Friday, 24 November 2017

Shaking Up Glasgow

Glasgow City Council has called in the Improvement Service to help make the council a more 'open and transparent' when it comes to making important decisions. 

Now that's a good thing if you ask me, although I have my doubts about the ability of the Improvement Service to turn things around because if you ask me this 'quango' does not have much of a track record in Scottish local government over the years.

I've written about COSLA and the Improvement Service many times on the blog site during the long fight for equal pay and I'm re-publishing some of these posts from the blog site archive.

So, whether the Improvement Service helps to improve anything remains to be seen - all I can say is that Glasgow City Council remains as secretive and uncooperative as ever when it comes to explaining how the interests of traditional male jobs were 'looked after' under its WPBR pay scheme.

Which is why my FOI campaign in Glasgow is beginning to crank up into top gear.


Glasgow - Walking vs Running (31/10/17)

I read this article in The Evening Times about making Glasgow City Council more 'open and transparent' - and said to myself:

"God above! The City Council can't even get its act together to arrange an important meeting or provide crucial data on equal pay, so maybe it would be better if Glasgow learned  to walk before it started to run."

Shake-up set to make Glasgow City Council 'more open'
By Stewart Paterson @PatersonHT - The Evening Times

Susan Aitken

A SHAKE-UP of how Glasgow City Council comes to decisions, to make it as open and transparent as possible, is being planned.

The man charged with reviewing past decision of Labour run administrations, by new council leader Susan Aitken, has set out the remit of his Review of Governance.

The council said it wants to be “world class” in openness and transparency allowing the public, community groups and the media to be engaged in how the decision making process works.

Colin Mair, chief executive of the Improvement Service, has been appointed to lead the review and he will recommend changes for how councillors and officials go about their business.

The Evening Times revealed last month how Mr Mair would delve into previous decisions to uncover any practices that are considered out of step with the transparency aims of the new council administration.

His role has been dubbed a “transparency tsar” to remove any cloak of secrecy over decisions of the council that affect citizens.

Labour said it had no problems with its decisions being put under scrutiny.

He has now produced the proposed remit of his review which is to go before councillors this week for approval.

Mr Mair will also review the “whistleblowing” arrangements for council staff and the public to raise concerns.

In his report to councillors he said: “Given the financial challenges of the next five years, the administration is fully committed to engaging openly with communities of place and communities of interest in addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the city.”

“It wants the council’s decisions to be fully explained and for sufficient information to be available for citizens to challenge, or campaign against them, if they wish to do so.”

Mr Mair’s remit will be to “review past governance and decision making” and to learn lessons for the future.

He will advise on what structures the council should adopt to ensure it is open, transparent and geared up for community participation in the decision making process and open to scrutiny.

Mr Mair will also make recommendations to councillors and council officials on their role and relationship and responsibilities.

He said he will examine the council’s communication methods with the public and the media and how open it is.

It is proposed that an all party group of councillors will oversee the review and a final report by Mr Mair will be submitted to the full council for approval.

He will hold face to face meetings with community groups, voluntary organisations, businesses and the media to gather suggestions and recommendations.

He said there will be a social media platform set up to allow the public to raise their individual concerns and to make their own suggestions for how the council can improve.

Interesting 'Bomb Pattern' (25/08/11)

I visited the web site of the Improvement Service (IS) a few weeks ago.

The Improvement Service is an unelected public body - set up by COSLA and the Scottish government some years ago - with the aim of helping local councils to improve local services - by adopting best practice and becoming more efficient.

Interestingly the membership of the IS board is shown as follows: 
  • Pat Watters, Chair, COSLA
  • Rory Mair, COSLA
  • Colin Mair, Improvement Service
  • Gavin Whitefield, SOLACE
  • Mary Pitcaithly, SOLACE
  • Bernadette Malone, SOLACE
  • Tina Yule, SOLACE
  • Robert Murray, COSLA
  • David O'Neil, COSLA

  • Colin Mair is the chief executive of the Improvement Service - brother of Rory Mair, chief executive of COSLA.
  • SOLACE stands for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives - and as far as I know the named representatives on the IS board are all serving council chief executives.
  • Pat Watters is President of COSLA and is a senior Labour councillor in South Lanarkshire Council.
  • David O'Neil is a senior Labour councillor from North Ayrshire Council.
  • Rob Murray is a COSLA Vice President and is a senior SNP councillor from Angus Council.  
So I make that: 6 chief executives, 2 brothers, 2 Labour councillors and 1 SNP councillor.

Interesting 'bomb pattern' - for an unelected public body - as a character in Joseph Heller's Catch 22 might have said.

Save Money, Shut COSLA (28/01/12) 

I've just had a brainwave on the subject of 'pain free' cuts.

Why doesn't Scottish local government do the hard pressed council tax payer a favour - and save money by shutting down COSLA in its present form at least.

The self-styled voice of Scotland's 32 local councils - is a total irrelevance these days.

What with a five year council tax freeze - what is COSLA's purpose and role - because no one seems to be taking its leadership seriously. 

No pay bargaining taking place for quite some time - and that's likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

So what does everyone at COSLA do with their time - other than talk a great fight about  COSLA's role in a mythical partnership with the Scottish Government?

I imagine lots of people go to lots of meetings - but do these meetings produce anything besides vast quantities of hot air.

What it all costs is shrouded in mystery - but the big question is - 'How can it possibly be good value for public money?'

Even COSLA's partner body - the Improvement Service (IS) - has failed to make much of an impact.

Because the IS has been unable to persude COSLA's member councils - to do anything really meaningful on the shared services agenda.

The wizard idea is that councils would pool resources on bakroom services - like payroll and IT - in order to make better use of scarce resources.

But the big project based on Glasgow and several neighbouring councils in west and central Scotland - went down like the proverbial lead balloon.

COSLA is nothing like the voice it was in the days of the Scottish Constitutional Convention - when COSLA carried undouted influence - when major figures like Charlie Gray spoke - with real authority and were greatly admired.

But no longer because times have changed - yet COSLA has not moved with the times - these days it's like the local government equivalent of - the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.

Here's a piece I wrote recently - explaining why things have got into such a mess.

Deck of Cards (September 23rd 2011)

According to The Herald yesterday the much vaunted plan by councils in the west of Scotland - to 'share services' and make better use of public money - is now officially a dead duck.

Glasgow is the latest council to pull out of the so-called - 'Clyde Valley Review'.

Which promised a new era of co-operation amongst councils - by eliminating duplication and pooling backroom office functions - such as payroll and information technology.

But after months and years of talking - the whole project has collapsed - like a house of cards.

The death knell was finally sounded yesterday - when Glasgow City Council announced that it too was pulling out.

COSLA and its partner body - the Improvement Agency - must be wondering why they have spent so much time and energy pushing an agenda - that nobody seems to support.

More evidence to show that COSLA - simply isn't punching its weight these days.

Councils and Cold Feet (20th September 2011)

Newspaper reports at the weekend suggest that the much vaunted plans for 'sharing' council services - is on its last legs.

Glasgow is the latest council to voice concerns over the 'shared services strategy' - which is designed eliminate duplication and waste - by pooling back-office functions such as payroll and information technology.

Sounds simple enough - but it seems that as soon as councils get anywhere near having to make a decision about how to proceed - they get cold feet.

Which makes the councils involved look ridiculous of course - along with COSLA and the Improvement Service who have both been championing this cause for years.

Unsuccessfully it appears - which makes you wonder why Scottish local government seems unable to work together - in the wider public interest.

Here's something I wrote on the subject earlier this month - prophetically as it turns out.

As far as I can see the individuals councils that make up Scottish local government - are just ignoring COSLA - and seem to be thumbing their noses at the Improvement Sevice.

If this pantomime continues for much longer - the Scottish Government will have to get involved.

Improving Council Services (September 1st 2011)

Here's the 'team' from Scotland's Improvement Service (IS) - an unelected public body set up by COSLA and the Scottish government some years ago.

See post dated 25 August 2011 - 'Interesting Bomb Pattern'

Now the IS aims to help local councils in Scotland improve their services - by adopting best practice and becoming more efficient - and by sharing services in some cases.

In which case I suggest that some of the 39-strong IS team - ought to be hot-footing it down to West Dunbartonshire Council - where shared services seem to be about as popular as the mention of tram cars on Leith Walk.

Because West Dunbartonshire Council has pulled out of a 'shared services' project amongst councils in the Clyde Valley - and now the whole programme appears to be on a 'shoogly peg'.

So maybe with all these specialist people on its staff - the Improvement Service can help get things back on track.

I certainly hope so.

Information about all the Improvement Service staff, including biographies and contact details.

1 Colin Mair, Chief Executive
2 Mark McAteer, Governance and Performance Management - Director

3 Bob Christie, Governance and Performance Management - Outcomes Programme Manager

4 Sarah Gadsden, Governance and Performance Management - PSIF Director

5 Andrew McGuire, Governance and Performance Management - Programme Manager

6 Jane O'Donnell, Governance and Performance Management - PSIF Project Manager

7 Andrew Noble, Government and Performance Management - Project Manager

8 Tallulah Lines, Governance and Performance Management - Project Officer

9 Alison Clyne, Governance and Performance Management - PSIF Project Officer

10 Konrad Zdeb, Governance and Performance Management - Graduate Support Assistant

11 Paul Dowie, Shared Services - Director

12 Bruce Harley, Shared Services - Change Champion

13 Simon Haston, Shared Services - Change Champion

14 Gerda Bartsch, Shared Services - Change Champion

15 Alexandra Ostroumoff-Croucher, Shared Services - Pensions Pathfinder Project Manager

16 Jim Kinney, Customer First - Programme Director

17 Tom McHugh, Customer First - Programme Manager
18 Martin Brown, Customer First - Head of Customer Relationship Management

19 Sally Buchanan, Customer First - Project Manager

20 Iain McKay, Customer First - Gazetteer Business Development Manager

21 Cameron Walker, Customer First - National Infrastructure Programme Manager

22 Robert Clubb, Customer First - National Infrastructure Programme Manager

23 Fiona Dick, Customer First - Communications and Projects Support Officer

24 Joanna Anderson, Customer First - Project Assistant

25 Karen Williamson, Customer First - Graduate Support Assistant

26 Kate O'Hagan, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Head

27 Lesley Broadley, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Senior Project Manager

28 Dot McLaughlin, Organisational Development &Capacity Building - Senior Project Manager

29 Jamie Carver, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Project Assistant

30 Emma Hay, Planning Development - Programme Manager

31 Ross Pattenden, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Project Assistant

32 Mike McLean, Knowledge Management - Head

33 Martin MacKinnon, Knowledge Management - Web Development Manager

34 Louise Jenkins, Knowledge Management - Web Content Editor

35 David Friel, Knowledge Management - Reporter

36 Jamie Kirk, Knowledge Management - Graduate Support Assistant

37 Loraine Higgins, Corporate & Business Support - Business Manager

38 Alison Ritchie, Corporate & Business Support - PA & Business Support Assistant

39 Kirsty Markie, Business Support - Graduate Support Assistant

COSLA Isn't Working (25 August 2011)

Glasgow, FoI and Equal Pay

Here's an FoI Review request I've submitted to Glasgow City Council which I have raised because I am dissatisfied at the way in which senior officials 'answered' my original request for information.

As regular readers know, the City Council refused to answer a previous FoI request on the grounds of cost, but on this occasion they claim the information I requested (CMT minutes) were only produced from 2010 onwards.

Yet in the very first 'Minute' of 5 January 2010 Item 2 records that the 'note' of the previous meeting from 24 November 2009 was 'agreed as an accurate record'

Now I know I'm not stupid and I know that readers of the blog site don't think I'm stupid, but senior officials at Glasgow City Council must think I'm stupid - because why else would they come up with such a dumb response? 

I sent my Review Request letter by email to Carole Forrest on 9 November 2017, but haven't heard a 'cheep' out of the Council since then.

I find that quite astonishing, I have to say, because the council is clearly telling me 'porkies' about the minute-taking practices at GCC while also withholding other documents which should have been provided in response to my original FoI request.  

Is this good local government, is Glasgow really committed to culture of 'openness and transparency' over its pay arrangements?

Not so far, if you ask me.


Carole Forrest
Director of Governance and Solicitor to the Council
Glasgow City Council

Dear Ms Forrest

FoI Review Request

I refer to the letter from Glasgow City Council dated 8 November 2017 responding to my earlier FoI request dated 12 October 2017.

I am asking for a review of the City Council's initial decision for the following reasons:

1) The City Council states in its letter dated 8 November 2017:

"We would advise you that the Council’s Corporate Management (CMT) minutes were only produced from 2010 to the end of 2015."

However this claim is flatly contradicted by the minute (or 'note') of the Corporate Management Team dated 5 January 2010 which states at Item 2:


"The note of the previous meeting of 24 November 2009 was agreed as an accurate record. No matters were raised. Agreed"

So according to the Council's own records, minutes or 'notes' of CMT meetings were kept prior to 2010 and documentary evidence clearly exists of a meeting held on 24 November 2009.

I am sure you will understand my concern that Glasgow City Council appears to be deliberately withholding and concealing information relating to my original FOISA  request.  

2) The City Council goes on to state in its letter dated 8 November 2017:

"We would advise you that the Council’s Corporate Management (CMT) minutes were only produced from 2010 to the end of 2015. These minutes were published on the Council’s intranet site but not on our external webpages so we have therefore enclosed hard copies of these documents."

Yet on close inspection of the documents provided by GCC the following minutes (or 'notes') of the Corporate Management Team also appear to be missing

Extended CMT 2 March 2010 - referenced at Item 10 (e) of the CMT minute of 2 February 2010 and at Item 11 (a) of the CMT Minute dated 16 February 2017

Special Extended CMT 5 October 2010 - referenced at Item 6 of the CMT Minute dated 28 September 2010

Extended CMT  7 December 2010 - referenced at Item 7 of the CMT Minute dated 23 November 2010

Core CMT 11 January 2011 - referenced at Item 12 of the CMT minute dated 21 December 2010

Again I am sure you will understand my concern that Glasgow City Council appears to be deliberately withholding and concealing information relating to my original FOISA Request.

In my original FOISA Request I asked for minutes of the CMT (Corporate Management Team) and did not draw any distinction between the Core CMT, Extended CMT or Special Extended CMT.

As such, I would ask you to forward the missing documents without delay and without exhausting the normal times limits associated with the FOI Review process, since it is crystal clear that these CMT minutes could have and should have been provided along with the Council's initial response dated 8 November 2017.

While the Council claims to be fulfilling its duty to provide helpful 'advice and assistance' under FOISA 2002 I do not believe this to be the case.

I would add that my request for missing documents extends to all CMT minutes (Core, Extended, Special Extended etc) including the period prior to 2010 because is now clear that such documents do exist and are being withheld, which I take very seriously and may pursue separately with the Scottish Information Commissioner as an abuse of the FOISA process. 

I look forward to your response and would be grateful if you could reply to me by email at:

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Irony Is Not Dead

I enjoyed Kenny Farquharson's piece in The Times in which he suggests that the new Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, is likely to find that his professed Englishness has made 'a hard job even harder'. 

Now I couldn't give two hoots where Richard was born, personally speaking, but lots of folk  do and Kenny highlights some examples of these ugly, dog-whistle attacks in his column.

I came across this myself during the long fight for equal pay in Scotland's councils, when trade unions attacked Action 4 Equality Scotland on the rather strange basis that my A4ES colleague, Stefan Cross QC, hailed from Newcastle.

I've lost count of the number of times this 'English lawyer' business was used to put doubt in people's minds about holding the council employers and trade unions in Scotland to account over their years of abject failure to deliver equal pay.

Now Richard Leonard worked for the GMB union in Scotland from the late 1980's, if I remember correctly, before finally becoming a Labour MSP in 2016 and if you ask me, his back story just goes to show that on the issue of dog-whistles and attack politics - irony is not dead. 

Read Kenny Farquharson's opinion column in The Times via the link below which is behind the newspaper's paywall.

Leonard’s leadership faces an identity crisis

By Kenny Farquharson - The Times

The SNP will waste no time in claiming the Scottish Labour Party does not have the country’s best interests at heart

Picture the scene: Scotland are playing England at Murrayfield. The Scots are just ahead as the match enters its tense final minutes. The TV camera zooms in on the VIP box and picks out the newly elected first minister of Scotland, proudly wearing his England scarf and cheering on the men in white.

If this scenario does not strike you as odd, may I suggest that you are letting your opinion on what should matter in politics obscure your understanding of what nonetheless does matter?

Of course, it should be of no importance where Richard Leonard comes from, what accent he speaks with, and what nation commands his support in international sporting fixtures. And yet, given his new job, it is important, for reasons I will explain.

There are things that should not matter in politics but which do

The Yorkshire-born Mr Leonard, who was declared leader of the Scottish Labour Party on Saturday, was asked in an interview this week what team he supports when Scotland play England at football or rugby. “If it’s England v Scotland, I do support England,” he replied. “Every other game I will support either Scotland or England. I’m not going to make up something which would be inaccurate.”

With this short quote, Mr Leonard just made a hard job even harder. There is no comfortable way of saying it, but Mr Leonard’s Englishness will be a dog-whistle issue for his entire leadership. Everyone will claim not to be able to hear it, because one’s nationality is not meant to matter in civilised society. And yet his professed Englishness will be detrimental to his prospects as a candidate for first minister.

Why? Because national allegiances matter in Scottish politics. They always have done and always will do. Take, for example, the SNP’s longstanding strategy of undermining the credibility of its opponents in the eyes of Scottish voters. For decades this has concentrated, with some success, on questioning the allegiance of Scottish Labour leaders, suggesting they owe their primary loyalty to something other than the Scottish national interest.

Scottish Labour, we are told, is ruled by “London Labour” and simply takes its instructions from head office. The SNP claims that its opponents do not have Scotland’s best interests at heart. During the 2010 general election Alex Salmond even described the Scotland Office in Gordon Brown’s government as “the anti-Scotland Office”. During the independence referendum in 2014, the same Mr Salmond described Yes voters as “Team Scotland”, the suggestion being that voting No was unpatriotic. The message was clear: “real” Scots voted SNP and supported independence.

Now, you may think Mr Salmond’s approach was contemptible. That is certainly my view. But do I think it was ineffective? No, I do not.

Dog Whistles and Equal Pay (25/04/16)

Boris Johnson has been getting pelters all weekend, and rightly so in my opinion, over his dog whistle comment about President Barack Obama being "part-Kenyan", a phrase Bojo used in writing a very hostile, anti-EU article for The Sun newspaper.  

Now I laughed my head off at this latest piece of buffoonery from the outgoing London Mayor because Barack Obama's ancestry (his father was Kenyan) has nothing whatsoever to do with his track record as American President or his ability to comment, as a friend, on the European referendum.  

In fact, the last time I heard such stupid and reactionary views being expressed, they were used by Unison in a Scotland-wide newspaper advert which made a similarly pathetic attempt to smear and discredit someone - my colleague Stefan Cross, now a highly respected QC of course.

But back in the day Unison were so worried about the impact Action 4 Equality Scotland was having that any old tactics would do, hence the attack on Stefan for the terrible crime of being English.

Boris Johnson and Unison: who would have thought these two unlikely bedfellows have so much in common?

Dog Whistles (29/08/13)

Here's another post from the blog site archive which, if I remember correctly, was prompted by a Scotland-wide newspaper advert from Unison.

Now strangely the advert had nothing to say anything about the situation in South Lanarkshire - where the trade unions, including Unison, actively discouraged their low paid members from pursuing equal pay claims.  

Now that is funny.

But funnier still is the fact that the whole business has come back to bite them in the ass - after all these years.  

Dog Whistles and Attack Adverts (15/05/09)

I’ve had lots of comments about the recent ‘attack’ advert from Unison – people are curious about their very deliberate use of the word ‘English’ in relation to Stefan Cross Solicitors.

Is the union becoming paranoid and xenophobic – because why else would they mention race and nationality - when these terms are of no relevance to equal pay?

‘Dog whistle’ politics is about sending a hidden message – one that you don’t want to admit to, up front at least, but the underlying intention is perfectly clear – emphasise a point (a negative one, of course) that you think will play to the prejudices of your audience.
In this case, a rather bizarre anti-English sentiment – it would appear - which is to be pitied, not admired.

Mark Irvine and Carol Fox are both Scottish – Stefan Cross lives and works in Newcastle, but does anyone (other than Unison) care?
We’re not motivated by people’s politics or where they come from – to paraphrase Martin Luther King: “It’s the quality of a person’s character that counts”.

As you’d expect, we’re happy to defend our colleague Stefan’s right to be English – to support Newcastle United, rather than Celtic or Rangers, Hearts or Hibs – or anyone else for that matter.
And here’s another amazing revelation - Mark Irvine was actually born in Canada - but so far at least no one has held that against him.

So, to lighten the mood we’re highlighting 10 good things to have come out of England and helped make life that little bit better for many Scots: 

1. The Road to Scotland
2. Emmeline Pankhurst – women’s rights activist and suffragette
3. Cockney Rhyming Slang
4. JRR Tolkein and “The Lord of the Rings”
5. Liverpool Football Club (1977 – 1987 vintage)
6. The Tolpuddle Martyrs – transported to Australia for trade union activity
7. The Beatles
8. The Daily Telegraph – for its scoop on MPs expenses
9. Gin and Tonic
10. Stefan Cross and Action 4 Equality

If you have any other suggestions, let us know – we’ll share the best (and worst) on the blog site.
PS If Stefan Cross had been Welsh, does anyone think Unison would have mentioned that in their advert?

Jings, Crivens and Help Ma Boab! (14/08/09)

Pssst! Have you heard the news? 

Celtic Football Club has appointed a new manager – for the 2009/10 football season.

Someone who’s not Scottish – dare we say it, the chap’s actually from................England!

As far as we know there have been no pickets at Parkhead – and, so far, no public disorder in the streets. 

But Unison (Scotland) has not spoken - yet.

And we know that the union has a bit of a chip on its shoulder about non-Scots coming up north – telling us locals what to do, how to do it and generally throwing their weight around.

So, the west of Scotland is holding its collective breath – since we all know that there must be some Celtic fans amongst the ranks of Unison (Scotchland).

Now most sane people don’t give a fig that Tony Mowbray is from the north east of England. Because what has that got to do with his ability as a football manager?
Although – you have to admit – it’s a strange coincidence that Stefan Cross hails from that part of the country as well.

So, maybe it is a conspiracy after all – for English lawyers and English footballers to subvert the established order - and seize control of the socialist republic of Caledonia.

Maybe that’s why Unison is so paranoid about where people come from - maybe the union has a point?

On the other hand – maybe they’re just all bonkers.