Posts Tagged 'Andrea Hill'

Big Society Suffolk: has Society won?

The Big Question is – have we, the people of Suffolk, won?  Jeremy Pemberton has gone.  The new leader of the Council, Mark Bee, was elected on a promise of ‘reviewing’ the New Strategic Direction and engaging in a more extensive process of consultation.  Andrea Hill looks like she is on the way out.

In many ways – all good news.  However, one suspects that the lessons learnt are that the way you need to go about this has to change, not necessarily what it is you want to do.  After all, you do have to think that the way the Council went about this was sensationally stupid.  Why was there not even a basic plan, supported by proper research and analysis?  Why on earth select libraries and lollypop ladies as your first targets for divestment?  Why not consider the day-to-day impact on your ability to operate of essentially declaring the imminent redundancy of all of your staff?  Crazy stuff.

Anyway – I am sure that the Council is still going to press ahead with the transference of huge areas of taxpayer funded responsibilities to the private sector.  They are just going to do it with less ideological fanfare but probably still minimal consultation.  We are still waiting for Serco.  The real story behind the Big Society remains, only its presentation is likely to change.

Sort-of Suffolk wikileaks: what the people of Suffolk really think about the Big Society

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:

results as of 22nd November FOI

Concerns and Opportunities FOI 22nd Nov

Additional feedback collated through meetings and events and including correspondence received

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.

Why Suffolk?

Why is it that Suffolk has been selected for this radical experiment?  Suffolk and radical are not two words that often go together, but perhaps this is the point.   Suffolk is conservative, with both a small and large C.  It is one of the most rural counties in England with no large urban areas within which you often find an awkward squad of politically active and questioning individuals.

The County Council also has, in Andrea Hill, a high-profile and ambitious CEO who, one would imagine, is likely to find the idea of establishing a reputation as a ‘trail-blazer’ very attractive.

Frankly, if I were looking for a place to try and push through an initiative like this, Suffolk is the place I would select.

I therefore suspect that the roots of this idea extend quite a long way back  into Conservative Party central office and that this isn’t an idea created by the political leadership of Suffolk County Council is isolation.  I would also suspect that there has been a significant level of consultation with the private sector organisations who are likely to to pick-up much of the work as the initiative moves forward.

I dare say we shall never know where this idea really came from – but it would be interesting if someone could find out.