This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From agility to arthritis in a few short years

In my neck of the woods, the local two tier councils are sharpening sticks in preparation of a battle royale over unitary government. I won't bore you with the details but I will say I don't know what will work best for my county in the future. I do not have enough of the facts to come to any kind of solid view as to whether the Berkshire model (county council fell on its own sword to create six unitary councils) or the Cornwall model (districts were subsumed into one council for the whole of the county) or variations on those themes would be best for local people.

However what I do know is that it won't be easy.

Setting aside the internecine struggles between various Tory factions in the county, what will make any reorganisation 'challenging' will be the legacy commercial contracts currently held by the various councils.

Do you remember how once upon a time, creating a contract culture was seen as a way of introducing agility and innovation into public service delivery? You know... rather than those awful Stalinesque 10 year plans for the monolithic public sector, what was needed was progressive commissioning culture with a variety of providers that would bring public services into the 20th/21st centuries...

But what do we have now? We have public services tied up in Gordian knots of large and small contracts that mean that whatever agility there was, has now given way to arthritis. How many local councils would dearly love to harness the full power of digital working but are weighed down by lengthy contracts with sluggish outsourced partners?

And the same will happen in this county when the structures are reviewed. I fear that what will determine the future will not be the democratic wishes of the people who elect and pay for these local government structures. Instead it will be arthritis in the joints between those structures and their commercial partners that will sway the business case one way or another.

And don't get me started on what needs to happen in policing. (That is probably for another whole blog!) It would be interesting to know, just how much was spent by the Scottish Government on early contract termination clauses as part of establishing Police Scotland... anyone know?

The plain fact is, one of the most significant 'drags' on 'doing more with less' in the public services is a Shard high stack of poorly negotiated & nonstrategic contracts that will take decades to unpick...

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's a Government scam!?

The Government is keen for you to believe that crime is going down and therefore reductions in police funding will not matter to your safety and health. According to the ONS, as measured by the Crime Survey of England & Wales, crime is going down:
Latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show that, for the offences it covers, there were an estimated 7.1 million incidents of crime against households and resident adults (aged 16 and over) in England and Wales for the year ending June 2014. This represents a 16% decrease compared with the previous year’s survey, and is the lowest estimate since the survey began in 1981.
But is it?

Think about it for a moment: when was the last time someone tried to rob you..? Well it happened to me on Saturday:
Good Morning to you ,
We hope all is well with you and every member of your family. Please, my name is Mrs Gaba from Togo and i work with a branch of Western Union Money Transfer office here in Togo and we wish to notify you that some amount of money is deposited in our Custody Account here in your name. Contact us on this email address: (info.westerunion@post.com  OR  westernuniontransfertg@yahoo.fr) for more information about your payment . God bless you as we look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully,
Mrs Gaba . 
Of course, I did not respond to the god fearing and most courteous Mrs Gaba. But the point I am making is that just because this attempt to steal my money was in the form of a very polite email, does not make it any the less an act of crime. 

For example, do you know how much money was stolen from people just looking for love and companionship in 2013? According to the City of London police:
As the use of the internet for dating increases, so do the number of scams associated with it . . . and the amount of money lost. In the UK, this type of fraud is costing the victims a heart-breaking £24.5million per year, with over 2,800 people reporting online dating related crimes in 2013 alone
That is 2800 victims of crime that means they each not only lost (on average) nearly £9000 but they also suffered the emotional damage of having trusted someone to then find out they were ripping them off. How will that impact their future lives?

These are crimes: nothing more or less.

So does the Government count these crimes? They are NOT counted in the ONS surveys. In March 2012, the National Fraud Authority published its "Annual Fraud Indicator (AFI)": 
This year’s Annual Fraud Indicator has put the loss to the UK economy from fraud at £73 billion.
Wow. I thought, I wonder if that has gone up or down since? So I looked, and found this:
The National Fraud Authority closed in March 2014
Functions have been transferred to a variety of other organisations but I cannot find any other comparable "AFI" figures (perhaps you can?) So it seems that there is no way of easily telling whether fraud (both online and via old fashioned methods) is going up or down.

Perhaps the Government does not want you to know...?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Politicising the police

One of the objections to the Police & Crime Commissioner model of policing governance, often used by those working inside the service, is that it would and has 'politicised' the police. Whilst regular readers of this blog will know, I look forward to PCCs being replaced by a better system, they are not responsible for bringing politics into policing. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of that was during the miners strike in 1984. 

Here are some quotes from Hansard (28/10/14) in a speech by Michael Dugher:
One of the Cabinet documents was a record of a meeting the then Prime Minister held in Downing street on 15 September 1983. It states absolutely clearly that Mr MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB,
“had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed”.
The final paragraph of the document reads:
“It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.”
What a surprise.
We know that significant pressure was placed on the Home Secretary to step up police measures against striking miners to escalate the dispute, which again is something that is denied. Released documents from 14 March 1984 show that Ministers at the time pressured the Home Secretary to ensure that chief constables adopted
“a more vigorous interpretation of their duties.”
At the time, it was claimed that the police were acting entirely on their own constitutional independence—what a joke.

Earlier this year, the National Union of Mineworkers, led by the excellent General Secretary Chris Kitchen, produced an impressive report, drafted by Mr Nicky Stubbs, following months of forensic analysis of the recently released Cabinet papers. The report has brought even more disturbing details to light. It shows that Ministers were even prepared to override normal judicial processes, and ensure that local magistrate courts dealt with cases arising from the dispute in a much quicker fashion. It also outlines how Ministers conspired to cover up the extent of their plans for the mining industry. [my added bold]
And few days ago, in a blog on the Channel 4 website written by Paul Mason:
Amid the cooled air of a vault at the National Archive I trace my finger across Maggie Thatcher’s handwriting, in the margin of a typewritten note marked Secret.
She’s scribbled: “13 RoRo, 1,000 tons a day, 50 lorries a day…”
Amid the cooled air of a vault at the National Archive I trace my finger across Maggie Thatcher’s handwriting, in the margin of a typewritten note marked Secret. She’s scribbled: “13 RoRo, 1,000 tons a day, 50 lorries a day…”
And later in the piece (which I recommend that you read in its entirety):
“Violence will not succeed for the police and courts will not bow to it. They are the servants not of government but of the law itself,” Mrs Thatcher said in her Mansion House speech that year.
The documents reveal this was a fiction. [again my added bold]
I would like to think that professionally independent policing has advanced since then, and with the Human Rights Act and other legislation, Chief Constables would not be so pressured.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Axes for frozen seas

Column, tweet and blog kilometres have already been written about the cowardly murder of journalists in Paris yesterday.

Charlie Hebdo publishes satirical pieces about politics, religion and a lot more besides. It dares to poke fun at the pompous, the righteous and the unutterably certain, using cartoons, jokes, humourous pieces etc. It is serious without being serious. Amongst the people killed yesterday were some of the journal's finest cartoonists.

The world has responded with love, solidarity, sympathy and yet more biting satirical cartoons, including an unofficial Banksy one.

Coincidentally, I have just received a new book in the post: Daily Afflictions - the agony of being connected to everything in the universe by Andrew Boyd. It begins with two quotes, one by Kafka and one by Wilde:
We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be an axe for the frozen sea inside us. (FK)
If you are going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh or they will kill you (OW)
Wow. These two quotes hit my forehead like a steam train. (If the rest of the book is going to be like this, I am going to be a wreck, albeit a wiser one, by the end of it!)

And these quotes seem even more relevant to me today, the day after #JeSuisCharlie. Because cartoons, just like books and perhaps even more so, must also be axes for the frozen seas inside us and dare to tell us the truth about ourselves.

My sincere thoughts are with all the families and friends of all those murdered yesterday and now since. Let the flame of liberté, égalité, fraternité shine ever brighter.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The lost domains of UKIP

Rumours have been circulating on twitter that UKIP has lost control of its prime website: UKIP.org after @Ilovealcopos bought it... Although it now seems that UKIP, by now, have regained control..? But I will be watching this space.

Meanwhile, I got to wondering, if UKIP can be so cavalier about their domain name, what other domains could they just happen to lose if they were in government? Gibraltar? Wales? The Isle of Wight? Pimlico?

So I went onto the #Whois website which lists who owns what IRLs and looked up UKIP.org Interestingly, the first time I looked, it was still saying it was up for sale:


It is still is (as of 1316 on 6 January 2015...)

But then I scrolled down to look at the website definition:


I will print this out in big letters:
Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Includes manifesto, campaign news, links and a section devoted to speeches by its MEPs.
So the MPs speeches don't have a section then. Seems a bit of shame. But, what other party has to declare itself to be 'non-racist'? Even the BNP describes itself as
The British National Party is the only party which opposes mass immigration and surrender to the European Union. Unlike the other parties, we mean it when we say it. The BNP has a range of sensible policies covering every aspect of British society. 
(I love the fact that they feel obliged to say they have 'sensible' policies...! And by the way, none of the BNP domain names are up for sale)
But back to UKIP, why do they feel obliged to declare themselves to be a non-racist party? 

OK... I'll be honest

I actually don't mind paying taxes. There I have said it. I am not wild about shelling out money for anything but I regard tax as the price I pay for living in a fair, safe and decent country. Parks, police officers and pot holes all have to paid for. Without these basic public services, we would all be far poorer: a replacement car wheel is one heck of a lot more expensive than a small rise in council tax, for example.

Most people, I believe, know this and whilst we all grumble about tax, it is one of the two facts of life (the other being famously 'death'). There are some extremists who want to roll back the clock to the 1930s (or even further) and have a society where only the wealthy can feel a modicum of ease. These are the neo-liberals who want to either privatise or stop altogether essential public services. You know who you are.

But you may wonder why I am writing this blog this morning? Last night I got involved in one of these type of twitter debates:


Without rehashing the whole debate, I rashly tweeted a small red rag twitter post to @screwlabour, whom I follow to keep my blood pressure up. He reacted with indignation that I was accusing him of lying (which I wasn't) and that surely I would know that Labour was planning to raise taxes after the next election if Labour wins.

Despite me tweeting that the plans to introduce a Mansion Tax and recreate an upper level of tax at 50% were hardly news, he insisted on asking me to say it again (and again)... and a whole hoard of his 'mini-trolls' (as I called them) arrived to tweet at me too. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz:


Anyway, so here's the thing:
  • Yes, Benjamin/@ScrewLabour, in precise terms you were telling the truth: the Labour Party will probably raise taxes after May 2015 when it forms the Government, along the lines already announced, & to be confirmed, in the forthcoming manifesto
  • The current Government also raised taxes (VAT) and found lots of other ingenious ways to take money off some very poor people (Bedroom Tax, benefits sanctions, reductions in council tax benefits etc) and will probably do so after the next election if the Tories remain in power
  • All governments need to raise taxes: the politics comes into by how much and how fairly. 
  • VAT is a regressive tax which hurts people on lower incomes disproportionately more than people on higher incomes. It is an unfair tax
  • The current Government has added to the national debt by an absolute amount greater than all (yes: all) previous Labour chancellors put together.
  • And the deficit is rising again. 
  • There are three ways to balance the books: raise taxes, cut spending, and grow the economy. Because the latter wasn't working so well, Osborne chose to change tack in 2012 and since then has not worried so much about the deficit. Until now when an election is looming...
  • "It's the economy stupid" is not the same as "It's the taxes stupid". Whole armies of Tory tweeters jumping up and down about taxes won't change that fact. Some of the most affluent, educated, urbane and peaceful countries have higher rates of tax than the UK (gosh...I wonder why that could be...?)
  • I now fully expect to get flamed and insulted (again) with such profound remarks as this

Monday, January 5, 2015

A bright new year: demand is down, cuts are up

So here we are: a bright new year dawns. It is 2015 and the new century still feels fresh. As all years, this one will be momentous: history will be made (again). Babies will be born and people will die. Despite the terrible circumstances for many in the world, we are living in mostly peaceful times when the numbers of combatants & civilians dying as a result of war are lower than ever.

It may well not feel like that to you. I certainly struggle to believe it when I am assaulted by images and stories of horrific conflict on what seems to be a daily basis.

And at a national level, it does appear that visible crime (as opposed to the often unreported 'virtual' crime) is on the way down. Fewer cars are being stolen. Less burglary is happening etc.

All this has led to Sir (as he now is) Tom Winsor declaring"There will inevitably be a time where [police forces] can't take any more but let us remember that measured crime has fallen dramatically - but so have the demands made on the police"

Hmm...

I would expect such an assertion of a senior Conservative politician, but not from one of the most senior civil servants in UK policing. To equate demand on the police service with rates of crime is so far off the mark, I struggle to grasp exactly what Sir Tom has been knighted for...

This graphic account of an ordinary episode in the life of one police officer testifies: the threats & demands are still out there. And to quote Emma Williams from her excellent blog:
Anyone who has an interest in policing can see how the demand on policing has not reduced. It has widened. The net to catch the fall out of these cuts is shrinking and as a result, the remit of the police has grown. Issues that may have before been dealt with by social service functions, youth offending teams and/or diversion programmes now fall into the shrinking net which is fast becoming the catch all of ‘the police’.
(I commend the whole of both blogs to you - follow Emma Williams & Mountain_Ninja on twiiter)

So as we run up to the 2015 election where the economy will loom large as a key political issue, as will immigration and the NHS... don't forget about policing. Community safety and the fear of crime remain some of the most important issues for many people whose lives are blighted & stumped by anti-social behaviour & violence around the corner.

So when you come to cast your vote next May, please consider this: are you voting for a party that has the policies & plans for tackling all forms of crime, violence disturbance that you think our society needs?

Or will you vote for an administration that will tell you not to worry your pretty head: demand is going down and so you don't need to fear more cuts in policing...???

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Christmas Message: the Secret PCC wishes his girls and boys in blue an innovative 2015

It's that time of year again: when we notch up another annual episode in our lives. I have been working exceptionally hard all this year on behalf of the people of North Ford West Shire, making sure they all feel safe and secure in their homes. I expect most of you have been working pretty darn hard too: delivering the kind of police service we all want to see.

It is just a pity that the Government wants to see a different kind of police service that none of the rest of us want to see! 

We often talk about particular policies acting like 'recruitment sergeants' to dangerous causes. It seems to me that the scale of cuts arriving at the shores of our budgets are going to turn a lot of apolitical police officers and staff into becoming quite radical. The Home Secretary appears to be doing her damnedest at recruiting people to vote for anyone other than Cameron in May 2015 (or maybe that is the point!)

But of course we have to get on with getting on and protecting the public from crime and harm. So in the spirit of Christmas giving, I am telling you first about a bunch of whizzy ideas that my crack team of PCC elves & boffins have been cooking up over the last few months. All these will mean we can deliver policing where it matters with a lower cost! This is innovation in action!

I have heard that many officers are losing battery power in their mobile phones and tablet computers as a result of being out and about so much, communing with the community. (This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that we only have virtual police stations now.) So to address this problem, we will be introducing new police batons that will have a recharging battery built in. There will be a cleverly hidden USB port in which to plug various items of communication.

Internet crime is rising. We all know that. So we have managed to buy some new technology from the CIA (which they tested recently on a whole country) whereby the internet can be switched off in an area. I have no idea how this works but if we spot a rise in internet crime in a certain part of our patch, we will just turn the internet off for a while and make the criminals go somewhere else. Brilliant, eh!

There have been some concerns raised about our police station closure programme. Especially as this has meant fewer custody places being available. I will admit that the partnership strategy with the Royal Navy was not one of our best ideas: it seems people can get off boats a bit more easily than we expected. But we now have a new plan: virtual custody. People will now be held by a combination of specially adapted Google glasses and a Minecraft facsimile of Guantanamo which they will be put into. Their real life bodies will be sitting in a disused local warehouse, chained to a couple of fork lift trucks. I am assured that they won't be able to tunnel out of their virtual reality.

One of our biggest costs (aside from people) is producing plans & strategies. We commissioned a thorough independent piece of research into whether any of these documents make one jot of difference to levels of crime and fear of crime. The conclusion was stark: they are waste of everyone's time. So from the beginning of 2015 we are instituting a 'no plans' policy which in itself won't even be written down. So all those meetings where plans have been discussed in the past will no longer need to happen. This will save us many resources and mean that more people can be out on the front line delivering services to our local people.

All that it remains for me to do is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I am not sending out cards. Some chap called Jon Harvey has produced a video Christmas message on you tube which just about sums my sentiments too. You can watch it here.

See you in 2015!!

_________________________________________________

The Secret PCC Diary until now:

Legal disclaimer: just in case you thought this series of secret PCC blogs is based upon a real person or persons: it isn't. It really isn't. Any similarity to a living PCC is entirely coincidental.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will the last police officer turn out the blue light when they leave the station?

We are now less than six months away from the general election. Given that parliament has just put out its Christmas stocking, and most of April will be consumed by campaigning, this leaves about 12 weeks for the Government to achieve anything. And of course, achieve things they must (appear to) so to provide the electoral boost that comes with being the incumbent party... on the case, doing lots of stuff but with major things yet to do!!! (yada yada).

How much exactly will be achieved by a coalition that is beginning to feel like two magnets held together at the north pole is anyone's guess. But this hasn't stopped the Home Office from making a few announcements.

Today for example we have heard in a written statement to parliament that the police services on the ground can expect some more draconian cuts. Here is a link to the statement in full. (I may not have been keeping up quite so much these days, but who is Mike Penning?) Anyway, here are the headline figures:
  • There is to be a "4.9 per cent real terms headline reduction to overall central government funding to the police announced at Spending Round 2013. Taking account of the latest inflationary forecast from HM Treasury published alongside the Chancellor’s 2014 Autumn Statement, this means a total cash reduction of £299m in the overall police funding envelope compared to 2014/15"
  • This amounts to a cash reduction in this funding of 5.1 per cent (in cash terms) compared to 2014/15
  • providing a further £30m for the Independent Police Complaints Commission
  • supporting HMIC’s PEEL inspection programme with £9.4m
  • offering £4.6m for the College of Policing’s direct entry schemes
So far less money for the front line and more money for inspection, complaints and direct entry.

Hmm...

Do you remember this headline: Cameron: 'No Cuts To Frontline Spending'  from 2 May 2010 just before the election. You might recall the PM-to-be saying "Any Cabinet minister, if we win the election, who comes to me and says 'here are my plans and they involve front line reductions' will be sent back to their department to go away and think again."

So long ago...

Anyway, more money to the IPCC but hang on, wasn't this headline only last week "PCCs to handle complaints against officers" The article includes: A statement from the Home Office says that low level complaints will be handled by PCCs. It does not state what extra funding they may receive in order to do so. (My added bold) So will PCCs be getting a slice of the £30m or not? 

And what disturbs me the most is the blithe belief that seems to underpin so much of this: since crime is going down, we can cut police officers on the front line. No! Police officers do so much more than just tackle crime... Demands on police assistance are as high as ever, if not higher.

But of course, these cuts pale into insignificance against the plans for the future, were there to be a Conservative led government in power after May 2015... If Mr Osborne's plans come to fruition, expect even harsher cuts in the future so that 1930's policing can return to our streets and workplaces. 

Will the last police officer turn out the blue light when they leave the station?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

With HOPE in your heart

Since discovering 'Adopt-a-word' (a way of supporting the 'I Can' charity which helps children and young people to communicate), I have chosen a word for the forthcoming year. You can read about my previous words here. For this coming year, I have chosen:


Why hope?

Because, quite simply, hope is what keeps me going. And I suspect I am not alone in that. When I wrestle with my own personal, professional and political challenges, it is my hope that things can and will get better, that keeps my chin up. If I did not have hope, I would give up now. Hope is the basis of my actions to build a better world, (and be the dad, husband, son, family member, friend... human being that I wish to be).

Sometimes, I feel daunted by just how much hope I have for my family, my friends and the wider world. I feel daunted because there is so much to hope for: a world in which everyone gets the opportunity to dream and to have the resources to realise those dreams and ambitions. And when bad things happen in the world that are taking us in the opposite direction, I have to ramp up my hope some more.

Every now and then, I come across shining examples of where other people are committing to hope as well: hope for a better, fairer and more peaceful world. And this feels good: my 'hope batteries' get a recharge.

And in the last 24 hours, we have had this in bucketfuls! The tragic events in Sydney have been broadcast around the world and three people have died. Others have been seriously wounded. (My thoughts are with them and their close ones.) It would have been all too easy for this news to be turned into hate for people who follow Islam. Instead, a random story of compassion (originally not posted for public consumption) has grabbed the headlines and the #Illridewithyou hashtag has taken over international social media. For me this represents a determined faith in the unity of all and solidarity with everyone: never say for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. The #Illridewithyou hashtag is a defiant act of love against those who would use the Sydney siege to foster hate & fragmentation.

The hashtag is also a act of hope: hope for a world in which peace, tolerance and humanity thrive and grow, (while violence, hate and bigotry wither away).

And so with hope in our hearts, none of us ever have to walk alone...


May I wish you abundant seasonal greetings, whatever faith or none that you have, and I hope that you will join me in hoping for an amazing 2015 for everyone in the world!


UPDATE 1055 | 161214: And now the world has to face this terrible event: Pakistan Taliban 'kill 100' in assault on Peshawar school. Words cannot express the deep sadness, distress and anger I feel about this. What possesses people to commit such crimes? It is almost irresistible to despair that people can hate this much. But I won't. I fully expect the world to rally again, and express their love and solidarity with all those affected by these terrible events. We MUST continue to hope for a better world and take actions based on love to make those hopes come true. Be strong.

My heart goes out to all the children, families & parents affected by this. This violence has got to stop! This hate has got to stop! This objectification and dehumanisation of 'others' has got to STOP!!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

125,000 seasonal greetings

Just a quick post to say thank you to all my readers - and may I wish you all peace, good cheer, health & prosperity at this time of year.

Pretty soon I will be announcing my chosen word for 2015, as I now do each year.

Meanwhile, page loads for this blog have now topped 125k. Thank you for reading what I write!!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Exploding the privatisation myth

Once upon a time, I will admit it, I was a supporter of the mixed supply of public services: some private, some charitable & some publicly funded. After all, as a pragmatist, led by evidence, I could see how some services could be more effectively and efficiently provided by different suppliers, and it didn't matter what governance structure those entities had. I was persuaded by Charles Handy's 'shamrock' organisational structure where outsourcing was the norm and commissioning was critical. I saw this model being increasingly applied to the NHS & local authorities & beyond. I went with the flow...

But my support has only ever been luke warm. And now it has disappeared altogether. For what I see is nothing short of a long term and careful plan to find more and more ways to siphon off public taxes into private corporations. And the result of all this is a fragmented set of public services, that struggle to provide anything near to a good quality service to those who are its users and beneficiaries. And I also observe politicians who are ideologically (and personally financially) deeply committed to 'liberalising' public sector provision. And they are so committed that they make stories up, invent data and generally dissemble about the real consequences of these policies.

So this creeping, often rampant, privatisation, now has to stop and be reversed. A report out this morning highlights the failings of social care for older people. The Ministry of Justice is about to throw probation services into a pit of privatisation that will leave the country less safe and poorer to boot.

Here are six reasons why privatisation has and always will fail:
  1. Chasing after profit will detract from providing good quality public services: you only have to be a sardine on a train once to know that.
  2. Profit driven companies cannot keep volunteers: why would anyone give their labour free to a company that then ships money off to a tax haven?
  3. Privatisation contracts are usually won on short and long term cost by governments hungry to shed long term pension commitments. But guess who picks up the tab when those workers retire with insufficient pensions in years to come?
  4. Under privatisation you either end of with huge corporations (like G4sercapita) which are too big to fail (and therefore know they will be bailed out) or a whole set of small providers scrabbling to survive or both... leading to an impossible-to-cordinate fragmentation of services which harms the user
  5. There is no evidence that privatised services in the long term are any cheaper to run and manage that carefully planned publicly provided ones.
  6. You don't get 'owt for nowt': if profit is being creamed off, someone is not getting the service or quality of care & help they need
There are many more reasons too.

It is time to stop this neo-liberal roller coaster. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

So what does AVDC do then?

I submitted a Freedom of Information inquiry to Aylesbury Vale District Council over the weekend. I just received their acknowledgment. It has this standard paragraph in the email:
Please note, AVDC is not responsible for Schools, School Transport, Social Services, Meals on Wheels, Child Services, Child Safety Orders, Care Homes, Mental Health Care, Fostering Services, Respite Care, Highways, Road Safety including Speed Enforcement, Street Furniture, Streetlights, Libraries and Trading Standards. If your request is about one of these areas please contact Buckinghamshire County Council directly. 
This seems curious to me, why not say what AVDC is responsible for...?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Plebian correctness gone mad: the Secret PCC develops new ethical guidelines

Of course in my day, back at the old alma mater, you could pretty well call the boys in the nearby village anything you liked... but not to their faces of course. The annual school vs oiks cricket match (or "community engagement project to avoid VAT being added to our school fees" to give it its proper full title) was an exercise in restraint and good manners. If things got heated over a boundary call or an LBW, words like cad, bounder and "look chummy, that bat was inside the crease, I'll have you know" were used instead.

Just as we learnt how to treat our seniors and betters, we also learnt how to treat the non-commissioned ranks (as it were) too. Which is why, I have never quite understood all the hoo-hah about plebgate and what Mr Mitchell was meant to have said or not said. Anyway today, it would seem that he has lost because he lost it.

So I have been pondering (for all of 30 minutes) on the implications of all this to my police force and what ethical/behavioural rules we need to set down to avoid any such occurrence happening on my watch... So here they are.

All police officers and members of staff should:
  • Never refer to anyone as a pleb, plebian, prole, member of the great unwashed, pond life, oik or any other word that you would not use in the company of Dame Maggie Smith in Downton
  • Avoid refusing, in a provocative way, to open a gate for someone very important unless there are some very good (i.e. documented) reasons for doing so
  • Show bottomless humility and grace towards anyone a) riding a bike b) of a lower or upper class c) with a camera / recording equipment
  • Acquaint themselves with headlines & stories from the tabloid press and ITV2 'moments' as a guide to handling 'working people'
  • Be very wary about using the Daily Mail or Katie Hopkins as a guide to ethics in public service practice: the Telegraph is a much better starting place
  • Develop an innate sense of knowing when to give up, smell the coffee and walk away...
I will be consulting on these guidelines over the next few weeks...

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The Secret PCC Diary until now:

Legal disclaimer: just in case you thought this series of secret PCC blogs is based upon a real person or persons: it isn't. It really isn't. Any similarity to a living PCC is entirely coincidental.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What the pleb?

I am doing best not to stare at my twitter feed watching the #plebgate tweets scroll on screen from several illustrious public affairs correspondents sitting in on the libel trial between Andrew Mitchell, The Sun Newspaper and PC Rowland. I do have other things to do!!

It all hinges on this word 'pleb'. Whilst Mr Mitchell has admitted to using some (quoting Lord Coe) "fruity" language, he categorically denies using the word pleb, and indeed adding f*****g in front of it.

Several tweeters express surprise as to why such a word is so controversial or even toxic. How can a this word which ranks several points on the 'swearing scale' lower than some of the words that Mr Mitchell has said he did use, be so bad?

What is this all about?

This is where my long experience as a political hack comes in: forged, in part, on the student union politics of the late 1970s. Reading University Student's Union was not like the LSE or other hotbeds of radicalism at the time, Indeed we only had one member of the International Socialists (later the SWP) who regularly got up to speak. And he was a rather genial and bearded post doc scientist...

But we did have a fair few members of the Federation of Conservative Students many of whom were studying to be estate managers at the Faculty of Urban and Rural Studies (I think that it what it was called...) Invariably most were from lesser known public schools but with a smattering of some of the more well known ones. I would say this wouldn't I, but most of them were arrogant & obnoxious characters who enjoyed heckling the debates after a few pints from the back of the room.

This is where I heard the word 'pleb' first.

Their use of the word summed up their view of people who were not as wealthy as them or, in their eyes, not as worthy as them. The term pleb encapsulates in one toxic lump the whole basis of the class system. Any political hack with a long history knows this. And that includes almost every MP currently sitting in Parliament.

Now, despite what people think, I really don't know whether Mr Mitchell used this word on that fateful night or not. And I hope that the current court case uncovers some truth, real truth. It probably won't if I am honest (unless the CCTV cameras at Downing Street are suddenly discovered to have an audio recording facility and the sound tapes miraculously appear...) I do have my suspicions as to what happened on this and perhaps other nights but I won't be writing about those for fear of litigation!!

I can certainly conceive of the possibility that either Mr Mitchell, or PC Rowland or indeed both are being, shall we say, economical with the truth. I can also conceive of the possibility that both are telling his own version of the what happened with absolute integrity, honesty and truth. (Memory can be a fickle thing especially in moments of high emotion. I speak as psychologist here.)

But the question I am left with, given what we know so far, is did PC Rowland have the political wit at that moment of writing up his notes, to land upon a (fake or true?) word that had such toxicity? Since I do not know PC Rowland, I can say in all honesty, I really have no idea.

But... I know a little bit about police culture and police regulations. Police Officers are forbidden to belong to a political party. I would also speculate that the police officers who are selected to look after security at Downing Street would be people with little interest in party politics, either now or previously. Most police officers I know, have had little involvement in the cut and thrust of political meetings. On this basis, I would speculate that only a few police officers (until now) knew quite how poisonous the word 'pleb' is. But I am happy to be corrected.

So it seems to me, if I was a lawyer on Mr Mitchell's team, I would have done everything I could to be able to show in court that (if this were to be the case) PC Rowland was indeed one of those few and chose (or perhaps had been advised) to use the word 'pleb' in a specifically targeted way. We shall see if this happens, or not. 

I would suggest that had Mr Mitchell been accused of using the word 'plod' (which I believe is pretty darn distasteful to most police officers), he would still be in government. Plod is simply not nearly as toxic to the wider political community as pleb.

But we shall see, as the court case continues....

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Gosh, I've found a UKIP policy I can agree with!

I have been spending sometime reading and thinking about UKIP policies as published on their "Policies for People" (as opposed to aliens, Parisian tigers and gay climate scientists, I assume...) website. It is a tough job but someone has to spend part of their Sundays doing it.

And I happened across this one which I reprint exactly as it is shown on their website (as of today, until they revise it of course...)


Actually, strangely, I could support this. "What?!?", I hear you say. Let me explain...

Existing schools - that means all schools. Yup! Even schools in areas where there are already grammar schools (as there are in Bucknghamshire). So this means all the secondary modern schools (ie the non grammar ones that don't tend to call themselves secondary moderns anymore) in Bucks could all apply to become grammar schools. They might have to 'consult' Buckinghamshire County Council, but that is all. The local authority, under this policy, clearly has no final say in the matter. Indeed, all these schools could be come Academies and remove themselves from local authority control (like all the existing grammars have done already) altogether.

So we could then have a situation in Bucks where all the secondary schools are then grammar schools, selecting on "ability and aptitude". And they could do this at whatever threshold they like. So the local Buckingham School could set its threshold as being the top 5% and 'undercut' the local grammar, The Royal Latin School. Indeed, we could get into a sort of bidding war over the levels of ability that each school might be prepared to accept.

Meanwhile of course, the 11 year olds who are not in the top 15%, 10% or 5% (wherever the 'market' in selection thresholds gets set..) won't have a school to go to... Hmm. That could be tricky.

Moreover, as the policy says this is about all existing schools and "ages will be flexible", this could apply to primary schools as well! So we could have a whole bunch of 7 year olds being bussed from Buckingham to Aylesbury to attend the closest non selective primary school... That will work then!

So why do I agree with this policy? Because I would love to see the sheer bloomin' chaos that would ensue from this policy! This would expose just how much UKIP does not understand the world and the subtlety of creating policies that are really about making the world a better place.

Oh but hang on, the very existence of this official policy already does that...!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dissecting the 'dissection': tackling UKIP

I saw this couple of tweets this morning and felt driven to investigate:


Mr Otteridge is the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Southend West (who I imagine is gleefully looking forward to May next year when I expect he hopes to 'do a Clacton'). Ms Evans is the UKIP Deputy Chairman (none of this PC rubbish about Chair or Chairwoman of course!) and UKIP candidate for Shrewsbury & Atcham. So, two serious and I imagine leading lights in the party. I was interested to read this surgical analysis of Ed Miliband's speech...

You can read his whole blog here. I won't go through it line by line (I have a noisy cat to feed and indeed, I find if I read all of what UKIPpers write, I get a bit a headache...) But here are some choice bits for you to chew on...:

Mr O says (for example) Let’s dissect this sound-bite by sound-bite: “And above all Britain only succeeds when working people succeed”

Correct, but what contribution has Labour made to that? With their combination of Tax Credits and high benefits payments, there is precious little incentive to rise from being unemployed to low-paid work, thus starting up the ladder to success. Instead, they encouraged the import of cheap overseas labour, either willing to work, or willing to join the queue claiming benefits.

So the implication of this is that UKIP would do away with Tax Credits in order to incentivise people to rise from being unemployed to low paid work...

First thing is, you only get Working Tax Credit if you are working.. (Here is a helpful link for Mr O) The clue is in the name. You can get Child Tax Credit if you are not working although it goes down if a person starts working. The whole point of the tax credit system is to tackle the poverty trap whereby people on benefits, used to immediately lose all those benefits on finding work. Tax credits seek to 'feather' the transition from unemployment to employment in such as way as indeed to encourage people to work. So Mr O needs to say a) what precisely is wrong with the current tax credit system (set to be replaced by the Universal Credit system in 2017 - maybe) and b) what UKIP would do in its place? Or would they do away with all forms of income benefits so as to encourage people into (as he candidly puts it) low paid work? Any chance of a policy here? All we have been told so far is "UKIP supports a simplified, streamlined welfare system and a benefit cap". And that is it...

As for the second part of his 'analysis' about encouraging the import of cheap overseas labour, this is standard UKIP flim flam. What they seem to forget is that the EU is founded on the principle of the free movement of labour and business around the common market. No encouragement required.

But let's move on to the next slice of Miliband to be shown the UKIP knife:

“Basic British values”

What about them? Are they good, or to be despised and destroyed? Methinks that Labour would rather them destroyed.  The mass immigration that they started, and showing few signs abating, is rapidly diluting those values. Never forget that they wanted to “rub our noses in diversity”.

So here Mr O just creates a straw man: "methinks" etc. The "mass immigration they started" - when was that then? Was that before or after we voted to remain in the Common Market in 1975 (67% voted YES to "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?") or are we going back to after the WW2 when all those West Indians came over to the UK on the Windrush? Or some other unspecified time? Mr O, if you are going to do a dissection please can you be more specific otherwise people like me will say that you are just using soundbites and flim flam...

I am intrigued to know where the quote of “rub our noses in diversity” comes from. Is it just made up? Have quotation marks been added to make it appear somehow more authentic? Who said this, when and what was the context? Otherwise I will cite that famous quote "You can't trust UKIPpers, they just make everything up" said by someone important at some time, you know, you remember, don't you...?

OK, next bit. (The cat is getting louder though...)

“Security”

So, do we achieve security by meddling in foreign countries with ill-thought out plans, to introduce unstable governments that are easily defeated by rag-bag collections of Islamic fighters, or do we take a more sanguine approach to ensuring security of the homeland and our key overseas interests. On that, Labour failed again, by ensuring that we have a lot of potential terrorists resident in the country, and protected from prosecution by Human Rights Laws that favour criminals and minorities, rather than the law-abiding majority.

I think Mr O might be forgetting that it was Ed Miliband and the Labour Party that effectively stopped this government marching into Syria. And, I would argue, changed US policy, as a consequence. This was the first time ever, that a sitting government had lost a vote to deploy troops (I think). Yes, you can keep harking back to the Iraq and Afghanistan expeditions, but I think you will find that one of the reasons why Ed beat David was because Ed was not involved in that decision to go to war in Iraq... This is not something to use against Ed.

And who does Mr O mean when he says that "we have a lot of potential terrorists". What do they look like? Does he know where they live? Has he told the police or the security services?

And as for "Human Rights Laws that favour criminals and minorities, rather than the law-abiding majority" where is his evidence of this? It is an idea that some on the Right love to wheel out but I am guessing if Mr O was imprisoned without trial, he would be first to want to claim his Human Rights. Again this is not dissection... this is more like trying to cut a rope with an old pair of scissors.

As usually happens when I seek to unpack UKIP propaganda, I begin to lose the will to live. I will do one more (the last) section:

“And a country succeeding together, not ripped apart”

Taking all the above together, it is obvious that Labour’s smoke and mirrors strategy worked for a while between 1997 and 2010. There was n world economic boom they rode on the crest of, and the full effects of mass immigration were not fully noticed. Then came the crash of 2008, then the truth beginning to emerge about the failures in Iraq and other overseas wars, and over-stretch of public services. Labour keep blaming the Tories for the last 4 years, and they have done little to exacerbate the problems, but Labour were the architects of the declining and ripped apart nation that we see today.

So Labour rode on the worldwide economic boom for which they did not have a hand in but somehow caused the worldwide crash of 2008 which created a "ripped apart nation". Hmm, no contradictions there then...

And as for "Labour keep blaming the Tories for the last 4 years, and they have done little to exacerbate the problems"... two things: the Tories (with Lib Dems) are the ones in power - of course they are to blame for the last 4 years! Duh! Labour are in opposition which means all we can do is oppose (again the clue is in the name) - Labour are not in power...!


And two, Mr O needs to check the meaning of 'exacerbate'... Of course Labour have done little to exacerbate the problems - we don't want to make things even worse for the people of this country!!

OK cat now needs feeding...

Come on UKIP, surely you can do better than this?!

Police & Crime Panels: fan clubs or proper scrutiny?

Imagine this: a local police Chief Constable has been doing her shrewd and level best to balance the books and endeavour to keep as many PCSOs and police officers working on the front line as possible. It has been difficult: large budgetary cuts have been made but community safety has been largely maintained. This process has been underway for several years and began well before the PCC was elected into post. Indeed careful precept management has been going on for many years, the foundations for which were put in place more than a decade ago under the previous Chief Constable and Police Authority.

The PCC gets elected on the ticket of maintaining front line delivery yada yada. And then a couple of years later, this begins to happen: Confusion reigns over likely impact of police funding axe followed a few weeks later by (after joint ducks have been lined up): Job cuts will not impact on safety, insists police chief

Now, I am not going to talk about the cuts stuff - that can be for another blog. But what I am going to talk about is the Police & Crime Panel (PCP). Remember the PCP is there to hold the PCC to account for his/her actions & decisions to deliver an efficient and effective police service. The PCC is the budget holder.

Now the first "confusion reigns" story above appeared in the newspapers on 24 September. The last meeting of the PCP was on the 19 September, 5 days previous. Therefore the next meeting of the PCP on 21 November will the first occasion that members of the panel will have to quiz the PCC about his handling of all these budgetary matters. I think that is rather important and deserves some proper public debate, don't you? After all, up until these stories broke, the PCC and the CC were seamlessly united in public (at least that is the impression I have).

So wind forward to the agenda set for the PCP meeting a week today. You can read it here. You will see that just 15 minutes is set aside to discuss Frontline Policing Numbers in the Thames Valley. On the other hand, a whole 60 minutes is scheduled for a discussion of rural crime. That is a third of the meeting. This is one of seven meetings of the PCP this year.

Remember rural crime has been defined broadly as agricultural crime (it isn't about crime in rural areas, by the way). In other words it is about crimes happening on farms, to farm machinery etc. (You can read the definition here.) And rural crime is so important that if I search for details of its incidence, I can find nothing on the Thames Valley Police Service site. What I do find are details of burglaries, homicides, assaults etc here (which, I might add, are broadly all going in the right direction except sexual offences which are going up - although that too might be a positive indicator than more incidents are being reported).

I will discuss rural crime in another post soon (FoI currently in and I am waiting for a response).

So I am left with wondering who really set the agenda for the PCP next Friday? It feels to me awfully like the PCC had a fairly big hand in shaping it towards what he wants to talk about whilst leaving minimal room for the issue that (I would argue) is of far greater public concern - and which he may not want to talk about...

Is this good governance in action? Is the PCP being just a tad too friendly and not enough challenging to the PCC? I know they have to be both, but the agenda for next week feels like fan club meeting.

What do you think?


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering peace

I acknowledge the value and importance that many people place upon evidencing their remembrance of the killed and maimed combatants and non-combatants from past wars & violent conflicts. People do this by wearing poppies (both red and white), attending parades and participating in such ceremonies as was seen at the Albert Hall on Saturday.

The Veterans for Peace (and UK chapter) "seek a culture of peace and the abolition of war". I am at one with them. And whilst many of them attend remembrance ceremonies, I remain deeply uncomfortable with the efforts of some (and it is only some) to mix in jingoism and muted glorification of war. And so along with others, and since it is my choice, I prefer to remain apart from such public events and shows of support. There are other reasons too, which I won't go into.

However, for me, this is a day when I do remember all the victims of all the political decisions to go to war. This is day when I admire the courage and spirit of people who are rebuilding their lives after being subjected to the physical and psychological violence of warfare. (for example, I am reminded of the powerful stage show "The Two Worlds of Charlie F" which I saw a few months ago in Aylesbury. Go see the show if you can!) And I reminded of my schoolboy reading of Wilfred Owen's poem:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest,
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
[Extract from warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html]

I recall my Mother telling me how her Father would never talk about his experiences in WW1. And I remember to link this day to Holocaust Memorial Day in January and other days that note the bloody & violent events of history.

This is a day when I remember how sad I am that there are still powerful people who believe that violence & war is the appropriate response to some events even when we have such shining examples of people who chose a different path: Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi and now Malala Yousafzai .

I also remember how much money is spent on weapons every year instead of materials and tools to grow crops, prevent illness and build peace.

This is certainly a day for remembering. It is also a day for action. 

Although I like to think that I spend every day helping to build a safer and more peaceful Buckingham, UK and the World, I will be paying particular attention to doing so today. This blog is part of that action. I will also point you towards: 12 Ways to Build Peace.

What action will you take today to build a more peaceful world?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Why Ed Miliband is a great political leader

There has been much talk in the last few days about a 'crisis' overtaking Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party and his prospects of becoming the next PM. I am not going to use this blog to list all the policy reasons why I sincerely hope that Ed will be this country's next Prime Minister. Nor indeed am I going to bother you with all the ways in which the media are seeking to undermine him. You can find all this stuff out for yourself. (Try following #WeBackEd hashtag on twitter for a start, which has been trending for the last couple of days now.)

Instead I want to spend some time looking at political leadership. Speaking for myself (I am not seeking to pretend this is some kind of objective academic list, even though I have I specialised in leadership, organisational transformation & social change for most of my career), I would say that great political leaders:
  • Provide hope 
  • Provide direction
  • Provide the ways by which all people can dream and realise those ambitions
  • Lead from the front but also...
  • Know when to step back and empower others
  • Provide evidence of their empathy & understanding
  • Make principled stands against powerful interests
  • Are unfailingly courteous, treating everyone with great respect
  • Listen twice as much as they talk
  • Risk unpopularity when pursuing what is right
  • Pay particular attention to those whose voices are quiet and often not heard
  • Know that glossy charisma is no substitute for deep integrity
  • Aim to become more like themselves
  • React to events but not be overwhelmed by them
  • Make people laugh and smile
  • Help people who don't, feel good about themselves
  • Make the political weather...

I could go on. 

Very few, if any, political leaders tick all these boxes. And even if they do, being in power, sometimes means a few boxes get 'un-ticked', as it were.

In my opinion, Ed is ticking the vast majority of these boxes at the moment. Therefore in my book he is a great political leader. But leadership is in the eyes in the beholder: it is a status earned not claimed. In part (since Ed is only part of the political package on offer), all this will be tested next May. 

I think the omens are still that not only will the existing PM and coalition government lose the next general election, but Ed and the Labour Party will win it too.