Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Further Downhill in NP14

The grouch-index rose several more points at this evening's quarterly meeting of the Neighbourhood 'Partnership' . That's the one where the big decisions are made.

Some big, controversial, and expensive issues – the Hengrove public arts project – dominated the agenda. Even so, there was a low turnout from residents (with less than half the resident 'partners' bothering to turn up), plus officers and the all-powerful committee of councillors. It was one of them, Jay Jethwa, who took the chair.

It didn't start well for Mr Grouchy when he asked why the Minutes don't get published in the promised six-days, but instead only come out (and then in skeletal form) after two or more months. The question was dismissed as irrelevant. He was even told that people who'd been at the meeting would know what had happened.

After more in the same vein, Mr Grouchy's big chance came when his public forum statement came up. He described the contemptuous way the Committee treats any initiative or opinion from the resident 'partners', offering several illustrations. He gave more examples of the several ways that officers and councillors get unwelcome issues kicked irretrievably into the long grass. He suggested that many resident 'partners' are getting, or have already got, so thoroughly pissed off with the whole charade that they've ceased to take any part. (The Chair intervened here, with the odd claim that it was irrelevant to how the neighbourhood partnership functions)

More positively – or maybe it was a memory lapse – Mr G didn't try to embarrass the committee by mentioning that this year's NP14 AGM had passed without any invitation to join or nominate, any nomination process, any check that people still wanted to be 'partners', or any vote – the previous membership was simply rubber-stamped.! 
Not did he mention that the agenda - which became a rule book - for this evening's meeting had been set by a small panel, sitting under another name, to which at least two 'resident' members had been told they need not come.    
And in more generous spirit, Mr Grouchy went on to offer a number of simple, practical things that could be done there and then to start putting things right.

The reaction of the committee was self-evidently pre-planned. Here was something else that needed kicking out of sight into the long grass.

Their answer....  the Committee will write to Mr Grouchy.    Next business.

Several resident partners' voices were raised to say that there should be discussion. The Chair would have none of it. She and officers were asked about a complaints procedure. Answer came there none.    Next business.

Mr Grouchy and one or two others left very soon afterwards, having remembered that there's a better life to be had out there. Looks like he, and they, will have to wait a couple of months to learn the official version of what happened.


Note to mayoral candidates: HELP! Where do you stand?
[added 24/10/12]

One week later, and little has happened. The promised response to Mr Grouchy from the councillor/committee remains somewhere in the long grass. 

There's been more reactions from other current and ex members of the NP, all expressing the same rejection of the way things are run in NP14. 

And now there's an officer initiative to set up a 'development meeting' (whatever that is) in response to concerns. Time, purpose, and invitation list t.b.a.   We'll see......

[added 1/11/12]

Another week later, and Mr Grouchy's still waiting for the promised response to his statement.  And the grass keeps on growing...

[added 8/11/12]   Yawn.....   where's that lawnmower?

[added 22/11/12]   .............zzzzz.......

[added 21/1/13]   It's arrived, three months and a day after being promised!   Jay Jethwa's 'answers', on behalf of the four Neighbourhood councillors, are reposted onto the HandS ON website here.    
Mr Grouchy doesn't think much of them.


The Bristol Blogger said...

I think Jon Rogers, Danielle Radice, Geoff Gollop and George Ferguson all see Neighbourhood Partnerships as a "big solution" to citizen engagement, neighbourhood democracy and city governance.

Clearly none of them have an eye for detail or they might be proposing urgent reform of these failing Neighbourhood Partnerships.

Or do they really want tight political control at neighbourhood level while spouting the fashionable language of democracy, engagement, localism and citizenship?

Kerry said...

Yes, I got there late last night and I'd only gone along to hear Pete's statement and find out what happened with it. I was both relieved to find statements at the beginning of the agenda (I was then able to leave early) and predictably angry and appalled at the treatment that was meted out to both Pete and his statement.

Hengrove and Stockwood NP clearly is failing as attendance and activism fall. No-one can agree with all decisions made, but the process of decision making should be transparent, democratic and be more than a cosmetic consultative process. Decisions made should also result in activity, not more talking and discussion. The agreement to put planters into the area to grow local fruit and vegetables has now reached its two-year anniversary - and nothing has happened!

There has also clearly been a concerted effort to try to shut Pete up. The inexperienced Chair of the meeting last night clearly mistakes rudeness for assertiveness and has yet the grasp that the role of the chair is to enable discussion and democratic decision making, not to shut people up. It was also a first to find that public statements are not for discussion - we always have before.

All in all it looks as though another NP has hit the buffers. Will this experiment in local democracy be abandoned or do we really think that an elected mayor will support local community democracy?

As a footnote, apparently the NP development officer called people together after the meeting to find out their opinion of what had occurred i.e. some people getting very angry and three of us leaving as there didn't seem much point in staying. Interesting!

Stockwood Pete said...

Daniella Radice's grasped the nettle about devolving power, Blogger.

Try page 13 of her manifesto, there's plenty there.

As for the others, I can't find anything on the Tory, Labour, LibDem or Respect sites about it. Presumably you're right, they're fairly happy with the tokenism we have now that's been quite ruthlessly - and dishonestly - enforced in my own NP.

The main independent, George Ferguson, does give it a mention..... “There’s another level of leadership – at community level. By working with a strengthened network of neighbourhood partnerships we can develop home-grown talent and develop the means to address issues closer to home. They will be able to monitor their own progress and be an evolving and responsive force for change. " Make of that what you will....

Anonymous said...

The NPs will remain useless as long as Councillors retain all the decision making power.

The Mayor should adopt some Athenian principles for the NPs, already trialled in some London Boroughs, and return power to the locals.

Select 25 local people by lottery and let them make the decisions on a jury basis. Pay them each £10 to attend as expenses. I reckon lots of people will come as they can expect real debate and real decisions to be made.


Anonymous said...

NPs are a complete waste of money and transparent attempt to devolve difficult decisions but keep hold of power at the centre.

Much more honest if local cllrs make decisions and are then held accountable at election time.

Cheaper too.

GeaVox said...

This was Jenny Smith's response to my angry rant about the shamefully undemocratic conduct of Jay Jethwa, with the silent collusion of David Morris and the deplorable lack of opposition from Barry Clarke and Sylivia Doubell.

"Toni I attend Southmead partnership, and by mistake I had a copy of the minutes of Stockwood. The difference is dramatic. Southmead have a number of sub groups not just the forum. We walk about parts of Southmead every 6 weeks or so, spot dumped rubbish, hedges overgrowing the footpaths, and overgrown council gardens and get them sorted by officers (we do not have the ability to do the same with private housing). We councillors have run street surgeries for many many years and must have done over 15 full sweeps of the ward during that time.

We also have other meetings where we talk about crime, the well being funding is decided by a group and the residents chosen are must not belong to any group seeking funding. We councillors attend and only vote when there is a dead tie, but I always justify why. Our BS10 group is a planning group affiliated to the central independent planning group, any planning decision which comes up in Henbury and Southmead is vetted and assessed, likewise we do the same with any application for a drinks license. The Forum has various sub groups from it, and these looked at Parks, and set up friends of various parks in the ward. Our reports are major, and the community are involved at all stages. We also had a group that has taken on the closure of the youth service, we caused more problems than any other part of Bristol about these decisions, we have run meetings against First bus when they try to remove some services.

I am delivering leaflets at the moment in Stockwood, the council estate seems uncared for, I have reported bumps in pavements which are dangerous but it’s really not my ward. You need to choose active councillors who do not just attend meetings in the parts of the ward that vote for them. We hold regular surgeries in our library every third Saturday in the month, and as I said street surgery. I know my ward, they know me and know how to contact me when they are in trouble. More recently councillors have been asked to apply for money for PARKS, only councillors could do this and I had only three days to fill in the applications. We now have £100,000 for the Doncaster road Park and another £100,000 for Pen Park Sports area, both are to go towards children’s play equipment. We applied for and have been turned down for Crossings on Doncaster road, and Charlton Road but at least we tried to get that money. WE are awaiting the results of an application for funding for a bus shelter by one of our Elderly People’s homes and flats. At all stages the community are involved and feisty, sometimes publicly taking on us councillors. But we work most of the time in partnership. Oh yes we are at the moment involved with South Gloucester’s development where they are building thousands of houses on BRISTOL north border.

Your minutes in Stockwood seemed flat, lacked so many of the issue we have raised. The state of a partnership depends on the local community as well as its councillors, you must have a public session where you can raise concerns and ask for issue to be investigated or have a working group set up. I have a daughter who has just moved up to Stockwood, she was very active in the Various groups in Brislington West, I think after she gets her house sorted, she may well get involved and when (if) I ever retire I will be able to find more time to get involved with Stockwood. Yes I am concerned, as a Councillor I am finding lots of issues that should be addressed and I am already voicing concern about some of them to the local MP. Oh yes our crime rate has dropped since everyone got involved. We are not perfect but certainly moving the community into helping with local decisions and issues, working as a team."

Stockwood Pete said...

I love the idea of councillors doing regular sweeps of the wards.

Of course they might have to if May Gurney can't make the contract pay; and anyway, the new mayor may well reduce councillors' roles to little more than that!

GeaVox said...

Hehehehe! Wonder whether they'll get given gilded brooms with the city's crest? :)

GeaVox said...

It just goes to show how creative Bristol City Council's getting, on its money-saving initiatives...

Councillors doing sweeps of their wards
Devolving the public rowing to the NP's, on residents' own time, with staff paid overtime, and the Council Mote extended, so they can keep those pesky members of the public out and save a lot of time on all this public accountability nonsense!

A drawbridge operated by a simple machine:

"Insert staff pass card or a £50 note into the slot"

Saves LOADS on lobby staff!