Sunday, 31 July 2011

Elected Commissioners to support the Police? Not just pie in the sky.

One of the Liberal Democrat standpoints on justice has been to have an elected commissioner of Police, it is one that I agree with in principle and one I think needs especially now needs to be looked at seriously. This does fly in the face of my friend Councilor Tristan Osborne (lab) who wrote a very interesting 'blog post that is firmly against it and I will attempt to engage with his arguments further on.

You can read his 'blog post here...

Currently each constabulary is run by a Chief Constable with whom all the power and responsibility rests. There is an advisory committee made up of independents and local politicians that have been appointed rather than elected. The Chief Constable should listen to the concerns raised by this group and their advice but like the parliaments of old their in puts are not necessarily taken seriously and budgets and priorities are set and controlled by the Chief and their staff. Police officers making their own decisions as to how the police force should be run. In theory that's what you want.
Who knows how to run the Police force better than the Police force? Do you really want some political lackey or busy body telling them how to do their jobs or how to spend their money? It'd be like the Soviet Commissars telling the ex Czarist army officers how to wage war... Chaos would ensue and you would end up with a situation where two different "heads" would be butting for supremacy and the only loser is the public.

BUT... and here is the big crux of the matter. What qualifies a chief constable? Now ignoring some of the tales my Grandfather told me about from when he was a Police sergeant including nepotism, old boys, Masons, Eton/ Oxbridge buddies which I'm sure are no longer true. A Chief Constable will usually have gone in as a beat cop, sat their exams quite quickly done a brief spell as a sergeant before moving up to an officer and then rotating themselves to as many secondments as possible to gather a wide range of different sections and then begun the task of being in the right place at the right time. It’s helpful if you know the right people or get yourself attached to the right cases etc. Then pow... if you're lucky and you've done your politicking well you're a Chief. How long were you a constable on the ground? More importantly how long ago was that? You may even find yourself a Chief Constable in a completely different part of the country? What knowledge of Devon and Cornwall policing would a Chief from London have?
Further more, and this is important especially since the Government announced cuts of 20% (, the budget and Police spending. Now left to their own devices a Chief Constable will make the decisions as to what to spend the money on. Now some Chief's, such as Chris Sims of Birmingham are trying to limit the amount of cuts to frontline officers by cutting non-essential services and bureaucratic staff, others will seek to limit the projected 15,000 odd job losses to "Natural Wastage" of retirement and resignations etc. Others may decide that yes... we need a new fleet of BMW patrol cars rather than the officers to drive them, or that more money needs to be spent policing Football matches or tackling alcohol related crime - according to the statistics BUT these may not be the concerns of the neighborhood or community. The Police can only work on crimes that are reported and if there is a gang terrorizing an estate that they don't know about then they won't tackle it. Civilians are often too scared to deal with the Police, it's not like the 50's where you can stop an officer in the street and talk confidentially... When was the last time you saw a Police officer in your street?
Who will they talk to? Another civilian. Now I agree that party politics should be kept out of this. There are times I think it should be removed from parliament and council as it all it seems to breed is this tribal tub thumping and the constant blue/red rugby game that seems to go on everywhere and the only losers are the constituents...

But an elected official, not necessarily on a county wide but definitely in a borough capacity to liase with the citizenry and direct the Police in how the public wants to see them act, what they feel the money should be spent on and services they feel should be maintained or cut. It would help police/community relations no end. An unelected "advisory board" just won't cut it, some members may be drawing from their knowledge of the communities others may be using it as a CV mark and not interested. If a single commissioner is out of the question at least make the advisory body elected by the people to represent the people's needs. Another half step would be to open up the accounts and practices to public scrutiny and questions. If the Chief Constable is sure of their actions let them publicize it and defend it on the open stage. Policing needs to be open, more so than ever. Their duty is to serve and protect the community but the communities don’t know they're there half the time.
Cllr Osborne is right to raise the question of corruption and that an elected member may be open to bribery etc. even to a greater extent than an officer in uniform. I think that it is down to the individual. A person in uniform can disgrace themselves just as readily as one in civilian clothes, but if a civilian is discovered they can be recalled, a uniform... you need to rely on them falling on their good sense and resigning.
Now is not the time for rash economic decisions and Cllr Osborne is right to rise the financial implications of this policy BUT I think, and I know sections of our party and the Conservative party, strongly believe that Police reform is needed and an elected Commissioner would go a long way to help path the gap between Police and Citizenry.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Short drop and a sharp stop - The return of Capital Punishment?

Today the spectre of Capital punishment has again reared its head to public debate as Guido Fawkes submitted an e-petition for its return. Ultimately it is a moot point as the UK has signed up with other European governments to Human right protocols that ban the state execution of any citizen no matter how the heinous the crime. However the debate is one that should be had from time to time if only to remind us how we came to where we are.

So why is capital punishment a bad thing? Aren't our prisons overflowing? There are no active deterrents now to real crime such as murder and child sex offences? Wouldn't seeing a few of these felons swing from the gallows put people off?
Well its all really final isn't it? Once you've executed someone they can't come back if you've cocked up during the investigation or the trial has been miscarried. Sometimes it happens. Take Amanda Knox in the Meredith Kercher case. The Italian Police seem to have been massively incompetent, what if she turns out to be innocent because of their mistakes, it would have been awful if another innocent life had been taken. Similar things have happened in the UK as well, there was a man that was held in prison for eight years for murder and turned out to be innocent. Even now there is talk of pardoning General Jodl who was hanged at Nuremberg for Crimes against humanity!

Secondly, who has the right to take a human life? Surely if the state decides and executes someone it makes the state no better than the condemned? I know its in the Bible but it also tells us that you shouldn't eat prawns. We would be robbing someone of their freedom and people can change, do they not deserve the chance for redemption and reform? One night, when my Grandfather was a Police sergeant in Brixton a man came in very shaken and admitted to butchering his whole family in a caravan in Kent. He said he didn't even know why he did it, he just snapped. Apparently when the Kent CID went to have a look the caravan was swimming in blood. This man arguably deserved to hang for the crime but he had never done anything previous or since and showed genuine remorse.

Finally Guido's petition is to bring back the Death penalty for heinous murders of children and Police officers - wow... So a Policeman's murder is more of a loss to his family than my death to mine? That's not equality. If you were going to bring back execution for the murder of a Policeman you'd have to do it for everyone. My loss, although not a great impact to society or the world in general would upset my wife and family in the same way and don't they deserve the same amount of justice? The petition is not aimed at creating a Soviet or National Socialist style justice system with routine executions being handed out by a vengeful state that is trying to keep the civilian's in check but it still has its flaws.

Some might say there are people that are beyond redemption and impossible of reform. Take Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady, Ian Huntly or even Gary Glitter. These people are, in some respects, broken - a faulty wire as my Grandfather would've said. Some would even describe them as monsters, the kind of people who have done the worst acts that one human being can do to another. One serial killer, I forget his name, asked the judge to hand down the death penalty saying that he needed to be stopped and had tried himself many times but couldn't. Others such as Bundy were horrific killers who showed no remorse what so ever and no amount of psychiatric help would ever cure them. These people cannot be given freedom as their freedom WILL be used to take the freedom of life from others and the state should no longer fund their existence and that they should pay for their crimes and put out of their misery as you would a rabid dog.

Restricting execution to certain top drawer offences could be seen to be valid but what of death by dangerous driving? Could that be considered on a par as taking an axe to someone? Think about it, if you were on your mobile whilst driving and you caused a collision that ultimately killed someone you have taken a life in the same way as if you had cut them up BUT the difference is you didn't intend to do it. Where is the line? You have an angry and upset family calling for justice and you have a punishment. What if your crime would normally only carry a life sentence but the Judge decided to make an example of you or bowed to the pressure of public opinion or a media campaign? Justice would have many question marks hanging over it and the price is someones life.

There is a compelling argument in the affore mentioned cases and if execution was to be brought back for certain cases some would argue it to be a good thing but who are we to hand down death and judgement with hearts filled with vengeance? State's should also never carry the power to take the life of a citizen as justice can be affected by human error, passions and pressure from the press.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Medway council failing local business?

Local news has recently been concentrating on traders suffering in Chatham High Street and one has to ask; Has Medway council failed the commercial areas or is this a blip on the radar that will sort itself out soon. Or as asked in is this a slide away from traditional forms of shopping and moving online?

Last week's Medway News ran with the story that Chatham High street is being strangled by the never ending roadworks.
Businesses have already begun making redundancies, cutting hours and some are on the brink of closure. Guy Varley (of Varley's electrical store) says their business is down by 70%!
The council's regeneration scheme is being blamed with Ms Humphries of Internacionale being quoted as;

We were led to believe it (Road works and diversions) would be finished by Easter, now it's looking like the end of the year.

Other observers are pointing to less people buying or shopping and just hanging around- though I suspect that is because people no longer have the money for disposable goods. I myself haven't bought an X-box game in months, only one book in July and no Games workshop in god knows...
Incentives like free parking or buses to get people into the town are good ideas but only help a little bit, it is also a drain on the Public purse as the council have to subsidise the bus companies.

Medway council have, however, assured the people of Medway that the new bus station will bring about great change for Central Medway and will open at the end of the summer and;

Will be easier and more welcoming for shoppers
The also told the Medway News that they are working on ideas such as free parking and promotional campaigns that will encourage shoppers back into Chatham and are working closely with the Retailers to do this.
The new bus station will also rejuvenate the riverside area and has already had a positive affect on shops in the area - what it has definitely done though is shift the locus of trade another twenty feet towards Rochester and will probably hit the trade at the east end of town fairly hard - It is already fairly dead beyond the Trafalgar centre but now it is even further to walk! Other shops on the second floor of the Pentagon will also be hit. D and A toys would make quite a lot of money from parents taking their kids to the bus stops and either rewarding them for good behaviour or to silence them by buying a toy.

 I am starting to believe that lowering VAT would be a good move, I know that most of the cost is absorbed by the vendor and won't be passed to the consumer but it will mean small business will be given a respite. Although this is well out of reach for Medway Council to address.

Medway Labour have also come up with some other suggestions;

Using empty shops for community workshops and learning groups is a great idea however... where is the money for it coming from?Rent needs to be paid and as the council is fueling a £15 million reduction over 4 years money is at a premium. Also if a shop remains empty for long enough the landlord will lower the rent allowing a small start up business to afford the rent. Sounds good on the surface but on closer inspection falls flat.

Place a "Competition test" which would encourage commerce to compete and keep the prices low and competitive. As a Lib Dem and working class I think this is great. More shops will fill our high streets and allow the consumer choice. So thumbs up on this one.

The Retail advice clause scheme is again shiny on the surface but I think would fall flat on use. Yes communities and other retailers should have consultation rights and a say in what retail decisions are made and I'm sure other Lib Dems would agree BUT... Do people really care? We can't get enough of the populous to vote, turn up to council meetings let alone make themselves available to consult and you'd only get those who were Dead against a project turning up.

The modern shopper no longer has time to hit the high streets and shops. After long hours at work they want to spend time with their families, especially now, often, both parents work around child care and haven't got the time to go out shopping.
If there is to be a family shopping trip people don't mind driving out to Blue water or even Maidstone to do their shopping. In Blue water you can park inside, do your shopping, catch a movie, take the kids to the adventure playground, have dinner.... all under one roof (except the playground!) and the level of choice is MUCH better than a town centre.
This coupled with big company's able to undercut the small retailer, who still has to pay massive overheads on utilities and rent. The future for shopping, especially for small companies, in my opinion is definitely the Internet... Small ware house, few staff and overheads, more profit.

Despite the current hardships and the definite impact this elongated campaign of road works in Chatham we have to hope that the council is right and that the new bus station will encourage more shoppers and breathe life back into the heart of Medway. This economic down turn may also be caused by the current economic climate and the simple fact that we just don't have any money and no amount of new bus stations will help. We seem stuck between Conservative assurances that everything will be ok and to trust them their plans for the future or take faith in Labour's well meaning but flawed proposals.
Only time will tell.
If not.... Hello Bluewater and Maidstone.
In other news another Charity shop has opened in Gillingham high street.

Hundred hour pharmacies to strike Medway!

In Sturdee avenue - the closest to home I've ever had to write- the local pharmacy is preparing for a battering from a proposed Hundred hour pharmacy opening at the Woodlands Medical centre. The owners believe such a place would spell an end to the small pharmacy/ post office and would rip the heart out of the community. A flyer put through my door stated we couldn't allow what happened at Livingston Circus happen in Sturdee with the loss of Greengrocers and butchers.
Well, the greengrocers went when I was a boy of 8 and I don't recall a butchers, also I think Tesco probably did that with the Metro store next to the pharmacy. As for the heart of the community I cannot comment as I rarely use the pharmacy. However a while ago my daughter, Sophie, was really ill - maybe that's an exaggeration as a concerned first time father but she couldn't keep anything down, even water so at 5pm, unable to get a doctor's appointment we headed fro the NHS drop in centre. Armed with a prescription at 6.30 we went looking for an open pharmacy unaware there was one in Balmoral gardens. We had to spend a tense evening hoping she would be alright until first thing.
How much easier would it have been to have an open pharmacy just around the corner?
I do not like to see Local business collapse but I also need to be able to use a pharmacy and when I am not getting back from work until 8pm (having left at 8 am) what am I to do?
Also if you read the article in the KM and think this scenario is the same as one Chris Small (30) of Sturdee avenue... you'd be right. - he is me. Slight typo!

However, on the other side of the coin:

In Strood two 100 hour pharmacies have been proposed in Gun Lane and St Mary's medical centres, which will affect trade at the Bryant road and Williams Pharmacy. Diana Sands, an employee at Bryant road said.

Doctors just want to profit from it. They will be the landlords and the Pharmacies will pay them rent.
It is a blow to hear one surgery wanted a hundred hour pharmacy, then a few weeks after there was another one. We don't need them! (Quoted from KM Report by D-Bloom and R Hughes 22-7-11)

There is an odd loophole that states that when applying for the planning permission a pharmacy doesn't need to prove "Local need" as long as they are open for 100 hours. This is a definite unfair loophole and Mark Reckless MP for Rochester and Strood is looking into this. I do agree, this loop hole must be closed as this is unfair on local buisness that could be providing an adequate job at servicing the community.

To a degree these pharmacies are providing unfair competition to the original pharmacies but the landscape of shopping is changing - no longer does my wife sit at home able to do the shopping and pick up my prescriptions whilst I am working. She has to work too around looking after Sophie. Modern consumers want places open when they want to shop not when the shops are open, also for convenience it makes sense for a medical centre to dispense the medicine you need rather than have to go across town to a pharmacy. Time now equals money in value for the working people of England. I know it does for me!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Meet Dave Colman...

I got home today and poking out of my letter box was a glossy flyer from Medway Labour introducing Dave Colman, the new(ish) Labour councillor for Gillingham South. Now I know that it would be easy for me to be critical of him just because he is not a Lib Dem or because he replaced Stephen Kearney who I consider a friend even though he didn't canvas my vote at all...
You'd be wrong. I'm not that tribal - it gets in the way of things and distracts from the true issues of representing the constituents and the public don't like it as it does look like childish fighting.
I've always believed credit and criticism where its due and I've tried to write as balanced as possible levelling criticism at anyone who I felt deserved it.
So Dave Colman... what did the flyer say?

Well it is pretty straight forward, although glossy with colour photographs (ergo cost money that we don't have.) of Cllr Colman carrying out his duties around the ward and talking to people about their problems.
So far he has done York Avenue, College Road, May Road and Fredrick road with his team.

He's also acted on complaints from York Ave concerning the trees in the Hospital grounds that are "out of control" by reporting it to the Hospital Foundation trust and will report back when there are results.

He is also taking action on Crime and is meeting with the Neighbourhood watch team in College avenue and appeals to other watches to contact him if they would like to consult etc. (his full contact details are listed on the back.) Or at his monthly surgery at Gillingham library.

There is also the filler about personal life and history.
I'd like to congratulate Dave Colman on getting elected and wish him the best of luck over the next four years or so and I hope he represents the needs of the people of Gillingham South well and will work with our team, Geoff Juby and Shelia Kearney.

It is a promising start for Cllr Colman, especially as the Lib Dem team haven't put anything out yet, I'm sure they will and past work speaks volumes for them as councillors.

(This past work can be read about here; )

As Palpatine said to a young Anakin Skywalkwer in Phantom Menace... I'll be watching your career with great interest.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Keeping the investigation into Newscorp balanced.

As the News Corp case unfolds and the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks are held to account by a parliamentary select committee I have begun to think about some of the dangers of the case.

The British people always need a villain, be it the Germans (at war and football), Nick Clegg (a former hero who fell to villainy- the best kind of hate figure.), Gary Glitter and Bin Laden. These are people that you can walk into any Pub or public venue and say "... what a bastard" and get a general murmur of agreement whether deserved or not.
The media will often attack them on front pages and reports, it becomes easy for people to be lead by the passions and centralise their anger on one target often losing track of all of the information involved aided by distortions in the media.

A current example of this is the growing call for David Cameron to stand down and resign over links between Andy Coulson and the mobile hacking cases at News of the World. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Cameron should be removed just because he has association. To be fair to David Cameron, when Andy Coulson was hired he had been sworn, on oath, that he had no involvement with phone hacking. As far as anyone should be concerned, at the time the man was not proven guilty. Accusations are not fact until proven.

At the time, despite these accusations, Coulson was a good choice for the role. (although maybe Cameron should have listen to leading Lib dems such as Clegg and Lord Ashdown!) The appointment has now proven to have been a mistake but despite the protestations of Ed Miliband- who is himself courting the media and scoring easy points against the government by echoing what the people want to hear rather than come up with an alternative economic policy, hindsight is the only thing proving it.
Beyond that, the removal of David Cameron as Prime minister at this time, for this reason would be detrimental to this country's economic recovery. Agree or disagree with the coalition's economic policy any delay or massive political upheaval cannot be good for the economy or in investment confidence in Britain.
After all for the meantime Nick Clegg would be running the country until the next Conservative Party conference in September when the leadership contest would be resolved and then there would be a shift in the dynamic in the Coalition agreement. Love it or loath it the fact that Cameron and Clegg get on in a personal capacity and share many of the same ideals helps keep the coalition together, without that dynamic it could descend into chaos and inter party fighting that could tear the agreement apart and possibly force a general election, something no one is prepared for and would again through economic stability to the wind, or a minority government. What we need is stability and a steady hand on the tiller. At the moment I think that there is the correct amount of debate and discussion in parliament to affect change that has been thoroughly thought our.

My other worry is that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson are being painted up to be the main villains of the piece along with the Murdoch's. I think Rupert Murdoch has shown good amount of humility and an understandable lack of culpability with the main issues, after all he claims not to have spoken to the News of the World editor on a more than a monthly basis, after all it made up less than 1% of his global empire.

However Coulson and Brooks are being painted as the key "bad guys" - The danger of this is, yes they as editors were responsible for the conduct of their staff and if they were unaware that certain practices were being carried out then they were clearly incompetent and had no idea how their organisation was being run. However I fear the public will continue to bey for their blood and once they have been prosecuted then they will lose interest. Much like the MP expenses scandal, some of the worst were charged, publicly shamed, lost their seats or removed from power but the lesser players got away with it as the Public lost interest. Worse yet they will shout miscarriage of justice if they are declared innocent whether they are or not.

My fear is that everyone will be concentrating on Brooks, Coulson and the Murdoch's and forget about the people who actually carried out the acts or allowed them to happen and will have satisfied themselves with just the big scalps much like the Nuremberg trials, the top people all rightly dealt with by justice but those who signed individual orders, or carried out acts of brutality slipped the net.

Another fear is that this will turn into a guilt by association like the July bomb plot of 1944. Just because you have had dinner with Mrs Brooks, or had meetings with Mr Murdoch over the years you must somehow be linked to the scandal and have your name and office smeared by the association. After all Sir Paul Stephenson has gone from the Met and he was a much better head then Sir Ian Blair, and now so has his deputy on the basis of an as yet unproved rumour and pressure is mounting on Cameron to resign just for association with the Murdoch press. Something Mr Miliband has avoided despite him having 11 meetings out of 32 with News international yet the PM is feeling all the heat and now George Osborne is taking the flak as well for 18 meetings during the election.

What needs to be done is a sensible, non frenzied investigation that takes in all the possible guilty parties and prosecutes everyone who is guilty. There should also be a further reaching investigation to see if other newspaper groups are responsible for similar acts and legislation drawn up so as to make sure it never happens again. Clear guidelines need to be put down as to what is and isn't acceptable for reporters and also the way politicians and Police interact with the media as well as stiff penalties for those who break them.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Police cuts made by coalition. England to descend into anarchy?

On 21st July Policing cuts have been announced with roughly 34,000 police staff, including 15,000 police officers are to be lost.
Theorists and Labour believe that the loss of front line police officers will lead to a rise in crime such as burglary. Yvette Cooper, speaking on BBC news 24 said that under Labour crime levels had fallen by 15% and that they would have only made a 12% cut rather than a 20% one that the government are pursuing. She also accused Theresa May and David Cameron of not being in touch with the communities and the fears they face and point to the rise in crime that has already begun... Even though she also admitted that crime had not gone up in the last year but maintained a similar percentage.

Chief constable Chris Sims (no I didn't make that up.) says that there is no link and that in his force (Birmingham) they have cut costs by doing some serious efficiency reviews like stopping the lost property service. Other suggestions are that Chief constables can pool resources like helicopter usage or bought equipment in bulk, for savings across several constabularies. Basically it boils down to how the Chief's spend their money.

Bet you wished you had a say in how they spent their money.... Oh wait- you do? Well the Lib Dems want electable police commissioners who run each constabulary and are answerable to you- the civilians.

I am no expert in policing, I can but talk from the century of policing my family have been involved in including the General Strike, Mosely marches, dealing with the Krays and rural policing in Devon and Cornwall.
When my grandfather was a copper in the Met, indeed when his father served - a Policeman was always visible on the street, they patrolled on foot at nigh tor were situated in the police telephone boxes. They were a visible deterrent.
If a window was heard breaking in the night or screams from a house or alleyway would lead a concerned citizen or police officer to head to help. Now a days everyone's drawbridges are firmly lifted and people would rather watch from the battlements rather than risk personal injury.
The only time I see a policeman now is at home games at Preistfield or in the Chip shop opposite.
In the countryside it is much worse. I grew up in Marden in the Weald of Kent and rarely saw a police officer so crime was always dealt with after the fact rather than in preventative measures.
In fact burglary, domestic abuse, robbery... They've all become a police matter after the fact rather than preventative as there are no Police officers on the street or within easy access.

What of the Community Support Officers?
What of them? Yes they are a visible sign of policing but as one Met officer said they are also referred to as CHIMPS by the regular police. (that is Completely Hopeless In Most Policing Situations. - Thanks for the quote Miss Bell!) This is because they're powers are fairly limited and although opportunists may be put off, harder criminals know what powers they have and haven't got.. They are useful however for filling in for real Police officers in directing traffic or bad news etc but anything else they fall too short. Just a cheap and cheerful alternative to Police and something of a white elephant brought in by the last Government.

Going back to the statistics I would like to through my two shillings worth in. Crime figures are bound to rise over the next few years as we are in a recession and the need for cheap goods or for an easy way to add to the family purse will grow even if the current level of policing was maintained. I hope that Labour will take that into account when criticising the Government.

Also violent crime has remained down. This is because most of it occurs on a Friday or Saturday night in most city centres fueled by alcohol. Police are ever present at these times and very good at handling the binge drinking subculture and help them on their way and breaking up fights. Without them on the street they levels of criminal damage or violent crimes would sky rocket BUT it is policing these places that keeps them away from the suburbs where burglaries etc are happening. Unfortunately Society is unlikely to change to rectify this.

So what needs to happen? In my opinion, which as I've said is just a shade above a layman's, Police officers need to be more visible on the streets and not tied to their desks with paper work. Cuts will happen, no two ways about it BUT chief constables need to not only take responsibility for the cuts they implement but they also need to be clever and trim the fat first before attacking the flesh and skeleton of the force. Buy fewer patrol cars or buy skoda instead of BMW, be economical rather than wasteful.
Greater coordination between constabularies to see if buying in bulk could bring the prices down or share resources.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Libdem Wars - Return of the Independant

In A ward just north of here, in a time... some point last year....


It is a time of turmoil within the Medway Liberal Democrats.The party has split right down the middle as a break away group battles for Independence against the evil COALITION in Westminster.

A young rebel by the name of Andy Stamp has dramatically reported his fellow ward partners for breaches of conduct and reported them to the standards committee.

Now declared innocent he has found himself under attack by the vile forces of the LIBDEMS and now steels himself for a vital defence...

In his letter Andy Stamp has defended his move and said;

I was justified in making my complaint.  .... I felt they had used their position of power to get preferential treatment for housing.

Also that the standards committee believe he did have grounds for his complaint, hence the investigation, but that they could only act on the information given to them by the council and the council felt that

it is normal procedure for councillors to get privileged access when dealing with their own personal issues.

Councillor Stamp was driven to complain on behalf of the residents who he saw on waiting lists for weeks and months and who struggle to get meetings with anyone let alone the assistant to the director of housing in a private office in Gun Wharf. Councillor Stamp also states that the Audit commission found that 33% of people who are in threat of homelessness often have to wait up to six weeks to be rehoused.
Councillor Stamp writes passionately saying that Councillor Sutton bypassed the system and that she should not be allowed to use her rank to circumvent the system.
He then asks three questions;
1.) Was she able to get a meeting straight away with the assistant director of housing in a private office at Gun Wharf to raise her own housing case?
2.) Did Medway council allocate a house for her within a week of the meeting?
3.) Did she recieve a home bond (a deposit and a month's rent) from Medway council?

Que Deborah Upton, an up unto unheard of voice in this debate. She is assistant to the director of housing and was the one to hold the meeting with Councillor Sutton.

I saw Cathy Sutton in my office in my role as monitoring officer. I did not know what the meeting was about beforehand and her housing issues were only part of the issues raised with me. (The rest is of a confidential matter.)
She also says that; Cllr Stamp is aware of this as he has seen all of the information that was released to the Standards committee.

She also goes on to answer the questions for Councillor Stamp;
Medway council did not "allocate" a house to Cllr Sutton. She was advised of several private sector landlords who had suitable property available to rent, and this is the same process that officers follow with clients who are potentially homeless. Cathy Sutton received a Silver homebond from Medway council as she met the council's published criteria.
All clients who meet the criteria are offered a homebond to help them into private rented accommodation, but many choose to wait for social rented property for which there is a substantial waiting list.

So.... From what I can extrapolate no breach has occurred. Cllr Sutton went with Cllr Ruparel to see Ms Upton for several reasons and that Ms Upton followed procedure and did nothing that was out of the ordinary. I understand Cllr Stamp querying this with the Standards board although I think it would have been wiser to deal with it, either internally with in the Liberal Democrat group or spoken to his ward partners rather than make it public at an obviously stressful time for Cllr Sutton. I also think that maybe he should have kept a certain amount of media silence until the outcome of the hearing to show some respect for his former colleagues. That said I do not agree that this should have been rehashed in the "letters to the editor" by an obviously angry Libdem and thus sparking another week of this story with responses but, and I am sure I speak for many on this count, the issue is closed. The committee have read about it, the public have read about it, the solution is clear and it needs to be dropped immediately.

I really hope there is no Episode IV!

For Episode I and II check out;

Medway Councils job cuts, advice to staff and new Public toilets

Like all councils Medway council has had to deal with a cut in its expenditure and the best way is to perform efficiency savings.

It seems the council are adopting the slogan "Better for less." aimed at still providing excellent first line services whilst trimming the fat.

In the first phase 60 posts are to be axed- either absorbed into other areas or made redundant. Of redundancies, 30 are to be gone by January next year.

One move, published  in the "Medway News" is the slim lining of the telephone banks system as council strategists slim the numbers down from 130 and create a single call centre that will be able to deal with the majority of callers problems.
There will also be online tools for residents to use to help them with enquiries and even track the progress of your their enquiries through the system- much like Domino's.

Councillor Jarret says; "This part of the "Better for less"  programme will deliver major service improvements for people in Medway and will help deliver significant efficiency savings."

It all sounds really sparkly and I hope that it works. After all no one wants to see anyone lose their job however everyone wants public services protected and so a tough call has to be made.

From personal experience I am a little concerned. In a previous place of employment they streamlined through one number and at times caller volume exceeded capacity. On top of that they were then directed through to another department, which could have been done quicker on the old system. Also some callers found the system unfriendly and could not get online.

Tania Earnshaw, branch secretary of UNISON agrees; "I think it won't achieve better for less - It will achieve something for less. Its about cost cutting and its being done at speed."

Ms Earnshaw also points to the £15m that needs to be saved over five years and fears the council's silence over future measures means more job cuts to come.
I would urge the council to be as transparent as possible so as to belay any fears for jobs to the loyal workforce.
One of the ways they also need to be careful of would be the use of consultants. For example if they let go their tree surgeons who are on say £30k a year and then paying a them as consultants on a job, as private contractors they can charge more and thus cost the council more per year as a consultant than keeping them on payroll.

In other news, the council has prepared a briefing for its staff on how to live economically in the current times. Unfortunately what was a well meaning exercise has backfired and insulted those on the lower pay brackets. They were told they could save money by shopping at Asda or going on Haven Holidays where as those on a £55k salary were told there were private dental plans, shopping at Sainsbury's or head off to nicer holidays.
Other advice includes cheaper car insurance for those earning more and advice on catching the bus for those on lower wages!

Its true, living in your budget is difficult and advice can be helpful but people don't like to be reminded that they are at the bottom of the heap and that others are earning so much more. It causes resentment especially when people feel they are having their noses rubbed in it!

It seems the council scored an own goal on that one.

Finally, ever been out and had a few pints, left the pub and been caught short without a public convenience? Ever snuck into an ally and used the cover of shadows? I'll admit it... I have in my youth.

Ever had a £100 fine slapped on you by the local Constabulary? (Nope)

Now there is a solution to this problem. Semi temporary urinals will be deployed in Rochester High street and covered over except on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights which are the nights most people go out and have a few beverages.

Councillor Mike O'Brien, who holds the portfolio for community safety and customer contact said that
"This approach has been used in a number of other towns and cities in the UK and has helped to reduce the problem."

Many residents are a little indignant according to the Medway news. Rightly Kerry-Louise Dungey says;
What about women?

Another comment from Elaine Fyfe who owns the Francis Iles Gallery said that education was the key to stopping people from urinating in the street.
It doesn't take that much control to do it where you need to.

I am afraid I must beg to differ. A wise man once said to me that you do not buy beer you merely rent it from the establishment and you never need to go until after you've left the pub and then you are bursting. I'm not saying there should be wholesale urination in the street just showing a certain amount of understanding. I think these toilets are a great idea, they need little maintainace, little to vandalise, they are right where you need them and I really hope they work and a good investment by the council.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Press and Freedom of speech

On Wednesday, as I hopped channels and trying to absorb the unfolding situation I came across Kay Burley on Sky news asking, what I thought was a fairly stupid question.

"Does this all mean an end to investigative journalism?"

Then I saw comments on the Twittersphere and blogs about government attacks on free speech and press or of the government waging war on the press.

When one reads of government interference and control of the press images of Goebbels or a Soviet commissar reviewing and censoring every report.
I cannot believe that any government that we are a part of, or indeed in the UK would ever, outside of a state of war/emergency, control the press.

Gordon Brown stated on Wednesday in his speech to the house;

"With the exceptions on peace and war, there is no matter of greater importance than the basic liberties of our citizens."

It is the liberties of the individuals - You, I, Ryan Giggs, Nick Clegg, Milly Dowler etc...etc

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right and a key belief of our party but then so are others freedoms. The basis of law is that the individual is allowed to carry out any action unless it causes offence to sensibilities or restricts the freedom of another individual(s) causes damage to the state.
This is why you are free to say what you like UNLESS it is prejudice or incites hatred or violence.
I, the individual am also free to act as I please in my own home and personal life as I see fit, again as long as I do not interfere with another individuals rights or freedoms.

The business at News corp has indeed crossed the lines, driven to get the next best story or gossip some journalists have soared where even the police fear to tread and engaging, as Mr Brown said, engaged  in "Law breaking often on an industrial scale."
This is indeed true. They have been invading Your liberty, or the Liberty and freedom of individuals to sell news papers and to dig dirt. Even worse they targeted a thirteen year old murder victim and then even deleted some of the messages which not only means the family think Milly Dowler was alive but also perverts the course of justice.
Other possible victims include families of servicemen lost in Afghanistan, September 11th, or even the 07/07 victims. For what reason though? To spice up a story further?

I'm not saying that investigative journalism should be stopped but there should be limits to what is done, such as attacking an individuals freedoms. Indeed investigative journalism has done amazing things and turned up very important stories that have had major ramifications in the world of politics and even in life in general. In recent times nothing more poignant has been turned up than the Westminster "expenses scandal."
It must continue and the press must be free to write and print what they want as long as it doesn't affect the individuals rights and liberties.

The next issue is the bribing of Police officers for information. I understand that sometimes the Police and Press do discuss matters for mutual benefit however the paying for information is straight up corruption and BOTH parties are guilty. A full investigation must be carried out to discover the depths of corruption with in the Police force, they are not above the law only the enforcers.

David Cameron was right to say that the press needs to be regulated by an independent body, like Offcom does for television. The media has to be reminded that they cannot break the law and are not above it.
These allegations against News international do show that criminal law has been broken and that the Police, whilst having a long look at themselves, need to investigate thoroughly.

Why Rebekah Brooks had to go.

It may be argued that she has become a scapegoat along with Andy Coulson and that as Editor in chief she had nothing to do with or knowledge of any wrong doing.

This is irrelevant. The Head of department is always responsible for the actions of their employees be it good or bad. German Field marshals were executed for the misconduct of some of their men whether they knew about it or not because they were their commanders and thus responsible.

Her willingness to lead the investigation could have been a genuine drive to save the company she loved and root out any wrong doing. However, as she was implicated in the crimes it would be massively hypocritical or even that she was destroying any evidence of any wrong doing by herself. It would be like asking Bruce Ismay to look into the Titanic disaster.

Her willingness to "Stay on the bridge" would only be noted as self serving. Ex News of the world employees were already touting the idea that they had been sacrificed to save her, it looked like Rupert Murdoch was willing to sever a limb of the company to save her and bury the evidence.
She had to accept full responsibility and resign and to rid any further investigation of a taint of unfairness.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

My Letter to Nick Clegg concerning Rail fare 14th June

Dear Nick,
                Greetings, I am writing to you as leader of the party to plead a case for a section of Alarm Clock Britain.
I, like many people commute to London from outside of the capital, working forty five hours a week for £21,000 per anum, which as a civil servant puts me in the pay freeze. This would be alright but for the high probability of a rise of train fares that will occur over the next few years which could leave me in the very worrying situation of not being able to afford to go to work.
I have written to my MP, Mr Rehman Chisthi MP who also passed my concerns on to Teresa Villiers MP and Minister for Rail. I appreciated the responses and the help that both of your colleagues provided for me, to be honest it was a lot more than I expected! I understand from the Minister’s response that obviously any Government subsidies to slow ticket price rises would end up coming from the Public purse which is not an option at this time due to the legacy of the last Government and the results of the Spending Review. I also understand that the McNulty commission has looked in to the way the railways are run and how they handle their money.  However there is the very real possibility that this may have no affect what so ever.
This possible situation is rapidly becoming a real fear for my family and me, as I am sure it is for others. This year alone a my monthly season ticket price rose by £30’s, if similar rises occur over the next three years it will seriously dent my family’s finances. I enjoy working at the XXXXXX and it is something of a dream job for me, I do not wish to be unemployed nor take a second rate job in Medway but I will do what is necessary to pay my mortgage and support my wife and daughter Sophie. I am writing, in a round a bout way to ask you, and the party leadership to please continue to represent Alarm Clock Britain’s needs and fears and to argue for fairness when dealing with Railway companies and fare rises. It is not fair that people who genuinely want to work and pay their way are swindled and even forced out of work as we are held to ransom by a faceless monopoly.
Separately, some of my colleagues who live in London and are on the same wage are struggling to make ends meet as the cost of rent is so high, it has been suggested that the pay freeze should have a higher threshold for those who work in the city and have to pay London prices.
In closing I also want to thank you for all the hard work you do for the party and the country. Without being sycophantic, I genuinely believe in the work you and the Parliamentary party are doing despite the overly critical nature of the press etc. I am still proud to be a Liberal Democrat, to have run for council here in Medway and to say that; “I still agree with Nick.”
                                                                                                    Yours  Faithfully                                                                                               

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Medway council and the Woodlands school fiasco and the primary school fiasco.

This Friday the Medway press was again rocked by the over budget spending that saw the cost to the tax payer rise from £750k to £2-3 million!
By all accounts the whole affair has been a catalogue of issues and irregularities that contradicts itself so hold on tight - I'm going to try and unravel it!

First off the school proposed building works, which should by UK and European law be opened up to a fair tender process but the job was in fact given to the part time caretaker Tony Ridington the husband of the deputy head and owner of the ANTRAD on the basis that he was; "READY TO GO."

An estimate of £750k was delivered and agreed. The council, understandably- has, in Councillor Jarrett's words, a "slush fund" which can absorb any unexpected problems should they occur.

Two unnamed council officials instructed Mr Riddington, in the presence of Nic Fiddaman- the head teacher to "Get on with it." Mr Fiddaman stated that;
"Why would I take on such a project with no guarantee of funding from Medway Council?"


Another building project at the school was in need of a cash injection and Mr Fiddaman was forced to raise £200k and take out a second mortgage to raise the money.
It may have been for this reason that the Chairman of the board of governors Mrs Elena Mutter-Child ordered him to leave the project alone. Consequently Mr Fiddaman considered the project out of his hands.
BUT - he still signed the cheques for payment etc. Mostly on the principle that Mr Riddington was a "Good Chap."

Councillor Jarrett, who is the Council's portfolio holder says;
"There is complete denial of culpability on the part of the school.  The school is culpable and presided over a catalogue of errors. The management seems to be in complete denial"

One of the errors appears to have been the discovery of Asbestos which was exposed builders, visitors, pupils and teachers to a dangerous substance. The later assessment is that it is "Unlikely" anyone is in danger but any builder worth their salt would have checked for asbestos or the likelihood of its presence before work began.
Asbestos has to be removed properly and professionally - which is expensive. It would be a fair reason for the price of the works to shoot up and for building time to shoot up. Could this be a case of a mountain out of a molehill? No one will know until a thorough investigation is undertaken.

The school itself should take a fair amount of responsibility for what has happened and there seems to be no clear cut answer as to who was responsible for what as no one person was in charge. Questions should be asked of the Chairman of the Governors as to why she told Mr Fiddaman to not be involved, then again Mr Fiddaman should have begun to question the amount of cheques he was signing.
Someone at the council signed the project off AND continued to feed in money without keeping tabs or asking for paper work. Surely warning signals should have been seen before now.
Money from Councillor Jarrett's "slush fund" was being poured down this bottomless pit and other schools have obviously missed out on funding. As Councillor Jarrett holds the finance portfolio isn't he ultimately responsible for council spending? Are his protestations merely passing the buck away from himself?

Deborah Upton, a council officer who wrote a report on the incident has stated the Council had not even kept records to keep track of what had gone wrong!

By all accounts the fiasco has caused a serious kerfuffle in the Council chambers with Councillor Mackness (con) demanding a Police inquiry and Councillor Griffiths (lab) stating;

Potential criminal investigations should take place with the main contractor, certainly where payments have been made for things that should not have been paid.

Mr Riddington has said that he can supply documents that back up every spending request to show there was no wrong doing.

The good news is now the Council have taken charge and appointed a builder. The works will be completed by September at a cost of £1.8m.

This whole fiasco shows both the school and the Council in quite a bad light.

In other news across Medway...

In 2009 the council agreed to a massive overhaul of the primary education system with closures announced. Anyone who walked along Medway high streets will remember the impassioned pleas and petitions to keep schools opened.
The council heard from groups that with Medway growing as a place and with the rise in Birth rates closing schools would be madness. The council disagreed. Six infant and junior schools were to be amalgamated and Ridge meadow school closed. St Peter's and St John's schools managed to lobby successfully but Ridge meadow closed.

Councillor Jarrett says;

St Peter's and St John's are not at capacity and the case for Ridge Meadow was very compelling. That school was losing money.
Ridge meadow is in Walderslade. There is no upcoming pressure there.

Now Rose Collinson, the council's director of children and adults has produced a report showing that the Birth rate is up by 10% and that pressure will build up in Rochester and Chatham for school places. There is also an upsurge in the level of families moving into Medway too!

This can be added to news on this blog reported here...

It appears that the council is mismanaging our education system. They should have listened to the lobbyists at the time and carried out a study to see if the grounds for the building schools in the future was needed. Also closing a school that is losing money is not a good reason, after all Woodlands has just cost the taxpayer £1.8m... Its bad for the children who have to be uprooted and moved to a new school and parents. The issue could have been handled so much better.

Education isn't being handled properly by Medway council. Our Children will and are suffering and our taxpayers money is being wasted. Something needs to be done.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Medway LibDems strike back... Again... Unnecessarily

Just when I thought all that could be said about the subject last week a letter from Alan Jefferies, Lib Dem exec member and former chairman has written to the Kent Messenger on the subject. (Page 34 of the Medway KM)

The letter, in short, calls into question Councillor Stamp's actions during the Standards committee investigation over his allegations against Councillors Ruparel and Sutton.

Mr Jefferies, in a reminiscent statement to his comments posted on the KM website ( accuses Councillor Stamp of breaking the rules of the investigation and discussing the matter with the press to gain political points whilst his Lib Dem colleagues stayed silent and suffered political damage. Mr Jefferies also is horrified that he has also stepped up to sit on the Standard's committee and says that Councillor Stamp has broken the rules and the public will have no confidence in him and should resign.

This is a pretty firm letter that rises several points.
The main being the accusation of wrong doing by Councillor Stamp. This has been a very public and open split that has damaged the local party in a very Asquith- Lloyd George way and locally it may take years to heal. This complaint has been at the heart of it and yes Councillors Ruparel and Sutton did not release their side of the story but according to Councillor Stamp's statements in the above link, he followed the rules and all the information in his press releases was readily available elsewhere.

This may be another one for the Standard's committee to hold an investigation into the legitimacy of these accusations. I personally think that his being on the committee at this time is a bad strategic move as these accusations fly around and he has an outstanding inquiry into his claim Councillor Juby- our most senior Lib Dem councillor- made Homophobic comments.

I do disagree that Councillor Stamp should resign as a Councillor or that he has lost the support of the public who so emphatically elected him a couple of months ago. To be brutally honest I don't think many of the electorate are interested in cross party squabbles and their results, they want good schools, regular refuse collections etc...
A Bi-election at this time would serve no one well and would be a royal waste of time and money. Turn out would be poor too and would probably return a similar result.
We lost by some way, so I believe this event probably had little impact on the vote. (Councillor Ruparel didn't stand) and we lost as part of a national trend that saw us ripped to shreds. The local party has not yet recovered from the losses nor to my knowledge come up with a solution for rectifying the rout. Could we face another drubbing that could see Councillor Stamp reelected?


I don't blame Mr Jefferies for writing the letter, he raises some valid points and clearly feels personally aggrieved by the whole thing - For himself, his friends and the party. Also if it had happened to my wife or good friends Dave, Caroline or Caz I would have done the same and fought their corner in a similar vain and pursued him like Ahab to the end of both of our political careers. However from a party political point of view all it has done is reopen the wounds.

To conclude; the matter should now be laid to rest, it is doing no one any favours though I do believe an investigation is warranted or even a brief referral just so this matter can be left behind with no recourse for either party.

Monday, 4 July 2011

On Lib Dems vs. Independants.

I felt it fitting on the day that celebrates democratic freedom and fighting for a cause you believe in against a larger oppressive force to talk about the Independent party with in Medway and in particular the actions of Councillor Andy Stamp. (pictured)

Now before I start I want to make it clear that I am not a vengeful Lib Dem with a vested interest - I'm relatively new to the Medway "Active" list and so missed the events of last year and I barely know some of the people so my approach is one of a neutral. I also have never had the pleasure of meeting Councillor Stamp, i voted for him in the General Election and saw him at the Local election count in May. I was half a mind to say "Hello" but the obvious mutual loathing for each party put me off, especially as I was wearing a golden yellow tie and a "Lib Dem Candidate" badge!

So- It all began in the wake of the election defeat of 2010 and, according to some reports, were inflamed by Councellor Stamp's failed leadership bid for the Lib Dems in Medway.

It was reported in the KM on June 18th that he had resigned as deputy leader. Councillor Geoff Juby, the Lib Dem group leader said;

I don't think he was too happy with the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition at a national level and he also sited over issues which he did not discuss with me.

These issues were also echoed by Pat Cooper who left the Lib Dems over the U-turn on tuition fees and councillor Burt and Dan MacDonald also left and in May Gillingham North fell from our hands to a full independent team. There was also a move by the party to oust the Lib Dem team from Gillingham south, regular readers may have seen my review of their flyer here;

I have no problem with splitting on principles. In fact I support it. It is bad for the party, obviously and splits the vote- and I would urge disgruntled Liberals to argue and hash out issues at conference rather than just bailing out...

BUTRight, now we get on to the ugly part. Again I am NOT taking slides or saying anything that hasn't been said in the press and I will let the reader decide what to think.

In October 2009 Gillingham South councillor Cathy Sutton's relationship broke down and she had to move out of her ex partner's house very quickly, naturally distraught she turned to her Ward partner Councillor Maureen Ruparel for advice and together they went to see the head of Medway Housing department for advice and help. Councillor Stamp (the third ward partner) felt that this was preferential treatment. At some point after that Councillor Sutton's address was published and her teenage son, naturally angry, blamed Councillor Stamp and was going to pay him a visit, Councillor Ruparel parked outside his house hoping to intercept him before he got to Councillor Stamp.

Still with me?

Right. Councillor Stamp then accused Councillor Ruparel of Intimidation tactics against him. All these actions were not officially reported until September 2010 almost a year later and the results are only just being published.

Sceptics and angry Lib Dems have accused Councillor Stamp of playing a political game to gain points at the Local election in May in which Cathy lost her seat and Maureen declined to stand.
Councillor Stamp argued that he did report it to the Liberal Democrat party in December 2009 and they didn't begin investigating until July 2010 after he had left the party and their results are still not available. There is a very bitter argument on the KM website between Councillor Stamp and Alan Jefferies one of the leading lights in the local Lib Dem party which you can see here;

Another side to the issue is that as the Standards committee were looking into the case all parties had to maintain a media silence and not talk about the case yet Councillor Stamp often talked to the media whilst the accused remained silent.

Right the results of the inquest;

Councillor Sutton did not carry out any wrong doing or seek any preferential help.
Councillor Ruparel, at the age of 70 and who walks with a cane did not pose a threat to a young man in his mid 20's and his two friends.

Both were exonerated.

It was done purely for political gain as he waited nearly a year before putting the complaint in and then, when it looked as though the hearing would be before the local elections, he delayed the process so that it couldn't be heard until it was too late to publish a denial.- Cathy Sutton

Sheer humanity and common sense should have made him compassionate to Cathy's situation instead of causing so much grief to her and her family.  - Maureen Ruparel

Councillor Juby had also stated that Councillor Stamp has slowed down the investigation, wasted tax payers money on a nothing investigation, and taking advantage of the system to score political points.

In Conclusion;

It is a bit of a massive tangled web that has done no one any favours.
I know feelings run deep on both sides and points have been scored and conceeded and two good councillors lost their seats but now both groups need to move on and accept that we both exist and appeal to the same sections of the electorate.

Yes disagree on issues and publically debate policy but we need to get on with the Adult buisness of local government and representing the electorate and play the game like adults, not slinging mud like kids on a playground!

And I'm talking to both sides.

Lets draw a line under it all and move on.

Just to say Thanks to Councillor Tristan Osborne, I used his blog as a starting post for the research for this post. It can be found here ;

This post is also dedicated to the memory of our Hamster Squishy who passed away on 4th July 2011 at two years old.

And low... it continues;