Sunday, 28 November 2010

UPDATE (and apology): Parking, PR, and should the council answer questions?


Polly Rance, Hackney's head of media and external relations, has provided a response to some of the questions posed in the piece below.

Here's what she said: 'Just to let you know that I have not resigned from my role at Hackney and have every intention of returning to work on 3rd May 2011. The conjecture in your e-mail and your article is entirely incorrect, and whilst my employer was quite right not to share HR details with you as a journalist I am more than happy to put the record straight in a personal capacity. By the way, my piece in PRWeek to which you have made several references is not about Hackney Council but making a more general point about the industry. I would no doubt write it differently in the context of the current cuts situation, but my overall point stands, that backroom services such as comms have to strive doubly hard to prove their worth in hard financial times. Please amend your blog so that it no longer implies that I have left my job.'

So apologies to Polly and thanks for the reply.

Original article:

Should Hackney council have answered any questions when its head of parking services was caught out in an alleged case of favouritism? Apparently not, according to its head of PR.

Head of hackney parking, Seamus Adams, had his car returned by his staff after it was towed away and his fine reduced. I think it was a Hackney Gazette story (although it's not on the paper's website yet so here it is from the Daily Mail).

The council leapt to the defence of this officer. (Adams appears to have been happy to collect cash from other people and not return it unless ordered to do so by a court (Check out this freedom of information request worth a story in its own right!) which didn't seem to be what happened to him.)

Meanwhile Hackney's "interim assistant chief executive, communications and consultation", Carl Welham, had recently told Blood and Property that: "The council does not answer questions relating to individual members of staff."

Blood and Property had asked if Polly Rance, head of Hackney's PR and Communications had left her job.

Carl Welham wouldn't answer and added: "I hope in future that you will confine your questions to matters of council business."

This wall of privacy (Not there for Michael Sobell and Seamus Adams) was in place even though Polly Rance had aired her views in public. There is no suggestion that she has done anything wrong, just that she is probably an important figure in Hackney's policy making.

See Carl Wellham here on YouTube saying that councils face major cuts and work has to be done to "make sure communications is not a casualty of that by proving we are an essential part of the business and not a nice to have add on."

Which sounded remarkably similar to Polly in a PR Week piece where she made a case for maintaining the size of the communications department:"In a recession the need for clear, accessible comms is greater than ever, as residents seek advice on debt, jobs and housing."

Is it none of our business whether these public calls for more PR have been taken on board or been ditched? No suggestion that anyone has done anything wrong, just a question about council business.


'An insult to the people of Hackney' or an injury?

The Local Government Chronicle's chief reporter has provided more terrifying insights into the government's attitude to Hackney as Mayor Pipe does his best to get some straight answers about cuts. (More background here)

It is disturbing stuff. Pipe told the LGC reporter that the government's response to his questions about the cuts were an 'insult to the people of Hackney'. Sadly the end result is more likely to be an injury: evidence that the government will let places like Hackney become dysfunctional casualties of the cuts.

A story about the potential demise of Operation Trident - in the Guardian and the BBC - demonstrates that some of these assaults on life in Hackney may not be directly aimed at the borough. The Hackney Gazette had a source claiming that these reports were 'taken out of context' which is hardly a convincing denial.

And the official 'denial' is nothing of the sort - it had a Hackney Police spokeswoman saying the police were committed to building on the success of Trident, not necessarily with Trident.

Trident could even stay as it is and Hackney still lose out. A slight shift in political priorities at the top could see the task force's efforts concentrated on other boroughs - Hackney and Lambeth have been the main recipients of Trident's efforts.

There is also the question of elected police chiefs and the effect that could have on places like Hackney - watch The Wire to see what goes on behind the scenes in a politicised police force.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hackney Gazette and ELA leave East End (after 144 years)

The Hackney Gazette and the East London Advertiser are moving offices from Bethnal Green to Ilford. The two papers currently share an office in Bethnal Green (Cambridge Heath Road) not far from Hackney but will be moving on November 26.

The Gazette has been based outside Hackney for quite a while but the ELA has been in Tower Hamlets for 144 years covering Jack The Ripper (who turned up in 1888 20 years after the paper was established) and surviving the Blitz.

Sad to see it move - especially when its owners seem to be making money (as pointed out in this Guardian Article). May be the council papers: the weekly East End Life and the fortnightly Hackney Today were also responsible. Whatever the reason it'll be harder for journalists to do their jobs properly now. (But for Tower Hamlets politics try Trial by Jeory)

I worked at the ELA for four years starting a few weeks before 9/11 (2001) and leaving a few weeks after the 7/7 (2005) bombings. Not long after I arrived the then editor Richard Tidiman (now dead) opened an envelope containing a white powder and a note claiming it was anthrax. When the police eventually turned up - there were a lot of anthrax scares at the time - they said it was probably talcum powder (no tests just said we should wait until we got ill before worrying).

But we were all pretty obsessed with terror. I took the picture below because of the stupendous terror events these billboards claimed to be reporting - I don't remember any of them.

The picture was taken in June 2005 (The date can be seen above Ricin 'Terrer') when East London was buzzing with terror threats.

Some more pictures from the good old days...

Down at Tower Hamlets Town Hall in 2005 when councillors walked out ...

George Galloway after his election.

Oona King before she lost the election....

Oldreporter said: "A pal of mine, a good sub, was made redundant a while ago and did some shifts at one of these "subbing factories." (Like the new Ilford office) After a few days he began to realise that good stories were being down-played because of the formatted pages and crap stories were getting shows. He raised the matter with his chief-sub or equivalent and was told: "Don't worry about it. We're not here to do anything other than get the pages away." A little later he was given another story sub which had the makings of a splash for the title he was working on that day. He approached his boss again and told him with a couple more inquiries made by the reporter in the area and a little tweak the story was much better than the one he had subbed as the splash. Again he was told: "Forget it." That's what people who care are up against. If the bosses don't give a toss neither do their minions. And weeklies will continue to go down the pan.

Another comment came from 'Localreporter': I work on one of the above papers, about to be moved to Ilford - miles off patch.Since the centralised CMS system was introduced not long ago, which is obviously enabling this move, it has been evident that quality has declined. We are often being told to "write to fit" the space provided, so stories with worth are being squeezed into nib size, and rubbish that would normally be used as space fillers is being given more room than it deserves. All so that pages can be "sent off" to production, and all part and parcel of this centralised subbing system. Working in Ilford, several miles and over an hour's journey off patch, is going to be yet another recipe for disaster. All very demoralising..."

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Hackney public sector employees: 16,000 or 60,000 or 130,000?

The number of people claiming job seeker's allowance rose by 60 in October, not a huge increase, but this is the fourth consecutive monthly rise. It brings the number job seekers in the borough to 9,987 or 6.6% of the working population.

The big question now is how many people will lose their jobs as a result of the massive cuts being made to public sector budgets? There seem to be a range of views:

On November 5 2010 Hackney's representative on the London Assembly, Jennette Arnold, wrote: "In Hackney we have one of the highest rates of to public sector employees living in the borough in London. Over 40% of working people in North Hackney and Stoke Newington are employed the public sector." If Hackney North working population 77,435ish and 40% of that is 31,000 people with Hackney South yet to be added.

If you take the latest Hackney Council economic update (out this month after a long wait) you will discover: "Official statistics show 144,400 people of working age in Hackney, 68% of the total resident population." Using this figure and Arnold's 40%, the estimate is around 58,000.

Arnold's vision is mild mannered compared to Diane Abbott who thinks that Hackney will be like a pit village after the mine has closed. Writing in the Mirror Abbott said: "I live in an area where 90% of people work in the public sector." If she meant Hackney in general that would be 130,000 people. If she meant Hackney North (working population 77,435ish) that would be 70,000 people.

However Hackney Citizen and The Commune both have the number of people in Hackney who work in the public sector at 23,000. The latest Guardian Datablog on public sector employment says that 16,400 people in Hackney are employed in the public sector and that this is 20.02% of the borough's working population, less than the the national average (20.4%). This would suggest that Hackney should not be worse affected than anywhere else.

Sadly the latest Hackney economics paper doesn't specifically address how many people work in the public sector.

Latest Hackney JSA claimant counts:

Hackney borough total (Local Authority): working population extrapolated from figures in red.

Has the population of Hackney increased by 10,000 since March? Statistical anomalies like June/July when the number of people on the dole increased but the percentage of the working population decreased.

October: 9,987 (6.6%) - (9,987/0.066=151,318) (+60)
September: 9,927 (6.6%) - (9,927/0.066=150,409) (+136)
August: 9,791 (6.5%) - (9,791/0.065=150,630) (+325)
July: 9,466 (6.3%) - (9466/0.063= 150,253) (+60)
June : 9,406 (6.5%) (9,406/ 0.065 = 144,707)
May: 9,616 (6.7%) (9,616/.067=143,522)
April: 9,663 (6.7%) (9,663/.067=144,223)
March: 9,846 (6.8%) (9,846/0.68=144,794)
February: 10,044 (7%)
January: 9,905 (6.9%)

December: 9743 (6.7%)
November: 9,795 (6.8%)
October: 9,827 (6.8%)
September: 9,884 (7%)
August 9,826 (6.9%) (+276)
July: 9550 (6.7%) (+242)
June: 9,308 (6.6%) ()
May: 9,377 (6.6%) (+379)
April: 8,998 (6.3%) (+373)
March: 8,625 (6.1%) (+ 471)
February: 8,154 (5.7%) (+ 804)
January: 7,350 (5.2%)

December: 7,245 (5.1%)
November - 7,013 (4.9%)
October - 6,982 (4.9%)
September - 6,942 (4.9%)
August - 6,803 (4.8%)
July - 6,454 (4.6%)
June - 6,440 (4.6%)

Hackney North

Oct - 4,801 (6.2%) - (4,801/0.062= 77,435)
Sept - 4,772 (6.2%) - (4,709/0.062=76,967)
August - 4,709 (6.1%) - (4,709/0.061= 77,197)
July - 4,572 (5.9%) - (4,572/0.059= 77,491)
June - 4,538 (6.0%) - (4,538/0.06= 75,633)
May - 4,637 (6.2%) - (4,637/0.062=74,790)
April - 4,727 (6.3%) - (4,727/0.063=75,031)
March - 4,336 (6.2%) - (4,336/0.062=69,935)
February - 4,450 (6.4%) - (4,450/0.064=69,531)
January - 4,402 (6.3%) - (4,402/0.063=69,873)

December - 4331 (6.2%)
November - 4386 (6.3%)
October - 4365
September - 4,338
August - 4,331
July - 4206
June - 4,118
May - 4,081

Hackney South
Oct - 5,164 (7.3%) - (5,164/0.073=70,739)
Sept - 5,140 (7.3%) - (5,140/0.073=70,410)
August - 5,056 (7.1%) - (5,056/0.071 = 71,211)
July - 4,871 (6.9%) - (4,871/0.069= 70,549)
June - 4,851 (7.0%) - (4,851/0.07= 69,300)
May - 4,959 (7.2%) - (4,959/0.072=68,875)
April - 4,908 (7.1%) - (4908/0.071=69,126)
March - 5,510 (7.6%) - (5,510/0.076=72,500)
February - 5,594 (7.7%) - (5,594/0.077=72,649)
January - 5503 (7.6%) - (5503/0.076)=72,407)

December - 5,412 (7.5%)
November - 5,409 (7.5%)
October - 5,462
September - 5,546 (7.8%)
August - 5,495
July - 5,344
June - 5,190
May - 5,296

Useful links
Guardian Datablog:
Guardian Datablog on public sector employee stats:

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Pipe Vs Pickles: but will Ken be more dangerous?

Mayor Pipe & Eric Pickles MP

“I need no lectures from you on efficiency,” Jules Pipe told Eric Pickles, minister in charge of imposing cuts on councils like Hackney. The report came via the Local Government Chronicle chief reporter's blog - about the London Councils summit (pics) on November 6.

According to LGC blog there had: "been an exchange of letters between the two in the previous week and it seems Mr Pickles had come to the event in combative mood."

But our mayor seems to have done well: "With Mr Pipe remaining cool and collected - and remaining diplomatic - and Mr Pickles becoming increasingly angry and rattled." (Another account of it here)

It seems mayor Pipe is becoming an important figure in battle against the coalition cuts. On Thursday he said as much in his 'Talking Point' - on the letters page of the Hackney Gazette: "I have called on the government to think again and I'm lobbying them on behalf of Hackney and councils across London..."

But Pipe has a more subtle problem than Eric Pickles as he becomes a London-wide player. It seems London politicians are experiencing a cross-party unity against coalition government cuts (not on moral grounds. Apparently Conservative outer London boroughs are worried by the threat of an influx of Labour voting folk shifted from inner city boroughs by benefit cuts).

The problems will come if there's any sign that Johnson might win concessions for London's poor. Would Ken Livingstone allow Labour politicians like Pipe to help Johnson score a London victory as the London Mayoral elections approach?

Although the fates of poor people in London look like they are bound up with the Labour Party, Johnson's stance - probably prompted by Labour boroughs - throws a spanner in the works for Ken.

So could Ken Livingstone and Jules Pipe contemplate undermining Johnson if a political battle with Cameron gathers pace? Who knows? May be, in the very long run, it would be better for Hackney's poorest if Johnson doesn't succeed. But any assumption that the well-being of Hackney is solidly intertwined with the fate of the Labour Party should probably be suspended until after the next batch of elections.

Also, Hackney has two MPs and one Mayor whose attentions are diverted beyond Hackney's borders. They all see their jobs as fighting cuts for the nation as a whole, hopefully they won't use it as an excuse to avoid what De Beauvoir councillors predict predict will be "devastating decisions" about Hackney.

Diane Abbott: never get involved in politics of racial division

Some odds and ends of interest

Diane Abbott: "The Labour Party should never get involved in the politics of racial division."

Zebras Vs Pelicans: Beechholme and Environs...

A bit of gossipy stuff -Seen first in Hackney Hive but it's in this 'Duchess of 'ackney' blog.

All stemming from this in the Hackney Gazette which then supported Cllr Louisa Thomson here

And some happy research saying Hackney has a good Pupil Referral Unit system....

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Chatsworth Road Market pics

A busy day on Chatsworth Road. Congratulations to any one involved.

I bought a pie and some jam. There were lots of people hopefully buying more than just pie and jam. Here's a review from another blogger at Clapton Is Good:

Good luck with the next one.

Democracy problem in Stamford Hill on the mend?

It is hard to tell how significant this may be but an election is due to take place for a parent governor at the Yesodey Hatorah Senior School for girls.

Here's an extract from If you tickle us we will laugh:

.... News reaches me that, to the consternation of those who dictate our way of life, Yesodei Hatorah Secondary School will be holding elections for a Parent Governor.

And if that isn’t enough, apparently a species of the fairer sex has had the temerity to stand for the position. I mean, what is the world coming to if a woman can try and elicit votes from parents which include men (though one wouldn’t think so when attending open days, parent evenings, graduation ceremonies or any other school activity except if it includes a visit by the PM or a few police officers when the men all miraculously appear)?

How, we all ask, has it come to this? Where have we gone wrong? Is this the result of a (non-existent) fair admissions policy? Is it the influence of having, G-d forbid, parents with tops which indicate a shape beneath and skirts which hint at legs ambulating within?

Some of the school's decisions about admissions were recently overruled after being appealed by parents.

Geoffrey Alderman, a commentator on the community, took an interest in the issue. Meanwhile the school's principal (I think), Rabbi Abraham Pinter, provided some comment on the situation, as did the learning trust.

Some of the issues about democracy and the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community have been discussed on Blood and Property before - they also surfaced in the last council meeting when Labour councillors more than implied that the political representatives for the community (the Conservative Party) were not doing an effective job (The suggestion was that the long-running dispute about loft extensions had over-ridden issues concerning the poorest members of the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community who have failed to use the benefits to which they are entitled.)

If anyone was at this event: this evening (Sunday) it would be great to find out what was said.

Apparently "Liberal Democrat Ian Sharer and Conservative Simche Steinberger will be part of a panel discussion on how their Jewish values led them into politics."