Criminal Justice System is upside down

justiceIn 2010 the coalition Government announced it was to replace Police Authorities with Police and Crime Commissioners and I following this process through with some personal interest. One of the Architects for the PCC role, Nick Herbert MP who is still the MP for Arundel and South Downs spoke in 2011 about how incoherent the Criminal Justice System was and how as the Policing Minister he believed the new PCC’s would begin to fix this broken system. He referred to the Probation Service, to Prisons and to the Courts Service that the PCCs in time would link these agencies together and bring accountability to them. On Tuesday a Junior Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer responded to a written Parliamentary question and answered it as follows:

Q: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the potential additional financial costs on police forces in areas where the local court has recently closed.

LF: Whilst the Secretary of State for Justice has not specifically discussed with the Home Secretary the potential additional financial costs on police forces in areas where the local court has recently closed, HM Courts and Tribunal Service conducts public consultations when court closures are proposed. These consultations invite views from any affected police forces, and local Police and Crime Commissioners. The Secretary of State takes into account the responses received before deciding how to proceed.

The point is that 7 years after Nick Herbert suggested that this topsy turvy approach was due to be dealt with, that nothing has changed. The fact that PCCs will be invited to give their views on Court closures is pure drivel. It should be the PCC in a given area that is determining whether Courts should be closed. They were elected as Police AND CRIME COMMISSIONERS not merely Police Commissioners which is how most of them and the Government want to operate. Indeed the Government is fixated with getting the PCCs to work with the Fire and Rescue Services and even Ambulance Services so they can be seen as Blue Light Commissioners. The fact is that closing courts has far less impact on Police services than it does on communities. The PCC is the local accountable person, elected to improve policing and the criminal justice system. To treat them as mere stakeholders in the decisions regarding court closures is a complete betrayal of all that lies behind the PCC concept



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Sheffield is an important place but….

life chancesIn the late 1990’s and early part of the new Millennium Brighton was regularly referred to as having more pilots than Gatwick, because the Blair Government used to test out its policies in a city which was close enough to London to be accessible by Ministers, managed by a Labour Council (so therefore strengthening the votes) and small enough that a modest investment could make a big difference. It is always a bad thing to put all or most of your eggs in one basket. However at least with the Brighton pilots, the good schemes were then rolled out nationally. The current Government is taking resources and rather than piloting them, is applying them in one or two areas and then walking away. This news report refers to a sum of £19m which has been transferred to Sheffield City Council from the Government to fund youth provision. It is part of phase two of the Life Chances Fund which was first launched in July 2016. The fund is intended to support projects working across six themes, of which the second round – focusing on early years and young people – opened to expressions of interest in January 2017. The total allocated to this round of funding is £28m and the first round distributed £16.2m. The balance of the funding (£35.8m) will focus on healthy lives and older people’s services and is set to be announced later in the year.

I am thrilled that such a large sum of money has been made available to help fund youth projects, however to put 23% of the overall funding into one project in one city seems to be very concerning. One wonders how many other places submitted bids, spending time and peoples wages on an exercise which was sadly without a positive outcome. It would be fantastic if the Government then announced it was going to treat these schemes as pilot schemes and roll out the successes nationally. Sadly this is not going to occur. Indeed the money in any case comes from the National Lottery funds!




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Charity Commission obeyed Parliament and blocked free speech

Gagging LobbyingLast Thursday a fascinating debate took place in Parliament which on the face of it involved both Lords and MPs although the only people who spoke were MPs and the irony of their frustration towards the Charity Commission was lost on them as their House unlike the Lords voted to end any risk of Charities being perceived to  support any Political group or policy. In their efforts to stop charities speaking out in a way that could be interpreted as being party political, they effectively voted for an end to free speech by charities on many levels. Thursdays debate was about Universities and Students Unions, both of which are charities under the current arrangements, but it is vital that this is understood as being a much wider issue. If the Charity Commission over-reacted towards the lobbying bill, they did so as a Government Agency (under the chairmanship of a Tory) to fulfil the coalitions wishes and it is vital that all charities are seen to have been affected, not just those in Higher Education settings.

Harriet Harman: The right to free speech is of course a foundation for democracy. It is important in all settings, but especially in universities, where education and learning are advanced through dialogue and debate..[Jo Johnson] had said that the problem was students. However, we felt that the problem was not only students inhibiting one another’s time and opportunity to speak, but a number of other issues such as the Charity Commission… that is controversy-averse which is having a chilling effect on free speech. Its guidance warns student unions that they could risk their charitable status if they have controversies that could risk their reputation as a charity. We think that the Charity Commission goes way beyond the law and is having a chilling effect on students’ free speech.

Fiona Bruce: Free speech is indeed a foundation for democracy in society, and universities are places where many of tomorrow’s leaders learn how to explore ideas in a way that prepares them to engage in and influence wider society, so it is critical that free speech is secured in universities…. Article 9 of the European convention on human rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Article 10 sets out the right to freedom of speech and a right to, “hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”, and this “can extend to the right to say things which may…disturb the listener”, and which the listener might find offensive or even shocking….A number of factors were limiting free speech at universities such as regulatory complexity and confusion, confusion over the Charity Commission guidelines, and unduly complicated and cautious guidance from the Charity Commission itself about what student unions could or could not do in organising events and permitting speakers to attend.

I want to talk in a little more detail about the Charity Commission…. The wording of clause 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 imposes an obligation on university governing bodies to take “such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured” on both university and students union premises. I have written underneath, “proactive”. This is a proactive clause. It requires them to take steps to secure free speech, so I entirely agree. It does not help, for example, when, as charities, students unions have been told that they can devote resources to or campaign only on issues that further their charitable purposes. The Charity Commission has interpreted this—I think, and our Committee agrees —in a far too narrow way.

The Charity Commission guidance for students unions indicated that it would consider it acceptable for charitable students’ unions to comment on “street lighting near the campus” because the issue affects students as students, and therefore fulfils their charitable purposes. The Charity Commission would consider it unacceptable for students unions to comment publicly on issues that do not directly affect the welfare of students as students, such as, “the treatment of political prisoners in a foreign country.”

The Minister (Sam Gyimah) told our Committee that the Charity Commission guidance should “go further and facilitate the promotion of free speech. It should be giving students’ unions the permission to host debates about controversial issues and expose students to a wide range of viewpoints. That should be the core purpose.” That is quite right. It is not just preferable that free speech is promoted and protected in universities. It should be a prerequisite for any university that is going to achieve its educational purposes. I am pleased that the Charity Commission has acknowledged as much this week and has announced in response to our report that it will create new guidance in this area.”

The fact that Fiona and Sam are members of the Party that added the Part 2 of the Bill to end Lobbying means that they are partly responsible for the challenge which they now expect the Charity Commission to put right. Let us hope this lack of integrity in their approach is highlighted and that they acknowledge that they are to blame for the problem and seek to free up other charities from the gag that they have placed on them.

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The impact of GDPR on the World Wide Web

GDPROver the next few days there is a significant change that will impact many users of the internet along with people in receipt of printed correspondence. The GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation is something that most users of the internet are becoming extremely familiar with. For those of us who have lots of interests and follow lots of organisations the deluge of forms, emails and boxes to tick in the last few weeks has been huge. I recall a number of years ago as email correspondence increased due to the growth of its use, that from time to time the odd scam arose which was explained by friends as the risk of a threatening email that contained a virus and was circulating across the internet. Those who had been persuaded to do so would explain how the email risked infecting ones computer and not only should people delete the email if it arrived, but they should also let all of their friends know about it in case it arrived in their in-boxes. In many of these cases the threat was not a virus that could take out individual computers, but it was an attempt to create pressure in the internet itself by raising the number of emails circulating disproportionately in the hope of taking out some of the infrastructure. One could imagine that the internet demand created by GDPR legislation to ensure that by this Friday the 25th May that anyone who is linked to any organisation has received an appropriate email and has responded to it to ensure that they continue to be eligible to receive emails, will have had far more impact on the internet than any of the scams I received in the past. Along with the massive number of emails circulating which have started to feel like a major spam campaign, anyone connected with an organisation that stores names and sends out emails will have been struggling to work out how to respond to the legislation in a meaningful way. The most simple approach I have seen which has been adopted by agencies such as West Sussex has been to send out an email to the people on their database stating that if they are happy to continue to receive emails they don’t need to do anything, but if they no longer want to receive emails they should click on a specific link. Then there are the emails which include links to small-ish questionnaires inviting people to confirm their email address and possibly a mobile phone number and then asking them to tick several boxes regarding what sort of correspondence they are happy to receive. Finally there are those organisations that have gone to much greater lengths and have insisted that followers fill in lengthy details and also ensuring they read long explanations, and then tick a box to say they have read the document. As someone who is a Trustee of a charity, we were originally offered a 25 page policy document by another charity that we are linked to, whereas I have seen two page policies established by other charities. All of the work associated with the GDPR issue reminds me of the Millennium Bug which resulted in thousands of person hours being spent on something which in the end had no noticeable impact on society, apart from the hours of preparation that went on in advance assuming that things would break. It seems that when legislation such as GDPR is created, it is not unreasonable for those who create it, to set out some parameters regarding what is the lowest level of work needed by small businesses and charities, long before the deadline set out by the legislation.

At a much more local level in terms of change that may be about to impact Brighton and Hove, I am delighted that the new Mayor of our city is Dee Simpson who for many years has been one of the most community focused and engaged Councillors on the Council. Being a Mayor must be a huge responsibility and I know from speaking to some previous Mayors, that the time they need to commit to the role is enormous. In recent years the impact of Mayor’s such as Pete West have brought a radical change to the role. I hope that Dee continues with this reforming approach as well as enjoying the pomp and circumstance that goes with some aspects of the post. In preparation for writing this blog I went onto the City Council website to look up the list of previous Mayors. The document on their website lists Mayors as far back as 1854, but stops at 2008. Perhaps someone in the Council can update the list and bring it forward a decade in one small action!

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The tension between accountability and leadership

skynews-house-of-lords-lords_4143387Responding to the opinion of the taxpayers who fund the whole of a very costly Parliament is something that all Politicians should take seriously. Equally responding to powerful members of your political party makes sense to those who support tribal politics as does ensuring that one has the tactical power to get your own way in decision making. Finally there is the challenge over the words and promises you have made in the past. If all of these views line up, then the tension goes and in one sense there is no difficulty in expressing leadership. However when these things are at odds, in some cases extreme odds then leadership becomes much harder:

Rees MoggThe Powerful Tribal Spokesman – its tough for Theresa because Jacob has always voted against the reform of the Lords, and yet he has called on the Lords to behave themselves in the way he believes they should whenever they have voted against his opinion. Back in January when he sensed that elements of the Brexit legislation would be challenged by the Upper House he argued “If the House won’t play by the constitutional rule book, then the PM has to use the extra measures available to her it could be a couple of hundred” So Jacob’s ideal as Chairman of the European Research Group is for 200 new Tory Peers to be created.

opinionPublic Opinion – the Electoral Reform Society recently carried out a survey to gauge our views and overall 60% of people questioned are opposed to any increase and a mere 9% are supportive of more Peers. Of those opposed 59% are Tory supporters and 63% are Labour supporters. Altogether 79% think the Lords is already too large and 18% think it is about right (so presumably 3% are in favour of it getting larger!). A report carried out last October suggested the size of the Lords should drop to 600 (it is currently nearly 800) and perhaps most important in terms of the ERS is that they believe the public are tired and sceptical about the packing out of the Lords with Party Donors and Ex-MPs, which is at odds with the view from the House of Commons who are not against MPs being elevated to the Lords but oppose Civil Servants being promoted at any cost!

Theresa and JeremyThe views of Theresa and Jeremy are supposed to be relatively consistent. Back in August 2016 days after taking over the management of her party, Theresa made it clear that she intended to end “gongs for mates” and that following the departure of Cameron she would “do things differently”. By the same token and at the same time Corbyn argued that the honours made by Cameron had put “a nail in the coffin” of the House of Lords and he pledged to replace the Upper Chamber with an elected House if he became Prime Minister.

Late on Friday night as the nation prepared to enjoy the FA cup or Wedding of Harry and Meghan or indeed plan shopping trips, Theresa was hard at work announcing her decision to compromise between the views of powerful people like Jacob Rees-Mogg along with the maths of the House of Lords with her own view and that of the public. A side issue was that of Jeremy Corbyn who should in my view have denied names to May or at best nominated people from outside of the Political Parties. As a result of the 13 new Peers, there are now going to be 793 Peers in the House. These are 253 Tory Peers, 235 Non Affiliated, Crossbench and Bishop Peers, 190 Labour Peers, 98 Lib Dem Peers, 4 DUP Peers and the balance cover a range of parties or roles.  It would appear that despite going against the public and against Theresa and Jeremy’s own opinions, that the 13 Peers will not change the overall leverage in the House of Lords. Equally Theresa has fallen a long way short of the 200 proposed by Jacob Rees-Mogg. It appears that her decision and that of Jeremy fell well between the cracks.

The nine new Tory Peers included Sir Eric Pickles, Peter Lilley, Sir Edward Garnier, Sir John Randall, Sir Alan Haselhurst and Andrew Tyrie, all six of whom were former MPs. None of the Labour Peers are ex MPs but William McCrea is a former DUP MP.

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Environmentally friendly traffic cones

Traffic ConeThe decisions taken by police forces regarding their purchase of products such as weapons like tasers and guns and pepper spray are all subject to the Home Office agreeing to such items being used. However when it comes to less critical issues, there is a great deal more flexibility. I recall when I was growing up that a family friend of my parents was a sales rep for a manufacturer of traffic cones, and he often carried around a few samples in the back of his estate car. Presumably one of his target markets would be Police Forces along with the local government agencies, I am not sure that there was such a thing as the Highways Agency at that time. In those days the idea of a plastic item seemed very sensible, however we are now facing a very different approach and it seems possible that alternatives can be found to these items although they are far from one use plastic items.

On Monday a DUP MP called Paul Girvan asked a question of the Home Office which on the face of it should be taken seriously. His question was: “To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if his Department will make an assessment of the potential merits of using a non-plastic alternative to cones used by police forces.”

The answer came from Nick Hurd who is the Minister responsible for Policing who said: “Decisions around the procurement of police traffic cones is a matter for individual forces to determine. Concerns around the type of traffic cones procured, should be raised with individual forces or with the directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners.”

It does seem rather disappointing that a question of this nature should be treated as a fly that needs swatting rather than being taken seriously. If a non plastic alternative does exist then surely this is a matter which the environment department would wish to promote and the Home Office along with the Highways Agency and Local Government Department should work together to promote. Instead the Government treat this as too low down in their interests to justify any real consideration.


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Government procurement must end monopolies

CarillionThe publication yesterday of a report by two Parliamentary Committees into the collapse of Carillion brought back into the light information that was last published by the same committees back in February about the huge sums of money paid to four dominant accountancy firms by Carillion itself, its Pension fund and the Government over the last 10 years. Between the four firms they have been in receipt of over £71m in that time. An average of £7m per year across the four firms for the auditing, and advice to one large firm that itself was allowed to dominate the public sector along with a handful of other firms such as G4S, Serco, Capita, Kier, Veolia, Atos and Mitie. The problem when firms become so big and have their feet clearly under the table of Government procurement processes is that public money begins to fund very wealthy individuals at the head of such businesses and the potential for creative and innovative ideas to become part of the solutions gets lost because it is seen as risks that no one wants to take. Even amongst charities the Government resists the urge to commission services from small organisations. As I wrote the other day the replacement for the probation service was launched with a promise to utilise charities to help assist people leaving prison or custody. Yet the evidence after 3 years is that almost all of the funding has gone to charities with a turnover of more than £10m.

At the launch yesterday of the report by the two Parliamentary Committees Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the BEIS Committee, said:

“Carillion’s collapse was a disaster for all those who lost their jobs and the small businesses, contractors and suppliers left fighting for survival. The company’s delusional directors drove Carillion off a cliff and then tried to blame everyone but themselves. Their colossal failure as managers meant they effectively pressed the self-destruct button on the company….The collapse of Carillion exposed terrible failures of regulation. The Government needs to stop dithering and act to ensure regulators are up to the job of intervening before companies fail, rather than trying to pick up the pieces when it is too late.”

The reality is that the Government also needs to change the way it views procurement, whether that is the procurement of services from four large accountancy firms or procurement from organisations such as the large companies mentioned above. The promise by the Government to increase the procurement amongst SMEs seems to have evaporated, and even there, the focus was on Medium Size businesses rather than Small or Micro Enterprises. If we are going to grow our economy in a way that ensures that large numbers of people benefit, then taking a bit more time in the procurement process will have a significant impact. Businesses will continue to fail as is the nature of organisations, but each failure will then only impact a very small number of people and can be easily replaced.

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