Funny lot those BNP

Haven’t said much about the BNP for a while. Partly because it seems most of the fun seems to go on over in Sandwell when it comes to the assorted ranks of misfits, council tax dodgers, bringer uppers of hooligans which are deftly handled by Unity and Bob, but just so they don’t get all the attention. Seems like Dominic Bugler, the BNP’s candidate for the Pelsall ward over here in the elections to Walsall MBC had to pop up to Walsall Magistrates Court yesterday to face charges of possessing a fake firearm.

Suffice to say it doesn’t appear that he’ll be at the count to see his election result on Thursday as he’s been remanded in custody to appear at Wolverhampton Crown Court on May 8th. Funny lot those BNP people.

What were you doing on….. Colin Ross?

As yesterday Bob tagged me about what I was doing on the 20th March 2003 I suddenly realised that there’s one person I had forgot to pass it on to. My old mate Colin Ross. That’s the guy who works for Ian Shires the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Walsall and who’s salary is paid for by Walsall MBC.

However I thought I’d make it a bit more specific in terms of dates and times, so here goes. I’d like to ask Colin what he was doing at:

10.37am, Thu 1st Mar 2007
2.56pm, Thu 1st Mar 2007
4.30pm, Thu 1st Mar 2007
9.18am, Fri 2nd Mar 2007
10.43am, Mon 5th Mar 2007
10.40am, Tue 6th Mar 2007
12.41pm, Tue 6th Mar 2007
4.52pm, Tue 6th Mar 2007
12.01pm, Wed 7th Mar 2007
12.37pm, Thu 8th Mar 2007
10.34am, Fri 9th Mar 2007
10.41am, Fri 9th Mar 2007
11.05am, Fri 9th Mar 2007
2.41pm, Mon 12th Mar 2007
4.47pm, Tue 13th Mar 2007
9.46am, Wed 14th Mar 2007
3.37pm, Wed 14th Mar 2007
10.58am, Thu 15th Mar 2007
11.07am, Thu 15th Mar 2007
5.03pm, Thu 15th Mar 2007
10.20am, Fri 16th Mar 2007
10.19am, Tue 20th Mar 2007
2.02pm, Tue 20th Mar 2007
10.29am, Wed 21st Mar 2007

OK, it’s a rhetorical question, I know the answer. Colin was posting to his blog and has been throughout the day for the last few years. Feel free to browse his archives he’s been at this for quite a while.

The only problem I have is that I thought Colin worked up at Walsall Council for Ian Shires, the Leader of the LibDems in Walsall and these times that Colin seems to post to his site throughout the week appear to fall pretty much within what would normally be defined as the traditional working day.

I only say this because I spotted this little article on the Express & Star’s website where it appears staff at Walsall Council caught doing things like downloading stuff and posting to their personal blogs might get into rather a bit of trouble.

I’m sure we’d all hate that to happen to Colin wouldn’t we?

NB.

I have of course recorded Colin’s entries for this month should they be requested from me for further investigation if Colin tries and pulls a fast one by deleted them or removing the timestamps.

Now they’ve sent the schoolboy after me…

Wasn’t exactly sure how to approach this one. The temptation as always when people turn up and make stupid comments and have a go at you is to give them a good slap down. Especially when they are from your political opponents.

I’m still tempted but I am minded that despite the fact that I am openly partisan I also consider myself to be a fair person. I am also tempted to include copious amounts of profanity in this particular post but have decided not to on the basis of having done my fair share of it lately although a little may slip in.

Now just for the record, I’ve said it before, in fact it was included in the first post of this blog that I welcome informed and polite commenting, even if people disagree with me. I fully accept that we live in a society where many people’s views can differ and within our party dominated political structure it is the case that those who take particularly strong interest or views of a certain persuasion often end up supporting one party or another.

I have no problem with that. I also believe that an enlightened political discourse is to be encouraged in a democratic society and if my site can be a small vehicle through which people can discuss things in an informed and appropriate manner then I positively encourage it.

I’m also aware that like any community of people there are rules albeit unwritten, and etiquettes that must be followed. Those that step outside of these rules and etiquettes are quite often and justifiably so chastised. This is as relevant to the online community as much as it is to any other. This is why I’m going to deal with a comment raised in this post.

Danny Havering wishes to imply that in some way I may be envious of the way a young person like Cllr. Rachel Walker has risen to be a Councillor because the Tories are such an enlightened party in Walsall and give young people a chance and my party has in some way conspired to keep both me and other young people out of winnable seats. He’s also rather naughty in through his comment sending out the guarded inference that he knows my identity.

Let’s deal with these issues one at a time. My anonymity for a start. Again, please refer back to my first post on this site and the response I gave to my old mate Paul Macmanomy on the issue. I do not choose to emblazon my site with my name nor do I (as of course I could) choose to run it in a way that ensures my anonymity. In fact I even give instructions on how to find out who I am and openly acknowledge my first name. What have we learned from this? Danny is either clever enough to use a whois tool on a URL in which case I bow in absolute awe of his supreme tech knowledge or he’s been put up by someone who has or someone who’s having a good guess at my identity from what I’ve written. Either that or it’s a deliberate inference inspired by someone not capable of doing this but has a good idea who I am and wishes me to fall into the trap of ‘outing’ myself. Either way, my identity is no secret and if they’ve been so stupid as to have not either worked it out by now after 4 months or try to trap me into revealing it then I truly feel sorry for them.

Second point. Again refer back to my first ever post in relation to how I conduct myself in terms of having a go at parties other than my own. I won’t attack other parties or particular representatives of them purely on the basis of party politics. Sometimes a bit of fun but if we’re talking serious criticism then it’s the issues that are important to me. I will however admit to not being equal in my treatment of different parties. This is based purely on my personal experience in dealing with them and the extent to which I either view their perspective on the world or their actions.

So just for the record I actually am not predisposed to be particularly venomous towards Tories. I do actually respect the long history of the Tory Party and in the fact that although I may personally despise the principals and ideology behind it I do recognise that those people who support or join it do believe in something. Anyone who does know me will also know that without doubt the party for which I purely despise simply because it believes in nothing and stands for nothing is the Liberal Democrats. In which case it can be seen in my writing that I do reserve a rather harder line against this party than I do for the Tories.

Now on to Walsall politics. Danny Havering correctly identified that I stood for election in the Short Heath ward. A big round of applause for that one. Should I be in some way envious of Cllr. Rachel Walker’s rise at a young age to being given a winnable seat, getting on to the council and becoming a cabinet member, no. Here’s why.

Firstly he implies by his assertion that there is in some way a pecking order by which the Tories pick their candidates in Walsall. The Labour Party is democratic in it’s nature and just to put your mind at ease, we don’t pick candidates in line with ‘that person’s done their apprenticeship in a crap un-winnable ward and we can move them up to standing in a safe ward so they can be a councillor.’ Not that it is any of Danny Havering’s business but just to put him right on this one. I have sought to be selected as the Labour Party candidate on four occasions. In three instances I was selected and stood and in one I wasn’t, I will be the first to admit that the candidate in that case who was chosen was the right choice there, and in case he was wondering, no it wasn’t the Willenhall South by-election in 2005 for which I did not attend the selection meeting as a potential candidate.

If this means that the Labour Party in Walsall somehow discriminates against young people then Danny Havering should really make sure that he has some foundation before he expresses such views. In the case of Waheed and Aqeel there are equally good reason for why they did not seek to stand and he really should not comment on issues that he knows nothing about.

Danny is probably young, a bit naive and dreams of one day becoming a Councillor in Walsall (Christ knows why). If his views on UKPollingReport are anything to go by then he needs to spend a bit more time in the classroom. Just who are these floating voters that have come into Walsall South from Walsall North? The only movement was a small area of the Birchills Leamore Ward into Pleck and it shows he doesn’t get out canvassing much if he thinks that area is stacked with floating voters. They might also be a bit miffed after Walsall Council screwed up the 2004 election and disenfranchised them.

As for my own political aspirations when it comes to Walsall Council I simply have none. I can categorically say that I will never seek election to Walsall Council. I simply do not intend to live in the Walsall Borough for the rest of my life. I love my home town of Willenhall, but it is done a great disservice by being part of the Walsall Borough and like many of it’s residents we associate ourselves with Wolverhampton more than we will ever do with Walsall. As I get older I realise that I only have one life, it’s slowly getting shorter, there’s a world out there to discover and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of it in the confines of the Walsall Borough.

In relation to the particular post regarding Cllr. Rachel Walker I would point out that rather than attacking her purely on the basis that she is a Tory Councillor there is a very valid point. She went on record, across the front page of the Walsall Advertiser (I only mention that because I know the journo’s from the Walsall Advertiser drop by my site) and said that it’s OK for shopkeepers to put out wares on the pavement when in fact to do this contravenes both council policy and legislation.

If a Councillor and indeed a Cabinet member who is responsible for the relevant department is stating publicly that it is OK to commit an offence then I do believe that on that basis she should be due for a bit of criticism. I have sought only to criticise her on the basis of misinforming the public and I think that is pretty much in line with the policy that I keep on my site.

The internet is a nasty place at times. I try to do my bit to uphold a certain degree of responsibility in my writings. I don’t go in for personal attacks in relation to what people might look like, make assertions as to how people may have got to where they are, I try to concentrate wholly on issues and policy. There is too much in terms of personality politics in Britain and I’ll be damned if I’m going to contribute to it. There are plenty of blogs out there who do that but for me personally I try my best to stick to the issues. So just to give you two examples. Bob Piper has affectionately referred to Colin Ross, that’s the LibDem organiser who also works for Ian Shires the leader of the LibDems in Walsall and who’s job is paid for by Walsall MBC as ‘fat Colin’. No disrespect to Bob, he’s entitled to refer to him in that way as far as I’m concerned but for me I will not mention Colin’s weight as it is irrelevant to me, I am far more interested in what he does or doesn’t say and what he gets up to in a political/professional context.

In the same way I’m sure and there’s a disclaimer in here that I do not personally believe this nor would I use such a description but as an example, someone who wished to criticise Cllr. Rachel Walker could refer to the size of her stature or infer that she got to where she is on the basis of her relationship with fellow Tory Cabinet member Adrian Andrews. That in my book would be a wholly unjustified and irrelevant in the context of the issue that is being discussed as it is the issue that is important, not the individual. The mere fact that it was Cllr. Rachel Walker who made the statement is purely incidental, if Tom Ansell had made it, if Melvin Pitt had made it then the criticism would have been the same. Neither of which people I have ever stood against in an election.

I do refer to Cllr. Rachel Walker’s experience in the article and in no way is this in relation to her age. She is simply someone who has been on the council for less than three years and I think it is fair to say that anyone who becomes a Councillor from whatever party they come from takes time to learn the processes, understand the practices and learn the ins and outs whether they’re a Councillor when they’re 21 or 51. Whether Cllr. Rachel Walker is competent to undertake her role as a cabinet member is entirely up to the Tory group and its leadership on Walsall council. My own personal view is that she may have shown her lack of knowledge of her brief and subsequently not only embarrassed herself but also put shopkeepers in the position where they may be prosecuted in the process.

On to Walsall Council itself. Danny Havering makes the point that Labour have also run Walsall Council at times in the last 27 years and therefore are equally to blame for the lack of implementation of a policy relating to legislation passed in 1980. Yes, I completely agree. As Danny has had a good look through my Walsall MBC section he will no doubt have noticed that I do reserve it for some criticism. In some cases this might be in relation to it being run by the Tories, in others it’s purely that I do not think Walsall Council is particularly good and no amount of Audit Commission star ratings is going to change my mind on the matter. I purely judge it on my personal experience and in comparison to my experience with other local authorities that I have dealt with in the past.

Equally if I think there’s something positive to say about it then I will and in fact I have on two occasions. I’ve dealt with many different departments in Walsall Council over the years and I’m sorry to say that I’ve been disappointed with the service and competency at a number of times. I will however say that I think the election unit is on the whole quite good, apart from the complete mess of the 2004 election count when I spent a full 15 hours of my life stuck in the town hall while votes were counted using a completely crap system devised by the then new head of the unit from New Zealand, and I will also say that although I have only had one dealing with the Planning Office, I thought they were bloody excellent.

This goes for what I may wish to write about political parties as well. I will make positive comments about the Tories if I think they deserve it. I was planning to write something rather complimentary about two of the Tory Councillors in Walsall but if these are the kind of antics Tories wish to play at I may well desist from trying to be fair and even handed. Equally, you never know, one day I might even write something nice about the Liberal Democrats but I highly doubt it.

Finally a few links that Danny Havering might like to follow when it comes to discourse and etiquette on the old interwebnet where he might find some useful advice. Here’s a nice piece by Tyger, I’d pay particular attention to the bit about picking fights with people who could well have considerably more tech knowledge than yourself. Here where Unity gives a friendly warning to a Tory who’s too big for his boots and here where Unity takes to pieces a Tory who doesn’t take heed of warnings.

Oh, and Danny, if you haven’t realised, you’re at the warning stage, if you’ve taken offence by anything disparaging I’ve written I apologise, but in all honesty if these couple of jibes get you then you’re not going to last long in politics mate. You may have a bright future ahead of you and aspirations to become a Councillor in Walsall, maybe even more for which I applaud you. What you really do not want is a vindictive techie with a grudge against you at this stage in your political career.

Anyway, happy hunting for information on my old mate Paul Macmanomy and if you were thinking about trying to find anything on the internet about me then I’ll give you a hint. I am only mentioned on the net in three places. One’s the various election results on Walsall Council’s website and I’ll give you the challenge of finding the other two. However if you’re looking for something exciting, you may well be very disappointed if you actually find them.

Right, now for a serious post about important issues.

And the prize for fuckwit Tory Councillor of the day goes to…

Rachel Walker, Tory Councillor for Rushall Shelfield in Walsall and also Cabinet member for Environment up at Walsall Council.

You see, Rachel’s a bit new to all this council stuff. Actually she’s only been one for the last couple of years but she has risen quickly to the giddy heights of being the portfolio holder for Environment in Walsall so she must know her stuff mustn’t she? Or maybe not as the case may be.

Here’s the issue. Traders across Walsall aren’t too happy about not being able to put advertisement boards, ‘A’ frames, stock etc outside their shops and on the public highway. To be frank, this isn’t a new issue, it’s been rumbling on steadily for years but appears to have come to a head recently and thanks to Rachel Walker, because don’t forget, she is the cabinet member for Environment in Walsall the situation has now been clarified.

Here’s what Rachel has to say:

“Action can only be taken if the displays are ‘perceived’ to present a danger or nuisance to the public.”

“It’s not a new policy. I am very sympathetic to the traders but we have a duty to the people of the borough. we have to keep the highways safe.”

She added:

“That signs or wares on display outside need to be ‘perceived’ to present a danger for action to be taken.”

Suffice to say a lot of local traders in the town seem very happy and so they should, but there is one slight problem with this advice from Councillor Walker. It’s wrong, misleading and potentially opens up many traders to the possibility of prosecution and or litigation from anyone who might injure themselves on displays or wares put outside shops.

So, just for Rachel, if you didn’t know, here’s the legal stuff, and if your advisors up at yon council can’t tell you this then perhaps you should consider handing them redundancy notices instead of the street cleaners, dinner ladies and all the other frontline staff who actually do a bloody good and useful job.

Highways Act 1980 – Section 130.

(1) It is the duty of the highway authority to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway for which they are the highway authority, including any roadside waste which forms part of it.

(2) Any council may assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of any highway in their area for which they are not the highway authority, including any roadside waste which forms part of it.

(3) Without prejudice to subsections (1) and (2) above, it is the duty of a council who are a highway authority to prevent, as far as possible, the stopping up or obstruction of –

(a) the highways for which they are the highway authority, and

(b) any highway for which they are not the highway authority, if, in their opinion, the stopping up or obstruction of that highway would be prejudicial to the interests of their area.

(4) Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this section, it is the duty of the local highway authority to prevent any unlawful encroachment on any roadside waste comprised in a highway for which they are the highway authority.

Simple enough, the highways authority, in this case the local council has to enforce this. This issue has also been the subject of referrals to the Local Government Ombudsman who have upheld cases against authorities who have failed to undertake their duties.

So just for Rachel so she knows what she should look for, Walsall Council introduced a policy relating to the matter on 26th September 1991 which established the following policy:

1. No advertisement boards at any location.
2. No shop displays in Park Street.
3. Shop displays may be tolerated if the display if the display protrudes less than 0.5 metres from the shop front, does not exceed 1.0 metres high, does not extend beyond the shop frontage and there remains at least 1.8 metres of unobstructed footway.
4. Any displays must have adequete warning for the blind.

The policy also states that:

“In the event of any legal action arising from such displays, the liability remains with the shopkeeper and toleration by the Authority of such displays will not be viewed as an approval, authority, exercise or licence to obstruct the highway.”

Let’s just look for a second. OK, it’s a bit of a bad policy to start with as point one contradicts everything in 3 and 4. It’s also nice to know Walsall Council is happy to tolerate stuff being put outside shops, but if anything happens then it’s nothing to do with us guv, we’ll hang you out to dry when you get sued.

Now one would presume that this semi-non-committal policy of it’s OK within reason is what Councillor Rachel Walker might be referring to. However as the Cabinet member responsible one would have thought that she should know her own department has looked at the issue again. Agreed that this policy was not in keeping with the requirements put upon it as the highways authority and was scrapped and replaced by an interim policy while a new policy is drawn up for the future.

Oh, and we’re not talking as in new policy came out last week, it draws its origin from a report by the Overview and Scrutiny Community Equalities and Values Equality Advisory Group that set this out on the 23rd of April 2003. Yes, almost 4 years ago and the interim policy was introduced on the 8th of November 2004.

It says, and I will paraphrase here as I can’t be arsed to type the lot out. That Walsall Council will comply with it’s duty in relation to the removal of unlawful obstructions on the highway as set out in the Highways Act 1980. No one can place anything anywhere on the highway and in particular the pavement. Under the current legislation there is not authorisation to place advertisements etc on the pavement and to do so constitutes an offence. OK, I think you get the drift, nothing at all anywhere on the pavement, it’s illegal and the council will do you for it as one of the enforcement agents with the powers to do so.

So what we have is a Cabinet member responsible telling local traders it’s OK to put stuff outside the shops as long as it’s not ‘perceived’ to be a danger. Sadly she’s wrong, her own council, the Highways Act 1980 and case law have all said no it’s not.

The problem comes because having been down the town today, there’s plenty of shops with wares and signs outside, the word’s gone round the traders that it’s OK because good old Rachel has said so. So should anyone trip over, break their leg, damage their buggy by running into or any other accident happen. When the lawyers start getting involved it’s going to be the individual traders in question who get it in the neck, and more specifically the pocket. Equally by breaking the law, any trader that does take Rachel’s word for it, is liable to a fine by the enforcement authority for

A little bit of self indulgence

I’ve been a bit busy the last few days and last night in particular. Equally today would also have been quite busy as I planned to install some double-glazing, but due to the lack of supply of suitable plugs in Willenhall and deliveries due on Tuesday that job will have to be postponed. The reason I was busy last night was that I installed the latest version of Ubuntu Linux (edgy eft) on my computer, not sure why as the next release (grumpy groundhog) who thinks of these names, is released in April. Suffice to say it’s not as simple as the long term supported release of dapper drake but I was impressed with the startup and shut down times. 1m10 and 21seconds respectively. That on an old Celeron 1Ghz with 512Mb of ram ain’t bad in anyone’s book. (startup also includes the time it took me to log on and type my password of course).

That’s left me with a little time to do a bit of blogging while some DNS settings propagate across the net on a new project. So the subject for today is Google rankings and keyword referrals. Don’t worry, it’s not too techie.

As designing websites is one of the myriad of things that I do, I like to think I’m not so bad at what’s called SEO (search engine optimisation). This is what some web designers consider to be one of the darker arts of the techie but to be honest I’ve never really approached it that way. Yes, I know how to fiddle the system to get a site to the top of Google but I don’t, primarily because it’s cheating and will screw you over in the long-run anyway. I stick by the good practice route of developing well structured websites and a few other nifty but principled ways.

Partly it’s a technical challenge which is always something I’m up for but also a curiosity at what is possible. Now just a note for the first techie to point out I’m not using SEF URL’s, yes I know, there’s a very good reason for it and I’m still not overly convinced they’re as valuable to SEO as some people make out.

As these things interest me, I do tend to keep a close eye on the statistics of my site. Not in the way that self-important little idiots like PratTory do to impress about the vast numbers of people that find their little bits of writing interesting but I’m more interested in keyword searches through (primarily Google) that lead people to this site. BTW, Google ‘prattory’ Google’s got it right on that one.

So for a bit of amusement, here’s a few results from Google (.co.uk version, can vary slightly on other national versions). Some I’ve done a little bit of deliberate targeting on, others are simply accidental or sheer coincidence. All terms are specific, are relevant and true as of today when I double-checked them and I’ve put a bit of commentary in on some of them. I also want to clarify a few things as the last week or so certain people have been arriving at my site through specific search terms and I want to put the record straight.

“political penguin” 1st – Hey it’s the name of the site, I of course deliberately targeted this one, I do after all want people to find my site. I was however quite impressed it hit the no.1 spot within 36 hours of the site going live and hasn’t budged since.

“buying knuckledusters” 2nd – I did one post when I mentioned this, why I’m no.2 I have no idea. There are still an alarming number of people ending up at my site with this search term.

“Walsall MBC” 3rd – Thought this was quite strange when it first cropped up on Google and I’ve been slowly rising ever since. Interesting to think that one of the first impressions people might get of Walsall Council could be through my website. I’m sure that isn’t what all those marketing and PR people up at the council might want.

“Walsall politics/Walsall political” 1st – Quite proud of this one. Not deliberate I promise.

“Willenhall politics/Willenhall political” 1st – Again, same as the last one.

“Wolverhampton politics” 3rd – Given I write hardly anything about Wolverhampton this one is a bit surprising, but there you go. Equally I stand no chance with the term “wolverhampton political” Wolverhampton Uni has a political studies department, they like totally rule.

“deputy leadership contest” 2nd. Another real surprise given how little I’ve written on it, but there you go, not deliberate of course.

“peter francis walsall” 3rd.

OK, that’s the fun over. Here’s why I decided to cover this subject. The last week or so some interesting search terms have been cropping up from some interesting sources. Here’s the rundown.

“Ian Shires” 5th
“Ian Shires libdem” 1st – also works for ‘lib dem’ with a space.
“colin ross libdem” 3rd – also works for ‘lib dem’ as well.
“walsall libdem” 4th
“walsall libdems” 5th

For those who don’t know, Ian Shires is the leader of the Liberal Democrats on Walsall Council and Colin Ross is his assistant who is employed by Walsall Council and whose salary is paid for by the Council Tax payers of Walsall. Now for some reason these search terms have been popping up rather regularly over the last couple of weeks and this made me think I should have a look into it.

After a little digging it appeared that the search term for ‘Ian Shires’ was penned by someone on a Telewest broadband (now Virgin media) connection somewhere in Willenhall. It didn’t show up as the usual server for this side of Willenhall so I’m assuming it came from somewhere in Short Heath or Willenhall North – interesting that. What’s also interesting that they seemed particularly keen to check out everything that I’d written in my LibDem bashing section.

Now to be fair I wouldn’t have mentioned all this were it not for the fact that I’ve been getting more hits the last few days which is highly unusual. Coupled with an anonymous tip off to something going on up at yon council which I’m looking into and the fact that yesterday two of these referrals came directly from Walsall Council’s own webserver.

I guess if I’ve got so many people wanting to know what I’m writing about LibDems in Walsall then I better dig out the archive to keep them happy. Suffice to say, yes, a few things to come when I can put them together and see, I’ve even put this article in the LibDem bashing category so they know where to find it, aren’t I nice?

Outsourcing, call centres and how to get things done in Walsall

Paul Mac has a good post on SERCO who took over the running of education in Walsall a few years ago and how they intend to transfer jobs ‘offshore’. This has always puzzled me when local government staff are handed over to the private sector about how exactly we can ensure their job security and in some respects maintain a suitable level of service to the general public.
Here’s a couple of examples.
I’m with O2 for my mobile contract, been with them for almost a decade. Can honestly say I’ve never had a problem and they’ve always sorted anything out for me quickly and on the whole I’m a satisfied and loyal customer. I also know they’re not the cheapest in the UK market. I’d hazard a guess that ‘3’ are of which I am constantly called up by some geezer, usually called Colin with a thick Indian accent wanting me to switch, and when challenged assures me all the call centres are UK based. I also remember being in the presence of a friend trying to sort out a problem with ‘3’ and she couldn’t get the person on the other end to understand her, despite the fact that she speaks half a dozen different Indian languages.
I also had a little experience with Walsall Council over an application for Council Tax Benefit a while back which I’ve referred to a couple of times.
During my time spent on hold for up to half an hour trying to get through and speaking to various people who simply couldn’t do anything which included someone who had a Nigerian sounding name and neither I could understand him nor him me, and I was speaking in as plain an accent as possible and not my normal black country dialect this made me think about the potential problems that outsourcing can create.
Now it doesn’t seem to be the case that SERCO are going to ‘offshore’ call centres, they afterall don’t really have them but this did remind me of the now defunct partnership with Fujitsu that Walsall Council was trying to set up.
This deal would have meant the outsourcing of frontline telephone contact along with a lot of other things to a private company. A friend of mine who reads this blog told me at the time that his partner worked for the intended firm who would handle the call centres and we really didn’t want to know about their work practices.
This does raise an issue though, at what point, once jobs are outsourced are these private firms allowed to employ who they want to do the job and not just the workers they inheritted from the council.
Being private firms, their first priority is profit, not public service, the worst they can expect is their contract being cancelled and my experience has always been that the private sector firms tend to be a lot cleverer than the local authorities when it comes to the contracts.
Something to ponder on.
This is OK when we are talking about the private sector, if like me you’d rather speak to someone in the UK then you can because there is choice of the service provider. However with local authorities you can’t. If I decide I don’t want to speak to someone at the Walsall Council Tax department, I can’t just call up someone at Wolverhampton.
I know what you’re thinking, you don’t have choice anyway, well here’s the difference. If the council service is crap then at the ballot box, as voters we have the option of voting for another party to run the council and if services are so crap then it would follow that the party in power loses and is replaced by a different administration that will improve the service. (that’s the theory anyway). However, if the service in question has been outsourced to a private company, usually on a massively long contract then it doesn’t matter who is in power because those who originally made the decision have locked the council into an agreement that almost certainly cannot be broken and if it is will probably incur severe financial penalties on the council, I’m thinking the botched deal between Walsall Council and BT here.
Anyway, for anyone who happens to have a problem with their Council Tax Benefit not being processed, or not being paid to a landlord who is about to evict you (overheard plenty of people at the One Stop Shop complaining about that) then here you go. Don’t bother calling the helpline, they’re useless, don’t even bother with the One Stop Shop, they’re equally useless, simple e-mail Carole Evans (I’m assuming she’s still the Executive Director) on “evanscATwalsallDOTgovDOTuk there you go I’m putting in a bit of a spam guard so she won’t get crap in her inbox, aren’t I nice. I e-mailed her and the problem was sorted in a week after nearly four months of arguing with the munchkins downstairs.

Yes, more about Walsall MBC, this time good

I know of late I’ve been posting highly critical things about the local authority, which are highly justified. However as those who know me, know that I’m always pretty even-handed and fair and I don’t wish to fall into continual tirades of having a go at Walsall Council.
So much in the same spirit of saying they’d done a good job in tidyng up the bushes a few months ago, I’d like to mention that sometimes when you’ve had a past history of experience of piss poor service, it’s refreshing when you come across a good experience.
This has been the case with my experience of claiming council tax benefit. Admittedly I was messed about, they lost my claim, fobbed me off on the phone and threatened to take me to court four times, but after deciding to bypass the muppets on the phone and at the First Stop Shop and going straight to the Executive Director of the Department. I was eventually put in contact with a woman who knows what she’s talking about, does her job well, is helpful and I can’t fault her. I won’t mention her full name but it’s Judy, she works as a senior assessor in the benefits department and without doubt she’s the most competent, pleasant and downright knowledgeable about what she does for which one of my own ward councillors will probably agree with me on that.
So there you go, a good thing to say about Walsall Council. Back to the crap tomorrow, or at least when the official statement from Tom Ansell is released. Apparently they don’t do it electronically and it will come on paper, yep, back to the 19th century again.

Welcome to Walsall….

I thought I’d do a bit of an introduction to the little place that I live for those who might not know what a wonderful town it is.
I’d wanted to highlight the wonders of Walsall via a bit of photo editing including the ‘Welcome to Walsall MBC’ signs that are at the borders of our borough. However, as my previous post will explain, I was unable to find one. So I had an idea about what new ‘welcome to Walsall’ sign we could put up.
Here’s a few examples:
Image
You may or may not have heard that our little Tory run council is having a bit of a problem in the dosheronies department. So much so that they seem to be trying to cut back and flog off anything that’s available. So here’s your chance ladies and gentlemen, a developer? No problem, the Council has plenty of land it’s trying to get rid of, but hey, you know they’re up shit creek so you can probably screw a good deal out of them, afterall, it’s only public assets afterall. Like to read books? Well, Walsall’s probably not going to suit you as the Council has decided to close all the extended opening times, of course to make learning more accessible to all. Don’t worry though, you’re only a short trip from Labour run Sandwell and Wolverhampton who have libraries that still open in the evening.
Image
Yep, that’s it

Where’s Walsall gone?

Today I went in search of one of the those signs that you find on the borders of metropolitan areas. You know the ones, welcome to so and so a place.
I live not too far from the border with Wolverhampton where Bilston meets Willenhall. There are two of these signs, one on Portobello island and the other on the island half way down the keyway.
Now my reasons for looking for one of these signs will become apparent later on tonight but suffice to say I didn’t find one. Nope, both have disappeared.
Is something going on? Is there a secret plot to erase Walsall from the map? Maybe it’s to stop any Government inspectors finding the place ala taking down road signs during the second world war? Or perhaps Walsall has been abolished altogether without anyone telling us?
Of course, they could just have been nicked for tat but that begs the question. The Wolverhampton signs are still up in the same place so why haven’t they been nicked too? Or do Walsall MBC stick the signs up with blu tack?