Fit For Purpose – In My View By Nigel Ward
Following the announcement of the ConDem government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Scarborough Borough Council (like every County, Dictrict and City Council in the land) went out to public consultation, ostensibly soliciting the opinions of the citizenry on the matter of where cuts could most reasonably be tolerated.
I have before me a document entitled “Streonshalh Ward Profile”, produced by SBC Policy & Performance and dated April 2011. It is a document comprising 39 colour-printed sides of A4, outlining a presentation of the Council’s findings in respect of public opinion on SAVINGS. Rather than reproducing the entire document, I will select certain results as being worthy of interest. I make no apology for selecting those that, taken together, best demonstrate my point.
From a long list of categories in which members of the public supported the Council spending LESS of the tax-payers’ money, I have constrained my selections to only those in which a clear MAJORITY of at least 6 out of every 10 supported making particular savings.
- 61.9% supported spending LESS on CULTURAL FACILITIES
- 67.4% supported spending LESS on GRANTS TO AREA COMMITTEES
- 96.6% supported spending LESS on MAYORAL & CIVIC BUDGETS
The first of these is an interesting case when one recalls the extraordinary amount of money pumped into CULTURAL FACILITIES – which, in line with policy, SBC construes to mean TOURIST ATTRACTIONS.
I refer, of course, to the £6.5M refurbishment of Scarborough Spa (SBC’s figure: http://www.scarborough.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=15924 ), soon to be the subject of a bitterly opposed further expenditure of “up to” £35M to protect the Spa from coastal erosion (http://www.scarborougheveningnews.co.uk/news/local/163-35-million-sea-defence-approval-1-1387985 ). I hesitate to mention the on-going fiasco of SBC’s profoundly secretive ‘tiff’ with Apollo Leisure over the dysfunctionality of the Open Air Theatre (£3.5M) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-16788447 ). I think we may readily agree that the Spa and the OAT form part of the CULTURAL FACILITIES that a MAJORITY (61.9%) supported spending LESS on.
But nothing is straightforward. A couple of pages later, I encounter a table indicating the percentage of people who are “satisfied” with various elements of the Council’s public services. Again, I will limit my remarks; this time to those cases in which only around a quarter of people are “satisfied”.
- 26.7% are satisfied with THEATRES/CONCERT HALLS.
In other words, 73.3% are LESS than “satisfied”. A big majority. So what is going on here? SIX out of TEN think that SBC should spend less on cultural facilities, yet almost THREE out of FOUR are presently less than satisfied.
Is that self-contradictory?
No. I think not. What it says to me is that the MAJORITY of the public think that SBC could spend less – if only it spent more wisely. Much more wisely.
- 25.8% are SATISFIED with CUSTOMER FIRST.
In other words, THREE out of FOUR are “LESS THAN SATISFIED”. That bears repeating.
THREE out of FOUR are “LESS THAN SATISFIED”” with Customer FIRST.
Let me ask those of you who are in business the following question:
How long would you expect to stay in business if THREE out of FOUR of your CUSTOMERS were “LESS THAN SATISFIED”?
Count the days. Count the days . . .
- 15.0% are SATISFIED with PARKING SERVICES.
In other words, more than FIVE out of SIX are “LESS THAN SATISFIED”. But very soon, we are to have another consultation thrust upon us; a consultation soliciting our views (actually, seeking to document our acquiescence) on a zonal system of on-street parking in Whitby (originally justified by the need to finance the Park-&-Ride), that will have as its conclusion that Whitby residents will be PAYING for the privilege to grab a park (if they can) within their own zone (and nowhere else), just as is presently the case anywhere in town and FREE OF CHARGE. What a fantastic strategy to convert the FIVE out of SIX are “LESS THAN SATISFIED” residents into true believers in the Council’s competence and wisdom!
- 25.2% are SATISFIED with ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
In other words, THREE out of FOUR are “LESS THAN SATISFIED”.
SBC’s Environmental Health Services handles bins, litter, fly-tipping, pollution, food hygiene and public conveniences, etc.
Like the cultural facilities mentioned above, these things fall within the purview of SBC’s Head of Tourism & Culture and Harbour Supremo, Mr Brian Bennett, DipISR – which qualification, by the way, I soon discovered, via Google, was the standard abbreviation for a Diploma from the Institute of Sport & Remedial Massage – though Brian insists his credential is from the Institute of Sport & Recreation Management, a private limited company with an Experian credit-rating of 1 = Extreme Risk!). Whatever. It is far from impressive by comparison with his predecessor as harbour supremo, John Riby BSc Feng.
I wrote to Brian Bennett on 8th March 2012, on the subject of the recurrent oil-pollution throughout Whitby Harbour and the Esk estuary, and the disturbing and dramatic decrease in the resident swan population from twenty-three (when I arrived in Whitby in 2001) to just two, today.
In the past there has been no coherent response from Brian Bennett on many other matters, including:
- the true condition of the Lighthouses (East and West).
- his inability to produce the NYCC document that he claims authorised him to permit the acceptance by SBC of “Me Too!” vouchers against retail sales – a document that NYCC has confirmed, in an FOIA response, does not exist.
- his misinformation on the matter of the fact that, although both SBC and WTC have budgeted the cost of cleaning and maintaining the Ruswarp Public Conveniences for at least the past two years (and thereby have charged the public for those services) – in fact, that service has not been performed by either Council – it has fallen to two lady volunteers recruited by Whitby in Bloom, to whom our thanks are due.
I am waiting even now for the inspection, maintenance, Risk Assessment and public liability indemnity documents pertaining to the collapse of the Scoresby Monument.
I do not know what part Brian Bennett has played in the decision to put the Scarborough Spa and Whitby Pavilion Complex out to tender in the private sector. I do know, from an internal source that, until the huge row kicked off between SBC and Apollo Leisure over the Open Air Theatre recently, the very same Apollo Leisure was ear-marked as the successful bidder. What priceless ineptitude.
At Whitby Town (Parish) Council, a couple of months ago, SBC Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Tourism Councillor David Jeffels (a ‘two-hatted’ Councillor, also with NYCC) told us that (and I quote) “SBC has no Statutory Duty to support tourism at all”. He seemed oblivious to the conclusion that he had just denied not only his own raison d’être, but also that of Brian Bennett.
Article 19 of ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (1948) declares:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
I claim that right now to express that, in my view, the present Department of Tourism & Culture at Scarborough Borough Council is an utter shambles – and will remain so whilst it is in the hands of the present incumbents of the positions of Head of Tourism & Culture and Harbour Supremo, and Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Tourism – who are demonstrably NOT FIT FOR PURSUIT.
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