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Archive for September, 2009

Sep 16,2009

The Association of Police Authorities has elected a Tory Chair for the first time in its history.  At the APA’s Annual General Meeting this morning Rob Garnham, a Conservative County Councillor from Gloucestershire and Chair of Gloucestershire Police Authority, beat Labour’s Mark Burns-Williamson, Chair of West Yorkshire Police Authority, by 37 votes to 29.

He will be the first non-Labour Chair of the APA succeeding Bob Jones who stood down after four years in office, who had in turn succeeded Baroness Ruth Henig.

The margin was less than expected – the number of Labour-led Police Authorities has been shrinking as Labour’s presence in local government has declined.

There had been a last-minute flurry when it was being suggested that Paul Murphy, Labour Chair of Greater Manchester Police Authority, might stand a better chance, but in the event the Labour Group stuck with its original nomination.

Rob Garnham’s hustings speech revealed him though to be an opponent of Conservative policy on elected police commissioners (which will have endeared him to most of those present) and he told the meeting how he had challenged Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, on this at a private meeting earlier in the month.

Rob Garnham will be joined by two Deputy Chairs, Mark Burns-Williamson and Ann Barnes (the “Independent” Chair of Kent Police Authority, whose hobby I am told is amateur dramatics and about whom one delegate remarked caustically, “She gives good platitude”).

In addition, the APA has recently appointed a new Executive Director, Mark Castle – an Army Brigadier whose most recent assignment was to try and create a properly accountable and non-corrupt police force in Iraq.  These are clearly skills that the appointments panel thought would come in handy dealing with the Association of Chief Police Officers, recently reinvigorated by its new President, Sir Hugh Orde.

The leitmotif throughout was that for police authorities at least “There is trouble ahead ….”

Sep 15,2009

The row about politics and policing and about police accountability stumbles on.  Sir Paul  (SPS) has used his speech at the Police Superintendents’ Association conference today to set out his views on operational policing and the relationship between politics and policing.

Fair enough, that’s what all Metropolitan Police Commissioners do from time to time.

And what he said was eminently sensible (I certainly agree with it):

“I’ve been brought up in my policing career on the inviolate principle of police operational independence. … Mayor Johnson, and his people at City Hall, would be the first to accept that whilst wider views and opinions are helpful and to be encouraged, the decision of how to actually do it, who to target, where, when to act, what officers to use and how many were decisions for me and my officers, and ours alone.”

That, of course, has to be correct.  I do not want to be part of a society where a politician can instruct the police to arrest a particular individual.  Or for that matter NOT to arrest a particular individual (be it Lord Levy or Damien Green MP).

But SPS’s remarks were billed as a riposte to the interview Uber Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM (the UVCDMKMAM), gave to the Guardian last month.

However, whilst the UVCDMKMAM did say that he and Mayor Boris Johnson (BoJo) had their “hands on the tiller of the Met”.

He also said:

“We cannot tell the commissioner what to do, we trust in his judgment. But at the same time we can say what we think the priorities are and the police authority can set the priorities.”

This was a perfectly accurate re-statement of the proper role of police authorities in setting the strategic direction for police services.  And it reaffirmed the Commissioner’s operational independence.

I commented on this at the time and on the rather intemperate remarks of an unnamed “insider”, quoted in the Evening Standard, as saying:

“Paul has been very robust with Mr Malthouse in recent months. It is ridiculous to say he has wrested control away from the police. He is a local politician thinking he is a national politician. He is very full of himself.”

Now the insider was not SPS – he was away at the time.

However, today we do have the authentic voice of the Commissioner.

According to Sean O’Neill in Crime Central at Times Online, SPS drew a careful distinction between the UVCDMKMAM and other politicians:

“Asserting his view that the operational independence of the police, Sir Paul said he was sure that Boris Johnson and Alan Johnson would wholeheartedly agree with him. “”In fact,” he added, “no sensible politician would think otherwise.”

Is he, perhaps, suggesting that the deputy mayor is not a sensible politician?

And if the message wasn’t clear, the Commissioner followed up in a Q&A session with what seemed a very well-rehearsed remark: “Tillers only come with small boats. Big ships come with bridges and captains – and I’m the captain.””

SPS needs to remember that he has to continue to work with the UVCDMKMAM.  He also ought to bear in mind Lord Denis Healey’s First Law of Holes: when in a hole, stop digging.

Sep 15,2009

It appears that nine Wiltshire Councillors (six Conservatives, two Independents and one Liberal Democrat) are living on the Planet Zog and are trying to persuade the rest of the Council to join them there.

They have put down a motion calling on the Council to withdraw its support for the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change – a declaration supported by the vast majority of English local councils.

They are not doing this because they believe that such declarations are not worth the paper they are written on unless they are backed up by real actions.  Nor are they doing it because they feel that Wiltshire is failing to do enough to merit being a signatory.

Their reasons are apparently that they believe that the Declaration itself is “contentious, unreasonable and ultimately damaging” and that the idea that climate change is man-made is “founded on the sand of uncertainty” and relies on “the unproven significance” of man-made greenhouse gas emissions in determining climate.

It remains to be seen what their colleagues on the Council will make of this, but I suspect – despite the eco-friendly noises made by the Party Leadership – this is a fair reflection of what the Conservative Party (or at least its grassroots element) really believes.

The Conservative Party in Europe has already linked itself to the Planet Zog fraternity by leaving the EPP Grouping (already a pretty broad Church).  Here is more evidence of a Party occupied by Zog dwellers.

Sep 13,2009

Like most Londoners I have suffered an erratic postal service (or to be accurate: an even-more-erratic-than-usual postal service) as a result of the current dispute in the Royal Mail.  This has been inconvenient, but not as devastating for me as it apparently has been for Barbara Ellen, the Observer columnist, who writes movingly about the traumas of getting the invitations out for her daughter’s birthday party (and I thought some of my writing was self-indulgent).

However, once you have got over the urge to vomit, Barbara Ellen illustrates the dilemma for the postal workers.  The reason that the Royal Mail management wants to change working practices is because fewer and fewer important communications are being sent by post.  We all rely more and more on email, texts and the telephone.  Important documents are increasingly couriered.  The current dispute will make all of this worse, as people discover they can manage without using the postal service at all or – perhaps not even realising that there is a dispute going on – forsake the service because it appears even more unreliable.

The postal workers’ campaign is designed to remind us all how much we value our universal postal service and to force the Royal Mail management not to proceed with the changes in working practices.  The danger for them, as Barbara Ellen demonstrates, is that more people will give up on the post and that even the changes being pursued by the management will not save the service.  And the danger for the rest of us is that we really will lose the postal service, which although we may use it less than we used to, is still vital for many people.

Sep 13,2009

I see that David Tyler, currently Chairman of Logica CMG, is to become Chairman of Sainsburys.

In 1974, David Tyler and I stood against each other for the Presidency of the Cambridge Union.  I won.

I don’t think I have seen him for 35 years.  But it is good to see that the “Anti-curse of Harris” is still potent: those who cross me always do well for themselves.

I am delighted for him and what I know of his business career suggests he is an excellent choice for Sainsburys.

When I mentioned it to my wife, she said: “I always knew you made the wrong career choice.”

Sep 11,2009

I have had a meeting with the consultants commissioned by the Greater London Authority to report on the feasibility of a “Blue Light” Museum for London.  The idea is that there ought to be a museum – accessible to the public – to display the historical collections owned by London’s three emergency services (the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade, and the London Ambulance Service).  At present, all three services have there own repositaries of archive and historical material, but much of this is not made readily available for Londoners and visitors to London to see.

I have long held the view that the so-called “Black Museum” in New Scotland Yard could be expanded to bring together the other material of historical interest that has been collected over the years by the different parts of the Metropolitan Police and that such a collection of exhibits could become a real draw for members of the public, if they were allowed to visit.

I am told that potentially there are at least 10,000 items that could be displayed, including examples of uniforms dating back to 1829, historic police vehicles and equipment, medals, and records (including a complete set of police orders from 1857).  Then, of course, there are items (some of them rather macabre) associated with notorious crimes and there is even a collection of (disarmed) explosive devices unearthed as part of counter-terrorist investigations.  Most of this material can only be seen by special arrangement, although some of it has on occasions been loaned out to other museums for public display.

The other emergency services have their own material – again dispersed and largely inaccessible to the public.  In the last year or so, the suggestion has been made that there ought to be a museum celebrating the work of all of London’s emergency services and this suggestion has been endorsed by the Mayor and members of all mainstream parties on the London Assembly.  The idea has been supported in principle by the Metropolitan Police Authority, by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and by the Board of the London Ambulance Service.  And it is this consensus that has led to the commissioning of an initial feasibility study.

I very much hope that the feasibility study is positive and that an ambitious vision is adopted.  In 2003, I visited the New York Police Department Museum in Manhattan which is housed in a vacated section house.  Its mission is instructive:

Incorporated in 1998, The New York City Police Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the New York City Police Department, the world’s largest and most famous police force. The Museum strives to be an accessible resource for all the communities of the city of New York. Through its exhibitions, collections and educational programming, the Museum illustrates how the policies and culture of the NYPD have evolved over time to meet the changing needs of the City. The Museum serves as an educational institution, living memorial, and bridge of understanding between the various communities of New York, the international community and the New York City Police Department.

There is really no reason why London could not have something similar, embracing all of the city’s emergency services.  If you look at the success of the Churchill War Rooms under the Cabinet Office – now very much part of the tourist itinery – or the way in which London’s Transport Museum has been revamped, you can begin to see what might be possible.  It could be revenue generating (certainly authentic merchandise would be profitable), a major educational resource for London schools, add another jewel in the crown of London’s tourist offer, a recruitment tool for the emergency services, and a means of celebrating the extraordinary and exceptional things that police officers, fire officers and ambulance crews do for the people of London every day of the year.

And I am sure with a bit of political determination it could be up and running in time for all those who will be visiting London for the Olympics in 2012 and may want some respite from the sport.

Sep 10,2009

Local Government Chronicle is reporting that plans are nearly finalised for a “health integration board” covering fifteen London Borough Councils and their respective NHS Primary Care Trusts.  To be honest the article is rather fuzzy as to what precisely is happening, but the idea is clearly to look at ways of integrating the work of commissioning local health services with the similar work that the Boroughs do in respect of social care.  Already the Chief Executive of Hammersmith and Fulham Council doubles as Chief Executive of the Primary Care Trust and there are a number of models of joint commissioning around in London and elsewhere.

The key point in this is that it will be a move to providing some local democratic ownership of NHS decision-making.  It runs rather contrary to the approach that is being promoted by the Department of Communities and Local Government whereby local authorities are taking on a wider scrutiny role for local public services in their area (which would obviously includes health).  However, as far as the public are concerned, a model that enables their democratically-elected local councillors to take the strategic decisions about the shape of local healthcare is probably more transparent and attractive than a model where those same councillors are merely empowered to ask questions of the unelected bodies that are responsible for the NHS.

The long-term direction of travel remains unresolved and a London Health Integration Board will certainly be worth watching to see what it delivers.

Sep 9,2009

David Cameron published his proposals yesterday for cutting the cost of politics – usefully summarised by Iain Dale.  Some of the items appear to be double-counted: abolishing MPs’ communications allowance and reducing the subsidy on Parliamentary refreshment facilities will presumably contribute a big chunk of “reducing the cost of running Parliament”, as will the item on reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 585.

However, what are the implications of reducing the number of MPs?

There are currently 646 UK constituencies – with an average electorate of 68,500 (the numbers vary widely between individual constituencies).  This would rise to over 75,600 on David Cameron’s proposals.  This necessarily dilutes representation – each MP would be relating to a larger number of voters and the areas covered in an individual constituency would be larger and more diverse.  This is not necessarily a good thing and it certainly makes the MP’s job more difficult.

I remember the transition from being a councillor representing 5,500 electors to being an Assembly Member with an electorate of over 350,000 and, while that is a far more extreme change than that envisaged by the Cameron proposal, it did bring home the difference in nature of what can be done.

There is, of course, some question about how likely is the change to happen – there may well be a reluctance for MPs to vote for a Christmas turkey cull.

More significant still is: how long will it take?  Any change will require the wholesale redrawing of constituency boundaries.  The revision process to respond to population movements normally takes between eight and twelve years to cover the country.  This would be a more root and branch set of changes.  Moreover, each individual change will require local consultation (often provoking vigorous arguments as anyone who has ever been involved in such things will know) before Parliamentary orders can be laid to implement the details.

Before any of this can happen, an Act of Parliament will have to be passed to stop responsibility for redrawing Parliamentary boundaries from passing to the Electoral Commission (as currently provided for by the existing legislation and because, of course, David Cameron wishes to abolish the Electoral Commission).  Legislation would also be required to approve the principle of the reductionin MP numbers and the criteria to be followed by the various Boundary Commissions.  The absolute earliest that the changes could take effect would be in a General Election held in 2019 or later – ie in three of four General Elections time.

Hardly a quick fix.

Sep 7,2009

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones is a member of the Shadow Cabinet and is Shadow Security Minister and National Security Advisor to the Leader of the Opposition.  Or is she?

The BBC has repeatedly described her today merely as a former chairwoman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.  What can this mean?

Three possibilities:

  1. The BBC has got wind of another member of the Shadow Cabinet who is being sacked and is dropping a large-size hint;
  2. The BBC, in another example of its pro-Tory bias, is quoting her as an “independent” expert, when really she is a mouth-piece of the Conservative Party; or
  3. BBC news editors are so incompetent that they don’t realise that she is a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

I know which I think is the more likely.

Sep 3,2009

Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Uber Vice Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, has provoked a predictable storm with his interview in today’s Guardian.  I rather suspect that he will be rather pleased with all this – although from his holiday retreat (on a boat somewhere? – see below) he has, of course, indicated that his views have been distorted in the article.

Was it distorted?  I have to say that in my view at least, it has the sound of the authentic voice of the Uber Vice Chairman.  The boating references (getting ready for his hols?): he and the Mayor (or should it be the Mayor and he?) have their “hands on the tiller” of the Metropolitan Police and “we do not want to be a passenger on the Met cruise.”

No doubt, what Kit Malthouse was trying to suggest was that somehow there has been a sea-change in direction (to continue the nautical metaphor – a firm shove of the tiller?), since the old days when, in his view, there was a Labour Mayor, conspiring with a Labour Home Secretary and a Labour-led Metropolitan Police Authority, to give the Metropolitan Police an easy ride.  Now this suggestion shouldn’t really come as a surprise after all he and the Mayor (or should it be the Mayor and he?) are Tories, elected just over a year ago, and want us to believe that their election has made a difference.

But has much changed in practice?  I certainly remember sitting in the room when the then (Labour) Home Secretary gave the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner a tremendous bollocking about street crime figures.  I also remember a Labour Mayor and a Labour-led MPA setting very clear parameters and priorities for (along with the necessary budget) the introduction of Police Community Support Officers and later Safer Neighbourhood Teams.

Yes, of course, in the last year there has been a tremendous focus on knife crime.  However, I would have been more surprised if this hadn’t happened, rather than that it did.  No sensible Metropolitan Police Commissioner would have failed to respond to public concern on the number of young people who were dying as a result of knife violence in London.  And no administration (Labour or Conservative – or even Liberal Democrat) would have ignored it either – all would have expected a substantial Police response.

It is the proper role of the MPA to set the strategic priorities and the budget for the Met.  To pretend that this does not impact on operational performance is ridiculous.  It is what having an accountable police service is all about.

So why the hysterical reaction from the Metropolitan Police?

My sources in New Scotland Yard tell me that the Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had to be dissuaded from flying back from his holiday to “demonstrate that he was in charge.”

But who on Earth authorised the statements quoted in the Evening Standard?

‘One senior insider said: “This is nonsense. If you look at what the police have delivered in the past year that is all down to Sir Paul and nothing to do with politicians.

“Paul has been very robust with Mr Malthouse in recent months. It is ridiculous to say he has wrested control away from the police. He is a local politician thinking he is a national politician. He is very full of himself.”’

Saying things like that about the de facto Chair of the Police Authority does not make future good harmonious relationships all that easy – particularly as Kit Malthouse had gone out of his way to say how much he trusted the Commissioner’s judgement.

Maybe to solve the Met’s budget problems next year they should sell tickets for those who want to be there when Sir Paul Stephenson and Kit Malthouse have their first private one-to-one after they are both back from their hols.  Sounds like a hot ticket.