Monday, 19 March 2012

Who gets to be in charge of the red telephone?

I have been scratching my brains as to why there is so little information on the newly created police commissioners, especially since the elections are in November which is a lot closer than you think.  Nobody as far as I know has stepped up for the Thames Valley vacancy. I thought it might be the outgoing leader of OCC but Keith has ruled himself out.  It is a hugely important job, The Thames Valley police authority covers Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire which between them have a combined population of around 2.2 million and the force has 8065 employees. The candidate will be on a salary of around 80k and I presume will have a four year term of office. 

Since there was so little information and nobody has announced they were running yet I fired off a email to the electoral commission who I'm delighted to say emailed back the next day with some information which I have pasted below:

The Government has not yet confirmed the rules that will apply to standing for election, or campaign spending and donations at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. The Electoral Commission anticipates that there will be: 
  • Rules about who can stand for election and the nomination process
  • Limits on spending by individual candidates
  • Limits on spending by people and organisations who campaign for or against individual candidates (non-party campaigners), in the run-up to the elections
  • Rules about who candidates can accept donations from to support their campaigns in the run-up to the elections
  • There may also be rules for political parties and non-party campaigners who support or oppose groups of candidates. 

We will produce guidance for candidates and agents, as soon as we can, currently we are waiting for rules to be finalised and agreed by Parliament. 

The most interesting thing is they don't have the confirmed rules yet. The police reform and social responsibility act received royal assent on the 15 September 2011 so I have no idea why the electoral commission is still waiting on the home office for this. It hardly smacks of great government though.

Having had a quick skim of the bill the role will be elected under the simple majority system, unless there are three or more candidates then the voting switches to supplementary vote which allows a first and second preference vote. All seems a bit odd.

I used to be all for more democratic accountability with elector mayors etc but having watched the antics of Boris and Ken and the frankly dreadful mayor of Doncaster I'm not so sure anymore. The big risk is the police commissioner will be too political and too populist when really for policing a more measured and impartial view should be taken on such things. On the plus side it does mean people will know where the buck stops but we shall see how it pans out. My only experience of commissioners is from The Wire where they are all corrupt or Commissioner Gordon who was useless and relied too much on the dark knight to sort out Gotham. 

Below is a link to the bill if you have insomnia or are like me interested in these sorts of things: 

A link to the home office page where the person who came up with that orange colour should be sacked:

A thing in the indy from a couple of months ago, about the Thames Valley role:

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Painting go faster stripes on the titanic

OCC (Oxfordshire County Council) have introduced e-books with a initial spend of £43,560 and a annual cost of £35,598 while cutting 25% out of the library budget partially by withdrawing up to 50% of staff funding rural libraries (and one city).

They are also spending £150,074 (estimate) putting wifi in every one of the libraries.

70 people have written and asked for e-books, anecdotally they say lots of people have asked verbally too.  70 out of 680,000.

The wifi is pointless because there is already decent private provision of wifi by bt-openzone and others in cities. You can go to most places in cities and pick up a wireless signal these days. In rural libraries its even more pointless, people come into the libraries to use the computers. They are hardly going to use their own laptops in the rural libraries when if they own a laptop its almost certain they have broadband at home. Of course for smart phone users we have 3g anyway and I don't go into my library to sit on my smart phone.

They have also started providing audio books as a download service. I don't have costs for this though. 

The technology for the audio books and ebooks is actually quite good and I think in the future it will be good. The problems are:

  1. Ebooks wont work on kindle due to licencing issues.
  2. The audio books won't work on any smart phone and some ipods because of the drm in use.
  3. The choice isn't great in either ebooks or audiobooks.

I remember chatting to the acting chief librarian about ebooks last year and I told her that it was too early to spend money on this because of the licensing issue and the format wars going on between the major players. Obviously the content has to be protected with some sort of DRM (digital rights management) but this clearly fell on deaf ears.

They are cutting 13.5k from our library staffing but in exchange we get:

  1. To run it ourselves by managing the volunteers with all the costs involved. (see previous blogs, it doesn't actually save any money)
  2. Ebooks nobody wants or that most cannot currently use
  3. Audio books that only people with old fashioned mp3 players can use
  4. Wifi that is pointless and unnecessary.
  5. Self service machines that we don't need in a small rural library

They would saved lots of money if they had put the ebooks/audio books/wifi on the back burner for a few years until things settle down and all the major parties can get their heads together and agree on proper standards, it can them be available to all rather than to select devices. 

This isn't the public sector way though, evidence of effectiveness, demand or need mean nothing. Its new and shiny therefore we must have it now.


link to the foi: