Sunday, 28 February 2010

Elected Mayors in the UK

More people should have the right to elect their local leader, argues Prof Michael Kenny, of the IPPR think-tank. (Page 14 LGA First Magazine Issue 328 May 2008)

The idea of having more elected mayors in England seems to have pushed its way back up the political agenda. Even before the ‘Boris and Ken show’, there were signs that momentum was emerging in all the main parties behind the idea of introducing more mayors into England’s cities. The government’s forthcoming white paper will be watched with interest by supporters and detractors of elected mayors alike. Will they seize the initiative and give more people the right to elect their local leader?
This is certainly what I and colleagues at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have urged government to do in a report published just before the London election. Drawing on the performance of the 13 mayors who have been in post in England, we found that the introduction of this office has nearly always coincided with an improvement in councils’ performance.
High profile
Hackney is perhaps the most dramatic example of a turnaround in fortunes under their elected mayor Jules Pipe (pictured). Every mayoral authority has either consolidated or improved its score in the comprehensive performance assessment. Elected mayors are better known to their electorates than council leaders, have produced a series of innovative and eyecatching policies (from congestion charging in London to crime reduction in the North East), and have proved highly responsive to the priorities of local people. Elected leaders tend to become beacons for the places they represent, and are more focused upon facilitating partnerships and balancing different interests than pursuing narrow party interests.
The worry that elected mayors will turn out to be celebrities or mavericks is not born out by the experience of those who have been in post. Even Stuart Drummond in Hartlepool – elected as H’Angus the monkey – threw away his costume after his election, learned the ways of local government and has helped his authority climb the CPA tables. In London, Boris won in part because of real policy differences between him and Ken Livingstone, but also because he realised he needed to downplay his celebrity image in order to compete.
The real democratic question that needs to be asked about elected mayors is why so few? When will we have a government that has the courage to steer away from the local referendum device that has played into the hands of sceptical councillors and proved a major obstacle to the introduction of more directly elected local government leaders?
LGA chairman Sir Simon Milton is right to argue that people are more likely to vote in local elections if greater powers are given to town halls. What he and others need to grasp is that capable and responsive elected mayors are an important means of enabling central government to feel able to delegate meaningful responsibilities in this way.
Michael Kenny is a professor of politics at Sheffield university and a visiting research fellow at the IPPR

Friday, 26 February 2010

How dare I agree with Councillor Brash!

As a backbench Councillor I have to take my small victories where I can. Usually this involves being the one of few dissenting voices questioning the decisions of the Labour/Tory/Lib-Dem Alliance that controls most of what goes on. At the last Council Meeting I was prepared to vote against yet another increase in Council Tax, which I did, and also to question the wisdom of signing up to a Local Area Agreement “Refresh”.

The Refresh set out Hartlepool Council’s commitment to various performance targets, including; maintaining the overall employment rate in Hartlepool at 5.6% points BELOW the North East average, maintaining the current level of 29% of children in Hartlepool living in poverty, so keeping Hartlepool 4.8% ABOVE the North East average and committing to maintain the Hartlepool baseline figure of 20.9% for working age people out of work and claiming benefits, which is 4.5% points ABOVE than the rest of the North East.

Basically Hartlepool Council will be concentrating their efforts for the next few years to maintain Hartlepool's position as having fewer people in work, more people on benefits and more children in poverty than the rest of the North East!

How can anyone say Hartlepool Council lacks ambition when it signs up to targets like that!

However, before I could raise my concerns Councillor Brash jumped to his feet to also decry the child poverty target. I think he must have been treading my blog again and wanted to get in first! He didn’t mention unemployment or numbers on benefits but he was worried about the children. He proposed a more ambitious target be set that would at least commit the council to narrowing the gap between Hartlepool and the rest of the North East. After he sat down I stood up and seconded his proposal! I agreed with him and said it was a good idea.

At this point the Council Meeting went into the Twilight Zone.

I am quite used to Councillor Brash going a funny purple colour with rage and being reduce to almost incoherence (I wish!) with anger at things I say in Hartlepool Council Chamber but this was the first time I’d ever had this effect on him by AGREEING with him. He was very upset that I’d dared to do so!

This is the advantage of not having a party whip telling me who I can and cannot agree with. If I think it’s a good idea then I’ll support it, if I think it’s a bad idea then I’ll say so and vote against it. Scary stuff for any Party Politician who usually can be whipped into putting party first, personal ambition second and ideology (if they have any) a distant third.

Councillor Brash was saved by the Mayor! Stuart leapt to his feet and announced it didn’t matter because we were only playing the game and submitting meaningless numbers to Whitehall that were just necessary for a box ticking exercise! This allowed Councillor Brash to withdraw his proposal, removing any requirement too agree with me, and accepting the understanding that the decision was irrelevant anyway and didn’t count for anything in the real world outside the fantasy land of politicians and the ivory towers they inhabit.

So there you have it. I can get the Labour group upset if I oppose what they say and even more upset if I agree with them. Of course the Mayor has now confirmed that any decision made by the Council doesn’t really affect what goes on in real life. It’s all just a box ticking exercise. It was nice to hear the Mayor finally admit that!

Unfortunately the increase in Council Tax does affect people in real life and the relentless rises are causing severe hardship to many people. I did also wonder if the "meaningless box ticking" also referred to the 4 Star Status the Council keeps getting awarded and which Drummond tells everyone “proves” what a great job Hartlepool Council are doing!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Hartlepol Council Sucesses!

Tomorrow night Hartlepool Councillors will be asked to approve yet another rise in council tax. This will be used to protect front line services in these turbulent economic times. Well that's the official line!

I for one will be voting NO to the increase. At the same meeting we will be looking at the LAA Refresh! A wonderful document that sets out ambitious plans for Hartlepool Council to maintain the overall employment rate in Hartlepool at 5.6 percentage points below the North East Base line average!

Yes, you read that right MAINTAIN the overall employment rate in the town at BELOW the north east regional average. Now there's an ambitious target for the town!

The Council are also going to try and MAINTAIN the Hartlepool baseline figure of 20.9% for working age people out of work and claiming benefits, again that is 4.5% points worse than the rest of the North East Region.

The document also admits that the current level of 29% of children in Hartlepool living in poverty is unlikely to fall and so the Council's target has been revised to "Maintain the gap between Hartlepool and the North East Region at 4.8% points".

Basically Hartlepool Council will be concentrating their efforts for the next few years to maintain Hartlepool's position as having fewer people in work and more children in poverty than the rest of the North East!

How can anyone say Hartlepool Council lacks ambition!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Hartlepool Property Prices

The Royal Armouries in Leeds this afternoon is holding a property auction which included a property I was interested in buying. It's a five bedroom Victorian property in need of some modernisation and a bit of TLC. It's on the Headland and had a guide Price of £70,000. Of course when you sell at auction the seller doesn't get that and the buyer pays a bit more. I thought it must go for less than that since it's not as big nor as well located as say a property on Victoria Road that the Council recently offloaded for £60,000! Unfortunately some other bidders obviously didn't know about the depressed state of the Hartelpool property market and it went for over the guide price! I wonder who does their comparable? Obviously Hartlepool Council don't use anyone who might make realistic commercial estimates of value in the real world!

PS Freudian slip in the typing of this post that the spell checker picked up. In my last sentence I'd typed "Obviously not the same people as make comical estimates of value in the real world!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Update on Big Brother!

The School District Website referred to in the post below can be accessed here if you want to read more about this story!

US school district spied on students through webcams

Originally in the Guardian on-line on Friday 19th February! read it and weep for the death of democracy and the arrival of big brother! Scary. All I can say is there is a piece of tape over my laptop camera and the built in microphone as well. Of course that doesn't stop the built in modem downloading to a remote surveillance website a copy of everything I type. They can already track you through your mobile phone of course and we are on CCTV Camera dozens of times every day! It's only a matter of time before we are all chipped like dogs!

So, could it happen here? Or is it ALREADY HAPPENING!


A school district in Pennsylvania spied on students through web cameras installed on laptops provided by the district, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week.

Lower Merion school district, in a well-heeled suburb of Philadelphia, provided 2,300 high-school students with Mac laptops last autumn in what its superintendent, Christopher McGinley, described as an effort to establish a "mobile, 21st-century learning environment".

The scheme was funded with $720,000 (£468,000) in state grants and other sources. The students were not allowed to install video games and other software, and were barred from "commercial, illegal, unethical and inappropriate" use.

The district retained remote control of the built-in webcams installed on the computers – and used them to capture images of the students, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court this week.

The ruse was revealed when Blake Robbins, a student at Harriton high school, was hauled into the assistant principal Lindy Matsko's office, shown a photograph taken on the laptop in his home and disciplined for "improper behaviour".

According to Robbins, Matsko said the school had retained the ability to activate the laptop webcams remotely, at any time. Backed by his parents, Robbins filed a lawsuit on behalf of all students provided with laptops by the school.

The suit claims a violation of the privacy and civil rights of the students and their families and accuses officials of violating electronic communications laws by spying on them through "indiscriminate use of an ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop".

It claims that since the laptops were used by students and their friends and family at home, images of "compromising or embarrassing positions, including ... in various states of undress" have been captured. A school district spokesman, Douglas Young, did not return a call seeking comment, but told the Philadelphia Inquirer the district was investigating. "We're taking it very seriously," he said.

In a letter posted on the school district's website, McGinley said the district had installed on the laptops a security feature that allowed the webcam to photograph the computer operator in the event the laptop is lost or stolen. He said that following the suit's filing, the district disabled the feature amidst a review of technology and privacy policies. He said the feature was activated only to help locate a lost or stolen laptop.

"The district never activated the security feature for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever," he wrote. "We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families."

Sunday, 14 February 2010

and the response.....

Between the dates 9th December 2009 and 10th February 2010 there were 22 Exempt Reports on "pink" paper that were deemed by Hartlepool Council as too sensitive for the public to see.

The {para x} refers to the reason why the information is not allowed in the public domain. In summary Para 1 is information relating to an individual, Para 3 is commercial information, Para 4 is information relating to negotiations with employees, para 7 is information that may prejudice investigations into a crime or future legal action and Para 10 is information which it is not in the public interest to disclose.

Monday 22 December 2009

1. Youth Offending Service – Results of the Core Case Inspection of Youth Offending Work – Assistant Director (Community Safety and Protection) (Para 10)

2. OFSTED Unannounced Inspection of Safeguarding Services – Assistant Director, Safeguarding and Targeted Services (Para 10)

Monday, 25 January 2010

3. Equal Pay Risk Update (para 4 and para 7) – Corporate Management Team

Children’s Services - Tuesday, 2 February 2010

4. Procurement Of Specialist Outdoor Play Equipment For Exmoor Grove (Para 3) – Director of Child and Adult Services

Finance and Performance - Friday, 8 January 2010
5. Land At Sandgate Industrial Estate (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

6. 19 St Columba's Parish Centre, Dryden Road (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

7. Courts Building, Victoria Road (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

8. Rockhaven, 36 Victoria Road (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

9. Sale Of Garage Land At Victoria Place (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

10. Rating Revaluation – Appointment Of External Advisers (para 3) - Assistant Director (Resources)

11. Support for Businesses – Chief Financial Officer

12. Belle Vue Way/Ladysmith Street (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

13. Land Corner Of Tower Street And Surtees Street (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

14. Surestart North, Hindpool Close (para 3) - Assistant Director (Procurement and Asset Management)

15. Tender For A Printing & Mailing Service For Local Taxation Demands And Benefit Notifications – Chief Financial Officer (Para 3 – though not stated on the agenda)

Transport and Neighbourhoods
Wednesday, 10 February 2010

16. Dial a Ride Service Review (para 3) – Assistant Director (Transport and Engineering Services)

Other Committees

Contract Scrutiny Committee
Monday 18 January 2010

17. Contract For The Provision Of Assessment And Services For Carers In Hartlepool (Contract Reference Number 408) - Strategic Commissioner Working Age Adults(Para 3 – though not stated on the agenda)

Monday 1 February 2010

18. Provision of an activities and mentoring programme (Contract Ref. No. 397) (para 3) – Director of Child & Adult Services

19. Provision of resources required to support the Team Around the Primary School model. (Contract Ref. Nos. 426, 427, 428, 429 and 430) (para 3) – Director of Child & Adult Services

General Purposes (Appeals and Staffing) Sub Committee
Thursday, 14 January 2010

20. Request For Payment Of Deferred Pension Benefits (para 1) – Chief Personnel Office
21. Request For Payment Of Deferred Pension Benefits (para 1) – Chief Personnel Officer
22. Request For Payment Of Deferred Pension Benefits (para 1) – Chief Personnel Officer

The Secrecy Tussle Continues.....

FOI Request No:2/2010
Submitted by e-mail Tuesday 26th January 2010

Dear Ms Martin,

Please treat this as a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act

Could you please provide me with a list of all pink papers which have been given to the Chair of the Scrutiny Coordinating Committee in the interval between my Freedom of Information Request of 11th January 2010 (My Reference; FOI Request No:1/2010) and the date of this additional request. I would like to know the subject of the pink paper and the reason, as defined in the Constitution of Hartlepool Council, why it was declared to be confidential or exempt.

Could you please acknowledge this request, quoting my reference "FOI Request No:2/2010" on your reply and on any subsequent correspondence relating to this request.

Thank You

Councillor Stephen Allison
Hartlepool Unitary Authority

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Party Politics and the Hospital

Interesting comment on my previous post about stepping aside for an Independent Save Our Hospital Candidate. The person making the comment is disappointed in my for making the offer when I know the Tories and Lib-Dems will not be allowed by their central party machines to take me up on it. Basically that sums up the problem with party politics for me in the UK at the moment. None of the Candidates for the main parties in the UK are allowed to put their constituents first. Labour, Lib-Dem and Tory all have Party First, Career Second and then possibly, just maybe their Constituents a distant third.

As a member of UKIP I am not whipped by my party. I could step aside if I thought it was in the best interests of Hartlepool. I can put Hartlepool first, none of the other party candidates can honestly say that. Unfortunately it would need the Tories and Lib-Dems to also step aside to give an Independent a chance to beat Labour. Quite frankly I don't care which out of the three win because they are all now so alike that it makes no real difference. Actually the Tories in Hartlepool are worse than the Lib-Dems. The Lib-Dems are just disorganised and badly led. The Tories are actively working to keep Labour in power in Hartlepool, well at local level anyway. In the last local Elections UKIP, the Lib-Dems and Tories did agree to allow an independent Save our Hospital Candidate a free run in Grange Ward against the Council Chairman. At the last minute the Tories stood a candidate who took just enough votes tio allow the Labour Councillor to retain his seat.

Labour and Lib-Dems have stood aside to allow an Independent a free run at a Tory, hence Martin Bell MP! Of course they don't want to establish any real precedent for this sort of thing. For no other reason that the MPs from all parties have more in common with each other these days than they do with the ordinary voter. Just imagine if politicians started putting their constituents first, where would it end? Maybe in a real democracy in this country for the first time in decades! Now wouldn't that frighten the political class.

PS To my friend who posts the anonymous comments daring me to allow them through onto the blog. It ain't going to happen! When you start making valid points to debate then maybe, but until then anonymous abuse will always end up in the trash can!

Friday, 5 February 2010


As the UKIP Hartlepool candidate in the General Election I have offered to stand down if a genuine Independent Save Our Hospital Candidate comes forward who would be supported by all the other Parties in the town.

I was disgusted at the way the Tory Candidate recently tried to use the Hospital for party political purposes.

As I said at a meeting last night of the UKIP Hartlepool Branch, the Labour Party is no better. Labour deceived the entire town over plans for Hartlepool Hospital and the last Lib-Dem who was going to save the hospital was Jodie Dunn! What happened to her great love of Hartlepool once the by-election was over? The fate of Hartlepool Hospital should be above Party Politics. I call upon all the other parties in the town to get behind a single, non-party political candidate, to send the message to Westminster that the people of Hartlepool are still fighting for their hospital.

If Labour wins the election then they have proved they cannot be trusted over Hartlepool Hospital. The Tories have already said they will cancel Wynyard but without any guarantee that they will invest in upgrades to existing hospital facilities in Hartlepool.

The Lib-Dems used the hospital as a campaign gimmick in 2004 but lost interest in it after they failed to win the by-election. The future of Hartlepool Hospital under any of the three main parties looks grim.

It's time the political parties stopped using Hartlepool Hospital as a political football. A 'Save our Hospital MP' in Hartlepool would be a huge message to all the three main parties. UKIP topped the poll in Hartlepool in June 2009, we have been making steady progress in the town in the last few years and have high hopes for a good campaign in 2010. However, UKIP Hartlepool is willing to put the town first and step aside in the coming General Election for a genuine Save our Hospital Candidate backed by all the main parties in the town.

It’s time to stop playing party politics.

UKIP would step aside to allow a straight head to head fight between Labour and a mutually acceptable Save our Hospital Candidate. Will the other parties do the same and prove they put Hartlepool first?