Solving knife crime needs diverse approaches

knifefreeThere are many challenges facing our society and having observed the crime scene for a knife based high profile murder last weekend it is understandable how the issue is appearing to impact communities across the UK. However in reality whilst there are some specific, mainly urban settings where gang violence involving guns and knifes is impacting large cities, there are other parts of our nation that needs a very different approach. In terms of how some new ideas (or old ones being revisited) are being promoted, this Children and Young People Now article is very helpful. However they are understandably focusing on settings where knife crime is at very high levels. The reality is that in many other settings where the knife based crime levels are relatively low, a very different approach is needed. A few months ago I took part in a discussion regarding an example of how one young person, having enjoyed a beach BBQ where they had taken a fork and short but sharp knife to cut the meat they enjoyed had then been identified as having the knife in their bag as they went on to their next activity, even though they committed no crime and they did not remove the knife. In the discussion I was part of it was revealed that the person ended up with a caution which means they have been added to the criminal justice system with a record that could impact their life for some time to come. Some of the people involved in the discussion argued this person deserved a more substantial punishment and some of us that the person deserved to be offered a non criminal outcome. As we argued our point, it was revealed that a restorative justice approach regarding the handling of knives demands that the Home Secretary personally must sign off any such arrangement. This has two question marks or concerns. The first is that police officers where they would ideally take a restorative justice approach, know that approaching the Home Office is a waste of their time when knifes are involved and so they fall back onto using the criminal justice system, even if this is going to damage the people concerned and fail to do anything to protect society in the long term. The second is the idea that when it comes to such criminal acts, that the Home Secretary who has no exposure to such matters on the Coast of Sussex is more competent in such matters than a Police Superintendent, Inspector or even a Police Sergeant is very disturbing. He of course has plenty of data available to him, but restorative justice demands local understanding too. I am delighted to read about the work of youth advocates programme as they seek to help deal with the huge numbers of young people under pressure in London Boroughs and settings such as Manchester, Liverpool and other large cities. However we need a very different approach in other parts of the UK!

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Strengths and weaknesses of break away

Labour splitAs someone who stood as an Independent candidate in an election, I have mixed feelings about a group of politicians who until yesterday were members of one party, claiming to be Independent MPs and then forming a group that they are part of without any indication that they approached other Independent MPs or Councillors to see if there was common ground between them. By its very definition an Independent representative is not bound by a party or a group of other representatives. Their view should now be wholly and completely what is best for their constituents and no longer having a party constitution or set of rules to redirect their judgement. In many senses given that one of the critical aspects of their breakaway was Brexit, it would have been good to have seen some of  these MPs meeting with Caroline Lucas, with members of the SNP and perhaps even Sinn Fein to express that their change was to enable them to be more flexible when it comes to working with other MPs. Even allowing for the difference between their views and Frank Field who is strongly supportive of Brexit, they should also have some common ground with him. However for each of them to focus exclusively on their 6 ex-colleagues from the Labour Party sends out a very different message. Although they left the party less than 24 hours ago, and so there are lots of opportunities to do much more radical things, to give the impression of creating a limited ex-Labour splinter group rather than truly adopting the idea of positive Independent MPs is not a great first step.

In my view there are broadly speaking two schools of Independent MPs. The first and the one to aim for has been created by people such as Martin Bell who was elected as an Independent, who did not carry with him any party political baggage and who truly stood up and spoke on behalf of his constituency but also on behalf of many of us who feel political parties is not the best way of changing society. The second is created by people such as Craig Mackinlay and Fiona Onasanya who were both members of a political party until their behaviour led to them being chucked out. There is a third strand which is where Frank Field and the 7 people in the image above sit. They all have the potential to do a lot of good things, but in the case of the 7, they will need to avoid looking as though they are merely a splinter group like the ERG if they are serious about being called Independents and if they want to be seen as having the credibility of people like Martin Bell.

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An empty port and unbuilt Bridge

DfTOver the last few days news has emerged regarding two very different Government sponsored projects which were each high profile, albeit for different reasons and which have now been curtailed, also for different reasons. Both led to the potential for large sums of public money to be spent, one of which we have been told will now cost us nothing, although it is very early on in the termination cycle to be certain of this and the other of which has cost us a huge amount that has been spent in a very unclear and unaccountable manner. So the two projects demand more public explanation than currently exists. In one sense neither has any direct bearing on the residents of Sussex or our Sussex politicians, but in another as taxpayers and as people who are concerned about how the Government and its officials operate we have every reason to be better informed.

The most recent of the two cases is the Seaborne Freight contract which had reportedly cost nothing but was due to cost around £14m a year had it taken place and the first was the Garden Bridge Trust which was cancelled some time ago but is now being disclosed as having cost us £43m according to a recent report. This sum was partly matched by £10.5m which came from a range of private sources. Both of these schemes involved the same Government Department, the Department for Transport that awarded Seaborne Freight a contract to reopen a roll on roll off ferry service between Ramsgate and Ostend and paid £19m to the Garden Bridge Trust to create a new bridge across the River Thames! Had the ferries been launched the Seaborne contract was said to be worth £13.8m but because it was cancelled over the last few days, the claim is that the DfT has paid nothing out and will not need to do so. The balance of public funds supplied to the Garden Bridge Trust have come from Transport For London that paid £24m and they have claimed that the sums paid out were lower than they had anticipated! There are similarities between the two projects as in both cases, although some planning has taken place, there is little indication of any work having taken place.

In the case of the Garden Trust we have now been told that a sum of £21.4m was paid to a French based construction company which has a British subsidiary called Bouygues UK that is described on its website as “one of the country’s leading construction companies. The company focuses on sectors where it is particularly well positioned to add value through its technical expertise, skills and experience, drawing on the talents of the wider global Bouygues Group where relevant. Through its construction teams and its development business .. is behind some of the UK’s most significant projects”. The company over the last three years had an average turnover of £500m and a loss of £30m so presumably our money has helped to reduce its debts. What is not clear is where the rest of the £32m has gone and given that 80% of the money is public money, it seems worthwhile finding this out. It also seems strange that such a large sum was released to the Trust without some meaningful safeguards, however the reason admitted by Boris Johnson is that he signed a directive in early 2016 to reduce the checks and balances. The directive was signed at the same time as he was deciding which side of the referendum he was supporting. According to his responses he cannot recall why he signed the directive so perhaps recalling back that far is a challenge for someone as busy as Boris. One wonders if that would act as a reasonable argument for asking the rest of society to recall why we voted as we did and perhaps asking us to reconfirm our views!

In the case of the Seaborne Freight contract, although the Government claimed it would only pay for the work if the ferries arrived and departed on a regular basis, one of the elements of the scheme was to dredge Ramsgate harbour and it was widely reported that this would take 12-16 weeks, so given that the contract was cancelled a week ago and that Brexit is due in 6 weeks, this would suggest that 5-7 weeks dredging has taken place. It seems concerning that a building company that has built no bridge has received £21m while a dredging company that has dredged half of a harbour has not been paid a meaningful sum!

 PS – following on from the writing of this article for the Argus it was then disclosed here that our Government has spent £800,000 of public money (some 6% of the proposed Seaborne contract) on the due diligence checks, which is amazing considering that nothing that the checks revealed had anything to do with the contract being cancelled!


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Government reverses one use of the Parliamentary F word

first aidIt is understandable that many people find the use of the F word deeply offensive, inside and outside of Parliament. However its use inside Parliament leads to certain arrogant individuals and the Government, preventing good policy changes from taking place because they don’t like the idea of being told what to do by other people. Indeed this is why many thousands of democrats signed a petition calling for it to be prevented which sadly got nowhere. The use of this can have a very serious impact on our lives and the communities we live in. As this article in the Independent explains, way back on the 20th November 2015 the Government asked Sam Gyimah, one of its Ministers (who is no longer a Minister) to speak during a private members bill for long enough that the Bill would be ended. During his time as a Minister Sam was a well rehearsed user of the F word as I have written about in my blog on many occasions. Sams prolonged speech was part of the process which Philip Davies played a key role in which was organised to prevent a Bill proposed by Teresa Pearce, the Labour MP for Erith. Her Bill was intended to make teaching first aid a requirement for Schools, a matter that was supported by many other MPs which is why preventing them from voting is so deeply wrong.

However it appears that the Government has finally woken up to the sense of this bill, the news that their approach has been reversed appeared on Thursday when Paul Farrelly MP asked “the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department has plans for all secondary school students to receive compulsory first aid training, resulting in a formal qualification” and the response which came from Nick Gibb was “The draft guidance for the new subjects of Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education is currently being finalised following the public consultation that closed in November 2018. The Department has set out in the draft statutory guidance that health education should cover first aid and emergency lifesaving. Schools will have flexibility to determine how the content is taught, including options to work with expert organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross, that offer a range of specialist lesson plans, some of which may result in a recognised qualification. Subject to making the regulations, schools will be required to teach the new subjects from September 2020, but they will be encouraged and supported to start teaching them from September 2019 on a voluntary basis.”

It may seem trivial to point out that had the private members bill been passed back in late 2015 that a number of lives might have been saved since that cannot be reversed and indeed the appalling behaviour by Gyimah would have been avoided and the Government would have looked far less incompetent at the time. That said Davies would no doubt have carried on as he is an ongoing opponent of democracy. However at last the arrogant use of one of the recent filibusters has been overturned. Let us hope some of the other cases will also be revisited and adopted and that people like Sam, Alistair Burt, Philip and Christopher Chope who have all participated in a number of filibusters will be forced to apologise to the nation for their appalling behaviour and that the Government will remove the use of such silly powers from being used on private members bills.

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Parliament needs to become accountable and credible

Climate ChangeYesterday several thousand children chose not to go to School in order to campaign about the need for greater focus on climate change by our nation and in particular our Government. It is tragic that Andrea Leadsom ignored this specific question raised by Caroline Lucas and refused to offer to have a debate on the threat to our world via climate change. In particular to ignore the reference to “demonstrate to young people that we are listening and we take their concerns very seriously”. Andrea is clearly not fit for her role as Leader of the House given this. By the same token the Prime Minister whose spokesperson stated “Everybody wants young people to be engaged with the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasise that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.” missed the point and focused on the negatives of a days disruption. On the other hand the interview on yesterdays Radio 4 Today Programme which was carried out by Justin Webb showed that at least one Minister gets it and understands how Parliament needs to respond.

JW: Claire Perry, The Minister of State for Energy  and clean growth what is the Government’s view of the Schools strike

CP: I suspect that if this happened 40 years ago I would be out there too, I am actually incredibly proud of the young people in the UK, first of all who are highly educated about this issue, the schools have done an amazing job through the curriculum and also feel very strongly quite rightly that we do need to take action because it is their generation that will bear the consequences. I do want to slightly caution that with perhaps a more official view that we can’t put any more burdens on our superb teachers and teaching staff I do hope anyone who is missing school today does get their homework and assignments done.

JW: So if the teachers and parents say ok you are pretty supportive of  the children not being in school today

CP: I think that we have got to wake up to this emergency

So let us hope that Claire Perry and Caroline Lucas are able to overrule Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May as unlikely as that is!


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Henry Smith, Crawley MP is clearly out of touch

Henry SmithAs MPs from across the country enter into a range of discussions regarding the European Union it is inevitable that their lack of understanding will emerge in public. There are many MPs whose grasp of the EU demonstrates how unsuitable they are to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. A classic example of this came out yesterday in a discussion described as “UK’s Withdrawal from the EU” which involved a series of comments from Henry, the Crawley MP:

“It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this important EU withdrawal is now more than two and a half years since the referendum took place…We have heard this afternoon calls for a so-called people’s vote…That would certainly do a lot to damage our democracy and prolong uncertainty”

Now clearly Henry thinks that asking voters to take part in one decision making process is a good idea, but to ask them to take part on a second occasion is a bad idea, which one could assume that he doesn’t want any more Council or General Elections. In any event if Parliament cannot resolve matters after nearly three years reconnecting with the people makes sense!

“Mention has been made of how we should be taking no deal off the table. I have never known a negotiation where one party goes in and says that they are not willing to walk away from that negotiation”

The fact is that every negotiation has similar elements to many other negotiations but each one is also unique. I have certainly taken part in lots of negotiations and whatever words are used, I do know of many where getting a positive outcome is seen as essential, and the threat of departure by one party leads to a collapse of confidence in the people responsible for establishing a deal. The arguments of win-win-win sometimes get used. In any event a public negotiation is bound to be very different to confidential commercial or contractural negotiations and our nation cannot take risks in the way a business may claim they are willing to do so!

“The European Union is increasingly a protectionist bloc. The European Union is not outward and global in its approach. This country, with its unique global links, can use them to have a much more positive future”

It seems strange to suggest that the EEC which involved six other nations on the day we joined along with Ireland and Denmark, and now as the EU has 27 other nations could be described as lacking global interest. Add to this the fact that over 60 other nations now have free trade arrangements with the EU and there are several in the middle of discussions so in fact half the world is in a trade deal with the UK as a result of our membership of the EU!

“I think people in this country have rejected the status quo, and I see Brexit as an opportunity for wider constitutional reform in relation to devolving power, fundamentally changing the way the other place works fundamentally and many other aspects.”

It is fascinating that someone who does not want people to vote on similar matters because that would damage democracy, is now claiming that we have constitutional reform on the table that will devolve power, but perhaps Henry can explain what reforms he has in mind and then his speech will be a bit more credible!

we absolutely should be seeking and honouring a deep and close relationship with our neighbours and allies in Europe, but the trouble with a customs union, which Labour Members advocate, is that it would prevent us from doing the global free trade deals that, in a world that is getting smaller, are key to our prosperity…The key to this country’s future prosperity is our unique global links, and being a conduit for that thanks to our proximity to Europe.”

I confess I find these comments to be highly confusing, but I know Henry won’t be willing to explain his comments so perhaps we will need to write them off!

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Hi Matt, was Thatcher a Hero or Villain over Orgreave?

HancockWhen MPs or Ministers are asked questions they regularly demonstrate they believe they have the choice of avoiding the question if it is seen as potentially a trick question or answering it and being taken out and criticised in public. There can be few credible people who would argue that Winston Churchill was a Hero in 1910 over his instructions to use violence to crush the miners and parts of their community in Tonypandy in an attempt to end a strike. It seems unlikely that Winston Churchill would have done so based on the regret he later expressed for such a poor judgement and indeed there are other things he did which were clearly poor decisions that have led to death and destruction for innocent people. So when John McDonnell was asked the question was Churchill a Hero or Villain in that context his response “Tonypandy – Villain” was very clear and uncomplicated. However given the response from Matt Hancock perhaps someone could ask him if he thought Thatcher was a Hero or Villain over Orgreave and then we can all observe his response? For the record I know of Police Officers who took part in the conflict who know she was a villain in that setting, but Matt is a bit closer to her party than they are. However he is the one publicly criticising McDonnell for his response so it seems reasonable to ask him to answer!

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