Tag: bureaucracy

Bad advice

It’s a long time since the jokers at the Swindon Community Safety Partnership have given us anything to laugh about, but now they’re back to their old habits. A bit of advice I was given many years ago — not by the Swindon Community Safety Partnership — was that one should always be cautious about using a mobile phone in a public place, particularly so in those locations, such as the entertainment zone of a town centre, where the risk of theft is high. Alas, it seems that the Swindon Community Safety Partnership may be about to encourage behaviour that’ll lead to a wave of mobile phone thefts. The partnership is going to send messages via bluetooth to clubbers’ mobile phones, giving them safety advice.

Bluetooth is a great, cost-effective way to reach lots of people with relevant bite-size community safety messages…. [I]t will be used selectively to support key awareness campaigns… and people can opt to decline messages, although we’d urge them to pick up the free advice.

I wonder if that advice will include ‘Keep you mobile phone out of sight when in an unsafe crowded area.’

From lollipops to messaging, the record of the Swindon Community Safety Partnership in dealing with Friday night revellers is consistently daft.

Replacing the New Swindon Company

With all the fuss and angst over Swindon Borough Council’s budget plans for next financial year, another item on this Wednesday’s council cabinet meeting agenda has been overlooked.

The council executive’s proposals for replacing the New Swindon Company is damning with its mild praise. First, the mild praise.

Since the company’s formation TNSC has helped to stimulate regeneration and investment in Swindon’s central area. TNSC has put together exciting development packages that have stimulated considerable interest in Swindon’s regeneration plans. The company’s most notable success has been in attracting Muse as the developer for the Union Square scheme.

Claiming success before anything has conrete has happened is premature, to say the least. Even if this could be claimed as a success, ‘only’ is a more accurate term than ‘most notable’. One odd thing is that the proposals say funding — if only for the coming year — is unchanged.

Recognising the current economic challenges and the importance of an effective response, SBC aims to continue with its existing level of funding of £250k per annum plus the financing of the transferred economic development team and related project budgets.

Yet the budget proposals show a reduction of £147k. With contradictions like that, it’s no wonder that the council’s finances are in a bad way.

The reasons given for replacing the company read as a thinly-veiled catalogue of failure.

An opportunity to engage with private investors in a way not seen before

So the New Swindon Company failed in attracting private investors….

Deployment of limited resources for maximum impact and for best value

And wasted our money….

The requirement for town centre regeneration to link in a more integrated way with plans for the rest of the Borough to ensure Swindon’s existing communities benefit from regeneration and growth

And ignored the communities it was meant to benefit. And the replacement, borough-wide company, how will that engage with the community? Apparently, not all. The council’s vision for the new company is for it to be the poodle of the council, seemingly with no direct involvement with the community at all.

Missed connections

Swindon Borough Council’s Connecting People Connecting Places programme — CP2 for short — appears to have a blog. I say ‘appears’ because the week old Connecting Swindon blog has received no publicity and is devoid of links from official sources. The only link I can find is that the Swindon Borough Council twitter account follows the Connecting Swindon blog’s twitter feed. With that level of publicity the blog is, for the moment, largely speaking to nobody.

Lack of publicity is not the only weak point of the Connecting Swindon blog. The latest posting is on events in the Town Centre cluster.

We will be continuing this form of local engagement over the next couple of weeks in the Eastcott area with an event at Groundwell Rd on Tuesday 10th November and in the central ward area later in the evening in the Manchester Road area followed by an event on Farringdon Road on Friday 13th November in the afternoon.

The next couple of weeks? They must be fans of time travel, as that was posted on 26th November. And this is the only publicity these events have received: they are not even mentioned on the cluster’s official page.

With poor publicity like this, one could be forgiven for thinking that the council does not really want to know the opinions of the community. If you read the job description for a cluster lead you may well be convinced that is so. The ‘people’ barely get a mention.

Work hand in hand with ward members to establish the framework for neighbourhood area forums including governance, membership and forward agendas.

So that’s zero community involvement in setting the local agenda.

The overall strategic vision and priorities are set by the local authorities and partners through the Community Strategy and the Local Area Agreement and other plans such as the Children and Young People’s Plan. The Neighbourhood Area Agreement will have a range of themes cascaded from those two documents, that the area forum will monitor and explore to achieve local community priorities.

Welcome to top-down planning. Far from being a meaningful conversation, CP2 appears to be a monologue.

Degenerating regeneration whitewash

It has been announced that the New Swindon Company is to be replaced by a new company tasked with doing… well, almost exactly the same as the New Swindon Company was. This smacks of an attempt to hide failure that’s no more likely to succeed than renaming of Windscale nuclear plant as Sellafield did. According to Swindon Borough Council’s Mr Jones,

The new company will be responsible for the integrated plans for economic development, growth and regeneration.

Hmm… that’s so different from the purpose of the New Swindon Company.

The New Swindon Company was formed in 2002 to stimulate investment and co-ordinate plans for revitalisation of the town centre as a key component to achieving sustainable economic growth.

What’s not so clear from the announcement is how this new bureaucracy will be funded. The New Swindon Company was funded by tax payers through three routes: Swindon Borough Council, the South West Regional Development Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency. Funding from the last two does not seem to be guaranteed. Mr Jones hopes the new bureaucracy will obtain more funding from the private sector. Whether local people wish their town’s regeneration to be lead by an organisation dominated by developers is a question he seems not to have pondered.

As usual, at the conference where this piece of deckchair shuffling was announced, Mr Bluh was in full head-in-the-sand mode.

I find it the most exciting place I’ve ever lived in. We must not pick up the negative side but keep positive. I feel certain we will come out of the recession on the right side. We certainly have got the product here and it is our job to sell it.

Blind, unquestioning optimism has never been a virtue. A decade of demolition and degeneration has not changed that.

Disconnecting People, Disconnecting Places

Whose tent is this?Yesterday I went to Swindon Borough Council’s central area Connecting People Connecting Places event in Wharf Green and the Parade. It was, to be generous, a waste of time.

Connecting People Connecting Places is Swindon Borough Council’s take on the government’s Communities in Control: Real People, Real Power policy. The alleged aim is to get people more interested in local government by taking power — not that there’s much left with all the centralisation and target setting by the current government — from local councils and giving it to groups of local people. Naturally, the thought that a better approach might be to take power from central and regional government and give it to local councils never crossed their mind.

With that poor and illogical reasoning behind its creation, Connecting People Connecting Places is never likely to do well. But the council and most councillors clearly aren’t trying hard either. Today’s event in the town centre had very little advanced publicity: just a page on the Swindon strategic partnership website and a news item on the Council’s website since last Thursday. The ‘cluster chair’ seemed quite unapologetic when this was lack of publicity was highlighted on the TalkSwindon forum. But given how poor the event was, I’m almost ashamed to have tried to publicise the event myself.

What was promised sounded fairly impressive.

Ward members will be on hand between 11am and 2pm at both locations with officers from Swindon Borough Council, the Local Neighbourhood Policing Team, Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service and other volunteers to hear residents’ opinions.

There was no missing the police presence: it seemed as though every member of central Swindon’s police teams was on hand, particularly at Wharf Green. Anyone would think they’d nothing better to do, such as controlling crime. The fire service was also at Wharf Green and inSwindon in the Parade. Less visible were the ward councillors. I saw just two, both dressed in anonymous suits with nothing to identify them as councillors. In fact there was virtually nothing to identify this as a council event at all. It was more a ‘meet the police’ event than a ‘connect with your council’ event.

Council officers will use people’s favourite places in the centre of Swindon to create a virtual Google map. The map will also be used to chart areas where there are problems.

I saw paper maps and post-it notes.

In principle, using different approaches to engage with residents in sensible; but not when it’s as poorly thought out and executed as this was.

Picture this… eventually

Last September, I commented on plans to set-up a central control room to monitor CCTV footage from the town centre that was acknowledged as being of questionable value. Almost a year later, and Swindon’s lollipop fans, the Swindon Community Safety Partnership, are once again talking about setting up a central CCTV control room, plus at least five more cameras to add to the forty already in existence in the town centre.

For someone who’s a volunteer policeman, Mr Palusinski, head of the Safety Partnership, has an almost criminal disregard for evidence.

The new system won’t be a case of Big Brother watching you – it is to tackle issues of crime and disorder in the town while making residents and shoppers feel safe.

Err… regardless of what it’s being used for, unless the control centre is left empty and unused, it will be a case for the big-brother state watching.

These area may be parts of the town that are heavily affected by violent crime, graffiti or purse dippings and aren’t covered by sufficient surveillance.

So that’s CCTV being used to monitor the crimes that the evidence shows it’s least effective in tackling (i.e. anything other than theft from cars in car parks).

The amount of money that will be spent on updating the network will be far outweighed by the savings that will be made by having one central control room instead of having to communicate with several different agencies.

Given that the Safety Partnership’s own report acknowledged that 80% of CCTV footage is of questionable value, it seems to me that the money spent updating the network will be a waste of money.

I’ve been monitoring the ‘initiatives’ of the Swindon Community Safety Partnership for over eighteen months now. I’ve yet to see anything that suggests their naïve leadership are doing anything other than wasting Swindon taxpayers’ money.

Update, Monday, 24 August 2009: To reinforce my point, an internal police report has found that of London’s more than a million CCTV cameras, only 1 in 1000 contributes to solving a crime each year. So Swindon’s cameras are likely to be useful less than once every 20 years.

A gullible partnership

The naïvety of the Swindon Community Safety Partnership continues to amaze. This week the Partnership’s leader, Mr Palusinki, is claiming that invisible marking of property reduces burglary by over 85%.

Effective property marking has reduced burglaries in other areas by up to 85 percent. Goods are less attractive to thieves if they can be easily identified.

Mr Palusinki is guilty of believing the manufacturer’s advertising material. The evidence on which those claims are based is weak.

An area containing approximately 500 homes was identified as being suitable for a pilot test to allow Police to assess the effectiveness of forensic property marking which is based on the principles of human DNA…. Within the ‘hot-spot’, 95% of the properties used the forensic marking ‘kits’, which included a large number of repeat victims, to mark their property. Signage, posters and window stickers were then used to deter criminals from operating in the area as well as significant media coverage…. The pilot was a huge success, with an incredible 85% reduction in domestic burglary, 60% reduction in theft from vehicles, and 50% reduction in theft of vehicles.

So in reality, it wasn’t the marking of property that caused the reduction in burglaries, it was the publicity that accompanied it that had the effect.

Mr Palusinki, it seems, is an advertiser’s dream customer.

Nanny state has plans for your free time

It’s a couple of days since I read this now, but it still annoys me.

It is estimated that 38.3 per cent of Swindon residents are engaged in arts and the Government has set the town a target of reaching 41.3 per cent by March 2011.

Why? What I and any other person in Swindon, or anywhere else, do in their free time should be no business of the state. Provided what I do is legal, I don’t expect the state and its bureaucracies to be setting targets for what I should do for enjoyment.

A bureaucrat in search of a purpose

If you’re a bureaucrat in charge of one of Swindon’s numerous partnerships, what would be the best way to justify your cost to the local taxpayers? Do something worthwhile perhaps? On second thoughts perhaps not. Do something worthless instead and write a piece in the Adver, claiming that everything in Swindon is within your remit. That’s the approach of the head of the Swindon Cultural Partnership.

What does the ‘C word’ actually mean?… As far as the Government is concerned, culture means just about anything that isn’t working or sleeping…. So, yes. According to that broad definition of culture, anything goes…. Culture may be all the things that the government say it is, but it is something else too. It is us.

If culture is ‘us’, then we don’t need this bureaucracy to tell us what culture in Swindon is.

Not-so-black Saturday

Palusinski’s fantasyIf there’s one thing you can rely on from the Swindon Community Safety Bureaucracy Partnership, it’s stupidity. The economy’s nose-dived, bookings for Christmas parties are heavily down, yet Mr Palusinski from the Bureaucracy Partnership is not sure why yesterday evening seemed to be just like any other Saturday night.

Considering that some people in the national press were calling it black Saturday, it was relatively calm in the town centre. I am not sure why the numbers were so average but they were.

A quick search reveals that just about the only person referring to yesterday as Black Saturday is Mr Palusinski.

Whether the message we are putting out there is being heeded by revellers, or whether it is the current financial drought that is resulting in people drinking less, I am not sure.

Hint: it’s the economy, stupid.

I consider the operation a success.

I consider the operation a waste of the public’s money.