Posts Tagged 'New Strategic Direction'

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.


A reply from Jeremy Pembroke

Here is Jeremy Pembroke’s response to my email.  I will make no comment upon it, you can reach your own conclusions as to whether it forms anything which deserves that label of an answer to my question (see earlier post)

Dear Mr Stacy

Thank you very much for your recent e-mail regarding Suffolk County Council’s New Strategic Direction.

As you may be aware we have an on-going engagement process and I would encourage you to get involved in that process.

There will be a number of opportunities to do so as we move forward. Those opportunities will be advertised in the local press, on our website and in community venues as appropriate.

Thank you again for the interest you have shown.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Pembroke

Leader of Suffolk County Council

A request to leader of the Council – Jeremy Pembroke

The following is the text of an email I have just sent to Leader of Suffolk County Council, Jeremy Pembroke.  I will also publish his response (assuming one is received)

Dear Councillor,

In relation to Suffolk County Council’s New Strategic Direction you have recently been quoted in the East Anglian Daily Times as saying, “Our intention is to encourage a diverse range of mutuals, co-operatives, social enterprises, charities, community groups, town and parish councils, or – in some cases – Suffolk-based businesses.”

I am assuming, therefore, that there is some substance that underpins this intention, in at least the form of figures which represent an estimate or even target for the percentage of services or expenditure that will be divested to these 3rd sector or community organisations. Alternatively I would imagine that some work must have been done to determine, in broad terms, what sort of organisations are likely to be appropriate for delivering which types of services.

I notice that that no such information is given in the documentation produced for public discussion to date, but I am assuming that this is simply an oversight, because to have proceeded thus far with the New Strategic Direction, without any such basic consideration would, in any normal process of management or planning, be considered highly irregular.

Could you either point me to where such information exists or let me know when the people of Suffolk (not to say the said “diverse range of mutuals etc…) can expect to see it.

I should warn you that I am asking this question in my capacity as running the blog Big Society Suffolk This is a blog specifically set up to create digital discussion amongst those people who are concerned about the New Strategic Direction and that I will be publishing this email, and any response, on this blog. I hope this will not dissuade you from responding.

Kind regards.

Richard Stacy

Now the real work begins

As expected, Suffolk County Council yesterday gave its final endorsement to the plan to outsource itself (know as the New Strategic Direction but perhaps more accurately described as No Specific Detail).  As reported in today’s East Anglian Daily Times, council leader, Jeremy Pembroke has declared that “there is no blueprint under the table” and that it is too early to “come up with any firm details of how services would be transferred to other providers”.  I am not sure if we are meant to feel reassured by this.  Suffolk County Council has launched itself into the most radical transformation imaginable without a blueprint or having thought through the details.

What this really means, for the Council (obviously) and everyone else with an interest in this is that the real work starts now.  Continue reading ‘Now the real work begins’

New Strategic Direction – initial results of Suffolk County Council’s public ‘engagement’

Here is the latest version of the report on the implementation of the New Strategic Direction.   committee_xml This is the document which will be presented to the Council on 2 December.  I haven’t read it in detail – but the major change from the the previous version appears to be inclusion of the results from the engagement (not consultation) process the Council has been rather hurriedly engaged upon (page 51).

It is interesting to note that the Council is now calling this process a consultation, despite the fact, as I understand it, that it was initially adamant to ensure that the amendment introduced at the previous Council meeting that prompted this process did not refer to consultation, only engagement.  This being because consultation implies to ability to change an outcome, whereas engagement implies only providing information on an outcome that has been already determined.

The results of the ‘not-consultation’ as they have been presented in the report identify the extent to which people understand the NSD and also their concerns.  Crucially, it doesn’t present any evidence of the extent to which people support the idea, despite the fact that this could be easily derived from the information the Council has been collecting.

I think it is the democratic responsibility of the Council to reveal  information on the level of support for the NSD – in fact I would urge the Council to make available all of the information they have gathered, so that everyone can see what people think, rather than having to rely on the Council’s interpretation of what they have found.  It will thus become clear the extent to which the Council is pursuing this idea without the support of the people who elected them.

BBC reporting on the Roadshows

Here is a report from the BBC, prompted by the Roadshows.

Better late than never

Suffolk County Council has finally set up a dedicated section within its’ website concerning the New Strategic Direction (  All the relevant documents can be found here as well as the ability to take part in an on-line survey.  The NSD now also has a logo (see left)!

There are two things to note about this on-line survey.

First, is is positioned as part of a strategy of engagement – not consultation.  Consultation implies that we have an ability to change the outcome.  Engagement simply implies a process of connection to an outcome that has already been determined.  This survey therefore cannot be used as evidence that Suffolk County Council has consulted with the community – it has not.

Second, this process of engagement was forced upon the Council via, as I understand it, an ammendment tabled by Green and Independent members of Suffolk County Council at the last Council meeting.  It was not something that the Council was otherwise planning to do.

I have completed the survey and urge everyone to do so.  It is very short (almost worryingly so) and asks to outline your concerns and understanding of opportunities.  For reference, my answers to these two main points are outlined below. Continue reading ‘Better late than never’

Read the real story of the Big Society

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