Lambeth police, never worried about doing things differently, seem to be bucking the usual pattern that policing follows. An article in the Streatham Guardian details their plans to move more police into neighbourhood policing.

Traditionally the police have had a cyclical approach to policing alternating between a response and a neighbourhood focus. To give a simplistic explanation:

If you start with ‘response’ policing, then dedicated police officers concentrate on responding to calls – so when you see the police they are probably on their way to, from or at a 999 call. However, the public begin to complain. They never see the police on the beat. They have no way of communicating with them unless in emergencies. They want Dixon of Dock Green policing where they knew their local bobby and their local bobby knew them. Public confidence falls.

So the police adopt ‘neighbourhood’ policing. They have officers dedicated to specific beats. They are tasked not just to uphold law and order, but to engage with their communities and respond to their concerns. But that means resource that could be dedicated to response is re-directed. Average response times will fall because there are a fewer dedicated response officers. For calls categorised as a low-priority, where, for example there’s no human harm and little prospect of catching anyone it means the victim just has to wait at the back of the queue until someone can see them. The public begin to complain. They can’t get a prompt response. They shouldn’t have to wait hours for the police to see them and take evidence. Public confidence falls.

So the police…

You get the idea. This cycle has repeated a few times, most recently with Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) – a model started in London and now replicated across the country – but, frankly, probably overdue for a reversion back to response policing.

So I am amazed that a further expansion of neighbourhood policing is being considered in Lambeth.

A radical overhaul of policing in Lambeth is planned, in what the borough’s top cop has billed as “probably the most significant change to the service in years”.

Scores of officers are set to be transferred into neighbourhood policing, as borough commander Chief Superintendent Nick Ephgrave oversees a pilot scheme that could form the model for policing across London.

Two thirds of officers who make up the borough’s emergency response teams are instead set to join “neighbourhood teams” to bolster community policing.

This runs counter to what I think seems to be the prevailing wisdom with the police everywhere: given the huge financial constraints they need to focus on their ‘core’ business, and that means moving resource from neighbourhood policing to response teams.

To a degree I have sympathy with that view. At the core of the SNT policing model is that every team is generally the same size (one sergeant, two constables, three support officers), and that each local government ward has a team. But, of course, not every area has the same problems, and those problems don’t often respect ward boundaries.

The public might be satisfied by it, but is it really a valuable use of police officers to have one team of six dedicated to dealing with cycling on the pavement while another team of six has to deal with drug dealing and anti-social behaviour from youths associated with it?

But I think the crucial element we mustn’t lose is the public accountability and interface. It might not be working perfectly, but it’s vital that residents have a way of influencing policing in their area. That, in part, is behind my passion for public and open data – so they can play an informed role and set intelligent priorities. One thing I that I think is proven by the Redbridge YouChoose consultation is that people, given the information, are capable of understanding and making difficult decisions, even if they do not necessarily like them – and that might mean tolerating pavement cyclists.

However, that’s where the Lambeth proposal seems to fall down:

If the pilot is approved by the Metropolitan Police it will cover policing responsibilities set by the inspectors that lead them, as opposed to resident-led SNT panels.

It might just be that these are locally based response teams. The crucial factor will be what priorities the inspectors set. If those priorities are to back up the SNTs, but to concentrate on the major problems (and not the miscreant cyclists) it could be an incredibly exciting experiment, both for residents and policing. With police resources flexibily allocated, allowing them to respond when necessary but using free time to address the most pressing resident concerns it might just provide the best of both worlds and end the response/neighbourhood cycle.

It will be interesting to see how it all works in practice.

My post yesterday about the Redbridge YouChoose site reminded me of some work I’d done looking at what services people thought were important.

Back in 2008 and 2009 we were required to conduct the Place Survey. Now abolished by the coalition government, the Place Survey was, very simply, a survey of people about the place they lived.

The most recent I could find was reported to the council in paper 09-823 (link to PDF). It makes interesting reading, not least because it seems to generally reflect the views of Redbridge residents. My recent interest in it was a result of my thinking about what it was that made Wandsworth Wandsworth. Why do people like it here and what do they like about it?

In some ways it isn’t that illuminating, because it doesn’t really give any unique answers. But it does provide some insight into what people think is important.

The 2009 Place Survey
They survey asked two questions that I’m particularly interested in for the purposes of this post:

Thinking generally, which of the things below would you are most important in making somewhere a good place to live?


And thinking about this local area, which of the things below, if any, do you think most need improving?

The list provided was fairly generic, covering things like transport, crime, parks and the like. The results for Wandsworth, inner and outer London are all fairly much aligned. While there are differences, there are no major differences that would point to a specific ‘Wandsworth’ mentality or issue that is a major problem here compared to elsewhere.

Where it’s a little less useful is in helping the council allocate its budget in the way that Redbridge’s does.

Crime: feelings and practice
For example, the most important thing in making an area a nice place to live is ‘The level of crime’ – 69% said that was an important factor (people could choose more than one) and 34% went on to say that it was something that needed improving (again, people could choose more than one).

When you look at the council’s budget on this (using the 2009-10 actual revenue expenditure) it only spent just over 2.6% of its revenue budget on this, around £5.5 million which went on the community safety division, youth offending team and graffiti removal. Odd, you might think, to spend relatively little on resident’s highest concern. But, of course, this reflects that the council is not the biggest player when it comes to crime, that’s the police. Additionally, there are roles for other public bodies to play – for example housing associations – when it comes to preventing and tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.

Health: feelings and practice
The inverse happens with health where 36% said health services were important and 13% said they needed improving. Effectively half as important. But this takes (using the adult care services figure) £84.4 million from the revenue budget – just under 41%, nearly twelve times as much as ‘crime’. And that’s only the start of it, on top you would have to add the huge budgets of the NHS!

Evidence of ‘imminence’ affecting people’s views?
What, of course, is interesting about these two examples is that they also deal with very different attitudes and services.

When you consider the adult care services budget large sums of that will be spent on a relatively small number of people with significant needs. The crime budget will largely be trying to address the fear of crime amongst a community in which the majority of whom, thankfully, will never be a victim of crime in their lifetime.

Oddly, for many answering it’s probably more likely that they would eventually need some sort of care provision from the council or NHS than they would need the services of the council’s community safety team because they’d been a victim of crime. However, for many their responses would have been driven by the feeling that they could be a victim of crime at any time, but are unlikely to have imminent need of health services.

Does this help at all?
Does this help the council in setting the budget? I’m not sure it does, and I’ll give two reasons why.

First, we have no choice about a lot of this spending. This is especially true when it comes to spending on things like social services. While we can look at making our spending more cost effective, in many cases we are legally obliged to provide a service and we cannot cut it.

Second, there has to be an element of strategic thought in this. While that might be there in the Redbridge exercise, I don’t think it is here. Indeed, it’s telling that the majority of the top factors in making somewhere a good place are what I would call ‘doorstep’ issues, basically the things that strike you when you walk out your front door in the morning: is the transport working? are the streets clean?

And it certainly doesn’t get anyone any closer to working out why people like their particular borough.

[The data I used in this post are at]

Redbridge's YouChoose website

One of the consequences of hard times is that people often become more inventive and innovative when looking for solutions, and this seems to have been true when it comes to informing people about the consequences of dealing with the deficit. Several councils have come up with interesting ways of doing this. But to my mind by far the most innovative (at least as far as technology goes) is Redbridge who are consulting through a vehicle called You Choose. It appears it’s a YouGov product, although I’m not aware of any other council that has implemented it. However, it’s fascinating to play with it.

It starts with the premise the basic premise that the budget is overspent by £24,849,000, which would need a 25% council tax increase. However, only a 5% council tax increase is possible. It’s down to you to get it to that figure, and you do that by adjusting the budget for various departments and services.

It isn’t that sophisticated. You can reduce or increase budgets, but you can’t look at many different delivery models (cutting the sports budget reveals that the Fairlop Sailing Centre would have to close, whereas that seems to me exactly the sort of facility you might be able to transfer to a sailing club or community group). But that doesn’t detract from its ability to show that Redbridge, like so many other councils, faces hard decisions.

And that’s the main reasons I think it is excellent, because it has educational value. It’s impossible to get to the magic five per cent without seeing some services go, and it does contrast the different approaches; the salami slice from all services, or making the savings in just a few budget areas so you can protect (or maybe even enhance) some priority areas.

What is good is that they are publishing the results as they come in so you can see what other people are choosing. And these are providing some fascinating insights.

At the time of writing 955 people have submitted their budgets. The headline is a 3% reduction in council tax. At first sight, it seems that people are going for bigger than necessarily reductions to cut council tax, not making the smallest reductions necessary. I’ve not gone through the raw data, so it might be that a few people cutting to the minimum to bring the average down, but the other breakdowns suggest that people are actually making the tough choices.

Social services looks to be (jointly) the second most cut budget (the most cut budget is, unsurprisingly, ‘council support and public engagement’) although there seems to be some competition from ‘regeneration and environment’ and ‘culture, sport and leisure’ for the most favoured for reductions.

And that runs counter to my first instinct when I saw this site; my mind immediately jumped to an episode of Yes, Prime Minister in which Jim Hacker blurted out what is all too often true about the political mentality: “I am their leader, I must follow them.” I have always been of the opinion that one of the reasons people are elected it to make those tough choices, and then defend them to the electorate.

But if the current results in Redbridge are anything to go by, the general public are more than capable of making those tough choices themselves.

Local democracy returned to its Wandsworth home last night with the full council taking place for the first time in over a year in the council chamber.

The chamber had been out of action after the roof partially collapsed. It was then out of action even longer when it was discovered that asbestos seemed to be a key component of pretty much everything in there. But now it’s open for weddings and the occasional council meeting.

Sadly the change of venue didn’t really change the meeting that much. While there were plenty of maiden speeches from councillors first elected earlier this year (and some impressive maiden speeches too, I think it’s generally a good intake) the general tone was none too promising and there was a clear theme of deficit denial from the Labour side.

I suppose politically I should be pleased. While the Labour party are in denial about the political realities that most people have face up to it means they aren’t being an effective opposition. But that, in turn, is bad for democracy.

For me last night combined with a session I’d attending earlier in the day run by Local Goverment Leadership about the impact of the deficit, which is huge. The upward trend of public spending over the last few years of the Labour government is shocking and cannot be explained away by Keynesian theory, only by irresponsible government.

The graph (taken from the Treasury website) starkly illustrates how borrowing got out of control in the last few years of the Labour government. For whatever reason government started borrowing dramatically to cover the shortfall between tax they were raising and what they were spending.

This is repeated again and again, I know, but there is no escaping the fact that action is desperately needed to address the deficit. Denying the deficit will not, sadly, make it go away.

Labour again shows its commitment to fighting crime by slashing the budget.

The Local Government Chronicle is reporting on the Conservative leak of Labour’s plans to slash Safer and Stronger Communities funding by 50%.

And yes, Wandsworth got the letter a couple of days ago, explaining in the most hand-wringing terms, that our grant was to be cut in half. The council does a lot of work to help design out and prevent crime, and the Safer and Stronger Communities Fund was the sort of money that could be used to improve security on housing estates and schools, or enhance lighting in dark alleyways and paths, or buy equipment like AlertBox that helps business communities fight crime, or contribute to lock fitting schemes for the elderly and vulnerable, or buy equipment used in innovative schemes like Junior Citizen. And that’s before you start looking at how the police use their element of the funding.

It is frankly unbelievable that the government has got itself in such a mess that it has to take such measures with such a high priority budget (most surveys show crime is a top three, if not the top, issue for the electorate) and an indication of the problems any incoming Conservative government will have to solve.