Budget consultation condemned as just “meaningless jargon”

Croydon Council’s “budget consultation” closed last night. Those residents who managed to find this under-publicised online exercise condemned it broadly for its use of impenetrable language and its many meaningless questions. Some complained to Eric Pickles, the local government minister.

clocktowerHere, Norbury resident SEAN CREIGHTON goes through the ill-drafted and ill-considered questions in the council’s latest flawed consultation

This is a very difficult consultation exercise for members of the public to engage with.

There is no detail explaining what particular service items involve, what they currently cost, what the effect of answering YES would mean in terms of cutting expenditure, reducing service levels and what the adverse effects and wider social and economic costs would be, and whether savings by the Council could lead to increasing demand and cost on other public services. No options are offered for those whose instinct is to answer YES.

A lot of the descriptions are in meaningless jargon which will mean nothing to many members of the public. Therefore they cannot really make a meaningful comment but simply give a response of those items they feel strongly about.

Because of this I have not completed the online questionnaire, and am restricting my comments to some of the items.

ICT provider contract extension – re-negotiated services. Who is the provider? Are they a Croydon-based ICT firm? Is the extension contract to be with the current provider? Can the whole tender be up for re-tendering? Can the extension elements be tendered to local firms?

Renegotiation of external audit contract. How much does the external auditor charge? What saving is being sought? What other audit firms are there which might offer a lower price for the same quality of service?

Sixty people were killed in this air raid during the 1940 Blitz on Croydon. This picture, and thousands of others in the borough archive, would be moved from public access under council proposals

Sixty people were killed in this air raid during the 1940 Blitz on Croydon. This picture, and thousands of others in the borough archive, would be moved from public access under council proposals

Reassess eligibility of Taxicards and disabled persons’ freedom passes. The withdrawal of freedom passes by other Boroughs (eg Lambeth and Merton – but not Wandsworth) are a real blow to the standard of living and the mobility options for disabled people.

For those suffering from mental health problems it means that they will have to pay to travel to attend their therapy and group sessions, which sometimes can mean four or five sessions a week. With continual changes in location of health services, travel can include two or three changes of public transport. The danger is they will become stuck at home which will increase their loneliness and aggravate their illness, bring on more crises and incur expenditure by the police and the health service. It is wrongly assumed by local authority and transport officials that everyone on Disability Living Allowance receives a mobility element. This is not the case.

Reduction in customer contact centre resources as a result of increasing online communications. Given about 24 per cent of the population does not have online communications, and that percentage increases in poorer areas, this is likely to be counter-productive in terms of people contacting the Council. See further detail in my review of the December Tech City meeting at: http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/issues-facing-croydon-techcity-movement.html.

Asset rationalisation programme of council buildings. Does this mean sale to the private sector, or asset transfer to the community and voluntary sector? There is a fundamental difference between the two, and the latter aids the development of the Big Society.

Land charges – increase in fees. Who is this likely to affect most: people wanting to move into the borough or developers. Is consideration being given to two tier charging (1) for actual and potential homeowners and (2) for developers and landlords?

Reduce supplies and services to democratic and legal services. As someone who has been a Committee administrator all my life, I believe that any erosion of the abolition of democratic services to perform its functions will be to the detriment of the operation of the Committee system and of advice to Departments of the preparation of papers for the Committee cycle.

Another image from the archive collection of Croydon's local studies library: 1940, and an RAF Hurricane paid for in war bonds bought in Croydon

Another image from the archive collection of Croydon’s local studies library: 1940, and an RAF Hurricane paid for in war bonds bought in Croydon

Reduce trade union support. I assume this means less support for time officials can spend as part of their working day on trade union duties. As staff reductions kick in, and with the pending TUPEing of Library staff, I suspect that TU officials will need to spend more time, and that therefore a reduction will make them less effective at defending their members’ interests and drawing councillors’ attention to the potential damage to service delivery.

Reduce rent subsidy to voluntary groups. As someone who has been involved in the voluntary sector for a long time I am acutely aware that every increase in costs helps to undermine the financial viability of groups, especially at a time when there are less and less funds available. This could be a retrogressive step which could lead to the demise of some groups.

Staff redesign of the mental health services as part of a four borough commissioned programme. Does this mean the staff will redesign the service, or their role within it will be redesigned? Will mental health service users be encouraged to help redesign the service?

Re-letting of the ‘meals in the home’ contract. What nutritional standards are specified in the current contract and will they be safeguarded or better improved in a new contract?

Increase in houses in multiple occupation (HMO) fees. This is one proposal I support. I was involved in issues relating to the poor conditions and the need for council intervention in multi-occupied houses in the 1970s and 80s and have been an advocate since of registration schemes.

The situation with multiple-occupation appears to be worsening with exorbitant rents and overcrowding. Some landlords may be deterred by higher fees. However, they may simply put up rents, which will increase the claims for housing benefit. The council will need to consider whether it can adopt measures by which it can prevent rent increases which have inflated the amount of housing benefit that has to be paid.

Charge landlords for serving statutory enforcement notices. As with the previous item I strongly support this as landlords who do not comply with statutory requirements should have the toughest action taken against them, including management orders. In each financial or calendar year since the current Croydon scheme was introduced:

  1. How many houses were registered as being in multiple occupation?
  2. What is the average and maximum number of individuals living in them?
  3. How many landlords have been prosecuted for not registering and what were the minimum, maximum and average fines levied?
  4. How many properties have had management orders taken out?

Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA) contract – improve voluntary sector engagement with the Partnership. I am acutely aware of the disadvantages the sector has in organising a wide and inclusion view to be put into the Partnership and the difficulties at the Partnership table. I was involved in drafting the original Local Government Association guidance on the involvement of the voluntary sector on Local Strategic Partnerships. I was also involved in the past with two Community Empowerment Networks sitting on Local Strategic Partnerships. I have previously also helped 5 CENs develop their own mechanism to sit round a sub-regional economic development partnership. I was a member for Merton CVS on the former Pollards Hill SRB Board. To maximise effective engagement needs proper resourcing.

Even though the importance of the voluntary sector was recognised in the Big Society initiative, there is a lot of misunderstanding about that importance, which is why I posted the following on my Blog:

Tim Pollard, the senior Croydon Tory councillor in charge of the latest cuts consultation

Tim Pollard, the senior Croydon Tory councillor in charge of the latest cuts consultation

Cuts to a wide of range of groups across the diversity of the sector is damaging to the support they provide to people under increasing stress from the austerity measures and cuts in incomes and services, and to community cohesion.

Reduce the council role in facilitation of culture – including reducing the archive service to a statutory minimum. I am totally against this as I have argued in my pieces at:

Inside Croydon: http://insidecroydon.com/2013/01/11/croydon-needs-to-keep-a-proper-grasp-of-its-history.
my blog: http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/croydon-council-plans-to-reduce-its.html.

Youth service – reduce the ‘localities commissioning’ programme by 10%/ Youth service – end ‘journeys programme’/ Reduce commissioned youth counselling service by 11%. Any reductions in youth services could be counterproductive and help to increase resentment and alienation which helps to fuel the possibility of repeats of the 2011 riots. and increasing generational conflict. The views I and Tim Saunders of Alford House in Kennington expressed in 2006 about the need to value young people still have relevance today: http://www.rcdt.org/youth.asp.

Reduce commissioning of domestic violence services by 10%. This would be regressive especially as the severe cut backs for many families incomes from April and the continuing high level of unemployment, will stretch more and more relationships to breaking point. An increase in domestic violence will have an effect on increasing costs for the police and the health service.

Removal of under-used football pitches. The country was promised an Olympic Legacy. This cut would be counter to that. If pitches are under-used could this be because not enough effort is being put into encouraging football teams or could it be due to the charges for using them? Can pitches be used for other sports as well?

Reduction in Business Improvement District (BID) voluntary contribution. In 2001 and 2002 I was involved in debates inside British Urban Regeneration Association on the potential of BIDS. I was very dubious about them because (1) residents were not involved in the balloting, and (2) too much power is given to commercial organisations to semi-privatise public space. A reduction in the council’s contribution may well be something I can support.

Efficient collection of business intelligence . See my blog on the December meeting of the Tech Croydon movement in which I discuss some of the issues involved: http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/issues-facing-croydon-techcity-movement.html.

Veolia extension – review approach to clinical and trade waste. I hope that the review will ensure that the maximum level of trade waste can be recycled including waste food (both from retail shops and restaurants).

Issue penalty charges to utility companies overrunning on highways. Yes. Despite promises by Government and the Mayor of London there still seems to be too much unco-ordinated work by the companies and over long work timetables.

Reduction of maintenance of trees. This could be a short-term saving leading to greater costs later, if a planned tree maintenance programme is not sustained, with the dangers from dead branches falling off and hitting people and property, trees dying and therefore no longer performing their functions of soaking up water and cleaning air.

Reduction of tree planting (highways). An increase in tree planting and the use of porous paving around them should help soak excess water preventing flooding of overstretched highway drains.

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6 Responses to Budget consultation condemned as just “meaningless jargon”

  1. So, we now know that Sean would oppose the majority of the proposed ways to save the required amount from the budget, but he offers little in the way of positive suggestions as to where he thinks the savings should come from.

    • To be fair to Sean, Neil, his commentary is as much about the meaningless jargon used in framing the questions on the consultation.

      The consultation form offered no opportunity for respondents to even consider alternative suggestions. As Margaret Thatcher used to say: There Is No Alternative.

  2. Neil misses the point.

    My previous involvements examining various local authorities and voluntary sector policies, services and budgets access to very detailed financial and service detail documents are needed in order to work out whether there are better ways of spending money which would avoid cuts to front-line services that people need.

    Even if they had access, most members of the public do not have time to do this. The important thing is that lots of them ask questions of their Councillors. The detailed examination should be a key function of Scrutiny and Oversight Committees closely questioning Council officers and Cabinet members, and requesting people with special expertise to give evidence.

    See my blog posting on this issue in relation to Lambeth when Steve Reed was Leader at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/role-of-oversight-and-scrutiny-in.html.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly.

    Sean is only voicing the views of many. I don’t bother responding to these empty consultations any more as the statements are so skewed, leading and give no real information on which to base an informed decision. I doubt the responses are even considered. By responding it only drives up the count of those who Croydon can claim have responded.

    Well done to Sean and Inside Croydon for exposing this farce.

  4. The scrutiny committee does not effectively fulfil its role either, if the recent call in on the libraries decision is any indication. Adding to the farce, the Conservatives in Croydon called in the decision that they had happily voted in en bloc.

    The questions raised by many of these councillors clearly indicated that not only had they not read the paperwork to understand the proposal that they were scrutinising but also showed an obvious lack of knowledge of what was currently in place. Residents and library campaigners who tried to raise key points for consideration were silenced. The sole gentlemen allowed to speak showed just how ill-informed and ill-prepared the committee was to take any decision effectively.

    The lack of depth or substance to the questions raised at scrutiny demonstrated that they had no real intention of scrutinising the decision and were just going through the process, perhaps in the hope of deflecting blame from their complicity in such a flawed decision which will impact greatest on the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly, infirm and the youth of Croydon.

  5. Pingback: Croydon Council Sham Consultation | Croydon Communists

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