Wednesday, 31 October 2012

PCC Elections - A Question of Priorities

I mentioned one concern about the PCC elections in the last blog. I hope that all candidates are committed to the role and would not treat it as a part-time job. I have another concern. Candidates want to gather support and they will do this by talking about what is important to the electorate. They will prioritise the offences that are significant to individual voters. Even the adverts that ask us to go and vote are doing the same thing by showing someone smashing a house window and stealing a small electrical appliance. Does this mean that nobody will prioritise serious fraud? Who will investigate the likes of Asil Nadir?

If there is corporate fraud then individual voters are only affected indirectly. If there is serious crime which means that a large company has to put a penny on its costs - say a pint of beer from an international producer of beer - then no individual will take this crime seriously, not for election purposes.

I have another concern. We know that Government ministers can't make decisions for themselves but rely on a team of experts to blame for any of their errors e.g. Justine Greening as Minister for Transport. We cannot possibly expect any individual to be an expert in every field. This equally applies to the role of PCC, but let's say we get a candidate who has years of experience within the police service. Are they the best candidates to know what the public wants? This begs the question do the public know what is the best way of directing money within the police service. This begs the question as to whether we should be having these elections.

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Vote for a full-time PCC

I was speaking to someone today who had been to a hustings meeting for the PCC elections. One of the candidates tried to distinguish themselves by saying that a vote for them would be a vote for someone who would treat the post as a full-time job. That's great considering they will only receive between £65,000 and £100,000. It wasn't for the Lancashire election but I would be embarrassed if any of my candidates were to say this.

I would suggest that if you hear anyone saying this then don't vote for them. How can they even contemplate a part-time role is beyond me and just by talking about their commitment to a full-time role means there is the possibility of less hours in their head. I would guess that many candidates are willing to give more than a full-time hours to the post so let's hope that hard working candidates become hard working commissioners.

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Monday, 29 October 2012

Zero Tolerance to Zero Tolerance

Last week I watched the TV programme 999: What's Your Emergency. When I saw PC Claire van Deurs Goss putting on lip gloss I thought it was a bit strange as she was driving at the time and some drivers go to court if they are not giving enough attention to their driving. The officer said that "lipstick is more effective than a Taser" when dealing with some dangerous situations. That may be the case but driving may be fairly dangerous when you don't give it your full attention. She was disciplined.

So how would you manage this situation? Would you say that the officer was in control of her vehicle and she is quite right when she talks about her attitude to policing? Lip gloss is important. Maybe you would say that this officer was setting a bad example but she was in control and you as the manager should be seen to do the right thing and make an example of her. Maybe you think that there should be 'zero tolerance' to driving without due care and attention and she should lose her job.

I don't agree with the last scenario but you often hear about zero tolerance and I never quite know what it means. Does it mean lock them up and throw away the key or does it mean an apology will suffice? The people who use the phrase want to be seen as tough but they don't know what they mean by zero tolerance and neither does anyone else.

We are going to hear this phrase many times in the run-up to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. I would like to ban the phrase 'zero tolerance' as it is meaningless. There should be zero tolerance to zero tolerance.

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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Iain's Big Brother

Yesterday I was listening to Any Answers and of all the subjects on Any Questions, the possibility of cutting benefits caused the most replies. The subject came up because Iain Duncan Smith announced on Thursday that child-related benefits for families may be capped at two children. He did this because he feels that benefits meant that some families no longer thought about whether they could afford to have children. According to Iain families had to cut their cloth according to their capabilities and the money available.

The welfare state looks after the poor and needy and if you have children then it's much easier to fall into that safety net. The trouble is that it isn't a very good net. If you want an idea on the strength of that net the you could do worse than watch the programme on TV yesterday evening -  What Sitcoms Say About America Now. The comedy in The Middle summed up the devastating impact of a parent losing a job, and it doesn't agree with Iain's view. This family are panicking and it isn't related to a few pounds of benefit related to a third child. 

What if the parents have jobs and then lose them when they already have children? Iain's answer is quite simplistic and he is a person who is often praised for his concern for the poor. Families do not tend to be rich. Iain believes that benefits are too generous and working parents have to think twice about the cost of having children. I wonder what he thinks about the Chinese one-child policy. George Orwell's Big Brother would have been in favour.

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Schumacher would have been proud

I could have written this blog a few months ago as I had noticed a new pelican crossing in Galgate, just south of Lancaster. I saw it again today as I drove past it. There is a pub called The Plough on one side of the road and four houses on the other. It may well be the case that the siting of the lights is significant. Well it is for me because I just can't see how it can be used unless you happen to live in those four houses. Everyone else can cross the road at the nearby traffic lights.

I know how difficult it is to get any money out of the County Council for any adaption to the road. Every change is so expensive and we live in austere times. A few years ago I put forward a petition to have a roundabout at the junction of Broadway and the promenade in Morecambe. It would really help traffic flow in the area and would have limited ongoing costs as compared to lights that need an electrical supply with their subsequent costs for their use and for their maintenance. Schumacher (see last blog) would have been proud.

I don't see any benefit in running cars in traffic jams, whether it is trying to get to the M6 from Morecambe or whether it is trying to get onto the prom. It seemed to me that the County Council were not looking at traffic management but had a reactive policy of accident prevention. We need a broader outlook.

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Link Road and Winter Gardens

I have to travel from Morecambe to the M6 fairly regularly and I have written previously about the traffic problems on the Morecambe to Lancaster road. However there are protestors who aren't keen on a proposed link road, mainly because of its environmental impact. This week we discover that otters in the River Lune will delay matters further and increase costs. Those who are opposed feel that this is a reason to cancel the plans despite all the procedures, delays and added costs that have already taken place. It is ironic that if the road does not get built then a bypass will be built near Ormskirk along with its environmental impact.

I am not in favour of widespread expansion for its own sake. It may well be the case, as Schumacher argued in his book Small is Beautiful that the modern economy is unsustainable. I agree with him when he puts the case that we have to gain the maximum amount of wellbeing with the minimum amount of consumption and in this respect we need a thriving Morecambe. In particular we need a thriving Winter Gardens, which is still a fine theatre even though it closed in 1977. There are so many uses for this building which has achieved some or its potential because of the hard work of the Friends of the Winter Gardens, but even they cannot develop the building fully without  the infrastructure to allow it to flourish i.e. the link road.  It would be a fitting tribute to the architect of the Winter Gardens if we had a flourishing theatre once again in Morecambe.

I drove to the motorway at 10am this morning (a Sunday) and yes there were delays on the road. Unfortunately I was advised to expect delays because of roadworks which will be an added problem for the next ten days. I hope that I don't have to repeat this journey for some time.

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Monday, 22 October 2012

You heard it here first

On the 2nd July I wrote a blog about the closure of A&Es around the country and in particular how the people of Burnley now have to travel to Blackburn. On the 20th September I received an email and then a phone call from a reporter with the Mail on Sunday. He was interested in my personal experience of hardship caused by a closure of an A&E. I had visited someone in Blackburn but as this person lived in Blackburn then this wasn't the story he was looking for. I did pass on Tim Farron's name as he ran a campaign against the removal of coronary care services from Westmorland General but I don't think this was the angle that the reporter was looking for.

On the 5th October I wrote that back in November 2011 Jerry Sadowitz was touring the country with his unique brand of comedy and had been telling anyone that would listen about the exploits of Jimmy Savile. Then today the Mail Online came up with the headline 'Why did no one listen to Jerry's howl of rage?' at The trouble with the Mail's headline is that they too ignored the howl, but at least they are reading about it now.

Don't forget that you read about Jerry Sadowitz's allegations here first, or is that second or third...

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hospitals support procrastination

I don't often need to phone anyone who is in hospital (touch wood) but I recently phoned and heard an automated response that said hello to me. That's nice. I was through to the bedside number of someone in hospital. Good because that's the number I phoned. I was told that maybe I phoned because this number was a missed call. Well no. Good guess but I had phoned because I had been given the number.

Then the automated voice said that this call will cost me more than usual. It would be nice to have been put through but I was sure that I was nearly there and I suppose there is an obligation to tell me that phone calls cost money. Then I was asked politely if I could be patient. Well I was feeling patient so that piece of advice wasn't really needed, but who knows, some listeners may have been feeling impatient so the advice could have been useful.

I was told the name of the hospital that I was phoning and it was the right one! I was starting to feel the need for the advice about patience. Then there was a full spiel about the costs of the call from various kinds of phone but that wasn't too bad because the automated voice was very polite and thanked me for listening.

When someone you know is in hospital then it can be a difficult time so it is nice to be told that I can make a gift to them over the phone so that they can use the phone. I was given a number to ring if I wanted to make this gift, and then I was told very calmly and slowly that they were connecting me now... and then I received a message that the person in hospital was not available.

Apart from not speaking to the person to whom I wanted to speak, my main concern is that the automated waffle is sanctioned by hospital authorities. I am not keen on procrastination at the best of times and I am even less keen when it costs me money. Still, it only cost me £1.50 to get nowhere.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Plebgate continued

I wrote about Andrew Mitchell on the 24th September. He had the support of David Cameron which is usually a sign of imminent departure. Well it wasn't imminent as he only resigned today. Headlines will say that Mr Mitchell resigned because of 'plebgate' and I suppose that is right as he may have lost authority following this embarrassing incident. My main concern was not Mr Mitchell's standing in his party but his party's relationship with the police service and society in general.

The loss of a chief whip is not a big deal. The big deal is that we still have no answer as to what was said and the consequent underlying opinions. We have heard a defence so many times that an apology has been offered, the apology has been accepted and a line should be drawn. Even Mr Mitchell did not draw a line at this point.

In the blog on the 24th I wrote 'In this  particular case we can be fairly sure that the word "plebs" was used as Mr Mitchell did not directly say that he didn't say it. He only said that he had not used the words that had been reported'. Now he says he did not use the word 'pleb'. Why was this denial not reported at once? Probably because it took some time for the denial to be given. It would still be nice to know what the officer misheard in their contemporaneous notes.

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Is George Osborne arrogant?

I can't read George Osborne's mind but I think he knows that he only had a standard train ticket today but sat in a first class seat. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and accept that he made a mistake when buying the ticket or maybe,as reported, his plans changed after buying it. Let's go one step further and blame one of his assistants making George perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing.  We have to blame the assistant again because, according to the BBC, 'An aide to Mr Osborne initially refused to pay the £160 supplement'.

The problem for George is that there will always be people who think that he was trying to cheat Virgin trains. At the very least it shows an arrogance that allows him to sit in a seat to which he is not entitled.

It seems so simple to me. If one of my aide's had made a mistake (I don't have any) I would admit to a communication error - it's no big deal. The big deal is the arrogance that was almost certainly shown (unless of course he is a thief). Arrogance by sitting in the wrong place, arrogance by not saying a word to waiting reporters.

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Time to move house

MPs' expenses are in the news again,

They have done nothing wrong so I don't blame the 27 MPs but I do blame a system that allows them to gain another income from their position in Westminster. We want our MPs to be paid appropriately for their important role. The trouble is that we have gone through one scandal in which MPs could rent a DVD or get their moat cleaned and bill the tax payer. More importantly the same scandal allowed MPs to have a second home a few miles from their first home and not pay for it. There is a long list of abuse and some MPs were found to have acted illegally. What the public wanted is a system that is transparent and fair and that is what we still want.

MPs don't need to be given a second home across the road from the Houses of Parliament. They do need accommodation nearby but that's not the same thing. So an MP with the bonus of an expensive home in Westminster is still seen as wrong and that's why the Telegraph's story will gather support from across the nation. There have been important improvements in how MPs can claim expenses and if this means that some can't afford a really expensive flat then there is a really simple answer - move house.

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Sunday, 14 October 2012

What does this robust mean?

The last time I wrote about a 'robust' system it related to Justine Greening describing the selection process for the West Coast main line. She was obviously wrong in using this word but I haven't heard any apologies yet. Apart from the obvious error that the system was far from robust, her use of this word must now mean we need to take a pinch of salt whenever we hear it. Another Tory offered a possible defence for Justine in that ministers don't look at any details and rely on their advisers. My point was that a minister still remains responsible regardless of how much advice they receive.

Today I heard that the Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond had used the word robust. So did he mean to say frail? The Sunday Times had filmed some retired military officers who were able to lobby on behalf of defence companies and so influence ministers. What did these officers do wrong? It is fairly certain that ministers can't make decisions for themselves and need help from experts.

The BBC reported that 'The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it was investigating whether it was possible for anyone to secure "privileged access" and whether any rules had been broken'. You don't need an investigation as I can tell you what one former Secretary of State for Transport (Justine) would say. Ministers need help from others and this may be termed privilege as many companies, and individuals for that matter, would like to bend back their lug holes. These retired officers fit the bill as advisers except for one detail. They retired less than two years ago and rules state that retired officers have to be out of touch before they can offer advice.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Andrew Marr "There is no way that retired officers influence the way military equipment is procured. I'm satisfied that the system we have is completely robust". Well why is it only possible to get help from officers who have retired for at least two years?  Does robust mean frail or does it mean out of touch.

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Thursday, 11 October 2012

More for support than illumination

David Cameron went to a posh school and wants everyone to go to a similar school. Yesterday the theme of his speech may have been aspiration and there is nothing wrong with that, but does he really expect anyone to believe that all schools will become like Eton. I can't believe it, I don't think most people would believe it, in fact I don't even think David's audience believed him. The local comprehensive does not have Eton's facilities and never will. I suppose David is right and aspiration is always possible but when does this simply become not the politics of greed but the politics of envy.

David's adoring crowd liked the idea of the aspiration nation, it sounds so much better than a divided nation but you do need division in order to promote aspiration. If you cut benefits then you have to admit that benefits are not being used appropriately. If you explain why benefits should be cut and give specific examples of how overpayment is being made then that's fine. If you just want to hurt those on benefits then don't explain yourself, just announce it to a Tory conference.

I was also moved by David's emphasis on getting rid of red tape. One business had plans to build in Liverpool but planning took so long that the company went abroad. Wouldn't it be nice to know the detail as it sounds like we won't get any further investment in this country. Could it be that the company wanted to carry out an unsafe practice which is legal in other countries? In this case we should be looking at criticisms of those countries. I don't know because David didn't tell us.

Whether it is welfare savings, school reform or simply a nice anecdote, this speech was similar to a drunken man using a lamppost, more for support than illumination.

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Low Police Morale

Morale can't be too high in the police service and raising morale must be a priority for those who are standing for election as Police and Crime Commissioners. The police are facing significant cuts despite the major party in the coalition being the 'party of law and order' and add to that at least one member of that party who thinks the police are plebs. It also doesn't help morale when officers are murdered. Add to that the Hillsborough effect. The errors of judgement by some senior officers followed by an extensive cover-up must have tarnished the reputation of all officers.

Then yesterday evening there was an article on the news about an officer from Greater Manchester who used excessive force on a teenager This officer was given a suspended sentence and had resigned the previous day. However the CCTV that we saw did not look that bad. If there was CCTV footage of a fight in the street or a heavy tackle in a rugby match then the force used in this case was much less. I have been to one open day at a police training centre and the arm behind the back was a basic technique.

This particular youngster repeatedly ignored instructions to empty his pockets. He 'may have posed no threat to anyone' but he wasn't doing what he was told. Even his mother said he was no angel, so when I heard the words 'an exercise in deliberate degradation and humiliation' I thought it referred to how the officers must have felt when their repeated requests were being ignored. What is the appropriate technique for getting anyone to empty their pockets? The GMP say that the officer's actions were totally unacceptable but no mention was made as to what was acceptable.

The officer was described in court as a broken man. No wonder. The problem I have is that I have come across many people who have given anecdotal evidence of excessive force used by the police. There will be many officers, perhaps all serving officers, who are now concerned about there previous use of force. They must be wondering how they are to deal in the future with those who do not cooperate.

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Friday, 5 October 2012

Should we investigate?

Should the allegations made against Jimmy Savile be investigated? This is the question as I watch Question Time. Janet Street-Porter answered by  giving us the background details which mentioned that inappropriate sexual activity was endemic in the 70s. The problem with this particular investigation, of course, is that Mr Savile is not around to defend himself. It may well be that he would be arrested if he were alive. It may well be that he could have been found guilty on all sorts of charges, but all of this is hypothetical. What does matter is that investigation may set an example and act as a catalyst to changing attitudes in which the silence of victims would not be an issue.

This catalyst may lead to Janet coming forward with her evidence regarding her suspicions of illegal sexual activity. I didn't name Jimmy Savile in my blog of the 8th November 2011 but he was the subject of very strong allegations by Jerry Sadowitz. Who was listening to Jerry? Why was there so little on the internet about Jimmy at that time. The closest I got to digging any dirt was to see a documentary on the Nolans and this evidence is far from conclusive. I also found that Jimmy had managed to stop any mention that he had visited a children's home but that didn't prove any guilt. I wasn't convinced but Jerry Sadowitz was, but if he was then why weren't others.

There is hope. Any suspicions are easily checked on the internet. Mobile phones and technology in general allow support for those who are not in authority. Video footage was a great help in stopping the death of Ian Tomlinson being swept under the carpet. Prince Harry knows all about the use of technology at private parties. We don't have a perfect world with perfect people in it, but at least we have a more open society in which the guilty have less room to hide.

So yes, we should investigate the Savile allegations even though the police had insufficient evidence in 2007 and even though the BBC have no evidence of any abuse.

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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Everyone deserves fair treatment

When Nick Clegg recently called for the Conservatives to back a wealth tax there were some Tories who suggested that there was no need for any further redistribution of wealth. You often hear about a brain drain and maybe some people do leave the country because of slight changes in the rate of taxation, but I can't see this being top of their list.

I also heard comments along the lines that high earners deserved their money because they worked hard for it. The trouble with this argument is that everyone works hard. You used to be able to make jokes like how many council workers does it take to plant a flower - three. Two to lean on spades and one to do the planting. You can't make jokes like this now because they are all working. Many people work very hard on minimum wage.

There may well be extra pressures on those who hold greater responsibility and this may be a factor in them deserving extra pay. These extra pressures sometimes make the news. Three senior civil servants were suspended following the West Coast rail fiasco but the trouble is that it could turn out that they receive full pay and then return to normal duties. I wrote about the minister at the heart of the fiasco in my last blog entry and she seems to have made a side step to avoid responsibility. We hear today that the head of the Rochdale Social Services has resigned having missed opportunities to protect children in the sex abuse scandal. There were calls for sackings but this manager managed to get promoted and now leaves with 'many fond memories' despite last week's damning report. In all these cases the extra authority does not seem to relate to extra responsibility, but this hasn't affected their pay.

The point is that many of those who are well paid do not receive the same treatment as those whose work is more mundane, and everyone deserves fair treatment. Jimmy Carr can tell you how a good accountant can help those who can afford their service. We don't need to protect the wealthy. They can look after themselves, even if they do work hard.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Where does the buck stop?

On the 18th August  I wrote about the success of FirstGroup in winning the franchise for the West Coast Main Line. I did not understand how this company could do so much better than the current provider, Virgin, and shortly afterwards we heard that Virgin didn't understand it either. Now the Government don't understand it.  The Department of Transport tell us today that the contest was flawed but Richard Branson knew that the system was "flawed and insane for some time".

I know that it is an expensive mistake and just paying the four companies back for the cost of their bids will cost £40 million. Heads may roll. The loss of this money is significant and there may be  more financial implications but responsible people sometimes make genuine errors just like those with less authority.

For me there were two important points. Firstly, what does Justine Greening say now. She was the transport secretary when the winning bid was announced and she described the process as robust and fair. It would be nice to know what she has to say for herself now but I guess she will just be  blaming her civil servants. Where does the buck stop? If it stops with the minister then she should stand by her words and apologise for her error.

Secondly, what is the DfT doing issuing any announcement at midnight? Are we expecting future press releases when most of the nation are tucked up in bed? It sounds like the Government are trying to bury their bad news but wouldn't it be nice if they actually apologised.

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