What motivates people

I have been a rubbish blogger recently. In my defence the dream of mainly working from (a small) home hasn’t been so dreamlike since the birth of our second child! The result has been that a lot has had to suffer, including this blog. I want to, and will, keep it going, but why? What motivates me? It takes time, generates no income and – while undoubtedly a good thing for someone who’s elected to do – is not essential and I’m first to admit is ignored by far more Wandsworth residents than read it!

I came across this video from the RSA the other day, and was struck by the relevance of it to, well, pretty much anything but particularly the Big Society and Wandsworth Challenge, so it wasn’t that surprising a day later when I read about exactly the same research in Jesse Norman’s book Big Society!

The crux of it is that money is not the motivator it is often thought to be. Once comfortable, other things drive us more (one of the examples used is why on earth anyone would want to play a musical instrument as a hobby, since it brings no income only cost). The research suggests that these are:

  1. Autonomy: The freedom to do things without direction or compulsion
  2. Mastery: The ability to gain proficiency in an activity
  3. Purpose: A reason, a calling, for doing something

All of these are available from the Big Society and the Wandsworth Challenge. People will have the freedom (autonomy) to run services or schemes that benefit their neighbourhoods (purpose) and, of course, the right to run them as well as they can (mastery).

It’s a classic example that there’s more to life than money, and as most people forced to play a musical instrument as a child will testify, it’s a lot more enjoyable when compulsion is replaced with voluntary desire.

Unemployment claims in Wandsworth

Almost no change in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims in the borough for November! In October there were 6,056 claims, in November 6,055 (a change of just -0.02%). The year-on-year change is a little happier, it’s a drop of 586 (-8.82%) from this time in 2009.

The longer term impact of the recession is clear, the graph of JSA claims since the recession started gives a clear picture of the long-term impact, a rapid increase as jobs were lost, but a slow recovery afterwards. And, of course, some of those jobs will never return: for example, many public sector jobs, unsustainably funded by massive borrowing are probably gone forever.

Gas and water leaks

With the start of another icy blast of cold weather the council’s Roadworks Bulletin this week contained a useful bit of information about water and gas leaks (which I’m posting as much for my own information):

The cold weather significantly increases the likelihood of leaking water and gas mains, which quickly go on to become bursts. Low ground temperatures cause dramatic contraction in old cast iron mains and this causes cracking and splitting particularly at seams and valve locations.

Both Thames Water and Southern Gas Networks have prepared for a large increase in volume of urgent works to repair these leaks as quickly as possible. Gas leaks can be smelt as gas seeps out of the ground or from utility apparatus such as telecoms boxes. Many water leaks are ‘visible’ because water will be seen running out of the ground or around apparatus in the street. However there are equally many ‘hidden leaks’ where it is not immediately apparent; these can cause considerable damage to the subsurface layers if left for long periods of time and will also eventually become much larger visible bursts. Both companies are increasing the number of pro-active teams that go out and search for leaks before they become visible or problematic – they have been doing this since autumn to catch small leaks.

The following free phone numbers should be used to report leaks:
WATER: 0800 714614
GAS: 0800 111999

Please do not assume that someone else has phoned it in. Please do not report these to the Council.

Repairs to leaking mains can cause considerable problems and often require periods of time where holes are left open while specialist equipment is built to repair the leaks. Additionally in cold weather materials used to reinstate excavations, particularly concrete, do not set correctly. For gas leaks, a common action to mitigate immediate danger is to ‘vent’ nearby utility boxes – this involves lifting the lids of boxes to allow gas to escape from ducts and pipes. These can be left open for many weeks and be some considerable distance from where the escape is. However these are not forgotten – SGN will attend the area several times a week and take gas readings to ascertain levels of gas in the area. If this reaches dangerous levels then works will begin to excavate and repair the leak. All companies involved have to prioritise works across our borough as well as other boroughs in south London. The On Street Services team actively monitors works on the public highway and works closely with utility companies to minimise disruption as much as possible.

Death and decay

I’m aware that the blog (and my online life in general) has taken something of a knock recently. I’m not above blaming little children for this; having another child has eaten into the time I spent on it. But what better way to get back into the swing of things with the death and decay of trees in the ward?

The council is about to remove 13 trees from various sites in the ward (detailed below). The Shaftesbury Park Estate certainly seems something of a tree graveyard, and two are being removed from close to my home (one of which I was quite fond of, having rescued it from being a misshapen young sapling).

All the sites will be replanted, but, unfortunately not until the next tree planting season – so they will remain empty for around a year.

The trees, and reasons, are:

  1. Outside 33-35 Amies Street – tree is 60% dead
  2. Outside 8 Ashbury Road – tree is 80% dead
  3. Ashley Cresent, opposite 20 Queenstown Road – tree has dead bark and root decaying fungus
  4. Outside 128 Dunston Road – three has dead back and root decaying fungus
  5. Outside 165 Elsley Road – tree is unstable and 60% dead
  6. Outside 189 Elsley Road – tree is 60% dead
  7. Outside 71-73 Eversleigh Road – tree is dead and has a heartwood decaying fungus
  8. Outside 48 Grayshott Road – tree is unstable and has root and trunk decaying fungus
  9. Outside 19 Holden Road – tree is 50% dead
  10. Outside 20-22 Kingsley Street – tree is dead
  11. Outside 2-4 Morrison Street – tree is dead
  12. Outside 39 Sabine Road – tree has extensive trunk decay
  13. Opposite 53 Sabine Road – tree is 60% dead

If you know of any other trees in the ward that need attention, or any empty tree bases that need filling, let me know.

The council doesn’t have all the answers

“The council doesn’t have all the answers” was one of the closing comments by the council’s deputy leader, Maurice Heaster, during a debate on the Wandsworth Challenge last week. I would hope, to most, that this is fairly self-evident, but sometimes you wonder. You wonder first because there is a tendency for government (of whatever level and whatever form) to act like it does have all the answers. And then you wonder because there’s so often the presumption stated that the government – or council – should ‘do something’.

One of the things that has amused me over the recent protests against cuts is how often you hear “tee hee, I bet this isn’t what David Cameron had in mind for the Big Society!” It amuses me because, actually, I think it probably is what he had in mind. He might not have specifically envisaged people super-gluing themselves to the windows of Top Man (because, apparently, Philip Green should be sloppier about running a business and pay more overheads) or setting fire to the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, but he did want to see an engaged population that were active, not passive, clients of the state.

And, for me, that’s what the Wandsworth Challenge is about. It’s inviting everyone to be engaged. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I, or the council, will like all the ideas. And it doesn’t mean that the council will implement each one. But the council will have to justify its decision.

That’s where my real interest lies, in the interplay between community empowerment and politics. It’s certainly true that power needs redistributing from Whitehall down to the town hall and from there to the ordinary citizen. But that’s not to say that the town hall doesn’t still have a role to play where it is best placed to deliver a service or a strategy. This is something that could re-democratise local government and local politics, giving everyone a role to play (as big or small as they like) and engaging them in the process. Everyone is better – community, council and government – when each is playing a full role and challenging the other to be responsive and do the same.

You don’t have to look far in the Wandsworth Challenge to see the small and large ‘p’ politics. The three tests themselves are politically loaded, despite seeming fairly innocuous:

  1. Does it help achieve a distinctively high quality of life for our residents?
  2. Does it make the most of the resources available from all areas?
  3. Does it enable individuals to take more responsibility for their own lives?

The first two are, certainly, a matter of opinion. For example, we could make Battersea Park into allotments, for some that would pass all three tests – with people enjoying the great outdoors (test one), using open space for food production (test two) and help increase self-sufficiency (test three). But what about those who value the park for sport and recreation? Those allotments would fail the first two, and possibly even the third if they were, for some reason, unable to use an alternative.

So, if faced with competing suggestions about the use of Battersea Park (implying there are different views and priorities out there) the council itself will have to show prioritisation – I suspect in this case we might favour, and therefore give a higher value to, the leisure use than the food use.

And the Wandsworth Challenge is, like the Big Society, something that harnesses the power of the nebulous. It’s back to the Patton quote I’ve mentioned before: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” By not defining it too tightly we give free rein to ideas and innovation, and with a population of 280,000 people, there have to be some great ideas out there.

So, what are your ideas? What do you want to see? What don’t you want to see? How should we capture them? Or are you just not enthused?

Grit, ice, open data and conspiracy

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

The response to my mapping of grit bins last week has fascinated me. Of course, the overwhelming majority of people totally ignored it, but some appreciated it and it was rather flattering to be picked up by the LGIU, and even more so to have been highlighted by the webmaster of Lichfield (who is a real pioneer of open data).

But more interesting was the negative response. I cannot deny the bins are located in the north of the borough. And a few people immediately realised why: it’s because a few weeks ago, when the locations were chosen we all got together in a smoky room (we used artificial smoke, so as not to break the smoking ban) and decided that we’d totally ignore poor old Tooting. Then we guffawed, well, most of us did, some went for the muah-ha-ha-ha evil laugh.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all (although thank-you to Paul Clarke for the inspiration in his insightful post on the snow and ice in Croydon). Instead it was an operational decision. If you know the area you’ll also realise that there is a strong correlation between the how steep the roads are and how many bins there are.

What particularly interested me is that, as far as I can tell, no-one made the accusation that there was some anti-Tooting (or anti-Labour) bias until I’d made the map. Several even used my map to prove their point, because if we were allowing politics to decide the location the first thing a Conservative council executive member would do is create and publicise a map to highlight the point!

There is inequality in the location of bins because there is inequality of terrain. Only if the borough were perfectly flat would perfectly even distribution make sense. That’s not to say the current distribution is perfect because nothing is, and the lessons from this winter’s placement will be learned and used when choosing placement for next winter. But even with that inequality, even with the imperfection that comes from constantly learning, I’d argue what we’ve got is massively better from the only way to get equality: having no bins so everyone got precisely nothing.

What conclusions can we draw? A very clear one is that people respond to data depending on how it’s presented. The grit bin locations had been well publicised, but drew little attention until put into a map on my website. I know for a fact that my website gets far far less traffic than the council website, but for some reason the map had greater traction than the list.

A second conclusion is that when presented with data, people will draw their own conclusions. To me it was quite clear that the major factor in location choice were steep roads, to others there was a socio-economic or political motivation (there are so many bins in my ward that if it were an indicator of power I’d be something like a local government demi-God rather than mundanely just representing a ward with a hill in it) and I’m sure there are all sorts of other interpretations you can draw.

But the third is that it can provoke the discussion and debate. The challenge is creating a culture in which we can use that constructively, recognising that there is no such thing as a perfect solution, recognising that not everyone gets what they want and also recognising that there’s a difference between policy and operations. On things like this, we want to get it right, providing the data on what we are doing and how we are doing it gives everything the chance to help us do just that.

Gritting Wandsworth

Help yourself: Grit bins have been placed in various locations around Wandsworth

It’s that time of year when the weather dominates council life. We have been out gritting for days (since Saturday morning to be precise) both priority road routes and pavements.

By far the hardest job is gritting pavements, mainly because these have to be done manually. The council concentrates on priority areas for pavement gritting, for example outside schools, stations and clinics and, because they have to return to these areas often do not get around to many residential streets. To help residents 20 grit bins have been located in various places around the borough (the council don’t seem to have mapped them, so I have).

View Grit bin locations in a larger map

The council’s website is hosting a cold weather update page that has the latest updates.

The location data for this is now on my data page.

Queenstown Food and Wine Application

View Larger Map

Queenstown Food and Wine, a corner shop on Queenstown Road, have applied for an increase in their current licensed hours.

The application is for off-sales from 0700 to 0200 seven days a week. While this is earlier than many nearby licensed premises (for example Inigo, around the corner on Wandsworth Road in Lambeth) local residents may be concerned by an application in an area that has a record of anti-social behaviour problems.

Representations on the application can be made until 24 December, and to be considered by the licensing committee they need to relate to the four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • Public safety
  • The protection of children from harm

The council’s licensing pages provide more information.

If you wish to make an observation you can do so by writing to:
Head of Licensing
Licensing Section
London Borough of Wandsworth
PO Box 47095
SW18 9AQ

or by emailing licensing@wandsworth.gov.uk

Public health in Wandsworth

Andrew Lansley in Roehampton for the public health white paper launch

Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, came to Wandsworth to launch the public health white paper yesterday.

I’ve been very remiss in not posting much about health on here, despite the fact that it’s probably the most exciting area of local government at the moment and presents a huge opportunity for local councils and communities.

The main point of the white paper is that public health will soon be a council responsibility again (it was stripped from councils in 1974). It’s a sensible move: it’s commonly recognised that the NHS actually plays a small role in the health of the nation. We might all think of health and think about our GPs and hospitals, but in fact it’s largely a result of our lifestyles and behaviour; the cumulative impact of even small changes (a slightly healthier diet, a little more exercise) would make a huge positive difference to our collective health.

The challenge now is how we carry this out and made sure that the decisions the council takes all take account of the public health impact. And the real challenge for (much of) local government will be a new way of working, like any government publication the white paper has a couple of mentions of Big Society, but it also has references to things like nudge and the influence of networks and all three are quite alien to the traditional directive approach of councils.

A further challenge will be measuring the impacts. While the white paper hints at how they are going to baseline public health (and offer reward funding for success) it is not specific, and it’s hard to imagine exactly how we are going to measure the impact on things like life expectancy which, by definition, won’t be felt for years.

But despite those challenges the collective reforms for health offer the biggest positive change for health and healthcare I’ve ever seen – moving decisions away from a centralised bureaucracy and as close as possible to patients and communities, which is exactly where they should be.