The tragic death of a homeless woman in Exeter

November 26, 2012 in Local

Amid all the media coverage about the flooding we shouldn’t forget a young woman was tragically killed by a falling tree in Exeter during Saturday’s storms. Details are still emerging, but it seems the 21 year old was sheltering in a tent with some other homeless people on Western Way, close to the city centre. Those who survived are still being treated for their injuries. Until we know more about the dead woman’s circumstances and how she came to be sleeping in a tent in such atrocious conditions we need to be careful about drawing conclusions. But here are some facts about homelessness in Exeter and the impact that recent changes in Government policy have had on it.   

Last year the Government cut the amount of money it gave Devon County Council to prevent and combat homelessness by 12%. More importantly, the Government removed what is called the “ring fence”, meaning that the remaining reduced funding no longer had to be spent tackling homelessness, but the county council could spend the money as it wished. Conservative run Devon decided to cut funding by a whopping 44%. Spending of £6.2 million in 2010/11 was reduced to £3.5 million in 2011/12.  In Exeter alone we lost 204 so called “supported bed” spaces. These are places where homeless people find refuge and the support they need to get themselves together and move on to permanent more independent accommodation. The cuts affected around 20 organisations in Exeter including the YMCA, Gabriel House, the Bridge Project and Mortimer House. At the time, Exeter City Council said: “We have significant concerns about the likely impacts which the changes to the County Council’s funding for housing related support will have on vulnerable people in the city. These concerns have already been expressed directly to Devon County Council; the Adult Safeguarding Board; senior DCLG officials and to Grant Shapps the Housing Minister.”

Flooding in Devon

November 26, 2012 in Local

Exeter escaped by a whisker. We might not be so lucky next time. The Environment Agency says our 1960s flood defences are no longer adequate for the more frequent and serious flooding caused by climate change.

Upgrading Exeter’s defences is the EA’s top priority for the South West, but is being held up by the failure of Government to help fund the scheme. Cuts of 30% in flood defence investment mean that schemes like Exeter’s that used to be paid for nationally now require partial local funding. Both Exeter City and Devon County Councils have agreed to contribute, now the Government must step up the the plate. Cutting flood defences is a classic false economy. For every £1 you spend you save £8 in the long run from avoiding the damage and costs associated with flooding.

The Government must also deliver the deal it promised in July to renew Labour’s agreement with the insurance industry to guarantee affordable flooding cover for households and businesses. This should have happened by now as the deal runs out next summer and annual policies are already being affected. Premiums are shooting up and some people are not able to get cover at all.

The Government must also work with Network Rail to improve the resilience of our rail connections. Exeter and the Westcountry have essentially been cut off since Wednesday for rail travel. While there’s probably little or nothing that could have been done at the flooding’s height, rail services are increasingly being disrupted by less heavy rain. The emergency services, EA and our local media deserve warm thanks and congratulations for keeping the public informed and dealing with a very difficult situation.

My take on what needs to happen now to save the BBC

November 12, 2012 in Committee

Below is my  piece from The Guardian Online regarding the current BBC crisis:

George Entwistle was chewed up and spat out by the dysfunctional BBC management system and culture he was appointed to change.

He began as director general less than eight weeks ago with the unanimous support of the BBC Trust as the outstanding candidate for the job. He has been disastrously let down by news managers twice and, without the support he should have been able to expect to get on top of the crisis, it will now fall to someone else to implement the “thorough and radical” change Lord Patten accepts is required to the structure and culture of BBC management.

This cannot simply be a reshuffling of failed news executives as happened after the Gilligan scandal. Then, both the director general and chairman went, rightly in my view, but those managers responsible stayed and some were even promoted.

The first thing Lord Patten needs to do, which he seems to acknowledge, is to split the job of director general into separate chief executive and editor-in-chief roles.

Secondly, he must deliver the radical management changes he’s promised. This is essential to restore the public’s trust and the morale of those who work for the BBC. Finally, politicians and the BBC must agree a new system of independent regulation. The BBC’s governance structure has let it down yet again. It is not fit for purpose. Self regulation does not work.

The Trust’s role must be split, with it’s regulatory responsibilities handed to Ofcom, which does a perfectly good job at regulating the rest of broadcasting. This is what the Labour government should have done after the Hutton inquiry, but shied away from. It should happen now and the BBC should welcome it, for it’s own future’s sake.

Why George Entwistle needed to stay and sort out the BBC mess

November 10, 2012 in Committee

No Director General of the BBC has had a baptism like this. Not fire but Two “tsunamis of filth”, to use BBC Trust  Chairman Lord Patten’s phrase, tipped over George Entwistle’s head in as many weeks.

In both instances Entwistle has been badly let down by a News management that feels completely dysfunctional and by the apparent absence of anyone else, including in his own office, capable of telling him what he needs to know when he needs to know it.

When Entwistle last came before our select committee over the Newsnight Savile fiasco I told him he needed to get a grip. I meant this as this as frank but friendly advice.

He faced a crisis. He was in charge. He needed the people and the systems to get on top of, manage it and resolve it. Now he’s engulfed by another, potentially more serious crisis. How can someone who is both able and decent and beat a very strong field to get the job find himself in this position?

From what I know about George Entwistle he’s not naturally very political. He hasn’t been playing the BBC management game for long. I don’t think he wanted to be Director General to satisfy his ego but because he thinks he can do a good job running  an organisation he  believes in. He may have imagined his senior colleagues are similarly motivated. But there are people now working under Entwistle who have spent decades and given their  whole lives to inch their way up the BBC management ladder.

Entwistle was doing journalism and making TV programmes until just a few years ago.
He then leap-frogged a whole cadre of senior managers. Because Entwistle hasn’t spent decades moving up the ranks with them, he doesn’t know which ones are any good and which can be trusted. It certainly does not feel as if he is well supported by a collegiate bunch of senior colleagues. Maybe he should have foreseen this and employed the people and a strategy to deal with it. Now, he’s been blind-sided because this crisis has happened so early in his DG ship and he just doesn’t know whom he can trust to deliver. There’s a real danger that history is repeating itself.

One of the things which was wrong about the way the BBC reacted to the Hutton report was that the DG and the Chairman resigned but those who were  responsible for the Gilligan scandal in the News division were not held to account. I fear with this debacle that Entwistle could be forced out and those in News management, who are responsible for what’s happened will get away with it, again.

I hope I am wrong.

South-West MPs Vote on Regional Pay

November 8, 2012 in Local, Parliament

RP

On Wednesday the 7th of November MPs had a chance to halt regional pay, unfortunately Labour’s motion was defeated 292- 226. Below is a list of South West MPs and how they voted.

Aye (for Labour’s motion):

Labour:

Ben Bradshaw
Kerry McCarthy
Alison Seabeck

No (against Labour’s motion)

Conservatives:

Claire Perry
Justin Tomlinson
James Gray
John Glen
Robert Buckland
Neil Carmichael
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
Ian Liddell-Grainger
Robert Syms
Richard Drax
Oliver Letwin
Geoffrey Cox
Conor Burns
Oliver Colville
Neil Parish
Gary Streeter
Sheryll Murray
Sarah Newton
Mel Stride
Hugo Swire
Anne-Marie Morris
John Penrose
George Eustice
Charlotte Leslie
Jack Lopresti
Chris Skidmore
Jacob Rees-Mogg

Liberal Democrats:

Don Foster
Steve Webb
Dan Rogerson
Steve Gilbert
Andrew George
Nick Harvey
Adrian Sanders
Annette Brooke
David Heath
Tessa Munt
David Laws
Duncan Hames

Abstained:

Conservatives:

Liam Fox
Sarah Wollaston
Tobias Ellwood
Christopher Chope
Robert Walter
Mark Harper
Richard Graham
Laurence Robertson
Andrew Murrison

Liberal Democrats:

Jeremy Browne
Martin Horwood
Stephen Williams

Serious questions for senior SW police official

November 6, 2012 in Local

For those of you who prefer to rely on primary sources, below is the documentation that led the Western Morning News to splash this morning on the behaviour of Mike Bull, Chairman of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority and of one of the candidates for next week’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections, Brian Greenslade.

You will see the e mail Mr Bull sent Devon and Cornwall police officers appealing them to vote for his friend Brian Greenslade. Mr Bull makes much of Mr Greenslade’s “independence” but omits to mention Mr Greenslade is a life-long Liberal Democrat, has spent years with Mr Bull on the current police authority thanks to his party affiliation and is still the leader of the Liberal Democrats on North Devon District Council. Mr Bull’s e mail also says he has been promised the job of deputy commissioner for Devon by Mr Greenslade if Mr Greenslade wins.

You will also see the e mail sent by Devon and Cornwall Deputy Chief Constable, David Zinzan, to his staff in reaction to Mr Bull’s e mail.

I am also attaching full copies of the letters I have sent the Information Commissioner, Mr Bull and Deputy Chief Constable Zinzan.

Mr Greenslade is quoted in today’s Western Morning News claiming Mr Bull is “not in any way part of his campaign.” Yet at the bottom of Mr Bull’s e mail you will see the clear imprint: “Promoted and published by Brian Greenslade, 2 Longpiece, Marwood, Barnstaple, Devon EX31 4DT.

Both Mr Bull and Mr Greenslade have some serious explaining to do.

Mike Bull E-mailPolice Response

 

 

ICO Letter:

Dear Christopher,

I should like to draw your attention to and make a formal complaint about material that I have received in connection with the current election campaign for Police and Crime Commissioner in Devon and Cornwall.

It has been sent out to serving police officers and staff in the last few days by the out-going Chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, Mike Bull, urging them to vote for one of the candidates, Brian Greenslade. Mr Greenslade is also an out-going member of the Police Authority, its former Chairman and is the Liberal Democrat leader of North Devon District Council – although he is describing himself as an “Independent” for the purposes of this election. Mr Bull also says in his e mail that if Mr Greenslade wins the election, he (Mr Bull) has been promised the job of his deputy commissioner for Devon.

I was passed the e mail in question by police staff, furious that they had been contacted in this way.

I also enclose a copy of a communication sent out in response to the circulation of Mr Bull’s e mail by the Deputy Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, David Zinzan, in which he says many of his staff had received Mr Bull’s e mail and advising them on how to deal with it.

I believe Mr Bull’s e mail raises serious questions about a possible misuse of police data for the purpose of electioneering and about the security of that data in the first place. Given the elections are little over a week away and postal votes have already been issued, I request you investigate this as a matter of urgency. 

Yours sincerely,

The Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw, MP       

Letter to David Zinzan:

Dear David,

I have been passed copies of an e mail from the out-going Chairman of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, Mike Bull, to serving police staff urging them to vote for one of the candidates in next week’s PCC election and of a communication from you to your staff advising them how to deal with Mr Bull’s e mail.

In your e mail you say “many” of your staff will have received Mr Bull’s e mail. I would be grateful if you could tell me how many serving Devon and Cornwall Police Staff received Mr Bull’s e mail and how he obtained their e mail addresses.

Because of the concerns this raises about the security and possible misuse of police data I have today also written to the Information Commissioner to make a formal complaint and ask him to investigate.

With very best wishes,

Ben

Letter to Mike Bull:

Dear Mike,

I have received from a constituent a copy of an e mail you appear to have sent serving Devon and Cornwall Police staff urging them to vote for one of the candidates in next week’s PCC election.

You also request the recipients to cascade your e mail to people in their e mail address book.

I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions:

1. To whom have you sent this e mail?

2. How did you obtain their e mail addresses?

I have also today written to the Information Commissioner raising concerns about the possible misuse of police data for electioneering purposes and to the Deputy Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall about the security of the police data base.

Yours sincerely,

Ben