Kathy Pollard

Hotel stays now part of Andrea Hill investigation

It is not surprising that Suffolk County Council is being very careful with the Andrea Hill inquiry following the Shoesmith judgment by the Appeal Court last month.

The judges ruled that the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith from her job as Haringey’s children’s services director, after the death of Baby Peter was  “procedurally unfair” (BBC).

After the meeting of the council’s disciplinary committee yesterday, it was announced that Andrea Hill, the chief executive would remain on  mutually agreed leave at least until June 24.

The committee received a report from solicitors Wragge and Co who were asked to investigate allegations, made by an anonymous whistleblower, about the treatment of staff in the legal department.

After the meeting a statement was issued saying that some matters had been resolved but others required further investigation. It also said that “as a result of FOI requests into expense claims by Andrea Hill the committee has asked the investigation team to review those claims”.

The East Anglian Daily Times says today this relates an FoI request it made which revealed the council had paid for Ms Hill to stay at Milsom’s Kesgrave Hall on two nights before early meetings and a night at the Brudenell in Aldeburgh.

When details were revealed of these stays and another at a hotel in Sandbanks at £205 a night during a conference in Bournemouth, while senior councillors stayed in a much cheaper hotel, they appeared to show ill-judgment. But they did not look like serious disciplinary matters.

The Daily Mail also says the hotel stays are the focus of the expenses investigation.

The Daily Telegraph is alone in saying Ms Hill was, “cleared of accusations about her management style, amid claims of bullying and intimidation”.

Intriguingly, LocalGov.co.uk, the online site of the Municipal Journal, referring to the whistleblowing says:

The letter, seen by The MJ, makes a number of serious allegations against more than one senior member of staff at Suffolk.

Whatever path the council is following, there appears to be wide political backing for it. The EADT quotes opposition leader Kathy Pollard, saying:

Obviously the public want a resolution to this but the council is going to have to go through all the procedures and make sure it dots all the Is and crosses all the Ts. People are going to have to be patient.

But the council has to do this properly otherwise it will cost them an awful lot more money.

I don’t think it [extending the scope of the investigation] has muddied the waters, it’s another line of inquiry that the council is pursuing. It’s right to do that.

Blogger James Hargrave wonders if it now the time to reach a deal by which Ms Hill would leave the council. He writes that while it would cost money it would seem an appropriate way for her to go.

But, as Kathy Pollard’s comment says, as well as ensuring the procedure is absolutely correct, they are anxious to avoid a large pay out.

Any settlement would be expensive and politically extremely unpopular. I can see the headlines pointing out how many school crossing patrols and libraries it would have paid for.

I suspect the council is hoping that Ms Hill will review the whistleblower’s allegations and the matters surrounding her expenses and decide to write a resignation letter before it all becomes much more public.

Lib Dem leader responds to libraries announcement

Wordblog asked Suffolk County Council opposition leader Kathy Pollard (Lib Dem) for a comment on the announcment of the plan to set up a Commnity Interest Company to run the libraries (see previous post). This is her response:

At first I believed that the County Council had completely changed its mind about the divestment of libraries to “communities”. Excellent, I thought. As ever the small print revealed a different picture.

The transfer of libraries to a Community Interest Company raises a further series of questions and surely means this is just “Divestment” under a different guise?

How much money will be given to this CIC to run the library service? Will the service still be expected to save more than 30% of its running costs? If so how will that work?

And why was it that Judy Terry seemed determined to go ahead with the closure of some libraries even on Wednesday of last week after she had received nearly 19,000 petition signatures in favour of keeping them open?

It is absolutely and startlingly clear that the people of Suffolk value libraries far more than Cllr Terry. I suspect this small change in direction is meant to be a distraction before the local elections, and designed purely to regain votes.

Once more we are left with a complete lack of detail. People are asking me “What’s happening to libraries?” All is still confusion and uncertainty.

Sandy Martin, the Labour opposition leader has also been asked for a response and that will be published when received.

More than 19,000 petition Suffolk CC to save all libraries

Save our Libraries petitions with more than 19,000 signatures have been handed to Cllr Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council cabinet member responsible for libraries. The petitions come from 12 libraries and a couple of other sources, out of 44 libraries in the county, so it can be anticipated the total number signing Save Libraries petitions is considerably higher.

ALL Libraries
Ipswich County
Ipswich Labour
Oulton Broad

Petitions in italics previously handed in but representatives at handover. Ixworth also handed over their petition. List from James Hargrave.

Cllr Judy Terry, who is the portfolio holder for libraries, came down to the entrance of Endeavour House, after some shoting and phone calls, to recieve the petitions. She was very keen to explain that no decisions on the future of libraries had been taken as can be seen in this video.

There did appear to be a change of tone in what she said reflecting the promise of the new council leader Mark Bee that they would be more transparent and listening. However, many questions about the consultation remained unanswered.

A complete video of the comments made by Cllr Terry and her answers to questions is available here. It includes the admission of an “error” in a council response to a Freedom of Information request.

Before the presentation opposition leader Kathy Pollard (Lib Dem) and Sandy Martin, the Labout leader, were interviewed by Anglia News. The videos are my recording of the interviews.

Another attack on Andrea Hill — pressure mounts

It is not surprising that the Mail on Sunday ran a comment article on Suffolk’s high-paid county council chief executive, Andrea Hill yesterday. Its sister paper the Daily Mail has had its teeth into this story for months.

What is surprising is that it was written by Kathy Pollard, Lib Dem leader on the council, and her colleague Caroline Page, who represents Woodbridge. It underlines the breakdown in relations between Pollard and Hill which was revealed last week.

Pollard and Page write in the MoS:

The chief executive of a publicly listed company is tasked with taking shareholders’ money and making it multiply. They need to be entrepreneurial, risk-taking. The value of their shares can go down as well as up and it is fair to remunerate them accordingly.

The chief executive of a county council, on the other hand, takes no risks, makes no profits – all they are asked to do is to spend our money wisely on our public services. Far from being entrepreneurs, they are glorified quartermasters.

Yet a lot of these executives have little experience of real life. All they have ever known is how to ‘administer’ things in a local government context.

Unelected, unaccountable, graced with what ordinary people often feel are screamingly undeserved salaries, they have risen without trace within the largely unaudited, unquestioning world of local government fiefdoms.

There can be no doubt that a large proportion of the Suffolk taxpayers see Hill as the problem. Her wages are considerably higher than those of David Cameron. And on top of that she spends their money on seemingly whacky training, a glamorous photo shoot and more.

Yet the extent to which she is responsible for the policies which are seeing school crossing patrols and lower-cost travel for students ended, recycling centres closed, retirement homes likely to be sold, bus services reduced and libraries under threat is unclear.

These are decisions for the Conservative cabinet and the overwhelmingly Tory councillors. But there is a lack of clarity about where the policies are really originating.

If council leader Jeremy Pembroke and his cabinet colleagues would take a much more public stance in explaining their policies and justifying them it might take some of the pressure off Hill. It may well be too late for that as Hill has become the story of Suffolk County Council.

The attacks on Hill are the most obvious symptom of the frustration of people who feel they have little chance of influencing policy. Something needs to change, and change quickly.

Footnote: Two more Suffolk political blogs, neither of which are known for leftist views, have, over the weekend, called for Hill to go. They are Bridge Ward News and A Riverside View.

‘Irretrievable breakdown’ in relations between council chief exec and opposition leader

The “irretrievable breakdown” of the relationship between Suffolk County Council’s chief executive, Andrea Hill, and opposition leader, Kathy Pollard, while not surprising, is a serious rift.

The Evening Star reports on its front page today:

Opposition leader Kathy Pollard wrote a blog in which she said the county council’s chief Andrea Hill had become an object of hate on the streets of Suffolk and added “if I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.”

At a meeting Mrs Hill and Mrs Pollard had a “forthright” discussion about the blog, which resulted in Mrs Pollard saying that their relationship had “irretrievably broken down.”

The county’s communications department did not want to comment on what was seen as a “political” attack on the chief executive.

However, the Conservative administration said it was wrong for a politician to attack a council officer who was not in a position to answer back.

Evening Star front pageThe full story is in the print edition but not online.

A council chief executive has a responsibility for ensuring that both cabinet and backbench councillors receive all the facilities and officer support necessary to fulfil their respective roles (source: Department of Communities and Local Government).

Kathy Pollard wrote on her blog on March 9, after an Evening Star revelation about training costs at SCC: “If I were her I’d get out before I was pushed.” She referred to two blogs which had called for Ms Hill to resign.

Since then the two women met for what should have been a regular quarterly meeting. Afterwards Cllr Pollard told the Evening Star:

We had a very forthright discussion. She said she was not happy with my blog and I said I was reflecting the views of the people of Suffolk and that people were talking to me about this all the time….
I said I thought our relationship had irretrievably broken down.

There are conventions that council officers are politically impartial and that politicians do not attack them. Those two conventions seem to be at the heart of this row.

As background, it is illuminating to read what Cllr Pollard wrote in her blog of February 23. She then said that the decision, in March 2008, to appoint Ms Hill was taken by a five-person selection committee at which three Conservatives voted for the appointment. Cllr Pollard and the Labour leader voted against. Opposition, to the appointment and salary, was carried into the council chamber when the appointment was ratified.

A statement from the Conservative cabinet to the Evening Star today says:

We are all aware that Cllr Pollard is engaging in political point-scoring in the run up to the local elections.
To do so by criticising council officers — who, as she knows, are prevented by protocol from answering back — shows up their complete lack of actual policies to move Suffolk forward.

I have not asked Cllr Pollard to comment but, for the record,  at the last full council meeting she proposed an amendment to the Conservative budget which would have kept all libraries open, maintained school crossing patrols, and retained funding for youth clubs and the eXplore card, among other things. The money would have come from alternative savings and reserves.

Taxpayers taking the “risk” out of being an “entrepreneur”

The word entrepreneur has its uses, but is too often misused. Alan Sugar hit the nail on the head in The Apprentice last year when, exasperated, he said something along these lines to a contestant: “Entrepreneur is not something you can call yourself. It is for other people to describe you an an entrepreneur.”

This brings me to Belinda Bell self-styled “social entrepreneur” behind Suffolk Circle, a newly established business to befriend and help (at a price) over 50s in the county.

Collins dictionary defines an entrepreneur as, “The owner or manager of a business enterprise who,  by risk and initiative, attempts to make a profit.” Risk and profit are in all the definitions I have seen.

But where is the risk when Suffolk Circle has been given £3/4m over three years by Suffolk County Council to get itself established? It looks as if Suffolk County Council has taken over the risk on what looks like an uncertain business plan.

Suffolk Circle has been set up as a CIC (community interest company) which has to put profits back into the community and cannot be sold at a profit. But, I believe, salaries are not controlled.

There were allegations at the county council meeting last week that Suffolk Circle is duplicating work done by voluntary organisations which do not get anything like the same level of support.

Kathy Pollard, the Lib Dem leader on the council said on her blog after the council meeting that Suffolk Circle was duplicating the work of others. It seems this statement was challenged (off-line, I assume, as I cant see any comment on her previous post).

She has now blogged justifying the duplication claim in some detail which you can read on her blog.

Lib Dems produce alternative to cuts in Suffolk

Further to my earlier post today, an amendment to the proposed Suffolk County Council budget has been proposed by the Liberal Democrats for discussion at the council meeting next Thursday.

Lib Dem group leader Kathy Pollard says, that if adopted, it would:

  • Keep all libraries open
  • Retain school crossing patrols
  • Retain funding for youth clubs
  • Maintain subsidised bus service to rural communities
  • Keep the eXplore student discount travel card
  • Reopen Bury Road Park and Ride service
  • Keep open all Household Waste Recycling centres by reducing hours
  • Retain Fire Control in Suffolk
  • Keep Felixstowe Fire Station as full time on weekdays and retained at weekends
  • Retain the Fire Service’s Ipswich Aerial Appliance
  • Retain the service of checking overloaded lorries

She also lists on her blog savings that could be made to finance the retention of services.

The Lib Dems have only 11 councillors to the Conservatives’ 55. Labour has 4 and the Greens 2. But it will be valuable to have an alternative plan laid out. Let’s hope the costing are fully explained.

Another blast at SCC policy but where is the rest of the opposition?

Another powerful blast from Caroline Page, the Lib Dem county councillor for Woodbridge, who is providing the most vocal opposition to the Tory county council “government”.

She writes:

However,  I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful  local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL –  let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.

Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party.  And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition,  Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking.  We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.

Opposition on Suffolk County Council is certainly difficult with the Conservatives holding 54 seats. Liberal Democrats, the main opposition, has 11, Labour 4, the Greens 2 and UKIP 1.

But that does not excuse the lack of real opposition. A trawl of the internet produces very little evidence of great activity except by Page

Her leader Kathy Pollard’s blog is much less active. Pollard’s last post was on January 22: it, like the two previous entries, was doing little more than pointing at stories in the East Anglian Daily Times.

The Labour group does have a website, www.suffolklabour.org but it is not working and has not been for some time.

There is, however, this comment from the Labour leader, Sandy Martin, in a booklet put out by Local Government Leadership:

I would like to give Jeremy [Pembroke, Conservative council leader] a “pat on the back” – asking questions at Cabinet allows opposition Members to contribute to the democratic process.

An image of him tugging his forelock would come to mind, if he had enough hair. It would be funny if it did not reflect the complacent opposition to the governing majority.

PS. The first comment on Page’s post is from someone called Karen. It says: “What a clear outline of a looming social disaster. The small voice of common sense. Please appoint this woman to a position of more power. Soon -Suffolk needs more of this.”

  • Will you join me in saying ‘No’ to the ‘feudal concept’ of adding a gratuity?
    One of the nice things about eating in pubs is that you do not have to worry about the awkward moment at the end when your card is put into the machine to pay. They do not ask for a tip in pubs, do they? Well, if it is the Plough and Sail at Snape […]
  • Blog launched to defend Southwold High Street
    Welcome to the new blog, Look After Southwold, which launched yesterday in the wake of Waveney District Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a Costa coffee shop in the High Street. I fear that once one of the chains gets in others see that as their research done and follow. Look After Southwold will […]
  • @ben4ipswich MP tweets a lot but fails to update website
    Ipswich Spy is having a go at Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, for not updating his web site with sufficient frequency. “Mr Gummer is, once again, failing to communicate,” it says of the lack of post on his blog since January. Failing to communicate through his web site is certainly true but there are other ways […]
  • The Costa wars: Battles for individuality from Southwold to Totnes
    Apocalyptic stories in the papers today. “Anger spilled onto the streets of Southwold after a national coffee chain was allowed to open in the town centre,” according to the East Anglian Daily Times. “The locals of Totnes have gone to war,” says the Guardian. Can the Costa riots be far away? In both towns there […]
  • Seckford boss resigns from Suffolk libraries board
    Seckford Foundation boss Graham Watson has resigned from the board of Suffolk Libraries. He was one of the directors nominated by community groups. One of the foundation directors appointed by the County Council, Clive Fox from Aldeburgh, resigned as chairman of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society in March but said he would remain on […]
  • Archant sacks circulation boss for fiddling figures
    The circulation director of Archant newspapers in Norfolk has been sacked for gross misconduct — falsifying sales figures. Don Williamson was about to retire and had enjoyed his farewell party before going on holiday. On his return, presumably to clear his desk, he was called in by chief executive Adrian Jeakings and fired.   Advertising […]
  • County council failed to heed warning before pursuing blogger
    A senior officer of Suffolk County Council did not follow internal advice which would have avoided it being accused of trying to “censor the free media“, a Freedom of Information response has revealed.   The incident arose from a Downfall video parody posted on his blog by James Hargrave who is both a governor of […]
  • How social media brought Trayvon’s shooting to world attention
    The fascinating story of how the shooting of a teenager in Florida became an international news story, is told by Kelly McBride, a journalist working for the Poynter Institute.   She writes: Ten years ago Trayvon Martin’s family would have had a hard time getting the national media’s attention. But with the help of a […]
  • Blogger told ‘we are monitoring you for defamation’
    For any journalist to get a message from an organisation he or she is writing about saying they monitoring what is written about them for defamation, is an endorsement.   It usually means the journalist is getting things right and the organisation has poor media relations advice. And now it has happened to Suffolk “citizen […]