Friday, 20 December 2013

#QuackCWaC: On a mission to waste as much taxpayer's cash as possible?

As recent as June 2013 the council sent two councillors and eighteen staff on a taxpayer funded jolly to the MJ (Municipal Journal) award ceremony. The cost of attending the event was £9077.81. Read my blog post about that waste of money here.

However, wasting taxpayer's money is nothing new to Cheshire West and Chester Council. As long ago as 2009 they wasted £25937.84 of taxpayer's money just to promote Cheshire West and Chester Council to other Councils! Read my blog post about that waste of money here.

They must have thought they weren't wasting enough taxpayer's cash on vanity exercises because they more recently wasted another £12,000 or so on yet another vanity exercise. The cost of a glossy advertorial supplement to the MJ magazine. (Yes, the same organisation that organised the award ceremony mentioned above.) However, unlike the 2009 exhibition this appeared to promote the leader and CEO of the council rather than the council itself. Read the full story from the source.

Why does a council need to promote itself to other councils? Why does a council have to send so many people to events? Why do the leader and CEO think it is necessary to promote themselves to other councils?

As far as I am concerned all the above have been a complete waste of taxpayer's cash. Except of course for those attending the jollies or having their egos stroked at the taxpayer's expense.

The council's latest attempt to waste even more taxpayer's cash was by sending a large number of senior staff on two jollies to London at a cost to taxpayer's of some £11,000.

The general objectives for both trips were

- To provide an intense learning opportunity for Heads of Service and rising stars

- To focus on emerging trends in policy and politics in general and centre-local relations and public innovation in particular

- To provide an exposure to Westminster and Whitehall of relevance and practical use to participants

- To provide an opportunity to improve professional understanding and policy making by providing the opportunity to meet with guests and presenters.

The focus for the first trip on the 5th and 6th November 2013 was

1. Social finance, mutual and employee owned spin outs

2. DCLG, parliament and the media.

The focus for the second trip on the 19th and 20th November 2013 was

1. Economy, Exports and Growth

2. Central Government, parliament and think tanks

Read the full itinerary for the two events here

Cutting through the HR bullshit it appear to me to be just an excuse for some well paid public servants to have a chat (and a few meals) with some other well paid public servants. What most people would consider as a taxpayer funded jolly.

Read the full FOI request and responses here and make your own mind up.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Kelsall’s Plight

Our local councillors, CWAC and our politicians have been completely powerless to stop speculative developers ruining the green heart of our beautiful village.

In 2012 the government had a good idea:  Proactive communities, who know much more about the local area than centralised planners, could decide where the best place to build and what types of houses, businesses and infrastructure is needed to sustain a vibrant living environment.  Kelsall whole-heartedly embraced the opportunity to develop a local plan that is now nearing completion.  Many people who care about our community have given 100s of hours of their own time to make this plan.

We were pleased that the Government had proclaimed that “localism is king” when it came to planning.

We’ve been very clear about our needs and the whole village has signed up to the plans.  We have discovered that we are an older than average community with more expensive houses that young families cannot afford.  Older residents have no places to buy in the village if they want to downsize from these large homes.  We desperately need 2 - 3 bedroom “second stepper” and retirement homes.

We would like to develop the village along the Chester road between the Royal Oak and the Co-op, close to village amenities and in an area that won’t block out the beautiful views and low rise “mixed up” nature of our village.  We don’t want to build around the edge of the village because that would mean much more car use and give Kelsall a much more “built up” feeling from the bypass.

Most importantly we want to keep the green heart of the village next to the Lord Binning and school for recreational and educational space.  As we grow we will need a new school and we don’t want to put this on the edge of the village for the same reasons as we’ve stated above.

But there was a problem.  In 2012 the government also scrapped most of the planning law that had been built up over many years.  They wanted house building to happen to kick start the economy so they developed a new framework for planning to work with.  Amongst other things the framework says that if a local council does not have enough plans for houses there is a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.  The developers have taken this to mean that they can pretty much build anything anywhere until the council is able to sign off their plan.

The problem is that despite years of dithering, CWAC still haven’t got their plan together.  In fact they’ve been so inept that the work they have done to show how many houses are required has been challenged in court and the developers won.  They cannot use this work now to defend our communities from naked profiteering.

So now we have 123 new houses planned for our village, in areas expressly against the wishes of our community that we know will cause traffic chaos at school and mean that school expansion will not happen on Flat Lane.  We benefit from walking our kids to school and build our community on those conversations at the school gate.

The last developer to try their hand is Roland Homes.  They want to build 11 four and five bed homes on Willington Lane at the bottom of Kellsborrow way.  In July our councillors unanimously rejected this scheme for a number of reasons.

Firstly the developer doesn’t own this land.  The price they pay for the land will depend on the types of house they build.  They’ve claimed that because the land is so expensive and difficult to build on they can only afford to build “an executive ghetto” as one councillor described it.

We need smaller homes that will fit in with Kelsborrow Way and respect the landscape.  The developer in claiming it can’t afford to do this is therefore offering CWAC a sum of money to build these homes elsewhere.  These will not be in Kelsall!

Secondly the councillors were very unhappy with the size and scale of this development.  It looks like it’s in an urban environment with tiny gardens and is of a standard design used recently in Runcorn.  These crammed in houses that dwarf those around them will overlook the neighbours.

So we have a situation where a landowner is demanding a price that means we don’t get the houses we need in the village and instead CWAC is given money.

The landowner wins, the developer wins, CWAC wins but the community yet again looses our one chance to become more sustainable.

We are not against developing our village.  We are completely against greedy people muscling in to reduce the sustainability of our village.

We cannot blame the landowner or the developer – they are driven by profit and not considerations for us.  The government and CWAC have sleepwalked into ruining our village and have not done their job of protecting us.  Localism is now dead in our village and those residents who invested so much time into the plan feel defeated, deflated, depressed and thoroughly let down.

CWAC should be ashamed that they have not done their job or resourced the planning department effectively to deliver what we pay them to do.  Someone should resign over this.

Kelsall residents action group

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

#QuackCWaC in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs section again

Further to my last post CWaC Strategic Planning Committee: Has it brought itself into disrepute?

Since then four councillors have had the Tory whip withdrawn,  Cllrs Brian Crowe, Neil Sullivan, Gareth Anderson and Myles Hogg. Read more about that here

They obviously didn't vote the way someone wanted them to vote regarding a motion for the full council rather than the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) to decide the Student Village (SV) application. Read more about that here and the breakdown of votes here

Whilst some wanted the SPC to decide the SV application, most right thinking councillors (as a result of public concern over the earlier SPC committee chair change and the likely damage to the reputation of the council) thought it better if the full council decided on the matter.

The post whip withdrawn political make up of the council now looks like this, which makes the decision regarding the SV very interesting indeed. Not only will it highlight those who vote for or against but also those who don't attend, disappear before the vote or suddenly change their mind.

The council is due to reach a decision tomorrow. Watch the fun it here live at 5.30pm.

 In the meantime see what Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs section had to say on the subject.

Text version of the above image available here

Whatever happens tomorrow there is no doubt that the earlier actions of the leader has brought intense scrutiny on both the council and councillors from both residents and the press.

Monday, 19 August 2013

CWaC Strategic Planning Committee: Has it brought itself into disrepute?

Many people, including Batfink Legion (see below), think that the Cheshire West and Chester Council Strategic Planing Committee has brought itself into disrepute since Mike Jones' controversial decision to change the chairman. What do you think?

Below are three examples uploaded to YouTube by Batfink Legion together with a their comments. Please visit YouTube to read more and/or add a comment. I was sent the links via a third party.

Video clip 1) Strategic Planning Committee (June 2013) Our new chairman

'Clowns running the Circus' would be the politest analogy. The previous experienced Chairman was removed for voting the 'wrong way' on an unwanted plan for a Student Village on Greenbelt land. The day after he was replaced by Howard Greenwood (a property developer and a new Councillor with less than one year's experience on the planning committee) , the rejected planning application was re-submitted. We are advised by our Council Leader (Mike Jones) that this was co-incidence. Oh yeah!!

Video clip 2) Strategic Planning Committee (July 2013) Chair refuses to allow cllrs to debate

Following the fiasco at the June 2013 Strategic Planning Meeting (SPC) -- see video 'Cheshire West and Chester - our new Strategic Planning Chairman', The Chairman (Howard Greenwood) was again intent on stifling debate at the July meeting. The clip starts with the Chairman apparently not knowing whether another application is being passed or refused. There is then a gap with the mikes off (can anyone out there lip read and advise what is said?). Pick it up again at about the 2min 30sec marker and see Cllr Greenwood once more in full dictatorial style, refusing to allow debate, refusing again to explain his actions, and showering other Councillors with contempt.

The Nolan principles embodied in 'Probity in Planning' demand openness and accountability. Here in CWAC we have neither.

Video clip 3) Strategic Planning Committee (August 2013) Refusal to amend minutes

Not only does Howard Greenwood once again treat his fellow Councillors with disdain, with the assistance of a Senior Officer and Solicitor and some pliant colleagues he avoids amending the minutes of the previous meeting so that they do not give an accurate record of what took place. This is disgraceful behaviour and if it is not unconstitutional or illegal then it should be. Is it incompetence, misunderstanding or venality? Can you find another explanation? Watch Cllr Greenwood totally failing to deal with the fall-out from his previous aggressive and unconstitutional decision. Watch our Development Planning Manager say that the minutes do not have to reflect the meeting's proceedings.

Watch the issue quashed by a vote split along party lines (planning committees are meant to be un-whipped). Watch the little whispered advice sections - and advise if you can lip read.

My comment: The council, let alone any one committee, certainly appears to be doing their damnedest to bring themselves into disrepute, as can be evidenced from this and many other posts on this blog. 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

#QuackCWaC: The cost of senior management subscriptions

Following a Freedom of Information request the following information is now publicly available

Please note that this excludes corporate memberships that may be accounted for against their name (such as the Council’s annual LGA subscription, and contribution to the membership of Cheshire and Warrington Enterprise Commission).

Chief Executive – Steve Robinson: £889.00 

· Association of County Chief Executives - £265.00

· Dean's Breakfast subscription -  £40.00

· Chester Business Club Membership 2013/2014 -  £186.00

· SOLACE –£398.00

Director for Children and Young People – Gerald Meehan: £3,135.00

 · The Association of Directors for Children’s Services (ADCS) - £3,135.

Director for Communities and Environment - Steve Kent: £995.00

Director for Resources – Julie Gill: £4218.00

· Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) Professional Membership - £300

Director Regeneration and Culture -  Charlie Seward: £0

The total cost for individual memberships of, and subscriptions to, organisations by the Chief Executive and Directors is: £9237.00

Monday, 29 July 2013

#QuackCWaC City of Culture bid: Yet another cock-up

The first question which must be asked is why did he council make such an early bid for the City of Culture title when even the consultants hired to help with the bid stated in 2011, whilst describing Chester to another council, -  "Chester has a popular racecourse and claims that its cultural festivals generate £16 million a year of additional expenditure by visitors. Its festivals are managed by an
arms-length company with support from the City, Arts Council and businesses. The performing arts and museums offer is, however, quite weak." (My emphasis)

So why not wait until the Theatre was up and running and the museums had been improved and make a bid with much more chance of success when the next the opportunity arose?

The answer may come in a Chester First article about the failed bid.

- "former Chester MP Christine Russell, who has been leading the campaign for a new theatre and cinema, said the bid had been an “own goal” and branded the council “deluded”." (My emphasis)

The deluded tag was validated some days later when council leader Mike Jones suggested it was a “huge compliment” that Chester failed to make the UK City of Culture 2017 shortlist.

What we have is a council spending taxpayer's money on a bid which had little chance of success, especially when up against other cities with established theatres and better museums. Then trying to spin the deluded attempt by suggesting the outcome was a huge compliment.

The MJ awards: Another taxpayer funded jolly for 2 cllrs and 18 staff

The Municipal Journal, or The MJ as it is better known, states that it is the UK’s leading weekly magazine for council chief executives and their teams of decision-makers in local authorities and allied sectors. It offers an insiders’ view of what’s going on and what people are thinking in today’s ever changing and challenging world of local politics – the latest news, incisive comment in-depth features and interviews, business analysis and the top recruitment vacancies.

They also organise the annual LGA exhibition and also run our own range of conferences, round table debates and workshops. Once a year we celebrate all that is great about local government at the prestigious MJ Achievement Awards - all of which gives local government senior executives the opportunity to meet, debate with peers, learn and network with key contacts.

The MJ held it's annual awards ceremony at the Hilton, London on the 20/06/2013. There were 15 categories of awards plus one for Best Achieving Council. Out of the 15 categories Cheshire West and Cheshire council were finalists for four awards Transformation through IT, Trading Standards and Environmental Health, Environmental Services and Democratic Services but only won one, ironically for democratic services.

They were also highly commended in another category, Environmental Services,  along with Durham County Council.

In these difficult times one would have expected the council at most to have sent a couple of representatives to collect the awards, however, they actually sent 20 people in total (2 cllrs and 18 staff), all at the taxpayer's expense.

Accommodations costs alone were £200 per person for one night Total £4,000. The table cost was £3750 which included food drink and table hire and the travel costs for all 20 travelling by train were £1327.81. Grand total £9077.81

Unfortunately this isn't the end of the matter because the council also financially supports the LGA which in turn also supports the MJ awards as do many other taxpayer funded organisations. In addition the council also supports other MJ organised events for the LGA. Furthermore, many of the other supporters of the awards are either other taxpayer funded organisations or companies with which those organisations spend even more taxpayer's money with.

Therefore the true cost of all these taxpayer funded events jollies are, when you also take all the indirect 'incestuous' funding into account, much much higher that they initially appear.

When you consider that the council recently decided to charge a foodbank some £5,000 rent it would appear somewhat insensitive to then spend double that amount on a jolly for 2 councillors and 18 staff.

Bus shelters: Now you see them, now you don't.

Another almighty cock-up by the council

Even after ignoring the controversy over whether it would have been better and cheaper to refurbish the previous brick built shelters rather than demolish them and install temporary new ones, the council still couldn't get it right.

Read the unfolding bus shelter story in the Chester Chronicle.

Photo supplied by J Murray
However, whilst the article mentions a dispute regarding some unfinished electrical works it doesn't highlight the fact that electrical works were not part of the original contract with the supplier.

Photo supplied by J Murray
Neither does it mention that initially the bus shelters were delivered wrong way round (I.e. exit at left rather than right end). The supplier stating that the council specified them that way and the disputed £10k is for remedial work due to council's poor specification.

So what we appear to have is a council ordering the wrong bus shelters then expecting the supplier to pay for their mistake and for work not specified in the original contract.

It became such a farce that once again the council ended up in the Rotten Borough pages of

I'm back

Due to my annual holidays plus a number of other priorities cropping up at the same time I haven't been in a position to post any new material for a few weeks. However, I am back now so what will follow over the next two days will be a number of catch up posts highlighting the council's cock-ups whilst I have been away.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

OPEN LETTER: Kelsall - golden opportunity

From: Kelsall Residents Action Group.
To: Fiona Edwards, Cheshire West and Chester Council
CC: Mike Jones, Cheshire West and Chester Council

Dear Fiona

The residents of Kelsall would like to thank you whole heartedly and sincerely for your decision to call in the Willington Lane / Rowland Homes application.

We believe that a unique and golden opportunity now presents itself: for us all to take a national lead in the application of the NPPF for the benefit of all in this process.

We would request that in the run up to committee that all parties work together to develop a sustainable scheme acceptable to all.

We have always stated that we are not in any way against the development of this site and would embrace a dialogue with the developer in the spirit of clause 66 of NPPF:

Applicants will be expected to work closely with those directly affected by their proposals to evolve designs that take account of the views of the community. Proposals that can demonstrate this in developing the design of the new development should be looked on more favourably.

This opportunity presents a huge win win for planners, residents and developer as Kelsall expands rapidly.  This is an opportunity to lead the construction Industry away from outdated modes of confrontational planning for very little effort.  A scheme fully supported by the residents would prove much less problematic and present a gold standard going forwards.

We have all now invested far too much to walk away from our stated aim of achieving a suitable and sustainable solution.  Our offer seems to present a wholly practical and cost effective alternative to this already protracted processes.

Best Wishes

Chris Spray

Chair of Kelsall Residents Action Group.

#QuackCWaC leader mentioned in Private Eye yet again.

Once again the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council is mentioned in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye.

Although the article is primarily about his namesake, the leader of Chester East Council, the introduction to the article does suggest some interesting similarities.

For the full story please buy a copy of Private Eye

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

CWaC Council in the Rotten Borough section of Private Eye yet again.

UPDATED 30th May 2013: Anger over Cheshire planning committee changes & Labour look to challenge controversial Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee shake-up. Updates below original post.

Now that #QuackCWaC Council is fast becoming a regular in the Rotten Boroughs section of Private Eye, I suggest that readers take out a subscription.

An earlier appearance in Private Eye

Also an earlier article from the Chester Chronicle

‘Was I sacked over student village vote?’ asks ex-chairman of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s key planning committee.

THE sacked Tory planning chairman at Cheshire West and Chester Council says there is speculation he was ousted because he voted down the controversial student village.

Cllr Myles Hogg (Willaston and Thornton) was chairman of the strategic planning committee until last Thursday when he was replaced by Conservative colleague Cllr Howard Greenwood at the annual council meeting.

Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle

UPDATE 1 - 30th May 2013: Anger over Cheshire planning committee changes

DISMAYED campaigners are seeking answers after the controversial removal of a planning committee chairman.

Scores of letters have been sent to Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) chief executive Steve Robinson after Cllr Myles Hogg was replaced as chairman of the strategic planning committee.

Read the full story from the source Cheshire First

UPDATE 2 - 30th May 2013: Labour look to challenge controversial Cheshire West and Chester Council planning committee shake-up

LABOUR are looking to challenge the controversial decision to remove Cheshire West and Chester Council’s long-serving strategic planning committee chairman.

Cllr Myles Hogg (Willaston and Thornton) was sacked from his position after 24 years of service two weeks ago, when he was replaced by Tory colleague Cllr Howard Greenwood at the annual council meeting.

Now Labour are planning to gather petition signatures and carry out a campaign against the changes to the planning committee.

Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle

My comment: Without knowing the 'real' reason for the changes people are left with no alternative but to use the duck test.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

#QuackCWaC Council Rich list (2013)

Another year and another rich list has been published by the Taxpayer's Alliance. For the full 2013 TPA report covering the financial year 2011/12 click here, for my blog post about the year 2010/11 please click here.

Total remuneration 2011/12 with approx percentage increase on 2010/11 remuneration

1) Mr S Robinson Chief Executive £266,000 13.19%
2) Director of Adults Social Care & Health £135,111 (shared post during 2010/11)
3) Director of Community & Environment £138,365 1.6%
4) Director of Regeneration & Culture £139,156 1.89%
5) Director of Resources £152,618  0.82%
6) Head of Facilities & Asset Management £105,143 0.66%
7) Head of Finance £101,064 -1.2%
8) Head of ICT Strategy £105,449 3.08%
9) Head of Legal & Democratic Services £104,925  3.07%
10) Head of Human Resources £102,509 7.1%
11) Head of Planning & Transport £110,520 2.78%
12) Head of Policy, Performance & Partnerships £101,531 -3.4%
13) Head of Procurement £110,458 2.67%
14) Head of Regulatory Services £107,927 3.93%
15) Head of Achievement & Wellbeing £104,798 2.97%
16) Head of Strategic Housing & Spatial Planning £102,124 0.31%
17) Head of Strategy & Commissioning £101,918 1.1%
18) Head of Waste Management & Street Scene £104,091 1.9%

Sub Total £2,193,707 

The two posts below include compensation for loss of office

19) Head of Culture & Recreation £105,636 7.6%
20) Head of Social Care Provision £147,148 (No such post 2010/11)

Please note: A number of job titles have changed and the number of named job titles has been slightly reduced since 2010/11. Although the number of unknown job titles costing over £100K has increased.

Total = £2,446,491

Plus 7 an extra unknown job titles

Sub Total unknown £792,500 

Total cost to taxpayers of just 27 people who work/worked for Cheshire West and Chester Council during the financial years 2011/12


Footnote: If you find an error in my calculations please let me know.

My comment: I find it unusual that as the council shrinks (number of services and staff reduced, including senior staff) year on year it has cost the taxpayer more to employ the CEO, albeit his basic salary remained unchanged.

2090/10 £218,000  2010/11 £235,000  2011/12 £266,000 That's a 22% increase in just 3 years.

Especially since it costs the taxpayers more for the CWaC CEO than it does for the Birmingham CEO which is a much much bigger council.

Supplementary facts

Cheshire West and Chester are,

6th of  38 councils with at least 15 employees receiving more than £100,000 in 2011-12,

3rd on the list of highest costing Council CEOs 

Monday, 13 May 2013

The #QuackCWaC cock-ups keep on coming

MP's son Sean Ellman cleared in legal high label case.

The shopkeeper son of a Liverpool MP has been cleared of failing to properly label "legal highs" to warn consumers about potential risks.

Trading Standards officials accused him of breaching consumer laws.

But a Chester judge said the case fell down when officers failed to test the substance to prove it posed a risk. [my emphasis]

My comment: Yes, you read it correctly, #QuackCWaC Council officers failed to test the substance which was the subject of the court case. Another 'you couldn't make it up' cock-up by Cheshire and Chester West Council.

Read the full story from the source BBC News

Doctor Hermans in Eastgate Row. Photo by @johnmurray1960

Saturday, 4 May 2013

They keep on coming - Yet another #QuackCWaC cock-up

Cock-up one: Cheshire West and Chester Council highway officers give contractors an outdated list.

Cock-up two: Contractor paints yellow zig-zag road markings without even noticing there was no school.

The school in question was closed in 2008 and demolished in 2009 so there has been no need for the work to have been done for the past 5 years.

Local and National press run with the Cheshire West and Chester Council cock-up story, probably because it's one of those 'you couldn't make it up' stories.

Chester First: Road signs in Newton for the school that isn't there.

The Telegraph: Council road painters fail to spot missing school.

The Telegraph Tweet: Council road painters fail to spot missing school.

Daily Mail: Bungling workmen paint zig zag school warning lines on road without noticing that it had been demolished four years ago.

Council cock up even reported by a Danish newspaper.

Nyhederne: UPS! Malede advarsel foran nedrevet skole.


Embarrassed council quickly paint over the yellow zig-zags.

However, reports are coming in that this is not the only example. I wonder where the others are and how much all this cost?

Friday, 29 March 2013

Councillor standards...or lack of them?

The Standards (Board) for England, which ensured that councillors’ conduct did not fall below a required standard, was abolished in March 2012.

A Communities and Local Government department spokesman said, as an excuse for abolishing them: “The old Standards Board regime prevented councillors from championing the interests of their local residents and suppressed freedom of speech". Since then councils have been required to adopt a code of conduct based on the seven Nolan principles of public life [1 below].

The Localism Act 2011, given Royal Assent on 15 November 2011, implemented this policy
commitment. Measures included:

• The abolition of Standards for England (previously Standards Board for England)
• A requirement to promote and maintain high standards of conduct
• Local codes of conduct and local responsibility for acting upon possible infringements
• Requirements concerning the registration and disclosure of pecuniary and other interests
• The creation of a new criminal offence of failing to comply with the statutory requirements for disclosure of pecuniary interests.

However, I think the DCLG may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater because we no longer have any independent scrutiny of councillor standards.

Even the Committee on Standards in Public Life consistently argued that codes need to be supported by independent scrutiny. In addition they also stated that the reliance of the new arrangements on 'relatively modest sanctions and significantly reduced independent input' already carries inherent risks.

Whilst I accept that the Standards Board for England weren't perfect, better to have some body independently policing councillor standards rather than what we have now, essentially councillors regulating councillors.

As with all so called solutions introduced by government, they often end up worse than the problem they were intended to fix, and I am certain this will prove true as far as councillor standards are concerned.

Although Section 28(7) of the Act requires local authorities to appoint at least one independent person
to advise the council before it makes a decision on an allegation. That does nothing to elevate the inerrant risk of having no independent scrutiny. The wording itself gives the game away, they are nothing more than an independent advisor, someone who can be ignored. What is needed is independent scrutiny from someone or some body who can't be ignored.

My main concern is that everything, other than criminal activity, is now 'in house' without outside scrutiny, therefore, it must be possible to a) reject, minimise or cover up a standards complaint against individual councillors who have 'friends' or 'supporters' on the standards committee.' b) over react to a standards complaint against individual councillors without 'friends' or 'supporters' on the standards committee.

It appear to me that standards are dropping across the board in English councils since they abolished Standards Board for England. Hardly a week now goes by without news of another councillor displaying well below acceptable standards of behaviour and more worryingly getting away with it.

Whilst I am not suggesting that Cheshire West and Chester Council are any worse than any other English councils they don't show any signs of bucking the trend.

It is interesting to note that one of the risks [of the new system] highlighted by Committee on Standards in Public Life was, if - 'the new system was not seen to be effective it will lack credibility and is unlikely to command public confidence'.

I would have no confidence if the police were abolished and criminals were allowed to police themselves. So why should I have any confidence in councillors being allowed to police themselves now the Standards for England has been abolished? No system of self regulation without outside scrutiny will ever be seen as acceptable by the public.

Nolan's principles of pubic life

Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Freedom of Information Act: Decision notice against #QuackCWaC Council

Reference: FS50467979
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)
Decision notice
Date: 20 February 2013

Public Authority: Cheshire West and Chester Council

Decision (including any steps ordered)

1. The complainant has requested information relating to any individuals paid via a company set up for tax purposes. The Commissioner has decided that Cheshire West and Chester Council (the Council) breached section 10(1) of FOIA by failing to issue a response within the statutory time limit of 20 working days. No further action is required to be taken as a result of this notice.

Request and response

2. On 25 May 2012 the complainant wrote to the Council and requested information in the following terms:

1) The total number of people who hold/have held a management position, for any given period within the last 3 years who are/were paid via a specifically formed company for tax purposes.

2) The names of the individuals, the positions they held and the name of the company the council paid for their services.

3. The Council acknowledged receipt of the request on 29 May 2012.

4. In the absence of a substantive response, the complainant wrote to the Council again on 27 June 2012 and asked it to carry out a review of its  handling of his requests. The Council subsequently completed a review, the findings of which were provided to the complainant on 23 July 2012.
Among other things, the review found that the Council had breached section 10(1) of FOIA due to the delay in responding and required the Council to deal with the request within the next 15 working days.

5. The Council’s response to the requests was provided on 1 October 2012.  This said that the Council did not hold the information asked for by the complainant.

Scope of the case

6. The complainant contacted the Commissioner on 9 October 2012 to complain about the delay associated with the Council’s handling of his requests.

Reasons for decision

Section 10 – time for compliance

7. Section 10(1) of FOIA states that on receipt of a request for information   a public authority should respond to the applicant within 20 working days.

8. It has come to the Commissioner’s attention that the Council did not  respond to the requests within the statutory time limit. He has therefore found that the Council breached section 10(1) of FOIA.

Right of appeal

9. Either party has the right to appeal against this decision notice to the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights). Information about the appeals process may be obtained from:

First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights)
GRC & GRP Tribunals,
PO Box 9300,
Tel: 0300 1234504
Fax: 0116 249 4253

10. If you wish to appeal against a decision notice, you can obtain information on how to appeal along with the relevant forms from the Information Tribunal website.

11. Any Notice of Appeal should be served on the Tribunal within 28 (calendar) days of the date on which this decision notice is sent.

Group Manager
Information Commissioner’s Office

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Is #QuackCWaC Council's Solutions Team fit for purpose?

Many years ago, driven by managers returning from management courses, at least those having been subject to such in-vogue mantras as 'think outside the box', 'blue sky thinking', 'it's not a problem it's an opportunity' and 'let's concentrate on solutions not complaints'  and all the other popular management speak bollocks of the time, it became quite fashionable on their return to rename many traditional departments within their organisation.

Such thinking appears to be behind the choice of the name for Cheshire West and Chester 'Solutions Team'.

The Solutions Team

The Solutions Team, among other things, deals with Freedom of Information requests and Complaints and it it these two aspects of their work I am concentrating on in this post.

Freedom of Information

If there is one thing the Solutions Team deal with really badly it's freedom of information requests.

Over the last few years a substantial number of people have not received a Freedom of Information Act complaint response within the 20 working day legal deadline. This forces many requesters to submit a completely unnecessary and time wasting request for an internal review.

A review typically end up with the following admission
  • The Council failed to inform the requester whether it held the information requested. 
  • The Council failed to provide the information requested. 
  • The Council failed to comply with the request for information in accordance with the statutory time limit of twenty working days, starting with the day following the receipt of the request. 
  • The Council therefore breached sections 1(1)(a) and (b) of FOIA , as  the Council had a duty to confirm or deny that the information existed and to provide the information not later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt of the request ( unless it considered an exemption applied), and failed to do so. In respect of its failure to comply with sections 1(1)(a) and (b) the Council also breached section 10(1) of the FOIA in respect of both sub sections in section 1(1).  
And the then lists the steps to be taken, by the council, to remedy the situation which typically include the following
  • The Council is required to provide the information requested for the period  within X working days of the date of the Review. 
The council is typically reminded of the following
  • it must reply to a request under the FOIA in accordance with the statutory time requirement, being twenty working days, starting on the day following receipt of the request, 
  • and that it must confirm or deny the existence of the information and if no exemption is claimed, provide the information requested
  • and that if an exemption applies the Council is still required to respond to the request by issuing a refusal notice within the statutory deadline of twenty working days following receipt of the request giving the requester the information as explained above,
  • and additional time for considering a request is only permitted if an exemption involving the public interest applies, and the Council requires extra time to consider the public interest test.  
However the council never learn their lesson because time and time again the Solutions Team has to repeat a similar review outcome to other requesters. One only has to read some of the requests made to Cheshire and Chester Council via the on-line What Do They Know service to realise just how many times the Council breaks the law regarding FOI requests. 

Neither is this a new phenomenon, here is an early post of mine highlighting that fact last summer. 

In a response to the FOI request linked to above the PA to Steve Robinson, Chief Executive stated on 13 August 2009, "the organisation has now 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. In addition the new organisation recognises the importance of making sure requests are dealt with within relevant timescales."

I can only conclude that the PA was referring to the introduction of the Solutions Team but if that's the case then they have utterly failed to improve the situation. Therefore, if it was bad in 2009 and it's no better today, I can only conclude that the Solution Team has failed and accordingly not fit for the purpose intended.

Having said that they are not the only ones to blame, the council monitoring officer is supposed to ensure the council doesn't break the law, so one can only assume that they were also sleeping on the job over the last few years. Let's hope things improve now we have a new monitoring officer.


Another thing the Solutions Team deal with is complaints.

#QuackCWaC Comments, Compliments and Complaints: "We will deal promptly with any complaints about the services we provide. Compliments are passed on to the people concerned and we use your comments to help us improve what we do."

A complaint can be defined as a statement that something is unsatisfactory or unacceptable, however, the Council don't appear to agree. For example, they have been known, when someone contacts them about an unsatisfactory or unacceptable situation to deal with the issue as a request for a service and not as a complaint.

For example, if you tell them about something which is unsatisfactory or unacceptable and ask them to put matters rights, is it a complaint or a request for a service? Clearly it's both because a request for them to put matters right only came about because of an unsatisfactory or unacceptable situation in the first place.

Unfortunately, unless you specifically use the word complaint in you correspondence the Solutions Team may not deal with the matter as a complaint, even if you have implicitly complained about something being amiss and asked them to put it right.

Accordingly I would advise anyone who wants to complain about a service failure to head their correspondence COMPLAINT so it is logged as such and not passed off by the Solutions Team as just a simple service request.

In addition, in spite of the council's policy which implies that all contacts will be acknowledged the Solution Team often only reply if you expressly state you want one.

So restating the original question 'Is the Solution Team fit for purpose?'

Based on the above I for one think not.

Coming soon - Is #QuackCWaC's standards regime fit for purpose?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

#QuackCWaC Another Data Cock Up!

A COMPUTER expert alerted Cheshire West and Chester Council to thousands of questionable data entries on its website including the disclosure of confidential details of vulnerable children.

John Murray, of Handbridge, raised alarm bells over the Open Data section of the council website which records all spending transactions of more than £500 in line with government best practice.

A data analyst by profession, Mr Murray was  accumulating spending data for a number of authorities, including Cheshire West, when he noticed an inconsistent approach to removing the details of certain suppliers.

He said: “There were 4,206 such transactions where the same supplier ID had been redacted in other records. The majority of these are payments to organisations.

“However I also observed unredacted payee names including 188 direct payments to adult social care clients and/or their carers, 15 payments for adult day and respite care, 113 payments to foster carers, 11 payments to disabled children and their carers and 37 adoption allowance payments."

Read the full story from the source Chester Chronicle

My comment: The council should have immediately reported such a serious breach to the Information Commissioner. However it was a further 2 weeks before they removed the sensitive data from their website but still hadn't reported it to the Information Commissioner, Getting rid of the evidence first?

Read CWaC spokesperson's comments on the data breach at the end of the Chronicle article for an example of how they spin reality.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

#QuackCWaC Credit Card Probe

'HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money has been spent using Cheshire West and Chester Council credit cards without proper checks being carried out.

An internal audit has revealed “significant weaknesses” in the way Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) controls how the cards are used by staff.

Auditors said the weaknesses meant there was potential for the cards to be used for fraud.

They found that 41 per cent of transactions worth £374,000 had not been approved by managers, 21 per cent totalling £163,000 had not been reviewed by card holders and 21 card holders no longer worked for the council.'

Read the full story from the source Chester First

My comment: This is very worrying, firstly, how can a council responsible for spending taxpayer's money be so lax when it comes to financial control. Secondly, is #QuackCWaC just as lax in other areas?

If credit card spending is not being being monitored how an earth do we know what #QuackCWaC staff and members are spending taxpayer's money on?  

Some earlier posts of mine on the subject of credit card spending.

28 MAY 2011  CWaC Council spending on Credit Cards

31 MAY 2011 Old credit card habits die hard

24 JUNE 2011 CWaC Council spending on Credit Cards UPDATED 13/07/11