Thursday, 30 August 2012

Politics and Policing: Incompetent Scaremonger?

I am not an expert on the police, something which will become apparent over the next few lines, but I found a letter in my local paper castigating an independent candidate for the Kent PCC role today quite interesting so I'm going to respond in my own way. 

The letter suggested that the candidate was an incompetent scaremonger to suggest that politicians weren't already involved in the police force by running under the banner of keep politics out of policing. The premise for this argument was that politicians make the law. So I dusted off my memories of studying a politics unit at university and considered the question, where do politicians and the police currently overlap. 

Firstly, I considered separation of powers. Our police force could be seen as controlled by the executive (government) through the Home Office and the numerous homogeneous targets it loves to set. The laws are made by our legislature (parliament) which obviously affects the police and our judiciary (criminal justice system) decides who has broken those laws and decides the consequences within the legal framework. The question is, though, do politicians already control the police?

As I mentioned, the Home Office gets to set targets. These give a strategic millstone to the police that I'm sure they love. The Home Office also, one assumes, sets basic funding which ensures that these targets are in the forefront of the mind, but is this controlling the police? I would say not really as, from my experience in education, targets are there to be lived with, but don't completely alter what you do day to day (unless things go horribly wrong). So, I'd say that the Home Office has some influence, but doesn't rule the roost. 

The law is set by parliament and that is full of politicians. Does that mean the police, who must investigate potential breaches of the law, are controlled by politicians? Again, there is some control here, but does it have a day to day effect? Obviously, if something becomes legal or illegal, it changes what the police have to investigate, but does that give them a strategic steer? I suspect this is the case to a degree, but that this comes mostly via guidelines from the Home Office, who we dealt with above. In fact, I suspect the biggest danger where politicians in parliament are concerned is where they confer discretionary powers on the police or fail to repeal bad laws, as this reduces police accountability to the public at large.

So far I've established, in my own mind at least, that politicians via the Home Office control the police to a degree. But what about the police authorities? I've had a look into them and have been hit by a sense of deja vu. They seem to have exactly the same type of control as the Home Office, but with perhaps even greater strategic control through the ability to appoint senior officers and their accountability role. They also have some politician appointees, who mirror the political make-up of the relevant council, meaning politicians have at least some control through this set-up as well.

At this stage I begin to wonder if the whole keep politics out of policing line really is a bit pointless. We've got the government via the Home Office, Parliament via the law and county councils via the police authorities all sticking their noses into the police and they're all run by politicians. The thing is, though, they are all run by politicians but none of those politicians have absolute control and none of them represent only one political viewpoint. Also, in the case of the police authorities, there are non-political appointees to act as a foil. What we face in the PCC role is a single political individual having massive strategic influence on our police forces.  

So, perhaps keep politics out of policing is about limiting the control that one person's political ideology has over the strategic and day to day running of our police forces. It is true that politics affects the police and that politicians have an element of control, but the PCC role will give that level of control to a single party politician who will have only one guiding force, the party line. The fact that they are elected for a limited period isn't enough to stop that being a scary thought. That's the reason why, for me, keep politics out of policing is the most competent and comforting campaign slogan I've heard, even though I'm plainly not an expert on policing.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Barclays Personal Reserve vs

Until recently I had a Barclays Personal Reserve of £150 on my current account. I kept on straying into it, costing me a lot of money, so I decided to ditch it a month or so ago as bouncing payments was cheaper. I also tried claiming some of the fees back, to no avail.

This got to me to wondering whether or not I would have been better served borrowing from a short term loans company like have a terrifying representative APR of £4214, which on the face of it makes steering clear a no-brainer. Undeterred, however, I sat down and did some calculations, as only a Maths/Stats fanatic would do.

First I looked at what I'd pay if I borrowed £150 for 1 year at's representative APR of 4214%. This came to the enormous sum of  £6,321 in interest. This was, of course unrealistic, as I wouldn't be paying the hugely compounded rate but would in fact be paying the true annual rate of interest of 360%. Over a year that would cost me £540 in interest, ignoring fees. A hefty sum for such a small amount of money.

Then I decided to look at the Barclays Personal Reserve. This helpful facility gives you an extra £150 on your overdraft, so long as you are happy to pay £22 for every 5 working days that you access it. Firstly, I worked out how many periods of 5 working days there would be in a 52 week year. This total, 50.4, was then multiplied by £22. This gave me a whopping total cost for the year of £1,108, more than double the cost of's true interest rate. Considering I had always assumed/hoped that Barclays was a responsible lender, this figure kind of shocked me.

Still in shock, I decided to drill down to monthly costs using the fun sliders on the website, as I felt this would be more accurate. The sliders told me that, over a 30 day period, borrowing £150 from would cost me £51 in interest and fees. By comparison, and based upon my calculation that there are an average of 21 working days in a month, using my reserve would have cost me at least £88. This meant that Barclays would have cost me an extra £37 per month compared with Having gone over the figures in brief, therefore, I was forced to conclude that I would have been better off borrowing with than with the bank I have been loyal to for 14 years.

Of course, there is a major caveat to the figures for Barclays. I estimate, on average, that most people would pay no more than 3 reserve usage fees in a month if their bills weren't all coming out on pay day, which brings the extra cost down to a much less damning £15 per month. It is also likely that there would be fluctuations in usage across months. Given, however, that you pay a flat fee of £22 for using even £1 of the reserve for 1 day, compared with £7.42 for borrowing £1 from for 30 days, I think this is a fair reflection on the relative merits of the 2 products.

In conclusion, therefore, I have to say that is probably a better bet for dealing with short-term money issues than the Barclays Personal Reserve. Of course, given that borrowed money has to be paid back with fees and interest, neither option presents a great prospect if you are struggling to make ends meet. I'd therefore recommend overcoming any pride or embarrassment you may feel over being short £150 and either speak to friends and family or speak to the companies you pay your bills too. Something I must admit I should have done more quickly upon occasion.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Triggering and Covering

I'm sat here pondering past events, as I have a bad habit of doing, and a conversation with one of my former superiors comes to mind.

I was told by my new manager at the time to wear long sleeves at all times whilst at work due to some scarring on my arms, which I was also told not to talk about. I had never been expected to do this in the past and, at the time, I was feeling particularly low, so I reacted badly and requested a meeting with a senior member of staff.

He explained to me that there had been a complaint by a colleague that it was inappropriate of me to flaunt my bare arms (I may be sensationalising the wording a bit there). He suggested that I was in contact with vulnerable teens who might be affected by the sight of them and that I might also be at risk of bullying. He was at pains to point out that my well-being was his top priority.

At the time, I was hurt and offended but followed the instruction until such time as I could get it rescinded due to redeployment and hot weather (yes, there has been hot weather at times this year). I even contacted Mind to discuss it. I didn't really feel my well-being was being served at all, borne out by the fact that the renewed focus on this area of my life acted as a partial trigger for a massive backslide.

Anyway, with the benefit of hindsight, I find myself wondering what the best decision would have been. Seeing certain things, like scars, can be triggering for vulnerable people. That is reflected in the media guidance on suicide. But can denying, or refusing to talk about, things be just as damaging? I'll leave that question to ponder. 

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Death Knell for Post-16 Education in Folkestone?

Today the Folkestone Herald has announced that UCF is to lose many of its students after the Governors of CCUC decided a "change of direction" was in order. CCUC has attempted to placate fears by telling us that a number of K College courses will be moving to the UCF site in a joint venture. I can't, however, help but note that a week ago the Herald highlighted that over 140 jobs are to go as part of a major shake-up at K College.

K College's predecessor in Folkestone, South Kent College, had it rough before the merger with West Kent a couple of years back. They suffered regular changes of Principal, falling student numbers, hammerings by OFSTED and a black hole in their finances. They weren't helped by moves which made an even playing field in terms of funding; theirs having been traditionally higher per student due to historical course weighting and having multiple sites.

With this chequered history, the massive cuts in staff they are planning and the fact that lecturer's pay at the College is higher than at other local colleges, such as Canterbury College, it is difficult to see how they can continue to make a multiple campus model work without some kind of collaboration. This should therefore be a potentially positive move for K College in terms of keeping a provision in the town of Folkestone.

There is, however, a large elephant in the room. If K College is contracting in terms of staffing and yet moving courses to the UCF campus, what happens to their main campus in the town? Is this move in fact the first part of a plan to close their main campus and even perhaps sell the site? If so, will this be the death knell for significant levels of post-16 education in Folkestone? These, I think, are the questions Shepway District Council and Kent County Council should be asking when considering supporting or even facilitating the transferring of FE courses to UCF.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Time to Change

I've been thinking about writing this for a while and my heart is pounding a little as I type, so bear with me.

I am a self-harmer. I have been since about the age of 14. I have suffered various periods of depression and anxiety in my life, which has in no way been a tale of personal tragedy or suffering, and self-harm in one form or another has become my default coping strategy.

My self-harm has resulted in hospital trips, visibly disturbing scars, stigma from the odd manager at work and has caused huge anguish for those that care for and love me. It has made me nervous about meeting and really opening up to new people and about having or working towards my ambitions.

The really sad thing is that this doesn't have to be the case. Nearly everyone that knows about my behaviour, whilst not perhaps completely understanding it, has been an enormous source of support. Those that have reacted negatively have been very much the minority, hurtful though they have been.

I, like many others, have been trapped by the stigma that pervades mental health. People don't talk about mental health because they fear a reaction that is as rare as it is foolish. In my view, only four people have ever reacted negatively to my self-harming, and only two intentionally.

Since July 6th this year, I have been making an effort to move on from self-harm. I have stopped the anti-depressents, I have improved my personal circumstances and I have begun to get tattoos to cover my worst scars. I feel now is the time for me to say "I am a self-harmer and I'm going to recover".

Time to Change is encouraging mental ill health sufferers to speak about their experiences. Self-harm is not seen as a mental health issue, as such, but does often result from mental health issues. I want to help their campaign to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental ill health. This is where I start.