Friday, 10 May 2013

How am I?

This is an (almost) daily record of my mood score calculated by Moodscope.

 (This graph doesn't seem to work on the mobile site, sorry. Blame Google.)

Life maths

I've just realised that if I spend: eight hours sleeping; eight hours at work; and two hours travelling to those places - I only have six hours left. Then I remembered: washing, dressing, cooking, eating, pooing etc takes me about two hours a day. 

Which only leaves me with four hours a day to enjoy.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Do you want an elected mayor?

Mayoral referenda are due to be held on 3 May in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Coventry, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Sheffield and Wakefield to determine whether or not to introduce directly-elected mayors.

Do I want an elected mayor? Before I start, I should probably declare that I don't know! I haven't decided which way to vote on Thursday. I'm hoping that by writing this post, I will come to a conclusion.

How does it work now?

At the moment, each ward (area) elects a councillor (or councillors, depending on the size of your area) to represent the interests of their ward on their local council cabinet. You vote for these people.

The councillors you have voted for then choose a leader of the council. This will be one of the councillors from the majority party.

This is exactly how it works on a national level too. This is how the Prime Minister is chosen. You vote for an MP to represent you, then they get to vote for the party leader.

Your city will also have a Lord Mayor, this is a ceremonial position rather than a political, decision making position.

How would it work if we had an elected mayor?

You would continue to vote for local councillors to represent you, however these councillors would not get to choose the leader. Instead, you would have an additional vote to elect a mayor to lead the council in  a political context.

The role of the ceremonial Lord Mayor would still remain.

Would the change be a good thing?



  1. I have seen lots of arguments speculating about the additional costs of an elected mayor - large salaries, the ability to employ unelected deputies on large salaries, foreign travel expenses etc.
  2. My main concern is about a lack of cohesiveness and efficiency. There are currently no Conservative councillors in Sheffield (Labour 50, Lib Dem 32, Green 2), how could the council be led effectively by a member of an opposing party?
  3. I am also worried about one person having to much power. The current system is fair and effective with every councillor getting an equal vote and chance to debate issues, regardless of party. I would not want the role of my local councillor to be diminished.
  4. With power concentrated into one individual, it is easier for them to be lobbied and influenced by vested interests.
  5. My final concern is about their accountability. Once voted in, an elected mayor is there for four years. If you are unhappy with them or they prove to be incompetent, they cannot be removed. You could vote an incompetent councillor out much sooner.


  1. People are feeling increasingly disengaged from politics and political processes. Being able to directly elect a mayor may help the electorate feel empowered.
  2. A 'face' or 'personality' could potentially help give weight to issues locally and nationally.
  3. Electing a mayor increases the chance of an independent leader at the head of the council, which can get rid of the 'party politics' in decision making.
  4. Having one person as a full-time leader for four years gives longer term direction for the council and greater stability. Currently, the leading party could change on a yearly basis.

What will the ballot paper ask?

The question that will be asked has been set by central government:

How would you like [name of city] to be run?

  1. By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors. This is how the council is run now.
  2. By a mayor who is elected by voters. This would be a change from how the council is run now.

Have I decided yet?


I welcome you feedback on this post. Have I missed anything? Have I got anything wrong? Please leave any comments or questions below.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Sheffield elections

On Thursday 3 May 2012 Sheffield voters can vote in:
  • Local government elections to choose local councillors to represent you
  • A referendum on how you would like Sheffield City Council to be run

You are expected to understand what the referendum and local elections are, what your options are and how you will vote before you go to the polling station. 

Polling station staff are very limited in what they are allowed to tell you about the referendum and can only read set responses from a script if you ask for any information.

Local election

Local elections are held on a four year cycle. There is an election every year for three years and then no election in the fourth year. In this election you are voting to elect Councillors of Sheffield who will represent your views for the ward (area) in which you live.

Your polling card will state which ward you are in or you can look your address up on the Sheffield City Council website (after locating your address click on the map to find out what the ward is).

If you scroll to the bottom of this post you'll find a list of all 150 candidates standing in this election, ordered by ward. I'd encourage you to research the candidates in your ward, google them for news articles, see if they're on twitter, facebook etc to help you make your decision.

Below are links to the websites of the parties standing in Sheffield so you can research their policies.

Mayoral referendum

The referendum is being held in Sheffield because the Secretary of State has ordered 10 of the largest cities in England to conduct referendums, of which Sheffield City Council is one. On the ballot paper, you will be asked:

How would you like Sheffield City Council to be run?
  1. By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors - this is how the council is run now.
  2. By a mayor who is elected by voters - this would be a change from how the council is run now.
You must put an X in the box next to one of these two options.

Click here to download a pdf called Use Your Vote which explains the referendum

For more background information and to find out what is happening in other cities, visit the Wikipedia page.

How to vote

If you are registered to vote, you should have received a polling card in the post. If you have not registered by now, you cannot vote.

The card tells you where your polling station is. You can only vote at the polling station on the card. Whilst this will usually be the closest polling station to your house, this is not always the case. It can sometimes change from one year to the next, so please check where you need to go this year. You can find a map of polling stations on the council website.

All you need to vote is yourself. Whilst taking the polling card with you can help polling station staff process you a bit quicker (because it has your elector number on it), it is not essential. You do not need to provide ID.

If you have registered to vote by post, the polling station cannot issue you with a ballot paper, however you can drop your sealed postal vote off (so long as it is for Sheffield).

In the polling station you need to confirm your name and address, then you will be issued two ballot papers:
  • A white ballot paper with a list of candidates in the local council elections
  • A yellow ballot paper for the mayoral referendum

You must take your ballot papers to a voting booth where there will be a pencil for you to use. You must mark an X next to one option on each ballot paper. There should be a poster in the voting booth explaining this.

You then need to put your marked ballot papers in the ballot boxes (they are usually black bags with yellow zips in Sheffield). There will be two boxes, one for your yellow paper and one for your white paper. They should be clearly marked as to which goes in which, but the staff will help you if you are not sure.

You can vote between 7am and 10pm
Please try not to leave it until the last minute. Polling closes at 10pm sharp and anyone who has not been issued with a ballot paper at that time will not be able to vote.

If you have any concerns or queries, contact Sheffield Electoral Services on 0114 273 4093 (this number is only available until 5pm, even on polling day). Or visit the Sheffield City Council website.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

My thoughts on Workfare and Work for your Benefit schemes

Ok. Here’s the thing. I’ve worked since I was 13. Let me give you brief run through of some of the things I’ve done:
  • Morning paper round
  • Evening paper round
  • Babysitting
  • Leaflet delivery
  • Working in Jackson’s (now Sainsbury Local)
  • Sorting potatoes in a veg factory
  • Waitressing
  • Bar work
  • Cleaning
  • Door to door sales
  • Running an in-store bakery
  • Working the night shift at a 24 hour petrol station

I’ll be honest, none of these things make it onto my CV. Not because I’m ashamed of them, but because they’re not relevant to what I want to do. They have done nothing to progress my career.

I don’t look down on the people who do those jobs now, they are decent jobs that need doing and I have respect for those who do them. But the reason I did those jobs, I suspect, is the same reason anyone does them. Money. The reason I don’t do any of these jobs anymore is because I could get a different job that paid more money.

So why the hell should we expect people to do jobs without paying them? Forcing people to work for no pay is slavery; it degrades them and devalues others who do the same job.

Nobody graduates from cleaning with a degree in mop-skills and progresses to their dream career based on that experience. I’m sure there are some examples of people who once stacked shelves and are now CEOs and/or millionaires, but it seems highly unlikely that it was that particular job that decided their fate.

People get jobs based on qualifications, relevant experience and skills, intelligence, tenacity, knowing the right people and sometimes sheer good luck (right place, right time etc). You then need to know how to communicate these effectively with good job applications and interview skills.

Activities and training offered to job seekers should centre on these and be tailored to the individual. There is no point making people go on courses for things they already know how to do. And I know this happens.

I’ve had two (mercifully brief) periods of unemployment in my life and I approached applying for jobs as full time work. That’s not to say that I didn’t lie in bed until lunchtime on some days – there has to be some perks to not having a job! Had I been forced into full time unpaid work, I would certainly have found it difficult to find the time, energy and enthusiasm to put together really good job applications.

Now more than ever, applying for jobs is a numbers game. I read somewhere that there are, on average, 22 job applications for each job vacancy. I’m not sure how people will find the time to submit the quantity of good quality applications they need to whilst they are working full time.

There’s no point harking on about how your apprenticeship over ten years ago turned your life around and made you the person you are today. Those times are gone my friend, and times are much tougher and more competitive for young people now.

And whilst we’re on the subject; let’s stop assuming that unemployed people are young, workshy scum. They’re just people who don’t have jobs. For the vast majority of them, it’s not their fault. I work in the public sector and we’ve just had a round of job cuts. I narrowly escaped the axe. This time.

There are idle buggers, scammers and cheats in all walks of life. Fortunately they are the minority and I guarantee they will find a way to get out of any scheme, like they always do. It's the honest and good majority who will be put through the process.

We all pay tax (yes, even the unemployed!) and I’m guessing we all want that money to be spent on improving things for society and helping those who are not as fortunate. I don’t want it to be spent on a free workforce for successful private sector companies who are perfectly capable of paying their staff a decent wage. If you have a vacancy, recruit someone to fill it and pay them a fair wage. Believe it or not, creating jobs actually eases unemployment! Surprising, I know!

If people feel they need some work experience, surely this can be provided by the voluntary sector without losing benefits. Charities have lots of experience with voluntary workers too, so people might find themselves working in a more supportive environment. The only other incentive I know for work is feeling like you’re doing something good and worthwhile.

Let’s start helping people rather than punishing them.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Council tax email

I got an email from Sheffield Council Tax Team today (see below). I'm not massively happy...
  • I wasn't aware my email address was being collected for this purpose (see green highlighted paragraph)
  • They recorded this information about me some time ago so it may no longer be accurate
  • This is not an appropriate email account to use for billing
  • If this had gone to an unmonitored account, I wouldn't be aware and would not get a bill
  • I've never expressed any interest in ebilling - why would they automatically opt me in rather than email me inviting me to sign up?
  • There is one week's notice so anyone on holiday cannot opt out of this
  • The email looks unprofessional and like spam so there is a risk that people will disregard it and delete it.

Whilst I am a fan of ebilling and get most of my other bills via email, I'm not confident that - following this email - I can trust these people to handle my personal details properly.

Another thing that irritates me are the noble selfless reasons they are offering me this service, rather than admitting that the main reason is saving money. Which is fine. It's a good reason. Just stop pretending that you're doing this because you care about me or the environment!

For more information about Data Protection law around collecting and using your personal information, please see the Information Commissioner's Office website.

If you've had this email and want to complain to Sheffield City Council, you can do on the website or email

From: []
Sent: 21 February 2012 09:37
To: Victoria
Subject: Introducing Sheffield City Council’s e-billing service
Dear Sir/Madam
COUNCIL TAX 2012/13 

As part of Sheffield City Council’s aim to reduce its carbon footprint and to provide you with efficient access to council services we are pleased to introduce an e-billing service which is available to all council tax customers who make payments by Direct Debit.

The new e-billing facility will enable customers with an email address to receive their council tax bills, securely via email instead of the bills being posted to your registered address.

E-billing provides significant benefits to you, including:

  • Improved security of information – all of the e-bills are sent using 128-bit encryption a secure method that meets government requirements 
  • Your bills are always received on time as they are less likely to get lost in the post or misplaced 
  • You can save copies of your e-bill on your computer
Introducing e-billing reduces the amount of paper bills that are sent, supporting the Council’s ambition of reducing its carbon footprint.

Our records show that you have previously contacted us by email, therefore we would like to use this email address as the preferred method of communication with you, for example to receive your council tax e-bills and notifications from the council tax service.

If you are happy to be contacted by email as part of the new e-billing service then you do not need to do anything and you will receive your council tax bill electronically in March 2012.

However if you would prefer not to receive your 2012/13 bill via e-billing then please email: by Tuesday 28th February 2012 and we will send you a paper bill.

In order to view and print your e-bill, you will require Adobe Reader version 5 or higher.

Click to download the latest version of Adobe Reader.

For more information on e-billing please visit the Sheffield City Council’s website at

Thank you for your assistance.

Yours faithfully,

Sheffield Council Tax Team
Sent by Capita on behalf of Sheffield City Council provider of Council Tax services.