December 22, 2008

Bob off quick

Over-promoted and with a chip on his shoulder - that's the kindest possible verdict on Bob Quick, who told the Press Association that
The Tory machinery and their press friends are mobilised against this investigation [into Damian Green] in a wholly corrupt way, and I feel very disappointed in the country I am living in.
Ben Brogan heads his piece "Met at war with Tories", but that's not it at all.

Sir Ian Blair seems to have promoted to one of the most important police posts in the country a bully who is incompetent to hold that rank.

It would be unacceptable for a Constable on the street to make such an unsubstantiated political statement.

Why has Bob Quick not yet been disciplined?

P.S. Quick has belatedly apologised. But he said it, and he should still be fired.

December 18, 2008

Repetition Repetition Repetition

Paul Waugh notes a comment by George Osborne referring to "six months of Gordon Brown's recession".

Are we going to hear this phrasing a lot?

Labour have been very good at dinning phrases into public consciousness - think "investment in public services" (aka state spending, often wasteful), or "it's the right thing to do" (aka I agree with myself).

Conservatives need this self-discipline. They need to hammer home a few simple concepts again and again.

Broken record. But I'm afraid "broken society" doesn't cut it.

December 17, 2008

That money belongs to the people

Money down the drainState organisations don't have money of their own. State organisations spend our money.

People are pulling their horns in. We know that from mortgage arrears and poor retail figures. But the state sector doesn't seem to do austerity.

Thus the BBC has spent more than £160,000 on four parties to launch new drama series despite claiming it is short of money. Just why does a business paid for by taxpayers need big launch parties at all? Don't treat yourselves better than the poorest people who pay your flat rate licence fee. Do these people have no shame at all? That money belongs to the people.

If you're going to shell out taxpayers' money, at least spend it efficiently. Don't mess up school exams despite paying for several layers of bureaucrats to administer them (including one on £238,000 a year plus a contract allowing him to claim a subscription to his yacht club).

And the transport department spent £121m in order to save £40m - at a net cost of £81m. Some efficiency drive.

State sector pensions have been overpaid for years - that's another £100m.

You begin to wonder - can these people get anything right?

That money belongs to the people.

December 12, 2008

Energy sufficiency requires grown up choices

MPs have highlighted the risk of an energy shortage. Peter Luff, Chairman of the Business and Enterprise Committee, said
The UK now faces the very real risk of an ‘energy crunch’ in the coming years as vital investments are delayed as a result of the recession. We have concluded that the Government’s faith in the market to deliver new gas storage, generating capacity and other infrastructure is misplaced. A radical re-think is now required if the lights are to stay on in the medium term.
The committee makes recommendations about fuel poverty and treating customers fairly. They also accept that profits are essential if the energy companies are to be in a position to invest in new capacity.

MPs say the current economic downturn means there is a high risk that energy companies will not be able to raise the finance necessary to close the energy gap resulting from the decommissioning of old nuclear and coal-fired power stations in the coming years. The Report states that “Just as the Government has been quick to respond to the crisis in the banking sector, it must now take action to ensure investment in new capacity takes place as planned”. Further, that “The situation is now very serious and we believe that a simple trust in the market’s ability to deliver without any intervention will see us facing an ‘energy crunch’ in the medium term”.

So this is a radical challenge for Ed Miliband - the MPs are placing responsibility firmly on the government to produce a coherent, workable public strategy. Not the Brown style.

On gas storage the Report says that:
If the UK is to avoid falling victim to even higher levels of wholesale gas price volatility in the coming years, it requires a level of growth in gas storage that is an order of magnitude greater than that which the market has achieved on its own to date”. Given the current economic climate, the Government “must now re-consider the likelihood that investment will take place without some form of regulatory intervention.
It's harder now for companies to raise the finance necessary for gas storage projects. For instance, Portland Gas has deferred its proposed gas storage facility as it proved impossible to find the backers.

There can also be major technical obstacles. The big proposed gas storage facility at the depleted Esmond field has met unexpected problems, and the decision on whether to proceed rests with Petronas - who are a Malaysian company.

The UK has far less gas storage capacity than most major EU gas users - the result of leaving it to the market. That exposes us to seasonal price swings, not to mention the risk of Russian blackmail.

The government will have to make public grown-up choices on energy policy - and soon.

December 08, 2008

Undemocratic Labour

Michael Martin, we're told, will resist stepping down before the next general election, if only because he wants his son to succeed him as the local Labour MP. A competent dynasty would be bad enough, but for this incompetent buffoon to want to instal his son as his heir is beneath shabby. Alex Salmond must be licking his lips.

Ed Balls has done it again. Out of the blue he announces that prospective head teachers will have to serve a spell as social workers. This will probably cut the number of candidates still further, while giving a social work background to the member of the teaching profession who will have the least day to day contact with children in the school.

But where did this bonkers idea spring from? Where has been the debate and persuasion? Mr Ballsup seems to think governing happens by ministers issuing proclamations out of the blue. To be sure, this is how his mentor, Mr Stalin Brown, operates.

But policymaking by surprise fiat is more likely to see bonkers unworkable policies put into action.

December 04, 2008

BBC slashes benefit fraud total

benefit fraudThe BBC claims in a news story today that
Benefits cheats cost the UK taxpayer an estimated £400m a year.
Even the DWP offers a figure of £800m! - and that is demonstrably too low.
  1. The National Fraud Initiative identified probable fraud in council tax single person discount at a "cautious" £200m. That is nowhere in the DWP's figures. Kirklees Council recently reported that they alone foresee a saving of £900,000.

  2. In Lambeth, use of voice recognition software identified over 18% of housing benefit claimants as benefit cheats. The government's national figure for housing benefit fraud is £190m (1.2%). At 18% this would be £2.85bn for housing benefit fraud alone.

  3. The DWP pretends that incapacity benefit fraud is a mere £10m (0.1% of the amount paid out - last reviewed way back in 2000-1). Yet government also claims that there is scope to get hundreds of thousands of incapacity benefit claimants back to work. Do they really think that only 0.1% of those claims are fraudulent?
Swansea council have estimated that benefit fraud costs around £100 a household each year - over £2 billion nationally.

That too may be a "cautious" estimate.

December 02, 2008

Damian Green - the retreat starts

Jackboot Smith has "welcomed" the decision of the Met to call in another chief constable to review the handling of the Damian Green case. The Met are also to consult the DPP about the next steps.

After yesterday's news conference on behalf of Chris Galley, there is no prospect that the CPS will let the Met charge Damian Green even if they still want to. The chances of a conviction would be vanishingly small, while the CPS look for at least 50% probability of a guilty verdict. Jackboot will be hoping the CPS would rule that a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

If Galley is prosecuted, his solicitor has said he would claim the action was morally right, that the information should have been in the public domain, and that the police action was disproportionate. All embarrassing points for Jackboot.

So the police investigations are deceased. Dead.

Senior Met policemen's careers will be ruined, and deservedly so. (What was Sir Ian Blair doing appointing such numpties? Was there really no one better? Oh dear.)

Peter Hoskin hails as important a piece today by Rachel Sylvester. Her article is important only for missing the point. Her gee whizz examples of wasteful Freedom of Information requests could and should be dispensed with in a few minutes and are the trivial price you pay for democracy.

Rather than supping at the establishment's table, she would have been better exercised asking why it was acceptable for the Home Office to keep secret the information that Mr Galley leaked.

You bet FOI is inconvenient. The Galley/Green case shows just how important it is.

December 01, 2008

Baby P - many questions, few answers

A useful post at Burning Our Money about baby P, reminding us that the previous Ofsted inspection was led by one Juliet Winstanley, who'd worked under the now suspended social service head Ms Shoesmith in a previous job. It delivered a favourable report on the basis of a self-assessment. We know how reliable La Shoesmith's self-assessments were.

Of course this isn't the only smoking gun for central government. Before Balls' tardiness there was Brown's failure to understand that La Shoesmith's report, even though it identified mistakes, might be a bucket of whitewash - as it proved.

Then there's the whistleblower's report, which was passed around Whitehall as the government had shuffled responsibilities, and ended up with the hapless Ofsted.

Mike Denham suggests the solution is a return to local control. To those prevaricating third raters on show at the press conference? If that was the leader, what are the rest like? To a council which let a child die while it scattered money on foreign treats? To a chief executive who apparently had a failing children's department at her previous council, Stoke? This is no solution at Haringey.

Two press conferences

Great to be able to see press conferences on television and form a view of the people making the statements and answering the questions.

The solicitor for Christopher Galley, Damian Green's informant, performed well. The BBC report captures the flavour. The solicitor also strongly made the point that no national security was put at risk by the leaks and there were no financial implications.

He stressed that Mr Galley has not been charged, and added he hopes he won't be, as well as complaining that his treatment by the police had been heavy-handed. In effect he was taking the issue out of the legal arena, and warning the government that he will make an embarrassing political case against them if they pursue Mr Galley - an argument, incidentally, that would benefit Damian Green too.

Mr Galley feels the matters he disclosed should have been in the public arena, and evidently that is what he will argue to a jury if a charge comes to trial. The solicitor has killed the case. It's dead. And Mr Galley is highly unlikely to testify against Damian Green.

Of course Jackboot Smith would never tip anyone the wink (how stalinist that would be), but if the police do blunder on, expect the CPS to decide after a decent interval that a prosecution would not be in the public interest.

The Haringey press conference about Baby P was pretty woeful. The BBC report is still repeating what Ed Balls said, that "three people have lost their jobs" (including the two councillors who resigned from their posts), whereas it was said at the press conference that six employees have been suspended on full pay in accordance with employment law. Why did the resignations and suspensions only happen after the external panel stripped off the whitewash of Sharon Shoesmith's own - belated - summary of what had happened? No one asked.

All the Haringey representatives came over as pedestrian. The chief executive, under whom this happened, is still in post. What had she done in the months since Baby P's death? Apparently nothing. The deputy leader says all Lord Laming's important recommendations had been implemented. So why is he progressing around the country reviewing other councils if his recommendations last time failed to prevent the death of this baby after he was visited 60 times?

And the whistleblower ignored by the government apparatus was right. So there are questions for ministers to answer too.

And would there have been an independent report at all if David Cameron had not pummelled Gordon Brown at PMQs? Why had this fatally dysfunctional department been allowed to go on operating for so many months? How many children have suffered meanwhile?

We have not heard the last of this. Meanwhile, Mark Easton on the Radio 4 6 o'clock news reported Gordon Brown's taunt at PMQs about the case becoming a party political point as if that claim had had some merit to it. That was clearly not so.

Widening ripples of Damian Green case

The BBC is among those reporting that the police accused Damian Green of "grooming" his source. According to The Times
Sources close to the investigation confirmed that they were examining information suggesting that Mr Green encouraged the official, Christopher Galley, 26, to leak documents and may have set him specific tasks.
In what sense was Mr Green able to "set" Mr Galley tasks?

Benedict Brogan tries to piece together who authorised the search of Mr Green's Commons office and why.

The consensus is that Jacqui Smith ought to have known that an MP was being arrested. This is surely right.

The Times adds that
Sir Paul Stephenson, who becomes acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police today, may withdraw an application to be the next commissioner after a row with Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, over Mr Green’s arrest. One Yard source said: “This is the worst crisis ever — if we call off the inquiry we look stupid and if we go ahead the criticism will be relentless."

... Other Home Office leaks being investigated are: the complete version of Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report on the future of policing in February; the information that a disc containing details of 4,000 Dutch offenders that had been sent to Britain had been lost for a year; and news of the loss of data on thousands of prolific offenders.

The leak in August this year that a memory stick containing names of prolific offenders and the names and addresses of 84,000 prisoners had been lost was particularly damaging as it was disclosed just two days after Ms Smith herself was informed.
A useful reminder that the state sees no duty to tell us anything except what is convenient for us to know. Jackboot Jacqui seems to see nothing wrong in this.

There is comment from William Rees-Mogg, while Helen thinks the controversy precious and over-rated. Jackie Ashley criticises the Home Secretary and seems confused about how the police should be controlled.

Do read the best comment piece, by Trevor Kavanagh, who puts this case in the context of other police heavy-handed failures and widens the debate to look at the increasing powers of other even less visible officials.
These are the alarming consequences of an authoritarian regime that sees the state as paramount and the people as pygmies.