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.

After over 18 months I’ve been told by the Metropolitan Police to stop producing my crime maps.

I was told by a slightly convoluted route (I understand a complaint by Harrow Council prompted a chain of communication that hopped along at least three intermediaries to me) but I understand that the Met’s issues are mainly over privacy – that victims can be identified by a combination of road and crime – but also that they would increase fear of crime and that detailing the methods meant criminals could use my site to learn new ways of committing crime.

While I disagree I’m obviously not going to continue having been told to stop by the police.

And if I’m honest, I’m not that unhappy. They took a little time to produce and the policing white paper has a commitment to “street level” crime information by February of next year, so it’s not as if this sort of information isn’t coming around the corner anyway.

What’s more, while I have been producing them huge amounts of data have been made available in open formats that just weren’t there at the beginning of 2009. The London Data Store being a prime example, and just looking at the crime and community safety category immediately reveals some interesting looking datasets. I’m looking forward to being able to use the time to start looking at those and, perhaps, sharing some amateurish analysis on the blog.

It is a while since I droned on about crime mapping, but came across an interesting blog by a PhD student (who happens to be a retired police officer).

The site has a fairly lengthy post (actually a republishing of a paper) covering some of the problems with mapping, as well as some potential future uses.

I’ll say from the outset that I’m a fan of point mapping. While I accept some of the criticisms made in the paper about point mapping I’m a firm believer that we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good; just because we cannot create an ‘ideal’ map doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

But one point with which I wholeheartedly agree is that the current set of maps available do little to offer any reassurance.

The Met’s maps, for example, consistently report most of London having average crime. Currently it suggests 29 out of 32 London boroughs have average crime, with Westminster having above average and Richmond and Bexley below average. Nowhere appears as a high or low crime area. (When you zoom in closer every single Wandsworth ward also has average crime.)

While there is, I know, some statistical justification for that, it immediately seems nonsensical. People ‘think’ some areas are high crime and some areas are low crime. When the official maps so blatantly contradict this belief by suggesting everywhere is ‘average’ it immediately reduces their perceived value and, I would suggest, the degree of trust placed in them.

This is not to say that I believe my maps are faultless, I know they have their flaws. However, I believe that by providing the fairly raw information, like the type and approximate location of a crime, residents can make a better assessment of whether crime is high or low.

In other words it better serves the purpose of either reassuring people crime isn’t that high, or giving the information needed to challenge the police, council and other partners if they believe crime is too high.

But it is incredibly difficult to develop further. I would love, for example, to do punishment maps: detailing crimes that had seen someone caught and prosecuted. Again, this serves the purpose of reassurance (where people are caught and punished) and allowing people to hold the criminal justice system to account (where no-one is caught and punished).

But if the information on sentencing is publicly available I can’t find it. Indeed I find it slightly worrying that South Western Magistrates are busy just a few hundred metres from me but that it’s almost impossible for me to find out what they have done.

The Saferview paper also raises the idea of publishing the routes taken of police cars and beats. A fascinating idea, since it would be an easy way of refuting, or proving, the ‘police never come down my street’ argument. Although the data would need significant cleaning, since timed GPS data would give away specific addresses the police visit, it could potentially be an incredibly reassuring dataset to publish. (Or perhaps not, if it turns out that the dots never really move from the stations.)

But it occurred to me when thinking about these is that the key principle is, really, about freedom of information. It’s essentially saying that information is not ‘owned’ by the police, the council, the government, or anyone else except as a custodian on behalf of the public and, therefore, the public have the right to see it since it reflects what is happening to the public and what is done on behalf of the public.

The key is not whether there is any use for the public in having access to the information, that is irrelevant, it’s whether there is any compelling reason the public shouldn’t have access. What astounds me is not that these ideas are starting to come out, it’s that we are only just starting to talk about these things.

I spent yesterday morning out with the police and trading standards as part of the national day of action for Operation Liberal.

Operation Liberal is the national doorstep crime intelligence unit, targeting things like things like rogue traders and distraction burglars. Doorstep crime is a real problem, with many of the criminals sharing information and considering a career, rather than crime. They target the most vulnerable in our communities (the average victim is 79) and take tens of thousands of pounds off them, frequently doing no work at all or even leaving people’s properties in a dangerous condition (in one case they left not only their victim’s house, but also the neighbour’s properties at risk of imminent collapse). A story from this site at the end of last year was about an elderly lady who was about to be ripped off for £16,000 after already losing £14,000 in a con a few years previously.

Yesterday’s operation in Wandsworth was two pronged, one targeting ‘white vans’ to ensure they were legitimate tradesmen and the other visiting houses where work was being done with police and trading standards to speak to the owner and builders.

The second also gave the opportunity to provide information to neighbours. A frequent tactic used by criminals is to claim to be doing some ‘work’ nearby (using the cover of legitimate tradesmen working at neighbours houses) and to have noticed some loose tiles or guttering that they can put right. By far the most popular approach, used by 40% of con-men and distraction burglars, is to be from the “water board” despite it being decades since water boards existed!

Hopefully their potential targets now know to be careful and who to contact with information if con-men do visit

In all the day in Wandsworth caught 10 offences, resulting in two confiscated vans and one arrest. A good result for the council and police. Nationally the figures haven’t been collated, but last year’s operation saw more than 200 arrests and £200,000 of property recovered and as a result fewer people getting ripped off – hopefully this year will have the same impact.

I’m currently doing some work in a local authority elsewhere in the country, hopefully helping them improve their (already good) community safety function. Inevitably you draw comparisons with your own experiences and the quality of what you provide. Of course, it’s impossible to do, because each partnership has different needs and priorities – what might be important to the residents of a London borough like Wandsworth might not be important to the residents of a rural district or an urban unitary council.

But it did remind me of my visit to see Wandsworth’s Safer Citizen scheme in action during April. Because it was in an election period so I couldn’t really write about it; now, however, it’s something I want to flag up because it’s something of which Wandsworth should be really proud.

The Safer Citizen scheme is an extension of the Junior Citizen scheme, developed to give children in the borough’s special schools their own Junior Citizen that is adapted to their particular needs, so, for example, children with hearing problems are taught different to children with mobility problems to ensure they are getting the benefits of fire safety training.

We’re lucky to have excellent partners helping us. As always the local police were there along with the fire brigade and Leonard Cheshire (who host the scheme). On the day I visited the London Fire Commissioner, Ron Dobson, and the Chief Executive of Leonard Cheshire, Eric Prescott, were also there to see the scheme in action.

Both left incredibly enthused by what they saw, with Ron Dobson particularly keen for the knowledge and experience of what Wandsworth are doing to be spread to other parts of London. It is a scheme that ensures everyone benefits from our services by recognising that equality is not about equal treatment, but ensuring everyone has the opportunity to benefit equally; a distinction that is all too often lost.

I hadn't wet myself, honest. It was the sponges.

With all the negativity around politics at the moment I can easily forgive people who think we’re all as bad as each other and in it for ourselves. And with that attitude, it’s easy to start wondering why on earth I still persist in my politician-lite role as a councillor – unlike Stephen Byers it has never given me the opportunity to earn £5,000 a day and never will. But if I was wavering then last Saturday was a superb illustration of why it’s worth doing what I do.

The council and partners hosting a Junior Citizen ‘fun-day’ for young carers at Battersea Fire Station on Este Road. I’ve written about Junior Citizen before, and it is incredibly well-developed in Wandsworth. We’ve been running Safer Citizen for a few years and this, we believe, is the first scheme aimed at young carers.

There are 170 young carers registered in Wandsworth, that is, 170 people under the age of 18 who have some responsibility for caring for a family member. There are probably a few thousand more who aren’t registered. And it’s quite humbling for the vast majority of us who never have to think about a caring responsibility until well into adulthood to think of those children who are taking on responsibility far beyond their years.

Me, by one of the young carers!

The day on Saturday was for carers aged 5-10 (and yes, there are five year olds taking on that sort of role) and along with the usual Junior Citizen safety scenarios, teaching the children how to keep themselves and their homes safe, there was an element of fun. So the children did some cooking, saw a simulated fire rescue from the tower and got to throw wet sponges and try and soak some of the volunteer firefighters (and one unfortunate councillor, who at least got to dress as a firefighter and got a picture of me out of the deal).

And it the day the children were given wasn’t enough, the work of all the people involved topped it. Although it was council funded (and supported by some incredibly dedicated and able officers) it was supported by the Fire Brigade, who assisted with premises and huge numbers of firefighters and senior officers, the Metropolitan Police, who sent along plenty of SNT officers (and police cadets) so the children could meet their local team, the Ambulance Service and plenty of volunteers.

And that’s the point of councils, and politics, the opportunity to make a real difference.

The council and police won the Metropolitan Police’s snappily titled Problem Oriented Partnership Award last night for their work talking problems in Strathan Close, Putney.

A great example of how effective targeted work can be in solving, rather than just moving a problem, the area has seen reports of anti-social behaviour drop from one per day to just one per month.

The council worked at improving the area, re-designing aspects that caused groups to congregate, while helping residents form a residents’ association and Neighbourhood Watch. And while this was happing the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, Youth Offending Team and police targeted the ring-leaders while Youth Services did work with the others.

Congratulations to all concerned.

I seem to have stopped taking photos this year – so the cup of tea is getting a few outings – not that photos of meetings or a fairly damp and dreary London are any more exciting.

Councillor Awards
I started the week off acting as a judge for the Local Government Information Unit’s first national councillor awards. While I’ve judged a few things in Wandsworth (most recenty the SNT award) this is the first time I’ve been part of a national award’s judging panel.

It was certainly a fascinating, and humbling, experience – and a real privilege to be asked. Seeing what councillors and local government around the country are achieving was an inspiration.

While the winners aren’t announced for a few weeks (they all find out at a conference at the Emirates next month) I can, of course, start acting on that inspiration.

Wandsworth LSP
The Local Strategic Partnership is one of those bodies that exist in every local authority that no-one actually knows about.

The name gives away what it is (or should be) it’s a high level partnership of everyone involved in the local area – the council is an obvious member, but they are joined by the police, local health service, local businesses and charities to help set the overall direction of the area. The partnership in Wandsworth works remarkably well, and has certainly improved enormously since I first joined (that is a function of a change in the partners around the table, rather than my joining).

One interesting point that came up (I think from one of the health service representatives) was the amount of work we can create for local businesses when tendering contracts.

Until fairly recently it would have been illegal to consider bids on anything but price and quality, though this has relaxed recently, but is an issue that I’ve been looking at over the years. One thing I wouldn’t want to do is start putting a price on location. Is being Wandsworth based worth a £1,000 or £10,000? And what happens if a company moved mid-contract?

The key problem, though, is that Wandsworth is predominantly a small business economy and the public sector is forced to be quite restrictive. For example, we require significant financial guarantees and will look through a company’s accounts to ensure the public money we are spending is at as little risk as possible. These have certainly deterred businesses in the past and often a small company just won’t have been in existence long enough to meet these requirements.

But we can improve access for local businesses by advertising the opportunities and providing advice on how to bid and this is something we are starting to improve. We have long been accessible to local businesses (through things like the Wandsworth Business Forum, the next one being on Monday) and are always willing to advise and help a business compete for our contracts.

Nine Elms Opportunity Board
My last meeting of the week was the Nine Elms Opportunity Board. Now that the area is finally starting to develop this is becoming an exciting meeting again (for years its meetings seemed to be just to discuss what wasn’t happening).

The body was initially formed to try and maximise the benefits to local residents of the development of the Power Station site and the report from Job Centre Plus was interesting. Yesterday I highlighted the small drop in Wandsworth’s JSA claims, but apparently the movement in the market is considerably higher than this time last year. So while there were only a few job vacancies being reported at the beginning to 2009 there are plenty being reported and filled this year. Perhaps we can start being a little more confident about the end of the recession.

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.

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.)