Birmingham had been the council to watch on chuggers: they were hoping to introduce a by-law that would enable them to ban chugging in the city centre. Unfortunately the government has refused them permission.

Councils are generally powerless when it comes to dealing with chuggers. When I was attempting to get a solution the response from the charities minister, requesting that he simply activate an already existing law that would allow councils to licence chugging was a flat no. Instead, he suggested, we should enter a voluntary agreement with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Assocation, the chugging trade body.

However, our contact with the PFRA revealed they thought a voluntary agreement meant they would volunteer to chug when and where they wanted, and the council would agree to it. I found that an impossible stance, when businesses here report chuggers’ aggressive tactics causing loss in trade, as they did in Birmingham, I was not prepared for the council to be put in the position of effectively sanctioning loss of trade in certain areas.

Birmingham found “96% per cent of visitors to Birmingham said they had suffered unsolicited approaches by ‘chuggers’ and 84% said this would put them off walking around the city centre.” I simply do not see how any council can pretend to support business or high streets allowing that to happen, and Birmingham deserve credit for finding a creative way to deal with it.

What is deeply disappointing that the local government minister, despite agreeing that “chugging techniques are deeply unpleasant” has decided that local government shouldn’t have the power to do anything about it. It makes you wonder what happened to localism.

Imagine I stopped you on the street, perhaps applying a bit of gentle pressure, persuaded you to give me your bank details, then used them to take over £500 from your account without really telling you what it was going towards; you would have good reason to think you have been mugged.

Yet last night’s Newsnight revealed that this is, in effect, what is happening with chugging. The British Heart Foundation are paying on average £136 per sign-up, but claim that they get £3-4 back.

The industry ‘watchdog’ the PFRA – who, of course, get some of that £136 – were wheeled out to defend the practice along with the British Heart Foundation (to whom I’d occasionally donated in the past, but will channel that money elsewhere in the future) but not, to my mind convincingly.

To me it’s hard to see how it’s anything but an incredibly bad way to give money. Half the people who sign up never even cover the costs of the sign-up to the charity they are, supposedly, supporting. Even if the £3-4 return on the sign-up fee is true it still represents and administration cost of 20-25%.

In effect we have a practice that doesn’t really benefit the charity as much as if should, and most certainly doesn’t benefit the high streets where they hassle people.

In Wandsworth we still have an uneasy truce in which the PFRA have, graciously, agreed not to chug in the Tooting Broadway area, but insist they are entitled to go chugging when and where they want. And while the council still has no power to licence or regulate the practice pedestrians in the rest of our town centres still have to risk walking the gauntlet of chuggers when they go shopping.

I suppose I should be honoured to be deemed noteworthy enough to appear in an April’s Fool ‘joke’, even if it is only Third Sector.

In an article bylined by ‘May Dupp’ they reveal that a street fundraising ban unites main parties and I’m quoted as saying what good news a ban would be. Not the best April Fools joke ever – but good to see they are thinking of me!

Meanwhile, the temporary ban on chugging in Tooting Broadway remains while we try and talk with the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA). Theoretically there shouldn’t be any chugging there at all, although we know the agencies ignore this from time to time. The main sticking point in the discussions is a fairly fundamental difference of opinion over what licensing means – the PFRA believe it means the council rubber stamps their applications to chug, the council believes that it means assessing applications on their own merits and against council policy.

I’ve no idea how many people who read this blog shop at Waitrose on St John’s Hill in Clapham Junction, but if you do you will know about their Community Matters scheme.

Essentially each month, the store nominates three local charities and they each receive a share of £1,000 in proportion to the green tokens placed in their pots by shoppers.

I noticed today that Battersea Summer Scheme is one of this month’s charities.

The Summer Scheme is run each year by Battersea Crime Prevention Panel and basically runs a series of events, expeditions and excursions for young people in Battersea during their summer vacations. The basic idea being to ensure they are engaged in positive pursuits and not in a position in which they are at risk of being a victim of crime, or a perpetrator of crime.

They are totally reliant on donations of time and money to run the scheme each year – and while I know the other two causes are worthy – when you are at the check-out make sure you get your token and pop it in their slot.

The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.
The Tour trophy: I'm troubled he (she?) doesn't have a name.

Although I usually use this last post of the week to witter on about the past week I’m going start off with an event two weeks ago.

Battersea Police Ball
I can’t believe I forgot to mention this last week, but on Saturday 28 November I attended, along with about 1,500 other people, the Battersea Police Ball. This is a fantastic annual event organised by the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel to raise funds for their work throughout the year.

As ever it was held in Battersea Park, and was a truly fantastic evening. It’s my 13th year of going and in all the time have never had anything but a great night out.

My congratulations to everyone involved in the organisation of the event.

Community Safety stall
Returning to the past week I spent some time on Saturday with the Community Safety Team who were manning, with the Shaftesbury Safer Neighbourhood Team and London Fire Brigade, a stall at Clapham Junction Asda. The purpose was to get out and offer advice (and a few freebies) to local residents. I posted earlier today about one incredibly positive aspect of their work and this is another.

Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership
In the middle of the week I chaired the Wandsworth Employment and Skills Partnership. The Partnership was set-up to try and improve joint working between everyone and to achieve some very challenging targets for getting people off benefits and into work.

Frankly, the recession has had a massive impact (the body and targets all pre-date the recession) but the body still serves a purpose. For example, during the meeting we discovered that Jobcentre Plus is ‘poaching’ people from a service we use to help long term unemployed people people back into work.

There’s nothing sinister about it, Job Centre Plus are now required to work more closely with the long term unemployed. But while that is a positive it means that the work that had already been done is lost as the Job Centre start from scratch. We’re now looking at whether we can prevent the poaching altogether, and if we can’t how we can ensure the unemployed person sees a progression, rather than getting halfway through one service to then have to start afresh with another.

Full council
Wednesday was the year’s last full council, and the year ended not with a bang but a whimper. It has to be said that the formal meetings of the council can be a bit, well, dull!

I’m tempted to suggest that it’s because the council is so well run it’s hard for anyone to disagree with what we do. But that isn’t the case. Despite only having one-sixth of the council seats the Labour group get, effectively, half the time of the council meeting to ask question and debate their issues. I don’t think the lack of spark at these meetings is for want of opportunity – but am at a loss to suggest why it isn’t there at the moment.

Police Borough Commander
I also had one of my regular meetings with Chief Superintendent Low, the borough police commander. These are useful catch-ups, making sure we both know what’s on each others minds and both sides are working together as well as they can. I believe (and I hope that he would agree!) the working relationship between the council and police has continued to get stronger over the years, and the fact that we are inner London’s safest borough reflects that.

Architectural Tour
And finally, last night was the council’s ‘Architectural Tour’. I did ponder whether I should include this or not, since it could be seen as cliquey or worse – but decided transparency is by far the best way to avoid that. Besides, on reflection I’m rather proud of it. I was one of the people who started it in 2002 and since then it has raised thousands for various supported by the Mayor each year, this year’s beneficiaries were the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades, Scouts and Guides

The evening is, fairly simply, a tour combined with a quiz around various sites of architectural merit in Wandsworth, which all happen to be pubs. The council divides into tribal loyalties, with department pitting themselves against department (and councillors) and being able to host the trophy – and even the wooden spoon – for a year has become quite an honour to a department.

Congratulations this year go the Housing Department, who are not only one of the country’s biggest social landlords, but also fairly hot on music, literature history and able to take a good guess on how many animals in London zoo are of unknown sex!

(Incidentally, the zoo don’t know the sex of 13,811 of their 14,665 animals at the time of writing.)

It’s occurred to me that I never returned to the comments I removed from the blog during the chugging episode, despite promising that I would either restore them or explain why I removed them.

In fact, I made the decision fairly soon after I removed them that they would not be returning. This was after a few people made some easy suggestions on how I could test my theories.

There were six comments deleted (along with my responses which made no sense on their own) which purported to come from two people. Both were from what I would call ‘disposable’ addresses, in other words webmail accounts that can be set up for free using any name. And all the comments came from the same place, which first aroused my suspicion that it they might be the same person. However, it was that the place in question was a charity that fundraises using chugging, while the commenters said they had no direct interest, that made me decide they would be permanently deleted.

While I’m prepared to accept that two individuals from the same charity independently decided to comment on my blog in defence of chugging I do think they should have stated their involvement with chugging rather than claiming to be “just an interested observer.”

After I suspended the comments one of the accounts was used to accuse me of censorship. Well, it is my blog and it’s up to me what goes on here, but even so there are a number of people who have commented to disagree with me and those comments have been allowed to stay – indeed, there are a number from the PFRA on this very subject and several on my original chugging post whose comments express their dislike of my position (and indeed me). With the exception of spam these are the very first comments I have deleted and I think I have every justification in that course of action.

Clearly anyone who works for a charity that is, at least in part, reliant on chugging will have an interest in defending chugging. We all have interests and prejudices – but we should be open about them. To my mind it’s slightly dishonest to pretend you are an impartial outsider since this adds more credibility to your argument, pretty much whatever the subject. It was because of this, rather than censorship or the fact they were getting a little offensive, that I decided not to reinstate the comments.

However, in the interests of openness I will briefly outline the points made. All I would ask is that you read them aware that they originate from staff at a charity that uses chugging:

  • I was shifty in the interview on the Today programme
  • The PFRA have been entirely honest and straightforward about the issue
  • I am only feigning concern about chugging as a publicity stunt
  • Anyone who opposes chugging prevents essential help getting to the world’s most needy
  • The campaign is solely to further my political career
  • People dislike chuggers because it reminds them of their shared guilt for colonial exploitation and slavery

It was partly because of this series of comments that I stopped blogging about the issue. However, we are continuing to monitor the situation in Wandsworth and are trying to seek a solution. We formally complained to one of the charities in September, copying the complaint to the PFRA, Institute of Fundraising and Fundraising Standards Board, but to date I have had no response from any of them, possibly because of the postal strike.

I’m happy with people of any viewpoint having their say, and would encourage anyone to comment. I do not require any details from you, and while your first comment is moderated (that is, I will read it before it is published) after that any comments are posted immediately. To my mind a blog is not a blog without comments, and those comments can – and should – include debate. If you ever read anything on here that you want to say something about, whether you agree or disagree, please be my guest and say what you want. All I ask is that you are honest and straightforward.