Tag Archives: Helen Holland

How to stop cuts the Steve Norman way

By The Bristol Blogger

I first came across Steve Norman in late 2004. Ian Bone, then editor of The Bristolian, called one evening: “You’ve got to meet Steve Norman and Andy Richardson. Top geezers! They’re running a campaign directly with the elderly and learning disabled to save their daycare centres, which are being shut down by the council.

“The protests are crazy. You’ve never seen anything like it. Steve was quoting Martin McGuiness’s ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’ to me. They’re doing a protest next month outside the Council House. Make sure you get there.”

So that’s how I found myself outside Bristol’s Council House on a crisp January morning in 2005 at some protest to save something I didn’t know much about. Although that was about to change because Bone was right, I’d never seen anything quite like this before.

A protest over council cuts in those days would usually consist of eight – maybe ten – well-meaning socialists brandishing a few crappy placards and a fake petition for the public to sign. Maybe they’d be accompanied by someone flogging a badly written newspaper listing the crimes of the Labour government alongside an urgent plea to join their marginal socialist sect.

This protest consisted of about 20 elderly and learning disabled people accompanied by Andy and – as the public ringmaster-in-chief with a megaphone in hand – Steve. However, the genius of this protest didn’t lie with Steve’s quickfire Bristolian epithets aimed at various social service bosses and out-of-touch Labour councillors but with the 20-odd extremely vulnerable elderly and disabled people who were very, very slowly trooping across the pelican crossing on Park Street directly outside the Council House.

When a protestor finally made it to the other side, they would press the button to cross again and wait for the ‘green man’ pedestrian light. Meanwhile, the other nineteen would continue their ramshackle progress across Park Street. By the time they all finally reached one side, the green man appeared, allowing them to troop across the road all over again!

Few cars were going anywhere that morning. Traffic chaos engulfed the heart of the city directly outside its notional seat of power and there was fuck all anybody could do about it! Motorists might be fuming but they were hardly going to get out of their cars and start threatening a load of vulnerable adults, some with zimmer frames, others in wheelchairs.

The police arrived, mildly (and not very realistically) threatening arrests. Only to be told by Steve they would require full risk assessments and specialist lifting equipment before they attempted to remove anyone in a wheelchair into a police vehicle. The police seemed to accept this logic and drifted away to do something more useful or, maybe, they were trying to find their equalities policy and a disabled access police van with a wheelchair lift? (Steve knew perfectly well that the Avon & Somerset Police had no such vehicle in service. Police were therefore unable to arrest or legally remove wheelchair using protestors).

Meanwhile, the target of the protests, Bristol’s councillors and senior council officers remained hiding behind closed doors. Not one of them daring to venture the few metres outside to meet with their own vulnerable service users on a chilly January morning. Stephen McNamara, the council’s legal boss and town clerk, then at the height of his high camp wig-wearing “Look-at-me-I’m-a-very-important-man-I-am” phase, was even stationed in the lobby of the Council House to personally prevent any of his vulnerable adult service users accessing the toilets!

The protest broke up after a couple of hours when council transport arrived to return the service users to Lockleaze Day Centre for their lunch. Steve and Andy invited me to come to a ‘Campaign to Save Daycare in Bristol’ meeting.

These meetings happened most Thursday evenings in a back room at the – now – sadly demolished Wedlocks pub at Ashton Gate. From this disorganised ragbag of vulnerable service users, carers, political activists and anyone else who showed up – sort of led by Steve and Andy often with their heads in their hands – a ‘spring offensive’ of actions was devised and launched.

This offensive kicked off on the 1 March at the annual budget meeting of Bristol City Council. A meeting flooded with the elderly, disabled and their carers. So many attended that wheelchairs lined the length of chamber and a victory came early when it was announced that Labour’s piss weak and wimpy council leader, Peter Hammond, had thrown a sickie and his long-suffering deputy, Helen Holland, would be standing in for him. Lib Dem Councillor Simon Cook, that year’s Lord Mayor, provided further amusement prior to the meeting when he agreed to depart from tradition and let the public speak at a budget meeting “as long as you don’t mention Hitler”.

Helen managed to mumble through almost five minutes of her boss Hammond’s odious justification for cuts to the city’s most vulnerable at the height of an economic boom for the rich when the council chamber descended into chaos and the budget meeting – as planned by the council – ground to a halt. Kicked off by a single carer interrupting her speech and loudly accusing Helen “of trying to fucking kill me” in 2003, the Hitler speech was soon rolled out by another protestor as councillors, the Lord Mayor and town clerk, McNamara, resplendent on his throne in his absurd judges wig, were aggressively heckled into silence.

A full blown retreat by councillors from the chamber soon followed when Steve and Andy handcuffed themselves to a rail in the public gallery and McNamara was confronted with the reality that he had lost all control of his own council meeting and had no means of restoring order. He had no clue how to remove the handcuffs from Steve and Andy and couldn’t use his security to throw out any other protestors. Even he understood manhandling any vulnerable adults he was legally responsible for protecting out of his building might end badly.

The people had seized the council chamber and the Lord Mayor, councillors and highly-paid administrators from the UK’s eighth largest city were cowering from vulnerable adults in a back room unable to set a legal budget for the city. Mission accomplished.

Many of the “spring offensive” actions have now taken on a near mythical status. Not least, the Friday afternoon of March 18 2005 when twelve service users occupied their own day centre in Lockleaze after some of them handcuffed themselves to rails and refused to leave at the end of the day. Steve, Andy and friends remained outside all night, supporting the occupiers – and thwarting the plans of council staff, who had to remain on site to “protect” service users, to starve out the occupiers – by pushing fish and chip takeaways through an open second floor window on long sticks.

The occupation created a huge amount of high profile coverage from the press, TV and radio. While the council’s daft PR man, Simon Caplan, invited open ridicule and more publicity when he helpfully explained, from the front page of the local newspaper, that the protest “served no useful purpose”. Except introducing the daycare campaign to new audiences across the city through headline coverage on every available local news platform!With the wind in their sails, the campaign moved on to even more logistically complex protests. Within hours of the announcement by Tony Blair of the 2005 General Election on April 5, Steve and a number of protestors with major mobility problems had occupied the Labour Party’s first floor South West HQ on Portland Square with an ITV News camera crew in tow!

On May 3 2005, just days before the election, Steve and protestors targeted hundreds of bank holiday customers at @Bristol. Many of these punters were less-than-impressed that the learning disabled and the frail elderly were having to take the streets to campaign to keep their own services. Bristol’s Labour boss for social services, Robin Moss, however, insisted to reporters that the daycare protests were “political stunts”. Although the real political stunt arrived just a few days later when Moss was unceremoniously dumped out of his Easton council ward by the Lib Dems while his party was similarly dumped out of power in Bristol, again, by the Lib Dems.

Steve, Andy and the protestors weren’t done yet and continued putting pressure on the new Lib Dem administration that had promised a review of daycare services during the election. On June 6 2015, the group appeared on College Green directly outside the Council House for the day with a series of 10ft-high placards directly naming seven council officers under a large headline: “Bristol social services’ list of uncaring professionals”.

This produced an aggressive response from town clerk and part time Council House toilet attendant, Stephen McNamara. “If necessary,” the wannabe tough guy thundered from the pages of the Evening Post, “the council will take legal action through the courts to prevent any such activity. The council will not tolerate its employees being harassed in this way.”

Steve loved these kind of threats from puffed up bureaucrats. “This campaign will not be bullied by city council legal mumbo jumbo and empty threats,” he replied in the same article. While he told the BBC, “I would love a legal action for the publicity”. That same day, Steve publicly forwarded his name and address to McNamara, inviting him to take immediate legal action. Steve was only too happy to see this – or any other – pompous old fool, who habitually made the law up to suit the interests of the powerful, in a proper court where the real law would apply.

When Steve, predictably, received no response from McNamara, he borrowed a flat-bed truck and on June 11 2005 spent the day humiliating the council by driving around the city centre, followed by a convoy of the press, parading his ten foot placards publicly shaming the same seven council employees all over again.

And the council’s response? Immediate legal action? Police? Arrests? Injunction? ASBO? Er, no, unconditional surrender and an invitation to Steve and the protestors to immediately attend talks with the Lib Dems to try and settle the dispute. Within weeks of these talks, the Lockleaze Day Centre was officially saved and the campaign drew to a close.

Steve went on to fight many more battles after this one. But the basic template of the ‘Armalite and ballot box strategy’ altered little: use persistent and high profile PR-friendly direct action ignoring all police and legal threats from weak and desperate politicians until the useless fuckers surrender. And they always will.

RIP Steve.

SELLING OUT, CASHING IN

It’s not taken long for Labour councillors in Bristol to get their feet under the table and use their large new majority on the council to begin the enormous political challenge of, er, lining up LUCRATIVE CONTRACTS and work for their employers!

 Please step forward Craig “MR CRAPITA” Cheney, a junior employee of hellish public sector contractors and serial outsourcing cock-up artists CAPITA. He currently masquerades part time as ‘Cabinet Member for Finance, Governance and Performance’, wandering aimlessly around the Counts Louse accompanied by a chorus of whispers of “this one’s totally out of his depth isn’t he”?

 But now it looks like Mr Crapita has taken his first key decision. To appoint a new Treasury consultancy team from, er, CAPITA!

The Treasury team basically takes decisions around borrowing and investments at the council. Although why a private firm at a further COST to us now needs to do this work rather than the council’s highly paid “EXPERT” in-house finance bosses is not made clear by Mr Crapita, who is yet to publicise his self-serving, private sector career-enhancing decision.

Meanwhile on 24 November at the Counts Louse, the Rev Rees PERSONALLY HOSTED ‘The Big Conversation: Development by Bristol City Council’.

“Help shape the future development of Bristol,” gushed the publicity, squarely aimed at big money CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT INTERESTS who were promised ACCESS to not only the Rev Rees but the opportunity to “Join Cabinet Lead for Homes and communities Councillor Paul Smith; Cabinet Lead for Place Councillor Helen Holland; and Cabinet member for Transport, Councillor Mark Bradshaw.”

Among the agenda items was ‘De-risking the development process and the role of planning’. Presumably the aim being to simplify things for corporates wanting to BUILD SHIT quick for a FAST BUCK in Bristol? However, what really caught the eye about this event, held at the Counts Louse with Bristol Labour politicians and Bristol City Council bosses in attendance was that it wasn’t organised by Bristol City Council.

Instead, THIS INVITATION-ONLY EVENT to meet influential senior Labour politicians and council bosses for “TABLE DISCUSSIONS” was organised by a corporate lobbying firm, JBP. Who happen to specialise in … Wait for it … “complex planning and construction projects in retail, house building and major infrastructure development.”

How terribly cosy for all involved. Even more so when you realise that the JBP employee who organised the event at the council was one Nicola “LA LA” Beech. La La, when she’s not shilling for corporate development interests, also happens to be a LABOUR COUNCILLOR for St George Central!

It’s a small world isn’t it?

FILM FLAM

City office movies

A dull photo-op last month of old men in suits vacantly sat around in an open plan office while the Reverend Rees waffled aimlessly to journalists about homelessness signalled the launch of the Reverend’s big idea – THE CITY OFFICE.

The ‘BIG IDEA’ is to get bosses from business, public services and the voluntary sector together to solve the city’s problems. So 75 bosses gathered at the Counts Louse on 29 September to have their photo taken in front of the local press while pretending to listen attentively to the The Reverend as he tried to convince us all that this was all terribly exciting and the whole world was watching and waiting on his initiative with baited breath.

The City Office, itself, we were told, would be focusing on homelessness and rough sleeping to start with. However, the noticeable absence of any CASH TO SPLASH or even any new policy to launch meant we had to settle for a PR RELAUNCH of the ‘Bristol Street Aware’ campaign. An initiative started by corporate retailers in Broadmead last year to clear rough sleepers off their doorsteps by ‘signposting’ them into unpopular homeless hostels run by the charity St Mungos.

This lack of money and ideas for the homeless starkly contrasted with the Vicar’s decision five days later at his cabinet meeting to hand over £692k to a Southville-based consultancy firm to continue running the BOTTLE YARD FILM STUDIOS in Hengrove. This is the film studio that’s already receiving about £1m in public money every year according to the council’s published expenditure accounts. The studios appear especially popular with BBC producers looking for cheap, publicly subsidised deals.

The Reverend and his Cabinet decided to HAND OVER MORE PUBLIC MONEY – grabbed from a restructured loan deal relating to the shadowy Hengrove Park housing development – to the city’s creative industries despite this council owned film studio and its firm of consultants providing NO MEANINGFUL ACCOUNTS or BUSINESS PLAN to support their large financial demands on the public purse.

The Rev and his cabinet have therefore handed over money earmarked for one of the city’s most deprived areas on the basis of UNSUBSTANTIATED CLAIMS by council bosses that this studio will make a £100k surplus next year and – an even more UNLIKELY CLAIM – that it is generating £16m for the city’s economy every year.

Naturally The Reverend’s house-trained Cabinet agreed to this nonsense with no questions asked. HRH Helen of Holland, the cabinet member responsible, gushed that the EVIDENCE-FREE PIFFLE supplied by senior council bosses was “A GOOD NEWS REPORT“. While Deputy Mayor Estella “Tinkerbell” Tinknell only seemed bothered about “developing our media profile as a VIBRANT FILM AND MEDIA CITY“. Presumably regardless of the cost or the fact most of us couldn’t give a toss about “media cities,” whatever they are?

Moreover, the true cost of the council’s latest publicly funded creative industries VANITY PROJECT was carefully hidden by the Rev’s senior bosses who neglected to explain properly that a further £0.6m is also required to buy the studio’s FREEHOLD. That’s a total of £1.3m being poured in then. The same senior bosses also forgot to explain if there’s any RISK attached to their expenditure, projected to gain a paltry income of £100k a year from the studios. Is this the world’s first risk-free business?

The average whelk stall wouldn’t be run like this, let alone a MAJOR PUBLICLY FUNDED PROJECT. But who cares if we’re keeping creative industries bigwigs in the style to which they’ve become accustomed and we’re “developing our media profile as a vibrant film and media city”?

Meanwhile, as the Vicar shovels our cash into creative industries vanity projects, the homeless can make do with a grotty little PR relaunch and photo op can’t they

PARANORMAL PLANNING NEWS

Bristol Arena by night (Populous Arena team)

Paranormality at Bristol’s arena

Oh my aching sides … The DEFERRAL two weeks ago of planning permission for George’s deranged arena plan due to a complete lack of any transport planning was rather predictable wasn’t it?

How exactly did Mayor Congestion think he was going to get 12,000 people in and out of one of Bristol’s most CONGESTED areas without either a sizeable car park or some coherent public transport provision?

Less predictable, however, was the response of our old friend, Labour’s council leader HRH HELEN OF HOLLAND. Speaking about the transport planning shambles, she told the planning meeting, “I don’t blame the officers for that – the answers are just not out there.”

Really? So where are these bloody answers then if they’re “just not out there”? Should we get Mulder and Scully in to investigate this PARANORMAL EPISODE? Or maybe launch an expedition to find the LOST CITY OF ATLANTIS in case our arena transport plans are buried there? Or perhaps the little green men from Mars flew down and abucted these plans?

Because, of course, none of this fiasco can possibly be the fault of useless sad sack, INCOMPETENT COUNCIL BOSSES can it? After all, they only devised and promoted the arena development. What blame could possibly be attached to them if there’s not a basic transport plan?

The poor dears, struggling by on SIX FIGURE SALARIES and looking forward to a pay rise for being skilled experts in their fields, can’t be expected to produce plans at, er, a planning meeting for a multi-million pound development can they?

Not according to their Bristol City Councillor bosses anyway.

REVEALED: EMAIL PROOF OF BRISTOL HOUSING BOSSES’ FAILURE TO FIND SAFE HOME FOR VICTIM OF SADISTIC ABUSE

Web ExclusiveWe’ve had so many inquiries from concerned councillors regarding the horrifying domestic abuse story we highlighted on Friday that we’ve decided to publish an urgent email sent, on behalf of the victim, to Bristol City Council housing boss PAUL SYLVESTER on Thursday that has gone unheeded and unanswered. We hope this shows just how potentially serious the situation is.

Letter received by Bristol City Council housing boss Paul Sylvester on 7/11/13 about his department’s failure to rehouse domestic abuse survivor (click to see full size version)

This email didn’t come out of thin air. It was a follow-up email to one sent last Monday to Sylvester’s boss NICK HOOPER, the leader of the council Labour group HELEN HOLLAND, and the globetrotting couldn’t-give-a-toss MAYOR GEORGE FERGUSON. It clearly outlined that a vulnerable domestic violence victim had been subjected to death threats the previous week and was in need of urgent rehousing. It has not even been acknowledged, let alone acted upon.

Indeed, on Friday evening Nick Hooper was issuing DENIALS to councillors that he had any idea what the issues we were raising were about. This means he either does not bother to read his correspondence or – that if he does – he sees nothing worth remembering when DEATH THREATS are issued to a working class Bristolian woman. How many of these cases is he ignoring a week?

It makes you wonder what’s going on with domestic violence policy at Bristol City Council. The victim applied for rehousing three months ago, has never been allowed to have a conversation with one of Hooper’s housing officers to discuss her situation, and every week is listed as about 30th in line to get rehoused. How bad must it be to be first in line?

The email has been redacted to avoid the victim being identified. After you have read this, we urge you – again – to get calling, get tweeting and get emailing to demand that posh, well-paid men at Bristol City Council start DOING THEIR BLOODY JOBS!

And ask yourselves – what are the chances that The BRISTOLIAN discovered the only person in the city suffering from domestic abuse who is having trouble getting rehoused?