Sunday, 30 January 2011

Let’s Hear It for the Boy

Uncle Eric has two Special Advisors but some have questioned their skills and experience to perform thier role. They are certainly good at securing the front page of The Daily Mail with a constant stream of rubbish about bins but what else do they achieve? They seem to have indirectly managed to insult, defame and generally annoy a lot of people. Here is the latest FoI request about their recent training.

Dear Chums
Last night I had the chance to relax from all this Armchair Auditing nonsense and kick- back to enjoy an old VHS tape of Footloose. In my ecstatic revelry, as I was dancing along to Deniece Williams singing “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” I got thinking about Uncles Eric’s special boys.

I think the sterling work of the special advisors is often over looked. Where would we be without Nick Sheridan-Westlake and Giles Kenningham? Certainly the Department of Communities and Local government would not be held in the regard that it currently is by local councils and other observers if they were not contributing so much.

Many of their duties go unnoticed. All that printing papers at short notice, booking lunches, photocopying and telephoning The Daily Mail every five minutes does not happen by itself. They also have the unenviable task of stopping Grant Shapps sounding stupid every time he opens his mouth – some may suggest they need to try harder on this task. I know that DCLG’s SpAds are bright young lads and no doubt have lots of A* GSCEs between them but some still questioned their training and relevant experience for the job.

Can you please help put these harsh baseless rumours to rest? Can you tell me the dates and titles of courses/ formal training provided to Nick Sheridan-Westlake and Giles Kenningham since they joined DCLG? Specifically can you address training that covers the following please?

1.      1.  Courses in research methods. Can these be split between qualitative and quantitative techniques?
2.      2.  Dealing with press offices and general media training
3.      3.  Training in evidence based policy
4.       4. Legal training (especially dealing with defamation, libel and slander laws)

Your special admirer,


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Money For Nothing

Working in IT is not always a petabyte of laughs, although I do have some fond memories.  One is based on events approximately 4 years ago. During a particularly busy period , I was unable to shuffle out to Greggs for lunch and a colleague offered to get me my sausage roll and iced finger. Like many IT pros I am a music fan but don’t generally follow the stereotype. I asked my fellow geek if he would pick up my jazz mag from the newsagent on his way back to the office.

As we know IT geeks are famed for their practical jokes, but I could not contain my shock with what he returned with  for me –  a veggie pasty and custard slice!! How we laughed. .. but probably not as much as I will laugh to the response we will get to my latest FoI request.

Dear chums

I note with interest that Uncle Eric is not happy with those naughty recalcitrant councils who so far have not followed his unique localism agenda and published their service expenditure as he has rightly demanded. I hope that Uncle Eric will come down on those councils like a ton of bricks and crush them like creepy ants. Uncle Eric has stated that publishing service expenditure is an easy and low cost task – but is it?

Last week whilst lunching with my co-workers from the IT department, a little bird told me something of interest. Actually it wasn’t a little bird but a slightly dishevelled geek wearing a Metallica t-shirt with some social-skills development needs . As I know from my many years working in the IT department, and these pre-date your very short tenure, the IT department are often ignored, at best but usually simply derided.  I like to think of us as the bowels of the organisation. No one really wants to come near us, we deal with a lot of (ahem) important business but woe betide anyone who annoys us, because if we clam up we can cause you a whole lot of trouble.

Anyway, the whisper I heard is that for DCLG to make available its own service expenditure did not come cheap. The amendments to the finance ledger systems required external support from expensive contractors. So my request is:

Can you please provide the cost for work to make changes to the finance system to generate a reporting module that can produce monthly service spend over £500?

Whilst the contract for this may have been wrapped up in a wider set of requirements, an estimate based on number of contractor days and rounded to the nearest ten thousand pounds will suffice.

Yours hoping for a reboot

Derek 1.0

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Uncle Eric: DCLG is not Section D in Spooks

My very first Freedom of Information request was on 15th October and was about secret codenames that DCLG were using:

These all followed cake related suggestions after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph that amusingly titled Operation Victoria Sponge was used for project to abolish the Audit Commission.  Here were a few suggestions:

1. Operation Jam(-jar) Roly Poly - Project to upgrade Eric Pickles' car from Toyota Prius to a Jaguar.

2. Operation Spotted Dick - Project to increase media profile of Pickles and to ensure his regular appearance on TV news, radio and in national newspapers

3. Operation Lardy Cake - Project to encourage Ministers to exercise more to help fight obesity as this has been perceived negatively by public and is a priority according to PM.

4. Operation Raspberry Tart - Project to abolish evidence based policy and encourage public confidence in decisions being made on the fly.

5. Operation fruitcake - To pass responsibility of CLG external press and media to special advisers to enable a more controlled message.

6. Operation fairy cake - Project to extend the influence and roles of CLG special advisers who have recently come under criticism internally.

7. Operation Eton mess - Project to force councils to return to weekly bin collection so that middle class homes do not need to have over flowing slop buckets in their kitchens.

8. Operation Belgian waffle - Project to minimise funding to the European Regional Development Fund.

9. Operation gooseberry fool - Project to eradicate public's perception that CLG ministers are stupid or naive at best.

10. Operation Let them eat cake - Project to appease local authorities with reduction in bureaucracy before savage spending cuts.

I was dismayed to find it was declared vexatious. I subsequently submitted a follow up request. The outcome of which was that DCLG have admitted to using codenames to ensure papers are kept secret and therefore kept from the Army of Armchair Auditors. This is very worrying and I sincerely hope they stop this practice.

My response below reminds DCLG that they are not in a episode of Spooks. I am sure the words that Sir Harry Pearce uttered in series 5 to the Home Secretary when discussing national security- "I have seen things that would make your blood run cold"; are words that Uncle Eric has said himself. But in his case it was perhaps after glimpsing a reflection of himself in the mirror as he stepped out of the shower.

Dear Martin,

Thank you for your response.

I do find it worrying that DCLG are hiding information behind secret codenames. This will make the work difficult for Armchair Auditors who may wish to hold you to account. If this is allowed to continue then who knows what Uncle Eric will hide from us.

Can I remind you that DCLG is not a counter terrorism department . You are not starring in an episode of Spooks, even though some staff may have the fashion sense on Malcolm. Uncle Eric Pickles is by a long stretch not the much respected Sir Harry Pearce KBE. Whilst I am sure that some may wish DCLG to follow the format of Spooks in that key players are usually pensioned off (sometimes painfully) after a short tenure; I would simply request that you focus on transparency and allowing us to challenge your behaviour
Yours non cryptically

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tom Foxton - a man wasted at DCLG

Wow, I got a great reply to a recent request about Russell Grant (yes that one) helping out at DCLG . The original request is here:

and my reply to Tom is below:

Hey Tom

In the words of Bonnie Tyler:

"I need a hero
I'm holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night
He's gotta be strong
And he's gotta be fast
And he's gotta be fresh from the fight"

..excuse the potential unintended homo-eroticism but you have
become my hero.


It was clear, to the point and well researched. Obviously your
ability to source evidence and present it objectively are wasted at
DCLG; especially now that evidence based policy has gone out of
fashion quicker than Uncle Eric's tired suits. I hope you soon get
a job at a proper department such as The Treasury or DEFRA (er..
that's a joke)

Lovin' yer work blud,


Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Donkeys, Asses and Non-jobs

I have always felt that I am a charitable person. For the the last 10 years Mrs Tickles and I have donated to Donkey Sanctuary. I have always felt sorry for those those abused and sad faced little asses and have never begrudged the money I have parted with. Last year whilst enjoying a rain soaked week with the family on a over priced caravan site in Devon we decided to visit our adopted donkey -Vincent.

I didn't expect Vincent to get excited or respond in anyway to us but nothing prepared me fully to what happened. I apologise in advance for those of a sensitive disposition but quite simply Vincent displayed his manhood (or should that be donkeyhood?) to the twins, Mrs Tickles and myself. Whilst the twins giggled, poor Mrs Tickles was speechless and in shock for days afterwards. I felt like half the man for not raising a formal complaint with the owners. For gods sakes surely there should be warning signs up or something.

After some deliberation, we decided to continue donating  to the sanctuary but sadly this may have to change now as I feel that I need to help assist in bolstering the PMs inadequate salary.

You too can help with a donation - You can make a sad life better for a donkey, an ass or a prime minister.

Here is the latest FoI request to Uncle Eric at the Department for Communities and Local Government

Dear Chums,

Last week whilst I was tucking into the marvellous 7-item breakfast that can be purchased from the Eland House cafe, I turned the dial on my wireless and listened to The Today Programme. On said show I heard Andrew Stunell, who I thought was Minister for LibDim Appeasement but who actually turns out to be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State. An elderly Mr Stunell was commenting on Manchester Council's proposal to cut 2000 jobs. He seemed to think that he could negate the arguments about cuts to job and services by putting on a whiny voice and simply blubbing 'but their chief exec gets paid more that the Prime Minister'. He seemed to believe that this comment robustly defended the cuts and would invalidate any counter arguments.

I know the government has an obsession about the PMs salary, but it does seem an arbitrary comparator. However it has got my old grey matter working. I think the solution would be to pay poor David Cameron more - amazing yes?. After all it must be difficult for him and the fragrant Sam to bring up a hard working family with a new born in these austere, all-in-it-together times.

So I have decided to terminate my monthly donation to the Donkey Sanctuary and volunteer to help fund a pay increase to David Cameron. After all what have donkeys ever done for us? To be completely honest on closer inspection donkeys lead quite an enviable existence at our expense and they never really show any gratitude (a bit like poor folk - eh?). I am sure there are another few hundred thousand or so civil servants who would volunteer a modest annual donation so that we can get the PMs salary up to say £500,000. Then we can move on with important debates over cuts forward without this silly distraction.

I also note that Uncle Eric has a few things to say about non-jobs.I thought if DCLG were to delete the non-jobs then the money could be used to fund the PMs enhanced salary. Hence my request for information is:

1) Can you please supply a list of all non-job that have been identified in DCLG?

2) Do you have an example job description of a non-job?

3) How many of the following posts have been identified as non-jobs?

Julie Carney - Deputy Director, Local Government & Economic Growth /Accountability
Nick Dexter - Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State
Shona Dunn - Director, Fire and Resilience
Dawn Eastmead - Deputy Director, Fire: Strategy & Finance
George Eykyn - Director, Communications
Jane Houghton - Chief Press Officer to the Secretary of State
Giles Kenningham - Special Adviser
Paul Rowsell - Deputy Director, Local Governance
Nick Sheridan Westlake - Special Adviser
Michael Winders - Deputy Director, External Communications

Oh, and finally can I ask an unrelated question please? Can you list all items that can be selected as part of the 7 item breakfast and tell Alarm Clock Britain how much the breakfast can be purchased for in Eland House. I suspect this will be enough to shock some from repeatedly hitting the snooze button.

Yours philanthropically,


Sunday, 16 January 2011

Who do you think you are kidding Mr Pickles?

Last week I was peeved by two separate responses to recent Freedom of Information request to Uncle Eric’s Department of Communities and Local Government. Both the requests relate to obtaining supporting evidence to statements that he has made and which I strongly suspect he was just spouting off without any proof.

The first request relates to Uncle Eric’s phony war on councils that refuse to call Christmas Christmas.  Here are the details:

My request was declared vexatious as:

In the part of your request for information about councils which might have decided not to officially use the word “Christmas” you asked whether they had replaced it with either “Winterval, Luminous, Winter Lights, Festivus, Bauble-icious, Ice To See You, to see you ice, Turkey Twizzle or any other un-christian alternative nomenclature”.  Some of the terms you have used here are clearly fictitious in this context.

Er.. I think they missed the point here. I thought it was me that was subtly suggesting that Uncle Eric was making stuff up and now they have turned this round in some Kafkaesque manner. Help!!

So I fired off a reply demanding another Internal Review. Here is my slightly bad tempered response:

Dear Chums,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of
Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for
Communities and Local Government's handling of my FOI request 'A
Winter's Tale'.

I am deeply upset that my request has been declared vexatious. I am
trying to simply discover those councils that were not going to
call Christmas Christmas. I supplied some alternative names that
they may or may not have decided to use. You suggest these are
fictitious. I must say I probably agree and that my dear friend is
the key tenet of this request. Uncle Eric was spinning stories!!

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is
available on the Internet at this address:

Yours in faith,

Derek Tickles

My 2nd request that caused consternation, related to evidence to support the claims made by Uncle Eric that the local government settlement was ‘fair’ and ‘progressive’. The original request titled Money’s Too Tight To Mention can be seen here:

This request was penned whilst Mrs Tickles and I kicked back and listened to the dulcet tones of Simply Red, a group that does not receive enough airplay on The Eric and Brandon Show on Phoenix FM, our local radio station in Brentwood.

“I been laid off from work my rent is due
My kids all need brand new shoes
So I went to the bank to see what they could do
They said son looks like bad luck got a hold on you
Money’s too tight to mention”


So I was expecting a response that included a mass of complicated spreadsheets, reams of data and a comprehensive report from DCLG. Instead I got a link to minutes from meeting that took place months ago about concessionary fares. I might act the fool but I am not foolish so I forced to request my second Internal Review. 

Here is my response:

Dear Mr Chandler

I assume Uncle Eric put you up to this and this is not the response you would have given of your own free will?

So is Uncle Eric tugging at my wick? The information you supplied does not come close to meeting my requirements.

The links you supplied do not extinguish the flame of my desires to unearth the real evidence (or lack of) that relate to claims of a 'fair' and 'progressive' settlement. I would expected the evidence to have waxed more lyrically about the formula grant and specific grants in general not just focus on a very small concessionary travel fund.

I am interest in the £80 billion not a few million quid. Whilst the spreadsheets and models are probably useful they are not worth the candle for my inquiry.

If by chance Uncle Eric has no evidence to support his claims then perhaps he should be honest and say so.

Hence I request once of those nasty internal reviews (again).

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Communities and Local Government's handling of my FOI request 'Money's to tight to mention'.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:

Your incandescently,

Derek Tickles

I will keep you posted once I receive a reply.

Exit, pursued by a bear.