Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Peace poppy campaign ignites in Luton

The great poppy debate has been raging for decades with the sight of the red poppy seemingly becoming more of a politically correct statement rather than being one of true meaning.

In recent years we have seen the BBC rush to ensure Huw Edwards was suitably attired with a Red Poppy after a member of the public complained halfway through a show that he had not put one on and another presenter, Jonathon Ross had a poppy superimposed on his suit so as to be sure not to upset anyone.

In Luton on Sunday 11th of November the peace poppy row exploded in a show of aggression by Kevin Carrol of the EDL and Police Commissioner Candidate for the town against a local peace campaigner and his son.

Peace campaigner Marc Scheimann press secretary to Luton TUC, attended with his four year old son Luton Remembrance Day outside Luton Town Hall by the War memorial, after the two minutes silence, religious speeches of commemorance the parade marched away, Marc & Kiran Scheimann approached the rear of the memorial to lay a white peace poppy wreath. Each year since 1989, Marc has laid a peace wreath to remember his German and British grand fathers who both lost their lives on the two opposing sides during the World War Two, the reason for why he wears a red and a white poppy.

For twenty four years Marc has respectfully done this with the understanding of the Luton public without any problem, until this year when English Defence League deputy & far right British Freedom Party candidate for the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commission, Kevin Carroll made the exception. Waving a clenched fist and using aggressive gesturing he shouted at Kevin before speaking to three police officers that he hopes to lead after the November 15th elections.

Two Officers approached Mark and requested his name, address and telephone number, which he gave. They asked Mark to step back for a moment because they felt he was causing breach of the peace by his actions. Mark stated that it was only a very small minority of the public shouting and they were all connected with Kevin Carroll. After a few minutes Mark and his son laid their peace reef flanked by two police officers. They asked him to leave straight away but stated he had the right to have time to pay his respect and talk to members of the council including our two MPs. Mark feared for the safety of his peace reef so stood close by it with the two officers, one at each side.

Kevin Carroll approached Mark pointing with a closed fist and pointed at the wreath laid by Mark and his son.

A twenty something woman suddenly made a grab for the wreath, shouting and made a grab to remove the wreath from the wires. Mark dived forward letting go of his sons’ hand to fall on the wreath preventing its’ theft whilst the officers took no action.

Mr Carroll seeing that his hopes had been thwarted stated shouting again saying many times over: “You’re just a scumbag, you and the Wakehams (fellow peace campaigners) hate troops. 

“When I’m police commissioner, I will make sure you are locked up in jail for this."

Mark replied that he hoped Carroll would lose his deposit getting less than 5 % of the vote.

His actions and tirade clearly demonstrate if doubt ever existed that he does not just hate Muslims, but all people what ever the colour of their skin, who dare to hold an opinion different to his.

Is this the democracy that the people who we remember died for?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Slash and burn debate rages on

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have shown a change of tact this week in the build up to their lobby of parliament with their 'They slash, you burn' campaign that featured in a number of newspapers. 

The advert has caused ripples through various outlets, accusing the FBU of scare mongering and preying on the fears of the public. Andrew Haldenby from the independent think tank Reform has written a particularly vociferous article featured in the Telegraph against what he calls a "misleading campaign" by the FBU challenging the facts of their statements.

But before we get into the facts as Mr Haldenby likes to claim, let us take a look at Mr Haldenby and Reform itself.

Reform was co-founded by Haldenby in 2001, he later became director in 2005. More interestingly however and previously to his time with Reform, he worked at the Centre for Policy Studies and the Conservative Party (1995-1997) where he became head of the political section of the Conservative Research Department, with the responsibility of briefing the Shadow Cabinet Minister and Leader for key media interviews and appearances. Before even this latest outburst Haldenby has been a regular mouth piece for political propaganda for the Conservatives. Two previous articles that have featured in the last three years in The Telegraph show that Haldenby knows not to bite the hand that feeds. 

Of the NHS and cuts to medicine for patients Haldenby thought it would 'do' the NHS some good, adding this: "One NHS doctor described the list to me as follows: “Nothing worrying there – most are obscure drugs or very specialist or downright ridiculous – neutrogena, gluten free pizza bases". Anyone with even shred of knowledge (or decency for that matter) would have questioned the claim that a gluten free pizza base should not be on the NHS prescription list. There are a section of our society that suffer with something called Coeliac disease, which is an allergy to gluten and wheat, that could lead to bowel cancer if the individual continues to eat wheat based food. Gluten is basically the stuff that makes our bread chewy. At £2.98 for a loaf of gluten free bread that tastes like cardboard, I am sure you would appreciate a little help at the check out when food prices are already soaring beyond some peoples means to cope.

In Haldenby's other article, again in The Telegraph, he focused on the upcoming cuts prior to the last general election, where he stuck his flag firmly in the camp of 'cuts not taxes' in true Tory spirit.
He said: "The politicians will inevitably sugar the pill by talking about a reduction in "management" and "administration". In the past two days, David Cameron and Gordon Brown have promised to "protect front-line services", implying that it is managers, accountants, secretaries and so on who face the axe.
"Yet however appealing it sounds, this would be the wrong approach. 
"The waste in the public services lies, very largely, in that "front line". The NHS will become more efficient only when doctors and nurses are employed in different ways and its buildings used in different ways. A pledge to protect the "front line" will just compound the current problems
this kind of approach would make public services less efficient – which is why it hasn't worked in the past".

So there we have it, a brief history of Mr Haldenby and the rhetoric he sits behind, in a newspaper that gives him the right platform and audience he desires.

The FBU and its members have long made the claim that to do their job both safely and efficiently you need firefighters that are fully trained and fully equipped on fire engines. The fact of the matter is the cuts for the fire service since this unman dated government have been in office has been back loaded for the upcoming two years. The first two years of the governments cuts were only a small percentage of the proposed twenty five percent total by the government but the net result of this so far is the loss of 1457 frontline firefighter jobs across wholetime, retained and control. The potential cull of frontline jobs in the coming two years based on these figures will leave services decimated across the UK and severely handicap their resilience in dealing with incidents.

This may sound like some to now be the rhetoric and drum banging of 'the union' but unfortunately for the cuts deniers this is a message that has been echoed by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).

CFOA are warning of 'a perfect storm' within the fire service as the government pushes ahead with its cuts agenda in a recent publication. In it they said: "That English FRSs are facing a 'perfect storm' of financial pressures which, if not addressed, may lead to a drastic reduction in firefighting capacity, increases in community risk, loss of vital prevention work and a threat to maintaining national resilience. This comes at a time when there is a high likelihood of an increase in demand for our prevention and response services as a consequence of an gaining population and as deprivation increases due to the economic recession". A damning report from a group made up of Chief Fire Officers from across the UK and one that supports the view and facts outlined by the FBU, which must be a first.

Still the debate rages and the FBU advertising campaign has divided opinion, but at least it has got people talking. The Department for Communities and Local Government have waded in on the issue, supporting Mr Haldenby's claims that the FBU are scare mongering with partisan campaigning.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said:
"The FBU is wrong and trying to scare the public with its partisan campaigning. It is disgraceful to suggest that sensible savings cannot be made in areas like procurement, joint working and tackling outdated working practices.
“Their wilful scare-mongering overlooks that fire-related deaths and arson have been falling and continue to fall.
"Every part of the public sector needs to play its part in cutting the deficit we have inherited from the last Administration. Contrary to the FBU claims, we have protected frontline uniformed services as much as possible. Fire and rescue authorities only need to make savings of 2.2% of their spending in 2011-12 and just 0.5% in 2012-13: there is significant scope to deliver these without harming the quality and breadth of the service that the public receive.” The omission here of course are the savings to made in 2013-14 but why would you arm the public with full facts?

The statistics now being thrown around are arbitrary, as is always the case with statistics, it depends on how you read and manipulate them.

The previous twenty four months may well have shown a drop in arson fires but is this because of the work done in prevention by firefighters and the support departments or because of the record breaking rain that has occurred during the holiday periods when most kids would have been out fire setting? No one set of figures can be used to prove or disprove a theory without looking at all the evidence at hand. Unfortunately this is not a scientific method or approach used by partisan governments or Senior Mangers it should be added. The DCLG claim that fire related deaths have been falling is also true, but again this statement has to be taken in context. Fire deaths have steadily fallen over the past thirty years, and yes firefighter personnel have also reduced in this period, but this is not to say that there is no correlation between the number of firefighters and the number of fire deaths. Key legislation has been implemented in this time that has helped reduce fire deaths, namely the Furniture and Furnishings Regulations 1988, Health and Safety Legislation and the Health and Safety Executive, all of which have been cut, compromised or relaxed.

Another issue with the statement that fire deaths have reduced is again with how a cause of death is established by a coroner. 

Two of examples are whereby a fire started by a child striking a match, resulting in the death of his brother and mother was recorded as a malicious fire by the coroner, another case where a man who had been drinking died as a result of injuries received jumping out of a window with his home on fire.

Add to this that the fire service statistics for rescues of members of the public are no longer recorded properly and Freedom of Information requests are required to collate the data, something that has created no end of work for the FBU and is a scandal in itself. Since 2004 the Fire and Rescue Services Act has made it a statutory duty for firefighters to rescue the public. This has formed the basis for role maps (that are open to interpretation) and a variety of incidents including (but not limited to) road traffic collisions and water rescue that we attend if called in an emergency. Some managers would have us do a lot more than this, some of which is clearly way outside our role maps.

In short accidental fire deaths represent a small percentage of the rescues carried out daily across the UK by firefighters.

Another omission from both Mr Haldenby and the DCLG on accidental fire deaths and the decrease in the number of them is the correlating INCREASE in the number of people dying when they do occur. Government statistics show that the number of people dying when a fire does occur is increasing and unfortunately we have had a number of high profile cases just this year that support this evidence. Alongside this there has been a general increase in attendance time of 20% as opposed to 10 years ago, which the government has blamed congestion for, but this increase in attendance time has occurred at both day and night attendance performance indicators. Is this due to the modernisation program embarked upon by management across the UK? Who knows, but what is certain is that some FRSs across the UK have dealt with this issue by increasing the attendance times for incidents, meaning that you and I will have to wait longer for a fire crew to turn up if we are ever in a situation unfortunate enough to warrant dialing 999.

Once again I would urge you to check those facts yourself. Ask a firefighter, go to one of YOUR community fire stations and ask the question. Email your councillor or why don't you contact the brigades themselves and see what they have to say.

Don't believe the hype, the media is manipulating you. Ask more questions.