John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Thursday, March 31, 2005
  Good News for people over 60
It looks like we will be able to reinstate the Senior Citizens concessionary fares scheme for over 60s before the government scheme comes into action.

There is a formal consultation period of 56 days which delays any change. However, following discussions earlier today it looks like people over 60 in Birmingham will have free travel on bus and train in the near future (before the government's proposal of 1st April 2006).

We think there is a good chance the change will occur across the old West Midlands County. However, what is clear is that we will be reinstating free travel for women and introducing it for men aged 60+.

This is a good pro-public transport move which also support our senior citizens.
 
  Who is more guilty: Michael Howard or Howard Flight?
The linked article also has .wav files of the talk Howard Flight gave on 23rd March 2005. It was the original "timesonline" quote.

I have arranged for the .wav files to be transcribed and the transcription follows.

The big question for the Tories is whether it appears on reading the full text that Howard Flight is actually implying the Conservatives will cut more spending than the £35 Billion in the James Report. (Which includes Labour's £21bn cuts (Gershon savings) in any event.)

At the end he says: "I've probably banged on too long."

I would agree with that particular line. The real issue, however, is should Michael Howard have sacked him for what he said? I am not convinced that that is the case.

To me this shows how Michael Howard should not be trusted with any power.

What you can conclude from Howard Flight's talk is that
a) The tories have policies that are designed to attract support.
b) The tories have dumped suggestions that people would oppose.
c) Howard Flight is (was) a "dry"
On the key question as to whether he is suggesting that the tories would do something different to that in their manifesto I would say that the jury is out.

Personally it looks that Michael Howard is far more guilty than Howard Flight and that it is Michael Howard that should resign for abuse of power. Howard Flight clearly makes the distinction between his views and those of the party although he could have been clearer on the substantive issue.

The debate is quite a flawed debate as the Labour Party are proposing £21 billion pounds of cuts by the year 2007-8. These figures are included in the Conservative Proposals. We estimate that about £8,000,000,000 of the Conservative proposals are bogus anyway.

Transcription of Howard Flight's Talk to Conservative Way Forward
"But the the no the areas of actual tax reductions of only one have already been announced, which is nakedly political, which is the council tax deal. I think it is politically, sensible, simple and understandable and not respect with the protesting nonsenses and it just happens the two other areas in which er I have yet to be announced, but I anticipate are likely to be the two areas will be raising thresholds a bit and hopefully raising the IHT floor level a bit so that as it were Middle England comes out of the equation for the time being.

"And indeed the I mean I think the potential for getting better taxpayer value is a good a bit greater than the James findings and the James findings I think quite unashamedly have been if you like seived for what is is politically accept politically acceptable and what is not going to lose the argument by the main argument by a sort of welter of specific moanings and complaints.

"Now you all we all broadly want the sort of things that are being talked about quite when and how precisely (unaudible) I mean I know we are right therefore all you have to do is to say it and everyone will agree with it and then you will win an election life is just not like that (laughter) you have just got to be practical Birmarck's famous phrase "politics is the art of the possible."

"The real issue is having won power do you then go to it and then of course we are back to you know wets and dries and all that happened in the 80s and be sure where I stand once we gain power in terms of putting my maximum weight in the direction we go in.

"But I think where we are posited is absolutely correct in terms of the cycle where public opinion is where it is going perceptions where it can be misrepresented a whole lot of things and I go further I was disappointed that Andrew although I partly agree didn't like it I mean in many things and these aren't economic Michael said the unthinkable all those politically correct things you couldn't say if you said a word about immigration you were being racist If you said a word about travellers you were just being wicked. I mean all the things that common sense Middle England knows are a load of crap and noone dares to speak up. He has spoken up. What more do you want? People understand that."

Questioner: "Howard I did recognise that in my question."

"Thats how you win elections and instead of about what you do economically what you when you've got there

"But there is not yet a huge appetite and movement for saying come on lets get taxes down substantially. I think that will come as the curve continues because it is in part about levels of disposable income and in part about levels of interest rates and I think, whatever the fine principles, you have to win an election first before you can actually get on with what needs to be done. So I mean, that is a a brief summary of where we are what we are committed to the latter two not yet announced. I think everyone on our side of the fence believes passionately that it will be a continuing agenda and for it to be a continuing agenda there obviously has to be a continuing agenda of reforming public services of changing how a lot is delivered and apart from what I would call some more radical thinking some of which I think is very good I have been inspired by Lesley Chapman who Patrick may remember who was a Public Works Loan Board civil servant in the 70s and he sort of said I have had enough of this went round looking at overmanning and looking at use of property.
He set a 15% target achieved 35% and wrote a splendid book called your disobedient servant which alienated him from much of the rest of the civil service he writes to me (inaudible) he hasn't for 6 months. He has been writing to me previously about every quarter and really making the fundamental point that this is an ongoing exercise like any sensible business. How you run the public sector, whatever the politics, unless there is the machinery to go on all the time looking at it being run efficiency it will quickly go the other direction all the more because it is a monopoly.

"So there will be some announcements coming about implementation and they will include release of ideas about cutting waste.

"I've probably banged on too long.

"Thank you very much."
 
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
  Jailed: teacher who snapped (tip of an iceberg)
I find this story particularly sad. It is really the tip of an iceberg of problems with disrespectful behaviour across the country. For all that ASBOs and such mechanisms offer some slight hope to people terrorised by yobs they are not the real answer.

For the real answer we need to look at why patterns of behaviour are developing such that there are continual aggressive incidents across the country. Yesterday I drove across central London in a taxi and saw an aggressive row which was on the verge of serious violence (people pushing each other).

There are a number of difficulties. Most lie around the desire of some people to act in such a way as actually is designed to irritate others.

Part of this lies in how schools operate. The government's obsession with the rights of the parents of yobs means that teachers have to run around justifying reasonable actions they have taken to deal with indiscipline.

Those children learn that blagging gets results and that if they behave irresponsibly then all that happens is that they get more attention.

Tony Blair's Speech (March 3 2005) includes the text:
"However, on these foundations a fundamental system-wide change is taking place which we will take forward decisively if re-elected. Step by step we are putting 'parent power' at the heart of the education system - giving all parents, not just a minority as in the past, the choices and opportunities needed for their children to succeed."

They did this previously when they forced a school I know to readmit a boy expelled for attacking a classroom assistant. Such acts are so damaging to the discipline in the school that they have effects beyond the single act.

The first priority for education has to be to maintain discipline in the class. This means that parents of yobs would not have the same amount of 'parent power'. At the moment they can give the system the runaround.
 
  Labour's £21bn of cuts
The linked press release comes from Labour's main website.

It is entitled:
"Tories' £35bn cut to public spending just the tip of the iceberg"

What confuses me is that the Conservative proposals called the James Report include the £21bn in the Gershon Report. The "Howard Flight Redacted" version only finds an additional £13-14bn on top of what Labour already propose.

The Lib Dem Treasury team have read the report and find that £8bn of that is bogus.

It still remains, however, that Labour are concentrating on the £35bn figure when they really should recognise that this implicitly criticises their own £21bn proposals.

The real debate should be do we want to have teachers in classrooms or would classroom supervisors do. Labour appear to be committed to this change as a gradual process. This is evidenced throughout government policy and particularly in DfES documents.

Now that would be a useful debate to have. Labour intend gradually phasing out teachers in certain circumstances (starting with when someone is sick).

This is not in itself new Lutterworth Grammar School have tried this and confirm that the scheme is "very cost effective".

The big problem for Michael Howard, however, is that it is not clear that Howard Flight actually said the party was hiding the scale of its proposed spending cuts/savings.

This actually is much more damaging for the Tories than had he done so. If he has been tried, convicted and sentenced by one person (Michael Howard) and actually did not do what he was claimed to have done then the person concerned has very bad judgement.
 
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
  Weddings in The Council House
Although the Evening Mail and Radio WM are interested in this story, the editor of www.icbirmingham.co.uk declined to publish the article about Weddings in The Council House.

The City Council has decided to allow people to have civil ceremonies in The Council House. They have been allowed at Highbury for some time. However, the Charities Commission are bouncing up and down about what happens at Highbury (because it is a charitable trust). Also it is something that people might like to have as an option.

The idea is that The Council House belongs to the citizens of Birmingham. It is, therefore, appropriate that Citizens of Birmingham should be able to make use of the banqueting suite for their events. (Within the constraints of booking and also the payment of the appropriate fee.)


The last wedding I went to was that of (Labour) Councillor Mike Olley at Birmingham's CoE Cathedral (St Philips). This was attended by one Labour MP, about four Labour Councillors and three Lib Dem Councillors.


I can understand that people who would wish a civil ceremony would be pleased to have the opportunity of The Council House*.

* In Birmingham "The Council House" is not "a Council House". It is the headquarters of the City Council. There is also a Town Hall.

Thanks to Birmingham Picture Library for the images.
 
  For earthquakes Lightning does strike twice
I heard about the second strike near Sumatra whilst at a fundraising event in Birmingham organised by Islamic Relief entitled "An Evening of Inspiration". The event was interesting as a musical crossover between traditional south Asian pentatonic scales and the normal western duodecaphonic scales.

The end result for one number by 786 was a form of mixture between traditional nasheed and the musical style of Westlife.

In the mean time the news agenda is moving on The Independent reports on the further growth in tactical voting with an interesting quote from the Electoral Commission:
"A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission, which monitors general elections, said vote swapping was within electoral rules, but no one could break the privacy of the polling booth."
Is this the same Electoral Commission as the one that supported all postal ballots where the polling booth is abolished.

The issue of Education and specifically the government's failure on discipline in schools is also moving up the agenda. The government seem obsessed with buildings when they need to look at the issue of people. That, however, is nothing new.
 
Monday, March 28, 2005
  Tory Campaign in Full [Howard] Flight
You wonder if this is the one which is "the boomerang strikes back". The tories have brought in an Australian political advisor to run their campaign. He may have said "sack the MP as an MP". Clearly this decision was taken in haste and may be repented at leisure.

I still haven't seen the full quotations that he was sacked for. However, most of them have only been what one would expect tories to say. At an absolute minimum an argument that they would exclude from proposals politically unacceptable ideas is only reasonable. The question, of course, is whether or not they would later implement them.

If he was saying that the tories said one thing in private and another in public then that is a valid area of criticism.

The effect of sacking him as an MP is that it winds up the other Tory MPs. It is also likely to keep the issue on the political agenda. Michael Howard has then got the difficulty that reversing position will also cause problems.

In a sense the whole saga raises more questions about Michael Howard than about the Conservative Party's propensity to cut services.

This was timed with an Independent poll giving Labour a lead of 10%. In any event the "CommunicateResearch" polls come out considerably differently to the other polls. Note that this one was before the "Flight" saga.

On the ground we see the situation quite differently to the polls. There are strong and weak supporters of particular parties. It is what the undecided people decide to do that will affect the result. Historically up to 20% of voters make up their minds in the polling station.

The movements from the last general election to today are that Labour are about 10% down and we are about 10% up and the tories are about 2% down. That is the only substantial indicator at the moment. It will be interesting to see what the impact of Howard's actions over Flight will be, however.
 
Sunday, March 27, 2005
  Gershon (James takes [Howard] Flight)
The relationship between the Gershon report of the government and the Conservatives' James report is coming to light now. The big problem for the tories is that their James report actually includes the Gershon savings.

For example if you look at page 56 of the report on James you will find that of their identified potential savings in education of £5,687,000,000 this includes the Gershon figure of £4,133,000,000.

In other words the total figure of £34,864,000,000 includes the Gershon figures of £21,480,000,000.

All big figures.

The real question is what is means when implemented.

This information is much harder to find. I have a copy of the DfES Efficiency Technical Note described by them as:
1. This Efficiency Technical Note explains how the Department for Education and Skills will monitor and measure the efficiency gains that are achieved across the services funded by the Department between 2005-06 and 2007-08. The Department plans to achieve over £4.3 billion in annual efficiency gains in 2007-08, contributing towards the Government’s overall efficiency target of over £20 billion.

This includes the following detailed proposals:
A: PRODUCTIVE TIME WORKSTREAM
A1: School workforce and related reforms

A1 a) Administrative staff.
Description of efficiency
The benefit from administrative staff taking on administrative tasks otherwise carried out by teachers, and freeing up teacher time.

A1 b) Using cover supervisors.
Description of efficiency
The benefit from using cover supervisors – appropriately trained support staff covering for short term teacher absences – to reduce the amount spent on supply teachers.

Element A1 c) Pay restructuring.
Description of efficiency
The benefit from introducing a new pay structure for the upper pay spine (UPS).

Element A1 d) Modernisation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme
Description of efficiency
The benefit from the modernisation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) being applied to new entrants from 2006 and eventually to all members.

A2: Improving schools’ financial management

Element A2) Overall schools financial management.
Description of efficiency
Improvements in the way schools use their resources which arise from improved financial management, as a result of benchmarking, improved training, and other initiatives.

A3: Improvements through the use of ICT including e-learning

Element A3 a) Time savings gained by teachers through improved access to digital content (via Curriculum Online and laptop computers).
Description of efficiency
Faster access to a broader range of educational resources will improve the quality and efficiency of lesson planning and preparation compared to manual preparation. Use of nationally brokered framework contracts will lower unit costs and improve computer ownership by teachers.

Element A3 b) Time saved in lesson delivery through effective use of interactive whiteboards (IWB).
Description of efficiency
Faster preparation (including re-use), presentation and sharing of lesson resources that facilitate whole-class discussion and interaction compared to manual delivery. Use of nationally brokered framework contracts will lower unit costs of interactive whiteboards.

Element A3 c) Improved asset management as a result of ICT.
Description of efficiency
Effective use of more integrated and more powerful management information (MI) systems will improve institutional efficiency. (Time saved on manual undertaking of administrative tasks[1].)
New flexibilities in the use of devolved capital funding (Devolved Formula Capital or DFC) will release additional expenditure to front line ICT-based services.

Element A3 d) Improved management of teaching & learning through ICT
Description of efficiency
Use of ‘learning platform’ systems (often referred to as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) or Managed Learning Environments (MLEs) should improve the productivity of teaching staff by reducing time spent on administrative tasks currently undertaken manually[2].

Element A3 e) Extension of computer based marking saving teacher time.
Description of efficiency
The efficiency gain is in teacher time spent on formative assessment, released by greater utilisation of computer based marking.
...

It goes on in that vein. What it does not do is quantify any of these proposals. New Labour are, however, strongly committed to implementing Gershon. It is really during the election that these issues should be debated. What is proposed in detail includes:

a) Cutting pensions
b) Cutting pay
c) Stopping using trained supply teachers and instead using "cover supervisors"

There are lots of wooly things in it as well. However, it is quite clear that the government's objective is to gradually replace trained teachers with teaching assistants in different aspects of education.
 
Saturday, March 26, 2005
  Tariq Ali Says: vote Lib Dem to beat Labour
This issue is relevant in Sparkbrook and Small Heath and Perry Barr. In both of these seats the Respect group are standing.

Extracting from his article:
" the votes cast for the Greens, Respect and others will have no impact, with a possible exception in Bethnal Green and Bow,"

and

"It is possible that in some constituencies the Green/Respect vote could ensure the return of a warmonger, as we have seen in the odd by-election."

In this he is referring in part to Hodge Hill where having the Respect votes were sufficient to stop Labour winning.

The challenge for Talib Hussain and Jon Hunt is that of persuading anti-Labour voters to unite behind them as the best placed candidates to beat (probably) Roger Godsiff and (probably) Khalid Mahmood.
 
Friday, March 25, 2005
  Bring Back Matron (what is MRSA about?)
"Yet, three years after the first reintroduction of the "modern" matron, the number of deaths from the superbug MRSA has doubled. The figures, up from 487 in 1999 to 955 in 2003, have caused alarm among health professionals and patient groups."

The problem is that even if you have a budget that does not mean that you can actually control what is done. There is a philosophical flaw in the concept that everything can be managed effectively through a contract. It is a bit like keyhole surgery. In theory things can be done, but not a lot although if only little bits need to be done then everything works.

One of the problems with MRSA is noone really has any idea of how much underreporting there is.

However, unless you actually give the ability to manage to people which means the ability to sack a contractor or member of staff then it is difficult to manage all aspect of a system.

If a "matron" says - you haven't cleaned there and the response is "it is not in the SLA". That's the end of it.

A few years ago I went to Selly Oak Emergency and they didn't have enough tourniquets so they simply used a rubber glove. It isn't a big thing, but it was too much hassle to get it right. When I raised this with management they denied it. However, I had seen what happened myself.

We had the same problem with the cleaning of Cockshut Hill School when PFI started there. It got close to closing down the school because it was so dirty. Amazing, but true.

Theories that work in the Treasury and Cabinet Office fall to pieces around the country.
 
  Good news for 6 monthly council tax payers
It has been raised with me that people who pay every 6 months are not expecting to pay the first installment in April, but instead in May. The good news is that the City Treasurers Department will agree the later payment date for those who wish it.
(only for 6 monthly council tax payers).
 
  News from Kyrgyzstan
The sagas across the world about how to achieve "open government" continue.

It is important for people to remember the scuffle involving 200 people in Somerville Road that happened last June.

If we don't have systems of elections that the losing parties accept as being operated properly then this sort of thing will grow (as it has been doing).

Incidentally in the last week there has been news of postal vote fraud in Reading.

What the government should agree to is that postal votes are counted separately to non-postal votes. A simply statutory instrument would do this and it would not impact in any serious way on the mechanics of the election.

Why don't the government want this?
 
Thursday, March 24, 2005
  Various PJP Arrests
All we know is that a number of PJP Activists have been arrested. What we cannot understand is that if they had all the warrants on Tuesday when all the people were in court they had to wait until 7.30am this morning. They could have gone to the court and arrested all of them in one go.

It appears to be that the police have gone around to witnesses for the Election Court. The witnesses have been asked by the police whether they have signed statements. A few have then been frightened by this so that they have denied signing the original statements and signed further statements to this effect. When you compare the statements they normally end up having the same signature. The end result is that the police are claiming that the original statements may be perjury which is absurd generically on the basis that the witnesses could have been called into court had the respondents been bothered. I am told that one witnesses grandson signed on behalf of her.

All this really shows is how easily people get frightened in these areas.

Interestingly it appears that Labour's new line on the Election Courts is that if they had lost they would have raised an election petition - pull the other one.
 
  A visit to the Elections office
One of the debates in Birmingham at the moment relates to the provision of the list of postal voters. Last year (and in other authorities this year) the elections office provided an electronic list of postal voters before the elections.

We have requested that again this year, but the returning officer is saying that the law prevents her from providing the list. I was told I could visit the elections office to see the records. I visited the elections office on Tuesday, but they did not have the records of the postal voters available.

Today I was told I could visit the elections office, but I would not get a list. I could sit by the side of someone who would operate the records computer and was not allowed to touch the computer.

My objective is to identify which votes are being sent to local addresses other than that of the voter (most of which end up being stolen in some way).

The Deputy Returning Officer said to me that he didn't think that would help with my task. I pointed out to him that I already had a list of those votes which were misdirected in June 2004 and that I could easily check the situation. I also took my camera to photograph (copy) the computer screen for evidential purposes.

Of the 64 postal vote misdirects in Aston it turns out that 54 people only had postal votes for June 2004. There, however, remain 10 that are misdirected for the General Election. There is also one vote which is a new misdirect that I found by accident. Clearly there will be more, but at least we have some people we can talk to assist with preventing vote stealing in the General Election.
 
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
  East Yardley Neighbourhood Forum
I attended a meeting of the East Yardley Neighbourhood Forum to discuss devolution last night.

An interesting point was that some youths decided to try to block the door at the end of the meeting. It was relatively easy to break the blockage, but it is this sort of anti-social behaviour that really irritates people.

For all the time the government have spent on new laws the procedures do not really exist for the sort of totting up type of situation in which people commit a lot of relatively minor nuisance type offences with no fear of any sanction.

I cited at the meeting the problem with the driver of a stolen car who would not be prosecuted according to the CPS.

The people at the meeting seemed to be quite happy with the way in which devolution was working. Our proposals to make funding available to smaller groups on an easy basis also went down well.
 
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
  Vote fraud in The Independent
This is, of course, a live issue. I am currently trying to get the City Council to give me a list of postal votes across the city. This will enable some work to be done to minimise fraud.

They are currently ignoring me.
 
Monday, March 21, 2005
  Vote 2005 and Respect
Vote 2005 is an interesting exercise. It involves an online debating forum with a large number of parliamentary seats identified. It is a better forum than the traditional usenet uk.politics.electoral which has been the online location generally where political activists debate from many places. Usenet, however, has a number of problems which means that it can take a lot of time to review matters.

George Galloway's - Respect the Unity Coalition not to be confused with respectcoalition.co.uk - the "lunacy coalition" have been floating around for some time now.

This is an attempt by the Socialist Workers Party to build an organisation that people will actually vote for. Previously they had Socialist Alliance which had some marginal success locally where they had hard working candidates.

Their plan was to turn the Stop the War campaign into a political party. In doing so they have lost a lot of the support and activists the SWP had without gaining that much.

Through the internal contradictions in the nature of the SWP and the rest of Respect they have now created a situation in which they are "considering" supporting Blairite pro-War Labour Candidates against anti-War Conservatives or Lib Dems.

To that extent they have now completely undermined their starting thesis.

They have also accepted that as with the Lib Dems they "support the Troops".

The difficult question, of course, is how quickly they end up falling apart on the basis of the internal contradictions. Personal loyalties do hold organisations together even when they lose their way (vide New Labour).

Sources of information: The resolutions at the Respect October Conference http://www.respectcoalition.com/pdf/041103_resolutions.pdf
which includes the text:
"Consequently we will not challenge anti-war Labour MPs and will consider calling for a vote for Labour in those areas where Respect is not standing and where there is no other credible left candidate. "
 
Sunday, March 20, 2005
  Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus
This afternoon I spoke to a meeting in Stechford. Part of my speech related to the damage the Labour Government are doing to the laws and rules created in British Traditions stretching back centuries.

Two key elements are the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus.
Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta said:
38 In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
39 No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.

The Magna Carta was the result of an agreement wrung from King John on June 19 1215. It may have only protected the more powerful feudal lords, but it was a step in controlling overweaning state power. Had the barons not seized London in May 1215 he would almost certainly not have consented to this constraint on his power.

There was no protection for anyone other than the barons. This changed in the 1620s.

In 1627 King Charles I threw into jail five knights in a tax disagreement, and the knights sued the King, asserting their habeas corpus right to be free or on bail unless convicted of a crime.

King Charles I, in response, invoked his right to simply imprison anybody he wanted (other than the rich), anytime he wanted, as he said, "per speciale Mandatum Domini Regis."

Charles' decree wasn't well received. The result of his overt assault on the rights of citizens led to a sort of revolt in the British Parliament, producing the 1628 "Petition of Right" law, which restated Articles 38 and 39 of the Magna Carta and added that "writs of habeas corpus, [are] there to undergo and receive [only] as the court should order." It was later strengthened with the "Habeas Corpus Act of 1640" and a second "Habeas Corpus Act of 1679."

The 1679 Act basically means that individuals cannot be imprisoned for administrative convenience.

Looking at the correct approach given the trial in Leicester it is clear that the route towards security combined liberty is to consider the details of procedures and how to enable proper trials in difficult situations.

Avoiding Kangaroo Courts whilst not making a prosecution in a difficult situation impossible is not that difficult.

These issues do not present easily in soundbites, however. In a sense the debate about legal procedures relating to evidence give a good example of why most political reporting on the mass media is too shallow to come to valid conclusions.
 
  Graffiti Tag
Tipsy This is one of the tags used in and around Yardley.

This particular tag appears twice around the Swan Island. Although we are managing to keep some areas clear of graffiti there are other locations where this becomes harder.

Some may say I am a bit sad for going around photographing graffiti. The fact is, however, that graffiti makes an area a mess. The message of keeping things clean (where possible) links through from minor "liveability" issues such as graffiti and rubbish to major issues (see elsewhere in this blog).

One thing that has to happen is enforcement action (which I believe would be best through the civil law) to dissuate the graffitis from creating their mess.

Labour seem to have taken a different tack and try to make the graffiti artists do better graffiti. I don't think that is a sensible solution.
 
  Talking to local people

Talking to local people
Part of Saturday was spent doing the usual tours of Shopping Centres. On this occasion Simon Hughes MP came out with the Yardley team. The response on the streets was quite positive. This was probably helped by the improved weather. The previous week was rather cold.

What is nice about this process is that we can get a bit more subtlety into the political debate. It is clear that local residents are unhappy with the proposals for boundary changes that Labour are supporting.
 
Saturday, March 19, 2005
  Lessons from Leicester Trial (New Year's Shootings)
The lessons from the trial in Leicester are that the rules of evidence do need variation to deal with very difficult situation. In situations in which witnesses need protection against violent people we need to protect their identities.

It is not possible for the police to continually give people new identities and there are so many shooting incidents that there has to be the facility for identities to be kept secret.

This clearly should apply in situations where there is clearly an element of conspiracy. However, it is these mechanisms that would enable progress against gangster crime whether it be linked to drugs, terrorism or indeed relate to matters such as the IRA's involvement in Robert McCartney's killing in Northern Ireland.

This killing was particularly brutal and is symptomatic of an environment in which the rule of law has been superseded by a heirarchical clan/tribal based structure.

The challenge, of course, is when politics gets infected by clan style loyalties. This has been identified as one of the key issues in Africa and relates to Political Anthropology. It also tends to lead toward corruption as decisionmaking gets based upon personal loyalties rather than systems of rules.

The danger of the postal vote system is that it encourages the development of political heirarchies dependent on intimidation and theft rather than acheiving popular support. To that extent it actually corrupts people as they are tempted to go in that direction.

This issue of the imperfection of human nature is something that the New Labour Party seem to be unaware of. Checks and balances devised over centuries to protect the rule of law have been undermined with little thought or true scrutiny.

The hazard of this is the development of forms of society in which people in positions of power are seen as untouchable and not subject to the rule of law. The people in Northern Ireland are not substantially different to people elsewhere. That is why the rules used for elections in Northern Ireland should be used elsewhere. There is no sense trying to increase turnout if we end up having a society where political power rests with gangster patrons and their clients - which is where all of this is going.

Still I have been spending time reviewing the transcripts of the Aston Election Court (which I will publish in full when I have the time). The opening statements for this occur on Tuesday. The Commissioner is expecting to produce a judgement within the fortnight after Easter (ie Early April).

It is worth someone going through the transcripts and picking out the highlights (there are about 800 pages of transcripts).
 
Friday, March 18, 2005
  Trapped by the Rhythm
Last Friday John Patrick, the erstwhile head of Music at Central TV and band leader for the John Patrick Trio/Quartet challenged me to turn up and play at the commuter jazz sessions (organised by Birmingham Jazz in the Foyer at the ICC.

For me this is a good location as it is an easy walk from The Council House at the end of the day. Something like this is a bit of a "deep end" challenge. I had never met any of the band apart from John Patrick - who is the pianist.

Mike the Saxophonist suggested I'll remember April which mainly floats around G and G minor. I thought a nice relaxed number, but left the tempo to the band. Suddenly they start at twice the tempo I expected. Luckily I had not planned on doing a solo. It was a good example of "the beat goes on" where one ends up locked into the beat.

At least I managed to get in My Funny Valentine in C minor(ish) [unlike the link]. That seemed to go reasonably well.
 
  Good news from Leicester (Killers Convicted)
The conviction of the New Years Killers in Leicester is very good news today. This proves to the communities of Birmingham that working through the system is the way to go.

Historically many shootings are actually retaliatory shootings. Such gang warfare tends to escalate. Although reported as "turf wars" generally that is not the case. The only solution to a continuing range of tit-for-tat retaliations is to use the police and the judicial process so that justice is done and seen to be done.

The following is our statement:

The court case
The message is that the West Midlands Police will investigate and prosecute any offence whoever is the victim. We are pleased that the black community has worked closely with the police on this case.

The aftermath
We have to recognise that the killing of these girls was the tip of an iceberg caused by a breakdown in society. Some young people, often black boys, in certain areas see getting involved in criminal gangs as an easy route to power, money and in their minds a type of respect. This must be shown to be wrong and that it is not tolerated in particular by their own community. The first step to resolving this lies in Education. Sadly there are some schools that are impacted heavily by gang culture. To deal with this means a greater involvement from the community, particularly the faith community. The black churches and other organisations are organisations in which black people are seen as leaders.

There is a need to support the authority of teachers in schools in maintaining discipline enabling all children of all cultures to progress into lawful careers.

The City Council is developing partnership working with grass roots organisations because one agency can have a knock on effect on another organisation. This will involve additional support to organisations willing to work in partnership to achieve our objectives.

We will also be appointing unpaid Ambassadors to encourage engagement. There will be four Ambassadors appointed and there will be consultation with the Caribbean British Community about this. These four Ambassadors will cover the four issues of political engagement, educational achievement, employment and encouraging enterprise. These will be people in the Caribbean British Community who are well known and have a solid track record such as Bishop Dr Joe Aldred.

It is also important to celebrate the achievements of the Caribbean British Community. Many British people of Caribbean heritage have done very well and we should welcome their successes.
 
Thursday, March 17, 2005
  Council Tax Con
In a sense providing a Council Tax subsidy for certain households, but not others actually highlights the unfairness of the Council Tax. Not only that, but it is only for the year of the Election and the plan is not to help in subsequent years.

We highlight a good point in that the proportion of income paid in tax by lower earners is higher than that by higher earners.
 
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
  Name and Shaming comes to a halt in Bordesley
I think the Commissioner has got this right. The underlying problem is the nature of the current law. A quick hearing without time for people to check the evidence which could result in the end of some people's careers would be unfair.

On the assumption that the election court finds that the elections are voided the priority to me is to get the electoral procedures changed so that we have a proper democracy. Having a system whereby the most effective fraudsters win in some electoral areas is very damaging.

In essence we have lost the basis of the 1872 Ballot Act. You would think with all the column inches written and minutes of soundbites on the TV and Radio that people would have spotted what was going on.
 
Monday, March 14, 2005
  The Library Assistants Issue
We reviewed the issue relating to Library Assistants today. Unison are currently running a postal ballot on whether or not the Library Assistants wish to accept a proposal of a tax-free payment for a change in terms and conditions.

Our view is that we will respect the decision of the Library Assistants. If they decide to reject the proposal then we will not force them to accept it.
 
Sunday, March 13, 2005
  St Patrick's Day - a good day out (bleeding for art?)
Today's St Patrick's Day Parade went off very well. The new route seemed to work quite well. It was good that it didn't rain although it was very cold and my fingers were quite frozen until close to the end. As usual I paraded with the Tipperary County Association which is run by an (ex Labour now independent group) Councillor from Rubery. (Dave McGrath - see main person in photo)

Unusually the Tipperary Association has live music, three accordians and me on guitar/mouth organ. Most other associations have recorded music. We normally play a mixture of irish melodies plus the eternal Long Way to Tipperary (not an Irish song). To properly do that, of course, we have to hold back slightly so that there is a "Long way" until the Tipperary group.

Because this association has a relatively small banner in blue with the word Tipperary in large print on it the association tends to feature in much of the photographic publicity from each of the years. The main photo in this news item shows Tipperary in 2004.



I have played the guitar with this group in 2003, 2004 and 2005 although I first joined the group in 2002. In 2003 we had two other guitarists, but came to the current line up in 2003 which was a nice warm day and ended in Centenary Square.

At least I know what it means to "bleed for your art". It was so cold that I didn't notice I had caught my index finger on the strings (I was using a plectrum). After the end I noticed that I was bleeding slightly.
 
Saturday, March 12, 2005
  Prevention of Terrorism
One of the key aspects of the most recent "Prevention of Terrorism" Bill that makes me feel that it is more about the government wishing to play to the crowd rather than actually act to reduce the threat of terrorism is its name.

It it had been called the "Control Orders" Bill or the "Reasonable Suspicion" Bill then opposing it could not have been skewed into a misrepresentation.

The typical misprepresentation is that voting against the "Prevention of Terrorism" Bill (or for amendments) gets conflated with not wishing to "Prevent Terrorism".

One of the issues under debate was the Standard of Proof that would be required. This is the level of certainty that the allegation is true.

The Burden of Proof means that it is the job of someone wishing to see a person suffer some detriment to justify that with evidence.

Normally in UK Criminal law the Standard of Proof used is "Beyond Reasonable Doubt".
For Civil cases the Standard of Proof is "On the balance of probabilities". Normally this is more likely than not expressed as on the "preponderance of evidence". Sometimes with more severe civil cases a sort of halfway house of "clear and convincing evidence" is used.

There are situations in which a lower level of proof is required. A "reasonable suspicion" (or reasonable grounds for suspecting) is the level normally needed before a member of the public can arrest another member of the public.

All that is needed for a "reasonable suspicion" is that someone alleges that another person is "involved in terrorism". There is no opportunity with this for the person being alleged to be involved to challenge the assertion.

This comes to the nub of the problem with Internment in Northern Ireland. A lot of people were imprisoned on false evidence. This then had the knock on effect of increasing the amount of disorder and intercommunal stress.

Tactics described as terrorism tend to be used in disputes that are between groups of people. Feudal disputes in the Middle Ages frequently involved kidnappings. The main change in the 20th and 21st century is that merely using easily available fertiliser can produce a big bang. The technology exists for small groups of people to harm larger gropus.

In particular terrorism tends to result from perceived injustices. In any tense situation one element of defusing the tension - a key part of resolution - is to ensure that actions are justified openly whereever possible.

The danger of using a "reasonable suspicion" for any form of action is that it will result in injustices where people have sanctions against them that are based upon malicious or other false evidence. For example the evidence used for the existance of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq did give rise to a sufficiency for a "reasonable suspicion". The fact that some of the documents had been forged and other allegations were false does not mean that there was not a "reasonable suspicion". There was, however, not sufficient evidence on "balance of probabilities" - in retrospect.

To me the evidence on the "balance of probabilities" that the government are not serious about the underlying issue of "preventing terrorism" is that what they really need to do is to review the issues about the rules of evidence to ensure that they can protect witnesses that need protection.

One of the difficulties that exists in criminal prosecutions is that the identity of people who pass allegations to the police has to be disclosed to the defence even if the police do not intend relying on their evidence. This aspect of disclosure is something that really needs thinking about. It is circumvented by people passing information anonymously to the police. However, it is an issue that undermines the ability of the police to collate intelligence.
 
Friday, March 11, 2005
  St Patrick's Day
With a breakfast I sadly could not attend today and a performance of traditional irish dance and music (in a reception at 4.30pm) St Patrick's Day kicked off today.

My own Irish Ancestry comes mainly from Tipperary where I can prove using the 1881 Census (Handsworth, Staffs) that I have an ancestor from Tipperary. I therefore tend to play guitar in the Tipperary County Association group during the parade. The theme song is, of course, "Its a long way to Tipperary", which just to happened to be written by a Londoner.

Hopefully it won't be that wet on Sunday.
 
Thursday, March 10, 2005
  Photographs from 2005 and 1960

2005 and 1960

The big photo is one of my mother and I in 2005 when she came for the demolition of Yardley School which was the secondary school that my mother and her two brothers went to. The little inset photo is a photograph of my mother and I in 1960 in the garden in Acocks Green (the old Stockfield Estate which has also been demolished).
 
  Croissants with the DPM
I went to have Croissants with the DPM today. This was a "breakfast" meeting with John Prescott in Admiralty House which is part of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Actually I didn't eat a croissant nor did I see John Prescott eating a croissant, but clearly the government don't seem to know what a breakfast is or they have been taken over by the "Continental Breakfast Promotion Partnership (Croissants and Coffee Division)"

The meeting was the 10 Local Strategic Partnerships (Local Authority Areas) that spend about 40% of the NRF (Neighbourhood Renewal Fund) that is spent by 88 Local Authorities.

It was useful to be about to raise issues with the people responsible for setting the rules. Clearly there are some areas which I will differ from them on a political basis. For example many of the systems they are introducing undermine the checks and balances in our current system of government and frequently result in mild or greater corruption.

However, we can all agree on many issues such as aiming to reduce crime, get more people into jobs, improve life expectancy and improve educational standards. The problems often are the procedures that are used to make things happen.

A particular request I made was for the government to have one person identified who tells us what hoops we need to jump through (in writing) and then things stay the same for a while. Normally not only do we have to jump through hoops, but also they keep moving the hoops around and sometimes we jump thorough hoops that they say were unnecessary.

One interesting discussion with a civil servant was on the 4th option. I expressed concern as to why were were spending 1.6m on an options appraisal when we can do the 4th option. She said this was silly and would check out the situation.

Crossed fingers on that one. That could save us a lot of money.
 
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
  The Nickelby Bag issue
Today's BMI hearing looked in more detail about the Nickelby Bag. This was a bag of postal votes where the local election ballots were in their envelopes, but hundreds of white European Ballots were merely chucked in with an elastic band.

The European Ballots were clearly disqualified (although I think they may have been counted as well) because they were not in the postal vote envelopes. The postal votes should have been in a sealed ballot box. As with Bordesley and Springfield, however, votes were carried around in all sorts of containers. In Springfield there were a load of votes in a black rubbish bag.

What is interesting about the issue with the European Ballots was that it shows the people filling the envelopes all made the same mistake and they were probably in a rush and didn't care about the European Election. In essence this showed they were almost certainly not the voters as the voters would generally wish to express their preferences in both elections.
 
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
  Emergency Cuts by Government in Single Community Programme
For some reason the government are introducing cuts of about 12% in the Single Community Programme about 3 weeks before the start of the financial year. This hits Birmingham to the tune of £200,000 with a reduction from £1,500,000 to £1,300,000.

I have often argued that we need a certain amount of coherence in the way in which such structures operate. The disputes that have arisen in Birmingham as a result of the conflicts between different bodies have been quite unhelpful. Philosophically the concept of unaccountable representation is flawed.

What I would like to see is greater formal links between the various bodies so that there is less duplication and conflict and greater cohesion. Over the next year this is more likely to happen as we prepare for ... yes ... yet another completely different way of funding things.
 
Monday, March 07, 2005
  BBCSHA Wider View - no further activity (ie no more operations)
An interesting other point of this report is that for the BBCSHA area it is clear that Payment by Results is likely to result in the "price paid to BBCSHA trusts [] on average [rising] for no additional activity"

Because our PbR price is on average lower than general this will mean paying the hospitals more for no more work.

The SHA also wants increases in the proportion of funds spent on Primary Care (GPs) of 2% per year.

To me this does not really stack up properly.

ie we will move money out of the hospitals. The cost will go up for no more work and there will be bed cuts.
 
  Bed cuts by PCT in BBCSHA region
PCTCuts
Solihull-30
HoB Teaching-65
South Brum-133
Oldbury and Smethwick-23
Wednesbury and West Brom-8
Rowley Regis and Tipton-20
Eastern Brum-54
North Brum-65
Walsall Teaching-80
Dudley South-90
Dudley Beacon and Castle-54
Wolves-81

Source: Birmingham and Black Country Strategic Health Authority (BBCSHA) Strategic Framework 2004 - 2010.


Note that the BBCSHA "fair share" capitation funding is £100m less than calculated.
(that's about £40-50m for Birmingham)
 
  Labour plans to cut 1,405 beds (in the Birmingham and Black Country Area)
These are the figures as to how the BBCSHA intend to reduce bed numbers by 20% (in local NHS Hospitals).
ReasonBedsNet ChangeNote
Baseline6,985
Demographic Changes6,955-30
Stage 1 Managed Change - daycases 6,913-42
apply standard LOS6,198-715
Intermediate Care5,556-642
Shift to primary care5,452-104
National assumptions6,169717
length of stay for new models of care5,580-589
Total Net Change-1405 (20%)
 
Sunday, March 06, 2005
  Never mind Iraq, what about a fair ballot in Britain?
This Daily Mail article goes to the nub of the issues. Tomorrow's Times Editorial also looks at the same issue.

What I find interesting is that although my colleagues and I have been highlighting this issue for some time it is only now (as a result of the court cases) that the reality is being accepted as being true.

Forcing all postal ballots in 4 regions was clearly "improper". Much that there are lots of honest people in the Labour Party I really cannnot believe that the Labour Party organisation is unaware of what I am fully aware of (and is being proven in the court).
 
  Jayne Innes - have they read the minutes?
It is interesting that Labour have decided to campaign on two issues in Yardley.

Firstly, they are campaigning on anti-social behaviour. The facts of the figures is that with our administration in the City Council we have more than tripled the number of anti-social behaviour orders from 12 to at least 39 and thats only with 9 months in our administration. In December we had 17 ASBOs to take action to deal with harrassment of the vulnerable.

Secondly, they are campaiging to get surface crossings on the Coventry Road. I know that at least one Labour activist has had the minutes of the Yardley District Committee in January (a month before their campaign started) which confirmed that surface crossings are about to be installed.

Jayne Innes may know more about Wakefield than Yardley, but some people in the Labour Party must know that we are installing surface crossings. It is something that does, however, need to be done.
 
  Margaret's Shoulder is not the issue
The linked story also about a shortage of Intensive Care Beds is far more important than the so called "war of Margaret's Shoulder". It, however, still does not really look at the key problems in the NHS.

Many PCTs and NHS Trusts are in financial problems (forecast deficits) at the moment. There are two main reasons for this.

The issue relating to the shortage of ITUs has been around for years. In part it results from the nature of the arrangements for ITUs which means that the annual cost of maintaining an ITU bed is over 250K per annum. This means that hospitals run on the edge of the numbers required. Addressing this is a matter for getting into the details of the specification to bring in higher care, but not ITU levels.

The big issues, however, relate to the financial problems from the consultants contract and payment by results. In Birmingham this is causing the local PCTs in their Local Delivery Plans to build in assumption for cuts in the numbers of beds in local hospitals. My estimate is that this could see a 20% cut over the next 5 years.

There is an argument that improvements in the mechanisms of case will result in more day care. However, using this to allow bed number cuts tied into the financial forecasts is dangerous.

These two areas need a proper, urgent and detailed review into the financial situation for the NHS. The Gershon report covers the NHS as well as other aspects of public services. However, it does not have a proper answer to this.

In essence Labour's Government is planning for a cut in frontline services in the NHS as they will be constrained by a shortage of facilities. There are already anecdotal problems through beds not being changed between patients because of the rush.

Sadly this debate will almost certainly not hit Prime Time TV as it is too complex for that medium. It is, however, the aspect of NHS planning that warrants proper consideration that it is not getting at the moment.
 
Friday, March 04, 2005
  Telegraph report
Makes a change from the Birmingham reports I suppose. For all of Jerry Hayes' attempts to smear the Lib Dems yesterday I can find no coverage.

This report in the Birmingham Post looks at some of the potential ramifications from Bordesley.

It remains a question with me as to who told the police that what happened on the Wyrlie Industrial Estate was lawful.
 
Thursday, March 03, 2005
  Jerry Hayes and Kamikaze legal cases
Somehow the Tory ex-MP Jerry Hayes has turned up to act as the barrister for two of the Aston Labour Councillors. Today we had two more policemen giving evidence (both PS) then myself. Jerry Hayes had clearly set out to rerun the whole of the local election campaign in Birmingham in the Lyttleton Theatre of the Birmingham and Midlands Institute. He was warned not to try to go into arguing that more corruption occurred as it was more likely that the election would end up as being declared void for general corruption.

This was what the Commissioner called a Kamikaze case (which is a suicidal attack).

By the time I thought he had warmed up his case he had finished.

He also had a go at my Stolen Votes website.
 
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
  Aston Election Petition Kicks Off
The Aston Election Petition kicked off today with evidence from the police as to exactly what happened in the NT Warehouse on the Wyrlie Industrial Estate.
 
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
  Labour Councillor caught in massive votes Fraud
Somehow this case, which hit the court yesterday, has been deemed prosecutable by the police. This related to an Election in 2002 in which a Labour (now ex) Councillor was prosecuted and has now pleaded guilty to filling in 233 fraudulent postal votes (only 233 were proven, that does not mean that only 233 occurred).

This case was in Blackburn, Lancashire. The point I have repeatedly made about electoral fraud is that it happens all over the country.


"4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire" I always wondered about that particular line in the song "A day in the Life" by the Beatles. It pops into my mind everytime I hear the words Blackburn, Lancashire. At least Google has enabled me to confirm what I had guessed about the derivation of the phrase is true.
 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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