Sunday, May 25, 2008

Soggy Trimmings From The Curate's Hedge

(Thank heaven I got the grass done yesterday ...) .. a few snippets from Brum this wet Sunday morning.

Yet more allegations of postal vote fraud.

The West Midlands Police economic crime unit is in the middle of a bitter postal vote fraud row between Liberal Democrat and Labour rivals in the Aston ward. The row surrounds allegations of intimidation of voters, candidates handling ballot papers and impersonation of voters in the hotly contested Aston ward.

The Liberal Democrat Cabinet member Coun Ayoub Khan successfully defended his seat with a 352 vote majority. In a tit-for-tat row both sides are hurling accusations of vote rigging and smear campaigns and each has referred cases to police. There is a history of controversy in Aston going back to the 2004 election when two Labour councillors were sacked for their part in the fraud.

You come to Britain from Somalia to claim asylum. You discover that the Government will give you millions of pounds to look after other asylum seekers. But even in Eden there was a serpent.

A Birmingham charity which is the biggest in the country for providing housing to asylum seekers is facing closure after losing Government contracts worth £11 million in the wake of a fraud inquiry. Astonbrook Housing Association based on Moseley Road, Highgate, is being investigated by police following allegations of misuse of public funds. The Charity Commission - a watchdog that regulates UK charities - put the association under the interim management of Birmingham accountants Baker Tilly last year. On Wednesday, 15 people were dismissed by the accountancy firm which also terminated Astonbrook’s lucrative five-year contract with the Home Office this week, effectively cutting off its income.

Last night the Astonbrook - most of whose 150 staff are Somalian - hit back claiming it had been victimised by the Charity Commission because it was a black-run charity.

Always a useful card, the old racism claim (inter alia, white working class Brummies feel that "the availability of social housing now favours new immigrants, especially Somalis, at the expense of people who were born and brought up in the UK"). Mind, I have more sympathy for their other complaint.

It also accused Baker Tilly of siphoning off £1 million in fees while overseeing its destruction and stressed no charges had been brought despite a year-long investigation.

Saeed Omar, director of Astonbrook, said: "It is the biggest charity to be run by black and ethnic minorities. We have been discriminated against. We feel the Charity Commission took our charity and gave it to someone who sucked out our money.

"They sucked out our money without doing anything. Baker Tilly ran the company for a year. Their duty was to look after the charity and preserve it until new trustees were appointed. They have destroyed the charity and nobody will speak about the £1 million they have taken".

It's a well-known phenomenon, the receiver who makes more money from the company than the creditors get. Only a million in fees ? Frankly, I stand amazed at their moderation.

“The police have become an extension of the government.”
Harriet Sergeant on law and disorder.

Violent crime carried out by children and teenagers, for example, has increased by one-third over three years. At the trial of the five teenagers accused of her husband’s murder, Helen Newlove described how police failed to do anything about local gangs despite numerous complaints from residents.

The police are clear why this is happening. Rather than concentrating on persistent and violent youth offenders, they are busy creating crime to government orders. Minor crime, a retired inspector explained, is going on all the time. Police merely “pluck something out of the air”, searching the pockets of a student for cannabis, for example, in order to detect a crime and so fulfil targets. Another officer said: “We are bringing more and more people to justice - but they are the wrong people.”

Targets also miss the point of what the public want. The Home Office judges each police force by how many crimes it detects and clears up. The public want something different. They do not want crimes happening in the first place. They believe, like Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the Metropolitan police, that “the test of police efficiency” is “the absence of crime and disorder”. It is not “the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them”.

I would be interested to know the figures for under-18s convicted of homicide each decade from say, the 1950s to the Noughties. I would guess that it's risen at a much higher rate than the general homicide rate.

I can't understand it. It must be because of Labour's punitive policies, banging up so many poor misunderstood youth when they could be spending the money on social workers. At least that's the view of former social work professor Rod 'The Master' Morgan, as expressed on the Today programme (RealAudio, 11'52" in) and the anti-punishment crusaders at the taxpayer funded Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.

Yet vast streams of dosh are targeted at poor urban yoof.

Thousands of Birmingham teenagers are set to benefit from a £6.38 million cash package for a wide range of activities from car building to sports facilities. The cash, delivered over the next three years, is aimed at increasing things for teenagers to do in a bid to keep boredom at bay and cut problems with anti-social behaviour.

The Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital funds will pay for one-off activities such as trips to museums or activity holidays.It will also fund projects such as anti-bullying schemes and car maintenance courses and even sports equipment and minibuses.

This extends a scheme which was launched in April 2006 and has already funded a total of 1,110 youth projects. Teenagers themselves are being involved in the crucial decisions, such as how and on what to spend the money.

City cabinet member for children, young people and families Coun Les Lawrence said: "The young people of Birmingham have benefited in many ways from the introduction of the Youth Opportunities and Youth Capital Funds. The huge number of supported projects and improvements that have been made to the city’s youth provision are enhancing the lives of young people, while tackling fears of anti-social behaviour."

That'll stop them committing crime ! I don't know about you, but it strikes me that doing things for kids out of fear is always going to be self-defeating. Good deeds are good - but not when motivated by what the youth might do unless ...

The initiative received full support from the city cabinet.
And this, remember, is not a Labour council. Don't expect criminal justice miracles from an incoming Tory administration just as wedded to the Danegeld theory of youth crime as any criminology lecturer.

Not that any of them believe it themselves, in their heart of hearts. After all, if it's lack of "things to do" that causes youth crime, how come only inna-city kids get the moolah ? There's a damn sight less to do out in the sticks. Ah, but they're not poor, say the liberals. Oh yes they are.

Perhaps (whisper it) there might be other factors at work :

More than 30% of the men in our prisons are from care homes, yet only 0.6% of our children have ever been in care.

Stand by for increased council tax bills. Not only are there all those non-contributory, final salary, index-linked pensions to pay for, but the bill for the Male-Female Social Engineering Act is due.

City council bosses could be landed with thousands of employment tribunal cases from staff facing salary cuts under the controversial new pay and grading system. City unions are drawing up legal claims on behalf of those members who have lost money as a result of the Single Status pay deal introduced last month.

Up to five thousand of the council's 40,000 staff have suffered pay cuts under the new contracts designed to comply with equal pay regulations. The tribunal cases are based on unfair dismissal as the unions claim old contracts were ended without consultation and new ones imposed.

Caroline Johnson, branch secretary for Unison, said: "We are preparing legal cases on behalf of those losing out." Meanwhile talks over the controversial pay and grading deal are "inching in the right direction", according to union chiefs. The council has now agreed to discuss the thorny issue of pay progession, increasing salaries with time served, which had previously not been up for negotiation.

This follows the remarkable employment tribunal rulings, since confirmed by the courts, that it's not just sufficient to pay all your carpenters the same, be they male or female, and likewise for your lollipop people. If one set of people get higher wages - lets say carpenters - and are mostly male, while another in equivalent jobs, who are mostly female, get less - then you've got sex discrimination which must be addressed.

So who decides what are 'equivalent jobs' ? Once it was done by a thing called 'the market' - if you couldn't get enough carpenters you increased wages until you filled the posts. Admittedly in council Direct Labour organisations (DLOs) this became institutionally corrupt, some people got more money than ever they'd get from a private employer, and you had to 'know someone' to get a job. Apparently a tribunal or council committee will now decide whether a cook is the same as a plumber.

This led to lots of well-paid ("male") jobs being deemed to be "equivalent" to lots of lower-paid "female" jobs. It would have cost the councils a fortune to implement and the council tax increases would be enormous - so they cut the male wages !