Lord of the Flies

The recent and spreading rioting, looting and violence is completely indefensible and makes one wonder what is happening in the UK when communities are closing down and streets left to yobs. Are our streets becoming dominated by youths from Lord of the Flies?

There will be many questions asked of the police response and whether they could have done more to prevent the problems, but that I feel is an operational question and to be honest they’re damned if they step in and damned if they don’t.

I would, however, like to focus on 2 aspects, firstly my thoughts on why the riots may be spreading and secondly why it’s even happening.

Firstly the advent of social media, 24 hour TV is making it much easier for groups to get together and copy events happening a few miles away. There is no way that any of the riots (Tottenham being the possible exception) are related to the death of Mark Duggan or a social / political comment. Groups / gangs saw what was possible and replicated them in other areas. London in the suburban areas is very quiet as I write with most restaurants and shops closing early and with heavy police presence there may not be the violence of the past few days. However, in Manchester and Birmingham, there are fresh areas to target and the gangs there want to show what they can do.

So if this is not an explicit social action what is it? I believe that what we’re seeing is decades of failed policies by successive governments for social mobility and increasing opportunities for those in the poorest parts of our community. Being poor doesn’t mean you riot and thieve, being poor doesn’t mean you don’t know what is right from wrong, but for many too many generations have given up. They see no change in their lives from their parents.

It’s not easy to change if the parents have given up we need to encourage the children, but with no role models and lack of ways to channel their energy, many of the poorest youths today are not being the citizens we want them to be. If I was to come back with a stolen TV my parents or guardians would march me to the nearest police station, for these kids it won’t happen.

It means more targeted resources for the poorest children at school, more youth and sport centres to keep them occupied and be with role models. Better careers guidance to show them what is possible. Increased investment for apprenticeships and the government paying for everyone to have the opportunity to sit exams up to A-Levels. That means that someone who has dropped out of school at 16 but realises they want to turn themselves round at 25 can get A-Levels at a college, not pay for it themselves, which can be a struggle.

David Cameron’s words that “you will feel the full force of the law, and if you are old enough to commit these crimes you are old enough to face the punishment.” sounds good, but in the long run it is completely wrong.

The youngest arrested, so far,is 11 years old, is it the 11 year olds fault he was caught up in this or the social factors he’s brought up in? Is his whole life now going to be determined by this one event? It is also why we need restorative justice and to ensure criminals are rehabilitated.

How many people would employ people who can not read or write very well? How many would give them a job if they have been in prison? Too often prison is a revolving door with short jail sentences doing nothing, what hope for those who want to go on the straight and narrow, what does it mean for their kids? Re-equip those who want to learn and be a part of society by ensuring they can read and write, learn a basic skill and be employable.

We are all guilty of creating the environment in which we now live in. The riots are wrong, but we should all be doing more to ensure these events never happen again.


PACT meetings – an example of localism at work

On Thursday night I attended the Cofton Hackett PACT (Partners and Communities Together) meeting, purely as an observer.

PACT meetings give local residents the chance to tell the local policing team, local authority and other partner agencies about the issues that are causing concern within their neighbourhood and attendees vote to prioritise which issues they want to be dealt with. Then the community work together to tackle the problems. Over 40 people attended the meeting and it was chaired very well, with points raised and discussed by any attendee.

The issues raised on the day were very local, and some may say low level, topics included: 

  • Gritting stations
  • Pothole repairs
  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Crime incidents
  • Bus services
  • Flooding on roads, and
  • Litter

I was very impressed with how all the various parties worked together. It never got political and it was very much “what can we do to solve the issue.” Two examples were the Parish council had volunteers picking up litter, and there were also separate volunteers who’d grit the steep roads around Cofton Hackett.

Assistant Chief Constable Simon Eden was also attending his first Cofton Hackett PACT meeting and he remarked how great it was to see so many people involved and the difference it can make to the community and his police force. In his words

“This is democracy in action.”

For me as a Liberal Democrat who believes in localism and want more decisions decided by local people, it was fantastic to see it in action and evidently working. The local residents in the community are the key to its success, as other PACT meetings in nearby Birmingham have been sparsely attended, so a huge pat on the back to the residents of Cofton Hackett.

Policing isn’t just about catching criminals but prevention too

I recently met with Inspector Dave Shaw and Sgt. Tim Harper at Bromsgrove Police station and we covered many topics ranging from crime rate to local cannabis farms but a couple of things stood out:

  • The work the police does with the local housing trust (BDHT), community groups, such as The Trunk and with the community via PACT (Partners and Communities Together) meetings. A lot of police work should obviously be on catching criminals but it was a good example of prevention and really getting to the causes of the problems. All solutions the Liberal Democrats back. 
  • The grey area of mentally unstable individuals and where the responsibility for them lie, it’s not always clear whether someone has a mental health issue or a personality disorder. The distinction is necessary, as with one definition the offender will be treated differently and by the NHS, otherwise its a police matter solely. The Liberal Democrats are proposing better mental health treatment on the NHS and those convicted of criminal offences.

On my last point, after my meeting I mentioned the mental health grey area to a youth offender worker who agreed it was very complicated but also that the worse thing you can do to those who have mental health issues is to lock them up with no treatment.

Meeting Inspector Dave Shaw

n.b. I should clarify that if an individual is classified as mentally ill then they are treated under the NHS, if it’s a personality disorder, then the NHS are not obliged to deal with them.

Post Office security needs reviewing if they are to remain in our community

The Post Office must do more to prevent violence in their stores. The murder of Craig Hodson-Walker in Fairfield was the tip of the iceberg. Many Post Offices in the parishes of Bromsgrove have been attacked and shopowners are questioning whether it is worth carrying on.

I spoke to Loucas Thomas, owner of Blackwell Convenience Store, which has no Post Office. The previous owners decided to stop running it after suffering a series of attacks. Mr Thomas has been approached to restore the Post Office, but he says the security concerns for him and his family outweigh the business benefits.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to Post Offices as they form a key part of the community. I will be speaking to the Royal Mail and the Police to address the security concerns.

Speaking to Loucas Thomas, owner of Blackwell Convenience Store