coleen Gill-East Riding-Lib Dem)
- writing to an MP (Coleen Gill-East Riding-Lib Dem)
- taking the wrong route out of a dinner (Blackpool-Labour)
- agreeing to the erection of gates (Tameside-Labour)
- representing a constituent as a solicitor (Tory)
- saying F**k - amongst other things (Peterborough-Tory)
- issuing a leaflet complaining about lack of action on anti social behaviour (Hull-Independent)
- revealing an officer's salary (Yorkshire somewhere - SDP)
- revealing an unlawful payment to a nuclear power company (Lancaster-Green)

are wrong.

It is important, however, that any changes fully recognise that the role of the councillor is to hold the system to account. If people are rude from time to time then they should apologise. We should not have local representatives that are merely clones there to defend the bureaucracy. The Standards Board for England is used frequently as a threat by Council Officers to prevent Councillors from challenging the bureaucracy. This has to stop.

Clearly corruption cannot be allowed. However, the current rules have acted more to prevent democracy from operating than to maintain standards.

What happened with the current system is that it delvered something to protect the bureaucrats from challenge. Hopefully we can move back towards a proper democratic system which is accountable to the voters and where only real corruption is subject to sanction.

There have been a small number of cases through the Standards and Adjudication Process that were entirely valid. One I can think of is one in Walsall where a councillor interfered with the actual tenders for a building. Although the motivation there was good and the councillor obtained no personal gain, that was in fact wrong.

However, a substantial number have been not only wrong, but counter productive and anti-democratic.

 
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
  Stunell Private Members Bill
Andrew Stunell MP has now issued his private members bill about planning controls on telecommunications mast.

It continues to surprise me that noone has noted that in the third quarterly report of DSTL into the TETRA system there is sign of a non-thermal effect from TETRA signals.

This is the key debate that the Home Office commissioned research was supposed to answer.

On the Police Reform website it says:

Results from Dstl studies show that TETRA signals have no effect on calcium exchanges in cells – the main concern of the Stewart report;

Yet in the third quarterly report from DSTL it uses the phrase:
"no statistically significant effects"

Note the important difference in the use of the adjective "statistically significant"

Whereas on Page 13 of the report in the graph it shows a clear effect (that does not always occur) when the signals are switched on and when they are switched off.



I would have thought they should have done substantially more testing of this particular issue before concluding the signals "have no effect".


 
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
 

Birmingham Strategic Partnership


Birmingham's Citywide Strategic Partnership has had some problems, but I now feel that things are starting to move in the right direction.

There are many issues that need different bodies to work together. The best route to achieving this is through what is called "partnership working". In the past the City's Citywide Strategic Partnership has been dominated by vague discussions about strategies - with the usual problem with the bureaucracy of strategies having the ability to undermine action.

We have now managed to clarify the objectives of the Strategic Partnership and also clarify the membership (and broaden it slightly).


 
Monday, January 17, 2005
 

Robert Jackson - Alan Milburn's view

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) rose—
Mr. Jackson: The Government are going in the right direction, but there is some poetic justice here, in that the Secretary of State is being attacked in the same terms as the Labour party used to attack us when we were trying to free up the system. On reflection, does he not think that we should take that into account when we conduct our debates on this matter in the House? He is facing exactly the same charges about privatisation and two-tierism as we did.

Mr. Milburn: Support from the hon. Gentleman is about as welcome as myxomatosis in a rabbit hutch—although I hope that it does not have the same deadly consequences.

Hansard 7th May 2003


 
Sunday, January 16, 2005
 

Planning and Paintball


I have just washed the pink paint out of my hair. For my now 12 year old's 12th Birthday we took him and 10 of his friends to paintball in Thornbury. Much that headshots did not count that did not prevent me being splattered on my head by 150 mph paintballs which went through the visor into my hair.

Good fun for the kids much that it is ironic how much effort goes into warning people in a war game not to slip in the mud and hurt themselves.

Being one to see these things I noted that they had set up in business and then applied for planning permission - with the argument that now people know what it is if they object. It seems that if they don't get permission then it won't cost them that much just to close down after 2 years trading.

The planning laws can be quite complex and challenging in those situations. I am still having a bit of a discussion with the Council following the local elections as to whether or not I have planning permission for one of my buildings.

The point about planning permission is that it applies not only when you make building alterations of some substance (much that there are changes that can be made without permission such as small extensions), but also when the use of the building changes in some ways.

Some changes require permission, others don't. Ie if a bookshop wants to sell hardware there is no change of use, but if it wants to sell fish and chips there is.

There is a further complication in that in fact if someone stops using a building in a particular way then the permission can go. Furthermore generally what the building was used for "10 years ago" takes precedent over the actual permissions.

This all arose because Labour complained about whether or not one of the candidates in Moseley had permission to live where she lived. This was in a property which has had a staff flat for decades. They also complained about some dormant companies having a registered office there. Labour's interest in this issue disappeared after the local elections, but I have taken up the issue wanting to clarify the situation.

All the information as to what the property was used for was provided to the planning department about 3 months ago and they cannot as yet tell me whether I have permission or not. This is ironic in that if I had applied for permission they would have a deadline of about 2 months on deciding.

There is some embarrassment afoot for some because letters were written to Labour implying that there was no permission based upon papers from 1959 (well before the "10 years ago" date).

The problem for me is, however, that the Standards Board get stressed about these sorts of things so I may have to take this through a long and tortuous legal process rather than simply apply for permission - if the council believes I have not got permission. It remains, however, that I believe on the basis of evidence that I am merely continuing the types of uses that have occurred in the past.


(eg residential flat, music studio, "non residential institution")
 
Saturday, January 15, 2005
 

Prague Mayor Breaks Code of Conduct


In Prage the mayor did a "mystery customer" job on the taxi drivers and was feted internationally. According to the Coleen Gill conclusion of the Standards Board of England he would have been disqualified as a Mayor.

See my other posts about this.
 
 

Polling Report


Polling Report is a new datasynthesis type website where the results of various types of opinion polls are found. I am not aware of any other source of this information for the UK which is as complete.

As someone who has been canvassing now almost for 30 years (actually 28 1/2) I find voting opinion polls a very rough source of information. Because they do not look at the situation in specific seats they do not pick up things that are picked up more locally. They do, however, give some guide as to how people's views are going.

Polling Report's ID analyses make interesting reading particularly this ICM poll.

The government's posturing on ID cards/database is driven moreso by trying to get an image of being "tough on crime" (after a 13 year old was caught driving drunk at 70mph in a stolen car having been banned twice before which my 14 year old finds full of irony).

The government accept that ID cards/database will do nothing to help with terrorism and could only affect 5% of benefit fraud.

Most people consider policies primarily from their own perspective. ID cards/database are generally seen as something that will affect someone else.

However, the interesting part of the poll is that when people find out the cost is £35 that only 10% say they are willing to pay although 68% still view the concept as favourable.

There is a much finer balance on the issue of whether the £5,500,000,000 would be better spent on enforcement with then 51% being supportive of ID cards and 46% on enforcement.

It goes to the nub of the problem with Blairism which is chasing the focus groups rather than aiming for good government.

I think it is far better to argue the case for what is the right way to do things. That is what representative democracy is supposed to mean.
 
 

Constituency Walkabout


I spent much of today walking around Yardley talking to local residents. I always find this a very useful way of finding out what the real problems are.

One local resident was run over by a thief who stole his car and then used it to run him over. Someone was caught driving the same car the next day. The police are saying that this particular person cannot be prosecuted for handling stolen goods (actually steering them through Stechford) because it would be "abuse of process" according to the CPS. It is not possible to prosecute the driver for stealing the car as it cannot be proven that he actually stole it.

That raises an interesting question as to what the abuse of process actually is. Issues like this, however, are important because of the wider impact they have on society.

I am also looking for alternative mechanisms for dealing with vandalism and graffiti. If we could make some progress with the civil law rather than criminal law that would be helpful. Two issues for next week.

 
 

NRF - Peace Breaks Out


NRF stands for Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. It is a sum of money adding up to £22 Million per year that is intended to be used for projects to assist with Birmingham (and 87 other local authorities) improving their performance on "Floor Targets".

Floor Targets are objectives defined statistically to improve certain matters (eg reduce crime, get better exam results). The theory is one that by bringing the bottom 88 authorities up we make progress throughout the country.

Most local authorities merely snaffled the money for their core budgets. There are certain rules of gamesmanship that apply to getting money from UK Government and the EU. There is a form of bureaucratic dance that occurs, but with people being very practised in the art of adjusting their projects to suit the funding the money often ends up being swallowed up for nothing.

Birmingham tried something innovative. We had spent £50K in each ward on projects identified in the ward from revenue we received when a shareholding in BHX (Birmingham International Airport) was sold. This worked well as specific projects were identified that generally delivered things.

We, therefore, set up a similar scheme for handling NRF. This means a group of residents (called the Ward Advisory Board or something similar, but often referrred to as a local strategic partnership) get together with the ward councillors identify projects and then manage the process.

The level of detail this allows would not be possible within the bureaucracy as it would not be possible to get the proper accountable scrutiny into the process.

There was one problem, however, which is that noone told us that we were supposed to be using the money to achieve the floor targets.

There is a problem. That is that there are lots of different cooks involved in cooking this particular broth. There is the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (NRU), Government Office West Midlands (GOWM), The central City Council bureaucracy, the local City Council Bureaucracy, Councillors, MPs and Local Neighbourhood Forums. With such a large structure involving many people communications problems often occur.

This ended up in some wards such as in the Erdington Constituency where some councillors really like statues that some of the money was used or statues.

Now I have some difficulty understanding how having a statue enables the reduction of teenage pregnancies, but there may be some arcane link.

Some people got a bit stressed about this and there were lots of rows and people saying this was the wrong way to do things.

It remains that some of the schemes such as gating up rear accesses did a good and identifiable job in reducing crime etc. The point about this is that it can be shown that spending the money achieved the result. The unique thing about Birmingham's approach is that we can prove what works because we have controls (ie wards in which the same thing was not done).

Rather than identify what the real problem was and fix it people started thinking up more and more complex schemes for how to control the projects - many of which would not satisfy the financial regulations.

Finally in November GOWM wrote to the Council sort of instructing it to do things a different way. We made the point that there are projects that are running out of each year's revenue and that trying to change the system so that it runs a different way would result in all of these projects (Which employ staff) shutting down for a while.

In December this argument was accepted. A note was circulated suggesting a mechanism as to the way forward and noone has opposed it. The deadline for responses was yesterday. This enabled me to write the following article for Neighbourhood News (a publication that goes to 1,300 community activists in Birmingham).

After long discussions with various arms of government, MPs, Councillors and
with members of the Strategic Partnership some form of peace has broken out
with a consensus as to how to handle the 2005/6 allocation of NRF. It is
recognised by all that whatever the merits of the arguments for different
schemes of payment we needed to get on with year 2005/6. If we had not been
able to do that continuing projects dependent upon NRF would have
substantial problems.

The NRF allocations in 2005/6 for local spend will again be based on a Ward
allocation. The funding will be made up of a £50k Community Chest in each
Ward plus an allocation reflecting the deprivation and population to tackle
the national floor targets. In order to focus the funding on activities
which will have the biggest impact in the most deprived areas. District
Strategic Partnerships will be providing guidance on which aspects of the
national floor targets the proposed projects should be addressing and in
the mean time Wards should be developing the list of potential schemes.


This does mean that a number of people who would have lost their jobs will keep them which is good news.

The whole process does get rather bogged down in bureaucracy.

New Year's Celebrations


A minor tempest in a tea cup is going on about where the city holds its New Year's Celebrations. There is always a review after an event. I personally would prefer the event held closer to the city centre than Millenium Point as we would get higher numbers. However, no decision has been made as yet. I do generally go to the New Year's events myself and was at the one on 31st Dec 2004 - much that I have been criticised for not being there.

Plough and Harrow - Coventry Road


Another project I have been working on is getting this derelict building back into use. The good news is that yesterday there was a site visit to look at some proposals.


 
Friday, January 14, 2005
 

A surreal court hearing


One thing that tends to happen with politics is that things go down totally irrelevant routes. The court case today was something like that. The nub of the case relates to exactly what happened in the Prince of Wales public house on a day in May.

Facts that are accepted.
There was a dispute involving TK and JP.
JP ended up bleeding and concussed.
TK was later attacked by person or persons unknown thought to be in retaliation.
TK was arrested and bailed by the police.
TK was banned from the Prince of Wales pub and is still banned.
The police are no longer prosecuting.
JP is taking out a civil action for damages, but proceedings have not been issued.

TK has no legal advisors (nor does Martin, I was acting as his advisor). At one stage TK asked for a court order to prevent "BarryTheOtter" and 3 others from trolling*. We also had a discussion about mice. Whereas the previous case only had one journalist, this one had three - and it is only a preliminary hearing.

I am quite impressed as to how calm the judge remained.
This is the press report.

Buses


In the mean time my big issue of the day was violence on the buses. I had a very worrying case brought to me.

According to the Standards Board for England I should not take up the cudgels as a councillor on behalf of the person who came to see me who had been hit with a hammer because I am being partisan. I disagree, however. Then again I saw his bruises.

If we do not work to reduce the number of violent incidents on the buses we will continue to have a reduction in the number of people using the buses.

I had a debate yesterday with Chris Crean from Friends of the Earth at an event run by Common Purpose. Chris's argument related to a bus lane which has been suspended on the Tyburn Road - accompanied with a great gnashing of teeth and wailing from the government.

On that particular road there was a bus every 15 mins and the traffic was completely snarled up. We stood on a manifesto which called for "multiple occupancy lanes". This it is alleged may result in considerable sales of blow up dolls, but is a mechanism that will encourage car sharing. The lane was suspended because the M6 exit was diverted and the congestion which causes air pollution and probably as a consequence asthma in kids disappeared.

Most important routes in Birmingham are radial. The really heavy ones generally only have two lanes. We could have one multiocc/bus lane and one all traffic. However, it is not practical to have one bus, one others.

This means we need to experiment with multiple occupancy (fx government gnashes teeth). In the mean time, however, the main reason people (particularly users of the Senior Citizens Concessionary Fares Scheme) are reducing bus usage is concern for public safety.

Part of the solution is to take public safety on buses more seriously. That was one of my big projects of the day.

The biggest news of the day, however, will have to remain under wraps for a couple more months. (Sorry)

Another good bit of news, however, is that the bus real time information is now really happening.

*trolling is where someone posts something into a news group or email list deliberately to wind others up.
 
 

In Court Again Today


This will be the second time this week. I was in "court" for a few minutes on Wednesday to defend my first Employment Tribunal in 20 years of employing people (I currently have about 100 staff).

Later today I will pop in for ex Labour Councillor Tony Kennedy's Malicious Falsehood Action against Lib Dem Councillor Martin Mullaney. This will be its second part in court.

It last hit court on November 6th

The background is that there was a row in a pub which resulted in someone (jp) getting their head cut and concussed. Tony Kennedy was banned by the landlord and later arrested by the police.

Martin Mullaney made an email post to a yahoogroup stating that Tony Kennedy was about to be arrested and Tony Kennedy threatened to sue him unless he withdrew.

He did not withdraw and TK issued a county court summons online through a system that is supposed to mainly be used for debt actions and the like.

TK also sued "Birmingham Liberal Democrats". The point about Political Parties is that generally they are not legal persons and as a consequence you cannot sue "Birmingham Liberal Democrats".

I attended Court last time to make this point which the judge accepted.

The whole point about the issue is that court proceedings have "absolute priviledge". Therefore, every time Tony Kennedy goes to another court hearing he gets another batch of bad publicity. C'est la vie.

Generally Birmingham Politics is not that violent.

Labour councillors did chase one of their own members into the toilet who later joined us and then was threatened with jail for campaigning on Post Office closures.

Toilet terror for councillor Feb 14 2001
A 72-year-old councillor was forced to cower in a toilet for his own protection after he was allegedly manhandled by his own party members.
and
Hemming hits back as post row rumbles on May 24 2004
A Birmingham councillor threatened with jail in a row over post office closures has hit back at his critics.


The third councillor threatened with imprisonment last year was Peter Douglas Osborne who turned up at the Iraq War demonstration with a couple of placards (but noone else to hold them) campaigning "against appeasement". He then ran his own one man demonstration in favour of war on Iraq.

I did have a stone thrown at me last night, but I think that was general vandalism and thuggery rather than a political statement. There have been Labour Councillors beaten up by other Labour activists. Mohammed Afzal and Amir Khan were both victims of this.

 
Thursday, January 13, 2005
 

Coleen Gill (2)


The previous post has all the details. Lets have a look at the things according to the APE that Coleen should not have done:
The key tension in government, particularly local government, is between councillors and officers. Many officers would like councillors not to exist.

The theory behind the actions of the APE and the SBE appears to be that Officers always do the right thing for the best possible reason. If that were to be the case then there would be no need for any democratic accountability. Unsurprisingly in the real world this is not the case.

One of the big flaws with the Standards Code is that people are guilty of breaking it even if someone believes they might have done something wrong - whether or not they have done something wrong

The bringing into disrepute issue is again not an objective test, but a subjective one. One person's disrepute (in this instance) is the vast majority of the population's proper behaviour.
 
 

Coleen Gill


This is the judgement of the Adjudication Panel in the Case of Coleen Gill.

The essence of the case is that Coleen Gill was asked by Mrs "A" who was the mother of two children to get involved in a case. The case was one in which the Social Workers thought that Mrs "A" was being involved in a form of Munchhausen's by proxy.

Coleen Gill

a) Attended a case conference with Mrs "A", without declaring she was a councillor
b) Sent copies of the case papers to the local MP David Davis MP

The conclusion of the Adjudication Panel is as follows (taken from the PDF with the report in it). I have tried to include the main sections only and then comment:
================== From the PDF, comments in Italics =======================

1.1.1 The allegation was that the Respondent became involved in a child
protection case and in doing so had failed to comply with the East Riding of
Yorkshire Council’s Code of Conduct by:
1.1.1.1 Acting in a manner which compromised the impartiality of those
working for the authority;
1.1.1.3 Using her position as a member improperly to confer on or secure for
another person an advantage or disadvantage;
1.1.1.4 Bringing her office and authority into disrepute.

There were four allegations, given that she was given permission to pass papers to the MP that of revealing confidential information was dropped

4.1.3 The Case Tribunal find that the two social workers who conducted the core
assessment meeting on 17 March 2003 were inhibited by the Respondent in their
approach to the meeting. They did not know the Respondent’s identity, but they
were deceived by the omission of the Respondent to declare her office. They
would have approached the meeting in a different manner if they had been
apprised of the whole truth. However, the Case Tribunal would not have expected
such knowledge to affect the way in which the meeting was conducted which
should be the same whoever is present.

This covers one of the key two issues. The officers should not have behaved differently were they to have known she was a councillor. However, she is considered to have deceived them by not indicating that she was. I think this is one key area of dispute in the conclusion. Should Councillors really be branded with the word "Councillor" on their head so that people always know they are councillors. If that is the case then Councillors cannot do mystery customer work where they find out what happens to people when Councillors are not watching what is going on.

4.1.4 Whilst the Respondent claims to have acted for the family as a unit, it is clear from the evidence that the effect of her involvement was to promote the views of Mrs “A” without regard to the interests of the children and her disagreement with
the view of the majority of professional officers.

This is another area of question. The presumption is that she was acting improperly by putting forward that information she had. To some extent any comment will inherent have only part of the story. In terms of acting as an unpaid advocate, a common role for politicians, then inherently all of this work would be inherently partial and theoretically against the code of conduct. The judgement ignores the question of what a councillor is doing as an advocate which is different to when a councillor is making a formal decision. If a councillor puts forward information which it is felt is being ignored inherently it is likely to be one-sided.

4.1.5 A representative at one level must not abuse their position to facilitate the
involvement of representatives at another level. In this case, the Respondent used
her position as a councillor and information available to her in that capacity to
attempt to bring about the involvement of Parliamentary representatives in a
matter which was being dealt with in accordance with national and local
guidelines. That was an abuse of her position. The Respondent should have
operated within the guidelines and sought a local examination of any complaint.

This is one of the more ludicrous parts of the judgement. A Councillor is not allowed to escalate an issue to an MP or MEP without exhausting the local procedures. Pull the other one

5.1.2 This was supported by the fact that it did not influence the decision of the officers involved, which was acknowledged within the reference, and evidence obtained.

I highlight "did not influence the decision".

5.2.3 The Respondent had every right to question, on behalf of a constituent, the
manner in which matters were proceeding but, by her actions of ignoring
protocols within the authority and by placing a partisan, unverified view of the
situation before the M.P., Mr. Davis, (with a copy to the Prime Minister and his
wife), the ESO considered that she intended to use indirect pressure in favour of
Mrs. “A”, which was intended, or was likely, to compromise the impartiality of the
officers who were involved.

It is almost certain that any advocacy is likely to be partisan and unverified to some extent

5.2.15 Officers of the Social Services Department of East Riding of Yorkshire Council
have, throughout, been at pains to emphasise that their responsibility was
towards the children of the “A” family and not towards Mrs. “A”.

This is an issue with the law.

5.2.16 The ESO considered that the Respondent, in the manner that she operated, had
been persuaded by Mrs “A’s” arguments and she was working on behalf of Mrs.
“A”, with the belief that her actions, in favour of their mother, would assist the
children. The Respondent did not seem to have understood that the Child
Protection Committee was extremely concerned that the cause of the children’s
difficulties was, in fact, their mother and she did not enquire about that
Committee’s view of the situation.

5.2.19 In addition, by including in the information sent to the Member of Parliament, a letter of complaint about a Social Services Manager, the ESO considered that the Respondent was also improperly using her position to confer on, or secure for, that member of staff, a disadvantage. Again, in this set of circumstances, the Respondent could have addressed the matter through internal procedures within her authority, but she chose not to do so. The ESO also considered that by her actions and her intention, the Respondent used her position for the purpose of conferring or securing a disadvantage on those staff who were working on the child protection process.

This concludes that you can never complain about anyone unless you have exhausted the internal procedures.

5.2.22 The Respondent was initially operating in her official capacity when she decided to assist Mrs “A” following the initial approach to her. She contacted Social Services Managers, asked if she could attend a Child Protection Case Conference along with Mrs “A”, and was advised of the dangers of confusing, within that situation, her role as a councillor with that of a “friend”. The Director of Social Services clearly informed the Respondent that, in his opinion, she should not become directly involved as a “friend” to Mrs. “A”, because he felt that she would not,in the circumstances, be able to divest herself of her role as a councillor.

5.2.24 In addition, by ignoring and by-passing internal protocols and procedures, by
which she could have addressed her concerns relative to her perceived treatment
of a constituent, and, instead, referring her concerns to the Member of
Parliament, with copies to the Prime Minister and his wife, the ESO considered
that the Respondent brought her authority into disrepute.

5.3 Case Tribunal Decision
5.3.1 The Case Tribunal accept the ESO’s submissions and find that the Respondent had
breached the Code of Conduct as alleged, save in relation to the disclosure of
confidential information (as to which see paragraph 5.3.3 below). The rationale is
contained in the commentary on the findings of fact contained in paragraph 4
above. The Respondent was, throughout her dealings with the “A” family, acting
as a councillor and she abused her position.

5.3.2 This abuse compromised the impartiality of the officers professionally involved
with the “A” family, had the effect of improperly conferring on or securing an
advantage for Mrs ”A” and brought both the Respondent’s office and her authority
into disrepute.

Even though the decision was not changed???

5.3.4 The evidence is that by her involvement in the matter, the Respondent acted only in the interests of Mrs “A”. The Council’s interest was primarily in the children of the “A” family and the welfare of the children was paramount. The Respondent acted in a way, which was opposed to and incompatible with the interests of the Council in the discharge of their child protection function.

6.1.3 By practising a deception at the core assessment meeting, when she deliberately
did not announce that she was a councillor, the Respondent placed herself in a
position where her honesty and integrity could be questioned.

Clearly all councillors should have a flashing light on their head to indicate they are councillors (with the colour indicating the party) so noone is left in any doubt.

6.1.7 A member should not be criticised for questioning, on behalf of a constituent,
procedures of the authority or for properly bringing matters to the attention of a
Member of Parliament. The Respondent, in the circumstances, however, not only
disregarded suitable advice given to her by a senior officer of the Council but also
acted in defiance of that advice when she became directly involved by her
attendance at the core assessment meeting. In addition, after having, in her
words, “come up against a brick wall”, she referred sensitive and confidential
matters to an external source, without first exhausting methods of addressing her
concerns through officers of the council.

She didn't do what she was told by officers of the authority.

6.3.3 The Case Tribunal have weighed all these factors, the seriousness of the issue,
the Respondent’s honest if erroneous belief and her apparent failure to appreciate
the gravity of the issue, which gives rise to the possibility of her acting in the
same way again, and the apparent contributory factor of lack of training. Taking
the whole of the evidence in the round, the Case Tribunal have decided that the
Respondent be disqualified for a period of one year from 16 December 2004 from
being or becoming a member of the relevant authority or any other authority
within the meaning of the Local Government Act 2000.

 
 

GOWM calls for Tube Stations


GOWM - the Government Office for the West Midlands appears to be calling for Tube Stations. This comes from their performance framework for the Strategic Partnership which refers to having Police Officers at Tube Stations.

One presumes, therefore, to have police officers at tube stations we need to actually have tube stations and if we are going to have tube stations we should logically also have a tube to go with them (Although Curzon St Railway Station has no Railway .... now).

On the other hand it could simply be that a document for the West Midlands has been copied from a document for London.

These things happen.

 
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
 

Reasonable Force


We are still stuck with the issue of defining what is "reasonable force". What I think it "reasonable" the tories may think is "grossly disproportionate". That is where the problem lies.

The law clearly needs to be changed to identify what sort of force is allowed to be used in:

  1. Defending yourself
  2. Defending your home
  3. Defending others.

The current system is fraught with confusion as it is a matter of judgement as to what is "reasonable".

The CPS may have issued "guidance", but that is insufficient. We need clarity. Such clarity needs a public debate.

Roman Law is interesting and clear.

For example in table 12:
12. A person committing burglary in the night may be lawfully killed.
13. A thief in the daytime may not be killed unless he carried a weapon . . . .

Personally I would feel that is beyond "reasonable force". However, we do need some definition of what is "reasonable force". I believe the French rule is that if a burglar uses violence then they do so at the risk of their own life. Now that is something which perhaps is a "reasonable" position. I have tried to rummage out the French position on the web (my French is passable) without any luck.

This gives a better analysis of the Twelve tables. This includes the following phrase:
"The laws of France and Italy excuse the homicide of an intruder who commits burglary or theft with violence. (Code Pénal de France, III, II, Arts. 322, 329.) (Codice Penale, II, III, Art. 376.)"
I have not been able to check the validity of that phrase, but it seems that it gives a start in resolving this dilemma.


 
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
 

Labour lose it in Council


Another symptom of an early General Election (apart from the financial crisis embroiling the government and the disputes between Brown and Blair) was Labour's antics today in the council chamber.

Firstly, they don't want to keep the Yardley wards together. Yardley, Sheldon and Acocks Green as areas have been together since 699. The Boundary Commission supported by Labour want to split them up putting Sheldon in with Washwood Heath and putting Yardley/Stechford in with Small Heath and Sparkbrook. This means the road Constance Road by the Cricket Ground would actually be in Yardley Constituency.

This Council opposes this supporting an alternative more sensible scheme.

Secondly, Labour voted against our proposal to hold onto the PRG monies. We have about £8 Million sitting in a bank account. We would like to have this to spend on Social Care dealing with children, elderly people and the disabled. Labour want to spend it. The only specific project they mentioned was a Skate Park in the city centre.

Labour are claiming we want "cuts" because we want to spend the money on social care rather than on a Skate Park.

The fact is that the City Council had a forecast deficit of £22.7 Million in Social Care alone by 30th June 2004. The new administration took "office" on 29th June. However hard we tried we would not be able to spend £22.7 Million on Social Care in one day.
In any event the Labour Leader and Deputy Leader squatted
in the Leadership offices for about a week well into July.

Quite surreal.

To add to the surreality of this we have Lib Dem Watch's take on the situation. If the Labour Group were chanting then they had better learn to chant a bit louder - I couldn't hear them. No wonder the Labour Party are calling for more effective campaigning in Birmingham if this is all they can come up with.

Labour clearly want Skate Parks not care for the vulnerable. In any event there is a Skate Park in my ward (South Yardley) and also the Council is supporting Epic Skate Park which may be the biggest skate park in Europe. How many skate parks do we really need.
 
 

Looks Like an Early General Election


One swallow may not a summer make, but it really does look as if the election campaign has started.
 
 

I'm amazed


Labour seem to want to claim that I oppose actions to cut down on anti-social behaviour.

It is the Labour Government that have paid to teach people to be effective graffiti vandals. Evening Mail 24th August 2004.

It is the Labour Government that has undermined discipline in schools by forcing schools to readmit violent pupils (as happened locally in Yardley).

It is the Labour Government under which the highest proportion of school children ever are taking drugs.
See BBC report of Sunday Express

Their ID Database scheme is simply "more laws for the law-abiding".

 
Monday, January 10, 2005
 

Swan Underpass


I did my advice bureau tonight and lo and behold the Swan Underpass remains bereft of graffiti. Much that I am really not sure why it has to be closed off over the weekend when the graffiti had been cleared by Thursday.

We have also tried to make Puffins extinct. Puffins are those silly types of pedestrian crossings (replacing Pelicans) that don't have a light to tell you when to walk or not. They did permit a pedestrian to do a little dance on Kings Heath High Street - much to the amusement of drivers (not!), but there are no lights once people have started to cross. You just need to trust technology.

Hmmm.

Puffins were a nonsense idea from government.

In the mean time, however. The Adjudication Panel for England have decided to ban a councillor for doing casework. I kid you not. The whole system is going surreal. Check out the Coleen Gill case somewhere oop north.

On Thursday we had a regeneration meeting at which almost the whole meeting was taken up by process.

I feel like playing "My Funny Valentine". This is a really interesting number that starts based around a C minor chord with a descending note. I heard it performed by a flugel horn player at the jazz summer school in Pontypridd. We did actually sign up this person as a singer about a year later. He really is very very good. I was listening to Miles Davies' version of "My Funny Valentine" whilst meandering around my advice bureaux.

We are supposed to be releasing some of his music soon (not Miles Davies). This is really quality music.

 
 

Labour Launch Campaign - more laws for the law abiding


Labour launched their campaign in Yardley today. They attacked me. I have said that we need to act to deal with criminals. Labour intend to introduce more laws for the law-abiding.

Their plan with the ID Database involves keeping detailed records of honest law-abiding people and fining them if they don't tell the government if

a) They move
b) Their ID card is stolen
c) Their ID card is damaged

In the mean time, however, the ID card will not apply to Asylum Seekers or illegal migrants, but it also cannot be used to distinguish between illegal migrants and legal migrants or indeed holidaymakers.

It is a waste of time for dealing with terrorism and will not be able to deal with the vast majority of benefit fraud.

It is another example of Labour's more laws for the law abiding.

In the mean time Labour have the record number of drug using school children.



 
 

New City Park with grass


We passed the report through the city cabinet today. This was, unlike proposals which emerged under Labour, a proposal for a park with grass in it. This is, of course, not the sort of grass that is smoked on the No 50 bus service.

It was also confirmed that if the Snow Hill development goes forward that the Kennedy Memorial will be preserved to the satisfaction of the Irish Forum.
 
Sunday, January 09, 2005
 

Aceh - the media picks up on the truth



The proposal to DfID:
Humanitarian Assistance in Aceh Needed
Name of District Dead Displaced (Estimate)
(1) Aceh Besar (Banda Aceh) 9,032 12,500
(2) Aceh Jaya (Takengon) 15,000 25,000
(3) Kota Calang 5,000 10,000
(4) Aceh Barat (Meulaboh) 3,400 10,000
(5) Aceh Utara (Lokseumawe) 1,540 50,000

Remember this is dated 29th December in a proposal to DfID.

From an Indonesian source:
English Update 1: Meulaboh, Lhokseumawe and Nias are in Desperate Need of Help
Jakarta, 29 December 2004
The Indonesian Civil Society Coalition for Earthquake and Tsunami Victims


In the forgotten ghost town, thousands still wait for aid
(see original Observer story for more)
The relief effort is under way, but pitifully little help has reached Meulaboh, 200 miles from Banda Aceh, where corpses still litter the streets

Jason Burke
Sunday January 9, 2005
The Observer

They are still bringing out the dead in Meulaboh. Two weeks after the tidal wave that destroyed half the town, days after a stream of international dignitaries had their pictures taken in Banda Aceh, 200 miles to the north west, Meulaboh's ruined streets are still strewn with corpses.
There is no clear-up operation. Shell-shocked residents picked through the rubble of their homes with their own hands. The Observer watched as one householder removed the putrid corpse of a child from a heap of splintered timber outside what was his living room, laying it gently in the street outside. Desultory fires sent acrid smoke pluming into the heavy tropical air. On street corners, heavily armed paramilitary police stood listlessly in the heat, on guard against the desperate and the hungry.

In the overflowing refugee camps that ring the city, rice is rationed to four ounces daily. Aid workers and soldiers say there are thousands more victims outside the city, unable to travel, who have yet to receive any assistance at all since the tsunami struck.

(continues on Observer site)
 
 

Closure of Swan Underpass


They did tell me that they would need to close off the A45 to clear the graffiti. Indeed it was closed off today, but the graffiti was cleared off at least 2 days ago.

I did say that I didn't think the road needed to be closed off. This is one of those mysteries I need to get to find out the details about.

Noticing the start of Labour's General Election poster campaign I wonder if the following slogans are ones Labour will use:

Labour - highest ever monthly government deficit 2004
Labour - youngest ever drunk driver convicted driving a stolen car
Labour - highest ever proportion of school age drug users

Somehow I don't think they will.

DfID's Situation Reports show some understanding of the problems in Aceh.

They now say:
"Indonesia: Inter Agency assessment ongoing, starting to provide complementary
information to localised NGO reports. In accessible areas, relief efforts starting to
move along with serious momentum. Coordination remains the priority, as well as
perspective on how reconstruction can be kick-started alongside the relief effort."

Sadly they did not feel that adding to any momentum here was a priority suffient enough for them to offer financial support a fortnight ago.

The question now, however, moves to the long term. It is clear that DfID are not in a position to work properly on short term relief. I wonder as well if they can handle the long term.



 
Friday, January 07, 2005
 

That's life


Earlier this week I bought a new oven much like the one I already have. It was delivered this morning. Tonight I came in at about 10.30pm. I thought now was the time to replace the oven so I started to take out the old oven. I had it sitting on two chairs and was trying to take out the plug when I noticed it was in fact the new oven.

C'est la vie. My 14 year old daughter replaced the oven earlier today.

Although I have bad news *again* from DfID, there is good news that the Judge studying the Aston Election Petition, has expressed public concern. The fact is that Labour candidates fiddled the elections in many wards in Birmingham and in other cities. So did other parties, but not to the same extent. The funniest is one ward in which a Labour candidate filled in a few hundred ballots, but only with his own name not with the two other Labour candidates (hence we won two seats and he won one). Sadly we don't have a petition in that ward.

With a bit of luck we should prove the massive abuse of the electoal process soon. Whether people will wake up before Blair (probably unknowingly) steals the General Election or not is unclear.

 
 

Swan Underpass


Two bits of good news.

a) The swan underpass has been sorted
b) We have a commitment to get the Manor House Lane crossing resolved.

Sadly, however, DfID are still being intransigent about Aceh and Ampala.

 
Thursday, January 06, 2005
 

Birmingham City Laboratories and Conservation


I spent part of this morning reviewing the food laboratory in Garretts Green and looking at some conservation issues in Acocks Green.

Both are important issues. We are what we eat and the safety of that and certainty of safety are both important issues. The nature of the built environment is important to everyone. There was a rather sad Sunday demolition of a property last year - which was to avoid it being listed. A old property property on Yardley Road is being messed about without planning permission at the moment. The wheels of bureacracy grind slowly, but should be able to get there.

 
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
 

Where are they?


DfID claim they are funding organisations active in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but where are they?

I have had two reports from Sri Lanka that indicate the only organisation found on ground in Ampala is Birmingham's IR.

I received a text message: "situation here critical. Still discovering bodies, Thousands homeless, hungry,desparate.Pain beyond imagining.we can't let them down. Future generations will never forgive us."

Why won't DfID offer funding to an organisation that is actually on the ground. DfID's last Situation Report has committed expenditure (including not finally approved) of £13 Million. Theoretically they have £37 Million at least left. The fact is that urgent action is needed now.

 
 

Swan Underpass and Graffiti


For some time I have been working on getting the authority to keep the Swan Underpass (on the A45) clear of graffiti. This is a good example of how the authority has failed to do its job properly in the past. In theory the contractors are on site this week. However, I am getting a list of all the jobs to be done and when they are to be done for an audit.

Graffiti and flyposting are important issues as they give out messages about whether or not the local environment is respected. In the end they come down to enforcement, but removal is also important.

One of the oddest projects I found out about last year was one which was established to teach youths how to do graffiti and tags. I did not think that was a useful use of public funds.

In the mean time DfID are still not responding properly on Aceh. I have written to Hilary Benn.
 
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
 

Funding and South Asia


Have spent part of the day chasing DfID. Sadly it appears that they have hit their budgetary limits in South Asia. Perhaps the government have not told civil servants in DfID that they will match public contributions and that is the reason they are not changing their refusal to fund projects. Looking at the DfID website, however, and their fundiung of various projects it seems they just didn't feel like funding these particular projects. Or maybe the decision was made when the budget was not as big. Still the outcome seems a bit odd.

Sources from South Asia indicate that some agencies are distributing dry food when cooking water is not available and there are no cooking utensils (because they were washed away). These are the sort of things that would have been distributed if the DfID had agreed to fund the projects mentioned above.

Sri Lanka:
 Provision of plastic sheeting to families
 Provision of community tents to be used as public kitchen or clinics
• Provision of clothing material to targeted families
• Provision of cooking sets kits (one kit per family)

Aceh:
Activity 1: Distribute NFIs to 10,000 families including:
• Hygiene & Family Kits (each kit will include 2 bars of laundry soap; 2 bars of bathing soap; 5 toothbrush; 1 pack of toothpaste; 2 towels; 1 large mosquito net; 5 plates; 2 glasses; 2 cups; 2 spoons, 1 large mugs, sanitary towels) – with hygiene promotion.
• Kitchen Sets
• Jerry cans
• Plastic sheeting
• Water purifiers
Activity 2: Support 2,000 displaced families to return to partially damaged homes by providing reconstruction materials for home cleaning and repair.


 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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