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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

17 questions about Haringey Council's gift of public land to OnSide Youth Zones charity.

I rather stumbled on this issue by accident. As Chair of Friends of Chestnuts Park I learned that Haringey Council possibly planned to fence off and give away a large chunk of our park, for £1, to OnSide Youth Zones charity. As you'll see from the briefing below, we believe that this threat has now passed. However, enough questions remain about the process which led to such a scare for it to feel a duty to share them with others who may be interested.

I'm writing here in a personal capacity, not as Chair of the Friends. And I'll happily return to my more usual concerns and interests now I've posted this briefing - for example we're working on the community orchard trees near the tennis courts tonight from 6pm - join us!

If any of the links in the briefing don't work, please copy and paste in your browser.  I'll also happily correct any errors in the info below as soon as I learn about them, plus post any updates or answers we receive to the 17 questions as we learn more.  

17 unanswered questions arising from the Haringey/OnSide story, plus some background info gleaned from sources in the public domain and direct phone calls to those involved

1          A small victory for public parks, but questions remain….

As soon as Friends of Chestnuts Park (FOCP) heard in late March that our park was the preferred location for Chestnuts Community Centre to be demolished and a big chunk of parkland to be fenced off and given away to the charity OnSide to build a “Youth Zone”, (we were not informed officially), we moved fast to research everything connected with this apparently unusual deal.  The more we discovered, the more odd it all seemed – disposing of public park land, for £1, for 125 years, plus giving a £3m donation and guaranteed £250k pa revenue for 3 years, to a charity with an ambitious business plan to raise a lot of matched funding through grants and donors but with no record of delivery in London.  (We believe that £250k may nearly equal the current annual LBH youth service budget).  At first we were told that the Youth Zone would only occupy the same footprint as the Community Centre (810m2), but it soon became clear that the new building was projected to be 2500m2 (equivalent to 3 Community Centres side by side), plus enclosed outdoor courts etc and would involve fencing off the entire corner of the park from public access. The smallest OnSide Youth Zone we could find has an overall total footprint of 5500m2. It would have taken away more than 10% of this little park, for 365 days a year, in an area of green space deficiency and in breach of London Parks legislation. 

On 1 April the Friends of Haringey Parks Forum (FOHP) unanimously called on Haringey Parks Service to resist any reduction in open green space. On 2 April a packed meeting of Friends of Chestnuts Park met with Cllr Ayisi, lead Cabinet member for this project, and made our views clear that LBH policy to protect public green space should be followed, and also that the Community Centre should not be demolished without replacement plans and funding in place.  We were also very clear that we were strong supporters of new facilities and services for young people - it’s a difficult position to be seen to be questioning something new which seems so shiny and nice - but most were sceptical about the proposal as it stands, wherever it is sited. The potential risk scenario of creating a large shed, like some of the worst PFIs, unsustainable in the long term, was highlighted.  The project just does not seem to have been sufficiently researched or debated, especially by those with an in- depth understanding of youth work practice and models.  It’s true that OnSide are promising to bring in a lot of outside money to run their iconic building, but it also demands a big investment from LBH, and many felt we hadn’t heard a convincing argument that it was the right long term model for this scarce investment. It commits to a new building, run forever (well 125 years) by an unaccountable outside independent organisation, rather than to an ongoing service, responsive to local need and locally accountable.

On 5 April Cllr Ayisi phoned FOCP to tell us that Chestnuts Park, and all other public green space in the borough, had been taken out of the frame for a Youth Zone and that they would be looking at the other sites (currently 6?) on their list.  That’s good for parks and Community Centre users, and we thanked him, but serious questions remain, which are listed below.  We remain vigilant about Chestnuts, and are reconvening at 3.30pm on Saturday 6 May to update each other and further discuss the issues that have been raised for us by this scare. (For more background on OnSide and LBH, see paras 3 - 5 below and also www.friendsofchestnuts.org.uk

 2         17  Questions which need to be answered by LBH before one can fully judge the wisdom of the OnSide contract

  1. Why has there been no procurement process?  Other than the promise of additional money for it, what was the decider for going for this OnSide model, when it doesn’t seem to have been researched or commissioned locally? 
  2. Is the governance profile of OnSide one which LBH Cabinet admires and considers suitable for this borough? http://www.onsideyouthzones.org/about-us/our-board/ (If link does not work, please copy and paste into your browser. For some reason this morning all the links to OnSide and Council minutes in this briefing are playing up!)
  3. Why the need to actually give away public land if OnSide doesn’t want to use it to raise collateral/loans? 
  4. What is the Commission/Working Party’s remit and why is its reporting deadline (June) so very short? 
  5. How come the Cabinet made the firm decision to go ahead on 14 March prior to the Working party even convening? (Unless the Working Party is only delegated to decide on location, does not that undermine the working party’s role?) 
  6. If the Working Party, after its research, decides that that local and outreach youth provision is needed as much as, if not more than, a new flagship centre, will OnSide still be the appointed provider, in spite of all its track record being in single flagship centres?  (Tweaking OnSide’s usual model to include some additional local delivery, and outreach and/or using additional donated money to fund and/or run Bruce Grove Youth Centre, might seem attractive. But if that is the model desired, then the partnership with OnSide becomes less logical and surely should be procured and commissioned in the usual manner)
  7. What will be the knock-on effect on other facilities, e.g. the GLA-supported new climbing wall at Ashley Rd, and other sports centres when separate facilities are established, possibly with greater subsidy than existing ones? 
  8. What happens after 3 years, when the initial commitment from donors dries up? (Other Youth Zones are having to consider commercial hires to keep going at this point.)
  9. Who  - even for a moment - thought that it was appropriate to give away and build on even one sq metre of public parkland, let alone 5500 sq m?
  10. The Cabinet minutes state “Where land identified is open space the Council must before disposing of the land cause notice of its intention to do so, specifying the land in question, to be advertised in two consecutive weeks in a newspaper circulating in the area in which the land is situated, and consider any objections to the proposed disposal which may be made to it”. Does this seem an adequate form of warning about such a breach of the council’s own public green space policy?
  11. What budget was going to be found to replace Chestnuts Community Centre?
  12. Was the loss of rent to LBH (most recently we think it was £22k pa) from Chestnuts Community Centre factored in to the financial model for siting the Zone in its place?  
  13. Why is this charity, OnSide, being treated so much more favourably than any other charity from the borough or elsewhere? (Others can raise matched funding, donations etc, but are rightly obliged to offer services as per LBH requirements in return for LBH funding. They also have to pay rent on premises. The entire delivery of a borough service, in this case youth services, is not usually given to an outside organisation to deliver independently, as they see fit, for ever, rent free, however much match funding is promised by them). 
  14. The new facility would be run by a local Board of independent OnSide trustees. The inaugural chair is City Alderman Alastair King queenhithe.com/career/. Given that trustees’ fiduciary duty within Charity Law is to only look after the aims of their own charity, why did the Cabinet minutes refer to the Council having representation on the new Board?  (According to Charity law, Trustees cannot “represent” any outside body. Other youth zone boards operate independently from local political accountability). 
  15. If LBH has £3m capital to put in as match, and £250k pa revenue, where is the evaluation of the alternative options for this investment, including for example investing in Pendarren outdoor activity centre in Wales, Bruce Grove Youth Centre etc? 
  16. Who will be valuing the land given away? (The cabinet minutes refer to regulations whereby the land can be undervalued by up to £2m but still given away if an argument is made that it is of social value).
  17. What conversations have taken place so far between OnSide and LBH  - when, where and who was involved, before this decision came to Cabinet? 

3          LBH public land gift/disposal to OnSide – how and why it seems to have been agreed

3.1      OnSide originally approached LBH and have apparently been having informal talks with Council for around 3 years. “The Council had not considered developing a major purpose built youth facility in the borough before being approached by OnSide” (Cabinet minutes).  Indeed, the partnership with them for the product they offer was neither commissioned nor procured by LBH. It appears that OnSide's offer of raising matched money and talk of an “iconic” and single “flagship centre” may have turned heads, even though the actual product has not been commissioned, and many of those close to work with young people and experienced in youth work are not convinced by OnSide’s facilities-led model. Whilst it is true that these kind of iconic new centres are popular venues for ribbon cutting with major donors and politicians, they are not the only solution to meet youth work needs in Haringey.  Youth work is about trusted relationships – adults who “walk alongside” young people. In this terrible funding climate, much of this kind of youth work has lost its funding.  It’s not just about facilities and capital spend, but crucially about revenue, experienced staff, and supporting young people to access facilities that already exist. Building a big shed of a Youth Zone, with a membership fee structure, which can then suffer PFI type crises after 3 years, is not necessarily the right way forward. But frankly, it’s not easy to judge that right now as the LBH decision to go ahead just appears hasty and not fully evaluated. 

With the offer of ownership of free prime land for 125 years, a £3m cash donation to a building they would outright own and manage, and guaranteed contribution of £250k pa for three years, there are many of us who believe we too could raise impressive capital and revenue match and offer great services to local young people. 

OnSide are under time pressure in Haringey as £1m of their £3m match comes from a promised Queen’s Trust grant which is time limited because that Trust is winding up in 2019/2020. Hence perhaps the pressure on LBH to rush, including making such an unsuitable offer to give away public green space.  

3.2      Due process?  How it looks from the outside from info in the public domain

 From observing other processes like this at LBH, I guess that at some point in February the Labour Group of councillors agreed to go ahead with the establishment of a Commission/Working Party to examine the principle of going ahead with the OnSide offer, the draft contract and commenting on location etc with a reporting date in June. Presumably various councillors volunteered to join it.  But then on 14 March LBH Cabinet formally agreed the partnership with OnSide, with final land disposal delegated to officers – apparently not subject to any decision about the core principles and  model made by the working party. https://www.minutes.haringey.gov.uk/documents/s91897/Cabinet%20pape... .  The working party subsequently formed comprises Cllrs Mark Blake, Eugene Ayisi, Barbara Blake, Lorna Reith and one other Labour councillor. I do not know if it has convened yet nor the terms of reference for their work. I don't doubt that they will work in good faith, but they have a very short timeline, and, it seems, little room to manoeuvre given the Cabinet has already made its decision to go ahead with the model - unless the opportunity is opened to reconsider that decision.  

3.3      The decision to offer up Chestnuts Park and Community Centre

At some point before 14 March, after looking at 16 sites, it was apparently concluded by LBH that Chestnuts Park was the only site large enough for such a huge building (2500m2 building, 5500m2 actual zone area including outside court etc) and so this was the site provisionally offered. Chestnuts was the only site remaining in the frame, and remained there for several weeks.  OnSide were still concerned about the location, believing correctly that it was not sufficiently accessible from across the borough. (Their concern probably increased once they were also informed about the park’s QEII Fields in Trust protected status, the park’s sewer and drainage problems, its position in a buildings Conservation Area, LBH policy not to build on green space, the lack of plans or budget for rebuilding Chestnuts Community Centre, etc ..). Fields in Trust were also concerned and notified LBH that the land giveaway looked as if it would break the Trust of protection.   

4         OnSide  nationally - https://www.onsideyouthzones.org 

Set up in 2008, OnSide has a particular model, with a single aim, "to build a network of 21st Century Youth Centres, giving young people quality, safe and affordable places to go in their leisure time". Some people feel that this model has worked well in Northern towns with a single town centre, where they currently have 8 zones, with the oldest running for 6 years, but most less than 3 years. OnSide now have an extremely ambitious national growth strategy, to grow 20 zones by 2020. This exponential growth rate would usually be considered risky. http://www.onsideyouthzones.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/youthzon...  

Their national board has an unusual profile for the 21st Century in the UK - 10 white men and one white woman https://www.onsideyouthzones.org/about-us/our-board/.  Their philanthropic model seems more a facilities-based model for youth work, rather than a relationship-based model. The policy to charge young people annual membership of c£5 and a per visit fee of 50p, is part of their philosophy. They have a good track record of attracting very wealthy business owners to donate substantial amounts for 3 years. These donors often also chair and/or serve on the local Boards.  Many of them have been generous donors to their local Youth Zones.

 5         OnSide Youth Zones in London

There are no Youth Zones yet in London. It’s a harder environment for their model to operate, as boroughs tend not to have the centre of town locations which suit OnSide’s model. But OnSide aims for 5 new London zones by 2020. Once a borough has given agreement, OnSide works initially with local young people to consult on local branding and a name for their Youth Zone, and the kinds of activities which the new building should house.  We believe the five boroughs below are their current target boroughs in London:

Finally, it may well be that OnSide’s offer of masses of cash to seemingly solve ongoing challenges in funding youth work is super attractive, but in my experience it’s never that simple, and if due process is followed you tend to get better decisions. 
Ceri Williams, Chair, Friends of Chestnuts Park, but other than the info in para 1 about Chestnuts Park, writing here in a personal capacity.

April 10 2017

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This seems to be an issue of process, as you note. What seems to happen is that the senior tier of our borough's Civil Servants present solutions very broadly responding to stated policy needs. The budget, proposed by Civil Servants with leeway for Cllrs to change some bits of it for political reasons, is agreed  by Cllrs according to which of the stuff officers propose. Civil Servants then get on with the spend.

Those Civil Servants must suppose that Cllrs represent 'the voice of the people' , even though under our present system, Cllrs do not have to do what people want, they're free to make up their own minds on every issue - that's how representative democracy is supposed to work.

We've never been able to recognise a better way of doing it.

Was the last major change in youth facilities the 2011 Cabinet decision to savagely cut funding for Youth Centres, despite being warned that it would lead to riots? Getting it wrong can lead to huge consequences.

So what is are Cabinet Members to do when the Director of Children's Services presents them with a scheme? Presumably, the team of Officers working on the scheme went through all the due diligence needed and doubtless the Cabinet members build up a level of trust in their professional competence.  We'll never know, they just don't talk about it in public, presumably because it would be politically 'dangerous' to do so.

The only role for Cllrs I can see is to put a 'smell test' on these plans - what other valid comments can they make?  It can't be beyond the officers's ken to do their own 'pre-smell' test so I imagine that most proposals sail through, effectively making them fait accompli.  The Civil Servants must know this, must be able to 'play' the system, taking the measure of the Cllrs, knowing in advance before it goes public what the reaction is likely to be.  

If I were doing it, I'd probably also plan a role for Cllrs so they don't feel ordered about - give them something to get their teeth into. After all, many Cllrs are not there for long, whereas the civil servants that remain, having survived massive cuts over many years, have probably been there for long enough to see every single Cllr replaced over the years. The clear role Cllrs seem to regularly fail at is to implement the express will of local people.  Had Cllrs consulted widely on this mess, it would have been different.  

Worse for me is the crying shame of the missed opportunity for Cllrs to explain again and again to people that they can't have it both ways - either take an interest in local stuff and get involved or don't, but if you don't you lose the right to have your voice heard as loudly if you don't put in the work of at least looking into the basic facts before expressing an opinion.  People complain about Council mistakes as if it was the Council alone to blame - it's us too, if we don't keep an eye, we only have ourselves to blame if we don't see things coming. If the Council get comfortable that nobody's looking they get more dictatorial.

What seems to happen is that the 'closed' loop of broad policy aims responded to by Officer-led plans is embedded in the workflow - it's the way they've always done it. It even includes measures of their effectiveness, room for retrospective 'lessons learned' etc. - they do their best to cover all bases.

I don't know how many times it goes wrong, but it seems to be far too often.  The missing part seems always to be the same - the lack of effective 'consultation' of those most directly affected.  The Civil Servants have ticked that box time and time again with a team devoted to better consultations, driven no doubt by plenty of work that goes on nationally, yet they continue to get it wrong time and time again, and not to learn.

People who vote, vote Labour here. There seems no reason to vote otherwise given the lowly opposition so, although many are vociferously unhappy with our Council, few bother to voice opposition through the ballot box every four years. The Council gets reelected by a small proportion of residents (it can be 20%) - the rest (80%) don't vote. How can we support a system like this, where 80% do not vote in local elections? How can any Cllr claim to speak for people when most didn't support them? How does a Cllrs imagine what the non-voters approve of? It is a tyranny imposed.

One reason may be that people have no chance for selectivity - it's one vote every four years, red or blue pill.  The answer may be to introduce online voting with a lot more granularity (locals voting often on every local issue) so as to reflect the reality of the spectrum of left to right opinion we all hold, but the politicians don't want to have to submit to that democratic imperative, so it ain't going to happen anytime soon.

Participatory budgeting? Not on your nelly, Cllrs know best. How about education about the decision factors, confirming to the Govt's 'Transparency Code'? #forgetabboutit

The proposal talks in terms of 'social value' - a jargon phrase hidden by smoke -and-mirrors.  Calculation of the social value of our amenities as applicable to projects is an interesting exercise that should have been formal long ago - if the Council want to deploy based on this measure, let them publish tables and Cllrs refine it until there is general agreement - then we'll have a real 'triple bottom line'.

When stuff is imposed on us it takes a big, publicly visible mistake for the Council to admit it and retract - even then, what some can see is plain crazy still gets rolled out and no comeback occurs.  Often plans are made that are seemingly impossible to be reversed (like sell-offs) so no point in post-mortems. Let sleeping dogs lie.

When it can be proven after the fact to have been a huge mistake it's still not openly recognised as such, because the faults in the way change is brought about is so hard to alter. What big mistakes have the Council ever acknowledged?

Mistakes will still happen if the Council take up the challenge of being more transparent but it will be fairer, more just. They could do it, they just don't want to. One change, for instance, is to abandon 'commercial confidentiality' - central Government have told all councils not to use it, that it harms local government and results in poor value for money, but they insist on keeping key facts confidential for ever, with no right of FOI.  I want to be able to read every email, see every document, from the thousands of people and billions of pounds residents give via taxes to spend on our borough in our names.

If it was more open, we could more exactly pinpoint how to more effectively input before the damage is done and further, highlight what mistake was made.

Transparency would need to be increased so that everyone could see more or less everything the Council does and was planning, through guided sections of the website.  That would lead to an amorphous, outside group (interested residents) having a big influence over Council affairs.

That would be a good thing, wouldn't it?

Chris, It might be helpful if you read (re-read) Ceri's previous posting on this topic. And looked up the available Council documents.

Then, rather than begin with your own theory of "what seems to happen"  involving hypothetical actions by the"senior tier of our borough's Civil Servants",  instead formulating some factual questions you'd like answered.

Obviously, there are obstacles to discovering truth when our council operates so extensively on the basis of PR, half-truths, and upbeat storytelling.
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"For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme; how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us. I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you. Our country is not flourishing."

- Quotation from Václav Havel's first New Year's Address to the Nation as President of post-communist Czechoslovakia, 1st January 1990

Since posting these 17 questions and briefing about OnSide, I've been contacted privately by various people from towns and boroughs where OnSide operates, which has made me even more convinced that the LBH Cabinet deal with OnSide needs urgently to be reconsidered. Apparently there is a negative effect on the services that the rest of the voluntary sector in an area is able to give once OnSide move in.

Because of their size, and the enormous advantage they have over all competitors due to the hugely favourable match deal (£3m capital and £0.25m revenue x 3 yrs) from the local authority, OnSide tend to hoover up both the available private sponsorship and donations, and the available grants - and all for just the one project, a large youth sports centre building in one patch of the town or borough. 

When others complain, they are told that OnSide have a proven business model, and that for the first 3 years OnSide will match the Council's £0.25m revenue with £0.75m revenue.But their model actually requires £1m per annum to run their big buildings. It's not as if there is any spare to subsidise other local provision. 

Also, any properly investigative visit to an established Youth Zone will reveal that, just like all the rest of the sector, their biggest challenge is funding. In Manchester for example I believe that the Centre is closed during the day time during the holidays because local schools successfully competed to undercut the daily rate for holiday play centre provision. There are also problems in the more recent Youth Zone applications e.g. in London, in that, unlike Wigan for example, (where the footprint is huge and I believe they can take up to 400 young people per day), there is not enough land to build to that size, and so much fewer young people per day can use the Zone, thus putting more pressure on their business model, and even more need for the external grants, in competition with other local providers.  

Other local children's voluntary sector providers are also told to "work with" OnSide. But if they offer activities within the Youth Zone, it seems they still can't claim the outcomes as theirs in their funding reports, nor do they receive the 50p entry fee paid by the young people. 

There is also of course a negative effect on local authority all-age sports centre provision, which can be undercut by the 50p entry cost of the OnSide centre for young people within this particular age group. This can lead to the spectre of existing well-equipped public sports centres near Youth Zones being under used, with knock-on effects on all age groups. In most boroughs and towns, given the existence of sports centres, plus recent proliferation of new schools, academies/PFIs etc, there is not a shortage of sports halls, pitches, climbing walls, outdoor courts etc. After 5pm and at weekends and holidays many of these are empty, or unable to open economically. I would contend that the building of large, new, expensive-to-run Youth Zone buildings may not be the solution to youth work needs in a borough, but could rather be unnecessary vanity projects to give donors and politicians the feelgood factor.  Of course young people enjoy the facilities, and will tell you so. But everyone involved in youth and sports work can show you young people enthusing. That's the real feelgood factor. 

As ever, if there are any errors in what I have written above, I will happily issue corrections. To date I have received no corrections to fact, nor any answers to the 17 questions I originally posted. 

The questions you have raised, Ceri are those which Haringey staff should have been raising since this proposal was put forward.
Maybe the questions have been raised and answers obtained - perhaps a while ago when the proposal emerged into the "Cabinet" and  public view. If so I am not aware of councillors having been made aware of the additional information.
Thanks for your further work on this. And also for "modelling" the openness and accountability we should be expecting from council staff and our elected councillors.

Thanks for revealing such a scandalous proposal in all its detail.

Q17 might be answered by a FoI request.

Those familiar with the concerns and debates raised by the cuts to the youth service in 2010-11 may remember that one issue raised by the youth who were petitioning against closures was that they dared not travel around the borough for fear of meeting people from rival gangs!  Even to the extent that a lot of them were afraid to come from Tottenham to a rally at the Civic Centre. So a single mammoth youth centre seems undesirable. 

Q13 and Q15 raise issues about the propriety of this 'procurement' process and would apply regardless of the site(s) chosen. 

Hi Anne, I'd like to understand what goes wrong so that I can maybe offer potential fixes.

It seems to me that the problem lies somewhere in the Council Officers realm. I don't think any Cllr went to Officers and said 'we're giving OnSide a contract' - I think it's the other way round.

The only practical way forward I can see is to supplement Council activites by getting involved in a way that really helps, and that starts with understanding the reality (given that our Council insists on 'commercial confidentiality' to cloak everything in secrecy that doesn't even allow FOIs so we can't even learn lessons).

This means acting as a 'critical friend' to the department concerned - to do that needs knowledge of the domain - it seems incredible to that we should have to do work ourselves that we pay our Cllrs to do for us, but what else can we do?

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OnSide, acording to their website, is a charity founded by Bob Holroyd:

His describes himself as a 'serial entreprenuer' who has a book out. In Bob's All In: 101 Real Life Business Lessons for Emerging Entrepreneurs he writes:

"You have the Big Idea. You have the drive and ambition. You see the market. You’ve identified the customers. You want to be wildly successful. You wonder how certain entrepreneurs have achieved success without a fancy education or unlimited access to capital".

In the book Bob uses his own impressive business achievements (and his few fiascos) to provide the reader with the practical tools needed to launch that Big Idea or improve their existing business.

"In his own unique, humorous, and impassioned style, Bob shares 101 key insights he has gleaned over a 40-year business career that began with a flea market table. He explains, step by step, what it took to leverage his flea market business into a small hardware store, and then morph that store into Interline Brands, a distribution empire.

Bob’s goal: “I want to inspire entrepreneurs of all ages and levels of experience to take up the challenge of a small business with passion and joy.”

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I doubt Bob has much day-to-day contact with OnSide, he probably only provides the ethos.  OnSide has someone called Rob Carter (rob.carter@onsideyouthzones.org) who probably has LBH on his books - from the OnSide website:

"Rob leads on the design, procurement and delivery of new Youth Zones. He has previous professional experience of commercial property transactions and development agreements and provides an additional level of project management in terms of Youth Zone design and liaison with the professional teams."

So I'm guessing Rob makes contact with a senior LBH Officer (ideally a Head of Department if he can get to one) and, after a preliminary 'chat' or two, makes an application - in effect an offer, in order to ramp up OnSide's fortunes.

I'm guessing OnSide's offer is couched in terms that the Council find hard to refuse because he knows the statutory obligations and other pressures they're under, having been through this loop with other Councils, and frames the offer as if his was the only way to approach Youth provision, gaining him the huge advantage of being the market leader in his niche.

Such a narrow offer can only be properly satisfied by OnSide, so 'comparatives' become almost impossible - you can only get OnSide from OnSide. OnSide become the obvious, unchallengeable choice. A head of department always votes precious funds to evaluating 'options' - they need to cover their backs. It's almost as if they throw a little cash down to sanctify the path they've already decided to tread.  They'll find examples where balance has been applied and rejected any alternatives, thereby fully endorsing the course they're already set on. Then it's TINA - 'There is No Alternative'

LBH budget is so tight I doubt very much whether any scheme, particularly such a 'small' one (in LBH terms) could ever justify the expensive operation of a comprehensive look at the needs and possible solutions (something Cllrs should be constantly doing). LBH just react to whatever offer comes along on a firefighting basis - they don't have time for anything else, due to the cuts. So OnSide will doubtless use their experience elsewhere to shape their offer as a wedge that can be leveraged into 'scope creep' to win more business later on.

If this is the case it highlights to me one of the biggest problems I see - the disconnect between the political aims and the reality. Council documents are full of wise words about high-quality principles. One specific-to-Haringey one that jars with me being People at the Heart of Change (as in the local plan).  These policies are supposed to act as the main instruction to our 2300 LBH civil servants in implementing schemes.  They are set by the Labour group in their electoral manifesto every four years and supplemented by loads of principled statements on practically every issue conceivable. Doubtless Cllrs are proud of them and stand fully behind them - motherhood and apple pie.

However, when it comes to the reality, Council principles and aspirations are so vague as to have nothing specific to offer, can be bent to any case and further, are 'interpreted' by people who are divorced from the politics that underlie them. Those civil servants have a duty to be non-political so don't think the same way Cllrs do.  It's almost as if policy was an umbrella under which the pragmatic reality is hidden from view.

When it comes to Youth Policy or Green Spaces Policy or whatever applies to Chestnuts, I bet the Officers do what most of us would do - see it as a chance to practise their own expertise and ignore the politics as much as possible.  So an offer by commercially-driven entities like OnSide who understand the inner workings of Council departments can easily be seen as the only practical solution. Effectively this is a direct byproduct of the sabotage severe cuts bring about - no money to take the long view, even though it's the long view that is really, really needed and is vastly cheaper.

Let's face it, central government want Councils to fail so their power and influence can be reduced in favour of the smaller state, so have driven Councils crazy by destabilising local internal systems that are designed to balance. In other words, there isn't the money there used to be to treat Youth Provision, for instance, holistically so they get forced into accepting whatever is easiest for Civil Servants, which isn't necessarily what is best for the Borough and can be very harmful to it.

Officers doubtless examined the deal and maybe even talked to Rob about various aspects, maybe even causing a new submission to be made. They then maybe report to a more senior LBH Director, who may have a formal and/or informal word with a cabinet member before going through the motions.

It seems our Cllrs cannot do the job we think they do and 'police' the Council, nor can they usually steer away from any major long-term flaws that might be pointed out to them because almost all of the things they could do rest on matters of opinion.  I've noticed how quickly Cllrs want to bring any argument round to a matter of opinion because they all seem to see themselves as arbitrators of opinion.  They seem to feel it's their job to decide things on behalf of the public that elected them, conveniently forgetting that most don't vote, so how do they know the opinion of the silent majority?

Cllrs do know that if they can bring the situation to the point where it's 'who'se opinion counts in the end' they can win because they think it's up to them to have the final say.  In fact, they are carried along by circumstance and end up picking from a limited range of choices imposed on them by the process the Civil Service are obliged to wrap things in.  

It often seems to me uncanny how Cllrs seem to act in a way that feels as if someone else was pulling their strings.  I think they have two puppet masters - the Cabinet, who won't hear a word said against any of the policies they've derived and use them as a stick to beat any Cllr who is seen to depart from them, and Council Officers, who seem to me to be the real, lasting power behind the throne.  

I don't think any one person is to blame or is doing anything they shouldn't, in fact just the opposite, they all have the best of intentions are probably aware of more issues than I am.

It's just that they have made mistakes they won't acknowledge, are doing things wrong today and will continue to mess things up unless they change. The only real change possible is to share more of the burden with interested residents, to be open enough to include us in their decision making and arm us with the facts they are so good at keeping to themselves, and to implement a system where objections are not seen as hurdles to be overcome but as potential life-savers.  It's something that's only become possible in the last decade or so because if the incredible increase in the quality and ease of communications. Some councils are taking up the challenge - ours generally are not.

If I'm right that understanding the process is key to helping improve it, then I hope what I write helps. After all, what we all want is beneficial change - for that to work, it'll have to be rooted into the existing system in an evolutionary way.

Too late to edit the post - I meant to quote from Bill Green's book to illustrate the commercial impetus behind OnSide. Bob Holroyd did not write the book I wrongly attributed to him, though I suppose he shares the sentiment exactly. Sorry for confusing things.

"I can maybe offer potential fixes"... "it seems to me that the problem" ... "I don't think that..." ... "I think it's the other way round" ... "acting as a critical friend" ... "needs knowledge" ... "I doubt"... "probably ... "So I'm guessing"... "I'm guessing"... "disconnect between the political aims and the reality". "Doubtless Cllrs are proud of them and stand fully behind them - motherhood and apple pie".... "However, when it comes to the reality"..."I bet"...  "doubtless" ... "It seems"... "It often seems to me"... "I don't think any one person is to blame" ... "probably aware of more issues than I am"..."If I'm right" .... "I hope what I write helps" ... "we all want is beneficial change"

Chris, have you ever considered the possibility that a few facts might be helpful?

New post on Onside - a proposal which has been dug out of the long grass.... I've also started a new thread on this. I'll follow replies in both locations. 

I have heard via Twitter and minutes of the November 17 Children and Young People Scrutiny Panel https://www.minutes.haringey.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=756&am... that the Haringey Cabinet at its last meeting before "purdah" on 6th March is planning to decide to dish out money to Onside! Apparently this will involve £3m cash plus annual revenue to Onside to build a YouthZone in the grounds of Woodside School! After all the exposure to the myriad faults of the Onside model listed on this thread above, it seems unbelievable that this is happening. 

It will involve Metropolitan Open Land.

There has been no competitive tendering of the project.

The Board of Onside remains the same as it was when first exposed in this thread, 9 white men, 1 white woman. http://www.onsideyouthzones.org/about-us/our-board/

The 17 questions I originally posted on this thread about Onside still pertain more or less without change. Because they were never answered, and indeed were unanswerable, the Onside proposal for Chestnuts Park or anywhere in the borough was kicked into the long grass. But it seems to have been dug up again, for a final throw in the very last days of this Council regime. What is going on?  A small Labour member only Working Party was set up for the Chestnuts Onside Proposal but the proposal fizzled out before it could meet. 

The recent Haringey Labour Party manifesto conference voted to include a commitment to fund local youth services - not a massive investment in just one centre, on one site. 

Onside nationally have long wanted to get into a school. But till now no local authority could be found foolish enough to believe that any youth centre for a whole borough or town can be located in one secondary school. Everyone knows that just won't work, as shown by all evidence. 

If anyone else knows more about this latest resurrection, please let me know here or by email! I might update the 17 questions to apply to this Woodside proposal.

It doesn't seem right to me that this scarce resource of £3m should be given to Onside. Given the current Cabinet won't be in power after May, any decision about this must at least be paused, as with the doomed HDV. Because the Cabinet decision is imminent, we need to make sure that all councillors are fully briefed asap. 

All advice welcome.

Thanks. I understand that there have been quite a few "lunches" and informal meetings about this...

Do let your local councillors know if you don't support this and ask them to oppose, before this coming Tuesday. 

The proposal absolutely won't stand up to scrutiny, which is why it fell down before. 

One problem is that it may now dodge Scrutiny (as in the Scrutiny Panel)

I've also just realised that of course it doesn't formally need to go to Cabinet as the Cabinet decision to do it a year ago probably wasn't rescinded when the Chestnuts proposal fell, and so it could in theory stand, although it would of course be contrary to the current spirit of pausing controversial decisions given the change of climate. I've amended my post above to rectify my mistake. Possibly the only control over the decision could be the next Labour group meeting on 27 Feb where I think all the current Labour councillors have a vote,  plus of course people making their views clear to councillors. 

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