Forward to the Twentieth Century

Endeavour House 140506 bThe scheduled Suffolk County Council meeting scheduled for Thursday 26th did not take place but was deferred due to the sudden death of the Council Leader’s father. One of the items of business carried forward  was a motion proposed by Councillor Mark Ereira-Guyer (Leader of the Green and Independent Group on Suffolk County Council) and seconded by Councillor Bill Mountford (Leader of the UKIP Group) requiring the Council to improve its governance arrangements and start to operate a more inclusive and engaging committee system of governance. Currently the Council operates a Cabinet system of Governance.
Why are motion proposers trying to drag us back into the twentieth century? I’ve been privileged to experience governance by committee and governance by Cabinet.
Local Government Governance by Committee tends to be the fig leaf by which democratic legitimacy is granted to the wishes, intentions and decisions of the executive. Power in committees more often does not lie with chairmen nor with members but with the Secretariat who decide
what goes on the agendas,
how it is presented and
when it comes forward.
Documents are prepared so as to lead the way and make the Committee approval virtually a foregone conclusion.
By way of example, the executive in Babergh decided that Hadleigh should be incorporated into the Ipswich/Felixstowe proposed unitary Council. There was no mention that the people of Hadleigh were against the idea and there was no reference to  the democratic inconsistencies in the motion. Yet, the motion was overwhelmingly passed  with only three members dissenting.
Why are we being asked to return to the twentieth century?
Do the proposers seriously think that the Committee system of local governance is more efficient and more democratic?
It’s certainly more bureaucratic and is less responsive to the needs of the residents.
Committees tend to be mere talking shops.
Members like the sound of their own voices.
Members can be cloaked in the misbelief that they are taking decisions and are participating fully in the well running of their Council, whereas, in fact, they are glorified seat warmers. Decisions are made elsewhere and the function of Councillors is then not

  • to guide,
  • decide and
  • hold to account

but to be legal bystanders in a process which they do not control and in which the Sir Humphreys of this world flourish.

  • Foxes should not look after chickens,
  • goats should not be in charge of  cabbages.
  • Executive should be servants not masters.

I plan to be at the next Council meeting when I will speak against this motion.

Deborah Ross

Deborah Ross 160501Last Sunday we went to Durham (North Carolina) for a presentation to the Durham Democratic Women by Deborah Ross who is running for the U.S. Senate against the Republican incumbent Richard Burr. The talk was a combination of vote for me, get your friends to vote for me and please help me to fund the campaign.
Deborah is a powerful speaker, totally on the ball and so dynamic that she makes my high level political friends in England look as though they have “slow blood”.
The good news is that she is within two points of  the incumbent Senator Burr (according to the latest poll released last week by the conservative leaning Civitas Institute).
The now toss-up race follows Ross’ strong first quarter fundraising where she out-raised Senator Burr. The neck-and-neck poll also comes as more and more voters have been learning of Senator Burr’s out-of-touch record in Washington where he voted to cut Social Security, wrote legislation to privatize Medicare, supported cuts to Pell grants and voted to give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas. The bad news is that her election pot is nowhere as large as Senator Burr’s.  He has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the impression is that is he well supported by his political friends. And this is where we get to more bad news. As Donald Trump becomes the Republican presumptive and unelectable presidential candidate, – so the Republican funding may not go him but to the lesser elected posts like Richard Burr’s and sundry others whose opponents do not have access to funding from the likes of the Koch Brothers.
It will be interesting to see where the contests go – so I can only say watch this space.
Meanwhile Tuesday’s Raleigh News and Observer notes that we have had an unfilled Federal judiciary post since 2006 and Senator Burr is refusing to approve the nomination of a qualified person. To quote the News & Observer: “in opposing the nomination, Burr said he won’t submit the “blue slip” that’s needed from the home state’s senator to get a judicial nomination moving. Burr’s opposition is unfair to the nominee and unfair to the system which is running short of federal judges.
The Senate’s job in reviewing the president’s nominees is to advise and consent, not to pout and obstruct. That behaviour is especially out of line when it comes to qualified nominees to the federal bench. It has been a long-standing custom that even when senators differ philosophically in their views from the president, they recognize his right to place his choices on the judiciary.”

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – East House

BureaucracyThe Hadleigh Community News in April contained the report of the Meeting of Hadleigh Town Council held on the 18th February 2016 which included the following gem: “The Clerk reported that an e-mail had been received from Babergh District Council asking who owned East House. The Officer was, of course, advised that they own it.”
The history of East House is simple: According to the Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce web site of 17th June 2013 East House and the Meadows were bought by the former Hadleigh Urban Council from the Styles family in 1960 for about £15,500. It was a straightforward sale with nothing to specify the building should be used for the benefit of Hadleigh people or anyone else. When local government was reorganised in 1974, council held assets had to be reallocated to the new bodies. To begin with the new councils agreed that the town council should take on ownership of East House. It was a town asset and would stay in the hands of the town’s administrators. However, when, under the rules of reorganisation, the district auditor investigated the division of assets it was discovered that because East House had been bought by the former urban council under Housing Act powers it would therefore have to be allocated to the new district council (Babergh) which was responsible for housing. It was thus transferred to ownership of Babergh.
In 1975 Babergh offered to sell East House (though not the meadows) to Hadleigh Town Council at market value. Hadleigh Town Council unanimously decided not to buy the property as they were already financing loans relating to Hadleigh’s Guildhall and was therefore unable to take on another financial commitment of that size.
East House was leased to Suffolk County Council who (in 2006) discovered that it was the second least efficient property on its books. Not surprising then that Suffolk didn’t renew its lease and handed the building back to Babergh paying for the assessed dilapidations. I campaigned in 2007 citing the emptiness of East House and blaming the Lib Dems for their lack of action.
East House was subsequently placed with Strutt Parker for them to market the property. Depending on whom you speak to market conditions were the reason for the lack of progress with potential buyers. So, ten years on it seems that Babergh would like someone else to be responsible for East House – possibly so that the blame game can be renewed! Why is it that the words “Twinings, a tea party, couldn’t organise at” come to mind.
And for this they raise Council Taxes!

Fuller details can be found on:

Small Successes – Benton Street

Every now and then, there is an alignment of ambition and actuality.
One recent example of this is the provision of a disabled parking place in Benton Street, which for some time has been on Benton Streetmy list of things to be achieved. The need for the place is based upon the changed (health) circumstances of  one of the residents.
When I was in Hadleigh recently I heard that a Town Councillor (who is also a resident of Benton Street) had commented that the resident was not that disabled as he exercises a dog! What claptrap! Pure politics of envy! The dog is small and walking the dog is doubtless recommended exercise for the resident, who has good days and not so good days – hence the need for a disabled parking place.

Information is not Knowledge

BureaucracyOne of my favourite Babergh District Council committees is the Joint Audit & Standards. It last met on the 22nd January and paper JAC68 tells us of the current state of play with complaints against councillors.
We are told that since the last meeting there have been 11 new complaints. There are four complaints outstanding against District Councillors and 42 against Parish Councillors. No complaint investigation resulted in action being taken and seven complaints were deemed either not to have breached the Code of Conduct or required no action. Thirty-nine complaints were carried forward and are still outstanding.
This is just Information – not Knowledge and only hides what should be known. There was no update in October to the August 2015 report (JAC 59) which told us about three Mid-Suffolk District Councillors and various Parish Councillors in Stoke by Nayland, Felsham, Elmswell, Beyton (& Tostock), Bentley, Stradbroke and Long Melford who were the subject of complaints.
Why does it matter – well for one thing the disinfectant of transparency is a powerful boost for government to be answerable to and controlled by the people.
I would like to know whether the complaints against the three Mid- Suffolk Councillors were resolved. Have there have been four new complaints and if the three Mid Suffolk Councillors are still hanging around awaiting findings, what is holding matters up?  Who is the fourth Councillor to be the subject of a current complaint and what have they done?
Hopefully we might find out about all these things at the next meeting of the next Joint & Audit & Standards Committee.

Wake County Board of Commissioners

Apple for the TeacherRaleigh’s News & Observer recently brought us the news that three Republican (GOP) candidates are running for seats on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. The Republicans lost control of the Board last year and in the 2016 Campaign they plan to take a page from the Democrats’ playbook.
One GOP candidate was reported as saying that he had found out that education was an important issue.
No sh*t Sherlock!
In 2013 the GOP at state level budgeted to drain US$ 500 million out of public education in the state whilst moving $90 million from public schools into private schools via a new voucher program.
The evidence of detachment from reality was underlined by the rationalisation that the four ousted Republican commissioners were “collateral damage”.
What planet are these people on? Education is a key means of attracting jobs and providing social mobility. Bringing in efficiency is one thing but if you think that you can skimp on education then you are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land and as a politician you deserve what you get!
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Hadleigh Market

Hadleigh Market ConsultationThere are times when you see things that you wish you hadn’t. You dismiss them from your mind and then they come back in the early hours of the morning, when you should be dreaming of nice things.
I was visiting Hadleigh last month and noticed a poster in the Co-op inviting comments and suggestions on the future of Hadleigh Town Market. As a market town we have a long tradition of markets and fairs. Within recent years we have seen the market shrink from two days a week to one (Friday) and recently the key anchor merchandiser (the greengrocer) announced that he was retiring.
I’m all for consultation and accessing the community of knowledge and so I welcomed the outreach initiative. And then I saw what I rank as five of the worst words in the English language ever strung together. There at the bottom of the poster is the strap line “Managed by Babergh District Council”.
The disconnect between the reality and the ability to organise tea parties at Twinings is historical and self evident. Babergh are the Council who insisted on trying to foist a Tesco supermarket on Hadleigh despite the overwhelming evidence that it would be an economic disaster and destroy the High Street and the town. These are the people who have sat on East House leaving it empty since 2006 when it could have continued as a community asset. These are the people who gave us car parking charges in the face of overwhelming evidence that small towns need the support that free car parking gives them to continue their vibrancy and to enable small businesses to compete against supermarkets.
Babergh, for as long as I have known it, thinks of itself as the inheritor of the view that ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’. This socialist statist view came from Baron Jay who in 1937 wrote: “In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves.” Babergh self inherited this arrogance which continues to manifest itself in their actions.
And what of Hadleigh Market. The Town already hosts monthly Farmers’ Markets and there is scope for people to enjoy more artisanal as well as more exotic products (I particularly liked the Nile Perch available from Crystal Waters). However at the risk of being a Cassandra, I can’t see the helping hand of Babergh being a significant plus factor in the Market’s future.

Educating Homeless Children

Education Tourism 1897_Bogdanov-Belsky_At_School_Doors_varPolitics is said to be the art of the possible. In reality it is really about the use of resources and how best they can serve the community. Raleigh is a prosperous and growing city centred in Wake County, so it was with some surprise that I read in the News and Observer that there are some 2,736 homeless children attending schools or about 3% of the school population. These children face physical, emotional and developmental issues that make receiving an education even more difficult.
According to the Salvation Army of Wake County’s Project CATCH (Community Action Targeting Children Who Are Homeless) program “One in 30 children experiences homelessness. You can go into a Wake County classroom and one child will be homeless, statistically.
They have as many dreams as the child next to them, but they have a harder road.  Students need to have their basic needs met before they can learn.
The Wake County school system works to provide housing assistance to homeless families. The school system also tries to help provide clothing to homeless students in addition to bus service, free school meals, first aid and counseling. The district works with 168 community organizations.
One of these is the Haven House Services (   which has been providing comprehensive services to the youth and families of Wake County for over forty years. They came to my attention through my hairdresser’s who are having a food and supplies bank drive – see the needs list attached.
I find two things astonishing. First that we can have so many in need whilst we are in a land of plenty. Secondly that there are 168 community organizations working to alleviate this black spot on our county’s reputation.
This brings me back to resources and their usage. How do we protect and nurture these families and give them the hope of upward social mobility?
Haven House Services requirements.

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MoneyEver since I was elected a County Councillor I have been critical of Suffolk’s ASPIRE programme. This is a motivation tool aimed at the staff and the ASPIRE values are:

  • Achieve – We are the best we can be
  • Support – We work as one team
  • Pride – We take pride in and are proud of what we do
  • Inspire – We model the ASPIRE values
  • Respect – We give and earn respect
  • Empower – We empower, encourage and motivate people

I was especially critical of a poster proclaiming that the Council’s key achiever was a community psychologist who planned and co-ordinated conferences  and supported staff to learn and develop their skills alongside colleagues and services users. My success was to have the poster removed since I objected to staff seeing at least twice a day a poster telling them that they should achieve through the soft side of management rather than take on the hard choices of achieving more for less in the interest of the tax payers and residents at large.
Ideas like ASPIRE are like vampires. They never die unless they have metal stakes driven through the hearts. The posters are back again.

This time they read as follows:

  • A is for being Adaptable
  • S is for Embracing Digital (I know there appears to be an outbreak of alphabetical illiteracy and I couldn’t work it out either)
  • P is for Leading Change
  • I is for Agile Working
  • R is for Politically Aware
  • E is for Commercially Savvy

Apart from the last two (and I do applaud an officer who seeks to measure his operational efficiency against commercial benchmarks) the rest of the ASPIRE examples are a tad Ho Hum and if this is the best we can to do motivate staff, then it is time to follow the money and cut off the supply.

Going Native

Henry_M_Stanley_-I often hesitate to pick on another politician based upon a single article in a newspaper, but the Daily Telegraph of 20th November reported on an interview given by Lord Porter of Spalding wherein he stated that whilst he is not happy with the six figure salaries enjoyed by council chief executives there is little that can be done…because that is the way the world is! Gary Porter is Baron Porter of Spalding CBE, a British Conservative politician, local government leader and member of the House of Lords.
He is also a South Holland District Councillor and most importantly Chairman of the Local Government Association. He was created Baron Porter of Spalding, of Spalding in the County of Lincolnshire on 15th October 2015.
In the article he draws the comparison with top footballers with whom he is also “not happy” about their being paid a lot of money. But as a person in a leadership position he does have choices. He can choose not to support a football team if he thinks they are over promising and under delivering. A top footballer is expected to thrill millions across the globe and has a limited performing lifetime. And for many people the purpose of top footballers is to be the recipient of gratuitous abuse whether it is appropriate or otherwise. A top footballer is always at risk of career terminating injury. I have yet to see a Council Executive whose brain was overworked in the performance of their duties.
The real test of a Council Executive’s pay is whether the recipient provides added value. I have known a few Council Executives directly and I have yet to discern added value. For the most part they are administrators who do not provide leadership but manage to convince senior elected officials that they have to pay the most to get the best. But we do not always need the best. I would like a Rolls or a Bentley but I happily settle for a VW.
When Babergh was enjoying its executive leadership challenges I suggested that we could emulate the Roman Empire and split the job between the three (at most) next senior executives. They would have to work together towards common goals. They would not need a fourth person to coordinate their actions and give them direction as if they were teenagers. They would however need political direction.
Equally I suggested that they should advertise the post at £80,000 instead of  £100,000+ and see what they got. They might have got ambitious candidates with acceptable capabilities, qualifications, experience and vision. Instead the senior councillors (i.e. the political leadership) outsourced their problems to an Executive Search Consultant and the rest is history. There was no challenge and consequently I feel that they ended up overpaying.
And what of Lord Porter? Where is his challenge and leadership? What happened to the man I once met and admired? Has he succumbed to the Sir Humphreys of the Local Government Association?
The evidence is clear enough. One does not need to be in the Third World in order to go native!