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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Wasting Police Time

One of the challenges facing many of the new Police & Crime Commissioners will to be try and understand the culture of the police service.

(Before you jump up and down and say what about their other "and crime" responsibilities - yes I know - it will be important to understand the diversity of cultures within the entirety of the local communities, other parts of the criminal justice system and other agencies... but hang in here.)

There is one book (of many) I would recommend all aspiring PCCs to read. It doesn't make for comfortable reading and many people will be shocked at some of the views expressed. But it does capture a slice of police culture that I think is worth knowing about.

The book is called "Wasting More Police Time" and it has been edited by PC David Copperfield (and Dan Collins). You can obtain a copy here. There is also the first book in the series here as well (but I have not read this).

And if anyone knows of any more books that would enlighten PCCs about the other dimensions of their work - we can start a reading list here!

Please post below...

Cllr Stansfeld has yet to resign from the Police Authority

See all collected posts about this matter in one place by clicking this link

As regular readers of this blog know, the TaxPayers' Alliance are not my favourite bunch of bunnies as I think they think far too much concerned about cost and not enough about value. They have also yet to support my campaign to have the Freedom of Information Act extended to all organisations spending our money - be they public services or businesses on contract etc.

However, in my inbox this morning arrives an email from them saying "Councillors' allowances are often reasonable compensation for people making a valuable contribution to their local community. But it is hard to justify why some authorities are paying much more than others, and big increases at a time when taxpayers are under so much pressure. And with other perks too, there is a real danger councillors start to see their job as representing the council to the people, not the people to the council".

The big increases bit stood out for me. I can sign up to that. If any council remuneration committee has increased expenses by more than inflation, let alone by more than the increase in the national average wage, that is pretty shabby in my opinion. It smacks of councillors looking after themselves rather than the communities they represent. And I say this without knowing the political colour of the councils involved.

But what of PCC candidates and in particular those who currently sit on Police Authorities? It seems reasonable to me that, given the law (you cannot sit on a police authority and be a PCC etc), that if you have started campaigning to become a PCC you should resign from being a member of your police authority. To do continue being a member and continue claiming an allowance... just does not seem right to me. Indeed, it seems pretty inappropriate.

Again I am saying this without the knowledge of what is happening around the country so I may have upset some Labour PCC candidates. Nevertheless, I stand by what I say.

But I also know, because I had it confirmed to me this morning, that Cllr Anthony Stansfeld, the anointed Conservative PCC candidate for Thames Valley has NOT resigned from Thames Valley Police Authority. He has had plenty of time to resign since he was selected (back in the middle of July).

Is Cllr Stansfeld still claiming an allowance from the PA which is (indirectly) helping him fund his campaign?

Is Cllr Stansfeld still getting privileged access to information about policing in Thames Valley by dint of his membership of the PA?

Is Cllr Stansfeld still getting privelged access to police staff and officers by dint of his membership of the PA?

Why hasn't Cllr Stansfeld resigned yet?

Perhaps the Police Authority or Cllr Stansfeld might like to answer these questions. (Although I am not holding my breath regarding Cllr Stansfeld who has yet to answer my questions about the location of his business interests... see here, here and more below)

Untruths, twisted truths and Tory PCC campaign videos

We were treated yesterday to the "Conservatives' video to explain the Police and Crime Commissioner elections" although why it spools onto their campaign videos for last May's elections I am not sure. Why would they want to remind people of their disastrous results back then? Here is a pic to prove my point before they spot this and remove this error!

But back to video itself: you can see it here on youtube. It runs a bit like a Mitt Romney convention - full of emollient but vague crowd pleasers but full of untruths, twists & diversions. Here is my analysis (numbers are minutes & seconds):

00:07 Here it begins. The Home Secretary explains that PCCs will be "responsible for policing in their local areas". Now that is not exactly true since a) there is no mention of operational independence of the Chief Constable and b) here and elsewhere there is no mention of the 'and crime' role in relation to Victim Support for example. This video is all about policing and nothing else.

00:11 She goes onto say that the PCCs are part of other reforms "aimed at improving our ability to fight crime". Again, here we have the exclusive focus on crime.

00:18 "The PCC will be your local voice in local policing". Thames Valley has 2.2m people living in it. Yep. Really very local. 

00:23 "They will set police priorities and budgets". This may come as a shock to Chief Constables who still, I think, believe they are the ones setting budgets...

00:28 "And crucially they will focus on clearly cutting crime". Aside from the breaking news that I suspect Police Authorities & Constabularies have always had a similar focus! - we have again this myopic & exclusive focus on "cutting crime", ignoring all the other things that the police do to keep the Queen's peace and help make communities safe. It also ignores all of the other 'and crime' responsibilities of the PCCs. (And given that squatting has been made a crime today, this government is not beyond increasing crime when it serves their narrow interests.)

00:45 We then switch to Katy Bourne, Tory PCC candidate for Sussex. "Having a PCC will really fire up local communities". Excuse me while I fall off my chair. 

00:48 "At the moment [local communities] have no voice". Well, I suspect their are quite a few Police Authority members who would take exception to this statement. The Independent Police Complaints Commission might also have a view. This statement is clearly and simply not true.

00:50 "The PCC will be their representative who speaks to the police on their behalf". So much for community policing then! Next time you want to say something direct to a police officer, you will have to go through the PCC... 

00:56 "Instead of a body of people who are all unelected". Again, another untruth. Over half of all police authorities consist of elected councillors. We all know this. I agree, they have not been directly elected to serve on the PA, but the councillors have been elected. 

01:33 And Ms Bourne goes onto say that council tax precept is decided by PA who are "unelected" and so she keeps repeating this half truth. No mention that the decision on council tax precept always has to carry the majority vote of the elected members of the PA. No. That would be an inconvenient fact to talk about.

01:38 "That old saying no taxation without representation is very true". Side point really, but please tell that to all the 16 & 17 year old people who pay national insurance and VAT.

02:14 And now we are onto Jasbir Singh Parmar, the Bedfordshire Tory PCC candidate. I wonder if they needed to get the permission of the Post Office to film behind the counter in a Post Office? Are there any security implications?

02:41 Mr Parmar talks carefully about listening to the public and his background as a police officer. However, I must say that this audience don't look too receptive to his message!

03:05 There is much talk from members of public (we are being led to believe) about how people will be able to get their issues to the individual and hold them to account. Let's do the maths. Even if only 1% of the people resident in the Thames Valley Police Area write to their PCC once every year, that equates to over 400 letters and emails every week which will require investigation and a response. Who will do this? Will the PCC read all of them?

03.13 And now we switch to Richard Rhodes, the Tory PCC candidate for Cumbria, checked tweed jacket, shirt and all. 

03:28 "The big issue in Cartmel is the issue of parking" says a shop owner / worker. Do we hear Mr Rhodes saying that is not an issue that a PCC or even the police have responsibility for, you should really contact your local Liberal County Councillor Rod Wilson? Um... no. 

04:05 Then we hear another resident complaining about how long it took for the burglars who raided his house to get to court (two and half years). Do we hear Mr Rhodes saying that as PCC he could not do anything about that as court administration comes under the Ministry of Justice? Um... no. (He just says that if he gets elected, the person will be able to contact him...) Again, the video leaves the viewer with an erroneous impression of the role and powers of the new PCCs. 

And then the video finishes off with an appeal from the Home Secretary to vote on November 15. Conveniently, like a B movie trailer, the youtube video spools onto the local election campaign videos too...

This video twists the truth and gives an impression of what the role of PCCs that is a long way away from the legislation. I look forward to the first Labour campaign video.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Independent PCC manifestos: good, bland or radical?

I have been watching the PCC candidates emerge over the last few months and there is now an increasing number of independents throwing their hats into the ring. Unsurprisingly many, though not all, of these independent candidates have a police officer background. I would imagine that they expect to scoop up the votes from the public who have said they would prefer someone who has such a pedigree rather than some hackneyed political hack. (After all politicians rank somewhere below estate agents and above parking attendants in the popularity stakes at the moment.)

Sadly most of these independent candidates are mostly as pale, male and stale as the majority of main party candidates, if not more so (as Jon Collins has outlined here). I was worried that many of these independents were going to be Tory wolves in bland sheeps’ clothing. I am not so worried now.

But what of these independents?

Will they bring a fresh & vibrant perspective to the PCC elections or will they offer populist policies drawn from the comments pages of the Daily Mail website? How will they encourage their supporters to use their second preference vote? Will they, like Green Jenny Jones (OK she was not an independent….) openly declare that she wanted her supporters to vote for Ken second or will they be like Siobhan Benita not say?

Will they be throwing their deposits to the wind or will one or two of them win…?

However for me the real question is: will their websites and campaign literature be the political equivalent of vanity publishing or will they really seek to change the overall debate and affect what PCCs do in the future?

I hope for the latter. Here is why.

I predict now that no independent is going to win. Very few independents ever do (beyond local politics where many independents are party animals in costume). Where they have it has usually been in extraordinary circumstances such as in Tatton or with single issue and highly emotive campaigns such as in Wyre Forest. These PCC elections, while novel, are not extraordinary.

And so, for me, the choice for independent candidates is to be blandly authoritative, offer up anodyne, broad & vaguely populist policies and expect to lose their deposits… or take a bold stance and zero in on one or more radical policies and drive these like a wedge into the campaigning of the bigger parties. Deposits might even be saved. And the pot of ideas around policing and crime could be much fuller as a consequence.

Independents of the country unite, you have nothing to lose but the shackles of conformity. Mimicking mainstream party manifestos while ladling in your experience and background is doomed to failure, in my opinion.

It is not for me to suggest what these policies might be, naturally. But be bold!

For the cynics, this appeal is not some less than subtle attempt to persuade independents to marginalise themselves so that the main parties (especially Labour of course) can have a free run. Genuinely, I don’t just value diversity: I delight in it, love it, want it. And we need new and diverse ideas in policing and crime prevention / reduction – just like we need such ideas in every other dimension of human endeavour. I can’t remember all of what Professor Hawking, Miranda and Sir Ian Mckellen said last night at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, but I think they would agree.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All to play for...

Labour List has just published my latest blog:

As the summer haze begins to disappear, children return to school and swimming costumes are put away for another year, the Westminster village (like Brigadoon) will yawn and wake up. Politics will once again come to dominate the pages of newspapers as sporting achievements begin, like a moon, to wane (notwithstanding the 10 days of Paralympic power and grace that will shake up attitudes to disability and discrimination – I hope).

Whilst we have the shuffle board game on the decks of a large ice bound ship to look forward to, and then the party conferences, we have only a few weeks to go until November 15th when a whole cohort of quasi presidential politicians will be elected to run our local policing and crime services. With the Electoral Reform Society predicting turnouts of less than 20%, there is all to play for....

I won't reprint it all here - you can read the full text here. In sum, the article lays out some of the elements of PCC campaigns that I hope we will see Labour candidates using in the few weeks left before the November elections.

And as I say, there is all to play for especially as I read a follow up blog from the Electoral Reform Society (after I wrote the piece): for some people low turnout is an opportunity... They go on to quote Tom Waterhouse from his Rhombus Communications blog:

For any candidate hoping to become a Police Crime Commissioner, the prospect of an 18.5% turnout should grab your attention like a blue-flashing light in your rear view mirror. Elections on that kind of turnout means your “short campaign” activities and polling day operations will be absolutely vital, because the lower the turnout, the lower margin of victory for the winning candidate.

How many Labour Activists have spotted the blue flashing lights? 

Crime prevention: the PCC role

Prompted by Ros Baston’s tweet Am officially bored of fashion for bashing PCC cands simply because they've been politically active. Get back to the issues, guys (referenced by Jon Collins, Deputy Director of the Police Foundation in his article this morning) and another ongoing debate on twitter about the important role of PCCs in crime prevention (not just reduction) – I thought I would dig out the impressive work of Professor Paul Ekblom.

Professor Ekblom can be found residing here: where he promotes his work to reduce and prevent crime. I first came across his work when he was at the Home Office and I remain hugely impressed by his “Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity” model which I think provokes much good thought leading towards actions to be taken to prevent and reduce crime.

Using his model as a prompt, there is much that the best PCCs will be able to do to reduce and prevent crime through the powers that they will have and the leadership influence they will bring:
  • Given that the potential offenders must first have a predisposition for crime (criminality), the PCC will be able to engage with a range of public agencies to coordinate and focus early intervention and progressive actions with communities (and perhaps even individual families) where criminality is at its highest. 
  • Offenders usually lack resources to avoid crime (such as ability to restrain impulses, exercise social skills and gain a legitimate living). The PCC has a role here to support programmes which assist known offenders get out of the cycle of criminal behaviour through skills training, supporting apprenticeships as part of Police procurement and so forth. 
  • People who commit crimes are by definition ready to offend (e.g. motivated by boredom, shortage of money or need for drugs, being in a conflicting relationship, being in a particular emotional state). Disrupting these motivations is therefore critical. While many of these motivations are very personal and ephemeral, a PCC can support drugs rehab programmes and even Relate in its efforts to help people maintain stable relationships. (I have often joked that the National Offender Management System should run a free online dating agency since one of the most effective factors in reducing crime is being in a fun, loving and stable relationship where you have much to lose.. or am I joking?) 
  • And then there are the resources for crime (the skills, inside knowledge, criminal contacts, tools, weapons etc). All the evidence points towards those who get mixed up in the criminal justice systems stay mixed up in it – for a whole array of reasons. One of these reasons is that people get more resources to commit crime in the future. This has got to change. Whilst I am not advocating the solitary confinement of Victorian gaols where it was believed that criminals could ‘catch’ criminality from breathing others’ air (see pic below of the old Lincoln Prison chapel), I am saying let’s keep people out of gaol as much as possible. New PCCs will have much to learn from (say) the experience of transformation of New York City where a recent article reviewing a new book stated: Much greater use was made of alternatives to incarceration, such as community sentences and residential drug treatment, as well as “drug courts” and other non-traditional ways of hearing cases. 
  • In one of my previous occupations, I was a health education officer. At the Oxfordshire Health Unit where I worked, we used the Health Belief Model as a source of inspiration for much of our activity. In a similar vein, the Conjunction of Criminal Opportunity model uses the idea that offenders calculate whether the risk & effort is outweighed by the scale & likelihood of reward. PCCs can act to boost the perceptions that risk and effort are high and rewards low by (for example) entering into a dialogue with local media to increase the perception that offenders will get caught and their rewards will be confiscated. 
  • I am not sure what a PCC can do about offenders needing to be present in the situation whereby an offender can commit a crime, other than ensuring that all efforts are taken to keep known past offenders busy with other stuff. Idle hands an all that. The provision of good youth services (being myopically and cynically cut by many local Tory authorities when they calculate that many young people can’t or won’t vote) is a must naturally, as are projects mentioned above. 
  • But there is much that PCCs can do to ensure that crime preventers (as Ekblom calls then) are present, capable and credible by adequately funding the police service in terms of numbers and skills development. Moreover, these preventers can be anyone with a formal crime prevention responsibility (police, community safety staff, concierges) or an informal one (residents, parents, teachers or employees in general). This means that PCCs should be supporting other projects designed to support this second category by acting to criticise politically short sighted cuts in (say) caretakers for sheltered housing places. These criminal event preventers can reduce the likelihood of crimes being committed by shaping the situation (e.g. by locking doors) or influencing the offender (e.g. by applying social pressure not to steal). They can intervene during the event (defending themselves or their property, or that of others) or react after it. The preventers’ potential to intervene and react can influence the current crime event through the offender’s anticipation (‘Will the victim or passers-by overpower me? Will I be identified to the police?’). It can also influence the next event by the action taken (e.g. victims securing their house against repeat burglary, or reporting to the police to initiate detection, criminal proceedings and punishment). (Italics are mostly Ekblom quotes above, by the way) 
  • Just as there are crime preventers, there are also crime promoters who by contrast increase the likelihood of a criminal event by careless or provocative behaviour or more practical contributions such as supplying weapons or buying stolen goods. The PCC support for effective police action to disrupt such networks is obvious. 
  • Targets of crime may be human, physical property, data, environmental or service-related. Targets must be attractive and vulnerable. PCCs can use their leadership to help people understand what action they can take (as individuals, as partner agencies, as businesses etc.) to reduce vulnerability and attractiveness. Locking bikes and keeping expensive mobile phones out of sight come to mind. PCCs can sponsor gating projects to make access to homes less easy. Thicker walls between flats can reduce noise disruption and violence which can follow. Again PCCs have a role here in influencing planning authorities and housing developers. 
This is just a sample of what Ekblom’s model can do to inform and support what PCCs can and must do to prevent and reduce crime. The trick will be prioritising the range of possibilities so that each PCC uses their time and resources to maximum effect.

What would be your priorities?

(If you visit Lincoln, the old prison is well worth exploring for its fascinating focus on air conditionning and keeping prisoners apart from each other - the prison is more or less preserved in aspic..)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The PCC Oath: more than a tad worrying

In the middle of August, the Home Office released this text as the Oath that incoming PCCs will have to swear:
[Full Name] of [Place] do solemnly and sincerely promise that I will serve all the people of [Police Force Area] in the office of Police and Crime Commissioner without fear or favour.
I will act with integrity and diligence in my role and, to the best of my ability, will execute the duties of my office to ensure that the police are able to cut crime and protect the public.
I will give a voice to the public, especially victims of crime and work with other services to ensure the safety of the community and effective criminal justice.
I will take all steps within my power to ensure transparency of my decisions, so that I may be properly held to account by the public.
I will not seek to influence or prevent any lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest, nor encourage any police action save that which is lawful and justified within the bounds of this office.
I am not wild, indeed I am very concerned, about this wording for a number of reasons:

"all the people of" - does this include people visiting, working or studying in the area? Or just those who live (and vote) there? Who is the PCC there to serve? This wording is vague.

"without fear or favour" - why not just say "fairly"

"I will act with integrity and diligence in my role and, to the best of my ability" - why add the last bit? This just feels like padding.

"will execute the duties of my office to ensure that the police are able to cut crime and protect the public" - wow! This is where I really begin to worry since this defines the job as being only about policing and the 'and crime' wider bit of the CJS seems to have been missed off although it gets a small mention later on. By accident or by design I wonder? Also I suspect that most people involved with policing & wider efforts to create a peaceful, safe and stable society will say that the job of the police is not limited to cutting crime and protecting the public. And protecting the public from what? Apart from roaming lions (yes I am writing this after the Essex Lion incident) - how can the police protect the public from other parts of the public...?! Um. I am confused. And it is not good to have an oath be confusing or vague.

"I will give a voice to the public" - just the one then. Also this seems like an odd thing to say. I would have preferred something more along the lines of listening to and representing all the communities etc.

"especially victims of crime" - what happened to 'without fear or favour'...?! Whilst I have campaigned for greater victims rights for many years - in a justice system - they cannot be a 'special' group with extra rights. I would argue this is inconsistent with the main thrust of the oath and indeed with the Human Rights Act.

"work with other services to ensure the safety of the community and effective criminal justice" - effective criminal justice... what does that mean exactly?

"transparency of my decisions" - so only of decisions... what about everything leading up to the decisions, what about all words and actions by the PCC (since not all actions are decisions?)

"lawful and reasonable investigation or arrest" - and? Why the and? Why not 'or'. Who determines what is reasonable? If the PCC judges an investigation to be lawful but not reasonable, will the PCC be then able to intervene? Was a lawyer involved in the drafting of this wording?

"lawful and justified" - now we have justified... what happened to reasonable? Note the 'and' again. So if a PCC decides a police investigation is unjustified, can they discourage it? Unjustified on what grounds - expense? I mean all this investigating into News International is a tad expensive is it not...? Could that be unjustified?

I know I am being picky but this is meant to be a solemn Oath.... but it seems to (non legally trained) me as a set of words that a lawyer might drive a coach and horses through. It is worryingly vague in parts and worrying precise in others...? I have huge respect for Ros Baston. I wonder what she thinks?

The Home Office website is confusing. It appears the words are now set but it also invites Candidates (only?) to contact them with their comments on the wording... Huh?

Altogether very, very confusing. Who drafted these words? Was this knocked up in a hurry during the silly season?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The PCC team?

I had a very interesting conversation with an academic* from Oxford University yesterday who is researching the introduction of PCCs. One strand of his work at the moment is to interview candidates and those could have been candidates - exploring their views, concerns, hopes etc. He had some thumping good questions and my mouth was parched by the end of 80 minutes or so that we had together.

One of the questions he posed was who would I have selected to work with me had I become PCC in Thames Valley. This was not a new question to me as it had come up in the hustings earlier in the year. I answered that I would have wanted:

  • A cracking good media person - a sort of my own personal Alistair Campbell - to liaise with the local news people. 
  • A highly skilled community engagement practitioner who would lead on building links with the diverse communities of Thames Valley
  • A 'Director of Research' to promote and coordinate efforts to institute more evidence based practice in policing
  • A visionary & big picture accountant who could read spreadsheets like Neo ended up reading the Matrix
  • A superlative commissioner / procurer / contract negotiator with a PhD in 'Take no prisoners Nous' so that any contracts signed by me as PCC would be watertight and not end up in huge costs to the future public purse when the 'small print' kicks in
  • A wizened & wise ex senior cop to advise me on the games that people might play and keep me grounded
  • A seconded head of crime prevention and empowered citizenship to extend the work of the Office for Policing and Crime into focused community development 

So if you were to become a PCC - who would you want on your team?

UPDATE: responding to various tweeting debates

Several people have been responding to this blog post on twitter and many of them seem, not unreasonably, concerned with how much this would all cost. Well (perhaps fortunately), I don't have to cost these posts as I won't be in a position to fund them but... I would say:
  • Some of these posts could easily be part time and contracted in on an as and when basis
  • Some of these posts already exist (e.g. the financial & crime prevention ones)
  • Some of these posts would pay back their cost ten or more times over (commissioner one for starters - and the research one - wouldn't it be better to fund more policing that works?)
  • Some of these posts are just simply essential of a PCC is to have a glimmer of a hope to stay connected to the people they are meant to be representing & leading (media, engagement & ex-copper ones)
  • All of these posts are about value - not just cost (a thing which the so called 'Tax Payers' Alliance seem to consistently overlook)
  • Finally - as I say above - this is about provoking a debate on what teams the PCC will need to recruit in order even to attempt to make the job worthwhile...
And as for the debate about 'how senior ex cop' - naturally a PCC will want to stay in touch with all levels of all the organisations that they will be influencing and leading. But by senior I mean someone with enough past experience, clout and insight to really add value to the task facing the PCC. In this instance - seniority is not about rank.

Please respond below with any further comments. Thanks

*The academic in question is Matthew Davies and he is happy to be contacted about his research.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Making safety part of the fabric of communities

There are many factors which contribute towards the community safety of a place which include social mix, house and neighbourhood design, local leadership and the provision of open spaces for sport and recreation. Housing developers and the planning authorities that approve the overall designs bear a particular responsibility for creating safer communities right from the start.

As many will know, I am a Town Councillor in Buckingham, and along with my fellow councillors (and with the support of some very skilled officers) we have done all that we can to influence the design of a new housing estate (with 700 dwellings) that is being built on the edge of our town. The housing developers and local planning authority (Aylesbury Vale District Council) have listened to us... a bit, (although certainly less than we would have liked).

One of our our concerns has been to do everything possible to ensure a community connectivity between the new place and the established town, especially as there is a busy bypass acting as a barrier in between. Our desires for a footbridge and adequate bus service have so far fallen on deaf ears (although we remain hopeful).

One matter that has exercised us has been the naming of the streets and the overall estate. We think the names really matter and I was concerned that we did not end up with a mix of Acacia Avenues or a George Osborne Close (no through road)! And so I proposed that the street names should be linked to the industrial history of Buckingham and be based upon lace-making terms. My fellow councillors agreed and we obtained the support from the developers and the district council. The Royal Mail gave their consent (they will be the ones delivering post) and now soon there will be Needlepin Way and Cotton End etc.

But, where we did not get our way (initially) was in naming the estate as a whole. My proposal which was agreed by the planning committee was to call it 'Lace Hill'. However the developers chose 'Windsor Park' without consulting us and with the support of the County Council had signs erected to indicate this:

I was not happy. The Town Council was not happy! Prompted by a remark from the last year's Mayor (Cllr Mike Smith) and with the support of Cllr Robin Stuchbury (Town and District Councillor), I did a bit of research and found out that the name 'Windsor' is strictly controlled by the Cabinet Office and can be only used with their permission... And so I wrote to the Cabinet Office a few weeks ago.

The Cabinet Office wrote back yesterday to let me and Cllr Stuchbury know that the name would have to change: This department would only allow the use of the restricted word “Windsor” if the development is based in the Royal Borough of Windsor. You should approach your developer, ask whether they sought authorisation prior to the use of the name in their development/park and seek written evidence of this.

I have now written to the various organisations involved and I know that Cllr Stuchbury has been contacting others as well. We await developments... (as will Mix96, who just phoned me for an interview as I was writing this blog).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Calling PCC candidates: are you for transparency & accountability or not?

Let me begin with this quote from the 'About us' page of the TPA website:

The TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) was launched by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum in early 2004 to speak for ordinary taxpayers fed up with government waste, increasing taxation, and a lack of transparency in all levels of government. [with my added emphasis].

Increasingly more and more public money is being spent under contract by commercial organisations. And so you would think that the TPA would back calls for all organisations who spend the 'Queen's Shilling' to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? Perhaps that you would not be surprised to learn that (to my knowledge) they have conspicuously avoided any such support. I have emailed / messaged / tweeted them many times - with nil response.

Funny that... I would love to see the logic whereby they can maintain this position. (Please comment below if you wish, TPA...)

But what worries me far more is how our public services appear to be blocking the transparency & scrutiny that should come with the FOIA by citing 'commercial confidentiality' as the reason, more and more. Whether this is just laziness, a desire not to upset their commercial partners, a misunderstanding of the law, protecting their own lack of commercial 'nous' in agreeing good value contracts or indeed a legitimate application of the Act is often not clear (because it is being blocked..)

This morning on BBC Radio 4 toady programme (listen again here - 1 hr 23 minutes in) Tom Greatorex MP talked about the controversial contract the Department for Work and Pensions has with ATOS. He explained that he had to resort to the National Audit Office to gain an answer to his investigations as to whether this contract was value for money or not (aside from the devastating impact it is having on many individuals subjected to ATOS benefits assessment process - see here for a small insight). He queried whether the number of successful appeals (and the cost to establish these results) was outweighing any savings the commercial contract was meant to achieve. He asked DWP for an answer initially but was blocked by the 'commercial in confidence' argument.

I have experienced this as you know from my search for the risk register that Lincolnshire Police has about their work with G4S. (See below here.) I have now been effectively blocked by Thames Valley Police on similar grounds.

Back in the middle of June I asked what I thought was a simple and historical question:

Please could you let me know how much Thames Valley Police spent on contractors who performed policing or policing allied roles (ie not ancillary roles such as cleaning or engineering functions) in the year ending March 2012. 

They replied:

Thames Valley Police is currently undergoing a competitive tender process with relation to this information and therefore engages Section 43(2): Commercial Interests to this part of your application. We consider that disclosure may prejudice or undermine the procedure of engaging a supplier at this time as the competing suppliers are submitting their tenders for this area of business. Although Thames Valley Police acknowledges that disclosure would increase transparency, it considers that disclosure of information which could undermine an ongoing process and adversely affect our ability to attract competitive suppliers in the future would overall not be in the public interest. We therefore have engaged this exemption at this time. [my added emphases]

I then asked, by when would they be able to release the information. They replied:

Thames Valley Police expects the tender process for this contract to be concluded in January 2013. 

And so the upshot of this is that all the way through the campaign to elect the new PCC for Thames Valley a crucial piece of information will not be available for public debate. Frankly I fail to see how the overall spend in one past year with all suppliers could be damaging to a current tender process with (I assume) only one part of this spend. (Unless TVP are outsourcing all of their current spend to just one supplier... which I hope not as this would be bad business and highly risky in my opinion.)

I am considering whether to appeal this decision or not. (What do you think?)

But, one thing is clear to me: if we are to have robust scrutiny of public spending then the 'commercial in confidence' argument must not be used so liberally in the future. This might require a change in the law or it might not.

As the new role of the police and crime commissioners is all about public accountability and transparency, I assume that all PCC candidates will back my small campaign to have the FOIA applied to all organisations that spend public money including those under contract (perhaps with a de minimus level to allow micro organisations to be exceptions).

PCC candidates can register their support below... thanks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anthony Stansfeld mystery - solved? (part six)

See all collected posts about this matter in one place by clicking this link

Could the mystery be solved? After doing some more research, I have now managed to locate a company called Fidas AG. Details can be found here

Why do I think this could be ‘the’ FIDAS mentioned by Cllr Stansfeld:

- The name is the same
- It is in a German speaking part of Switzerland – and press releases about Cllr Stansfeld’s bid to be PCC have mentioned a ‘German based company’ (see here
- It shares the same address as Prescience AG (as mentioned on their website: Rathausstrasse 7, CH-6340 Baar Switzerland), a company we know that Cllr Stansfeld has had connections with
- Bruno Bosshard is the ‘supervisory board member’ and according to Linked-In, people who view Bruno's page, also view Cllr Anthony Stansfeld’s page (a tenuous link, I know)

So is this the company, Cllr Stansfeld? Or are these details coincidental?

The tricky bit, however, is that there is no mention it being a “green technology research and development company”. Instead the company’s listed purpose is “Erwerb, Halten und Verwalten sowie Veräusserung von Beteiligungen” which means (care of Google Translate) “Acquisition, holding and management and sale of investments”.

So perhaps the mystery has not yet been solved?

Over to you Cllr Stansfeld for clarification…

Stansfeld mystery (part five)

See all collected posts about this matter in one place by clicking this link

As per my last blog post about the mystery that is Cllr Anthony Stansfeld (the Conservative PCC candidate for Thames Valley), I decided to write to him directly, asking him to shed some light on the two firms with which he appears to have / have had connections: the elusive ‘FIDAS’ (as mentioned by him on the West Berkshire Council register of interests) and ‘Prescience AG’ (as mentioned on his Linked-In account).

His replies were (shall I say) robust and not especially illuminating. I hesitate to bore you with all the details but here are some things that he wrote to me. In reply to my first email he opened with:

“Dear Mr Harvey, I have complied with all requirements of disclosure. My business interests, which have absolutely  nothing to do with either policing or military, which you suggest in your press releases, or also nothing to do with you. You appear to be purely on a political exercise trying to damage my reputation.”

And later in the same email:

“I no longer have anything to do with Prescience, a company that never traded, so was disposed of”

So I wrote back:

“It was when I went looking for more information about FIDAS that I drew a blank. While I am no internet geek, I can usually find what I am looking for on the net. And so I have raised questions in various quarters but I believe I have made no unsubstantiated accusations.  You can clear that matter up now, if you wish. But I note, so far, that you have chosen not to do this. Please allow me to repeat my question: what is the address of FIDAS?”

I have yet to receive a reply to this last question – including in a second email he sent to me. All that the voters of Thames Valley currently know is that FIDAS could be

a) fictional
b) a spelling error
c) another company that also never traded
d) just what Cllr Stansfeld says it is: “a small company that has interests in water systems for agriculture and energy recovery systems for industry” or
e) something else entirely.

Amongst the seven Nolan principles of public life is the idea of “Accountability - holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office” [with my added italics]. I note his phrase “nothing to do with you.” Hmm.

I maintain that to merely give a name of a company with no address is not being transparent, it is precisely the opposite.

Cllr Stansfeld may believe that I am the only one asking these questions, but I suspect as we get closer to November 15th, more people will be asking these and other questions too. If you would like to write to Cllr Stansfeld yourself – his various addresses are available from the West Berkshire Council site

Meanwhile I am off to do some more research to see what I more I can find out. Wish me well.

Cllr Stansfeld may be happy to remain a mystery to the voters of Thames Valley. I suspect that many more people will want to know a good deal extra about the person who wishes to become the Police & Crime Commissioner once they fully understand just how much ‘quasi presidential’ power the PCC will wield.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's the budget, stupid!

I know I may have paraphrased Bill Clinton a little here but it is my long held view that the place where there is most likely to be conflict between the new PCCs and their Chief Constables will be over the budget.

No one will challenge the right of the PCC to set the overall council tax precept and hence total budget. Where it will get interesting will be in how this budget is then divided up to match the policing plan owned by the PCC but prepared in partnership with the Chief Officer team.

The (and I mean THE) critical ingredient will be the Resource Allocation Formula. All forces have such a thing, although they may call it something different. It is the way that they decide whether one part (usually geographical) of the force gets more resources than another / last year etc.

Using the Freedom of Information Act (which I am now beginning to understand more and more - indeed I think all PCC candidates should have a FoI strategy in place now to extract useful information from the police before election purdah descends...), I have been inquiring into how Thames Valley Police (TVP) divvies out its resources.
I began thinking about this for a few months now - see Q4 here and more recently here. So I wrote to TVP in the middle of June asking them this question: What is the method by which different local policing areas are allocated resources to carry out their frontline duties? (Perhaps you call this the ‘Resource allocation formula”?)

The response I got was unexpected: Thames Valley Police allocates resources in consideration of the population of the area, recorded crimes and incidents over the last three years in each area. We are unable to provide more specific data as to do so may undermine law enforcement or assist criminals in assessing likely resources in any area at a specific time thereby engaging Section 31: Law Enforcement.

(Gosh: the police seem to use s31 a lot...! I now have an image of some hardened criminals studying the budget allocations of TVP to decide whether to target Bracknell or Newbury with their evil plans...)

So I replied: Under the terms of the FOIA, I challenge your decision as I fail to see how a generic formula, which calculates the allocation of resources to geographical areas, might undermine Law Enforcement at ground level. You say “we are unable to provide more specific data”. I have not asked for specific data about how much resource has been allocated but how the decision is reached. I look forward to a more detailed explanation as to how clarity over how resources are allocated might benefit the commissioning of crime. Furthermore, you say that you allocate “resources in consideration of the population of the area, recorded crimes and incidents over the last three years in each area”. May I conclude therefore that you do not take into account the British Crime Survey statistics and/or the relative harm generated by different kinds of crime?

So this week, I got some some further information:

The Resource Allocation Formula was introduced into Thames Valley for the allocation of resources across the Local Police Areas for the restructure in April 2011. A number of variables were considered. The decision was made to keep the process simple, with the result that only three variables are included in the model. A proportion of available resources are to be allocated to each of these variables. These are:

Population 30%
Recorded Crime 35%
Incidents (excluding Crime and Admin) 35%

The level of each variable is calculated by using three years worth of data, weighted such that the most recent year has the greatest impact and the most historic year has the least impact. The weightings used are Year 1 20%, 
Year 2 30%, Year 3 50%.

Hmm. Can you spot the big problem with this? And have you noticed they did not answer my latter couple of questions above? No reference to BCS, nor any specific reference to risk of harm / actual harm. There is no real measure of actual crime here.

And the problem? 

If 70% of your allocation is down to measures which closely relate to the number of officers on the ground, guess what will happen? The resources become a self fulfilling formula that will mostly reinforce/reflect existing resource allocation. And pure population does not take account of deprivation and other well known risk factors! Under this part of the formula the affluent parts of Thames Valley will get the same number of police officers as the more deprived parts if the population is similar... 

Is this correct? Is this a matter for a PCC? Does Labour have a different perspective on this to the Tories? The answers are yes, yes and you betcha! 

We stand for the policing for the many not just the few. Labour stands for the deployment of scarce resources proportionate to harm and risk of harm.

In my view, Thames Valley Police (with collusion of the Tory candidate for the PCC position - one Cllr Anthony Stansfeld, who is a leading member of the existing police authority) have over simplified the allocation of resources and created a formula that could well mean people living in parts of Thames Valley getting less support than they need while other areas get a bigger (but unfair) slice of the cake.

What is happening in your police area?

Quelle surprise

I finally received a reply from Lincolnshire Police FOI officer asserting that their original decision was the correct one. You could have knocked me over with a feather. They are not (as yet) agreeable to sending me a copy of the Risk Register for the programme of work they have under way with G4S. (See my earlier post about this here.)

The upshot is that I have now referred the matter to the Information Commissioner and I await their adjudication on whether an FOIA exemption should be used to protect the commercial reputation of G4S (whatever reputation they have left..)

Or whether the FOIA should be deployed to protect the public from knowing the risks that Lincolnshire Police are running by partnering with G4S. Lincs police fear that if their publics should know the full story, they will lose confidence in their local police service and crime will go up as consequence. I think the opposite is true.

I hope that the Information Commissioner believes, as I do, that the people of Lincolnshire are made of sterner and wiser stuff. Indeed the patrician attitude that the use of this other exemption betrays is perhaps the most worrying.

What do you think?

So I urge you to watch this space...