Category Archives: other thoughts

Destination smart-cities: design, desire and democracy (Part four)

Who is using all this Big Data? What decisions are being made on the back of it that we never see?

In the everyday and press it often seems that the general public does not understand data, and can easily be told things which we misinterpret.

There are tools in social media influencing public discussions and leading conversations in a different direction from that it had taken, and they operate without regulation.

It is perhaps meaningful that pro-reform Wellington School last week opted out of some of the greatest uses of Big Data sharing in the UK. League tables. Citing their failures. Deciding they werein fact, a key driver for poor educational practice.”

Most often we cannot tell from the data provided what we are told those Big Data should be telling us. And we can’t tell if the data are accurate, genuine and reliable.

Yet big companies are making big money selling the dream that Big Data is the key to decision making. Cumulatively through lack of skills to spot inaccuracy, and inability to do necessary interpretation, we’re being misled by what we find in Big Data.

Being misled is devastating for public trust, as the botched beginnings of care.data found in 2014. Trust has come to be understood as vital for future based on datasharing. Public involvement in how we are used in Big Data in the future, needs to include how our data are used in order to trust they are used well. And interpreting those data well is vital. Those lessons of the past and present must be learned, and not forgotten.

It’s time to invest some time in thinking about safeguarding trust in the future, in the unknown, and the unseen.

We need to be told which private companies like Cinven and FFT have copies of datasets like HES, the entire 62m national hospital records, or the NPD, our entire schools database population of 20 million, or even just its current cohort of 8+ million.

If the public is to trust the government and public bodies to use our data well, we need to know exactly how those data are used today and all these future plans that others have for our personal data.

When we talk about public bodies sharing data they hold for administrative purposes, do we know which private companies this may mean in reality?

The UK government has big plans for big data sharing, sharing across all public bodies, some tailored for individual interventions.

While there are interesting opportunities for public benefit from at-scale systems, the public benefit is at risk not only from lack of trust in how systems gather data and use them, but that interoperability gets lost in market competition.

Openness and transparency can be absent in public-private partnerships until things go wrong. Given the scale of smart-cities, we must have more than hope that data management and security will not be one of those things.

But how will we know if new plans design well, or not?

Who exactly holds and manages those data and where is the oversight of how they are being used?

Using Big Data to be predictive and personal

How do we definde “best use of data” in “public services” right across the board in a world in which boundaries between private and public in the provision of services have become increasingly blurred?

UK researchers and police are already analysing big data for predictive factors at postcode level for those at risk or harm, for example in combining health and education data.

What has grown across the Atlantic is now spreading here. When I lived there I could already see some of what is deeply flawed.

When your system has been as racist in its policing and equity of punishment as institutionally systemic as it is in the US, years of cumulative data bias translates into ‘heat lists’ and means “communities of color will be systematically penalized by any risk assessment tool that uses criminal history as a legitimate criterion.”

How can we ensure British policing does not pursue flawed predictive policies and methodologies, without seeing them?

What transparency have our use of predictive prisons and justice data?

What oversight will the planned new increase in use of satellite tags, and biometrics access in prisons have?

What policies can we have in place to hold data-driven decision-making processes accountable?<

What tools do we need to seek redress for decisions made using flawed algorithms that are apparently indisputable?

Is government truly committed to being open and talking about how far the nudge unit work is incorporated into any government predictive data use? If not, why not?

There is a need for a broad debate on the direction of big data and predictive technology and whether the public understands and wants it.If we don’t understand, it’s time someone explained it.

If I can’t opt out of O2 picking up my travel data ad infinitum on the Tube, I will opt out of their business model and try to find a less invasive provider. If I can’t opt out of EE picking up my personal data as I move around Hyde park, it won’t be them.

Most people just want to be left alone and their space is personal.

A public consultation on smart-technology, and its growth into public space and effect on privacy could be insightful.

Feed me Seymour?

With the encroachment of integrated smart technology over our cities – our roads, our parking, our shopping, our parks, our classrooms, our TV and our entertainment, even our children’s toys – surveillance and sharing information from systems we cannot see  start defining what others may view, or decide about us, behind the scenes in everything we do.

As it expands city wide, it will be watched closely if data are to be open for public benefit, but not invade privacy if “The data stored in this infrastructure won’t be confidential.”

If the destination of digital in all parts of our lives is smart-cities then we have to collectively decide, what do we want, what do we design, and how do we keep it democratic?

What price is our freedom to decide how far its growth should reach into public space and private lives?

The cost of smart cities to individuals and the public is not what it costs in investment made by private conglomerates.

Already the cost of smart technology is privacy inside our homes, our finances, and autonomy of decision making.

Facebook and social media may run algorithms we never see that influence our mood or decision making. Influencing that decision making is significant enough when it’s done through advertising encouraging us to decide which sausages to buy for your kids tea.

It is even more significant when you’re talking about influencing voting.

Who influences most voters wins an election. If we can’t see the technology behind the influence, have we also lost sight of how democracy is decided? The power behind the mechanics of the cogs of Whitehall may weaken inexplicably as computer driven decision from the tech companies’ hidden tools takes hold.

What opportunity and risk to “every part of government” does ever expanding digital bring?

The design and development of smart technology that makes decisions for us and about us, lies in in the hands of large private corporations, not government.

The means the public-interest values that could be built by design and their protection and oversight are currently outside our control.

There is no disincentive for companies that have taken private information that is none of their business, and quite literally, made it their business to not want to collect ever more data about us. It is outside our control.

We must plan by-design for the values we hope for, for ethics, to be embedded in systems, in policies, embedded in public planning and oversight of service provision by all providers. And that the a fair framework of values is used when giving permission to private providers who operate in public spaces.

We must plan for transparency and interoperability.

We must plan by-design for the safe use of data that does not choke creativity and innovation but both protects and champions privacy as a fundamental building block of trust for these new relationships between providers of private and public services, private and public things, in private and public space.

If “digital is changing how we deliver every part of government,” and we want to “harness the best of digital and technology, and the best use of data to improve public services right across the board” then we must see integration in the planning of policy and its application.

Across the board “the best use of data” must truly value privacy, and enable us to keep our autonomy as individuals.

Without this, the cost of smart cities growing unchecked, will be an ever growing transfer of power to the funders behind corporations and campaign politics.

The ultimate price of this loss of privacy, will be democracy itself.

****

This is the conclusion to a four part set of thoughts: On smart technology and data from the Sprint16 session (part one). I thought about this more in depth on “Smart systems and Public Services” here (part two), and the design and development of smart technology making “The Best Use of Data” here looking at today in a UK company case study (part three) and this part four, “The Best Use of Data” used in predictions and the Future.

Blue Sky Thinking – Civil Aviation Authority plans to cut medical services – public consultation appears to be tick-box

Updated March 2016: the world class services at the centre have been closed. Class 1 and 3 medical certificates are no longer provided via the aeromedical centre at Gatwick.

The most recent CAA update of January 2016 confirmed that the plans would go ahead despite almost universal objection to many principles and the way it would be done. Unsurprisingly, there were only 15 responses to the 3rd consultation.

CAP 1338 was the third of three documents published by the Civil Aviation Authority in 2014-15, which had only 15 responses. The first two were CAP 1214 (www.caa.co.uk/cap1214)
and CAP 1276 (www.caa.co.uk/cap1276) which includes the 40 original responses to consultation, including major airlines, BALPA, the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (guild founded in 1929), aeromedical doctors and other professionals. All of which objected.

*****

Blog published October 28, 2015:

If government divests the state of our expertise along with our infrastructure, how will we ensure services continue to deliver universal public good?

The NHS is struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers, according to a report published in the Independent in April. Now consider an outsourced medical service where the safety and efficacy is reduced, for our commercial airline pilots. #Whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

If you looked very hard at the Civil Aviation Authority’s website over the last year you would be forgiven for missing the links to the consultation to outsource or divest from its medical services. [1]  This is the service organisation of 30 or so staff who ensure in a part state owned set up, that newly qualifying pilots for commercial airlines and air traffic controllers are fit for the job. And not only British pilots, but others come from outside the country, so great is its reputation. It is the last state-owned of 4 such centres, and based at Gatwick.

Pilots have unique needs and unique fitness-to-fly checks to pass, as documented by Aida Edemariam in last weekend’s Guardian: “The medicals especially, Bor says, mean facing “the risk of losing one’s job… as often as every six months”.”

The initial consultation, now a year ago, suggested outsourcing the service to the private sector. Today it seems the prefered path is complete divestment from the delivery of its services. The second part of the seemingly tick-box exercise closed today. [5]

Tick-box, because the plans are going ahead despite almost every response to the consultation voicing concerns or serious questions, including from major airlines. Balpa at the time hadn’t been able to adequately respond in the original Oct-Dec 2014 timeframe. Many other suggestions and ideas were raised, but from the CAA consultation response to criticisms it seemed blue-sky thinking, creative alternative solutions differing from the CAA plans, was not welcomed.

It seems that in a bid to become lean, akin to having less to pay for on the balance sheet, the government is selling off not only concrete assets but losing British state-led skills in services at which we excel. It is asking commercial companies to fill the gap and many question if there is sufficient expertise in the commercial market to deliver.

There are five key concerns here. The first, is that without the state to hold accountable for the service, airlines and pilots must foot the bill they can no longer control, in a near monopoly market. Elsewhere in health, spending on outsourcing these services has  reportedly rocketed.

The second, is quality control. How will quality of delivery be maintained for services which operate entirely for the benefit of the public good, but are now be required to turn a profit?

And the third is continuity of service. How will the universality of these services be maintained, offered fairly and to whom?

The fourth is whether the UK should sacrifice its unique leadership position of respected medical expertise in European and global flight safety?

And finally and most importantly, pilots, airlines, and healthcare professionals questioned in the last quarter of 2014 whether safety may be put at risk if the cost cutting move at the Civil Aviation Authority goes ahead.

This cut to regulatory oversight is part of the bonfire of red tape.

Responding to plans outlined by the Civil Aviation Authority in a public consultation [1] last autumn, professionals overwhelmingly suggested service improvements could be made without outsourcing what one airline called “the priceless nerve centre of expertise in the CAA”.

Based at the CAA’s Gatwick headquarters, the aeromedical centre offers the initial medical examinations required for commercial airline pilot and air traffic controllers and periodic checks thereafter. It also undertakes assessments of the fitness of pilots to return to flying after illness.

“All pilots who hold a commercial licence undergo an annual Class 1 medical assessment with an Aeromedical Examiner, increasing to every six months from the age of 60, or 40 if they are undertaking single pilot operations. [source: whatdotheyknow.com ]
The CAA expects to reduce overall costs by outsourcing all of its aeromedical non-mandatory functions, outlined in consultation plans that were discussed with potential providers at meetings in mid April. [2] But unions suggested the CAA is putting commercial pressures before the public interest and denounced the plans.

Steve Jary, Prospect national officer for aviation, said:

“The CAA executive board needs to listen and put safety, not commercial interests at the heart of its decision making.”

In its follow up consultation response in early 2015, the CAA said it does not believe in putting a price on public safety and it realised that cost and value are sensitive issues.

The national value of excellent medical services to pilots in any business model on paper however, may be impossible to put a price on in practice. It was especially sensitive earlier this year as the plans for change coincided with the climate of raised passenger awareness following the Germanwings flight 9525 on March 24.

Long before this, in response to the October 2014 consultation, the Honourable Company of  Air Pilots, a professional guild, wrote:

“As long as human pilots are part of the aviation safety chain, it is essential that their fitness to operate is monitored and supported by an expert community without fear of or bias from commercial pressures.”

Lacking in detailed financial analysis it is hard to see from the consultation how alternative solutions measure up against private provision. Specifically there was no estimate in the document of the cost of the CAA meeting its statutory obligations. [3]

One of the three airlines that responded in consultation, suggested the CAA could be seen to be outsourcing the commercially viable part of the service:

“The Aeromedical centre only seems to account for £500k out of the £3 million …and could potentially be seen as the most profitable element.”

By contracting out to a commercial provider, and introducing the need to make a profit, some respondents are concerned it would further increase costs to industry or individuals, and the CAA acknowledged this. Fees could potentially rise in what will be effectively a monopoly market, as in April there were only three other approved providers for this service, across all of the UK. Two are already operated by the same public private partnership and although part owned by government, are essentially commercially run.

Free from Treasury control, the Civil Aviation Authority is self-funding but sits under the wing of the Department of Transport, accountable to the Secretary of State for Transport. [4] But Government support was questioned by a pilot in the consultation, who wrote:

“If the CAA and the Department for Transport cannot resolve this without destroying the CAA medical service then we might as well pack it all in.”

Pressure has reportedly come from EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency to follow regulatory best practices and separate the duties of the authority from the delivery of services.

However a group representing 15 CAA (UK) approved medical examiners, with a mean of 22 years experience, suggested this regulatory issue could be resolved in other ways, and said:

“Outsourcing any part of the medical department would remove essential functions, weakening the ability to respond to or promote future regulatory changes.

“Fragmentation will introduce inefficiency as work which should be integrated will be on at least two sites – never helpful.”

The medical service provided by the CAA is recognised as a market leader across Europe. It influences European and worldwide aeromedical policy and as one airline wrote in the consultation, has “rebuffed some of the more non evidence based demands of the European Aviation Safety Agency.”

Maintaining that globally respected expertise, say the CAA plans, is a third reason for redesigning a medical department fit for the future but many respondents believe that outsourcing will achieve the opposite.

The Honourable Company of  Air Pilots suggested the plans would have:

“an adverse impact on flight safety and diminish unacceptably the UK’s aviation medicine competency, research capability and global reputation for excellence and leadership.”

Headcount of currently over 30 full time equivalent staff could be reduced to eight if outsourcing plans go ahead and the service operates at its minimum regulatory duties.

Last year’s preparations for the outsourcing included an event in May open to providers through the NHS Partner’s Network of the NHS Confederation at which one was an NHS provider, but all others were private sector contracting organisations.

The Public and Commercial Services Union believes there is no provider which could fill the gap if the CAA stops providing its services in the current form. They said:

“We are requesting that this consultation be halted and consultation commences with the recognised trade unions on options within this paper to retain all existing services in-house.”

In April, the CAA said: “We are continuing to explore options for the future provision of medical services. Safety remains our number one priority and we will ensure that any changes that are made will be designed to enhance the UK’s excellent safety record. All medical requirements relating to pilots are set at international level and regulated nationally and will remain in force and unchanged regardless of any decisions relating to the provision of medical services in the future.”

Mr Haines,  explained at the April Board Meeting that “there would be a further discussion at the Board on the outcome of the CAA’s medical review consultation.” What that was is yet to be published. Transparency has not been the board’s strongest point in 2015.

Consultations are about allowing the public a chance to participate in democratic processes in order to play their part in determining the outcome. This consultation appears to have changed little of the plans.

There should be public debate around what we need our service institutions for, what value we place on a universal public good where cost and benefit cannot be personalised, and where change requires meaningful public consultation.  These changes are too important to be reserved for niche interested parties or for them to be a tick box exercise in which the planned outcome goes ahead regardless of the majority feedback. Public consultation in its present form, appears to offer little in the way of checks and balances in today’s democracy. Some are described as farcical.

Changes made in the public interest should be transparent, accountable, and robust to stand up to meaningful challenge.

As the Treasury seems set on its course, I wonder if they are using blue sky thinking to divest from our wealth of knowledge, staff and skills wisely, or plucking justification for ideology out of thin air?

###

References:

[1] Responses to consultation on the future structure of the CAA’s Medical Department: http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP%201276%20Future%20structure%20of%20CAA%20Medical%20Department.pdf

[2] The prior information notice: http://ted.europa.eu/udl?uri=TED:NOTICE:99734-2015:TEXT:EN:HTML  (not yet a full tender notice)

[3] Financial detail limited: https://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=1350&pagetype=90&pageid=16369

[4] CAA independent but accountable to Department of Transport http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2014-09-10/209031

[5] Autumn 2015 consultation part two

Sophie Scholl – post election protest, the press and public

Had she not been executed in Munich aged 21, Sophie Scholl would have celebrated her 94th birthday today.

Had she been alive, I would like to have invited her for the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake in an artisan cafe in the student quarter of Schwabing, in the north side of central Munich. One we both once knew well and liked. One opposite a bookshop.

She famously wrote in a letter: ’Send me more new books, I’m dying of hunger!’

We might have talked of Heine’s poetry that she loved and was banned. Of Hemingway or Mann. When she was at school there was a long list of books removed which weren’t by Nazi approved authors.

I’m sure she would have approved of the literary prize – won by Glen Greenwald in 2014 – named after Sophie and her brother.

We may have strolled past the space where the Wittelsbach Palace in the Brienner Strasse once stood, Munich’s former Gestapo headquarters, where she was questioned for four days in 1943. It was torn down in 1964. She didn’t live to see that happen.

She was convicted of high treason and executed on February 22 after being caught distributing homemade anti-war and anti-Hitler leaflets at the University of Munich (LMU), with her brother Hans.

She was a courageous, bright young woman who stood up for peace, criticised the Nazi leader and government, and died for her ideals, embodied in the group the ‘White Rose’.

The media then was controlled and wrote little of what protest there was.

Some media outlets today in the UK and America have been criticised for their poor coverage of recent peaceful protests. But set fire to a police van or deface a monument and your cause might make the front page. Albeit for all the wrong reasons.

It is time for journalists to reconsider their role and responsibilities. In a world of change which may include losing the right to free speech and equality for women and minorities in the Human Rights Act, it seems odd editors of all people, would choose to be so biased.

The White Rose group called for students to fight against the party. The Nazi party. To leave the party organizations in which they saw students politically muzzled and protest contained.

Post UK General Election 2015 I wonder if there are people who are doubting their own political involvement with parties who lost seats.

Some may be joining political groups or marching under campaign groups’ banners. What will they achieve?

Post Election Protests

Of the two thirds who did not vote for the winning GE2015 party, how many people turned out in protests today?

There was more of a widespread rally reported on the stock market than on the streets since Friday morning.

“Centrica, the owner of British Gas and one of the UK’s main energy providers rose 7.4 per cent to 276.5p. Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the best-performing financial stocks, up 6 per cent at 352p.”  [FT May 9, 2015]

This week after the election, parties and large member campaign groups may be thinking hard about their messages and their audience.  If their message on the NHS for example, has hundreds of concrete case studies of moves towards outsourcing under the last five years of government, and millions of online signatures, yet they cannot convince the voting public that the state NHS as we know it is at risk, something is wrong with the message, their delivery or finding the audience they need to engage.

What matters to the majority of people everyday is more palpable than policies or protest campaigns; shelter, water, food, power, transport, our digital infrastructure and freedom of communication and travel. The protection of human dignity. To feel safe.  To have access to justice and education and health. To have freedom to love and live as you choose.

There is also another possibility. That not enough people care enough to stand up with the courage of their convictions. But perhaps it is rather that the majority are just too busy managing daily life?

Perhaps there is also an argument for campaign groups with millions of members to stop national protest and start delivery of grassroots local change. To provide the services and solutions that strengthen individuals. Their big campaigns did not turn into great electoral power.  Perhaps like twitter, there is a tendency for the message to only reach already like minded folk. Small concrete changes for individuals may have more impact on everyday lives. Through those could come cohesion. And instead of telling their already convinced supporters to sign yet another petition, they should share stories, with consent, of everyday lives.

Stories of what real life is like when you are affected by policies in practice, stories whose ripples will reach further. Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell us the NHS is in danger, show us the service rationing.

The Access to Work cuts consultation affecting the disabled has already been announced, picked up by twitter and in the Independent.

But how effective any ensuing protests may be, may depend on the press and wider public for enough support.

The Press and the Public

In the 2015 General Election campaign, many felt the biggest winner was spin.

There was the Telegraph’s last minute email to readers, and a letter so misleading reportedly from business owners that even big name companies distanced themselves from it.

Now after the result and seeing the first cuts to the disabled and threats to free speech, I really think the Telegraph editor(s) should go and sit in a corner and think about what they have done.

When on Friday I spoke with an experienced investigative journalist, his reaction to the election result was disappointment the campaign had been so bland on content yet strongly partisan.

For people who blame Scots for the outcome of the election, the political press did its job. Not only have cuts in compassionate welfare been successfully justified by blaming the demand for it on laziness, employment market failures have been left squarely at the feet of foreigners, and the press front pages managed to drive a wedge between the nations and parties.

‘Divide and conquer’ is an ancient but perhaps forgotton meme. Pushing living issues we struggle with in society back into our own hands so that we criticised each other and not the failings of parties’ policies to deal with them, was an effective tactic.

The created fear of anything foreign became not just about mugs, not just about people crossing the channel, but fear of the unknown.

So we voted for what we knew or against what we could no longer trust.

So what would Sophie have been like today?

She would no doubt find the injustice of our recent changes in the legal system abhorrent.

Solicitors tell me of rumors that people on probation in Sussex are no longer being met face-to-face since the service was privatised. She may also have had fears that an increase in juvenile behaviour legislation as was implemented in her youth in Germany, will come into Britain. Powers to search pupils, issue same day detention, exclusions & use reasonable force began in 2010. What will be next for our young people under the same leader now in charge of directly punitive services? A fan of long custodial sentences.

She would perhaps have been pretty sharp on twitter. She may have supported Millifandom. She would have stood up to the press. She would have become a pretty indomitable woman. Exactly what the judge, state and its supporters saw in her at 21.

I will not be able to indulge Sophie on her 94th birthday, as she lies buried in a tiny grave, in the Perlach cemetery on the south side of Munich next to the Stadelheim prison where she spent her final days.

It is still one of the largest prison complexes in Germany today.

She reminds us that well used peaceful protest, and print, can prick the conscience of citizens and those in power to achieve justice, fairness and a future society open to all who want to live in it.

“We will not be quiet. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace.”[Flugblatt 4]

The world is better for Sophie Scholl and friends having been there. She would have been 94 today. It wasn’t long ago she was 21.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch Sophie, meine Liebe.

*****

*****

The White Rose background:

In 1943 open protest was impossible.

Their sixth and final leaflet produced by the movement was titled: “To fellow freedom fighters in the resistance”.

Its last lines are quite hard to translate: “Frisch auf mein Volk, die Flammenzeichen rauchen!” But the spirit is this. “Wake up people, where there is smoke there is fire.”

Would the White Rose flyers have fanned the sparks of protest in Munich had she not been killed?

The state wasn’t prepared to find out.

She was convicted of high treason on February 22 after being caught distributing homemade anti-war and anti-Hitler leaflets at the University of Munich (LMU) four days earlier, with her brother Hans.

The judge, Freisler, who became later known for his ideology of the  ‘pernicious juvenile’ which helped shape Nazi law, condemned six people to death from the group the ‘White Rose’: all three defendants of the first trial of February 22, 1943: Hans and Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst; as well as Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and Professor Kurt Huber in the second trial on April 19, 1943.

Sophie Scholl believed she could change things. In life or death.

“It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives? What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted? Among the student body there will certainly be a revolt.”

She was given a written copy of the charges against her. In her cell she wrote one word on the back of the page. “Freedom.”

But she did not get the student revolt or the freedom she hoped for.

Of about 8,000 Munich students a maximum of 50 ever stood up for them. Neither the leaflets left in the university or the White Rose deaths sparked great protest against the Nazi regime.

The ‘seditious’ leaflet promoted peace and pointed out how many young men were losing their lives on the Russian front.  It decried gagging laws and limits to freedom of expression. It called for people, in particular students, to be individual conscious citizens with responsibility to freedom, and honour for their future.

Fatally, it also said that Hitler’s regime must fall to ensure the survival of Germany: “Hitler und seine Regime müssen fallen, damit Deutschland weiterlebt.”

 

References:
The White Rose papers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

http://www.bpb.de/geschichte/nationalsozialismus/weisse-rose/61035/zeitzeugin

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/einestages/widerstandskaempferin-sophie-scholl-jetzt-werde-ich-etwas-tun-a-948731.html

Michael C. Schneider/ Winfried Süß: “Keine Volksgenossen. Studentischer Widerstand der Weißen Rose”LMU Müchen 1993 ISBN 3-922480-08-X

Barbara Leisner: ‘Ich würde es genauso wieder machen’. Sophie Scholl, ISBN: 3-612-65059-9

Refusing refugees – a modern genocide?

I am ashamed  that our government will not accept more asylum seekers into the UK.

From the comfort of my warm dry living room that is easy, while I watch the hardship and efforts of others as cold, drowned people are pulled from the Med.

Easy but for the fact that I see each one as somebody’s daughter or somebody’s son. I am also sad and angered by our collective UK government response, because we could do better.

It’s “genocide — nothing less than genocide, really,” Maltese Prime Minister Muscat told CNN this week.

Genocide is not word we should use lightly, and many still associate with WWII.

Back in 1943, seventy two years ago, the British Cabinet also debated what to do with wartime refugees, mainly Jews and Czechs but including a wide spectrum of persecuted minorities. At the time the Cabinet did not recognise genocide in progress. Their conversations appear not to have recognised any humanitarian crisis, so much as much as a political inconvenience. Yet the same minutes suggest they were aware of massacres. [source: National Archives]

Just like today, the 1943 politicians focussed the problem of what to do with ‘refugees’ on themselves and their response.  It was a problem for them, the British cabinet, not the refugees at risk.

They discussed how it would look and what anti-semitism / racism may occur at home to accept more. What language to use. And how difficult they suggest it was to rally international support. They discussed which departments would take the criticism and how to pretend that political discussions were taking place that weren’t. They wonder if they cancontinue to pretend in the H/C [House of Commons?] to be holding international conversations.” [p.93] Other meetings were to be held in secret.

They seem  little concerned how to solve the problems of people whose lives they would forever alter and many more  indirectly besides.

They seem more concerned to ensure that the refugees will get sent back where they came from than in their welfare.

They made decisions which would have far reaching consequences into the future, for example on Palestine.

Today’s British politicians and media tend towards using migrant rather than refugee, and often conflate the terms immigrant, refugee and asylum seekers. Usually centred on a problem real or imagined that immigration poses in the UK.

I wish we could start talking about solving the problems of these ‘people’ instead.

Politicians blame each other for lack of action. Blame the traffickers for unseaworthy boats and exploitation. Blame helps no one.

Part of the solution lies in not creating the problems to start with.
Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine. Syria. Yemen. So many places in Africa. The list is long of places to whom we sell arms and fund violence.

Yet our pre-election government could not find funds for the humanitarian needs of children and adults who needed our help until voters saw enough coffins on the evening news, a political embarrassment which forced action.

Camps will be built for internment on arrival – but is that a way to solve the problems of people who have fled their homes under duress?

Nations will now unite in yet another new war. A war on traffickers.

The well organised merchants in manslaughter expect to lose their vessels to the waves or have them confiscated. Most of these open caskets are navigated by a non-culpable refugee and the traffickers don’t care if they founder.

‘Let them drown’ has not been a policy exclusive to European leaders.

What effective difference will destroying more boats make?

This is a refugee’s only option in the last leg of a long journey from war; torture, rape and harassment. How will it stop them leaving or wanting a safe and better life for their children? Why should it? Will this policy not simply push up the price of every place on a remaining boat and drive more unworthy ones into service?

Will sending arrivals back solve anything or create some sort of game of Risk in which they can ‘play again’ until they die trying? How will they be treated if they refuse to go?

The failure of governments to listen and the resulting deaths, is indefensible when organisations and individuals predicted and publicised the effect of withdrawing search and rescue months ago.

I wondered in the interim how big the number had to become to be embarrassing. Turns out it was 900. And that’s not the total, but the one incident on one night.

The only good thing to have come from that night is some return to rescue work. But the decision to take no asylum seekers is wrong.

The right to seek asylum is set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It is one of the most important obligations in international law.

People in the UK care about the callous ‘let them drown’ policy affecting would-be asylum seekers and refugees. We see through hyped-up threats of  ‘immigration’ voiced by right-wing minorities or pandered to in party mugs.  Sadly the pandering has become passivity towards the real needs of real people. It is shaping a political discourse the majority in the UK do not want, with real consequences at home and abroad.

The fear of loss  of political face is costing lives in the Mediterranean. It is making British politicians of all colours too quiet. The 7th May may see the inconvenient batten handed over to a new government.

How many will perish in the mean time?

One child drowned is one child too many. How long will our leaders focus on what they perceive as protecting our own interests and borders, and not on the people who need our help?

These people have no future if they don’t leave. They have no future if they don’t arrive alive. And no future if not welcomed when they do.

I will never forget that ten o’clock news picture of a dead  boy being carried onto the craggy Greek shore. I can imagine his mother putting that patterned warm hat on his head in the hope it would protect him from the cold weather on a rough crossing.

I see his lifeless hands hanging free in the fisherman’s arms.

And I wonder how today’s Cabinet Office minutes will read in the years to come.

photo: twitter adapted from a poster of the Italian Red Cross. #WhereisEurope

****

1943 Cabinet Office minutes.

February. Refugees.

A.E. Rpt. on recent mtg. re Jews. No progress with U.S.A. No immed. chance of direct conversns. Can we continue to pretend in H/C. tht. we are holding internat. conversns. We here can do so little tht. difficult for us to take it up internationally unless U.S. co-operate.

H.O. I cd. take 1.000 or so as part of U. Nations move – but only to bring the others on. Rathbone & Co. all pressing us to admit some to encourage other A. Nations. My feeling is we’ve done too much already w’out guarantee tht. other Nations will help. Danger of anti-Semitic troubles here.

S/Doms. Advantages of explaing. diffies. in Debate – what we have done, and diffy. of doing more.

W.O. Risk of provoking discussion of Jewish Army.

A.E. Agree advantages. Trouble is disclosure of U.S. delay.

H.O. Arrange Parly. Ques. to P.M. askg. what contribn. we and Empire have made – and give it publicity.

M/L. Can Cab. Sec draft Answer to show what we have done.

Agreed: Have Ques. subject to Cab. seeing answer. Otherwise, stand firm. Have put to U.S. Chargé d’Affaires last week-end 3 points a) mtg. here. b) Agreed – await replies to these points. Ch. Whips to be asked to discourage undue interest.

****

Reception and Accommodation of Refugees.

A.E. Shd. we take line “done all poss. nil more” or “This is for U. Nations. We will try more, if others do their share”.

We favour second course. This is apart fr. what C.O. can do in Pal. for women and children. (Limited nos. give priority to w. and children)

Amendment of para 4 of telegram – agreed.

****

March 1943 Refugees.

L.P.S. Debate in H/Lds. Tomorrow. Can I use some of these figures?

P.M. Yes: don’t use ‘em all.

H.O. M/I. to seek publicity for this statement. Law. “Czecho-slovak nationals” vice Czechs”

M.A.P. Cd. a total be put in: small gobbets don’t give impn of large total.

K.W. Only if the total is really impressive.

P.M. Consider this point.

****

April 1943

A.E. U.S. have asked if we cd. take few hundred Stateless refugees. ? Say we’ll take a few more if U.S. will take a few.

*****

Refugees: Bermuda Conference. May 1943

A.E. Neutral countries to take more. Camp in N. Africa to relieve immed. pressure on Spain. Revival of inter-Govt. Cttee. These are the 3 main points. Encouraging tht. we & U.S. delegates (not all easy) got on v. well together.

G.Hall. a) Diffy of U.S. doing anything: for 2 days: then they came along v. nicely

L.P.S. Anti-Semitic letters: put it on basis of all refugees, not Jewish refugees – i.e. by describing them by nationality not race.

L.S.A. P.5. India has taken 11.000 not 5.000. para. 14. 185 W.O. Para. 15. Arabs have already got the farms. We have now asked them to put up camps H.O. Minor corrections – notify to applic. Authy. for record?

A.E. Debate. Peake to open qua Conference. Senior Minister to wind up (? Member of War Cabinet)

L.P. Giving assurance to neutrals tht. they won’t have to keep them indefinitely. Does this mean they will go back whence they came?

H.O. This is the understanding. Our only undertaking is to see tht. they get back.

****

July 1943

P.M. I’m committed to creation of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Let us go on with that […]

S/Doms. Don’t dissent. But what I want is to face up to formulation of a proper post-war policy.

P.M. Not a good time for statements on long-term policy.

 

____

Minutes source: National Archives

Chinese whispers, modern weapons #fiction

When you play the party game as children, what starts off said into the ear of one player, becomes something quite unintelligible by the time it reaches full circle.

It can cause chaos and it’s quite fun. Unless it ends up something hurtful the hosts would rather hadn’t been shared.

Not so fun, is the potential for the chaos caused by technology with the capability to spread information from one place to another, sufficiently damaging to bring business to a standstill. Or security. Or utilities. Or our medical devices.

In my spare time, I write fiction. [I have a long work-in-progress set against stories of post World War II emigration.] Here’s some flash fiction from today.

###

December 2015 in London.

After an apathetic  run up to the election, when few concrete policies emerged with detail that could be pinned down publicly and become humiliating in case of coalition concessions, the election was decided. A weak power sharing was agreed. Conservative and right wingers, with the dash of yellow that had survived.

Admitting another poor win, the party have ousted Cameron, and elected a new leadership. Boris and Nigel have already had a few laughs and a few run-ins.

On her way home, twenty-eight year old Kate grabs a copy of the Evening Express with their garish grins on the front cover. Again.

Barely 100 days into a winter government, May is long gone. Little of substance has changed save some minor screwing down on the rights to welfare access for foreigners or those ‘fit-to-work’.  Legacy policies remain.

One of those was on cybersecurity;  technology that protects online communications, banking, shopping, health data and more.

Kate reads the page 3 article:

“In a knee jerk reaction to recent violent attacks, the cyber security ban first proposed in the last parliament has been rushed through.

Campaigners claim the MPs understand so little of what they are legislating that they “believe it would be possible to stop terrorists communicating privately without astonishing collateral damage to Britain’s economy, freedom, and security.”

Businesses and government bodies that have security affected under the new laws, consider what to do.

Kate working in her finance IT admin job, spent the day running reports on what software and historical data she needs in the system. Some sort of internal review.

Banking has IT still in place from the seventies. Building anything from the ground up is hard work. Patches are added on for as long as they’ll work. They’ll get round to fixing it. Soon.

Curled up on the sofa  she uses her single log-on for government agencies, for identity, administration and payments. Finally submits her passport renewal and thinks about visiting her cousin in San Francisco in February.

She books the bargain deal seen in an ad on Facebook that suited exactly what she wanted.

Her cousin joked ‘please bring wine’, theirs has run out. His last post mentioned the price of bottled water.  And China extracting it from the sea. Crazy.

Kate decides to catch up with that BBC Radio 4 IT podcast she missed. “There’s a good bit on banking,” her colleague Dan had said,  “and bring-your-own-device at airports.”  He was cute, and she was interested. Earphones, PJs and slippers on.

She worries shes turning into her mother.

Finishing her popcorn, Kate’s half way up before remembers she need do nothing. She isn’t yet used to the clinic’s networked library system administering her insulin dose. [Something else she’d inherited.]

Medical devices have expanded exponentially. Thousands of people have insulin pumps or heart monitors installed, running citizens on invisible software. The transport system for data, the life blood for humans and high-tech.

Kate’s delighted to get independence from appointments.  Her consultant delighted to cut running costs. Teleheath permits datasharing . Algorithms flag warning reports for abnormal statistics.

The individual products are pre-integrated and powered by central backbone systems. The clinic has an overview of everyone it manages remotely.

Kate’s numbers are usually fine, and ignored with a normal label, somewhere in the system.  But they have started to show she needs a greater dose. She’ll get a call in the morning to discuss a change in her meds, to be adjusted remotely.

Thirsty, she gets up and fills her glass from the tap. That reminds her. She should check her bill online.

Utilities across the UK, power and water, many owned by one Chinese conglomerate, have replaced old mainframe customer billing systems with these integrated modern software. Behind the scenes too, its distribution has interoperable compliance permitted by deregulation and required for globalisation.

Checking her alarm before she puts out the light, Kate smiles at the perfect step count for the day. Her fitapp makes her think of Dan.

She dreams of him. Somehow he’s landed with her in San Francisco. They won’t let him through immigration as he doesn’t want to give up his work laptop. Or phone. The flight can’t take off again and every staff member is using their own device to try and control airspace which is filled with pac man eating the planes.

While she travels in her sleep in the small hours, an organisation in a country she’s never been to, starts sending massive amounts of data into systems around the world. Some with bugs.

Overloaded, her hospital system shuts down, spewing out warning reports including Kate’s into the nighttime corridor. It doesn’t report exactly how her own device is affected because they haven’t researched it. 

Still tired, she gets up and hears the radio news in drips through the shower.

“A military coup in China, thousands of private business owners rounded up.”

“Concern is growing after what appears to be a mass cyber attack spreading malware to banks…”

She wonders if hers is affected.  It’s going to snow says the forecaster just as the water stops. And the lights and radio cut off.

Kate curses the landlord, towelling soap suds from her hair. She picks up her phone but can’t call out as there’s no network – either down or just as after 7/7 perhaps it’s overloaded.

She swears again.

She hopes no one is trying to call her.

It looks like today is going to be very inconvenient.

In the tube queue Kate starts contemplating a duvet day, she’s squashed in an impatient mass of people. Ticket machines are down and it’s bedlam. She picks up a paper from the stand.

Water cannon are back on the front page.  The story is about the role of government, state security and how to keep control.

The headline asks:

“Is London’s newest weapon out of date?”

****

 

“Alongside the Great Firewall, China has been developing a new way to intercept and redirect internet traffic, according to a new report from Citizen Lab.” [The Verge, April 2015]

When the intelligence services knows states have infiltrated commercial company systems, and governments have these tools, how will they be used for good, and who defines those purposes?

How do citizens of all nations make sure that our commercial businesses, our everyday life support systems & legislation are well designed?

Do MPs in government understand what it should and can control and is it investing in the right tools to do so? Are our MPs sufficiently skilled for the requirements in the realm of cyber security and digital rights?

Has water potential to be the next weapon of mass destruction?

[image: Telegraph]

The Politics of Envy

This week the Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman MP caused some furore in the Mirror and wider media, for having said, “the politics of envy” in Parliament.

The paper reported that the Labour frontbencher Stella Creasy said she was shocked:

“Following the law isn’t the politics of envy, it’s the politics of justice.”

It was in a debate on the minimum wage, in response to questions from other MPs why so few firms had been prosecuted since 2010, for not paying the legal minimum wage requirements.

Nine firms had been charged for non-compliance since 2010:

He said: “Prosecutions may satisfy the politics of envy of the Opposition, but they are not the best mechanism to drive compliance.”

What a contrast with Mr Freeman’s remarks I saw first hand in prosecutions at the Magistrate’s Courts last week.

I saw a 32 year old man prosecuted and told to pay £178 in fines and costs, for stealing a £13.99 bottle of vodka from Aldi.

A young builder who would have the same, £178 in fines and costs, deducted weekly from his benefits, prosecuted for a 3am drunken lunge which the defendant can’t remember, and missed its mark.

A 15 year-old who without lawyer, parents or having read the paperwork on his charges, pleaded guilty in an adult court to stealing a bicycle wheel and then had to wait around on the off chance a juvenille trained magistrate could hear the whole thing again, to sentence him.

A homeless man pleaded guilty to handling a set of stolen hair straighteners. He needed healthcare, not prosecution.

EDF was in getting court orders for forced entry to homes which would be cut off for non-payment of energy bills.

If “prosecutions are not the best mechanism to drive compliance” for big firms who exploit their staff, why is prosecution the mechanism we use every single day to punish the weakest in society?

It was a sad procession of petty crimes driven, not by envy, but by desperation – homelessness, unemployment and alcoholism.

Some defendants were grumpy, most bashful, and quite clearly, none were happy. There was not one of them who showed any hope.

The teenager looked fed up with the system, and looking him in the eye, I saw someone the system has clearly already let down.

In society which is so imbalanced, and with MPs earning well, some having second jobs, you cannot blame some people for feeling that MPs don’t deserve our trust. Or that some appear to have little empathy for those who have rarely have a positive bank balance.

People sanctioned for reasons few understand, prosecuted when life  gets out of control. Neither helps the person who is punished.

What jobs are these people being offered – or are we asking those who cannot work to do so – when the number of those sanctioned for not ‘participating in work related activity’ has steadily increased?

sanctions

 

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if  we could find a smart solution to prosecutions, when I agree with George, “they are clearly not the best mechanism to drive compliance”? albeit, in a different context.

Can we stop punishing the poor by making them poorer?

While I am sure it’s a worthy small business to champion, Mr Freeman’s twitter feed says he was popping in to buy a jumper at the end of February – the only one shown on the shop website is the Merino and Alpaca Roll Neck priced at £189.00.

I’m not making a personal criticism or envious of being able to buy a luxury sweater without apparent much need to budget for it.  Mr Freeman’s business background and investments speak for themselves.

But it does illustrate the enormous gulf between the everyday of some elected representatives and electorate. His words underpin it.

The use of these soundbites by MPs, is common across the board, but it is harmful to debate and stops many issues being properly discussed. It avoids further discussion, by changing the subject.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this turn of phrase. Looking back to last summer, Owen Jones wrote about it in the Guardian.

I find I have mixed reactions to Jones’ views, but on the politics of envy, he summed up rather well:

“The left, goes this narrative, is really driven by envy and spite towards those of pampered backgrounds.

“The “politics of envy” accusation attempts to shut down even the mildest attempts at social justice. It materialises when Labour suggests a 50% top rate of tax for all earnings above £150,000. The right screams “politics of envy” at a mansion tax – while championing the bedroom tax, which falls on the shoulders of disabled people and the poor.”

The convenient soundbite turned a debate on fair wages into yet another political counter, the defensive move became an attack.

But it’s an attack on the wrong things if we want a society which works, in all senses of the word.

Envy has nothing to do with social justice and fairness, and in this case, as Stella Creasy pointed out,  was about following the law.

The application of the law designed to protect workers from exploitation and to make sure it’s financially worth working at all.

It’s a safeguard which isn’t even aiming for best practices, but protecting the majority of workers from the worst.

It should be part of wider employment measures which also protect these kinds of extreme exploitation becoming more widespread.

Let’s face it, the minimum wage rates, aren’t decent living wages.

As we approach the General Election, I hope candidates will look in the mirror and ask themselves, why do you want to stand?

Who do you represent, serve and what kind of society do you want to live in? What society will your own and my children inherit?

The ‘politics of envy’ talk, only poisons the real subjects to debate by turning them into party political soundbites, when what we need are real solutions to real social issues.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this election campaign could address them with substance?

What would fair wages pay and how could we achieve them?

What would a truly just Justice System look like?

Now that, would be a leaders’ debate worth having.

 

Clause 88 – the bingo clause of the Deregulation Bill?

Lord Tunnicliffe asked in Parliament on November 20, 2014: “are these  new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

Imagine an unsafe care home where children or the elderly are at risk.

Imagine its staff with fewer professional registration requirements than today.

Imagine the home could legally reject a Care Quality Commission call for changes, citing that to do so would harm the home’s “economic growth”.

Could this ever be reality, if this controversial clause 88(2) of the deregulation bill becomes law? [1]

In bingo, the number 88 is outdatedly and naughtily nicknamed ‘two fat ladies.’

In the media today we often hear about ‘health’ and ‘social care’ issues, and they currently overlap on the future approach to tackling the serious societal implications of obesity.

Headlines more rarely talk about changes to law which could have equally serious implications for the future approach to how we look after our health and care system and its oversight.

However, changes that could affect each of us, are currently in the Lords for review, and my bet is that few beyond their benches and MPs, have had their eyes down on the detail.

The Deregulation Bill – What is the very big bill all about?

It has been on the go for over 18 months, and Richard Grimes addressed some of the concerns in September 2013.[2]

The Deregulation Bill, is a very large bill indeed and is as broad in its content as its title is bland, but it has the potential to be a bombshell in its impact.

Functionally it covers subjects as diverse as busking and the Breeding of Dogs Act. It will make changes to the process the police use to obtain journalistic material [3] and provide a gateway to sell information from birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records.

Some changes in law will specifically affect the NHS: the ‘Road traffic legislation: use of vehicles in emergency response by NHS’, and ‘NHS foundation trusts and NHS trusts: acquisitions and dissolutions’.

Other clauses are area non-specific, such as my ‘bingo clause’, Clause 88(2), that creates a new legal duty for regulators to give regard to promoting economic growth.

The term ‘regulators’ covers a wide range of organisations [4]; you might think of Ofwat responsible for oversight of water and sewage, or the Food Standards Agency, or Human Tissue Authority.

Ken Clarke, joint bill owner with Oliver Letwin MP, wrote in 2013 [5]: “This is the beginning of a fundamental change in the culture of government. We think Reagan would have approved.

“By putting a duty on regulators not to burden business with unnecessary red tape, it will help to ensure that every nook and cranny of Whitehall is relentlessly focussed on growth.”

Will the Deregulation Bill take a gamble with the public interest in our NHS health and  social care provision through the ‘relentless’ duty to promote profit in Clause 88(2)?

Slimming down laws and the administration processes they affect, could of course be a very good thing. Lord Hunt of King’s Heath says of the bill as a whole: “I’ve no problem trying to streamline the regulatory processes, that’s why we broadly support it.”

But what about the detail in practice? Is Letwin and Clarke’s ‘relentless focus on growth’ going to mean compromise in worker safety, or in today’s health and social care market?

Will regulators be less rigorous about requirements and imposing penalties on commercial companies, if a private provider could complain, arguing non-compliance with this clause?

Clause 88(2): a duty to promote economic growth on regulators

Lord Hunt shared his key concern with clause 88(2): “The nub of the issue is ‘will this compromise their main regulatory function?’ I think it’s very ambiguous. He said:

“The health regulators are very unkeen on all of this. It’s pretty clear to me in discussions that they worry about the impact this will have.”

One regulator that could be affected is CQC. A CQC spokesperson said:  “The Government’s response to the report of the Draft Bill Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny said the duty does not set out how economic growth ranks against existing duties as this is a judgement only a regulator can and should make.

“The quality and safety of services is the primary basis on which we will regulate, and take enforcement action where necessary to protect people who use services. We would not consider a new duty to promote economic growth to override this position.”

How these new regulatory functions will work with their existing duties is unclear.

If they conflict how will it be decided which is considered most important if the law “does not set out how economic growth ranks against existing duties”? Summary guidance [6] on the deregulation bill is that the growth duty does not automatically take precedence over or supplant existing duties held by regulators, but what will that mean in practice?

If the economic growth duty should not make any difference to the key responsibilities of the regulator, why bring in this change at all?

A Department for Business, Innovation & Skills spokesperson said:
“Regulators will be required to be transparent about how they are complying with the growth duty.

“The Government will monitor the implementation of the growth duty through existing reporting mechanisms such as annual reports, published policies and service standards.”

To ring-fence the regulatory functions of health and social care bodies from the effects of Clause 88 (2) Lord Hunt proposed an amendment to 11 of them.[7]

He said: “In earlier discussion with ministers it was made clear they have a preliminary list of 5 regulators that they consider [in health] would fall under the economic growth clause in the bill: The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the Professional Standards Authority.

“I cannot for the life of me, see why the health regulators are in there. I hope that the government will be able to take some, or all of them out.”

But the amendment was not supported on February 11 by the government and instead it only promised further discussion before the next stage of the bill.

What changes will it make and are they in the Public Interest?

A year ago in February 2014 [8], MPs in the House of Commons, Caroline Lucas, Jonathan Edwards, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn MPs proposed the removal of this same clause, requiring the desirability for economic growth, and they had concerns:

…”that this Bill represents a race to the bottom and an obsession with GDP growth at any cost which is not in the public interest.”

If the aim of the deregulation bill is to streamline services and remove red tape it should be very clear what purpose will be served through the changes and what consequences will be unleashed as a result.

However it appears that the government wants to get the bill through in principle and leave the practical detail of such risk analysis to be defined by regulations set out after it is law.

Regulations are not subject to the same parliamentary scrutiny and discussion as primary legislation, and some feel they are harder to veto.

Lord Hunt said: “It’s a very unsatisfactory way of doing it, there’s no guarantees and the government can just produce and list and then change that at any time in the future.

It is not the first time that Mr. Letwin’s proposals have been open ended and could have unforeseen consequences. [9]

Lord Hunt asked: “it’s a very open ended piece of legislation and the thing to ask is will it inhibit these key health regulators in protecting the public?”

Of key concern is whether regulators will be inhibited from taking actions in the public interest because of the potential for legal challenge by private interests.

If this sounds familiar, you may have heard similar language on deregulation in discussion of the behemoth of deregulation playing in parallel internationally: the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). [10]

How the consequences of these national and international deregulation changes are inter-related is impossible to fully understand given the lack of public information available.

Public Consultation and Professional Voice given too little regard The Deregulation Bill and the effects of the duty to promote economic growth will spread across all our regulatory bodies.

Like the obesity discussion, the Bill is complex, it’s cumbersome, and whilst appearing to have good intentions, hard to understand how changes will be applied in practice.

It also appears at times to lack common sense and to ignore experienced professional opinion.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission felt that: “applying this growth duty to the EHRC poses a significant risk to the EHRC’s independence, and therefore to its compliance with the Paris Principles.”

The Government therefore risks the possibility of the EHRC’s accredited “A” status being downgraded and of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law.

But Clause 88(2) will be applied to this body which promotes worker rights and fairness.

Social care is to become less regulated by scrapping the need to register staff with Ofsted.

Baroness King of Bow said in the Lords debate on November 18th: “There is a feeling in the [social care] sector and indeed elsewhere that there has been quite simply inadequate debate around these very serious and important issues.”

Lord Reid of Cardowan in the Lords on February 5th said: “There are occasions during a ministerial career where, on study, what seems a relatively small decision becomes an obviously profound and very risky decision […] having listened to this debate, I have the impression that this is one of them.”

The potentially harmful consequences of these changes demand greater public scrutiny.

Will this bill future-proof the regulatory protections of health, environmental, safety, and social care, and prioritise the public interest?

If instead a duty to profit should be put first, one day the words of Lord Tunnicliffe may come back to haunt us: “Are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?” [11]

We may then look back to find why failings happened, look to this bill, and shout, ‘bingo!’

Notes:

The third reading is on 4 March and Lord Hunt has submitted an amendment to take out the The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Professional Standards Authority (PSA) for Health and Social Care from being covered by the growth clause.

As the Bill is amended and re-written, clause numbers will change. Clause 88(2) was the number of the duty to promote growth clause on February 11 2015 in the House of Lords debate.

A version of this article was first edited, amended and published by Open Democracy on February 25, 2015.

References:

[1] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2014-2015/0058/lbill_2014-20150058_en_9.htm#pb16-l1g91

[2] https://www.opendemocracy.net/ournhs/richard-grimes/bonfire-of-citizens-rights

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jan/31/secret-hearings-police-journalists-deregulation-bill

[4] List of regulators: http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/focusonenforcement/list-of-regulators-and-their-remit/

[5] http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2013/07/ken-clarke-oliver-letwin.html

[6] www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274552/14-554-growth-duty-draft-guidance.pdf

[7] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2014-2015/0058/amend/ml058-III-Rev.htm

[8] https://www.nuj.org.uk/news/nuj-backs-reasoned-amendment-to-deregulation-bill/

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/30/downing-street-files-oliver-letwin-poll-tax

[10] https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/linda-kaucher/eu%27s-giant-and-secretive-deregulation-blitz

[11] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/141120-gc0001.htm

Nothing to fear, nowhere to hide – a mother’s attempt to untangle UK surveillance law and programmes

“The Secret Service should start recruiting through Mumsnet to attract more women to senior posts, MPs have said.”
[SkyNews, March 5, 2015]

Whilst we may have always dreamed of being ‘M’, perhaps we can start by empowering all Mums to understand how real-life surveillance works today, in all our lives, homes and schools.

In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt at his 1933 inaugural address:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly…

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It is hard to know in the debate in the ‘war on terror’, what is truthful and what is ‘justified’ fear as opposed to ‘nameless and unreasoning.’

To be reasoned, we need to have information to understand what is going on and it can feel that picture is complex and unclear.

What concrete facts do you and I have about terrorism today, and the wider effects it has on our home life?

If you have children in school, or are a journalist, a whistleblower, lawyer or have thought about the effects of the news recently, it may affect our children or any of us in ways which we may not expect.

It might surprise you that it was surveillance law that was used to track a mother and her children’s [1] movements when a council wasn’t sure if her school application was for the correct catchment area. [It legally used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, (RIPA) [2]

Recent headlines are filled with the story of three more girls who are reported to have travelled to Syria.

As a Mum I’d be desperate for my teens, and I cannot imagine what their family must feel. There are conflicting opinions, and politics,  but let’s leave that aside. These girls are each somebody’s daughter, and at risk.

As a result MPs are talking about what they should be teaching in schools. Do parents and citizens agree, and do we know what?

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, Labour MP told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I really do think this is not just an issue for the intelligence services, it’s for all of us in our schools, in our communities, in our families to tackle this.”

Justice Minister Simon Hughes told Murnaghan on Sky News it was important to ensure a counter-argument against extremism was being made in schools and also to show pupils “that’s not where excitement and success should lie”. [BBC 22 February 2015]

There are already policies in schools that touch all our children and laws which reach into our family lives that we may know little about.

I have lots of questions what and how we are teaching our children about ‘extremism’ in schools and how the state uses surveillance to monitor our children’s and our own lives.

This may affect all schools and places of education, not those about which we hear stories about in the news, so it includes yours.

We all want the best for our young people and security in society, but are we protecting and promoting the right things?

Are today’s policies in practice, helping or hardening our children’s thinking?

Of course I want to see that all our kids are brought up safe. I also want to bring them up free from prejudice and see they get equal treatment and an equal start in life in a fair and friendly society.

I think we should understand the big picture better.

1. Do you feel comfortable that you know what is being  taught in schools or what is done with information recorded or shared by schools or its proposed expansion to pre-schools about toddlers under the Prevent programme?.

2. Do government communications’ surveillance programmes in reality, match up with real world evidence of need, and how is it measured to be effective?

3. Do these programmes create more problems as side-effects we don’t see or don’t measure?

4. If any of our children have information recorded about them in these programmes, how is it used, who sees it and for what purposes?

5. How much do we know about the laws brought in under the banner of ‘counter-terror’ measures, and how they are used for all citizens in everyday life?

We always think unexpected things will happen to someone else, and everything is rightfully justified in surveillance, until it isn’t.

Labels can be misleading.

One man’s terrorist may be another’s freedom fighter.

One man’s investigative journalist is another’s ‘domestic extremist.’

Who decides who is who?

Has anyone asked in Parliament: Why has religious hate crime escalated by 45% in 2013/14 and what are we doing about it? (up 700 to 2, 273 offences, Crime figures [19])

These aren’t easy questions, but we shouldn’t avoid asking them because it’s difficult.

I think we should ask: do we have laws which discriminate by religion, censor our young people’s education, or store information about us which is used in ways we don’t expect or know about?

Our MPs are after all, only people like us, who represent us, and who make decisions about us, which affect us. And on 7th May, they may be about to change.

As a mother, whoever wins the next General Election matters to me because it will affect the next five years or more, of what policies are made which will affect our children, and all of us as citizens.

It should be clear what these programmes are and there should be no reason why it’s not transparent.

“To counter terrorism, society needs more than labels and laws. We need trust in authority and in each other.”

We need trust in authority and in each other in our society, built on a strong and simple legal framework and founded on facts, not fears.

So I think this should be an election issue. What does each party plan on surveillance to resolve the issues outlined by journalists, lawyers and civil society? What applied programmes does each party see that will be, in practical terms: “for all of us in our schools, in our communities, in our families to tackle this.”

If you agree, then you could ask your MP, and ask your prospective parliamentary candidates. What is already done in real life and what are their future policies?

Let’s understand ‘the war on terror’ at home better, and its real impacts. These laws and programmes should be transparent, easy to understand, and not only legal, but clearly just, and proportionate.

Let’s get back to some of the basics, and respect the rights of our children.

Let’s start to untangle this spaghetti of laws; the programmes, that affect us in practice; and understand their measures of success.

Solutions to protecting our children, are neither simple or short term. But they may not always mean more surveillance.

Whether the Secret Service will start recruiting through Mumsnet or not, we could start with better education of us all.

At very least, we should understand what ‘surveillance’ means.

****

If you want to know more detail, I look at this below.

The laws applied in Real Life

Have you ever looked at case studies of how surveillance law is used?

In  one case, a mother and her children’s [1] movements were watched and tracked when a council wasn’t sure if her school application was for the correct catchment area. [It legally used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, (RIPA) [2]

Do you think it is just or fair that  a lawyer’s conversations with his client [3] were recorded and may have been used preparing the trial – when the basis of our justice system is innocent until proven guilty?

Or is it right that journalists’ phone records could be used to identify people by the police, without telling the journalists or getting independent approval, from a judge for example?

ft

These aren’t theoretical questions but stem from real-life uses of laws used in the ‘counter terrorism’ political arena and in practice.

Further programmes store information about every day people which we may find surprising.

In November 2014 it was reported that six British journalists [4] had found out personal and professionally related information had been collected about them, and was stored on the ‘domestic extremist’ database by the Metropolitan Police in London.

They were not criminal nor under surveillance for any wrongdoing.

One of the journalists wrote in response in a blog post on the NUJ website [5]:

“…the police have monitored public interest investigations in my case since 1999. More importantly if the police are keeping tabs on a lightweight like myself then they are doing the same and more to others?”

Ever participated in a protest and if not reported on one?

‘Others’ in that ‘domestic extremist list’ might include you, or me.

Current laws may be about to change [6] (again) and perhaps for the good, but will yet more rushed legislation in this area be done right?

There are questions over the detail and what will actually change. There are multiple bills affecting security, counter-terrorism and data access in parliament, panels and reviews going on in parallel.

The background which has led to this is the culmination of lots of concern and pressure over a long period of time focuses on one set of legal rules, in the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

The latest draft code of practice [7] for the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) [8] allows the police and other authorities to continue to access journalists’ and other professionals’ communications without any independent process or oversight.

‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear’, is a phrase we hear said of surveillance but as these examples show, its use is widespread and often unexpected, not in extremes as we are often told.

David Cameron most recently called for ever wider surveillance legislation, again in The Telegraph, Jan 12 2015  saying:[9]

“That is why in extremis it has been possible to read someone’s letter, to listen to someone’s telephone, to mobile communications.”

Laws and programmes enable and permit these kinds of activity which are not transparent to the broad public. Is that right?

The Deregulation bill has changes, which appear now to have been amended to keep the changes affecting journalists in PACE [10] laws after all, but what effects are there for other professions and how exactly will this change interact with further new laws such as the Counter Terrorism and Security Act [p20]? [11]

It’s understandable that politicians are afraid of doing nothing, if a terrorist attack takes place, they are at risk of looking like they failed.

But it appears that politicians may have got themselves so keen to be seen to be doing ‘something’ in the face of terror attacks, that they are doing too much, in the wrong places, and we have ended up with a legislative spaghetti of simultaneous changes, with no end in sight.

It’s certainly no way to make legal changes understandable to the British public.

Political change may come as a result of the General Election. What implications will it have for the applied ‘war-on-terror’ and average citizen’s experience of surveillance programmes in real life?

What do we know about how we are affected? The harm to some in society is real, and is clearly felt in some, if not all communities. [12]

Where is the evidence to include in the debate, how laws affect us in real life and what difference they make vs their intentions?

Anti-terror programmes in practice; in schools & surgeries

In addition to these changes in law, there are a number of programmes in place at the moment.

The Prevent programme?[16] I already mentioned above.

Its expansion to wider settings would include our children from age 2 and up, who will be under an additional level of scrutiny and surveillance [criticism of the the proposal has come across the UK].

How might what a three year old says or draws be interpreted, or recorded them about them, or their family? Who accesses that data?

What film material is being produced that is: ” distributed directly by these organisations, with only a small portion directly badged with government involvement” and who is shown it and why? [Review of Australia‘s Counter Terror Machinery, February 2015] [17]

What if it’s my child who has something recorded about them under ‘Prevent’? Will I be told? Who will see that information?  What do I do if I disagree with something said or stored about them?

Does surveillance benefit society or make parts of it feel alienated and how are both its intangible cost and benefit measured?

When you combine these kinds of opaque, embedded programmes in education or social care  with political thinking which could appear to be based on prejudice not fact [18], the outcomes could be unexpected and reminiscent of 1930s anti-religious laws.

Baroness Hamwee raised this concern in the Lords on the 28th January, 2015 on the Prevent Programme:

“I am told that freedom of information requests for basic statistics about Prevent are routinely denied on the basis of national security. It seems to me that we should be looking for ways of providing information that do not endanger security.

“For instance, I wondered how many individuals are in a programme because of anti-Semitic violence. Over the last day or two, I have been pondering what it would look like if one substituted “Jewish” for “Muslim” in the briefings and descriptions we have had.” Baroness Hamwee:  [28 Jan 2015 : Column 267 -11]

“It has been put to me that Prevent is regarded as a security prism through which all Muslims are seen and that Muslims are suspect until proved otherwise. The term “siege mentality” has also been used.

“We have discussed the dangers of alienation arising from the very activities that should be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and of alienation feeding violence. […]

“Transparency is a very important tool … to counter those concerns.”

Throughout history good and bad are dependent on your point of view. In 70s London, but assuming today’s technology, would all Catholics have come sweepingly under this extra scrutiny?

“Early education funding regulations have been amended to ensure that providers who fail to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs do not receive funding.” [consultation guidance Dec 2014]

The programme’s own values seem undermined by its attitudes to religion and individual liberty. On universities the same paragraph on ‘freedom of speech’ suggests restrictive planning measures on protest meetings and IT surveillance for material accessed for  ‘non-research purposes’.

School and university is a time when our young people explore all sorts of ideas, including to be able to understand and to criticise them. Just looking at material online should not necessarily have any implications.  Do we really want to censor what our young people should and should not think about, and who is deciding the criteria?

For families affected by violence, nothing can justify their loss and we may want to do anything to justify its prevention.

But are we seeing widespread harm in society as side effects of surveillance programmes?

We may think we live in a free and modern society. History tells us all too easily governments can change a slide into previously unthinkable directions. It would be complacent to think, ‘it couldn’t happen here.’

Don’t forget, religious hate crime escalated by 45% in 2013/14 Crime figures [19])

Writers self-censor their work.  Whistleblowers may not come forward to speak to journalists if they feel actively watched.

Terrorism is not new.

Young people with fervour to do something for a cause and going off ‘to the fight’ in a foreign country is not new.

In the 1930s the UK Government made it illegal to volunteer to fight in Spain in the civil war, but over 2,000 went anyway.

New laws are not always solutions. especially when ever stricter surveillance laws, may still not mean any better accuracy of terror prevention on the ground. [As Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen showed. in these cases the people involved were known to police. In the case of Lee Rigby it was even more complex.]

How about improving our citizens’ education and transparency about what’s going on & why, based on fact and not fear?

If the state shouldn’t nanny us, then it must allow citizens and parents the transparency and understanding of the current reality, to be able to inform ourselves and our children in practical ways, and know if we are being snooped on or surveillance recorded.

There is an important role for cyber experts in/and civil society to educate and challenge MPs on policy. There is also a very big gap in practical knowledge for the public, which should be addressed.

Can  we trust that information will be kept confidential that I discuss with my doctor or lawyer or if I come forward as a whistleblower?

Do I know whether my email and telephone conversations, or social media interactions are being watched, actively or by algorithms?

Do we trust that we are treating all our young people equally and without prejudice and how are we measuring impact of programmes we impose on them?

To counter terrorism, society needs more than labels and laws

We need trust in authority and in each other in our society, built on a strong and simple legal framework and founded on facts, not fears.

If the Prevent programme is truly needed at this scale, tell us why and tell us all what our children are being told in these programmes.

We should ask our MPs even though consultation is closed, what is the evidence behind the thinking about getting prevent into toddler settings and far more? What risks and benefits have been assessed for any of our children and families who might be affected?

Do these efforts need expanded to include two-year-olds?

Are all efforts to keep our kids and society safe equally effective and proportionate to potential and actual harm caused?

Alistair MacDonald QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said:

‘As a caring society, we cannot simply leave surveillance issues to senior officers of the police and the security services acting purportedly under mere codes of practice.

What is surely needed more than ever before is a rigorous statutory framework under which surveillance is authorised and conducted.”

Whether we are disabled PIP protesters outside parliament or mothers on the school run, journalists or lawyers, doctors or teachers, or anyone, these changes in law or lack of them, may affect us. Baroness Hamwee clearly sees harm caused in the community.

Development of a future legislative framework should reflect public consensus, as well as the expert views of technologists, jurists, academics and civil liberty groups.

What don’t we know? and what can we do?

According to an Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard on October 2014 [20] only one in five people think the police should be free to trawl through the phone records of journalists to identify their sources.

Sixty-seven per cent said the approval of a judge should be obtained before such powers are used.

No one has asked the public if we think the Prevent programme is appropriate or proportionate as far as I recall?

Who watches that actions taken under it, are reasonable and not reactionary?

We really should be asking; what are our kids being shown, taught, informed about or how they may be  informed upon?

I’d like all of that in the public domain, for all parents and guardians. The curriculum, who is teaching and what materials are used.

It’s common sense to see that young people who feel isolated or defensive are less likely to talk to parents about their concerns.

It is a well known quote in surveillance “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear.” But this argument is flawed, because information can be wrong.

‘Nothing to fear, nowhere to hide’, may become an alternative meme we hear debated again soon, about surveillance if the internet and all communications are routinely tracked, without oversight.

To ensure proper judicial oversight in all these laws and processes – to have an independent judge give an extra layer of approval – would restore public trust in this system and the authority on which it depends.

It could pave the way for a new hope of restoring the checks and balances in many governance procedures, which a just and democratic society deserves.

As Roosevelt said: “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”

 

******

[On Channel4OD: Channel 4 – Oscar winning, ‘CitizenFour’  Snowden documentary]

References:

[1] The Guardian, 2008, council spies on school applicants

[2] Wikipedia RIPA legislation

[3] UK admits unlawfully monitoring communications

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/20/police-legal-action-snooping-journalists

[5] Journalist’s response

[6] SOS Campaign

[7] RIPA Consultation

[8] The RIPA documents are directly accessible here

[9] The Telegraph

[10] Deregulation Bill

[11] Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015

[12] Baroness Hamwee comments in the House of Lords [Hansard]

[13] Consultation response by charity Children in Scotland

[14] The Telegraph, Anti-terror plan to spy on toddlers ‘is heavy-handed’

[15] GPs told to specify counter terrorism leads [Prevent]

[16] The Prevent programme, BBC / 2009 Prevent programme for schools

[17] Review of Australia’s CT Machinery

[18] Boris Johnson, March 2014

[19] Hate crime figures 2013-14

[20] Ipsos MORI poll, October 2014

 

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 image credit: ancient history

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Burning questions on Detention Centre healthcare & welfare

A man deliberately set fire to his mattress and clothes, and was taken to hospital in Surrey on Jan 31st, two weeks ago.

He is one of 426 men held at Brook House, one of the immigration removal centres (IRCs) at Gatwick. After being treated for smoke inhalation he was returned later the same evening, according to a G4S spokesman.

Crawley’s West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service put out the fire, and had ventilated the smoke damaged cell before leaving, all in 30 minutes.

Clearly it did not come to much,  but why did a man feel the need to set fire to the few possessions he has, and what happens next?

The G4S media spokesman said last week in connection with the fire, he was unaware of any standard health assessment or any procedures for the care of men after these incidents.

In 2010, only one year after its opening, the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons report based on an announced visit at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre [3] labelled the Brook House IRC as fundamentally ‘an unsafe place’.

The inspectorate found in 2010 and again in 2013 that the mental health failings were serious. Should it not be realistic to expect standard practices should already have been put in place since, for their improvement?

What will the recent multi-million contract for healthcare at a number of detention centres awarded by NHS England to G4S and separately in prisons mean for standards and continuity of their NHS care, and will improvements be put in place which work?

The multinationals working in our UK justice and home office systems, G4S [which manages Brook House] and Serco, haven’t exactly got track records which are equal to the ethical expectations the public has in their roles.

They also operate in Australia where Ministers have taken a hardline approach in defiance of human rights asylum conventions.

One year ago today, twenty-three-year-old Reza Barati was killed in an Australian immigration detention centre on Manus Island. In August 2014, police have reportedly charged two guards working for former camp operator G4S with his murder. A parliamentary enquiry found the violence was foreseeable.

Another man, Hamid Kehazaei did not get taken from Manus to receive adequate medical treatment quickly enough due to paperwork delays, and died in December, the Guardian reported.

Are there warning signs that the provision in England is heading in the same way and not just for IRCs but for detention and prison across the UK?

Do people needing healthcare get taken offsite quickly enough when needed in England? How have they responded to deaths in detention?

In the UK, the IAP on Deaths in Custody has produced a comprehensive statistical breakdown of all recorded deaths in broad state custody settings between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2010.

The report included a focus on the deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA).

Children have died in detention and men during IRC removals.
[For more detail, see the section below, Questions on the Staffing and use of Force in care]

The care and the responsibility for these IRC-held men, women and children may not be of interest to everyone in the UK.

But as the expansion of private contractors becomes the norm, any family in England who finds someone they love in any non-HMP run English prison might be touched by the values of these providers.

Should we demand that equal ethical standards, transparency of targets and procedures, and the provision of physical and mental health care, be for all, as basic human rights?

Must our state keeps awarding massive contracts to these massive multinationals?

Will we, under the cuts of austerity, see situations deteriorate further in the UK, to the Australian standard?

Will we look back and wish we had acted sooner?

These issues are not new and are well documented

Lord David Ramsbotham GCB CBE, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons – December 1995 – August 2001 wrote the foreword in the 2008 report by the Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns  [Outsourcing abuse 2008] in which he identified:

“a most unfortunate attitude, adopted by officials towards issues surrounding asylum and immigration, described by the Commission as ‘a culture of disbelief’.”

It seems this culture of disbelief is allowed to continue.

Yet despite years of evidence, the February 2015 Home Office response by today’s government only accepts in part, some of the issues raised and recommendations in the Tavistock Institute Review [2] of IRC mental health care.

These include indefinite detention and the impacts on mental health, and a proposal of cultural change to speed up processing times.

As this is considered, I wonder will any change aimed at reducing indefinite detention manage to be designed in such a way as to also future-proof thorough and proper processing procedures?

In the meantime, detainees and prisoners are protesting via the few channels they have.  Self harm, starvation and setting things alight.

So what can we, the Public do?

If you think this matters but know little about it, we can get informed, or we can ask that our MPs intervene on our behalf.

We can support those who work or campaign in this area, like AVID [see on social media #Time4aTimeLimit and @DetentionForum

I wonder if those more informed, perhaps your local Red Cross or immigration volunteers, could read and consider responding to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) somewhat ‘informal’ consultation [p14] underway, on the approach to the CQC regulation in England?

This will affect how healthcare is regulated in IRCs. The closing date in March is unconfirmed.  Views are being taken now, in consultation via email: cqcinspectionchangeshj @ cqc.org.uk [1].

Joint working may be a good thing if it brings action to improve the health, care and welfare of the people in these institutions.

What it must not mean, is less frequent, independent, or less comprehensive reports by the HMIP which covers a wider area of inspection than CQC might.

Pregnant women, women who have been trafficked, torture victims: [added March 2: see Channel 4 on #Yarlswood] people are not getting the specialist support or care they should. Their carers and NHS staff are not universally getting specialist training they need.

Public pressure and transparency should support the campaign organisations who are familiar with these issues and demand change through MPs. There are big questions for IRCs whether people should be there at all, pregnant women and children even more so.

But specifically on health and welfare issues I would like to ask:

  • MPs: if they are aware already, of The Tavistock Institute Report [2],  government response, and ask for action, not only in IRCs but across all detention settings (incl. indefinite detention)
  • Ask: ‘is the parity of mental health delayed yet again, for people in prison and anyone in IRCs’? [ref the NHS Guidance to Mental Health Access  and Standards for 2015/16 from 12th February]
  • Ask: ‘What will the NHS England awarded multi-million contract for healthcare at a number of detention centres to G4S and separately in prisons mean for standards and continuity of their NHS care?’
  • Ask: ‘What training does NHS England offer healthcare staff who work with these people and how is it universally applied?’
  • Ask: ‘How is the provision of quality medical care being assessed and well documented changes needed actually acted upon’?
  • Ask: why are reports [as outlined in a letter from John Vine CBE QPM] taking so long to action? “The majority of my reports since January 2014 have been subject to significant delays between submission to the Home Secretary and being laid in parliament”
  • Ask: ‘Why is it deemed NOT in the public interest to ensure that all the providers’ procedures, protocols, the expected standards they operate to, and clear accountability for when they do not,  are transparent and in the public domain?’

The state may have, in places, outsourced the service, but it cannot outsource its responsibilities.

In my research to date, the question that I am left with overwhelmingly is this:

“As a provider of punitive systems, can healthcare and welfare can be delivered “with an equal sense of fairness” through the same outsourced service?”

Are the steps Theresa May refers to in the recently announced Shaw review, an indicator of real change?

The reports and reviews over the last ten years listed above seem to have made no difference to the unknown man, who set fire to his stuff, on the Saturday evening of January 31st 2015 at Brook House.

Parliament is well aware of many failings already. [9] and there are known others which are yet to be made public. [10]

Since 2010 through June 2013 the HMIP reports clearly identify issues but what follow though is made and who is accountable for it?

While there are solutions needed to big philosophical questions that may trouble our conscience, like ‘what kind of country do we want to be to unaccompanied children escaping life threatening situations?’ equally big political questions continue to challenge: ‘How and why do we continue to engage multinationals with unanswered ethical questions on financial and humanitarian practices?’ ‘What hope for refugees and asylum seekers in Greece and what are the wider EU implications, if EU political and economic next steps are unclear?’

For now, for many people who want to take action, it is the small and practical which can be done, in practice. Often small acts which make a difference in the silent and unreported space between desperation and hope, for each person,  each day.  Supporting our NHS staff to ensure they get the specialist situation training they want and continue their invaluable roles in these places. Supporting the visitors’ volunteer groups. You might consider joining them.

Call on our MPs to demand change now, not review after review.

More reviews, reports, consultations and new legislation bills, seem to run in parallel with little, at least little public regard to one another and ignoring the continuity of their calls for change.

They could make a difference with cohesion between the responses and if accountable action were taken.

That needs compunction and oversight of accountable follow up.

Until however long the next review takes to report, and any action is put in place, we might see another fire, for another person; in another prison, or another young offender institution, or another detention centre.

It might be in one near you. It might affect someone you love. It may be a child.

It’s not over dramatic to say: it might be a matter of life or death.

****

If you are interested in more detail, read on below after the continue reading break:

A. What happens to someone at an IRC after a fire like this?
B. Review of Welfare & Mental Health at IRCs incl. detention time
C. Brook House, Gatwick Cluster
D. Who is responsible for the healthcare offered at IRCs? The role of NHS England and the CQC
E. Questions on Staffing and use of Force in care
F. Another Review, another Report? Will there be Change?
Conclusion: Burning questions on Immigration Removal Centre healthcare

References

Continue reading “Burning questions on Detention Centre healthcare & welfare” »

The Deregulation Bill – Episode III : Regulate, what with?

Regulation, the use of regulatory powers and the authority to oversee them, are in flux in England.

Some will have lesser discussed, but long term, wide ranging effects such as the regulatory framework and requirement for profit in almost all public bodies.

A significant amendment [1] appears to have been proposed by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on 9th Jan, 2015 in the Deregulation Bill [2]. The next discussion date of which seems to be provisionally scheduled for February 3rd and 5th.

The amendment proposes the removal of ten regulatory functions in health and care, from the requirement to exercise the clause of considerable concern, renamed from clause 83 to clause 88: the statutory duty towards a desirability to promote economic growth.

My last post in November on this clause was after the debate in which Lord Tunnicliffe concluded:

”if our fears comes to pass, these three clauses could wreak havoc in a regulatory regime within this country.”

Later  he asked:

“are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

Clause 88: background on the clause to ‘promote economic growth.’

Almost a year ago, in February 2014, [3] MPs had discussed this same clause in its passage in the House of Commons.

MPs were asked to support a reasoned amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas, Jonathan Edwards, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn MPs.

They proposed the removal of the clause, requiring the desirability for economic growth, and they had concerns:

…”that this Bill represents a race to the bottom and an obsession with GDP growth at any cost which is not in the public interest.”

(my underlining):

[…]”the Health and Safety Executive, which is irresponsible and risks undermining their core roles; further considers that this Bill is another illustration of a Government which is embarking on a deregulatory path without due consideration of warnings, including from businesses, that effective regulation is essential to create jobs and innovation and that ripping up vital green legislation risks locking the UK into polluting industrial processes for decades to come, jeopardising future competitiveness, damaging the UK’s attractiveness for green investment, and undermining new industries.”

This clause must be reviewed thoroughly and transparently from scratch. If indeed these ten bodies are to be considered for exclusion from the clause there must be a detailed case of why. This leads automatically to ask for the benefits to justify the inclusion of others. If this has not been made transparent to the Lords debating the clause by now, then the bill should not pass as is without reasonable justification.

Is there an MP or Lord who will gladly take the responsibility to say:

“I agreed to a new law, the consequences of which I was not clear, but I did not ask the questions I should have done. I ignored that Lord Tunnicliffe asked: “are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?” And I did not examine why this might be for each and every function of regulation it affects.”

Based on what decision criteria and based on what measures or public interest test has this department area been selected for exclusion and others, such as the environment, been omitted?

Considering the reported opinion of the Bill’s proponent Oliver Letwin MP to the NHS it sould seem wise to ask, what kind of National Health Service do our MPs expect to see in future under this new model of statutory requirement to seek profit.

In conclusion:

Is the bill designed to future-proof regulatory common sense or set it up for widespread failure from the start?

In the words of Lord Tunnicliffe:

“The problem is the clauses themselves. Clause 83(2) states that:

‘the person must … consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising the regulatory function in a way which ensures that … regulatory action is taken only when it is needed, and … any action is proportionate”.

“Those words by themselves seem a pretty high test for a regulator. As I tried to illustrate, our lives are made acceptable and benign by regulators acting pretty well as they do at the moment to protect us. So are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

It should be made very transparent what bodies will be affected, why, how the decision making in each function will be carried out and what with? At national or local level ruling authority?

Clearly there is still work to be done to ensure that the implications in the public interest. That ethic seems to have been lost at the back of the vast cupboard of all that the deregulation bill has in store.

Alongside the changes to the sale of liqueur chocolates and weights and measures for knitting yarn we have lost something much greater in the Deregulation Bill.

However this amendment suggests there is new hope coming for the proposed change to regulatory powers and their profit making; that in fact, some significant bodies may be made exempt of this duty on a statutory footing.

Now the case should be made why any public bodies should not be.

Simply, the wider Public Interest must come first, above profit.

Perhaps when one hears calls to ignore criticism of these proposals of deregulation in this bill and in TTIP one would do well to ask why.

Anything else could be as disastrous for society, as the Poll Tax is now accepted to have been for Margaret Thatcher.

But perhaps, some would maintain, there is still no such thing?

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For those with more in depth interest:

Further detail; below I continue and review the amendment,  wider implications at local authority level, changes in the future landscape of health and social care and why it could be of significant negative impact on political and social trust.

This is my update on two previous posts; Part one: October 4th, Deregulation Bill Clause 47 and the back door access to journalist sources and Part two: the Deregulation Bill Clause 83 from 6th Nov with additional notes on Nov 21st.

It continues with Part four to follow: The Deregulation Bill: Part IV New Hope for Regulatory powers?

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The amendment

Here is what it looks like:

 Page 70, line 29, at end insert—“( )     This section does not apply to the following—
 

(a)   Care Quality Commission,

(b)   Human Tissue Authority,

(c)   Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency,

(d)   Professional Standards Authority,

(e)   General Medical Council,

(f)   Nursing and Midwifery Council,

(g)   Health and Care Professions Council,

(h)   General Chiropractic Council,

(i)   General Dental Council,

(j)   General Pharmaceutical Council,

(k)   Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and

(l)   any persons exercising a regulatory function with respect to health and care service that the Secretary of State specifies by order.

( )     An order under this section must be made by statutory instrument.

( )     A statutory instrument containing an order under this section may not be  made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of,  each House of Parliament.”

What would the amendment change, if they become law?

These exceptions are specific to healthcare and, it remains to be seen if they will be adopted.

There is also some provision, to make further special cases for the health and care service more broadly, that the Secretary of State specifies by order.

This addresses some organisations in the regulation of health and care.

But it opens up the question more clearly why should other bodies be included? Where is the benefit – and where is the cost and risk analysis?

That would be a most welcome discussion in the public interest. Some professionals and professional bodies have already flagged their concern.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is one example, that was discussed in the last debate andthe ECHR response to it. [4]

Nov 21st update:  see Column GC229 < and whilst verbal assurances were made, it appears nothing changed in the Bill, and that the EHRC said in response:

“While we welcome this undertaking we understand that this doesn’t mean that we’ll be removed on the face of the Bill”.

The ECHR clearly sees it as detrimental and asks for change. Will the government ride roughshod over professional opinion without transparent and thorough justifications of the need for this?

If so, it seems an extraordinary dismissal of democracy.

Other bodies should take the lead from the EHRC and make their positions clear in the public domain now, or risk future backlash once the impacts become clear.

What wider impact will this amendment have?

At first the effect appears to be that a significant number of health related bodies could be freed from the duty to make a profit.

At national level this seems a welcome and sensible step.

To decide which bodies should and which bodies should not be exempt it must be very clear exactly what impact these changes will have.

 

For each body involved, an impact assessment table should be drawn up – what do they regulate, how, why and what would change under the deregulation bill and the effects of its clauses, especially 88. Risks and benefits.

 

That would help understand today’s position.

 

The next step is to understand the future implications. Identify which bodies will be deregulated by it in future, why and how they will be affected by other aspects of the bill.

However it’s not the whole story.

How these bodies perform their tasks at national level and how far down their powers reach will affect the organisations below them.

These lower branches of organisational structure also need to be understood for any regulatory implications. How that function is carried out under what powers needs to be clear at what point the removal of the requirement would have an effect.

These ten bodies are in health and social care. The future of health seems to be bound to social care and in Simon Stevens’ vision, with ever more physical, as well as financial mergers.

 

In an interview with the Financial Times: he predicted ‘a blurring of the [lines] that exist between different public services’.He said:

Basing my understanding on CCG meeting attendance, reading ADASS minutes and general media news. it appears pooled budgetary responsibility will call for a shift in more responsibility to local authorities.

 

Is it therefore logical to assume that will include the responsibility for regulatory functions?

 

Any changes therefore at national level in terms of organisational structure or regulatory responsibility will have an affect at lower levels.

 

So for an organisation of the amendment ten, taking the Care Quality Commission for example, it is not unthinkable that change is inevitable regardless whether they are in or out of this clause.

 

The CQC has come in for some criticism in recent months with media stories repeating failings. Mistakes were made, with significant media coverage, on the calculations of quality ratings of GP practices.

Questions were raised in November as to the extent of the reach of the CQC surveillance powers at practice level, reviewing individual patient medical records ‘to assess the quality of care provided by the practice’ without individual consent. Professionals on social media raised their electronic eyebrows and lamented the breach of confidentiality.

What deeper impact will this have?

What happens should the CQC powers be broken up at national level and carried out at local level instead needs to be examined.

The body having been made exempt at national level from this commercially driven clause, may find that the regulatory functions would be required to comply with it again at Local Authority level.

The reasons why the CQC should be made exempt, would therefore be lost in the transition, unless the special orders and special provision were made before any organisational restructure.

The timing therefore of new regulations would need to become integral to any departmental organisational change at any and every level of regulatory governance.

Instead of removing ‘red tape’ and bureaucracy in this bill, I foresee it adding a burden of analysis and requirement to assess and document responsibilities; determining whether or not the clause to promote economic growth should apply or not.

Its definition is so vague and its responsibility to be ‘proportionate’ so open, that in fact it is not assigned to anybody; which everybody knows,  means it ends up being done, by nobody.

Every time some any reorganisation is planned, the impact of this regulatory clause may need considered and not only in health and social care but in every aspect of regulatory function across government.

Every action a regulatory body takes, is by default ‘regulatory action.’ So any time the function should do its job, each and every time, every decision, every ruling, would need to consider the need for economic growth and if they need to act at all.

(a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed,

and

(b) any action taken is proportionate.

Surely this is what they do already in every decision, and therefore why make it a statutory requirement at all – for any regulatory body?

If we don’t need it, why write it in. And if we do need it, what precisely is it intended to do, how and why?

I would encourage anyone who has not yet done so, to have a good look over the contents of the bill. It’s like an end of year sale and there is definitely something in there for everyone. The likelihood is high that some unforeseen damage will be done to the public interest in the rush to get it through in this term by government, akin to a Black Friday panic. The bills lined up to rush through the  last minute doors of parliament, seem to be queueing in droves.

For bodies which have regulatory functions today in health and social care at Local Authority level already, the hoped for reduction in harm through this amendment affecting their national level body, could fail to materialise.

The high-level  health and social care bodies may get “let off” the duty in explicit terms in the bill, but if the function is performed at another level, “on the ground”,  the requirement of the function will in effect still happen under-the-radar.
  
Here is at least a starting point to go deeper into who regulates what at local authority level. [6] Imagine each and every regulatory function trying to consider the importance for the promotion of economic growth of exercising  the regulatory function in a way which ensures that —

(a) regulatory action is taken only when it is needed,

and

(b) any action taken is proportionate.

How will as another example, the local government ombudsman make a profit but not put that before the people it serves?
In this case their role is managing complaints about councils and some other authorities and organisations, including education admissions appeal panels and adult social care providers. How does one justify exploiting that, for profit?

 

With purdah and the general election drawing near,  this may be a question with an unpredictable answer for many organisations if their future structural model is uncertain.

 

The backdrop

 

There are various other bills in progress to do with regulation, which involve communications and data, and by implication, potentially journalists’ sources. They are also affected by clause 47 in the deregulation bill which the NUJ protested in 2014. [more in my next post].
A press free from political control and undue regulation is something to be held dear, and indeed Guido Fawkes has experienced this week. attempts to control it, by the Electoral Commission:

 

“Guido has no intention of registering with the Electoral Commission or reporting a penny of spending or anything else to them. This authoritarian law is a nonsense. If you read the guidance it should apply to newspapers. We haven’t just rejected statutory control of the printed press by one regulator for political control of digital media by another.”

Here we arrive at the nub of the issue: what is to be deregulated and why and by whom are fundamental to understand what effects these changes will require, and the demands the duty for economic growth will create.

I question: “Can this dramatic change, really be a wise and throroughly thought out course of action, when the only certainty in the affected organisations’ governance duties is that in fewer than five months, it may all change?”
Had all the background and assessments been done already, one would think it could be understandable to press on and complete. But the fact that this significant amendment has been proposed now, surely shows that an adequate cost benefit and risk assessment does not exist. Does it not exist only for these ten, or for all?

 

All sorts of areas of public interest are affected, with questions being asked on private tenancy changes to the very Electoral Commission itself.

 

In the run up to the election, will it be asked to become a profit driven  entity? – instead of prioritising its key focus, the regulation of our democratic processes:

 

“These roles and responsibilities outline much of the work we do in order to meet our objectives of:

  • well-run elections, referendums and electoral registration
  • transparency in party and election finance, with high levels of compliance”

How will the Electoral Commission  maintain neutrality if profit must drive the function as the regulator of political funding and spending?

That decision could have almighty and lasting effect on public confidence and our trust in the wake of the MP expenses scandals.

Without a publicly available clear cost benefit analysis, the overwhelming drive for profit in every sector of UK regulatory reach remains at best unclear.  The intended benefits or whether they will even create any efficiencies, never mind public gain, lacking.

At worst, “are these new clauses a licence for regulators to approve regulations that kill people to save money?”

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Key references:

[1] Proposed amendment by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in the Deregulation bill.

[2] The Deregulation Bill

[3] Hansard, February 3 2014, MPs propose removal of clause

[4] Hansard, November 20th 2014, ECHR comments included in Lords’ debate

[5] Public Health functions under Local Authority

[6]  Local Authority regulatory functions

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List of The National Regulators – the ten bodies  above are those explicitly mentioned in Lord Hunt of King’s Heath’s amendment:

Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)

Animals in Science Regulation Unit

Architects Registration Board (ARB)

British Hallmarking Council (BHC)

Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Charity Commission for England and Wales

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)

Claims Management Regulation Unit

Coal Authority

Companies House

Competition Commission

Professional Standards for Health and Social Care (PSA)

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI)

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Driving Standards Agency (DSA)

Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate (EAS)

English Heritage (EH)

Environment Agency

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Financial Reporting Council (FRC)

Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI), Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Food and environment research agency (plant and bee health) and (Plant Variety and Seeds)

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

Forestry Commission

Gambling Commission

Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA)

General Medical Council

General Chiropractic Council

General Dental Council

General Pharmaceutical Council

Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)

Highways Agency (HA)

HM Revenue and Customs (Money Laundering Regulations and National Minimum Wage)

Homes & Communities Agency (HCA)

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA)

Human Tissue Authority (HTA)

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

Insolvency Service including Insolvency Practitioner Unit

Intellectual Property Office (IPO)

Legal Services Board (LSB)

Marine Management Organisaton (MMO)

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)

Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)

Monitor

National Measurement Office (NMO)

Natural England

Nursing and Midwifery Council

Office of Communications

Office for Fair Access (OFFA)

Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED)

Office of Fair Trading

OFQUAL

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR)

Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies

OFGEM

Pensions Regulator

Rural Payments Agency (RPA)

Security Industry Authority (SIA)

Senior Traffic Commissioner

Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA)

Trinity House Lighthouse Service (THLS)

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD)

Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA)

Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA)

Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)

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