Visible Policing – A mixture of views

Visible PoliceThis morning three stories or issues are alive on social media that relate to the actions of police forces. The first I spotted was the news of the tragic shooting of two women in Bexhill last night. The fact that there has been an arrest and that the police are on the scene will not put the clock back for the two dead women, but hopefully it will reassure the local community that the hard work is underway to ensure that the community is safe and the crime is being fully investigated. Then I spotted a nameless columnist in the Uckfield Observer writing a letter to Katy Bourne who is the Sussex PCC, regarding the Police precept. I agreed with several points the person made, but their demand for visible policing, distinguishing this from seeing police officers in cars is unfortunately not something that will assist in cases such as the Bexhill murders, or indeed the work of the police more widely. If it was essential to have police officers walking the streets throughout Sussex last night, the number of officers available to focus on the crime would have been severely diminished and the murderer may well have been at large today. Finally the third strand came from a report in the Daily Mail of PCSOs and Police Officers in Longton, Staffordshire who were engaging with their local community and had focused on matters such as clearing the streets of rubbish as part of their campaign which was clearly focused on one local community. This had led to an outpouring of criticism from local people that they were not addressing matters of a criminal nature. Now the Daily Mail is a regular demander of visible policing so their hypocrisy stands out very clearly. However the fact that some people are not wanting visible policing is a true reflection of how society sees such issues. Some people would like to see a police officer walking along their road whenever something has gone wrong, yet most people are bright enough to work out that any paid official on their streets when there has been no problems is a waste of resources. The value of engaging with communities may not be understood by most people who read the Daily Mail but it is one of the purposes of PCSO’s and so should also be commended, but perhaps the people who have allowed litter and furniture onto their streets should be the real culprits of that story and maybe the MOS could at least have raised that point too!

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A failure to grasp a vital issue

BussesThe image shown here is from the ‘They work for You’ website which displays how our MPs and Peers who are paid to represent us handle the public speeches they make in Parliament. The question from Robert Halfon is an important one and makes sense to anyone who has ever tried to get to Hospital by public transport. The tragedy is that Nusrat Ghani seems to have answered it as though she lives in a world that is not where her constituents live. Her Constituency, Wealden is one that has very little provision for hospitals. There is a small hospital in Crowborough and another small one in Uckfield. However any serious treatment for her constituents needs to take place in Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Haywards Heath or Tunbridge Wells. The only reliable and regular public transport to any of these locations from the constituency is by bus. However to get to hospital from over such distances is far from easy and to leave such matters in the hands of bus companies and even local authorities seems completely wrong. The need for the NHS to work with local authorities and for regulations to be applied to those operate bus services which clearly also requires funding, is vital in a rural constituency like Wealden and indeed in many other parts of the UK. Let us hope that Nusrat Ghani will take the time to reflect on her answer to this important question and see this as a matter for her to resolve, not leave the bus operators to make decisions on!

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A poor matinee after a genuine tragedy

SkripalIt is very hard to understand how our government can store up information about the ‘spying’ profile of staff in any London based Embassy and do nothing about it until the Government which owns the Embassy is accused of an attack on two people in Salisbury, with the added impact on a hard working police officer who was caught in the chemical cross fire. On the other hand how does removing a handful of foreign Civil Servants from a high profile building in our Capital assist our nation in making sense of what has happened and what needs to be done to protect our own residents including police officers and those we have provided sanctuary to. This seems to have all of the hallmarks of a theatrical performance and when placed in the centre of the House of Commons debating Chamber perhaps it was more like a Circus or Pantomine.

The text in Wikipedia suggests that Sergei Skripal “acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s. He settled in the UK in 2010 following the Illegals Program spy swap.” Assuming this is true then our own hands are dirty as Mrs May will surely know very well. The idea of the Russian and American Governments using the attack on Skripal and his daughter to launch their own performance on the stage of the United Nations is just as disturbing, particularly as it is played out on our screens and there will be an impact on our nation. How many American ‘intelligence’ staff are based in their embassy and indeed how many live in the UK based embassies of other nations that have a track record in using embassies and consulates as a base for state terrorism? 

In the short term there is no doubt some benefit to be gained by the Government and Theresa May for the way she responds publicly to what happened in Salisbury on 4th March. However such matters will quickly slip off the newspaper front pages. What really counts is how to improve our security as a nation and how to strengthen the security of UK residents who visit nations such as Russia. The idea that we can be expected to believe that all of these problems are caused by a few spies in an Embassy in London or even by a few people in the Kremlin is foolishness. Once nerve agents are created and made available to such people, they eventually end up in the hands of other people who are on the periphery of foreign governments including our own. The same is true of all weapons including those that Tony Blair defined as weapons of mass destruction. Whilst the attack on three people in Salisbury is something that will have impacted many of us, the real truth is that as residents of the world, the violent death of a single person in Syria or Yemen or anywhere in the world is also a threat to us all. We need the Governments of our world to focus on meaningful peace, not on retaliation!

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The vital need to inspect Children’s Centres

OFSTEDAccording to its own website: “Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We inspect and regulate services that care for children and young people, and services providing education and skills for learners of all ages. It therefore seems bizarre that for the last three years it has not inspected a single Children’s Centre in its entirety. This news came in this article which explained:‘The government suspended Ofsted inspections of children’s centres in September 2015 “on a short-term basis” pending a consultation on their future, which is still yet to take place. The suspension came after the announcement of the consultation by former childcare minister Sam Gyimah in July 2015 and a promise that the government would launch an open consultation on the future of children’s centres in autumn 2015.  According to analysis by Action for Children, had inspections not been suspended, an estimated 969 children’s centres – around 40 per cent of the total – would have been assessed for quality of performance and impact. Before the suspension, Ofsted was required to inspect centres no later than five years after the previous inspection. Inspections collect evidence on aspects such as the safety of the centre, how its public finances are managed, how well it serves young children and parents in the area and its success in identifying prospective families in most need.

The Childrens Minister, Nadhim Zahawi was recently asked this question about Childrens Centres by Dan Carden who is the MP for Liverpool Walton. The question and part of the answer are:

DC: To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of the closure of Sure Start children’s centres on the school readiness of children in Liverpool Walton constituency.

NZ: Due to the wide range of services that affect educational outcomes for young children, it is not possible to draw a causal link between children’s centre services and a child’s educational attainment….If a council decides to close a children’s centre, statutory guidance is clear that they should demonstrate that local children and families would not be adversely affected and local areas continue to have sufficient children’s centres to meet their needs.

Now clearly if the Childrens Centres were being inspected, there is a possibility that Nadhim Zahawi would have been able to answer this question with a bit more background knowledge. However it is not just Zahawi and his predecessor Gyimah who is now the Minister responsible for Higher Education who seem oblivious to the needs to carry out a comprehensive assessment of Children’s Centres. According to this article the Chief Inspector at OFSTED, Amanda Spielman explained to MPs that she is unconcerned that the regulator has not inspected a children’s centre for nearly three years, adding that a decision on future oversight is a matter for government. Appearing before the education select committee, Spielman said she is satisfied that current arrangements are sufficient. Responding to questioning from Labour MP Lucy Powell, Spielman said: “The short answer is I’m not concerned.” it is “a matter for government” to consider what the most appropriate mechanism for overseeing children’s centres is. “I’m not convinced from what I have seen inspection is the right tool to look at whether children’s centres are as effective as they should be. “I think it is fundamentally a question for the Secretary of State [for Education] about the future of children’s centres and the oversight of them.”



It seems reasonable for the OFSTED inspector if she does not believe an inspection is the best way of overseeing a children’s centre to express her view regarding what is the best mechanism and while she is expressing that, perhaps she can explain to MPs and the rest of society, if OFSTED inspections work for Schools, Prisons, PreSchools and Local Authorities?

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The Home Office needs to be challenged

Home OfficeEvery few months I hear a story about someone who the Home Office is about to deport despite the fact that they are making or have made a huge contribution to society. Sometimes the story emerges of a person I know, and sometimes someone else. However almost every time I am left wanting to hold our Home Office to account for potentially destroying communities through a hardline approach to rules that seem at need a great deal of flexibility.  A few days ago a friend of mine Dani Ahrens wrote this amazing blog about her own life as an immigrant and compared it to the life of Albert Thompson who after 44 years living in the UK, paying taxes and contributing to our society, is being told that his cancer treatment will cost him thousands of pounds, a sum that another person whose paperwork was handled in a different manner would be covered by our national health service. No doubt the rules being applied to Albert are those designed to stop health tourism. After 44 years no one would describe Albert as a tourist to the UK. Then over the weekend the story emerged of a couple, currently staff members at Durham University with their 11 year old daughter who are all about to be deported for breaking a rule that on the face of it should be open to a flexible approach. The couple are Dr. Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and his wife Arely Cruz-Santiago who is a research postgraduate in Geography. Apparently they have a tier 2 visa and in the academic year 2014-2015 spent too many days in their home nation of Mexico. Now it appears there is a flexible element to the rule relating to the time spent abroad, which is that it can be waived if the people concerned are ‘attending to a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis’. According to this petition I have just signed they were helping to establish a DNA database for families in Mexico whose family members had disappeared due to gang related and/or drug violence. Now apparently this does not fulfil the Home Office’s definition of a humanitarian crisis. I think the people in the Home Office need to be held to account for their grasp of how decisions impact society. They do after all have rules about deporting people who have broken laws and have been prosecuted. This is explained as a way of protecting our society. Surely the same logic should be applied to the lives of Albert and Ernesto. If they are making such a positive contribution to the community where they live, the need for flexibility even where pedantic rules have been broken or not followed when they first arrive or when they are spending time abroad must be taken into account. Deporting Ernesto and Arely and charging such a large sum to Albert makes no sense to people who they know and who learn from them. Indeed it doesn’t take long for people who don’t know them to see that this is a dreadful way of interpreting such situations. The big question is how do people like me and Dani and the thousands of others who are supporting all of these people get a chance to speak up demanding that the Home Office becomes more focused on the communities it is supposed to be protecting?

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We need Ministers that will listen & learn

logoOn a regular basis local groups of businesses meet together for Breakfast or lunch meetings, usually focused on ideas which will enable some or all of the businesses present to strengthen their work and improve their profitability. The same is true for groups of charities in different areas which occasionally meet to discuss their work and share best practice as charities so they can operate more effectively. Once in a blue moon these groups of businesses or charities might try to invite their local MP to such a meeting and occasionally the MPs will invite along someone from the Civil Service to speak to such a group. On Friday I attended such a meeting nearby to where I work in Uckfield. Although it was mostly Businesses in attendance, part of the purpose of the presentation was to encourage the businesses to learn from a small number of charities that were also present. The common theme of their work is focused on assisting people with disabilities to find work. The Chamber of Commerce for Uckfield co-hosted the meeting with the MP for Wealden, Nusrat Ghani who is also a Transport Minister, and the people who made the presentations apart from Ms Ghani included an officer from the Department of Work and Pensions and a couple of young people who had managed to obtain work despite their disabilities. It was these two people whose stories were the most inspiring, along with the example given by Ms Ghani of a constituent who she offered a short internship too, who was disabled. An internship of course is only a small step along the way, but based on the words from Ms Ghani, it did assist that young man to find a more meaningful role.

Among the charities present were Possability People who are a Brighton based charity. Because I have had the privilege of working with people who are part of that charity, I know that they are well positioned to help businesses ensure that their workplace is a suitable environment. I have also worked with a national charity called the Centre for Accessible Environments which helps to prepare the ground for such activities across the UK, supporting a wide range of self employed auditors who are willing to work with businesses to shape their work spaces. It was clear from the effort being applied to this event, that the Government have grasped that their target of helping one Million disabled people to obtain work, will not happen simply as a result of Ministers or even a few MPs making speeches. However it does seem clear that the steps needed to achieve such a major change are numerous, particularly in an area such as East and West Sussex along with Brighton & Hove where the vast majority of businesses are micro enterprises or small businesses and where the transport links are at best a bit limited. To achieve a major change demands a long term, sustainable focus which needs to emanate from the Government if they are serious about promoting their hashtag #disabilityconfident. They need to spend time listening to charities such as Possability People and also small businesses as well as the people seeking work and applying community development principles so that they don’t just hear the words but ensure that they respond to them. If they do so, then things could change dramatically and the opportunity for some disabled people will become much wider than at present.

The same need for proper listening to people is true in the cases of other Ministers such as Nick Gibb who on Thursday was presumably in the House of Commons working hard as the Schools Minister whilst a large number of school children and teachers from across West Sussex visited the Butlins holiday camp in his constituency. They were not there to enjoy the holiday camp facilities but to meet local businesses and find out how Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects could enable them to find work and help improve society. Although Nick had been invited to the event, he did not come along which was very disappointing. It is of course inevitable that he and Nusrat Ghani will get numerous invitations to attend meetings that they cannot attend. The truth is that Nick regularly gets asked about STEM subjects when he is in the Chamber of the House of Commons or in front of select committees, and he always has an answer to talk about Government policy. However the problem with Government policies such as STEM education and employing people with disabilities, is that all too often the words that come from Ministers are not founded on real life situations, but a bit more of a theoretical approach to life. This needs to change if Governments want to be taken seriously.

Posted in Brighton & Hove, Charities, Data Retention and Investigatory Powers, Parliament and Democracy, STEM, Youth Issues | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A rare coming together of dates

APPG women sentencingThe traditional Mothering Sunday, or Mothers Day as it is now known changes dates each year, because it is timed to coincide with the 3rd Sunday in Lent. For those who are following the traditional Lent denial of certain nice things, the true tradition is that on each Sunday during Lent, the items which one has been giving up during the week, can be enjoyed. This is particularly helpful if one is celebrating Mothers Day at Home with one’s Mother. However because Lent varies in timing each year, the third Sunday of Lent also changes date so that next year it will be 31st March and then in 2020 on 22nd March. This means that this year is a rare case when Mothering Sunday or Mothers Day falls in the same week as International Womens Day. This enables a focus on the issues impacting women in our society to be reinforced more than usual. The text above explains an issue that impacts on Mothers in an unnecessary way, as our society fails to grasp the need to find effective ways of punishing people who have broken our laws. One of the reasons why our Criminal Justice System needs a major rethink is that the small numbers of women who do end up in prisons, are inevitably held miles, in some case hundreds of miles from their families because of the small number of women’s prisons. As we celebrate Mothers Day (or Mothering Sunday if that is ones tradition) and reflect on a week that allowed people like Baroness Corston to speak out on behalf of women who are poorly served by our Criminal Justice System, rather than read the news from one of our tabloids that is trying to use the day to criticise Waitrose, it would be great to find a way of supporting the views of Jean Corston. I suspect her views expressed in the All Party Parliamentary Group will be opposed by some of our right wing MPs. My MP will be entirely supportive of this statement which came from an e-news article, however sending a message to MPs to ask them to support Jean on Mothers Day would be a good way of helping.

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