Yet more democracy in action last night at the Environment, Culture and Community Safety OSC.

I was there for the community safety and town centre parts of the meeting which come under my portfolio. In many ways it was a relatively straightforward meeting. There wasn’t anything particularly contentious on the agenda, although as the deficit is addressed I’m sure that is to come. The full agenda is on the council’s website (which does work from time to time, I promise you) but to give a few selected highlights.

10-646 Domestic Violence Strategy
Domestic violence is woefully under-reported and, unlike most crimes, almost all victims are repeat victims. The problem is that domestic violence and abuse often take place in situations that are hard to leave, perhaps because they are in the home, and the victim has nowhere else to go, or it might be that children are involved. In many cases there is a feeling of shame or embarrassment, particularly where the situation doesn’t fit the stereotypical man abusing woman scenario (one of the specific areas of focus are abuse in LGBT relationships).

10-647 Community Safety Division – Annual Quality and Performance Review
This is one of those monster reports that covers everything (each service produces one of these a year), but worth dipping into if you are interested in the sorts of things the council does to make Wandsworth safer.

This prompted a lot of discussion on Neighbourhood Watch (NW), which is one of my pet subjects because I think NW has such great potential and is one of the policy priorities for the coming years. We’re trying to see how we can expand the benefits of NW into hard-to-reach areas, for example council estates have traditionally had much poorer coverage, but also to see how we can create networks of watches and whether we can help in strengthening communities.

Of course, one of the problems with this is that it is uncharted territory. Wandsworth is something of a leader in this field and it’s difficult to know what will and won’t work. It’s a subject that I’ve touched on before, that to develop and improve you often have to accept that your experiments may end in failure, which is not something that sits well in politics. While exciting, I won’t pretend that I don’t have the occasional worry!

10-649 Policing in the 21st Century
This is the council’s response to the government’s white paper. It is generally supportive, although one of the biggest parts of the proposed reforms, directly elected police commissioners, will not affect London as the Mayor would take on that role.

The Labour group voted against this, disagreeing with the abolition of the Metropolitan Police Authority (a better reason than disliking the title of a white paper which they said they largely agreed) and I’m wondering if there’s a degree of oppositional politics starting to return. It is an unusual time for all tiers of government – national, London and Wandsworth to be (largely) politically aligned. It hasn’t happened for 13 years, and then probably only because there was no London government!

10-651 Petition – request for CCTV installation in the area of Leverson Street
This was the council’s response to a petition asking for CCTV to be installed in what is seen as a trouble black spot.

The council rejected this. For me there is a big issue about installing CCTV in primarily residential areas. As a matter of principal it feels wrong to me to have these areas surveilled. However, there are also practical concerns.

CCTV works well in areas where the problem is ‘contained’. So, for example, CCTV in town centre areas can help deter problems (or justify prosecutions, about half of all cases the local police bring use CCTV evidence) that are specific to that sort of area, for example issues around disorder or theft. When dealing with anti-social behaviour problems these can easily relocate, there is little difference between street-corners. In effect the problem is moved, not solved.

And that is the second problem, very often these problems are much better tackled by joint work between the police, council and (frequently) social landlords. Together they are able to tackle those who create problems and divert those on the fringes. Temporary, mobile, CCTV can be effective in gathering evidence for this. Personally I think we’re much better off going for a solution than seeing CCTV as a panacea – it never has been.

10-655 Town Centre Management – Annual review
The council’s approach to town centres has been one of the real success stories of Wandsworth, and has helped the borough avoid the problems faced by so many of having a single, fairly soulless, shopping destination and then nothing but residential areas with little focus.

The paper details some of the activity that has been taking place in each town centre to support, enhance and promote the businesses that are there. It’s split into sections of the five town centres so worth having a browse to see what’s been happening in your local centre.

Labour voted against this (disappointingly, I have to say). They felt that we should be putting equal support in for all shopping areas. The problem with that approach is that if you focus on everything you actually focus on nothing.

It’s also the case that we put a lot of support in to the ‘secondary’ shopping areas. Indeed, I’m meeting with a collection of the business associations representing them tonight to talk about how they and the council can work together. But increasingly we are seeing these areas, along with their local residents, developing their own initiatives (with some support from the council), Southfields and Battersea Square both being success stories of combined resident/business associations. It’s that sort of work we need to support and not applying a one-size fits all town centre management everywhere.

I’m really not that sure how interesting it is for me to write about meetings. They certainly aren’t interesting enough for people to turn up and listen. Having said all that, there were a few interesting items on the agenda of last night’s Adult Care Services and Health OSC.

I was only there for part of it, my council role is a bit of an experiment in ‘cross-cutting’ (which seems to be causing undue confusion, I have to say) so I attended only for the ‘health’ and not the ‘adult care services’ elements. To give some select highlights:

10-627 Patient records
Despite my predilection for civil liberties and occasional concerns about the expansion of the state into private life I find it hard to get excited about these things! But given the appalling track record of the state on data security in recent years it possibly isn’t surprising that the local NHS were questioned heavily about how access will be controlled and the audit trials that will be put in place to ensure record safety. I think most of the committee members were satisfied.

From my point of view the question is of balancing risk. No system will be 100% secure and, I have no doubt, whatever safeguards are introduced someone will have enough malice or incompetence to circumvent them sooner or later. However, what we need to assess is whether or not the benefits a system that means different parts of the NHS can see your relevant medical history is worth the risk of potential security breaches.

Personally, I feel happier about having an electronic medical record than old paper copies that can get lost, burnt, mixed-up, misplaced or even burgled. But not everyone would share that view, it struck me that the NHS were putting a lot of effort into creating a system that could reassure most people their information is safe.

10-628 National Patient Survey
I posted about the results from this recently. The committee members were interested in exactly why some surgeries are performing so badly when compared to some of the excellent results that other practices got.

The local NHS stated that they needed to better understand exactly why there was severe dissatisfaction with some surgeries and what they needed to do to encourage choice. They were asked to return to the committee with details of what they were doing to improve those weaker surgeries.

10-629 NHS White Paper – Response to consultation
This was an interesting discussion. I’ve not posted much about the NHS White Paper, but it represents a superb opportunity. The council has long held a policy that it should be responsible for health commission. While the white paper doesn’t suggest that it goes someway towards it.

For a start the council would take on responsibility for public health (as it did until 1974), and for establishing a ‘Health and Wellbeing Board’ however, there are opportunities to work with the GP consortia providing, for example, support on things like procurement or analytical services. In turn, this will enable a better, more joined-up set of services to residents.

There seemed to be good support for the council’s position of moving rapidly to set up the Health and Wellbeing Board here and working with GPs to establish how it could all be implement. The local NHS said they were “fully supportive”. The opposition members also expressed their support for the council’s position, but couldn’t vote for it, citing issues like the government’s naming of the white paper as a bone of contention.

10-632 Local Involvement Network – Annual report
This was an interesting report, mainly because of the thought processes that it set me on. The Local Involvement Network (or LINk) (or @WandsworthLINk on Twitter) was established a few years ago, there is basically one per borough, and is a free membership organisation that exists to formally scrutinise health and social care services in the borough. The council provides support to it.

In the white paper they continue, except they will be re-named HealthWatch and given a significant proportion of the seats on the Health and Wellbeing Board.

I am half-planning a fuller post on them because it struck me that they are, basically, an unnamed part of the Big Society. I’ve posited before that the Big Society exists, but we just don’t recognise it as such. Yet. LINks are, to me, probably in exactly the same category. They are there scrutinising local health services on behalf of residents and patients and, I would contend, in a better way than many other statutory bodies (by focusing very much on the ground level experience, than management level statistical outputs).

Maybe the first thing we should be doing in the Big Society is identifying and renaming all those parts that already exist.

There were several other health related items on the agenda. You can see the full agenda with linked reports on the council’s website.

It’s been another week I’ve ended out of Wandsworth. This week the child in me has been excited by a trip on a sleeper train in which my knowledge of sleepers, derived entirely from Agatha Christie and Hart to Hart (a show surely due a remake) was confounded as no-one was murdered). If that wasn’t enough, it was topped by a tour around an airport – and not just the passenger side, but the driving around the runways side.

But, of course, Wandsworth is the purpose of my blog, and Wandsworth will be the purpose of the remainder of this post.

The YouTube of the Mastermind round on Wandsworth has to be the highlight of my week. Having felt a little saddened by my score, the honesty of others has made me feel a lot better about it. Indeed, one councillor, who shall remain nameless, confessed he only got four. Smugness isn’t pleasant, but I just can’t help it.

Regeneration and Community Safety
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday night was the major meeting I attended as a councillor this week. It wasn’t, if I’m honest, a meeting to set the world on fire. Unfortunately Tony Belton, the Labour leader couldn’t attend the meeting, and his absence brings home what an excellent opposition councillor he is – despite leading a small group, he makes sure we keep on our toes. Proof that size is not everything!

Much of the agenda was fairly uncontroversial, although some concerns were raised by the opposition councillor present, I think Labour voted with the Conservatives on all but one paper. The sole paper being on action taken to control street drinkers in Roehampton. The council has taken some very targeted action to help street drinkers where possible, but empowering the police to act where the drinkers aren’t responsive to the help offered.

This seems to have had the desired effect, although the situation needs to be monitored. However the Labour group wanted to call this an Alcohol Exclusion Zone (which it is not, since that has a strict legal definition) and therefore voted against. A slightly odd vote, I thought, since the problem has been tackled, but clearly image and spin still remain more important to Labour than substance.

Neighbourhood Watch
Much of the rest of my time has been taken up with various community safety meetings. One of the most pleasing with a researcher who was looking into how Neighbourhood Watch worked in various boroughs, and was examining Wandsworth as an exciting example of how it could be developed.

I’ve long held a deep respect for the Community Safety team (as well as all the other council officers!) for their dedication to their work, but it’s also good to see that work recognised elsewhere and be able to give credit to them to external bodies.