Category Archives: Bristol

Has the mayor learnt the wrong lessons from Cambridge Analytica?

 

On February 19, I revealed that Bristol City Council had contracted for £90,000 with a social media company called Impact Social so they could analyse what was being said about the mayor.

There are three issues with this contract: 1) the cost is very high for a time when the budget had just been cut by £33 million; 2) we don’t know what the purpose of the data collection was; and 3) there seems to be no clearly presented GDPR notice about how this data is to be/being used and for how long it will be kept.

Apart from the exorbitant cost of the service in the midst of millions of pounds in cuts to the council, the purpose of the analysis remains a mystery.

[Keep reading at the following link]

View at Medium.com

Familiar names to the mayor of Bristol but no transparency

The mayor may be in breach of GDPR by not providing a transparency notice about his collection of public data.

mayor of Bristol

After this blog revealed that the council have contracted to collect social media information, concerns were raised about whether the mayor is collecting lists of residents who mention him or the Bristol City Council.

The report released to me in the FOI I submitted clearly showed that the data was collected in relation to the following search terms: “Marvin Rees” / “mayor of bristol” / @MarvinJRees / @BrisMayorOffice / “Bristol Council”. The search seems geared to return more information about the mayor than it does about the council.

Twitter handles are revealed in the reports.

 

Tweeters

So what does he do with the names?

At a recent Cabinet meeting, he seemed to know some residents names, despite them not being there.

“Martin Rands, there’s a familiar name,” he said to those around him. “Joanna Booth, that’s another familiar name.” He was referring to me because I had tabled a question about the Western Harbour at Cabinet on November 5.

 

According to David Traynier CIPP/E, CIPM, certified GDPR professional who uses the legislation as part of his work, the collection of social media information does fall under the remit of the GDPR/Data Protection Act 2018.

“If the council processes personal data, they’re required to make a privacy notice readily available (i.e. on their website).”

“It makes little difference that the personal data (names, handles etc) is in the public domain, anyone processing that data must still comply with the law to protect the data subjects (the people whose data is collected).

In practice, this means (under GDPR Article 5(1) ) the processing must be lawful, limited to the purposes for which the data is initially collected, use only the minimum of data necessary to the purpose, that the data must be accurate, only kept as long as is needed, and must be kept securely.

When not collecting data directly from data subjects, Article 14 requires that data subjects are informed of the processing but not if ‘the provision of such information proves impossible or would involve a disproportionate effort, in particular for processing for archiving purposes in the public interest.’

They would need to ensure they include details of what they do in a transparency notice that is readily available to the public.

Traynier goes on to say: “I think what they’re doing is lawful, providing they follow the required safeguards. It’s quite common now anyway, so uncontroversial. The key thing – aside from meeting the mundane requirements around security of storage/data retention etc – is that they only use the information for their stated purpose of democratic engagement and nothing else down the line.”

As noted in my original article, all three opposition parties, were surprised by news of the social media analysis and say they have not seen the reports.

If the council do not have a transparency notice about how they use this data then this could be a breach of GDPR.

Note that the local media picked up on the story the following day with no attribution to this blog or the research that revealed the contract and the data gathering. 

Bristol City Council have yet to respond to any of my questions.

How close an eye is the mayor keeping on Bristol’s residents?

Update: 10:06 20 Feb 2020

A Freedom of Information request by Ephemeral Digest has revealed that social media mentions of the Bristol Mayor and Bristol City Council go directly to the Head of the Mayor’s Office and to the mayor’s policy advisers.

Bristol City Council have paid £90,000 to social media company Impact Social so as to keep track of online platforms. The contract began on 1 March 2018 and is due to expire in September 2020 unless it is renewed.

IMG-4200 (1)

An example report from the 8th to the 10th of December clearly shows the users who have been Tweeting about any of the following search terms: “Marvin Rees” / “mayor of bristol” / @MarvinJRees / @BrisMayorOffice / “Bristol Council”.

Twitter users such as Liberal Democrat Party councillor Tim Kent (@cllrtimkent), @citizencaz, @keepbristoltidy, and @glutenfreescone were all listed.

 

Tweeters

The contract between the Council and the company states that it provides reports as “additional objective information and evidence base” so as “to inform corporate planning and organisational policy responses” and will be used “by the Policy Advisors and Head of Mayor’s Office”. “This is irrespective of who holds that office and information from the analysis will be available to anybody upon request.” 

There are monthly reports “offering sentiment, topic, author, source of story, location and trend analysis” are not “for the purpose of collecting personal data and shall not serve any party political purpose.”

Up to six in-person presentations are meant to happen to representatives of the Council including Head of Policy & Strategy and a representative of the Mayor’s Office.

Competency criteria in the contract, which may account for the £90,000 fee, include the ability to monitor all available platforms on social media, “analysis and interpretation that goes further than algorithms and includes interpretive analysis”.

The clients are meant to have “public sector / political experience / knowledge, understanding and competence”. They should also have comprehensive understanding of the role of Mayor of Bristol and Council policies.

The ability to segment users into specific groups and an understanding of crisis communications are also listed.

 

When approached for comment, Conservative Leader Councillor Mark Weston said:  “This is the first time I have heard of the company ‘Impact Social’ and, given the apparent cost of their contract and supposed non-partisan status,  I am surprised that these monthly reports are not more widely circulated or distributed.

“Whilst social media is an influential platform for public discourse, I am far from convinced that Bristol City Council should be commissioning such specialist analytics.

“This is not well-publicised support and so it is extremely difficult to assess whether or not such research really provides value-for-money to the taxpayer.

“It is just this sort of extravagance which makes people rightly critical of continuing local government waste and misguided spending priorities.

“The Mayor still has significant resources at his disposal and these should – whenever possible – be directed towards maintaining public services that people actually want or depend upon.”

Liberal Democrat leader councillor Gary Hopkins stated: “We knew nothing about this and it is quite staggering in its gall. The cost of the Mayor’s Office is quite appalling in any case and this is disgraceful. For the record,  the taxpayers of Bristol are not getting value for money.”

Green party candidate for mayor Sandy Hore-Ruthven said: “The current Mayor accuses Councillors and the media of chasing headlines and click bait on a regular basis. It turns out he is so concerned about those clicks and comments that he is prepared to spend £90k of taxpayers money to find out what you and I are saying about him. I can see no value to the city or its people of this contract to anyone but him. This is taken of money that should be spent on frontline services. Listening to people costs nothing and should be at the heart of all politicians work.”

mayor of Bristol

Bristol City Council is scheduled to vote through its annual budget on 25 February 2020.

At a Resources Scrutiny meeting Deputy Mayor Cheney and Mayor Marvin Rees highlighted the “significant funding cuts” to councils in recent years of 60%. “Mayor Rees referred to the 8 years of austerity that had been imposed on this Council by central Government.”

Bristol City Council have been approached for comment but had not responded in time for publication.

 

New knitting pattern: The Very Hungry Scarfapilla

[[Until January 21: Use code Twitter for a free copy of the pattern on Ravelry]]

 

I’d like to introduce you all to my new pattern, and the first one for 2020, The Very Hungry Scarfapilla.

 

In the same spirit as my Nice Cup of Tea shawl, I’ve used brioche and reverse stockinette for this design. I do tend to get obsessed with a pattern combination for a while and this time I thought I better write it up while I was enjoying it. If I can keep my mojo going, I’m going to make it into hat and scarf patterns as well.

Please see the rest of this post on my Joanna Booth Designs blog https://joannaboothdesigns.wordpress.com/2020/01/19/the-very-hungry-scarfapilla/

squidgefinal

Resolutions for 2020 and shining a light

I love resolutions. For me, they provide space for self-reflection and realignment with better strategies for getting through life. They also allow for awareness.

Awareness is about shining a spotlight on all areas and not just the ones we want to talk about. Therefore, I won’t pick my own categories to explore. If it was down to my initial thoughts I imagine it would just be family, writing and reading, and running. Instead, I’m using the 12 astrological houses that cover a much broader outlook on life.

One thing I never seemed to find time for last year was for setting up a Patreon for those wanting to support me on my writing, researching and knitwear designing journey. With these teeny tiny amount of time I’ve eeked out to write this post, I’ve also finally completed my setup. If you’d like to support me then sign up below or just visit to see what’s going on.

Become a Patron!

For now, I’m working on resolutions and awareness. Let me know if you’d like more information on what each of the houses stands for and how you can use them.

House 1 — Outlook and appearance

  1. Investigative — asking questions; actively
  2. Streamlined — running, being more active, fewer hours sitting down
  3. Brighter coloured hair
  4. New trainers

House 2 — Finances

  1. Start posting a monthly yarn subscription service on Etsy
  2. Article commissioning — pitch articles monthly
  3. Editing at more organised times to allow for other work (10a to 3pm? 9.30am to 2.30pm? something to work on)
  4. Publishing a knitting pattern at least once a month
  5. Building up mailing list by posting once a week
  6. Pitching one knitting article a month
  7. Setting up a Patreon and WordPress.com site for patterns
  8. Work on financial stability
  9. Financial freedom
  10. Think of a monthly amount to earn?
  11. I’ve been using Plum (affiliate link) for regular tiny savings that have added up. Super helpful.

House 3 — Communications

Journalism

  1. Write about local action actions and how they exercise their authority
    1. Glyphosates
    2. £500 spending
  2. Pitch articles
  3. Find commissioning editors — get to know them

Writing

  1. Screenplay of the Thin Blue Line
  2. Write a fiction book — 1912
  3. Publish a book (the knitting book, probably)
  4. Blog posts — at least once a week.
  5. Set up and promote my Patreon [the year of creating and crafting!]
  6. Mailing list — regular posts

House 4 — Home

  1. Replace carpet with floorboards
  2. Get rid of unnecessary items in the flat — aim for more space
  3. Curtains for two windows
  4. New bunk beds

House 5 — Knitting

  1. Publish the Advent Calendar pick and mix as a book
  2. Write a press release and send it to knitting magazines
  3. Create one new pattern a month
  4. Build up my knitting mailing list
  5. Get to know knitters on Ravelry
  6. Work on my Joanna Booth Designs website

House 6 — Health, routines, service

  1. Regular intake of vitamin D and iron
  2. Running regularly
  3. Sports massages once a month
  4. Foam roller
  5. Meal planning
  6. Organising cupboards in kitchen
  7. Run 25-50 miles a month
  8. Finish couch to 5k
  9. Run two half-marathons
  10. Run one marathon
  11. Run six park runs
  12. Do three exercise classes a week
  13. Log each activity on Strava.

House 7 — Relationships

  1. Finding a good babysitter
  2. One date night/lunch a month

House 8 — Zen practice

  1. Read through each Cheri Huber book again
  2. Meditate — starting with five minutes a day and aiming for twenty
  3. Make space for the zen podcasts; four a week
  4. Read the Buddha, Geoff and Me again
  5. Read Ram Dass
  6. Read the Compassionate Revolution

House 9 — Culture and higher education

Selfie PhD

  1. Publish an article about my selfiePhD
  2. Show up with the skype calls
  3. Maintain the SelfiePhD blog with at least one post a week
  4. Read and makes notes on at least four articles a week — to begin with

Reading/literature

  1. Read the world in 2020

Research

  1. Further studies into NLP and hypnosis
  2. Bristol novel/literature
  3. Bristol knitting heritage
  4. Local council and property developer literature

Videojournalism

  1. Finish my NCTJ video-journalism course
  2. Work on my documentary –
    1. Interviews with Conservative and Labour cllrs
    2. interviews with officers
    3. Put clips together and storyboard it

House 10 – Business and professional outlook

  1. Make money from writing
    1. Pitch at least one article a month
    2. Write three/four articles a month — knitting, local government, book review, selfie PhD
    3. Publish one pattern a month
    4. Build up the Joanna Booth Designs business
  2. Literary agency work
  3. Editing
    1. Maintain regular hours
    2. Promote?

House 11 – Networks/groups

  1. Bristol Libraries Forum
  2. Western Harbour
  3. Local council groups
  4. Ravelry forums
  5. Indie publisher groups

House 12 – Hidden, institutions

  1. Research into prisons?
  2. Revive communications that have lapsed?

 

I feel like I should sign off with a conclusion but I’m not sure what I’d add. There are a whole host of things I want to add but I’m not sure where they fit in the pockets of the year. I want to work on my tiny habits, for example, which I found to be a way of getting me reading and writing a few years ago. They also got me started with cryptic crosswords that I always wanted to do but never got around to starting. Not sure where I’d add that in my items.

A story of how people’s lives were turned upside down — SEND failures

Despite years of having the lowest rates in school attendance, and concern from Ofsted, Bristol City Council has had nobody leading a project on improving them for over a year.

From Chopsy Baby:

In each type of school — primary, secondary and special schools — Bristol is well above the national average, with persistent absence increasing at each stage of education. By the time children are placed in special schools, their persistent absence rate is over 40 per cent, well above the England average of 29.6.

The board tackling school absence is not open to public scrutiny so it’s unclear what is being done to tackle this.

However, ‘special educational needs’ is not a listed as a particular priority.

Bristol Learning City (BLC) is tasked with the job of improving school attendance. It is one of the six thematic boards contributing to the Bristol One City Plan and is ‘governed by a Partnership Board of influential city leaders’. In the past, it was a public meeting which would take statements and petitions from members of the public. Now, it meets behind closed doors, with statements no longer accepted and members of the public not allowed in.

The One City boards and the current Labour administration have been criticised for their lack of democracy just recently on November 12 at a Full Council meeting.

When we asked about attending a meeting, democratic services officer Claudette Campbell told us: ‘The Partnership Board is not a public meeting as it is a partnership meeting with city education partners. We will post on line the minutes of the meeting at the conclusion of the meeting.’

The understatement of the year was from the Bristol Learning City partnership board from November 2019’s meeting saying “SEND Inspection report outcome to return to the Board for review and **consider adopting SEND as a priority**”

Alison Hurley, Service Director Education & Skills attended the meeting but Jacqui Jensen, Executive Director ACE, and Councillor Anna Keen, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills.

In July 2019, BLC chair Councillor Anna Keen reporting on the issue of school attendance ‘confirmed’ that Bristol is ‘significantly below the national average’ and that funding had been given to support a project worker. The report was not made available with the agenda or minutes.

Ofsted continued to question the reason(s) behind the figure and blame was first placed on ‘diverse cultures across the city’. The solution would be to educate parents.

In September, blame was ‘around families with extended family members in Europe and World-wide;’

In the meantime, the part time Attendance Manager position – now filled – was only funded part time for just six months, despite the attendance project being ‘without a lead, for almost a year’. It was agreed that funding should be made available to increase the staff hours.

The attendance issue was considered of such importance that it should also be ‘absorbed’ into the priorities of both the Excellence in Schools forum and shared with housing bodies including Bristol Homes Board. Findings showed that there are ‘proven factors that link poor accommodation to non-attendance.

By the November 2019 meeting, attendance blame was moving away from ‘families with extended family members in Europe and World-wide’ and on to grieving children.

In all this time, there has been no mention of SEND needs and lack of school places in board meetings. Since the meetings are not open to the public, there has also been no one to raise the issue.

At the November meeting, Hurley, advised that the embargoed Ofsted and Care Quality Commission Send inspection held up by the general election would be shared at the end of the pre-election period. She asked the board to ‘consider adopting the outcome as part of its leading priorities’.

It’s noted that BLC was ‘not opposed to receiving regular reports on development and support for Bristol’s SEND groups’. Minutes note that The Board was ‘strongly urged’ to consider whether all areas of its work should ‘specifically mention SEND in place of it being implied’. The outcome of this part of the meeting was to ‘work towards adopting SEND as a priority’.

It is unclear which body, forum, board or task group will look into the issue of Send and attendance.

Despite school attendance being a priority for BLC, for some time, Send – according to published minutes – has never been noted as a particular cause for concern. This is despite children being unable to attend school because there are not enough special school places in Bristol. Or, children are too unwell to attend their mainstream school due to their Send not being met. It’s clear from published Bristol school absence figures that Send is a factor for children being unable to access education.

There is a real lack of public scrutiny taking place surrounding school attendance statistics, because of the closed-door nature of Bristol Learning City. Considering the board contributes to the direction of education in the city through the One City Plan, the lack of transparency is problematic.

The one place where the public can ask questions and scrutinise figures and officials is at scrutiny meetings. But you can’t ask questions of officers, including executive directors on £148,000 a year, if they don’t show up.

At the November 28 peoples scrutiny meeting, for example, it was discovered that Bristol City Council had been producing far fewer SEND care plans than parents were led to believe.

As reported by Amanda Cameron in Bristol24/7:

Opposition councillors discovered the truth after questioning the accuracy of official figures.

Councillor Tim Kent said: “It is very clear that senior officers and councillors either did not understand key performance figures themselves or failed to inform the committee, the media and the public that their presentation was incorrect.

“Over the past couple of years statistics and performance figures from this department have consistently been found to be wrong.”

The performance reports are the responsibility of Jacqui Jensen, executive director of adults, children and education.

Neither Jensen nor the new director of education and skills, Alison Hurley, attended the meeting of the people scrutiny commission.

In an attempt to further eliminate scrutiny, Jacqui Jensen changed her Twitter handle to Gone Fishing and set it to private. This was a change to regular behaviour and she had previously interacted with people praising her efforts.

As reported by Amanda Cameron in the Bristol Post:

“A cross-party scrutiny commission agreed to submit a formal complaint at their latest meeting on November 28 after education officials and an invited cabinet member failed to attend.”

The news comes two months after the ruling Labour group was accused of “marginalising” scrutiny by backbench members, who are tasked with holding the administration to account.

On the agenda was a damning internal report detailing the performance of the council’s services for children with special education needs or a disability (SEND).

The report states: “The scrutiny commission are invited to ask questions of the executive director”.

But no-one from the council’s education department or the ruling Labour administration was there to answer the commission’s questions about the council’s SEND failures.

The council was asked for a response on the matter, but a spokesman said the mayor would be “blogging about these issues” so “we won’t be providing an alternative statement”.

The mayor’s blog proceeded to let out all the reasons why his cabinet is diverse, how cllrs bring babies to meetings, and that because they have 13 children between them, they understand what it’s like to have parental responsibilities.

Mr Rees did not address the failure of any education officials to show up at the meeting in his blog about “women in leadership”, published on December 5.

Instead, he defended Cllr Godwin’s absence, citing her son’s illness, and accused opposition councillors of failing to make allowances for cabinet members with young children and families.

As noted on Twitter, seeing as the mayor took the opportunity to reveal findings of a blocked report in order to praise an administration he later had to apologise for, the blog and official council statement came across as self-congratulatory and tone deaf. There are SEND parents who have to give up employment or pay out thousands in childcare because their children don’t have school places. These parents were left unacknowledged.

The next step may indeed be another judicial review. The council lost one in 2018 when they tried to hide £5m in cuts to SEND.

As reported in Bristol24/7:

At the time Cllr Keen did not pass on concerns from the Schools Forum – an independent body whose role is to consider local authority proposals – about the cuts.

A High Court judge has ruled that Bristol City Council did not properly consult over the cuts to the high needs block.

And cabinet member Anna Keen has refused to deny accusations of impropriety despite the multi-million pound slashing of funds not appearing in budget papers that went to the council’s own scrutiny committee.

The Labour administration took the opportunity to call Cllr Clive Stevens who raised the issue a “cheap opportunist”.

 

 

Bristol City Council quietly reverse unlawful action refusing EHCP applications

As Bristol City Council quietly reverse their decision to stop accepting applications for Education Health Care plans, Jacqui Jensen, the Executive Director of Adults, Children and Education, has changed her Twitter handle from @jacqui_jensen to @GoneTime6 (Gone Fishing). Parents who applied after November 26 have been asked to do so again.

In a letter of explanation seen by Ephemeral Digest, officers say in clarification: “Thank you for bringing my attention to the issue of the inappropriate notification when an ECHP request is submitted.  You are correct that this response is not in line with the SEND Code of Practice and therefore this process has been immediately stopped.

“I can assure you that a full investigation is now underway, to determine how this happened and to ensure that there are no further breaches of statutory guidelines.

I am informed that the motivation behind this action was to try and avoid further parental disappointment, regarding the timeliness of the EHCP process. The service had been in communication with schools, to highlight the impact the Christmas holidays will have on processing times, however this additional approach is unacceptable and I apologise for any distress caused.

The team are in the process of contacting all individuals who attempted to submit a request, to apologise and request that they re-send the form.  The initial six week process will be started from the date of the original upload and not the re-submission date.

I am sure you will have a sense of the enormous pressure this team are under, as they try to tackle the backlog and deal with the increasing requests.  We are taking a number of steps to increase capacity and improve the systems and process, in order to significantly improve our current performance.  Unfortunately, the impact of these improvements will not be immediate, but I am confident we can create an effective system that delivers for our families.

Up until 6 December, the following message had been posted on the council’s website :

The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team are busy dealing with requests for EHC Needs Assessments.

So that we meet the six week statutory deadline, we can process requests that we get by 26 November 2019.

We’ll start accepting new requests from 6 January 2020.

The relevant legislation, the Children and Families Act 2014, makes it a “requirement that such applications be considered, the legal test applied, responded to within six weeks and a right of appeal be given” as pointed out by Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Kent on Twitter.

As reported by Chopsybaby.com, a carer wishing to remain anonymous received an email on 05 December which included the threat that requests would be deleted:

“Therefore if you are considering sending a request for an EHC Needs Assessment after 26th November 2019, we ask that this request is sent to SEN@bristol.gov.uk from the 6th January 2020.”

While the council were unlawfully deleting and refusing to accept applications for EHCPs, Mayor Rees published a blog post praising and expressing his support for his Cabinet member for education. In addition to this, in people scrutiny, councillors had the previous week discovered that the official SEND figures previously provided about the service were misleading and inaccurate.

While official figures claimed that 169 EHC plans were produced in the quarter of April to June 2019 — with only four completed on time — the real figure was 36 EHCPs and none on time. The official figures had in fact been a rolling total from a 12-month period.

As reported by Bristol24/7, Councillor Tim Kent said: “I feel that the commission and parents have been intentionally misled. Where we had looked at these figures at the previous [people scrutiny] meeting, no attempt was made to clarify that the 169 figure was an annual one rather than over three months as presented.

“It is very clear that senior officers and councillors either did not understand key performance figures themselves or failed to inform the committee, the media and the public that their presentation was incorrect.

“Senior officers and the cabinet are aware of this yet despite this it continues to happen.”

A council spokesperson said: “What is important is the work we are doing to improve the current provision for children with special educational needs which we know currently falls way below the mark.

“The wider context of funding cuts and an increase in the amount of children needing SEND services means this transformation cannot happen overnight, however recruitment is underway to bring the EHCP targets up to standard and give children and families the service they deserve.”

Later in the day on December 6, 2019, and before reversing the decision altogether, the Council updated their notice, in seeming response to social media requests to confirm they were not denying applications:

Timescales for EHC Needs Assessments requests

The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team will process all requests for EHC Needs Assessments received between 26 November 2019 and 5 January 2020 from 6 January 2020. We’ll keep requests received between these dates on our secure email system until we process them.

To defend his Cabinet member for education and other cabinet members, the mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees also seems to have released details of the recent Ofsted report whose publication was blocked by the pre-election period. Rees wrote that “there is no question over [Cabinet member for education] Anna [Keen]’s performance. In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear“. (Emphasis added)

All messages indicating a refusal to accept or deal with EHC plan applications have now been removed from the council website.

Jacqui Jensen has been contacted for comment. According to council reports, the Executive Director of Adults Children and Education has a salary of £145,685.46, is in charge of a budget of £351,721,000.00 — the largest budget responsibility of all executive directors — and is responsible for 2,241 employees.