Thursday, 27 November 2014

Race to the top - we're concerned - should you be?

It's over two weeks since I and the Chair of Weelingborough Black Consortium wrote to the Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council  about our concerns about the consultation on improving educational achievement, "Race to the Top". It's disappointing that there's been no response.

They appear to make statements comparing free school meal (FSM) with non-FSM kids (p. 3) and then leap to talking about specific groups within that – white ‘working class’ boys and looked after (p. 6).

There is no evidence that white FSM are the lowest achievers in the area. Nationally Gypsy/Roma are the lowest achievers, even if you only look at FSM kids. FSM is very misleading when described as ‘working class’. Most working class people do not qualify for free school meals.

Senior academics in this field, Professor David Gillborn, Dr Nicola Rollock, Dr Paul Warmington (University of
Birmingham) & Sean Demack (Sheffield Hallam University) present the following analysis:

"The best available data demonstrate clearly that working class pupils, in all ethnic groups, achieve less well on average than their middle class peers. However, the current debate is skewed by a focus on the smaller inequalities of achievement between working class children in different ethnic groups. The broad image of ‘White working class’ failure reported by many commentators is based on data that describe the low average
attainments of those in receipt of free school meals (FSM). This is a crude indicator of family poverty and does not capture the everyday meaning of ‘working class’: most people who think of themselves as ‘working class’ would not be placed within the FSM group in educational statistics."

The County Councils own Equality Duty Report for 2014 states: "Most ethnic groups results track just below national averages when compared to national results by ethnicity. Exceptions to this include ‘Pakistani’, ‘Indian’, ‘Other-Black’ and ‘Mixed: Black/ White African’ where results indicate these groups are achieving slightly above the national comparator" and graphs show that national trend that demonstrate lower acheivement for African caribbean, Somali, and Gypsy/Roma/Irish Traveller pupils, is clearly present in Northamptonshire.

When the County Council is publishing evidence which contradicts the proposals in the consultation document questions have to be asked as to why this approach has been taken. For freedom of information requests it is clear that no Equality Impact Assessment took place and this consultation was conspicuous by it's lack of engagement with Black communities in Northamptonshire where had these proposals had clear evidence this could be presented and the proposals justified.

If you feel strongly about this please sign the petition on the matter here

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Leader of Northampton Borough Council "Staff work" in "holiday camp"

You can read the article about this here

As a local resident proud of my Northamptonian heritage I'm really disappointed by the comments of David Mackintosh about Council staff and his statement that when he talked  "to businesses across the whole of the town, the terms and conditions under which ... staff work[ed], frankly they ... think this is a holiday camp".

Perhaps he could do working people of the town a big favour and name and  shame these organisations so that we can know what they think about the need for decent pay? Perhaps we should look at all of the facts to see whether this is an objective assessment or an off the cuff remark.

For our town to thrive we need excellent public services staffed by well trained, well motivated individuals who know that they are valued by the people that they serve and the people that lead thier organisations. We only have to look at the effect of the County Council altering the terms and conditions of their staff on the services they deliver. The result - abysmally poor levels of experienced permanent staff in social services and a heavy over reliance on expensive agency staff to deliver basic service levels that are still classed as "inadequate" by inspectors.

The Borough Councils expenditure on staffing is a big proportion of the budget. What a shame, that the Council leadership don't try and get the most out of this spending by valuing the best resource that they have and choose rather to have a race to the bottom for both staff and local services.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Bringing Human Rights home to Northampton

Today, Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council were supporting partners to the British Institute of Human Rights countrywide tour with an event hosted in the Cheyne Walk Club in centre of Northampton.

An audience of over forty people gave up a whole day of their time to debate, discuss and engage with the concept of human rights in twenty first century britain and aboard. The Human Rights tour has been taking place since 2011 and for the first time it had arrived in Northamptonshire.

With a wide range of information about human rights including detailed description of the background to the establishment of the human rights and the framework of rights, the sessions covered case law, the balance of absolute and non absolute rights. There was a wealth of information delivered in an approach that could only be described as extremely user friendly.

It was really positive talking with others in the break at the event at a time where human rights has been hitting the headlines with both the media and the breadth of the political classes having their say.

The trouble is that we are all too comfortable to accept human rights as an idea that should be upheld in a far off foreign land. For right here and right now, human rights doesn't have a poster boy or poster girl that we can all relate to as it is about all humans many of which we will never really share a similar experience with. Much of the time arguments of social justice promote the concept of "that could be you ... so support their cause". All too often human rights battlefields require supporters to support causes that they will never experience, so the support has to be there with the argument that "this is the right thing to do"and the human rights cause, particular in these times desparately need you and many others to do the right thing.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

999 call for the NHS

Over the last few days I've been writing about the 999 call for the NHS march that is coming through Northampton on the evening of Monday 1st September and leaving Northampton for Bedford on Tuesday 2nd September.

If you cannot make the march, there are lots of ways that you can help. One thing you can do is to write to your MP and ask them to support  Clive Efford MP's private member's bill (NHS amended duties and powers).
• stop the Privatisation of the NHS,
• restore the legal duty of the Secretary of State for Health to provide National Health Services,
• amend the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to remove the competition requirements,
• amend the ability to provide private health services,
• amend the provisions of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 relating to Monitor,
• repeal Section 75 Regulations.

If you live ing Northampton South you can email Brian Binley MP on
and if you live in Northampton North you can email Michael Ellis on

If you contact your MP, make it clear that you live in their constituency and try and write even just one sentence about why you are concerned about the NHS.

If you're on social media use the following hashtags:

You can find more information about the Northampton events here

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

For those who don't think that cuts in the NHS are happening in the here and now...

Earlier in the year, the Chronicle and Echo reported proposed job losses of almost 250.

Proposals included:
- support staff, such as medical secretaries at risk. The list is also believed to include a handful of consultants.
- The plan to replace band 6 staff nurses with cheaper, less experienced band 5 staff, or else ask for volunteers to drop to the lower grade.

Critically, the proposals included no plans to consult with the public

As with some many things like this the devils is in the detail. To find out a little more I put in a freedom of information request for the equality impact assessments (EqIA) for the proposals

The EqIA's provided range from ones which seemed to be ammended in handwriting to others which were blank. Hardly the signs of a process that was being robustly considered.

A few months later and we have the scandalous debacle of hospital scientists wanting to work being locked out of their own workplace in a dispute over pay. This meant that patients were left high and dry with out blood tests and results as a result of heavy handed management strategies which
prevented staff in the department going to work.
If you don't think that there's a need to shine a spotlight on changes in the NHS, it's time to think again.  Find out more about how to support the #999MarchNorthants , part of the #darlomums campaign here. In brief, you can help 
  • by marching the Market Harborough to Northampton or Northampton to Bedford legs of the march, even if you just do a little bit
  • coming to the rally outside All Saints Church on Monday 1st September at 5.30pm
  • coming to the Dostiyo Centre at 52 Dunster Street, Northampton after 6.45pm and meeting marchers and sharing a vegetarian meal with them (solidarity cost to non-marchers £2)

Sunday, 24 August 2014


The deep felt concern over the NHS is a national passion and something I have written about here a couple of years ago. It's shocking that so much has changed in the NHS over the last few years with so little awareness of the changes and the impact that privatisation and selling off services have had. Quite incredibly there have been ward closures and lucrative contracts sold off to off shore bidders without much of a murmour NHS workers in general practice, in hospiatls and out in the community have seen their resources in real terms shrink whist at the same time experiencing a systematic onslaught by goverment, but the media and big business in an operation to erode trust.

This is why I'm so pleased to see the 999 call for the NHS campaign. The plan of marching across the country to support the NHS has already attracted a lot of national publicity. It's even more significant for me because it is an intiative that has been set up by a group of women just concerned about their families and their future without the support of the national health service that they have previously enjoyed.

I'm even more pleased that the campaign is coming to my town of Northampton on the evening of Monday September 1st. From what I hear, they will be coming into town at about 5.30pm and having  a rally on the square outside All Saints Church. Why don't you come and join them and show your support for the NHS. You can find out more about the campaign and the march to Bedford on Tuesday September 2nd here.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Race in the future - organising and support

Less than a handful of years ago there were close to 200 racial equality councils (REC's) in the United Kingdom. A recent survey undertaken on behalf of the East Midlands Racial Equality Consortium by Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council has identified only 41 remaining historic racial equality councils in England, Scotland and Wales with only 33 of them in England. Most organisations have changed their name to take on the breadth of the equality act agenda although some remain as racial equality councils. Their activities still reflect doing one or more of discrimination advice, immigration advice, hate crime monitoring and good relations/community cohesion activity. Historic REC's in the devolved nations seem to be doing well and report good staffing and volunteer numbers. For instance, Edinburgh and the Lothians Regional Equality Council have 13 staff and SEWREC (South East Wales Racial Equality Council) have 20 staff. The functioning of REC's which have not gone under is very variable. Some are just existing with committed volunteers with no paid staff support at all.

Some areas of the country such as the North East and Cumbria have no historic REC's left.
Is it that there isn't a need? Is it because there are low BAME population numbers there? Or is it that the gap has been filled by generalist equality VCS organisations? There is evidence to show that the need for REC services is just acute in areas of low populations numbers. When our REC provided racial harassment support in Wellingborough and East Northants, the numbers of race hate incidents in both areas were often the same despite a very much larger BAME population in Wellingborough than East Northants. The indication was that if you lived as a BAME family in East Northants you were more likely to experience racism that if you live in the more urban and diverse area of Wellingborough. In Cumbria, the race disproportionality of stop searches even attracted the attention of the Equality and Human Rights Commission blowing apart the myth that racial equality advocates are only needed in areas where there are high BAME populations .

Could part of the picture be the erosion of the environments that REC's have traditionally worked in? Discrimination advice service users now have the added barrier of tribunal fees of at least £250. This situation has resulted in an 80% reduction in tribunal applications. That put together with the imposition of early concilliation by ACAS and the abolution of the Equality Act questionairre, send a cold, harsh message to communities facing discrimination and shout loud and clear that the odds are being stacked against them.

For those REC's working on issues of hate crime, the austerity agenda has meant massive cuts in investment in dedicated services like Hate Crime Units are well as other sources of support such as community safety partnerships and budgets. The message right across the country is that where in the past there was an acknowledgement that expertise was required to resolve such issues quickly and effectively, it is simply unaffordable now.

Immigration services are also seeing over the last few years the racheting up of criteria in the baying for blood of those trying to address the "immigration problem". The introduction of the £18,600 income threshold to bring over a single dependant relative has meant that migration of people uniting families is not a trickle but an occasional drip.

In this kind of operating environment, is it any wonder that REC's struggle? All the more reason to celebrate and support those that are still alive.

List of historical racial equality councils still functioning:


Barking and Dagenham Racial Equality Council
Ealing Equality Council
Enfield Equality Council
Haringay Race and Equality Council
Harrow Equalities Centre
Hounslow Race and Equalities Council
Kingston Race and Equalities Council
Rights and Equality in Newham
Redbridge Equalities and Communities Council
Sutton Centre for Equalities
Waltham Forest Racial Equality Council

East of England

Cambridge Ethnic Minority Forum
Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality

East Midlands

Charnwood Equality and Human Rights
Derby REC

North West

Cheshire Halton and Warrington Racial Equality Council
Manchester Community Relations Council
Preston and Western Lancashire Racial Equality Council

South West

The Council for Racial Equality in Cornwall
Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council
Wiltshire Racial Equality Council

West Midlands

East Staffordshire Rights and Equality Council
Rights and Equality Sandwell
Warwickshire Racial Equality Partnership

South East

Herts Equality Council
Kent Equality and Cohesion Council
Milton Keynes Equality Council
Alliance for Cohesion and Racial Equality

Yorkshire and Humberside

Equality Leeds
York Racial Equality Network


Central Scotland Equality Council
Edinburgh and the Lothians Regional Equality Council
Fairness Race Awareness and Equality Fife
Grampian Regional Equality Council


Rights Equality First
Swansea Bay Regional Equality Council
SEWREC South East Wales Racial Equality Council
The Valleys Regional Equality Council

North East


Sunday, 10 August 2014

It's about what's right

I've been thinking a lot about this. When people get involved in organisations, whether it be for work or otherwise, there isn't an ongoing consciousness about whether conduct or actions are legal or not. Those involved with activity for a broader aim, either trying to create a better world or working towards a value such as the freedom of expression, the law maybe a simply secondary consideration. There are some situations that where I might even agree with such an analysis.  In my younger years I was no stranger to direct action on issues like apartheid or the peace movement.
Reading this article about Ben Ashford and who while working for the Sun he picked up a phone examined the contents and "produced an 18-page dossier for his London bosses containing details of “saucy messages” and “X-rated photos” exchanged between the owner and a TV personality who cannot be named." He was instructed by his empoyers to make a "detailed search".
A large part of the article is focussed on the impact that the subsequent prosecution has had on Ben Ashford. Of course it is no surprising that journalists might be sympathetic to one another.  Whether another individual that had handled another persons property which was obtained from someone they knew not to be the owner of the property would have been dealt with in the same way is questionable. A large part of the article deals with the impact that the prosecution has had on Ben ashford with little if any consideration on the impact that his action had on the owner of the phone.
In the article Ben Ashford is reported as saying that senior staff at the Sun knew about the iPhone and he “trusted they knew what they were doing”.  His defence is one that I know others in a number of other organisations have used too. It consists of, "I trust the people more senior to me and they wouldn't do something or instruct me to do something unlawful". Other individuals who have used the defence, perhaps a driver who has been forced by his employer to drive over his regulated driving hours, or a estates staff at a care facility who is asked to restrain a patient without having clinical training on restraint are unlikely to be treated sympathetically if things go wrong.
The article illustrates how little the profession has learnt from phone hacking.  Generally the law does take a stand that individuals are responsible for their actions and should be held to account for them.  Those close to me will be aware about my own issues relating to criminal activity and breeches of my and others personal privacy. The consequence of this is that I am more keen to encourage others to be responsible for their actions.
However it's not just journalism that is under scrutiny. In time of austerity, more and more public services are taking dificult decisions with little time for checks and balances even for what is lawful. The real question is does any one care and who should be caring?

Saturday, 8 February 2014

What are they afraid of?

Its County Council Budget time. Although you may not know this as a couple of years back Northamptonshire County Council stopped running consultation meetings. Nowadays, the only published meetings are budget scrutiny meetings.  Here Councillors listen to any member of the public with any particular feedback on the budget and perhaps may question them. It's ironic that the only built in mechanism for engaging with councillors on something as significant as the budget is an area where Councillors hold you to account rather than you challenging them to justify their proposals.

If you take the time and trouble to attend the scrutiny meetings, your statements are listened to by the sagely, sedentary councillors present and after they've heard it, perhaps asked you questions. You are then asked to leave while they discuss behind closed doors without you. So is it worth turning up to these scrutiny meetings? Jane Carr, the recently appointed Chief Executive of Northampton Volunteering Centre attended the scrutiny meeting that considered amongst other things the proposals to reduce the small grants fund to voluntary and community groups. She suggested that instead of introducing the cut immediately, that the funding reductions should be phased in. A very moderate line that recognised the Council's difficult position but sensibly trying to mitigate the impact of the plan. Despite this, her evidence is not mentioned in the Budget Scrutiny report.

At this stage I'd like to post a link to the Cabinet papers which includes the Budget Scrutiny Report. However. It does seem that all the links to the relevant  Council  system are non-functioning so members of the public aren't able to see any reports. When trying to access the Cabinet papers on the Council website you can only get this:

Yesterday (Friday 7th February), I managed to see the papers after trying about three different routes to them. I called the County Council to let them know that there were problems with their system. They profusely apologised but now it seems that there is no access to the documents. Is this Northamptonshire County Council progress?

So regrettably, I cant show you, that in the budget scrutiny report  did the County Council not even acknowledge the representations made by Jane Carr. What was also more surprising about the report was the consideration that they have made about cutting the ACES service again. I say again as this is the third year running that the service has faced a cut. It's also surprising because the proposed cuts to the service didn't feature on any of the equality impact assessments despite the service being primarily serving  Northampton's African Caribbean community.

The budget has 22 Equality Impact Assessments. Here are some highlights:

Voluntary and community Sector Infrastructure Support Equality Impact Assessment has no functioning links on data sources (pity since the rest of the document is relatively well written).

Fire and Rescue Service Equality Impact Assessment was particularly poor given that there was no data analysis. It's  abysmal as the policy change majorly affects both services and staffing quite radically. It's also poor because although no human resource data is presented, it's fairly clear from previous documents produced by the Police Force and the County Council, that this data is available.
There are four decisions being taken with no Equality Impact Assessment as they are just technical adjustments even though there have been other policy areas that are stated as technical adjustments where equality impact assessments have been carried out.

A proposal termed "Employment models" has no Equality Impact Assessment as it states they are "Unable to undertake the EqIA at present" and that it will be undertaken in April 2014. Funny that. It seems that they are going to undertake the Equality Impact Assessment after the policy has been decided on. You have to ask yourself then how they are demonstrating due regard to equality as they are legally obliged to?
A Children's Services Investment change and a Children Services Improvement  change are also not Equality Impact Assessed. This in concerning purely because of the poor manner in which the County Councils children's services have operated over the last few years. I have written about this in the past.

Contact me to find out more about my views on the budget Equality impact assessments.
At the first scrutiny meeting of this budget that I attended, the committee were advised that some of the Equality Impact Assessments were work in progress and would be published in due course. It now seems that what that really means is that it will be published on the morning of the cabinet meeting (that is if they decide to get their web pages for this working). It just leads you to question, how Cabinet members can feel that they have really paid due regard to equality with just a few hours to look at these. Have they had enough time to ask officers any questions about them? Additionally can this really be seen as an open and transparent process when publication is at such an eleventh hour. Equality Impact Assessments are not only meant to be published, but also meant to be consulted on. Is a few hours consultation enough?

I keep asking myself, what have they got to be afraid of?  The bar to make your voice heard in the budget is exceptionally high. First, as previously mentioned , no consultation meetings. Second, the scrutiny meetings that are held are very early in the process (straight after Christmas) and all held on weekday daytimes and if you can attend they don't really seem to consider what you say. There was a link on the budget consultation pages which encouraged the setting up of a petition. When I tried to do this on the 22nd of January, it took till the 30th of January for the County Council to approve the petition (yes they have to approve the petition!) even when their website said that it would take three days. Since I wanted the petition to go to the cabinet meeting, this allowed just three days to collect signatures. We collected 136 signatures. At 4.03pm on Friday (7th February four days after the petition had been submitted), I was told that the response to this petition would be published on the morning of the 12th after the Cabinet on the 11th. So the notification of the timeline on the response to the petition was given four hours after the deadline to register to speak at cabinet which the petition  sought to influence. Something that you might decide to do after sight of cabinet papers that are invisible on the County Council Website.

Really what are they afraid of?

Members of the community, concerned about the Northamptonshire County Council budget are holding demonstration outside County Hall on the day of the full council when then Budget is voted on, Thursday 20th February morning. Please come to this event if you share our concerns. All welcome.

We will be collecting petition signatures for this campaign at weekly street stalls in Northampton town centre by the Cobblers Last on Saturdays at 11am to 12 noon on saturday 15th Feb.

We are also have placard making sessions Tuesday 11th and Tuesday & 18th February at the Dostiyo centre at 53 Dunster Street, Northampton NN1 3JY between 6.45 and 7.45pm

You can also continue to sign the petition here.