Monday, June 09, 2008

Talking Point

book cover entiled Join the Conversation Well, I suppose I’d better give the Redbridge Conversation a plug. We are, after all a community and environment group and there are a number of investment and funding options that could affect the local environment and sense of community: They include:
- expanding recycling schemes
- sale of allotments and green spaces
- increasing parking charges
- traffic calming and other road improvements

The Conversation is asking everyone who lives and works in the Borough to talk about the long-term improvements they want to see, and how the Council should pay for them.
You can take the 'You Choose' challenge online and tell the Council how it should invest in the Borough's future.
Residents are also invited to take part in discussions and events across the Borough. The results will be sent to Councillors, who will be taking decisions that will shape the Borough's long-term future. You can find out about all the Council's investment and funding options on Redbridge i, the Council's website.

As can be seen from comments on earlier posts on this site not everyone is happy with this process. But there is an element of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. I suppose it’s up to us to ensure that the Conversation has sufficient input in order that a meaningful conclusion may be drawn from the information supplied. And that there are mechanisms to ensure the process is not abused with multiple entries.

One question we might ask is how much is this conversation costing us? It has after all come about because the Council is strapped for cash. The Ilford Recorder and the freebies report that Redbridge’s 1,622 cabbies have been enlisted to advertise the event. It doesn’t say how many of those have been branded as per the photo in the hard copy [not on the net I’m afraid]. How much is that costing us? Gary?

If you can’t read the small print on the graphic it says “How to engage marketing weary consumers with the power of community, dialogue and partnership”. I wonder if anyone at the Town Hall has read it?


  1. Is this Big Conversation a bit like asking the lamb which sauce it would like to be served with?
    Is this like this quote (from memory): 'Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly'?
    What exactly is the Big Conversation marketing?
    Must they do things or do they choose to do things? The two are intertwined and, even if you followed the plot from the word 'go', no way can you unravel it and come with a reasonable solution.
    Do they want us to say: ' Oh dear me, I never realised how hard it is to run a council. This is surely better left to the experts!'


    See the attached link from a rather enterprising chap in Havering. Me thinks we need an "angry of Redbridge" ?!
    George Nethby, Hainault

  3. Part of the problem is that central government places duties upon local authorities but does not follow up with funding. They take enough of our money, some 43% of GDP, so where is it all going?

  4. Interesting site, George. Thanks.

    Redbridgei it ain't!!

  5. This 'tick a box' consultation fails to consider money saving ideas. A London Borough yesterday announced a saving of £20,000. It
    will now only supply drinking water from tap at all council meetings. Something I have heard asked for from B21, but bottled water is still being served at the last meeting I went to.
    I think Value for Money should be examined much more closely and widen the range of Contractors the council are asking for quotes on jobs.
    £1000 - £2000 paid sometimes to collect dumped rubbish, usually
    just a mattress or chair etc.
    £1.900 for jet washing 2 tennis courts & a basket ball court.
    Maybe we wouldn't be asked how to raise money if the council sought Value for Money, or checked that the work was done correctly before paying the bill.
    Ron King

  6. Actually, Anne, I would like the Big Conversation to have been clearer about just how difficult it is to balance the competing wants and needs of a quarter of a million people with a deteriorating budget situation.

    And the comment in the original post is absolutely correct: we are damned if we do and we are damned if we do not. I personally would have chosen a far less flexible - and, therefore, more councillor-led - approach to this and would have been accused of authoritarianism and arrogance.

    The Panel chose to throw it open to the public which, by any measure, is quite brave and quite novel. They are being accused of operating a 'farce', a 'nonsense' and of rubber-stamping already-made decisions.

    I'll support this process because it still has merit - and its merit increases the more people actually get involved and make use of it. Whilst there's no need to pretend to fully support something if you actually don't fully support it nor is there any need to go out of one's way to see only what's wrong with it (not that you're doing that, Anne, but others do and are).

    What would be truly enlightening would be a suggestion or two from the public on how we, the Council, could have better resolved the conflict between irreconcilable wants and a lack of hard cash. Anybody?

    Regarding cost: we've asked the question. Haven't had the answer yet. There was an inital budget of £50,000; the web design was carried out as part of 'business as usual', I understand, so did not cost the borough anything additional. My uneducated guess is that the cost will be around the £50,000 mark then.

    Cllr Monro

  7. Isn't one of the problems for local authorities also, that government bases grants on the census. And that that information is now useless. I think it was on Channel 4 news some months ago I heard the Chief Executive of Ealing Council make this point. Because of continued immigration, the figures are not accurate enough. Therefore, like a lot of other London Boroughs, Redbridge has a higher population than the government acknowledges. This means more school places, interpreters, housing, school meals, social services etc. Now, people have different views on the merits of immigration, but regardless of this, surely it is primarily an issue of numbers and funding. Would it not be a good idea to have a census every 4 or 5 years? Population movement across Europe is now very high. And it is obvious that Redbridge and a lot of other London Boroughs require the necessary knock on increase to funding. George, Hainault

  8. To respond to Gary Monro, I must say again how much I appreciated sitting on the CPCP sessions.
    I appreciated the fact that Gary himself spoke on my behalf many times , expressing my feelings to perfection. To be fair, all councillors on the panel displayed enormous amounts of good sense, intelligence, and desire to find a solution.
    The council is faced with enormous problems and the panel is there to help but the time scale set was ridiculous (if I may say so) from the start. The consultation is far from over and things will have to go on longer.
    Also, I feel that the Panel was working in tandem with the administration and that the way the questions were to be put to the residents was out of the hands of the councillors.
    I am thankful of the Big Conversation. I want to trust that some solution will come out of it.
    I cannot see how selling assets can provide a long time solution to a massive cash deficit which is not a 'one off'. The financial demands on the borough will keep increasing because of uncontrolled movement of population. Somebody should bite the bullet and tell the government the truth.
    Cramming people in a country is not to make it a better country.

  9. Gary, you make a very fair point about irreconcilable wants and lack of resources. I would like to suggest the Oregon solution:

    The US State of Oregon decided it could fund a certain amount of health care, but only in a restricted number of fields. It held a version of 'big conversations', drew up a list of what the public thought were the most important areas, and then asked the public to vote on their top 10.

    Of course, there were still some people who objected to the outcome, but it was fair and democratic.

    Unfortunately, what you are up against as far as lack of resources are concerned is the justified cynicism of Redbridge residents regarding council efficiency.

    For instance, a senior Officer in the Housing ALMO has recently admitted to someone complaining about her service bill as a leaseholder was informed that Redbridge depts do not speak to each other, and that until 2 years ago, service charges were based on hourly rates in the 1970's! Also that the accounts dept had been confusing debits and credits on a wide scale, and that contractors were sometimes being paid twice, and that the new IT system was s**t, and so on.

    So perhaps before deciding on what should be sold, councillors should be taking a long, hard look at council departments, and taking a very hard line with time-wasters and jobsworths.

  10. If Councillors are not ensuring "value for money" then they are not doing the job we elected them to do!

    I am minded of an Area 4 meeting where the Council Leader threw a wobbly over the cost of a single speed hump. One might ask what he has done to ensure such exhorbitant "estimates" are balanced by "reasonable" ones?

    And if a "reasonable" estimate is not forthcoming what do we [ordinary people] do? We go without because we can't afford it!

    It is time, it is well past the time, that elected politicians learnt to live within OUR means.

  11. I wonder how they reconcile their boast of having producing some core strategy document (which is mostly a long waffle in civil serice language), and then come out with this big conversation ?

    How the hell are we supposed to trust those people to do the right things when they apparently have not seen those problems coming? And when most of the solutions they propose are either going to make things worse (more development on sold land, so more people, so increase problems), or more difficult (more charges, more taxes).

    It is all very well to blame the government (and don't start me on what I think of those showers), but lets not lose sight of who took us in that hole in the 1st place.

  12. Nick Hayes (Fullwell Cllr)12:44 am, June 16, 2008

    Whatever your feelings please do take part in the Big Conversation. I suggest you use the online version as it contains a lot more information and allows for a much more detailed response (including comments on individual spending and money raising suggestions).

    Those of you in and around B21's home patch will find some of items of particular local importance. Many of the potential asset sales are in Fullwell, Fairlop, Hainault and Aldborough wards. The leaflet is very abbreviated and does not detail this. If you do not have internet access I have been promised that all the borough's libraries have a big binder containing a hard copy of all the information on the website.

    As regards the cost I understand that the figure spent to date is approx £58-59k. On the face of it that suggests it is £8k over budget however it seems the figures are only provisional. I am not sure whether this means (i) the figure might go up once the full cost is known or (ii) attempts might be made to allocate some of the costs elsewhere (ie cover them out of other council budgets) in order that this budget does not end up looking overspent. Given the number of times Cllr Monro amongst others had to ask how much was spent and the amount of time it took to get a response I would not be surprised if a complete and candid answer would not reveal some evidence of both.

  13. It appears that Havering are going to face the same fun and games that Redbridge had in Hainault over green belt land and a Muslim cemetery. George Nethby, See attached link -

  14. I am a bit confused. The Romford recorder says the field was sold for £720,000 whereas the CPRE say it was the land adjoining the field.

    New battle for Maylands

    CPRE Report

  15. B21 - can you please clarify an important point regarding The Redbridge Conversation?
    If a point is placed in the public domain and is intended as an issue of public consultation but is found to be incorrect, does the consultation have to be re-run?
    If yes, then the designation of allotments sites in the Redbridge Conversation is incorrect if my understanding of the allotment designation which was recently passed at Full Council as CR1; for the majority of the Allotment Sites listed in the Redbridge Conversation are listed as CR2.
    Similarly, now I have dredged through the entire, extremely complicated/confused format of the Redbridge Conversation, I have found some wording to have double-meanings or are used 'lazily'; especially where the inclusion of Policy Statement Changes may have to be changed ("Revised").
    Reading and digesting all of the information in the Redbridge Conversation, I am convinced that the "forms" offered at the "Cafes'" are not adequate for the purpose, especially as the participant is given so little of the long and complex information.
    If anyone was "Say" purchasing a car, or a house; would they not require much detail before that purchase was made?
    Yet, here we are asked by Redbridge Council to make such decisions on Redbridge Proposed purchases and sales with no access to such information!
    In conclusion, I can see no reason why The Redbridge Conversation was put-to-the-people of Redbridge (and others) other than to directly pass both responsibility and blame (the document is a recipe for blame) on to people who are deprived of complete knowledge and understanding.
    Finally, the recordable management skills of Redbridge Council can only, in my humble opinion, come from this council rethinking their strategy by rebuilding their fiscal difficulties by living within the budget that is sensibly achievable.

  16. Richard,
    your point about CR1/CR2 was raised at Area 3 last week. Officers are aware of the discrepency but do not see it as major problem!

    You are correct that the whole thing is arse about face. Nobody says this is what I want now how can I pay for it. They say what can I afford and then decide how to spend it.

  17. The Ilford Recorder published a letter (12 06 08) saying that all green spaces were now CR1 due to a sharp eyed lawyer. However, as richard or rep says, in the online version of the Big Conversation, you can check the status of every site mentioned and there are lots of CR2 labels. Apparently CR2 is a 'very good status', very protected, whilst CR1 means that you are even more protected because of added qualities such as being part of a green corridor or being an important open space.
    This clashes with what the Cranbrook Association had said and they appear to know what they are talking about.
    Something else worrying from an allotmenteering point of view is that some officers (and some councillors at the heart of the decision-making process) are adamant that the relocations are 'sorted'. Our 'Where?' questions don't elicit any response. Neither do we get an acknowledgment of the long list of requirements before you can create a fresh allotment site should they be given permission to relocate.
    By the way, Scrutiny back in July 2007, expressed all the reservations and were totally ignored!

  18. Sorry to keep on posting!
    Responding to nick hayes (Cllr Hayes, to me!)do we know when is the deadline for responding on line?
    Do we know what is the deadline for paper answers to be posted. (I have to advise our friends, on the allotments, who are going to use the paper version.)
    Now, I am just being flippant. I know they have translated the paper version. Do they provide the massive computer printout in all languages under the sun?
    In fact, it does matter for older people who although they speak fluently are less happy reading English because they dond't have the same alphabet.

  19. We might have to rerun it yet. because the paper version shows £425 million of Funding to choose from and the on-line version shows only £355 million of Funding to choose from. I am still waiting for a reply on Redbridge I as why there is a difference at all and why there is a £70 million difference.
    Well the missing £70 million will solve all our problems. I await a believable answer with bated breathe.


  20. Well, dopeyf, don't hold your breathe for TOO long!

    Anne - don't be lulled into a sense of false security by the supposed "protection" of CR1. There is no such thing as ABSOLUTE protection. It is protected only until such time as the local authority convinces government that protection should no longer apply. Given the current proposals for building homes to cope with our burgeoning population explosion and the absence of an effective control on immigration......

  21. Morris, I am watching everything with interest and I was not born yesterday! (And don't forget my genuine Yorkshire blood!)
    I have lots and lots of little bits of information in my pockets. I have asked fetching questions and have received no answers but nothing prevents me from asking again.
    I have watched the Cabinet in action and (forgive me newcomer at the Cabinet) I have been horrified by their callousness. (Mildmay centre? no protection from the government, you are a goner!)
    Allotments? Let us have faith in the GOL and Defra and get our (genuine) numbers up.

  22. Well Redi has posted an answer,believable Yes,
    believable that they got it wrong and then hoped nobody would notice, the whole process is discredited we have spent £58,000 all to no avail the only good thing is that all the redbridge cabs carry the message for the next month to remind them of the error of their ways

    dopeyf wrote:
    I have now seen the paper version, and I am puzzled as to why in the paper version you have a total of £425 million for the funding section to choose from , but those filling in the the on line version only have £355 million of funding to choose from, I await with bated breathe for an explanation of this difference, why if you have a computer why you appear to be disdvantaged to the tune of £70 million.

    Dear dopeyf, please see reply below.

    Thanks to everyone who has pointed out the difference between land sales figures on the online and paper version of 'You Choose'. This originated in an inputting error in the online version, which was only spotted and corrected after the leaflet version had gone to press. This error is unfortunate but is unlikely to affect the validity of the responses. The majority of people who have completed You Choose have done so online, using the correct figures. The main purpose of the paper version of You Choose was to explain the investments and funding options, and the need to find a balance. The figures are approximate and intended to give people a feel for the relevant amounts, rather than provide the level of detailed available online. However when we analyse the results we will look out for any differences between response in the two formats that would suggest this has affected the result.


  23. This is crass. How can you carry out a consultation with two different sets of data and then draw just one conclusion?

  24. Well, if they cannot get their guessed figures agreeing, I will be interested to know how they are going to analyse the results in a convincing way!
    Another little bone of contention: I have just opened an allotment watch email saying that all allotments are now CR1 (not CR2). I know Cllr Hayes says it's the same but to the ordinary person it looks different.
    So, the online version of the Big Conversation is flawed as well as the paper version.
    Oh, what a surprise!
    Last moaning point: Is there a dead line for sending your replies?
    The paper version has not reached our doorstep yet!

  25. Anne, I asked that question at Area 3 last week. The reply was "mid July".

  26. "Mid-July" it was - and we take that to be 2008............. But any well organised consultation would have specified the closing date on its literature.

  27. Mid July!
    I remember now; but that was only a guestimate and I like precision, me!
    Will it be in the minutes? Who knows! The minutes would be too late anyway!
    And, possibly, other people might want to know. Not everybody will rush like mad to respond.
    I am thinking about it and I am a slow thinker.

  28. ...funny how black cabs are benefitting from the funding to advertise the Redbridge conversation. Whilst I am not alleging any corruption or impropriety. One can't help but noting that Cllr Weinberg, the Conservative leader of Redbridge, was a black cab driver.

  29. ....and according to the comment in the Ilford Recorder under the photograph of him sitting on the bonnet of a "big conversation" liveried black cab... that cab belongs to his taxi driving daughter, Elizabeth.

  30. Daughter Elizabeth? Then I hope his wife does not find out - THEIR daughter has a different name!

  31. Can we believe anything we read in the newspapers, apart from the Horoscope of course?

    I checked, the Recorder does say that!

  32. Well, there seems to be plenty of government money available if you are prepared to store nuclear waste on your doorstep and we do have some holes over on Fairlop PLain!!

  33. OUCH! It's a good job you are anon, anon.

  34. In the light of yet another refused post on Redbridge I pointing out that a senior council official when asked about differences between the paper version and the online version failed to point out the £70 million difference, also at the meeting was the chairman of the cpcp panel cllor Corfield, who also said nothing about the missing £70 million

    one word comes to mind

    CONVERSATIONGATE - the coverup.


  35. Email received from Roger Hampson - my italics

    Dear Colleague

    Redbridge Strategic Partnership and the Redbridge Conversation

    As you know, Redbridge Council launched the Redbridge conversation in May. The Council is asking everyone who lives and works in the Borough to talk about the long-term improvements they want to see, and how the Council should pay for them.

    We are now at the halfway point, and I thought I would update members of the Redbridge Strategic Partnership on how the consultation was going. We have now had over 2000 responses to the Redbridge Conversation, with the majority of those online.

    Our target is 3000 and we are working hard to reach as many residents and community groups as possible. I would like to thank our partners in the public, private and voluntary sectors in the Borough who have helped us get the message out. I would also welcome any suggestions about how we could reach out further.

    The early returns from the Redbridge Conversation suggest that people see school improvement as their top priority. When asked how investments should be funded, the largest numbers of people say land sales and that the Council should become more efficient.

    From the public's point of view that is an easy and clearly popular choice, which we will take to heart. However the Redbridge Conversation will also tell us about attitudes to other, less popular options, such as Council Tax increases or sale of green space.

    The Redbridge Conversation will finish in mid-July. Over the summer, the results will be sent to members of the Capital Programme Corporate Panel, which has been reviewing all the Council's investment and funding options. The Panel will make a recommendation to Council, which will be taking hard decisions that will shape the Borough's long-term future.

    If you haven't already visited the Redbridge Conversation website, I would encourage you to take the 'You Choose' challenge online. I would also be very grateful if you could circulate a message about the Redbridge Conversation to your staff and local networks.

    To find out more about how you could involve your staff or networks in the Redbridge Conversation, contact Eddie Gibb, Head of Marketing and Communications, on 020 8708 3763 or email.

    Best wishes

    Roger Hampson
    Chief Executive

  36. And still no mention of the additional £70 MILLION in the paper version, under no circumstances can this be described as -I quote
    "The figures are approximate and intended to give people a feel for the relevant amounts, rather than provide the level of detailed available online."

    the approximation is that in the paper version anything under £10 million is rounded to the nearest million and anything over 10 million is rounded to the nearest 5 million, and yet again they have failed to tell anyone that as well.
    The whole conversation is in effect about land sales and guess what, that is the figure that is wrong - what a surprise.


  37. and on much closer examination, there is no mention at all of the paper version, now I wonder why that is?

    but there is
    "I would encourage you to take the 'You Choose' challenge online"


  38. I see from Redbridge-i that the Head of Corporate Communications has at last admitted that the Conversation is based on a huge-sized cockup between the on-line and paper versions. Is it too much to expect that any heads will roll over a discrepancy of £70-millions? Or will those responsible be like Poo-Bah and deny any involvement? The Mikado could well have been based on Redbridge.

    B21. Could you please consider keeping this thread "live" instead of it dropping off when new topics are added?

  39. I have heard just this week from a completely reliable source that Redbridge Council is so anxious to secure reponses to the Conversation that it has offered to pay for a day's cover for every participating school to supervise the work.

    Redbridge has 69 schools (17 secondary, 52 primary). Cover can cost £180 a day. So the council is prepared to pay potentially more than £12,000 to secure responses from a group that is likely to give priority to just two very expensive areas - probably the ones where the cabinet most wants to spend.

    What possible trust can we have in the outcome of this Great Farce? Can we all have a cash incentive to participate? 10% off the council tax would be a good starting point for negotiation.

  40. The burning question is which version are they going to use, the wrong one or the wrong one,
    and still no public announcement of the errors

    part of an email from Cllor
    Weinberg to the wanstead and woodford guardian
    "But the most encouraging thing for me has to be how well received the Conversation has been. We have had around 1,400 online You Choose forms completed, 500 completed leaflets returned and we talked to several hundred residents at the Conversation Cafes across the borough and handed out over 2,000 You Choose leaflets at these events.

    I would like to make it clear to residents that no decisions have been taken by Redbridge Council as this would defeat the object of the Redbridge Conversation.

    The Redbridge Conver-sation is about the views of those people who live and work in the borough. Nothing more.

    Cllr Alan Weinberg, Leader of Redbridge Council.

    3:34pm Wednesday 18th June 2008"

    Note the date 5 days after the post pointing out the error, some might say that it stretches credulity that he didnt know at this point,as some might say about the partnership email by the chief Executive

    for the full text


  41. Well, well, well. Yet another gaffe by the Council. Lame excuses by the "officers" as to why it happened in the first place, and why it took so long for the council to admit it Publicly. Am I correct in saying that the Leader of the council is held responsible? Whoever it is, is either incompetent, liars, or as I would suspect, BOTH.
    P.s Anne - Do you have the same Fiery temperament of the Yorkshire Folk??

    Gary Munro- Do you still think that the Big Conversation has merit?

  42. I presume LBR has taken advice about research from Lord Wakefield. It makes you wonder if the cynics are correct. This Conversation is a ploy to rubber stamp their plan to sell off valuable allotments, playing fields that are used by the schools in the area (the very Group of people that the Council "claims" to be "looking out for".
    Are there any politicians we can trust???