I have some sympathy with efforts to set high standards and expectations for all pupils. However, turning the clock back twenty years and re-creating the old O-levels for some with a lesser qualification for the rest is not necessarily the way to do it.
What would be the biggest reorganisation of the secondary school curriculum will no doubt be debated widely when proposals finally emerge rather than being
briefed/leaked by the Department for Education.
In the meantime, what is interesting is the silence of Sarah Teather, the Schools Minister.
A silence that is particularly notable given the way in which other Liberal Democrats from Nick Clegg down (if such a concept makes sense) have been frothing at the mouth over Gove’s proposals.
As the Minister responsible for schools in the Department for Education, it would have been reasonable to assume that she must have been aware of the development of such radical changes.
If she did, she somehow didn’t have the political nous to realise that they might be a tad controversial and talk to some of her LibDem colleagues about them.
The alternative is that she is so completely side-lined in the Department that it calls into question what she does for her Minister of State’s salary.
So – which is it? Complicit and naive or a total waste of space?
Much as I enjoyed all the “tainted Prime Minister” stuff in Ed Miliband’s speech this morning to the Labour Party National Policy Forum, I was struck by the enthusiasm with which he spoke about local government and the contribution being made by Labour councillors:
“Labour Birmingham. Labour, in whom the people of Birmingham placed their trust in May. A Labour council changing the way we do politics with a manifesto built on 12 months of conversations with the people of this city. A Labour council improving our society with 5,000 new homes a year. And a Labour council changing our economy by paying at least £7.20 to every city council worker. A decent living wage.
And let us recognise the work of every Labour council making a difference in tough times. Liverpool’s new Mayor Joe Anderson and h is council that is building 2,500 homes. Manchester keeping open its Sure Start Centres. And Newham, standing up for tenants against unscrupulous landlords.
Labour councils whose examples will inspire our next manifesto. And let us applaud them for their work.”
Here at last is a recognition that Labour local government can be in the vanguard of delivering effective public services that meet the needs of their communities, that Labour local government is not something to be apologised for but is Labour’s future, and that the platform for winning future General Elections will be found at local level.
Today was the Second Reading debate in the House of Lords on the Crime and Courts Bill, which amongst other things creates the new National Crime Agency.
This was my speech:
“My Lords, I should declare my interests as chair of the Audit Panel for the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and as an adviser to KPMG, Airwave Solutions, Lockheed Martin UK and a number of other companies that provide services to police forces around the country. It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in the debate. I, too, want to speak primarily about Part 1 and the new National Crime Agency.
The Government’s intention to create a National Crime Agency has been known about for almost two years. However, we have yet to hear a clear explanation of what the problem is with the existing arrangements that these changes are required to fix. I am sure that the Government’s policy is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but perhaps it goes a bit further than that by saying, “Even if it doesn’t need fixing, take it to pieces anyway”, because we are not at all clear about which problems will be solved by these reorganisations. Given that the Government’s intentions have been clear for the past two years, we have to ask what has been going on during that period. We still do not have a definitive version of the strategic policing requirement, and we do not see any sign of the NCA framework document, even in draft, although it is pivotal to understanding how the new arrangements will work.
My understanding is that, because of this pending reorganisation, senior people in SOCA and the other agencies have spent the past two years sitting in meetings arguing with officials from the Home Office and other bodies rather than devoting themselves to their main purpose, which is that of fighting serious and organised crime. But all the meetings that have taken place over the past two years seem to have failed to produce anything definitive on how the new arrangements are supposed to work. What we are told about the likely organisational structure suggests that we are going to have a series of silos that are spatchcocked together. If that is all it is, frankly it is not clear why the reorganisation is better than a general injunction on the different organisations that currently exist to work together better. Moreover, there remains a lack of clarity about one of the central issues as to how the agency is going to work—a lack of clarity about the powers of tasking and co-ordination, whether voluntary or mandated.
We spent many happy months in your Lordships’ House discussing the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act. That Act clearly states, as does the policing protocol, that elected police and crime commissioners are responsible for the totality of policing within their jurisdiction and that they alone are publicly accountable for the delivery and performance of policing. That responsibility is placed clearly in their hands on behalf of the electorate.
Under this Bill, directed tasking arrangements allow the Home Secretary to empower the director-general of the NCA and allow the director-general of the NCA to task police forces and other law enforcement agencies to carry out specific activity. While the PCC would have to be notified when such a direction is initiated, this tasking would in practice interfere with the operational independence of the chief officer as set out in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, and interfere with the police and crime commissioner’s responsibility for the totality of policing. My prediction is that, unless this is handled correctly and there is rather more substance to it than is contained in the Bill, conflict is going to be inevitable.
The whole point of these new accountability arrangements created by the Government is that police and crime commissioners will be elected with a mandate to deliver in respect of local concerns. That is what they are there to do. What is going to happen when the elected police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or some such place decides that his or her number one priority is going to be addressing volume street crime in Loamshire and its larger towns and yet suddenly there is a directive to divert resources from Loamshire to somewhere else to help deal with particular problems of organised crime, when for the public of Loamshire—the electorate that elect the police and crime commissioner—organised crime is not a particular issue facing that local community? How that is going to be managed is not clear from the Bill.
Indeed, the whole Bill poses a series of questions. Who is accountable to the public for activity that is being directed? When things go wrong—as they will—is the Home Secretary or the NCA director-general liable for any repercussions from this activity? How is this going to interfere with the PCC’s setting of local strategic priorities and indeed that accountability of PCCs to the public that the Government tell us is so critical? Will the police and crime commissioner for Loamshire or for any other area be able to veto a direction using his or her powers? Presumably that will be the case if it is a voluntary direction because that is my understanding of what “voluntary” means. What if it is not? What are the implications if the chief officer of police accepts a voluntary direction but his or her police and crime commissioner says, “No, I do not think that is in the interests of our local community, which I am elected to defend”? How is that going to be resolved? Who will be responsible under those circumstances?
Of course, the Government have got a let-out clause, as you would expect. I am sure the Minister is aware of paragraph 30 of Schedule 3, which gives the Home Secretary the power to amend the requirement to get prior consent before issuing directions. So we are actually being told that this is not going to be voluntary but there will be this power to dispense with the requirement to have prior consent. I suggest that this is going to create more conflict and more difficulties. Again, perhaps it is not very helpful that the detail has not yet been worked out.
This situation is made all the stranger when you observe that this new agency seems to have virtually no governance arrangements. The director-general reports and is accountable to the Home Secretary, who is in turn accountable to Parliament. There is no board; there are no non-executives; there are not even a few token elected police and crime commissioners sitting in that structure perhaps to provide some coherence with the expressed wish of the local electorate about police and crime priorities. There is no mechanism for scrutinising what is happening. Even the elected police and crime commissioners—which some of us were not hugely enamoured of—had these scrutiny arrangements created within the local authority structure. There is no parallel here.
Of course, the legislation contains promises that the director-general will be operationally independent, but what will that amount to in practice? How will it be enforced, and who is going to scrutinise that operational independence in the absence of any of those governance structures? Let us be clear: operational independence is not all that it might appear or be cracked up to be. It certainly does not apply to policing equipment. I suspect that most chief officers of police would think that their choice of equipment is very much part of their operational decision-making. I do not personally always agree with them on that, but paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 allows the Home Secretary to make regulations on the use of specified equipment and the NCA director-general will be required to comply. There is not much operational independence there. This is the Home Secretary, to whom he or she is accountable, saying, “You will or will not use this type of equipment”. That hardly sounds like operational independence to me.
Then there are the very strange provisions under paragraph 4 of Schedule 5. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will explain to us precisely why these are here. Paragraph 4 creates an advisory panel; a new quango, if you like—from a Government who promised us a “bonfire of the quangos”—and what is this new advisory panel going to do? It is going to give advice to the Home Secretary on whether the director-general has sufficient training to carry out his operational powers. I wonder where they dream up things like this—which cellar in the Home Office is responsible for thinking up new committees to do this sort of thing.
This proposal is certainly not a carry-over from the legislation that created the Serious Organised Crime Agency, because it was not thought necessary to have an advisory panel to decide whether or not the director-general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency had the necessary training to carry out their operational functions. So why is it here? Is it because the Home Secretary is planning to replace the current director-general with an individual whose qualifications are so questionable that a panel is needed to test them? That is as may be, but paragraph 5 explains how the Home Secretary can ignore the advice of that panel under any circumstances.
We have to question what model of organisation was used for devising the governance structures for the National Crime Agency. The best example of that, one with which the Home Office is intimately familiar, is the relationship between the Home Secretary and that paragon of effective service delivery, the UK Border Agency. That relationship has worked so well in recent months, between the Ministers and the people with executive responsibility of the agency concerned—two impossible demands before breakfast and the agency, of course, has to comply.
Finally, I will say a word about Clause 2, which allows the Home Secretary by order—admittedly subject to the super-affirmative procedure—to add counterterrorism to the functions of the National Crime Agency. I have to question whether a decision of that magnitude should properly be done simply by order. Let us also be clear: if counterterrorism becomes part of the functions of the National Crime Agency, it will totally transform the National Crime Agency. This body that has taken two years in gestation merely to talk about a series of organisational silos spatchcocked together will suddenly have spatchcocked onto it an even larger organisation completely distorting and changing the priorities.
As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said, it may or may not make sense ultimately to have counterterrorism as a function of a national agency of that form. However, having been involved in the convoluted discussions to get the current structure in place, I think you have to be very clear about the case you are making before you embark on those changes and very clear about why you want to go ahead with them. The experience in other countries—according to the FBI, for example—is not always a happy one in terms of relationships with local forces regarding counterterrorism. There is a real danger of divorcing a counterterrorism elite squad from ordinary policing, not only in terms of intelligence but also in managing community relations following operational decisions.
I am sure the intentions of the Bill are fine. The Government had two years to move from intentions to detailed proposals but in those two years we have yet to see the fruits of their labour and to understand exactly how these new arrangements are intended to work.”
Seven and a half years ago, I warned in a debate in the House of Lords about the risk to the nation’s critical national infrastructure of a concerted cyber-attack, saying:
“As a nation, the systems that are essential for our health and well-being rely on computer and communications networks – whether we are talking about the energy utilities, the water and food distribution networks, transportation, the emergency services, telephones, the banking and financial systems, indeed government and public services in general – and all of them are vulnerable to serious disruption by cyber-attack with potentially enormous consequences. …
The threat could come from teenage hackers with no more motivation than proving that it could be done, but even more seriously it could come from cyber-terrorists intent on bringing about the downfall of our society. “
“there are also terrorists who would challenge and seek to undermine democratic society using any methods within their grasp. It is not complacent to say this; but perhaps it should be made plain that at the moment they do not appear to be interested in attacking us electronically.”
“British intelligence picked up “talk” from terrorists planning an Internet-based attack against the U.K.’s national infrastructure, a British official said, as the government released a long-awaited report on cyber security.
Terrorists have for some time used the Internet to recruit, spread propaganda and raise funds. Now, this official said, U.K. intelligence has seen evidence that terrorists are talking about using the Internet to actually attack a country, which could include sending viruses to disrupt the country’s infrastructure, much of which is now connected online. The official spoke on condition of anonymity and didn’t say when the infrastructure threat was detected and how it was dealt with.
Terrorists, however, are still more focused on physical attacks that lead to high casualties and grab attention. “For the moment they prefer to cover the streets in blood,” he said.”
UNITE has produced a powerful and compelling video on police privatisation.
It should give a clear message to the Home Office as well as to Chief Constables and putative elected Police and Crime Commissioners that simply out-sourcing large chunks of the police service will attract substantial opposition and is potentially hugely unpopular with the public.
There are no doubt some functions currently performed by in-house staff or by warranted officers that could be provided more efficiently by external providers. However, there are some functions which should never be allowed to fall outside the personal direction and control of the chief officer of police. This means that any out-sourcing proposals need to be clearly defined and consensus should be sought on whether the areas of activity can genuinely be provided from outside the police service without harming the coherence and integration of police services. The other key question that will have to be addressed explicitly is the accountability of those providing the service and the governance arrangements that are to be put around the activities.
So far, this has not been a convincing element of the proposals that have been floated. However, the next few years are likely to bring unprecedented reductions in policing budgets. These issues are not going to go away. And that is why the debate should start now. The UNITE video should be a catalyst for this process.
I know that some of my readers may find this difficult to believe, but I think I should make it clear that I am not – nor have I ever been – a very athletic person.
Moreover, for the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that the Toby Harris who is bearing the Olympic Torch through Walkerburn on the 14th June is not me.
He is clearly a very worthy torch-bearer. However, if any one wants to catch sight of me in a tracksuit running or jogging or even walking slowly, they will be disappointed….
However, I wish my namesake (and indeed all the other Torch-bearers) my best wishes.
The Metropolitan Police Federation have produced this video to highlight the concerns of their members about pay and conditions and about cuts in the police service.
The depth of anger that will be reflected in the number of officers joining the march through London – in their own time – should not be ignored by the Government.
The negotiations over the Winsor report have been seriously mishandled and the consequences for police morale (and ultimately public safety) are very worrying.
As the Government potentially dilutes police accountability with the abolition of police authorities, new technology will increasingly create a new way of ensuring that the police act responsibly.
I have commented before on the impact of citizens with video-enabled mobile phones being able to post on the internet videos of interactions between the police and the public within seconds of the interaction happening. This means that some incidents that might not previously have received wide coverage now do so. This places a great pressure on the police to act responsibly at all times, even though what may be an entirely reasonable response to, for example, violent behaviour may not look so reasonable when a 10-second clip is viewed without the context of the preceding incident.
Today, however, I heard of another development that will also potentially have far-reaching consequences. Wired reports that three developers from Tulse Hill in south London have build an app that aims to give the public a way to hold the police more accountable:
“Users can upload information when they’re stopped by the police to the Stop and Search UK site, including the location of the stop, the badge numbers of the officers involved, and any feedback they’d like included. There’s also a guide to the law regarding being stopped and searched, to help educate people about their rights.
The hope is that, over time, a wider picture of stop and search powers will emerge across the country, which will in turn increase accountability over a police power which has drawn controversy in the past.”
This effectively creates a crowd-sourced monitoring system and, whilst the data will not be entirely systematic or representative, the information it produces will be a powerful tool for those who want to argue whether or not the stop-and-search tactic is being used fairly, appropriiately and proportionately.
No doubt this app will prove controversial with police officers who will feel that this is yet another impediment to them being able to do their job effectively. However, conscientious officers will have little to fear and a greater confidence in the police that may stem from better accountability can only be a good thing.
If nothing else, it should act as a spur to the Home Office and local police services to ensure that their adoption of mobile technology to properly record and document interactions with the police is speeded up.
As I have previously commented, recording such encounters is an important safeguard against the over-use or inappropriate use of the power against particular individuals or groups. It is also incidentally a safeguard for officers who might otherwise be accused of abusing the power who will now be able to point to statistical evidence of how they have used the power properly and proportionately.
If you like George Formby (which I do) but even if you don’t, you should watch this and be in no doubt about the depth of the anger within the Police Service about the proposed changes to police terms and conditions following on from the Winsor review:
I spent some time earlier today in Brick Lane meeting representatives of Britain’s Bangladeshi community to discuss the disappearance of Ilias Ali, a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh.
The apparent kidnapping was reported a few days ago by the Guardian who said:
“Ali was the latest in a series of political activists who have apparently been abducted, raising fears of a concerted campaign of intimidation aimed at opposition politicians. At least 22 people have gone missing so far this year, the local human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra said. In 2011, the number was 51. Estimates of the exact number vary though all indicate a rising overall total.
Many local and international campaigners have blamed security forces, accusing the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) and local police of eliminating opposition figures to benefit the administration of Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister.”