Saturday, 27 June 2009

Pipe: The message must be clear, not true

Hackney's politicians kicked-off last week's Full Council meeting with an argument about the minutes of the April meeting. This was in relation to Mayor Jules Pipe's accusation that Conservative Cllr Steinberger had abused his position as chair of Hackney's Overview and Scrutiny committee. The Conservatives wanted to change the minutes.

Later, during a seemingly pedantic exchange between Mayor Pipe and Conservative Cllr Harvey Odze, Odze attacked the Mayor's long-running claim that Hackney has no tube stations, pointing out that Manor House tube is in the borough.

Pipe replied that while Odze was technically correct and that, yes, a few staircases from underground stations did surface on the fringes of the borough, he thought it best not mention them in case it confused the clear message that Hackney has no tube stations.

Pipe could be forgiven for maintaining his 'clear' message but there was something disturbing about the ease of his confession that Odze's facts would only have confused newspaper correspondents and government officials who needed persuading. These facts did not fit in with the image of Hackney that he was promoting. It would be interesting to know where else Pipe may have applied this clear message policy.

May be his speech at the council meeting was an example. The Mayor spent his alloted time telling councillors the good news about Hackney as set out in - Place Survey England - Headline Table Results 2008 which appeared to show that Hackney residents love their borough.

Some of the survey findings that weren't mentioned by Mayor Pipe were that: 47% of Hackney respondents think there is a problem with people not treating each other with respect and consideration; 56.4% of respondents "think that drug use or drug dealing is a problem in their local areas" - exceeded only by Newham and Tower Hamlets (60.7% and 60.5%); 41% of Hackney residents think that drink and rowdy behaviour is a problem in their area and 37% think that anti-social behaviour is a problem in their local area.

And yet the survey then claimed that 71% of Hackney residents "are satisfied with their local area as place to live" (In comparison to 56% in Newham and 69% in Tower Hamlets - 90% in Kensington and Chelsea and 92% in Richmond Upon Thames.)

In Hackney only 27% of the people who were asked to take part in the survey, took part. The report said: "where response rates are low (less than 30%) and confidence intervals are wide (outside +/- 3 percentage points) some caution may be necessary when using the results to set performance targets (for example as part of local area agreements), particularly when the target is linked to a financial reward." So may be the Hackney figures can't be trusted.

But the survey - and the Mayor's interpretation of it - should provide an antidote to figures published earlier this week by the Office of National Statistics which apparently show that Hackney kids, along with those in Tower Hamlets and Newham, get the worst start in life and are likely to be obese and living in households where every adult is unemployed.

Meanwhile comments made by security minister and Hackney resident Lord West of Spithead - that it is not safe to walk around Hackney with an iPhone - might not have fitted in with the borough's official image management either.

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