Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

You Choose Redbridge Budget Consultation

The London Borough of Redbridge has issued a consultation on Council spending and published an online calculator with movable slides which allows you to adjust the budgets for all the major areas of spend and asks you how you think their budget cuts of £58m can be achieved, taking into account ways in which income can be generated.  On the one hand I think this is an amazing way of translating budgets into concepts the general public can understand.  If you slash the £75m spent on Adult Social Care (the highest Council expenditure) it highlights the possible negative consequences.  But what is quite scary is that it's actually impossible to find £58m of cuts without cutting the services that the public hold dear, even if you raise Council Tax by a significant amount.  If I was feeling cynical I would suggest that this was a great way of reducing the number of public contributions to the consultation because when you actually look at the numbers, you can see that it's actually impossible to balance the books (without having a morality by-pass) so I suspect the public won't submit their thoughts at all.  But in terms of showing in real terms what your Council Tax gets spent on, this is a brilliant tool and very information for that.  And I think that applies whichever Council area you live in.

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Haringey did this when they first had to start cutting things. It was quite shocking how we all slashed services for young people.

Ah!  Now this is a topic I feel well-qualified to comment on!  Until recently I worked for Kensington & Chelsea Council who were involved in Tri-Borough working with Hammersmith & Fulham and Westminster Councils.  I think there were clearly quick wins in combining forces on things such as waste collections etc., but on the provision of "people" services - social care etc., I think they woefully underestimated how much additional time would get wasted getting things approved by three sets of management. 

Hi Antoinette :)

When I see councils do things better elsewhere, I want ours to copy. The 'defence' offered by LBH seems to be that it's apples and pears and what works in one council won't necessarily work in another, partly due to different priorities. Redbridge, for instance, has opened much more data to residents - if LBH did that it would bring about a sea change but they brush it off - why should they care what I want?

So, is there a way to get them to adopt stuff that you've seen to be better elsewhere?

There are gains to be had Chris but there are also problems. For instance back office ICT support when boroughs use wildly differing systems. Also, there is an issue of what happens if the partnership breaks down or if there is political change (vis Hammersmith and Fulham becoming Labour borough after the tri-borough agreement was made between 3 conservative authorities). Having said that it must be an option that has to be properly looked at and party politics pushed to one side. It's hard but that's what senior managers are paid to do, deal with the difficult stuff.

Thanks Michael. I can see that senior managers want it left to them - that's why they earn the big bucks. They're right but in the real world, annoying people like me seize every chance to vector their agenda and because they never comment openly on the reasoning behind their decisions and effectively hide many key facts, they only have themselves to blame if people draw false conclusions as to their probity. Gone are the days when Councils were automatically trusted if postings on this site are any benchmark.

I want all the databases they maintain and every email they send/receive published on the internet (except for those declared 'exempt', such as personnell ones and where residents want their privacy respected). Other councils have published all sorts of data but I don't think anyone in LBH wants to publish anything unless they absolutely have to, that's why I'm keen to know if there is anything that can be done to help bring about change.

A step forward would be a list of the databases they do maintain. Is there one, for instance, that lists the location of every parking bay in the borough? How about building heights? The range of data they could publish is so vast it's difficult to know where to begin.

Do they, for  instance, have historical data that could be used to map the past? For the 1974 What Future for Haringey film, I'd like to know how much it cost and look at that year's local election results - surely they must have a duty to publish that info? It's because I'd like to know which committees Jeremy Corbyn was on between 1974 and 1983 (when he became an MP) .Was his then wife Jane Chapman also a Cllr in Harringay or another ward?

You can see that the uses for the data are many and varied - given that the cost of making it available is trivial, they're missing a trick keeping us in the dark. Is it actually a question of culture, of the will to do it or are there other factors at play?

I am able to speak directly to some of those involved, but I really don't know what I don't know.  I understand, for instance, that the IT dept is merging with that of the next borough along - are we allowed to look at what kit they got, which software licenses they own etc? If so, how? Don't want to use FOI as I see it as an aggressive move and I don't want them to spend the cash on FOI when they have so little.

So if we're not allowed to know, how can that denial be overcome?

I agree completely about open data. Everything should be available and, if it isn't, there needs to be an explicit, good reason for this (personal data for instance). Some local,authorities have done this but what worries me is their definition of open data. It can tick the box by being published but be in a format that is totally unusable. For instance, spending over a 12 month period published as a PDF that makes analysis and understanding almost impossible. So open data yes, but published in a way that ordinary citizens like you and I can make use of.

The LA's are so far behind the curve that it hasn't even occurred to them that formatting is an issue. 

At one major city council, they have built up years of macros in Microsoft Word to help automate all sorts of council processes and nobody remaining knows how they work, the 'source' has been misplaced and there is no documentation. To replace them costs a fortune...

Among tech responses to council practices has been a whole slew of tools to 'scrape' PDFs - that's needed here in LBH, where officers persist in printing out big PDFs so they can be signed, then scanning them in to fulfill the requirement to 'publish' on council website. Do LBH index these scanned docs?  No, they don't so the info they contain is effectively hidden and cannot be cross-referenced :) 

What does that say about their professionalism? It comes across as an attitude of 'can not do'. They do none of this deliberately I'm sure but the argument for more 'eyes on the prize' (giving residents access) is even more compelling.

The point is not to whine though, it's to bring about beneficial change. Does pointing to 'best practice' examples make any difference? Are you aware of anything that would help LBH move towards open data, at least to the same level as the most open of London boroughs? 

London isn't that good. Bristol has received a lot of attention but I haven't had a good look at what they have

Btw...There are good reasons behind publishing in .pdf format...precisely because it is not able to be manipulated. For example there was a case that emerged last week where Waltham Forest released a Word document under FOI about children considered at risk of radicalisation from which the deleted names of children were "undeleted" by the recipient. I dread to think the consequences.
In 2012 a huge amount of effort was put in to publishing all Redbridge's datasets...a team of people were set up to do it...and open data was the new "hot topic"...3 years later the vast majority of the information posted is never accessed... .I get the stats every month... it's really hard to convince the service areas that they should spend time cleansing data for publication when no one looks at it
Hi Antoinette. You make two very good points in both of your posts above. I think that when information systems are set up one of the criteria of judging if they are useful should be the ability for the system to automatically update and publish on line. I worked on a new planning IT system for a London borough and one of the requirements was exactly that. We set up reports, that automatically ran and popped up on the website. The other (better I think) alternative are IT systems that can be interrogated by the user via the website. On the issue of confidentiality, I completely agree that the format provided for the user should not allow this. If a decent report or interrogation system is set up it wouldn't be able to access parts of the database that hold this kind of information (names, addresses etc)
I suppose what I would like to see is Freedom of Information requests to become redundant because all of the data is accessible. One of my pet hates was dealing with FoIs when I knew it was someone who was too lazy to do the work themselves, a journalist doing a trawl because they didn't have a story to run or commercial organisations getting me to do the work they would normally pay someone to do!
Planning is by its very in the public domain so it makes sense to automatically publish that information if it needs to be published anyway. But why add extra complexity and cost to every IT system if there's no read added benefit? And I have to say journalists doing phishing expeditions is how the MP expenses scandal was exposed. What I think is a bigger problem is commercial companies trying to extract information which they pay nothing for but hope to make money off.



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