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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The harmonics of leadership, ethics and accountability in policing

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be among the few invited to the launch of the new report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, on leadership, ethics and accountability in policing. Called "Tone from the top", this report sets out to call on the Prime Minister and his government for:
greater energy and consistency to be applied to promoting high ethical standards and for a more robust set of checks and balances in the accountability structures of local policing to enable the public to make a fair and balanced assessment of their PCC
And to make a series of...
recommendations [which] are intended to support both current and future arrangements. With the introduction of elected metro mayors taking on the powers of the PCC and increasingly devolved powers and budgets, this is an apposite moment to make our recommendations.
Now: I have not read the whole report. My intention is to do and write a more comprehensive review of it in coming weeks.

Yesterday, the invited guests were treated to a summary of the report and welcoming responses from the College of Policing (Professor Dame Shirley Pearce), the IPCC (James Dipple-Johnstone) and the APCC (PCC Julia Mulligan). (Sadly the main author of the report, David Prince, was absent due to a medical appointment that had to take priority.)

I would like to record my impressions of the work done. It is evident that the group responsible for the report have taken soundings and evidence from a wide range of people (including my colleague Bernard Rix) and visited several locations around the country to explore in depth how local leadership and accountability are working. So, who am I to critique this body of work..?!

But... I must record a certain sense of disappointment that the recommendations (page 10) made have not gone far enough to begin (what must eventually happen) a robust process of tackling some of the substantial accountability deficits in the PCC based governance model. The CSPL had a golden opportunity to challenge and set out the significant difficulties with the model, but appear to have failed to do so... To be fair, I may well revise my opinion once I have read the full document. But the recommendations so far have not exactly 'wowed' me... Maybe, the Committee judged that this was not the moment to call for legislative changes to be made to increase the power of the Police & Crime Panels, for example. But right now, for me, the tone of the report does not harmonise with the practical experience on the ground that I have been picking up from several quarters.

I asked these questions yesterday:
  1. What is the Committee's view on the need for guidelines on purdah in advance of the elections next year? 
  2. What is the Committee's view on the need for primary legislation to enact the necessary changes identified by their research?
  3. What is the Committee's view on the need for extra resources for the Police & Crime Panels?
  4. What is the Committee's view on the why PCCs need their own code of conduct when surely the Code of Ethics published by the College of Policing could well apply to them too?
  5. What is the Committee's view on the need for structural change to further professionalise policing especially with regard to how complaints about the police are handled; and whether now was the time to 'sort' and streamline the complex and confusing (to the general public and many others) architecture of IPCC/CoP/HMIC/HO?
  6. What is the Committee's view on the how well local PCC convened ethics committees are functioning and what impact are they having?
I was more keen to listen closely to the answers than write down the detail of what was said in response. But I felt most honoured when Lord Bew said that with regard to Q1 (which I wrote an article about) that I had "done a service by flagging" this issue. I hope that the Home Office will now run with this and put in place some guidelines that are mindful of the recommendations of CSPL report and which address all the risks involved in the forthcoming PCC elections.

In respect of Q2, I was told there may be opportunities to amend legislation in the pipeline to address some of the matters highlighted. I would hazard a guess that Baroness Harris may well take this forward. She had already mentioned the need for primary legislation.

Regarding Q3, there is the hope (and recommendation) that PCPs will become more strategic but I fear that the very wide variation in the effective practice of PCPs will continue and extra resources will still be wanting.

My notes do not record the comments with regard to Qs 4 & 5 and the answer to Q6 was that they are very variable...

It seems to me that one of the real dilemmas in this whole matter is the opposing pull between the need for national consistency of good governance practice and the localisation of accountability arrangements. Another public service circle to square...

I hope someone was recording the presentations and discussion - because there were some excellent and insightful questions and comments from the likes of Paul West, Baroness Angela Harris (as already mentioned), Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, Roy Bailey, Professor Francesca Gains and Sir Desmond Rea.

I will write more...

UPDATE: 020715 | 0709

I am delighted to include below the contents of an email sent to me yesterday, from Lord Bew, Chairman, Committee on Standards in Public Life. In it, he answers my six questions in some detail. I am most grateful to him and the rest of his team for providing this follow up.

Dear Jon,

Thank you for coming to our panel discussion event and for repeating your questions in your blog. I acknowledge there was not sufficient time to answer them in detail on the day, but happy to take them one by one.

1. On purdah, the Committee has made recommendations relating to purdah in the past and will be giving the matter active consideration again in the light of issues raised by the future EU referendum. The issue of  purdah guidance around PCC elections was not raised as a specific issue by respondents to the inquiry. The Committee takes the view that it is important that local or central government resources and facilities are not perceived by the public to have been used for election campaigning or political purposes during an election period and that the political impartiality of employees is maintained. The Committee is aware of your blog post on this issue - as Lord Bew acknowledged on the day  - and the Committee agrees it is something that should be considered seriously and quickly, particularly given the complexity of governance arrangements. We will be writing to the Home Office for an update on preparations being made for PCC elections.

2. Regarding primary legislation, the Committee is an advisory body. Many of our recommendations in this report do not require legislation. Based on the level of ethical risk the Committee felt the recommendation for the Home Secretary to conduct a review of powers to take action against a PCC was proportionate at this point. This does not rule out future legislation and the Committee will look for opportunities to maintain pressure. I agree Baroness Harris indicated an ongoing interest in this area.

3. On extra resources for police and crime panels we recognise this is one of the issues, the report discusses it in some detail, but we are under no illusions about the state of public finances. To make a recommendation solely on resources was not appropriate, especially as our inquiry that showed some Panels were able to operate effectively.  Our intention is to drive best practise and encourage Panels and PCCs to look hard at their ways of working, and for Panels to provide greater continuity of representative membership and ensure they become more strategic using forward plans and advance notice of information needs, and for PCCs to adopt a common definition of significant public interest matters and improve the accessibility of the information they provide. The Committee recognised that this issue was common across local government scrutiny and may need revisiting across the sector as a whole.

4. On the need for a PCC Code of Conduct - the Committee’s view is that there should be a mandatory national minimum code of conduct for PCCs in common with all other public office holders . While  this could reflect the principles of the policing code we believe PCCs should have a code reflecting their own unique role within policing accountability. For the Committee the standards issue is that there should be clarity as to the standards of conduct and behaviour expected to provide a common yardstick for the public, as there is for MPs, civil servants, special advisers and Ministers.

5. Concerning police complaints - the evidence to the Committee showed there was confusion amongst the public and participants as to the various roles and responsibilities which was exemplified in both the system for complaints against the police and the system for complaints against PCCs. We made clear that this lack of clarity and transparency needed to be addressed in order for the public to have confidence in both systems. The police complaints system is are already under review and the Committee has made clear that there is a gap in dealing effectively with non- criminal complaints against PCCs. The Committee expresses concern in the report about various aspects of the systems, including the role of the IPCC in complaints against PCCs.

6. Finally, the report discusses Ethics Committees in general and provides some case studies and further information. They are relatively new and their impact has not yet been properly evaluated, although some emerging findings are encouraging. The Committee is clear however that Ethics Committees are an adjunct and not an answer to embedding a standards culture. Whatever form they take they need clear terms of reference, and their effectiveness in supporting an ethical culture should be periodically reviewed.

We agree with you that the real dilemma is the opposing pull between national consistency of good governance practice and the localisation of accountability arrangements, even if we don’t necessarily agree as to the best way to proceed at this point. 

I’m afraid this is too long to post as a comment on your blog but I would be grateful if you would add my reply.

Lord Bew
Chairman, Committee on Standards in Public Life

Thursday, June 18, 2015

PCC election purdah: Many questions to be resolved

I recently wrote and article for Policing Insight on a range of issues that Chief Constables, OPCC Chief Executives and PCCs will need to address as the elections in May next year get closer.

You can read the article (for free!) here. Here is how it starts:
The PCC elections in May 2016 will be the first with incumbents, some (or many) of whom may seek re-election. This article identifies many as-yet-unanswered questions about PCC election purdah, together representing a potential minefield for forces, OPCCs and others to navigate.
May 2016 will see the first PCC Elections with incumbents in position. In other words it will be the first time that Police services will have to operate during a period of purdah…
So what are the implications of this to Chief Officers, the CEOs of OPCCs & other staff, and police officers & staff… let alone the incumbent PCCs themselves, whether or not they are seeking re-election? I am assuming that something of a fusion of the Home Office, the APCC, the NPCC, the HMIC & the CoP will be getting together soon to sort out the detailed guidance… And maybe this process has already begun. I hope so...
The core problem is probably (as we discovered in November 2012) that the Home Office doesn't do elections... (...although if Carlsberg ran the Home Office...) That expertise tends to rest in DCLG (The Department for Communities and Local Government).

So maybe it is time that the Home Office talked a little bit more to DCLG?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Future of PCCs: Scenarios for Change

Policing Insight have just published my article on what next for Police & Crime Commissioners beginning:
Jon Harvey discusses several possible models for development of Police and Crime Commissioners and makes suggestions for improving voter engagement in the run up to the May 2016 elections.
Almost any other parliamentary result on May 7th would probably have seen PCCs consigned to history. As it is, it seems likely that there will now be a second PCC election in May next year, at the same time as some local council elections and potentially, the EU referendum. So already, it is likely that a greater percentage of people will vote in the second elections. Maybe...
You can read the rest of the article here (and join in subscribing to Policing InsightPolicing Insight is published by CoPaCC, an independent organisation established shortly after the first Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in November 2012 to monitor policing governance in England and Wales.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

So this British Bill of Rights... the cost?

As you might expect, I have very deep misgivings about abandoning our foundational involvement in the European Convention on Human Rights (which we led the formation of, back in the 1950s). Nonetheless, our government has been elected to fulfil its promise to:
scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights, so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain. (Conservative Manifesto 2015)
I am not going to go into the arguments for and against this proposal, there are people far more qualified than me to put those arguments forward (such as Liberty and Amnesty International)

But... remember when the Human Rights Act came in and every police officer and staff member went through training on it? As did people involved in mental health services, prison & probation services, social services etc etc etc....

So if a new 'British Bill of Rights' is established: how much is it going to cost to bring everyone up to speed on it? Are all public service officials going to be attending training in how to adjust their professional practice in the light of the new laws? And if people say, it won't be that different to the ECHR/HRA rights, then what's the bloomin' point in changing things in the first place?

Have these costs been factored in, Mr Gove? 

Monday, May 25, 2015

No crying wolf here....

I know, it has been more or less radio silence on these pages for a few months. I have been pursuing other ventures involving local politics and such like. The issue of policing & justice, of course, while not much mentioned during the general election, is never far from anyone's minds... With a 'continuity' Home Secretary at the helm, we can expect more of the same, it would appear.

Although, her reception at the Police Federation conference was a little less frosty than last year: a little chilly or even chilling perhaps but no longer Siberian (even if that is where Theresa May might like to send some police officer representatives..!)

There was very little in the Conservative Manifesto to really understand the drift of government policy in the realm of policing, community safety and criminal justice. I guess we are going to have to wait for a green paper or two.

The Home Secretary's speech to the Fed conference can be found in full here. She said (among other matters):
That’s why today I am announcing two things to further free up police time. First, on the 27th May in the Queen’s Speech we will introduce a new Policing Bill, which will allow us to go further and faster with reform freeing up police time and putting policing back in the hands of the professionals.

We will extend the use of police-led prosecutions to cut the time you spend waiting for the Crown Prosecution Service. We will overhaul the police complaints and disciplinary systems and make changes to the oversight of pre-charge bail.

And we will include measures to reduce the amount of time the police spend dealing with people suffering from mental health issues – while ensuring that these individuals still receive the support they need at a time of crisis.

The Bill will therefore include provisions to cut the use of police cells for Section 135 and 136 detentions, reduce the current 72 hour maximum period of detention for the purposes of medical assessment, and continue to improve outcomes for people with mental health needs by enabling more places, other than police cells, to be designated as places of safety.
and later she went onto say:
The second announcement I want to make goes back to that original deal in 2010. As I have said, when I became Home Secretary, I abolished Home Office performance targets and told chief constables that they had one single mission – to cut crime.

I called upon chief constables and Police Authorities, as they were then, to take the same radical approach to cutting targets and bureaucracy.

Because targets don’t fight crime, they hinder the fight against crime.
I am genuinely not quite sure how all of this only amounts to two things... perhaps one of the reasons the Home Sec wants to do away with targets is that counting is one of her fortes? But seriously - there is some substance here... but not much.

We will be talking more about targets and things as time goes by. In the meantime, you might be interested in an earlier blog based upon my article of 2003 where I had a rant against targets then. I wonder what Ms May thought of targets then?

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...

_________________________________________________

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....