Poodle Councillor of the Year

It’s not too late to nominate the Poodle Councillor of the year.
Alastair McCraw, Babergh & Mid-Suffolk’s chair of Scrutiny gets my nomination.
His comment (EADT 21st Aug) that it was not the job of his committee to delve into the accounts of the Council’s property company indicates that he and his committee felt able to discuss the results of the Council’s endeavours without seeing the formal accounts of the company.
Had he reviewed the formal accounts, he would have seen that the auditors have revalued the property portfolio downwards as at 31st March with a note that the revaluation included material value uncertainty as a result of the pandemic meaning that less certainty and a higher degree of caution should be applied to the valuation than would normally be the case.
In other words, the situation may be worse than the figures suggest.
Moreover, he would have also concluded that the revenues may have been overstated as they include rentals billed but not paid. Indeed, rentals not yet paid are treated as debtors (current assets).
So, there is possibly a double whammy of overstated profits and unrealistic current asset values.
The Joint Scrutiny Committee could have teased out all these issues and taken an informed view.
There may be a case of muddling through to see what happens, but that requires the people who perform oversight and scrutiny to fully immerse themselves in their responsibilities.
Alastair McCraw self-confesses that he doesn’t do this.
He is the Council Executive’s ideal choice as Chairperson.
As such he is well qualified to be Poodle Councillor of the Year

Council Taxes & Precepts: Clarion Call

Often, the best form of defence is to get one’s retaliation in first.
I am aware of at least one council discussing raising their Council Tax impositions without any mention of the needs of their electorate or the effect of the rises upon their residents
We need to tell local councillors at Parish, District and County levels telling them that as residents and tax payers we do not wish to see any increase in the council taxes levied upon our households.
We know that many businesses have suffered in the past nine months, we know that people have been furloughed and are on reduced incomes, we also know that many families relying on casual work whether in the hospitality sector or otherwise have seen their personal finances devastated.
Budget decisions are due next month, but before then we need to tell our Councillors that any increase in the Council Tax this year is unacceptable.
It’s time Councils reviewed their expenditures into three categories: Luxurious, Nice to have and Need to have. The last category getting the first bite of the monies.
For example, the last time I looked, Suffolk had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. I have excluded from this number those persons concerned with Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Those seventeen could not all be performing essential tasks relating to the proper stewardship of our monies.
Every council and organisation has its own little pockets of waste and extravagance. Even after years of austerity they can still be rooted out and the monies returned to the tax payer.
A version of this blog was published in the EADT on 26th December 2020

Winter is here for some

In 1986 Christopher Andersen published his book “The PO PO Principle”. Basically, it was a survival guide to office politics so that you could avoid being p**d on and p**d off.
No such good fortune was available to Ipswich’s Parks Department employees who are to be laid off as part of a budget cuts programme (EADT Nov 26).
Once again the Socialists in charge demonstrate that they talk about an even society whilst at the same time kicking the ladder away from those on the lower rungs.
What was The Leader of the Council, David Ellesmere thinking of?
If you want to save money in Local Government then you reduce administrative staff costs and other overheads.
If you do not have direct contact with the public or are at the front line of services, where is your value added?  Where are our Councillors who are supposed to protected us from executive excesses.
Instead of strategic thinking, Ellesmere and his cohorts act like WW1 generals. Never putting themselves in the line of fire, but forever sacrificing those who have few alternatives.

Ils sont nos poissons

It would appear that the French are still not happy with just controlling their half of the English Channel or La Manche, they want all the fish in the sea.
But Macron is no Charles de Gaulle and Boris is no Edward Heath.
On the 21st October we celebrated Trafalgar Day to commemorate the fact that 215 years ago we defeated the French and resolved once and for all who should rule the waves around Great Britain. Macron is no Napoleon either, despite his bluster.
They are our territorial waters and the French should look elsewhere.
Why are my Bremainer counterparts not supporting Macron? If the deal on offer is that good, they should be vocally supporting it and inviting French trawlers to station themselves in Dover or Douvres as they would rename it.
As always, Britain’s difficulties are seen to be France’s opportunities. But, this time around it’s not a case of “No, No Nanette” but “Absolument Non! Mr le President”
A version of this article was published in letter form in the East Anglian Daily Times on October 23rd


Meanwhile on Planet Babergh- Precision v. Accuracy

We’ve all had those days when we were much younger, when our boss asked us to produce a five/ten/twenty year forecast of whatever was taking his fancy at the time. The forecast would take into account economic cycles, inflationary expectations, disposable incomes, family sizes and so on. To make it credible all assumptions should be detailed and justified.
I suspect that something like that happened recently in Babergh & Mid Suffolk’s housing department when someone was asked to produce a twenty-year plan for housebuilding based on whatever factors were deemed relevant.
The answer is 17,568 homes over twenty years.
Note the precision.
Who believes this rubbish? In the real world our boss would have either called it 17,500 or being a clever sort, he might have said 15,000 so he could under promise and over deliver. If he was on the brink of an unwelcome retirement, he would have rounded the figure up to 25,000 so that his successors would be forever on the wrong end of target fulfillment.  
But he would have realized early on that the further away you are from the present the less reliable is your forecast and the more precise it is, the more it will attract criticism & derision.

Unfortunately, many of our public servants do not review their public utterances – hence precision taking precedence over accuracy and unreliable statistics rule our lives.

Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.

Meanwhile at Endeavour House*

We’ve all been to those meetings called by a Team Leader who demands “Ideas!”
They are rarely productive and often degenerate into farce as the stressed participants come with more and more outlandish ideas. Sometimes good ideas are tweaked and sometimes discarded as being too far ahead of their time. Sometimes, though, ideas escape and I would have loved to have been at the meeting that discussed filling Suffolk County Council’s budget deficit by mandating that staff should take two days unpaid leave as a contribution to solving the problem.
The council now advises that “Following valuable feedback and meaningful negotiations with UNISON, we have decided to remove the proposal to apply unpaid leave…for all staff”.
It makes you wonder what ideas were left on the floor destined for perpetual obscurity.
Meanwhile, I have always thought that overheads should always be reviewed to ascertain waste. Classic examples are jobs whose title includes the words “Deputy”. What does a deputy do and why is the job necessary?
Last time I looked, Suffolk County Council had seventeen officers and senior staff responsible for internal and external communications. There were another seven staff who accounted for Customer Services, Web and Digital Transformation. Incidentally, the seventeen did not include assistants and clerical staff. What do these communicators do to occupy their time?
Resources in the wrong places prevent good ideas and good projects from receiving the life blood they need.
The answer to the deficit should not include unpaid time from staff, but should focus on unnecessary jobs i.e., jobs that do not give added value for the residents and taxpayers.
One would have thought the County’s Tory leadership would have known that  – it’s not a mistake that Colin Noble would have made.
* Endeavour House is the joint headquarters of Suffolk County Council, Babergh District Council and Mid-Suffolk District Council.

The Call of the Dinner Plate

There’s always room for a good political joke. I heard this (disparaging) remark about a politician I admire and thought it worthwhile repeating for cleverness and appropriateness for using against someone else.
“…spends his time trawling through the calendars of each village and town council to see when their next village fete or open day is so that he can fill his face at the trough. I’ve never known a man turn up to so many free lunches. He’d attend the opening of a letter if there was a sandwich in it for him!”

All Politics is Local – the Sequel

A commentator observed this morning that the mid-term results were good enough for everyone to find something to be joyous about.
The Republicans in N.C. kept enough seats to hold their majority in the N.C. General Assembly. The Democrats won enough seats to overturn the Republicans’ veto proof super majority.
The three candidates mentioned in my blog of 24 October were all successful.
Anita Earls is on the N.C. Supreme Court and promises to apply the law equally to everyone, no matter their race or how much money they have in their pocket – an impartial judiciary that operates without fear or favor is the cornerstone of a healthy and thriving democracy. The court currently has a 4-3 Democratic majority, and Earls will shift it to a 5-2 Democratic majority. Although, much of the court’s work is non-political, it often rules on lawsuits involving the state legislature or governor.
Susan Evans collected 61% of the votes cast and so is now firmly a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Democratic challenger for sheriff, Gerald M. Baker upset longtime Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, out-polling the Republican incumbent by a wide margin (approximately 10% with nearly all precincts reporting at midnight)
Outgoing sheriff Donnie Harrison congratulated Gerald Baker wishing him the best and promising that if there was anything he could do he was there to help.
Justifiably, Wake County Democrats are immensely proud that 45 of their 49 endorsed candidates won their election bids.
To the victors go the spoils, to the vanquished an opportunity to lick their wounds, review the past and decided whether to run again next time. Every candidate goes into an election with the belief that they can make life better for the residents. Some can convey that message better than others.

All Politics is Local

The former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is said to have observed that all politics is local. And so, I take a great interest in what is happening in the current election in the city, the county and the state. I have been to a number of political lunches and suppers and have seen or met many candidates, some of whom stick in the mind (for good reasons and bad) and some stand out as candidates worth supporting. Every candidate goes into an election with the belief that they can make life better for the residents. Some have a better chance than others and some are worthier than others.
I have seen three candidates who impress.

First is Anita Earls who is running for N.C. Supreme Court. She is a Yale Law School graduate and speaks with feeling as to how her own family experienced tragedy and were denied lawful redress. Her personal experiences fuel her passion for justice and a hunger for fairness for all.

Susan Evans wishes to be a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Her promise is to ensure that our county’s continued growth will keep Wake a great place to live, work and learn! Challenges exist in meeting the needs of the growing community. Susan will bring a cool head and a warm heart to the County’s deliberations.

Gerald Baker, is running for Wake County Sheriff. He has nearly 28 years of Wake Sheriff’s Office experience including assignments in each divisional area of the Office. What I liked about Mr. Baker’s presentation was the way he highlighted the need to refocus the department. For example, currently it does not follow up on incomplete 911 calls. Thus, leaving the callers still with their problems which logically can only get worse – yet nipping crime in the bud is an essential police duty. Gerald promises to be Sheriff for all people.

Why am I involving myself? Because on Monday morning I was at the Optimists’ Park Polling Station from seven until ten meeting, greeting and handing out party “slate sheets”. The early morning temperature was just above freezing. So, I have earned the right to voice my opinion.