The ability to proof-read is a very undervalued skill….
(To see the text in the screenshot clearly, click on the image.)
When I started investigating the story in the Adver about a failed bid for Highworth to get some regeneration funds from the South West Regional Development Agency, I soon found myself going round in circles. A quick look at the Highworth Community Partnership Group’s website revealed that it’s not really a partnership at all. The steering group seem to be self-appointed. There doesn’t even seem to be a representative from Highworth Town Council, though it is closely linked (the council takes care of the partnership’s finances).
Highworth Community Partnership Group is supported by Wiltshire Market Towns Partnership, which seems to be indistinguishable from the Wiltshire Forum of Community Area Partnerships. The latter is funded by the European Union Social Fund, the South West Regional Development Agency, Wiltshire County Council and what was the Market and Coastal Towns Association of which it is also a member. The Market and Coastal Towns Association is now the South West Market and Coastal Towns Network, which was created by the Market and Coastal Towns Initiative which is — if you believe the spin and have not yet got totally lost in the tangle of bureaucracy —
‘a community-led initiative which helps local people to prepare and implement a plan for the future of their town and surrounding area’.
Allowing the community to lead themselves apparently requires the financial support of not only the South West Regional Development Agency, but also the Government Office for the South West, the South West Regional Assembly, the Countryside Agency (now Natural England), English Heritage, the Housing Corporation (replaced by the Homes and Communities Agency), the South West Network of Rural Community Councils (itself funded by the South West Regional Development Agency and the Government Office for the South West) and Lottery Funds South West.
So, at the end of all that, a group funded by the South West Regional Development Agency via numerous intermediaries has been unsuccessful in obtaining funds from… the South West Regional Development Agency… and have strangled themselves with red tape in the process.
I’ve previously written about the Swindon Local Involvement Network (though the information on the council’s website is more informative than their new website). Swindon LINk is now progressing… to a fully fledged bureaucracy. The administrators appointed by the council to support the group are currently trying to recruit a ‘Start Up Group’. The principle task of the group during its six-month existence? To set-up another group.
Tasks of the Start up Group
- To plan the setting up of the LINk Steering group
- To agree a development and engagement policy for LINk membership
- To develop and agree a work program for the LINk
- To develop a terms of reference for the theme based working groups
- To agree expense policy
- To develop the relevant policies for Swindon LINk
- To agree a complaints policy
All that for a group with a mailing list of just over forty people. And note the mention not just of a steering group, but of talking shops working groups too. This little group seems set on creating a web of committees more akin to a government department than to small players in the provision of local health services.
If they really want to match their name and involve local people, rather less talk and more action would be a better approach: skip the Start Up Group and get straight to work.
It seems strange that, when police and public are becoming increasingly paranoid about anyone with a camera in any urban location that’s not a tourist trap, 24/7 CCTV surveillance is regarded as essential in protecting Swindon from terrorists. A consultants report for Swindon Community Safety Partnership — the organisation that brought us lollipops as a remedy to drunken brawls — has raised concerns about the uncoordinated approach to CCTV. A report to the next cabinet meeting of Swindon Borough Council concludes
The Town Centre systems that exist are not currently monitored 24/7. The effect of this is that there is no pro-active CCTV cover at peak times. Similarly, if a major incident occurred in the Town Centre, coordination of the existing systems to monitor the incident and response is likely to be difficult.
Hmm… and permanently monitored CCTV would solve that? To quote another part of the same report,
Government’s national CCTV strategy identifies that an estimated 80% of data from CCTV is of questionable quality.
So the report is recommending investing in a central control room, to monitor at all hours CCTV footage that is acknowledged to be of questionable value. It makes as much sense as hiring a conductor for an orchestra where all the instruments are out of tune. It’ll look impressive and coordinated, but the overall result will be barely distinguishable from the chaos that went before.
Yesterday I attended the inaugural meeting of the Swindon Local Involvement Network (LINk), which has been created to monitor and comment on public-funded health and adult social care in Swindon. It has limited powers: just the right to ask questions of NHS services and the council’s scrutiny committee and to insist they answer within a set time.
The meeting was an odd affair. I had signed up in response to a flier enclosed with my annual Council Tax bill. Until yesterday I knew nothing of the history behind its creation. LINks replace, though with a wider remit, Patient and Public Involvement Forums, which had been created then abolished by the government in the space of five years. All but three of those that turned up to the inaugural meeting — a grand total of thirteen — had been members of those forums, several with fairly blunt axes to grind about the re-organisation. Others seemed almost as interested in setting-up a complicated committee structure and what the procedure would be for their travel and subsistence claims than they were in health and social services. Almost all were retired: apart from the officers from Swindon Borough Council and Voluntary Action Swindon there in support, I was the youngest person. Hardly a representative group. There is a target for 2000 people to be involved. So far, only thirty have expressed an interest. It has a long way to go.
The first thing the Swindon LINk has been asked to provide an opinion on is the new ‘GP-led health centre’ to be built in central Swindon. One can only hope that it has become a larger and more representative group before it gives a response.
It must be confusing at times, working in the local public sector. The interconnections between organisations seem so incestuous at times that I’m surprised that people don’t end up spending much of their time talking to themselves. For example, I read that the Swindon Summer Festival is a partnership of Swindon Borough Council, Swindon Cultural Partnership, inSwindon and the Marriott Hotel. So that’s the council in partnership with two of its own partnerships and a hotel.
If you’re looking for a beacon of efficient organisation… this isn’t it.
Yet another bright idea from Swindon Community Safety Partnership has been announced today, just a week after their last act of genius. Their latest idea is to give revellers boozing themselves to oblivion on Friday and Saturday nights a pack containing a bottle of water, a lollipop, a personal attack alarm, condoms and flip-flops. This ‘survival kit’ will, if the title of the news item on Swindon Borough Council’s website is to be believed, increase said inebriated revellers’ awareness of the effects of alcohol. According to Mr Lovell,
This project is a demonstration of the holistic approach we take when dealing with the night time economy in Swindon to ensure it is a safe place to enjoy.
I have an alternative suggestion for making the Fleet Street area of Swindon safe. The pubs could, as licensing law requires, stop serving those that are clearly drunk, and the local judiciary could take a more serious approach to those found guilty of drunken violence. Just those two things would be far more effective in making people feel safe than a lollipop and bottle of water ever will.
It seems that hardly a week passes at the moment without yet another local government partnership crawling into sight.
And what has brought them to my attention? Their suggestion, at least ten years after it was introduced in many other towns, that glass in bus shelters could be replaced by clear polycarbonate, to reduce vandalism. It’s nice to see such quick thinking.
Another announcement from the New Swindon Company… and another beyond-belief artist’s impression, this one for the Promenade development. Street lights have never twinkled so prettily. But for the moment, all we’re getting is a feasibility study, which, given that large parts of the area have already been cleared, seems a little late.
I also see from the announcement that there’s another partnership to add to my list.
The answer, apparently, is quite a lot. A quick trawl through the web came up with the list below.
Now, I’m sure some of these do worthwhile work but, looking at that list, it does seem rather incestuous, with partnerships forming further partnerships, all with the added cost of yet another bureaucracy. A bit of digging on these organisations’ websites reveals that they are all a consequence of one or other central government ‘initiative’, wherein getting hold of some extra money for Swindon from central government (or stopping central government taking money away) is dependent on setting up a new quango.
If national government thinks that a way to improve local participation in democracy is to add multiple layers of bureaucracy, then its understanding of democracy is clearly very wrong indeed.