Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lib Dems: Folk Festival Fiasco nothing to do with us

I've just been debating the Folk Festival Fiasco with the Council Leader, Liberal Democrat Ian Nimmo-Smith on Radio Cambridgeshire. 

I have to say am a deeply unimpressed with his response to the problems. Firstly, he suggests that it is fine that one department can inflict £645k of damage to Council taxpayers funds, and this doesn't indicate a problem with wider risk management in the City Council. With this attitude, problems like this could occur again and again on his watch. But the most concerning is his suggestion that Executive Councillors with significant powers to run Cambridge had no responsibility at all for the fiasco, and he just dumped the blame onto unelected Council officers.

The facts are that this was a major contract for the Council that should have been subject to oversight and scrutiny by the Executive Councillors, and Folk Festival ticketing arrangements have been a hotly debated political issue since May 2007. Opposition Councillors asked no fewer than four oral questions at Council on the subject of Folk Festival ticketing, by far the largest number on any issue in this time, and a motion on ticketing issues was debated by Full Council in May 2007.

In November 2007, the Community Service Scrutiny Committee considered a report that started:

"1. Executive summary
Due to the sustained success of the Cambridge Folk Festival demand for tickets continues substantially to outstrip the numbers available, placing considerable pressure on booking arrangements. This report sets out the range of issues for 2008, and recommends the formation of an officer/member working party to monitor the progress of arrangements.
2. Recommendations
The Executive Councillor is recommended:
1 To approve the creation of an all-party officer/member working group on the Cambridge Folk Festival Box Office.
2 To agree the number of members on the working group and its terms of reference, to include the discussion of the respective merits of different ticket sales methods, problems associated with secondary ticketing and issues related to tickets for residents and make a recommendation to the Executive Councillor for Arts and Recreation."

It was precisely these identified pressures on ticketing that should have been considered following this report that lead to the time pressure and ultimately the botched and deeply flawed contract agreement in 2008 - what on earth was the Executive Councillor doing while all this was going on?

Perhaps we can get some clues from the incredible oral question asked to the Executive Councillor by a backbench Lib Dem Councillor in Full Council, May 2008:

6. From Councillor McGovern to the Executive Councillor for Arts & Recreation 
Following the queues of the last few years would the Executive Councillor agree that the officers involved in the arrangement of Folk Festival tickets this year deserve congratulations on the success of this year’s sales?

So even whilst the Council was engaged in a contract now shown to have serious shortcomings, the Executive Councillor in response to this question was doubtless congratulating herself on having solved all the problems, oblivious to the real situation. If losing £645k of Council Tax payers money counts as "success" of the 2008 ticket sales to the Lib Dems, I shudder to think what would constitute a problem.

It tells you everything about why the Lib Dem administration is so disasterous for Cambridge City. No real scrutiny from backbench Lib Dems, just sycophantic questions at Council to prompt self congratulation, and Executive Councillors who appear to have no clue about the serious problems unfolding in the department they are responsible for.

1 comment:

Anna Smith said...

You pretty much hit the nail on the head. As serious as it all sounds its just another day in the office at Calamity Council.

Many of these problems come down to senior management and if you look at the job descriptions for Directors and Heads of Service you will see why.

These days it is all 'strategic decision maker', 'enabling partnerships', and other management cliches when what is actually needed is someone with the skills and experience to run operations.

Turning the JD's into a management cliche bingo card just facilitates those good at bovine excrement talking their way into jobs often at the expense of more capable candidates.

12-18 months Cambridge will be on special measures - Hammond and Nimmo's legacy of incompetence.