Minute 668 Counter Fraud Update Report

Councillor Paul Collins (Liberal Democrat, Westborough) has written this: At last night’s Council meeting a labour Councillor attacked the report to the last Audit Committee which was presented to us on the current work being done by the Councils’ counter fraud team to challenge and uncover Fraud within and outside the Council.

Attacked? I think he means expressed unease – which is the words I actually used. I am less keen than he is to give extra powers to Council officers. I note that Cllr Collins also says that it “is my duty … that we challenge these reports as presented to us”. It is my duty too, although evidently when I do it I am attacking.

Here is what I actually said in the chamber:

This rather innocuous minute includes a proposal for Council Cops.

Under the Council’s plans, counter-fraud teams will be given new powers to carry out investigations independently of the police and other law enforcement agencies, including the ability to execute search warrants and seize assets that could be the proceeds of crime or benefit fraud.

In the last year benefit fraud and error accounted for 2.1 per cent of total benefit expenditure, ensuring the recovery of this public money is of top priority. However, giving council employees these powers seem draconian, unnecessary and a duplication of the proper authority and procedures of the police.

During the meeting it was announced that the powers will include access to various data sources, including the electoral roll and Tesco clubcard records.

We can all agree that benefit cheats must be caught and punished, and public monies recovered, but that these proposals leaves me distinctly uneasy.

Entering people’s homes, executing warrants and seizing property should be carried out in the proper manner, by the proper authorities. The police are accountable to the judiciary and a number of other public bodies, these new ‘council cops’ are expected to have all the powers, but where is the accountability?

In addition, the Council is proposing to use powers that have been available since 1985, and I wondered why nearly twenty-nine years have elapsed without need to seek recourse through these powers.

I wanted a response, I got a response; reassurances about policing the homeless

I was quite taken aback by an article in last week’s Yellow Advertiser and I wrote to the Essex Police and Crime Commissioner as a result. My letter is here.

I received this response:

Dear Cllr Ware-Lane
Thank you for drawing my attention to the article in the Yellow Advertiser about homelessness in Southend.
You might want to know that I discussed the matter promptly with the Chief Constable of Essex Police, and I understand that he has written to the editor of the Yellow Advertiser to ensure the position of the force is not misunderstood.
I’ve personally talked with several Southend officers and I know that they have a sympathetic understanding of the challenges of homelessness.
I think it’s important that homeless people are treated respectfully and professionally by police and partner agencies, and I have stated this publicly in my latest blog piece for our website.

http://www.essex.pcc.police.uk/2014/02/working-with-everyone-in-our-communities/

Working with everyone in our communities
I’m very proud to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex: we live in a diverse and vibrant county where many different communities and groups live side by side, generally in a spirit of respect and compassion.
There has recently been some publicity about police and partner initiatives working with homeless people in Southend.
People become homeless for a variety of reasons, most often not by choice. Family breakdown, loss of a job, sometimes a mental health problem such as an episode of severe depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after military service – there are many factors and types of vulnerability that can lead to a life on the streets. These same factors and others can also lead to the misuse of alcohol and drugs which sometimes can add to the challenges of homelessness.
I am pleased that Essex Police is working closely with Southend Borough Council, the Homeless Action Resource Project (HARP), with charities and mental health associations, and with the Southend Multi-Agency Anti-social behaviour Response Team (SMAART) to provide support to homeless people. Sometimes police officers will need to act to enforce the law or prevent crime from happening, and sometimes officers can and do help individuals find support to improve their lives with partner agencies and charities.
Homeless people often find themselves in vulnerable situations, and can be victims of crime. For those who may be suffering with mental health problems, I note that a pilot project is currently being run across south Essex involving specialist mental health nurses working alongside police officers to provide early support and intervention. I welcome this initiative, and have asked for evidence of its impact to be gathered and compared with the experience in north Essex which is not part of the pilot project.
We live in a great county, where Essex Police and partner agencies are doing their utmost to keep our communities and businesses safe whilst also offering support to some of the most vulnerable amongst us.

——————————-

Thank you again for raising this matter with me.
Yours sincerely
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex

My letter to Nick Alston, Essex PCC

I have written to Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, following an article in the Yellow Advertiser. Here is what I have written:

Nick

I am a little unsettled by a report in this week’s Southend Yellow Advertiser, which quotes PC Martin Knight. (All vagrants are either ‘druggies or alcoholics’)

Firstly I must put it on record that I consider the Police I encounter in my role as a Southend-on-Sea Borough councillor do an excellent job in difficult circumstances.

I take exception to this report, which seeks to label the homeless as all causing anti-social behaviour and crime.

The quotes in the article are some way from the reality I have seen. All rough sleepers do not have substance abuse issues, although I accept that many do. Whilst some choose the streets live on, the vast majority are there not through choice.

In my experience, albeit limited (and I do defer to experts, like Shelter) there are many reasons for homelessness. Some are poor, some lose their jobs, some are evicted from their homes. Divorce and separation figure amongst the reasons people are forced to sleep rough, as do mental health issues. Some are escaping abuse. It is a far from simple picture, and the glib explanation that all who are vagrant “choose to live on the streets and take drugs and drink alcohol” is misleading. It is also harmful.

Some of the homeless acquire substance issues because of being homeless – it is a symptom of their homelessness rather than the reason. Many rough sleepers encounter violence and articles like this, in my opinion, help legitimise this.

I do receive complaints from residents about begging and anti-social behaviour caused by some in the homeless community, and the Southend Police do a good job in dealing with this. I take a zero-tolerance approach to this. But to label all who are ‘vagrant’ in the way described by PC Knight is plain wrong.

I hope you will be able to tell me that the article misquotes Essex Police. I hope you can also assure me that the Police in Southend will continue to do the fine job in treating the homeless with respect that all deserve. Homelessness is a growing issue, and we should be looking for solutions rather than stigmatising the most vulnerable in our community.

Sincerely

Julian

Cllr Anne Jones: Support for those experiencing Domestic Violence

Anne Jones attended the premiere of a new Police Training video, which aims to encourage a more supportive approach to those experiencing domestic violence. Existing officers and new recruits will view the film as part of a redesigned training programme.

The film was inspired by the testimony of those who had experienced domestic violence and had consequently participated in the Freedom Programme. Two survivors of domestic violence appeared in the film and gave moving accounts of their experiences. They also talked candidly about their experiences regarding police response, action and attitude. The experience of the victims regarding police response was that they felt invisible and part of a paperwork process, rather than a person who had experienced an appalling crime and needed help and support.

The film was made by Essex police, but the particpants came from Southend. They and many others have benefitted from joining the Freedom Programme,run by Safer Places. The aims are;

To help people understand the beliefs held by abusers

To illustrate the effects of domestic violence on children

To assist in recognising future abusers

To help victims gain self-esteem and confidence and improve the quality of their lives

Anne says ‘ Domestic violence is a blight in civilised society. It needs to be dealt with with sensitivity and understanding. Dealing with Domestic Violence, must not centre solely on the perpetrator, but must focus on the victim and their family.

It is encouraging that the police are talking a number of new approaches, including use of body cameras to add to the evidence gathering process, which should help victims in a positive and constructive way’

FOR INFORMATION OR ADVICE PLEASE CALL SAFER PLACES ON 01702 618026 e-mail http://www.saferplaces.co.uk/

The Freedom Programme (12 week course) runs at Centre Place Family Centre and Safer Places provide a drop in session at the same location on Wednesdays 10-12, 2-4. (number above).

Ware-Lane uneasy over ‘Council Cop’ proposals

My latest press release:

Julian Ware-Lane has expressed his unease over proposals that would allow Southend Council to create its own police force that would crackdown on benefit cheats.

Under the Council’s plans, counter-fraud teams will be given new powers to carry out investigations independently of the police and other law enforcement agencies, including the ability to execute search warrants and seize assets that could be the proceeds of crime or benefit fraud.

In the last year benefit fraud and error accounted for 2.1 per cent of total benefit expenditure, ensuring the recovery of this public money is of top priority. However, giving council employees these powers seem draconian, unnecessary and a duplication of the proper authority and procedures of the police.

Councillor Julian Ware-Lane, was the sole dissenting voice Southend Council’s Audit Committee hearing of a report entitled Counter Fraud Service Update last night, where he expressed his unease at the implications behind the proposals. During the meeting it was announced that the powers will include access to various data sources, including the electoral roll and Tesco clubcard records.

Julian Ware-Lane, Labour portfolio holder for Public Protection, Transport and Waste, commented:

“We can all agree that benefit cheats must be caught and punished, and public monies recovered, but that these proposals leaves me distinctly uneasy.

Entering people’s homes, executing warrants and seizing property should be carried out in the proper manner, by the proper authorities. The police are accountable to the judiciary and a number of other public bodies, these new ‘council cops’ are expected to have all the powers, but where is the accountability?

In addition, the Council is proposing to use powers that have been available since 1985, and I wondered why nearly twenty-nine years have elapsed without need to seek recourse through these powers.

Empowering our officers to search and seize the assets of its residents, in advance of prosecution, is a step too far. Whilst we must be tough on crime this should not mean the diminution of our rights and freedoms.”

Worried about being burgled? Here is some crime prevention advice

  •  Make your home safe and secure by fitting 5 lever mortise locks on all external doors and secure locks on all other doors and windows.
  •  Fit a burglar alarm
  • Lock and secure all windows and doors when you leave your home – take special care with UPVC doors (lift handle and lock door with key).
  • Remove keys from locks and place them out of sight.
  • Never leave tools or implements outside the property which thieves can use to forcibly enter your home.
  • Use automatic light timers / sensors to make your property look occupied and consider leaving a radio on.
  • Ensure the perimeter of your property (gates, fences, and hedges) is secure, to prevent access to thieves.
  • Avoid leaving car keys on view near windows and doors and secure vehicles in garages or behind gates.
  • Photograph and record serial numbers of valuable items (laptops, computer consoles, satellite navigation systems, TV’s etc), use an ultra violet marker pen to security code your property, to assist with later identification.
  • Where possible hide smaller valuable items in unusual places where thieves might not look (laundry baskets or food containers). Jewellery is stolen for its metallic value and is rarely recovered.
  • Do not leave packaging on view as it may highlight a recent purchase of valuable items, dispose of it carefully.
  • Do not advertise that you are away – ask a trusted person to check on your property and remove mail. Cancel milk & newspaper deliveries. Ensure light timers and burglar / fire alarms are working.
  • Suspect callers should never be admitted to your property – always check identification and if necessary verify with a telephone call to the agency concerned. If you are still concerned call for advice from friends / relatives / Police. Remember that opportunist burglars usually knock on doors to check whether the premises are occupied and may use an excuse by asking for a named person. If you are unsure close the door and ring for assistance.

Don’t vote Tory and then complain about a lack of police

Picking the dumbest Conservative policy since Dave seduced Nick into giving him the keys to Number Ten is a tough call, if only for the sheer range of choices available. Almost every utterance from Michael Gove, for instance, would stand a good chance.

Conservative weakness on law and order is one thing that grates with many that I speak to. Ken Clarke’s attempts at prison reform foundered at the outset, but the division within blue ranks over the treatment of prisoners is not their biggest failing.

Almost no-one I speak to wants to see less police on the beat, yet we witness yet another Tory government cutting police numbers. Whilst Southend is generally a safe town, people do want to see a visible police presence, and despite the best endeavours our overworked police cannot be everywhere.

The cutting of police numbers is set against the waste of money that was the Police and Crime Commissioners election. The Essex PCC was elected by only one in thirty-five voters in Southend, and if nothing else speaks volumes for the contempt Southenders had for the process this certainly does. I think most would rather an extra bobby on the beat than see Essex’s police politicised.

The police in Southend are working hard to keep Southenders safe, they could do a better job if their jobs were not threatened, if police front desks were not closed, and if they did not have to resort to marching in protest against their treatment from this government.

Part of my role as a councillor is to act as an intermediary on occasion between residents and police, and I pass on their concerns and wishes for more patrols, etc. I would find this a lot easier if the government showed less commitment to useless and unwanted bureaucratic exercises and gave the public what they wanted.

Not so handy any more

http://southendcdrp.co.uk/news_updates.php#HandyVanClose020513

Age UK is closing its HandyVan service which has been operating in Southend for a number of years.

The charity is no longer able to take new referrals and will complete any outstanding work prior to the service’s closure on 7 June.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General, said: “We know that many older people want to be able to get hold of a reliable handyperson and that those who have used our service for small home repairs and adaptations over the years have found it very valuable.

“However due to funding we are only able to provide this service to a small number of people. In future we want to help a greater number of people by doing more to help the local Age UK charities in England and Wales to provide home support services.”

The handy van service was able to make homes a bit safer against the predations of burglars, for instance. It was often promoted by the local police, and I think its loss will be felt.

Community safety

On Monday I will be taking part in a Quality of Life forum at the Trinity Family Centre in Westcliff; the subject up for discussion being community safety. This is a pretty broad subject, and since the forum will be an opportunity for audience members to grill me (and whoever else is invited onto the panel) I will have to be prepared for whatever is thrown at me.

One of the more obvious aspects of community safety is crime. Tonight I am attending a Milton Neighbourhood Meeting, which is described on the Essex Police website as being held by police, local Councillors and members of the public to discuss issues within the Milton Ward. This meeting is open to all those members of public who either reside or have a business interest in this constituency. It is an opportunity for those present to voice their concerns regarding crime and anti social behaviour. Local policing priorities are set by the community at this forum.

Crime is but one factor, though, road safety is important too. Although not in Milton ward, the Victoria Gateway shared space is very close by and used by many Milton residents. It also comes under my shadow portfolio (Public Protection, Waste and Transport), and I am acutely aware of the many concerns over pedestrian safety in this area. It attracts criticism because of its design for aesthetic reasons, but there are real issues for people who use this, brought to the forefront in many people’s mind by the recent accident involving a disabled pedestrian and a bus.

I think the shared space on City Beach works. Safety concerns have to be addressed, but I think it suits the seafront area. Seaside visitors used to amble across the road in all places along the Golden Mile under the old layout anyway, and the open design makes this easier and more obvious. Besides, the area definitely needed a makeover. I am not convinced by the large and expensive lampposts, but I accept that this is a matter of opinion and whatever design was chosen would have found its critics.

I think the shared space outside of Southend Victoria station is poorly designed, and whilst the accident rate may be no worse than before that will largely be a matter of luck. I find it ugly; the former roundabout was a pretty oasis and its thief in the night removal was an act of cowardice by the council. I would like to see railing and proper zebra crossings installed, and a re-working of the road layout. The latter wish will be very expensive and thus unlikely to happen, but remedial action to ensure pedestrian safety is not so expensive.

Crime in Southend, the latest figures

You do get some interesting data on the Police website (www.police.uk).

To quote:

  • In the year ending 30 September 2012, the crime rate in Southend-on-Sea was higher than average for the Essex force area.
  • In the year ending 30 September 2012, the crime rate in Southend-on-Sea was about the same as the average crime rate across similar areas.
  • In the quarter ending 30 September 2012, crime rates were down in Southend-on-Sea compared with the corresponding quarter in 2011.
  • In the year ending 30 September 2012, the burglary rate in Southend-on-Sea was higher than average for the Essex force area.
  • In the quarter ending 30 September 2012, drug offence rates were up in Southend-on-Sea compared with the corresponding quarter in 2011.

Some good news, although I do not know whether September 2011 was a particularly good, bad, or average quarter.

I do know that it is a frequent refrain from residents that they wish to more police out and about, an impossibility at present owing to the cuts to frontline policing.

Only Harlow comes out worse for crime in Essex, though, and overall one cannot but wish that Southend-on-Sea had less crime.

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