Posted tagged ‘westminster’

Asking the right question; Westminster style

September 19, 2011

You mean to tell me there is a book about this???

The enterprising Puffles recently posted on twitter a long list of questions asked by our distinguished parliamentarians to the good Ministers of the Department for Criticising Local Government.

These questions included:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how many letters his Department received from hon. Members in June 2011.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the cost to the public purse was of (a) cars leased by his Department to staff and (b) ministerial chauffeurs between June 2007 and May 2010.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much his Department has spent on entertaining in each financial year since 2007-08.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the estimated saving to the public purse was from lower staff wage costs arising from industrial action by staff of his Department on 30 June 2011.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much his Department has spent on photo shoots and videos involving Ministers since May 2010.
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the cost to the public purse was of stationery purchased by his Department between June 2007 and May 2010.

Now, obviously the above questions tell their own story about the quality of parliamentary scrutiny of Mr Pickles’ Department (and I didn’t have to try too hard to pick them) but there were some questions about actual policy.

These included: (more…)

Rough Sleeping and the Big Society

March 4, 2011

Caught in the cross fire of local politicians and the Big Society

Westminster Council announced earlier this week that they were going to be:

consulting on plans to ask CLG to approve a bye-law that would outlaw rough sleeping and soup runs in a wide area that includes Westminster Cathedral piazza and the department’s Eland House headquarters.

Now there is a very easy response to this announcement and it goes something like this:

WTF!!!!

I’m well aware that this is not a simple issue. Apparently, the charities Thames Reach and St Mungo’s support the move, but other groups such as Housing Justice voiced their opposition. If I’m totally honest I really don’t know who’s right and a flippant response of WTF seems a bit cheap.

Anyway, I’m being distracted.

The interesting sub-point of this story is what it says about the Big Society.

In my mind the charities that hand out the soup and other food in Westminster Borough could definitely be described as part of the Big Society. These are charities that often have volunteers working for them. They have identified a need in society and have set out to solve it in their own way.

However, the local politicians who represent the voice of the wider population (or at least I assume they do) are in the process of passing a law that says that the charities, acting in their role as part of the Big Society, are not acting in the best interests of the whole community.

In effect the problem here is one of who is right? The citizens of the ‘Big Society’ soup runs or the elected politicians of Westminster council?

(more…)

Buying stuff

November 22, 2010

 

Putting the squeeze on

 

Sir Philip Green, the Topshop tycoon and BFF of X Factor’s Simon Cowell, recently wrote a scathing report detailing how the Government could save a fortune if only it learnt how to procure (i.e. buy stuff) better.

The figures that Sir Philip was talking about are mind-boggling and far beyond the scope of anything I, as a relatively junior local government officer, would ever come into contact with. However, like many local government officers I have had to buy things, and many of these times have found it somewhat frustrating.

I might not like Philip Green’s abrasive approach but surely local government procurement bears no relationship to how it works in the private sector, surely.

I should state that I am not a procurement officer and therefore am not privy to all the processes that go into making a good procurement.

However, my experience of the procurement process is that it is mighty complicated.

Big procurement exercises can involve pre qualification questionnaires, lengthy submissions in response to detailed specifications, interviews with the providers, further clarification interviews, visits to local authorities who had already procured the thing we’re interested in before then eventually looking at the pricing. It can take ages and in tight projects can be a mighty pain in the backside.

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Royal decisions

October 25, 2010

 

Sign of the times or advanced warning?

 

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster councils announced on Friday morning that they will be investigating sharing all of the services provided by their councils.

The response in the media was suitably ridiculous.

The most commonly asked question from the great and the good in our media was how local people would know who to contact when they needed to get in touch with their local authorities.

This 100% missed the point. If I need social care, admissions information for my child or simply to pay a parking fine I don’t really care where the people I call are: I just want them to come and provide the service. Birmingham council is much bigger than this merged council will be and no-one gets upset that they don’t know who to call.

There are practical issues to overcome for sure but very few of them are related to the way that people get in contact with the council.

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