Tag: Chamberlain Forum

Big City Plain and two nubs.

Big City Plan Talk.jpg

Many, many evenings of voluntary work went public last night with a site to complement Birmingham’s Big City Plan consultation.

www.bigcitytalk.org has been built by Jon Bounds who’s worked patiently with other Birmingham bloggers Julia Gilbert, Nicky Getgood, Michael Grimes and myself to translate council speak into clearer speak. Stef Lewandowski has also been among a number of people who’ve supported and encouraged this, not least through conversations with the council.  I don’t think it’s flawless – so please feel free to comment about the site, but more importantly please use it to comment about the big city plan before February 6th.
We want to help move beyond the traditional consultation approach of citizens or organisations making comments to government and for government. Instead we are keen to create an online place which will encourage a more public conversation about how we will shape the city centre over the next 20 years.

Fortunately it has been met with some enthusiasm from other people.

Midge describes it as “something that Joe Public could actually get involved with AND comment on”. Shona has already used it to have her say on the options for Digbeth. Mark Steadman wants people to use the site – pronto (consultation on this phase of the plan ends on February 6th), one Simon is chuffed to see the it built on free and open source software WordPress whilst another Simon is impatient to see more people commenting.

BiNS reminds us of one fundamental truth about planning for our city: “You know how big and complex Birmingham is, well it is. Very.”   Digital Birmingham reflect on this as “another example of how far ahead Birmingham is in its use of social media. Digital technologies coupled with a highly-motivated group of citizens makes for a very powerful combination.” Something I think is very true!

For me Dave Briggs gets to one nub here (I declare a situation can be double nubbed)when he asks two questions:

Readers working within local government: how could you make the most of the civic energy in your area, to work with residents to create something really worthwhile?

Everyone else: What’s going on in your local area that you could take a bit of time out to help out with, or improve?

So I’d like to add that extra nub with a third question aimed at publicly funded media like the BBC: Should you be doing this sort of stuff? If so how will you need to change your rules of engagement?

How much government money is spent in your neighbourhood? cons08

So how much? Add it all together: policing, benefits, health, road repairs.  The lot.  How much?  You don’t know, in fact it probably cant be done.

That is what Dick Atkinson realised 15 years ago. He runs the Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Forum and he wanted to know just how much public money was sunk into his patch each year.  he wanted to see if he could help spend some of it better.

Dick has written about this in many of his books and pamphlets. More importantly he has argued the case year after year as politician after politician came to visit his court in the pyramid building where the forum his based.  Among them the Tories.  David Cameron has visited Balsall Heath at least three times to my knowledge. He’s stayed here to find out more about inner city living.  He gave a Chamberlain Lecture (link to mp3 Chamberlain forum here) on civil renewal in a small church in the Seven Streets Neighbourhood.

Yesterday – as one of the Birmingham bloggers invited to the Tory Party conference – I bumped into Alistair Burt MP.  He too has visited Balsall Heath and told me that Dick’s wish is close to coming true:


I’ve had a rootle around and can’t find much more detail of how this idea of a Sustainable Communities Statement does or will work.  He wasn’t the first person to mention it here.  Greg Clarke, shadow minister for the cabinet office (is that Tom Watson’s shadow or Phil Hope’s), also mentioned this at an NCVO fringe event held at BVSC on monday. So where’s the real detail on how much easier it is to count public spending in your neighbourhood? Will it work or does is simply apply to traditional boundaries, such as constituencies? Anyone help?

Other Birmingham Bloggers who were also at the conference:

Dave Harte on posh tories.

Alex Hughes fabulous flickr cartoons.

Deirde lines up the lolitics fodder.

Jon Bounds learns ten things and ponders why few MP’s really blog.

Simon Gray mostly shared his thoughts through flickr.

Praguetory is still composing his after having a camera nicked.

Dan O’Doherty at Birmingham University Conservatives thinks Cameron should be pm – shocker.

Crime Mapping from the British Government based on a West Midlands example

Tom Watson , William Perrin and the Power of Information taskforce shows off some mock ups for crime mapping by neighbourhood and the whole social media story makes it onto the Telegraph’s front page with a couple of subsidiary articles – including one mentioning West Midlands Police mapping site.  Practical and political! Crime mapping has been useful tool in the US for a few years now, some of it inspired by tracking gun crime and is seeing growing use in the UK.

Review of the new Local Priorities web service from the Dept of Communities and Local Government

I do like the idea behind this new web service from the Department of Communities and Local Government which tells you about your Local Area Agreement.
Local Area Agreements (LAA) are negotiated between a local council (plus the local strategic partnership, like BeBirmingham) and central government. Together they create a list of key improvements and sign a three year deal to hit some key targets – that’s the LAA. Every local authority will have a different set of priorities – Birmingham will include tackling gun crime, Boscombe wont.

This new website uses a map to help us find out what the priorities are for where we live. This is good. In the simple sense information empowers people. If I know what the council or police force’s priorities are I can negotiate with them better. I can improve the way I influence them. I can also decide whether to challenge those priorities and make the case for new priorities. It all helps focus and clarify the conversation between citizen and those who serve the citizen.
So the principal is great but execution has shortcomings. First of all the information isn’t very usable. If I go to the Birmingham part of the site I can’t create a permanent link to this information. Instead I get the link which generates the data from the database:


This means that a local newspaper or a local community group can’t link to the Birmingham part of the site to share with others what the targets are for the neighbourhood. Without permanent links the whole web service is based on the assumption that people will come to your site rather than the more realistic idea of letting your information go to where they are on the web.

Next the information lacks detail.

It tells me Birmingham has 35 targeted priorities. I have to presume they are not listed in any order of importance. For example NI (national indicator?) 001 tells me that we have a target called “% of people who believe people from different backgrounds get on well together in their local area”. What it doesn’t say is what that percentage is in Birmingham at the moment and or the percentage we’re trying to achieve. Likewise NI 154 tells me nothing more than one of Birmingham’s 35 agreed priorities is called: “Net additional homes provided”. That’s it. No more place specific detail.

Is this a question of time? Will the extra information about specific numbers for Birmingham be added? If not why not? If so how is this happening?
The whole process could be streamlined if individual local authorities have their own login to add the specifics of their targets.
They could further update it when/if those targets have been met. They could add links to evidence of the achievement, whether text, video or audio. Alongside that residents could leave their comments, a little like public comments on parliamentary debates on TheyWorkForYou. Local residents, newspapers, businesses and communities group could also keep track of this and share it if you provided an rss feed for every local authorities set of targets.

The information could also be used to create a game or competition to encourage local authorities to keep the data refreshed. Politicians like to keep track of who’s on top. They might even respond to a widget which rings a bell every time a target is hit – either in their region, or nationally.

One last thing – it isn’t really local enough. Many people don’t know which local authority area they live in. If we want everyone to easily access the LAA priorities then a postcode or map based search system would be better – integrating perhaps google maps with the site. This is something already done by others (notably mysociety with fixmystreet), so technically is now quite straightforward.
The bulk of these things would be relatively easy to do through ning or perhaps wordpress multiuser – all on the same url as now.

To sum up it’s a good idea but I can’t see many people finding it very useful in its current form.