Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2010

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2010.

I’m being “Vexatious

Reviewing 2009 I realised I ended the year in dispute with Hartlepool Council over secrecy and behind closed doors decision making. Thos was actually exactly the same way I started 2009. Not much progress there you might think but I am a couple of steps close to achieving a more open council. (More details here). The Chief Solicitor is now of the opinion that my requests for information could be seen “vexatious”. I’m looking forward to seeing his justification that an elected Councillor trying to discover what Hartlepool Council is doing is “vexatious” It should make interesting reading!

I’m the Hardest Working St.Hilda Ward Councillor. That’s OFFICIAL!

Hartlepool Council have introduced a new scheme to measure how much work a Councillor does. I was apparently the second worst Councillor for going to meetings in 2007-8 but I am now the hardest working of the three St.Hilda Councillors according to the 2008-9 figures which placed me =31st out of 46. The other two St.Hilda Councillors being 37th and 43rd out of 46. (More details here).

Mandelson, Freeman Of Hartlepool

I was one of the handful of Councillors who objected to the way the Freedom of Hartlepool was awarded to Lord Mandelson. In my opinion he did nothing for Hartlepool other than use it as a safe seat for his political ambitions. Mind you, the Labour party have abused Hartlepool for years and the people still vote them back in! They say people get the government they deserve. Just look at the lies told by labour about Hartlepool Hospital! I hope everyone remembers this at the next elections. Read More here).

Steel Making and Corus Closure

Every government since 1972 has collaborated in the slow death of UK steelmaking. I said at a Hartlepool Council Meeting that, “So long as the UK remains in the EU then steelmaking will continue to die and will eventually disappear totally from the UK” There was not one single Councillor in the Hartlepool Council Chamber who dared to contradict me! No matter how much they may now demand action to save steelmaking the Labour, Liberal-Democrat and Conservative Parties have all actively participated in killing steelmaking in the UK and they know it! (read more here).

Tall Ships!

Where do I start? Of course there will be no doubt that regardless of what really happened the Tall Ships will be a huge success for Hartlepool, bring in millions of pounds and create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs and put Hartlepool on the international map for other reasons than having Peter Mandelson as a Freeman and a monkey as Mayor. Yerr, Right! I just hope everyone enjoys the Party. The Council Taxpayers will be paying for it for years to come! Read More here.


Just in case anyone cares I have never claimed a single penny in expenses for any Council business. When first elected I did take a fax machine as I was told it was important to be able to receive information that way. I think the only time it was ever used I had to get a new printer ribbon as it had dried up completely. In the spirt of "payback" I'm more than happy to return it to the Civic Centre. When I was first elected I also took a shredder but it was so inadequate to the job I bought an industrial size one myself. I'd also be happy to return it to the civic centre! I didn't take the Filing Cabinet as I already had one myself. I don't get a council laptop or anything like that.

Where to end?

I started this entry with a note about secrecy and behind closed doors dealings. It was agreed that the Councillors’ Register of Interests was going to be available on line this year. Unfortunately it has yet to appear. If anyone would like to see mine however it is here on my blog.

I could go on and on. The scandal of the Headland Residents living with dust from the Port Operations (See here) is something that needs to be dealt with in 2010 and the success story that is the Heugh Battery Trust should be celebrated (See here). My initiative to get live internet streaming of meetings in the Civic Centre will also continue in 2010, this however is being resisted by the Council as a whole, possibly because they are scared that the residents might find out what really goes on! Anyway, enough for now.

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2010 to everyone.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

'But we've always done it this way' – it's time to take a sideways look

Tinkering around the edges of outdated business models will never produce the efficiencies currently required from all parts of the public sector, says Neil Malpas

A new era of frugality will only add to the pressure on public sector organisations to improve performance and deliver even greater value for money.

Many bodies in the public sector, however, are hugely inefficient because of the business models they use, in terms of where they allocate resources and how they deploy staff.

Changing the way existing processes work can have a dramatic impact on both performance and the bottom line. One example of this is Doncaster Prison. Most prison models work around the various stages a prisoner encounters – pre-screening, entry, care in prison, leave and ultimately the probation system – but these aren't what really impact on the individual. It's the other things – the separation from their partner or children, being distanced from the job market and having nowhere to live on release – that make reoffending more likely.

By looking at things from a personal perspective and introducing projects to provide prisoners with accommodation on release and a "Lads and Dads" programme to maintain contact with their children in the meantime, Doncaster Prison has been able to ensure prisoners retain links to the real world, resulting in a lower rate of reoffending and making significant savings for the taxpayer.

Another example is a police force that had a problem with incidents such as car thefts or bag- snatching, which can have a huge impact in terms of people's perception of policing in the local area. By reallocating people with specific skills to the parts of the police process that took the most time and effort, the force was able to achieve a significant reduction in "volume crime" figures.

But simply juggling the existing setup will only result in a tiny percentage improvement. To multiply that, bodies need to look at things from a new perspective. Any organisation can do that if they have people – perhaps managers within different departments – who have been there and done it before. But there should be no sacred cows – everything must be up for review.

Managers need to take a bit of time looking at what has been done in the past to try to improve processes. But often in the public sector there is a strong desire to avoid projects "not invented here" and this lack of ownership needs to be suspended. Take the time to look more broadly across similar areas and departments and other public-sector organisations. Set aside some time for some creative thinking, if only to establish that there really isn't another way to do it.

Sometimes an external partner is needed to provide that kind of sideways view. We were recently asked to look at a public sector organisation that had 26 locations across the UK and ran a fairly straightforward process. The business itself was also asked to provide its own analysis. Its cost-efficiency programme revolved around closing two offices because two towns contained two sites. We came back with one location across the UK and a completely different setup. Turkeys are never likely to vote for Christmas but it also shows the value of having been through similar projects in the past and having a fresh approach.

Such an analysis should also include an evaluation of outsourcing. Some elements of an organisation's operations have to be kept in-house and those can then be subject to more traditional efficiency programmes – cutting costs but also implementing measures to improve people and the support they get to do their jobs. Other processes can be best provided by external providers; in which case it's about looking at the scope of any project and the levels of risk transfer. But that can only be done if organisations have already evaluated the business processes through experienced eyes.

Using a partner organisation can also create a greater degree of flexibility in projects that remain in-house, but this will only work if there's a genuine relationship based on visibility. If everyone only sees their own bit they will never be able to help respond to client requests or spot potential problems in the future.

Another area where effective business modelling can have a real impact is project rescue. Often the trend here is to flood the project with extra people, but that simply hides the issue for another two years. Where projects are going wrong – rather than just having the wrong programme director or a poorly skilled team – a complete redesign is usually required, looking again at how things are being done and the overall structure of the project. Again, it's looking sideways at what's not working rather than simply trying to fix the broken parts.

The next few years offer an unparalleled opportunity for public sector bodies to improve efficiency. But that will only be possible if they're prepared to challenge the way things have always been done.

More people work in NHS than ever

More people work in NHS than ever, but the growth is seen as the 'last stage before the tanker slows down and turns'

There are more people working in the NHS than ever – 400,000 more than when Labour came to power in 1997 – but as budgets get tighter it could be a short-lived boost.

The latest figures show that more than 1.6m staff work for the NHS, following an increase of 18,000 in the second quarter of this year and 23,000 in the third quarter. However, the good news needs to be tempered with caution for the future, the NHS Confederation has warned.

Pointing out that the number of NHS jobs being advertised is continuing to go down, policy director Nigel Edwards said: "We suspect this is the last stage before the tanker slows down and finally turns. People still do have growth money this year and they are pursuing targets and other government objectives. Furthermore, some of this recruitment will have been taking place before people had fully woken up to the scale of the problem to come. We think the decline in the number of jobs advertised, however, is significant."

The NHS figures were part of an increase in public sector staff in general, taking the number to more than 6m, despite councils getting rid of 3,000 people and public corporations taking on 5,000 fewer employees. However, some have attributed part of the rise is public sector workers down to the fact that banks are now in the public sector. In Scotland, a 6.4 per cent increase is being put down to the reclassification of Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Lloyds Banking Group as public corporations.

At the same time, the Office for National Statistics has reported that the number of people claiming unemployment benefit rose by 21,000 in the three months to October to 2.49m, the smallest quarterly rise since last May, but the 7.9 per cent unemployed rate is still the worst for 13 years. The ONS pointed out that full-time employment f

the rise of town hall propaganda?

Local newspapers are being "driven out of business" because of the proliferation of council funded publications, the Conservative shadow local government secretary has claimed, writes Dean Carroll.

Looking to the media landscape ahead should the Tories win a general election, Caroline Spelman indicated that town halls would be required to review their own publications to check they were not "going beyond their remit". She revealed that a Conservative government would also evaluate the Local Authority Publicity Code "with a view to tightening it up", adding: "At one time, literature from the town hall was confined to updates about bin collections over Christmas or changes to library opening times – now they have evolved into fully fledged newspapers."

Spelman held up Boris Johnson's scrapping of The Londoner newspaper, which saved £2.9m, as a good example for councils to follow. A Tory policy note revealed that concern had grown over "the rise of town hall propaganda" due to generous budgets at council-run publications like Tower Hamlet's East End Life, which had double the number of staff as the commercial rival the East London Advertiser.

But Local Government Association chief executive John Ransford told Public Servant Daily that councils had developed their own titles because "local newspapers have abandoned reporting of local political situations", adding: "They will report issues like bypasses, housing developments and big planning stuff but the reporting of what the council does and the way it does it has virtually disappeared in regional and local journalism.

"During the 1970s and 1980s, there would always be two or three local papers attending committee meetings. Reporters would cover meetings and challenge councillors and officers afterwards; they would start editorial campaigns and set debates going."

The Office of Fair Trading recently warned that commercial newspapers were facing increasing competitive pressures from public sector titles. Advocating discussions between local authorities and news organisations to establish a way forward, Ransford said: "It's important that there is a vibrant local media and so I think it is important that councils have talks with the local press to see if arrangements can be reached.

"Access to information and criticism is part of our democracy. That is important as getting people out to vote so councils must explore locally how things can be achieved – there will be different answers in different places. I don't think there is a simple answer."

Asked what he thought the biggest threat to paid-for local newspapers was, Ransford said: "The market has changed with the creation of free newspapers, the internet and the economic situation people have been in – our whole way of sourcing information is now different. You can access news online through a phone now. But personally, I still like physically reading a newspaper and I find it difficult to read things on screen."

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Secrecy and behind closed doors decision making

Secrecy and behind closed doors decision making goes on all the time at Hartlepool Council and ordinary back bench councillors are deliberately kept in the dark! That is the only conclusion I can draw from the way “Pink Papers” are still being used in Hartlepool Council.

I have had an on-going battle with Hartlepool Council in my efforts to get access to information. As an elected member of Hartlepool Council I try to represent my constituents to the best of my ability but am frustrated in this aim when I am denied access to information about what is happening. The whole debate around the granting of the Freedom of Hartlepool to certain individuals is obscuring an even more important issue, namely the use of Pink Papers in Hartlepool Council to block openness and transparency and keep not only the people of Hartlepool in the dark but also to stop Councillors such as myself finding out what goes on.

Pink papers were used to stop me finding out about the on-going re-organisation of Hartlepool Council and I have repeatedly been denied access to other information I have requested. I am now at the point where I am making requests under the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to get access to Hartlepool Council papers. It should be unbelievable to Hartlepool Residents that an ELECTED COUINCILLOR is being forced to take these steps to get information and shows how secrecy is a way of life at Hartlepool Council! If an elected councillor can’t get information then what chance does a member of the public have?

The Council meeting in December did acknowledge that Pink Papers needed to be more widely available and so approved copies of the papers to the Chair of Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee and the Chairs of the four Scrutiny Forums. A move by myself, and supported by some other independent thinking Councillors, to have papers also sent to the leaders of the Groups on the Council (Labour, Conservative, Lib-Dem and Admin) was blocked. The pink papers are now available to the five Chairs, who all happen to be Labour Councillors, but not to anyone else. Pink papers are therefore fully available to the Cabinet and just under half the other Councillors, the Labour half, the rest of us are still cut out of the loop.

Democracy in action? Not in Hartlepool ? Not under this Mayor and the Labour Group.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

16th December 1914

The Heugh Costal Defence Battery stood ready for almost 100 years, but went into action against an enemy for less than an hour. However, in 2000, almost fifty years after it had been closed, a small group of amateur enthusiasts decided that the Heugh Battery and the 42 minute Bombardment of Hartlepool were too significant historically to be allowed to be forgotten. Working without funding, electricity or even permission to be on the site they formed the Heugh Battery Trust, had the site scheduled as an Ancient Monument and began to restore the site as a museum and tourist attraction.

Six years latter, Griff Rhys Jones, presenter of the BBC Restoration Programme, described the battery during filming of the TV show, as “A truly wonderful site worth preservation.” Mr. Rhys Jones also declared that it was his intention to visit the site again in the future.

It was on the morning of 16th December 1914 that three German battleships, carrying twenty 11” guns and dozens of smaller calibre armaments, emerged from a light fog off the north east coastal town of Hartlepool. Opposing them, the Heugh Coastal Defence Battery had two 6 inch guns, supported by the single 6 inch gun Lighthouse Battery.

When the German ships steamed out of range 118 civilians were dead, over 200 wounded, the town’s gas manometers were in flames and hundreds of houses were destroyed. Mark Marsay, in his definitive account of the Bombardment of Hartlepool, “The Day the East Coast Bled” estimated that property damage was £200,000 in 1916 values. Military losses were 15 killed and 37 wounded. Private Theophilis Jones of the Durham Light Infantry, who was on sentry duty when the attack commenced, was the first British soldier to be killed by enemy action on British soil during the Great War. A plaque now marks the spot where he died.

Originally built in 1859 the Heugh Battery was designed to guard against possible French invasion; the first armaments were nine 68 pounder breech loading cannon. These were progressively upgraded until 1907 when the guns that engaged the German battleships were emplaced. The Heugh Battery continued to receive new and updated guns after the Great War and ultimately contained Mk 24 radar aimed guns with a range of around 14 miles.

By the 1950’s the technology to launch a nuclear attack by long range missile had made coastal defence obsolete. So, after almost 100 years, the Heugh Battery was closed, the magazines and emplacements were backfilled and most of the buildings demolished. The site became a playground for generations of Headland children and the Battery Command post, with its commanding view of Hartlepool Bay, became home to a bird watching group.

However, the concrete revetments were too massive to be removed. It was their continued existence, nearly fifty years later, that fired the enthusiasm of the volunteers who became the Heugh Battery Trust.

Having the site scheduled as an Ancient Monument opened many doors for funding but ironically placed huge restrictions on the Trust as regards what it can do during its operations. Today there is still water ingress into the refurbished underground magazines and efforts to stem the leaks are hindered by the inability of the Battery Trust to do any digging on the site without the approval of English Heritage.

“Battle damage” Trust Chairman, John Southcott, explained as he pointed out the main features of the brick built, barrel roof of the magazine, “If the water is coming in because of deterioration of the site then we can repair it. However, if it’s due to battle damage then its part of the history of the site and so has to be left alone”.

The site was only accessible to visitors by appointment or on special open days until 2008 when it had the honour of being officially opened, on 18th November, by HRH the Duke of Gloucester. Visitors today can see not only the excavated magazines and restored revetments, with replica guns emplaced, but also the best collection of artillery pieces and associated artefacts anywhere in the north of England. The collection of large calibre guns exceeds that of the Leeds Armouries. The Heugh Battery also recently acquired a Challenger II Tank to go with their Ferret and Warrior armoured cars.

Steve Waites, Projects Director at the Battery, is happy to accompany visitors around the main workshop. Standing beside a grey painted 25 pound light artillery piece, he used the gun to illustrate how activities on the site are now entering a new phase “Until now most of the work has been preservation” he explained, “but now we are going beyond that with this Second World War 25 pounder which we are going to restore to working order.” The provenance of the gun is not totally clear but does have one verifiable claim to fame. The gun was definitely fired at Arnhem! Unfortunately not during the 1944 battle but at the 1977 filming of ‘A Bridge too Far’.

The Heugh Battery is located on Moor Terrace, The Headland, Hartlepool. The site is open 10:00 until 16:00 throughout the year Thursday to Sunday. Special events are advertised on the Trust Website ( Admission is £4.00 for Adults. Children (under 16's)/NUS/OAP £2.50, Family Ticket (2 Adults and 2 Children) £11.00. Veterans, current service personnel and under 5's Free.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

How to spot a socio path

While such personality disorders as psychopathy, paranoia and obsession/compulsion all have strictly defined criteria, psychiatrists are still struggling to decide precisely what constitutes a socialised psychopath.

One of the more obvious characteristics of socialised psychopaths is that they give the impression of talking "at" you. Prof Jeremy Coid describes it as like being regarded as a cardboard cut-out. "Even in a sexual relationship with them, you are still just an object for their personal gratification," he says.


The following questionnaire is based on research and experiences of socialised psychopaths.

For each trait, decide if it applies to the person you suspect may be a socialised psychopath, fully (2 points), partially (1 point) or not at all (0 points).

Do they have problems sustaining stable relationships, personally and in business?

Do they frequently manipulate others to achieve selfish goals, with no consideration of the effects on those manipulated?

Are they cavalier about the truth, and capable of telling lies to your face?

Do they have an air of self-importance, regardless of their true standing in society?

Have they no apparent sense of remorse, shame or guilt?

Is their charm superficial, and capable of being switched on to suit immediate ends?

Are they easily bored and demand constant stimulation?

Are their displays of human emotion unconvincing?

Do they enjoy taking risks, and acting on reckless impulse?

Are they quick to blame others for their mistakes?

As teenagers, did they resent authority, play truant and/or steal?

Do they have no qualms about sponging off others?

Are they quick to lose their temper?

Are they sexually promiscuous?

Do they have a belligerent, bullying manner?

Are they unrealistic about their long-term aims?

Do they lack any ability to empathise with others?

Would you regard them as essentially irresponsible?

A score of 25 or above suggests strong psychopathic tendencies. This does not mean the person is a potential mass-murderer: socialised psychopaths are not mad, nor do they have to resort to violence. Even so, a close professional or emotional relationship with a socialised psychopath is likely to prove a damaging experience.

(With acknowledgement to an article by Robert Matthews in the Sunday Telegraph Review, May 4th 1997)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Corus Announce New Plant to be Built

Did anyone notice the announcement last month by Corus that it plans to build a 20 million euro steel plant in the Netherlands, with the help of 15 million euros from the EU and 5 million euros from the Dutch government.

Of course this has nothing to do with the long term plans drawn up in the 1950's by the The European Iron and Steel Community to control steel making in Europe.

Our government is unable to help Teesside due to EU Rules! This is the same EU which is paying for new steelworks in Holland! Ironically of course it is the British Taxpayer who will be funding most of the new steelworks through our contributions to the EU Budget. Maybe this is one of the “silver linings” the Mayor was talking about at the Council Meeting on Thursday!

What links the Copenhagen conference with the steelworks closing in Redcar

What is the connection between Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian railway engineer who has been much in evidence at the Copenhagen climate conference, as chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and an Indian-owned steel company's decision to mothball its giant Teesside steel works next month, ripping the heart out of the town of Redcar by putting 1,700 people out of work?

Nothing of this complex story is likely to be heard in the dreary concrete shed outside Copenhagen where, as temperatures drop towards freezing, 17,000 prime ministers, officials and climate activists are earnestly discussing how the planet is warming up towards extinction. But it certainly sheds a little light on a colossal worldwide racket these delegates are helping to promote, because the end of the story is that we shall all be paying to export thousands of British jobs to new steel plants in India, for no gain in the reduction of worldwide CO2 emissions.

Thirty years ago Britain's state-owned steel industry, over-manned and highly subsidised, was the most inefficient in Europe. By 1988, after Mrs Thatcher's privatisation and having lost two thirds of its workforce, it was as efficient as any in the world. In 1999, for reasons never fully explained, much of it was sold off to the Dutch firm Corus, which in 2007 was bought by the Indian giant, Tata Steel.

One of Corus's prizes was the Redcar steel works, once Europe's largest blast furnace. It is this which is now to be mothballed, according to Corus because of worldwide "over-production". But this is transparently not the case, since its new owner, Tata, is planning to more than double its steel production in India over the next three years. Furthermore, only last month Corus announced plans to build a 20 million euro plant in the Netherlands, with the help of 15 million euros from the EU and 5 million euros from the Dutch government. Our Government says it is unable to help over the closure of Redcar because this would not be allowed under EU state-aid rules, although Gordon Brown says he may be able to offer a little "re-training".

The real gain to Corus from stopping production at Redcar, however, is the saving it will make on its carbon allowances, allocated by the EU under its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). By ceasing to emit a potential six million tonnes of CO2 a year, Corus will benefit from carbon allowances which could soon, according to European Commission projections, be worth up to £600 million over the three years before current allocations expire.

But this is only half the story. In India, Corus's owner, Tata, plans to increase steel production from 53 million tonnes to 124 million over the same period. By replacing inefficient old plants with new ones which emit only "European levels" of CO2, Tata could claim a further £600 million under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism, which is operated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – the organisers of the Copenhagen conference. Under this scheme, organisations in developed countries such as Britain – ranging from electricity supply companies to the NHS – can buy the right to exceed their CO2 allocations from those in developing countries, such as India. The huge but hidden cost of these "carbon permits" will be passed on to all of us, notably through our electricity bills.

Thus, at the end of the day, Redcar will lose its biggest employer and one of the largest manufacturing plants left in Britain. Tata, having gained up to £1.2 billion from "carbon credits", will get its new steel plants – while the net amount of CO2 emitted worldwide will not have been reduced a jot.

And the connection with Dr Pachauri? Directly there is no connection at all. But it just happens that Dr Pachauri's other main job, apart from being chairman of the PCC, is as director-general of the Tata Energy Research Institute, funded by Tata, which he has run since 1981.

He may not benefit in any
way personally from Tata's exploitation of the various
carbon trading schemes set up to implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but it is the IPCC which provides the recommendations which drive those schemes, Last year, on official figures, buying and selling the right to emit CO2 was worth $126 billion across the world. This market, now enriching many of our leading financial institutions (not to mention Al Gore), is growing so fast that within a few years it is predicted to be worth trillions, making carbon the most valuable traded commodity in the world.

Forget Big Oil: the new world power is Big Carbon.Truly it has been a miracle of our time that they have managed to transform carbon dioxide, a gas upon which all life on earth depends, into a "pollutant", worth more than diamonds, let alone oil. And many of those now gathered in Copenhagen are making a great deal of money out of it.

Christopher Booker's The Real Global Warming Disaster (Continuum, £16.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £14.99 plus £1.25 p&p.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Steel Making been a dead man walking for over 50 years

Most points I raise during a Hartlepool Council meeting result in a brisk come back from the other political parties. Labour are usually first into the attack but certain Tories, Lib-Dems and Independents can usually be relied upon to follow the Labour lead and attempt to shout me down.

Tonight however was different! After 8 years as a Ward Councillor I made a point in full council that reduced the other councilors to shamefaced silence. Not one councilor contradicted me or attempted to put an alternative viewpoint. The silence was total!

During the debate about the Corus closures several councilors, including the Mayor, made speeches demanding help for the steelworkers and insisting “the government must do something”. The Mayor even said the closure had a “silver lining” as it brought new money and opportunities into the town.

Unfortunately the end of steelmaking on Teesside was inevitable when the European Iron and Steel Community came into being in 1951. This was the first step in the formation of the European Union and when the UK went into the EEC in 1973 accepting the eventual loss of steelmaking in the UK was part of the price for joining, (along with concessions over agriculture, fishing and trade with the Commonwealth).

Steelmaking in the UK has been a dead man walking ever since!

Every government since then has collaborated in the slow death of steelmaking. I said at the Council Meeting tonight, “So long as the UK remains in the EU then steelmaking will continue to die and will eventually disappear totally from the UK” There was not one single Councillor in the Hartlepool Council Chamber who dared to contradict me! No matter how much they may now demand action to save steelmaking the Labour, Liberal-Democrat and Conservative Parties have all actively participated in killing steelmaking in the UK and they know it!