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Andy ‘promised to be upfront’

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Transparency shortcomings of metro mayor Andy Street’s West Midlands Combined Authority extend well beyond the mayor’s office, the Beleben blog noted on October 19, 2018. Now, the topic seems to be receiving some wider coverage.

Birmingham Live, 'West Midlands Combined Authority will not identify consultants earning fortunes'

According to Birmingham Live, Mr Street “promised to be upfront about meetings, gifts and expenses”, but it took two years for such information to appear on the WMCA website.

Written by beleben

January 23, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Most transparent shortcomings

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According to West Midlands mayor Andy Street’s “Renewal Plan“, he aims, or aimed, to be the ‘most transparent mayor’ in Britain.


But at the time of writing, the “Mayor’s Expenses” page on the website of the West Midlands Combined Authority gives no information about mayoral expenditure. Nor does there seem to be any diary of Andy’s past or future meetings, etc, on the site.

WMCA, Mayor Andy Street's expenses page, at 16 Oct 2018

Unfortunately, these transparency shortcomings extend well beyond the mayor’s office, to the Combined Authority itself.

Written by beleben

October 19, 2018 at 11:08 am

Who wood believe them?

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About four years ago, as part of the Midland Metro ‘Birmingham city centre extension’ to Stephenson Street, the council had all the trees cut down in Upper Bull Street, Corporation Street, and Stephenson Place. This morning (25 February 2017), as part of the advance works for a further extension of the tramway and ‘redevelopment’ of Centenary Square, contractors cut down one of the oldest remaining trees in the city centre.

[Birmingham council and Transport for the West Midlands (Centro) statement]

“We have looked long and hard at all the options to retain this particular tree but because the Metro extension and the Centenary Square development, with its in-built anti-terror measures, have been designed as one integrated scheme it has sadly not been possible.”

But who would believe them?

Everything points to TfWM and the council just wanting rid of the tree. There was, and is, plenty of room to run their boondoggle tramway between where the tree stood, and the Municipal Bank. And to claim that the destruction was necessary for ‘anti-terror’ purposes, is absurd.

The tree was surrounded by metal screens, presumably to limit people's view of what was going on

View of the tree destruction compound from above

Tree destruction in progress

A worker cutting down the branches

The tree succumbs to the chainsaw

The tree is attacked by a workman

A section of the doomed tree is lowered to the ground

Cutting down the trunk

The felled trunk of the tree

The  remains of the tree were loaded onto a lorry

Written by beleben

February 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm

Open data and public expenditure

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'How much transparency'?Whilst public finance transparency is better in Britain than many other countries, poor quality, inaccessible and redacted data is preventing effective scrutiny of government spending, Transparency International UK reported.

[‘Counting the pennies’ [extract], Transparency International UK, September 2016]

Successive governments have made open data a priority and more recently this has included an emphasis on public finance disclosures. Since 2010, public bodies in both central and local government have been encouraged to publish the details of certain financial information on a regular basis. From 2015, this has been a mandatory requirement. As a result of this initiative, there are now millions of records of tenders, contracts and transactions spanning the last five years that had hitherto been undisclosed to the outside world. Across central and local government, this covers over £2.312 trillion worth of transactions, and for local government in England alone, there are almost 63 million individual lines of data on items of spending.

According to the latest Open Data Index, this initiative helps put the UK in the top tier for publishing tender and transaction level data about public finances. These efforts to increase transparency about public finances can only be welcomed. Public procurement is internationally recognised as a corruption risk and is included under Article 9 of the UN Convention Against Corruption. Providing greater scrutiny over this process can help detect and deter attempts to abuse entrusted power for private gain in the UK. There are also several other benefits of public finance transparency beyond fighting corruption. These include helping the public sector as a whole understand who it does business with and increasing value for money in procurement, providing the private sector with more insights into potential business opportunities, and giving greater information to citizens about how public bodies spend taxpayers’ money. This may lead many to conclude that the UK’s job is done and that it should hold itself up as a model for other countries to follow.

However, our research has found there are still a number of issues with how the government’s framework for public finance transparency is implemented in practice. If unchecked, these could fundamentally undermine the utility of this initiative. For both the layperson and expert the data are relatively inaccessible, with there being no single location where it can be accessed. The data often contains inaccuracies, anomalies and omissions. A lack of standardisation in how the data are published also means that in-depth analysis is inhibited, and the level of detail and contextual information provided undermines the meaningfulness of this resource. And not every citizen has the time or skills necessary to analyse and interpret the data as it is being published in its current form.

The UK Government has announced a number of important commitments that could help the UK make progress on improving the quality of public finance data. This includes rolling-out open contracting – the new gold standard for procurement transparency – across central government and engaging data users in how to improve the management, use and availability of public data. These pledges are timely, but also show an implicit acknowledgement that there is still work to be done before the UK can truly say its finances are the most transparent in the world.

In 2010, the coalition government proclaimed a ‘New era of transparency’ would bring about ‘a revolution in town hall openness and accountability’.

[‘New era of transparency will bring about a revolution in town hall openness and accountability’,, 4 June 2010]

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Local Government Association Chair Baroness Eaton joined forces today to urge all councils to publish details of all spending over £500 in full and online as part of wider action to bring about a revolution in town hall openness and accountability.

As a result, local authorities began to publish lists of spending of £500 or more, with payees. However, in themselves, these are of extremely limited value. For example, if Local Authority A lists a payment to Contractor X of £100,000, one might well wonder, what was the £100,000 for? And how did Contractor X get the business? Was there a bidding process?

In practice, “publishing details of all spending over £500 in full” has meant publishing next to no details.

Other transparency problems have arisen from the transfer of public funds to ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships’ to spend, supposedly on behalf of the public. LEPs tend to function as private fiefdoms, controlled by big business, and untroubled by the Freedom of Information Act.

Written by beleben

September 27, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Local government, Politics

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The waff of Khan

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HS2, and the Joanna Lumley memorial bridge over the Thames, seem to benefit from the Labour party’s difficulties with the concept of sunk costs.

[Why did Sadiq Khan change his mind over the Garden Bridge? He’s fallen for the sunk costs fallacy, Ben Chu, The Independent, 18 April 2016]

[…] Sadiq Khan, the front-runner to replace Boris Johnson as London Mayor, came out in opposition to the construction of a new £175m Garden Bridge across the Thames last year (with £60m expected to come from public funds). But last week came a change of heart. “It’s going ahead, it’s got the green light,” Khan said. And why? “The money [spent on the design] is spent. Cancelling would mean we lose that money and have nothing.”

Garden bridge, and the Boris Emirates cable car, highlight one of the problems with empowered city mayors, in which ‘local government’ is, to a greater or lesser extent, replaced by ‘decisions taken by a mayor’.

Written by beleben

April 18, 2016 at 10:29 am

Crossrail Limited does not hold information relating to “UK spend”

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A seriously misleading tweet from the Department for Transport

A seriously misleading tweet from the Department for Transport

Crossrail Ltd (CRL) — the company overseeing construction of London’s Crossrail 1 railway — records expenditure ‘by contract and project’, rather than worksite and category, a freedom of information request has established. However, ‘details of budgets and current expenditure are considered by CRL to be commercially sensitive and hence exempt from disclosure as set out in Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act’. Furthermore, the company does not hold information relating to “UK spend”, so claims about 95% of the contracts being awarded to ‘UK firms’ and suchlike, can be classed as bunkum.

[Crossrail Ltd, December 2014]

[…] This exemption has been applied since the release of this information is likely to prejudice the commercial interests of CRL in negotiations with contractors during the life of the contracts, and also affect the commercial position of the contractors with regard to their key sub-contractors.

The use of this exemption is subject to an assessment of the public interest in relation to the disclosure of the information concerned. In this instance, factors in favour of disclosure, such as the general public interest in transparency and openness are outweighed by CRL’s obligation to ensure that it obtains the best possible value when spending public money.

The total funding envelope for the Crossrail programme is £14.8bn. Total expenditure incurred (including committed land and property spend not yet paid out) by CRL in relation to the construction of Crossrail to the end of period 8 – 22 July 2008 to 8 November 2014 (excluding recoverable VAT on Land and Property purchases) is £6,798m. This amount updates the figure given in the Annual Crossrail Update to Parliament on Crossrail funding and expenditure made by the Secretary of State of the Department for Transport published in July this year.

CRL does not hold information relating to “UK spend”. We hold information relating to the location of our tier 1 contractors, however we do not hold records of payments between businesses in our supply chain beyond the first tier.

Misinformation in 'Rail' Magazine

Misinformation in ‘Rail’ Magazine

Written by beleben

December 12, 2014 at 4:20 pm

The cost of TfL Crossrail 2

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Cost estimates for the London Crossrail 2 railway scheme have increased by more than £6 billion, according to Transport for London.

[“Crossrail 2 cost rises by almost a third, says TfL”, BBC News, 27 Nov 2014]

The 30% increase, of £6.6bn, has been due to the inclusion of costs for new trains and surface works, figures show.

It means the north-south rail scheme is now expected to cost £20bn for the shorter Metro route and £27.5bn for the longer regional option.

A decision is expected in early 2015 between the Metro and regional routes.

[The regional version of] Crossrail 2 would run from Cheshunt in Hertfordshire to Epsom in Surrey, passing through central London via stations at Tottenham Court Road, Victoria, Chelsea and Clapham Junction.

But even the regional version of Crossrail 2 would not be particularly helpful in terms of maximising London rail capacity. The scheme should be redesigned to explicitly address overcrowding on the South West Main Line, and take account of population growth in East Anglia.

The Crossrail_X2 concept (below) combines elements of the 1970s Chelsea – Hackney tube and 1980 British Rail Euston – Victoria proposals, to relieve the South West Main Line, and provide a new route to East Anglia.

London Crossrail_X2 concept (Beleben)

London Crossrail_X2 concept (Beleben)

It would also be possible to route some Midland Main Line commuter trains into Crossrail_X2, in the event of Thameslink ‘maxing out’.

London Crossrail_X2 concept (Beleben)

Written by beleben

November 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Broadening Birmingham’s cycling demographic

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Cycling in Birmingham is not just for young white men, said Northfield MP Richard Burden (Birmingham Mail, 2 November). Which, the statistics show, is true. It’s for old white men too. But broadening the cycle demographic through dishonest and patronising nudge schemes like ‘Smarter Choices’, or WSP’s fake “Cycle Revolution”, is unlikely to work, on the evidence from places like Toronto.

[“I’m an adult. Stop nudging me”, Margaret Wente, Toronto Globe and Mail, 4 Oct 2014]

[…] Planners have tried all kinds of incentives to get us to cycle more. Toronto has built dedicated bike lanes, as well as semi-dedicated lanes (a safety menace, in my view). It even invested in a money-losing bike-share program. Sadly, though, I’m no more inclined to ride a bike than ever. My reasons are pedestrian: Sweatiness, helmet hair, inability to pick up dinner and 10 kilograms of cat litter on the way home. And the weather, which is crummy half the year.

But mostly, I enjoy not having my teeth knocked out. Cycling in Toronto is so dangerous that only lunatics would do it. You can be wiped out at any moment by cars and streetcar tracks.

Written by beleben

November 4, 2014 at 6:11 pm

HS2 capacity release on the East Coast corridor

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ECMA map

ECMA map

The Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities (ECMA), managed by York city council, says it represents councils and Scottish regional transport partnerships throughout the area served by the East Coast Main Line. In July 2014, the Consortium published its manifesto on the economic benefits of investment in the ECML.

[‘Delivering the right schemes for economic growth’, from July 2014 ECMA manifesto]

Network Rail and others in the rail industry are best placed to develop the specific schemes that will be needed to achieve the potential for economic growth identified in our research.

The research shows that the following actions would create the conditions that achieve strong levels of economic growth:

1. Providing eight, long distance, high speed passenger trains each hour from London linking core and intermediate stations together, with nine trains north of Peterborough in the longer term. These trains need to run at 100 mph along the ECML – our “Silver Standard”.

2. Providing through HS2 services in the longer term to Leeds, York, the North East and Edinburgh – our “Gold Standard”.

3. Providing regular direct services to London from places that currently have no or few trains each day to the capital and linking these places to other destinations on the ECML. Bradford, Scunthorpe and Middlesbrough are examples of places that need a regular service to the capital.

4. Providing a new direct passenger service from the north to Cambridge in the longer term, without reducing links between other ECML stations.

5. Improving the quality of the whole journey both on train and at platform, for example by providing 100% mobile connectivity throughout each journey to enable people to work whilst travelling.

6. Improving the movement of freight by completing gauge enhancement work, providing enough capacity for freight trains and connecting the ECML to the Electric Spine to allow more electric haulage to key destinations such as ports, power stations and logistics sites.

ECMA’s prospectus — authored by JMP — proposed substantial but uncosted improvements on the ECML, and an increase in the number of long distance passenger trains.

[ECMA prospectus, 8 September 2014]

If it were possible to increase line speeds above 125mph [200 km/h], for example to 140mph [225 km/h] then investment should be prioritised in the following order:

1. Doncaster – Leeds
2. Hitchin – Peterborough
3. London – Hitchin
4. Peterborough – Newark
5. York – Leeds
6. Newark – Doncaster
7. Doncaster – York
8. York – Northallerton
9. Northallerton – Newcastle
10. Newcastle – Edinburgh

According to HS2 Ltd, its new-build Y network would allow fast intercity trains to transferred away from the ECML, thereby releasing (path) capacity for regional and freight traffic, and avoiding the disruption which would follow from upgrading East Coast.

But clearly, ECMA’s aspirations for the East Coast line are not compatible with those of HS2 Ltd, and the idea that HS2 could take over the intercity role of the ECML has no plausibility. Between Leeds and London, HS2 would not serve a single town on the East Coast corridor.

Written by beleben

November 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

When a fire starts to burn

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Fire in Reddings Lane, 29 September 2014

In the early hours of this morning, a large fire swept through a cluster of warehouse / light industrial buildings in Reddings Lane, Tyseley, Birmingham, near the ‘new’ Yardleys school.

Fire in Reddings Lane, 29 September 2014

It could be seen and heard across a large swath(e) of south Birmingham.

Fire in Reddings Lane, 29 September 2014

About 70 fire service personnel from stations including Solihull, Bournbrook, and Handsworth, were called to the scene.

Fire in Reddings Lane, 29 September 2014

The road was sealed off by police, but residents were allowed to stay in their homes. The same site was the scene of suspected arson only last week.

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

At least nine major appliances were despatched, including two telescopic platforms, with one of them tackling the fire from Yardley school grounds. Because of the site’s geography, the crews seem to have had difficulty in obtaining a good hosing angle for the other platform, which was eventually set up in the school driveway.

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Fire in Reddings Lane, Birmingham, 29 September 2014

Written by beleben

September 29, 2014 at 8:04 am

Posted in Birmingham, Local government

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