Friday, 18 December 2009

Hackney legal dept recruiting crisis confirmed

Hackney Council has confirmed that its legal department has faced a recruitment crisis for the last three years. At least 25% of positions remained unfilled while the department had to deal with the extra work related to the Olympics in addition to its usual tasks.

In November Blood and Property asked if Hackney's legal team was 25% under-staffed and 50% outsourced?

The questions related to figures mentioned by Hackney's new legal chief in an interview with The Lawyer (links in the older story). This week Hackney Council confirmed these figures.

Questions for the council:

Blood and Property: Was the legal department about 25% under staffed and if so, why?

Hackney Council: Yes, partly due to recruitment difficulties; work previously externalised being brought back in-house, engaging agency staff to cover it pending a restructure

Blood and Property: How long has it been understaffed?

Hackney Council: has been the situation for three years.

Blood and Property: What percentage of the legal department's work has been taken up with contracts for the olympics - would it be possible to get a breakdown of what topics/issues take up most of the legal department's time?

Hackney Council: just under half the time of the five lawyers currently working on 2012-related matters (from staff of 50 including paralegal advisers). Top topics/issues taking up most of legal department’s time: host borough and ODA agreements; governance; planning; procurement.

Blood and Property: Is there a reason why 50% of the borough's work was out sourced before Edila started working at Hackney?

Hackney Council: HR matters, cannot go into further detail, plus recruitment difficulties.

Blood and Property: How much has the department's budget altered over the last few years or has it remained at around £6m? Also, does the department usually over or underspend?

Hackney Council: Budget has not altered, other than 2008/9 when small underspend, service has always been on budget.

Hopefully the council will provide a break down of other departments which are understaffed.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ominous? Hackney singled-out by Local gov minister

Does it matter that Hackney has been singled-out in an article by John Denham local government minister? The thrust of the piece was that, after more than a decade of massive generosity to urban authorities, now it is payback time.

In the piece John Denham wrote: "The Pre Budget Report also made clear that local government will have to share in the tough choices ahead which will help reduce the deficit while increasing jobs, promote economic growth and protect frontline services.

"Councils have already risen to this challenge and are on course to raise £5.5bn of efficiency savings by March 2011. The chancellor announced he expected them to go further and find an extra £2.6bn by the end of 2012/13.

"Councils are able to meet these challenges because of the extra investment made by this Labour Government. We’ve already raised central government funding by more than inflation every year we have been in government. In the first 10 years, that amounted to a 39% real terms increase. Next year’s 4% increase should also come in above inflation...

Labour’s 13 years of investment means that councils should already be able to deliver the lowest council tax rises on record. The flag-bearers for low rises are London’s eight Labour run councils, which have already pledged to freeze council tax next year. Labour-led Hackney has not raised council tax since 2005."

Hackney is the only authority named in the piece. Does this mean that it has been one of the most heavily invested-in and therefore likely to feel the pinch more painfully than other authorities? What difference would a change in government make? And will the Olympics prevent whoever wins the next election from abandoning Hackney if it doesn't quite manage to find its own feet?

Meg's mild Identity crisis

Identity minister Meg Hillier arrived at a photocall to promote identity cards, but then realised she left her own at home - BBC report

Monday, 14 December 2009

City Academies - your secret is safe

A recent report by think-tank Civitas - The secrets of Academies' success - (spotted in a Times story) has criticised City Academies for being secretive and for forcing students to take vocational rather than academic qualifications.

Unfortunately there isn't much in it about individual academies because, as the report makes clear, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information act and protect their privacy.

In its conclusion the report says: "Whilst the government has expressly asked us to judge Academies on their results, we are being expressly prevented from doing so."

Civitas asked 118 academies, 40 responded, only 16 gave a breakdown of their results.

The report said:
88 per cent of Academy principals surveyed think that their Academy is progressing either very well or well
55 per cent of principals think that Academies' results, broken down by subject, should be made publicly available
43 per cent of Academy principals agreed to release their results

One of the key findings was that Academies are chasing results and forcing students into taking vocational courses because it's easier to get better grades in them.

While most people won't know that this is even going on, some might find consolation in the fact that Oftsted has been critical of this practice and might keep it in check.

But Christine Gilbert, the head of Ofsted, won her post thanks to her record at Tower Hamlets - where this practice appeared to be rife.

In 2003, while she was chief executive, Tower Hamlets was singled out as the most improved local authority in the country for its GCSE results. The spear-head of this improvement was Sir John Cass School in Stepney which was the most improved school in the country. In 2002 just 36% of its pupils achieved five A*-C GCSEs. But in 2003 this leapt up to 69%.

So how was this incredible turnaround achieved? All pupils at GCSE level had to take GNVQ science which counted as four A*-C GCSEs. As the headteacher of another Tower Hamlets school pointed out at the time, many of the students achieving five A*-C grades at GCSE had only taken one GCSE.

With all the hype aimed at Academies, parents might be getting a straighter story from run-of-the-mill secondary schools (it singles out Stoke Newington school as a positive example).

The most worrying claim is that academies are not acting in the interest of their students but to bolster their overall grades.

The Civitas report says: "To target Academies for potentially using weak vocational qualifications to bolster their results may seem unfair when this is also happening in other maintained – as well as private – schools. This is indeed a legitimate point, however: firstly, in the case of mainstream maintained schools there is no accompanying 'hype' about their rate of improvement. Academies by contrast are extolled as the 'vanguard' of school improvement and educational excellence. Furthermore, the aim, in theory at least, is for Academies to improve rather than diminish the life chances of their deprived targeted cohort."

The report: The secrets of Academies' success

The report says: "Whilst Ofsted has frequently praised the 'breadth' of Academies' curricula in its reporting, alluding to the offer of a mixture of vocational and academic options, the inspectorate has been unusually critical of vocational ICT qualifications, in particular Edexcel's ICT qualification DIDA (Diploma in Digital Applications) and OCR's Nationals ICT qualifications. These qualifications, worth up to four A*-C passes, have been identified by Ofsted as being less demanding‟ than ICT GCSE courses and "of doubtful value".

Friday, 11 December 2009

London kidnappings: 5 per week for the last three years

Below are the borough by borough figures for 2009 (1st Jan to 10th Dec):

Newham 34

Lambeth 22
Greenwich 19
Southwark 18
Redbridge 16
Tower Hamlets 16
Lewisham 15
Waltham Forest 15
Barking & Dagenham 14
Haringey 13
Croydon 12
Enfield 12
Hillingdon 11
Harrow 10
Bexley 9
Hammersmith & Fulham 8
Bromley 8
Hackney 8
Havering 8
Brent 7
W'minster 7
Camden 6
Islington 5
Wandsworth 5
Sutton 4
Kingston 3
Barnet 3
Hounslow 2
Merton 2
Richmond 1
Heathrow 1
Ealing 1
Kensington & Chelsea 0
Total 315

The reason for this freedom of information request:

Kidnapping in London is not new: The Independent in 2005: London has a kidnap everyday and more detail in the Guardian, also 2005: A Kidnap a day by foreign gangs in London.

According to the Guardian in 2005: "In as many as 80% of cases, armed officers storm the kidnappers' stronghold and rescue the victim. But bringing the kidnappers to justice is difficult, often because victims are too frightened to testify. The prosecution rate for kidnap is just 20%, although many perpetrators are jailed for related offences."

The piece said: "Kidnapping is particularly prevalent in the Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, south Asian and eastern European communities, where extreme violence and torture is common, often over relatively small amounts of money."

But you don't hear about it very often. This story from 2006 is the only one I could find in which the police had been able to prosecute despite hostages refusing to cooperate - there may well be more. Back then Detective Superintendent Alan Pughsley, from the Met's Kidnap Unit, said: "This is a prime example of a difficult prosecution where the hostages did not support the police. These kidnappers are dangerous individuals from criminal networks who are highly likely to commit these offences again. It is therefore vital that all is done to prosecute and convict these individuals."

The average annual figure of 240 kidnaps per year (both in 2007 and 2008 - with 2009 likely to be similar) means that there have been about 20 kidnaps a month in London - nearly five a week - for the last three years. In the light of Pughsley's 2006 comment that these kidnappers are "highly likely to commit these offences again" and the figures from 2005, the problem is not getting any better.

Recent concerns about a likely surge in organised crime around the sex industry in Olympic boroughs could see current levels increase. Is prostitution soaring in Hackney, who are the customers?

So how many of these kidnappings are carried out by 'professional' kidnappers? Is that what is going on in Newham?

If hostages don't cooperate is it because they are also involved in organised crime? Or is it, as the Guardian piece suggests, that the hostages do not cooperate because they fear reprisals from the kidnappers.

Another question is how much police time is spent dealing with kidnappings and is the problem starting to become more mainstream?

Offences like this recent high profile kidnapping look like the work of people who had done something similar before.

Does this sound like something a random set of inexperienced people would decide to do? "On the day of the rescue the victims' clothes were removed, they were showered, dressed in bin bags and walked to a waiting vehicle which was also cleaned."

DI Steve Wagstaff of the Met's kidnap unit said: "That is not an act of people who plan to release victims back to their lives, but only the people involved know what was going to happen."

The hostages in the example above did cooperate but how had their kidnappers developed their technique? Has the failure to prosecute led to the evolution of experienced kidnappers? How many of these 240 kidnaps per year are carried out by the same people? Many of these crimes may be completely unrelated to this issue but it would be interesting to know what proportion of them are the work of organised kidnappers. That question has not been answered here.

(Newham and other kidnap stories: 23 hour kidnap ordeal, kidnap gran jailed, kidnap and cannabis factory, Vietnamese drug/gang/kidnap story from 2005, Dec 2009 surge in 'Honour' crimes including kidnap)

Police response:

The police said: "These figures represent alleged kidnappings reported to the borough from 1/1/2009 - 10/12/2009. Following investigation these allegations may be re-classified. The borough where a report of kidnap is made does not necessarily indicate that it is the borough where the person was kidnapped. Equally, the location of the kidnap does not indicate that this is the same area where people are being held. These may involve different boroughs or even different police force areas."

The above figures were supplied on Friday 11 December. On November 11 2009 the police replied to these questions:

1. The number of kidnaps that occur annually in London.

The MPS response is: In 2007 there were 390 incidents which were initially reported as a kidnap prior to any investigation taking place to ascertain the fuller details. Of these 240 remained as a kidnap or attempted kidnap.
In 2008, 377 were reported and 240 remained as kidnaps.
In 2009, to date (03/11/2009) 325 have been reported and 213 have remained as kidnaps.

2. The number of these kidnaps that involve armed police.

The MPS response is: It is not practicable to answer this question, in order to retrieve this information it would require a detailed review of each report (of the 693 reports) in an attempt to establish if there was any participation by a firearms unit. For example the involvement, if any, of a firearms unit may take many forms from the provision of advice to being deployed to an area to an armed entry into a premises.

3. And the number of kidnaps that occur annually in which the hostages do not cooperate with the police.

There is no information held on this category. I question whether it is in the best interests of justice and future investigations to address this issue. There can be many reasons for not wishing to take an investigation further. These may include family pressure, personal reasons, not wishing to attract publicity or trauma linked to the event.

4. Which boroughs have the highest incidence of this kind of crime?

The borough where a report of kidnap is made does not necessarily indicate that it is the borough where the person was kidnapped. Equally, the location of the kidnap does not indicate that this is the same area where people are being held. These may involve different boroughs or even different police force areas.

With a modern transient population people move for work and domestic reasons and great caution must be exercised when attaching such data to an offence type.

With the above caveat regarding its relevance and accuracy, on a purely statistical basis, the most initial reports of a kidnap in 2009 have originated in Newham Borough.

We are unable to supply the information for 2007 or 2008, as the way information was recorded prior to 2009 it did not include borough codes and therefore we would need to perform a review of each report (of the 480 reports) to be able to ascertain this information. This would be an extremely time consuming and not a cost efficient use of resources.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Cabinet member steps aside after unpopular victory

Labour councillor Nargis Khan, cabinet member for community services, will not be standing in next year's local elections despite successfully recovering her political career earlier in the year.

Khan was deselected as a Labour representative for Dalston but then managed to get reselected as a candidate for Haggerston.

The casualty of Khan's move to Haggerston was Cllr Barry Buitekant who is more left leaning than many of his Labour party colleagues ( His profile on Labour's website reads: "Barry Buitekant has lived in Hackney for most of his life and went to school locally. He has been a lifelong active trade unionist in the Post Office and BT unions serving as an official locally and nationally."

During the summer Buitekant wasn't keen to answer any questions on the situation.

The story is that the original Haggerston selection meeting was poorly attended and that Kahn's win would not have happened if Haggerston's Labour party members had thought there was a threat to Buitekant.

Now Khan has decided to take time out from politics all together.

News of these goings on originally came from a Conservative who speculated that Hackney's New Labour establishment had conspired to save one of their own at the expense of an old-school socialist.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hackney youth custody doubles

A report by Children and Young People Now says: "Four of the five YOTs (youth offending teams) showing the largest increase over the seven-year period were in London with rates in Ealing, Hackney, Lewisham and Southwark all more than doubling. Overall, Wessex reported the highest increase in actual numbers."

I couldn't find the statistics this report was based on.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"What a fabulous hypocrite this ludicrous woman is"

Rod Liddle returns fire on Diane Abbott after she accused him of racism: "What a fabulous hypocrite this ludicrous woman is. In other words she is allowed to make these points, with a sprinkling of shibboleths and platitudes, but not a white person."

In her criticism of Liddle, Abbott said: "It is obviously statistically false to say that the 'overwhelming majority' of the crimes listed by Rod are committed by young black men..."

Liddle points to comments on Abbott's website: “Sadly 80 per cent of gun crime in London is "black on black", often involving boys in their teens. As a black woman and the mother of a teenage son this is frightening and wholly unacceptable."

How to interpret over representation of young black people in the criminal justice system:

Believe this conspiracy or be a racist...

Monday, 7 December 2009

From one racist row to the next

Diane Abbott has commented on an allegedly racist blog on the Spectator website by commentator Rod Liddle. Here's a link to his post and here's a link to Diane's response in an interview with the Telegraph. She said: "It is obviously statistically false to say that the 'overwhelming majority' of the crimes listed by Rod are committed by young black men" adding that if he had said Jew rather than Afro-Caribbean the sentiment would not have been "out of place in a speech by Oswald Mosley."

Last month Diane was at the centre of another racism row after Andrew Neil described her as a Chocolate HobNob on "This Week": Telegraph story and a Guardian comment piece

Believe this conspiracy or be a racist...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Is prostitution soaring in Hackney? Who are the customers?

The Sun published photos of Albanian gangsters selling women on Oxford Street today and said: "Worryingly, senior officers fear the numbers of East Europeans being trafficked is growing steeply as London prepares to host the Olympic Games in 2012."

But has the problem got worse since a Guardian report back in July? Then the police had noticed a "small increase in women being trafficked into the areas to work in brothels" although officers said they expected a "huge surge" into Olympic boroughs to cater for the 25,000-strong construction workforce and to prepare for millions of visitors in 2012.

Lets hope London is not like Chicago were research estimates that 3 percent of the sex acts performed by prostitutes were "freebies" given to Chicago police officers to avoid arrest.

A more indepth explanation of this claim on the Superfreakonomics website: "Of all the tricks turned by the prostitutes he tracked, roughly 3 percent were freebies given to police officers. The data don’t lie: a Chicago street prostitute is more likely to have sex with a cop than to be arrested by one."

And is prostitution the past-time of construction workers only? This report from the Independent in 1992 shows it probably isn't: "On the same day it re-emerged that at least two IOC members accepted offers of prostitutes from a bid committee trying to land the 1992 Olympic Games for Amsterdam. Prince Frederic von Saxe-Lauenberg said: "I was there [in 1986] and saw it, IOC members being offered women and two accepting."

The Guardian said that research carried out at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 showed that about 10,000 sex workers were operating in the area while in Athens, in 2004, the Greek government reported a 95% increase in the number of human trafficking victims. A story from 2003 said that the Greek authorities were even considering legalising brothels ahead of the games.
In August Boris Johnson said he would target this illegal sex industry by tackling their advertising - often with cards in phone boxes, by asking mobile phone companies to cut off the numbers.

The Sun said that the new unit had rescued 25 sex "slaves", 21 of these were related to the incident on Oxford Street.

APPARENTLY the cops now say that there isn't really that much of a problem (and this might answer the point below about some phone booths being free from sex ads) - this is from EastLondonLines - Olympic prostitution, an expensive non-event

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Pay £1000 for right not to vote?

In the latest issue of Hackney Today Jules Pipe says: "A wide-ranging campaign this year to increase the number of people on the electoral role, has resulted in 10,000 more residents being able to vote in Hackney."

I'll be one of those new ones on the electoral role. Nothing like the threat of a £1000 fine! I don't know if that threat was about voting or if it had more to do with the 2011 census. Either way it worked.

The turnout for the 2005 General Election in Hackney South and Shoreditch was 49.7% and in Hackney North and Stoke Newington it was 49.6%. I assume that the 50% who didn't vote were on the electoral role. An increase in 10,000 disinterested voters on the electoral role could make the turnout even worse.

But nothing much seems to work. In 2005, in neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow, the massively hyped contest between George Galloway and Oona King - which saw Galloway win by 823 votes - pulled a 52% turnout. That was up 4 percentage points on the 48% in 2001. So even a dramatic battle doesn't make much difference to inner city voters with an average turnout at 10% below the national average.

The figures come from the Guardian and can be found most easily on

For something vaguely related: Navel-gazing intro, Candi-dating in Hackney

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Meg Hillier on botox animal experiments

As a junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier has a broad portfolio and earlier this week she was asked questions about testing botulinum toxin, believed to be "the most toxic substance known to mankind" but otherwise known as botox. Her answers might not have been much help.

In July a report on animal experimentation was published which said there had been "an overall increase over the previous year of 14% in the number of procedures undertaken. The total number of procedures was just under 3.7 million, an increase of 454,000 over the previous year."

On December 1 2009 , Norman Baker, Lib Dem, asked: how many animals were used in regulated procedures at Wickham Laboratories in 2008; and how many such procedures were re-uses. [302772]

Meg Hillier: I am unable to disclose the number of animals used in regulated procedures at Wickham Laboratories in 2008.

Information on number of animals used in regulated procedures relating to individual establishments cannot be disclosed in order to protect statistical confidentiality, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics (implementing the Statistics and Registration Act 2007) and the national statistician's guidance "Confidentiality of Official Statistics".

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many regulated procedures were carried out on animals at Wickham Laboratories in 2008; and how many of these involved potency testing of botulinum toxin. [302811]

Meg Hillier: I am unable to disclose how many regulated procedures were carried out on animals at Wickham Laboratories in 2008 and how many of those involved potency testing of botulinum toxin.

Information on number of regulated procedures relating to individual establishments cannot be disclosed in order to protect statistical confidentiality, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics (implementing the Statistics and Registration Act 2007) and the national statistician's guidance "Confidentiality of Official Statistics".

Meg on DNA database: "It is worth stressing that a person's DNA being on the database does not suggest guilt; it is simply a registration of their DNA and basic biographical information. It is also worth asking which of the crimes solved thanks to the DNA database—the 452 homicides, the 644 rapes and the more than 8,000 domestic burglaries—the hon. Gentleman wishes had not been resolved as a result."

This view is not shared by Diane Abbott. It also seems unlikely that the neighbouring Labour MPs share the same views on the causes of and cures for unemployment in their constituencies. I don't know what Diane Abbott's views are on animal experimentation are.

(Meg Hillier started her job at Home Office in June 2007 and again on November 12 when she returned from maternity leave).

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hackney primary schools worst for 7 years

"The worst performing authority is Hackney, east London, followed by Nottingham, Sandwell in West Bromwich, Medway in Kent and Derby." From the Guardian More primaries failing to teach pupils the basics, league tables reveal.

The BBC says: "At local authority level, the best area this year was Richmond upon Thames where the average Level 4 aggregate was 273 and the worst was Hackney in London with an average of 226. The national average was 247. These two areas have been in these positions for seven years running.

Figures for Hackney South and Shoreditch
Figures for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Figures for Hackney as a whole.