Monday, 8 November 2010

Weekly round up

Apologies to regular readings of this blog for lack of regular updates. Last week was a really busy one, plus I was abroad over the weekend, and hence the blog has suffered.  Here is a round up of the week.

On Monday I went to London to take part in a TV programme on Project Champion. I was trying to be positive about the police apology and admitting their mistakes, but I was surprised to hear Sharon Rowe claim there was no misleading. It seems the police are sorry for getting caught more than what they did!

Tuesday was full council meeting with agenda items on the budget, housing & project champion. The budget discussion was everything you expect from the Tories and Lib Dems; lots of propaganda about cuts being the only alternative topped up with scapegoating of those of benefits. I challenged them in my intervention challenging their myths about the cuts. It provoked an even more hostile response than usual, which I take to mean I must be doing something right!

The Scrutiny report on Project Champion was more positive. It made reference to police ‘misleading’ councillors and the public and there were calls for the resignations of senior police officer Anil Patani and Jackie Russell, head Birmingham Safety Partnership. 

They claimed it was one of general crime reduction when in fact there was no infrastructure to support any such function. Instead the scheme was always about intelligence gathering and spying on a whole community, not due to some evidence based lead but assumptions based on their background. 

The meeting also called for the resignation of chair of the West Midlands Police Authority for not fulfilling his function of scrutiny and robust questioning before, during, and even in the aftermath of the public outcry. Instead, he acted in total deference of the police.

Later in evening I spoke at Jubilee Debt meeting on the debt crisis in Pakistan in support of their call for the cancellation of Pakistan’s debt. About 50 people attended, from school students to veteran campaigners, and there was a wide ranging question and answers session. I emphasised that it is the same economic system here and abroad that is enslaving us all to the banks and the need for an alternative that puts people before profit. It was a really good evening.

Wednesday was surgery day and a really busy one it was too. Although it was supposed to finish at noon, it actually did not finish till 2pm. Housing, lack of school places, racial assaults & abuses, council tax concerns were among the issues constituents needed help with.

On Thursday I had two meetings. One was with ward service agencies about getting schools involved in addressing environmental concerns and improving service delivery from the council. The local Sparkbrook neighbourhood forum has been active in clear ups, and were proposing a plan to focus on 15 individual streets. Councillors are keen to facilitate the process. Cleanliness in the area is an ongoing issue, and as local councillors we have been supporting educative and self help initiatives with residents, alongside bringing accountability to service providers for more efficient and effective service delivery.

In the afternoon I had meeting with representatives of Fallows Road resident association. For over two years residents have encountered numerous anti social problems arising from a chicken factory whose lorry traffic causes both noise nuisance very early and late in the day, and damage to resident’s cars and street furniture as the large vehicles manoeuvre in and out of a small residential street. Furthermore there has been a concerning amount car related burglary and vandalism.

The irony of the battles in Sparkbrook is that we have lobbied the police hard to have a camera installed in the road to no avail! As a last measure we local councillors agreed to allocate some Community Chest funding to buy a camera and the resident association as been very active in lobbying for this and following through on the practicalities.

This has not been an inexpensive investment - around £10,000. Residents want a partnership with the council and police to monitor its effectiveness and at the meeting Cllr Ishtiaq and I insisted that this should be a genuine partnership. Given the Project Champion fiasco there was real concern that any footage not be used for any other purpose than deterrence and crime detection. A detailed negotiation is now taking place. The sensible thing would be to look at where there are genuine crime and antisocial behaviour hotspots, and where residents want cameras to act as a deterrent. The cameras from Project Champion could be deployed there. Cameras should not be installed against peoples will - and nor should they be denied where residents have been repeatedly calling for them. Sadly we have seen both of these scenarios in Sparkbrook recently. I very much hope that we are turning a corner in the appalling treatment of local residents by the authorities, so that their needs can be genuinely met and their constructive contribution can be rightly acknowledged and adopted.

Finally I had planned to be on the UAF Islamaphobia demo on Sat but at the last moment paid a flying visit abroad to family friends. I hope it went well.