February 2011

Overloaded online crime maps

Now www.police.uk doesn't sound very exciting, but it is a very welcome new resource that was launched today. Enter a postcode, or the name of a place, and it will display an interactive map showing crime figures at street level.

Or so they claim. I imagine it was overloaded after today's publicity and I keep getting an inappropriate error message "Sorry, we couldn't find a policing area that matched your search."


Update - Friday

It seems to have recovered now. Here is the map for the Chessington and Hook area South of the A3.

Has multiculturalism failed?

So David Cameron thinks that multiculturalism has failed.

But - and I can't believe I'm saying this - my memory is longer than his, and I can remember the days when landladies could put up notices stating 'No Irish, no blacks'. The so-called colour bar was a genuine topic of discussion in the UK, with plenty of people ready to defend it, whether in golf clubs, hotels or in the workplace.

And I've written before about my grandfather who was an unemployed miner in the Welsh Valleys during the 1930s Depression, and how he took a job as a street sweeper in Slough when it was the only work that was open to him. It must have been hard for him to face the anti-Welsh taunts - 'taking all our jobs', 'go back to where you came from', 'Taffy is a Welshman, Taffy is a thief..' - which I'm sure he endured.

Back in the 1960s, Roy Jenkins' famous definition of multiculturalism was a breath of fresh air for those of us fighting the causes of civil liberties and racial harmony. He spoke of "equal opportunities accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance".

Now that, for me, is still a guiding principle.

Cultural diversity is not the same as cultural division. It's not saying that that cultures should exist side by side but separate.

Cultural diversity is about recognising and celebrating our individual heritage. For me, that means that a part of me will always feel Welsh, even though I only lived in Wales for 5 years. Equally I love sharing cultural events with friends who describe themselves as Polish, or Tamil, or Chinese, even though they have lived here for most or all of their lives.

Britain is a country founded on cultural diversity, from the Romans onward. Indeed, our language itself, with the richest vocabulary of any language in the world, is an ever-present reminder of the many peoples who have made these islands their home. They brought their culture with them - they didn't merge invisibly into the mainstream - and in that way they enriched everyone.

I really hope that Cameron understands that people gain great satisfaction from exploring and maintaining the cultures that belong to their personal histories, but I'm not confident that he does.

After all, it was a fellow Tory (Norman Tebbitt) who said "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?".

20 years ago I found that deeply offensive, and I still do. My grandfather carried on supporting Welsh rugby teams, as did my father, all his life, whether living in England or Wales. These days, I fully expect the local Korean community to support Korea in the World Cup - indeed, in 2006 the rest of the population of New Malden switched allegiance to Korea after England was knocked out. The Fountain pub is a testimony to Roy Jenkin's vision.

Cameron's concern, of course, was a topical one. He is worried that mutual tolerance results in a reluctance to criticise unacceptable behaviours, such as violent extremism. However, in his crass rendering of his concerns he appears to be reiterating the Tebbit Test, but in the far more sensitive area of religious and political ideologies.

We should all, of course, condemn ideologies that attempt to justify violence. But we should never blame multiculturalism for the emergence of Islamic terrorism - indeed our country would be a much more unpleasant place to live in were it not for the commitment of the vast majority of its inhabitants to "equal opportunities accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance".

"Crime Prevention UK" scam


I had a call this evening from a woman who introduced herself and said she was calling from "Crime Prevention UK". She said she was doing a survey in the KT9 area, in the light of rising crime.

I asked her whether she was cold calling, as I subscribe to Telephone Preference Service. She replied that it was OK for her to call as she was 'not selling anything'.

So I asked her who she was calling from, and she told me that they were a commercial company specialising in security products, and they were working in the area. And she claimed she wasn't trying to sell me something!

Before I rang off, I did point out that I had some knowledge of the crime figures in my area, that crime was not rising in KT9 and that, in fact, it had one of the lowest crime rates in the whole of London.

So who are "Crime Prevention UK"?

I checked Companies House. A business called Crime Prevention Services UK Ltd is listed as having been dissolved. There are several others with the words Crime Prevention in their names, and they may well all be perfectly good organisations, so I didn't investigate them all. None of the others had 'UK' in their name.

I then got googling and discovered a very similar story relating to "Crime Research UK" which was a front for SAS Fire and Security, and who clearly used fear to persuade people to buy expensive shoddy burglar alarms. Police in Huddersfield have recently warned householders about them.

Crime Research UK Ltd is in liquidation. SAS Fire and Security has changed its name to Homeguard UK Fire and Security. (I feel very sorry for Homeguard Security Systems Ltd, who are not connected with the rogue company.)

Now I can't find any trace of Crime Prevention UK, but their techniques sound remarkably similar to those of Crime Research UK, so I'm assuming it is the reincarnation following liquidation. I have reported them to Trading Standards.

Local police warn against "Crime Prevention UK"


I contacted the ward police sergeant, David Boyle, about my experiences with Crime Prevention UK.

This is his reply: "We are advising residents not to have dealings with them nor Central Intelligence Security Solutions ( CISS) and Group 1 Security. They all appear to be telemarketing/cold caller type companies."

In case you missed it, I wrote about their activities on Tuesday.

Hospitals don't care for the elderly

Today's shocking report by the Health ombudsman, Ann Abraham, confirms a view long held by many. Now we have the evidence. NHS hospitals do not know how to care for vulnerable elderly patients. What is worse, they don't seem to think it is their job to provide basic care for them.

The problem is not just that of a few badly run hospitals, but of a culture that runs through the whole service. Patients are seen by in terms of their medical conditions, which need to be treated by professionals. All the other aspects of a patient's life are supposedly the concern of the person themself and their family.

Indeed, why else do we have a special term for people who have medical conditions? When they present themselves to the Health service they become 'patients'; not persons, or clients, or customers, or citizens - all terms which place the person within their context as human beings. Instead, patients are defined by the medical problems they present.

This medicalisation of the person permits the health professionals to believe that so-called social activities, such as feeding, washing and dressing, as well as conversation and social interaction, are only peripheral to the main task which is to cure ailments. As nurses have over the years, quite properly, been trained in more advanced technical skills and accorded higher professional status, so the traditional skills of social care have been downgraded.

I write this as someone who has sat with her mother through her final years with Alzheimers. Although this is essentially a medical condition, people who have it are still, thank goodness, placed within the social care system rather than in a medical setting.

About a year my mother became very frail indeed - it is normal progress of the condition. But I was greatly relieved when the staff at Amy Woodgate (the specialist council home for people with dementia) said they could manage her needs right up to the end of life. So although she spent most of her time in bed, she was comfortable, drug-free and contented. She was also loved, stimulated and entertained by the staff. As a matter of course, someone made contact with her every 15 minutes at the least, she was given one-to-one care at every mealtime, she was washed and dressed each morning with great attention. When she was awake, day or night, staff played her music, and discussed books and photos and generally chatted and teased her. The fact that she lived for another nine months is entirely due to their superb care.

The one fear we all had - staff and family - was that she might have a fall and be admitted to hospital. Who would be available to provide that level of 24 hour care in hospital? Would anybody see the real person behind this very vulnerable and dependent old lady who could do little to communicate her needs?

It seems our fears were well founded. Although I have no evidence that Kingston Hospital is particularly poor at the care of the elderly, I have no reason to feel confident either. It was, after all, cited in a previous report about the appalling care of people with learning difficulties. I'm sure lessons have been learnt from that, but they are probably lessons about procedures, not about culture.

Will anything come of this report? Is anyone in the NHS prepared to admit that they can learn much from social care practices? And will anything be done about the poor pay and low status afforded to social care?

I do hope that Paul Burstow, the Care Services Minister, will want to come and see the work of outstanding homes like Amy Woodgate. After all he is the Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, and right on our doorstep.

AV is too subtle for William Hague

Sad, really, but I stayed up last night to see the resolution of the dispute between the Houses of Lords and Commons about the Alternative Vote.

The debate had gone into 'ping-pong' mode with amendments being passed backwards and forwards between the two chambers. In the end, most of the Lords accepted that the House of Commons is the place where laws are made and that their job is to scrutinise, not to block, proposals.

Yesterday was the deadline in order to meet the timetable for a referendum on 5th May, when local elections are being held in most parts of the country outside London. The Lords took it to the wire, finally defeating Lord Rooker's blocking amendment at 11.15pm.

During the debate Lord Rooker said that this was "the biggest constitutional change since 1832". That was the year of the Reform Act, which sorted out the 'Rotten Boroughs' and balanced the size of constituencies. Significant as the AV referendum may be, it cannot compare with some of the other constitutional changes since the Reform Act. Back then only men could vote, and they had to be property owners. I rather think that enfranchising all citizens since then is of far greater significance than the method by which votes are counted.

However, electoral reform is needed today, although the effects of adopting AV may be quite subtle. Too subtle, it seems, for William Hague, who today sent an email to people who have signed up to the No to AV campaign (not me, but forwarded by a friend). In this email he says: "AV doesn't work. Rather than the candidate with the most votes winning, the person who finishes third could be declared the winner."

That's very odd, because the Conservatives elect their leader by a process that is very similar to AV. In the first round everyone has one vote. But then the candidate who has come bottom drops out and everyone votes again in round 2. So the people who had voted for the bottom candidate can now switch their vote to their second preference. This continues until one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. That is almost exactly how AV works, the only difference being that with AV the voters list all their preferences at the same time.

So, back in 1997, William Hague was running for the leadership of the party. There were five candidates. In the first round Ken Clarke won with 30% of the vote and William Hague was second with 25%. After two more rounds, who won? Why William Hague, who had come second in the first round. So AV doesn't work, eh?

£11.6 million to improve Council homes

There's been some good news this week for Council tenants.

Kingston Council has been awarded £11.6m over the next 4 years to bring homes up the the Decent Homes standard. Although it is less than was bid for, it is still very welcome.

You probably know that for years Kingston has struggled to find money to improve council homes. One of the bizarre rules of Council funding is that money cannot be transferred into, or out of, the Council's Housing accounts. Of course, it is quite right that rent paid by tenants should not be used to fund other council services. But the rules also mean that the Council is not allowed to transfer money into Housing to make improvements to homes either.

On top of that, in the past a substantial slice of the rents paid by tenants has been taken away by central Government. This was ostensibly to be redistributed to other local authorities, but in practice, across the country, some £150 million each year simply disappeared into central Government coffers. For Kingston, it meant that each yerar around £4 million was taken away from the Housing account; money that could have been used to improve Kingston homes.

This grossly unfair process has, I'm pleased to say, been abolished by the Coalition. But it has left KIngston with legacy of homes that are not up to scratch. So the latest announcement will go some way towards making up for it.

OK - so it's a political slot ...

... from Channel 4, but it has got some of my favourite people on it.

Published by Mary Reid, 126 Clayton Road, Hook Chessington KT9 1NJ
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