Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Silence on foreign offenders as Lewisham records 3rd highest level of registered sex offenders in London: Part two of two
The challenge of managing people on the Sex Offender Register is being debated, and since Lewisham has the third highest amount of offenders in London, this is a matter that should concern locals. In the latest London MAPPA Annual Report 2005-6, Government agencies are inviting comments on the work being done. It is alarming that the Immigration and Nationality Department is not listed as a participating agency in light of the possibility of foreign Sex Offenders.

It is worrying to learn that there is no national protocol between the IND and the probation service. So there is no obligation on IND to inform MAPPA agencies of actions such as deportation or removal, even if the IND is aware of someone on the Sex Offender Register. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, only that it’s more difficult to do. And then there are the legal considerations: All British citizens, Commonwealth citizens with right of abode and Irish citizens (under certain requirements) cannot be removed or deported. Those from EU countries stand a better chance of being kicked out if sentenced for more than two years, better still with a Court recommendation but unlikely if the sentence is less than two years. Confirmed refugees are very difficult, if not impossible to get rid of, while asylum seekers must have their asylum claim settled before they can be considered for removal or deporting. Anyone outside of these areas, have a good chance of being forced out of the UK if their sentence is more than one year but little chance if under a year.

It seems to me that a protocol between IND and the MAPPA agencies is vital if the public is to feel confident that all is being done to provide a safe environment for them. Memories are still fresh of the fiasco earlier this spring with released prisoners who could have been sent back to their home countries. So why should taxpayers finance the monitoring of sex offenders if they are eligible for removal or deportation? Why look after those who have abused British hospitality in one of the worst ways possible? They should go, and sooner rather than later…

Monday, October 30, 2006

Silence on foreign offenders as Lewisham records 3rd highest level of registered sex offenders in London: Part one of two
A sobering report on the number of registered sex offenders in the country has Lewisham occupying third place in London with 164 (Lambeth has the most: 184, followed by Waltham Forest on 165). A lot of work takes place between different agencies that co-operate in managing these people including Britons who offend overseas. However, the issue of non-British offenders is glaringly absent.

Such activities are part of the multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) in place for London. Key agencies are the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police, London Probation and Her Majesty’s Prison Service London Area. Other agencies have a statutory duty to co-operate like Youth Offending Teams, Jobcentre Plus, departments in education, housing and health, and electronic monitoring organizations. However, there is no mention of the Immigration and Nationality Department. It was only in June 2006 that the National Probation Office issued an urgent alert on foreign national prisoners including those that fall within the remit of MAPPA as being of interest to the IND.

It seems to me that while it is comforting to know that Britons who commit sex crimes overseas are on the Sex Offender Register (and the Home Office underscore the improved communication between the UK and foreign authorities), we need to know what process is in hand to deport foreign sex offenders from these shores, and what is the role of the IND…
Can you end the NHS postcode lottery without ending the NHS?
On Wednesday in Parliament, Joan Ruddock MP for Lewisham Deptford reminded the Prime Minister about the Government wish to do away with the NHS postcode lottery. She stated the case of a constituent that had finally got the State to pay for the cancer drug Herceptin. But can you end the lottery while leaving the NHS intact?

In the space of six years, nothing has changed despite the increase in NHS investment. In the year 2000, the public first learnt that their cancer mortality rate depended on where they lived. Dr. Peter Hawker of the BMA then dismissed such statistics. A chief criticism was that certain hospitals took on more risky cases, incurring a volatile profile as a result. Another was that social deprivation had an impact (see my blog of October 25). Roll on 2006. The King’s Fund, an independent charity looks at the issue again. Only this time, adjustments are made for local conditions and needs. The study for the year 2004-5 found spending on cancer services could vary by as much as three per cent of the local budget in one area to seven per cent in another. Daventry and South Northants spent £132 per person on cancer treatments while Heart of Birmingham Teaching PCT spent £35. Oh, and there was no quote from the BMA on supposedly dodgy statistics.

It seems to me that the postcode lottery is a function of central control, totally immune to liberal amounts of investment. If local needs must drive local service then it cannot be achieved with national targets for a so-called `whole service’: The two are totally incompatible because different parts of the country are, well, different to each other, and therefore have different needs. It may require nothing less than a full break up of the NHS…
Lewisham builder comes good but too late for council housing
Mike Ellis of Lewisham’s Bellway has won the National Building Council `Seal of Excellence’ award for the new homes at Meridian South as well as managing his site to an exceptional standard. He is now rated as one of the UK’s top 100 site managers. What a contrast with the fortunes of Lewisham council homes, slammed by the Audit Commission for very poor maintenance.

Mr. Ellis beat over 18,000 of his peers to gain his award for the £100 million redevelopment of the former Hither Green Hospital. What is also instructive is he was so impressed by the workmanship that he himself bought one of the same flats he is developing. Contrast this good news with Lewisham Council’s delayed release of the report by the Audit Commission, declaring that tenants were "highly dissatisfied" with the quality of repair work in their homes. Lewisham council estates also had "poor standards of cleanliness and landscape maintenance", and communal windows were "very dirty" leading to an image of neglect.

It seems to me that Mr. Ellis ought to have been building and maintaining Lewisham Council homes years ago, not just because he’s now won a top award but he actually bought a property he’s working on. That should have been a contractual requirement for the housing officers attached to Lewisham Council: You must live in the estate you are responsible for. That way the Council would not now be struggling to reach a paltry two star status by 2008…
Lewisham’s health chasm reveals few gaps with neighbours
Life expectancy in the Lewisham wards of Evelyn, New Cross, Brockley, Ladywell, Lewisham Central, Forest Hill, Sydenham and Rushey Green is 74.8 years, significantly lower than the English average of 78.5 years. The Government says that the most deprived wards in the borough (and they almost mirror the previous ones) are Evelyn, New Cross, Brockley, Telegraph Hill, Lewisham Central, Bellingham and Downham.

True, it was reported that ten years ago Lewisham was the 14th most deprived in the country, and is now just the 52nd worst off. But should we be optimistic that things can only get better? Lewisham’s future is lumped with ten other boroughs in the Spearhead London region. The Spearhead Group is made up of 70 Local authorities and 88 Primary Care Trusts across the country, and is in the bottom fifth nationally for key health indicators like life expectancy at birth, cancer mortality, heart disease mortality rate etc.

It seems to me that considering we are sandwiched by fellow Spearhead boroughs like Greenwich, Southwark, Lambeth in the south and have another six to the north including Tower Hamlets and Newham, it will be hard to escape the demographic profile of inner London hardship that bedevils our poor health statistics. Considering how much money is wasted on the NHS, this is all the more reason to rethink how healthcare is delivered in this country…
Isn’t it time to rethink means tested benefits?
Recently it was reported how a 60-year-old woman from Brockley was jailed for six months for housing benefit fraud to the tune of £7,200. This blog earlier reported how Lewisham Council is possibly overpaying this benefit to people. A key feature of this benefit, unlike say, child benefit, is that it requires means testing, a sure-fire way of encouraging social breakdown.

In his excellent book `The Welfare State We’re In’, James Bartholomew captures the essence of what is wrong with means testing with the three simple messages it sends out: 1) Don’t save, 2) Don’t earn, and 3) Don’t tell the truth. It is not the first time this contentious social tool has been criticised: Gordon Brown, our Prime Minister-in-waiting said at his party’s conference in 1993 `I want to achieve what in fifty years of the welfare state has never been achieved. The end of the means test for our elderly people’. But today, the elderly face more means testing than ever before.

It seems to me that a robust rethink of our benefits system is in order. Britain has never been wealthier yet it is more benefit dependent. And the benefits bill will spiral even more when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU next year. Thought should be given to phasing out means testing over a five-year period to allow people to adjust their needs versus their means. Otherwise we will continue seeing morally bankrupt 60 year olds trying it on…
Mayoral referendum passes 5th anniversary without ceremony
Wednesday Ocotber 18 went without incident: Enter `October 18’ in the search engine on Lewisham Council’s top-ranking website and you see images of decay from the intriguingly named `Love Lewisham’. But amid all the graffiti and fly tipping on show, there are no pictures of Lewisham Council’s Civic Centre, the site where the greatest blight on the borough – executive Mayoralty - is visible regularly.

October 18 2001 was the date of the controversial postal referendum that supported an elected Mayor for Lewisham. The Electoral Commission was not impressed. October 18 2006 was the date that central Government supported entities like Lewisham Council drawing up proposals to change this via a new referendum (many thanks to Nicholas Ingham for this paragraph’s sources).

It seems to me that if The Better Connected survey said that the Council’s website scores highly on `participation and people having the opportunity to influence council policies and decisions’, then Lewisham ought to extend this further on something as important as the leadership of the Council itself. If the Council can mount the Love Lewisham website, then it can spread the love some more and invite us to comment on holding a new referendum…
Lewisham bravely encourages social care practices for children
Lewisham Council is showing commendable support for a new idea of looking after children in care using GP surgery-like practices. Run by the private and volunteer sectors, they would ultimately take over from local authorities. But others in the State system of looked-after children do not welcome the proposal.

Alastair Pettigrew, Lewisham’s director of children's social care says, “Looked-after children need and want someone to confide in and it is disrespectful to them that we create organisations that result in those people continually changing. We have to learn from GP practices where people remain in place." However, this idea is criticised by his fellow practitioners who seem more concerned with loss of corporate control and staff migration to such entities.

It seems to me that some bureaucrats have lost sight of what is truly important: Children in care need responsible adults that will stick around; it’s the next best thing they can have after dedicated carers. If the private and volunteer sectors are good enough to operate homes, then give them the opportunity to offer a better service at the sector level. Look at the track record of State-controlled care: Up to one-third of people in prison spent time in institutions at some point in their childhood. They could hardly make it worse…
The Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust: Value for money?
The Healthcare Commission reports that although the Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust’s quality of services is good, its overall use of resources is weak. It says this organisation failed to demonstrate that it had adequate arrangements for managing its finances. Areas for improvement were identified. Is this the price we must pay for good hospital care?

Of 570 NHS trusts across the country, only two - Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust -
gained an `excellent’ grade in quality of services and use of resources. Breaking news? Hardly. On January 8 2003, the Daily Mail reported that although NHS funding increased by 21.5% between 1999 and 2002, the number of patients treated rose only by 1.6%.

It seems to me that there is something fundamentally wrong with the very idea of the NHS. It ploughs its way through huge sums of money yet fails to offer a commensurate service. Is the idea of central planning – long abandoned in other key areas of life – showing its age in our healthcare? As the NHS approaches its 60th birthday some two years from now, is it time to rethink the entire enterprise and send it off on retirement…?
Self-love or self-loathe?
A new Youth Mayor for Lewisham has been elected to office to serve for one year (unlike the four years Mayor Bullock has although a certain referendum may make his own tenure equally as short, but I digress). So does the Youth Mayor send out the right message in Black History Month?

Siobhan Bell, a 17-year-old is the borough's third young mayor and has a female deputy, 15-year-old Luziane Tchiegue-Nouta. Siobhan says: "The past two years it has been boys, but now we've got a chance to show we can do the job in a different way. The fact we're Black as well shows people what can be done if you work hard."

It seems to me that young Siobhan is either cynically exploiting the month of her election or she has issues. Was she having a dig at the two previous Youth Mayors? Is she saying that Blacks are naturally lazy and have to work hard while others sail through to success? She does say that she and her deputy, also Black, will do things differently. Which brings me to question the validity of Black History Month: Is it forward thinking to identify achievement on race? Or work towards making a man’s race, as Bob Marley sang in `War’ `…of no more significance than the colour of his eyes’?
Housing benefit goes off the scale in Lewisham
In another example of trend setting, Lewisham has helped qualifying residents, on average, move from a deficit of £17 to a surplus of £24 thanks to a new housing benefit scheme.

Aside from fears of overpayment (and memories of the tax credit fiasco are still fresh), tenants who move home and do not inform the council, still get the money. The Department for Work and Pensions is losing the battle to stop overpayments. How will it cope when Romanians and Bulgarians come to the UK next year as fellow EU citizens? The pro-EU think tank, `Open Europe’ admits past promises have failed: The government said that they would restrict access to welfare benefits for people from the new member states when they joined the EU. But the system has failed. There have been 42,057 successful benefit claims since May 2004 by immigrants from Eastern Europe.

It seems to me that the call for a review of our links to the EU is well overdue but this organisation stubbornly persists to be the elephant in the room…
Truancy: It takes cash to care
It was reported this month that Lewisham has one of London’s highest rates of bunking off school: For the past year, 7,176 primary pupils were absent with an average of eight half-days missed. Figures for secondary students show 3,671 bunk off, with 15 half-days missed on average.

The Government has spent £900 million since 1998 to reduce truancy but still 30,000 kids across the country skip school. Meanwhile independent schools, although not perfect, have fared better: The Department for Education and Skills reports that the national percentage of half-days missed per pupil this year is 0.14% for pupils that go to fee paying schools. That compares with 0.46% and 1.22% for State primary and secondary schools respectively.

It seems to me that if the Government used that near billion quid in education vouchers, topped up with income tax receipts, all parents could send their kids to independent schools. It would solve more than just truancy…