Communications disease Public sector waste

Council puffs itself

Around Ealing January 2006 Front PageLast week Around Ealing, a “new monthly magazine”, from the council hit my doormat.

The purpose of this magazine seems to be blow the council’s own trumpet and bypass local press who will add commentary about real performance and value for money.

Leo ThompsonIt is particularly telling that Leo Thompson, the council’s Labour Leader, can do a piece about the Council’s Comprehensive Performance Assessment by the Audit Commission without mention of the terrible farce of last year’s appeal.

Gazette Front PageI do wish that the Council would stop puffing itself at council taxpayer’s expense and get on with the job of delivering service that we value.

It is a bit smelly that this new initiative coincides with the forthcoming local in elections in May.

Letter in Gazette 27-1-2005.jpg[See letter published in Ealing & Acton Gazette on 27th January.]

Communications disease

Home Office misfires with kiddie internet ad

Home Office ST ad 15-1-2006.jpgIn today’s Sunday Times some genius from the Home Office has managed to place a half page ad on page 8 warning of the dangers of the internet for children. Some communications whizz at the Home Office probably enjoyed commissioning all of this expensive imagery but public information it is not. Who is the audience here?

I think I would much rather that someone from the Home Office was sytematically going around ISPs and evaluating their controls and monitoring of online child abuse than producing flashy newspaper ads. I know the grunt work is not as exciting but puffing yourself is of no use to kids in danger.

Ex-Mayor Livingstone Policing

Met Safer Neighbourhoods teams come early

The Evening Standard today covered the announcement by the Mayor that all wards in London will have Safer Neighbourhoods teams in place by the end of April (see MPS and Mayor‘s press releases).

In Ealing we still only have 8 of 23 wards covered by these teams (see MPS site). It seems the Mayor is doing his best to bolster Labour’s chances in the forthcoming local elections by timing the in service date of these teams to precede the elections by a few days. It will be interesting to see how we will get from 8 to 23 teams in Ealing in only a few months.

Communications disease

The Mayor and Hammersmith and Fulham “communicating” again

This morning I cleared my girlfriend’s mail from her mat in Hammersmith. By coincidence the Mayor’s Londoner had arrived the same morning that Hammersmith and Fulham’s hfm magazine had.

The Londoner’s headline, “London schools make the grade”, and the accompanying article failed to mention the vocational qualifications scam that is artificially inflating schools’ performance figures right now. On the whole hfm steered clear of naked propaganda but managed to puff local schools’ performance in an editorial response to a letter stating that: “Overall 59.3% of Hammersmith & Fulham pupils gained 5 or more good GCSE passes.” Again there was no mention that a single GNVQ was worth 4 Cs.

The Mayor insists that Transport for London places three one page ads in the 20 pages of the Londoner to hide the Precept money he is wasting in the TfL communications budget no doubt.

It is scandalous that the Mayor and local authorities in London are squandering our Council Tax to puff themselves and at the same time unfairly competing with local press who will add commentary about real performance and value for money. The Evening Standard covered this issue much more promptly (on 14th October) and properly explained the GNVQ scam.

Ealing and Northfield Tram

Tram facts

A letter in the Telegraph today from Irvine Bell points up the problems with the Sheffield Tram – passenger projections 20 million, actual performance to-date no more than 12 million.

Ealing and Northfield Tram

Government loses appetite for Trams

Judging by the article in today’s Telegraph the chance that the Government will fund Ken’s Tram is diminishing. Livingstone would be seeking about as much cash as the Government has given to all light rail schemes since coming to power in 1997. Since then cost over-runs have made the Government wary of funding more black holes.

Communications disease

Government advertising explosion

In an article today the Telegraph highlights that in the first three months of the year, in the run up to a general election, the Government outspent both Unilever and Procter & Gamble. 

The central government advertising bill for the whole 2004-5 financial year was £203.2 million.  This is three times higher than when Labour came into power. 

Communications disease Health, housing and adult social services

Ealing PCT get the communications disease

Last week I received a copy of Your NHS, a publication of the Ealing Primary Care Trust. It is great that our PCT has been awarded 2 stars but I am probably keener that we get good services than the PCT spends money telling us how good it is.

On the front page of Your NHS it stated that the PCT had met the 48 hours target for access to a GP. I find this quite hard to stomach as I made an appointment to see my doctor on 6th October for 20th October. 2 weeks not 2 days. Apparently I could have called at 8.30am the following morning and talked to the triage doctor if I thought my case was urgent. Presumably this is their “get out of jail free card”.

There is a huge gap between the expensive puff hitting our doormats and the real experience on the ground.

It seems that the Londoner has led the way in showing how the State in its various forms can spend lots of our money to praise itself while avoiding the local press who will add commentary about real performance and value for money.

Letter in Gazette 21-10-2005.jpg[See letter published in Ealing & Acton Gazette 21st October.]

Ex-Mayor Livingstone

TfL pay themselves handsomely

The Evening Standard today reports on TfL’s figures for 2004-5. They highlight the 74 TfL managers who earn over £100,000. Feeding frenzy or what? In fact 621 earned over £50,000. 19 of them earnt over £150,000. Commissioner Bob Killey was top of the heap at a whisker under £700K.

Public sector waste

Little people, big burden

Yesterday I attended a licence hearing in the faded grandeur of Hammersmith Town Hall. I had applied for a variation of a premises license under the so called 24 hour drinking laws (otherwise known as the 2003 Licensing Act) and a neighbour had objected triggering a hearing in front of the Licensing Sub-committee.

In the Council Chamber there was the clerk of the Licensing Sub-committee, a representative of the environmental health department, the Police licensing officer, a legal adviser plus an observer, a licensing officer from the council, two councillors, our vexatious complainant and her husband plus myself. Eleven of us gathered at the appointed hour of 4pm on 3rd October. Three of us had had to take the afternoon off work. Six were future index-linked pensioners and two were on allowances increasing in line with civil service pay levels.

The chairman solemnly pointed out that this was a quasi-judicial process and that the matter would be decided on the evidence produced. The site notice emerged as the first and ultimately only issue. My vexatious complainant being quite short was complaining that the notice had been placed high up on a door and that it had been hard to read. It emerged from this conversation that the notice had not been printed on light blue paper.

“Light blue paper?” you say. “Yes, we all keep a stock of light blue paper for statutory notices”. No we don’t. I applied to West London Magistrate’s Court last year for a Justices’ On-Licence and posted a notice on white paper. I applied to the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham for a marriage licence this year and posted a notice on white paper.

Apparently in drafting the regulations that sit behind the 2003 Licensing Act the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have managed to specify that these notices have to be blue or rather light blue. When Hammersmith wrote earlier in the year to ask me to re-apply for the licence I had already got from the Magistrates they specified black ink, they specified 16 point or larger type, they specified A4 or larger paper, they specified that the notice must be displayed for 28 days. They did not specify light blue paper.

The chairman was not sure of the law although the licensing officer was adamant that the notice had to be blue. The legal advisor was not sure. The twenty-something legal advisor with an Australian accent was sent to check the regulations. After a delay of ten minutes or so she came back with a thick book and confirmed that regulations did indeed state that the notice had to be light blue.

The chairman considered the matter for 3 milliseconds before he somewhat shamefacedly told us that the hearing could not proceed. He did not have the power to ask the room if anyone objected to proceeding in the face of this deficiency. The notice had achieved its purpose of bringing forward a representation as they call fact free, meandering letters from NIMBYs. The only reason we were in the room was because the VC had seen the wretched notice. Without the non-light blue notice she would not have made a representation, there would have been no hearing and the application would have gone through on the nod. The Chairman’s embarrassment was such that he did ask the licensing officers to consider waiving their fee if we re-applied. We all trooped out after half an hour having achieved nothing.

Up until yesterday, as a fan of the new localism, I had been of the opinion that most people had missed the point with the 2003 Licensing Act. Here was one small example of our overweening central state actually giving some power to local authorities. Giving the power to make licensing decisions to local councillors. As a candidate for next May’s local elections I thought here is a new useful thing that councillors can do for their local areas. How wrong.

This experience is a fable for how the modern British state works:

  • central government starts off with a good idea – make the licensing regime self funding and put the decisions in the hands of councillors rather than magistrates
  • Whitehall civil servants, DCMS in this case, then produce overcomplex regulations and make arbitrary and silly decisions like making everyone re-apply for their licences at the same time so that the new council licensing departments are as overworked and stressed as they are inexperienced and untried
  • local authorities hire lots of mediocre people who are incapable of translating the regulations into some instructions that businesspeople can follow
  • Councillors feel that they have so little power or confidence that they cannot ignore pettifogging regulations.

I am sure that I will be told that all of this is my fault. I should have hired a licensing solicitor to guide me through this minefield. He would have charged me a couple of grand and advised me that light blue paper was a key issue.