Cambridge City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on the 4th of July 2011 received an annual report from Cambridge’s City Centre management organisation Love Cambridge.
I used the public speaking slot at the meeting to say:
I would like to ask how the council is monitoring the performance of the residents’ representative on the Love Cambridge Board; and if the council, the executive councillor, and this committee are happy with Nicola Morrison’s performance in the role.
I note the resident’s representative / advocate on the Love Cambridge board was absent from the May 2011 board meeting and made no minuted contribution to the other two board meetings which have been held so far this year, in March and January.
The only contributions I can see that she has made at all relate to her students. She is an academic and she appears to have used her position to procure her students project work in relation to city centre management. I’ve taken quite an interest in the operation of Love Cambridge and that is all I can see her doing.
I note that neither the council, or Love Cambridge, publish contact details for the residents representative.
Is the appointment of residents advocate on the board a job for life? How will the council be involved in selecting new board members to represent both residents and independent businesses? The council had a major role in the initial appointments, will that be kept up into the future as they are replaced?
In the interests of transparency I should note that I lobbied for a democratically elected individual to fulfil the role and wrote to our then MP David Howarth asking him to put himself forward. When it appeared the position would be filled by an appointee I volunteered, and made public how I would have pushed for openness, transparency and engagement from the inside.
In response to my public questions to this committee in the past the previous executive councillor gave assurances Love Cambridge would operate to the same standards of openness and accountability as the council. This has not yet happened, board meetings are still held in private and the organisation does not voluntarily comply with Freedom of Information law as just two examples.
The accounts being presented to the committee today do not let me see how much of the organisation’s funding is coming from the public vs private sector. As increasing private sector investment was a key reason for establishing Love Cambridge; and we’ve paid a huge price in terms of loss of democratic influence over city centre management for it, that’s a key metric I would like to see.
I am particular concerned about the lack of democratic representation and openness now Love Cambridge is seeking to levy, and spend, taxes.
We were told establishing Love Cambridge would help the councils with consultation with all those with an interest in the City Centre; yet Love Cambridge isn’t as far as I can see responding on behalf of its members to such consultations. One response we have seen, on advertising screens in taxis, was the work of two staff in the Love Cambridge office and not based on the views of the membership.
Lastly, Boudouir Femme, a company of which Chairman of Love Cambridge, Ian Sandison is a director, keeps winning prizes and getting mentioned in material Love Cambridge puts out. You can see an example of this in the report before you today. There’s a need for greater transparency and for at least the conflict of interest to be highlighted. It my view this kind of thing makes the whole organisation look dodgy, not to mention being rather impolite: if you’re drawing the raffle and you win it, polite convention is to draw another ticket; if you keep wining people are going to ask questions as to if it’s all above board.
Key Points From Responses
- Emma Thornton made excuses for Nicola Morrison saying she was “very busy all round with a young family and her university position”. She said she had done something in her role as residents representative: visiting Park Street residents association and the Federation of Cambridge Residents associations (I saw her at the FECRA localism event, and her participation was in one of her other roles, as a member of a board of a housing association) .
- The chair of Love Cambridge, Ian Sandison, said he had agrees the director for independent businesses would stand down after complaints from independent traders in the city that he wasn’t attending meetings and wasn’t fulfiling his role. He appeared to suggest that something similar could happen in relation to the residents’ director.
- Emma Thornton, who manages Love Cambridge and is also a City Council Officer, said that the residents representative on the Love Cambridge Board was not a job for life, and the company’s memorandum and articles of association included a “flexibility to rotate” every three or four years (she said she’d need to check the details).
- Emma Thornton dismissed Freedom of Information as “undue bureaucracy” not applicable to an operationally focused organisation.
- Emma Thornton stressed due process had been followed when appointing the residents representative (I never suggested it had not, she may have been trying to imply that I had).
- Council leader Sian Reid went off on a tangent saying that she was pushing YourLEP (another public-private partnership) to operate more openly; quite what the relevance of that was I don’t know.
- Cllr McGovern said that full accounts submitted to companies house made clear what the public / private split of Love Cambridge’s income was. I have the accounts to 31 March 2010 and they do not. (In any case I was pointing out the omission from the annual report being presented to councillors.
- Cllr McGovern said he didn’t know what role the council (through him) would be playing in the appointment of the new board member for independent businesses and would look into it.
- Cllr McGovern stated that the prizes Mr Sandison’s company won from Love-Cambridge had been independently run and judged externally.
- Emma Thornton said that Love Cambridge “cascaded consultations to members”.
I used my follow up opportunity to make three quick points:
- It’s shocking that no one knows what role the council is to play in appointing the new board member for independent businesses given the recruitment process is underway.
- The question about the public / private split for Love Cambridge’s income had not been answered.
- That while Love-Cambridge might “cascade” consultations what it’s not doing is collating responses from its members and helping those like the councils and police understand the views of those with an interest in the city centre.
Mr Sandison presented the Love Cambridge report. He appeared to talk mostly about the work of other organisations, especially Cambridge Business Against Crime (CAMBAC) which he said had 300 members. One of the oddest things Mr Sandison said was that Love Cambridge has “no operational function”, this is nonsense as it is directly responsible for some of the city centre signage, and it does things like publish material and organise events. Mr Sandison said the date for the open AGM of Love Cambridge will be the 15th of September 2011.
There was no update in the report on the face-recognition based tracking of shoppers around the city which Love Cambridge had proposed, or of tackling pigeons, or on raising taxes; all items I would have liked some information on which the organisation has said it is, or is thinking about, doing.
Questions from councillors followed Mr Sandison’s presentation.
Labour Leader Lewis Herbert said he and his group had pushed for the residents representative. He said the idea was not mainly to keep tabs on what the organisation was up to, but to have someone with a different viewpoint and perspective within the body. He said he had hoped the engagement with residents would be more open. He said Love Cambridge should “engage residents in a more obvious way”. Cllr Herbert pushed for an answer on the public / private income split and he was told it was 75% private, 25% public – it was pointed out this is amazing given the current economic climate and that some similar organisations had seen their private funding dry up entirely. This is clearly fantastic, and I can’t understand why it was such a hard figure to get out of them – its something they should be shouting about as a success.
Cllr Herbert suggested the residents rep could be selected by the council and pointed out that so far only the ruling group had a role in the appointment process.
Cllr Brown asked if Love Cambridge could point to the Mill Road shops on some of its finger signs. Emma Thornton responded to say that Mill Road shops were on the map (This was something not on the proposed maps originally and I requested during the 2008 consultation exercise (see point 12)).
Cllr Pogonowski asked about equality for independent and national chains in the work of Love Cambridge.
Mark Ashton, Labour’s new councillor for Cherry Hinton said he had spoken to taxi drivers in Cambridge who had been waiting for Love Cambridge to involve them in a particular consultation for years. Emma Thornton said a number of taxi associations were members of Love Cambridge but that Love Cambridge’s role in running the survey in question was only one of “supporting delivery” – as it was run by the City and County councils. (It sounds like the “delivery” bit was what the complaint was about!).
Mr Sandison left after the Love Cambridge item, despite the following items being on public toilet provision in the city centre and markets.
Nicola Morrison / Ian Sandison
Residents representative Nicola Morrison is also described as Nicky Morris (Both when her appointment was first announced, and in some Love Cambridge Board minutes) as well as Nicky Morrison. Using multiple variations on a name to this extent is something I personally associate (and have only ever seen before) with dodgy, evasive, characters.
The Chair of Love Cambridge, Ian Sandison, is on Twitter as @gayev. Do follow him (I can’t, it appears he’s blocked me). The people I’m aware of who currently block me from following them on Twitter are Cllr Brooks-Gordon, Ex-Cllr Clare Blair and Mr Sandison. Council leader Sian Reid deleted her, largely unused twitter account, after I regularly drew attention to it with #FF tweets.
- Love Cambridge Second Members’ Meeting – February 2010
- Love Cambridge Partnership Fails to Fulfill Promises – April 2009
- Residents’ and Retailers’ Advocates on the Cambridge City Council City Centre Management Partnership – March 2009
- My Application to Join the Love Cambridge Board – February 2009