Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Read it and Weep

Cambridgeshire police have been publicising a new feature on their website, allowing members of the public to help them to decide how to respond to impending budget cuts - you can find it at http://www.cambs.police.uk/yourpolicebudget/calculator.asp

Remarkably every single spending choice implies a cut in funding means a cut to frontline services.

Where on earth are all the options to cut the indirect costs of running the police service?

Scrap generous early retirement settlements, and change the rules of the final salary pension scheme so it is more in line with the majority of schemes available to private sector employees - nope, missed that option.

Don't fill in millions of forms everytime anything happens.

Scrap most of the budget for diversity officers and the press and communications team.

Look at what the really important outcomes are of having a police service, and stop doing all the things that don't help towards these.

When you read the 'options' they do offer, despair only increases. Under the heading 'Local officers patrolling your neighbourhood', there is:

'A dedicated policing team for each neighbourhood but their resources are limited'

As a result of the budget settlement, I would like to welcome Cambridgeshire police to reality - resources are _always_ limited - the fact that central government has acted as if they aren't for years doesn't make it so - as today's and tomorrow's taxpayers are finding out. The suggestion is that having no officers patrolling the streets might be an option - or that if we just spend another £4m (presumably feasible if the government stopped its pesky fiscal responsibility and kept increasing budgets), we would be back up to a previously happy scenario of neighbourhood policing where resources were something other than limited.

Or how about this one in the section 'Investigating 'volume crime' such as burglary, vehicle crime and violence':

'All crimes are recorded, but there is limited capacity to attend and investigate scenes of crime'

is this
a) the cheapest of the five options presented, costing tuppence happenny and a bag of nuts on the grounds it appears to promise to do pretty much nothing of consequence to the victims or perpetrators of crime?
b) the middle option of 5 at a cost of a mere £20m per annum?

You guessed it!

How much do we have to spend on the criminal justice system to have a police force that sees its job as identifying the bad guys and handing them over to the courts, the courts see their job as protecting the generally law abiding, and the prison system sees its job as deterring others from crime, reducing people's dependency on drugs and alcohol, and generally turning people away from crime? The whole thing just seems very broken.

Every private sector organisation on the planet regularly has years in which its absolute income in cash terms decreases - they cope - in fact they frequently manage to increase productivity such that their useful outputs increase.

I don't want to know that someone has spent part of the police budget putting together a survey designed to make fatuous points about the effects of budget cuts, and reinforcing the point that they appear to have absolutely no imagination when it comes to changing how they do things to meet the same policing objectives at lower cost.

As a Councillor, I once spent a two hour meeting trying to get the police to actually do some policing around speeding enforcement on residential roads, and it seemed like most of the meeting was spent listening to bleating about how little time, resources or enthusiasm they had for doing this, despite Councillors making it a neighbourhood policing priority.

My response was - why don't you tell us what resources are available, and we can discuss how best to use them to meet the objectives that my constituents are concerned about. I might as well have been speaking Chinese.

Roll on directly elected police chiefs - meanwhile I think I need to lie down with a cold towel over my head for a while.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Labour Councillor describes Royals as 'inbred aristos who've never done a days work in their life'

To be fair, I have never been the most ardent royalist, but I was delighted to hear the news that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to marry. The royal family have an important constitutional and ceremonial role, they have been a key part of the history of this country, and continue to live lives involving huge public service, greatly benefiting the United Kingdom. At a personal level, I wish them all the best for their future together.

Not so my replacement as Coleridge ward Councillor, Labour's George Owers. He tweeted the following:

Where to start - well first off it is pretty offensive to the royal family. Its bigoted. But I can't help wondering if the irony of an Oxbridge educated 21-year-old student describing a trained RAF pilot, whose job is to undertake dangerous and life saving rescue missions as 'an aristo who [has] never done a day's work in their life' has been completely lost on Cllr Owers.

Its not like he doesn't have form for this type of behaviour - some previous pronouncements on Conservative Party Chairman Baroness Warsi:

So if someone from an ethnic minority becomes a Conservative politician they are a traitor to their ethnic background - what are you suggesting George? Charming!

Coleridge Conservatives campaigned at the recent by-election that the election of firebrand student politician from the middle of Cambridge might not be the best person to represent all sections of the community in Coleridge ward. I hope some of his Labour colleagues on the Council can have a quiet word, and suggest he tones down his disgusting rants (or better still retracts his comments and apologises to the people concerned), before it becomes obvious to rather more of the electorate that the Conservatives may have had a point.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

If this had been a Tory MP...

"An MP's wife has been charged with burgling her husband's lover's house and stealing a £20 tabby kitten."

Apparently the MP in question is still looking for said cat, and has encouraged people to distribute photos - happy to oblige in case anyone is wondering around Birmingham:

Now if this story had involved a Tory MP, how much of a field day to you think the press would have had? Answers on a postcard, but do please look out for Beauty - "Her brother Twinkle is pining for her."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Which way will Huppert Go?

For a time last year, the Conservatives in Cambridge were suffering one of their periodic bouts of collective lunacy, and found themselves without a parliamentary candidate. As a result, I was asked to step in to represent City Conservatives at a debate organised by the National Union of Students on the subject of student finance. I had the good fortune to be well briefed by Nick Hillman, who was working at the time for the Conservative shadow minister responsible for universities, David Willetts, and who went on to become the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Cambridge at the general election.

At the time, the Conservative policy was to wait for the outcome of the Browne report, ruling nothing in or out. Who knows if the party had already resigned themselves to increasing tuition fees - what was clear at the time to anyone listening is that the Conservatives weren't ruling out this eventuality. I argued strongly to Nick Hillman at the time that electorally this was unhelpful - suicidal perhaps a better word in a seat like Cambridge with maybe 10,000 or more student voters on the electoral role. It was however honest - the Conservatives knew they might be in power, and knew that whilst in power, they might reach the conclusion that supporting increases in tuition fees was the right thing to do.

There are actually some really good arguments why universities should be allowed to increase tuition fees - particularly for an absolutely top tier in global terms university like Cambridge University. Higher education is expensive - without additional funding from fees, Cambridge could lose that position, to the whole country's detriment. Without more funding generally, the expansion in higher education would grind to a halt - the budget deficit amplifies this problem, its not the ultimate cause of it - just because something like higher education is a good thing, does not make it sensible for governments to fund it with a blank cheque at no cost to those benefiting. People tend to value things more when they have to pay for them - they will look at the costs of attending university and the benefits to them personally. They may then decide university isn't for them, which may be a much better mechanism for determining how far to expand higher education takeup than some arbitrary target like 50% of school leavers. Students paying more for a course may work harder and try to get more out of it, and demand higher standards from their university - all good things. Finally - is it fair that some people should get a free University education that will benefit them personally to a great extent later. But there is also some very good reasons why high fees might be a bad thing - like if it disproportionately dissauded talented students from poor backgrounds from going to University. I don't know the right answer to the fees question - I just hope that any decision to support unlimited fees is backed by support for students from less well off families, and robust evidence that they won't put off such people to a great extent.

There had been a debate going on last year in the Lib Dems between the realists who at least didn't rule out tuition fees at the present level, and the fantasists who thought fees could just be abolished without consequence - perhaps under the misapprehension that they would never be called on to test such a policy.

At the time of the NUS debate, the fantasists in the Lib Dems were firmly in control. They too were selecting a parliamentary candidate - so a student Lib Dem defended their corner - and told the assembled audience in no uncertain terms that the Lib Dems would abolish tuition fees, and they had a plan for how they would do this. This is pretty much the manifesto that Julian Huppert went to the student population of Cambridge with last May.

The Browne report is now out - and recommending Universities should be able to charge much higher fees. This has put the Lib Dems into a bit of a dilemma - should they support the Coallition they are part of, should they abstain and allow the plans to pass, or vote against, potentially risking the downfall of the whole government.

Some commentators have claimed that this isn't such a big deal politically, and students don't really affect the outcome of elections. That is clearly nonsense in Cambridge - promises on tuition fees before an election are a big deal. By exquisite irony, the election of Cambridge's first Lib Dem MP was certainly on the back of Anne Campbell, our last Labour MP, and her decision to support the introduction of tuition fees only weeks after solemnly promising the student electorate in Cambridge she would oppose them. The Cambridge student vote has still not forgiven Labour. I don't know what the right answer to the tuition fees question is - but I do know that for Julian Huppert abstention would be as bad as supporting tuition fee rises. He made a clear promise to the electorate and was elected on the back of that promise. If the Conservatives had an overall majority in parliament now, I have no doubt Lib Dems like our MP would vote against any planned rises to fees (without any thought to the consequences), and delight in telling Cambridge how opposed they were, and how wicked the Tories are for wanting to raise fees. If he doesn't now actively oppose any planned rises in fees, he will have been elected on a fraudulently false premise. I wonder what will happen...

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Hello and welcome to my new blog. I plan to make (very) occasional posts on topics that interest me, likely to be some combination of Cambridge, local news and politics, housing, transport, IT, running or accountancy. I can tell you are excited already!