Wednesday, February 28, 2007

All the timings that matter from the budget "debate"

Yesterday was budget day in full council (as well as being my maiden platform speech).
I use the term debate loosely in the title, as it turned into little more than a farcical display of tribal politics of the worst kind.
The council leader rose to speak at 1730hrs.
The deputy leader rose at 1805hrs.
Then the opposition leader rose at 1822hrs. His first mention of budget was at 1852hrs. His first mention of his amendment was at about 1915hrs. He sat down at 1934hrs.
That left about 26 minutes for all other contributions, and the summation.
At the end of the day, the Labour amendment only had an impact on 0.1% of the total budget. They could have achieved it with an increase to the Council Tax of 1% (ie a 2.9%), but instead took it from contingencies set aside to pay for implementing Single Status (equal pay for work of equal value).
They then failed to support the below inflation rise of only 1.9%.
I gather that next year unlimited time speeches by the leaders will be scrapped in favour of something closer to 30 minutes. What was also interesting to note was that the local press didn't even bother to stay on to provide accurate reportage of the most important decision of the year. Had someone tipped them off that Sir Albert would still be going 2 hrs after the "debate" started?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My first proper council speech

Today was my first proper speech at full council. I presented the first annual report of my Audit Committee, and seemed to get a good reception, and some exceptionally complementary remarks from members from across the political divide.
There was also some genuine laughter over the interactive bit. Good to see people from all sides actually seeing the funny side to something.
Full text below. Check against delivery as they say!

Thank you Lord Mayor.
This is speech and a report that is a first in three
To begin with, it is the first time that I have presented a report to
the City Council – so please be considerate to me.
Secondly, it is the first
time since the new reporting arrangements into City Council were introduced that
a Cabinet Member or Chair of Committee has presented their report at the annual
Budget meeting - so I will be brief as I know that I am the hors d’oeuvre before
the main course and desert of the annual budget and council plan.
it is the first report of the Audit Committee which was only constituted in
February last year – so I hope it gives you a good taster to what we are doing
on your behalf.
There is no statutory obligation for a Local Authority to
establish an Audit Committee but they are ever more widely recognised
internationally across the public and private sectors as a core component of
effective governance. As John Gregory, the District Auditor from the Audit
Commission, has said to us, he would like to see the Audit Committee become
synonymous with “a place where matters of good corporate governance are
And, I believe we have made a good start getting up and running
quickly and looking at some substantial and important issues. I am particularly
grateful to the other Members on the Committee; Councillors Nigel Dawkins, Carl
Rice, Laura Ross, Shafique Shah, Margaret Waddington and Michael Wilkes for
their enthusiastic and committed support. Margaret Waddington even came across
to Peterborough with me to see the work of the Audit Committee at Peterborough
and Stamford Hospital Trust. I would also like to thank the officers for the way
we have been supported. We have worked together as a good team.
You will see
from the report that the Audit Committee has a carried out a lot of work in just
its first year. The committee has an important role to play in scrutinising the
annual accounts, and internal controls, receiving regular updates to the
Council’s Risk Register, and seeking assurances that the proverbial stable door
has been well and truly locked, bolted and nailed shut when systems have failed
and fraud committed.
With the Lord Mayors permission, I’d just like to get
the Members limbered up for voting in the later debates.
Could everyone
raise his or her right hand please.
Now keep your hand up if you are male.
Also, you can keep your hand up if you are over thirty.
Keep it up for a
bit longer if you are under forty.
And finally, keep your hand up if you are
educated to degree level.
Those still with their hands up fit the perfect
fraud profile. I like to think that I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper.
and other quasi-public bodies such as Universities have an established record of
audit committees. In the private sector they are also well established, but when
they fail to be independent the result is almost always very public, such as the
Enron scandal.
Although, as a committee we look at more than just numbers,
within the five thousand one hundred and sixty one words of the report there are
fifteen uses of the word independent or independence.
Whilst I do not want
to over egg the independent role of the Audit Committee, it is very important
for our credibility that we are seen as being separate from both the work of the
Executive and of Scrutiny.
It is important that the Audit Committee enjoys
the trust of the Executive and Scrutiny. I hope it will be the case that the
Executive will refer to us matters which they feel they need some assurance on.
And that Scrutiny will be able to complement our work by looking in more detail
at some of the issues we have identified.
Whilst wanting to ensure
colleagues that we see it as very important to look at the fine detail and that
figures add up, we also want to be able to see “the bigger picture” and provide
assurance to the Council on the systems and procedures it has in place with
respect to internal controls.
I hope the report provides a taster of the
work we are undertaking. We have already looked at some important governance and
risk issues for the City Council and have been impressed at the manner in which
officers have responded to the issues we have raised.
In looking forward to
our second year of work we see quite a heavy workload but I would still want to
encourage any Member who has an issue of concern within the remit of the Audit
Committee to raise it with me or a Member of my Committee.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Holiday planning

In May, after the local elections, I'm taking a well earned break. Its quite some time since I've taken a holiday, so I'm really looking forward to spending a couple of weeks with friends away from here.
Today we spent the afternoon consulting guide books, maps and t'internet in working out what we wanted to see and where we could stay in southern florida. The plan is shaping up along the lines of starting from Orlando and doing a clockwise route down the east coast towards Miami, out to Key West, Everglades, then Tampa/St Petersburg. We're going to be mainly camping, but with a few nights in hotels whenever creature comforts are really needed.

Following the dog on cannock chase

Saturday was an early start as I headed out to Cannock Chase to go mountain biking. I've not done xc in this country, only in France & Spain, so I've not experienced the delights of UK mud.
It was an excellent morning's riding, with only one crash (my own fault as my hand slipped from my front brake, and ended up bailing over the front, only a handful of abrasions to show for it and the ubiquitous chain ring mark on the back of my calf).
Fortunately no one saw me come off, except my back back had picked up a number of twigs and sticks...
The course is well constructed, and was still usable depsite the huge amount of water on it, although at least one puddle probably should have had lifebelts by it!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Even more mayor

The Evening Mail appears to have lost count again. Their latest "news" article has the audience at more than 100 people. It also still claims that Ray Mallon argued for an elected Mayor, despite his volte face and statement that he didn't think Birmingham needed an elected mayor.
If Bore and the Mail come up with the statutory 35k verified petition signatures there will be a referendum.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

face of fraud

At an Audit Committee training session today we had a really good discussion about fraud and how it effects the Council.
Interestingly the profile of a fraudster is male, 30-40 years, educated to degree level. The two people in the room who fitted the profile was myself, chair of the audit committee, and one of the forensic auditors from PwC who was telling us about fraud...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

older and slightly tender

After a hard week at work I was able to celebrate turning 34 yesterday.
Although older and wiser, we went to Snobs last night. Its been ages since we've been, but its still a class indie club. Once we got onto the dance floor we barely stopped. So today I'm just a little stiff and sore, and my hearing is absolutely ringing. A bit of light leafleting this afternoon helped to ease the stiffness.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

More mayoral stuff

Well as I predicted, the Evening Mail has conveniently ignored Ray Mallon's U-Turn and completely left it out!
The report is also contrary to the words of the Editor last night who stated the poll was "just for fun". So to see the headline being based on the outcome of the "fun" is a touch hypocritical.
They then manage to overstate the audience by a massive 15%. 82 in the audience (excluding journos) and 5 on the panel. You could maybe get away with rounding up to 90...
Then to call 47 to 31 close is also a complete misrepresentation (thats 60% to 40%, a landslide under normal circumstances). Only 8 more people called for the binding referendum (55, a number not quoted in the report).
So how the Mail will cope with counting up to 35,000 (the number required to call for a referendum), who knows? Maybe they'll knock 15% off, and say its been reached when 30,000 has been passed.

Evening Mail's "Big Debate" on elected mayors

For the last week the BEM has been leading heavily on the issue of the having an elected mayor for Birmingham.
The "Big Debate" wasn't nearly as big as expected. I suspect single people voted with their feet, and decided to stay in, while couples were already busy. A whole 82 people attended, with about 10 current cllrs, and 5 or so former cllrs also there (including the legendary Sir Richard Knowles).
Anyway the "just for fun" votes went as follows:
1) Does Birmingham need an elected mayor?
For 31 - Against 47

2) Should the people of Brum be given the right to decide the issue in a binding vote?
For 55 - Against 18 - Abs 1

It was interesting to hear Mayor Ray Mallon (middlesboro's "robocop" mayor) speak. It was quite clear that the circumstances surrounding his town were quite different from Birmingham. One party local council state, accusations of corruption/complacency/patronage within the ruling group, and therefore ripe for change.
But by the end of the debate he had been swayed to support the Birmingham no people through hearing that there weren't the same problems in Birmingham. (Despite the one party rule for 20 years, it could never be said there wasn't some form of effective opposition during that time).
What will be interesting is how the Evening Mail reports that very public U-Turn by Ray Mallon, who'd been invited to Birmingham by a personal invitation of the Mail's editor.
I suspect the Mail will now campaign for a referendum to be held, but I bet they wont be willing to help cover the costs of it. At the end of the day an election/referendum costs about £1/2m in a city the size of Birmingham. Thats the equivalent of 1/5% Council Tax rise. Unfortunately democracy is not free, but is the essence of our freedom.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

travel allowances

I'm glad to see that we now have some increased openness about our MPs travel expenses.
Its interesting to see who has claimed for cycle travel. Cameron doesn't make the top 10, and surprisingly Lynne Jones doesn't either. I suspect that quite a few cycling MPs don't actually claim their mileage.
In the same way, I have not received any travel expenses (see bottom of this page for allowances paid) from the city council. Claiming for 2-3 mile journeys at 20p per mile seems to have a longer admin time/cost than the actual claimed expense. And running costs of bikes are much lower (when was the last time I replaced an inner tube?).

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow Joe

Originally uploaded by Radders.
Only just had a chance to post this. Campus had large array of various sizes of snow men/sculptures. But this one was the best of the lot. Unfortunately it didn't last long because of the fluctuating temperature and the rapid thaw on Saturday :(

Iraqi teachers

Today's Council Business Management Committee had an agenda that should have taken about 15 minutes. But we had 16 Iraqi teachers visiting the Council House, and they sat in on part of the meeting. After 10 minutes of welcoming speeches (and translations), we finally began the meeting. At which point the guests moved on to meet the Lord Mayor.
Hopefully they will have seen that all the major parties are able to sit around the table and agree timings and protocols as equals.

Monday, February 12, 2007

le Tour: get involved

TfL are looking for volunteer marshalls for the 2 days that the Tour de France is on our island (7/8 July). Sign up here.
Even if I don't get signed up as a marshall, I'll definitely be in London with my camera for those 2 days.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

thatchers legacy

Last night I popped over to Wolverhampton to see a performance of Thatcher - the musical.
It was a great performance from a small company. The musical essentially romps through her early years, standing for parliament, milk snatching, and then slows down from '79 and her premiership years. (Falklands, miners, "defeat" of socialism). And then the final acts of betrayal by Howe and her cabinet.
The chap sat behind me continually muttered whenever there was mention of socialism, while there were others in the audience who were quite open about their support for Labour (and the Liberals). There were also many in the audience who probably weren't born when she left office, and definitely many who would never have had a chance to vote against her (my first vote was in 1992).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Is the average of councillors on principal authorities in England.
So the gathering of 10 Birmingham councillors predominantly under 45 at the weekend for an I&DeA ran programme certainly didn't look like your average set of councillors.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dr Reid hides in the open

Did Dr Reid use Wednesday's arrests to launch his new bid to do away with any maximum length of detention?
As he is continually finding new problems that out bid the previous problems in his department, he is clearly finding it difficult to make positive headlines, so appearing to be fully in the loop on Wednesday's operations, and then leading a cabinet discussion on detention without trial was his chance to make waves.
Dr Reid's arguments for unlimited detention, seem to stem from the reportedly huge number of possible threats that currently exist. Therefore to cope with all of them being arrested at once he'd need unlimited detention.
Surely, the more reasonable thing to do is have many more investigating officers and resources at his disposal, rather than locking people up until they find time to investigate...
My opinion is that 28 days probably just about long enough. If in parliament I'd have definitely voted against anything over that.
In many of the recent cases it is the voluminous quantities of evidence that get collected. Which again suggests the solution is more investigators, not longer detention.