Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and RBC Press Releases.

It's not just the local Labour party who cannot get used to the fact that they don't run the council anymore. The whole culture of the one party state is embedded right throughout the council. All requests to see internal documents under Freedom of Information have been denied to us on the direct orders of the Labour party and that stance has been backed up by officers hiding behind the discredited member/officer protocol.

What have they to hide? No point asking, as it will either be shredded or deleted from the inboxes. Open government my arse!

The latest bit of Labour propaganda from the council that would have made Goebbels blush is the press release supposedly in the name of the Lead Councillor for the Environment.

Do you think for one minute that Paul Gittings, Lead Councillor for Environment and Sustainability, really said: "Reading continues to offer generous concessions to residents who require bulky waste collection services and this latest initiative gives further help to those most in need." Bollocks he did!

This is a man who fought tooth and nail to stop this scheme when we introduced it on the October council meeting and proposed an amendment rejecting it and patting himself on the back for doing such a lousy job.

Now I could call him a hypocrite for trying to claim credit for a scheme that he and his fellow Labour councillors so roundly condemned in October, but being a hypocrite will not come as news to seasoned Reading Labour watchers. Instead I'll concentrate on the fatuous and banal press releases put out by the Labour party under the guise of council press releases.

This is how it's done. A press release is written by the RBC PR department, it is passed to the lead councillor to approve and no words have passed anyone's lips. It then gets sent to the Evening Post who then print it verbatim because it's easier and cheaper than researching and printing the real story. Who needs the party to put out press releases when the council will do it for you?

I expect you'll find another council press release out tomorrow quoting Jo Lovelock claiming credit for freezing councillor allowances with her making nauseatingly patronising comments about how tough it is for families (Yes Jo, it is tough and it is YOUR government that is responsible for it, take some bloody responsibility for once).

Just to check I wasn't being unfair, I looked long and hard through the Labour budget and do you know what, there was not a single mention of freezing allowances. In fact if you look through the agenda for tonight's council meeting you can see the original report was to increase special responsibilty allowances, or as everyone else knows them, jobs for the boys if you toe the line.

We are not going to get any major changes to the way Reading is run as long as the existing member/officer protocol which enshrines the right of the ruling party to keep things hidden and non-disclosable stays in place.

The shame on the Tories is that they fully back it, hoping one day that the benefits it currently gives to Labour will one day be theirs.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Leeds: A Warning From History.

The not-so-secret film club went to see "The Damned United" at the weekend. It brought memories flooding back... like just exactly how much I still hated Leeds United!

Leeds were the Chelsea of the day in terms of playground reach and a sobering warning of what can happen when parents are not firm with their offspring. In my class there were only two Arsenal fans with the rest made up of glory hunters and goal hangers.

It wasn’t a difficult choice for me to pick Arsenal, my Mum supported them having moved to Highbury when she arrived from Sri Lanka and my Dad was a Plymouth Argyle fan. By the time he tried to interest me in supporting Argyle, I’d already been an Arsenal fan for a year thanks to my Mum. It was certainly character building as 73-74 was not a good time to be an Arsenal fan in the playground.

The Damned United is an excellent film for which even a passing interest in football is not required to enjoy and a reminder of a dark period for English soccer when Leeds United cheated, hacked and bribed their way to the top.

Friday, 27 March 2009

It's a small world

Talking to people around Katesgrove, as you do, you begin to discover what a small world it really is. Two more Arsenal season ticket holders on the list!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

To Believe In Something...

...not something members of the Labour Party do!




Proper Goth... play it loud!


I should point out that this is not the official video. The more observant of you out there may spot some video clips from Cradle of Filth's cover of 'No Time To Cry', Malice Mizer, The 69 Eyes... and Shaolin Soccers!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Cry Freedom

Finally, after a mere 18 months, the Information Commissioner has written to Reading Borough Council and told them that they were wrong to withhold emails sent from Martin Salter's office to senior council officers.

But then the council was already aware of that. In June 2007, they sent an email to staff telling them that they knew that all such emails were disclosable.

I have now been sent the copies as I originally requested, but there is one slight problem. I have copies of other emails sent by Martin Salter's office which do not appear on the list, so I know for a fact that they are still hiding some from me.

I have also recently spoken to staff who tell me that deleting potentially embarrassing emails is standard practice in many council departments.

The upshot of this experience is that in Reading, Freedom of Information means nothing of the sort. It is down to the officers to sift and delete things they are comfortable with you seeing and if you complain they hide behind the council's ICT policy, refuse to give you the information you are legally entitled to, insult your motives and hope that you can't be arsed to wait for a year and a half, by which time you probably won't need it anyway.

Some officers seem to have forgetten that they are here to serve the people of Reading, not the other way around.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Shreddergate

I'd like to say I was 'shocked and stunned' by 'Shreddergate', but I'm not.

Hiding evidence is deeply ingrained throughout the council and has been for many years the official policy of the Labour administration. We shouldn't therefore be surprised when council employees take it upon themselves to conduct what looks on the surface like a cover up.

Of course, I should be fair and say that it might not be and that there is a perfectly innocent explanation for why staff had to sneak in unpaid at the weekend to shred 25 bags of documents. It could be part of the new efficiency savings we got out of Labour, or the hamsters running the power plant beneath the civic offices might have needed new bedding... but the corrossive matter that the council has to address is that no-one will ever know the truth and now no-one will ever believe them if they are innocent.

And I say that after several occasions when I haven't been told the whole truth about things by the council. In one case after being given a load of cobblers I eventually got an apology for misleading me, but only after I did my own digging and pointed out the gaping holes in their official version of events.

The trouble is that there is no requirement for disclosure and openness and there is no way of finding out the truth without it being filtered through the Labour administration.

As well as the recent shredding scandal, I know that RBC sent around an email in June 2007 telling senior council officers that emails between themselves, MPs and lead councillors WERE subject to disclosure under Freedom of Information and that if the council officers didn't want them released all they needed to do is simply delete them from their inbox because then they wouldn't exist.

I won't start on how technically wrong that statement is!

The timing of this email to council officers is important. The day before it was sent, I had received a response to a Freedom of Information request giving me just the subject and date for emails sent between senior officers and Martin Salter rather than the actual contents I had asked for. As well as the lack of content, I know for a fact that one email he sent was missing in action from the list I was given.

If that email to officers had been sent just one day earlier, it would have been contempt of court and that's too much of a coincidence for me. It was the electronic equivalent of telling staff to make sure they shredded anything they might deem remotely embarrassing in their conversations with Martin Salter and lead councillors.

My official complaint about the matter has now been 18 months with the Information Commissioner, so there has been plenty of time to shred and delete things. I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of accusations made to me about whether the Labour party has used Reading Borough Council as their private campaign piggy bank because undoubtedly if there was any evidence for it none of it exists any more.

Even my FoI request asking for a copy of the email telling senior council officers to delete their emails came back with nothing... because they had dutifully deleted it!

One thing that you will not find in Reading as long as Labour is in charge is open government. They either simply don't believe in it or have too many bodies to hide.

I'll leave it to you the reader to decide which.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Rainmaker

Although not a great reader of his books, I have to admit that film adaptions of John Grisham's books make great cinema.

I spotted one on BBC1 the other night, recorded it and have just got around to watching it. Francis Ford Coppola did a very good rendition of Grisham's story. There was one courtroom scene in particular that was exceptionally good, about a health insurance company that refused to payout for even the most obvious cases.

I'm not going to name the council department that the dialogue reminded me of, because I suspect I'd have another referral to the Chief Executive if I did... but I'll leave it up to you the reader to draw up your own conculsions as to which department this most closely resembles. Go on, I'll bet there is more than one!

Witness: The Company uses playing the odds. The odds that the insured would not consult a lawyer
Defence Lawyer: Now during that time, you were a senior claims executive?
Witness: That is correct
Defence Lawyer: ...and during that time was there ever an occasion you should were given instructions about how you should handle claims?
Witness: Deny all claims for a year. Add up the money saved, deduct the amount spent on quick court settlements. There's a pot of gold left.

No names, no pack drill, as the late John Peel would say!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Just One Tonetto

I've never liked penalties, I was all set to walk out on them during the 1993 FA Cup Final but was saved, thanks to Andy Linighan, from carrying out my own threat. But the trouble is, you really cannot beat them for drama. They're like a car crash... you don't want to watch, but you can't help yourself! I still think we will pay the price for complacency during the January transfer window, but at least we can still enjoy the ride for now.

In more good news, I've been told that Girls At Our Best! are going to release their complete works on Cherry Red in May. All those years of pestering fellow Gooner Adam, the MD of Cherry Red, after matches has paid off! I've been running a fan site for the band since 1996 and they truly are one of the underrated gems of 1980s post-punk pop... but then I would say that wouldn't I!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Goth-tastic!

April 21st, The Eden House are playing The Luminaire in Kilburn High Road. Crackin'!

Back in pre-history, before I got into sound and lighting, I used to do the Friday Disco at Portsmouth Polytechnic (1983-1988) which at the time was the legendary hang out for locals. I did many normal discos at the time (stop laughing in the back row. My Hi-NRG collection was to die for!) but this one didn't pay the DJ so that the Student Union Ents Committee could use it to bankroll their less successful gigs. In the town it was the place to be on a Friday night and it was the first time I'd get regularly get stopped walking down the street that didn't involve the police!

I had a slight advantage over the other DJs as I was a local and knew what people liked. I knew local bad boy band emptifish because the drummer went to my school and his older brother was friend of mine. All very funny when there was a stage invasion and the band had to ask their fans to give our mikes back!

I'd play most things, but it was by and large a goth extraveganza. Specimen, The Cramps, Alien Sex Fiend and my Sisters gobo! I would sneak my sister in even though she was under 18 and then have the Ents officer rush around trying to work out who she was - no chance! I never spoke during the whole evening apart from at the end when I usually told the audience to 'piss off' (ah, the anarchy of youth!) and finished it off with 'White Horses' by Jackie.

It enabled me to do two discos and share a pizza with my hero John Peel who rubbished The Sisters of Mercy before playing 'Temple of Love'. Sell out! In 1985 I managed to squeeze in 10 Cure tracks in a 3 hour stint! Not bad since they'd only just released 'Head on the Door' at the time.

The glory days of Goth may be long gone... but as long as there are underaged kids wearing black and drinking cider in the Forbury Gardens, it'll never be forgotten!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A Bunch of Zeroes

Now that the budget has been set, the Tories can crawl out from their holes and finally post their well rehearsed Lib-Lab pact spiel. It was written weeks ago of course, they even let some of it slip last Wednesday and had to row back and apologise when they discovered that their pre-written lies about 'negotiations' were complete garbage.

The trouble for them is that any neutral observer of the process would have to conclude that there was anything other than a pact as Labour were dragged kicking and screaming to support the Lib Dem budget amendments.

It's a verifiable fact that since this council went to no overall control last May, the Conservatives have constantly voted with the Labour party and against the Lib Dems. They are the real party in bed with Labour.

Amongst others, they backed Labour and opposed our motion to reduce bulky waste charges for the poorest people (which we finally got through in this budget) and also supported Labour's move to prevent scrutiny of the council by limiting the number of call-ins. One of them even voted against his colleagues and with Labour to prevent a call-in of a cabinet decision. The Tories have consistently done Labour's dirty work since May. Pathetic really.

Now they have tried to reposition themselves as self-proclaimed saviours of Reading council tax payers. They are nothing of the sort and only a complete fool could fall for it.

Let's get this absolutely clear. Reading Conservatives did not propose a zero percent council tax rise. They proposed absolutely nothing and were more upset that they'd had to cancel holidays and tickets for events than they were in setting a legal council tax.

A near tearful Andrew Cumpsty wailed about how he had to break the terrible news to his partner that they would have to return to Reading a day early to take part in local democracy. Near brought a lump to my throat.

So what exactly was the Tory approach to setting a budget that they were getting all excited about? Simple, offer the moon on a stick and hope that there is one born every minute.

There is more to setting a budget than promising residents "as much gold as you can eat." Setting a budget is one of the last remaining powers that local councillors have. You could be forgiven for asking the Tories what they done since May to earn their councillor allowances if they can't even be arsed to work up an alternative budget. They've had 10 months to do it, but instead have opted to convince the townsfolk that they could run Reading by the magic of the Wookey Hole Witch.

It's true that Lib Dem, Tory and even Labour councils around the country have managed to set a zero rate, but let's get real here. The two unitary authorities that bear any sort of comparison with Reading are West Berkshire and Wokingham. Both Tory councils. Both are setting a well above zero increase. West Berkshire 3.9% and Wokingham 4.69% - a figure which makes Labour's paying for failure figure in Reading look positively glowing.

And the Tories completely ignore that this year's budget is a direct consequence of them agreeing to back last year's raid on the council's piggy bank to pay for Labour's pre-election bribe. The Tories are as much to blame for this year's increase as Labour are.

Without massive cuts the Tories know that a zero percent council tax in Reading is pie in the sky. They simply don't have the honesty or integrity to either tell us what they are planning to cut or admit that their sloganising is complete bunkum.

Labour might be disreputable, but the Tories are now discredited and shouldn't be trusted to run a whelk stall.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Taxing Situation

Well, no doubt the dust will settle and you'll get the party machine spins tomorrow and the Evening Post printing the Labour Party line, as they have done in every article up to this point. But let's face it, the Lib Dems kicked arse and basically got their original amendment voted through in its entirety.

If you're wondering why it took so long to come up with the wording finally agreed on tonight, Labour are Zillons from the planet Tharg and are not to be trusted. We discovered that during negotiations and found a lot more skeletons in the closet that we think will eventually come out in the wash.

In the end we believe that we've finally got the budget pinned down enough so that they can't wiggle out of it. Time will tell of course, but a wholescale review of council finances and spend has just been agreed on and slated for savings this year, not next.

The Tories were more upset that they had to cancel holidays and tickets for events than actually having any concern for the legality of their position. But hey, they are Tories after all. What else did you expect?