Sunday, 21 February 2010

Who are the National Bullying Helpline?

The BBC are leading on claims from Christine Pratt of the "National Bullying Helpline" that members of Gordon Brown's staff called them on "three or four" occasions.

Now this story immediately smelt funny to me. Why would a charity breach apparent confidences like that? And why have I never heard of this supposedly national organisation?

Well according to the original BBC report:

"Ms Pratt said the helpline was "a non-political organisation".

Now this may or may not be true, but the BBC did not appear to have made even the most elementary of checks before running the story.

In fact a quick look at NBH's website reveals:

  • A personal endorsement from Conservative leader David Cameron
  • One of their patrons is Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe
  • Another patron is Boris Johnson's Chair of the London Health Authority, Conservative Cllr Mary O'Connor
  • They have close ties to Conservative controlled Swindon borough Council.

There are also doubts about whether NBH is actually a functioning charity at all.

An even quicker look at the Charity Commission's register reveals that

  • They are 206 days overdue on registering their accounts.
  • They have registered just £852 pounds in expenditure since they were established.

Now this doesn't seem to be the operations of a national charity to me. In fact just a little more digging tells us that

All of this should have rung alarm bells at the BBC.

Unfortunately none of this was mentioned in the original report and only some of it has since been picked up by their Political Editor.

So why was this?

Was the story offered by Christine Pratt just too good for them to question?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Andrew Gilligan and the return of Kennite

Andrew Gilligan socks it to Peter Hendy over at the Daily Telegraph

"The only job market for the vast majority of local-authority managers is that created by their own generosity. Most are no more than bureaucrats who got lucky..."

Why that does sound rather familiar. Now where have I read that one before?

Oh yes, and again on Hendy:

Poor old Kennite. Isn't it about time Andrew gave him some credit?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Boris Johnson's secret plans for fire service cuts

Boris Johnson's Fire Authority is considering cutting back on night time cover, reducing crew sizes and even removing fire engines from service.

I have obtained a copy of a leaked confidential report, the existence of which was first revealed by Andrew Cryan at the Politics Show.

Among the options recommended are:

  • The removal of 10 fire engines from the night shift
  • A reduction in fire engine crew levels from five to four
  • The removal of some fire officer posts

Fire authority Chairman Brian Coleman also refused last week to rule out fire station closures in the future.

Crucially, the "options paper" reveals that the changes could lead to slower response times.

Under the heading titled "Disadvantages" officers admit that the changes could create "a lack of WMs [Watch Managers] available causing longer journey times to incidents"

In other words, it would take longer for firefighters to attend fires than under the current system.

Officers admit that the changes "will be perceived as cuts by staff and representative bodies."

They also admit that they could "create industrial relations issues."

However, FBU posters used at last week's protest have allowed the Conservative administration at City Hall to portray the dispute as an "aggressive and highly personal" one.

"The FBU's attacks on Brian have been aggressive and highly personal and these posters follow that pattern. The FBU are angry because London Fire & Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) and senior managers of the Fire Brigade are changing the shift patterns in the light of changing risks and likely funding reductions. The FBU want everything to stay the same..."

However, the reality is that these changes could have a real impact on the work of firefighters, and more importantly, on the service they give to Londoners.

Richard Barnbrook on the "conversational" BNP

The BNP's prospective leader of Barking and Dagenham Council writes on his Telegraph blog

Their [the UAF] value to Labour is to allow them deny responsibility for their intimidatory tactics. Fortunately their shrill and strident approach tends to compare unfavourably with the conversational, engaging and professional approach of BNP canvassers. Let them shout and scream while we listen and discuss.

What, "listen and discuss" like this?

Remind me not to have a "discussion" with your canvassers any time soon Richard.

Monday, 15 February 2010

BNP assaults journalist at press conference

A few days ago a Times Journalist wrote a piece about Richard Barnbrook and the BNP's Barking and Dagenham campaign, in which he described them as "ridiculous" and "pathetic."

Mr Barnbrook parades along the streets in his “trademark” beige suit which, he thinks, “adds to my charisma — everybody knows who I am”. An Asian woman shudders and moves off the pavement when she sees him approaching. A black father grabs his toddler’s hand and guides her to the other side of the road. A group of teenagers ride by on bikes, yelling obscenities. “Maybe I get a few funny looks, every now and then,” Mr Barnbrook concedes cheerfully...

There is much to ridicule about a party that has only recently started wearing suits in an effort to be taken seriously. Council meetings here have descended into farce on occasion. Some BNP councillors — the official opposition — have fallen out among themselves, walked out or been thrown out for misconduct...

Outside his house, easily recognisable by the St George and Union flags, Mr Barnbrook insists — a little unconvincingly — that he is not bitter about Mr Griffin taking over as parliamentary candidate.

“Only Nick has got an ego big enough to deal with sitting alone in the Commons,” he says. “And, anyway, to control the council would be far more prestigious. I’m better with people, I have more charisma.”

Needless to say "Richard the Lionheart" didn't get his own hands dirty.

What a sad little excuse for a man.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Boris Johnson allows disgraced Tory to keep job

Boris Johnson is to allow a disgraced Tory councillor to keep her position as Deputy Chair of the Fire Authority, despite losing her appeal against suspension.

Bertha Joseph was suspended from Brent Council for six months last October after she used charitable donations to buy a ball gown.

Shortly afterwards, Boris allowed Brian Coleman to promote her to the position of Deputy Chair of LFEPA.

Her appeal was cited as a justification within the Fire Authority. However, earlier this week Bertha lost that appeal.

Despite this, the Mayor today said that there was "nothing to prevent" her from continuing in her role.

A spokesperson for the Mayor said:

"All the legal advice received by LFEPA clearly show that there is nothing to prevent Bertha Joseph from serving on the LFEPA board. Under the leadership of Brian Coleman, the Fire Authority is undergoing the most radical modernising programme to date, which will bring into line working processes, quality of services and equality of opportunity expected of a 21st century organisation."

And here we get to the nub of the argument. Without Bertha and Labour defector Betty Evans-Jacas, Brian Coleman would lose his majority on the Fire Authority.

And without that majority, Brian would lose his chance to remove beds from fire stations, scrap current shift patterns, and build a diamond studded throne for the chair of the Fire Authority*

*Or something else, I forget

-Update- This story has now been picked up by BBC London the Harrow Observer and The Guardian. You read it here first

-Further Update- Firefighters confront Boris and Brian at the opening of Harold Hill fire station yesterday:

BBC London's report features Ballgown Bertha herself

It also features Boris pleading ignorance of the whole affair.

You can read the wider background to the dispute with the fire union here.

Relations have really deteriorated in recent weeks after the FBU's spokesman Paul Embery was suspended from the fire brigade following a public row with Brian Coleman,

The Bertha Joseph scandal has just added to that anger.

This was not the best time for Boris to be opening a fire station...

Boris and Kit get touchy feely about police cuts

Kit Malthouse was on LBC this morning blaming Simon Fletcher and the "Labour attack unit" for recent criticism of Boris Johnson's police cuts.

It was all pretty desperate stuff, much like his latest piece of "occasional journalism" in the Standard:

"If you ask Labour or the Liberals how many police officers there are in the capital, they can only answer with a guess. “But Horrid Boris is cutting police numbers” they splutter, trying to imply that he doesn't take crime seriously. What's clear is that the number is actually meaningless to them other than as a political weapon...

Don't let politicians fool you with bogus arguments about numbers. Trust your own eyes and feelings. If you see more cops on the street and you feel safer, then we are getting it right."

Yes don't let those nasty politicians fool you with "bogus arguments" about numbers. Just like these bogus ones unearthed by Dave Hill

500 extra police officers? Funny how Boris's own budget admits there will be 455 fewer police officers.

Still let's not get bogged down in numbers eh? Like these in Boris's policing manifesto:

Currently the [Metropolitan Police Service] employs 73 press staff with salary costs of £3.6 million, and is budgeted to spend £4 million on non-recruitment publicity in 2008/09.40 By reducing the number of press staff to 50, and halving the publicity spend, we will redirect £3.1 million from marketing and spin to frontline policing.

Now by "press staff" the Tories were actually referring to the total staff of the Directorate of Public Affairs.

Some of these were press officers and some not. But at any rate, Boris promised to reduce the number to just 50.

So how's he doing with that?

Hmm. So the total "press staff" has actually gone up to 76. Is that going to change?

It seems not.

Still, let's not get distracted by these "stale" numbers London.

Just put down your newspapers, put your fingers in your ears, and "Trust your own eyes and feelings."

Credit to Andrew Cryan at The Politics Show for spotting the Press Staff figures last week. More on this story at the New Statesman, Comment is Free and Boris Watch

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Kit Malthouse: Too Many tillers

Why is Boris Johnson's Deputy Mayor for Policing, Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, Departmental Lead Advisor for Communities and Intelligence, Director of the Association of Police Authorities, Chair of the London Hydrogen Partnership, Executive Director of Alpha Strategic Plc, Director of Dilettante Music Ltd, Majority Shareholder of County Holding Limited and Director of two subsidiaries, County Asset Finance Ltd and County Plant and Equipment Sales Ltd, Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Member of the Leaders Committee of Association of London Government, Member of the Thames Estuary Airport Steering Group, Member of the Poetry Society, Sadler's Wells, the Passage Day Centre, the Art Fund, the Old Lerpoolian Society, Occasional writer and broadcaster, and current London Assembly Member for West Central, Kit Malthouse now "too busy" to attend Metropolitan Police Authority meetings?

Any ideas?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Bertha Joseph loses her appeal against suspension

A Conservative member of Boris Johnson's fire authority today lost her appeal against a six month suspension from her council.

Bertha Joseph, who was once praised by Caroline Spelman for her "total integrity, honesty and courage" was suspended from Brent Council for six months last October.

The Council imposed the heaviest possible sanction after she was found to have used charitable donations to pay for ball gowns.

These sanctions were imposed following findings that Councillor Joseph failed to register within 28 days receipt of two gifts of cash amounting to £900, brought her office into disrepute by seeking and obtaining the cash for ‘sponsorship' of the Mayor's Ball which she used to buy clothes, and used her position as Mayor to gain an advantage for herself by obtaining the cash (for ‘sponsorship' in the context of the Mayor's Ball) which she used to buy items that were of personal benefit to her.

Despite this, Boris Johnson allowed her to continue working on the Fire Authority and even allowed for her to be promoted to the position of Deputy Chairman.

All members of LFEPA are appointed by the Mayor on a proportional basis.

Bertha Joseph holds the following positions on the fire authority:

  • Deputy Chairman, (Ceremonial events and activities associated with Community Outreach)
  • Vice-Chairman, Audit Committee
  • Member, Finance, Procurement and Property Committee

Given his commitment to "cleaning up" London government, does the Mayor really believe that Bertha Joseph should continue in these roles?

-Update- Labour Vice Chair of LFEPA Navin Shah said:

"Now that the Tribunal has dismissed her appeal it is time For Cllr Bertha Joseph to show some decency and resign from LFEPA. If Cllr Joseph refuses to shift voluntarily I urge Conservative Leadership to sack her instantly.

One person who can act swiftly is the Mayor of London. The Mayor has statutory powers to remove a member if the member is found unfit for the position she/he is appointed for. The Tribunal has now confirmed, beyond any doubt, the validity of severe verdict granted against Cllr Joseph by the Standards Committee of Brent. This is a strong enough evidence for the Mayor to exercise his powers and demonstrate that he is not prepared to prop-up anyone who fails to uphold the highest standard of conduct expected of elected members.

So far Boris Johnson the Mayor of London, Cllr Bob Blackman and Cllr Brian Coleman’s record has been lamentable on this matter. Cllr Coleman Chair of LFEPA and his Tory colleagues have not only supported the disgraceful conduct of their member, but they’ve rewarded Cllr Joseph by handing out additional £12,000 a year from public purse and elevating her to the position of a Deputy Chair of the Fire Authority. At a time when public confidence in politicians is at an all time low, is this what public should expect from Conservatives? If London’s Mayor wants to maintain a shred of his already damaged anti-cronyism image, he knows Cllr Joseph has to go and he must act now."

Friday, 5 February 2010

BNP employ Neo Nazi nit-picker at City Hall

Read all about it over at Liberal Conspiracy

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Policy Exchange report sinks at A Rate of Knots

A Policy Exchange report calling for greater subsidy of the Thames river service was based on a wildly incorrect calculation.

The report At a Rate of Knots launched by the Mayor last month, claimed that river services "at present receive very little subsidy compared with other modes of transport"

It included the following table to justify an increase:

However, while it's true that the total subsidy remains relatively low, the subsidy per passenger is as much as four or five times the 14p claimed by Policy Exchange above.

Last week Labour Assembly Member Murad Qureshi asked the Mayor why an earlier TfL assessment put it at 69p per passenger.

Boris replied that whilst it changed from month to month, the most recent calculation for December put it at 56p, four times the 14p claimed in the report.

He suggested that Policy Exchange may have miscalculated by including non-subsidised journeys:

"TfL financially supports Thames Clippers’ Monday to Friday peak hour service between Woolwich Arsenal and the London Eye which operates under contract. The actual subsidy paid is calculated every four weeks. For example in December Thames Clippers were paid £33,978. 60,300 people travelled on the peak hour commuter service during these four weeks. This works out at 56p per passenger journey. This contract payment does not include the costs incurred by TfL to introduce Oyster Pay As You Go on Thames Clippers services in November 2009.

The remainder of the Thames Clippers’ services are operated under licence on a commercial basis. It is likely that the Policy Exchange figure has been arrived at by dividing the TfL contract payment over the whole of the Thames Clipper operation, i.e. both the supported and the commercial elements.

Murad Qureshi has called on the Mayor to be careful when taking Policy Exchange reports at face value:

“Bear in mind that Policy Exchange was the inspiration behind Boris’s plan to replace London’s bendy buses with a revamped Routemaster, a vanity project that will cost Londoners millions of pounds. Hopefully Boris will examine Policy Exchange’s river transport proposals more critically to make sure that he won’t be pouring more of our money into another expensive and impractical scheme.”

Other aspects of the report have also gone down badly. Responding to the proposal to scrap existing speed limits on the river, a spokesman for the Port of London Authority said:

"we don't impose speed limits because we feel like it - we do it only where we have to in order to maintain safety. It's precisely the same logic as making cars go slowly past schools - or any other safety related speed limit."

The PLA also spotted another blunder in the report. According to The Wharf newspaper:

"The PLA raised an eyebrow at Steve Norris' suggestion that its environmental responsibilities go to the Environment Agency or National Rivers Authority, not least because the latter was shut down in 1996.

A spokesman said: "It's important to have a good debate about the river. But bits of the report don't seem to have been thought through."

The report has received a mixed response in the press.

Simon Evans at the Independent labeled it "a dodgy dossier" and even a broadly positive editorial in the Wharf called it "light on detail" and "flawed."

However, the report did receive extremely glowing reviews in The Telegraph, the Evening Standard and local news site

Unfortunately these were all written by Andrew Gilligan. One of the six authors of the Policy Exchange report.

Business as usual?

Although welcoming the proposals in general, it now seems unlikely that Boris will do much beyond what he has already proposed.

Asked by The Wharf whether Boris would be implementing the report, a TfL spokesman said that:

"some of the recommendations in the Policy Exchange report would require substantial funding. Given the current constraints to the TfL budget it would be difficult to deliver all their recommendations in full."

I think that's a no.

Southeastern Trains snow shutdown "unnecessary"

The shutdown of Southeastern Trains last month was "bizarre" and may have been an attempt to fiddle performance statistics, the head of TfL alleged today.

Transport for London Commisioner Peter Hendy told the TfL board that the restrictions were "unnecessary," "odd" and "not replicated elsewhere."

"The Mayor wrote to the Secretary of State about Southeastern Trains who alone amongst the Train Operating Companies decided not to operate either early in the morning or late at night... and actually prevented a lot of people from SE London from getting in to work which we thought was unnecessary and not replicated elsewhere on the Southern system...

"It significantly curtailed people's ability to work during normal hours. In fact I think the first train from Bexleyheath to London for the first full week in January was half past eight in the morning which is pretty odd especially when established railway practice, when you have got third rail operation in cold weather, is to run your trains all night. So it seems a bit bizarre to actually turf people off them and run without them all night."

Asked what he thought Southeastern's "motivation" may have been, Hendy replied:

"Well I would like to think it was an aberration but I would also not like to think that it might be due to the fact that if you operate a very restricted timetable and it's implemented in the way the franchises are measured, then operating a very high percentage of a very restricted timetable gives you a very good performance result."

Southeastern have repeatedly laid the blame for their performance on the extreme weather conditions despite all other London lines operating a much better service.

However, if they really did restrict their service, in order to massage performance figures, then they have a very serious case to answer.

The only question is whether anyone will now hold them to account?

For full coverage of the Southeastern debacle read Bexcentric, Tom Royal, 853 and Blackheath Bugle

Monday, 1 February 2010

Why Boris Johnson dodges Tim Donovan

If you missed it yesterday, then please take the time to catch up with Tim Donovan's masterful interview with Boris Johnson's "Chief of Staff" Simon Milton.

Donovan corners Milton on everything from police cuts, to fare rises, to Boris's resignation from the MPA last week.

It's a fine piece of work and demonstrates just why Boris Johnson refuses to be interviewed by Tim on the Politics Show.

As Standard journalist Ross Lydall reported last year:

"I have it on good authority that Mr Johnson and his aides have turned down a dozen formal and informal requests, despite the fact that the show is broadcast from City Hall, only a few floors from Mr Johnson’s office."

Boris doesn't do detailed scrutiny, which is why he chooses to appear on the Vanessa Feltz show instead.

Although if one comment he made to her last week is anything to go by, then even that may be coming to an end:

Still, Boris's stand-in did provide us with at least one good quote yesterday.

Asked how Boris's defence of bankers would help out-of-work young Londoners, Milton replied:

"Of course there is a big role for us in trying to make sure that conditions are right to get more young people unemployed."

Don't let anyone say that they're lacking in ambition.