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.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The importance of face to face contact

I understand that Buckinghamshire County Council and Aylesbury Vale District Council are on the cusp of deciding to withdraw front desk staff from the libraries in Buckingham & Winslow. These are the officers who are able to answer council taxpayer queries about county and district services face to face. If this happens, and you live in the north of the County, you will have to trek all the way down to Aylesbury to visit either county or district offices.

Several of us in the Town Council want a different solution. We are proposing that the County, District and Town Council officers & members urgently sit down around a table and find an economic solution that will mean that local people can still access face-to-face help.

Do you think such a meeting should happen? If yes, please sign these two petitions (one on the County Council site and one on the AVDC site):
Let's talk!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 'not giving a floating duck' problem (Secret Diary of a PCC)

Well, I am totally stuffed: not just by the turkey, fox & game pie but also by the Home Secretary and her velveteen apparatchiks in Marsham Street. They want to cut my grant by nearly £6m in the next financial year! What?!? A precept rise of 2% won't cover it. And if I dare have a referendum to seek support for a (say) a 4% rise and then lose, I would have to pay the cost of said referendum (£1.2m) out of money I do not have. So here I am: stuck between a huge Christmas cake and a mountain of cold, solid Christmas pudding.

And despite crime coming down, demand is rising like my beagle's blood pressure on Boxing day. Just when I thought the Chief Constable had managed to match resources to requirements over the festive season, along comes the bloomin' rain and the overtime budgets float down the river. So much for the Big Society... when the crisis hits the fan, people expect the public services to turn out.

(And I see the PM got an earful down in Kent yesterday. Of course Kent County Council have been proud not to increase their council tax over the last four years! Chickens coming home to roost eh?! And it's not as if Eric Pickles' doesn't know about flooding, but piffle, that was last Christmas and we have learnt so much since then...! Pickles will, of course, carry on offering up Local Authority grants for the biggest cuts of all, no matter what.)

So what to do? I am thinking outsourcing is the only way ahead. As with PFI, I will just have to mortgage the future in order to make the present finances balance. Yes I know there are risks but I really have no option. We need cheaper policing...

Of course once we do outsource, the biggest risk we run is loss of that public service commitment we see so often: where police officers and staff will put their boots on, on Christmas Day to help people in need. I worry that if staff and officers are working for profit making companies, (putting it bluntly) they might not give so much as a floating duck about emergencies beyond what they are contracted to perform. But I believe I have covered this risk by drafting this clause to go into the contracts we will be agreeing with future private sector providers:

As a contracted supplier to NorthFordWestshire (NFWshire) you will be required to:
  • Not worry about profits during times of public emergencies
  • Go all extra and unforeseeable miles during said emergencies
  • Ensure employment regulations expressly require all staff to remain chipper and jauntily committed to serving the public during such emergencies 
  • Have a robust volunteer / Big Society strategy that will result in an immediate doubling of resources in times of crisis at no extra cost to the public purse
  • Apply these clauses whenever the commissioner thinks it is an emergency
I cannot see a problem with the likes of G4Sercapita agreeing to such contractual terms. Can you?

Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

International sheep rescue

Yesterday, I helped rescue a sheep. 

My wife and I were out for a walk across the fields near where we live and happened across a distressed sheep that had got tangled in some bracken. Wool and brambles do not mix well. And we were both very concerned that the sheep could be slowly throttling him (? there were horns...) self.

But what to do? We did not know who owned the sheep nor the farmer whose field it was. So I dialled 999 and sought help from the police service, hoping they would be able to spare the resource to assist. Or at least put us onto someone who could.

Within about 25 minutes a constable and PCSO turned up in a liveried covered pickup van. Having established that the nearby farmer did not own the sheep and one who did was not answering his mobile, the four of us pondered what to do next. There was only one solution: free the sheep.

But we needed some tools. Now I assumed the back of the truck would be police equivalent of the Thunderbird 2 hanger: it was nearly as big (as the Gerry Anderson set).

However, apart from a few traffic cones and some fluorescent jackets, there was not much. Certainly nothing in a way of a saw or even a Swiss army knife. The officer quipped that they weren't allowed to carry offensive weapons!

But improvisation and the 'can do' attitude of the police saved the day and it is amazing what can be achieved with a seat belt cutter. The police officer sliced through the strands of foliage one at a time and the sheep was released. Once he 'found its feet' again, he (she?) ran off with half a bush attached to his shoulder. The PCSO phoned the farmer again who this time answered the call and she gave him an update.

So what did I learn (or was reminded of) from this incident:
  • The police are resourceful, creative, willing and committed to helping all in distress, including sheep
  • Their 'kit' is pretty limited (but perhaps for good reason?)
  • The police do not just deal with crime (and send this on a post card to the Home Secretary)
  • They deploy their resources responsively depending on minute to minute priorities (I am sure that had we been told that no support was available for several hours, we would have found some other way but... I am very glad they were able to help, and I expect the sheep was too)
  • Seat belt cutters have more than one use!
So may I wish all who work in and with the police (and all emergency services) a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. While most of us will be tucking into sprouts, watching the Queen and enjoying the Dr Who & Downton Abbey specials: there will be police officers and staff, firefighters and ambulance crews waiting for the next job to do. 

Thank you to all of them (and their families who have their festivities on another day). 

Seasonal greetings!

Dear reader, here is my Christmas Card to you:

My word and theme for next year is 'Being' (This blog post explains why)

May 2014 be all that you wish and hope for. In this complicated, busy and beautiful world, may you find peace and joy this Christmas. And long may it continue.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Public accountability & Police & Crime Panels

I have been browsing through the Home Affairs Committee: Written evidence Police and Crime Commissioners: Progress to date document. As you do... (Thanks to Martin Beckford and Mark Ryan for highlighting this tome for me.)

In it, the PCC for Thames Valley states (in talking about the role of police and crime panels in holding their commissioners to account):
8. First, may I point out that police and crime panels do not have a statutory responsibility to hold commissioners to account. The Home Secretary has made it clear that it is the electorate, through the ballot box, who holds their commissioner to account. 
Through the ballot box...? Hmm.

So how does this work? I note this past story in a local newspaper:

To quote the article:
Anthony Stansfeld, who was elected in November, has said that he does not think the PCC should be too old, and feels that at the age of 67 he should only see out one term. “At the moment I have no intention of running again,” he said.
(Mr Stansfeld, who I understand was born on October 14, 1945, will be aged 70 when the next elections are due in May 2016.)

So, let me get this correct: a PCC who has publicly stated that he has no intention of running again due to his age has also stated that it is the electorate that holds him to account at the ballot box.

How does that work then?

I would argue that public accountability is about far more than a once in a while election. It is about working in partnership with the Panel and accepting their role as one of proper challenge, not only to decisions after they have been made but also towards plans for a start. Mr Stansfeld says:
Finally, where there has been tension between the Panel and myself, it has usually involved the following.... The Panel seeking to extend its role and remit beyond its statutory duties and responsibilities, e.g. attempting to scrutinise my intentions, rather than my decisions and actions, and effectively seeking to act as a consultative body with a view to approving or endorsing my proposals prior to my taking decisions.
How very dare they do this!!

And of course, public accountability is about far more than this.

But have a read through what Mr Stansfeld says in his submission to the Parliamentary Committee (his piece is on page 76). What do you think?

Here is a 'wordle' word cloud of his submission:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

17 ways to assess your PCC

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about how the performance of PCCs might be assessed. You can read it here. I have now had a chance to think of 17 ways in which PCCs might be comprehensively measured. Here they are:
  1. Given that they are elected, PCCs should first be measured against what they promised to achieve in their campaign literature / manifesto. This of course was hugely variable with some campaign statements talking about whisky, hops & scented roses and nothing about policing or crime. Others made such vague statements to make it almost impossible to assess their progress. But it is where I would start.
  2. They should of course be assessed against their legally defined role. On the Gov.UK site this is defined as "PCCs are elected to make sure that local police meet the needs of the community". So how is your PCC operationalising that measure? Their role is more than simply that of course...
  3. One of the tasks of a PCC is to appoint an effective (if not superlative) Chief Constable. So one measure of a PCC is just how good the appointed Chief Constable is. Not all PCCs will do this (although I suspect most will in the course of their tenure). And how do you measure the 'goodness' of a Chief Constable? Answers on a postcard please...
  4. An allied measure to this, I would contend, is the quality of the relationship between a PCC and their CC. Judging this of course is hard to do although we can see evidence of where the relationships have been somewhat, shall we say, strained... However there would be occasions where both PCC and CC are present which could provide some (body language?) indicators of the quality of this relationship, perhaps.
  5. Another key task is setting a robust budget that matches the police & crime plan. Is there consistency between budget and plan. Is the plan working?
  6. As my previous blog has said, the link between PCC action and reductions in actual crime is at best tenuous... but of course it may be that is how the voting public may well judge the success of the PCC in question. But all crime or certain categories? 
  7. Public engagement is surely something to pay attention to: the best PCCs will be out meeting their public and engaging them in a dialogue about the future of policing and crime in their area. This can be measured purely on the basis of volume: has the PCC been 'out there'? Moreover can they evidence paying attention to what their public have said and acted upon their concerns? 
  8. Whilst the PCC has limited influence over what the constabulary does, they do all manage their Office for the Police & Crime Commissioner. So one measure of a PCC is how well do they run their own ship? Is the OPCC effective, efficient, transparent etc?
  9. All PCCs are bound by the 7 Nolan Principles and their Oath. (Here is a link to the Cheshire PCC's website with this information). One way to assess a PCC is to see if their integrity measures up well against these principles & oath.
  10. Of course, while they made their campaign promises, new issues arise and the deft PCC will be able to respond to them with elan. But how do you actually measure what I will call 'strategic responsiveness'
  11. Another measure is mere presence: have they been around enough? Or have they carried on being a councillor and/or part time PCC? Have they ensconced themself onto various national bodies and spent too much time away from the area?
  12. Although I am not sure again how this might be measured (perhaps a 360 degree process?), but has the PCC engaged successfully in partnership and collaborative initiatives? By their presence and contribution have they helped the teams become more than the sum of their individual parts? Or not...
  13. Have they commissioned the 'and crime' services successfully? Is the performance of these various suppliers evidencing effective commissioning and management processes, or not? 
  14. Has the PCC developed a positive public profile? Do people know who the PCC is, what they do and stand for...maybe even what they look like? 
  15. A crude measure in 2016 (assuming we still have PCCs then) will be whether more people come out to vote. That at least would be a numeric measure of their impact.
  16. How many complaints has the PCC had to deal with? Have they been subject to any kind of audit / action by the Police & Crime Panel?
  17. Has the PCC themself paid any attention at all to the need for the public to have a way of measuring their performance? Has the PCC ever invited feedback on how well they are doing and what they might do to improve? Does the PCC provide any data to the public which would help citizens do this? In short, does the PCC care about making their performance public?
So those are my 17 measures. What would you add

...and 18. They are kind to children and animals - especially police dogs! #Dontditchthedogs

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My visit to Number 10

Yesterday I had my first (and probably only ever) opportunity to walk through the doors of 10 Downing Street.

I was there for a meeting of the SME Panel. I have blogged about this before but in summary I have been part of smallish group of SME business people over two and half years advising the Cabinet Office on how to make government procurement more 'SME friendly'.

The essence is this: SMEs can provide far better value services and products to government based on lower overheads, more innovation and better quality. This can lead to some staggering reductions in cost to the taxpayer as well as helping the British economy to grow. It is proverbial 'no brainer'.

However (and this is a rather large however...) many (most?) government procurement departments at all levels and in many agencies seemed to be wedded to processes that favour larger organisations. And the only winners are these large companies: not the taxpayer, not the growing economy of smaller businesses and not the citizens (as the beneficiaries of these services). Frankly it is a huge scandal and it has been my pleasure to have been a small part in this government's attempt to turn the procurement tanker around in the English channel, as it were.

Anyway yesterday, we were graced by the presence of Lord Young and Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society. They both listened carefully to all the points made by the panel members present. We also had some useful information given to us by Stephen Allot, the Crown Representative for SMEs.

Here are some of the points that were made:
  • We were introduced to the "Small Business / GREAT Ambition" strategy of the government.
  • The measures in this include abolishing PQQs for low value tenders (less than €200k), putting all public tenders onto a single site (Contracts Finder), a trip-advisor type feedback mechanism for purchasers to rate suppliers and vice versa... and more. 
  • The G-Cloud level playing field has shown just what SMEs can do: "as of the end of October 2013, 56% of of total public sector spend by value through the G-Cloud framework had gone to SME suppliers" (from Stephen Allot's blog)
  • One of the suppliers around the table declared that they had just won a contract with a bid of £6m. A large well known IT supplier had also submitted a bid (and lost) of £100m. This points to the vast improvements in taxpayer value that can be achieved by procuring from SMEs
  • Many parts of government are pursuing this strategy with verve and alacrity while other parts (sometimes even within the same Department) are still living in the 'dark ages'... paying out to over priced contracts because the procurement processes were not SME friendly
  • A system will be introduced to shame government purchasers & large primes who fail to pay their suppliers on time
Nick Hurd challenged the group to come up with a list of actions that can be taken before the next election to institute irreversible change in how government procures, beyond what is already planned. That will be the subject of a future blog...

Waxing & waning (2)

Following my appearance on BBC You & Yours last week, I was featured on this week's Wednesday programme as well to accompany further research by the Y&Y team (specifically Kevin Core)

You can listen to the episode here. (About 1'20" in)

It is emerging that perhaps bio-diesel could be the source of the problem although it is still unclear. Apparently the RAC have helped over 600 drivers with this 'waxing' problem in November alone. You can read the BBC blog which has some more detail here.

It would seem that Department of Transport and the fuel industry have been working on this problem for the last few months. But...
  • Why were we not told?
  • Is it now time for them to shift up a gear (or two) in their investigations?
So if you have experienced this, please let You and Yours know so that we can keep public attention on this problem. My hunch is that the industry and government need some nudging to get this problem solved very soon. The next few months are going to be colder and there will be more drivers suffering. And the problem has been known about for quite some time by both the industry and trading standards...

Do we have to wait until a driver or passenger is seriously injured before speedier and effective action is taken?

UPDATE 131213|1410: Media developments

It seems as if this story is growing. I have spoken today to Radio 5 Live, the RAC and the Sunday Times. Indeed (if you are not already bored with listening to me on the radio), I will be on tomorrow night live on Radio 5 at around 21.45

But the thought has struck me: if the agencies involved in the research (and that includes the industry, government, RAC, trading standards, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and probably the AA too among others) had gone public with this a few months ago more data could have been gathered and possibly the pattern could have been spotted sooner than now... a bit of breakdown / repair epidemiology as it were.

Why has it all been kept hush hush?

Buckingham: Doughnut or Donut?

I have only heard a verbal report of yesterday's Aylesbury Vale District Councils Development Control Committee, but to my knowledge and understanding:
  • The development of a Sainsbury's supermarket on the edge of Buckingham was considered
  • The council's planning officers had written a comprehensive and balanced report about the pro's and con's of this planning application. (You can read the full report here
  • This report goes into some detail about the traffic and retail impact of this new store, were it to be built, as well as reporting the comments from both the Town Council and residents of the area
  • In conclusion, the officers state (I have added some bold) "11.3 In respect of the retail impact, having regard to the likely significant adverse level of impact upon convenience shopping; the concern that the proposal would result in the closure of the Waitrose store, the loss of convenience goods shopping provision more generally; and the effect on linked shopping trips which would lead to consequential impacts on the vitality and viability of Buckingham town centre it is concluded that the proposals would have a significantly adverse impact upon town centre trade and turnover, consumer choice and town centre health contrary to paragraph 27 the NPPF [and]
  • 11.4 It is recommended therefore that having regard to the likely significantly adverse impact on the vitality and viability of Buckingham town centre, Members should defer and delegate the application for refusal subject to the resolution of matters in respect of highway details. Any refusal will be subject to such reasons as Officers consider appropriate.
  • It is my experience that it is rare for the members to go against a specific recommendation by their professional planning officers.
  • Town Councillor Howard Mordue read out a statement representing the views of the Town Council (see the report for these). However as District Councillor Howard Mordue, he later spoke in support of the application (in something akin to Gaullist mode, I assume!)
  • The application was approved subject to the planning officers negotiating a mitigating s.106 agreement with Sainsbury's involving (and this is where I am hazy) the building of a new health centre and other support for the town centre.
I am worrying deeply about this decision. And yes the irony is not lost on me that at the Town Council meeting I proposed cautious approval, although I lost the vote. As the AVDC committee report outlines on page 12:
Proposed by Cllr. Harvey, seconded by Cllr. Newell, that the Town Council cautiously supports this outline application subject to further robust discussions with it (and the CCG or appropriate part of the NHS) and resolution of our serious concerns about s106 arrangements, health care provision, public transport, traffic, economic & structural implications so that we get the best deal for Buckingham. Members voted 6:7 with no abstentions; the proposal therefore fell.
And so it would appear that AVDC members voted in accordance with my original motion at the Town Council. I hope they note that!!

But why am I worrying? I guess it because I fear that the s.106 deal to be struck will not be tough enough. AVDC has made a public commitment to becoming a more 'commercial' council:
Councillor Neil Blake, Leader of the Council, said: “We have to build on what we’re doing – becoming a more commercial council."
For me being a commercial council is not just about improving effectiveness and efficiency (as arguably haven't councils always tried to do that?) it is crucially about developing commercial 'nous' deep in the culture organisation. This includes having hard (but fair) negotiations with Sainsbury's.

Because if they don't, Buckingham risks going from a traditional doughnut town (with sugar on the outside and a hearty jammy centre) to an American style donut town with nothing in the middle and just a ring on the outside.

So what would I be seeking from Sainsbury's to mitigate the impact on the town, and indeed make the new store a positive asset to everyone living in Buckingham or nearby? Here is my wishlist:
  • A fully equipped state of the art health centre (as more or less promised in the marketing literature pushed through everyone's doors a few months ago)
  • Revenue support to this health centre to help get it on its feet for the first couple of years
  • Enough revenue to allow AVDC to make parking free for the first three hours in the town centre car parks for the next three years (just like the free parking around the new Sainsbury's)
  • Capital investment in the town to create new toilets for shoppers and visitors
  • Support for a village & town bus service to bring people to both the new store and the town centre
  • A promise by Sainsbury's to favour full time job contracts with a proportionate mix of some part time ones (rather than a rash of zero hour unstable contracts for their operating staff)
  • A contribution towards either the University or the Town Council or a new independent Trust (or a combination of all three) to set up a new Arts centre in the town to support the visual and performing arts to draw people into the town.
It is a long list (and perhaps not all s.106'able). But let us be very clear, Sainsbury's stand to make a great deal of money out of the town. Why should they not be putting a good deal of that profit back into our town?

And as always, what do you think? What do you think of the decision taken yesterday? What would be on your wishlist?

UPDATE 121213|0901: Email received from Cllr Howard Mordue

Just received an email from Howard where he stated: "Your informant was wrong It was deferred" As this seemed to me to be a challenge to what I have written (and was told), I have just phoned AVDC planning to check on the precise decision. Their officer said to me that the decision was that the application was "deferred for approval subject to the 106 agreement". This seems compatible with what I have written above so I won't be changing the words. Hopefully, this update clears up any lingering confusion though. But tell me if not!

UPDATE 230114|1109: Email received from Town Clerk: for total clarity

AVDC SDCC minutes for 11th December say (a) RESOLVED – That determination of the application indicated below be deferred to enable a planning obligation agreement with the Council to be completed to ensure that the health care site obligations contained in a planning obligation agreement dated 28 October 2009 with this Council in relation to the adjacent residential site are secured and, if considered necessary, financial contributions to secure improvements to Buckingham Town Centre and for the application to be referred back to the Committee for determination. 

13/01465/AOP, Demolition of existing restaurant and development of supermarket (Class A1 use), petrol filling station (Sui Generis use) with 394 car parking spaces and 36 cycle parking spaces, together with a Health Care facility (Class D1 use) with 77 car parking spaces and 12 cycle parking spaces and associated highways works (including realignment of existing spine road), access, landscaping and ancillary works.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Your Council | Your Money | Your Choice

Buckinghamshire County Council debated their budget for next year a few days ago. This was following a widespread consultation on the council tax budget and precept. Here is the front cover of the report of that consultation (with some added highlighting from me):

Inside, you can read the results. Here is one key extract (with my added bold):
Over eight in ten residents (84%) selected one of the 3 options for increasing council tax (2%, 4% or 5%), with half of all residents (49%) selecting the higher 4% or 5% increases, rising to 62% in the MORI survey.
Now contrast this BCC Cabinet meeting - you can see the webcast here. The final final decision has not been made on the budget but... the debate included this comment that the consultation was "the most extensive piece of research we have done our budget" said the officer (Sarah Ashmead) with affirmation from Cllr Tett, leader of the council. "Very interesting that about 50% of respondents have gone for that" [option for higher than 2% rise] he later says.

Later Cllr Janet Blake says something like "we are going to have a bit of problem explaining to the public why we are not going to do it" [go to a referendum] and the "condition of the roads is enough to kill the economy".

But you can guess what the decision finally was... it was not to go for a referendum. In other words not to recognise that the council is our council, spending our money based upon our choices. (Cabinet agenda and papers are here.)

Maybe when I have the time I might listen to the whole debate and be persuaded by the earnest statements around the cabinet table as why a referendum is not appropriate despite the results of the consultation... or maybe not.

But it is comforting at least that Buckinghamshire County Council has this strapline:
Your Council | Your Money | Your Choice

UPDATE 131213|0845: Just to add a little more information

During the debate (which you can see via the webcast), it was revealed that a referendum would cost £600k (half on the process and half on sending out new council tax bills if the vote went against the tax increase). This should be balanced against the extra £4.5m to be spent on improving the County's roads which would come from the extra 2% on council tax that would be subject to the referendum. 

I would also suggest that taxpayers should factor in the cost of pot holes to their cars, vans and lorries. A 2% increase in council tax (for a band D property) is under £22 a year. How much does a new tyre cost? What about a new axle?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How do you measure the performance of your PCC?

I was charmed this morning to see a picture of my friend and colleague Bernard Rix presenting the CoPaCC Gold award for transparency to another friend and colleague Bob Jones, PCC for West Midlands. Bob's leadership action has resulted in his office and website ticking more boxes on CoPaCC's transparency audit than any other. Well done!

You can read all about it here.

This was performance by a PCC that the PCC can be very reasonably held to account over: all the levers and machinery are under the control of the PCC, there is feedback to manage the performance and a standard against which performance can be measured. These are the basic three ingredients of a good performance management & political accountability system.

Now contrast this with these statements:
Anthony Stansfeld, Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley said: “I am delighted to see that the Thames Valley has seen another drop in crime. As one of my key priorities I am particularly pleased to see the significant reduction in domestic burglary." (Link here)
Anthony Stansfeld, police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, said: “Three years ago, Reading had a serious problem with household burglary. Today the level of burglary has been dramatically reduced and the people of Reading can feel considerably more secure in their homes” (Link here)
Q: Starting out you had a tall order of ensuring communities were policed safely while forces dealt with budget cuts. How do you think you have done?
A: Burglary in Reading has gone down by 40 per cent in the last year, so pretty well. Overall I am happy with the way things have been going and we have protected our front line services by reducing bureaucracy. That has been done through combining services with other forces.
(Link here)
It would appear that Mr Stansfeld (I suspect like many other PCCs) wants to claim credit for reductions in reported crime. But can he?

Unlike the transparency audit, there is no effective feedback system as reported crime is notoriously unreliable (due to many crimes being unreported and other factors), and although there is a standard of sorts (less crime is good etc), the PCC plainly does not have his hands on the machinery or his foot on the pedal, as it were. The PCC sets the overall budget and priorities (which in Mr Stansfeld's case include rural crime - or more accurately described as agricultural crime), and appoints / sacks the Chief Constable. And that is about it in terms of affecting operational policing. Indeed he is statutorily kept distant from operational policing.

It is true that he divvies out dwindling resources to Community Safety Partnerships across Thames Valley but again his role is more or less limited to setting the overall amount and devising the formula to allocate these monies to the partnerships. Big questions remain over his new formula. Claiming a link between the action he has taken and reducing crime is tenuous at least, if not almost non existent.

So what can the people of Thames Valley hold Mr Stansfeld to account for? I will answer that in a later blog post. Meanwhile, I am wondering whether Mr Stansfeld will seek to claim 'credit' for this headline in the Oxford Mail today:

It begins "Thieves are making easy money snatching expensive phones & gadgets as theft rates soar to a three year high..." (I will link to the full story when the Oxford Mail posts it.)

Because: if Mr Stansfeld wants to claim credit for reductions in burglary and "rural crime" at the end of his political term, he is presumably relaxed about claiming credit for rises in crime as well?

Or is that just too obvious to state? What do you think?

PS: You will have to ask Bernard as to where PCC Anthony Stansfeld and the Thames Valley OPCC came in the CoPaCC 'league of transparency'. I would hazard a guess that it wasn't anywhere near the top when the section on performance on the Thames Valley website states:
How will performance be monitored?
Each relevant agency will produce their own annual service delivery plan which will include jointly agreed corresponding actions, measures of success and delivery 'milestones' as appropriate. For example Thames Valley Police will continue to develop in consultation with the PCC its own internal annual Delivery Plan which will reflect the strategic policing objectives contained in the PCC's Police and Crime Plan. The way the Chief Constable is held to account for how the Force provides policing services across the Thames Valley and how Force performance will be monitored and reported in meeting its Delivery Plan targets will be agreed alongside the Police and Crime Plan.

This page will be updated to contain more details on performance

... when exactly was this part of the website last updated?

And...(!) the website showing News and Events seems to have a picture of Mr Stansfeld standing next to (an unnamed) police officer and a tractor in police livery obliterating links to the most recent entries. In this respect, the Thames Valley PCC's website isn't so much as not very transparent, it is literally opaque!!! 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

One more time: do NOT drink and drive

Just watched an extraordinarily powerful video of the dangers of drinking and driving. Please watch it too. And please send this a link to this blog or to the video onto drivers you care about. Thanks. Have a Merry and Safe Christmas.

Truly... have a merry and SAFE Christmas...

(With thanks to @ConstableChaos@CustodianCop for highlighting this video)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Norfolk PCC & Expenses: reply to FoI

Just received a reply from the Office of the PCC in Norfolk to my earlier FoI inquiry:

I am writing in connection with your email dated 8th November 2013, in which you requested the following information:

“In today’s statement published by the OPCC, the PCC is quoted as saying: “I was absolutely clear from the start that my personal office would be my home and this was checked and cleared by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk and my accountant. As far as I am concerned, this was all transparent and above board” Please may I have a copy of all documentation (emails, reports, notes of meetings or telephone calls etc) pertaining to that ‘checking and clearing’ by the OPCC.”

I have reviewed our records and I can advise that no information is held by the OPCCN as this was undertaken by verbal agreement
(My added emphasis)

Now, you will probably recall the story that was broken a few weeks ago by BBC reporter Sally Chidzoy. Here are my blog posts (here and later here) and link to BBC News website. You will also recall the PCC's statement which was published by the OPCC in which Mr Bett said:

“On election I took advice on how and what I could claim and have followed that advice to the letter. I do not believe I have done anything wrong. I was absolutely clear from the start that my personal office would be my home and this was checked and cleared by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk and my accountant. As far as I am concerned this was all transparent and above board." (my added emphasis)

And since this matter surfaced the new Chief Executive, Mark Stokes has submitted a report (dated 14/11/13) to the Police & Crime Panel (link here for the report) in which he says:

It was the fundamental change in the role of the PCC as compared with the former Police Authority, with the geographical dimensions of the County and the need to cover and represent the whole of Norfolk, that led to a decision by the PCC, which was endorsed by the former Chief Executive of the OPCCN that his home/office would be designated as his office from November 2012 onwards as part of an election pledge to residents to the west of the county. The PCC’s tax advisors also considered this and advised that this was in compliance with HMRC tax guidance. (again my added emphasis)

and later in the report

The Secretary of State has a determination for the authorisation of PCC expenses which states that the PCC’s Chief Executive should subject all the Commissioners claims for expenses to rigorous verification and auditing. (my added emphasis)

and later the action point arising:

In order to provide reassurance to the public, the PCC instructed the Chief Executive to review all internal control procedures, including:  
- Verification of the sums refundable 
- Travel claims submitted. 
- Assurance that claims for expenses have been subject to rigorous verification and auditing. 
This process will be undertaken independently by the Internal Auditors PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC). (my added emphasis)

I have written back immediately to the Norfolk OPCC asking this:

Thank you for your response. So to be crystal clear, you are saying that there is no audit trail for this decision whatsoever as the discussions about the matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded in any way? Please can you confirm this? Many thanks.

I await their reply. I am curious that PwC have not been asked to look into the original decision as so much depends on that. Of course, it would seem they may have some difficulty in doing this... perhaps? But good to know that this matter will be independently investigated (as I suggested).

What do you think of the OPCC's initial answer to my inquiry?

UPDATE 101213|1809: Reply from OPCCN just received:
In the interests of openness and transparency, the Commissioner instructed the new Chief Executive to undertake a full review of all processes relating to this matter. This is currently being undertaken by PwC, part of that work will review the audit trail and decision making process. The former Chief Executive is also assisting in this matter to ensure that all information is available. The findings are expected early in the New Year to be presented to the Police and Crime Panel. I trust that you will appreciate that this approach provides independent scrutiny, where your question can therefore be answered accordingly.
I have replied:
Thank you for your email.

However, I am now somewhat confused. I could interpret what you are saying as suggesting the possibility that the PwC review might uncover an audit trail of written material whereas you have stated in your earlier FoI reply: “I have reviewed our records and I can advise that no information is held by the OPCCN as this was undertaken by verbal agreement.”

I imagine that the PwC auditors will be interviewing people for their recollections of the nature of this verbal agreement (etc.) and therefore will be manufacturing an audit trail post hoc, as it were. You have stated categorically that there is no information held by the OPCCN (which of course, includes the PCC and all of his written notes, emails & records as well, in my opinion).

Please allow me to state at this point in time, given your reply to my FoI and the email below, that if PwC locate written records (and not just the verbal agreement) then I may have to refer this matter to the Information Commissioner for their adjudication. If that were to become the case, it might appear to the Information Commissioner that you were withholding information at this juncture. I am not 100% sure, but I would think that would be in breach of the Act.

As you will expect, I fully support the independent review that your new CEO has commissioned PwC to conduct, on instruction from the PCC. I am not seeking to replicate that review, naturally! However, I have asked for materials using the Freedom of Information Act and I would not expect any materials to be withheld merely because an independent review is elsewhere underway.

Therefore, may I simply ask again for an unqualified answer to my question: are you saying that there is no audit trail for this decision whatsoever as the discussions about the matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded in any way? A straightforward yes or no would be quite adequate. Thank you.
UPDATE 171213|0933: New reply from OPCCN just received:

I received this clear answer from Norfolk OPCC yesterday:
Apologies for the delay in responding to your email.   I have been out of the office since sending you my previous reply and therefore have only just picked up your response. With regard to your query, I can confirm that the discussions about this matter were only ever done verbally and were not noted or recorded by the OPCC.
So there we have it. A matter as critically important as a decision about creating a 'home-office' with significant expenses implications was merely discussed and not noted down in any way. I wish PwC well in their investigations...

I wonder what other decisions go through on merely a nod and a couple of words? Is this transparent public accountability?  

Waxing & waning

A couple of weeks ago, I refilled my car with diesel in Winslow (a town near where I live). It was very cold that day. The following day, I was overtaking a lorry at the beginning of some dual carriageway and my car spluttered, went into 'limp mode' (I understand it is called). Two amber warning lights came on: the EPS one and another which said something like 'fuel pollution system faulty'. I pulled over as soon as I could and consulted my manual. It suggested I should take the car to the garage as soon as possible.

So the next day, I went to the nearby Citroen garage (the one recommended by my usual mechanic) and they duly plugged my car into their diagnostic computer. At this point the service manager came over and asked where I usually refilled my car and was it often at supermarket filling stations? I said yes, mostly. He then told me that he and his colleagues had been spotting a pattern where it seemed that the 'cheaper' fuels often led to 'waxing' in the fuel system (some kind of condensing of some ingredients of the diesel). This waxing can clog fuel filters. And this is what had happened to my car and it was going to cost about £160 to fix (including adding an additive the existing tank to stop that fuel doing any more harm).

He also added that he had had about 30 other people in with similar problems in recent days/weeks. 

I was stunned.

I thought this is potentially a huge consumer story. In other words, 'cheap' fuel isn't that cheap if you have to shell out £160 to fix a problem that wasn't there before. So I emailed BBC Radio 4 You and Yours. They got back to me and said they would investigate and would I be willing to be interviewed.

And so here is the piece that was broadcast yesterday on You and Yours. It starts 11"30' in. The story grows and it seems is already the subject of investigation by agencies & associations involved in the fuel supply chain in the country. I cannot really know whether it was the tank of fuel from the Harvest filling station in Winslow that caused the damage or whether it was a consequence of accumulative visits to the Tesco filling station in Buckingham. Or indeed due to some other unknown factor. All I do know is that I now choose very carefully where I fill up my car. Pump price is not everything...

So has this happened to you? Has your diesel car 'waned' as a result of 'waxing'? 

UPDATE 081213|1702: Email to Harvest Energy
On Wednesday 20 November I filled my tank with diesel from your filling station in Winslow, Bucks. I drove home to Buckingham. The following day, as I was accelerating to overtake a lorry on the Tingewick bypass, my EPS and 'Fuel Pollution System' warnings came on and my car lost power and went into 'limp' mode.
I made an appointment at a nearby citroen garage in Banbury for the following day. (The amber light and accompanying problem had accompanied my journeys onwards the previous day). They plugged my car into their computer and then asked me a curious question: where do I normally refuel my car and was it usually at supermarket outlets? I replied that there was a pattern in favour of tesco filling stations, but it just depended. They then informed me that my fuel filter was clogged and needed replacing due to 'waxing'. They also said that there was winter and summer diesel and perhaps my car had suffered due to the wrong mix. They strongly advised putting in a winter diesel additive to the remaining fuel in the tank to mitigate any problems with that batch. Of course I followed their advice.

The repair cost me £164.46. I am no expert of course in fuel technology and I have no idea whether it could have been your batch of fuel that did the damage, or an accumulation of other fuels over many months or indeed something else (this problem had never happened with my 3 year old Citroen C3 ever before). But I would like to know what specification of fuel was in your diesel tanks on that day and indeed whether you are aware of anyone else experiencing similar problems to me.

Details of the purchase are as follows:...
Many thanks, Very best wishes et
I await their reply.

UPDATE 081213|1716: BBC News story 5/12/13

Diesel fuel filter problems targeted in probe


This day cannot pass without me paying tribute to Nelson Mandela: a truly great man. As I tweeted late last night when I had just heard the news

I could write and write and write about what this man has meant to me over the last 40+ years, but I won't. We all have our various memories of the anti-apartheid demos, boycotts, arguments & debates, leaflets and AGM protests etc. And what I felt and still feel about that moment when he walked out of gaol on 11 February 1990 cannot be put into adequate words.

My memory of Mandela is that he was a man who wore bright clothes, especially in his later years. On the day of his funeral, I plan to wear something as bright and as busy as these shirts, for example:

Will you join me?

Will you #wearsomethingbrightforMandela on the day of funeral?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ethical practice (FoI)

Over the last couple of days, I have sent this request to all police forces of the UK.

Dear Colleague

As you will be aware, the College of Policing has just finished their public consultation on the code of ethics for the police service. We await the outcomes of this process. Meanwhile, I am researching into what training and development officers and staff receive in ethical practice (and related matters). I take it as read that supervisors will address these issues in the course of ordinary day to day management and coaching. However, I am interested to find out what more formalised development your colleagues are receiving, as well as some indicators of success.

Specifically, please could you answer the following questions:

1. Do officers and staff undergo any regular programmed briefing/training/development in ethical practice?

2. By means of comparison, do officers and staff undergo any regular programmed briefing/training/development in first aid?

3. By means of comparison, do officers and staff undergo any regular programmed briefing/training/development in health & safety at work?

4. If answers are yes to any of these three questions, in respect of each:
a. is that all staff/officers or a selection (and thence on what basis)?
b. with what frequency?
c. how long is the session?

5. Are there any current plans to communicate the new code of practice to officers & staff once it is agreed? If so, please may I have a copy of the relevant document?

6. Beyond taking into account any retrospective disciplinary action, is ethical practice integrated proactively into promotion boards and job interviews? If yes, please may I have a copy of the relevant policy or document relating to this?

7. How many instances have there been in the last five years where officers or staff have (to quote the draft code) used their “professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a person with whom [they came] into contact in the course” of their work and who was “vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power”?

8. The draft code states that every person has a “positive obligation to report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues” which is believed by the person to have “fallen below the Standards of Professional Behaviour set out in this Code”. How many instances have there been in the last five years of where someone has done this officially (and for which there is a record)?

I await their responses in the new year. Watch this space for an analysis...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Being: my word for 2014

Every year, I adopt a word from the I CAN, the children's communication charity.

This charity helps children who struggle with communicating to get the support they need. My work and activism depends on my being able to communicate well. So this charity has a special importance for me. And it helps children too. Why wouldn't I shell out £15 to adopt a word...?

Last year I adopted "Childlike" (you can read why here). And in previous years the words have been "Perspective", "Prosperity" and "Abundant".

This is my word for 2014:
I have ordered an apron too!

But you may be wondering why "Being"....

This has been a difficult year for me: I have been to more funerals this year than ever before. And this isn't just because I am getting older. Many of my friends, family and neighbours who died this year did so under unexpected and very tragic circumstances. I am still grieving. I have no intention of going into details but this year (if it has taught be anything) has made me appreciate the present, the now, the being here now...

Sometimes at this time of year, we risk becoming very acquisitive and thinking about what we have rather than who we are. In all the eulogies I have heard this year, I have heard only talk of the people they were. When we die, we are remembered for who we were not what material possessions we accrued. 

And so by picking this word, I am resolved to being here now, to worry less about what I have and focus on being in the present. To savour each day, each moment... not like it could be my last (even though it could be) but just because it is a moment, a day that will never happen again...

And with this blog post, please accept my seasonal greetings. May I wish all my readers an amazing 2014 which I hope is full of good moments for you and your loved ones.

Is crime going up or down?

The short answer is.. I do not know. Do you?

I have been seeing reports and tweets this morning reflecting this headline from ITV News: Figures 'show sharp increase in property crime'

Is it only property crime, or other kinds of crime too? If there is an increase is this due to reductions in officer numbers or more people reporting crimes such as these? And in the context of the "police fix statistics to meet targets..." what data can we really trust?

Of course it will be in the interests of some to show a rise in crime and indeed in the interests of others to say that we cannot trust the data...

One constant and reliable source is the Crime Survey of England & Wales (CSEW). This survey has been measuring crime trends since 1982. And as it says on its website:
The Crime Survey records crimes that may not have been reported to the police and it is therefore used alongside the police recorded crime figures to show a more accurate picture of the level of crime in the country.
This service is vital. Recently I wrote asking them if their data could show trends in individual police force areas (something which would help us hold PCCs to transparent account). This is the answer I received:
Theoretically, police force area data are available from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, although due to reductions in sample sizes, we do not feel estimates at this geography level are sufficiently robust and we would advise against using them. 
I have written back to ask them what extra resources would be required to get robust data for each force area. That was a few days ago, I will let you know when I get a reply.

You can read the CSEW report for the year ending June 2013 here. One summary point was:
The headline estimate for crimes against households and resident adults was down 7% compared with the previous year’s survey. This is the lowest over the history of the survey, which began in 1981, and is now less than half its peak level in 1995.(my added emphasis)
This is good news. But note these two snippets as well (again with my added emphases):
In the year ending June 2013, 230,335 fraud offences were recorded. This represents a volume increase of 21% compared with the previous year and should be seen in the context of a move towards the centralised recording of fraud by the police.
Within victim-based crime, there were decreases across all the main categories of recorded crime compared with the previous year, except for theft from the person (up 8%), shoplifting (up 1%) and sexual offences (up 9%). The latter increase is thought to be partly a ‘Yewtree effect’, whereby greater numbers of victims have come forward to report historical sexual offences to the police
Three things seem obvious to me:
  • We need greater robust granularity in this CSEW data so that police areas can be properly compared. (Given the inevitable difficulties surrounding the recording of crime by the police, and I am not just talking about issues concerning the twisting of such data, we need this finer data.)
  • We also need more real time CSEW data as well: annual figures are not enough to base reaction upon. (We need at least quarterly figures if not monthly ones. I know there would be extra costs involved but if it helps understand patterns of crime better and so lead to more effective intervention & prevention, it would be worth it. Perhaps also the CSEW team could explore the use of social media monitoring to supplement their data?)
  • We need to make sure that internet and remote crime are being properly tracked as well. (I have a hunch that some of the reductions in crime is due to organised criminals migrating their practice to the internet and other ways of fraudulently extracting money from people. Is this true? Are the CSEW survey methods adequately monitoring this kind of crime?)
UPDATE 041213|1328: Thanks to Roger Nield ‏@rogernield2703 for this contribution to the debate
In Runnymede crime is still falling in general. Vehicle crime and burglaries are lower as are 'total notifiable offences' and this is mirrored by a reduction in reported anti-social behaviour. The fall has been ongoing for over 17 years and public perception has been regularly recorded in an independent Community Safety Survey. This was most recently audited in the summer of 2013 and it is to Runnymede Borough Councils great credit that they have continued to commission the survey. 
But its not all good news: There has been a bounce back in the numbers of assaults with injuries reported. This may be due to an increase in the number of domestic violence reports taken (there is evidence that these previously have been under-reported). But if you do report an assault you can be certain that police will take positive action to stop it happening again and we will pursue the offender! 
It is a concern that some places are reporting general increases in crime figures and I watch follow on statistics with interest. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

THE conference on police governance 18/1/14

Please consider attending this conference on the governance of policing & community safety: 18 Jan 2014 in Reading

PCCs: Dead ducks or ugly ducklings?

I have blogged about this before but now with an easy way to book yourself on.... please click this link (it is a bargain at £15 with top notch speakers and a participative process that will engage and inform all who come along!)


Leadership priorities in 2014?

In issue 378 of Police Professional, there is an article entitled A Challenging Future which features some very useful unpacking of the presentation given by CC Mike Cunningham (Staffordshire Police) to the Excellence in Policing conference, on what kind of police leadership is needed for the future. I recommend the article to you as his slides (now uploaded) only present a smidgeon of what the article reports him as saying.

To summarise, CC Cunningham asked more than 200 personnel at Staffs Police what they thought were the key leadership issues for the future. This helped him identify four priorities:
  • Ensure lines of communication with staff and officers are open
  • Welcome challenge and understand how the service can respond
  • Develop early intervention strategies, spotting problems as they emerge
  • Spend time discovering the fears and concerns of staff and officers: a step change in staff/officer engagement

I like this. I always like lists of priorities when they number under ten and I like lists of four even more! And I think these four are useful.

But the question is, as we turn towards the end of this year... what do you think should be the leadership priorities for police (and other public service) leaders in 2014? 

I have posted blogs like this one in the past (see this link for the 2013 list, and these for 2010 and 2012). So please post below, tweet or email if you wish

So to repeat the question:
What do you think should be the leadership priorities for police (and other public service) leaders in 2014?

UPDATE 031213|2312: Thanks to Suzanne Thompson@Suzze05 for these five priorities
  1. Open & transparent leadership - visible & approachable
  2. Be intuitive & responsive to the 'informal work culture'
  3. Be open to genuine innovation & collaboration opportunities to improve practice & add value.
  4. Welcome positive change but do not be afraid to openly challenge change based solely on ideology & not evidence based.
  5. really, really listen, not just pay lip service & go through the motions as staff know the difference
UPDATE 041213|0920: Thanks to Roger Nield@rogernield2703 for these priorities
  • Listen to what the public want.
  • Do something about it - not just do what's easy or what interests your organisation.
  • Tell them what you've done.
  • Do this without arrogance, fear or favour and without thought of reward.
  • You can boil this down to "Do Good"
UPDATE 081213|1628: Thanks to Annette Hill ‏@familyhrguru for these priorities

UPDATE 121213|2108: Thanks to Sukhvinder Stubbs ‏@Sukhvinder2011 for this observation