Saturday, 29 September 2012

#QuackCWaC Council, where's the control, where's the scrutiny?

UPDATE 1st October 2012: Update is included at the bottom of the Freedom of Information article below.

A recent article about the proposed closure of a canoe club illustrates once again the total lack of control and scrutiny that CWaC Councillors appear to have over the actions of, and the decisions taken by, senior council officers. [Please note: When I refer to councillors in this blog post I mean those councillors in power who have the authority and responsibility to control and scrutinise the actions of senior staff.]  

Councillors only appear to wake up, take back control and/or scrutinise when members of the public kick up a stink, get the press involved or complain to an outside authority.

Councillors Weren't Consulted Over Proposed Canoe Club Closure
Cheshire West and Chester councillors were not involved in the proposed decision to close the canoe club at Queen's Park Boat House. That was the shock admission made in a press release issued by the council on 15th August. 
Council Chief Executive, Steve Robinson, said "The decision that the authority could not continue to fund the activity in its current form was taken by management, and followed a detailed review.
Mr Robinson added: "A cross-party group has been set up to review all services formerly run by Connexions to ensure we can shape a youth service for the future that meets the needs of young people in West Cheshire."
Cheshire West and Chester Council say they carried out "a detailed review" and the decision was made "for the right reasons".
However the fact that service users, i.e. the club members' parents, weren't consulted begs many questions about the validity of the review.
Read the full story from the source

It's not as if the above is an isolated incident which Councillors can excuse as a one off failure. Below are further examples of their failure to control and/or scrutinise..

Freedom of Information

It is a legal requirement that the council responds to a request with a Freedom of information Act compliant response within 20 working days.

It is also the duty of the council monitoring officer to ensure that the council does not break the law and that they meet their statutory duties.

CWaC Council regularly breaches the 20 day deadline in which to provide a compliant response. Figures suggest they do so about 48% of the time.

However, they stated in 2009 that they put in place an 'appropriate process to make sure all requests are captured, recorded, assigned and dealt with under the terms of Freedom of Information legislation.'

This current figures prove beyond a shadow of doubt that whatever process they put in place in 2009 isn't working. So just what if anything are Councillors doing about the problem?

Apparently nothing because I personally submitted an FOI request on the 25th May 2012, following which I was forced to submit a request for an internal review on the 27th June 2012 because they failed to comply with the FOI Act and provide a compliant response within 20 working days.

As a result of the internal review I was informed on the 23rd July 2012 that I would receive a Freedom of Information Act compliant response within the next 15 working days.

The promised response did not materialise so on the 15th August 2012 I submitted a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner. (I am currently waiting for my complaint to be investigated, which due to the workload of the Information Commissioner can take quite a long time.)

However, it does prove that not only are CWaC Council willing to break the law, they are also willing to break their promises.

It has now been over 4 calender months since I requested the information, over 3 calender months since they should have provided a legally compliant response and over 2 months since they promised I would receive a compliant response within 15 working days.

So we have a process which is demonstrably failing to meet their legal obligations, one which is getting worse but no indication that Councillors are even concerned about the problem let alone doing anything about it.

For more information read my earlier blog post on the subject.

UPDATE 1st October 2012 On the first working day after I published this blog post I finally received a belated response to my Freedom of Information request. Whilst I didn't get the info I wanted it does provide another example of their continued use linguistic gymnastics to delay matters.

In addition,  I am now in a position to refine my request and move closer to finally pinning them down. Furthermore, their continued attempts to delay matters tells me I am onto something they would rather not be made public, ie people working within CWaC in a management role who are not on the payroll but paid via a private company.

The Constitution fiasco

If there is one incident which demonstrates a total lack of control and scrutiny by Councillors, this is it.

A constitution is the most important document an organisation ever creates yet officers were able to create the document which included contentious and key constitutional changes without any councillor being aware until hours before they were supposed to accept the new constitution.

For more information read my earlier blog post on the subject.

Richmond Court

A motion was passed unanimously at the full council promising ‘a full and open consultation’ on the decision to go to Richmond Court.

Yet Chief Executive Steve Robinson said: “The consultation will not centre on views about whether or not Richmond Court should be brought into use by its owners, Chester and District Housing Trust, to deliver part of the city’s service to homeless people.

That appears to contradict the motion passed by the full council, so why does a member of staff give the impression they have the power conduct a different consultation to that agreed by full council?

Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle and more from my earlier blog post on the subject.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

24 more #QuackCWaC Councillors jump on the pension bandwagon

Further to an earlier post of the 27th February 2012 Pension Contributions for 39 Councillors: £124,080.40 in which I reported the outcome of the following FOI request.

FOI request 29th January 2012: Members Pension Contributions 2010/11

CWaC response: Cheshire West and Chester Council contributed £124,080.40 to the pensions of  39 Councillors.

Cautionary note: I don't know when any of the 39 Councillors actually joined the scheme. Some may have already been on the scheme whilst others may have joined nearer the end of the year.

However, what is certain is that by the end of  2010/11, 39 Councillors were on the taxpayer funded pension bandwagon. 54% of all Cheshire West and Chester Councillors.

I recently decided to submit another FOI request to see what the situation was at the end of  2011/12.

FOI request 12th September 2012: Members Pension Contributions 2011/12

CWaC response: Cheshire West and Chester Council contributed £149,000.00 to the pensions of  63 Councillors.

Cautionary note: I don't know when any of the additional 24 Councillors actually joined the scheme. Some may have joined at the beginning of the year whilst others may have joined nearer the end of the year.

However, what is certain is that by the end of 2011/12, 63 Councillors were on the taxpayer funded pension bandwagon.

The CWaC website states there are still 72 Councillors.

That means that 87.5% of all Cheshire West and Chester Councillors were, at the end of  2011/12, on the taxpayer funded pensions bandwagon.

This is what the Taxpayer's Alliance had to say on the subject in a report dated 25 January 2012
Councillors’ Pensions
The purpose of a councillor is to represent the people of a local ward in their council. They
are elected to bring their expertise and experience to address the specific needs of their
local community.
These duties are meant to be separate from their private and professional lives outside the council and their position is voluntary. Any payments they receive are not intended to represent earnings but instead to compensate them for incidental expenses incurred in fulfilling their duties in local government such as the use of their phones, transportation and office expenses.
As these payments are described as reimbursements, the fact that many local authorities consider them to be pensionable pay calls into question the voluntary nature of participating in local government.
Many councils do not give councillors the opportunity to join the LGPS, maintaining the
tradition of volunteerism, but in many others a large number of councillors are enrolled in
the scheme. The number of councillors enrolled has grown by more than 1,000 since
2007-08. This growth suggests that more councillors are becoming professional politicians.
Read the Taxpayer's Alliance report here

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Protest outside #QuackCWaC Council HQ Wednesday 5th September 2012

Protest information (I have been sent): Protest against Homeless Shelter at Richmond Court, Boughton Canal Side, Chester. Prior to the Exec Meeting at Council HQ - Wednesday 5th September.

We are gathering outside at 5:15pm, please do everything you can to be there so that we can demonstrate to the Council (and all the employees in the building) how many of us feel that this is a poor decision that has been made for the wrong reasons.

Please bring placards and banners. To stress - banners should be aimed at the council e.g. Why did you not consult? Don't ignore the motion we won. No super hub at RC.

Please do not bring any banners that say anything bad about the homeless, they are not at fault here and are as much victims of the council’s failure to consult as anyone else.

Anyone that is coming by car, don't forget parking is free after 3pm at the Market car park (Princess St) entrance opposite the bus station.

I also attach an open letter to Steve Robinson, which you are welcome to publish along with the leaflet.

Additional background information, plus the open letter mentioned above

Background to the Protest: Residents opposed to a homeless shelter are considering ‘direct action’ after feeling duped by Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC).

People living in Boughton believe the council’s belated agreement to consult them over plans to convert the former old people’s home Richmond Court into a 36-bed homeless complex is meaningless.

Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle

The petition: Residents against Homeless Shelter at Richmond Court, Boughton Canal Side, Chester

Protest Group news letter: Click on pages to view larger size.

Protest Groups FaceBook Page

Open letter to Steve Robinson:  Click on pages to view larger size