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Saturday, November 3, 2012

What would Cicero have made of Wolverhampton Council's proposals to alter our libraries into community hubs?

Cicero, the great Roman statesman and orator, was once quoted as saying that "a room without books is like a body without a soul".

Following that logic, this could also apply to a city that begins to close its libraries. Our council was voted in to provide good governance and adequate facilities for all its citizens.

The provision of libraries has always been one of the foundation blocks of a civilised society, and the denial of that local facility, is an affront to those communities that need their local library for relaxation, information and education.

Our council seems to fund consultants at £750 a day and will further burden the council tax payer with borrowing millions to refurbish the civic centre. Perhaps the electorate will remember this, when they next put pen to paper at the ballot box.

This is a guest blog post from John Holt, Finchfield, Wolverhampton.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wolverhampton and the sorry tale of its community hubs. A by-election in Park Ward might just settle the matter.

So Wolverhampton's Labour Council brings  to an end  its marathon consultation over proposals to reorganise libraries and other community services. Public meetings and petitions across the city have dealt the councillors a hand they will be hard-pushed to play. So what next? Will the council come up with a Mark 2 for us to consider?

Meanwhile, a by-election in Park Ward provides an opportunity for electors to show their feelings over this poorly conceived and promoted idea.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The funding of community debate and consultation - an uneven playing field in Wolverhampton?

For the last few months, we have had an interesting debate going on in Wolverhampton, which has now reached a city-wide response. We are talking of the Labour-council's proposals to create community hubs, whereby library, welfare and youth facilities are rationalised in the name of efficiency and cost-saving. We are in the middle of the consultation.

I notice that the latest edition of the Chronicle - a local freebie paper - carries a quarter page ad from the council, inviting residents to have their say about these hubs. Nothing wrong with that as a principle, but it raises the issue of an uneven playing field when it comes to the funding of the debate. Councillors and their officials get their message across via a publicly-funded budget, the rest of us have to dig into our pockets.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Never has a council so misjudged the feelings of the electorate. Wolverhampton and its Community Hubs.

Wolverhampton’s Labour Council proposes the rationalisation of its library, youth and community provision to create enhanced and efficient provision.

Logical enough until you look at the detail and the implications of the proposals. Those proposing the scheme, must be on the receiving end of an ear-wigging from fellow councillors for getting their party into this pickle. People are taking localism at face value and the council is left reeling.

They must just wish that the whole thing is a bad dream and will go away. There are no votes in it, local communities are disrupted and the savings of £1m out of a total budget of billions are scrawny.

Instinctively, we look to libraries for professional personal support – something that automatic checking-in machines can’t give. How much trialling and for how long has been done with pilot schemes? A year plus at least is deserved, but it seems we are talking of months. For a major change to our services we need a much better evidence base.

This is bad policy, bad politics and bad presentation/consultation. Interesting that the proposals did not receive the light of day until after votes were cast in last May’s  local elections. Something to fear perhaps from a hostile electorate?

Petitions, letters to the press, phone-ins and a campaign website indicate the wealth of criticism directed at the policy. Makes one wonder how many other Labour-council policies have been introduced with such scanty popular support.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mary Portas' proposals for closed shops. What would a town crier for Wolverhampton be saying?

The announcement that Wolverhampton is to receive £100,000 to help regenerate its centre is welcome news – money for redevelopment always is.  The question is whether the Mary Portas proposals can really counter the longterm flow of retailing to out-of-town sites or the Internet. Once consumers have acquired a taste of how to make their purchases, they tend to want more of the same.

These large and longterm flows in consumer behaviour are likely to go even further.  The reinstatement of retail back into town centres may be like King Canute and the sea. We know why retail moved out and the critical question for the future is: “What are city centres for?”

Now is the time to bring housing back into city centres.  Niche and corner-shop facilities may flourish with a resident population nearby. Continental cafĂ© cultures failed because this was missing. Having a town-crier for the city is an eye-catcher. More importantly, we need to know what the script might be and will there be anyone to listen?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Where have all the people gone? Walking the streets of Wolverhampton in search of a vote.

Never have we had a society with so much communication and yet so few people to see. What am I talking about?

I have spent the last couple of weeks walking the streets of Wolverhampton. This is council election time after all. This is when eager canvassers and leaflet droppers walk the tarmac. This is when you hope to engage with the public and press the flesh. The reverse is the case.

The reality is that our residential areas are now reminiscent of the Marie Celeste. Notices on the front door tell you that hawkers and freebie papers are not wanted. The cumulative impact is “keep off the grass”.

Over the decades we have retreated into our homes. People don’t seem to engage over the fence or share a conversation in the drive. Children seem an extinct species and signs showing “no ball games” just close down their options for fun.

Parked cars tell you that there is life and delivery vans from Amazon or the supermarket provide the umbilical cord between consumer and retailer. The town centre is a casualty.

Irrespective of ones politics, the reality today is that somehow a spirit of community has been lost. It existed in the terrace streets of old. Our housing layouts and lifestyles today just preclude communal relations. No wonder the soaps are so popular. They provide a surrogate family. There is a fair amount of loneliness out there but that seems to be something not on our political agendas.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

An Arriva train journey from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. A choice of words and motivation.

Taking a rail journey with Arriva from Birmingham International to Wolverhampton recently, I noticed a guy emptying trash bins and generally tidying the carriage up.

It took me back forty years to when I had a succession of student summer jobs cleaning out trains for the then British Rail. This was the university of life and one certainly knew ones place, as your mop and brush signalled your cleaner status to the public. Never have I felt so lowly. So what you might ask?

Well, this 2012 guy seemed to take pride in what he was doing, going about it with purpose. His body language spoke volumes. Energy and motivation were there to be seen. We got into conversation. We shared some brief anecdotes of our mutual experience separated by the decades.

We said our goodbyes and as we walked away, I noticed some words printed on the back of his working fleece. They read “Train Presentation Team".

Funny how a few words can deliver a different perception of what a job is about. I went through the motions of the job with no thought of why it was being done and for whom. Not much commitment then.

For him the word “presentation” gave a different take on the job compared with my lowly “cleaner” description. The word “ team” would never have crossed my mind. Arriva deserve a pat on the back.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The tragic death of the journalist Marie Colvin in Homs may have a silver lining to it.

Journalism is under the cosh with Leverson and other enquiries. The work of this renowned foreign affairs reporter is a counterpoint to the shabby journalism that has been associated with the incestuous worlds of the tabloids, police and celebrities. The public is now reminded of the fine qualities and acceptable face of professional reporting.

Beyond that there is a bigger prize - the Middle East. Syria is in a log jam and as McCawber noted we are waiting for “something to turn up.”

The deaths of a French photo journalist and a high profile American reporter who was working for the British media brings the Syrian conflict into focus. They highlight the hands-off public position of China and Russia and the horrors of unbridled action by the Syrian government itself.

At a time when these parties may have been hoping for a world impotent to deal with this aspect of the Arab Spring, these deaths will have put the spotlight on them. The best tribute to these journalists is that this spotlighting is not wasted.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

3 top things to look for when choosing a professional CV writer.

A professional CV writer combines the skills of a speechwriter, copywriter and journalist. You need a way with words.

Applying for a job in these difficult times is a challenge. All the more reason to make sure that anyone who sharpens your CV, promotes you so that you stand out for the right reasons.

You can buys books by the shelf load about how to get a winning CV. Unfortunately, they tend to focus on format and content. Nothing is said about what you should be looking for in the CV writer.

A CV is a lot more than making an application. It is about influencing the dynamics of the interview, anticipating the questions that arise and the content of your replies. This applies to both public and private sector applications.

Professional CVs do not come cheap. You are paying for the services of a professional communicator. Your prize is enhanced career prospects and the rewards which go with it.

Top Tip Number One. – Meet the CV writer in the flesh.

Make sure you have a person-to-person interview with the CV writer. Give it at least half an hour. If s/he has not met you, how they can understand what you are about, your ambitions and motives? It is amazing how many CVs are created over the phone and with email attachments. You deserve better.

S/he needs to know your aspirations, history, personality and communication abilities. This encounter helps clarify your own thinking and highlight weaknesses and strengths. The interview helps the CV writer get a handle on your industry.

Top Tip Number Two. – Get the CV to shape the interview.

The prime role of the CV is get you an interview. Fail that and all bets are off.

Assuming you are called, the CV has a close secondary objective. It is to help shape the way the interview might go. A professional writer will drop little seeds in the CV so that it encourages the reader to ask a question on what has been said.

You can anticipate the question and shape answers accordingly. You are playing on your territory and there is home advantage.

The killer introductory question is “Talk for a couple of minutes about yourself.” Get this right and it can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Get it wrong and you are in a salvage operation.

Top Tip Number Three. – Make sure your fingerprints are all over the CV.

Each of us has a distinctive communication style whether it is choice of words, vocal delivery or body language. The danger of a stranger writing your CV is that it does not present an accurate picture of you the subject.

The final CV will be a winner if you and the writer have worked on it together. We are talking of several editions. Be careful with words attributed to you which have come from a word bank and are not part of your everyday language. You want to stand out with your personality and humanity coming through. Most important, you need to be able to talk to the CV with ease.

Wolverhampton City Centre 2050?

Our town centres – what are they are for?

Fast forward to 2050 and speculate on what a typical British town centre might look like.

You may have two scenarios. At worst an empty centre in search of a suburb. The Mary Portas Report will have been forgotten. We will have a landscape of charity stores, anything for £10 shops, pawn and betting outlets. The retail chains have gone. This is a feral landscape avoided by many fearful to enter. People visit once or twice a month. A business as usual model.

On the other hand a plausible alternative. There will be more housing for those living alone and who may have found house purchase difficult. Open space which was blighted and derelict has been turned back to recreational and ecological use. There will be more cultural attractions. Energy costs have become prohibitive and an ageing or indebted population finds public transport attractive. In spite of some inward investments, the recession may have been longer and deeper than anticipated – an opportunity for those without a job to start some niche-market enterprises. People visit regularly - it is an event to be enjoyed.

If this sounds fanciful, scan the results of a recent town centre 2012 survey by Local Data Company. Nearly a third of city centre shops are closed e.g. Stockport 30% and Wolverhampton 27.3% Sunderland, Stockton, Blackpool, Stoke, Nottingham, Walsall and Grimsby add to the tale of woe.

In the midst of a recession, it is tempting to see this as a short-term phenomenon. The reality is that we visit out-of-town centres or the Internet. City centres face a structural problem now. An acute short-term condition has turned chronic.

Coal, steel, textiles, shipbuilding and other industries withered away. The same processes of decline are now hitting the urbanscape. Even offices are on the wane. It has come as a shock and we flounder for solutions.

The town centre is being hollowed out. It is a doughnut. We need to start creating new paradigms for the centre. We need to rethink how town centre land is owned, rented and used. The renewal of commercial leases may see the exodus from the centre turn into a flood.

However much we improve parking, widening ring roads and improving public transport, the key question remains: what are people coming in for? Answer that one and the land use solutions can be framed. Currently, we seem to be addressing symptoms of decline rather that the causes.

Do we engage in cosmetic improvements to street furniture hoping to get over the short-term difficulty? To take a quote from Charles Dickens’ Mr McCawber are we placing our faith in “Something will turn up”?

The Local Data survey noted that southern towns i.e. Salisbury, Exeter and Cambridge do not seem to be having the same level of retail flight - single digit emptiness. The recession may be having less impact. It may also be that these semi-rural towns already have a centre more balanced to meet the changing patterns of shopping decline.

In medieval and industrial revolution times we had a pretty good idea of what town centres were for. We have not yet worked out their purpose in the 21st century.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wolverhampton Wanderers and the language of motivation.

A hero of mine is the Second World War General: George Patton. “Blood and Guts” was a larger than life character, controversial and with a tendency to upset people. He delivered results. He was a motivator. Check out the opening scene in the Hollywood film Patton to get a feel. In the World Cup, the Algerian manager took a motivational leaf from his book before the England match.

When things go wrong powerful and persuasive language to motivate others can be a game-changer.

You see this every week in the Premier Football League. Managers come under pressure to give an account of themselves. Media and fans are just waiting for those quotes. Managers must hate the process and cringe at the interrogation.

The pity is that the interviews are not as well prepared and delivered as they ought. What is reported lies in the memory long after the game has been forgotten.

A recent interview by the local Express and Star with the Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy is a case in point. This was after the Villa match. Assuming the report was a fair representation of what was said, the reader was presented with this.

“I still feel we’ll get out of it, with whatever we’ve got and whatever we do, because I think we’ve got good players…. They keep going and they will get us out of it… There’s nothing more that could have gone wrong against Villa…. It has to turn because our lads worked dammed hard and they’re a great bunch…. We just need to play like we did on Saturday, but not give a penalty away, not get one sent off and not get one carried off…. I’ve signed everyone and there’s not one who would let me down intentionally…. They’ve all got a great work ethic. I believe in the same group of players and getting the best out of them, and that’s what myself and Terry Connor will carry on doing….. We might not have beaten Villa but if we get the level of performance we did on Saturday, that’s all I can ask. We’ve got more chance of winning if we play like that…. The way we played, not just against Villa, but against Arsenal, Bolton, Tottenham and Chelsea offers encouragement…. The biggest reason as to how I cope is that I don’t listen to the backdrop of what fans are saying….. I do not go around in a glass cabinet – I am fully aware of what is going on. If you listen to it, you would go off your head anyway. But I cannot question the performances at all….. I would not have done anything differently against Chelsea and Tottenham and I could not have done anything to make us any better….. I am not going to change anything – I’ve not got a magic wand.”

The cumulative impact of the words is a killer. Notice the high frequency of that magic word “Not”. “If”, “But” and “Can’t” add to the mood. These are killjoy words to close you down. Notice how the passive words are often the shortest.They are negative. Everyone involved is an observer hoping that something will turn up. In a difficult situation you can understand why they were uttered but they are not assertive.

Motivational language is about the right choice of words. It is about energy levels. It is about the creation of virtuous circles of optimism. Words are one part of the equation. Delivery and body language complete the threesome.

This professional sport spends millions on wages, fees, grounds and whatever. It seeks to buy instant success with the acquisition of a new player. What is needed is organic growth stemming from developing communication skills for motivation. Only then will physical, tactical and technical skills have a chance. This is a game where you have to use your voice and mind as well as the feet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Leveson Inquiry and blogging.

The Leveson Inquiry has thrown up some interesting tit bits as celebrities, journalists and grieved parties come before it. A narrative of the state of our media for those with a genuine interest and an addition to the tapestry of day-time televison. The ultimate soap and an extra episode of “Have I got news…”

The blogosphere has received little coverage, at least until a day ago. Richard Wallace editor at the Daily Mirror came out with this gem when asked about bloggers. "The out and out cowboys – I don't see in the long term they can survive … people want information that is competent and true."

A confection of ideas to feed off here then. People want information that is competent and true but he seems to have side-stepped the irony that the whole point of Leveson is to question the mainstream journalists' application of this in the first place.

Blogs can be amateurish with poor prose, questionable logic and inaccuracies. The fact is that, collectively, they are the grain of sand in the oyster. The number of authors, readers and commentators is itself a set of checks and balances. Something the print media lost track of. The blogosphere has democratised the publication of facts, views and opinions when the mass media was doing the reverse.