Birmingham, B29

Thursday, 28 May 2009

How many Mbps please: how fast is your broadband in B29?

posted by pindec
Is B29 a slow broadband area? According to the BBC, the government may miss its 2012 target to give every household in the UK access to 2 Mbps broadband, and some Virgin users in the area are reporting speed issues of their own.

There is a telephone exchange in Oakfield Road (B29 7HW), and according to the BBC report then any house within 4km *should* be able to get at least 2 Mbps.

I thought it would be interesting for us all to report our true broadband speeds, and see how much it differs between providers. Those of you using BT lines can use the BT speed checker, otherwise try the Broadband Speed Checker, or take a look at the speeds your modem reports directly from its config/admin pages.

That way, if your speed is much worse than people close by with the same mode of access (i.e. cable or broadband), you should definitely recheck all the internal factors that affect broadband speed - see this handy guide. Even if you can't find an in-house fault like a rogue phone socket without a microfilter, it's also worth googling around to check your hardware/ISP compatibility - we had a NetGear wireless router that turned out to be incompatible with TalkTalk (our cheap but pretty sucky ISP - their customer service is laughably awful).

In First Avenue, with broadband over a BT line, I get approx. 6.3 Mbps download speed according to the Broadband Speed Checker service (that's fixed cable - over my Wi-Fi it's more like 2.3). I could in theory improve this by switching providers, as we're less than 1km from the Selly Oak telephone exchange and we're in a cable area. According to the excellent Sam Knows site, there are 6 other local broadband providers from the Selly Oak exchange I can consider (plus additional secondary sellers not listed).

How fast are you? Any broadband recommendations for B29 (on price and on customer service)?

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Wednesday, 20 May 2009

European Elections - celebrity battles

posted by pindec
There's an election for the European Parliament on 4th June - the West Midlands region has currently got 7 MEPs, but we'll only be returning 6 this time round.

The full vote allocation rules are complicated (I had absolutely no idea how it worked before googling it, which kind of shames my degree that included politics *cough*), but essentially based on a quota system.

The list of candidates (including addresses) includes a disappointing amount of BNP candidates (tip: if you get a BNP leaflet though the door, why not send it back to one of the candidates with no stamp?) but also some celebs - Michael Cashman (ex-EastEnders) has been an MEP since 1999, but I didn't know that Rustie Lee was standing for UKIP (despite being born in Jamaica, she seems to fully support their anti-immigration policy).

So which ex-EastEnder really is the best person to represent the West Midlands? Sadly no opportunity for a cook-off - Rustie's #4 out of 6 UKIP candidates, so she hasn't got a hope of being elected despite her campaigning skillz.

I'm sceptical about the impact that regional MEPs actually have on B29 (though naturally I'm pleased that seal products have been banned in the EU - no more River Rea seal culls), but it will be interesting to see the impact of recent anti-MP feeling on MEP voting patterns.

I will vote, partly because I think it's important to express a preference, and partly because I want to counterbalance anyone voting for the BNP or UKIP.

The other parties standing are
  • Labour (feat. Cashman)
  • Conservative
  • Lib Dems
  • Green (on an anti-racism ticket)
  • UKIP (anti-immigration muppets who deny they are racist)
  • BNP (racist muppets, some with dubious pasts)
  • Christian Party “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship” (how does Jesus feel about the EU?)
  • No2EU (a trade union backed party that reject the "European gravy train", and will refuse to sit in the European Parliament if they get any seats - not clear what happens to the MEP salary?)
  • English Democrats Party (pro the English political system devolving from Westminster; anti-immigration; anti-political correctness - usual muppetry)
  • Jury Team (coalition of independent candidates; advocate MEPs publishing details of all their expenses; backed by Esther Rantzen)
  • Pro Democracy: (similar to above - pro transparency; coalition across Europe; no distinct party line)
  • Socialist Labour Party (feat. Scargill)

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Friday, 15 May 2009

birminghamB29 twitter group

posted by pindec
Twitter have implemented some changes which'll make it easier to aggregate Birmingham B29 info - just follow @birminghamB29 and reply to it (i.e. send a message containing @birminghamB29) with any B29-related info you want to share :).

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Thursday, 14 May 2009

pricing democracy

posted by pindec
How do local MPs stack up in the expenses row?

Dr Lynne Jones has published her own response, which says she abhors the abuse whilst taking a sly swipe at "well-paid journalists". Nevertheless, she embraces the transparency principle, linking to her They Work For You figures, which show that apart from staffing costs where she was ranked 15th out of 645, she's mostly way down the list of expense claims.

This is particularly interesting given that she's stepping down at the next election, and in contrast to efforts by others to feather their nests while on the way out.

Nearby Stephen McCabe (MP for Hall Green), on the other hand, overclaimed for his mortgage, which surprisingly doesn't make a mention on his website. He also voted strongly against a transparent parliament - a position which he may well find is untenable prior to the next election.

Local councillors

The row made me wonder about Birmingham City Council expenses transparency - and it's clear there's a lot of work to be done. It seems ridiculous (very Douglas Adams) that the Register of Allowances is only relevant to the current financial year, and that it and the full Register of Members Interests are only viewable in person at the Council House during office hours. [edit - thanks to Robert for digging out the URL for the Members Allowances - though note it's still a set of PDFs rather than a searchable data source].

How can it be acceptable that some members can opt out of the e-version of the Register of Members Interests? It may not be a legal requirement to provide an e-register, but surely it's an accountability requirement - especially given that the Council's Local Code of Governance claims the following:

"Governance is about how local governance bodies ensure that they are doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner;"

Having an unsearchable expenses register and a partial e-register of interests is neither open nor accountable.

Also note that the e-version of the Register of Members' Interests is a scanned hand-written document filed by member (and therefore also unsearchable). To achieve "effective scrutiny", the Council should provide all this data online for people to query, visualise and cross-reference with, say, Councillor voting patterns to make up their own minds.

I'm not assuming that Councillors are overclaiming expenses, or voting in line with their special interests, but hiding the data in hand-written documents will conceal any patterns both from voters and from the scrutineers. Humans just aren't very good at visualising patterns from flat numbers, and if we don't have the data to make some shiny pie charts then voters may assume the worst.

So, out of interest, I've transcribed what information is available from the e-Register of Members' Interests here for B29 (Selly Oak) Councillors (be aware that transcription errors may arise from it mostly being hand-written):

Wright, Robert (LibDem) (see also his blog)

Statutory Register (07):

(i) Membership/control/management of bodies appointed/nominated by BCC
  • Local Access Forum
(ii) Other bodies
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Unlock Democracy (formerly Charter 88)
  • Amnesty International
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Public and Commercial Services Union
  • Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
(iii) Any employment or business carried on by him
  • Civil Servant
(iv) Any person or body who employs or has appointed him:
  • Water Services Regulation Authority
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak & Edgbaston Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 26 Cecil Road, Selly Park, B29 7QQ
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for Hysteria (declined - est value £25)
  • 2 x West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority / Centro - meal (est value £25)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for Rafta (est value £25)
  • Hyder Consulting Ltd - meal & ticket to carol concert - (est value over £25)
He was fortunate to decline the tickets for Hysteria - it was one of the worst plays I've seen for years (we left in the interval).

Interestingly, Robert both works for the Water Authority, appears to live in the area in Selly Park (Cecil Road) that got flooded last year, and has been dined by Hyder Consulting - an advisory and design consultancy working with BCC to try and solve the urban flooding issues - perhaps they are involved in the B29 flood modelling?


Statutory Register (07/08):

(ii) Other bodies
  • Liberal Democrats
  • University College Union
  • Association of University Administrators
  • Electoral Reform Society
  • Cyclists Touring Club
  • New Politics Network
  • Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors
  • Push Bikes
(iii) Any employment or business carried on by him
  • Senior Planning Officer, University of Birmingham
(iv) Any person or body who employs or has appointed him:
  • University of Birmingham
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 46 Regent St, Stirchley, B30 2LG
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • WMPTA - meal (est value £25)
  • Birmigham Rep - 2 tickets for "Our House" (est value £50)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for "His Dark Materials pt1" (est value £50)
  • Birmingham Rep - 2 tickets for "His Dark Materials pt 2" (est value £40)


Statutory Register (07):

(i) Membership/control/management of bodies appointed/nominated by BCC
  • Muntz Trust
  • SIFA / Fireside
  • Kings Norton United Charities
  • Birmingham Opera
  • Birmingham University Court
(ii) Other bodies
  • Aston University Free Church Chaplaincy
  • Warwickshire monthly meeting of the Religious Society of Friends
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland
(v) Any person or body other than BCC who has made a payment to him in respect of election or expenses in carrying out duties:
  • Selly Oak and Edgbaston Liberal Democrats
(viii) any land in BCC's area in which he has a financial interest:
  • 23 Hindon Square, Birmingham, B15 3HA
Gifts Register: (07/08)
  • 2 sets (?) Birmingham Rep tickets (refused)
  • PTEG dinner (est value £25)
  • Hippodrome - 2 tickets (est value £25)
  • Old Rep - 2 tickets (est value £25)
  • Robert Keys Associates - guest at Birmingham Post awards lunch (est value £25)
  • Redcliffe Catering - dinner (est value £25)
  • PTEG - dinner (est value £25)
  • Hyder Consulting - meal and carol concert (est value over £25)
PTEG may refer to the Passenger Transport Executive Group (publicly funded policy/strategy group on public transport). Robert Keys Associates - I couldn't find. Redcliffe Catering are local catering contractors.

There. That was a bit tedious, wasn't it? It's interesting to reveal the interests of our local counillors, but I still want to see their expenses .... Though it looks like the Birmingham Rep spends quite a lot of time giving out tickets to local councillors.

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Flood Action

posted by pindec
With more rain forecast, it's an apt time for the Selly Park Community Residents' Association (SPRCA) to hold an AGM to discuss, amongst other things, forming a Flood Action Group with someone from the Birmingham Resilience Team, which appears to be some kind of Council organisation with responsibility for emergency planning. The team has published a nice wallet of ICE info, plus there's a few tips on their site, but it all feels a bit clunky, and not particularly relevant to flooding - there's an emergency phone line but the number will only be given out over local radio ... is that really helpful?

When will the Council manage to grasp the idea that emergency planning might also include providing/collating live info via multiple platforms? I'd like to get an email/tweet if my house was in danger of flooding ... rather than have to be listening to radio WM (*please* don't make me listen to local radio :( ). Much nonsense has been written about twitter and microblogging, but providing live flood info would be an ideal application.

BBC weather forecast for Birmingham for next 3 days (interestingly, despite Birmingham being a large area, the Met Office don't do a finer-grained forecast):

The AGM's on 20th May at 19:30 in Skittle Alley, SPT - or alternatively contact Saima Ali, Ward Support Officer, Selly Oak Constituency on 0121 303 9987 or

According to the SPRCA, computer models of the Rea and Bourn Brook are being made to try and alleviate any possible floods in the future. It would be great if these were available online showing real time water levels to help people to judge whether it's time to start moving their stuff upstairs ...

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