Saturday, 26 July 2008

My vision of Nottingham's future

I support the idea of having a vision for Nottingham.

I know they are often derided. And many are utterly tedious. But I think a big city needs a set of aims that draws it together.

Besides, Manchester developed one in the 1990s and look where it is now.

So I am pleased that through One Nottingham – a body that includes representatives from the city council, health service, police, business and voluntary sectors – Nottingham is now creating its own vision.

Some good work has been done to canvas opinion and to identify the challenges the city is facing in the next two decades.

However, I am concerned that the vision currently on offer, which has been circulated by Nottingham City Council, will not be successful in directing and propelling Nottingham towards a much brighter future.

In essence, it does not, in my opinion, explicitly reflect the views of residents or the challenges the city faces.

It does not demand action of citizens, voluntary groups, business – that is most of us – or give us a clear opportunity to engage with it and pull together towards a brighter future.

I wrote a critical account of it in the newspaper this weekend.

But, in recognition of the efforts made by others on this project, it seems unfair to criticise the existing version of the vision without offering an alternative.

So, with the help of unnamed others, here is my vision for Nottingham. I think it takes in the views expressed by citizens in consultation and tackles head on the big issues Nottingham must deal with if it is to be successful in the next two decades.

What do you think?

Go Ahead Nottingham (unchanged from One Nottingham version)


Be Radical, think big, dare to be different (unchanged from One Nottingham version)


Be one of Europe's top 10 cities for science, technology, innovation and creativity (unchanged from One Nottingham version)

Be a city with global ambition where people are motivated and skilled, and where business is nurtured and encouraged.

Be an environment in which people want to live, where Nottingham is a national leader in public transport and use of renewable energy.

Be a healthy city in which people want to participate in community life.

Be a city with thriving arts and sports where talent is unlocked.

I have deleted and replaced two aims from the One Nottingham version. They are:

All our children ands young people get the best start in life

Every neighbourhood is a great place to live


Saturday, 19 July 2008

Come clean on Nottingham deprivation

It is disappointing the local authorities are reluctant to release reports into deprivation in Nottingham.
In the latest instance, Nottingham City Council and Nottingham City Primary Care Trust refused to hand over the full study into high and persistent teenage pregnancy rates.

This is ironic, since one of the recommendations in the report was to use the local media to highlight the problem.

There have been other examples. The city council has also refused to release consultants reports into deprivation and One Nottingham declined to hand over a study into child poverty.

A further report looking at the pitifully low numbers of pupils in Nottingham North to go on to study in higher education did emerge 18 months ago, but city councillors and officers were furious that it saw the light of day.

What underlies the reluctance to publish reports appears to be a belief that publicity is in some way "unhelpful" to efforts to tackle these deep rooted problems.

It is argued that publicity can be damaging to the morale of those working hard to make a difference.

In addition, the city council and its partners often claim to have settled upon a solution for whatever problem is in the spotlight.

The message seems to be "we can sort it if you would just let us get on with it".
But the fact is the authorities have by and large been left to get on with it and they have not "sorted it".

For example, some secondary schools in Nottingham still don’t have policies in place to direct sex education despite the city pushing for the top spot in the teenage pregnancy league for a decade.
So, external scrutiny is important.

Furthermore, it is vital that city residents understand what is going on. Deprivation, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, ill health, child poverty, and limited opportunities and life chances may seem normal to some people in the city.

It is important they are told it isn’t. Most people in Britain have and expect more.

Deprivation in Nottingham will only be tackled if those affected by it are pushing for a better life.
It is hard to see how that will happen if they are never told the truth of their current situation.

Charles Walker
Political Editor

For more political news and analysis go to the Post's dedicated politics website.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Amazing Pay-off for Nottingham Deputy

There was surprise when it emerged Nottingham City Council’s deputy chief executive Adrienne Roberts is to be moved on.

But there was complete amazement at the £500,000 package with which she will depart the city.

It comes, of course, hard on the heels of former chief executive Michael Frater’s departure. He only cost council tax payers £230,000 when he left following a fall out with city council leader Jon Collins. That almost looks like value now.

And then there were the other two chief executives who left with cash in recent years - Gordon Mitchell (c.£150,000) and John Jackson (c£100,000).

The latest pay off is a bit different, however. The council was forced to do a deal with the three men because the politicians wanted rid of them. For whatever reason, their faces did not fit.

In this case, Ms Roberts is receiving compensation according to the terms of her contract, since she is being made redundant in a management restructuring. By forcing her out now the city council has to make up her pension and that is by far the greatest share of the cost.

So, at least on a personal level, it is possible to feel a little bit sorry for Ms Roberts, when one reads the comments on the Evening Post website suggesting she is unfairly filling her boots.

As far as we know, she did not want to be in this position, she did not want to go. And she is generally regarded as diligent local Government officer.

She reminded me of the bass player in a hard rock band - someone whose job it is to maintain a steady rhythm and keep her head, while all around her others are losing theirs.

Perhaps that is how she saw herself when she took over as acting chief executive of the city council following Mr Mitchell’s early exit and then again when Mr Frater left.

The truth is, responsibility for the £500,000 cost to council tax payers that will result from her departure does not rest with Ms Roberts. It is with those who decided to remove her.

The city council’s consultant chief executive, Jane Todd, says the decision was hers. She is merging the posts of director of resources and deputy chief executive in order to make savings and improve efficiency.

The city council says the £500,000 cost of severance will be met in three years and then savings will ensue.

However, Ms Todd’s position is made a little awkward by the fact that the city council’s senior management team has only just undergone a major restructure - under Mr Frater’s stewardship. Fourteen jobs were axed in April last year in a bid to save £1m annually.

Why more change now?

Opposition politicians have suggested that what may lie behind the latest tinkering is more blood letting. Another face that did not fit at Nottingham City Council, perhaps one that was part of the old Frater regime?

Hopefully, that is not the case. But just taking the matter at face value council tax payers still have reason to be concerned.

This woman was only in post for four years and she is now being paid off. It is hard to see how residents have obtained value for money.

Furthermore, constant restructuring (and the costs associated with it) could be seen as the inevitable consequence of repeatedly removing chief executives at the city council.

Each incumbent has their own ideas. Mr Mitchell, Mr Frater and now Ms Todd have all implemented their own restructuring.

Ms Todd is an interim chief executive, only contracted for 12 months. Will the next post holder want more changes at yet more expense?

Charles Walker

Political Editor

Friday, 4 July 2008

Nottingham Must Move Quickly for F1 Boost

With Donington Park set to host the British Formula One Grand Prix from 2010 Nottingham must get into gear to be sure we take full advantage.

This is a huge opportunity for a city that has struggled to establish positive reputation in recent years.

Around 100,000 fans will attend the race during three days from all over the world. While some of them will camp, and a few crazy fools will wander off in the direction of Derby and Leicester, the lion's share will come to Nottingham.

Let’s not disappoint them. It is a chance to show Nottingham off as a fabulous place to live, work and play. To make the most of the opportunity the city cannot delay. The local authority is in pole position to make it happen. Council leader Jon Collins should put a team together without delay to consider the options and get the wheels turning.

From the branding of the city, to innovative events to mark the three day racing festival, to international marketing to make sure Nottingham is seen as the host city, there is much to do.
In addition, to the economic and reputational benefits of the Grand Prix there is also mileage in using the event to excite the city’s youth.

While Formula One is not the kind of sport that allows young people to have a go, as they might if an international cricket event were taking place, there are still some opportunities.

For example, can the pupils from the Top Valley School and Engineering College (sponsored by Toyota), which teaches automotive engineering, be involved in this blue riband event? Is it possible to set up a visit from Lewis Hamilton or have a session with one of the technicians from a top team.

The race may still be two years away but that will flash past like an F1 car. If Nottingham is to make the most of this, a good start is essential.

Charles Walker
Political Editor
For more political news and analysis go to the Post's politics website.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Is Nottingham's tram tax affordable?

Residents who use public transport to travel to and from their jobs may wonder why there’s such a fuss over the proposed workplace parking levy.

This week, city businesses threatened to hit Labour in the ballot box at the local elections in 2010 if they go ahead with the scheme, which is designed to raise money to pay for the extension of Nottingham’s tram system and other public transport improvements.

Some even claimed that the levy could force them to leave the city and hard up local companies lament that they will have little choice but to pass the charge on to their staff. Clearly, for low paid workers that could cause hardship.
But public transport users will find it hard to join in with the hand wringing displayed by the business leaders.

After all, most of us who work in central Nottingham don’t have a parking space. In many firms, where there is car parking, the slots are reserved for senior managers, who could well afford the £185 a year if the levy is introduced in April 2010. Even when it increases to £350 a year in 2013, as proposed, it will be well below what most city workers spend on bus fares now.

I currently shell out up to £600 a year to travel from Beeston to Nottingham and back on the bus each day. This sum entitles me to endure lengthy delays on University Boulevard most nights as we sit in traffic jams full of cars with just one occupant.

Most people would agree that action must be taken to combat congestion, not least because another 60,000 homes are due to be built in the Nottingham area during the next two decades. Public transport improvements are going to be vital and the money must be raised somehow. Charging people who want to retain the privilege of driving into the city for work is one way to do it.

Of course, no one likes to pay more and car drivers already stump up for car tax, fuel, maintenance etc etc. But let’s keep the costs in perspective.

Charles Walker
Political Editor

For more Notts political stories and analysis go to the Evening Post's dedicated politics website