Saturday, April 07, 2007

A last dying twitch of standards in the Church of England?

A gay man was rejected for a post as a youth worker because of his sexual lifestyle, not his sexual orientation, a Church of England bishop told an employment tribunal yesterday. The Right Rev Anthony Priddis, the Bishop of Hereford, said that John Reaney did not get the job because he had admitted having had sex outside marriage. The Bishop denied unlawfully discriminating against Mr Reaney, saying that he had been complying with the teachings of the Church.

He said that he told Mr Reaney that any person in a sexual relationship outside marriage, whether they were heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, would have been rejected for the post. "Such sexuality in itself was not an issue, but Mr Reaney's lifestyle had the potential to impact on the spiritual, moral and ethical leadership within the diocese," he said yesterday. He added that his views on sex outside marriage were backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the General Synod, the national assembly of the Church of England, and the Lambeth Conference.

Mr Reaney, 41, from Llandudno, North Wales, claims that being openly gay cost him the job. His claim for unlawful discrimination against the Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance is being backed by the gay rights group Stonewall. Under equality legislation introduced in 2003, it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation, although organised religions were given exemptions. The hearing is believed to be the first test case of how it applies to the Church of England.

The tribunal in Cardiff was told that Mr Reaney had been offered the job last July after an interview before a panel of eight. The Bishop, 59, was told that he had indicated on his form that he was homosexual. Mr Reaney was called in for a discussion, during which it emerged that he had recently ended a five-year homosexual relationship. The Bishop said that, although Mr Reaney undertook not to start a new gay relationship, he felt that he was not emotionally in a position to be making such a promise.

He told the tribunal: "The end of a five-year relationship leads to a lot of grieving and it can take much time for someone to recover. It would not have been right for me to take an undertaking of his head that his heart could not keep. It remains my judgment that Mr Reaney had not met the standards required. It was not a risk I was prepared to take." He said that Mr Reaney did not seem overwrought, humiliated or distressed when he was told that his application was being turned down.

The tribunal was told that the job was not offered to anyone else. Bishop Priddis said that, because of the diocese's limited finances, even if Mr Reaney had been appointed he might have been made redundant "sooner rather than later". The Bishop denied that he had breached the diocese's equal opportunities policy. He said: "The Church's teaching draws distinction between sexual orientation and practice and lifestyle. We didn't discriminate against Mr Reaney on the grounds of sexuality. Had we done so we wouldn't have called him for an interview. "What is at issue is the lifestyle, practice and sexual behaviour, whether the applicant is homosexual, heterosexual or transsexual." The Bishop added that his diocese had ordained a transsexual woman as a priest. In September 2005 Sarah Jones, who was a man for 29 years, was described by Bishop Priddis as a "superb candidate" for the post.


The results of politically correct policing in Britain

A neighbour in our new street came round to ask for a cheque towards a private security patrol. "Wouldn't that undermine the police?" I asked, sensing a threat to my bank balance. "What police?" he replied. It's true. There are police boards sprouting all over our area ("Did you see? Incident, stabbing, assault"), but no police. London is becoming a city of vigilantes. The well-off are hiring uniformed guards, and the teenagers down the road are arming themselves with knives - because no one else is going to defend them. We have seen the results of that: five teenagers stabbed to death in the past four weeks.

We are giving up on the police because they seem to have given up themselves. The sheer quantity of blogging by disillusioned bobbies is a sign of just how blue parts of the thin blue line are feeling. PC David Copperfield drily documents the daily grind in his book Wasting Police Time. DC Johnno Hills, who quit the Brighton force this weekend after complaining in the Sunday Express about bureaucracy, has started a petition for police reform.

The latest Home Office figures show that a fifth of officer time is spent on paperwork. This week Sir Alastair McWhirter, retiring as Chief Constable of Suffolk, complained that it can take 56 people and 128 different bits of paper to bring one assault case to court. Well, thank you, Sir Alastair. Now you can go gentle into that index-linked retirement. But where were you in April 2005, when the Government introduced stop and account (as opposed to stop and search) forms? These require an officer asking anyone to account for themselves to fill in 40 questions. Yes, 40. The consequences should have been obvious. I'm not surprised that the cops I do pass refuse to make eye contact. They're probably petrified of becoming a party to my personal information.

The police and the public are still on the same side. But it doesn't always feel like it. A recent ICM poll found that trust in the police is sliding. The official insistence that crime is falling does not help, when people feel it is not. Criminologists say that the most reliable measure of the true rate of violence in society is stranger murder - and killings by strangers have increased by a third between 1997 and 2005.

The police have more money than ever before, and more officers - 140,000 at the last count. But they are not having a commensurate impact. This has stoked a dangerous defeatism among criminologists and within the Home Office: the belief that rising crime is a fact of life that the justice system can do little about. The extraordinary decline of crime in big American cities in the 1990s should be a reason for optimism about policing. But many criminologists there have tried to explain it largely as a function of demographic shifts that produced fewer young men. Others credit schemes to overcome the "moral poverty" of fatherless homes and tough neighbourhoods.

Yet a powerful analysis by Franklin Zimring, Professor of Law at Berkeley, finds both theories to be overdone. His new book, The Great American Crime Decline, finds that neither demographics nor poverty alleviation get anywhere near to explaining the three-quarters drop in lethal youth violence, for example, that took place in New York after 1990. Professor Zimring's message is positive: that policing can reduce crime and that crime, as he says, "is not hardwired into the ecology of modern life or the cultural values of high-risk youth". Within a generation, the behaviour of young men has completely changed - because of better policing.

We know this is true. We have seen it in Manchester, where zero-tolerance policing reduced stranger killings from 37 in 1999 to 5 in 2005. Last week's government crime and policing review made some of the right noises, promising to reorganise the force and cut red tape. But the breathless repetition of old ideas gave little hope of any real change from a Government whose latest wheeze has been to make officers agree every single charge they make with the Crown Prosecution Service. This has helped the CPS to meet its targets for successful prosecutions, but created mindboggling delays that leave citizens bereft of protection.

How do we return pride and power to the police? A Conservative police reform task force this week published an excellent analysis of the problems, with a sensible range of solutions. The most fundamental of these is to roll back the dead hand of central control by directly electing police commissioners. In the past, this idea has been met with defeatism: it wouldn't "take" in the UK, or it would politicise the force. But the police are already politicised. It is time to consider direct accountability, not simply because there is a gulf with citizens, but also because a radical change in management is needed.

New York's police commissioner was, notoriously, as tough on his officers as he was on criminals. Every week the most senior officers detailed the crime in their precincts and told him how they were tackling it. Once almost half of them had been fired, there was no confusion about the objective. The NYPD was not about printing customer satisfaction surveys, but about keeping people safe.

That kind of reform will not be welcomed by a unionised, cosy and conservative service. Even the bloggers who are quick to moan about paperwork may be less keen to acquire public accountability. But the Tories must stick to their guns. There are many brave, talented police officers who work tirelessly. But they should be doing so on behalf of the public, not as the claims department of the insurance industry or the administrative arm of the CPS


British hospital phone-call ripoff

Patientline, the company that provides telephones at hospital bedsides, is to increase its prices by up to 160 per cent. Charges for outgoing calls will rise from 10p a minute to 26p. This compares with about 3p a minute for the basic BT rate. Incoming calls to patients cost 39p per minute off-peak and 49p a minute at peak times.

Yesterday the company said that it was not wholly responsible for the hike in charges; delays to the Health Service IT project were also to blame. Patientline told The Times that it had invested 160 million pounds in installing 75,000 bedside consoles in more than 150 hospitals. In 2005, Patientline was investigated by regulators over its high charges, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Seven years ago the company won contracts with NHS hospitals to provide the consoles, which, at the Government’s recommendation, provided for doctors to access the proposed electronic patient record system and for electronic prescribing and ordering of X-rays, as well as telephone and entertainment services. The additional services were intended to be integrated into the National Programme for IT, with Patientline being paid for electronic record and prescribing schemes as NHS trusts used them. After years of delays to the 6.2 billion project, such systems are not yet online, and Patientline and other companies say that they have been forced to recoup their costs through charging patients to make calls.

Patientline has admitted that it is 80 million in debt and that it currently has money left to operate only for the next 12 months. The NHS does not subsidise or receive money from calls. Colin Printer, the company’s marketing manager, said “As a private sector company, we’ve put millions of pounds worth of equipment into these hospitals and that’s a massive investment for us. Each bedside system cost 1,700 pounds to install, and across the country they were maintained and supervised by 800 staff, Mr Printer said. “They are significant pieces of kit, designed not only to provide phone, television and radio services but also the internet, and electronic medical care. “It is not possible to attach a specific figure to revenues that may have been anticipated from delivering other services for which Patientline equipment is designed, such as electronic patient records and electronic meal-ordering, but it is fair to say Patientline anticipated a greater rollout of these services. “It looks like the patient’s being asked to pay for the cost of everything, which was not the original intention.”

To date, only one hospital has implemented the electronic patient record system and only a few have adopted meal-ordering, according to Patientline. It says that while call charges will increase, the cost of the complete bedside “package” will fall from 3.50 a day to 2.90. Charlotte Brown, the company’s commercial director said: “We’ve realigned our prices to bring the price of TV, which the majority of people watch, to a much lower level.” The price of packages for people staying for longer than a few days would fall, and such patients would be able to get free games and internet services, she added.

The Government has maintained that these services are a luxury and should not be funded by taxpayers. However, the Patients Association says that patients often have no choice but to use Patientline because many hospitals no longer have public pay phones. Mobile phone use has previously been restricted or banned, although some hospitals are relaxing the rules in accordance with recent government guidancesubject to the discretion of ward managers.

Michael Summers, of the association, said that the cost of incoming calls was already high and that the latest increase would lead to more complaints. “These people are ill, often recovering from operations, and the hike from 10p to 26p to phone out is really too much. People are going to be really upset with this,” he said. The Department of Health said: “Arrangements with providers of bedside entertainment systems are agreed locally, and Patientline should be discussing any proposed pricing restructuring with NHS trusts.”


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