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 30, 2013

Witchcraft: the Secret PCC & managing awkward Chiefs

I am wrapped up with Lawyers today, so this is only going to be short post.

But let it be known far and wide that these pesky Chief Constables are more difficult to corral than sheep with scrapie! I mean, I thought I had it all sorted with my clearly laid out principles for appointing a new one (after the other one tripped off to sunnier climes just as I arrived, and the acting CC had about as much spine as a biscuit dunked too long in tea). But it would appear that the person I appointed had a few more wily brain cells than I credited to her. You cannot trust these Chief Constables, they have all been around mendacious low life (aka the Police Federation) and offenders for far too long. Their ability to dissemble, connive and smile sweetly would make Nixon blush!

I cannot go into the details as they are 'sub judice' as it were but it would seem my verbal warning to the Chief Constable for being a bit 'too candid' on her facebook site has been met with disbelief, disapproval and a grievance against me!?! How very dare she!

OK, so I admit that I did fake being an old school buddy in order to become one of her FB friends, but she really ought not to be writing stuff like that, even in private! (Although I cannot tell you what she wrote exactly, but it was not very kind... to her elders & betters & political masters).

So I have been scrabbling around for some statute where I can be rid of the woman. I cannot quite decide whether to invoke the witchcraft acts of 1542, 1562 or 1604 but all I know is that she has some pretty odd masks and badges in her office. She claims they were gifts from visiting police officers from around the world but I know when I have been voodooed!

Anyway, I must be off to talk to my lawyers. I hope they have been studying occult legislation like I asked them too...

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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Distributing the partnership money

One of the issues that emerged at the recent Thames Valley Police & Crime Panel conference (which I reported on here and here) was the way in which some of the 'and crime' monies will be distributed. There appeared to be some tension between the PCC and PCP over this matter which (I am guessing) was discussed at the previous PCP meeting.

I thought I would do some investigating, so I wrote to the Thames Valley OPCC with this set of questions:
I understand from talking with officers in AVDC that the PCC is yet to decide on how his budget for supporting local community safety partnerships is to be allocated across Thames Valley in the future. I assume that no change was made to the existing allocation formula for the current financial year and Mr Stansfeld stuck with the arrangements established by the previous police authority. Am I correct in this assumption? If not, please could I have details. 
Secondly, on the assumption that Mr Stansfeld may decide to change the allocation formula for the next financial year (14/15), may I ask what is the timetable for this decision and what will be the process for reaching it? For example will there be public consultation? Will the PCP be involved? Will other local council representatives be able to have their say (including parish & town councils)? Please can I have all available information about this process that is available and (if there is little at present) some idea when such information will become available.
Here is the reply I received the other day:
The process used to allocate the PCC’s new Community Safety Fund (CSF) grant in 2013/14 is explained in the attached report, which also includes a table showing the allocation to each relevant local authority. This includes an element for community safety partnerships.
The Office of the PCC is currently developing a new needs based funding formula to improve the equity and fairness of CSF grant allocations across the Thames Valley, whilst taking into account the impact of the Government’s financial austerity agenda on future levels of public sector funding. By the end of September 2013 we will communicate to relevant local authorities (i.e. those currently in receipt of CSF grant) the proposed funding formula and indicative grant allocations for the period 2014/15 to 2016/17, including appropriate damping arrangements to limit, as far as reasonably possible, the year-on-year change in grant allocation.
This process will not be subject to formal public consultation nor will we consult with parish or town councils. As outlined above relevant local authorities will be informed.
So it would seem that:
  • From the referenced report, everyone took a pro rata hit as the money available was about £1/2m less than the previous year
  • A new formula is in development and will be announced in a few weeks time
  • Things could be changing quite a lot if 'damping' measures are being talked about
  • The aim is to improve 'equity & fairness'. Hmm. I wonder how that will be interpreted?
  • There will be no wide or public consultation. But will the current recipients get to have their say? I wonder....?
Watch this space...

Absolute power...

Police & Crime Commissioners represent a unique and bold experiment: never in the field of UK public service governance has so much power been concentrated in the hands of so few with so little opportunity for proportionate scrutiny & check.

Whilst I happen to believe that there is scope for Police & Crime Panels to up their game significantly (as I explored in my Guardian article and which will be debated in some depth at the forthcoming conference being organised by CoPaCC on 16 October), PCCs will still hold most of the cards. And if Policy Exchange gets its way, they will soon hold several more.

But why is this a problem? 

If the democratic system could guarantee that all elected PCCs would be measured, skilled, urbane, reflective & insightful leaders with just enough ego & self confidence to govern responsibly for the balanced benefit of all, there would be far less of a problem. However it is in the diverse nature of humanity and politics that some who get elected are arrogant idiots who have about as much wisdom as a box of grass cuttings. (I am being extreme of course.) But I think we can all agree that when we look at the legions of politicians (councillors, MPs etc) around us, we can see a fair few where we exhale slowly, grateful that their power is limited by the fact that they are working as part of team.

But we do not have that with PCCs. Having been elected, they can govern with almost 100% impunity. 

Now I do not know the facts of the case, but it seems to me that something rather odd is happening in Cumbria right now. I have worked with Temporary CC Stuart Hyde as a co-assessor at Bramshill. I only know him to be a good egg and an excellent professional police officer to work alongside. I have not read any of the reports / investigations that have been compiled concerning his now extensive suspension. It would appear that the PCC has just initiated proceedings (two days ago) to call upon T/CC Hyde to resign/retire even though his jurisdiction over him ends tomorrow when Stuart reverts to be a Deputy Chief Constable again. (You can read all the PCC's statements made here and here). Stuart writes his own blog here. Also see the update below. (Thanks to Paul West for pointing me in these directions.)

Now I am not going to go into the whys and wherefores of this case but when you add it to recent events in Lincolnshire and Gwent a pattern appears to be emerging. There are several other cases of where PCCs have waded in with big political boots without joining up all the dots which I won't list for fear of litigation!

The advantage of having governance being carried out by a group of people is that they hold each other to account and (in most cases) avoid capricious, whimsical or blindly ideological decision making. There is someone else (with equal power) there to say "hang on my friend, this is not a good idea..." The PCC governance structure does not have such checks and balances.

It is my belief that most PCCs elected do have the necessary wit & humility to make good decisions over the next few years that will not do irreparable damage to UK policing. Some might even improve things! However I worry a lot about some of those elected.

And it is no good saying "ah but they are accountable to the electorate!" Well yes, but not for several years yet and much damage can be done in the mean time.

So in my view, we need to do even more talking about how to reform the PCC based governance structure (not by extending its reach to other criminal justice or emergency response services) but by how to make it more institutionally wise, measured and circumspect.

Quite how we do this...? Not sure yet. But please watch this and other spaces!

UPDATE: A useful discussion on Radio Cumbria from yesterday featuring Paul West about events in Cumbria can be listened to here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Grief work

In simple terms, I define grief as the experience of the difference between what you hoped life was going to be and how it turns out, multiplied by the importance of that difference to your overall sense of well being. Just recently, a hugely tragic event happened to a good friend of mine and I have an ongoing challenge with a close family member. Both have stirred great grief in me as I have faced up to the gap between ordinary hope and the complex reality of what is.

In the end, I have to handle this grief myself: even though I can 'share' these feelings (i.e. talk about but not really share in the same way you can share a meal) nobody else can experience what I am experiencing in quite the way that I am. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have some beautifully empathetic people in my life who will listen, and listen some more and gently (oh so gently) nudge me towards some brighter light and/or help me to become 'dynamically resigned' to the situations. By dynamically resigned, I mean a psychological state that accepts things for what they are but in a hopeful not hopeless way: in other words things will heal and things will change, quite possibly for the better. And in the meantime, all one can do is to carry on carrying on while being tuned into the sweet nectar that life continues to offer around many corners in so many ways.

But things still hurt. Lots.

And I know that as I write, I am probably sounding like an ageing hippy struggling to make sense of an unpredictable, uncontrollable messy world that is not quite turning out as I hoped it would...

So why write this post on this blog about policing and criminal justice system governance & practice? Partly, I had to get some thoughts down: this is what we bloggers do. We write things down in the confident (and egotistical) belief that at least one other person will read it and find it useful / illuminating / helpful etc.

But I also want to make the point that everyone involved in the criminal justice system owes a duty of care to people experiencing huge grief - which includes themselves. Along with many other public services (health, social care and so forth), police officers & staff, probation & prison officers work with people who are going through huge amounts of grief. Almost daily, peoples lives are turned upside-down in front of their eyes. I sometimes wonder, how well people are prepared for the grief that their jobs involve?

Gallows humour and a hardening of the 'emotional arteries' are two ways to respond. But I fear that in the hurly burly of performance targets, outsourced contracts and a focus on 'financiality' rather than humanity, the criminal justice system is creating even more victims by not enabling / inoculating / developing people's capacity to handle grief. By people here, I mean both the service users and providers.

So how is the grief work in your organisation? Are supervisors tuned into what they can do to help frontline staff & officers handle grief in themselves and others effectively? Are there adequate development opportunities to enable all staff who deal with grief, to do it as well as possible? Is grief acknowledged as something to pay attention to - both amongst service users and givers?

I really hope things are good for you: grief is hard enough to work through without there being inadequate recognition of its impact upon people.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The lamp posts are not for bending....

In my ongoing explorations of the statistics and rationale underlying the Government's resolute commitment to Payment by Results (PbR), I asked them a series of further questions after their responses to my last set. (These two blog posts show their answers and my queries). Here is a copy of the letter I received yesterday (my questions in bold, their answers in italics):

Many thanks for your email & attached response to my questions. I note what you say about using section 22 not to answer my questions 15 & 16. I will await publication of the new batch of statistics on 25/7/13 naturally. I reserve the right to appeal against your decision subject to this information being able to answer my questions.

With regard to some of your other answers, I would see further clarification as follows:

a)      With regard to Q2, you have not answered my question. You have merely reported on a series of facts and not explained the reasoning behind the decision to produce the statistics early. Please, may I request again, for my question to be answered fully. If that is difficult, I am happy to submit an FoI inquiry requesting all the email correspondence between senior civil servants and the Minister which led up to the early publication of this data. Which would you prefer?

As set out in the publication, we published the figures in an ad hoc bulletin on 13 June, rather than waiting to publish them in the Proven Re-offending statistics bulletin on 25 July, to ensure the information was made public as soon as it was available. This is in accordance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics ( which requires us to “release statistical reports as soon as they are judged ready, so that there is no opportunity or perception of opportunity, for the release to be withheld or delayed”. 

Once the MoJ Chief Statistician had judged that we were in a position to publish statistically robust interim re-conviction figures, we published them at the earliest opportunity.

b)     In your answer to 6/7 (you correctly identified that this is one question where a rogue carriage return had crept in) you referred me to “Table B3 of annex B from the MoJ’s proven re-offending statistics quarterly bulletin”. I looked at this table carefully but I could not see how it answered my query about the extent of the difference between national stats and the pilot’s stats. Please could you be more precise and show me more clearly how this factor is likely to affect comparisons. Thank you.

The two middle columns of table B3 show (for offenders released from prison or starting court orders) re-offending figures including and excluding cautions. 

Looking at the top section headed ‘Proportion’, column 2 (“Previous measure: re-convictions (prison and probation offenders only), whole year”) is the re-conviction rate excluding cautions – i.e. the Doncaster measure. Column 3 (“New measure: re-offending (prison and probation offenders only), whole year”) is the re-offending rate, including cautions – i.e. the National Statistics measure. This shows, for example, for offenders discharged from prison or starting a court order in 2009 the proportion re-convicted was 34.7 per cent (column 2) but when we also count offences that receive a caution the proportion increases to 36.2 per cent (column 3). The difference over time is small - between 1 and 2 percentage points.

As noted in our previous response, we have not produced alternative interim figures on what the impact would be if different rules (such as including cautions) had applied to the pilots. However, the figures in table B3 show the impact at a national level of including/excluding cautions.

c)     You answer to Q9 confirms, I think, that there is no element of randomisation in the selection of the ‘control’ comparator groups. As a scientist I find this most disturbing and I am not sure about you, but I don’t I would be prepared to undergo a course of medical treatment that had gone through a “quasi-experiment”. As PbR spreads (as I assume the Governments wants), it will become increasingly difficult to find comparator groups on this basis. Moreover, I cannot see, no matter how independent are the people who are choosing the comparator groups that this process will control for hidden factors. As a consequence, I do not think that you have yet answered my query “what is your considered professional judgement as a statistician as to the validity of these results to guide future practice?” I look forward to your thoughts. Thanks

The Payment by Results pilots were set up to test a range of approaches to achieving reductions in re-offending through paying by results, and different pilots use different payment mechanism designs. 

Propensity Score Matching (PSM) is a well established statistical method for creating a control group when it is not possible to carry out a randomised control trial (as it is not in this case). As set out in our previous response, the control group will be selected, using the published PSM methodology, by an Independent Assessor.

The Ministry of Justice’s  consultation response, Transforming Rehabilitation: a Strategy for Reform, described how, under our proposals, to be fully rewarded, providers will need to achieve both an agreed reduction in the number of offenders who go on to commit further offences, and a reduction in the number of further offences committed by the cohort of offenders for which they are responsible.

The consultation response stated that we would discuss the final details of the payment mechanism with practitioners and potential providers. To support this engagement, we have since published a Payment Mechanism Straw Man- available at 

While the final design of the payment mechanism is still to be determined, the model set out in the straw man discusses setting a baseline for all reduction in re-offending targets for each Contract Package Area on the basis of average quarterly re-offending figures for the most recent year that data is available. 

d)    In answer to Q10 you say “The five percentage point reduction target was agreed after analysis of historic reconviction rates established that this would illustrate a demonstrable difference which could be attributed to the new system and not just natural variation” (with my added highlight). However later on you also say “we have not carried out statistical significance tests on the interim figures because, when it comes to the final results, neither pilot will be assessed on the basis of whether they have achieved a statistically significant change”. How can these two statements be compatible? Forgive me, but it seems to me you are using significant differences when it suits you and not when it does not…? Please justify this approach.
e)     Moreover, given this last statement, may I confirm that taxpayers’ money may well be doled out to the suppliers on what could be a random happenchance difference in results rather than one which is (say) beyond a standard 5% statistical threshold of significance? I am interested in your views here too.

I can confirm that testing was used in the design of the Payment by Results pilots at both Peterborough and Doncaster, to ensure that the minimum targets for outcome-based payments in each pilot are set at such a level that we can be confident that to achieve them a provider must achieve an improvement which is attributable to their interventions and not just natural variation.  Because this significance testing is built in at the target setting stage, there is then no need to conduct tests for significance again once outcomes are calculated; instead, outcomes can be judged on whether or not they exceed the targets. The benefit of carrying out the statistical significance testing prior to the start of the pilot rather than at the end is that the ‘goal posts’ can then be set and known by all parties at the outset. In addition, because these targets are set in terms of the final 12-month re-offending measure it is not helpful to carry out statistical significance tests on the interim figures, which measure re-offending over just 6 months and, in the case of the figures for the Doncaster pilot, have smaller offender cohorts than the final measure. 

f)       Your answer to my question 12 surprised me. It is well known, I thought, that certain crimes rise in the winter such as burglary due to the darker evenings etc. Whilst I recognise that you are comparing ‘like with like’ that does not exclude a seasonal effect, it could merely exacerbate one since your time sample is not across the whole year. Why not provide the summer six monthly data as well? 

Using Doncaster as an example, we are not saying that the re-conviction rate for the Oct-Mar 6 months will necessarily match the re-conviction rate for the Apr-Sep 6 months. In fact, because of seasonality it is more likely that they will differ, as you say. Therefore, because we want to compare re-conviction rates over time, we must use the same period for the comparison in each year – that is comparing the various Oct-Mar periods over time. If instead we compared the pilot period of Oct11-Mar12 with say Jan09-Jun09, any difference could reflect a real change, but it could also simply reflect seasonal effects. By comparing the equivalent period in each year, we eliminate this risk of seasonality. 

g) I hear what you say about the 19 month period but it really does look shady! Why not 18 months? Why not 6 months? Hopefully the overall data will clear all this up.

We process and analyse re-offending data on a quarterly basis. For the interim figures released on 13 June, the latest quarter for which we could provide 6 month re-conviction figures was the quarter ending March 2012. The Peterborough pilot started in September 2010 (partway through a quarter), which meant we were able to report on a maximum of 19 months of the first Peterborough cohort period. We could have chosen to round this down to a more conventional 18 months but we took the decision that we should include as much of the data as possible to maximise the robustness of the figures. The Doncaster pilot began in October 2011, at the start of a quarter, meaning we reported on a more conventional looking 6 month period.

It is all getting rather convoluted (which is one of the problems I have with PbR in that payments will steadily become more and more like arguments about how many angels can fit on a pin head). However, there are some points I will be raising from all this... (for another day)

But what are your thoughts? What questions now need to be asked?

Meanwhile, if you have not read it, here is my blog post about the next batch results that were published a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Power down (or is it up?)

I am not sure I can be bothered to read the whole of the new report just published by Policy Exchange which is called "Power Down: A plan for a cheaper, more effective justice system". You may ask why given that colleagues have already blogged about and linked to it, and it is currently appearing on the front page of the BBC news site.

Well: Policy Exchange describes itself as:
Policy Exchange is the UK’s leading think tank. As an educational charity our mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas which deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy. The authority and credibility of our research is our greatest asset. Our research is independent and evidence-based and we share our ideas with policy makers from all sides of the political spectrum. Our research is strictly empirical and we do not take commissions. This allows us to be completely independent and make workable policy recommendations.
The executive summary of the new report begins with the words:
Despite the cutbacks of recent years, England and Wales still has one of the most expensive criminal justice systems in the world.
We do? Where is the evidence base for that assertion? By expensive are the authors trying to suggest that it is inefficient? Google defines 'expensive' as 'costing a lot of money' and with synonyms such as 'costly - dear - sumptuous - valuable - pricey - rich'. Is this what the authors mean? And if it is, where is the reference / research to back up this claim? I cannot find any, though I am happy to be pointed to the right footnote in the text. But if they meant that the UK is one of the richest countries in the world and spends a proportionate amount of money on its justice system... they could have said so.

But as it stands, this kind of flim flam claptrap does nothing for the 'authority and credibility' of Policy Exchange. I hope they know that.

But please do read report yourself, I will be interested in your conclusions. I skimmed it and found some interesting statements such as:
Outsourcing of probation: The Government is about to begin the process of outsourcing around 80% of probation work to the private sector, as part of bold reforms to introduce payment-by-results to rehabilitative services and to extend supervision of prisoners to offenders sentenced to fewer than 12 months in custody.
Hmm. And there was I thinking this outsourcing might end up contracting with 3rd sector or charitable bodies. It is good to know the truth...

Or there is this:
The need for a clear and shared vision in government: These tactical issues can largely be explained by the fact that PCCs are new. But they are driven, in part, by a strategic problem. It is apparent that there is not yet any real clarity within the Government as a whole about the importance to attach to the PCC role, nor how its relationship within the criminal justice system (and more widely) should evolve over time.
So despite Policy Exchange citing all the 'authoritative' reports it has produced over several years where it has outlined, proposed and shaped the role of the PCC, there is no 'real clarity within the Government... about the importance to attach to the PCC'. And this is also despite the fact that the model was discussed widely by the Conservative Party & many others before 2010, features in 'The Plan' by Hannan & Carswell (also widely read by the government) and indeed was in the Party's manifesto and later the coalition agreement.

I could go on, but hey, you can read the full report yourself. In the meantime, I was a little curious about the charitable body that funded (in part or in whole) the 'research' and publication of this report. In the acknowledgements section, the authors say:
Special thanks go to the Hadley Trust for their support for this project.
So I looked up the Hadley Trust on the Charity Commission website. On here the trust's objectives are shown as:
primarily, but not exclusively, to assist in creating opportunities for people who are disadvantaged to improve their situation, either by financial assistance, involvement in project and support work or research into the causes of, and means to alleviate, hardship.
Given how tough it has been for some PCCs so far, perhaps this report will go someway towards alleviating their hardship. Perhaps... 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kicking localism in the stomach (80 houses on Moreton Road)

(This is my personal view of what happened this afternoon at a meeting of Aylesbury Vale District Council's Strategic Development Control Committee: i.e. this is not an official Town Council view.)

I have just returned from attending the meeting at which the second (near identical) application to develop the land on the Moreton Road south of the rugby club was debated. After an hour and ¾ debate, of which nearly half an hour was in private session discussing legalities, the decision was taken to accept the officer’s recommendation to approve this development. 5 members voted for the motion to accept the recommendation and 3 abstained. The motion was proposed by Cllr Paternoster (who was standing in for Cllr Mills, the local councillor who has actively campaigned against the development but who was unable to be present due to family reasons), and seconded by Cllr Polhill.

This was despite cogent and passionate presentations from David Child (local resident and campaigner), Cllr Isham and myself. The statement I read out is below.

From where I sat, (if I am being charitable) it appeared that this was a sadly expedient decision made on strong advice from the council’s legal officer who was present at the meeting. Had they voted against, they would have gone against the previous appeal decision by the planning inspector which (I suspect they were advised) could have led them into very choppy and expensive waters.

If I am being uncharitable, I think they bottled out. Local people will decide which one of my views they favour.

The legal challenge to the Planning Inspector’s decision to support the appeal against the first planning decision is still in process at the High Court. The planning terrain is fast changing with the nascent Vale of Aylesbury Plan just being submitted for approval and the Buckingham Town Plan well underway. It seems to me that the developers have spotted a small window into which they might submit their plans (again) in the knowledge that resistance will be patchy. Meanwhile AVDC choose to set up this meeting at short notice in the middle of August.

It strikes me as curious that a democratically elected authority could stand accused of acting unreasonably by making a decision consistent with its first decision, but an unaccountable developer who submits a near identical planning application while the first is being looked at in the courts, is not acting unreasonably. But I guess this is part of the corporate world we now inhabit.

A poor and pusillanimous decision was made this afternoon, in my opinion. Had I been on this committee, I would have voted against and wrestled with the consequences.

In my view localism is about local developments being genuinely plan-led, which empower local people to shape their surroundings and which creatively improve and enhance the places where people live their lives. Localism in Aylesbury Vale was kicked in the stomach this afternoon.

My five minute statement:

My name is Jon Harvey, and I am councillor from Buckingham Town Council. I am here with the full backing of BTC – but I also live just up the road from the proposed development. I am a Maids Moreton resident.

As you know, the Town Council is resolutely opposed to this application to build 80 houses just south of our town’s rugby club. You will have read our reasons in the officer’s report.

It is our view, that substantive matters were overlooked by the Planning Inspector. Moreover, while the Planning Officer has written a logical and technically astute report recommending you approve the application (albeit with conditions), it is still your judgement that counts in the end.

My aim this afternoon is to persuade you that there are several significant reasons as to why you must reject this application, as indeed you did before, with a very similar one. This is a separate application.

The application stills fails to address the issue of traffic volume and its harmful impact on not only the town but also Maids Moreton. No proper traffic survey has been carried out and much of the desk researched data was generated before the 200 other houses on Moreton Road were built and occupied. It is getting increasingly hard to get into and through town due to traffic backing up on the hill by the old police station and at the old gaol roundabout.

This application cannot and must not be approved in the absence of proper raw data collected through a proper survey.

The Planning Inspector’s report talks of a framework travel plan and ‘trip crediting measures’ whatever they are. The Town Council does not believe in the fantasy that with a couple of extra bus shelters and cycle sheds in the town centre, the traffic problems generated by what could be soon 280 extra dwellings on the Moreton Road will magically disappear. Do you?

By approving these extra 80 houses you risk significantly adding to the rat runs bisecting streams of children attending local schools. This has not been fully addressed in the planning application.

We all know that the Planning Inspector did not get the figures correct on housing land supply. The notion that the Aylesbury plans do not have enough housing land set aside for adequate supply is bunkum. There is plenty of land already set aside for housing in the rural areas outside of Aylesbury. The Planning Inspector should not have conflated the Aylesbury town land with the land in the rest of the district. There is adequate supply so this is NOT a reason to approve these houses.

Moreover, the forthcoming plans will VERY SOON make that abundantly clear. Moreover, the planning context has changed hugely since the first application.

I could go on obviously and I refer you back to all of our points in the report. I have not commented upon the point about Buckingham and Maids Moreton still being separate communities. But ask me a question if you wish.

But I will finish with this. The report before you is accurate but is so replete with highly technical language and convoluted sentences, that even if the planning officer had recommended the opposite, I suspect that much of the report would have read the same. I would contend there is no strong case being presented by the Planning Officer.

This is your call…

And to quote the National Planning Policy Framework’s 12 core planning principles. As I read some of them out, please ask yourself does this application match these principles or not?

1. Is this application genuinely plan-led, empowering local people to shape their surroundings?
2. Will it creatively improve and enhance the places where people live their lives?
3. Does it meet the development needs of the area?
4. Is it a high quality of design and amenity?
5. Does this application take account of different roles and character of different areas… recognising character and beauty?
6. Does it support the transition to a low carbon future?
7. Does it enhance the natural environment?
8. Is it about using brownfield land?
9. Will there be multiple benefits arising from this new development?
10. Is heritage being conserved?
11. Is this a sustainable development which will encourage walking and cycling?
12. Will this new development improve the health, social and cultural well-being for all?

If your answers were mostly ‘no’… then please make your decision on that basis. On behalf of Buckingham Town Council and as a nearby resident, I urge you to make the right one.

Technology & the Queen's Peace: a survey

As preparation for a conference in the spring of next year, I want to carry out a survey. I need your help. I would be most grateful if you could answer the questions below. There are just three and you don't even have to answer all three if you do not want to.

You can post your answers below anonymously or using your name. Or you can email me (, tweet me (either @JonSHarvey or @CllrJonSHarvey) or text or phone me (details here). I don't mind how.

In return, I promise to publish the survey results here as soon as I have a substantive pool of replies to make that worthwhile.

Now to the questions:
1) What existing technology (that you have come across) would, with substantial investment, be an extraordinarily cost effective way of improving community safety / crime reduction?
2) What possible technology (that is just beyond what we currently have) would, with substantial investment, be an extraordinarily cost effective way of improving community safety / crime reduction?
3) What 'sci fi' technology (that is well beyond what we currently have) would, with substantial investment, be an extraordinarily cost effective way of improving community safety / crime reduction?
You may well have more than one answer to each of these questions, but please try to restrict yourself to the best one, in your opinion, for each.

I look forward to reading your answers. Please spread this around to others who you think might also wish to participate.

Thank you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It is what works... isn't it?

The Daily Mail gets into 'rant' mode so easily (especially the people who add their antediluvian comments), they really ought to print it in purple ink. A colleague and friend sent me this clipping the other day:

Police 'rewarding' shoplifters with food vouchers after they are caught stealing
Shoplifters caught stealing are being released by police and handed free food vouchers. Officers across the country have been issued with the vouchers that allow criminals to collect three days’ supply of provisions donated to food banks. Some shoplifters claim that they had no choice but to turn to crime to feed themselves or their families. But critics have said giving vouchers to offenders rewards thieves at the expense of law-abiding citizens...
Seven (7) vouchers have been handed out by Staffordshire Police so far under this scheme. The most recent case, it is reported, was of a man who spent his benefits on a vet's bill for treating his dog, stole some food and then handed himself in. However...
the scheme was suspended in Staffordshire last night after local Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis ordered a review. He said it was ‘absolutely not acceptable that criminals should appear to be rewarded’. Mr Ellis added: ‘It’s not the case in this situation but that’s what it looks like it and that’s something I can’t tolerate.
I think what intrigues me most about this story is that the Daily Mail bothered to put 'rewarding' in quotation marks. Does the author (John Stevens) have some sympathy with this scheme I wonder?

But what worries me most is that the PCC appears to have the power to suspend such a scheme. Assuming the report is correct, since when did a PCC have the authority to stop an aspect of operational practice? I am curious... Perhaps Mr Ellis would like to confirm what happened? I have read his blog and it is not clear what exactly he has done... Did he instruct the Chief Constable to stop the scheme and review it? On what basis will it be reviewed?

The Chief Constable, Mike Cunningham, has commented:
"On the few occasions where these vouchers have been given out my understanding is that people have been arrested for stealing food and they are in very straitened times. In order to encourage them not to offend in the future they have been given access to food banks." A Staffordshire Police spokesperson said: "These were some of the most hard pressed individuals that our officers had seen and they used their professional judgement to give them food vouchers provided by a local charity."
But in the end, isn't tackling and preventing crime about what works? I am pretty sure that the local police would take a different stance if someone kept stealing food and rocked up at the police station demanding another voucher. So I think, we can trust police officers to use their common sense and act in ways that are not only compassionate but also effective at stopping crime in the future.

But meanwhile, I look forward to hearing about the review and its results.

I would also have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the PCC asked / told / hinted obliquely (??) that Chief Constable should have the scheme suspended and reviewed.

Whither / wither operational independence?

UPDATE: The magic of twitter

I have just been tweeting this blog post and, of course, tweeted the main protagonists. The Chief Constable came back in flash:

A very creditable and worthy response. I can relax. No infringement of operational policing. But I do wonder about all the reporting though. How could this be?

For example a BBC news story says this:
Staffordshire PCC Matthew Ellis, said it was "absolutely not acceptable" for it to appear criminals were being rewarded for stealing. He said he had suspended the scheme immediately and ordered a review.
(My added highlight) The BBC, the PCC and the CC cannot all be correct... What do you think?

Monday, August 19, 2013

More tilting at lamp posts...

Thanks to a heads up from Kyle McKay I see that the MoJ have now published an update on the Payment by Results pilots in Doncaster and Peterborough. You can access it here. (My previous blog posts can be accessed here.)

Proving the PbR pilots have worked is still a long way off, it would seem to me: the MoJ concedes they do need full 12 month post release data in order to do a full blown comparison ("final results will not be available until 2014"). However, this does not prevent them from interpreting the results (in my view) creatively to show how PbR is working in these two areas.

However, I would point out the following:
  • They say the "interim re-conviction figures being published in this statistical bulletin are based on periods half the length of those that will be used for the final results".  I say this is not just half this is the first half of a 12 month period. Second halves are also a little harder...
  • How typical are Doncaster and Peterborough compared to the rest of the country? All the comparisons made are with national data. Given the news about Doncaster in recent months & years, it is hardly a standard place. Also Peterbrough is a 'new town' and (according to Wikipedia) "Peterborough's population grew by 45.4% between 1971 and 1991" which I think makes it a somewhat unusual place. So are national comparisons really valid?
  • They say that "Both PbR prison pilots use a 12 month re-conviction measure which differs from the National Statistics proven re-offending measure. The key difference is that re-convictions only count offences for which the offender was convicted at court, whereas the National Statistics proven re-offending measure also includes out of court disposals (cautions)" and "Additionally, there are a number of other differences between the pilots and the National Statistics proven re-offending measure in terms of which offenders are counted within the cohort". That all seems pretty important to me... does it to you?
  • Indeed the whole document seems peppered with so many caveats, footnotes and explanations as to make me wonder just what we are being told.
  • They say "Success of the Peterborough pilot will be measured against a control group of similar offenders released from other prisons, with the target met if the frequency of re-conviction events is 10 per cent lower for the Peterborough cohort than for the control group. It is not possible to replicate that comparison for these interim figures". I say: why not? Why is the 'control group' not being monitored in a similar way? It does not make it much of a control group..!
  • They say "The national comparisons included with the previous interim figures published on 13 June 2013 included all prisons, not just local prisons. However, because Peterborough is a local prison, using national figures for other local prisons provides a better comparison". Huh? Why were the local prison data not used before? Are they just using whatever data seems to give the 'best' result?
  • It would appear that frequency of conviction rates in Doncaster have been coming down since September 2007 whereas nationally during the same period, national figures have been showing a rise since September 2007. The Peteborough pilot began in October 2010. At the very least this shows that national comparisons are dodgy since the trends were going in opposite ways before all the PbR pilots began. It also potentially shows that other significant forces are present in Peterborough that could be creating the positive trends other than the PbR pilots... 
  • Similarly the Donaster reconviction rates have been in a downward trend since October 2007, the data appears to suggest: again well before the pilots were begun. 
  • (As an aside: the national data shows some very worrying trends: reconviction events per 100 offenders has gone from 66 to 84 between June 2007 and 2012. That is a rise of  over 27%. That is a bit concerning isn't it?)
  • But for me the biggest problem with this whole comparison approach is that a potentially huge Hawthorne Effect is not being controlled for. In other words, the mere presence and attention being given to the PbR pilots is what is creating any positive effect, not the pilots themselves. This is not, I repeat NOT, being controlled for. For me this calls into question the whole edifice on which these pilots are based.
Anyone with an ounce of independent thought will understand that, at the very least, these results are not the basis which to build a whole reform of the offender management system. The comparisons are shaky and riven with cautions.

It is time to develop a better experimental framework.

British Remote & Online Police Service

I first came across the internet acronym 'irl' many years ago but it was not long after I began living some of my life on line. Part of who I am, my identity exists in the virtual world of the internet. There are large bits of me, as were, held in binary code on a whole variety of servers. Some of this is current, some of this is historical. I have friends on the internet whom I will probably never meet in real life. We exchange greetings. I have been trolled and verbally abused. I have probably made thousands of financial transactions. Last week I initiated court action against a person online. Last night I watched ten minutes of a programme about One Direction's fan base and how they felt connected to their idols in ways that teenage fans of Donny Osmond and David Cassidy could only have dreamt of...

In recent weeks, there have been several tragic stories of young people being driven to suicide by abuse and threats via the internet. No doubt, although much less reported, many hundreds of people will parted with thousands of pounds via various kinds of internet scams. Probably also a fair few (dozens perhaps?) of credit cards will have been stolen, skimmed or cloned and used to pay for all many of items from airline tickets and tube fares. Also sadly some more children will have been groomed and put in danger of abuse. I could go on.

But who polices this virtual world?

Who has the resources not only to tackle such crimes when they occur but also the resources to reduce the risk of such crimes in the future? Who has the ear of the internet industry be they service providers, web designers, cloud managers and all manner of commercial people who make the internet work, so that robust preventative action can be comprehensively taken? What is the internet equivalent of a car immobiliser?

Who is taking a joined up strategic view on all this?

And yes I know we have CEOP and Action Fraud, and probably other units that I do not know about but I do wonder whether we now need a single joined up virtual police service to assemble all these resources together into one centre of excellence? Just like we have the British Transport Police (which in my view ought to look after policing at all airports and sea ports too - but that is another blog post) why do we not have the British Online Police Service?

And to complete the picture as I suspect many of these crimes overlap, I have added in the idea of 'remote' crime which would include in my book rogue phone calls and mail order scams (etc.) which also cause huge distress.

And so I arrive at the idea of the British  Remote & Online Police Service as a new legal entity, probably with new enforcement powers, a governance structure that includes the internet industry (similar to BTP) and clear partnership liaison with 'irl' police services and financial regulators. In these straightened times this will need some imaginative sources of funding (a broad band / junk mail tax perhaps?) to ensure it is adequately resourced.

Can I interest one of the major political parties in this idea in time for the next election? Or even sooner perhaps...?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The source of innovation in the public services

Many years ago, in my first year at university, I lived in a hall of residence. I recall a debate that went on between me and a couple of cyberneticists about whether humankind would ever be able to create a robot that was superior to a human. Their view was that this would be possible. I took (and still take) the opposite view: humans will always be superior to machines.

I am not going to run through the whole argument (mostly because the detail has now left my accessible memory) but I do recall winning the argument. (My colleagues may of course have a different memory!) In my view I won because I said that human mortality would always give us that creative edge. In other words when the chips are down, the robot would know it was replicable. As people we know we are not and this gives us that fraction more grip on the present and desire to survive. Moreover, and I have only discovered this as I have got older and become a parent, love makes all the difference as well. 

Loving other people, deeply caring about others, especially one's own children, makes us want for something better... always.

But why am I writing this?

This morning, I began a small twitter debate with a blogger I have huge respect for: Russell Webster ‏(@russwebt) We have been discussing the pros and cons of Payment by Results (I have linked this to Russell's blog as it provides an excellent starter for ten). Russel said that he is pro PbR (but with questions). I asked him why. He said that it was because the "principles are right: outcome-focus, space for innovation. Would rather see reinvestment not profit as incentive + contract retention as provider incentive" and when I quizzed him further, he said an "outcome focus strips out bureaucracy. Very little innovation in public services over last 20 years (apart from pilots)".


I am going to let go the throw away line of "very little innovation in public services over last 20 years" since I think there has been much. But let's not debate that at the moment. 

Let's debate instead what I see as Russell's fundamental point which is that money or threat of contract termination are the best ways of getting innovation into the public services. I profoundly disagree. I would argue that in fact it is this neo-liberal perspective and policies that have closed down innovation and improvement in the public services.

Now, as my story above partly accepts, innovation does come from a threat to survival. This comes from our mortality... which for me includes our humanity and our love of the world and the people within it. In my view, the atomisation, and commodification of the public services has all but destroyed the true source of public service innovation: the deep desire to make this world a better place for the many not just the moneyed few.

I think what has stopped innovation from bursting out in more places in the public services is not the absence of financial incentives provided by the likes of PbR and other neo-liberal commercial models being shoe horned into the public services (by some politicians and consultancies like McKinsey and others) - but their presence, their dominance even. 

Instead, what we need now is the progressive vision, political leadership and the concomitant policies for public services to be based on that simple principle of... public service! 

We do not need PbR reward formulas that look increasingly like Credit Default Swaps composed by actuaries in darkened rooms. We do not need yet more Byzantine organisational plumbing to make the "customer/provider" model work in the NHS/Prisons/Schools etc. (The model does not fit!)  

What we need are the public services committed to public service...

Monday, August 12, 2013

You is kind, you is smart and you is important

I watched "The Help" last night. Brilliant film. Do watch it if you can. It portrays 1960's Mississippi: the role of African American Maids and their WASP(ish) bosses. It is a study in historical (I hope) racism, casual heartless acts and exploitation with some some quite breathtaking acting from the mostly female cast.

The irony of one maid doing what she could to help a small girl grow up to be a confident young woman who in all likelihood would become a fearful racist like her mother, was not lost on me. But it reminded me of was the role of self confidence / belief / worth in so many dimensions of crime and anti social behaviour.

I am no expert of course, but I suspect that valuing and respecting oneself is a critical aspect in domestic violence. And I do not just mean that in relation to the victims, but also the perpetrators too. In my view no truly self respecting and confident man would ever use violence, intimidation or bullying in a relationship.

And I think that many people who carry out criminal acts also lack self confidence and respect since they are prepared to risk their status in society for the sake of some burgled items or stolen goods. And when they get caught, the criminal justice system is often perfectly designed to corrode what little self respect they have been left with.

I know it is not that simple. But I maintain that a feeling of self worth and of being confident is one of the surest ways to reduce a persons inclination to commit crime. As a society, what do we do about that?
  • We short change children in schools my marginalising personal, social and health education
  • News sources continually highlight all the bad things that young people do, with precious little exposure of all the many more good things
  • We punish the poor and vulnerable with benefit changes that are just plain mean 
  • The media trumpet words like scroungers, illegals and workshy, reinforcing "us & then" and ideas like the deserving (and undeserving) poor
  • We create working conditions (such as zero hour contracts) which foster fear, compliance and lack of purpose
I could go on.

The question is: will this cycle ever stop? Where are the bold actions (by PCCs, Well Being Boards and all the professionals involved) designed to boost people's self confidence and worth?