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Friday, 19 February 2010


Following on previous budget post, there's another interesting capital project in the works.

The council will be spending £815,000 next year to scrap the existing CCTV control rooms in Crewe and Congleton (Sandbach, actually, but serving the old borough) into Macclesfield.

I've spent time in the CCTV room in Macclesfield and was impressed by what I saw. The CCTV operators know what's going on. They know the virtual "patch". They know where to look, who to look for, and who to contact if there's a problem.

Whilst I guess there's a cost saving argument as we won't need as many staff on the go when it's all being controlled from one place, I can't help think there will be a noticeable drop in the quality of service that's delivered. And even if there is a cost saving, it'll take us 10 years to recoup what we're spending.

Common sense tells me that these operators are never going to be able to deliver the same kind of service as when they were dealing with one town only. A relationship is built between the local shop security chaps, bouncers, coppers, and CCTV operator.

This just won't be sustainable if they're dealing with a much larger area.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


You can always count on Sir Nick to say something courageous or unfortunate.


In this case it's also inaccurate as well when it comes to Councillors traveling first class.

The Council constitution states:
All Rail Travel to be booked centrally through the travel bookings system
wherever possible and second class travel to be used, unless in exceptional
circumstances where a good business case can be made for first class. Where
applicable senior rail cards to be used to reduce cost.
Personally, I've never claimed travel expenses from the Council directly be it payments for mileage or for train travel. The only time the taxpayer has funded my travel was through Connexions, when they sent me down to London to meet Prince Phillip. I traveled standard class and walked the half hour across London.

However if I'm honest I do try and travel first for business and pleasure, always by booking in advance and getting the cheapo tickets. It's nice - free paper, drinks, meal and then there was the time that I bumping into Abigail Clancy. We shared a taxi from the station (true story).

The point really is that we should be asking our public servants, be it local or national, elected or officers, to be more careful about how they book tickets. I don't care if it's first class or not, I'd rather they were all booking in advance to get the good deals.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

IT Systems for Children

I mentioned a day or two ago about the ContactPoint system which we are spending £280k on in the next two years.

I wouldn't want you to think that this is the only IT spend in the Children's and Families budget - so I'll tell you what else there is.

Ignoring structural projects for schools, children's centres, etc, these are some of the systems also in the Child protection/social care area just for next year:

Integrated Children's Systems (ICS) - £656,000
Contact Point (already mentioned) - £231,000
Electronic Social Care Records - £250,000
PCT Access to Child protection data - £25,000

A grand total of just under £1.2 million.

As anyone who works in IT will know, a system won't provide you with a solution. It's only as good as the management structures/process/procedure around it. The drivers for these projects aren't coming internally, they're coming from central government. The overload of technology is an attempt to circumvent the need for good management, and it won't work.

As an authority, we should be pushing back against it more. But we're not - we just tend to go with the flow. It will cost us in £'s no doubt, I only hope it doesn't cost us in the quality of social care as well.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Budget Madness

Nothing brings home how futile life can be as a Councillor as the round of meetings that occur at budget time.

We haven't got to the big one yet, which is the full Council meeting, for the moment we have a round of scrutiny committees who have been asked to look at sections of the budget. The sections were given to us at very short notice and don't look anything like a budget you'd expect to get in the private sector, so it's all a bit tricky.

Theoretically at the full council meeting any Councillor can propose a change to the budget, to add/remove/increase/reduce something. Except there's no chance of this happening, because the ruling majority is too large (and some would argue that a good number of Councillors consider the few thousand bonus they get as Chairman of committees more important than listening to an argument about whether we should really be cutting Connexions funding for the 3rd year running. About £200k lost this year.)

Of course what they'll actually say is that they don't think changes should be considered at Council when the thing has been adequately scrutinized in advance. Which to a great extent is true.

Or is it?

Firstly, from an day to day expenditure point of view, the information we have is minimal. I have no idea what the Children's and Families stationary budget for the year is, so I'd have no chance of reducing the number of pencils they all take home. (Not that I should really care about looking into things at this resolution). Consider all those aspects unscrutinized.

The information we have about the capital spend is much better, but it still seems that nothing can be done about each item.

For example, we are down to spend £280,000 next year on the next stages on ContactPoint. This is a computer database which will hold details of every Child in Britain. It's intention is to protect Children from harm, but why this couldn't be better achieved by having a database of Children at risk rather than collecting arbitrary information about every boy and girl I don't know.

More criticism here:

Oddly, Cheshire East has become a pilot for this scheme and that is why the money will be spent. I say oddly, because the Conservative oppose ContactPoint and will be scrapping the scheme should they win the election next year. Therefore it's a mystery to me why the Conservative controlled Council has got involved in it.

So why spend this money if the plug may be pulled next year? Rather than spending money on technology and administration that won't actually help anybody, why don't we give it to an organisation that actually does improve outcomes for Children. Of course I'm actually talking about the aforementioned Connexions again.

I couldn't get an answer out of anyone for that. All I was told when I suggested we didn't spend anymore was that we had to because it's a mandatory scheme. (Except it seems that it's not).

So given my experience, I don't consider the budget has been scrutinised in advance, and that's a very worrying thought.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Barnaby - save the date(s).

As the observant of you will already know, plans are afoot to resurrect the tradition of the Barnaby Festival in Macclesfield. Thank those crazy kids at the loop, lord knows where we'd be without them.

It will be held on 18th to 20th June this year. Put the date in your diaries, it's not one that you'll want to miss. The weekend will showcase local arts, and the highlight will be a parade through town on the theme of "Made in Macclesfield".

To whet your appetites, the following was read at the launch event today (Friday 12th).

Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright,
Light all day and light all night.

Barnaby laugh, Barnaby play,
Dance all night and dance all day.

Barnaby summer, Barnaby sing,
Barnaby bebop, Barnaby swing.

Barnaby old, Barnaby young,
Barnaby family, Barnaby fun.

Barnaby boy, Barnaby girl,
Barnaby knit, Barnaby purl.

Barnaby market, Barnaby shops,
Barnaby barley, Barnaby hops.

Barnaby sup, Barnaby eat,
Barnaby mingle, Barnaby meet.

Barnaby magic, Barnaby Macc,
Barnaby's ours. Barnaby's back.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Macc Express to move again?

It seems that Macc Express are to move again from their current location in the centre of Manchester (although most of them seem to spend 90% of their time writing copy up in Macclesfield's costa coffee) - to who knows where:


How are the Council supposed to be held to account if the people that do that spend all their time packing and unpacking crates?