Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Not often I cross-post from my local blog, but as the story has gone across the city, I thought I would. Sometimes, it takes a while for mainstream media to pick up on local issues.

Acocks Green Labour Party campaign leaflet, 2006

Sunday, July 20, 2008

And finally, the good news.

More than once in recent years, I've written a piece around this time about crime levels and how they are falling - and have been so for a number of years. Only in January this year, I wrote about the Lib Dem spokesmoron David Laws falsely claiming that violent crime was up, back in 2004, I had some words for Andrew Mitchell - apparently the ninth most powerful person in the West Midlands, which speaks more for the paucity of power in Birmingham than anything else. 2005 saw the police have a go at the lying Tories trying to instill fear in the electorate and also David Cameron spouting more falsehoods during the same campaign.

Simply put, we're safer now than we have been in almost three decades. Crime is down by around 10% - the figures are much the same for the British Crime Survey and police reported crime. Violent crime is down 12%, vehicle related offences down 11%, vandalism down 10%, burglary and personal theft are holding stable.

The Tories wheeled out David Davies on BBC Radio 4's PM programme - no, not the rookie MP for Haltemprice, but his homonymous colleague for Monmouth who also happens to be a Special Constable. Well, he's certainly special. He showed his knowledge of the British Crime Survey by claiming that it is 'little more than an opinion poll.' He then proceeded to give us his opinion that violent crime was on the up.

Rather than trusting to a single, unreliable witness, the BCS focusses on people's experience of crime, not their opinion of it and it now asks around 40,000 people about it (rather more than the typical 1000 or so you see on a political poll). There are imperfections - it doesn't tackle crime against young people at the moment, but that will be rectified in future surveys. It is regarded as the most accurate barometer of actual experience of crime, as it suggests that around half of crime isn't reported - that's also why it doesn't cover some of the most serious crimes, as murder has a particularly high reporting rate and also the victim doesn't tend to be around to report their experience. Sexual offences are also deemed too sensitive for questions in even a confidential survey.

Time for another graphic, showing changes in crime over the past few years. Crime has been pretty much halved in the past decade, with some categories down even more - burglary is down by almost two thirds. Hardly the crime wave that David Cameron warned of back in 2005, more of a receding tide.

Even if you look at the reported crime figures, all crime was down 9%, violence against the person was down 8%, the most serious violence against the person was down 12%, sexual offences down 7%, robbery down 16%, burglary down by 4%, offences against vehicles down 14% and criminal damage down 13%. Robbery is an interesting one - this is an urban offence centred on three metropolitan areas - the Met, West Midlands and Manchester. Drug offences have risen by 18% and this has a very high clear-up rate - 95% of offences are followed by arrest and action - but this is due to the fact that the offences only really come to light when someone is arrested. Effectively, the offence is often almost a consequence of being searched or arrested, not the cause.

One area that the BCS does explore is the perception of crime and here, we see a similar curiosity to that which affects the NHS. If you ask people about crime in their area, they will usually say that it is on the decrease, but will also reckon that crime is worsening nationally. Views of the NHS are similar - individual experiences are good, but people believe that this is the exception, rather than the rule. Interestingly,

Readers of national ‘tabloids’ were nearly twice as likely as those who read national ‘broadsheets’ to think the crime rate nationally had increased ‘a lot’ (44% and 24% respectively).
It isn't just the politicians that want to scare us - the tabloids know that there are sales in them there lies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Conservatives Talk Rubbish

Even as David Davis was planning his victory party for liberty, Gideon Osborne was prattling on about paying householders for recycling.

While this may be an idea worth considering, the Tories aren't talking about the necessary changes required to make this work - and there's a reason why not. You see, you may recall the screams of pain from the Daily Mail et al over the suggestion that electronic tags on individual wheelie bins would be used as spies to allow householders to be fined for their wasteful behaviour. The fact is that if Georgy Boy gets to introduce this payback policy, then those in-bin tags will be required - how else will the private companies be able to run the scheme?

Incidentally, as the Lib Dems in Warwickshire have pointed out, the Tory council in Stratford on Avon is planning to dump three months' worth of green compostable waste in landfill and then suspend their green waste scheme between August and April next year. Vote Blue, don't go green...

And now we have Swindon's Tory administration - days after David Cameron slags Swindon off on Test Match Special and then drops in for a visit - are reconsidering their support for the local speed reduction partnership. This despite the fact that reducing urban speeds to 20mph reduces accidents by 60% and if you hit a pedestrian at that speed, 97% will survive, compared to 80% at 30mph and only 50% at 35 mph. When they are hit at 40mph, 90% will die. Nobody is saying that speed is the sole cause of accidents, but it is a contributory factor in 28% of all fatal accidents and cameras help to force a reduction. In Swindon, fatal accidents have dropped by almost a third since the cameras were installed and accidents involving children have been halved. In the areas where cameras have been sited, the numbers killed or seriously injured are down by over two thirds - that translates to 13 lives saved a year.

On the one hand, the council claims to be on the side of the ordinary, hard-done to motorist and this "blatant tax." But a few lines further on, the truth is revealed

But we pay about £400,000 a year to the partnership – money which goes straight into the Government's pockets. We don't get anything back. There are much more important things we as a council should do instead of acting as a law enforcement arm of this government. [Emphasis added]
So, there's the reality. It isn't about the poor motorist - just that the council doesn't see any of the money. Equally, the Tory council don't want to act as the law enforcement arm of a Labour government - in line with the Eric Pickles demand for Tory council non-cooperation with the government.

But at least the Tories got their headline - setting an image of them as pro-motorist. Has Cameron been listening too much to Clarkson?

Tory candidate in safe seat win shock!

I've had a week away from the blog - enforced by pressure of work.

Alan B'Stard's successor as MP for Haltemprice has been returned with a reduced majority on a lowish turnout.

Is this a victory for Davis' campaign for liberty or just the predictable outcome in a safe Tory seat uncontested by any other major party? I do hope that the £100k cost of the election from the public purse is enough for DD's ego. Just think, within two years, he must have had the expectation of being Home Secretary in a Cameroon government (let's just live in Toryworld for a moment, where that is the dream) and the opportunity to put into practice his libertarian ideals. Instead, unless Cameron relents and puts him back into his old job - which seems unlikely at the moment - DD can look forward to being on the back benches.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

To lose one advisor is unfortunate...

First, James McGrath had to go after suggesting that the ethnic minorities in London could just 'go home' if they didn't like the new mayor.

Now, Ray Lewis has resigned after that well-known left-wing subversive group, the Church of England, confessed that he was suspended from serving as a vicar over issues to do with parishioners' money that spent rather too long 'resting in his account' - yeah, we've heard that from a churchman before....

A statement released by the Bishop of Chelmsford - that well-known leftie radical - on Thursday morning was withdrawn after a phone call from the Mayor's office threatening legal action and BoJo stood beside his Deputy Mayor defending him as a fine, upstanding man who was a magistrate and therefore beyond reproach.

24 hours later and Ray has to do the same walk to the rostrum, but alone this time, as the defence failed miserably. His Tory media handlers throw him unceremoniously to the wolves as it emerges that not only was he suspended as a vicar, but he's also not quite a magistrate either. Curiously, although his appointed role was to deal with youth issues, it seems that he hadn't been through an enhanced criminal records check either.

I commented when Boris got the job that the only way he'd avoid making a pig's ear of the whole thing was if Central Office packed good people around him to do the donkey work and leave BoJo to hog the limelight. It looks increasingly as though they've failed in this task and the most senior elected Conservative in the country is floundering within a few weeks of taking office. At this rate, he'll have lost his entire team by the autumn.
Ask yourself - What Would Dougal Do?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tories dig multi-million black hole under Birmingham schools

Fury is building amongst the head teachers and governors of Birmingham’s 400 schools over the Tory/Liberal Democrat council’s decision to evade responsibility over single status compensation payments to non-teaching staff and to pass the bill squarely to the schools.

Most councils around the country - including Solihull and Wolverhampton - bore the compensation costs as part of the central budget. Birmingham has decided to take these costs out of the school budgets and the payments – which vary from school to school and still haven’t been decided – are due in this financial year. This has come as a shock to head teachers and the full impact is only now being realised - schools haven't budgeted for this at all because they didn't know it was going to happen. In fact, letters indicating the depth of the hole undermining schools have only gone out within the past few days.

Under Labour, schools in Birmingham have done very well, with good staffing levels and serious investment in IT and buildings. Spending per pupil has risen by 48% in a decade, with 1900 more teaching assistants and over 3000 new support staff. In 1997, almost 11,000 primary children were in classes larger than 30, now there are just a few dozen. With the generous annual settlements, some schools have even put some money aside – perhaps for capital projects or to cover the inevitable rainy day. This actually became a minor embarrassment, as some had significant sums kicking around in their accounts and for the past couple of years, the pressure has been on to ensure that the annual budget is spent during that financial year, with schools saving more than about 5% of budget facing the possibility of the LEA clawing back the money to spend elsewhere.

Accordingly, few schools will have a surplus sufficient to cover the estimated £40,000 to £80,000 that these compensation payments will cost. I've even heard of six figure settlement sums for some larger schools. All this will total at least £15 million across Birmingham schools and almost certainly substantially more – none of which has been budgeted for in the 2007/08 year by governing bodies and headteachers.

And to add to the fun, the lower figure is based on these settlements coming in at only two or three years back pay. If the legal requirement for six years were to be followed, then the costs would be higher still. The council is betting the farm that lower-paid employees will be happy with a couple of thousand paid now in settlement of their back pay claims and won’t want to take action to recover their full entitlement. While this may well apply to non-union members who would have to pay for legal advice, union members get this as part of the service and they are taking a very different view.

I believe that a number of schools are actually considering redundancies amongst non-teaching staff to cover this massive shortfall in funding, a decision that cannot but impact the education of our children. It was hoped that a solution could be found, but I understand that the local authority is resolute on this and will insist that the schools fund the payments. It may be possible to hold some payments over until the 2009/10 financial year, when affected schools would see their budgets slashed to cover the costs.

The council is offering a further solution to cash-strapped schools – a loan with interest repayable over a number of years. This depends on the government agreeing to fund the loan. What this means is that the council will either be mortgaging the education of our children or they will use a back-door method to claw-back surpluses – effectively using very generous government funding designated for education our children for a chunk of single status costs, so that they can trumpet their achievement in keeping the overall cost low and avoid the blame for the tough decisions ahead of some schools.