Posted tagged ‘FOI’

I just stepped in something squidgy

December 15, 2011

Enough to ruin a girl's day (or indeed to mount an unhealthy obsession)

We love a good guest post and today’s is both amusing and thoughtful at the same time. We love it and we hope you do too. Now, watch your step!

Walking to work a few weeks ago; slight skip in my step, beautiful radiant sunshine and frost on my breath, over priced coffee in my hand, thinking about the “to do” list that never ends and my lunch date with a friend from work… I skip along the well trodden roads near my home in London , hair bouncing and smiles exchanged from passers-by. Everything was going so well…

Now I work in consultation and engagement for Local Authorities. I actively try to support community empowerment and provide the bridge between the community and over worded reports and increasing amounts of jargon that only the author understands (or sometimes doesn’t).

I have facilitated community meetings where Joe and Joanne Blogs complain about what in the Council’s eyes are minor – non priority things.

For example, some things I have sat and listened to after 9pm on a week day: neighbours who put their rubbish out a day early or who see a group of young people (aka two young people), and think the riots are going to start again or the Police taking a leak in the side of the road. Diligently minuting them, smiling and promising to speak to the relevant personnel. Quietly rolling my eyes and thinking – OMG!

Back to my morning, hair bouncing and smiling… Aha! Commiseration and understanding hits me as my shoe sinks into large, smelly, squidgy dog poo. I live near a park, and of course, there are some lovely dogs running through it, escaping their two bedroom flats on their daily walks, wind rushing between their ears, tongue hanging out, saliva pouring from their mouth… there are some others that enjoy a good waddle and sniff in people’s crotches and a quiet grunt at the fish and chips packet holder.

The owners that I run past in the morning are diligent with their scented poo bags and quietly do the deed, holding their breath and praying that none slips over the top of the bag while they do it up and put it into the poo bin. The owners, (that must only come out at night like vampires, ghosts and ghoulies) to let their dogs sh*t on the sides of the roads and public pavements are the ones that I am being petty over. To be fair, there is a significant amount of dog poo all over the pavements where I live; making what is a great and vibrant community- a bit of a dirty one at times.

Furious after my skipping and enjoying the sun on my face, I look down and my shoe heal is covered – all two inches of it – covered in dog fouling vomit smelling mess.

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The Lazy Journalists Tackle Christmas (and other times of joy)

December 8, 2011

Freedom (to ask questions about nativity plays)

It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat at my computer and drafted a post entitled: ‘The Freedom of Lazy Journalism Act.’

The post provocatively claimed that whilst the FOI act is in general a good thing:

The real problem is that many of the requests we receive are not from concerned citizens but from seriously lazy and, dare I say, incompetent journalists.

I continued:

These so-called ‘journalists’ waste hours of council time (ironically often searching for examples of council staff wasting their time) and never are they actually searching for information or investigating a story.

Instead, they pre-write their stories and then use the FoI Act to trawl for a fact or two that will justify their prejudices or exaggerations.

Now, in hindsight I admit that perhaps I went a little too far (and the post received a bumper crop of comment and criticism) but last week I went out for my bi-annual drink with a few friends who work in FoI and other similarly related fields.

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That was the localgov week that was

November 4, 2011

Some things to read

Welcome to week 2 of our series of Friday review posts looking at the writing, blogging and things of interest out there in the world of local government. In no particular order the following posts interested us:

We often find our posts on the website of the Taxpayers Alliance and wonder if they have read them before they are put up. In this spirit, we would like to recommend the work of Ruth Keeling who has applied some of her characteristic journalistic rigour to their latest ‘open data’ project; this time about plane travel by council employees. As well as busting some myths the post makes the important point:

But the most important point is this: some of these councils did take the opportunity – in their FOI response – to make their case and offer justification of the spending and the TPA decided not to pass that information on to taxpayers.

This is not only wasting councils time, and therefore taxpayers resources, by requiring them to provide this information a second, third, fourth time in responses to queries from local journalists and residents, but it has also stimulated an uninformed and unintelligent debate because only some of the information has been made available.

FOI and open data are fine but there is a responsibility on all of us to use them properly.

An interesting speech from Hilary Benn at the LGIU’s localism and austerity conference. It’s early days but surely Mr Benn cannot be as absolutely anonymous as his predecessor Caroline Flint. The speech doesn’t say much that is new (but I guess he’s only just getting his head around the brief) but this statement pleased us here at WLLG:

Some (Government proposals) are plain incoherent. When money is tight, and CLG has faced huge cuts, to suddenly find £250m to try to bribe councils into changing decisions they themselves have made  – in the spirit of localism  – about how to collect  people’s rubbish is bizarre and smacks of Whitehall knows best.

Meanwhile the effervescent Richard Kemp got it right about adoption in this short piece:

I am not defending poorly performing councils. If there are councils who just cannot cope we need to understand that and do something about them. One way forward is peer intervention and training not draconian take overs.

The trouble with league tables is that they are crude; they take no account of the circumstances of the council and therefore give few guides to the efficacy of the team.

One of my youth work colleagues recommended that I read this piece about the riots and linkages to youth work. It is one of the best things I have read about the riots and well worth a read. It is quite long though so picking out a summary paragraph was tough. I opted for one from the introduction:

As we will see, it is best to avoid notions such ‘Broken Britain’ and simplistic linkages to reductions in government expenditure on young people and youth work if we are to find sensible solutions.

We have our differences with Eric Pickles (I won’t list them all) but this sketch from Simon Hoggart appeared particularly mean spirited. In one short article he mocked Mr Pickles for being northern, southern, fat (many times), thin (once), an alien, slow, dim and a Duracell bunny with an expiring battery. No wonder more people don’t want to get involved in politics. All done with a sneer and just a hint of school-yard petulance.

Just to show that we are not anti-Guardian the Guardian’s excellent Local Government Network (which is 1 year old today: Happy Birthday by the way!) had a really good debate about the council of the future. As always these debates are made by the people who take part and this week was a bumper crop. Check it out.

Could cloud computing really be on its way?

A short post from Simon Wakeman here, but it does link to some very interesting work being done by Westminster Council on comma tracking:

Finally, we want to take this opportunity to say goodbye to one of our favourite blogs which unexpectedly vanished from the web about two months ago. Fighting Monsters was an excellent blog about social care written by someone who not only understood her field but had a real passion for her work, the people she worked for and importantly for making it better. The blog is officially closed but the anonymous author has opened up the archived posts to say goodbye and to allow people to access the resources she had built up there over the three and half years.

The blog is a sad loss to the world of public sector blogging but we wish our anonymous friend well and hope that the projects she goes onto are equally fulfilling.

Do check out her blog whilst you still can.

Hiding behind Exaggeration

May 6, 2011

Is exaggeration hiding the debate?

Do you know what I hate more than anything in the whole world, that there is not a single thing in the world which I wouldn’t do to get rid of it?

Exaggeration.

Exaggeration is at the heart of many unnecessary arguments, and is the thing which skews correct and useful information into something which bears little or no relation to anything that can be used to formulate an informed and valid opinion. And when one person or group gets a reputation for exaggeration, it is assumed that most things they then say is exaggerated, which can in turn lessen its impact hugely.

This point came to mind when reading a recent press release from Unison, which you should be able to find amongst other places at the Lancashire Unison website. In it they bring up a number of duties which the government is aiming to scrap, and explore the possible levels of anarchy which would then be possible. A few of my personal favourites include:

Environmental Protection Act 1990, Section 89

Councils currently have to keep land and highways clear of litter. Would litter start to pile up on our streets?

Public Health Act 1936

Councils have to provide mortuaries. Would removing this duty see bodies pile up in the street?

Licensing Act 2003 Section 18

Requires local authorities to have a system for regulating premises licenses, including issuing licenses. Would we see strip clubs set up on any corner?

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Hold on lads, I’ve got an idea

August 26, 2010

The classic phrase is something along the lines of ‘if you put a million monkeys in front of a million typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually one will reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare’.  Well, if apparently if you ask 65m people to come up with ideas for cutting the national defecit and saving money you’ll get a seemingly endless numbers of suggestions (whittled down to about 45,000 so far), both weird and wonderful.

In case you’ve missed it, the government have been asking people online to come up with any and all ideas for ways to cut costs, and boy have the people responded.  Interestingly, apparently two-thirds of suggestions have come from public sector staff (although take with a pinch of salt any piece of information presented with the word ‘apparently’ as a precursor).

There are literally tens of thousands of suggestions on the site, many of which are repeats, racist, xenophobic or just plain stupid.  However, there are some real gems in there, with some so basic and easy to do it really made me scratch my head and try to justify why they have yet to be done. (more…)