How to lose friends and alienate people

The world will look up and shout "Save us!"... And I'll whisper "No."

One side note to yesterday's article. Before the group set off, I asked Cllr Alexander if she'd read the comments on the site about the tour. She said:

"Yes, and I got quite depressed! There were people saying that I shouldn't be wasting my time, that it was just a PR stunt."

This underlines that people read what you write and are affected by it.

With that in mind, we just want to take issue with a particular meme that has gripped some contributors to this site. The argument goes:

a) The Council don't do anything for me
b) There's nothing I can do to force them to do what I want
c) They're all useless

If a and b are true, then continually expressing view c is surely not the way to convince anyone to change. If you want things to improve, you have to work with people and employ a little empathy and courtesy.

There are those who will answer that they shouldn't have to be nice, they pay their taxes and the Council should just do a better job. Which, of course, is no answer at all.

71 comments:

Anonymous said...

She shoudn't despair. Blogs like this aren't representative of real people. They're representative of the the kind of people who like blogging i.e weirdos and desperate lonely folk who have no life. A quick scan of the time next to the posting will tell you that some people literally have nothing better to do in thewir evenings - quite sad really. I've got an excuse - I am sad, clinically, I rarely leave home and can't work. Blogging is one of my only forms of communication with the outside world.

lb said...

Isn't the vast majority of the work of elected politicians like Cllr Alexander, especially at local government level, effectively a form of PR exercise? The people who do the actual work are the local authorities' paid staff; it's the councillors' job to act as representation between them and the public (a bit like the intercession of the saints, for any Catholics among you). I really think the Depity Mayor should grow a thicker skin.

Have some manners said...

The people who make cynical comments about the council are individuals and clearly not everyone feels the same.

My frustrations with the council are specific, I don't think they got the best deal for us with the Tea Factory developers regarding the gallery and also about planning regs not being enforced.


But in many other regards I think the council does a good job. The leaf clearing of the streets in Autumn is one thing that springs to mind.
To be honest some of the comments people make here are just obnoxious . I attended the Brockley Society meeting, and mention of this site was not met with a warm response.

For all the good that Nick does in gathering stories, writing the up, disseminating information, a lot is undermined by the comments. There's a bunch of people who come here for leisure maybe and are content to wallow in pointless arguments. More important that the issue Nick or Kate has raised is their opportunity to launch into a diatribe on a pet subject.

Negativity, cynicism, ungratefulness, making sweeping unsubstantiated remarks about council workers. A lot time, the people here don't come across as very nice and if I was a council worker, would I really want to go out of my help them?

I don't want to and can't be associated with behaviour like that hence I post as anon.

lb said...

[HSM] Actually, I'd agree with you regarding the Council itself (though not necessarily the politicians, for reasons I've hinted at above). There was a lot of baseless frothing over the tree felling / CCTV episode a few months back, when I thought the council's actions were entirely justified.

Brockley Nick said...

@HSM - some people don't get blogs and can't differentiate between the editorial content and the fact that anyone is pretty much free to say what they like.

If you say you don't like what's written on blogs, you're essentially arguing that you don't like other people and their views.

The blog is just a tool.

In my view, organisations and public figures that are being talked about should read what is said about them, consider whether any of the points are actually valid (they often are) and consider the balance of the responses - it's very easy to focus on the one or two aggressive comments rather than on the weight of positive contributions. Equally, posters should consider whether they can make the same points, in a more polite manner.

@LB - the point of the article wasn't about the Deputy Mayor, it was about the Council in general.

Anonymous said...

Heidi Alexander is a professional politician, saying stuff like that is nonsense and I'm surprised, actually, that she said it. I thought she was clever if nothing else.

I've had a fair bit to do with the Council over one particular issue, and I found them to be rather negative and totally under equipped to deal with that very major issue regarding the centre of Lewisham.

I know a number of councillors who, generally are a well-meaning and jolly decent bunch, but one or two are arrogant, patronising and patriarchal and really shouldn't be doing the job - they're only there for the sake of their ego.

I suppose, like everything else, people are people, it's just a shame that authority is generally reserved for people with personal ambition.

Even when I phoned up the council once to complain that my bin hadn't been emptied that week, the person on the other end of the phone chose to exert authority over me rather that trying to resolve the (small) issue.

people and power, people and power

bit like moderating a blog I suppose...

patrick1971 said...

I agree it can be depressing when you read some of the stuff that's written on here, but at the same time I think that in many cases the council doesn't do itself any favours. To take two example mentioned just here:

1. Conservation area regs: this is a really visible thing. Obvious breaches aren't remedied. How can people not become cynical about the council as a whole if it can't be bothered to enforce its own rules? I work in IT security and if I allowed breaches to go unremedied, I'd be sacked.

2. Tree felling: I agree, it was great to read the results of the meeting with councillors when the full situation was explained; to the man on the street it looked as if the council were chopping down trees willy-nilly. So there's a communication lesson there too.

And elected representatives are there to be challenged, after all! Although of course, constructive challenge rather than mindless dissing is to be preferred...

lb said...

[Nick] If it's about council officers, I agree. Mind you, I've known quite a few people who've worked for local authorities (and still deal with several on a professional basis) and to be honest they generally expect to be treated in this manner. I suppose it goes with the territory; firstly, they generally have a monopoly on the service so people have no choice but to deal with them. Secondly, I don't suppose people even notice half of what a council does, generally assuming that roads, sanitation and the like function as if by magic, so have little understanding of the pressures this kind of organisation faces. Council officers, as a result, are usually adept at brushing off criticism.

It's the persistent letter-writers who are more of an annoyance, from what I've heard.

Tressilliana said...

I think Lewisham Council, like lots of organisations, could communicate a lot more effectively with local residents by using its website better. They could have a page for each area, maybe ward, where they put a note of what work was getting done and, if necessary, why. I don't think that would take a lot of work to keep up to date,

As others have said on the Brockley Cross thread, it's quite likely that many people posting here have minimal contact with the services on which the council spends most money. I think the bulk of Lewisham's budget goes on education and social services. The govt. strictly limits what councils can raise and spend (all recent govts, that is) so if education and social services need a lot of cash, as they will round here because of the kind of area it is, there isn't much left over for other stuff.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

Prior to becoming an accountant, I worked in the nhs, for a school and more recently had the chance to observe the police. In all cases I have nothing but admiration for the duties that they perform.

Often us, the public, do not see the pressures that are faced by public institutions as they are many 'wider issues' that politically or economically need to be taken into consideration. E.g yes, it would be nice to have a separate traditionally British summer fayre and a different carribean fayre (so we can do justice to each cultures heritage) but do the council have the resources?

It is this last point that needs to be emphasized and heidi was right to suggest keep nagging! Its the only way to get things done locally. As a comparisoon, I wonder how much nagging has been done about lewisham town centre compared to brockey? This should be the benchmark to look at (note: it seems the main large centres are receipricants of major regeneration projects).

Anonymous said...

Nick I think people can tell the difference between your posts and the response comments. BUT I suspect they hold you implicitly responsible for the comments that stay up.

Brockley Nick said...

Anon 13.02 - I suspect you're right on the latter point. Oh well.

MB said...

Quiet agree, no harm in pushing for a better service but look around your own organisations? Is everyone there oh so brilliant? Why should an overstretched council do anything other than what's required in Brockley? Building a relationship with the decision makers is SO important, of course there is nothing stopping you becoming a councilor.

Anonymous said...

Andy, you really like to emphasise differences. How about black only schools (oh sorry, it's not about colour - carribean schhols) or white only shops? You seem to want to encourage seperatness, or to use the Africans word 'appartheid'

Go away you nasty little man.

lb said...

The problem is that Brockley 'centre' won't even appear on the council's radar as a centre for redevelopment, especially when Lewisham is just down the road with plenty of land available for retail development and a half-decent transport hub; while just up the road, the area's 'edgy', creative pretensions are catered for by New Cross. This is why those of us in Brockley are likely to get fobbed off with windowless art bunkers and the like, not just because of the better lobbying by Lewisham residents. I actually think the Conservation Area makes matters slightly worse in this regard, as it places tight restrictions on development and further characterises the area as essentially residential, with no future outisde that of a commuter dormitory.

The best thing to do would be exactly what Jon S has argued elsewhere - get together a few funding proposals and some solid plans to show that development could be commercially viable and low-risk for public bodies, should they become involved. If the borough feels it can get something happening with minimal outlay, they might start listening.

Anonymous said...

Nick I understand you thought about being a councillor at one point. Have you had any thoughts about this since?

Anonymous said...

I mean 'Affrikans' whateva - you know what i mean.

Brockley Kate said...

I have a lot of sympathy with the relatively small number of over-worked people who are active in local community groups and constantly encourage other locals such as commenters on here to act on their ideas. Since getting involved with BrockleyCentral I've become a lot more appreciative of the amount of work involved even in a small site like this, let alone a campaigning community group. (Slightly off the original topic but relevant to some of the comments, I feel).

The Brockley Telegraph said...

please please please don't become a green. They make me feel abit queasy. Something to do with their lack of anything approaching viable economic policy.

Anonymous said...

Kate, you're right.

I was involved in a campaigning group and it drove one or two people very close to the edge with the amount of work needed to have any chance of being effective.

And those people were working for a principle, not for the ability to have a wider range of cafes available.

Moderating a blog is a lot less onerous because you don't have to append a real name to a real action.

Brockley Nick said...

Anon 13.09 - I think I might have written a jokey remark to that effect, but god no, I am far too intolerant and impatient. And dislikable!

get on with it council! said...

Oh, for goodness sake, deputy mayor, GROW UP. Stop snivelling and being "depressed" by some comments on a blog and get on with your job of improving our area. You have a huge budget of council taxpayers' money available to you - be sure you spend it wisely and prudently.

on this subject, anyone else think business people should run councils rather than politicos?

we are currently in the transition phase between (1) an era when council officers were only paid expenses and not paid a salary as they did it out of a sense of public spirit and for their community and (2) the next stage when people with business experiences and management ability do it for a real salary.

The current compromise across the country where a poor salary is paid but huge power given is ridiculous.

it's so obvious - the ELL is a great thing for this area, se4 has huge potential, stop whinging adn sending funds to god knows where and god knows what weird scheme and do something for the people who you are supposed to represent.

Anonymous said...

Anon - let me guess what principle you and your band of brothers were working for. An end to capitalism? The complete overthrow of the state?

Anonymous said...

anon 13:34

if you're referring to me (anon 13:27) then, no, it was neither of those things, sorry

Monkeyboy said...

Hmmm...interesting idea. How would we select the bussiness leaders? I know, they could put their name forward as a 'candidate'. Every resident could then have a chance to say who they want, could call it 'voting'? The person with the most 'votes' wins! This is brilliant.....

Tressillian James said...

No - we would have an Apprentice style run-off - I'd play Sir Alan - we would be sure then to get the best candidates for the role

Headhunter said...

Whilst I understand the need for optimism and to work with the council rather than against I'm afraid I stick to my previous view. In the private sector and specifically in finance, if you don't deliver you get crapped on and go out of business ('scuse my French). Stop snivelling/feeling sorry for yourself and start delivering is my response

Anonymous said...

completely agree with Headhunter.

you know what? we employ these people, they should do what we want. less playing for sympathy "poor litle me", less deference from us, more getting on with it by them!

Anonymous said...

You can put them out of a job, as Gordon Brown is realising. Listen, I'm in the private sector and while I agree with you on the whole it's hardley that simple. Look at how many companies pay their execs big bonuses even when huge losses are being racked up. Of course Recruitment consultans are reknown for their completly reasonable fees and are in no way encouraged to fuel wage inflation. They also never field poor candidates or misrepresent jobs to collect their fees. Nor do they 'entertain' clients or pay for expensive tickets - these are not bribes obviously. Public/Private - not so different in my experience.

westsider said...

I just like the fact that this blog keeps referencing Watchmen.

max said...

I don't like to offend anyone at Council, there's a lot of good people and many are friends of mine and that's why when I speak against the Council I normally speak of specific episodes and I do my best to avoid generic rants but, big but, the idea that they are underpaid is ludicrous, at least at management level.

I remember the first time I heard what they get was once at a Council meeting when Cllr Chris Flood asked a question about excessive pay rises a few years ago. I can still remember the sound of my jaw as it dropped on the floor.

The Chief Executive earns a fortune, each of the 5 head of directorate brings home about £120k year and then there's an army of people well above £60k a year with many close to the £100k mark.

If you get those kind of money you can expect to have some responsibility and with that comes accountability.

Elected representatives don't get anywhere near those money but still, they ask to be elected to be held accountable for what the Local Authority does (if they belong to the majority), so if people feels grievances they are right in bringing them to the Deputy Mayor. That said, I think she's ok and these walks with residents are a very good way to understand some of the things that need to be done.

I also agree that people need to collaborative and politely ask for deliverance of what's expected.

To address the three points raised by Nick in his points my point of view is:

a) There's a lot that the Council can do, a lot is being done, a lot more and a lot better could be done, it is not all down to the Council to make things happen;

b) There are ways to encourage them to do better, to try to force them is a last resort, unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to go down that route - still, what I want them to do may not be necessarily what they should be doing;

c) Some of them are indeed useless overpaid inept incompetents, there are also a lot of good people that are excellent and they want to see the back of those as much as we do.

Headhunter said...

It certainly would be a generalisation to say that everyone at the council is useless. I'm sure there are people there who do a lot of good. I'm just saying that in general I don't see much evidence of anything given the huge revenues they have (from council tax). But I'm open to hearing where it all goes. Judging from Nick's previous article, a lot is ploughed into health/social services and fighting crime (yellow signs anyone?). How about a little more for local communities to do good by their area rather?

And certainly, Anon 15:06, there are some nasty specimens in the recruitment industry. Of course I would distance myself from them! I'm certainly not saying that my industry is the perfect balance of work and ethics, but you certainly learn to get things done at light speed, that's all I'm saying.

is this chick for real?! said...

I agree with HH too, I have lived in this area for a good few years now, about 12 to get it right. It's only in the last 3-4 years very early signs of improvement have appeared, yet plenty has been done in other areas of the borough, Forest Hill, Lewisham, Catford to name a few. Why should I not express my frustration and disappointment at this?
The council, just like other organisations needs motivated, broader thinking people to push it forward, not whinging depressives who take criticism negatively.
The difference here is that we are captive to LB Lewisham, our council tax is non-negotiable. If you feel a commercial business is ignoring your needs, not up to standard etc you can choose to use another business but we can't. It's no reason for the councillor not to accept at least some form of ownership / responsibility for this situation. I hope the comments will spur her into action rather than depress her into lethargy.

Tressilliana said...

I suppose the equivalent to withdrawing your custom is to move to an area with a better council. Does anyone have any recommendations there?

I quite agree that the council could do a lot to brighten up the area round the station and Brockley Cross, but in the end it comes down to what kind of businesses will thrive in that area, and that looks like fast food shops for the most part. There aren't that many people in Brockley at the moment who can afford to buy food etc from anywhere other than a supermarket.

Brockley Kate said...

In my experience, Lewisham is by far the best council I've encountered (from a resident's perspective); since I moved to London I've also 'road-tested' Camden, Barnet and Southwark and they were all completely unresponsive, inept, slow to action and with totally absentee councillors as far as I could see.

So whatever Lewisham's doing wrong, it is at least doing better than other places.

Monkeyboy said...

This blog is worse than a crack habit! I'm trying to limit myself to only five posts a day or at least to when I've something useful to say....a somewhat rare occurrence.

DOH! posted again!

Anonymous said...

Kate, add to the list: Greenwich. Utterly corrupt (at councillor level).

Tamsin said...

Lewisham certainly tries very hard to be both prudent and forward thinking. It was one of the leaders in the country with Sure Starts and Children's Centres, with Lewisham officers advising think-tanks in Westminster.
It does however, do a very good job at times of totally demoralising its own staff with endless re-organisations (the NHS on a smaller scale) and like all public bodies seems to spend a fortune on PR and reporting on the view of its own navel.
On the whole, though, I agree with Kate and think we are quite well off compared with other boroughs.

publicbod said...

I wonder what the Planning department's turnover problem that the Councillor gestured to, is all about. One of the most depressing and demoralising things about working in a public body (in my experience) is inept senior management, and inept change management. This is something that the private sector excises all the time, and although it can be brutal, trust me the alternative is grim. by comparison the public sector can feel, at times, like most of the people with actual power are out of some surreal bbc costume drama -- vestiges of edwardian london.

Monkeyboy said...

Hmmm....ok. Private sector does have some good ideas but if you don't manage them you can find them all over your organisation creaming off big fees - you should see LUL/TfL, its a consultants bun fight. In amongst these big lumbering bodies their are people who have all this knowledge and skills and just want to get on with it. It's a cultural thing, bringing the two sides together is difficult.

Headhunter said...

I've only experienced Islington and Lewisham and I'm afraid Islington wins hands down

TJ said...

I think the Brockley PFI Leaseholders Organisation would have a thing or two to say about lack of responsiblity and Lewisham Council. I'm one of those affected - but must say that my local councillors have been responsive and helpful - there seems to be a substantial difference between the attitude of the local councillors and those who are in policy making positions.

However, I suppose rating the council is very subjective. I wouldn't rate it highly, because it is not servicing my needs and what I see as priorities, and therefore fails me as a tax payer - however I am more than aware that for others it may be more than delivering. It would be nice though if it recognised that there is a fair few of us taxpayers who are interested in Brockley and its urban renewal.

Monkeyboy said...

...but is the whole PFI thing something that was imposed onto councils by central government?

max said...

Yes, but each contract is negotiated by the local authorities.

max said...

About two and half years ago, following acute pain during the negotiation for the PFI contract for Downham Pool a review of the process was commissioned.
I wrote about it here:
http://tinyurl.com/5upr3x

Gives an idea of what happens when PFI contracts are negotiated.

Monkeyboy said...

I take your point, private companies need to maximise their profit whilst minimising their risk. We can all ring our hands over it but I suspect our pension funds are are supported by shares in those companies so we're all part of the system. Public bodies can, and do, get fleeced unless they get good advice and negotiate a decent contract. It's one of the many reasons that my company Metronet decided to walk a away when the going got tough, no private company would accept the risk so HM Government underwrote it. You have to ask if it's really appropriate that these types of deals are handed over wholesale. Nothing wrong with Balfour Beaty and Bombardier, they're building the ELL and trains and know what they are doing (mostly!) but it's not like getting your extension built at home - they can afford better lawyers. Local authorities need to wise up.

max said...

I'm not sure that I'd be happier with an escalation of legal expenses.
The Downham PFI came with a £1m price tag, the Brockley PFI came with a £2m price tag.
And yet, when a wall crumbles and it's supposed to be taken care by the PFI still Council officers scratch their heads trying to figure out who exactly has to fix it and that comes at a notional cost of £25 per hour per scratched head.

I don't know, I'm very skeptical about PFI, I can't point out at exactly what is it that I dislike but I think that there could be better ways to do many of the things that are done through PFI, it surely has its place but it's just applied dogmatically to everything and it's quite probable that it's also applied to what's unsuitable.
If a mistake is made during negotiation it could emerge many years later and with a very large sum to be paid. We have seen only the beginning of the implementation of these contracts, I'm sure we'll see disaster emerging as years pass.

jon s said...

There is nothing wrong with PFI per say, merely the scope of what the outsourced service is supposed to do and how they are managed. I've had a far too long day, to go into it, but check out this link, it even has webcasts!

http://www.equaterra.com/KR/ps.html

TJ said...

With the Brockley PFI negotiation mistakes are already surfacing - the first being no SLA between the PFI and the council lawyers (who are supposed to take on the legal issues). So all legal matters are getting held up and renegotiation is taking place.

I won't bore you all on the PFI and leaseholders including raises in Service charges by over 100% - and bills for unecessary works totally the tens of thousands of punds - to be paid to the PFI in 12 months.

Monkeyboy said...

You ought to see some of the contortions we have to pull at Metronet. Even though we are a TfL company and we WANT to help LUL and LUL WANT to keep things equitable, the only way of administering the huge sums involved is the PPP contract. We can't just tear it up, both parties are stuck with it. To be honest it ended up serving neither party particularly well.

Anyway, my advice? keep an eye out for the Tubelines contract. If they're still here in 18 months time I'll be surprised.

max said...

Jon, I had a look at that website and it's very interesting, it also reminded me of one of the things I don't like of PFIs when it says:

"Buying complex services via a long-term contract of 5-10 years is not the same as buying commodity products or business services"

If 5-10 years are long term then what do we make of PFIs that are typically 30 years and that's in my opinion in many situations an excessive term for a contract as conditions can change dramatically within that period and what makes perfect sense in 2008 may be completely crazy in 2028. By the way, when it's a 30 years contract for the maintenance of a new building (like Lewisham Hospital or Downham Pool) then it's straightforward robbery as in the first 30 years of life of a building there's normally nothing to fix.

PFI is used to avoid putting debts on the government's books, it's not just about outsourcing. You can outsource without using PFI.
Lewisham Council could have outsourced maintenance of Council housing, just as it outsourced park maintenance to Glendale.

It's now PFIing street lighting, getting locked in a 30 years contract. And if in a few years time the contractor stops delivering good service then they have to spend a fortune in legal fees to get things straight.
And if in 10 years time new technology would allow street lighting to be provided at a fraction of today's cost we'll be still locked in with yesterday's prices.

And what about the discretion that management should have in running operations like hospitals and schools? Maybe one needs to make savings on one part of the operation that is not necessary to meet demand on another, for example a hospital manager may decide that for a year walls don't need a new lick of paint and with those savings gets new equipment or is able to retain staff. With the PFI contract of Lewisham Hospital all is delivered as from contract for 30 years, there's no space for this kind of decisions.

It is a commonly held view that the current review of NHS services is largely needed to fund the PFI contracts signed in the past few years and this means closing hospitals now.

As Monkeyboy reports, management of transport firms are also asked to leave brains at home before going to work because the PPP contract will tell them what they have to do and there's no way to get out of it.

The stories about PFI schools are a catalogue of horrors.

Then there is the problem of not being able to hold accountable anyone for lack of maintenance, the Brockley wall being a perfect example, the Council can always blame the PFI company and pass the buck.

And if the Council would employ somebody to manage relationships between them and the private partner then it would be even additional expenditure and no guarantee that it will deliver either actually.

neanderthal d said...

Just a thought like.......

But any folk that are having their homes done up by the Regenter scheme (ie. Lewisham Council Leaseholders) may want to ponder the Scaffolding Costs.

I suspect that the scaffolding costs are way too expensive. (I ain't even going into the Professional/Management Fees scam here). It might be worth Council Leaseholders contacting a few scaffolding outfits and finding out what they might charge to have scaffold outside your home for two months.

Consider this: a price is quoted - let's say £1,500 for scaffolding outside a building for a month - but (un)fortunately the scaffolding has to stay outside the building for three months - so now the charge is £4,500 (3 x £1,500). All very rational on the surface - apart from the fact that the main cost of scaffolding is the labour required to put up and remove the scaffolding. If it costs £1,500 for the scaffolding for four weeks, then it shouldn't cost much more than £2,000 for thirteen weeks.

The PFI gravy trains have plenty of excessive charges built in to them.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

I would even go one step further and even consider reducing the level of contracting out the council does full stop. By contracting out we (the public) are losing the direct relationship between the council and its constituents. On a grass root level, for example, traditionally we would of dealt directly with a council employed 'park keeper' for park maintainance, now we have to go through a contractor which adds a level of red-tape. And lets not talk about the level of 'profit' aka. wasted tax papers money, that contractors get.

My recent experience in dealing with Conways (path maintainance) highlighted just that.

MB said...

@Max, wouldn't say that brains were left at home it's just that both parties have to work to a contract - just as in any client/contractor relationship. If the contract is bad for either or both parties it can get difficult. The PPP was just too big and unwieldy, TfL are still using the same contractors now but hopefully in smaller, more manageble packages. Many of the Metronet shareholders are now building and equiping the ELL and are involved with Thameslink. They will also, I'm sure, appear on Crossrail. They have the skills, they need managing that's all.

Anyway I expect we're boring people so I'm outtas here.....

MB said...

@Max, wouldn't say that brains were left at home it's just that both parties have to work to a contract - just as in any client/contractor relationship. If the contract is bad for either or both parties it can get difficult. The PPP was just too big and unwieldy, TfL are still using the same contractors now but hopefully in smaller, more manageble packages. Many of the Metronet shareholders are now building and equiping the ELL and are involved with Thameslink. They will also, I'm sure, appear on Crossrail. They have the skills, they need managing that's all.

Anyway I expect we're boring people so I'm outtas here.....

jon s said...

All you need to do with a long term PFI contract is include a benchmarking clause - an annual review by an impartial third party (like the company included the link for) to include, price, service levels, scope of services and costs of additional work. The impartial third party identify increases in cost, scope and service levels. It's the same principle behind an auditor identifying the accounts reflect a true and fair view.

The problem is that sourcing is an emerging discipline which is very different from procurement. Local councils and companies with revenues of £100 million are between a rock and a hard place, lacking the competency to engage in sourcing properly.

jon s said...

Andy, such an accountant's answer. Tell me, with all the ERP of management accounting who tells the business what demand will be? So you want a higher fixed cost base and a reduced range of services for local communities by insourcing most things? Why??

The fastest growing consultancy (as it is results based and provides SMART benefits) is sourcing. All major global corporations and democratic governments use them. Should Lewisham spend more to collect rubbish themselves by maintaining a small in house fleet?

Headhunter said...

On a positive note re the council. I am always amazed at the omnipresence of Cllr Sue Luxton. the womanm is everywhere. Every time I open a paper, read this and other blogs etc etc, it seems she is there with a viewpoint. Whilst omnipresence is no guarantee of quality, it's somehow re-assuring that she is involved in so many things at whatever level.

MB said...

OK, really my final word. There is an arbitor for the PPP, he slammed Metronet quiet rightly but an under reported aspect of his ruling is that up to half of the overspend could be put down to LUL/TfL mis-specifying, changing requirements and generally not being a great client. Metronet had jumped ship by then so it was all a bit academic. LUL/TfL do not come out of the whole proces looking squeeky clean.

Jon S, yes if you have the correct benchmarks it can work. The PPP ones just didn't work. Of course when LUL were running things there was little if any monitoring of their performance.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

Jon S, I think some services that are presently contracted out have a relatively low fixed cost.

Lets take Path Maintainance. Conways is the contractor. They rountinely replace paving slabs with infills of tarmac, as it is cheaper. The result is alot of paths look uneven and patchy. conways are even aloud to sell the paving slabs, which they break up, as 'crazy paving'.

So their contract for 'maintainance' is replacing existing goods with inferior goods and selling the existing goods for profit. In addition to whatever annual maintainance fee they get.

It does not take a genious to realise that the council will no doubt have abit of derelict land somewhere where they could even store any paving slabs taken up for future use. Better still, why doesnt the council sell the paving slabs as crazy paving directly? Why should the contractor make even more profit from this arrangement? Its our (council taxpayers) asset anyway.

I havn't given alot of details on the above as the issue is currently being investigated by one of the councillors.

lb said...

That Equaterra site is very interesting, but the term "webinar" makes me feel slightly nauseous.

lb said...

[TBT] Yes, this sounds pretty bad, but this isn't a problem with PFI as such, but rather with its implementation; the council needs to specify clearly what level of service it requires from the contractor. It's usually safe to assume that corners will be cut unless specific contractual obligations are put in place to prevent it.

jon s said...

Unfortunately "webinar" is an industry standard for IPT conferencing.

Andy, erm, no fixed costs for labour and overheads are significantly higher for government departments than PFI companies. Also you have limited elasticity of scope in job descriptions. Again the question is scope of contract; like for like replacement should be mandatory! Infill of paving slabs with tarmac only reinforces that the scope of the contract is rubbish. Get someone like Atkins to be the benchmarker of their contract and they will significantly reduce costs through planned preventative maintenance and audit of reactive maintenance.

TJ said...

Neanderthal D - I'm on to the excessive managment and scaffolding costs - just need to go and get quotes for the latter. Hadn't clocked the maths behind the scaffolding though, so thanks for pointing it out - I'll be bringing it up at the Brockely PFI Leaseholders meeting.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

I think there is a wider issue here through - the ability of the council to monitor and enforce contractors/PFI contracts.

clearly they can't do it properly. A private company will always try to push for more profit, a council should always try to push for better value but they dont. Reason being, by contracting out they have contracted out of the responsiblity of being held to account. The perception in the public mind is that the contractor is at fault, not the council.

The result is that the public are now responsible for managing the contractors and if we - the public - arn't up to the scratch than we lose.

Unfortunately in lewisham there are alot of people who simply would rather abuse the assets than protect them - anti-social behaviour etc...

It's not surprising we all suffer.

max said...

Jon, I am not against outsourcing, far from it, I am skeptical about the necessity to use PFI in such an indiscriminate manner.

PFI is not the only outsourcing method but it looks like it's the only game in town and as we know this is so because it keeps debts off the government books.
But there are undesirable implications.

By transferring properties that are then leased back and forcing the private partners to take on large debts at start of the contract it brings a level of complexity and legal entanglement that can only be regulated by yet another level of consultants that are indeed very expensive.

You seem to be an advocate of that, I'm not.

Why can't an hospital just hire the expertise of the constructor without transferring property of the building and all the related liabilities that can only be regulated by very expensive legal negotiations?

What's wrong with 5 years contract for maintenance? With 30 years terms you just shelter the private operators from competition risking to end up with the worst of both worlds.

PFI contracts may be useful when there's a lot of parts in a negotiation and you do need a consortium that holds all assets but in many transactions it looks rather unnecessary really i.e. Lewisham Council outsourcing street lamps maintenance.

jon s said...

Max, to be honest I'm agnostic to what type of outsourcing is used or if indeed it should be used.

What I am against is poorly scoped and managed outsourcing, PFI or otherwise and the poor scope and management being used as an argument against using outsourcing at all.

For your hospital example, hospitals don't have the expertise to either manage outsourcing contracts or major construction projects. Whether PFI or not, get the professionals in to scope and manage the transformation. For engineering you can go to Atkins or one of their comptitors and for anything else you can go to EquaTerra or one of their competitors.

I mention those two companies as they won't suggest they do the work, offer fixed prices and defined outputs (deliverables) including staff training and development of a function to manage outsourced service properly once they are gone.

Another solution would be for the mayor of London to set up an internal equivalent of Atkins/EquaTerra he can provide for free on all Mayor of London Contracts and to all London Boroughs. All Boris would need to do is hire 2 experienced people from Atkins and EquaTerra as permanent staff to head the department and let them build their own teams.

searching for a witty name said...

Max, sorry when I reread my post, I saw it was ambiguous re LA pay structures. What I meant was that, for the budgets they manage, they are not paid what someone in the private sector would get. That ufnortunately doesn't mean we are getting a bargain from the council though - all too often it means we get someone operating above their real level of competence, running a massive budget with power way beyond anything I will ever have in my private sector job.

"Chick!", funny name. :-) yes, agree with you completely.

All, someone pls explain what the thinking is behind an area NOT wanting to improve? i have never understood this AT ALL. everyone benefits, the poorest memebrs of it disproportionately, so WHY THE NEGATIVITY???

Something Islington has done to very good effect is to sell some of its housing stock. It has ploughed the cash into improving its estates and I think that's perfectly reasonable and the "right" thing to do morally. As a result, some of the more terrifying estates in london are being rebuilt with much better ideas of community than the previous layouts involved. (eg in an area with many single parent families with young children, don't build high rise and isolate those mothers/fathers.)

I just think that by encouraging development, training jobs and progress, everyone will benefit as people rise up through society. that is what a modern labour party SHOULD be about and it's certainly what those living on the estates want.

cue debate!
ps does anyone like Miliband (the David version)?

Brockley Kate said...

Islington has a housing PFI too.

And Lewisham has just withdrawn from one of its planned housing PFIs (covering Catford, Crofton Park, Rushey Green, Forest Hill, Sydenham and Perry Vale) due to projected costs. It's going to try and transfer the stock to housing associations instead (tenants' ballot will take place towards the end of next year apparently).

Anonymous said...

I see from council questions comments from the Brockley Society about a planning application were automatically filed as spam and not read...oops. How to lose friends and alienate society?

Anonymous said...

19 Messages seem to have disappeared?

I thought the one about Brockley Society emails being treated by the council as spam was topical and funny?

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