Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Tension monitoring" i.e. snooping on local communities in Britain

The Hazel Blears the NuLabour former Home Office Minister who introduced so much counter productive bureaucratic red tape and form filling when she used to be in charge of Policing, Crime Reduction and Counter-terrorism, is at it again, now that she is inflicting a new Community Snooping policy onto Local Government.

She has just published a poisonous document entitled: "Guidance for local authorities on community cohesion contingency planning and tension monitoring" This seems to envisage the gathering of political intelligence on local communities, and on "individual troublemakers", not just by the Local Authorities and the Police, but by a whole host of public sector employees turned into Government spies:
37. The most effective way to do this is through establishing a multi-agency tension monitoring group, led by an officer/s from the local authority and/or the local police force. This should include key partners from the statutory sector (e.g. housing, community safety, education, fire service, health, probation/youth offending team, community workers, neighbourhood wardens and police community support officers, National Asylum Support Service), and relevant representatives from the voluntary, community and faith sectors.

The sort of data which Hazel Blears wants to collect and share :
Relevant pieces of intelligence might include:

quantitative data (e.g. police crime statistics and intelligence reports)

qualitative community intelligence from neighbourhood wardens, community workers, casework by local councillors and feedback from local community meetings and organisations

racially or religiously motivated offences or incidents

details of new arrivals, refugees and asylum seekers, and Gypsy and Traveller communities in the local area

gang and turf conflicts

neighbour disputes

Why does a dispute between two neighbours suddenly constitute "community tension", requiring reporting back to a Central Government Department ?

What is the definition of "political extremism" ? Anybody who disagrees with the Labour government ? It would be a disaster, of Northern Irish "Troubles" proportions, if the local police force were to be seen to be involved in party political or religious monitoring or discrimination, but that is exactly what they are being drawn into with this scheme. So is every Local Authority now going to waste money setting up its own "media monitoring unit" ?

This whole scheme appears to give the impression that the Labour government only appear to be willing to listen, and then to apply propaganda resources and other "community" investment, once there have been demonstrations, protests and violent incidents - peaceful lobbying and dialogue is ignored.

If you look at the sample "Tension Monitoring Form", it is obvious that such forms, or the central database of such forms, will not have enough detailed information to give a full, true picture of each "incident", but there will be sufficient details to create "guilt by association" and to stereotype a particular area unfairly, and to blacklist any individuals who might be directly or indirectly identifiable.

Note that there is no mechanism for error correction or appeal, and no sanctions against abuse of power by officials, who will be trying to use the exemptions under the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act to keep this all secret from the public.

The Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act are only cited, so as to advise how the rights of citizens might be curtailed through the use of exemptions e.g.
59. There are a number of exemptions from disclosure under the FOIA which could be applicable if a local authority wished to consider refusing disclosure. You may wish to take into account the possible damage which disclosure would do by identifying areas at risk of disturbance. If the identity of an area became known sections of the media might publicise this. This could in turn create an expectation of disorder.

Despite claiming that "personal data" should, ideally, not be collected, they neglect to mention that "personal data" includes data about a person who can easily be identified via a cross-check on another database or system.
54. As far as possible, the data provided under tension monitoring arrangements should not be 'personal data' ie it does not identify individuals and could not be used to identify individuals in conjunction with other information.

How can this possibly work in practice ? If there are "reports" of say, "inflammatory preaching" , how difficult is it going to be to associate those reports with known priests or imams at local churches or mosques?

The enemies appear to be, in part , "the media", and Hazel Blears and her minions are actually advising secrecy and coverups, and spin, rather than transparency and media and public friendly openness.

More here

The British nanny state again

Small shops are to be given some protection against competition from out-of-town supermarkets, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, said. She added that this would help independent shops survive the credit crunch. Planning guidance is also to be changed to help prevent "clone towns" from developing with identical shop fronts. In future new shops will have to pass a "diversity" test to ensure that not all high streets look the same.

Under the new guidelines planners will be able to reject applications for large-scale, out-of-town shopping developments if they are likely to have a damaging impact on nearby high streets.

However, rural campaigners and the Conservatives have attacked the plans, saying that they could backfire, and end up damaging town centres.

The Competition Commission has been investigating the effects that powerful supermarket chains such as Tesco are having on towns. The commission found that many areas lacked proper competition between supermarkets, giving consumers a poor deal. It said the change in the planning guidance proposed by Ms Blears would be helpful and suggested a new competition test in the planning system to ensure more choice for consumers.

The Government will formally respond to the commission's recommendations, including the competition test proposal, in the next few weeks. One of Ms Blears' aides said: "Our priority is to ensure we do not see more and more stretches of the nation's high streets turned into bland 'every towns' where every high street has the same shops, the same look, and the same sterile feel. "We plan to give councils more scope to curb 'clone town Britain' and to block large out-of-town developments. We know there are currently tougher times on the high street."

The rule changes would remove the "simplistic" planning test that judged only if a need existed for an out-of-town supermarket. It will be replaced by a general-impact test that assesses the risks and benefits of new businesses on existing small shops and the town centre.

The guidance would require local authorities to promote consumer choice and retail diversity and recognise that the planning system can help to support small shops and the identity of town centres. It also keeps a "sequential test" that requires developers to seek the most central sites first.

However, the Tories and the Campaign to Protect Rural England warned that the loss of the need test could backfire and could further fuel the dramatic decline of greengrocers, butchers, bakers and fishmongers.

Graeme Willis, a CPRE campaigner against supermarkets, said: "These plans could take away the rights of local authorities to resist large supermarkets on the grounds of need. The replacement - a new impact test - could shift power from planners who could say 'no' to developers who could say 'why not?'"

The Conservatives' planning spokeswoman, Jacqui Lait, said: "These changes are being driven by Gordon Brown and will ultimately hit small retailers and worsen the problem of 'ghost town Britain'. A surge in out-of-town development will not be environmentally sustainable and will hinder urban regeneration."

Speaking at the annual convention of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Ms Blears said: "Town centres are the hearts of our communities. I want to see our town centres and independent shops busy and thriving. "I believe that the strengthened rules will guide future town centre development by giving councils the tools to attract investment, and protect and promote their high streets."

In relation to the debate over proposed "eco-towns", Ms Blears has been warned by MPs on the Communities Select Committee that it would be an "act of folly" not to spend some money on investigating the mistakes made with post-war new towns in the past.

Squeezed out by the big boys

Since it first opened its doors in 1946, residents of Withernsea, in East Riding of Yorkshire, bought most of their groceries from Proudfoot, the family-owned supermarket in the centre of town. As the "big four" supermarkets expanded their grip upon Britain's towns more and more independent shops went under but trade at Proudfoot remained brisk.

Then in 2004 Tesco came to Withernsea. Its first move was to send more than 6,000 residents vouchers offering an $16 discount for every $40 spent in the local Tesco store. Proudfoot responded with its own discounts but could not match Tesco. Sales at Proudfoot in the year following Tesco's arrival in town fell by 35 per cent.

The Proudfoot family were so outraged by what they believed was Tesco's "predatory pricing" policies that they tried to take the company to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Ian Proudfoot, who, with his brother Mark, runs the family stores, said at the time: "It is... an attempt to squash competition and dominate the catchment area." The OFT decided that Tesco's actions were not deemed "anti-competitive".

The store struggled on for another two years before finally folding when Aldi offered to buy them out. Mark Proudfoot thought it best to concentrate on the four other Proudfoot stores they still owned across the region. Since April, their stores have been reduced to three after Tesco took over the store in Barton-Upon-Humber.


The religion of peace? or hate?: "Tony Blair was today forced to scrap plans to visit Gaza in his new role as a Middle East peace envoy after an assassination plot warning. The former Prime Minister was warned he faced an attempt on his life after the Israeli security services received 'pinpoint information' of a threat to him. Blair's trip to Gaza was to have included meetings with local traders and UN officials - but not with leaders of Hamas - and comes after he called for a new police towards the region to aleviate the suffering of people there. A spokesman for Blair said it would have been irresponsible to visit in light of the terrorist threat, but added: "He looks forward to being able to go to Gaza again in the future and will of course in the meantime continue to work to improve the conditions for the people there."

1 comment:

Adrian said...

Towns are being abandoned for only one reason, the councils are making it almost impossible to shop there. Ridiculous one-way systems, carpark closures and massive rate rises for those remaining carparks make me depressed everytime I need to go into town. I do my best these days to do all my shopping out of town or via the Internet.