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The truths they don't want you to read....

Friday, May 09, 2008

Conflicts of interest?

The 'schools project' that is currently going through the Comhairle is probably the most complex and interrelated series of decisions that the Council will have to take for many a long year.

To make sure that the decisions are properly taken, then all the Councillors need to be objective about each and every strand of the approach, and to challenge and consider whether each strand - in itself - is the correct way forward.

I have no doubt about the difficulty of the decisions that are being faced, and if the new Councillors didn't see this coming when they stood, then you can draw your own conclusions. There are three legs to the problem:
  • A serious drop in pupil numbers in some schools
  • The new schools PFI
  • The impact of the new curriculum on S1/S2
The first is relatively easy to deal with, although it speaks volumes about the demographics.

The second is driving the entire decision making programme.

The third is popping up now and again, as a side issue, when it should be a key part of the decision making process.

Unfortunately, the PPP is the be-all and end-all of the process, and it is being assumed that it must take priority over every other element. The fundamental changes that there have been since the PPP was first considered should mean that the entire approach requires to be considered again in full.

If school A cannot deliver S1/S2 classes then the impact on the rest of the decision making should be reconsidered; and the knock-on on the other schools in the area should be carefully considered. But, the PPP is calling the shots; when it should be the Council and the pupils making the best decisions.

This is the Council's vision for the delivery of education through the Special Purpose Vehicle, or as it is described...

The Comhairle, as the client, is committed to procuring the schools through a Hybrid PPP Model, which is outlined above. The Comhairle will borrow money from the Public Works Loan Board to fund the capital costs of the new schools.

The Comhairle will set up the Special Purpose Vehicle and intends to own 100% of that SPV; the Contract between the Comhairle and the SPV will be based on the Standard Scottish Schools Contract. The Comhairle will provide the SPV with the Brief and Output Specification for the schools.

No let's be fair. This is the previous Executive's vision for the future, put into words by the Council, and now endorsed by the Government. Missing from the diagram are the hundreds of Consultants extracting fat fees, and the teams of lawyers who will descend on the completed project and suck the lifeblood out of the project.

The the leaks come out that Councillors who are on the Special Purpose Board are going to get a bollocking for voting to save some schools.

Excuse me!

If, as the report suggests, membership of the SPV Board implies that you must vote for school closures, then should not all Councillors on the SPV Board have declared an interest and excused themselves from the relevant meetings; or face an accusation that they are inherently biased in their approach to the decision?

Surely, the SPV is there to implement the decisions of the Comhairle, not to set policy. That role - last time I checked - is the responsibility of the Councillors. Just who is pulling the strings here.

Although I may not agree with the reasoning, I think that Convener MacDonald and Councillor Manford showed the correct approach to decision making, which is to consider each decision rationally on it's individual merits, rather than being told how to vote.

Was pressure brought to bear on them yesterday at the Board Meeting? Are they now toeing the line? (Who's Whose line!?!) Will there be declarations of interest by Board members in future?

And last, but not least, why are there no agendas or minutes publicly available on the Council website?


Anonymous said...

Kinda reminds me of a previous situation where voting councillors were members of a certain development trust amongst other undeclared interests, which were certainly on the minds of the public. But at least then some of the relevant reports were put up on the web,(do I remember you Angus, being something to do with this momentary blip of perestrioka?)

Ooops I forgot windfarms are totally different case and not wanting to get side-tracked...

The way the Comhairle guards information, including commissioned reports paid for by our money is a disgrace. In addition to minutes and committee reports there should be a publications page where ALL other reports and studies are at least listed, with a download link or at least a brief explanation as to why it is not in the public domain.

It takes two minutes to write in a title and upload a file and other Local Authorities manage to share information with their residents, so why not here ? What have they got to hide ? Are they worried we might start questioning things? Well here's the news - we already are!

Anonymous said...

if anyone has an axe to grind, just drop the FOI comissoner a line and grass the buggers off

Anonymous said...

How can anyone trust the Comhairle with anything. They are so s**t they have even made a submission about the wrong windfarm to the coming Eishkein public inquiry. I am told the government has turfed it out and they look like right eejits (again).

As such they have blown their case (if they had one), wasted tax payers money, and showed a level of uselessness on a par with Gretna in the Premier League.

And we are supposed to trust these gents with our childrens futures!

Anonymous said...

Angus, as you know, the whole process has been one big gravy train from day one, whether you want to call it PPP, PFI or WISP, and dare I suggest that it's full of flaws and it's going to be the biggest noose the Comhairle has ever had round its neck (for more than one reason).

I have little doubt that Alex and Donald stood their own ground and gave as good as they got (assuming they were pulled up for their voting).

And just as a side issue, the biggest red herring in the whole S1/S2 process is that Curriculum for Excellence cannot be delivered by that system. It's way past time that advice was sought from the teachers about this. But, as things stand, and as finance is the main driver in all this, I think the Comhairle will continue to hide behind its own armour, thinking its too big to be challenged. Wonder where I heard that before!

Anonymous said...

...the biggest red herring in the whole S1/S2 process is that Curriculum for Excellence cannot be delivered by that system. It's way past time that advice was sought from the teachers about this.

Yup. Possibly the truest comment ever.

The schools finance issue alone makes me very uneasy about the medium to long-term fiscal stability of the Western Isles. It's a lose-lose situation (for residents); getting out of the school contracts would cost an utter fortune and will probably never be feasible.

It will be interesting, in 5 years time, to see what proportion of education "funding" for the archipelago actually goes to "front-line" classroom resources and teachers. And what goes elsewhere.

I wish one of the local newspapers would do a clear, open, comprehensive piece of investigative journalism on this, putting down the likely costs (to residents/taxpayers) in black and white.

Anonymous said...

'who's line' shd be 'whose line'

Anonymous said...

if anyone has an axe to grind, i am willing to find a place to sharpen it!

Anonymous said...

The whole process now appears to be flawed when you take this along with the inconsistency in the consultation documents, which nobody in the Education dept or on the Education committee could explain. Is it not time that this issue was started again where transparency,consistency and fairness were applied to the whole process

Anonymous said...

Looks like the parents have been reading your blog, Angus.

Anonymous said...

Angus Petrol as usual will be at the bottom of all this.

Anonymous said...

The toad must go. Down with the toad.

Word on the croft is that at the public inquiry coming up he has been caught telling porkies in his submission, so has dropped himself and the Comhairle in the mire.

Good to see these bullies being caught out for being manipulating little fibbers in the end.

The net tightens.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it is porkies or rather his precognition is a load of cut and paste about the earlier 133 turbine application and so not relevant.

Heard that the economists working for Oppenheim today admitted that the majority of jobs were just a hope and that the so called community windfarm had a few strings attached with a lot of noughts on, something like £12 million which the community will be up for.

I find it very troubling that it has taken a public inquiry to root out the truth in all this, while over the last few years the council has merrily accepted all that developers have said and even fought their corner against the communities who have been asking for transparency.

Anonymous said...

Conflict of interest, petrol, wind farms, bullying manipulator, Sgoiltean Urra. What do all the above have in common?
Surely not TOAD