Quis custodiet .…..?

Increasing dependence by public bodies on consultants raises questions about where the buck really stops.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Since January 2015 Exeter City Council has spent £9.4 million on services described as “Consultants Fees”.  Over half of this – £4.8 million – has gone on consultancy work related to the bus station site redevelopment [1] – even though we haven’t seen a new brick yet – but the Council buys in consultancy for a range of other services: the new housing development companies, work at the Museum and public relations advice all figure [2].

Consultants have their uses.  They offer most benefit in providing, on a short-term basis, skills and knowledge that the local authority doesn’t have, ideally transferring those skills to council staff during the project.  They are also used to make up shortfalls in permanent staff numbers, though this raises – or should raise – value for money questions.  Less laudably, big name consultancies can be engaged as a means of shifting blame from the council to its contractors for the inevitable cock-up or failure to meet deadlines or budgets, a point I return to later.

Consultants are not cheap.  When I freelanced some years ago, my daily rate varied between £400 and £600.  You wouldn’t get even a fresh-out-of-university junior consultant for twice that from any of the big generalist or strategy consulting firms, not least because they have expensive overheads, including partners’ profits at levels unimaginable in the public service.  Consultancy UK publish a useful overview of fees.  To be fair to Exeter City Council, they don’t use the Big Four for consultancy services and not all the fees are at eye-catching levels.  But it’s all a transfer of money from the public sector to private interests.

So do we get a Rolls-Royce – or, as the consultants would say, world-class – service for our money?   Always difficult to tell, because not all consultancy outputs for the Council are made public.  Occasionally, something erupts into public view, as when shortly after announcing that the bus station site redevelopment project would be further delayed because the construction tenders submitted well exceeded the budgetary advice provided, the Council abruptly dispensed with the services of one of the consultancy firms working on the project team.  Still, the firm received over £400,000 of public money for its contribution.

Then, less dramatic but no less problematic, there is the  business case for the city’s new leisure centre, now known as St Sidwell’s Point.  On the basis of a business case drawn up by consultants in secret during 2015 the Council resolved to go ahead with the project, despite the construction costs being underestimated.  The whole show collapsed in late 2017 when the developers for the private sector element of the site pulled out, followed in very rapid succession by the contractors eventually lined up to build the leisure centre and bus station.  The business case was then rewritten during 2018, by a different consultancy firm, incorporating several Council requirements that had not been identified in the first business case, including pricing stipulations, free swimming for children, creche facilities, staff employment conditions and free car parking.  In addition, the revised business case contained a competition analysis and a “latent demand for fitness” report.  Not surprisingly, the assumptions on operating profits were revised – downwards [3].

One conclusion to be drawn from this is that if the contractors had not pulled the plug in 2017 the Council would have gone ahead with the project on the basis of what we now know was a business case which failed to incorporate key user requirements.  The most basic project management text book will tell you that among the common causes of project failure is not getting the user requirements right.  This is often because users themselves don’t know, but it’s the job of the consultants managing the project to tease this information out from them.  So who would have been accountable for any failure arising from going ahead using the first business case?  The lawyers’ fees in sorting that one out would doubtless pay for several chief executives

There may have been other deficiencies in the first business case but because the Council refused my request to publish it even in a redacted form (a request upheld by the Information Commissioner) there was no independent review of the case [4].  Encouragingly, the Council have been a bit more open with the revised business case and published a redacted summary version of it.

And here we come to the crunch issue in this consultant-led world.  Why did no one spot the problems with the first business case?  As central government puts more pressure on local authorities while reducing their funding, councillors and senior officers lack either the experience or the time or both to second-guess the consultants.  The first business case was at least 250 pages long.  Such quality assurance as there is comes from within the project team, itself managed by a consultant so embedded into the Council’s structure that he was able to call the shots at my final meeting with Council officers to seek to settle my complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Now a bit of culture.  The Roman writer Juvenal is little read these days.  In his sixth Satire, written around 115 CE, he ridiculed the institution of marriage because of the way in which greed, selfishness and corruption in Roman society had debased it.  In recognising that moral behaviour cannot be upheld when those charged with upholding it are themselves corrupt, Juvenal comments – in a line probably better known to posterity than anything else he wrote – sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  In English, literally “but who guards the guards?”

It is an age-old question that occurs throughout the conduct of public business (though hopefully without the greed, selfishness and corruption).  Checks and balance are woven into our structures: some are often effective (Parliamentary select committees), others are usually more feeble (local authority scrutiny committees).  But the complexity of modern major projects is overwhelming the current processes.  If you pay a consultant not just to provide information and analysis but also options and a preferred way forward, and the work looks solid enough, what else do you do but accept it?  Consultants are experts at blinding non-experts with reams of tables and figures derived from “accepted” methodologies.  Councillors and officers, as already noted, can’t challenge from a level playing field.

So, quis custodiet ipsos consultores?

Not the external auditors, for sure, who are many cases one of the big audit firms whose real money comes from consultancy.  Their idea of a value-for-money study is checking to see whether the local authority followed the procedures correctly.

What about review by another consultancy?  Apart from the extra cost, there can be hidden influences.  Are the two firms competitors, in which case the reviewing firm has an interest in finding fault.  Or do they collaborate on projects, in which case the reviewing firm has an incentive in presenting their collaborator in the best possible light?

There is an approach which could work, and at low cost.  Central government runs a Gateway review system for major programmes and projects.  The system as I knew it was run by an arm of the Treasury, and it used a mix of external freelance consultants (often ex-civil servants) and serving civil servants with relevant experience borrowed from Departments for the duration of a one-week review (I was regularly one of these towards the end of my Whitehall career).  Essentially, major programmes and projects were required to call in a Gateway review team at various stages of the project, and the team ploughed through key documents and grilled project staff and stakeholders about progress.  The team then reported to the senior official in overall charge of the project, traffic-lighting progress as red, amber or green.  It was – and hopefully still is – a cheap and effective check on what was going on.  It would certainly have identified gaps such as the absence of user requirements.

For local government, the Local Government Association would be the obvious driver for a Gateway scheme, much as it manages the Corporate Peer Challenge scheme.  A mix of serving officers and genuinely independent freelance consultants would be the ideal resource.

There are doubtless other options.  But business-as-usual is looking increasingly high risk.

 

NOTES:

[1]  For those unfamiliar with the bus station site redevelopment proposals, see my blog post at  https://agreeninexeter.com/2016/04/28/off-the-buses/ which takes the story up to 2016.  The City Council website provides updates at https://exeter.gov.uk/people-and-communities/major-projects/st-sidwells-point/

[2]  Source:  Exeter City Council spending data available at https://exeter.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-information/council-data/council-spending/

[3]  The Council minutes and papers are at agenda item 11 at  http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=608&MId=6167&Ver=4  This also includes the redacted business case referred to later on.

[4]  See https://agreeninexeter.com/2018/07/26/leisure-centre-business-case-stays-secret/

A bold way forward?

Exeter City Council’s Vision for 2040 is more than just aspirational waffle.  It sets out some very clear commitments.

Let’s be clear.  A vision is a vision.  Those who have done time in corporate bodies will recall the business planning hierarchy, with the Vision on top, then Aims and Objectives (I could never tell the difference), then Strategic Plans, then Policies, then the Business Plans, then Operational or Delivery Plans, then individual Performance Plans, and the many variations on all these that existed.  One of the reasons I was happy to leave corporate life was to get away from writing Plans that had minimal chance of ever being implemented because someone, somewhere would move the goalposts.  So, really, a nice vague Vision is likely to be the most robust of the lot.

Exeter City Council’s new Emerging Vision for Exeter 2040 [1], hidden away inside the less visionary-sounding Our Strategy 2018-2021, is actually rather bold.  It states, sometimes precisely and other times less so, what it wants the city to be like in 20 years.  Because the Council is going to commit to this vision, or something very like it, we have to assume that it means what it says and that the Council’s actions will support its realisation.  We know it’s a vision, not a delivery plan, so its achievement will be subject to the usual caveats, such as availability of funding, relaxation of central government controls, no earthquakes political or otherwise, and (the catch-all excuse for the next 10 years) Brexit.  But meanwhile we can reasonably look to the Council to do two things.  First, to ensure that all the actions it does take – short term and long term – do actually advance achievement of the vision.  Second, and conversely, to ensure that none of its actions frustrates achievement of the vision.

I’m particularly looking forward to measuring words against deeds on these elements of the vision :

  • Exeter will be a model of strong local democracy. Communities will organise themselves [..]. Active, engaged citizens and communities will be empowered to create, share and use data to respond to shared problems and needs.  Can we all now expect the city council to revitalise its flagging democracy by leading a campaign for a fair voting system in English local government, setting up ward councils, bringing communities in at the beginning of proposals rather than the end, and making openness its default position
  • Every resident will have a home that is secure, affordable and healthy in a balanced and connected neighbourhood. Can we expect the end of homelessness and constraints on executive-priced market housing?
  • The impacts of growth will be managed and mitigated and communities will lead development. Can we expect the end of purpose-built student housing being concentrated in the central area against the expressed wishes of communities, and to the creation of public transport, educational and other infrastructure services that keep pace with housing and employment patterns?
  • Exeter will be a liveable city, with a thriving city centre. Can we expect the end of empty shops, congestion and too much land given over to car parks, and of air pollution?
  • Urban planning will protect and enhance Exeter’s exceptional natural and historic environment, safeguard its iconic landscape setting, and encourage high-quality contemporary design that complements and enhances the city’s heritage. Can we expect the end of characterless housing estates thrown up by volume builders, and an end to building on green spaces?  Can we expect the City Council to use joint planning arrangements to stop neighbouring authorities building on our surrounding hills?

Can we expect all this?  If the City Council is to keep faith with the rest of us, then of course we can.  Bring it on!

NOTES:

[1]  Available at https://exeter.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-information/corporate-plan-2018-21/ . The vision is on page 4 of the glossy version.  The text-only version is amusingly entitled “Our Strategy 2018-2012”.

The (city) centre cannot hold

Exeter councillors’ unanimous decision to reject the application for the Moor Exchange retail park suggests they have not grasped the changes in the city’s retail  environment nor the significance of the eastward spread of housing.  

On Monday 13 March Exeter City Council’s Planning Committee unanimously disagreed with their officers’ recommendation to give outline planning permission to a revised version of the Moor Exchange retail park proposal, off Honiton Road well to the east of the historic city centre.  In a long and at times indigestible report officers recognised the downsides of the application but concluded that the advantages, particularly economic ones, outweighed the fact that the application did not strictly conform to the increasingly outdated 2012 Core Strategy which aims at “protecting” the historic city centre from edge of city competition.

In particular the report recognises that changes in shopping habits should be taken into consideration.  In a concluding statement it says:

“…it is perhaps arguable that a bigger [than the ‘city centre first’ policy] current issue is securing ‘bricks and mortar’ investment, with its consequent economic benefits, in the face of the relentless growth of online shopping. Whilst the development plan is largely silent on this matter, it is clearly a relevant issue for Members to take into account given the emerging thinking such as that contained within the Grimsey Review on how towns and cities will need to evolve and change to respond to the way on which people now choose to spend their leisure time.”

I have argued in a previous post that protecting the High Street as constituted now is no longer a sensible policy, and the tentative conclusion by officers on the Moor Exchange proposal suggests some support for this view.

Councillors, however, remain rooted in the belief that any substantial eastern retail development will damage the city centre and, bizarrely, the St Thomas district shopping centre to the west of the city centre.  The Leader of the Council invoked the spectre of Torquay as an example of what happens when edge of town sites are favoured, conveniently overlooking the general awfulness of the Torquay central area and the fact that the council there had no alternative vision for a town centre without big retail.  Exeter has a chance to avoid the same mistake, but only if councillors can show more imagination than they did on Monday evening.  Otherwise, as the Irish poet W B Yeats said of more weighty matters:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

 

 

Upon Sidwella’s Day

St Sidwella could do more for Exeter than she (probably) ever dreamed of.  

St Sidwell’s Church on Exeter’s Sidwell Street commemorates the late St Sidwella, believed to have been alive in the 6th century.  Sidwella (whose name derives from all manner of genealogical speculation) is said to have been a modest, chaste, virginal, devout, and courageous local lass.  At least she was until a couple of farmworkers killed her off with a scythe.  The truth of all this is far from certain, since the story appears to have been sexed up by Bishop Grandisson in the 14th century, to introduce a wicked stepmother who paid the farmworkers to do the deed and the miraculous creation of a water spring where she fell.  For all we really know she was just a very naughty girl who hung out with the wrong sort of people. [1]

We have no information on Sidwella’s tastes in architecture and we cannot begin to imagine on what she would have thought of today’s Sidwell Street, including the dismal 1957-58 version of St Sidwell’s Church, designed by the same firm that gave us the nearby supermarket building and which could be mistaken for a modestly sized power station.  She might, however, have concluded that the 21st century was not beyond redemption if she visited today and discovered what goes on within the former church’s walls [2].

The building is now divided into three parts: a small chapel at the west end, social housing on the two upper floors, and the Community Centre offering a café and meeting rooms.  The Centre is run by an independent charity seeking to promote social inclusion.  It does so by bringing people together, whether as customers for the café’s locally produced food or as participants in the many training opportunities – including cooking – and users of facilities for groups.  The Centre also manages a vegetable garden in the church grounds.  Their website sells the Centre far better than I can, and it’s well worth a look.

The chapel is used for services once a week by a small but faithful congregation.  Its centrepiece is a stunning stained glass window by the Bideford artist James Paterson installed in 1958, juxtaposing the murder of a grim-looking Sidwella with the 1942 bombing of the previous 19th century church on the site.  A far more flattering image of the saint – shown at the end of this post – was found in a pane from the 19th century church, lost after the bombing and only recently rediscovered and restored following a Crowdfunding appeal.

On August 1st this year the Community Centre organised a small celebration of St Sidwella’s Day, following on one the previous year on August 2nd – so no definite Sidwella Day yet.  It was a really pleasant summer evening: musicians, one a fiddler (instant plus point for me); a barbecue; a live story-teller about St Sid herself; and a tour of the building.  And chat and networking.

Compared to some of the city’s other festivals such as RespectPride and all the foodie stuff, it was a small affair, and none the worse for it.  But given the urge of the city council, the tourism industry and the wider business community to make Exeter the go-to destination of the peninsula, couldn’t we make a bit more of St Sidwella?  And why is she a figure that could command wide community support?

Her great advantage as a symbol is that so little is known about her that she could be deployed to almost any purpose.  An annual St Sidwella’s festival need not be linked to the politics of identity (as Respect and Pride are) nor to consumerism (the foodie and craft market ones).  Her religious trappings are minimal, at least today: she is not a “saint” in the sense of having been canonised, but rather a local “martyr” recognised by the local bishop, a practice which became so uncontrolled that in the 16th century the Catholic Church centralised authority for canonisations in Rome [3].  Instead, she could be seen variously as a symbol for civil society (the transfer of most of the church building to the community centre), for the natural environment (the well spring water), and through her secularisation a symbol that should not offend people of other faiths.

So why not an annual St Sidwella – or even plain Sidwella – festival that points a way towards a greener – the only sustainable – future?  It need not take the same form each year but rotate or innovate different activities.  For example, we could close key city centre streets to traffic for the day and use the space freed up for all manner of diversions.  Community entertainments, or for local groups to show off their work.  Or we could arrange open-air talks, public meetings and debates, practices that have largely disappeared into indoor meetings attended by a limited social spectrum.  Musical events – not the expensive Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert visits – but people playing their own instruments, in groups or solo, with local choirs who aren’t deemed “good enough” for cathedral concerts, or who don’t want to sing there.  Water sports on the river and canal.  The list goes on.  A key point is that everything should be free to spectators, unlike the foodie events where you pay several quid just to get past the front gate, or even Respect which introduced a £2 entry charge this year.

It needn’t stop at an annual festival.  Just as Crediton has milked St Boniface for all they think he’s worth – despite the fact that he did a bunk from Crediton to Germany as soon as he could – so Exeter could do more to promote Sidwella as a colourful part of the city heritage.  After all, we are soon to be blessed with a leisure centre called St Sidwell’s Point.  One of the Devon County Council electoral divisions in the city is now St Sidwell’s & St James.  She could even strike a blow for gender equality on the public transport system:  the three sainted railway stations are named after blokes: St David’s, St James and St Thomas, so let’s rename Exeter Central as Exeter St Sidwella’s.  She beats Exeter Live Better as a brand any day.

Sidwella could, above all, become the patron of Exeter’s movement for sustainable living.

DSC_0105 (2)

NOTES:

[1]  For those who want to know more about the Sidwella story, Hazel Harvey’s The Story of Exeter (The History Press, 2015) provides an easy overview at the beginning of Chapter 2.  I’m indebted to Hazel – the current President of the Exeter Civic Society – for the Bishop Grandisson reference, though the language in this post is my own.  More detail for those who are hooked is found in Nicholas Orme’s edition of Nicholas Roscarrock’s ‘Lives of the Saints’: Cornwall and Devon, published as volume 35 of the Devon and Cornwall Record Society’s publications http://www.devonandcornwallrecordsociety.co.uk/p/publications.html .

[2]  More about the church itself is at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/Exeter/StSidwell

[3]  See http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100422710

Leisure centre business case stays secret

This is such an unsexy story that I don’t expect the media to pick it up; but it’s worth putting on record to close this particular loop.

NEWS RELEASE                           

26 July 2018                              

St Sidwell’s Point business case stays secret

The long-running attempt by Exeter resident Peter Cleasby to force Exeter City Council to release the business case for the St Sidwell’s point leisure centre to public scrutiny has ended unsatisfactorily for both parties.

An Information Tribunal on 13 March 2017 heard an appeal from the City Council against a decision by the Information Commissioner that most of the business case should be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.  This followed a complaint by Mr Cleasby to the Commissioner in February 2016 that the Council’s refusal to release the information was in breach of the Act.  The Council argued that much of the material was commercially sensitive and disclosure would make it more difficult to negotiate an advantageous deal with contractors.

After the hearing, Peter Cleasby held discussions over several months with City Council officers, led by former Deputy Chief Executive Mark Parkinson, about alternative ways forward.  These culminated in an agreement that Mr Cleasby would not press his case further in the public interest and the Council in turn gave undertakings about future publication which would allow residents to judge the success or failure of the leisure centre project.  The Information Commissioner’s decision against the Council remains in place, though it will be not enforced.  The Tribunal judge approved the compromise on 6 July 2018.

Peter Cleasby commented:

“This has been a long-drawn out process.  I cannot now see any benefit in risking putting the Council’s negotiators at a disadvantage with contractors by continuing to insist on disclosure of what is by now an out-of-date business case.  Councillors have made it very clear that this project will proceed, despite ever-rising costs, and there seems little point in spending more public money on legal fees.  The Information Commissioner’s decision requiring publication remains on the table and could be reactivated in the future if circumstances justify that.

“However, the Council have conceded some important points.

“First, once the centre is operational they will provide an annual summary of the income forecast in the business case compared with income actually generated.

“Second, they will release as much information as they can about the building costs once the construction contract has been completed.

“Third, they have provided an old and redacted, but still interesting, copy of the project risk register, although they declined to put a regularly updated version of this on the Council website.  The copy given to me, without any restriction on further transmission, is available on my website at www.agreeninexeter.com/documents.

“No one is fully satisfied with this outcome, but I believe it to be the best available.  I would like to put on record the fact that Mark Parkinson and the Council’s legal officers were always courteous, helpful and positive in trying to find solutions to a genuinely difficult issue.”

[ends]

What’s going on at Clifton Hill?

Exeter City Council’s decision to close the Clifton Hill Sports Centre and sell off the site and surrounding green space raises several important questions.

The story so far

One of nature’s reminders of human fragility was the heavy snow in March 2018 which damaged the roof of the Clifton Hill Sports Centre, resulting in its immediate closure.  Very quickly the City Council began suggesting that the facility would never re-open, a decision approved by the Council’s Executive on 12 June and endorsed by a specially-convened full Council meeting the following day [1].  In addition, the Council agreed a budget for the demolition of the sports centre and authorised the City Surveyor to include all the surrounding green space in a sale if that offered best value.  It also approved:

  • a budget of over £3 million for improvements to other sports facilities in the city; and
  • a last-minute proposal from the Leader of Council, made at the Executive meeting, to provide £150k to cover the shortfall faced by the Newtown Community Association in building replacement premises in the adjacent Belmont Park.

A petition objecting to the Council’s plans attracted 1,500 signatures, and separate campaigns have sprung up to save the building and the green space.

The first set of questions: why is the plan inconsistent with current Council aims and policies?

Health.  The proposal to build on a green field site of some 4.6 ha in an inner-city area flies in the face of all the evidence about the health benefits of open space [2].  It’s true that most of the area is not public open space in the sense that payment is required to access the leased facilities; but it is nonetheless a chunk of open space that is non-polluting.  An impartial report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology [3] makes the following key points:

  • Areas with more accessible green space are associated with better mental and physical health.
  • The risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease is lower in residential areas that have higher levels of ‘greenness’.
  • There is evidence that exposure to nature could be used as part of the treatment for some conditions.

Wildlife.  Irrespective of the extent of public access, green space area provides a home for wildlife in an often hostile city environment.  The joint City Council/Devon Wildlife Trust initiative Exeter Wild City has as one of its objectives “Enhance and protect the wildlife value of green space in the city”.  As an old landfill site, the area would be ideal for wild flowers, to be pollinated by bees as part of a network (see next point).

Green Infrastructure [4].  Although much of the Green Infrastructure Strategy for Exeter focusses on new development, the Local Plan Core Strategy states that it “aims to promote and preserve biodiversity and green infrastructure across the city”.  A look at a map of Exeter shows that the green spaces of Belmont Park and the Clifton Hill site offer a clean green corridor from Blackboy Road towards Heavitree Road.  Not only would this provide an attractive and healthy alternative to walking on our traffic-filled roads, it would form – with private gardens – a key part of a green network enabling bees (and other insects) to spread their pollen around the city without encountering substantial gaps.

Public assets

Land is in short supply in Exeter.  The Council has just agreed two important and welcome measures which depend on the availability of publicly owned land for their success.  Why, then, is the Council set on selling off land it already owns?

Sport and recreation

The Council has agreed to spend £3 million of public money in improving sports facilities despite the fact that it has no strategy for their role and development.  In June 2016, fresh from winning the all-out Council elections, the lead councillor for health and well-being (and many other things), Councillor Bialyk, stated that he would “sign off and help implement the City Sports Strategy and Playing Pitch Strategy” [5].  In March 2018 the Council responded to a Freedom Information Act request about the Sports Strategy as follows: “…to date the Council has not adopted such a strategy. A Parks & Play Strategy, Playing Pitch, Built Sports and Leisure Facilities and Sports Development Strategies will be produced during 2018 underpinning an overarching Physical Activity Strategy” [5].  So why is the Council not waiting for these many, doubtless illuminating, strategies before spending £3 million in, presumably, a non-strategic way?  Why not save the cost of producing the strategies in the first place?

The second set of questions:  why the haste and lack of discussion of alternatives?

As noted above, the proposal has been rushed through the Council machinery at high speed.  Why?  During the full Council debate on 13 June, the Tory opposition called for a pause for breath, but Labour voted this down.  No reason for the haste has been given.

Excessive haste often leads to ill-informed decisions.  The officer report must have been drawn up in a hurry, because it contained errors and omissions.  For example:

  • The report states that the leases for the golf driving range and the rifle club are annual leases. They are not.
  • The report does not explain that the lease for the ski slope runs until December 2022, with no break clause.
  • The wider health and biodiversity benefits of the green space were not even flagged up, let alone discussed.

Haste also leads to inconsistent undertakings and decisions.  For example:

  • At the Executive meeting on 12 June, Councillor Bialyk said “any development of the site would be subject to consultation”. But the recommendations, subsequently adopted by the full Council, state: “4. Delegated authority be given to the City Surveyor to take necessary steps to ensure the land is used for residential accommodation and not used for purpose-built student accommodation.”  So if you can have anything you like as long as it’s housing, what’s the point of the consultation?

 

  • On the same point, where does the planning system come in? Any housing on the site would require the Council to grant planning permission.  The adoption of resolution 4 comes close to anticipating the outcome of what should be a distinct and separate process.  Given that the land is not allocated for housing in what passes for the Local Plan, and no planning permission exists, how is the Council going to sell the land to ensure it issued for housing.  And if the land is sold with some sort of covenant requiring housing, what happens if the Planning Committee turns down an application for planning permission?  Who would buy the land given such conditions?

 

  • Indeed, the authority given to the City Surveyor is muddled. As well as resolution 4 (above) resolution 3 states: “Delegated authority be given to the City Surveyor to include [with the sports centre site] the sale of the adjacent driving range, ski slope and Exeter Small Bore Rifle Club areas of the Clifton Hill site as a single development site if this offers the best value to the Council”.  But, hang on, read the words of the Leader at the full Council meeting: “the City Surveyor would not be able to make decisions to sell all or part of the site without further Member involvement through the appropriate democratic process”.  So what exactly has been delegated?  Or did the officer who produced the report and the draft resolutions – not the City Surveyor, by the way – hope that this might be slipped through unnoticed?

 

  • It’s also difficult to resist picking up on a piece of what might just be sloppy drafting. Resolution 1 states: “Clifton Hill Sport Centre be sold to generate a capital receipt”.  Note that this refers to the building being sold.  Yet resolution 10 provides for “up to £150,000 to demolish Clifton Hill Sports Centre to secure the site”.  Are they selling it or demolishing it?  I think we should be told.

And then there’s the lack of answers to questions raised in both meetings.  Unusually, the normally comatose Tory opposition was on the ball, asking some important questions, such as why had maintenance been allowed to get so far in arrears?  Did the Labour leadership answer?  Of course not.  Though to be fair, the officer report highlights the central government cuts in local authority funding as a reason for prioritising front-line services over maintenance, a policy that might now usefully be revisited.

Pause for thought might also have obviated a complaint from Exeter Green Party to the Council’s Monitoring Officer alleging that Labour councillors, whose party owns the freehold of a property adjacent to the site, should have declared a financial interest in the decision or sought a dispensation allowing them to vote.

Finally, is the Council throwing good money after bad?  The officer report includes this alarming comment: “The on-going maintenance of the facility has also been hindered by the contractual split of responsibilities between the Council as landlord and Legacy Leisure/Parkwood Leisure as the facility operator, and the time taken to negotiate whose responsibility repair and other works are” [6].  If similar problems are occurring at the other leisure centres – and since it’s a single contract, that’s a reasonable assumption – what guarantees do we have that the new investment will not lead to similar maintenance problems with the present contractor?

Can we learn anything from all this?

Yes.  First, that major decisions are best taken at a sensible pace with full consideration of all relevant information and watertight paperwork.  The process has all the characteristics of a “bounce” (an expression used by civil servants when trying to persuade ministers that they must agree to a risky course of action, and at once).  Unforeseen consequences are a common outcome.

Second, current local government processes work against effective scrutiny.  Lead councillors were simply able to ignore questions they didn’t want to answer.  At full Council meetings members are only allowed one supplementary question, which significantly reduces the ability to probe.  The proposal did not go to a Scrutiny Committee, where there is a theoretical possibility of pinning down the leadership, but nowhere near the level of scrutiny given by Parliamentary Select Committees.

Third, local authorities where one party has an impregnable majority can get away with pretty well anything.

NOTES:

[1]  The Council papers are worth reading, and are quoted from in this post.  The key documents are:

the officer report that went to both meetings (http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/s64238/Built%20Sports%20and%20Leisure%20Facilities%20Plan%20Report%20for%20Executive%20June%202018%20FINAL.pdf );

the minutes of the Executive meeting (http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g5306/Public%20minutes%2012th-Jun-2018%2017.30%20Executive.pdf?T=11) ;

and the minutes of the Extraordinary Council Meeting (http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/documents/g6047/Printed%20minutes%2013th-Jun-2018%2018.00%20Extraordinary%20Meeting%20of%20the%20Council.pdf?T=1 )

[2]  See, for example, the following reports:

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_349054_en.html

https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/improving-publics-health/access-green-and-open-spaces-and-role-leisure-services

https://naturalengland.blog.gov.uk/2016/11/29/maximising-the-benefits-our-green-spaces-have-for-the-nations-health/

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/357411/Review8_Green_spaces_health_inequalities.pdf

[3]  Available at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0538?utm_source=directory&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=PN538

[4]  Green Infrastructure is defined in the Core Strategy as: A network of, often interconnected, waterways, woodlands, wildlife habitats, parks and other natural areas and green spaces which supports the natural and ecological processes and is integral to the health and quality of life of sustainable communities by encouraging sustainable movement, recreational opportunities and/or climate change mitigation

[5]  Minutes of People Scrutiny Committee 2 June 2016 at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=626&MId=4825&Ver=4 item 6

[6]  See https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/sports_strategy_document#incoming-1123044 .

Put out some flags!

Two important decisions this month show that Exeter City Council could at last be facing up to the real challenges confronting the city.

First, building more homes

After a long – very long – gestation period in the shadows, the Council’s proposal to set up a housing development company has burst into the sunlight.  Put simply, the plan is to set up a series of Council-controlled linked companies to build houses of the sort the communities need rather than what the volume housebuilders are prepared to offer.  To fund the housing, the companies will first of all build houses on Council-owned land, sell them at open-market prices and use the profits to fund what will be in practice public sector housing development, for sale and for rent [1].

Setting up a housing development company is not new: other councils have done it as a solution, even if only a partial one, to our housing crisis. But it is very encouraging to see Exeter City Council coming forward with a practical well-thought through plan of action (and not just another “strategy”).  There will doubtless be wrinkles to iron out, but the proposal deserves widespread support.

Second, beyond more homes and into wider development

The Council’s Executive had a busy meeting on 10 July.  Apart from the housing plan, they also considered a paper with the mind-numbing title of “Sustainable Financing Model for Exeter Infrastructure” [2].  But the content is quite the reverse of dull.  What is proposed is the creation of a publicly-owned City Development Fund to pay for infrastructure that will address congestion, urban sprawl, and inchoate development on a scale far greater than can be achieved with the housing development company.  The central idea is that the Council and public sector partners pool their land and other assets against which significant finance can be raised as borrowing.  Savings can be made by pooling overall control of projects, which reduces the need to spend on professional services for individual schemes (remember the £5 million and rising on services for Pete’s Pool before even a foot of tarmac is dug up!)

Senior councillors have agreed the officer recommendation that the model should not be based on partnerships with the private sector on the grounds that experience shows that the private sector ends up calling the shots in such arrangements.  For those of us concerned that Exeter could end up with something like the Haringey Development Vehicle [3], this decision is a profound relief. As with housing, the private sector cherry picks sites for development that will generate an average 20% return on the investment, money which goes to distant shareholders rather than be reinvested directly in Exeter.

The officer paper recognises that there is much more work to be done in fleshing out how the fund will work.  The major risks are recognised.  Questions that immediately occur to me include:

  • Given that planning policy controls in Exeter are weak, how does the Council plan stop private developers carrying on cherry-picking?
  • The fund is said to be available to cover Greater Exeter. Are the surrounding Tory-run Councils bought into a proposal intended to make life difficult for their private sector friends?
  • Will the City Council have enough assets of their own if other public sector partners won’t play?
  • How will the Council engage communities in its development plans?

Unlike the housing development company, this is untried ground for a local authority.  But there’s huge potential, both for our environment and our democracy if we get this right.

So what’s changing?

Both these proposals are inspiring.  They recognise that the self-interest of private sector has for too long given priority to shareholder expectations and failed to respond to what communities need and want.  We’ve had nearly 40 years of governments peddling neo-liberal economics as the default position, and now our local authority is turning round and starting to restore a civilised approach to development.

NOTES

[1]   The details, including the business case, are set out in a Council paper at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=112&MId=5310&Ver=4 item 14 of the agenda.  The full Council is due to rubber stamp the proposals on 24 July.

[2]   As note [1], item 10 of the agenda

[3]  See for example https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/lendlease-warns-haringey-council-over-planned-development-vehicle-cancellation-57185

Doing Council business differently: Part 2 – Leadership

Not long ago, an Exeter city councillor on the Executive said to me that he might be called old-fashioned but he saw it as his job, having been elected, to take the right decisions as he saw them.  He was right: he is old-fashioned.

Whether councillors like it or not, the paternalistic or top-down model of local governance is no longer fit for purpose.  The stories in the Where We Are Now section of this blog demonstrate this.  Faced with sustained expenditure cuts imposed by a central government hostile to the concept of public services and the ever-increasing dominance of “out-sourced” services operated for private profit, local government needs more than ever to win the trust -and support – of its citizens and demonstrate its commitment to serving communities.

My previous post on Engagement sets out one key strand in the process of regaining trust.  But that is unlikely to happen without a change in the concept of leadership by councils.  In a book [1] that should be mandatory reading for all council leaderships – politicians and officers alike – Professor Robin Hambleton argues persuasively that the traditional “city boss” must be replaced by a leader who facilitates rather than dictates.  He argues for a form of leadership that is dispersed rather than centralised, mobilising talents and expertise outside the council to collaborate on developing and implementing a “place-based” vision.  He warns of the risks to cohesive and sustainable communities of the “place-less” organisations, such as national land developers, major retail chains and others whose loyalties are to themselves and their shareholders rather than to local residents, businesses and environments.  The Exeter City Council’s leadership’s enthusiasm for IKEA is likely to as misplaced as its belief in the private sector being the lynchpin of the bus station site redevelopment.

The World Bank and the European Network of Living Labs have collaborated on a guidebook [2] for city leaders who want to encourage innovation.  It recognises that technological change which is simply imposed from above will not generate the benefits sought by that change, and proposes forms of policy co-ownership in shaping the future.  In particular it foresees a model in which the nature of political trust changes, from a commitment to fulfilling promises (delivering policy objects) to a commitment to openness, transparency, inclusiveness and shared ownership (delivering policy processes).

All this is highly relevant to Exeter City Council’s ambition be in the vanguard of innovative cities.  The partnership with Exeter City Futures in delivering a transformation agenda is a hopeful beginning [3] but we have yet to see how it will play out.  Meanwhile, there is little evidence of the top-down approach being supplanted:  an emerging project tells us that the city’s mantra is “Exeter. Live Better”, though it’s not clear that those of us who live here wake up every morning reciting it; and – more seriously – the ruling group this month rushed through a decision to demolish a Council-owned sports facility and sell off the land – potentially including open green space – for housing without any pretence of public engagement [4].

Political leaders can lead.  But in 21st century democracies the divergence between leading and telling needs to grow more strongly than ever.  One of the most valuable forms of local political leadership is to lead on the identification of issues for debate, and perhaps even lead the debate itself.  Yet it has to be an inclusive debate, which shows the council is listening, responding and developing key policies and plans which are visibly shaped by that debate.

There are rumours of an impending change in the leadership of the Exeter City Council’s ruling group.  This is an opportunity for a transformation to a more inclusive and facilitative leadership style, and it isn’t tokenism to suggest that the most suitable new leaders reside within the group’s female membership.  Watch that space.

 

NOTES

[1] Leading the Inclusive City: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet, Robin Hambleton, Policy Press, 2015.

[2] Citizen-Driven Innovation: A guidebook for city mayors and public administrators. World Bank and the European Network of Living Labs, 2015. Available via http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/629961467999380675/Citizen-driven-innovation-a-guidebook-for-city-mayors-and-public-administrators

[3] See https://www.exetercityfutures.com/news/exeter-city-futures-strengthens-partnership-exeter-city-council/

[4] See https://exeter.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/sport-and-leisure/our-leisure-facilities/clifton-hill-sports-centre/

Doing Council business differently: Part 1 – Engagement

In several previous posts, brought together in Can the Council be a leader?, I have illustrated why I believe Exeter City Council needs to change its political and administrative culture if it is to succeed in harnessing the energy and talents within the city to make it a truly liveable place in the 21st century.  I’m not suggesting Exeter’s  council is unique in needing to change:  I focus on it because I live in and care about Exeter.

In this and successive posts, I suggest ways in which the Council can change, using four headings:

  • Engagement
  • Leadership
  • Openness
  • Governance

This first post addresses what could be done to engage better with the communities the Council exists to serve.

Why engage?

In the age of deference, it was enough to elect MPs and councillors, then leave decision-making to them, informed by central and local government professional staff.  That age has passed, but a readiness in some quarters to leave the elected representatives to get on with things persists – though driven more by apathy and despair at the quality of our governance rather than by any deferential attitudes.  Where the pip squeaks is when a council – and it is usually a council – takes a decision that upsets, inconveniences or affects the quality of life of individuals.  The fact that these decisions appear to come out of the blue brings our governance further into disrepute.

Good engagement between decision-takers and communities helps address this.  Decisions are supported by a much richer and locally-specific evidence base; and communities feel engaged with the decisions and more understanding of the factors affecting it.  It is a part of a wider necessary democratic renewal.

What is engagement?

Real engagement with communities – whether they be residential, business, sports, public service, local interest groups and so on – is not something that comes naturally to Exeter City Council.  The Council claims that it consults on many issues; and so it does.  The problem is that “consultation” doesn’t tick all the boxes, as the following table shows:

CONSULTATION by Council ENGAGEMENT with communities
Asks for comments (often as multiple-choice answers) on a proposal that has already been worked out in detail. Council explains the issue (eg, problem to be solved, development to be pursued) and seeks views on how best to solve/advance it before putting forward proposals.
Feedback, when it occurs, is limited to summary of voting numbers and some identification of common concerns.  No or minimal explanation of how the consultation has influenced the final decision. A continued dialogue is maintained, with the Council explaining how the engagement process has influenced their thinking, followed by a willingness to continue to engage as proposals evolve.
Respondents are self-selecting, often confined to those with a developed interest in public affairs or happen to be in the High St and drop into an exhibition. Participants are actively sought out by the Council.
Consultation exhibitions are typically on one day, in the city centre, and consisting of a few explanatory boards and an encouragement to fill out the response form there and then. Flexible arrangements for engagement events are mutually agreed
There is limited scope for individual or community learning – essentially an isolated activity, although some organised groups do prepare considered responses Opportunities arise for people/groups to improve their understanding of issues and for action learning (see comment below on the Heavitree project)

 

Engage on what?  Macro or micro?

There is evidence, albeit anecdotal, that too many people only wake up to the consequences of a policy decision when it hits them personally.  Planning applications are a common example (see below) but so are school and hospital closures [1], car park charges increases, park closures for special events, new student accommodation, and so on.  The common thread here is the event is invariably a consequence of a policy decision taken a year or more ago, with minimal consultation, let alone engagement.   Who remembers the Car Parking Strategy when the charges go up in line with it? [2].

Then there are the really macro policies, above all the pursuit of economic growth.  It spills out of every strategy, it’s the justification for housebuilding, it underpins policy support for the steady spread of the city eastwards into the Business Park, the Science Park, the Skypark, the large retail sites (including IKEA, arriving any time now) and the consequent loss of open space and increased traffic.  The City Council’s Chief Executive wrote in the local paper last week [3] that Exeter is striving to be “world class” and that we all share in this endeavour.  Perhaps we do, and perhaps being “world class” is a good thing; but when did anyone last take the trouble to explain what it means, how far achieving it is dependent on continued economic growth and – crucially – ask us if that a future we all want?

Constraints on engagement

Good engagement is not cost-free: staff time, meeting costs, and intellectual effort are all impacted by it.  The choice for the Council is whether these modest costs are outweighed by the benefits of good engagement.  Nor is engagement free of time constraints, though the Council’s aim should be to build engagement into their project planning as an integral element (not just a line at the end saying “public consultation”).

Engagement on planning applications presents particular challenges, because of the time limits for taking decisions.  What is important here is that planning policy – the yardstick against which individual planning decisions are taken – is drawn up using good engagement principles in place of the present outrage in which planners give themselves 18 months or more to draft a plan and expect those of us whose lives will be affected by it to comment in 6 weeks [4].  Small surprise that there are storms of protest from Pinhoe when an application for another 150 houses comes in.

Who does the Council engage with?

The list is endless, though the constraints noted above impose practical limits.  But engagement is not about talking to the usual players, such as the NHS, the University and the Chamber of Commerce – they employ people whose job it is to influence the Council.  Real engagement involves a wide range of interested parties, some of whom will be organised single-interest groups with an understanding of lobbying.  Others will not be so organised, will have multiple interests and will need to be sought out and engaged.  But the key is for the Council to work out at the beginning who will be impacted by what it is thinking of doing, and being them into the process from the start.

For this, new mechanisms are not always necessary.  Area-based community associations exist around the city, but they vary in both ambition and effectiveness.  Given a helping hand, all could become forums for bringing together interested members of their community to discuss emerging issues with councillors and officers before ideas become set-in-stone proposals.  Set up attractive events, designed to encourage people to get engaged.  These can be city-wide or local, depending on the task in hand.

There is also a huge amount of professional expertise around the city to be tapped into.  Retired doctors, policy analysts, service managers, engineers and academics are just some of the people who could be engaged in helping the Council work its way through issues.  They would not be paid but would have the time, free of the distractions and self-interest involved in earning a living.  They would be far better value for money than the firms of consultants to which the Council is so addicted.

One caution.  The people in the Council who need to do the engaging are the people responsible for the issue in question.  Having people who understand communications and event management is useful, but their role is behind the scenes.

Can any of this work?

The Heavitree Community Partnership, involving the City Council, Exeter City Futures, the University and – above all – local residents and schools – is a possible pointer to a better future [5].  The jury is still out on its longer-term impacts, but there is evidence of genuine engagement on how to solve traffic problems in the city as well as spin-offs in learning techniques for the residents (eg how to measure air pollution).  It may not be the exact model for every situation but it is hugely promising.

To scale up Heavitree, or something like it, into the normal way the Council conducts its business will require new approaches to leadership, to be discussed in a future post.

NOTES

[1] Schools and health are handled by Devon County Council and the myriad NHS bodies respectively; but the principle is the same.

[2] The City Council’s Car Parking Strategy 2016-2026 does demonstrate some consultation bordering on engagement (see pages 15-18), with a 70-strong stakeholder workshop.  Users were represented by a small (20 respondents) focus group selected by a market research company.

[3]  Express & Echo, 26 April 2018, page 21.  The paper’s website – Devonlive.com – defeats my attempts at finding the online version of the article.

[4]  Although there are encouraging signs that pressure for a longer consultation period on the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan is bearing a little fruit.  8 weeks, rather than 6, is being proposed in a report to councillors (page 30).

[5]  A report on the project was presented to the City Council’s Place Scrutiny Committee on 8 March 2018.

Can the Council be a leader?

Exeter City Council’s default position is to look inwards on itself, but it can’t show the necessary 21st century leadership until that culture changes.

Most people from the City Council who’ve read as far as this will already be outraged at what they see as a misrepresentation.  They will argue that Council consults on proposed policies, publishes information about spending and services, holds most of its committee business in public and has a network of ward councillors to feed in residents’ concerns.  Well, that’s all true.  But is it sufficient?

Let’s explore further the notion that the Council is inward-looking.  As always, examples are illuminating.

The non-development at the bus station site

I’ve blogged at length about the planned redevelopment of the bus station site [1] and the subsequent refusals of the political leadership to reconsider the publicly funded flagship leisure centre project.  This, despite rising costs, public scepticism and the plug being pulled by the private sector developers on their part of the site. A recent external peer review of the Council pointed out that the status quo is more than a bit dodgy, reaching such conclusions as [2]:

  • “many stakeholders – external and internal – are not clear on the purpose and priority of [the redevelopment project]”
  • “there is an ongoing need to engage with partners and stakeholders to reiterate the purpose and benefits of the scheme.”
  • “it may be worth the council developing contingency plans and keeping an open mind about the best use of this site (and alternative potential locations for a new improved leisure centre), in case better redevelopment proposals come forward.”

Couched in the polite language of these reviews, this is a serious slap on the wrist for the Council’s tunnel vision.

Lack of public clarity on spending plans

The 2018/19 budget for the City Council is set out in a 130-page report, including many financial tables.  So when a member of the public asked at a recent scrutiny committee what would be the impact of the 30% reduction shown in spending on advisory services, she was told that it wasn’t a reduction because the way in which accounting for overheads had been changed [3].  Our sole Green Party councillor received a similar response from the Chief Finance Officer when he asked about an apparent cut in the recycling budget.  No doubt this was explained in the small print, but there is no way a busy non-expert could easily work it out.

So I asked another scrutiny committee if they would support a rule change which required future budget tables to explain, for each budget line, whether spending changes were real changes or accounting changes, and if the former what would be the impact on services.  The response set out the various opportunities councillors had for scrutinising and questioning draft budgets in detail.  Nowhere in the response was there any suggestion that the wider public – whose money is being spent – might have an interest in understanding these tables as well.

Disrupting the community grants arrangements

Exeter Community Forum is a City Council-supported bottom-up initiative aimed at strengthening the voices of community-led organisations in the City [4].  Among its activities is the operation of the Grass Roots Grants scheme, a function delegated to the Forum by the City Council.  The grants panel includes one councillor from the Executive and is serviced by the Council’s communities programme officer.  The Chair and 3 other panel members are drawn from the Forum’s community membership.  Award decisions require ratification by the Council, so there is no loss of control over public funds.

Earlier this month, and completely out of the blue, some Labour councillors on a scrutiny committee of the Council proposed that a review should be carried out of the Grants panel “to consider whether there was a need for greater accountability and scrutinisation (sic) of its processes and to examine if a change of approach through increasing the involvement of Members was desirable” [5].  The recommendation was rubber-stamped by the Executive the following day.  No evidence was brought forward to justify the review, which by implication slurs the competence and integrity of the volunteers on the current panel.  No one, including the Council’s own programme officer and the officers of the Exeter Community Forum, was involved in any prior discussion.  But then mature informed engagement is not the Exeter City Council way.

Lack-lustre approach to improving air quality

Then we have the draft Air Quality Action Plan currently out for comment [6]. The Council proudly laid on a consultation exhibition at the Guildhall.  It consisted of half a dozen uninformative poster boards, and the usual questionnaire of the “do you agree” tick box variety, which didn’t even have a return address on it.  But perhaps the most telling example of how the Council sees itself was the first line in all the publicity: “Exeter City Council has a statutory duty to measure air pollution and to produce an Action Plan with measures to control the air quality in and around the city.”  In other words, it’s all about them the Council, and not about us the citizens.  Couldn’t they have opened with a line like “Exeter City Council is asking for your help to find new ways of making our air cleaner” ?

Top down planning policy

Public involvement in planning policy consists of being given an opportunity to comment on draft plans for which the main themes have already been agreed behind closed doors [7].

The leaking Housing Development Company

The Council’s plans to set up a Housing Development Company to build much-needed housing are public only to the extent that we know they want to set one up, and that they have commissioned further studies into the extent of private sector involvement in the company.  A FOI Act request to see the business case has just been turned down by the Council, although the peer review report had already leaked – inadvertently or not – a very useful summary of the business case into the public domain [8].

 

These illustrations of how the City Council does its business are not meant to suggest the organisation is inefficient.  Indeed, deciding things internally and pushing them through with a minimum of public involvement can be held up as an efficient process: low input, big output.  But it is most certainly far less effective in achieving Council and community priorities.

It’s the lack of real community engagement that seems central to the Council’s problem.  All the examples above show that the Council is set in a way of doing things that relegates community engagement to a low priority, if indeed it acknowledges it all.  Nor is this an issue confined to Exeter: the Local Government Association found that across England satisfaction with levels of council-community engagement was relatively low compared to other satisfaction indicators [9].  The survey identified that the four most popular changes councils could make were:

  • Explain more clearly how it is using your money
  • Make it clearer how residents can get involved in decision-making
  • Demonstrate more clearly how it is acting on residents’ feedback
  • Explain more clearly its decisions when they affect you

These are very modest changes, though very much in the right direction.  Yet Exeter City Council could – and should – go much further.  Its vision for the city is [10]:


Our Economy

  • A prosperous city
  • A learning city
  • An accessible city

Our Society

  • A city with strong communities
  • A city that is healthy and active
  • A safe city

Our Environment

  • A city that cares for the environment
  • A city with homes for everyone
  • A city of culture

This is a good vision, and if realised would be transformative.  To get there, strong civic inclusive leadership will be needed.  A style of leadership which is far removed from the current ways of doing public business and which will overcome not only the inwardness culture but also the “old politics” I described in The Old Politics no longer serves us well.  Over the next couple of months, and drawing on the strengths that do exist in Exeter City Council, I will try to set out what this leadership might look like.

 

NOTES:

[1] See Off the Buses and Scrutiny can work.

[2] From the report of the Exeter Corporate Peer Challenge, one of a programme of reviews sponsored by the Local Government Association, is available at item 35 of the minutes of the Executive meeting on 13 March 2018 at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=112&MId=5305&Ver=4

[3] People Scrutiny Committee, 12 March 2018, item 12 of minutes at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=626&MId=5976&Ver=4.  To get the full question and response, you need to download the pdf of the “Printed Draft Minutes”.

[4] For information on the Exeter Community Forum, see http://exetercommunityforum.net/who

[5] People Scrutiny Committee, 12 March 2018, item 16 of minutes at http://committees.exeter.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=626&MId=5976&Ver=4

[6] See https://exeter.gov.uk/aqap/

[7] See my post Our Planners’ Cat is out of the Bag.  Further evidence that GESP is already done and dusted is on page 9 of the Corporate Peer Challenge (see note 2 above) where Exeter’s housing need is summarised.

[8] Also on page 9 of the Corporate Peer Challenge (see note 2 above)

[9] See survey findings at https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Feb%202017%20Resident%20Satisfaction%20Polling.pdf pages 15-16.

[10] As set out in Exeter’s Sustainable Community Strategy 2009, aka the Exeter Vision.  It is no longer available on the Council’s website, but is referenced as Appendix 5 of the Core Strategy adopted in 2012 (https://exeter.gov.uk/planning-services/planning-policy/local-plan/core-strategy-development-plan-document/ ).