Wednesday, 21 June 2017

CWaC measurements and metrics

At CWaC's cabinet today we discussed the council's performance metrics.

Whilst I fully accept that performance data is important we all have to be clear that what is being measured is real, relevant and informative.  We also have to worry that whatever performance metrics are used that they do not have a distorting effect on performance.  Then there is the danger of 'marking your own homework' - where the council sets its own targets and then judges itself against those targets.

A few examples:

The council has set itself the following targets on highway maintenance:

KPI:  Maintain the condition of the highway network in a steady state – percentage requiring structural maintenance (annual measure, data available Q4).
A Roads - 1%; B&C Roads - 6%; U Roads 7%.

Now against this target the council has reported that those targets have been achieved.  However the metrics show that the targets are to be relaxed.  So the council will still give itself a 'green tick' in 2019-20 if 3% of A Roads, 8% of B&C Roads and 9% of U roads require structural maintenance.  In other words managing decline will be considered to be acceptable.  Personally to have 3% of A roads in need of structural maintenance is a worry... and if you live on the 9% of side roads that require structural maintenance - every time you drive you car along such a potholed road you won't consider the council deserves a 'green tick.'

I also worry about whether the use of such metrics can encourage unintended and indeed unwanted consequences.  For example the council measures itself with regard to repeat referrals to children's care within 12 months.  Ideally no one wants to have a repeat referral social care.  Does the presence of such a metric encourage poor or inappropriate behaviours?  Would an officer seek to delay a repeat referral to the other side of a 12 month boundary so as to ensure the data looked better?  One sincerely hopes that this would not happen - however there are far too many examples within the wider public sector where exactly this sort of data manipulating behaviours have occurred.

The report highlights the declining performance with regard to patient/care delayed discharges.  In other words the delays for a patient from leaving hospital to go into care.  This is a complex area.  CWaC isn't solely responsible for the delays - however the Cabinet member did recognise that the council was responsible for around 1/3rd of them.  There are performance differences between the West Cheshire CCG area (most of the Borough and including Frodsham) and the Vale Royal CCG area (Northwich and Winsford).  Largely this is the difference in approach taken by GPs in the CCG areas and by the Countess of Cheshire and Leighton Hospitals.  CWaC tells me it adopts the same approach irrespective of which CCG is involved.

If you want to read the full metrics do look out the CWaC Cabinet agenda from today on the CWaC website.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Labour want charge for all car parking in Frodsham

Conservatives call on council to 'park the car parking charges'

Frodsham residents are being urged to back a campaign calling on the council to scrap plans to introduce parking charges.

The Labour administration at CWaC want to bring in car parking charges for everyone.

We oppose that.

The Conservative campaign to oppose car parking charges has been brought about as CWaC's Labour administration published its car parking strategy.  Their strategy will see car parking charges introduced into places like Frodsham and Helsby for the first time ever for our public car parks.  Even Blue Badge holders will have to pay.

Lynn Riley, Conservative group leader and Frodsham Councillor, said “these plans will hit businesses across Frodsham.We are calling on the council to 'park these charges' and keep at least three hours free in Frodsham for short stayers.  If charges for short visits are introduced, residents and visitors will think twice about coming to town and may choose to shop elsewhere which will hurt the local economy.  There is evidence from places as close as the Wirral which show how car parking charges damage local economies.

Cllr Andrew Dawson  added “We understand that the council wants to make money, but what is being proposed will hit small independent traders and people on low and fixed incomes the hardest. Our call for 3 free hours will help with managing long stay commuters whilst still allowing locals to use Frodsham’s shops without having to stump up cash every time.”

The Council retained parking consultants Mott McDonald in 2016 for a six figure sum to draft the over arching strategy together with separate plans for Chester, Ellesmere Port, Northwich, Frodsham and other village centres.

For the first time since CWaC was created in 2008 and only 10 days since the General Election, the borough will see the global introduction of parking charges for all areas including residents parking schemes and Blue Badge holders.

Other recommendations include plans to improve the quality of existing parking, more cycle parking and charging points for electric vehicles and new ways to pay. The most surprising recommendation is that the Council intends to invest in buying up more car parks and  will collaborate with private providers to ensure that other parking facilities do not undermine the overall strategy.

The timing of this announcement seems cynical as it is only days after the General Election when people are understandably weary of politics.  

Conservative Councillors are hoping that strong public opinion will force Labour to rethink and learn from their past mistakes when parking charges damaged local economies. 

With no economic impact assessment carried out, parking charges and penalties will impact the fragile recovery of our town centres. When in Administration at CWAC from 2009-15, the Conservatives held parking charges where they had formerly existed prior to the creation of the unitary council, rolled out Free-After-3 to these areas and were actively removing charges in Ellesmere Port as well as  building new facilities to support regeneration.

To us this looks like a step backwards and shows Labour's fundamental misunderstanding of local needs.   Not everyone is fit enough to walk into Frodsham.  These charges will hit business and those least able to afford them.  But then Labour has often seen Frodsham simply as a 'cash cow.'  We saw that in the budget debate and the budget papers just this year.  The only time Frodsham was mentioned was to pay council tax.  It wasn't on the list for investment.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Council of Europe - supporting local democracy in Tbilisi, Georgia

I've just come back from Tbilisi.

The Council of Europe invited me to address a conference aimed at supporting local government reforms in Georgia.  As you may expect I was honoured and humbled to be asked to participate in such conference.  This was my first invitation to such an international event.

As one of the UK's 18 delegates to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities on the Council of Europe these invitations may come my way - however I did ask why, of all the delegates from the UK the Council of Europe had invited me.  As it turned out I was the only Congress delegate outside Georgia in attendance.  So - had I known - the question should have been why out of all the 300+ delegates from 47 countries did the Council of Europe consider inviting me.

I was told that the secretariat was particularly interested in what we've achieved in Frodsham in terms  of revitalising and energising local democracy.  They've been watching and reading!

So what was so interesting.

If you think back to 2007 - there were 16 candidates for 16 places on Frodsham Town Council.  All candidates were elected unopposed.  FTC did very little and, so far as I am concerned did what little it did badly.  One of the reasons I became a local politician was because I was so annoyed by the fact that Frodsham residents were paying a higher council tax than most areas in the old Vale Royal and we saw precious little for that.

The first 4 year term I served on FTC from 2007-2011 was soul destroying.

Decisions were made by a group of councillors who deliberately excluded Cllr Riley and me.  These were councillors who were either members of the Labour Party or Labour Party sympathisers.  Ironically these were councillors who asserted they were 'independent' - however they stated on their declarations of member's interests that they were members of the Labour Party.  

They made it hard to bring new ideas and new thinking forward.

Now I have absolutely nothing against people supporting lawful political parties.  In fact I positively welcome it.  It is no secret - none of us have a monopoly on wisdom - even if some pretend that they have it!  Our political system relies on challenge and dialogue to achieve the best policies.  It can be a bruising process - literally the school of hard knocks - if you are on the receiving end of it!  But life would be boring if we all held the same views.

Anyway the experience of that 2007-11 council led me to find a coalition of the willing from all parts of the political spectrum to reform FTC.  That Frodsham First coalition was made up of people who voted for every mainstream political party.

Now whatever you may think of Frodsham Town Council from 2011-2015 it achieved many things.

We got new energy efficient Christmas Lights - that paid for themselves with the energy savings;
Our Christmas festivals were energised and became even better;
We got comprehensive defibrillator coverage in Frodsham;
We got a local winter gritting scheme;
We got a new play area at Churchfields;
We firmly established the Mayor of Frodsham as the ambassador of the town and as our first citizen;
We separated this 'first citizen role' from the Chairmanship of the Council to ensure our first citizen was, and was seen to be politically independent;
We brought youngsters into celebrating our community through the involvement of our schools and the Junior Mayors; and
We brought in the 'Freedom of Frodsham' and the concept of celebrating members of our community who have gone above and beyond in serving us.

The aim, of course was to build community cohesion and pride in Frodsham.

This local pride and celebration was what the Council of Europe liked - alongside my descriptions of local government arrangements in the UK.

I was also honoured to be the sole male asked to take part in a debate about greater female participation in local democracy.  FTC has been gender balanced since 2011 - and we should all celebrate that.  I explained how CWaC and Cheshire East are all led by women.

I encouraged the conference to watch 'Made in Dagenham' to gain an insight into the struggle for gender equality in the UK.

That said I was more than a little troubled that we didn't go on to discuss LGBT rights - but that will come.  I did raise that in the plenary sessions of the whole Congress in October.

I was really impressed with the desire for reform in Georgia and their willingness to embrace and embed democracy.  

And finally I will always remember the few hours I spent in the country as the flight in was very eventful. We had significant turbulence and the mother of all thunderstorms to contend with.  On landing the passengers gave a heartfelt round of applause!