Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How public service organisations can save a colossal amount of money without cutting front line services

The following is a speech I gave to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council meeting this afternoon.

Public Service Organisations all working from separate buildings is not the best use of public money, and much could be saved if buildings were to be shared – this is termed ‘Asset Rationalisation’.

Asset rationalisation is all about money, lots and lots of it. Not what it will cost but how much it will save. It’s a way of not just the Council but other public service providers saving significant amounts of money without cutting frontline services – but for it to work requires a major shift of thinking, and herein lays the problem, the thinking within the public sector must change. We must move away from protectionism and look more towards sharing; we must move away from regionalisation and move more towards localism.

Do Public Service providers making the best use of their assets? I would suggest not, and for one simple reason – there is almost no sharing of assets. Why, because there is not sufficient will or desire amongst the providers to break out of their individual silos.

Taking the asset values of just two of the Public Sector organisations in the area - the Council and the Fire service. Then Council’s assets are in the region of £1.4 billion of which some £750million is accounted for in land and buildings, £439millon in Council housing and £180million in roads, bridges and coastal protection. Humberside Fire and Rescue have building assets worth some £13.6million, the Police, NHS, probation, and other partner assets are in addition to this - A colossal amount of money.

I suggest there would be significant savings if we were to share buildings, particularly between the ‘Blue Light’ services. We have 12 Fire Stations and 14 Police Stations strategically placed covering the East Riding with over 80% in the same village or town.

Would it not make sense for Police and Fire to come together and either share existing buildings, allowing the surplus buildings and land to be sold, or sell off both existing sites and use the proceeds to construct a purpose built facility in the area?

BUT let’s take it one step further - There happen to be 14 East Riding of Yorkshire Council customer service centres located strategically across the East Riding which mirror almost exactly the Fire and Police Stations. Would it not make sense to consider relocating these into the shared buildings?

Let’s go one step further and have the NHS Paramedics move in too.

So where would the savings be? Firstly the obvious cash from the sales of assets, but then the on-going savings in heating, lighting, power, water, insurance, cleaning, catering, telephones, not to mention backroom staff, but what about pooling and maintenance of vehicles and equipment, and the favourite expenditure… I.T !

If we look at just the ‘Blue light’ Services – imagine the efficiencies if they were all based at the same place, working together as a fully integrated team.

So if we had multi-agency, multi-service centres strategically placed across the East Riding – the logical step would be to devolve power and decision making to these areas – and that would be localism, would it not?

The key to making asset rationalisation work is changing the mind-set, elected Councillors make up the Fire Authority, are by far the largest part of the Police Authority, and will have an increasing role in the Health service. Councillors do have a role in setting the strategic direction of partner organisations. To really make asset rationalisation work I’m absolutely certain members can play more of a pivotal role in setting the strategic direction of the public service providers in this area – and I urge them to do so.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spaldington Wind Farm Appeals hears 'very interesting' evidence from noise experts

This week at the inquiry looking into the two wind farm proposals at each side of Spaldington the issue of noise was discussed at length by the expert witnesses and each cross examined by the others barristers.

The Governments 1997 ETSU Guidance is used as the starting point for the assessment of noise impact, taking the average background noise levels at residences likely to be affected by noise from the wind turbines. This is open to abuse by wind farm developers as it is based on noise levels measured at only a few points around an application site, which can be easily affected by a number of factors. These were clearly identified in the evidence provided by Mr Stigwood representing the STOP campaign team. It is acknowledged by many, including myself and alluded to by David Davis MP that this 1997 government guidance is out-dated and flawed and was put in place a long time before we as a Council were looking at these massive 2 and 3 MW, 126m high turbines. We’ve also heard during the week that this guidance is ‘blind to wind direction’.

It became clear that the Spaldington Common site to the east of the village would have noise issues resulting in the wind farm not being able to operate at its full rated capacity, an issue I raised at the Planning Committee meeting when the application was originally refused.

I listened with interest to Mr Bennett, the expert witness for the Common Site and found serious issues with his credibility. When one considers both applications, the Airfield application to the west was preceded by a large anemometer mast which is still in situ. The Common application has only ever had a very temporary mast, that appeared not to be as high as recommended, was apparently struck by lightning, had a rain gauge that was working - but Mr Bennett was unsure as to what it was actually measuring, a wind vane that became frozen and only recorded wind in one direction, and a wiring fault that appeared to repair itself. Interestingly I did raise the lack of an anemometer mast for the Common site at the Planning Committee stage.

Then we had the sorry saga of the noise monitoring equipment, with stories about Mr Bennett not explaining to residents why the measuring devices were being installed or the criteria being used, and locations initially not even on residents own property and near sources of higher background noise. There is anecdotal evidence that so called ‘farming activities’ had taken place around the noise measuring equipment during the first period of measurement – including constantly working the land in the vicinity of the noise measuring equipment – thereby giving a higher than normal reading. He also intimated that unusually high night time noise at one site may have been caused by residents tampering with his equipment, when in fact it can be explained by the night-time operation of the resident’s sewage treatment plant!

Early in his evidence he quite clearly said, “When the wind is blowing from the east the village will hear the turbines from the Common and when the wind is blowing from the west the village will hear the turbines from the Airfield”.

He also stated that his wind vane evidence “leaves a lot to be desired”.

There is a question of what is reasonable, especially when it comes to the Common site, I have serious doubts regarding the validity of this noise evidence as it is reliant on faulty equipment whose positioning could lead to inadequate or invalid results. This is about the protection of residents from noise if this wind farm is given the go ahead to be built.

Then there is the problem of drafting enforceable planning conditions should both wind farms be consented. The two developers assured us they would cooperate and each be responsible if “their” turbines were downwind and hence appeared to be the source of the noise-nuisance. In principle this seems OK, the Airfield to the west, and the Common to the east – BUT what happens when the wind is from the north or the south? I can see the residents and the Council’s Public Protection department being placed in an intolerable situation, with it being impossible to determine which wind farm is the prime cause of the noise-nuisance, and the nuisance actually being due to the interaction between noise from both wind farms as Spaldington effectively becomes located in the middle of a wind farm.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bubwith residents organise petition against Sutton on Derwent weight limit

Residents of Bubwith have decided to take action by raising a 580 name petition in support of the lifting of the 7.5 tonne weight limit through Sutton on Derwent and Elvington in place since the Sutton on Derwent Bridge on the B1228 was repaired this past year.

Prior to the weight limit being imposed the HGV movements from Breighton Airfield Industrial Estate went either North through Sutton on Derwent or either west through Bubwith or east through Foggathorpe and Holme on Spalding Moor. This meant that the HGV movements were somewhat shared between all the communities - alas since the weight limit the village of Bubwith particularly, has borne the brunt of these lorry movements.

The petition has been organised by Bubwith residents Pauline Witt and Caroline Taylor, who presented it to fellow Howdenshire ward councillor Nick Evans and I handed it to the ERYC Service Manager Paula Danby on their behalf.

Bubwith Parish Council have also been very proactive in pushing the case forward, being insistent that the East Riding of Yorkshire Council assess both the bridge on the A163 and the Sutton Bridge, as both bridges are about the same age and both awkward to cross, and subject to traffic light controls to ensure single file traffic. The result is that both bridges are deemed capable of taking HGVs, the signs indicating a weak bridge have been removed from the Highfields crossroads in Bubwith, but the bridge does have a 7.5 tonne environment weight limit signed upon it.

Bubwith Parish Council Clerk Steve Young says, “Bubwith Parish residents are fed up with taking more than its share of HGVs because of the weight limit, and that Ellerton & Aughton Parish Council, Foggathorpe Parish Council and Holme on Spalding Moor Parish Council are all very strongly opposed to the weight limit”.

In an email to Bubwith Parish Council Paula Danby states, “A report is to be presented to the councils Environment and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny sub Committee on the 20th July 2011. This meeting is held at County hall and usually starts at 10am. The public are allowed to attend the meeting and the report is made public one week prior to the meeting”.

“There have been a large number of responses both in favour of keeping the weight limit and also asking for its removal. The views of the parish councils are being taken into consideration and will be included within the report”.

I certainly do not support this ill thought out experiment, and would like to see it removed as soon as possible and the HGV movements shared between all the communities rather than one or two having to cope with the whole lot.

To re-route HGVs through rural villages such as Bubwith, Holme on Spalding Moor, Foggathorpe and Harlthorpe not only passes the problem from one community onto others, but also has a detrimental effect on both the businesses that have to foot the extra fuel costs and increased travelling times, and the wider community with the increased emissions associated with lorries travelling the extra distances. I do not think this fits with the ERYC policy of reducing emissions through reduced journeys”.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Elected Police Commissioners and why I support the idea

This week the East Riding of Yorkshire Councils Corporate and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Sub-Committee looked at the issue of elected Police and Crime Commissioners. This is a committee on which I sit.

As a great supporter of extending democracy, devolving power and giving people more choice in who represents them; to have elected Police Commissioners is a positive step in this direction.

Elected Police Commissioners were a key plank of the Conservative Party manifesto, the concept is enshrined in the Coalition agreement. I have spoken in support of this concept many times, including on the doorstep during the election campaign, at meetings and to the Police themselves.

Looking at how officials are elected in America, not perfect by any means but it brings in democracy and more importantly accountability to Policing. It leads to more people taking an interest and becoming involved – something we have seen very little of at many of our Police and Partners Community Forum meetings.

For me this is about devolving democracy, decision making and accountability to local people.

In fact I would like the concept of elected Police Commissioners extended – to include fire and health commissioners.

I do not believe overall neither the Police Authority nor the Fire Authority are efficient uses of public money. They have grown into overly large self-serving organisations that could, and should be more accountable and democratic.

Lessons can certainly be learnt from the past. If we look back to 1996 the Council’s previous Chief executive acted as Clerk to the Humberside Police Authority. The Director of Finance of North Lincolnshire Council acted as the Treasurer. Since then the growth in scope of the Police Authority has meant they have appointed their own chief exec and secretariat including staff to meet their requirements.

With Humberside Fire Authority, the Council’s Chief Exec was the Secretary and Solicitor to the organisation from 1996 until 2004, and we provided legal, committee management and property services. Hull City Council provided finance and audit services. Since then the Fire Authority has appointed its own solicitor/secretary and finance personnel. Although the council continues to provide property services to the Fire Authority.

It is hard to believe that since then the arrangements put in place by these relatively small public authorities/bodies represent value for money and are cost effective compared with the services available from the local authorities.

In this respect I would certainly welcome a new Police Commissioner learning from, and revisiting the financial benefits of this partnership working we saw previous to 1997.

There is far more scope for councils to share services between themselves and with other public bodies, if the major public service providers were more willing to bring officer functions together as we saw in the past, we would see less staff to deliver the same output - Achieving colossal savings without cutting front line staff. I cannot see this happening with the Police Authority as we see it – BUT I believe a Police Commissioner elected with a clear mandate to improve policing will be the catalyst for this to happen.

I welcome the plans to introduce Police and Crime Panels consisting of a minimum of 10 councillors to scrutinise the work of Commissioners. This will ensure elected members still have a key role and a say in how policing is delivered in the area.

I also welcome the proposal, and the Local Government Association (LGA) support for the Police and Crime Panels being able to veto a Commissioner’s proposed budget by a three quarters majority vote, and also to veto any candidate recommended by the Commissioner for Chief Constable.

Cost – the cost to run an election is not so high as to be prohibitive, especially if run in conjunction with local elections, which we will no doubt see in some parts of Humberside.

The culture of horizontal thinking and protectionism we see in parts of the public sector is unacceptable… We see Police and Fire looking to regionalise rather than work together… flying in the face of localism by moving decision making away from the area and from local people – and the election of Local Police Commissioners will go a long way in addressing this.

At the end of the debate the Conservative Councillors and the Independent Member on the Committee agreed with my proposal and it was resolved that:

The Committee support the concept of Elected Police Commissioners and:

  1. Welcome the plans to introduce Police and Crime Panels consisting of a minimum of 10 councillors to scrutinise the work of Commissioners. This will ensure elected members still have a key role and a say in how policing is delivered in the area.

  2. Welcome the proposal and the Local Government Association (LGA) support for the Police and Crime Panels being able to veto a Commissioner’s proposed budget by a three quarters majority vote, and also to veto any candidate recommended by the Commissioner for Chief Constable.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Record number of new blog readers in the last month

The past month of May saw a record number of hits on my blog, over 4,000 in the month for the first time and of these 28% were new readers.

The most popular post was 'Farewell as Chair of the Goole and Howdenshire Local Action Team' on 13th May which generated 388 hits (with over 76% being first time readers) on the 14th May, the post also received the most ever comments (31) of which I could only allow 11 as the remainder where, let’s say ‘overly critical’ and named names - and only two that where critical of me – one of course I allowed, and the other I couldn’t because of an on-going Standards Board Case.

The second half of the month was much busier than the first although the first week around the local elections was busier than normal.

Many, many thanks to all that read my blog, for your comments, messages and support, and knowing that it is read makes it worth doing.

Best wishes to you all