Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Mark Bee's Token of Transparency

I haven't yet posted anything about yesterday's election of Cllr Mark Bee as head of Suffolk County Council's controlling Conservative group, mainly because it seems slightly perverse to express too serious an interest in the internal machinations of a political faction with which I am in no way aligned, however significant they might be for the future of the county as a whole. Having declared his support for Bee a few minutes before the election, James Hargrave has been cautiously celebrating the result, and I agree with his call for a stop to SCC's myopic trailblazing ('leading on the edge of chaos' for the hell of it, and for the message it sends to CCHQ):
We don't want the county we love turned into a laughing stock nationally, a byword for wasteful and overpaid local governement [sic] with the Chief Executive literally all over the national papers. At times I have maybe said that Suffolk is a bit too sleepy and behind the times. Can we go back a bit more to those days Mark?
Meanwhile, Ipswich Spy has expressed reservations about Bee's likely approach (or lack thereof) to SCC's problematic Chief Executive Andrea Hill, citing his apparent reluctance to discuss the issue in his pre-election presentation, while fellow candidate Colin Noble "made an impressive presentation during the hustings about his views on Ms Hill, whose days would have been numbered under his leadership." Moving away from the symbolic problem of Hill, Andrew Grant-Adamson provides a more pragmatic assessment of Bee's obligations both to disaffected Tory backbenchers and to the political momentum of the NSD juggernaut: "The words 'New Strategic Direction' may be consigned to the Endeavour House dustbin, but it is clear that the policy of divestment will continue albeit in a more humane form."

For what it's worth, I thought I'd share a little fact that I discovered while doing some research yesterday morning. It turns out that, of the three candidates for the leadership -- Mark Bee, Colin Noble and Guy McGregor -- Bee is the only one to have his latest entry in the Register of Members' Interests available online and linked to on his Council profile page. This might have something to do with his position as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee (only two Committee members, Colin Hart and Anne Whybrow, have failed to do the same). Still, in view of the Council's questionable record on Freedom of Information and transparency, it seems like a pretty good sign.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Electricity Information and Bus Services

About a week ago, Suffolk County Council replied to my Environmental Information Regulations request concerning electricity usage at Endeavour House, the council's Ipswich headquarters. I asked for
(a) a record, if available, of the proportion of the building's annual 3,351,786 kWh electrical energy usage attributable to features inherent in the building itself, e.g. lighting, water heating, automatic doors, etc.;
(b) any records or inventories of mains-powered electrical equipment used in the building, e.g. computers, photocopiers, vending machines, etc., including quantities and model numbers;
(c) a record of the number of workers in the building with access to a personal computer or workstation, or to an equivalent shared facility (if the latter, please also provide details of the numbers between which a given computer is shared);
(d) a record of the total number of workers in the building.
In reference to point (a), the Information Compliance Officer explained that there are no records kept specifically for building-inherent electricity usage, which I found fair enough -- I half-expected this to be the case. A set of data was, however, provided in response to point (b). Unfortunately, the information was very badly formatted and difficult to use -- instead of a simple inventory of items and their quantities, I was presented with a huge, seemingly arbitrary list ("WATER HEATER, MAINS CORD (CLASS 1), WATER HEATER, DISH WASHER", etc.), in which I had to count up the individual appearances of each item in order to determine its quantity. What's more, there was no attempt to provide any detail beyond the most basic and generic descriptions -- certainly no model numbers or brand names, from which I'd hoped to calculate wattage and overall usage levels.

I've tidied up the data slightly, laboriously counting up the quantities, and have uploaded it to Google Docs here -- perhaps it will prove useful to somebody else. As for parts (c) and (d) of the request, "[t]here are 899 desktops in Endeavour House and 177 laptops assigned to users deemed to be based in Endeavour House", and "records show 1384 (contracts) and 111.72 (FTE) where the base location is stated as being Endeavour House." There's not really much that I can make from this without more specific information about the equipment and some comparative data from similar buildings/organizations, so I won't jump to any conclusions. Feel free to do so if you feel like it, though.

In other news, I've spent the past couple of days testing out Charsfield's re-configured bus services. As part of the council's 50% cuts to public transport subsidies, the 70 and 70A routes (both heavily dependent on council funding) have been re-contracted to the local company Carters Coaches -- until a few days ago, they were run by First Eastern Counties. Thankfully, there hasn't been any real change -- Charsfield happens to sit in the middle of a well-established (if slightly circuitous) Ipswich-Woodbridge route. Other services, particularly to the North-East of here, haven't been so lucky.