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, June 29, 2012

Talking It Through: A Teen-Police Dialogue

Creating safer communities and supporting policing by consent, in my view, are built on dialogue. Only through dialogue can respect be nurtured and understanding developed. Only through dialogue can prejudice be addressed and resolved sustainably. Only through dialogue can common futures and worthwhile policing plans be shared and shaped.
Teenage members of the Center for Court Innovation's Youth Justice Board program filmed a conversation with retired police officers. Participants discuss interactions between police and young people in New York City and how police-teen relations can be improved. (Video here)
This is great example of the work of the Centre for Court Innovation in New York which is seeking always to find new approaches to tackling crime and building community safety. I have watched and supported their programme of work over the years including organising & facilitating a joint UK/US dialogue some while back as a prelude to establishing community courts (See this article about the round table discussion back in 2005 which included Shami Chakrabarti & Lord Goldsmith)

Having informative two way dialogues with young people must be part of any PCC Candidate's campaign. I look forward to seeing the reports. Please post them here if you like.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Marooned in the neutral zone

Some weeks ago (17/5/12), I wrote to Thames Valley Police Authority about how they might take a role in organising some 'shell' hustings meetings for the Autumn. My idea was that once all the candidates were known, these meetings could be activated, leaving the Police Authority a neutral facilitator of good democracy. I received a reply today.

Specifically, here is what I wrote back in May:
May I request that a matter is considered by the Authority – or at least by the Executive Team – concerning the forthcoming PCC election in November. I know that detailed discussions are underway about the transition to this new governance structure. I am sure that all is being done with due diligence and care.
My hope and concern is that the PCC election itself will attract the widest possible engagement of the Thames Valley voting public. The predictions of voter turnout however are not very positive given not only the time of year, the low level of awareness, let alone understanding of this new position and the minimalist approach being taken by the Home Office (and as yet the Electoral Commission). I am not alone in worrying about this – other commentators have expressed serious concerns that a low turnout could benefit extremist candidates as well as damage the status of the new PCC. (You will have seen for example.) I would presume that this concerns PA members and officers similarly.

The PA is currently planning its own demise and members may (understandably) be thinking a little that this is ‘not really our problem’, as it were. Equally, there is a clear need for the PA to be totally impartial in the run up to the election in November.

Given all of the above, I have a proposal to make. May I request that some PA resources are used now to organise hustings meetings for October and November. I would suggest that meetings in at least Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Slough, Reading, Banbury and Oxford (as the major conurbations of the area) would greatly help to raise awareness and inform the voting public of the choice they will be able to make on 15 November. The media could also be alerted so that there is much reporting of the events as well. Perhaps the events might be chaired by notable independent residents of Thames Valley – perhaps journalists, academics or others with an appropriate profile. Of course the final list of candidates is not yet known. However, once you publish the dates and locations, all contenders (and journalists) could put the dates in their diaries now and be prepared to attend. In this way, you will be able to assure that there is no bias in who is invited to be on the panel.

The PA may say that this is not in their brief and it more properly rests with either the Home Office or the Electoral Commission. Legally speaking, it probably does. However, I am being pragmatic and recognising that neither bodies is likely to set to and organise such events across the country. Arguably the local newspapers / media channels could also do this (and indeed might be encouraged to sponsor one or more of the events) but in my opinion, TVPA is ideally placed to take the lead in the interests of supporting vibrant democracy.

I am not sure what is the best way to put this forward. In essence I am proposing this as an ordinary member of the Thames Valley public since our selection process in the Labour Party is still underway. However, if you wish, I would be happy to make a short statement at the PA meeting a week on Friday if that was appropriate. Equally, this email may be sufficient and I look forward to a response from the Executive Team. Or you may advise another pathway.

Whatever is best, I look forward to your thoughts. Many thanks and with very best wishes

Here is the reply:

I am most grateful for the considered reply from Mr Hammond, the Chief Executive and Treasurer. However, the letter singularly fails to explain how organising meetings to which all candidates would be invited would mean sacrificing neutrality.

The letter goes on to say that there is a 'fundamental' difference between raising awareness and 'getting involved in the political activities of candidates'. Frankly, I don't think there is at a local level since once people are helped to be aware that an election is under way, their next question is likely to be: 'who is standing?'.

It is good that it would appear that the Home Office is grinding into some sort of action on publicity but I am not holding my breath. Television adverts horrify me and I sincerely hope the company hired are not the same ones doing publicity for Lancashire Police Authority...:

And the one thing I know about TV adverts is that they cost a great deal of money. I am sure there must be better ways of using that cash (such as leaflets to all households listing details of the candidates in each area maybe...?)

All of which leaves PCC candidates more or less in the same place. In my view someone, perhaps all candidates, need to be knocking on a few more doors, especially those of the local Police Area Returning Officers. They appear to have the decision making power.

And in case that does not work, I would also be talking to local papers, TV and radio channels now to try and persuade them to start sponsoring and organising hustings in Autumn.

In the meantime, I would recommend you stay close to @RosBaston who is producing some excellent materials & ideas on the legalities around the whole election process. Her 'PCC Poll Patrol' newsletters are very useful and this one has details about communication and election notices.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scrutinising NHS Commissioning & Police partnerships

As we know this Government legislated to create local GP led Clinical Commissioning Groups to takeover from PCTs. Moreover, the new commissioning framework allows for "any qualified provider" to run health services if they are successful in a tendering process. These new arrangements are just beginning to emerge into public scrutiny and I attended a meeting last week of the new Aylesbury Vale Clinical Commissioning Group (AVCCG).

The meeting was OKish: the beginning of a dialogue about how local provision will now be planned and delivered. I went along with a series of questions of which I only had time to ask a couple from the floor of the meeting. Thankfully, the Board agreed to address my questions in due course and they said they will get back to me. I await their answers.

In the meantime, I thought I would publish the questions, as I think this has bearing upon police commissioned services as well. If this private sector involvement in core policing takes off in a big way, we all need to be prepared to scrutinise the details of the deals - just as much as we need to for our health service as well.

1. How will public health now be organized – is there any risk that services which have been free hitherto – may be charged for in the future?

2. How often will you be holding public meetings? Will the next one be in Buckingham?

3. How will you appraise the health needs of the local population that you serve?

4. How much is the change costing us the taxpayer to establish these new commissioning arrangements?

5. When will you publish a list of interests of the members of the AVCCG?

6. What is happening regarding the commissioning of private sector suppliers – what plans have been put in place so far? How will the public be kept in the loop with what is occurring?

7. What arrangements will you be putting in place to liaise with the parish and town councils in the area you cover?

8. How will we be able to judge the success of these new arrangements? What success indicators are you putting in place and where will these be publicly accessible?

9. If you do commission local health services from (say) Virgin – as has happened in Surrey, can you confirm that the FoIA will apply to any contracted party and make this a condition of them bidding?

10. Similarly, if a private contractor invents some new clinical method, can you confirm that the public will own the IPR and not the contractor as we will have paid for its development? Will you make this a condition of any tenders / contracts from henceforth?

11. How much will members of the AVCCG be paid?

12. If commissioning involves looking at value of various bids to provide healthcare services, please will you confirm that you will look at the whole value of such bids to the taxpayer? For example, what are you views on bids which come in with lower staff costs as a consequence of lower pension costs in the future whilst recognizing that the state may well pick up the tab if those same people need extra benefits when they retire?

13. What action will you take under EU and other competition law to prevent "commercial in confidence" acting as a barrier to the CCG selecting the tenderer with the most value for money?

14. What arrangements will you be making to ensure that bids from private sector suppliers are discounted to allow for the loss of the past investment in human capital by the state from the transferring of highly experienced and fully trained public sector staff to the new private sector suppliers?

15. What commercial clauses will you insert into the final contract so that any remaining public sector staff (especially those on the commissioning side) can continue to innovate and invent new ways of doing business without incurring disproportionate penalty costs from private sector suppliers?

16. How will you genuinely commission on outcomes and results: and ensure that the public/service users have a good say in the appraisal of the new provider and are able to tell all concerned loudly whether those outcomes and results have been achieved well or not?

17. What mechanisms, will you install in the commissioning process to ensure the winning bidder is not likely to become an organisation with high staff turnover, low morale and low wages which risk costing the taxpayer more?

18. How will you shape and install measures, targets and objectives in the process and final contracts which generate superlative levels of service & outcomes and not the target equivalent of clock-watching?

19. How often will the AVCCG meet in public session? Will it be possible for members of the public to address these meetings?

I drew some of these my Guardian article from a few weeks ago, naturally

What other questions would you ask?

Which leader has brought most justice to the world?

Browsing through old photos to use for the top of this blog, I came across this one which I created as part of a workshop I was running on leadership ethics. But it occurred to me, which one of these has brought the most justice to the world through their leadership?

In recent times, I would plump for Mandela but overall, I would stick with Gandhi.

Whom would you pick?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A new future

This is my reformatted blog to support the election of Labour PCCs around the country and, in general, discuss issues about the future of policing and criminal justice policy.

As most readers will know, I narrowly lost the selection process to be the Labour candidate for the Thames Valley Police & Crime Commissioner. Tim Starkey won the contest and will now be leading the campaign to get himself elected to be Thames Valley's first PCC. I wish him well. 

I have removed some of the posts below and rejigged the order of some others to reflect the new focus of this blog. There is an archive here of my thoughts about Labour PCC matters and specifically my bid to be a candidate that I thought was worth saving, albeit less relevant now.

I am also still very proud to be a Labour Town Councillor in Buckingham and occasionally I will post items that are relevant to my work with and for local people to make our town healthier, wealthier and safer.

And so in the meantime: back to the subject of why the elections in November will be crucial not only to the future of policing and allied criminal justice system (CJS) agencies, but also to the wider public services...

Onwards and upwards towards a just and democratic socialist future where policing and CJS services are done for the many not just the few!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lincolnshire Police & G4S: freedom of information inquiry

A few weeks ago, I requested a copy of the Risk Register associated with the programme of work that Lincs Police and G4S are now working on together. Today I received their response back. They have refused on two public interest tests:

  • Section 31 – Law Enforcement – this is a qualified, class based exemption – therefore PIT applied 
  • Section 43 – Commercial Interests - this is a qualified, class based exemption – therefore PIT applied

Needless to say, I am appealing against this decision.

Here is a link to the their reply with my annotations - and the email I have sent them making the appeal. Click here for the Google doc. Their reply gives some most interesting insight into the assumptions embedded in private sector partnerships...

Please watch this space...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

PCC Elections: a chance to vote against privatisation

My local newspaper ( The Buckingham Advertiser) published this letter of mine on Friday 7 April

Dear Editor

The Health and Social Care Act has now become law. The Government’s plans to create an NHS that will look more like an nH$ will now go ahead: there will be less ‘National’ as budgets are split into local clinical commissioning groups and a greater focus on making profit. Let us hope the H for health remains at the centre, but I worry.

And let us not forget this law has been made by the Government when there was no mention of it in the Coalition Agreement and from a Prime Minister who specifically said there would be no top down reorganisation of the NHS on his watch. The Government also refused to publish the risk register despite losing an appeal to the (Freedom of) Information Commissioner. I believe this will be a deeply unpopular change as people observe the NHS sliding stealthily into privatisation where profit rather than community health will be the measure of success.

Meanwhile the Government is also planning to ‘open up the market’ in probation and police services (privatise in other words). On Tuesday this week, the Ministry of Justice published its plans for the future of probation services and whilst some areas were ruled out being open to competition (such as advice to courts) many other areas will become subject to such competition under European Union rules. There are warm words in the white paper about social enterprises and charities taking over such services but I think we can all be sure that it will be large commercial organisations who will win the lion’s share of this new business. Profit will become the motivation rather than seeking to ensure that there is less crime and reoffending in our communities.

And a few weeks ago, West Midlands and Surrey police services published an invitation to commercial organisations to bid to become strategic partners. Thames Valley police are also possibly involved as this matter proceeds. Some politicians and managers in the police will try to persuade you that this all about innovation and efficiency – and not about cuts and profits. But what do you think: will we be having police ‘costables’ patrolling our streets soon? Will decisions about which crimes to investigate or prevent be based upon which are more profitable rather which result in less harm to local people? I am worried. Perhaps you are too.

So what is to be done about our local police, probation and health services? Firstly I would invite everyone who reads this letter to keep their eyes and ears open. Please let me know if you come across instances where you think that profit and private sector interests are getting in the way of good public service. You may even wish to write to this paper to let us all know.

And secondly, I would ask you to start thinking now about how you might cast your vote on November 15 this year. On this date you will have the chance to vote for the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner. This is a new position and replaces the local police authority. Will you want to vote for someone who is very keen on privatisation and ‘opening up the market’ in police and justice services? Or will you want to vote for someone who is very worried and sceptical about the ‘benefits’ that outsourcing may bring? November 15 will be your opportunity to register your vote against rampant privatisation of public services. 

Please make a date in your diary now.

Jon Harvey