Friday, 28 May 2010

COUNCIL INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY

There is some evidence in uk that there is a strong correlation between council transparency and a lower than average Council Tax combined with better services. Transparency is essential to a functional democracy, and it is particularly essential to achieving a low tax and improved services. This gold standard of disclosure has several benefits to taxpayers, to the council and to local democracy in general.

The public clearly benefit by the new power they gain to identify wasteful spending and hold the council to account. If the default position for all public spending was that it would be made public, then large amounts of the absurd, self-indulgent and outright bizarre spending that goes on would never get off the ground, and that which did continue would swiftly be stamped out by public demand. This new gold standard of disclosure also sweeps away the advantage that opacity gives to councillors or officers over taxpayers and voters, too. No longer does one party come to the table armed with all the information on a given issue, while the other is kept in the dark.

The council benefits both practically and reputationally. Practically, because if two brains are better than one for solving a problem, then the application of thousands of brains to the question of how best to run the council’s budget can only be a good thing. The internet is a particularly good tool for harnessing the power of a community to study a question or solve a dilemma, and this new policy of openness provides a much greater opportunity for local residents to suggest ways to make the council run better.

Reputationally, the council gains because openness in public spending dispels suspicion. The MPs’ expenses saga proves all too vividly that keeping the details of how taxpayers’ money is spent simply serves to feed the fire of suspicion, rumour and disdain. As mentioned above, if a council is wasting taxpayers’ money then transparency will force them to stop doing so. If they are not, then this policy gives them the opportunity to reassure the public that they are good stewards of our money and thus bolster their reputation.

Local democracy itself benefits because a better informed electorate is always able to make better choices. This is taxpayers’ money being spent, and for them to be able to control democratically how it is spent and how their local services work, they must be allowed to see in detail what goes on behind the doors of the town hall.

In the age of the Freedom of Information Act, it seems ridiculous that only ten years ago taxpayers in Britain had almost no right to know how their money was spent. Windsor and Maidenhead has just opened a new age of transparency, and in ten years it will seem just as ridiculous that once we only had the right to take potshots in the dark using Freedom of Information requests to guess how politicians and civil servants spend our money. Other councils must now follow suit.

Redbridge is one of the worst for LOGOS Local Government Official Secrets, one classic example which is an insult to taxpayers is the release of Senior Executives salaries, despite all the guidelines that they should be released as the actual salary or at the absolute minimum of bands of £5000 – Redbridge Senior Officers actually insult the people of Redbridge by using bands of £30,000 and they have in the past either ignored or been months late replying to FoI requests.

Some of the proposals soon to be implemented are
* We will require public bodies to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials paid more than the lowest salary permissible in Pay
Band 1(£58,200) of the Senior Civil Service pay scale, and organograms that include positions in those bodies
*All expenditure above £500 to be declared
*We will allow councils to return to the committee system, should they wish to
* We will require anyone paid more than the Prime Minister in the centrally funded public sector to have their salary signed off by the Treasury
*All Contracts and tender details

However this transparency has to go much further

*Senior Officers Meetings open to public Scrutiny
*Teach ins about how each Department works
*"Ask the Leader" questions, a much more formalised thing than his blog
* Ask the Chief Executive"
*10 Working Days to respond to residents enquiries is not acceptable.
*Refusal to provide information, hide behind a referral to the FoI Officer is not acceptable.
*Reinstatement of Borough wide open forums to discuss borough wide problems
*Reports of Council/cabinet/Area Meetings in Redbridge Life
*The right of reply to councillors after asking a question in Council/Cabinet/Area *Meetings/Planning Meetings even if the time is limited to 1 minute, to refute often condescending,rude or untrue statements by councillors.
*Webcasting of all important council meetings including Planning meetings.
*Specific teach ins on how to object to the proliferation of “Rabbit Hutch” Developments which Council Officers are so fond, and completely unwanted by residents.
*Website Statistics
*Reset the default information position to disclosure
*Monthly Expenses of Councillors and Senior Officers
*Installing automatic meter reading (AMR) equipment in the main civic buildings as a means of driving down energy consumption and reducing costs. The AMR will measure carbon emissions and the costs resulting from the electricity and gas consumption at the chosen sites.
*A search Facility on Redbridge I which works properly.
*Publish F.o.I Data where possible- recipients can elect to have it publicly published.
*Publish proposed expenditure above a certain limit say £2500 BEFORE the money is spent.
*We would welcome Officer and Councillor explanations of criticisms expressed on RedI, here and elsewhere
And this is not an exhaustive list.

Unless Councillors and equally importantly Senior Officers grasp the nettle of disclosure, they will be overtaken by events and forced to disclose, or they will be branded as reactionaries, and reap the deserved opprobrium and loss of salary. Much better to lead London Boroughs into the gold standard of a new future of disclosure and local democracy.
I look forward to the day when the Chief Officer is as equally enthusiastic and proud about disclosure as he has been about Redbridge I
And this is a much more important for our future than a mere website…

As with all things the council is capable of great heights so long as the WILL exists to reach
out and grab opportunies with both hands. This WILL can only be led from the very top.
We, the residents, give you the chance for greatness.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Freedom Passed

I noticed earlier this week that the Freedom Pass is no longer available to those aged 60. It now has new eligibility age criteria as of 6 April 2010.

It would appear to be in line with the phasing of women's state pensionable age from 60 to 65. And it would seem applies to both men and women.

The date at which these new rules apply would suggest that the decision was taken by the previous Labour government but I don't recall any notification in the media.

What now for prescription charges? Winter fuel allowance? Grants for insulation? etc.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

BEST METHODS FOR UNDEMOCRATIC E-PARTICIPATION

At a workshop at the EDEM10 conference in Krems, Austria in May 2010, ‘Best methods for undemocratic participation’, with the help of Hans Hagedorn of Zebralog, we asked the question the negative way around –

– if we set out to make an e-participation system that was as undemocratic as possible, what would it be like?

So here we go with the latest list, as adapted from our brainstorming session: please do add further comments and suggestions here and we’ll hone the list further over the coming weeks and months, before deciding what else to do with it.



Best methods for undemocratic participation

1 - TOPIC FOR DEBATE/CONSULTATION
Pick the topic for democratic debate yourself, without reference to any of the bothersome people who are going to be doing the debating. REDI SUCCEEDS

Choose a topic with no emotional impact for anyone normal. REDI SUCCEEDS

Pre-select the questions you are going to answer in a “live” online debate. REDI SUCCEEDS

2 - TECHNOLOGY/DESIGN
Don’t waste time on accessibility. Nobody with a disability or a slow internet connection is going to take part anyway. REDI SUCCEEDS

Or… spend all your budget on accessibility

If designing for a different generation, make your own mind up what they will need or like. REDI SUCCEEDS

Always give your supplier a vague, loose specification. REDI SUCCEEDS

Use technology that only runs in one type of browser; require a plug-in; and does not view properly on mobile devices. REDI SUCCEEDS

3 - USER INFORMATION PROVISION
Do not be transparent about who is hosting the project, and why. REDI SUCCEEDS

1Have a hidden agenda. REDI SUCCEEDS

4 - LAUNCH/PROMOTION
Do not connect your online activity with any other existing offline political or social activity. REDI PARTLY SUCCEEDS

Or if you do… don’t tell people how the two (online and offline) are related. REDI SUCCEEDS

Choose a few people to form the initial core of the project from among your immediate associates, contacts and buddies. REDI SUCCEEDS

Allow the rest of the participants to be self-selected from among the usual democracy geeks with the technology, skills and education to find your project, understand it and engage easily.REDI SUCCEEDS

As for everybody else - just create the website and wait for users to find you. The web’s not that big, is it?

5 - PARTICIPATION PROCESS
During the registration process, ask every participant for at least 10 pieces of personal data .REDI SUCCEEDS

Allow people to easily assume multiple identities. REDI SUCCEEDS

Make the whole site hard to use, with at least 5 or 6 clicks required just to post a message. REDI SUCCEEDS

Ignore all other needs of the user: communication, motivation, abilities. REDI SUCCEEDS

6 - MODERATION

Never use any form of moderation – after all, it’s more democratic that way, however unpleasant or dominant some of the voices may become.

Or if you do…
Pre-moderate, but make sure your moderators only work 9-5 on week days. REDI SUCCEEDS
Never reveal the identity and method of moderation. REDI SUCCEEDS

Ensure moderators remain anonymous. REDI SUCCEEDS

Do not give any commitment to the length of time moderation will take.. REDI SUCCEEDS

Take ages to moderate anything. REDI SUCCEEDS

Let the only recourse for people who feel they have been unfairly moderated be the law courts. REDI SUCCEEDS

7 - POLITICIANS
Do not involve any elected politicians – they won’t understand the technology. REDI SUCCEEDS

Or if you do promise participation or replies from politicians, don’t deliver on the promise. REDI SUCCEEDS


We could add one more to this list already- restriction of the number of characters in a post I have tried to post this on Redi I once again came up against the 2000 character restriction

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Show Time

Preparations are underway to relay Full Council meetings to the overspill crowd outside the Town Hall. It’s cheaper than a webcam. The cuts start here!

Rumour has it that there will be a new local political alignment called The Redbridge Alliance made up of Condemsoclibmarxistreformists. This will be a progressive movement, apparently, which will introduce PR [Proportional Responsibility] immediately, i.e. sharing the blame by proportion of vote share – not on them you understand, but on those who voted!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Gants Hill fall out goes up - and Bendies go ...

A temporary timetable for the 128 bus route has been introduced, starting today, because of the road works at Gants Hill and Green Lane. Buses will operate in two sections: Claybury to Ilford High Road and Ilford Chapel Road to Romford. Monday to Friday daytime frequency on Claybury-Ilford section reduced from every 12 minutes to every 14 minutes.

Meanwhile, Boris's campaign to exterminate the bendy-buses is moving to Ilford. From June next year, the existing 39 articulated buses on the 25 route will be replaced with 59 new double deckers, so don't expect to see any increase in available road space!

London has a complex route network and service frequency that must be the envy of many parts of the country where, even in large built-up areas, the services that do exist dry up at tea time but TfL seems to have lost the way, somewhere.

On the one hand, new routes have been introduced to cover previously bus-less areas, frequencies and hours of service increased, etc. whilst on the other, we have seen projects such as the expensive abomination of Ilford Lane which has has the effect of causing the maximum of congestion to all forms of road transport including the much vaunted East London far from Rapid Transit which doesn't even have a physical connection with the truncated 179 route in Ilford in the northbound direction!

One wonders what effect the expensive,lengthy works that TfL are undertaking at Gants Hill will have on traffic flow that couldn't have been achieved much sooner and at considerably lower cost by the simple expedient of installing correctly phased traffic lights on the existing road system.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Spitfire at Fairlop - May 8th. 2010

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Saturday, 8 May 2010

Bad News for West Ham Fans




It is a matter of public knowledge that The Frenford Clubs are in the process of vacating Oakfield (Jack Carter Pavilion) and Cricklefield, in order to occupy the former PLA site in The Drive, Ilford.

News has come out the Spurs Academy are to occupy the Frenford Oakfield site for two years from July 2010.

They are providing their own security which may provide a few surprises for the local community.

Tottenham Hotspur F.C. previously conducted First Team Training at a site in Luxborough Lane, Chigwell. This site is being vacated and the senior players are moving to the yet to be completed Training Centre at Bullsmoor, Enfield (west of the A10 and just south of the M25), thus displacing the Academy temporarily.

Nothing else can thus be built at Oakfield for at least two years and the involvement of a major football club may yet continue into the future as Spurs will leave a lot of infrastructure behind.