Posts Tagged ‘Government’

Stuff I've seen October 11th through to October 19th

Posted on 19th October 2010 by

These are my links for October 11th through October 19th:

Stuff I've seen October 1st through to October 5th

Posted on 5th October 2010 by

These are my links for October 1st through October 5th:

  • An open letter to David Cameron, part one of three « Francesca Elston – I have worked in a large Government department, and I believe the following: firstly, that it would have been possible to take 25% of the costs out without harming the service delivery in the long term (that caveat’s important); secondly, that it might have been possible to improve the service in doing so, and thirdly that there were people within that organisation who knew exactly where the 25% lay.
  • Government data will be machine readable, Maude pledges | Politics | – Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told the Conservative party conference in Birmingham that the Freedom of Information Act will be amended so that all data released through FoI must be in a reusable and machine readable format.
  • BBC News – The ‘night riders’ who help the NHS – The volunteer service, which is available in the south-east of England, offers a free out-of-hours service to a number of NHS hospitals and can be asked to carry anything urgently needed from baby milk to blood products and X-ray results.
  • MaPit – MaPit is our database and web service that maps postcodes and points to current or past administrative area information and polygons for all the United Kingdom.
    Another notable benefit is that this new version has been filled with only totally open data, so you can be secure that you can reuse the data from this site under the minimal terms of the licences given below.
  • BBC – dot.Rory – A 16-year-old who turned up at a hacking event a couple of months ago may just have achieved two great things. If Isabell Long’s idea works, it could make a major contribution to getting Whitehall to cut its energy use.

Stuff I've seen June 10th through to June 19th

Posted on 19th June 2010 by

These are my links for June 10th through June 19th:

  • Neighbourhoods Learning Together — BVSC – Course available for community activists in North Birmingham and Sandwell: “30 places are available and we want to the group to reflect the diversity of the area. If there are barriers or support needs which are making you hesitate, then let us know and we’ll see what we can do. The venues for the sessions will be wheel chair accessible.”
  • Telford & Wrekin CVS-news from the Development Team » Blog Archive » Telford & Wrekin CVS BASIS Project – “The whole purpose of which is to recruit, support and train 50 local voluntary and community organisations, in the art of social media, so that they can implement it, to ultimately support group sustainability”
  • Swimming pool data scraping: comparing opening times | Where can we swim? – “Birmingham City Council’s leisure centre website isn’t an easy place to look for information, harder still to try to take data, but that’s just what I’ve spent some considerable time trying to do….” Our own Andrew Brightwell continues his one man campaign to scrutinise availability of swimming pools.
  • The power of conversations « Francesca Elston – “…conversations make people happier and more useful.”
  • Pentagon hunts WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in bid to gag website | Media | The Guardian – The Daily Beast, a US news reporting and opinion website, reported that Pentagon investigators are trying to track down Julian Assange – an Australian citizen who moves frequently between countries – after the arrest of a US soldier last week who is alleged to have given the whistleblower website a classified video of American troops killing civilians in Baghdad.
  • Cutswatch | Society | – Public services face the harshest cuts in decades. We want to know what’s happening in your area
  • Futurebuilders — loan business scrapped, new direction will be grants for neighbourhood organisations « The BSSEC blog – “Civil Society Media website reports that Nick Hurd, the civil society minister, has confirmed that Futurebuilders — New Labour’s flagship loans-plus-support model for investing in third sector development, managed by the Social Investment Business — is “effectively closed for business”. In future the £200m fund will be dedicated to providing grants to stimulate the formation of neighbourhood-based organisations, a clear change of direction under the coalition’s new ‘big society’ policies.
    The Office for Civil Society (the replacement for the Office of the Third Sector) has also confirmed that Capacitybuilders and the youth volunteering organisation v — both major New Labour initiatives — are “under review”.”

Public toilets and public interest and what it means for scrutiny

Posted on 1st June 2010 by

It was a toilet a bit like this, just without the sign. By Phinphonephotos on Flickr

This weekend I’ve had my head stuck on working out what I can do next on the digital scrutiny project. And then I remembered a toilet.

I used to be a local reporter in north London. Each week, after we’d put the paper to bed, I’d walk round my ‘patch’. It was a picturesque place called Highgate. I’d often need what one might euphemistically refer to as a ‘comfort break’. There was only one public toilet in the middle of Highgate Village, so it became a er, regular calling point.

Sadly for me, it didn’t take all that long before the local council announced its closure as part of a series of budget cuts. This led to a few protests from locals who were unhappy to be losing a treasured local service, but no one seemed to think it was that interesting a local newspaper story.

A bit of a story I and another reporter wrote about the toilet, taken from teh Ham&High website.

Well, that is apart from me. I was enraged. My own personal pit stop had been taken away. Where would I be going to the toilet now? I furiously filed story after story about the loo closure. I think at one stage I got the nickname ‘toilet boy’. I even filed a Freedom of Information request asking for any correspondence about the lost loo.

The mickey-taking, however, stopped when my toilet-based Freedom of Information request got a reply from the council. Contained in a bundle of papers was a gem: a letter from the councillor in charge of Camden Council‘s environment department pleading with Mr Livingstone to give him the money needed to keep the toilet open, for fear its closure would hurt his chances of being re-elected. It made that week’s splash, if you’ll pardon the appalling pun.

Flushed with pride
I was obviously chuffed: a story I’d chosen to work on that others felt wasn’t important had ended up being quite, well a little bit, important. The councillor did lose the next election – along with quite a few other Labour councillors. The loo earned a reprieve, when the new council was elected and, under the name Pond Squre, is still in the list of Camden Council loos.

But, in truth, I didn’t deserve that much praise. I’d only pursued the story because it mattered to me. Its closure was a pain in the arse and I was annoyed. The moral of the tale, of course, is that it doesn’t take much at all to find out what’s going on, if you care and ask the right questions.

Bog standard
Sadly, local reporters are rarely the people who can do this stuff. They have to worry about deadlines, filling pages of copy and often don’t even live in the area they report on (I didn’t). That doesn’t mean they can’t do important work, but it’s citizens, the people affected, who need to take the lead, because it really matters to them.

So the next bit of the project will be to try to isolate a question – almost certainly about swimming pools on Where Can We Swim? – and pursue it with similar vigour to the toilet issue. I’ll have to care about it, but – importantly – I need to find others who do, too. There are a few that spring to mind – not least whether Birmingham really needs a 50m pool – but I’ll be trying very hard, very soon to work out what it is. Then it’s a matter of applying the skills I’m picking up through the project to see just how well this sort of stuff can work.