Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Recycling Satisfaction rates

It is very interesting to note that the Conservatives in Medway are leading on satisfaction rates on recycling in the latest Medway-wide 'Mail' publication.

This blog has discovered that the Council has been in receipt of satisfaction rates that bare an eerie similarity year on year - despite the fact it is taken from a Quarterly tracker when it comes to refuse collection, recycling and street cleaning.




Sources


No one denies that weekly recycling is popular, but all residents should be aware that sometimes statistics may not always be as they appear. Let's hope the statistics change for this year as we would not want egg on face for the Council and also the contractor.

Of course it could just be a coincidence... 

Well if you are going to do a Medway-wide. It pays to do your research first.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Medway Matters Referral to Minister


Over the course of this weekend I will be writing to the Secretary of State to refer the Medway Matters publication for review as I believe the publication is in breach of the Publicity Code for Local Authorities that is now underpined in statute under the 2014 local audit and accountability act. 

I will be referring it for several key points that I believe lay open the authority to independent challenge from a member of the public. 

For reference the Publicity Code for Local Authorities can be accessed here.

The code was introduced because of concern by this government that local papers would lose revenue because of the production of a free Council-based magazine or publication. 

Since the Medway Matters magasine has been issued we have seen a reduction of independent newspapers in Medway over the last decade. Ad revenue continues to decline for Local Papers whilst our Local Authority continues to take sums in publicity from ostensibly public sector sources.  

With the introduction of free wi-fi upcoming I am concerned that the Council will continue to persue a 'news' orientated site instead of focusing on purely Council services and amenities via the Medway Council official website (that incidentally cost £250,000 to create). It is therefore in my mind subverting the basis of the Code.

Below is the detail of a Members Item request I submitted (and since has been designed up by the KM Group) on the cost of the Medway Matters publication and the ad revenue it raises. This forms a useful basis as it highlights the cost of printing and distribution of 6 magasines a year (two more then should be produced) and also the issue around advertising revenue. 

In short, Medway Matters can solicit for ad revenue. This matters when creating websites.

It is clear that advertising for the magasine comes from both in-house ads and also external financed ads including private companies. The sum total to create the publication is therefore a mix of taxpayer and private funding.



Since the start of this magazine the number of newspapers in circulation across Medway has dwindled. Medway now only has one bi-weekly independent newspaper via the KM Group. Whilst this does reflect a long term trend in Print journalism it is also true that Town Hall publications are hurting local press through ad-revenue seepage.

My complaint to the Minister will include a number of points but the core areas of review include:


Please see below two additions to the last Medway Matters that has failed to present the different positions at all on issues of contention. 


These two issues are politically contentious issues. Despite a petition being presented to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee's and Full Council there has been no mention of any form of controversy either during, or after plans had been passed. The quotes offered were the same. It is therefore, in my mind, not being even-handed.

There are other examples in the Council newsletters that do not provide balance on issues of contention that I will be supplying but these two issues (Rochester Airfield / Strood Library) are merely the current items.

Point 2


The Council are issuing bi-monthy publication of the newsletter. 



In addition the content of the magazine does not solely include references to business, services and amenities of the Council. In just the latest magazine we had Gardening Guidance given to the public from the 'regular column' Chris Collins - BBC Gardening Expert. 


In other Medway Matters magasines we also see examples of this type of publication (some are not sponsored). 

The local authority could also be incurring expenditure in the hosting and management of a Medway Matters website; though interestingly whilst the main Medway Council website cost some £250,000 to produce and manage this site is costing taxpayers only in the hundreds of pounds according to press officers. I do not believe this is an accurate representation of the overall cost to contribute and manage the site. 


I would suggest that Medway Matters website has been constructed to now act as a first point of call and defacto news site for the Council; as opposed to the £250,000 Medway Council website (see point 3 for more detail on this)

The headline for the Medway Matters even admits as such.  See below from the 'News Room' of the Medway Matters.

The website itself even has a handy drop down tab that includes 'Community News' and 'Commununity and Living' and 'Gardening' with 'News Updates' 

And in case you were in any doubt that this was solely about bringing you Council news the website 'About' makes clear that it wants to be more...


Why does the Council need to solicit views on favourite walks and views? The fact a Council magasine is openly seeking to solicit views on issues outside of the strict remit of Council publicity is an issue that warrants further review. 

The use '.com' is unusual in itself for a government publication. Whilst the usage of .com has changed its original usage was as a commercial basis.

All of these links emulate the 'style' of online commercial publications in my mind that may constitutute a breach of the guidelines.

Point 3 relates to the above point in the attempt to refer residents not to the medway.gov.uk address but to the medwaymatters.com address. 


Point 3


The Council was formerly publicising this fact in all magasines; but this has changed recently. 

April / May 2014


In the most recent addition; there is no clear and umambigious reference to identify this as a Council Magazine other than a tiny logo in the corner. This could in my mind be considered no more than a Council 'sponsors mark' as opposed to it being a Council publication. 

The Council has also removed all references to 'Council Magazine for Everyone in Medway' and also amended and deleted the link to the official Medway Council website. 

The header on the magazine refers all web interest to the newly created 'Medway Matters' website that has a .com link. This magasine therefore does not unambiguously 'identify itself' as a product of the local authority; rather the 'Medway Matters' brand. 



These three points I believe warrant further investigation.


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Mayoralty cost stings taxpayers



After it was revealed this year that the Conservative Mayor of Medway spent taxpayers money on a snow machine I decided to submit a Freedom of Information request to ascertain the level of spend by the Mayor over the last five years.

This is an issue I have been highlighting for years and time and again ignored by a Tory elite. 

Given the Council budgets have been slashed by some 18% since 2010 it is beholden on all those with authority to be responsible with the public pound. 

The mayor of Medway's expenses have been under the spotlight ever since the Conservative Party politicised the office by scrapping the impartial points based system. The position is now squabbled over in the back offices of the Conservative Group offices.



Figures uncovered show that almost £75,000 has been spent on personal staffing. The Council vehicle cost itself has broken over the budget in four out of the five years. In 2008/09 the cost of the vehicle was 60% over the budget estimate. The civic hospitality budget in 2008/2009 was more than 55% over budget.

The above figure also (conveniently) omits the personal allowances of both the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. This is a further £13,267 for the Mayor and a further £6,685 for the deputy Mayor. The KM article above has different figures from those provided by the not-so-clever Tories. 

The figures are staggering when you take into account the cumulative spend over an electoral cycle (four years). From 2008/09 to 2011/12 over £500,000 was spent on this mayoralty service. And whilst other service departments saw significant decrease in budgets the allocation for the Mayor went up from £116,522 to £122,540 in 2009/10. Coincidentally the first year Medway Labour exposed costs for the mayor the figure was reduced by only to the same figure in 2012/13. The Tory Mayors have been tighetning the belt but the fat remains.

In some years the Mayors spent over £137,000 per year of taxpayers money. This annual figure is more then a house for some residents.  

Over this same period five year period we saw a number of Medway Primary schools fail OFSTEDs; we saw the failure in the 11+ test process; we saw service reductions; staff cut and budget cuts to front line services. Over this same period the budget for the Mayor has effectively stayed static. 

And what about the fact we are paying for not one person in a gown but two people. Whilst people perhaps see reason for the Mayor they do not see the necessity for a Deputy and the evidence for this is clear.


The Deputy Mayor position is quite clearly not doing very much. Including some of the above events where the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are at shared engagements we are barely seeing two Council events per week for this paid office. This weeks diary has zero Deputy Mayoral events. 

I have been undertaking my own research on the weekly published Mayoral Diary that is published by our Tory-led Authority. The events or 'engagements' include a large majority that are in fact not citizen events; they are other Local Authority spend shindigs or charty events. This is local government wasting massive sums of cash to entertain a small and ostensibly Tory elite; attending another Mayoral event in East Kent is not a useful spend for Council Taxpayers cash.  

Medway Labour reviewed the charitable elements of the Mayors in Medway and what we found was of concern. In many cases only a small percentage of the ticket price for some of the mayoral events actually goes towards the mayoral charities. I believe many people would expect the vast majority of say a £25 ticket to go towards the charity, not just £1. 

It can be argued our Tory Mayors are spending more taxpayers money in holding some events than they make through the event itself. In effect it would be more cost effective for the Council to directly donate and would be a lot more beneficial for the charity itself.

There are many other mayors who don’t run expensive offices at a huge cost to taxpayers. The mayor of Doncaster slashed his own pay, got rid of his limousine and cut the council’s free newsletter. The mayor of Royal Wooton Bassett also shows how an office can be run on a much smaller budget, although in a far smaller town than Medway. The mayor enjoys an allowance of £3,200 through which he must manage all of his annual costs incurred by mayoral duties in his 400 functions per year.

In many other local authorities the Mayor's also attend more events then ours. Swindon’s mayor is believed to participate in around 500. In Royal Wooton Basset’s mayor’s office, a volunteer occupies the role of town crier, mace bearer and sword bearer and when required an admin officer doubles as a secretary. 

The mayor needs to look for more ways to rein in the budget because it clearly can and must be done.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Fare Rises vs Income


Do you think our MPs are doing a good job on SouthEastern fares?


(Passenger Focus January 2008-January 2014 & ONS 2008/13).

% change in season ticket on previous year
% change in weekly earnings (£) of full-time employee jobs - region


Journey
Operator
Jan-10 - Jan-11
Jan-11 - Jan-12
Jan-12 - Jan-13
Jan-13 - Jan-14


Gillingham (Kent)-London Terminals
Southeastern (not High Speed)
8.3%
2.1%
6.0%
1.2%
4.2%
0.2%
3.1%
0.7%
Canterbury-London Terminals
Southeastern (not High Speed)
12.7%
2.1%
6.0%
1.2%
5.9%
0.2%
2.1%
0.7%
Tonbridge - London Terminals
Southeastern (not High Speed)
11.8%
2.1%
5.9%
1.2%
5.2%
0.2%
2.3%
0.7%
Guildford - London Terminals
South West Trains
6.9%
2.1%
6.0%
1.2%
4.3%
0.2%
3.0%
0.7%
Portsmouth-London Terminals
South West Trains
7.2%
2.1%
6.1%
1.2%
4.2%
0.2%
2.7%
0.7%
Bournemouth-London Terminals
South West Trains
6.8%
2.1%
6.0%
1.2%
4.2%
0.2%
3.0%
0.7%
Reading - London Terminals
First Great Western
5.8%
2.1%
6.0%
1.2%
4.2%
0.2%
3.2%
0.7%
Oxford - London Terminals
First Great Western
5.8%
2.1%
5.9%
1.2%
4.2%
0.2%
3.1%
0.7%
Hove - London Victoria
Southern
7.7%
2.1%
5.0%
1.2%
4.1%
0.2%
2.9%
0.7%
Eastbourne - London Victoria
Southern
7.7%
2.1%
5.0%
1.2%
4.1%
0.2%
2.9%
0.7%
Aylesbury - London Terminals
Chiltern
4.9%
2.1%
5.4%
1.2%
3.2%
0.2%
2.8%
0.7%
Colchester-London Terminals
NXEA / Greater Anglia
5.1%
2.7%
5.7%
1.0%
4.1%
1.2%
2.7%
2.1%
Huntingdon-London Terminals
First Capital Connect
6.4%
2.7%
5.9%
1.0%
4.2%
1.2%
3.1%
2.1%
Hertford - London Terminals
First Capital Connect
6.0%
2.7%
5.9%
1.0%
4.1%
1.2%
3.0%
2.1%
Cambridge - London Terminals
First Capital Connect
6.3%
2.7%
6.0%
1.0%
3.8%
1.2%
3.1%
2.1%
Northampton - London Terminals
London Midland
7.8%
2.7%
6.9%
1.0%
4.7%
1.2%
3.1%
2.1%
Peterborough-London Terminals
NXEC / East Coast
5.8%
2.7%
6.0%
1.0%
4.2%
1.2%
3.1%
2.1%