Saturday, 14 May 2011

There seems to be a sudden flurry to get the question of the Military Covenant sorted out. I put this down to the government looking for something that might bolster their sagging reputation. The purpose of a covenant has been bandied out for a few years but I wonder just how many know exactly what it was before the drafters got their hands on it. It was included in a MOD document. Never had any legal status. The full detail was
Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service. In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation. This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action.
Note that it was not specific as to what would be covered - it is akin to a parent's duty to their child. This original concept of the Covenant really needs to be understood. Now let us have a look at the scope of the proposed legislation. First though, see just how keen the government has been to adopt the spirit of the Covenant. In February 2011 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government decided that there was no need to make the Covenant law, proposing instead to cover it in an annual report to parliament - a Labour attempt in an opposition day debate to reverse this was defeated by 86 votes.
From what has been revealed very recently, the legislation is not expected to detail specific commitments about individual public services but will instead concentrate on broader principles - such as that no-one should be disadvantaged because of their military service and, beyond that, that special treatment could sometimes be justified. Ample opportunity there for the mealy mouthed lawyers of the MOD to evade responsibility. Forces personnel experience considerable disruption when the leave active service; mainly in finding a home. Compare this to what is done for immigrants. Priority medical treatment does not seem to be a concept known to GPs. The vast numbers of former service personnel suffering from PTSD would surely wamp the psychiatric services of the NHS and would conflict with the concept of the government's idea of a NHS remodelling. Yet another instance of big brave words at a sound and photo opportunity ending as bullshit.
This came up just after I posted this blog

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

'allo 'allo - what's going on here then?

We know the phrase 'putting one's head above the parapet' derives from WW1 sniper prowess in the trench warfare. I am going to go one better and expose the whole body.
In amongst the Tory party thoughts on their island of dreams called opposition was re-organisation of our police force. This was made more relevant when the true economics state was revealed and serious demands were made for cost savings. Theresa May spelled it out when she spoke to the Federation "The cuts will be big, they will be tough to achieve, and cuts will fall on the police as they will on other important public services". She went on in that vein; sacrifices, pay restraint, institutionalised overtime. This of course all went down like a lead balloon with a hole in it. Tom Winsor undertook a review into pay and allowances which was a bit of a curates egg. These opinions divided the forces; police officers who knew what was at risk and politicians and 'experts' who might not be able to distinguish between a police helmet and a Page 3 nipple. It has now reached the stage where the police side are demanding a Royal Commission.
A noble Lord has stated "Royal commissions have somewhat gone out of fashion, in part because they are seen as time-consuming, cumbersome bodies" Time is spent deciding on terms of reference and who will sit. Who will give evidence and how the public may contribute. There is then the hearing of evidence before a report is compiled. I was involved in the Saville inquiry where 30 minutes of madness on a Sunday afternoon took twelve years to resolve. The Secretary to the last Commission on police was not impressed with it. I cannot imagine that there would be many get off the No 68 bus in Clapham to contribute. We would soon have the entrenched officers asking rhetorically "WTF do you know about policing?" and the civilians responding "You don't want to change". Here is where I raise myself to full height and bare my chest to the snipers.
The outsourcing business has introduced much that is new. They amplify convoluted contracts with agreements; let us call them heads of service. These set out exactly what each side may expect from the other. Right down to 'failed lamps will be replaced within 24 hours of being reported'. I see an opportunity to develop, quickly and at not too much cost, something similar. Way way back, Sir Robert identified what he saw as Nine Principles for his new police force. Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles:
Principle #1: The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
Principle #2: The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
Principle #3: Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
Principle #4: The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
Principle #5: Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
Principle #6: Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
Principle #7: Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."
Principle #8: Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
Principle #9: The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it
These have been slightly modified by passage of time but if one thinks of recent confrontation with violent demonstrators there is much that could be reintroduced to current discussion and methods. The problem of alienation is the very core. It is pointless to start saying what public and police desire when vast numbers just refuse to speak to or, more importantly, assist the police. The regime of a New Law Every Day of the last government must have caused untold harm. It is far too simplistic to say there are 10 Commandments so why do we need so much Statute and Common law that is on the books but a re-examination needs to be made to reduce the vast number of things for which a civilian may find themselves deprived of liberty or money. There is a need to involve the IT wonks. They would start by examining exactly what needs to be recorded and processed and then find the most efficient way of doing this. Proposals must be proven empirically - no acceptance of 'we have always done that this way'. Police whistles are redundant along with small change in accoutrements to use public call boxes. By tackling the problem in small bites of heads of service proposals and adoption there would be no need to delay as with a Commission. As experience developed, the process would become even quicker; ten years since I wrote any but I can still recall the basics.
Putting all the eggs in one Royal Commission basket will extend the time before we can have a new understanding of what police should be doing. The dissent and introduction will take longer. The economic situation cannot accept the delay to cost reductions.