Thursday, 23 February 2017

Life goes on hold and treated like royalty

I had a telephone call from the City Hospital on Tuesday calling me in for pre-op yesterday (Wednesday), prior to open heart surgery on Monday. The prognosis is good, no problems with bloods, medication etc. Took us through what happens in the days after the op, then the weeks and months which follow. Turns out most post-op problems relate to the breast bone, which is cut, then wired together and you have to be very careful with how you get up, or raise your arms.

Once I had my blood tests, everyone else was waiting for me. I felt like royalty.  The lady who did my ECG (which also shows tension in the body and mine showed none), the radiographers for my chest x-ray, then  we spent a couple of hours with the nurse who will work with me once I am discharged from hospital and be my contact point. She'll visit me in the ward to check up on me and I will have one-to-one nursing in intensive care for the first day, then share a nurse in high-dependency for 2-3 days before going onto a general ward from where I will be discharged, which could be as early as five days (all this depends on how well I recover).

Had an email from my local history friend John, who I work with on projects. Eight years ago now, he had open heart surgery and was out in eleven days - which was quick then. Now, the evidence shows that post-op home care with a nursing team you can call 24/7 has the best recovery rates - hence the possibility of being out in as few as five days. I'll be happy if it's ten days! We shall see soon enough, as in my case how well my lungs reflate will also be a factor (one will be collapsed whilst my heart is stopped and I am on the heart by-pass machine).

Hardest part will be leaving things to Susan for the first six weeks whilst I concentrate on just walking each day. My physical rehab won't start for six weeks. The good news is that I should eat whatever I fancy as post-op calories are what I need to help me and my heart to recover - me being told to eat - that really is something (!!), so this happy note I will sign off.

Back in May 2015 I blogged about being diagnosed with fibrosis of the lungs, not knowing at the time that a visit to the City a Hospital assessment would lead to me being asked 'How long have you had a heart problem Robert?,' to which I replied 'What problem?' It turned I have lived nearly 73 years with a defective aortic heart valve, and it has been described in writng on several occasions as 'serious'. I consider myself to be one lucky bunny, pleased that my life expectancy will be extended considerably once I have recovered. The City Hospital and every person I have seen during the past twenty-one months has been kind and caring and yesterday, as I progressed though the system yesterday I really did feel like royalty and on this note I will end until I have recovered.

Robert Howard.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A draft of the cover for a new version of my 35 History Bus leaflet, which will come in the form of a 8 or 12 page A4 brochure. The images have to be tweaked, but I am getting ahead of myself so that I don't have too much to do after my major operation, which will now be in 'March'.

Nottingham City's Transport's 35 bus route between Nottingham City Centre and Bulwell Town Centre will take you to all these places and many more.

The 8 July has to be confirmed and the day is being organised by St Martin's Church, Bilborough, 'Hidden Treasures Project'.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Anna Soubry's part in our collective shame

An extract from Anna Soubry's  Broxtowe constituency e-mail yesterday about why she did not vote for the Brexit (Article 50) Bill amendment to enshrine the right of EU citizens living here to stay in the UK in law:

'I very much trust the word of the Prime Minister, Theresa May. I have no doubt she understands why EU citizens living in Britain must be allowed to stay after we have left the EU. I believe the PM understands the need to settle this matter as soon as possible especially as the uncertainty has badly affected a number of EU citizens. The Home Secretary has given assurances as well. On the basis this matter will be a priority and knowing that Parliament can and no doubt will resolve it if the Government doesn't, I decided not to back an amendment to enshrine the rights of EU citizens in the Bill.'

As my wife Susan says something happens to otherwise decent people when they become MPs. They leave their humanity and any comprehension of the real world at Parliament's entrance. At this moment EU citizens living in the UK are having to live with a totally unnecessary uncertainty because MPs like Anna Soubry decided to 'trust' a prime minister willing to create such uncertainty in the first place.

This issue is above party politics and there are  ordinary, otherwise decent, people who believe Brexit will see the mass deportation of EU citizens. That we have a government willing to use people as bargaining chips should fill us with collective shame.

Anna, you were wrong not to hold the Prime Minister you 'trust' to account when you had the opportunity, but as to how you look EU citizens living in Broxtowe in the eyes in the meantime I have no idea, for what you should do is hang your head in personal shame.

I really thought you were much much better than this.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Council tax exempt properties and Broxtowe Borough Council continued...

Today, I have used the What Do They Know website to submit a revised freedom of information (FOI) request for information about council tax exempt properties in the Broxtowe Borough Council area and added a request for information about registered houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the borough. This time I have made it day and date specific: 1 January 2017.

In addition, I have made a separate FOI concerning council tax income lost to Broxtowe Borough Council because of registered exemptions for the financial years 2014/15, 2015/16 and to 2016/17, and much was recovered from central government?

Being open with Broxtowe Borough Council clearly does not work, so from now on I will use the What Do They Know website for all my requests for information.

This morning I have used the internet to search for student lets currently being advertised as located in Beeston by the Zoopla and Unipol websites and captured the two maps below. 

The web is awash with such information, which makes me wonder even more as why Broxtowe Borough Council has used the FOI Act to refuse me information about the total number of council tax exempt properties by street (not the location of individual properties — something I have never requested)?

Broxtowe Borough Council recently provided me with information about the number of registered voters by street. Using their logic my use of this information to create maps reveals to criminals the best streets to steal from — the more voters in a street the more there is to steal — so they should have refused me the information. Once you would have got this direct from electoral registers, but not any more (unless you are a representative of a registered political party who needs the information for canvassing etc, mailings etc).

Probably what annoys me most about all this is that my reasonable concern about maintaining some kind of 'community balance' in Beeston and across the Borough of Broxtowe becomes seen as 'anti-student' which it is not. My track record in Lenton and here in Beeston proves otherwise.

Many students want to live ordinary houses on ordinary streets and I well understand. As an oldie I want the same, but too many students, just like too many oldies, create problems which impact on local shops, services, facilities and other things as well. I could ask for information about how many council tax payers get a 25% reduction because they live alone. The problem is complex and needs addressing.

Broxtowe Borough Council's Housing Strategy 2015–2020 document (click link to read/download) does not mention students or balanced communities. The following table from the document is vague at best:

'Household structure' makes no mention of shared housing or non-couples other than 'One Person' or 'Lone Parent'. Two years ago there were 615 council tax exempt properties, which will be almost exclusively shared tenancies with three or more adults, yet the Strategy document makes no mention of this group. It is also worth noting that no data is shown for the year 2015, which is mentioned in the title of the report.

Nor does the strategy document look at housing in different parts of what is a diverse local authority area. There is no mention of housing in Beeston. The very least there should have been was a breakdown by wards/locality clusters. How this got pass the councillors is beyond me!

The list of housing 'partners' who work with Broxtowe Borough Council does not include Unipol or Nottingham University, but the Council does publish a leaflet aimed at students living in Beeston which makes no mention of what housing advice and support is available to them in Beeston.

The driving issue is housing when it comes to students in Beeston, but Broxtowe Borough Council shows little interest in taking a pro-active take in how it impacts on local shops, the wider community and local services. The Broxtowe Labour Party has, I understand, made a donation to a Nottingham Students Housing Co-op for which I can find no information on the web, apart from a Facebook page.
I hope Broxtowe Borough Council have invited them to become a housing partner.

Clearly this is the way forward for all rented housing and I wish the students involved every success. It would surely help them to know the streets where students are likely to live so that they can focus their efforts and what resources they have.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Beeston crime and how I may be party to 'enabling or encouraging the commission of offences' according to Broxtowe Borough Council.

For some time now I have been waiting for information from Broxtowe Borough Council which would enable me to create and publish in BeestonWeek an updated version of my map showing council tax exempt properties by street in Beeston and across the borough. Last week I reminded them of my information request and what I received from Broxtowe Borough Council on Monday 6 February 2017 was an email telling me that:

The information requested in relation to Council tax exempt properties has been withheld under section 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act on the basis that it is considered that the disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences.  The public interest test has been applied in reaching this decision but it is considered that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the interest in disclosure.

Additionally, this information has been withheld under section 40(2), specifically section 40(3)(a)(i) of the Freedom of Information Act which states, that information is exempt from disclosure if it constitutes the personal data of a third party and its disclosure under the Act would breach any of the data protection principles or section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998. Personal data, as defined by the DPA in section 1 constitutes as:

"Personal data" means data which relates to a living individual who can be identified-

(a)       From those data, or

(b)       From those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller, and includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual.

I have lodged an appeal against this decision and have been told I can expect to receive 'a response within fifteen working days'.

What I find puzzling is the fact that the information I requested is exactly the same as I requested two years ago and which Broxtowe Borough Council happily provided. In fact last time I also asked for information about houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) but this time I did not. So what has changed since 2015 to prompt this refusal?

The second reason for refusal can be easily dismissed as I have never requested 'the personal data of a third party' or any information which would make it possible to identify them. In addition much of this information, in one form or another, is already in the public domain. Landlords and letting agents advertise properties as student only lets and even put up 'to let' signs sharing this information with anyone who cares to notice (see my 29 November 2016 blog post, from which the picture below is taken).

So, I can only conclude that Broxtowe Borough Council have changed their mind about sharing the the information I requested (and, to repeat, they have already given in February 2015) because they believe this information being in the public domain in 2017 will 'prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences'. 

After reading the email from Broxtowe Borough Council refusing me information about the total number of council tax exempt properties in the borough by street I thought, for a moment, 'What did I do when I published that blog post on 25 February 2015 about council tax exempt properties in Broxtowe (click her to see that blog post)?'  The post included this map:

Then I thought had my innocent post been responsible for a crime wave in Beeston (or anywhere else in Broxtowe) either Nottinghamshire Police or Broxtowe Borough Council would have contacted me to point out the problem I was causing and I would have deleted the information about council tax exempt properties immediately, but no one has!

Whilst I assume, I hope rightly, that Broxtowe Borough Council would, in 2017, deny the information I have requested to anyone else, I do be understand their decision to use The Freedom of Information Act has to be reasonable and based on evidence, and given I know of no one else who has published this information in the public domain, I have been in search of that evidence myself — which happens to be in the public domain and easy enough to find!

Nottinghamshire Police Authority diligently publish 'Crime Maps' for the whole of the county on the Police UK website. It took me a minute at most to find a Beeston (all) Crime Map for November 2016, which is the latest one available as at yesterday's date. I then decided to look at the month of November for the years 2012–2016 (a five year period). I have captured those maps and reproduce them below in year order.

What jumps out from the maps is the fact that more crime takes place in Beeston Town Centre than anywhere else (during the month of November at least, but I know enough about numbers and statistics to believe that this 'fact' will also be true for every other month of the year).

You can search the Beeston map by crime types and individual months going back as far as December 2010. At the end of the five Beeston Crime Maps below you will find two tables I have compiled: one showing all crimes for every November from 2012 until 2016 and one showing burglaries by month for years 2014–2016.

The table below shows crime in Beeston by type for the month of November during the years 2012–2016. The top three criminal offences are, on average, anti-social behaviour (35), shoplifting (20) and violence & sexual offences (15). Burglaries and Criminal damage/arson are in tied 4th position (13).

Now what of these crimes will be encouraged by Broxtowe Borough Council giving me (or anyone else) information about council tax exempt properties by street?  The only one, at a stretch, might be burglary, so I took my searching a stage further, as the table below shows:

Now, if the reasoning of Broxtowe Borough Council is to be believed I am being denied information because I have been responsible for a crime wave of sorts in the Borough and the only one that could be, by any stretch of the imagination is burglaries, although I would argue letting agents and 'to let' signs advertise student properties far better to would-be criminals than my my humble blog, but I can hear someone saying 'He's only shown us Novembers, what about the other months?' Well, here they are for the years 2014–2016.

Given I did not post my map (or tables) about council tax exempt properties to this blog before 25 February 2015 they clearly had nothing to do with crime, especially burglary, before 25 February 2015, so can discount all those months. Perhaps burglars who saw my map at the end of February 2015 got to work immediately, but what the evidence shows is that only the months of May (12) and October (24) are higher than the same month in 2014. In other words just two out of nine months! If there was any reasonableness in the thinking of Broxtowe Borough Council I think they need better evidence than this.

2016 might suit the council's reasoning a little better insomuch as there were 15 more burglaries in the first eleven months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015, but the increase only averages 1 burglary a month (bearing in mind I have rounded all my averages to the nearest whole number which is not unreasonable). So, is there a case to argue that my map and tables 'prejudice the prevention of crime by enabling or encouraging the commission of offences'? I don't think so!

Much more telling are the months with the highest numbers of burglaries and how these might, just might be linked to student housing. In 2014 and 2015 October is the highest month for burglaries — the month after the new academic year begins and student house are awash with new kit and freshers yet to become street-wise. In 2016 it is February which stands out, a month after students return from the Christmas vacation, often with new goodies.

Living in Lenton for thirty-five years and being actively involved in the community, I knew far too many student homes which were stolen from, and in a good few cases the burglar just walked in because the occupiers had not locked their front door. The other attraction is the fact that in a student house there will be multiples of everything to steal. I could go on, but it's all so obvious that no would-be burglar finds out about the location of student properties by reading an old-fashioned blog like mine (and the one that I did in Lenton).

All I can do now is wait for Broxtowe Borough Council to let me know whether my appeal has been successful.

Council Tax exempt properties are too important to be hidden from public scrutiny. They impact of neighbourhoods, council income, local council services and, yes, crime.

If I have to continue my fight I will, but I will end by asking the same question of every Broxtowe Borough councillor, 'Do you support Broxtowe Borough Council's decision to deny me the information I have requested?' 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Article 50 and the role of representative democracy – Graham Allen explains why he voted against.

A faded postcard from my pinboard taken when Graham Allen was the Prospective Parliamentary Labour Party Candidate for North Nottingham (he was first elected in 1987). With him is Dennis Woodward, who replaced me as Labour's then Portland ward county councillor in 1985. I was the Party's ward agent from 1983 until 1997, for a total of eight elections. Susan took the photograph and it remains one of my favourites. We used the Old Basford level crossing footbridge all the time because it was (and remains) a great location. The text on the back advertising Portland Branch Labour Party advice surgeries is undated, but it has to be after Graham's selection and before he was elected, so it has to be c.1986.

I have known Graham Allen for a long time and have fond memories of the years I spent working with him. I was present when he was selected by the Constituency Labour Party to fight Nottingham North and he had a moment straight out of Fame is the Spur by Howard Spring, except Graham held a miner's Davy lamp above his head — not a sabre taken from a dragoon at the Peterloo massacre. My Susan spent countless hours with him, taking photographs as he went around the constituency campaigning at every opportunity. He is a great champion of local democracy and there have been other posts in BeestonWeek about Graham.

Yesterday (1 February 2017) he posted an entry to his website 'How I will be voting on the Article 50 bill', part of which I reprint below. My reason for wanting to share this with you is that Graham's take on Article 50 trumps that Anna Soubry and Jeremy Corbyn. Over the years Graham and Jeremy have often been outsiders, voting together on too many issues to list here. I suspect Graham is too much of a libertarian for Jeremy. Since I describe myself as a libertarian socialist, I find it easy to support and champion the views of Graham.

Right now, read and cheer!

'Despite the Prime Minister’s speech of 17 January, we remain in the dark about many aspects of the government’s intended approach. Of course, there is a need for some discretion when approaching negotiations with the remaining EU Member States. But it would be possible to provide far more information than is currently available without compromising the confidentiality ministers need. And even if we were given a clearer account of what will be the opening move of the UK, that does not tell us how the position might change in response to discussions with our EU counterparts.

That is why – in line with my responsibility to represent my constituents – I will not vote for a bill authorising the activation of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union until they and I know what the government has in mind; how it intends to keep Parliament and public informed about how negotiations are developing; and consult with representatives in Westminster at key stages throughout the process. It is not about ignoring the referendum result, but about ensuring a democratic input into the process of leaving as it unfolds.

A recent pamphlet by Andrew Blick has noted how a parliamentary colleague of mine, talking about referendums in 2002, insisted that ‘We should not ask people to vote on a blank sheet of paper and tell them to trust us to fill in the details afterwards… [r]eferendums need to be treated as an addition to the parliamentary process, not as a substitute for it.’The name of the speaker was David Davis, then an opposition spokesperson, now Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. It is important that we do not write out for him the blank cheque he warned us about. Principles of representative democracy require that we draw up a detailed contract.
It is a shame that it took Gina Miller rather Parliament itself to take a case to the Supreme Court, to remind a feeble Parliament of the mythology that it, rather than the Executive is sovereign. But we now have a chance to exercise that sovereignty in a meaningful way, rather than have the executive continue to use us as a rubber stamp.'

You can also see and hear Graham's contribution to the Article 50 vote debate by clicking on this link.