Saturday, May 28, 2011

Stop the cheques

The Daily Mail has this piece today about how Marie Wastlund, 27, risked her life to stop a street robbery – while two police officers sat in their patrol car a few yards away. She was walking home from a night out when she saw three hooded thugs throttling and kicking a woman in view of the police vehicle. The student waved and shouted to get the attention of the officers – parked only 25 yards away – but they did nothing.

The Mail is good at this sort of story, but it is very bad at drawing together the threads ... and threads there are. It will come as little surprise to learn that we are dealing with our old friends the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

Responding to this incident, we have the egregious Superintendent Ian Wylie – he of Stokes Croft riot fame – who tells us, with the classic wooden vocabulary of the bureaucrat: "I am grateful to the witness for reporting the incident and bringing to our attention her concerns about a police car nearby.

He adds, with all the sincerity of the mindless robot that he is: "We take allegations such as these very seriously and it is my intention to investigate how we responded to this incident to make sure that our officers are providing the highest possible standard of service". But this is the force which is so incompetent that it managed to spark off the riot in Stokes Croft, while then pouring in resources to investigate Hitler graffiti on a political poster (below).

Clearly, we have a force here which is – to be kind - "underperforming", with a gung-ho chief constable whose incompetence is matched only by his almost complete lack of accountability, as his Keystone cops blunder around the parish, variously beating up those with whom they disagree, while failing to support law-abiding citizens.

But this latest story is only one of a whole raft of tales of incompetence, over-reaction and – as we see here - extremely dubious use of public money. This is where a leading Scotland Yard official under investigation over "highly sensitive" misconduct allegations made by a female colleague has retired early with a £180,000 pay-off. Critics claim that Martin Tiplady, the Met's director of human resources, has been given favourable treatment because of his status in the force. They say the payout is an "abuse" of taxpayers’ money.

Clearly, something needs to be done to address painfully obvious deficiencies in the so-called police "services". The Carswell-Hannan solution is to have the control of budgets given to Sheriffs, elected on a county or city basis. And there we have the typical window dressing solution, interposing yet another highly-paid official between the people and the "service" that spends their money.

The real answer is for the people to assume the power to stop the cheques. Police forces these days delight in calling themselves services, and us their "customers" – but what defines the customer is the ability to take his custom (or his money) elsewhere if the service is not up to standard.

That is the very thing I was trying to do when I was locked up in prison – withholding the police precept after having suffered four burglaries and our car broken into outside the house. And those who sought my imprisonment called themselves the "Customer Services Department". This, I found truly offensive.
Stopping the cheques, though, is the only real way of bringing an out-of-control bureaucracy to heel – so we are back to "referism" again, but at a local level. As well as an annual referendum to approve the national budget, we need a local referendum to agree our local authority budgets ... which include the police precept.

Carried out at the same time as a national referendum, this would add little additional cost, and afford a powerful control over a system that is now beyond control. There is no getting round this – local democracy means local people taking control over local expenditure and tax gathering. Those who purport to "serve" us will respond to nothing else.