Saturday, July 31, 2010
Sutton has been picked as one of four councils to pioneer the Big Society as a Liberal Council, alongside Labour Liverpool and Conservative-run Windsor & Maidenhead and Eden Valley. Sutton have picked four projects to trial
1.give people influence for transport decisions and allowing greater local choice in schemes that suit them
Essentially this is keeping Smarter Travel Sutton going now that the £5million Transport for London funding has been spent.
2.train a new generation of community organisers
In a serendipitous move, a team of 'young advisers' will meet in the Sutton Life Centre attracting another revenue stream for the building that still has no meaningful business plan and an uncertain future. Ostensibly this is to help 'continue' to allow the Council to consult local residents. Sutton has one of the poorest records in London when residents ask whether they feel if they can influence local decision making. Promotional banners were put up along residential streets telling people that they can influence decisions last year so that the Council could help boost their survey figures and so hit a government target that attracted some funding. So they spent some taxpayers money to get some more taxpayers money. Not the most efficient way to do things.
3.give communities the power to green their neighbourhoods
This will help fund the Hackbridge project, which aspires to make this part of the Borough 'the greenest place to live in the UK'. This ambitious project has struggled for funding since its inception.
4.give people a greater say in local health provision
The Council is a major commissioner of services from the National Health Service, in particular for Adult Social Care. It is right that health provision should be moved away from the great monoliths of the Primary Care Trusts and closer to local people but I wonder if this move has been superceded by the Government's plans to scrap Primary Care Trusts, putting the power and decision-making with GPs.
You'll see a thread with the first three. Sutton's LibDems are saying that the Big Society has already started in Sutton. I say that they've found three projects that were struggling for cash and have latched onto a sugar daddy.
The Big Society is a great concept, that has not been discussed widely enough yet to be understood by many. However, this isn't it. Handing down power to the Local Authority from central government is just a first stepping stone. Free schools, giving spending decisions to GPs, giving voters the power of recall, these are all examples of handing power back down as close as is possible to where decisions are made and should be the way ahead. Instead, here in Sutton, we'll see the majority of residents shrug their shoulders at best and continue to rightly complain about why decisions are made about paving the High Street for £3m and putting up the Sutton Life Centre at £8m without them being consulted first. Sutton could and should have been bolder in putting forward ideas. Maybe, and whisper it quietly now, they could have asked residents how they would see the Big Society manifest itself in Sutton?
The next day, the snake man came all kitted out ready for anything...except one thing. He refused to step into the house because of the dogs.
Their bark was definitely not worse than the snake's bite. Is this Singapore's equivalent of Health & Safety?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Clearing out the Civic Offices would be extreme and unneccessary but there is always scope for Councils to concentrate on what they do best and leave other activities to those who can do things better. We already have plenty of other companies and organisations running services for us in Sutton, from bin collection to another council running our communication department. We need to do more of this, market-testing the contracts on a regular basis.
However, should the Council be teaching children how not to take drugs at the Sutton Life Centre? Should the Council have a paternalistic view on Youth Services rather than allowing organisations with great track records across London the freedom to offer something more relevant to young people? Should the Council be paying people to tell us how to 'live on one planet'. The Council has a key role as a facilitator but it doesn't need to remain after making the introductions, becoming an obstacle for people to cross to get things done. Councils like Sutton need to know when to simplify and when to let go entirely. There's plenty of scope here before we do a Maywood.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
They attempted to soften the blow of taking on two more cabinet roles at £34,440 between them by trimming the amount paid to local committee chairs (We'd proposed halving this) and totally scrapping the Opposition Deputy Leader's allowance (So one Conservative takes almost as big a hit as five LibDems.) To their credit, the Conservative Opposition rightly accepted this cut as unlike the LibDems, we could not look residents in the eye whilst cutting frontline services, knowing that they are paying for increased allowances for politicians. We are residents too.
Their final sleight of hand was to include the removal of political assistants from both parties. Again, this is fine as a separate decision but somewhat duplicitous to say that they are taking a cut. The Conservative Political Assistant left at the end of their contract in May. The Liberal Democrat Assistant has now morphed into a 'neutral' council officer...looking after the Liberal Democrat administration. Political assistants came to Sutton after a previous holder of the Head of Leadership post was overtly political whilst being bound by the restrictions of being a Council Officer. Now, it'll just be swept under the carpet again.
Cllr Tony Shields made the valid point that increasing the number of cabinet members of the Council equated to 10 pay rises. If you do less work for the same money, this is an improvement in your working conditions that is equivalent to a pay rise. Ask anyone that has been in negotiations with a union.
Lord Tope in his speech at the meeting, expressed the view that it is an unedifying sight to watch politicians arguing about their own pay. I have agreed with him on this on several occasions. However, he then went on to argue that it is not just about how much money councillors get as individuals but how much they value the job as a councillor, saying if we did not value the role then how could they possibly expect anyone else to value it. So says someone that has been in politics for 30 years and has earned more than £100,000 per year from politics for several of those years until recently stepping down from one of his many roles. Meanwhile, those who have run a business know that this is a specious argument. Yes, we ought to market-test our allowances, benchmarking them against other authorities. The recent independent review of allowances in London did this. However, we need to pay a rate that is commensurate to the job at hand.
The reason that I wanted to halve allowances for Local Committee chairs is that £9,000 was far too much for the majority of them who chaired 5 meetings a year, attended two other short meetings in advance of each committee and took a few phone calls (say, one hour per week for this). Beyond this, they were taking up the slack of less-effective ward councillors who should be capable of covering ward specific issues. Lord Tope may put a value of £125 per hour on this role (the equivalent of an annual salary of £260,000) I certainly don't. This is what is allowed to happen if you get disconnected from real life and start talking about arbitrary values rather than commonsense.
This brilliant video based on Jay-Z's song 'Empire State of Mind' has been all over the news this weekend after attracting 1.2million viewers on YouTube. I especially liked the reference to the fact that Newport is twinned with Guangxi Province in China, (there's no province finer.)
With the dicy economic climate at the moment, we need to attract people and investment into Sutton and, quite frankly, we need a laugh. So, put your thinking caps on. Give us your best lyrics for the next big thing, 'Sutton State of Mind'.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to email@example.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.
I can't help prompt you with my favourites, apart from pointing you to the blogroll on the right hand side of this page. Happy voting and thank you.
HI SCULLYWAG. HOW'S IT FEEL TO BE PLAIN MR INSTEAD OF COUNCILLOR? DUMPED ON THE SCRAP HEAP BY YOUR NEIGHBOURS, VIA THE BALLOT BOX. YOUR CHANCE OF BEING RE-ELECTED WOULD BE BETTER IN BURMA! GOODBYE TO YOU!
NOW THERE ARE ONLY 10 TORIES LEFT ON THE COUNCIL. FOR YOUR OLD JOB. WHY NOT, PICK A NAME OUT OF A HAT AS YOU ARE ALL TARNISHED WITH THE SAME BRUSH. GOODBYE TO YOU!
CAMERON SHOULD LOOK AMONGEST THE ETON TOFFS FOR CUTS. INSTEAD OF HAMMERING THE POOR. THATS WHY YOUR NEIGHBOURS DIDN'T VOTE FOR YOU. THEY KNOW THE TORIES ONLY LOOK AFTER THE RICH. GOODBYE TO YOU!
I SEE BARNET TORY COUNCILLORS HAVE GIVEN THEMSELVES A HEFTY PAY RISE. TYPICAL OF YOUR MOB. DO AS YOUR TOLD NOT AS I DO. GOODBYE TO YOU!
(all capitals, punctuation and spelling, sic.)
I don't know why someone feels so moved to start having a pop at five o'clock in the morning, two months after the election, but it is intriguing that people feel that people who volunteer for public service are fair game for this, though I admired the poetic sign offs. At least they got it off their chest and I hope that they are happier for it.