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.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From agility to arthritis in a few short years

In my neck of the woods, the local two tier councils are sharpening sticks in preparation of a battle royale over unitary government. I won't bore you with the details but I will say I don't know what will work best for my county in the future. I do not have enough of the facts to come to any kind of solid view as to whether the Berkshire model (county council fell on its own sword to create six unitary councils) or the Cornwall model (districts were subsumed into one council for the whole of the county) or variations on those themes would be best for local people.

However what I do know is that it won't be easy.

Setting aside the internecine struggles between various Tory factions in the county, what will make any reorganisation 'challenging' will be the legacy commercial contracts currently held by the various councils.

Do you remember how once upon a time, creating a contract culture was seen as a way of introducing agility and innovation into public service delivery? You know... rather than those awful Stalinesque 10 year plans for the monolithic public sector, what was needed was progressive commissioning culture with a variety of providers that would bring public services into the 20th/21st centuries...

But what do we have now? We have public services tied up in Gordian knots of large and small contracts that mean that whatever agility there was, has now given way to arthritis. How many local councils would dearly love to harness the full power of digital working but are weighed down by lengthy contracts with sluggish outsourced partners?

And the same will happen in this county when the structures are reviewed. I fear that what will determine the future will not be the democratic wishes of the people who elect and pay for these local government structures. Instead it will be arthritis in the joints between those structures and their commercial partners that will sway the business case one way or another.

And don't get me started on what needs to happen in policing. (That is probably for another whole blog!) It would be interesting to know, just how much was spent by the Scottish Government on early contract termination clauses as part of establishing Police Scotland... anyone know?

The plain fact is, one of the most significant 'drags' on 'doing more with less' in the public services is a Shard high stack of poorly negotiated & nonstrategic contracts that will take decades to unpick...

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's a Government scam!?

The Government is keen for you to believe that crime is going down and therefore reductions in police funding will not matter to your safety and health. According to the ONS, as measured by the Crime Survey of England & Wales, crime is going down:
Latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show that, for the offences it covers, there were an estimated 7.1 million incidents of crime against households and resident adults (aged 16 and over) in England and Wales for the year ending June 2014. This represents a 16% decrease compared with the previous year’s survey, and is the lowest estimate since the survey began in 1981.
But is it?

Think about it for a moment: when was the last time someone tried to rob you..? Well it happened to me on Saturday:
Good Morning to you ,
We hope all is well with you and every member of your family. Please, my name is Mrs Gaba from Togo and i work with a branch of Western Union Money Transfer office here in Togo and we wish to notify you that some amount of money is deposited in our Custody Account here in your name. Contact us on this email address: (  OR for more information about your payment . God bless you as we look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully,
Mrs Gaba . 
Of course, I did not respond to the god fearing and most courteous Mrs Gaba. But the point I am making is that just because this attempt to steal my money was in the form of a very polite email, does not make it any the less an act of crime. 

For example, do you know how much money was stolen from people just looking for love and companionship in 2013? According to the City of London police:
As the use of the internet for dating increases, so do the number of scams associated with it . . . and the amount of money lost. In the UK, this type of fraud is costing the victims a heart-breaking £24.5million per year, with over 2,800 people reporting online dating related crimes in 2013 alone
That is 2800 victims of crime that means they each not only lost (on average) nearly £9000 but they also suffered the emotional damage of having trusted someone to then find out they were ripping them off. How will that impact their future lives?

These are crimes: nothing more or less.

So does the Government count these crimes? They are NOT counted in the ONS surveys. In March 2012, the National Fraud Authority published its "Annual Fraud Indicator (AFI)": 
This year’s Annual Fraud Indicator has put the loss to the UK economy from fraud at £73 billion.
Wow. I thought, I wonder if that has gone up or down since? So I looked, and found this:
The National Fraud Authority closed in March 2014
Functions have been transferred to a variety of other organisations but I cannot find any other comparable "AFI" figures (perhaps you can?) So it seems that there is no way of easily telling whether fraud (both online and via old fashioned methods) is going up or down.

Perhaps the Government does not want you to know...?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Politicising the police

One of the objections to the Police & Crime Commissioner model of policing governance, often used by those working inside the service, is that it would and has 'politicised' the police. Whilst regular readers of this blog will know, I look forward to PCCs being replaced by a better system, they are not responsible for bringing politics into policing. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of that was during the miners strike in 1984. 

Here are some quotes from Hansard (28/10/14) in a speech by Michael Dugher:
One of the Cabinet documents was a record of a meeting the then Prime Minister held in Downing street on 15 September 1983. It states absolutely clearly that Mr MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB,
“had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed”.
The final paragraph of the document reads:
“It was agreed that no record of this meeting should be circulated.”
What a surprise.
We know that significant pressure was placed on the Home Secretary to step up police measures against striking miners to escalate the dispute, which again is something that is denied. Released documents from 14 March 1984 show that Ministers at the time pressured the Home Secretary to ensure that chief constables adopted
“a more vigorous interpretation of their duties.”
At the time, it was claimed that the police were acting entirely on their own constitutional independence—what a joke.

Earlier this year, the National Union of Mineworkers, led by the excellent General Secretary Chris Kitchen, produced an impressive report, drafted by Mr Nicky Stubbs, following months of forensic analysis of the recently released Cabinet papers. The report has brought even more disturbing details to light. It shows that Ministers were even prepared to override normal judicial processes, and ensure that local magistrate courts dealt with cases arising from the dispute in a much quicker fashion. It also outlines how Ministers conspired to cover up the extent of their plans for the mining industry. [my added bold]
And few days ago, in a blog on the Channel 4 website written by Paul Mason:
Amid the cooled air of a vault at the National Archive I trace my finger across Maggie Thatcher’s handwriting, in the margin of a typewritten note marked Secret.
She’s scribbled: “13 RoRo, 1,000 tons a day, 50 lorries a day…”
Amid the cooled air of a vault at the National Archive I trace my finger across Maggie Thatcher’s handwriting, in the margin of a typewritten note marked Secret. She’s scribbled: “13 RoRo, 1,000 tons a day, 50 lorries a day…”
And later in the piece (which I recommend that you read in its entirety):
“Violence will not succeed for the police and courts will not bow to it. They are the servants not of government but of the law itself,” Mrs Thatcher said in her Mansion House speech that year.
The documents reveal this was a fiction. [again my added bold]
I would like to think that professionally independent policing has advanced since then, and with the Human Rights Act and other legislation, Chief Constables would not be so pressured.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Axes for frozen seas

Column, tweet and blog kilometres have already been written about the cowardly murder of journalists in Paris yesterday.

Charlie Hebdo publishes satirical pieces about politics, religion and a lot more besides. It dares to poke fun at the pompous, the righteous and the unutterably certain, using cartoons, jokes, humourous pieces etc. It is serious without being serious. Amongst the people killed yesterday were some of the journal's finest cartoonists.

The world has responded with love, solidarity, sympathy and yet more biting satirical cartoons, including an unofficial Banksy one.

Coincidentally, I have just received a new book in the post: Daily Afflictions - the agony of being connected to everything in the universe by Andrew Boyd. It begins with two quotes, one by Kafka and one by Wilde:
We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be an axe for the frozen sea inside us. (FK)
If you are going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh or they will kill you (OW)
Wow. These two quotes hit my forehead like a steam train. (If the rest of the book is going to be like this, I am going to be a wreck, albeit a wiser one, by the end of it!)

And these quotes seem even more relevant to me today, the day after #JeSuisCharlie. Because cartoons, just like books and perhaps even more so, must also be axes for the frozen seas inside us and dare to tell us the truth about ourselves.

My sincere thoughts are with all the families and friends of all those murdered yesterday and now since. Let the flame of liberté, égalité, fraternité shine ever brighter.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The lost domains of UKIP

Rumours have been circulating on twitter that UKIP has lost control of its prime website: after @Ilovealcopos bought it... Although it now seems that UKIP, by now, have regained control..? But I will be watching this space.

Meanwhile, I got to wondering, if UKIP can be so cavalier about their domain name, what other domains could they just happen to lose if they were in government? Gibraltar? Wales? The Isle of Wight? Pimlico?

So I went onto the #Whois website which lists who owns what IRLs and looked up Interestingly, the first time I looked, it was still saying it was up for sale:

It is still is (as of 1316 on 6 January 2015...)

But then I scrolled down to look at the website definition:

I will print this out in big letters:
Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. Includes manifesto, campaign news, links and a section devoted to speeches by its MEPs.
So the MPs speeches don't have a section then. Seems a bit of shame. But, what other party has to declare itself to be 'non-racist'? Even the BNP describes itself as
The British National Party is the only party which opposes mass immigration and surrender to the European Union. Unlike the other parties, we mean it when we say it. The BNP has a range of sensible policies covering every aspect of British society. 
(I love the fact that they feel obliged to say they have 'sensible' policies...! And by the way, none of the BNP domain names are up for sale)
But back to UKIP, why do they feel obliged to declare themselves to be a non-racist party? 

OK... I'll be honest

I actually don't mind paying taxes. There I have said it. I am not wild about shelling out money for anything but I regard tax as the price I pay for living in a fair, safe and decent country. Parks, police officers and pot holes all have to paid for. Without these basic public services, we would all be far poorer: a replacement car wheel is one heck of a lot more expensive than a small rise in council tax, for example.

Most people, I believe, know this and whilst we all grumble about tax, it is one of the two facts of life (the other being famously 'death'). There are some extremists who want to roll back the clock to the 1930s (or even further) and have a society where only the wealthy can feel a modicum of ease. These are the neo-liberals who want to either privatise or stop altogether essential public services. You know who you are.

But you may wonder why I am writing this blog this morning? Last night I got involved in one of these type of twitter debates:

Without rehashing the whole debate, I rashly tweeted a small red rag twitter post to @screwlabour, whom I follow to keep my blood pressure up. He reacted with indignation that I was accusing him of lying (which I wasn't) and that surely I would know that Labour was planning to raise taxes after the next election if Labour wins.

Despite me tweeting that the plans to introduce a Mansion Tax and recreate an upper level of tax at 50% were hardly news, he insisted on asking me to say it again (and again)... and a whole hoard of his 'mini-trolls' (as I called them) arrived to tweet at me too. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz:

Anyway, so here's the thing:
  • Yes, Benjamin/@ScrewLabour, in precise terms you were telling the truth: the Labour Party will probably raise taxes after May 2015 when it forms the Government, along the lines already announced, & to be confirmed, in the forthcoming manifesto
  • The current Government also raised taxes (VAT) and found lots of other ingenious ways to take money off some very poor people (Bedroom Tax, benefits sanctions, reductions in council tax benefits etc) and will probably do so after the next election if the Tories remain in power
  • All governments need to raise taxes: the politics comes into by how much and how fairly. 
  • VAT is a regressive tax which hurts people on lower incomes disproportionately more than people on higher incomes. It is an unfair tax
  • The current Government has added to the national debt by an absolute amount greater than all (yes: all) previous Labour chancellors put together.
  • And the deficit is rising again. 
  • There are three ways to balance the books: raise taxes, cut spending, and grow the economy. Because the latter wasn't working so well, Osborne chose to change tack in 2012 and since then has not worried so much about the deficit. Until now when an election is looming...
  • "It's the economy stupid" is not the same as "It's the taxes stupid". Whole armies of Tory tweeters jumping up and down about taxes won't change that fact. Some of the most affluent, educated, urbane and peaceful countries have higher rates of tax than the UK (gosh...I wonder why that could be...?)
  • I now fully expect to get flamed and insulted (again) with such profound remarks as this

Monday, January 5, 2015

A bright new year: demand is down, cuts are up

So here we are: a bright new year dawns. It is 2015 and the new century still feels fresh. As all years, this one will be momentous: history will be made (again). Babies will be born and people will die. Despite the terrible circumstances for many in the world, we are living in mostly peaceful times when the numbers of combatants & civilians dying as a result of war are lower than ever.

It may well not feel like that to you. I certainly struggle to believe it when I am assaulted by images and stories of horrific conflict on what seems to be a daily basis.

And at a national level, it does appear that visible crime (as opposed to the often unreported 'virtual' crime) is on the way down. Fewer cars are being stolen. Less burglary is happening etc.

All this has led to Sir (as he now is) Tom Winsor declaring"There will inevitably be a time where [police forces] can't take any more but let us remember that measured crime has fallen dramatically - but so have the demands made on the police"


I would expect such an assertion of a senior Conservative politician, but not from one of the most senior civil servants in UK policing. To equate demand on the police service with rates of crime is so far off the mark, I struggle to grasp exactly what Sir Tom has been knighted for...

This graphic account of an ordinary episode in the life of one police officer testifies: the threats & demands are still out there. And to quote Emma Williams from her excellent blog:
Anyone who has an interest in policing can see how the demand on policing has not reduced. It has widened. The net to catch the fall out of these cuts is shrinking and as a result, the remit of the police has grown. Issues that may have before been dealt with by social service functions, youth offending teams and/or diversion programmes now fall into the shrinking net which is fast becoming the catch all of ‘the police’.
(I commend the whole of both blogs to you - follow Emma Williams & Mountain_Ninja on twiiter)

So as we run up to the 2015 election where the economy will loom large as a key political issue, as will immigration and the NHS... don't forget about policing. Community safety and the fear of crime remain some of the most important issues for many people whose lives are blighted & stumped by anti-social behaviour & violence around the corner.

So when you come to cast your vote next May, please consider this: are you voting for a party that has the policies & plans for tackling all forms of crime, violence disturbance that you think our society needs?

Or will you vote for an administration that will tell you not to worry your pretty head: demand is going down and so you don't need to fear more cuts in policing...???