Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Am I in a time warp?

I'm a busy chap.  I'm a busy chap with an aptitude to work fast and accurately. I have a team around me in my business and the IT infrastructure around me enabling me to work almost any time, any place anywhere.  I realise not everyone is like this nor do many want to work like this.

I take advantage of this in my professional life where often I am able to 'outrun' the opposition.  When the opposition is some 'emanation of the state' such as a regulator or local government I often don't have to get out of a canter to yield the desired effect for my clients.

As Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny at CWaC I am called upon, from time to time to certify that a decision is urgent.  I take my responsiblities in this regard very seriously and ask for evidence justifying the urgency (as this is used to depart from the normal democratic decision making processes).  I also seek to impose a time limit on any authorisation I give - as if a decision becomes delayed that might indicate that the so-called urgent decision wasn't in fact that urgent.

Yesterday I received a request from CWaC to certify an urgent decision.  I turned the papers around within the hour after having received 4 substantive papers to read.  To me urgency means please don't delay in dealing with this matter and give it a high priority very likely the highest priority.  In my case I finished my tea before reading the papers - I needed the Earl Grey!

Now I'm not being critical of anyone - just pondering whether I'm in a time warp or have a different appreciation of time from other people.  I was alerted to the need to certify an urgent matter at 10am - but it took another 8 hours before the papers I requested to read briefing me on the decision reached me.  Now in my business if I say something is urgent to a client or vice versa I'd want to see something happening within the hour - and normally it does! 

Back to CWaC - I was told that the decision had to be made by 31 March - and I was offered a meeting on 31 March to discuss the urgency.  It was at my prompting that I did receive papers briefing me on the situation (albeit after 8 hours) - and which, in my view articulated the matter with sufficient clarity that I was content to certify the requisite urgency directly without the need for a further meeting likely to be 2 days later and right on the deadline for the decision making.

Does this little experience suggest that my view of urgency is more immediate than for others?  It does make me wonder about how the various guises of the state actually work and whether we should all insist on much greater efficiencies.  Now I did receive an unprompted apology for the late dispatch of the papers to me - the excuse proffered being that the officer in question had been in meetings.

So with the proliferation of Blackberries around CWaC - affectionately known as 'Cwackberries' could not these papers have been sent earlier?  Could someone else have dug out the already existing papers and sent them to me without an 8 hour delay?  I'd like to think so.

Now nothing turns on this little issue - and in fact all has been accomplished pretty swiftly.  However I have struggled over the last 3 years as Chairman of Overview & Scrutiny to get others to see the need to 'up the tempo' and be timely in the production of papers and I see this little exchange as typical of the problems. 

If I have the relevant documents as electronic files (and doesn't everyone these days) I can turn out hundreds of pages of papers as fully paginated pdfs within minutes - even if I am remote from my office - so long as I have an internet connection or a phone line to a collegue in the office.  I have a very lean back-office team too.  So if business works in this fashion why can't the state - or do I have it completely wrong. Am I in the one in the time warp?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Spring has sprung the grass has riz I wonder where the birdies is

When the clocks go forward in a local government election year it is often seen as the starting gun for political campaigns to get re-elected with the candidates grateful for the extra hour of daylight time - although whether the electorate see it that way is very much open to doubt!

So far as this year's campaigns are concerned it is interesting that in some areas they are already in full swing, whereas in other areas we are still in the phoney war period with candidates saying and doing nothing - no doubt waiting and seeing who is to stand against them.

So if you are still enjoying political peace and quiet - don't worry the campaigns will soon be in full cry!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Modernise Democracy - if only to save the trees

In this day and age when we do more and more electronically it appears that one of the last bastions of paper based working is the democratic process itself.  Up and down the country there will be many thousands of candidates for election filling out the reams of paper that are required to be submitted before one can become a candidate and for supporting the electoral process itself.  There are two flurries of activity - first getting your nomination papers in, and the papers supporting the counting process and then later after the count having to submit your election return.

So just how many papers are involved well you have:
  1. Nomination Paper
  2. Candidates Consent to Nomination
  3. Notice of Appointment of Election Agent
  4. Certification of Candidate of Political Party (if relevant)
  5. Notice of Appointment of Polling Agents - in other words who can attend the polling stations for a candidate
  6. Notice of Appointment of Counting Agents - who can come to the count with the candidate
  7. Notice of Appointment of Agents to Attend the Opening of the Postal Votes
  8. Return of Candidate's Election Expenses
  9. Return of Expenses
  10. Declaration by Candidate as to Election Exepnses
  11. Declaration by Election Agent as to Election Expenses
  12. Declaration of Expenses
and of course you have the bureaucracy that needs to manage all these pieces of paper for each of the candidates in each of the wards for each Council throughout the country.

The paperwork for parish councils is slightly less - but not much.

I'm all for proper records and accountability - but surely we can modernise and improve this process?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Absent without leave - take 2

Tonight was our final CWaC Council meeting before our local elections on 5 May.

The Labour party had tabled a tendentious motion regarding the sale of the former County Hall to Chester University.  The District Auditor has produced two reports - one on the sale of County Hall and a second one on the acquisition by CWaC of the HQ building.  Both District Auditor reports can be viewed via the CWaC website if you dig out the most recent Audit & Governance Committee meeting.

Having read these reports I am delighted to observe that the District Auditor recognised that both the sale and purchase represented good value for money and that the processes followed were appropriate although they could have been improved regarding public consultation.  That said the District Auditor did note the difficulty in squaring such consultations with fast paced commercial negotiations.

So, the Labour party tabled a motion ostensibly based on the District Auditor reports - however the language used was highly critical and officer advice was that their motion was defamatory.  The Labour Group were apparently advised by the Borough Solicitor that their motion was factually incorrect and defamatory - however notwithstanding this advice they refused to withdraw or amend their motion.

The Council's standing orders provide that a motion does not have to be debated by Council.  One option is that it could be referred to the Executive.  The Council resolved that it did not want to have this debate nor did it want to refer the matter elsewhere.

This prompted the Labour party to walk out.

We had a quieter, swifter Council meeting without the Labour party.  It is a shame they didn't take the advice they had been given.  It is a matter of regret that they chose to frame their motion in such a way as to provoke concern.  It is a negation of their duty to the communities they represent that they chose to absent themselves.

Overview and Scrutiny

We had our final O&S Committee meeting on Tuesday evening.  It was a fantastic meeting with many reports being submitted and approved.  We had a wonderful report from representatives from the UK Youth Parliament about the image of young people.  They presented a powerful report with pithy recommendations - which we as a committee adopted and enhanced.

Our report on Town & Parish Councils was accepted not only unanimously by the Committee but also by ChALC - the representative body for our Town & Parish Councils.  Then it was a report on our Citizens Advice Bureau - again unanimously accepted.

Our final item of business was our annual report.  I took the opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in Scrutiny over the last 3 years.  I also used the opportunity to explain in straight forward terms where things could have gone better!   If you want to see any of this - the webcast of O&S is available on CWaC's website.  My 10 minute straight talking starts at 1hr06 minutes!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

In Touch in Frodsham

We've been out over the last week delivering inTouches in Frodsham - if you want more information about what we've been doing for you check out our website - .

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Over my dead body

We had the what I take to be the last meeting of the steering group established to discuss the community benefit fund that may follow, if, God-forbid, Peel Energy gets permission for its Frodsham Marshes wind farm development.

The steering group was asked by Peel Energy to agree to a joint press release.  I persuaded the meeting that we shouldn't agree to do it.  Peel can say what that they like - but don't count me in.  Fortunately we all agreed.  I suggested that we should put out our own press release indicating how the parish councils and the CWaC Cllrs on the steering group are united in their approach and their continued opposition to the windfarm scheme.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Absent without leave?

I had a meeting yesterday at Cheshire West and Chester Council - it was the Education Policy Development Board and we were discussing Children's Centres, the NHS White paper on Public Health and retiring headteacher hand overs to their successors - all very important stuff.  Seven Councillors were expected to attend - 5 Conservatives and 2 Labour.  However only 5 of us made it.  None of the Labour Councillors were in attendance.

Now don't get me wrong - none of us can guarantee to attend every meeting.  We can all have clashing appointments, domestic emergencies and work commitments that may have to take priority.  But given the importance of these issues you would have thought Labour would have tried to attend?

I do hope the missing Councillors weren't out electioneering instead of attending to their public duties.