Monday, 26 January 2015

Think the Tories Are Reading the Blog

Today is the full council meeting which pals from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be attending. Good luck to them with that.

On looking at the agenda, and in particular the questions to be asked by councillors, I came across this -

Think they might have been reading the blog...

Just for the record, it did cross my mind contacting one of the opposition councillors to see if they'd be interested in asking questions about the issue but I kind of draw the line at working with Tories. I also briefly considered contacting one of my local (Labour) councillors but ... yeah right.

My guess is that JoCo will answer this by throwing a few insults, claims of 'needlessly' re-openiing 'closed' issues and not actually answering the question at all. Bonus points if I get a mention by JoCo as the inspiration, probably as a 'sad blogger'. Be interesting to see what happens.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Palestine Solidarity Campaign Petition Goes Before Full Council

The local branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has submitted its petition asking NCC to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign against Israel and to call upon the government to generally pressure Israel into obeying UN Resolutions and the Geneva Convention. The full text of the motion before the Council is as follows;

“We the undersigned request the City Council to undertake the following action:

To transparently work with Nottingham Palestine Solidarity Campaign to draw and pass a motion affirming its official support and calling upon the UK government to support the following against Israel until it complies with international laws:

1.  The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign;

2.  An end to attacks against Palestine

3.  An end to Administrative Detention;

4.  An arms embargo.”

As with any petition/motion on an essentially national issue some will wonder why the council should bother; in fact expect Zionists to campaign against the motion on that very point, along with the usual empty accusations of anti-semitism. However, the agreement of the motion will send a strong message of support to the Palestinians and a further message to central government that the fate of Palestinians matters to people in Nottingham and that we can no longer sit on the sidelines as we have done up to now.

At the end of last year Leicester City Council agreed a motion condemning Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and resolving to boycott products from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to traditional furore. Nottingham's petition goes considerably further, asking for full adoption of the BDS campaign. This includes removal of any investments in Israel and a boycott of ALL Israeli goods, not just those from illegal West Bank settlements. In truth, this probably means the council is even less likely to agree to it.

NCC doesn't have a particularly good [recent*] record on condemning oppression abroad, enthusiastically lapping up Chinese investment despite the illegal occupation of Tibet. This past record would open the council up to charges of hypocrisy, with more justification than those faced by Leicester. 

I strongly recommend that you contact your local councillors and urge them to vote in favour of the motion.

*Addendum; back in 1984 Nottingham City Council DID have the political courage to agree a comprehensive policy to boycott and divest from South Africa, see p20 of this report.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Free Speech Depends on Where You Are

I would normally just be having a quiet little chuckle over the news that Nottingham Labour has suspended Cllr Rosemary Healy for retweeting a satire of the Tories latest election poster, along with her ludicrous defence that she had no idea what the picture was.

I mean, it's not Skegness beach is it?

Even Ed Milliband, on a day trip to Hucknall, waded in saying the tweet was “objectionable and totally wrong”. Blimey.

But then of course the Charlie Hebdo killings happened in Paris and suddenly publishing extremely offensive satirical cartoons is a cornerstone of free speech. Frankly, if you haven't yet published a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in a compromising position by now you are an enemy of freedom, truth and light. Well,  that's if all the media organisations pledging to keep the magazine going and reprinting their cartoons in 'solidarity' are anything to go by. Leftlion had a go at doing some of their own, see if you can guess which one they later described on Facebook as a picture of a 'typical terrorist'.

Let me pause briefly to say that I'm not arguing equivalence here. On the one hand, 12 people were shot dead in cold blood, on the other, a minor local politician has had the whip suspended but is otherwise unhurt, not even financially. I am about to criticise some of the Charlie Hebdo output but let's make no mistake; no matter how offensive you are a death sentence, especially an extra-judicial one, can never be justified.

But the consequences of your actions in themselves don't make any difference as to whether you were expressing free speech or not. To my mind, many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are way more offensive than the Thomas pride mock-up, yet the former is 'free speech' now and the latter 'objectionable and totally wrong' apparently. I can't quite square that myself.

The fact is that we don't have absolute free speech and neither should we. We have legal limits to what we can print or say in order to prevent defamation, harassment and hatred/incitement etc, as do most countries. Those laws probably aren't perfect but the key point is that free speech has limits. My own view is that a few of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons I've seen cross those limits (I understand they have indeed been prosocuted under French hate-crime laws on occasion), the Thomas Pride mock-up really doesn't.

The killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists are not a free speech issue, they are a 'turning up at someone's workplace and murdering them is never justified, even if they have been dicks' issue. Healy's suspension is merely the local Labour Party disappearing up itself.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Is Jon Collins a Shameless Liar Part 2

So, following on from yesterday's piece about JoCo's fibbing to Leftlion, here's what happened next.

Rather than barge in accusing JoCo of untruths I thought it would be an idea to give him the opportunity to publicly explain himself. After all, there could have been further developments since that report four years ago. So I submitted a question to be answered at full council in the following terms -

"In a recent interview with local magazine Leftlion, Cllr Jon Collins was asked about the mis-allocation of council houses and the perceived lack of action taken.

In reply Cllr Collins stated -

"A number of people were prosecuted and lost their jobs, others had formal warnings and several of the houses in question were re-allocated."

The report to the Council's Executive Board in December 2010 said that no houses had been re-possessed due to legal arguments being weak, one right-to-buy application was being contested and one overpaid right to buy discount had been recovered and that was it.

As far as disciplinary action was concerned, one agency worker was let go, three permanent staff were investigated, in only one case was disciplinary action pursued and a final warning was issued.$PIRreport%20-%2046138.doc.pdf

Of course, it may be that more things had happened since that report, despite it being presented as a final summary. Perhaps the leader could update citizens with the full picture of action taken and thus explain the apparent inconsistency.

Lastly, did the City Council explore the possibility of individuals being charged with misconduct in public office? Was any advice sought on this possibility? If so, what was this advice?"

Want to know what happened? They refused to let the question be asked. The reply I received on 4 December 2014 was as follows -

"The Lord Mayor has considered your question and decided that it should receive a departmental written response. This is because it relates to a historical issue that has been addressed in Council questions and other public forums already."

I wrote back to challenge this and received the following the next day -

"The Lord Mayor decides which questions are asked at the Full Council meeting and has made the decision that this question should receive a written response.

I have spoken with the department and they have confirmed that the position given in the Executive Board report you have referred to is still the position so I’m sorry but there is no further information that can be provided."

I should first of all say that I've received no departmental written response so far and I don't expect to get one. The minutes of the full council meeting on 8 December 2014 falsely state the following -

"No questions from citizens were received."

The upshot of this is that JoCo can hardly claim that he wasn't given an opportunity to explain himself in a high profile public forum. After all, he was the one moaning that nobody wanted to report the end findings of the enquiry and said that things should be done 'as transparently as possible'.

It also means that the Lord Mayor, Cllr Ian Malcolm, is prepared to spike citizens' questions to council if they might be embarrassing to the Politburo which essentially makes the whole thing meaningless. According the the Lord Mayor's webpage his key task is -

"To act as the a-political figurehead of the City Council; champion of the city of Nottingham and its people and symbolise the social cohesion of the city and its many cultures and faith"

Note the 'a-political' (sic) bit. He should be ashamed of himself.

The one thing the replies do confirm is that no further progress has been made since the Executive Board report, in turn confirming that JoCo's Leftlion comments were indeed a flight of fancy.

Cllr Jon Collins, your pants are on fire.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Is Jon Collins a Shameless Liar?

So the blog awakes from its slumber for 2015. Will it last? Who knows...

But back to the matter in hand. JoCo appeared in local music mag 'Leftlion' for an interview back in October. It wasn't exactly challenging, more 'Left Love-In' than Leftlion if you ask me but he was asked about why 'no action' was taken over the Housing Allocations scandal. I will quote his answer in full -

"We did take action, it was just largely unreported by local media who were very quick to report the early facts, but less interested in covering the action points after that. A number of people were prosecuted and lost their jobs, others had formal warnings and several of the houses in question were re-allocated. The issue illustrates why we don’t want to work on projects like reconfiguring city boundaries and why it’s better to do our core jobs to the best of our ability, as transparently as possible."

The first thing you'll notice is that the last sentence is just gobbledegook, it makes no sense whatsoever. But in addition he states as fact the following -

- 'a number' of people were prosecuted and lost their jobs
- 'others' (note the plural) had formal warnings
- 'several' houses were re-allocated.

Compare this to the only public statement ever made by NCC at the Executive Board meeting in December 2010. You can read it for yourself to check but as far as I can tell the sum total of action taken is as follows -

- NO tenancies repossessed, although one case is said to be 'under review' (paras 1.3-1.5).
- One 'right to buy' application being 'contested' and another right to buy discount being recovered via the courts (para 1.6)
- NO fraud cases brought (para 1.7)

None of this could really be said to be 'several houses re-allocated' and at best it could only be said that two people were prosecuted, more likely only one. Technically speaking 'two' is of course 'a number' but that's not how most people would interpret it in conversation. So far we have clear falsehood and obfuscation from JoCo there.

- ONE agency worker had their 'service terminated'. There's no information as to whether this extended as far as being sacked from their agency but we'll count it up as a 'person losing their job'.
- two workers investigated but no disciplinary action pursued
- one worker who received a final written warning

So one worker lost their job (possibly) and one received a written warning. Not 'a number' or 'others' plural at all. JoCo's account to Leftlion is demonstrably false.

For completeness I would suggest that there is absolutely no possibility that JoCo would not have been kept fully informed of all action taken, in considerately more detail than that given publicly too. He was at the Executive Board meeting where the report was presented and, even though he left early, he would have received a copy of the report.

So in conclusion, JoCo expressed false statements, along with some obfuscation, and he must have known them to be false. The word for a person who does that is 'liar'.

TBC in part 2

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Let's Get NCC to Boycott Israel

Just a quick one.

It's the last few days left to sign the petition asking Nottingham City Council to adopt the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions Campaign against Israel. The deadline is 24 September.

BDS is an international campaign which aims to pressure Israel into respecting international law and to end it's effective apartheid state oppressing Palestinians.

Please do sign up. Over 2000 Palestinians were killed in the recent attack on Gaza. Economic pressure is the only real hope for Palestinians subject to arrest, military checkpoints and military attacks.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

JoCo, Get Ready For Your Close-Up

Nottingham City Council has just agreed a new policy (pdf) allowing 'citizens' to film and/or record public meetings of the council. This is in response to new government regulations saying that they had to.

Of course, a policy like this would have been much more use years ago when the legal right to film public meetings was unclear but there you go.

Here's one of the first examples of legal filming I could find, taken at the very same meeting the policy was agreed...

PS, not my video, link to original here.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Beechwood Children's Home Abuse Scandal

Institutional child abuse. How horrible a concept is that eh? You're taken from an abusive situation as a child to a place that is supposed to be safe, a place where people, part of the state machinery, are supposed to look after you. Except they do exactly the opposite...

The news has been full of stories of such abuse recently, largely because many of the abusers are/were famous and, in some cases dead.

So it's with some trepidation that I'm now going to look at an emerging story of institutional abuse in our manor. Everything I have got hold of is in the public domain. It's all second hand obviously and finding what you might call 'facts' is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall. But here goes.

First thing is to set out a basic historical context. Until 1998 children's homes, along with all other children's social services in the city were the responsibility of Nottinghamshire County Council. In 1998, the City Council was given unitary status and took over all services within the city boundaries which had previously been the County's remit. This included all social services, education, trading standards, all sorts. I think it's probably fair to say that, as far as I can tell, the majority of the abuse allegations concerned incidents happening prior to the 1998 handover.

The first allegations appeared in 2011 concerning the former Beechwood Children's Home on Woodborough Road, which closed in 2006. Claims of abuse at other homes locally surfaced in 2013 and hit the nationals. Note the bravery of the individual who gave up his right to anonymity for that story, this led another brave individual to do the same. The latter individual wrote a much longer personal account which you can read here. I think it's fair to say he has been unimpressed with officialdom's attempts to 'help' him. The police have called their investigation 'Operation Daybreak'.

Not entirely surprisingly, it appears that some records have been 'lost'. Knowing local authorities as I do I should say that may not be entirely due to evil intent (as opposed to some dumbass chucking them in a skip) but it hardly lightens the atmosphere or encourages a feeling of mutual trust.

More recently it has emerged that a total of £250k compensation has been paid to some of those alleging abuse. Again, most cases were from the time of the County's administration but there are more to be considered. The information apparently originated from a journo's FoI request but unfortunately, the City's Freedom of Information 'Disclosure Log' gives us the question asked but is one of the many entries that neglects to include the response files (general point NCC, please sort this issue out, it happens a lot).

Anyway, that's the mainstream stuff. This blog doesn't deal with County Council issues, that's for others to worry about with my limited mental energy. According to the media links above, it seems that the City is leading on all legal claims against both councils so that keeps that aspect within our remit. The police? Fuck knows who really makes the decisions there.

Anyway, a bit of simple Google search has thrown up huge amounts of stuff, only a tiny proportion of which I can link to here. But here's one thing that seriously caught my eye, I think it's a bit sinister.

Back in 2003, Community Care magazine ran an article about the death of a resident at, you've guessed it, Beechwood Children's Home. It concerns a 15 year old girl who was found hanged. The article states as fact that she was a victim of bullying at the home. That's a grim story in anybody's language but, sadly, not completely unheard of in the looked-after children sphere. Was it 'just' bullying?

It gets significantly dodgier looking when you read the allegation that the National Care Standards Commission (now defunct/replaced) had previously advised the City Council to close the home on the basis that the home had become “steadily more unstable and difficult to manage”. The Social Services Director at the time said “I don’t recall this recommendation ever being made.”

Hmm. "I don't recall..." There are lots of things I don't 'recall' but that doesn't mean they didn't happen.

I'm presuming that the lawyers representing the survivors have all this because I would've thought it would significantly undermine any claim by the City that they had no idea there were any problems at the home. That's not the same as saying they knew about all the abuse but you know, a kid hanged herself, you'd hope they'd have looked into it.

The final bit for now is the rather disturbing claims concerning a woman called Melanie Shaw.

Most of the allegations appear to come from the blog UKColumn. There are countless other entries on the web but most seem to be a copy and paste from the original.

What is claimed is that Ms Shaw is a witness and a victim of abuse at Beechwood. However UKColumn reported that Ms Shaw has recently been arrested and was being held on remand in Peterborough Prison. This is backed up by a Nottm Post court report. I'm not sure of the political stance of UKColumn but the detail demands that we take the reports seriously, at least until they are credibly disproved. There is talk about a 'secret hearing' at the Crown Court and that Ms Shaw is accused of arson. There is a later report of a further hearing where her remand at Peterborough was extended. I can't verify anything in it but it doesn't make pretty reading, especially about her treatment in prison. What also seems a bit odd is that local media don't seem to be willing to touch Ms Shaw's story with a bargepole.

Whatever the actual detail of the allegations that got Ms Shaw in front of the Crown Court, you have to wonder why an abuse survivor is on remand in a Cat B prison when she just happens to be making allegations against the people who used to look after her. Longtime readers of this blog would not be surprised at a suggestion that Notts Police might be willing to help the City Council out in a time of need. Frankly, I doubt that anybody sensible in the UK would be surprised at the suggestion that the police would be there for the establishment if the shit hit the fan.

Hopefully much more of this will come out. Hopefully, at least some of the police are actually doing their job. We'll see.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Nottingham Labour - Tories in Disguise

As many of you will know the three main public sector unions, along with the NUT, have called a 24 hour strike today.

Here's what council leader Jon Collins of the 'People's Party' had to say about that -

"We understand that people are upset about the reduction in living standards as pensions are eroded and pay hasn't kept up with inflation. However, workers across the private and public sector are in the same position and we don't believe that strike action that closes schools, inconveniences parents and loses pupils a day's education is the best way forward."

Who needs Tories eh?