Archive | July, 2013


25 Jul

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Not so smart on a phone

22 Jul

What Newham’s website looks like on my iPhone

According to the Office for National Statistics:

  • Access to the Internet using a mobile phone more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, from 24% to 51%.
  • In 2012, 32% of adults accessed the Internet using a mobile phone every day. [my emphasis added]

There really is no excuse for not having a proper mobile version of your website.

And yes Newham council, I am looking at you.

Early evening sunshine

19 Jul

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Open democracy

19 Jul

Copyright: Image by jsawkins on Flickr. Some rights reserved

On July 15th Newham council voted to amend its constitution to allow the public to film and record proceedings at future meetings. The decision was inspired by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for local government, basically telling councils that if they didn’t let this happen he’d change the law to force them.

The Newham Recorder invited our mayor and Lutfur Rahman, his Tower Hamlets counterpart, to ‘debate’ the matter. Mike Law has blogged about this and I’d recommend reading his post and the comments on it, as well as the Recorder piece.

What follows is the comment I added to Mike’s blog, which points at what I think is Sir Robin’s staggering hypocrisy on this issue:

Sir Robin, with Eric Pickles’ gun pressed to his head, says

what does it do to build public trust in politics more widely when a clique seeks to shut the public out from decisions made on their behalf?… In the 21st century it is not enough for democracy to simply happen. It has to be seen to happen.

Despite appearances, the age of satire is not yet dead.

As Birdman [one of the commenters on Mike’s blog] correctly observes,

decisions are largely taken in Labour Group meetings, after the Labour Councillors have been told which way to vote, and no genuine debate is ever seen or heard by the public attending meetings… what is there to film?

Monday’s council meeting, at which this “historic decision” was taken, lasted just 14 minutes. And that included a set-piece speech by councillor Ellie Robinson on ‘Newham’s Wonderful Women’.

May’s annual general meeting took a massive 39 minutes; February’s was 31 minutes. The ‘extraordinary’ meeting in January occupied councillors for a mere 10 minutes. I could go on, but you get the drift.

If Sir Robin were truly serious about open and transparent decision-making Labour group meetings would be the ones that took 10 minutes and the real debates would happen in council, where the public could see and hear them.

We all know that won’t happen though.

FOI updates

16 Jul

Last month I submitted two freedom of information requests to Newham. These have now been answered and both responses were surprising, albeit in different ways.

The first request asked about the costs associated with the council’s YouTube monitoring unit. I wanted to know how many ‘law enforcement officers’ had been involved, how much money had been spent and what officers spent their time doing. I also wanted to know what metrics would be used to measure whether or not the money invested had been spent wisely.

Not unreasonable questions and ones you would have thought Newham had ready answers to. But no. The reply I got was – in almost every respect – deficient. To say that

two members of staff are involved but this equated to zero full time equivalents as the work was not undertaken on a full time basis

is simply idiotic. And stating that

no metrics will be used to evaluate [this project], as the successful outcome of removal of the videos is self evident

is patronising and lazy. If it were self-evident I wouldn’t be asking, would I?

I am surprised the reply passed through internal quality assurance checks before being sent out. Needless to say, I have requested a review and some supplementary information. This has not yet been acknowledged.

The second request asked, straightforwardly, how much the Labour party paid to use space at Newham Dockside for Ed Miliband’s big speech on social security reform. This was a party political event, not a civic one, so it was fair to assume that the council would charge for the use of its facilities. The answer I got was not at all what I expected.

Newham said they didn’t charge Labour anything because the event took place in

a non-chargeable public space within the building.

Read that again. I did. Just to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong the first time.

There’s a part of Building 1000 that is public space, which the council will not charge you for using if you want to hold an event. Even a party political event.

If that’s genuinely the policy, then fair enough. But has Newham really thought through the potential consequences of that?

I can imagine that next April, ahead of the local elections, any number of people might want somewhere to launch their campaign to be mayor. Or their party’s manifesto. Where better than the very building they hope to be elected to occupy a month later? And they can have it for free!

And the council has put itself in the position where it will be almost impossible to say no.

14 Juillet 2013

14 Jul

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