Back in December I put in a Freedom of Information request (so not really wikileaks territory) to see all the responses to the public engagement process launched (in a hurry and under pressure from the Green and Independents on the Council) before Suffolk County Council voted to approve its ‘New Strategic Direction’. For those who need reminding, the New Strategic Direction is the idea (I hesitate to call it a plan) by which all of the services provided by Suffolk County Council will be divested to private sector contractors, or social enterprises. The delay does not appear to have been the Council’s fault, simply an issue with a mis-placed email.
You can download the documents I received here:
A quick read, especially of the document called ‘Concerns and Opportunities’ is really quite revealing.
Firstly, there do not appear to be any opportunities identified. I have asked the Council if they have neglected to send me the responses that identified opportunities, or if it was that case that no opportunities were identified. I have yet to hear back.
(Update 15/2/11: I have just been sent a revised document which does contain the opportunities, although many are phrased thus – “The only opportunities are for the public sector to rid itself of the responsibilities of providing services that they are legally obliged to do, handing them over to people who will not run them well but for a profit – cutting services and staff and destroying the social support framework – or people who will run services badly leading to the loss of the services. But it is a good opportunity for certain individuals to enhance their political reputations.” Here is the revised documement Concerns and Opportunities FOI 22nd Nov-2)
Second, it is clear that the people of Suffolk are a very sensible bunch. So sensible you might even, for example, want them to run local government services across the county (now there’s a thought). What emerges, in the most part, is a series of very considered points that make the case that the ‘New Strategic Direction’ (read Big Society) is a very silly thing to do, being done in a very silly way. The latter, i.e. the total lack of any coherent plan or management process, probably being the most coherent and strongest of all the concerns raised. My soundbite on this one is “ideology on the one hand and incompetence on the other”. Something that appears to becoming the calling card of this Conservative-led government in much the same way as manipulation and deceit became the calling card of New Labour.
Council Leader, Jeremy Pembroke and CEO, Andrea Hill have, I hope, read these documents. There is much in it that they could learn.
I have not gone through the information in detail – I am making this information available as soon as I have received it so that anyone can examine it. I will, however, sit down and digest it more thoroughly and will post any further observations.
P.S I notice that David Cameron is spending today trying to explain the Big Society. Here is one of Cameron’s ‘chaps’ doing this late last year. You can see why Dave thought he needed to have a go himself.