A brief review of article highlights for this year…and some predictions for this coming year.
Banwait loses his seat, and Labour lose control of the Council
By May 2018, when the local elections took place, the politics of Derby City Council had descended into an almost umanageable state under the leadership of Ranjit Banwait. From the start of his period as Leader, in 2014, there had been controversy. By January 2018, the conduct of the Full Council meetings had become toxic.
Banwait regularly missed Cabinet meetings. The administration was becoming fragmented.
Few people were surprised that Banwait lost his seat, apart from himself. Many were thankful that there had been a change in administration, including Labour supporters. Local politics is less about the ideology of the national party and more about individuals, how they behave, and whether they deliver, or not. The new Conservative administration signalled a change with their “open and transparent” strap line, however this has proved difficult to achieve from the early days and poor communications have questioned whether they are truly committed to this mantra.
The small matter of Banwait’s address
In April I wrote about the small, but controversial issue over ex-Cllr Banwait’s address. It was all about political manipulation, and he was very sensitive about it.
The same issue was included in the UKIP election material in May. When Banwait lost his seat he took the opportunity to start legal proceedings on the basis that this, together with their suggestion that he had “lied” about his address had influenced the outcome of the election.
In June Banwait, lodged a formal complaint with IMPRESS (Press regulator) against Derby News, however as he could not substantiate his claim, he withdrew it.
The UKIP court case was finally heard in November and a few days of technical “hair splitting” on detailed points of law, finally resulted in Banwait’s petition being lost…although he seemed to think that he’d won!?
A52 – the missing millions, and unexplained delays.
Shortly after the Conservative administration took office, the A52 fiasco surfaced dramatically with admissions by Senior Officers that there was going to be a massive cost over run, and a significant slip to the completion date. No one seemed to know why, neither Officers, nor the previous Labour Cabinet Member. No one was accepting any accountability!
Despite a lengthy external/internal review, which has not yet published any findings, the public is none the wiser as to why the costs doubled over night.
It is safe to assume that the whole project suffered from bad planning and was always going to cost in the region of £30m+ but someone was trying to cover up this fact until, finally, the lid blew off, shortly after the election. It’s also clear that the engineering work was not up to the correct standard and has required significant re-work.
It suffered from gross incompetence – nothing more complicated than that!
Libraries – a predictably failing strategy
By January 2018, only Direct Help and Advice had declared any interest in taking over any of the 10 Libraries. It was evident from this early position that the whole plan would struggle. The original commitment was for all 10 libraries to be transferred by December 2018.
DHA became the formal contractor in March and before the plan had a chance to get off the ground Derby News highlighted the issues with the new GDPR (data protection) regulations, which the Council had not recognised. This resulted in paid Derby City Council staff having to be retained as ‘library assistants’.
Since then, no volunteers have been able to carry out any services that require access to the Library Management System. Despite Council Officers suggesting that this would be solved in a few weeks, 7 months later it is still unresolved; the consequence is that paid Derby City Council still staff the main services.
In July, Derby News called for the strategy to be paused
By August. the whole programme was paused, after just 3 implementations ( Sinfin, Spondon and Allestree), and won’t now resume until February 2019, taking a further 12 months to complete the remaining 7 transfers – still a a challenging programme based on previous performance.
In the final Scrutiny Board meeting of the year,Senior Council Officers confirmed that they had been over ambitious with the roll-out. That was obvious from the outset – it was, and continues to be, a concern that Officers cannot see major flaws in their plans until it is far too late.
Children with Special Educational Needs – so it was a “box ticking” exercise
The last 3 years saw a programme to migrate children with Special Educational needs away from the old ‘Statement’, to a new Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Derby News has covered this throughout this period as it was evident from the start that there would be problems; something which neither Senior Officers, nor Councillors would accept.
It was finally recognised during an Executive Scrutiny meeting this year that quality had been compromised in delivering EHCPs in favour of hitting the Government target. Something Derby News had been highlighting for many months.
It wasn’t the target that was the issue, it was about planning to use the 3 years effectively. The majority of the task was left until the last 6 -9 months even though the Council had been given substantial additional funding to cover the extra costs.
Sinfin Incinerator – public health vs private money
Although,for some, this had been an on-going campaign for 10 years, in 2018 it came back into the public consciousness with a vengeance. After significant delays, the opportunity to terminate the contract on 30 September 2018, became a very controversial subject.
However, unfortunately, very few people had actually read the contract. The Council unwittingly, or otherwise, created an unnecessary air of mystique around the troubled Incinerator on the grounds of ‘confidentiality’, resulting in sinister, private meetings, despite the fact that most of the information was in the public domain if anyone cared to look for it…
Although Councillors have been well briefed, the opportunity for politicking on the back of general public ignorance continues.
A small number of long-term investigations were published this year.
St Mary’s Gate. This is a major development based on a disused Derby City Council building in the centre of town. Despite the publicity that Cllr Rawson had “handed over the keys” in September 2017, there has yet to be any planning permission granted, and there are questions to be answered about who is actually developing this building, who is funding the purchase and who is set to profit from it.
Silverhill – is a primary school based in Mickleover. This case finally came to court which highlighted the problems where small community organisations ( in this case a parent/teacher group) rely too much on trust between friends rather than basic financial disciplines. When too much of an opportunity rests with one person then there can be temptations.
Enthusiasm – has been operating in the Allenton area for 25 years. Good work has been delivered whilst it was heavily funded by Derby City Council. More recently, many staff have left, and this charity’s actual delivery capability continues to raise many questions across a wide range of people in the City. Genuine questions are being asked as to where the money actually goes.
Derby has many great charities/community organisations; some of which have been covered by Derby News over the years. Two articles from 2018 looked at organisations which are providing much needed advice, and financial support.
Boots – not so much lost, just didn’t know where the confidential documents were!
Following a tip off from a Boots employee, the story was exposed by Derby News around how Boots failed to tell customers that prescriptions had been “lost” containing their personal/sensitive data. Boots threatened Derby News with legal action, yet the facts spoke for themselves. The subsequent “PR piece” in the Derby Telegraph, months after the loss was reported spoke volumes.
Predictions for 2019
17 Councillors will be up for election in May 2019 and it is very likely that Labour will continue to haemorrhage support. There are a number of risk wards for Labour:
Chaddesden – Labour’s candidate is Sara Bolton who was beaten convincingly in May 2018. She has been chosen in favour of the incumbent, Linda Winter, and against the wishes of the local Ward group. CONSERVATIVE GAIN
Derwent – The Conservatives have won the last 3 elections in this ward. As with Chaddesden the local Councillors are always visible and active in the community. Martin Rawson, as Banwait’s deputy will suffer from this historical connection. CONSERVATIVE GAIN
Abbey – last year’s Lib Dem candidate, Ajit Atwal lost by 1 vote. He will stand again, with the current Labour Cllr, Asaf Afzal tarred by the A52 fiasco, and being a Banwait Cabinet member. LIB DEM GAIN
Alvaston / Boulton – UKIP will want to continue their winning streak over the last few years in both of these wards and secure the 3rd seat in Alvaston, and the 2nd in Boulton. UKIP GAINS
Blagreaves – This ward together with Littleover are strong Lib Dem wards. Amo Raju will be defending his position however, as a member of Banwait’s Cabinet, and the man behind the ill-fated libraries strategy. will be a distinct negative. Visibility in the community may also be an issue in this ward. LIB DEM GAIN
Chellaston – Phil Ingall is a popular chap in the community and stood as an Independent in May 2018 ( not re-selected by the Conservatives) – he lost by a small margin. After a year of campaigning – it could secure his return . INDEPENDENT GAIN
Oakwood – Robin Wood (Conservative) will stand down this year, so there will be no incumbent Cllr. It will be Alex Dann’s 3rd year of campaigning in the ward and she has stepped up her presence more recently. INDEPENDENT GAIN.
Mackworth – the loss of John Whitby’s (Labour, and Mayor) seat in May 2018 was a surprise to nearly everyone, especially as it has been a Labour stronghold. This may make Diane Froggatt vulnerable.
The other wards are likely to remain with the incumbent party.
This strategy cannot proceed without a robust implementation of a totally GDPR ( Data protection) compliant Library Management System. This is still not in place – it has now been 7 months, and counting. The December Cabinet report was not conclusive that this had been resolved, it approved a considerable increase in funding and more support by Derby City Council staff; the original savings have essentially disappeared. It is unlikely that the new, slipped, timescales will be met which inevitably will lead to another review during 2019.
With a few days to go, there is no evidence that the contractor has secured the completion certificate, deferred until 31st December 2018. Termination of the contract no longer makes sense as the construction company, Interserve, is practically insolvent; such action will also precipitate a compensation payment by the Councils to RRS in the region of £200m along with the transfer of ownership of the plant.
A successful return to a free Brown Bin collection where the City’s garden and food waste gets diverted away from the Incinerator could lead to further complications as the Plant relies on a high percentage of non-fossil fuel based waste to be burnt in the process of generating electricity.
In 2019, this will hobble along. The whole of the County’s waste now gets processed by the Plant. The level of emissions will be disputed, based on a variety of personal interests. The finances and contractual clauses put this whole arrangement in a “headlock”. It is almost as intractable as Brexit. It’s difficult to see a satisfactory conclusion to this in 2019.
The current administration had only one choice with this project and that was to complete it. There are broader benefits in supporting the new A52 “triangle” development. The conclusion of the review will be that there was widescale incompetence implying resignations. The Council must expect more from the Senior officers who allowed this to happen.
Ones to watch
Another area of controversy is the perception of what the public, and local businesses actually want – a brand new Performance venue ( costly and years to build) vs Refurbished, slightly enhanced ( more expensive than planned, open sooner, but old style, shorter lifespan).
The decision has already been “called in” by the Labour Group. This won’t be successful, but will add a short delay into the programme.
The costs will undoubtedly continue to escalate, and the opposition to it will gather momentum, as the opening date will slip back. This administration, like the last, will be blighted by the “curse of the Assembly Rooms”
The enhancements that the new Administration want to include have delayed this project by at least a year and, will increase the costs. We will see further delays, more debating over what the City needs, and not a brick laid by Xmas 2019. This will become the “curse of the Swimming Pool”.
“Open and Transparent”
The Banwait years did not help democracy and turned many in the City, against the Council. The new Administration talk about being “open and transparent” to the residents but there is little sign of this happening yet. The “private” meetings on the Incinerator conspired to suggest a more secretive approach.
The Council, as an institution, needs to make a step change in its communications. The website and facebook pages are stale, dated and uninspiring. It feels as though anything uplifting is paralysed by turgid local authority bureaucracy. The policy seems to be one of “blocking” and not being, naturally, “open”. What is it trying to hide?
When the Council truly engages with the public, and is really “open and transparent” then the full potential of the Council staff and the people of Derby will be unleashed. Something to hope for in 2019!
Categories: Derby City Council