Monday, 22 October 2012

Police & Crime Commissioner - Election Hustings

Yesterday, I received a 'comment' on my recent blog post concerning the upcoming Police & Crime Commission elections, from Councillor Howard Roberts, an independent councillor representing the Dunsmore ward on Rugby Borough Council.

Because of the information he's provided, I've decided to give it a higher profile and reproduce it in full below for wider awareness. All of the following words are Councillor Roberts', not mine:


Next month we, the people of Warwickshire, will be voting to elect a Police & Crime Commissioner. The person elected will control local police funding, have the power to employ our Chief Constable and set the objectives for policing in Warwickshire. An important role, I am sure you will agree.

Many of you have raised with me concerns that looming police budget cuts could see rural officer numbers fall, meaning that crime in our villages increases. The new Police Commissioner will have a great influence on whether our villages remain safe places to live.

With the election to decide who will be Warwickshire’s first Police & Crime Commissioner taking place on 15 November, I have arranged a debate between the three candidates. The debate will focus on the subject of rural crime. I hope it will give anyone interested the chance to hear the candidates debate issues relevant to our villages at first hand. There will be an open floor for questions.

The debate is free and open to all who wish to attend. Please just turn up on the night. The details are given below. I very much hope you will be able to attend - I look forward to meeting you there.

Rural Policing: The Views of the Police & Crime Commissioner Candidates
Date: Wednesday 31 October 2012
Time: 7.00pm
Location: Dunchurch Village Hall
Duration: 1 hour
Councillor Roberts' blog can be found here.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Police & Crime Commissioners

In 27 days time, elections will be held across England and Wales to appoint the 41 new Police & Crime Commissioners whose job it will be to ensure an efficient and effective police service within their area, and to hold the Chief Constable to account. They will also have responsibility for setting the budget for the local police service for the year.

The period of time for candidates to be nominated for this role expired today, and in Warwickshire three candidates have put themselves forward:

Ron Ball, Fraser Pithie, James Plaskitt

Right from the very start I have been strongly in favour of the creation of these new Police & Crime Commissioner positions, to replace the almost invisible police authorities. I shall blog more in the lead up to the elections as to why I think they're a good thing. For the moment, I'll just make two comments:

In response to suggestions that policing shouldn't be made political, I'd like to know why not? If housing, social services, leisure, highways, food safety, planning and education can be oversee by democratically elected bodies, why should policing be treated differently when it impacts so much on everyone's lives. And the election of Police & Crime Commissioners will actually help Chief Constables be less political, not more, as the most senior uniformed officer rightly becomes focused on being accountable for operational delivery matters and less on getting involved in debates on matters of public policy.

But most of all, Warwickshire's new Police & Crime Commissioner will be publicly accountable for policing matters far more so than Phil Robson ever was (he's the current chair of Warwickshire Police Authority for the 99.99% of the population who've never heard of him). I guarentee the public profile and awareness of either Ron Ball, Fraser Pithie or James Plaskitt in the first three months of their four year term of office will exceed anything that Phil Robson could ever dream of.

In addition to the three candidates websites, there's also a dedicated website for the Warwickshire elections here, which has more information.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Superfast Broadband Project Update - October Newsletter

The latest newsletter from the Coventry, Solihull & Warwickshire Broadband Project Team has just been released. The focus this month is the procurement stage, where the team will be starting discussions with potential suppliers to better understand the infrastructure currently in place and where suppliers are intending in make investment themselves during the next three years.

The latest timetable for the project is also interesting. The next key date for me is between November - December this year when there will be a public consultation on the so-called 'intervention areas' (ie. those areas of the region that will require public subsidy to achieve superfast broadband because the commercial market itself does not consider it cost effective to make investments there).

This is the latest newsletter in full:
A reminder of what we are trying to achieve
The Coventry Solihull Warwickshire (CSW) Superfast Broadband Project aims to deliver the Government’s 2015 targets, as set out in the December 2010 strategy document 'Britain’s Superfast Broadband Future' that every premise should be able to access broadband at speeds of at least 2Mbps, and that superfast broadband (defined as providing more than 24Mbps) should be available to 90% of premises in each local authority area. The intention is to procure open access wholesale network services that:
  • any internet service provider can use to deliver retail superfast broadband services to residential and business customers;
  • can assist businesses by helping to connect premises and mobile workers to the services they require;
  • can assist any public sector organisation in building Public Services Network (PSN) compliant infrastructure;
  • any community network can use for backhaul.
Our aspirations beyond 2015 are in keeping with the European Commission’s 2020 targets that fast broadband coverage at 30Mbps should be available to all EU citizens, with at least half European households subscribing to broadband access at 100Mbps. The project will endeavour to deliver infrastructure and services that can scale appropriately to keep pace with the increasing bandwidth demands of new applications and services.

Pre-procurement phase has started
The project has now passed the B-zero gateway which was a significant achievement and reflects the amount of hard work that we (and our Community Champions) have been doing over the past few months to really understand the true state of broadband in our area. We now have the go-ahead from BDUK to enter the pre-procurement phase of our project and can start to engage with suppliers in readiness for a full procurement exercise (see timetable below). This is great news and means that we now enter an exciting time as the project starts to become very real.

However there is still the issue of State Aid to be dealt with. We are informed by BDUK that the EU should be giving its approval for the UK to set up a National Competency Centre “imminently”. This means that rather than the EU dealing with approval requests from all of the UK projects individually, they will be dealt with at a UK level, which should speed up that part of the process.

Our timetable for the project
The following indicative timescales are determined by BDUK with the stages following a prescribed process, subject to the State Aid issue being resolved:

October – November 2012: Open Market Review
Includes 4 weeks to engage with all suppliers and learn their future roll-out plans, and 2 weeks to update our coverage maps

November – December 2012: Public Consultation
Publish maps of our intervention areas and invite comment

December 2012 – January 2013: Initial State Aid Application
Results from the Open Market Review and Public Consultation used to refine our intervention area

January 2013: Issue final Invitation to Tender
This will go out to the two approved contractors on the BDUK framework – namely BT and Fujitsu

April 2013: Preferred bidder choice signed off by Warwickshire County Council Cabinet
A required formal process

May 2013: Contract awarded
We will work with the successful bidder will start designing our network.

October 2013:Stage sign-off

November 2013: Commence Phase One roll-out
We will be actively testing the solutions throughout this phase.

February 2014: Commence full roll-out

March 2015: Full roll-out phase sign off

As stated above – these are indicative timescales only. Full updates will be given as the project progresses

Open Market Review (OMR)
The OMR is intended as a precursor to a formal public consultation document. The OMR, in contrast to the public consultation document, is not a specific requirement under the European Commission’s Broadband Guidelines. However, we consider that early market engagement at this stage is an essential and extremely important part of our early market research. The results of the OMR will assist us with understanding the broadband infrastructure (basic broadband and Next Generation Access (NGA)) already in place and where there are definite plans for investment in such infrastructure in the coming three years and is a significant step in the design of our intervention area.

We are sending the OMR to all known broadband infrastructure and internet providers in our area. It can also be downloaded here.

We invite responses from any broadband infrastructure and internet providers in our area. All responses (as detailed in the OMR document) should be received by Friday 26th October 2012.

We have also provided coverage maps and a list of postcodes for the sub-region which you can access here:

The maps, which are fully zoomable, illustrate our current assessment of the State Aid status (white, grey, black) for each postcode area in the region – pink has been chosen to represent the “white” areas. The boundary of the region is shown by a thick red line and the area outside the boundary is the buffer area required by State Aid where communities either side of the boundary may benefit from upgrading the infrastructure. The coloured dots on the map represent both business and residential premises, with the different colours highlighting our current estimate of the distance of the premise from existing infrastructure (green is near, hence good, red is far away, hence bad).

You will see this evolve as we gather more information from people filling in surveys and crowdsourcing the existing infrastructure.

The postcode list covers all postcodes in the mapped area. The data is derived from the OS AddressBase Plus dataset released in August 2012.

Surveys and data collection
The survey responses that we have collected so far will provide crucial data to assist in our supplier engagement. We are all aware that Internet Service Providers will advertise and sell a service on an "up to" speed basis - in other words you are unlikely to achieve the headline speeds that are advertised. The survey responses that we have received have enabled us to build a partial picture of what the actual speeds are in many places in Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire.)

However, we do have some significant gaps in our data and we do need to develop a much fuller picture. So, we would ask all of our Champions and individuals to redouble your efforts to ensure that we get 100% coverage of our survey data so that when we enter into negotiations with suppliers we will be smart clients and can show the picture as it really is rather than as we may be told it is.

Top questions this month:

Q1. When will you know what speeds I will get?

There are so many variables - right down to the wiring in your home or office - that until the roll-out is complete it will be impossible to say exactly what speed any particular property will achieve. However we will be working with our chosen supplier to design a network that will address the issues that we have discovered during our many months of public consultation and data gathering. When we do go out to tender we be using a performance-based specification rather than requiring particular technologies, so it will be up to the bidders to use their expertise to achieve our targets of 100% coverage at a minimum of 2Mbps and 90% at 24Mbps or above.

Q2. Does this mean we don’t need to do the surveys any more?

It is now more vital than ever that we get full coverage with our surveys. Throughout our tendering and design phase we will be looking to achieve best coverage for every area, and we cannot do that unless we know what speeds are actually achieved in each area and what the possible future demand for faster broadband might be.

Q3. I am a community broadband provider – what does this mean for me?

Our project aim is to provide a wholesale broadband network. That means that any ISP can provide services over the network. We have also stated our intention to get fibre as close to every community as possible because that is the best way to provide future resilience. Therefore the final network should provide affordable backhaul for community broadband providers.

CSW Broadband now on social media – come and join the conversation
We are now on the major social media channels and are already creating a buzz. Join in for up-to-date information and an opportunity to influence how the project develops:


Friday, 5 October 2012

Playing Fields Fencing Completed

If you've been into the playing fields in Wood Lane at all this week, you'll have seen that the new fencing is now complete. I blogged about the work in progress last week.

I'm really pleased with the finished job, particularly in respect of the extent to which it blends in with the natural screening behind it. There was a danger that it could've looked imposing, but I'd go so far now as to say that you could almost drive past it without realising that it was there.

TB Sports Fencing have done a great job installing it, particularly in respect of the lack of damage they've caused to the football pitches from the machinery that was required to install the posts and fix the netting. Two football matches were played last weekend before the works had been finished without any problems at all.

Particular thanks also needs to go to Ron Lissaman and Mike Randall. Both of them retired from the parish council in May, but have continued to project manage the scheme to ensure that the village gets the best job possible. Mike secured the 70% grant funding from the Football Foundation, and Ron has liaised with the contractor throughout, overseeing the installation works. The end result is a great credit to them both.

The more observant of you might also notice that the bench that was located along the eastern boundary has had to be moved to make way for the fencing, but is now relocated to a nice spot backing on to Wood Lane itself.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Casual Vacancy - Fact or Fiction?

Anyone who's heard anything of JK Rowling in the last few months will probably know that the plot of her latest novel, 'The Casual Vacancy', is set during middle of a by-election for the fictional Pagford Parish Council.

A by-election on a parish council? I'm not sure her fans will be able to swallow such a preposterous scenario!

That notwithstanding, it has been quite good fun to see parish councils having their moment in the media spotlight as a result of the publicity surrounding the novel. Most of this has been - unsurprisingly - negative, critical or dismissive. But, as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity, right?

At the end of last month, Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph was not much taken with Rowlings' depiction of middle-class snobbery. And he suggests that she also misses the mark in her understanding of parish councils themselves:
For JK Rowling, on the other hand, Pagford is a vehicle, not properly imagined. It is southern, provincial, class-bound and “therefore” contemptible. As a result, the book is negligent about reality. The mainspring of the plot of The Casual Vacancy is, as the book’s title suggests, the space created on the parish council by Barry Fairbrother’s death. It is important for nasty Howard Mollison and his gang that they get the right person (Howard’s son Miles) in to replace Barry on the council so that they can sever the Fields from Pagford and terminate the lease of the Bellchapel Addiction clinic, which helps the druggies.

This is implausible, because the powers of parish councils are far slighter than Miss Rowling portrays. It is unlikely, for example, that the parish council would own the addiction centre building in the first place (the centre is a former church: I wonder if the author is muddling up parish councils with parochial church councils).

People seriously determined to do down the interests of the Fields would be much better off on the district council. And anyone who has had any association with a parish council will know that there is never hot competition to sit on it. Local politics can certainly be petty, but her notion that office-holding on the parish council can become almost literally a matter of life and death is preposterous. In Pagford, the chairman of the parish council wears a chain of office at meetings. I have never heard of any parish council with such delusions of grandeur.
His article has prompted a letter in today's paper:
SIR - Charles Moore is right that JK Rowling has overestimated the powers of parish councils in her new novel.

From four years' experience as a parish councillor, I have come to the conclusion that they are a sop to local feeling. In their present form, they are a waste of money.

Chairmen can be pompous, but the parish councillor's lot is a thankless one. Either more powers should be wrestled from county councils, or parishes would be better served by voluntary residents' associations.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire
A waste of money? Thankless? Pompous? Mr Coles' Carlton & Chellington Parish Council probably aren't best pleased with that description. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it!