Thursday, 3 January 2013

The allotment

Even at a time of year when I expect the allotments to look scruffy, our site seems especially untidy. On the noticeboard at the gates there are notices that have been there all through 2012 and some of the previous year.
Plot after plot reveals neglect; matted turf and debris. I have not had a successful year in that my aim to have vegetables for our Christmas table remains unfulfilled, but my plot looks worked and now that I share it with Chris Rishworth, semi-planted. We have a sturdy shed, tools, barrow and other kit. There are piles of compost in preparation.
Plot 14 - slightly less scruffy
I've learned to dig without putting my back out thanks to Vanley's tutorials and indeed the whole plot has been well worked over so that future digging will be that much easier for both of us. I've learned having the whole plot tidied, prepared as a sort of blank slate - however temporarily satisfying that might be - is less important than waiting until I have things to plant; then working up a bed tailored for getting them in the ground.
In the next fortnight I should try to plant onions, shallots, early potatoes, possibly cabbages. On my last visit I brought back my last cabbages...
...boiled and mashed some potatoes, fried some onions - both shop bought - and added some of my cabbage, shredded; mixed it all up to fry a delicious comforting bubble and squeak. It's a humble start and everyone agrees "It's been a lousy year on the allotments!" I feel humourless.
There are, thank goodness, a few plots that are producing in the hands of gardeners who have the gift - a mix of skill and committment. Even at this time of year their ground is rewarding their work..(see below Birmingham City Council Allotment team's message about consultation on the future management of allotments.)


There's near as much greyness indoors as out. Lin's been completing family tax forms, in my case collecting invoices filed over 2011-12, all entered on-line.
Grey
Probate continues with drab tedium. Mum's terriers have started a new life at Farr Mains. On Inverness Gumtree, Lin's found a buyer for the shrubs mum had happily collected in her conservatory at Brin, saving them from the hardening winter. Most things must remain until Spring when further dispersal will need to be managed - a slow dismemberment and the miserable business of turning what you've only known as qualitative into something quantitative and divisible; digitised for the revenue, translated into the language of lawyers and accountants.
Goya's picture of men fighting in the quagmire into which they are sinking
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Lin and I are 'collecting' qualified people, CRB checked, with skills in a variety of small jobs around the home; people we can hire out for work we're not covered for under the tighter guidance and regulations covering any public use of work equipment. This evening after Mike had dropped it off at the garage, I collected the Handsworth Helping Hands van this evening from Alan Sheeran at Villa Cross Garage and paid for its MOT. It was in good condition; just needed headlight realignment. Alan seems a good find for future mechanical work.
Dropped in on Hirons Nurseries. They'll donate bulbs for the planting we will be doing after we've cleared litter from the ivy covered bank opposite St Theresa's Church tomorrow.
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I'm preparing for a seminar in a few days for officers of a unitary council near Bristol, one I postponed because I needed to be with mum in Scotland...


MANAGING THE POLITICAL INTERFACE
Monday 7 January 2013 

A morning seminar facilitated by Simon Baddeley from Inlogov, Birmingham University, for xxx Council focusing on working relationships between elected members and officers. The aim is to:

- assist managers to maintain their reading of the local political scene,
- explore the skills and values basic to political-management working,
- offer models of competence and integrity in politically sensitive situations
- help members and officers negotiate the political-management overlap

We will be working in plenary and groups on material tailored to xxx, including maps of the council area. Simon’s teaching style is participative, relying on a mix of short talks, discussion and handouts.

OUTLINE PROGRAMME

Introductions: why this matters

xxx’s political environment: reading the local political scene.

Political-management: talk and discussion

Political sensitivity: skills and values

Critical incidents: exploring the overlap of politics and management

Conclusion
*** *** ***
But for the coming and going of motorised traffic the neighbourhood seems almost uninhabited. People are living indoors but for the industrious labourers working late into the evening on the house opposite, just visible by their working lights as the work steadily on the roof top. It was a pleasure to see someone tidying the verges outside his house; to say "Good afternoon" and receive a pleasant smile in return.




























Το σήμαμα που δεν έγινε...Στην Άνω Κορακιάνα: Λίγο καθυστερημένο, αλλά αξίζει να σημειωθεί…Νωρίς το πρωί της Πρωτοχρονιάς, η καμπάνα του Αγίου Νικολάου ή του Άη-Νικολόπουλου, κτυπάει αναγγέλλοντας την είσοδο του νέου χρόνου. Φέτος όμως η προσπάθεια του Σπύρου Γ. Κένταρχου δεν στέφθηκε από επιτυχία, αφού το σχοινί της καμπάνας ήταν μπλεγμένο στις κληματόβεργες και το σήμαμα κατέστη αδύνατο…

...A little late, but worth noting...Early in the morning of New Year, the ringing of Saint Nicholas - Αγίου Νικολάου - or Saint-Nikolopoulou's bell, announces the entrance of the new year. But this year's attempt by Spyrou G. Kentarhou was unsuccessful, since the bell rope had become entangled in vine branches muting the signal...
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CONSULTATION ON FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF ALLOTMENTS
Birmingham City Council is reviewing the management function of the Allotment Service in consultation with the Birmingham and District Allotments Council, Associations and tenants.
Given the severe budgetary pressures that we all face, the Council needs to review how the service will be managed in the future.
Initial discussions with the BDAC have given rise to a number of options which now need to be discussed wider. These include:
• Devolution of budgets to individual sites to enable the Associations to directly manage their budgets, this will include repairs and maintenance, water, cesspit and portaloo servicing. Payments will be made twice per annum, on 1 April and 1 October direct to the Associations for all devolved budgets.
• The Associations will be responsible for applying the Allotment Rules, letting of plots, collection of rent, monitoring of Grounds Maintenance, plot cultivation, and initial resolution of complaints and disputes.
• Issue of Letters of Concern and Letters of Intent will be carried out by Associations. Where Notices of Re-Entry are recommended by the Association, this will be ratified by the BDAC before the final Notice of Re-Entry is issued by the Council, acting as the Landlord.
• Associations will still be required to notify the Council, as the Landlord, of structural or other major changes and funding applications prior to anything being submitted. Events notifications will also still need to be submitted to the Council a minimum of 4 weeks before for the event for approval.
• The BDAC will directly manage the current ‘Departmental’ sites, until such time as they set up their own Associations. Once Associations have been formed on these sites, they will perform all management functions as outlined above.
• The BDAC will operate in an advisory capacity to help Associations where requested. Should disputes arise between tenants and the Associations, the BDAC will act as the arbiter, and ensure consistency in the application of the Allotment Rules across individual and between different sites.
• The Council will act as Landlord and retain the final power of eviction. All rents collected and tenancy records will continue to be maintained and managed by the Council.
• The Council will continue to provide training in rent collection and completion of Tenancy Agreements.
• The Council will remain responsible for making payments to the current 3 Grounds Maintenance Service Providers where applicable.
• Strategic management decisions regarding the future of sites, payments of leases for ground rent, statutory checks e.g 17th Edition Electrical Testing, will continue to be carried out and paid for by the Council.
• Future rent levels will be set by the Council, however, full consultation with the BDAC will be carried out prior to any changes.
• Annual Risk Assessments will continue to be carried out by the Council, however, every Association will be required to have a trained Health & Safety/Risk Assessor member on their Committee. Training will be given by the Council’s Safety Services Officers.
• Fire Insurance to the Council’s buildings will still be met by the Council.
• The Council will retain a small contingency budget for major repairs and maintenance emergencies, which Associations will be able to bid into. The decision to award funds from this budget will be made jointly between the Council and the BDAC.
• Quarterly meetings between the BDAC and the Council will continue, as is the case now, to ensure regular liaison and consultation is maintained.
All of the above are items for discussion, and we must stress that NO DECISIONS have been made to date. The Consultation period will continue for a further 3 months to allow due consideration to be made by tenants, Associations and the BDAC, and for them to feedback their views and suggestions which will be considered - before a final draft of the proposals is written and circulated. After a further 4 week period, the final proposal will be submitted in the form of a report to the Council’s Cabinet Members to gain authority to proceed with drawing up the new Management Agreements.
It is anticipated that these new Management Agreements will be circulated and signed off by the 1 January 2014, with the start date of the new Management arrangements being implemented in full from 1 April 2014.
All comments and ideas are welcome, and should be submitted to:
allotments@birmingham.gov.uk
or for those without email, in writing to:
Allotments Team, The Lodge
115 Reservoir Road Ladywood Birmingham B16 9EE
My response:
Dear VJA
CONSULTATION ON THE FUTURE MANAGEMENT OF ALLOTMENTS
I’m anxious about the current consultation by the city on the future management of allotments and have submitted a personal reaction to the proposals which I summarise below.
Councils, up against the wall on their budgets, have been resorting to raising plot rents. Coinciding with a succession of very wet years, there has, as a result, been an unprecedented abandonment of allotments.
Combining these difficulties with giving local sites powers and responsibilities they may lack the experience and competence to exercise, means some sites will suffer the consequences of the 'constructive non-maintenance' referred to in the Government's 1998 Report on a Future for Allotments - a process which further reduces demand for plots as surely as taking the seats out of a cinema reduces the population of moviegoers.
The law says allotments must be protected unless it can be shown there is no demand fo them on a particular site. This ‘managed’ retreat from responsibility, lowers demand for plots and turns what should be statutorily protected allotments into tempting windfall sites for housing, retail outlets and industry.
This means an accelerating loss of urban green space, further loss of recreational and growing space and consequent weakening of social cohesion.
Allotments have in the past become self-managing as a result of a robust process of monitored delegation that has included an opportunity to take early well supported steps towards self-management. I fear that current plans are based on council abandonment, with few opportunities for local associations to develop sustainable competencies. The Council in the guise of nurturing the 'big society', local empowerment and citizen participation is, in effect, jumping ship. Local government should not be blamed for this. It comes from the top! Best, Simon
Simon Baddeley
Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG)

Plot rents
Full
60+
Mini Plot (Cat A)
£40
£20
Small (Cat A)
£50
£25
Standard (Cats B/C)
£75
£37
Large (Cats D/E)
£90
£45

Reply from Nikki Bradley Allotments Rent and Records Officer, Parks and Nature Conservation:
Hi Simon Thank you for your comments. Whilst we cannot comment on matters relating to politics, we are endeavouring to ensure - by seeking as many views as possible during the consultation process - that whatever future management of allotments is put in to operation, it is for the best of the allotment sites and the tenants, and protects them from further losses of tenants in to the future. We will obviously carry out training in relation to any extra responsibilities that are finally devolved, as we have done with all other management functions that sites have taken on as part of the new management agreements introduced in 2011. Best wishes Nikki 

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