Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Police and Crime Commissioners...

It has been a long time. I put this blog into suspended animation over twelve months ago and apart from a couple of test 'posts', neither of which were worthy of the name, I have maintained my silence...

But, without going in to the reasons for putting it up on bricks, many of which, including the main one, have ceased to subsist and so, I thought it might be time to give vent to an occasional new post and possibly re-publish some of those I deleted during earlier editing processes, all of which I saved to alternative storage against the time when I could consider dusting them off and putting them out again.

Explanations aside, the issue which brought me back to my keyboard is the forthcoming elections for the newly introduced Police and Crime Commissioner positions, due to take place on 15th November.

In fact, it's a little narrower than that, because I don't propose to touch on the prospect of a turnout so low in the elections that it will effectively remove any legitimacy from their mandate, or the fact that most of those elected, if a prospective turnout between 15 and 18% can be called that, will be either failed hacks from the main three parties, or 'wannabes' jumping on this particular bandwagon. Nor do I propose to address the woefully poor level of publicity this supposedly 'flagship' policy has been given by our increasingly unravelling government of none of the talents, or the almost universal opposition of the police in general and especially that of its leadership, to the entire concept, or Ian Blair's recent exhortation to abstain from voting to deny the process legitimacy.

No. I want to discuss the only piece of campaign literature to drop through my letter box as at today's date, which is on behalf of the Conservative Party candidate for the position of Lancashire's PCC, Tim Ashton.

First of all, I should make it very clear that I have never met or spoken to Mr Ashton, so I have no personal axe to grind with him, or any of the other candidates, of which there are three; unsurprisingly representing Labour, the Lib Dems and lastly UKIP.

The document describes Mr Ashton as a 'local businessman' and 'local resident'; local, that is if you live in Lytham St Annes, but not so much so if you live in Skelmersdale or Barnoldswick; but that's a side issue.

In his leaflet, Mr Ashton suggests that he will 'get tough on crime'; nothing to disagree with there, but really pretty general, ephemeral stuff, I think you'll agree. however, in order to effect this change, he has issued a ten-point plan, the second of which is to, and I quote: "Protect frontline (sic) policing and retain the number of Police & Community Support Officers (PCSOs)." All very laudable, and particularly so, when viewed in the light of the fact that as a direct result of government policy, a government led by the party Mr Ashton represents, of course, there are now five hundred fewer police officers in Lancashire than there were at the time of the last general election; that represents a decrease of one-seventh of the force's former strength. Will he be able to 'protect' the numbers of police officers currently patrolling the streets of Lancashire in the face of government demand for further cuts in the budget, above and beyond the 20% already imposed by Whitehall? Given that over 80% of police expenditure goes on salaries, I can't see any way in which he will be able to deliver on this promise, and I rather suspect that in his heart of hearts, he knows just that.

He goes on in point three to pledge that he will get more police out onto the streets by cutting the red tape which currently sees them deskbound. As I understand it, much of the 'red-tape' the police are forced to contend with is national in origin and government driven; for instance, he will not be able to unilaterally withdraw Lancashire officers from the hugely bureaucratic file submission system, beloved of Whitehall statisticians and CPS lawyers alike, and to pretend that he can is disingenuous at best and nigh-on dishonest at its worst.

His fourth point pledges to put 'more resources' into tackling organised drug dealers and organised crime in general throughout the county. Again, a laudable aim, but is it realistic given the drastic reduction in police numbers I highlight above? To illustrate my point, let us take a hypothetical number of police officers available for distribution to the various different areas which they are required to fill.

I'm sure Mr Ashton has read beyond the ridiculous headlines much beloved of the Daily Mail which scream about only 13%, or thereabouts, of police officers being deployable at any one time; because there is a reason for that. twenty-four hour policing requires shift work, so that, in its very simplest terms, on any given day, one team of officers will cover an early shift, one a late shift, the third a night shift and the fourth will be on a rest day, which despite appearances to the contrary from some sections of the media (yes, the Mail again), they are still allowed. So, that 13% has to be multiplied by four, giving a total of 52% of staff committed to front-line, response policing, to which he is committed under the second point of his ten-point plan.

So far, so good; we - or rather he - now has 48 officers left to deploy into neighbourhood teams, general criminal investigation, and road policing roles before he can really consider allocating 'resources' to specialist criminal investigation positions, such as drug, murder, or serious crime squads, unless he wants to leave one of the former groups understaffed and under resourced to such an extent that it is more likely to fail in its purpose.

Not as easy to put thoughts into practice when confronted with the current realities, is it, Mr Ashton?

Point five is always a favourite and will have Mrs May's heart trembling with joy: to cut out 'waste'. Because, I'm sure the Chief constable has been engaging in a campaign of extravagance and squander throughout his tenure, spending public money like a drunken sailor on shore leave, completely unnoticed by the regular HMIC inspections, so good luck with identifying what you believe to be 'waste', because it will be someone else's vital service.

Skipping point six, in which he pledges 'zero tolerance against all crime and to bring more offenders to justice' - because of course, the prisons are actually bursting at the seams due to police legerdemain, he goes on at point seven to pledge that he will, and I quote again: "Toughen up community sentences so there is no more 'softly softly when it comes to punishment." Now this would be funny if it wasn't so risibly inaccurate. The nature of punishments is not, repeat not, within the purview of the future PCCs, just as it is not within that of the Chief Constable or was not within that of the Police Authorities which are about to be scrapped; those matters are clearly within the competence of the Ministry of Justice and ultimately the courts. As such, neither Mr Ashton, or any of the other forty PCCs about to be elected, will have any power to change these sentences in any way and to pretend otherwise is, I'm afraid to say, simply misleading.

Skipping over point eight, in which he encourages the greater use of technology to cut crime and catch criminals - I'd be a wee bit disappointed if they weren't doing that already, given the existence and use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - he moves on at point nine to suggest a greater focus on road safety at proven accident blackspots. Ye Gods; does he think that since the introduction of motorised transport, the police have yet to grasp that fundamental concept?

So all in all - and to be charitable - some well-intentioned (if occasionally simplistic, ill-informed and naive) ideas; but ones which simply do not stand up to a great deal of scrutiny.

Mr Ashton is in for a rough ride if he is elected on the basis of this manifesto and is held to it, because he will not be able to deliver on his promises, but at least he has had the decency to ensure that I can actually read what his plans are, unlike the other three candidates, so he is to be congratulated for that, if not much else.

Just one other thing, though.

On page three of the leaflet, there is what must be a library picture of two male police officers. Bearing in mind that Mr Ashton seeks election as the PCC for Lancashire, do you think it might have been an idea for him to ensure that the officers concerned (if indeed they are officers and not actors posing as such) were to wear Lancashire style helmets, instead of the coxcomb style utilised by Merseyside and Greater Manchester Police, amongst others?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A further test...

A test I never envisaged trying; and a giant leap for an ageing technophobe...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Regular visitors may have already realised this, but for those who haven't, this blog is going into suspended animation for the foreseeable future. I will probably be back after a good long break, but for now, thank you to all my visitors and comment-makers and farewell...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Kevin Myers on form again...

Reading through Kevin Myers' (my favourite columnist, for the uninitiated) articles published in the Irish Independent during my recent sojourn in Asia Minor, I came upon this one in which he discusses his views as to the gender of the next president of the republic of Ireland.

In a sense, as a dispassionate English observer, the subject matter of the article is irrelevant; it's the sublime use of the English language which made me laugh out loud; especially the short paragraph about O'Leary and the lifejacket...

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did; and I was sober when I read it.

Unlike now, I have to cheerfully confess...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

hurray, hurray, it's a holi holiday...

It's that time of year again when the Throne is packing up its troubles and heading for sunnier climes.

And as the last three days have been spent traipsing round shop after interminable shop after the mem sahib, both me and my exhausted wallet could do with the rest!

See you in ten days or so...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Football's Survival Sunday: how did I do...

Regular readers will know that I am something of a football fan. They will also be aware that at the beginning of each of the last three Premier League seasons, I have put my amateur punditry skills to the test by predicting which teams would finish where.

This season, though, rather than predict the position in which each club would finish, I decided to deal with the ones that really matter, groups which I called, rather inventively I thought, The Winners and The Losers.

And starting with my predicted winners, I tipped Chelsea for the title (d'oh!) and the rest of the top four to be United, City and Arsenal, in no particular order. So I got the Champions wrong, but correctly called the four teams who would qualify for the Champions League. But before anyone says it for me, let me be the first to concede that a blind man on a galloping horse could have seen that, so no kudos to the Throne there, then.

Moving slightly further down the pecking order, but remaining with 'the winners', I saw Spurs, Everton and Liverpool filling the next three spots.I got those right as well, and whilst some might suggest that they were another 'gimme', I would remind them that for a significant period of the early part of the season, Liverpool were languishing in the lower reaches of the league, whilst Everton's season started slowly and built to an excellent crescendo.

Turning to The Losers, I have to admit that I was significantly wide of the mark in predicting that Blackpool, Wolves and West Brom would take the drop. Yes, the Seasiders - everybody's second favourite team - eventually succumbed to their inability to defend, but both of the others survived, despite experiencing real wobbles and in Wolves' case, spending months in the bottom three. But as Mick McCarthy and his Wigan counterpart Roberto Martinez would doubtless observe, it doesn't matter how much of the season you spend in the bottom three as long as you're not in it after the final game.

So congratulations to the survivors and apologies to supporters of those clubs I wrongly tipped for the drop.

And whilst I'm wearing the hair shirt, allow me to open myself to further ridicule by reminding you of another of my predictions, suggesting that if any team was capable of breaking into the top seven, it was Birmingham City, who actually ended up being relegated!

So there we are; a bit of a curate's egg really - called the top seven exactly right, but got most of the losers wrong and one of them - Birmingham - very badly so.

Still, it won't stop me breaking out the crystal again next August... Bet you can hardly wait!

Ps. I see that Chelsea (or should that be Abramovich) have sacked Carlo Ancelotti after two seasons in charge at The Bridge. Well, he only won The Double in his first season, didn't he; what else could he expect from a grateful owner other than the sack.

And unless the Russian is prepared to dig very deep again this summer (and I don't see that happening), I see Chelsea's star waning somewhat, as their top stars, Terry, Lampard and Drogba all begin to age simultaneously, whilst Petr Cech is a shadow of the keeper he was before his skull fracture. If I was Abramovich, I'd be phoning Arsene Wenger to seek his advice in developing a coping strategy for season after season of high expectation and ultimate, crushing failure.