Waste not, want not – but please keep it secret!

The Tory led Council has again been shown up for incompetence and wasting money after pumping nearly £100,0000 of taxpayers money into a hare-brained Lottery bid they knew they were ‘highly unlikely’ to get.

Last month the Lancashire Telegraph revealed the council had run up a bill of £93,121 to put plans together for a £20million transformation of Blackburn Museum they knew was highly unlikely ever to happen.

Tory Executive Member Michael Law-Riding, who approved the spending, has aspirations to be the next Member of Parliament for Blackburn which bodes well for the Town if he should ever get elected.

However I can reveal that this is only a proportion of what the Coalition of Tories, Liberal Democrats and Darwen Independents have wasted since coming into office in 2007. Recent analysis by the Labour Group has also found the council has spent at least £750,000 on other meaningless feasibility studies and have also bought three million pounds worth of unnecessary buildings that are lying vacant and unused.

This is yet another example of the coalition wasting money left right and centre, and again worryingly they have tried to keep these facts secret from the residents and voters of Blackburn and Darwen. However with the help of my Labour colleagues and the pages of the Lancashire Telegraph the shocking true facts have come out and they have yet again been caught out wasting Council Taxpayers money.

Liberals and Tories baffle with science or blind with bull****

The founding principle of local government is that citizens have the right to influence the decisions that affect their lives and their communities. Citizens need to be confident that when decisions are made about things that affect them, it is informed by their concerns and not just about those running the service. Services can and should be designed around the needs of individuals not around the convenience of institutions. Resources should be directed to areas of concern that has a detrimental affect on Blackburn becoming a thriving place for all who live, work and visit the Borough.

For many months now at both Executive Board and full Council meetings when challenged on decisions made the Councillors in charge of services at the Town Hall can never answer questions posed. They claim that these decisions have been made by a LSP, LPSB, PLLACE, ELCHEX or a whole list of other bodies. They claim it is partnership working, encouraged by a Labour Government.

Partnership working is something we as a Labour Group welcome. We believe there is a whole host of organisations that can help a Council deliver the priorities set by local residents. We believe that public money and public bodies, whether Police, Health or Colleges should all contribute to the well being of residents. What we do not believe in is a whole host of quangos that is not driven by local needs but driven by highly paid Officers who can baffle the Coalition with Science, we believe in transparency and accountability.

The attitude of the Tories and Liberals in Blackburn is that these highly paid officers must know what they are talking about; after all they are getting a lot of money to do it. Where Michael Lee and his Coalition members fall down is in their ability to justify the decisions taken in their name. They cannot answer even the simplest of questions as to why a particular decision was made.

In turn they try and blind us with bull****.

I recently attended a LSP Board meeting. This board has been going for many years and I fully respect the commitment of the members of it. They have always had the best interest of residents at heart, they complimented the work of the Council and brought a business perspective to the decision making process. What they did not do, was make the decisions, but looked at how they could help in improving the quality of life and prospects of residents.

Now it is seems that the Council has given this board, and many others, the responsibility for millions of pounds worth of public money, but with no accountability, no transparency nor open to any challenge. At the latest LSP meeting I discovered that performance in the Borough is failing in some of our of key areas. The board was presented with a number of measures that were reported wrongly, baselines were reduced which made the achievements look better.

The worrying point was that no one apart from myself noticed, everyone was very complimentary about the direction of travel, what they did not realise was that based on the information they were presented with was that they were blindly going backwards

Just some of the concerns I raised were the targets of:

  1. Reducing the NEET group, three years on and huge resources for this area we see very little change.
  2. A target was set for the number of BME employees; this has gone backwards with a target set of 12% and an achievement of only 9%.
  3. Employees with disabilities again has gone backwards from 2.5 % to 2 %
  4. Children in our care achieving level 4 maths a baseline of 60% with an achievement rate of only 50% with a target for next year of 58%, no mention on the report that we have failed this target.
  5. Improve the performance of white working class boys achieving 5 + GCSE’s baseline last year was 35%. But this year reported as 17% with a target of 24%, achievement two years ago was 38%.
  6. Pakistani boys achieving 5 GCSE’s with a baseline of 28% but two years ago we achieved 39%, so why are we now setting a target of 34%.

Despite raising the same questions at two separate meetings, not one of the Executive Members of the Council could answer any of the questions I posed.

Partnership boards are based on trust for the mutual benefit of all, it is important that they are presented with accurate information to assist them in their support to Council.

It appears the current rulers in Blackburn do not want the responsibility for which they receive their allowances, but are happy to sit back, tale their allowances and continue to allow those who do take the decisions to be either be blinded with science or baffled with bull****.

Does Michael Law-Riding know anything about Blackburn?

Griffin Park School: not a Grade II listed Victorian mansion!

You’ve got to laugh sometimes when you’re at the Council meeting. The answers that members of the ruling coalition give to those tabled by Labour members vary from complete avoidance to the utterly bizarre. More than once I’ve been on the end of Exec members trying to dodge questions – usually Salim Lorgat, Executive Member for Housing; however, last week’s meeting beats them all.

Under the report for Culture, Leisure and Sport like my fellow ward Councillors in Mill Hill, Malcolm Doherty and Jim Smith, I was keen to comment on the success of last years’ Mill Hill Festival and how many people believe that Arts in the Park should be brought back. This was supported by many other Councillors.
Following on from this question I asked about the future of Griffin Lodge, a Grade II listed building situated in the middle of Griffin Park which the Council owns and which has been vacant and semi-derelict for the past four years. The listed building’s use has been under review and it is the subject of repeated and worsening vandalism.

In spite of the fact that this large Victorian mansion used to be occupied by the County Museum Service restoration department, when asked the question about its future Cllr Law-Riding – who is standing to be Blackburn’s next MP – confused the listed building with Griffin Park School.
Bizarrely – and to the chuckles of everyone in the Council chamber – he stated that he thought ‘it is an issue for the Executive Member for Childrens Services’. Later in the evening Cllr Thayne (Childrens Services) took some pleasure in batting the issue back, having been advised by his officer that it is nothing to do with his portfolio.

It’s nice to know that Cllr Law-Riding has a grip of his department!