Showing posts with label pipe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pipe. Show all posts

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Can Pipe push the police?

The TV series The Wire provided a glimpse of how police and politicians might deal with each other behind closed doors. It didn't look like a happy relationship in Baltimore where the show was set.

In this week's Hackney Gazette Mayor Pipe writes: "I met Chief Supt Steve Bending, Hackney's new borough commander, this week to discuss how we can drive down crime in Hackney still further and, in particular, how we can do more to tackle the problem of gang and knife crime that still affects parts of our community."

Pipe also said he was "particularly pleased with the new borough commander's commitment to the policing pledge - a way of ensuring that Hackney residents get the high standard of policing they deserve."

According to the few policemen who dare to complain publicly - but still anonymously - targets set by bureaucrats are the main source of their misery. This example appears to deal with the policing pledge. It is from a book written by an anonymous police inspector and blogger Inspector Gadget (I haven't read it but found this excerpt on the blog Monday Books which is worth a look).

In his book, Perverting the Course of Justice, Inspector Gadget says:

We now have the ‘public reassurance agenda’ thoroughly embedded in our ‘tactical delivery plans’ and ‘control strategies’.

There’s a major ongoing scheme called the ‘Citizens’ Focus Agenda’, which involves a lot of cold-calling, often by agency staff or civilian call centres, with people being asked a number of questions for a variety of different surveys.

Don’t be fooled by the title – the ‘agenda’ is not one of actually ‘focusing’ on what ‘citizens’ want, it’s about honing media responses and assessing the reassurance gap and producing justifications for things like PCSOs and Neighbourhood Policing – and making sure we stay one step ahead of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Some of the people we contact have recently been victims of crime. We will select a certain crime type and call everyone who has suffered from it 24 days after the report was logged.

I was given the job of overseeing this. A few things about it puzzled me.

‘How do we decide which crimes we’re going to call people about?’ I said.

The answer was, we find out which crimes the HMIC are focusing on and follow their lead.

‘Right… why 24 days?’ I said.

Because HMIC phones victims at 30 days, and the first HMIC question is, ‘Have you had any contact with the police in the last 30 days?'

Mayor Pipe would probably like to see the 'reassurance gap' closed in Hackney. In the Gazette he wrote: "Crime in Hackney is falling at a record level, with 10,000 fewer victims than there were five years ago."

This is not a view that is shared by Hackney residents. The Place Survey England - Headline Table Results 2008 (which came out last month) shows that only 26% of Hackney residents agree that the police and local authorities have done a good job in the borough. (It also found that 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% respectively.)

With a 'reassurance gap' like this will the Mayor be tempted to push Hackney police into PR rather than crime solving and prevention?

The possibility that this is happening already appears to be illustrated by another statistic in Place Survey of England. When it asked Hackney residents if they agreed "that the police and other local public services seek people's views about anti-social behaviour?", the answer was that 28% of Hackney residents knew that their views on crimes were being sought.

This sits uncomfortably next to the 26% figure for Hackney residents who think that the police and the council are doing a good job. The fact that more people aware of the effort to communicate than of a good job being done must be frustrating - if it is correct. But it seems unlikely that people will change their views unless the 'seeking of views' transforms into the 'forming of views'.

With 56.4% of Hackney residents thinking "that drug use or drug dealing is a problem in their local areas" only a change on the ground sounds like it will make a difference and that won't be helped by PR.

If Gadget's allegations about surreal bureaucratic tail chasing are even half true then may be it would be a good thing to know exactly what demands - if any - Mayor Pipe can lumber on Hackney cops.

Under the influence

I've used this quote before but only because it's so disturbing. It is from Election Commissioner Richard Mawrey's judgement following Birmingham's notorious 2004 electoral fraud epidemic:

"This (the failure of the police to investigate electoral fraud) is not helped by the invidious position in which a police force is put when investigating electoral fraud in a local authority context.

"The alleged fraudsters may, after all, be members of the political authority to which the force is answerable. The noble cop who fights corruption at City Hall at risk of his career may well be a staple of Hollywood movies but he is much rarer in real life."

I am not suggesting that Hackney Council is corrupt or under investigation - the point is that a respected judge believes that the police are subject to influence by local politicians. That however professional or knowledgeable a police force may be, their task can be made more difficult by the demands of politicians. Mawrey's quote is just demonstrates that the power exists.

The question is how is this power used and what kinds of influence does someone like Jules Pipe have over the way the borough is policed? If the political agenda is as far removed from the requirements of good policing as it was in The Wire, may be we should be worried. But it would be good to know.

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.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Pipe smokes democracy

Mayor Jules Pipe sounded so convincing when he rubbished democracy improving attempts by Hackney and other councils it hardly seemed worth revisiting the subject. But a quick look at some of the data available suggests he may have been cherry-picking.

At 29 April's full council meeting Pipe said that past efforts to interest Hackney residents in grass-roots budgeting had failed. He also said that this route for improving local democracy could end up costing taxpayers on several fronts as budgets were left unspent and pavements in disrepair led to increased insurance claims.

The mayor said that there was no evidence that past and ongoing experiments in devolved budgeting had led to improved democracy or interest in how the borough was run.

He said it had been tried in 1990: "Five neighbourhoods were given £100,000 and every year we ended up with the money unspent in a number of neighbourhoods." He said that this and other attempts to devolve budget decision making "didn't strengthen democracy in any way whatever."

One of the examples he used to strengthen his argument was Kirkless Council's devolved budget scheme and many of the negative figures he used - £600,000 was unspent in 2007/2008, some wards have £2m back-logs on pavement budgets and projects are often held back by disagreements between different parties in the same wards - were discussed in this Kirklees Council document: Safer Stronger Communities Scrutiny Panel

The final line of the documents findings is: "In the main, the practice of devolving decision-making to wards has been useful and in most cases the full allocation has been spent." Not at all the view of Mayor Pipe.

His negative view of these projects was based mainly on the belief that they didn't create the desired democratic interest.

However the report in the above link appeared to state the opposite - with cross party bickering causing problems, not disinterest. More to the point Kirklees is a Labour/Liberal led council and more likely to face these political disputes than Labour dominated Hackney. Unless Pipe thinks this process might cause rifts between his councillors.

The growth in democratic understanding also seems to be backed by this report from 2006 : "Many councils have established relatively small-scale (generally under £100,000 per area) local project budgets to be allocated by area committees. These have proved popular with councillors and community representatives alike as they represent direct decision making by frontline councillors with their communities. But they can be problematic in that they can detract frontline councillors into time-consuming allocations of small funds rather than working to influence mainstream decision making."

No doubt Mayor Pipe's response was well researched and probably based on more up-to-date information. But judging by the superficial google-searched documents I could find it looks like he's just plucked a few bad bits out to make a point he wanted to make anyway. If so, why?

If these projects don't work, where's the proof? Or is he saying that Kirklees Council can't accept that their project has failed and its leaders are deluding themselves?

Pipe was responding to a question from Conservative leader, Cllr Coggins: "What is the Mayor's attitude to 'ward budgets'? (see for example the arrangements in Brent, Westminster, Eastbourne and other authorities).

Pipe said he wanted to encourage people to understand the council decision making process and that "we are developing our approach to participatory budgeting" but it would depend on those people who want to get involved having a better understanding.

But he said the main hurdle to getting this process underway was a technical one: "We haven't done participatory budgeting sooner because this council sets it budget extremely late, usually the paper work is available in January and it would need to be available around October to be able to go to the public with ideas and gauge their reaction and involve them in the decision making process."

So no plans for grass-roots democracy in Hackney at the moment.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

23,000 Hackney tenants used as a bargaining chip, Mayor claims

Someone was definitely playing politics at last night's full council meeting - but who?

I've got a feeling that the following report may be focusing on what Mayor Pipe wanted everyone to focus on - his allegations - rather than the passing of a controversial policy on housing extensions. According to some at tonight's meeting, this piece of local legislation has jammed up swathes of council officers for at least three years. (I don't know, most of this stuff was new to me)

It was also claimed that the council's position on this issue could prompt legal challenges from representatives of Stamford Hill's orthodox Jewish community who have been calling for looser planning rules in their communities to allow large families to modify their homes.

The council's position has been described as racist in the past - although such claims were not made last night, but feelings were high.

However the strongest comments came from Mayor Pipe, who accused Cllr Simche Steinberger - one of the champions of the orthodox cause - of abusing his position as chair of the borough's overview and scrutiny board.

In his statement to the council Pipe said that he had had to invoke emergency mayoral powers to ensure that 23,000 hackney house holds had their rents cut in line with government guidelines. The cuts will see these households save an average of £140 in rent per year.

Pipe claimed that efforts to push the decreases quickly through the council could have been hampered by Steinberger who, Pipe said, had refused to include the item in the formal council process unless certain conditions were met.

Pipe told the council that Steinberger refused to help unless his concerns about the handling of the controversial Residential Alterations and Extensions policy were addressed.

Pipe said that Steinbeger had been prepared to "withhold money from 23,000 households" in what he described as an "incredible abuse of his position." He said: "23,000 people could have had their rent decreases delayed and you used that as a bargaining chip." He asked what would have happened if he had not had special powers allowing him to by-pass the process.

Steinberger said: "What Mayor Pipe said is not what happened. I got a call in the morning saying what about this item. I hadn't seen any paper work and I asked officers what it was about." He said that Pipe had not returned his calls.

Cllr Coggins defended his fellow Conservative saying that Steinberger had a legitimate complaint about the way the council had dealt with the Residential Alterations and Extensions Policy. He said that he did not know that the item in question was related to rent decreases.

The council passed its recommendations on the extensions policy but not before a recorded vote was called. 34 passed the recommendations, 11 voted against and there was one abstention.

Guardian: Do Stamford Hill Jews need intergration?

And there's an interesting, but old debate at in a piece called Yellow Brick Road.

Other stuff:

The deputy business editor of the Times thinks Hackney has made good progress and believes it is a beacon for enterprise: The success story that Labour is writing off.

And then there's the government commendation for the borough's homelessness team.