Council to receive £6.6m lump sum over PFI street lighting contract failures

PFIstreet1There’s a welcome injection of cash on the way for Leeds City Council’s coffers after the company providing the city’s street lighting has agreed to pay out a lump sum of £6.6m for failing to meet performance targets set out in a PFI contract.

The 25-year contract, which was signed in 2006 with Tay Valley Lighting (TVL Leeds), has had a troubled life so far.

First, it was revealed three years ago that the cost of providing the lighting had more than doubled since the commercial operator took over the job. Then early last year it was reported that the electricity bills to keep the city’s street lights on had increased by 40 per cent, despite a £94m project to reduce energy consumption.

Now it turns out that the council and TVL have been in dispute “for many years” over the performance of the firm that was subcontracted to deliver the contract, Southern Electric Contracting Limited (SEC).

A report published by the council, which pays TVL £1.1m a month under the PFI deal, says the dispute has been around SEC’s failure to carry out work including planned maintenance, electrical tests, inspections and painting.

The settlement is a bit of a compromise: the council had asked for £10.3m, but has agreed to the £6.6m in part because it didn’t want to get involved in a “costly, disruptive and resource intensive dispute resolution process” which might have led to the contract being terminated.

Contract management team replaced

MediaId-101The dispute has been serious enough for TVL to replace both the senior management team responsible for the contract and a number of under-performing sub-contractors. It has also put in place “a much more rigorous management structure and quality assurance framework to ensure (amongst other things) that more accurate records of works undertaken by sub-contractors are maintained”.

“The Council is not simply accepting a lump sum payment in relation to historic compensation but is also entering into an agreement to ensure that TVL now takes positive steps to bring its contractual performance back into line with the requirements of the contract,” the report says.

The Council is holding back £391,000 it owes to TVL over energy consumption payments until certain milestones to address the service failures have been achieved.

Meanwhile the Council and TVL have agreed three separate investment programmes to introduce LED lights  – one in subways, one in tunnels and one on various roads with the largest proportion of high energy lamps. The bulk of the £720k cost to fit the LED lamps – which consume on average around half the energy of the existing lamps – will be borne by the council.

TVL is owned 50:50 by Scottish and Southern Energy plc (SSE) and Royal Bank Leasing Limited. SEC is a subsidiary of SSE.

Back in 2012 the council was repaying some £75m a year for its PFI contracts. That will have increased in the meantime as two new PFI contracts have come on stream. I haven’t been able to update it as I can’t find the figures.

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Council set to publish loads more data as Leeds aspires to become “The Data City”

Leeds City Council looks like it’s about to commit itself to publishing a massive amount of new data on its open data platform, Leeds Data Mill.

The pledge is one of a series of recommendations in a report that’s going to council bosses for approval at a meeting tomorrow (17th December).

Given the scope of the council’s activities (finance, housing, land, infrastructure, property, health, social care, business, arts and culture, community and youth provision … the list is endless) the recommendation to commit all council services to “make all non person-sensitive data open and published” is a mammoth, but welcome, undertaking, particularly if it involves historic data.

Ironically, it will be like going back to the ‘sixties, when loads of council data was routinely and meticulously published down to the last ha’penny in bound volumes every year. Except this time there’ll be even more of it and you won’t have to go the library to make something of it.

The Data Mill currently publishes 92 sets of information from the council and 23 from other organisations in the region.

Expect many, many more.

“The Data City”

Glasgow's Operations Centre - traffic and community safety in a single 1,000-screen facility

Glasgow’s Operations Centre – 1,000-screen surveillance stuff

The report containing the pledge is the first to talk in detail about the council’s aspiration to become not just a “Smart City”, but “The Data City”.

The basic idea outlined in the report is that information and data from all over the city is collected and shared, and then citizens, the voluntary, public and private sectors cooperate to develop and use digital technologies to achieve “better lives and outcomes” for the city’s people.

That’s the theory. A nice one.

To get there, the council is going to set up a formal Smart City Team – it’s had a skeleton, informal one for nearly a year. It’s also allocating £150,000 that’s going to be used either to back prototype “civic enterprise” projects or as match funding for bids for Smart City cash from external funding bodies.

Projects will concentrate on what the report identifies as Leeds’ key areas of expertise like “Health and Wellbeing, Data and Co-Production”, and will only be taken beyond the prototype stage if there’s “‘business’ sponsorship and clear business cases”.

It’s not clear yet, however, who’s on the Team, who’s going to be deciding which projects get backed and how open the decision-making processes will be.

Limited capacity

bigdataThere’s talk in the report of the city’s digital/creative community having a “key development role”; of the need for council managers to get educated about “digital and data principles”; of Leeds becoming known as the city where “Data Scientists” are developed; of possibly hooking up with the University of Leeds “big data” people to set up an “Information Hub” for the city …

But at this stage there’s not much flesh on these bony aspirations. “The capacity to take the Smart City agenda forward and deliver the above is limited,” the report admits.

So, what has any of this got to do with local residents?

It’s difficult to say. The report says the Smart City Team has already had useful “engagement with various stakeholders across the City including citizens, different communities and localities”, but gives no evidence to back the claim up.

There’s talk too of developing “innovation … through co-production with the community” and of ensuring that everything that gets developed “considers the needs of Leeds’ communities and localities”.

But that’s tempered by an admission that “the ability to meaningfully engage with communities, localities and businesses to develop co-produced solutions to an increased number challenges requires more time and capacity to be put in (sic).”

Big boys hovering

ciscoMeanwhile, unmentioned by the report, the big boys – and the not so big boys – have been hovering. And why not, if there are, as is claimed, billions to be made from Smart City services?

No mention, for example, of networking giant Cisco, who, we were told in June, is driving Leeds’ Smart City agenda, “helping the city to harness the potential of the Internet of Everything“.

No satisfactory explanation either of the council’s role in the private not-for-profit company based in Munro House, the Leeds Open Data Institute (ODI), whose aim is to create “economic, environmental, and social value” from the open data held in the Leeds Data Mill.

Nothing wrong with a private company backed by multinationals like KPMG and ARUP, and local companies like CITU, Bloom and Actuated Futures hiring a space where open data work can be carried out, and charging people for training or office space.

But if the public sector is involved (as it is through the Leeds, Bradford and Calderdale councils, the “super-council” of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and transport authority Metro), we could probably do with a clearer idea of how the public (as opposed to the commercial) interest of the company’s activities is monitored and guaranteed.

The smart city control room in Rio, courtesy IBM

The smart city control room in Rio, courtesy IBM

Apropos of which, there’s no mention in the report, strangely, of the plan by our local quango, the Local Enterprise Partnership, to create a Leeds City Region open data platform “as a key information resource for business” (rpt business, note the emphasis) – a plan that merited specific mention in our regional leaders’ recent response to Whitehall on northern devolution.

Citizens’ role?

All in all, it’s a modest start to the council’s Smart City efforts, with no talk of “the internet of things”, and no hint yet that we are looking jealously at Glasgow or Rio, with their $multi-million Smart City operation centres or “control rooms” (hem, hem).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, in particular what the answers are to the following questions:

Is the Smart City going to be something that is imposed on us from on high?

Or is a formal role going to be created for citizens to decide what a “smart” Leeds might look and feel like, and how we might use open data to get there … if indeed somewhere “smart” is where we want to go?

In the meantime, here’s an alternative take on the Smart City from Dutch architect and urban theorist Rem Koolhaas.

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Car park and sports pitch charges up again as Leeds council tries to balance books

Pic by "tigerman" on skyscrapercity.com

Pic by “tigerman” on skyscrapercity.com

Two new sets of price rises have been announced for users of Leeds City Council facilities as the council tries to balance its budget this year: the cost of using the Woodhouse Lane car park is going up again, and users of council sports pitches are facing further increases too.

Both of the increases will take effect from January.

The cost of parking at Woodhouse Lane is going up from £5.50 to £6 a day. It was only increased from £5 to £5.50 in September.

Other tariffs at the multi-storey car park are as follows (it says “proposed” but the increases have since been approved):

woodhouselane

A report on the changes says the car park is currently cheaper than all the competition, and is operating at or near capacity throughout the day on weekdays. It’s expected the price rise will raise around £50,000 extra revenue in a full year.

Sports pitches

footballCharges for using council sports pitches last went up in February this year as part of this year’s budget. This time they’re being increased by 3% – or, as a report says, “broadly in line with inflation”.

So, from 2nd January hire of a grass pitch for football or rugby will be going up from £552 per season to £569.

Similar price rises are being introduced for cricket, hockey, bowls and golf, for sites used for funfairs, and for entry to the farm at Temple Newsam.

You can see all the new prices here.

“Presently the provision of grass sports facilities is heavily subsidised,” a report says. “Failure to ensure that cost of service increases in line with inflation will result in an expansion of the existing level of subsidy, which when considered in line with the present budgetary pressures within the service and directorate would constitute a notable budgetary risk. These price changes come as part of a wider aim across the Council to reduce its budget in line with cuts and make its services more sustainable.”

The council announced last month that it had introduced tough spending curbs as it struggled to keep within its budget for the year. They included a three-month embargo on all overtime, external recruitment and the appointment of new agency staff.

It said at the time that it was asking all of its departments to look at the possibility of increasing fees and charges from the beginning of 2015. This appears to be the first response to that request.

The projected overspend for 2014-15 was put last month (half way through the financial year) at £8.6m. According to a report published earlier this week, it has now been brought down to a projected £3.7m.

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Leeds and Partners set to be wound up by April

landpLeeds and Partners, the council-funded company that has been acting as the city’s investment and tourism agency, looks set to be wound up by April 2015.

The findings of a review into the future of the agency – which has had a regional investment role since earlier this year – are going to be discussed at a meeting of Leeds City Council bosses next week.

According to a council report published this afternoon, the key recommendations going to the 17th December meeting for approval are that:

* the agency’s inward investment role (and supporting and marketing and communications functions) are overseen by the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority acting as employer

* the agency’s “visitor economy” function for the city is transferred to Leeds City Council

* Leeds and Partners is wound up as a separate organisation, subject to the agreement of the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, who are joint owners of the company along with Leeds City Council

Welcome to Yorkshire

Possible new regional role for Welcome to Yorkshire?

Possible new regional role for Welcome to Yorkshire?

The council bosses are also being asked to agree to a further significant recommendation: that consideration be given “over the longer term (to) a future city region or cross-boundary approach to the visitor economy, linked potentially to commissioning of Welcome to Yorkshire”.

As far as Leeds tourism is concerned, the report says there is potential for the proposed business partnership, the City Centre Business Improvement District (BID),
“to play a role in the marketing and promotion of the city, but it would be premature
to make assumptions on this at this stage”.

Premature because the BID doesn’t officially come into being till February. It has, however, already published its proposals for its marketing, communications and branding role in the city.

Welcome home, guys!

Departing chief exec Lurene Joseph

Departing chief exec Lurene Joseph

Leeds and Partners began life as recently as September 2012 under the leadership of Lurene Joseph as a re-branded version of the city’s former marketing agency, Marketing Leeds.

The review was announced in October, shortly after Ms Joseph decided to step down as the company chief exec.

Leeds council has been funding the company to the tune of £2m a year. The new arrangements will save it £950,000 in 2015-16, the report says, with the £1.1m to £1.3m cost of the regional inward investment work shared between the region’s councils.

The budget for the Leeds city tourism function which the council is taking back in-house will be around £435,000 a year.

Worth noting that it was only in 2012 – a few months after Ms Joseph’s arrival – that all of the council’s tourism staff were seconded to Leeds and Partners (when it was still known as Marketing Leeds). Welcome home, guys.

The report says that the new regional inward investment team employed by the Combined Authority would have between 14 and 16 members, including a new Director of Inward Investment, and an operational budget of £400k to £500k.

“It will be important to retain and build on the successful aspects of the Leeds and
Partners approach to inward investment and the visitor economy,” it adds.

The new arrangements will be put in place by April 2015, the report says.

(will have a proper read of all the paperwork and maybe add more later)

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Leeds and Partners responsible for whole of region’s “visitor economy” … who knew?

After

New website

Phew! That was quick work!

It was only last month that they announced that the future of Leeds’ publicly-funded investment and tourism agency – Leeds and Partners – was under review … and now, as if by magic, the organisation has got a new look and what appear to be new regional responsibilities.

The new look comes in the shape of a new website: say farewell to the rather dull, local-sounding www.leedsandpartners.com, and hello to the rather snazzy, regional-sounding www.investleedscityregion.com.

The new responsibilities are less easy to pin down, but it looks like the organisation has morphed from being primarily a city agency (albeit one with a three-year contract to drag the region out of its investment doldrums) into a primarily regional one.

How so? Well, the “About Us” section of the private company’s new website kicks off with:

“Leeds and Partners is the strategic organisation responsible for attracting inward investment and growing the visitor economy in the Leeds City Region.”

And a job advert (closing today, folks!) for a Leeds and Partners PR and media type goes further:

“Leeds and Partners is the strategic agency responsible for attracting inward investment, growing the visitor economy and raising the profile of the Leeds City Region.”

Really?

Does Welcome to Yorkshire know?

Where does it leave Welcome to Yorkshire?

We knew about the inward investment, but when did Leeds and Partners win the contract(s) to become responsible for the visitor economy and profile-raising of the whole region – from Bradford to Barnsley, Skipton to Sowerby Bridge, and all points in between?

Taking on those responsibilities is quite a big deal. You’d think there would have been an announcement. But I can’t find one.

You’d think there would be a record of the decision in the minutes of the meetings of our regional decision makers, the Leeds City Region (LCR) Leaders Board and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), but I can’t find anything there either.

minutes(to be honest, that could be because the most recently published minutes of a meeting of the LCR leaders date back to July, and of the LEP to January. January! I kid you not. Our West Yorkshire leaders are the kings of transparency)

Someone put me right and point me to the tender documents, the contract award notice, the service level agreement and the governance arrangements for this chunk of publicly-funded work that’s gone to a private company.

Documents or no documents, where does this new regional “visitor economy” function leave Yorkshire’s acknowledged tourism and profile-raising experts, Welcome to Yorkshire? Who knows.

“Rebutting inaccuracies”

Departing chief exec Lurene Joseph: not mentioned in "The Team"

Departing chief exec Lurene Joseph: not mentioned in “The Team”

All will be revealed presumably when the findings of the review are published.

In the meantime, what’s also a bit odd about the new website is that there doesn’t seem to be a list of who’s currently on Leeds and Partners’ governing board.

Odd too that the section on “The Team” fails to include the company’s £160,000 a year chief exec, Lurene Joseph, who, I understood, wasn’t supposed to be leaving until spring 2015.

Did they forget to include that stuff?

Whatever.

With so much confusion, it would be easy to get the wrong idea of what’s going on with Leeds and Partners, an organisation that’s had a pretty torrid time in the press since it was set up a couple of years ago.

So it’s just as well they’ve included in the job spec of the new PR person an ability to:

“… facilitate favourable and accurate coverage of Leeds and Partners’ agenda for Leeds, rebutting inaccuracies and negative stories to ensure delivery of Leeds and Partners’ strategic objectives.”

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Mischief in south Leeds: “MISSING” posters spotted for local councillors

There’s a bit of political mischief going on in south Leeds. Here’s a poster spotted today by @BasementArtsPro (who took the pic) in Beeston and @realtoadee in Hunslet.

Who’s made the posters? Angry new left? Angry new right?

Whatever. It’s already been dubbed the “Beeston Spring” by @TheSocBiz.

Let’s hope the fun continues till May.

B3MjTUBIIAIBr2j

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Dear West Yorks Combined Authority, can you please tell us what’s going on with OUR devolution?

I's a deal

I’s a deal

Given the secrecy and lack of democratic accountability that’s emerging over the deal being struck with Westminster over devolution for West Yorkshire, I thought I’d write an open letter to the people who are negotiating the deal ON OUR BEHALF.

You may not have heard of them. They’re called the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Here’s the letter. If you care about this stuff, please share it :

letter

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