Journalism, accountability and sustainability

Beefage

This is a beef of mine. Councils and public bodies that spend our money are not held accountable locally are they? You get the odd expenses story or when something goes wrong but someone actually trying to find out about the value for money of services councils have delivered never happens. But why is that? When I went to UCLan to study journalism in the early noughties I expected we would be taught about how to investigate not just how to tell the story. It was a disappointment to me that this aspect of journalism seems to be ignored at university courses. I understand why though… the skills of the investigative reporter are not wanted across much of the industry with a few notable exceptions. I want to stress though the course I did at UCLan was a life changer and a wonderful experience but not quite what I expected that’s all.

Answer the question Sean

Why is local journalism not holding the public sector to account?

Well I think it’s because local papers and radio don’t have the time to go through the sheer weight of administration our local public sector produces to find the answers out. Councils have become closed over the years and although you can get a set of accounts they are not much use when you are trying to find out if they are getting value for money in the spending they do.

Also the skills required don’t match those of your average local newspaper/radio/TV journalist plus there is not a huge incentive for anyone to rock the local boat is there? Plus there are many people who could not give a flying fig if their local council are wasting money. This is the other thing missing from this journalism equation… that is passion for the subject and often a real connection with the locality they serve. Let’s face it, it is a cynical and often politically charged business this journalism thing.

SPACE Journalism

So in an effort to address this we will soon be doing some journalism at SPACE on the new website and here and I’ll tell you why. Firstly, journalism is about communicating ideas AND uncovering stories so I hope for the young people that work with us on this that will be a good opportunity for them.

Secondly, I am watching as local councils cut youth services back to the bone because they now have no money. But how good at running these services are the councils? How well did they use the torrents of money that poured into their budgets during the good times? I fail to see the results among young people I know of all that extra spending but I do see where alot of it was wasted on buildings, staff, buying things nobody uses and dumb ideas that never worked.

Campaigning journalism

I could but won’t list half a dozen areas we will look at locally. How come youth services in Blackpool are going to be cut so badly? How did they spend past monies? What were the real outcomes of that spending?

So often I saw money spent that had no impact at all on young people locally yet we as a social enterprise were funding our work ourselves out of our salaries from our day jobs and the small micro business we have created.

F.O.I.s

Due to the way councils hide this kind of information or make it hard to find out, we are going to have to go on a journey into the world of council accounts. Last time I did this I realised just how difficult they make it to understand who spends what and why. We will dig through the numbers, make freedom of information requests and in a positive way shine a light on the performance of local councils.

I am really looking forward to this aspect of our social enterprise because my belief is that it is only through “disruptive change” that we will get better services and facilities for young people. It is not just about throwing money around (we know that from the past) so let’s learn the lessons and ensure when money does come to youth services again that it is spent in an accountable and sustainable way.

If anyone who reads this fancies getting involved with the journalism aspect of SPACE just email us or comment here.

Gimme the f****** venue!

Yay!

So I heard the other day that after four years of running this social business we call SPACE Blackpool CIC we will, in the next four weeks, have received our first major financial input other than from Aishling (my long suffering wife) and myself. I will say who and what brings us this cash once the paperwork is done and I will thank them and all the others who helped make this happen properly then too.

It is around £35,000 and it will allow us to do so much but this money will be used strictly in a sustainable way.

Zee plans

We will, in February, be getting our current building made fit for the new purpose with a ton of exciting projects to follow. SPACE Music (a new kind of label), gigs, rehearsal studios, events, journalism and a proper venue so that what we do now can grow into something that can change many more lives than we currently do.

Here’s our ethos: To ensure the sustainability of all our projects through the enterprise of the young people we work with.

Four years of social business

I will, when our new website is done, – http://www.spacemusic.org.uk – post a ton more about how this is all going to work.

I watched When Harvey Met Bob in full last night (the dramatisation of the Live Aid story) and I now take my lead from Sir Bob. So if the council or any other public body have a building they are not using and we can show them we can use for a good social purposes then I will be saying “gimme the f****** building… now!

I have spent four years tip toeing around a council that as a corporate body does not get what social business is. But no more.

No more Mr Nice Guy…

So public bodies of Blackpool – Gimme the f****** venue. You have loads of buildings, stop trying to hide them and flog them off and tell us about your plans. Share what you are doing and get me a building in the town centre in which I can change young people’s lives for the better and make Blackpool a cool place for musicians to come and play.

If you as a council care about the services that young people can access in Blackpool (and because you are about to lay waste to the ones you up to now have delivered) how about some real engagement here?

Talk is cheap

Not doing meetings and enjoying nice chats but actually giving us something real. SPACE doesn’t need or want the council’s money (we never have) but we want the f****** buildings you waste, the f****** equipment sat in storage and the f****** contracts you will no doubt soon be dishing out to people who used to work at the council but will soon not.

I have been the very definition of Mr Nice Guy for 4 years… now I expect answers or I blame, shame and name the people who are in my way.

So I take my lead from Sir Bob Geldof and say in no uncertain terms: get out of my f****** way and let me have a building for that young people’s venue that we need so badly in this town.

After that we’ll talk about how we can help older people while we deliver young people’s services.

The BBC Introducing Lancashire Furtive Forty

The BBC Introducing Lancashire Furtive Forty

Yes… the time has come to consider the best new music of 2010 and with the unabashed and possibly shameless borrowing of an idea (see previous missive) I will present to you at Christmas Time the Furtive Forty. This will found at BBC Lancashire on the BBC Introducing programme with me Sean McGinty.

F.A.Q.

Why call it that? – Because we will play Forty songs in a furtive manner on the 23rd and 30th of December.

What, a great idea

Yes it is.

How do we get involved? – don’t know yet. I’ll think of something.

For now send your suggestions for the BBC Introducing Lancashire Furtive Forty on a postcard or via electronic means .

That’s great

You got it.

New music

Here is some from a young man from Lancashire.

I think he could be big on the hit parade and meet Jimmy Saville.

I present to you…

Oh and this…

And… in from coastal settlement

http://listn.to/EscapeArtist

Like it’s…

Heat vs Light

Colloquium update

Well that was really stimulating. How do we deliver services that people want and need in our localities? It is agreed it’s not a top down approach any more.

It was proposed by some of the people that did the spending in the public sector that the last ten years of increased public spending did deliver improved “outputs” but did not deliver better “outcomes.”

Yes I know… try and get your head round that one. In my eyes it is this… more things were done, more boxes were ticked more resources were employed but the result of all this money and effort was limited in terms of improved economic or health chances for those that need it.

No there isn’t a magic wand but it is clear that money is not the answer to health or well-being outcomes.

In essence it was a group of mainly public sector managers being enabled by Local Partnerships to get together and think through some of the challenges we ALL now face in our communities.

You’ve got a train to catch

I am sat in the sumptuous Institute for Civil Engineers up the road from parliament typing this. No free wifi so will post later when i get chance. London is great on such a beautiful day but despite the culture, shopping, attractions etc etc I am still looking forward to getting back to Blackpool.

There’s alot to do now… mainly find some daft stuff to talk about for FNAT for tomorrow night and some great tunes but then to sit down at the weekend and go through my notes from today.

I am really dull I know

Why I have ended up with this obsession I really don’t know. But I have. I am driven now to effect in a teeny tiny way some of the change required to empower young people where I live. Working with partners in Blackpool and Lancashire County Council I hope over time (it will take time) to piece by piece, and stone by stone tear down the bureaucracy and top down approach to looking after our society.

This is not about building a social business of a great size to run huge and equally bureaucratic services. It is about spinning out hundreds of micro business with a social goal. Empowering all of us to look around and see that it is not the council that should do that thing on our street, it is all of us.

The right environment needs to be created though or all we will get (and it is already happening) is a whole raft of councils and PCTs (the same people that haven’t improved outcomes despite all that cash) flipping into the social enterprise sector.

Highlight of the day

For me it was the guy that stood up and showed us graphs and diagrams of how you can measure outcomes. Total BS. I have seen alot of this in the last four years. Yes you can spend weeks “drilling down through the statistics” and plotting ever more colourful diagrams but not from your ivory tower. Get onto street level.

Trust, then enable local people to get stuff done. Yes outcomes have to be measured or you’ll just waste money but in the end real people (who we need if this big society gig is going to flourish) get switched off by all that. It has got us nowhere slowly.

It’s time to empower local people. And when I say local I mean hyper local. Not Health and Well-being Boards (although they will need to be there) but on a street and neighbourhood level.

Please though, public sector people remember that social enterprise is two words. Without that big second word none of this will work.

Place based outcomes, Trains and Kinks

Colloquium bound

So is this blog three of the new site. I write this as I sit on a train from Preston to London Euston. I am on my way to a colloquium being held tomorrow morning which is being hosted by Local Partnerships. Obviously, being of a limited educational standard, I didn’t know what a colloquium was. It sounded like some sort of operation on your arse but I checked the dictionary.com app on the trusty old iPhone and it is in fact this…

“A conference at which scholars or other experts present papers on, analyse and discuss a specific topic.”

So clearly they made some sort of mistake. I called them and apparently there was no error… they DID want me to come because of my involvement with the social enterprise movement. How lovely to be asked.

The event is called “The Local Place, Place Based Outcomes” but when you cut through the industry speak and jargon (ok I mean BS) it is in fact all about the kind of stuff I’ve been going on about for years.

Power to the people

So this is all about enabling local people to take responsibility for and control of their public services. This ain’t easy because for generations now we have become used to a top down, “we know best” approach from central and local government.

Most of the people I know feel powerless to change anything and therefore don’t engage locally or nationally. After four long hard years of trying to engage with Blackpool Council I know what they mean. The council  is a many headed hydra. I have met many decent, hard working and good people there who thought they were doing a good job. But they are administrators rather than leaders, ticking boxes rather than building and creating value locally. At worst they were empire building thugs with little good that I could find to say about them. There are signs of a change here but the proof will be in the scoffing of the pudding (or whatever.)

Now is not the time for examples of the times I saw waste and frustrating bureaucracy not deliver ANY outcomes at all. I am positive that there now must be a shift in thinking by all local authorities. If I can play a small local part in enabling this then woohoo!

Anyway more on this over the next few days.

Kinks

I’m listening to The Kinks now… never really listened this much to them before in one go. I know they are good but wow… so good to listen to. Why don’t I do this more often? (Note to self… do this more often.)

Get to the point

I had a good day today presenting the drive time programme on BBC Radio Lancashire and with it being judgement day (from a government spending point of view at least) it was busy and rather adrenaline fuelled. Guests going missing, being handed scripts on a just in time basis etc… I felt like Ron Burgandy…. or Jeremy Paxman but sadly for my radio career the listener probably heard Alan Partridge.

Laptop out, as the Virgin Train bobbles and rocks it’s way through the midlands (I think) I thought I would say a few things about my hopes for this horrible thing I have done. You know getting my own website made with my name on it. I’ve had the domain for years but just used it for email. But after 4 years of running a social enterprise in Blackpool I have finally realised that it is a good thing just doing the work locally but the only way of really making the kind of progress I want to make for the things I believe in is to sometimes shout about them. A blog is a good way of doing this.

To BBC or not to BBC that is the question

I will promote new music here too and post stuff about the other things I do including my other passion radio. I present the BBC Introducing programme on BBC Radio Lancashire which must be the best job I have ever had in my life. Yes I know young people can be a total pain in the arse but the talent and energy I see every week from the artists and the young people that help me get the programme on air is utterly inspiring.

Also sitting in here and there on news programmes where on a good day we get beneath the stories and through journalism shine a light on things that are going wrong and right in our society in Lancashire.

Not many of the bands I feature will go on to make a living as a musician but their involvement in music will give them experiences, skills and motivations that will help them throughout their lives.

Anyway, that was Milton Keynes so I am going to close this post and hopefully get online at the hotel and post it there.

Think now Sean

Just got an email from the BIG boss today about blogs and social media… I will do my bestest not to transgress anything the nice lady said. The BBC is one big old public sector beast worth cherishing (as it changes) and I am all for that.

New Site Excitement

Muchos Gracias

So I’ve been working Fanboy and they’ve done this site. Thanks to Fanboy for the hard work and making this easy.  Now I need to focus all the stuff in my head into some pithy blogs to get over what social enterprise can do for us all.

Thanks also to the lovely people at UnLtd that helped this to happen and for all their support. More on that soon.

Here’s where we are.

SPACE Blackpool CIC runs 5 rehearsal rooms at our site on Cornford Road in Blackpool but we want to do much more including.

SPACE Events – speaks for itself really but do gigs, club nights and all kinds of other things for young people. This is with our partners.

SPACE Music – a “record label” an all age venue and media centre offering work experience and intern opportunities and employing people through running a real business along side the good stuff.

Partners

Also and as part of the above I am working with our partners at Blackpool Young People’s Service, Blackpool Health and Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospital Foundation Trust around ways to harness social media and events to deliver solid, measurable outcomes.

There is alot to say but that will come over the coming weeks.

Thanks for stopping by and if you want to comment, disagree with any of these missives or just say hello please feel free.

Muchos gracias,

Sean