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100questions

Phibbs_harry Harry Phibbs was elected as a local councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham in May for the Ravenscourt Park Ward – gaining the seat from Labour and so contributing to the sweeping Conservative victory after decades of Labour control. He is also a journalist working for the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary and a regular contributor to the Social Affairs Unit’s blog.

  1. Please could you send me copy of the Council’s assets register?
  2. Please could you send me a list of the bodies we give grants to and the amounts?
  3. Please could you send me a list of the outside bodies we are members of and the subscriptions we pay?
  4. How much are we spending on management consultants this year?
  5. How many press officers do we have?
  6. Please could you advise on the total number of days a year Town Hall staff are away from their desks attending conferences?
  7. Please could you advise me what the Council’s total annual spending is for a) Postage and b) Printing?
  8. How much do we as a Local Education Authority spend on admin per pupil per year?
  9. What instructions do we give to ensure all Council documents are written in plain English?
  10. Have we put all our services out to tender to ensure we are getting value for money?
  11. How many days off sick did the average member of staff take last year? How does this benchmark with neighbouring authorities and the private sector?
  12. How many empty Council homes (or ALMO homes) do we currently have? How many have been empty for more than six months? Have we considered selling those we can’t afford to repair?
  13. What is the Council’s total energy bill? (Credit for this question to John Redwood MP from his new book – I Want To Make a Difference – But I Don’t Like Politics).
  14. Please could you advise on the schedule we are adopting for removing road humps when resurfacing roads?
  15. Could we install energy saving bulbs to our street lamps?
  16. Could we remove the dreary municipal boards at the entrances to our Council estates?
  17. When are we going to join the Government’s Social Homebuy scheme and offer a shared home ownership scheme to make home ownership more affordable for Council tenants?
  18. What effort do we make to ensure our residents are aware of the number to ring to have graffiti removed?
  19. What progress are we making on enforced sales of abandoned derelict properties?
  20. Do we operate as a "colour blind" Council to the extent that it is possible? For example do we keep ethnic monitoring to the statutoryn minimum?
  21. What is our level of rent arrears?
  22. Do we operate a "zero tolerance" policy for our tenants involved in anti social behaviour?
  23. Do we ensure the Tenants Halls on our estates are put to full use, for example being rented out as nursery schools during the day time, to provide income?
  24. Do we offer a discount to those who save us administration costs by paying their Council Tax by Direct Debit?
  25. Similarly, do we offer a discount to those who apply for their parking permit online?
  26. How much do we spend on Teacher Training? Also on the supply teachers required to stand in for the teachers we take out of the classroom?
  27. How much so we spend on "School Governor support?"
  28. Do we request our Governors to go off to a lot of Conferences to listen to educational jargon? Would it be more appreciated, as well as much cheaper, to hold an annual civic reception, to thank them for their efforts?
  29. What encouragement do we give to our schools to provide services through the voluntary efforts of parents, for example, maintenance of the school grounds?
  30. What encouragement do we give to voluntary gardening assistance in our parks and public spaces?
  31. Why does it take 18 months to repair a swing in the playground?
  32. Often fee paying schools operate scholarship schemes. Please could we help to ensure that low income families in our area are aware of these opportunities, for instance, by publicising them on our website?
  33. Are local fee paying schools invited to participate in sports competitions, school debating competitions, etc, with our schools?
  34. What efforts do we make to encourage those on the governing bodies of local fee paying schools also serve on the governing bodies for our schools? Could we write to the schools pointing out that we often have vacancies and that we would welcome such applications?
  35. Do we encourage children at our schools and the local independent schools swapping schools for a day?
  36. How long are we going to keep black children in institutional care rather than allowing them to be adopted by white couples into loving homes, given our obligation that the needs of the child are paramount?
  37. Do our children in care have up to date dental checks, an annual health check and immunisations? (This and the next batch of questions were prompted by Harriet Sergeant’s excellent report for the Centre for Policy Studies, Handle with Care).
  38. The average cost of a child in care is £40,000. Does this apply locally? Have we carried out a cost benefit analysis of sending children in care to boarding schools? (At least for those who might pass the entrance exam of the school in question, or might do so with some coaching.) This would release our foster parents for temporary placements during term time.
  39. What guidelines/requirements do we offer foster parents about reading bed time stories? Do we check they have plenty of children’s books relevant for the age of the child? Do we supply books? Is is true that we caution against reading bed time stories while the child is in bed?
  40. Do social workers visiting foster parents say goodbye to the children when they leave?
  41. Do we pay our foster parents the minimum allowances as recommended by the Fostering Network? Would it be better value for money in terms of the quality of care we can achieve to pay our foster parents more and to employ fewer social workers even if this meant there were fewer social worker visits to foster parents? (It seems a very low proportion of the £40,000 actually goes to the foster parents resulting in little choice of foster parents, resulting in having to continue using bad ones.)
  42. How good are we at keeping to a minimum the amount children are moved around from one foster parent to another?
  43. When we do have to move them how much notice do they get? HS report says often there is very little notice which makes it worse.
  44. Do we arrange liason between the outgoing and incoming foster parents?
  45. Do we make a special effort to avoid moving them just before exams?
  46. If we have children placed via an independent foster provider do we leave them there if it is the interests of he child even though it costs more?
  47. Is it true that foster parents are told not to apply a sticking plaster or give a child cough syrup?
  48. Do we get the balance right over avoiding accusations of child abuse? Is it true that our foster parents are discouraged from cuddling children? Or from comforting them in the night if they have nightmares?
  49. Is it true that foster parents always have to consult social workers about haircuts for the children? Could we not at least be flexible about this? For instance if the child is not in regular contact with his natural parents.
  50. What guidance/ encouragement do we give to foster parents to ensure that children in their care do their school homework?
  51. Do we offer encouragement/ extra money for foster parents to take the children in their care on holiday’s abroad/ or at least outside London?
  52. Is it true that when a child in care gets a new social worker they are asked to "retell their life story"? Why can’t the new social worker just read the file?
  53. Do our managers and social workers have proper, accessible, up-to-date computer records available to them?
  54. Do our managers have accessible information from our computers of how many cases each social worker has and the individual details of each case?
  55. HS says in her report of one instance where "the screens are designed for entering information rather than retrieving it". Is this true for us?
  56. HS talks of there being "no facility for browsing through records." Is this true for us?
  57. What consideration do we give to "designing out crime" on our estates?
  58. Do we ensure there are no blind spots from CCTV?
  59. Do we shut off alleyways?
  60. Do our tenants know how to contact their local estate warden of caretaker?
  61. What efforts have we given to encourage the establishment of Neighbourhood watch schemes?
  62. What encouragement do we give to the police to eat their lunch and fill in their paper work at cafes, so that they are visible and accessible, rather than doing this back at the Police Stations?
  63. Do we ensure that our Parks Constabulary patrol on foot rather than driving around by car?
  64. Where the majority of flats in one of our blocks have been sold what encouragement do we give to the leaseholders to buy the freehold from us?
  65. What requirement to we make for the Housing Association we work in partnership with to grant the right to home ownership to their tenants?
  66. What is the total cost to the Council in interest payments on our debt is each year?
  67. Do we have a suggestions box for our staff with a prize for the winning idea to improve the efficiency of our services?
  68. Do we offer flu jabs to our staff at the Town Hall to help keep down sickness levels?
  69. What efforts have we made to identify "Hidden Homes" around the corners of our estates? For instance redundant garages and boiler rooms currently left to be vandalised.
  70. What cost benefit analysis have we done to see if it would be sensible to sell valuble street properties which fall vacant rather than retain them for social housing?
  71. What assistance can be provided to ensure that young mothers particularly do not end up in temporary accommodation? Are there options that could be explored to further prevent homelessness amongst this group?
  72. Does our Film Unit cost more than the extra revenue it attracts from film companies?
  73. Would the money we spend on interpreters and translators for Town Hall meetings and publications be better spend assisting people to learn English?
  74. How much do we spend on fees for our staff to attend conferences each year?
  75. How many staff are employed on a full time or part time basis to perform trade union duties and what is the total cost?
  76. How many cars provided to staff are electric or energy efficient cars?
  77. What office accommodation do we provide, without charging, to outside bodies?
  78. What encouragement do we give to our schools to have their own kitchens?
  79. Why don’t we reduce staffing levels at the Town Hall through a recruitment freeze?
  80. How much of the library budget is spent on books?
  81. How many of our libraries employing more than one member of staff nevertheless close for lunch?
  82. How many Equalities Officers do we employ?
  83. What encouragement have we given to the establishment of a Credit Union locally?
  84. What encouragement do we give to the establishment of Saturday morning reading classes run by volunteers using phonics to teach those children to read who are failing to learn to read at our schools?
  85. What consideration do we give to closing failing schools?
  86. Have we carried out an "eco audit" of the Town Hall?
  87. Are we introducing a discount on parking charges for environmentally friendly cars?
  88. What efforts can we make to reduce street clutter such as redundant signage?
  89. What could we do to promote civic pride and knowledge of local history? Could displays along these lines be put up in local libraries and the Town Hall foyer including illustrations such as Royal visits.
  90. What efforts are we making to have empty buildings and waste land owned by parts of the public sector other than the Council brought into use or sold? For example to put on pressure through a Public Request to Order Disposal.
  91. What encouragement do we offer to private firms, groups of parents and charities to start their own schools? Do we assist with finding locations and planning policies conducive to this?
  92. Do we keep costs down by using email where possible? If tenants agree to have their rent slips by email do we offer this? Or sending out Council papers by email rather than hard copies?
  93. Should we offer a small discount in rent to those of our tenants who pay by Direct Debit thus saving us admin costs?
  94. How many policy officers do we employ?
  95. What are our relations like with local business leaders? What cooperation do we have with them in fighting crime?
  96. Why don’t we have a webcam of Council meetings included on our website?
  97. What representations have we made for the opening of new City Academies?
  98. What economies of scale do we achieve by running services on a joint basis with neighbouring Councils?
  99. How’s the Pension Fund doing?
  100. As a supplementary to most of the above… Have we looked at how they do this in Wandsworth?

24 comments for: Harry Phibbs: 100 questions councillors should ask council officers

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