Hellholes & Crack Dens

Hellholes & Crack Dens

When I first left home, many years ago, I spent two years living in what used to be called sharehouses. It was both affordable and convenient, allowing me to get my own space even though I was earning very little. I was able to use my time there to save up and buy my first house. Some of the other tenants became very good friends of mine and at least one of them still is to this day. I have fond memories of that first simple, affordable and comfortable room that was my first home on my own.

First time home buyers often find that to help them afford that house, they take in a lodger or two.  Sometimes, one of the family loses a job and a lodger or two are the perfect way to avoid losing the home while the job hunt proceeds.  Very often these would qualify as HMOs.

Recently, as part of their ongoing agenda, certain people have been trying to dirty the name of HMOs, which means House Of Multiple Occupancy. The suggestion is that all HMOs are dirty, or nasty, and that they represent some attempt to “rip people off” or to treat them in an unpleasant way.

This is completely misrepresenting the facts – something that is being done deliberately by a few individuals and which is then taken up by gullible folk. This is easy to demonstrate for anybody who is bothered about the truth, rather than the spin.

Your home is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) if both of the following apply:

  • at least 3 tenants live there, forming more than 1 household
  • you share toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities with other tenants

There are hundreds of thousands of HMOs, by the Government definition, in the United Kingdom. If a young couple in a two bedroom house let their friend and his wife live in the spare bedroom for a while, that’s a HMO. If a landlord has a four bedroom house and rents the rooms out to individuals – what used to be called a “sharehouse” – that’s a HMO. Any University town is inundated with sharehouses / HMOs.  I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine who was studying to be a Veterinary nurse, living in a HMO with other nurse trainees in her student years.  This is incredibly common.

Although I don’t know for sure, I believe that quite a few of my neighbours on Alexandra Road are living in HMOs.  They cause no trouble, keep their houses very nice, and are excellent neighbours.  Of course there are houses out there which are not so nice to live besides, but that is also true of some houses with families in them – if the family behave in an antisocial way.

There are hundreds of variations of HMO and the vast majority are perfectly nice, perfectly comfortable places to live. Running, or living in a HMO is not illegal and I very much hope the fools who say “HMOs should be illegal” never get their way. Because then we really WILL have a housing crisis in the UK. A crisis when huge numbers of people suddenly lose their homes, and when thousands of others can’t afford theirs because they can’t rent the rooms anymore.

You see, there is a very big difference between a house with three couples in three double rooms, where the premises is clean, the regulations all kept to and the landlord reliable and fair – and a monstrous den with no carpet or curtains where people are sleeping on dirty mattresses on the floor, abused, and trapped by their circumstances.  They are like chalk and cheese.

The individuals who seek to muddy the name of a HMO act as though all HMOs are like crack dens. They are not. The very very vast majority of HMOs are just places people share a house but don’t happen to all be family. It is very dangerous and ignorant to spread this cack about them as though they are a plague, when in fact they are a vital part of our housing infrastructure which has existed for hundreds of years and will continue to exist for hundreds more – perfectly legally.

A few years ago, the law was changed to require *some* HMOs to apply for planning permission when they started out. The purpose of the change was that some University towns were being overrun by large, packed HMOs full of students. The laws on when you do or do not qualify as a HMO or a Large HMO, when you do or don’t need a license and when you do or don’t need planning permission are complex. Because the purpose is to require registation, payment and regulation, rather than prevention, Councils try to work with landlords rather than against them. And different Councils do take different views, just to add to the complexity.  Unless a place really is a hellhole, like one of these aforementioned crack den types, they will usually prefer a constructive dialogue that corrects whatever minor omission they may notice.

HMOs are just homes that a few people share. Large HMOs are just bigger homes that a few people share. Not everybody can afford to buy a house or even rent a house and not everybody can get into a Council House or Housing Association Home. Sometimes, it suits people to share. Often, in fact. It takes a special sort of snobbery to automatically presume there is something wrong with that. save your outrage for the hellholes and the crack dens – the places that actually deserve it.  Unless it’s not actually snobbery at all.  Perhaps what you really dislike is the fact that foreign people live in some of these places?  If, in truth, that is your reason – there’s a word for that too.

POLICE REPORT, to Wisbech Town Council 28/10/15

POLICE REPORT, to Wisbech Town Council 28/10/15

Crime Trends

The main concern revolves around shoplifting of which there has been an increase in both of the wards where our main retail outlets can be found. PC Stevens, along with PCSO’s Megan Sargent and Andy Bush will look into this further to determine what educational/prevention activities can be undertaken to reduce this crime type.

Anti-Social Behaviour

The overall trend continues to be a reduction in the reports of ASB. We have had some issues within the town park during the summer holidays however these reports do appear to be decreasing. Waterless where we had some significant issues in late 2014 has seen a current reduction of 39% in reported ASB when compared to the same April to August period of 2014.

We currently continue to have a close working relationship with both FDC and Cambs County Council about the play park at the Spinney.

There has been some concern raised about activities in the Admirals Drive area of Waterlees and as a result PCSO Steve Staniforth and partners have completed an environmental audit in the locality today to better understand the issues and possible causes.

Street Drinking

We continue to work closely with our partners in supporting the Alcohol Project being led by Aaron Locks. Through our patrol activity we obtain details of all those involved in street drinking activity and the details from these reports helps identify and influence how our partners can support those individuals who have or appear to have long term alcohol abuse problems.


Each of the primary schools have been allocated an identified PCSO who will be visible at the schools morning or afternoon when on duty and will also develop closer working relationships with staff to support safeguarding activities.

In the last week we have been working with FDC with the delivery of some educational work linked to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). This has involved a theatre group production being performed which is based on true events linked to CSE, question & answer sessions and some workshops. Some of you may have had the opportunity to attend one of these sessions. I found the production very thought provoking, hard hitting and emotional. These events were held at Thomas Clarkson, Isle College and the Fenland Learning Base.

Shared Planning

Shared Planning

I voted against the Shared Planning Proposal between Peterborough City Council and Fenland District Council today at the Staff Committee.  This is different to the way I voted at the Full Council meeting recently and a colleague commented on this, so I thought it worth explaining my position here.

The idea of a shared planning arrangement between the Councils was first mooted a couple of months ago in a Members’ Seminar at Fenland Hall.  The presentation was very slick and professionally done, but although there was a lot of information – I did not feel that the case being made presented a strong argument for the change.  The reasoning is both as a method of improving the Planning Service and also of saving money.  To have some idea whether this will actually happen, the entire issue would have to be interrogated to a much deeper level.  Instead, the Seminar appeared to present a case and then push for an early resolution “in case Peterborough went elsewhere”, as it were.

I challenged the case being made at the Seminar.  Not, I stress, because I disagreed with it.  Simply because I did not feel that the case they were making in their presentation stacked up.  I looked at the projected cost savings versus the risk involved – after all this is a huge change to one of the intrinsic duties and functions of the Council – and just couldn’t agree that the benefits outweighed the potential for things to go wrong.  One question I asked was about their Risk Analysis.  Since the Seminar had presented such a positive spin on the policy I wanted to know what they had come up with when the explored the potential risks associated with the proposals.  The question resulted in some floundering that seemed to suggest they had not even considered a Risk Analysis.

The next place I heard the case was in a Conservative group meeting, where a number of my colleagues challenged the appropriate Cabinet Members on various issues.  Once again, I made the point that we simply did not have the information to make a sensible decision.  We had lots of positive aspirations and we had lots of grand opinions of how this was the right way forward.  Now there are many instances where I will acknowledge the opinion of colleagues and of Officers – I have no interest in micro-managing every decision they take.  But this was not a simple matter, rather it was a huge and complex change affecting a vital area of District Council Business.  In which case I expect the business case to be made and I want to be convinced by it.  Not only was I not convinced, I didn’t even feel there was enough evidence presented to take a view.  It wasn’t that I thought they were wrong, I just couldn’t see how we could guess one way or the other.

I felt, quite strongly, that this would have benefited from a significant review by the Scrutiny Committee.  It should have been subject to an extensive Task and Finish Review where Members could look in depth at the proposal, have time to research and analyse every aspect of it and to ask searching questions of Officers where necessary.  I pushed and managed to get it to Scrutiny before it went to full Council, but only for a single emergency meeting.  It was better than nothing, but not enough, I felt.

So when this came to Full Council I found myself in a difficult position.  I was still unconvinced by the arguments made, but I had asked for Scrutiny to look at it and Scrutiny had looked at it and found favour with it.  While I still felt the evidence was not there to mitigate the difference between Risk and potential Benefit, it was clear that the entire rest of the Council felt otherwise.  I considered voting against, but eventually supported the decision.  Despite my reservations, everybody else was supportive (including the Opposition) and what I had asked for (Scrutiny Review) had been done without finding any issues.  It was a difficult decision, but one I took on balance because I thought it best given what had gone on.

Today the same issue came to the Staff Committee, which I sit on.  This time with a whole new supporting paper including responses from the comprehensive consultation with members of staff.  Despite several weeks passing and the policy being now almost imminent, I simply could not see that the evidence was any better than it had been at the outset.  In fact, in a way it was worse.  We now had the full old and new proposed staff structures (but with no information as to the roles, connections etc of those positions.)  We were still missing the proposed wages for new senior staff – although some vague answers were given when I challenged this.

Recently, in Social Media, Members of the public have been challenging Councillors about the level of wages of senior staff.  Many people have made the point that Councillors are elected to oversee this.  I have tried to explain that it’s not as simple as that and many people are somewhat unforgiving in response.  “Don’t make excuses,” they are broadly saying, “You are supposed to be in charge – show us where you have challenged pay scales.”  And yet here we have a concrete proposal for whole new senior positions which have gone through Full Council and are now at the final Staff Committee hurdle and not a single Councillor knows what the proposal for pay is to the most Senior Planning Officer in the new set-up.  The paper we have before us says “TBC”, to be confirmed.  Asking about it I am told it will be on the “Hay Scale” which is set by an Independent External Body (as are many of the Senior Officers wage levels.)  I press harder and I am given a guesstimate – “Hay 4,” maybe £79,000 – £81,000 pa.

So at this point I am being asked to officially vote, on record, in the final Committee to have a say on this.  I am being asked to show support for a policy where I feel the risk may well outweigh the limited savings, where I have no evidence there will be an improvement in service for either Council, where I don’t know what we will be paying to our new staff, where I really have no clue what the effect will be on one of the most important aspects of Council business.

Now I must stress – none of this means the idea will fail.  It may well be that Officers and the Cabinet Member know things I don’t.  It may well be that the amalgamation will save us money, deliver fantastic new services and improve existing ones.  It may well be that all my fears are completely unfounded and I am a worrywart for no reason.  I know this.  But nothing in any of the reports I had seen proved this in a way that convinced me.  With that in mind I gritted my teeth and voted against the proposal.  I was the only one that did, so it is still carried.  Nevertheless, I hope that the policy exceeds all predications and proves my worries wrong.  Cllr. Will Sutton told me not to worry about it after the meeting, that it was going to work and work well.  He is a bright guy and he is probably right.  I’m probably too much of a pessimist. :)


Elliott Johnson

Elliott Johnson

My good friend Elliott Johnson died last week.

I had known Elliott for many years.  His first job was at Number 10 Cafe where we worked together.  He did his work experience with me when I was County Councillor.  Elliott was a Conservative activist, as am I, and we had fought many campaigns side by side.

There is nothing bad to say about Elliott.  He did not have a bad bone in his body.  He was just the most generous, caring, decent man.  He had such immense talent and was so noble and kind.  He was also the most true and loyal friend anybody could ever wish for.

I am so immensely sad, there are no more words.

Goodbye my friend. Rest in peace.


Perfectly Legal Activities

Perfectly Legal Activities

One of the interesting things about being a Councillor is how often people seem to want you to take some action about something which is not in any way illegal.

Time and again people insist that their preferences are enforced on the behaviour of others and they expect their local Councillor, or the Police, or some other authority  to be the weapon of choice to make it happen.

It is a mystery to me why people think that a Councillor is able to make somebody stop doing something which is perfectly legal.  And why, if that person refuses to stop doing the perfectly legal behaviour, the Councillor is somehow failing.

I blame the authoritarian Councillors.  These are the Councillors who are convinced that they should be able to intervene in other people’s perfectly legal activities.  When asked, they will say: “Oh yes, that is awful, something must be done.”  Even if they know nothing can be done because nobody is doing anything illegal.  Because, when they fail to do the thing they could never have done in the first place, they can blame somebody else for their failing.

To make matters worse – if you patiently point out why you cannot take action and explain the law, you will be called names.  When you point out that the Police and other authorities also can’t do anything, for the same reasons, they will be called names also.

This happens in regards to street drinking, parking, hot bedding, houses of multiple occupation and a whole host of other areas.  Nobody really cares what the law is or what can be genuinely done within it.  What they care about is being able to tell everybody how angry they are about xxx thing.  Then, depending on their personal tastes, they will blame the failure to stop the perfectly legal activity on “foreigners”, “bankers”, “evil Tories,” “Tony Blair”, “the Illuminati” or “The Council.”

It is a shame that people in communication positions don’t tell the truth, which might help everybody to understand the law and its limitations.  Then, should they want to, the people could campaign for a change in the law.

Refusing to condemn a person for their perfectly legal choices does not make you “part of the problem” and it does not mean you support whatever those choices are.  Rather, it means that you understand the statutory limitations of your role and don’t seek to try and gain power over the non-criminal choices of consenting adults.

Members’ Allowances Review

Members’ Allowances Review

The Independent Panel who look at Councillor’s Allowances were at Fenland Hall today and Councillors were invited to speak to them and comment on the allowances etc with a view to helping them decide what they are going to recommend to Council.

I have my interview at 16.15.

I was asked what I thought about the current level of the basic Councillor’s allowance.  I said I thought it was fine as it was and did not need any increase.

I was asked what I thought about the level of Special Responsibility Allowances.  I said that I thought most of them were okay, but has one or two comments in a couple of areas.

I was asked if the practice of the Chairman of Planning and the Chairman of O&S getting a higher SRA than other Chairman of Committees was reasonable and I thought it probably was.  Certainly for Planning.

The key point I made was in regards to Group Leader’s Allowances.  I said I felt it was a misuse of the system that a “group” can consist of just two people and that one of them can then get thousands of pounds to be the boss of the other one.  That has always seemed to me to be a gross abuse of the system, albeit one that is within the rules.

In my opinion two people do not constitute a “political group.”  Although the “starting point” is obviously an arbitrary choice, I think five is probably a good number that most people would accept is a “group.”  Maybe four.  But not two, in my humble opinion.

Military Opt-Out

Military Opt-Out

This from the Telegraph:

British taxpayers should be allowed to opt out of funding the Army, Jeremy Corbyn once proposed in an idea former generals have called “stark-starring bonkers”.

The Labour leadership front-runner suggested voters should be able to act with their “conscience” and order the Treasury not spend their tax money on soldiers.

Britain’s leading former generals warned the “corrosive” idea could undermine public support for soldiers and was “absolutely ludicrous”.

It has emerged after Mr Corbyn triggered a backlash by saying he “couldn’t think” of a situation in which he would deploy troops.

Interesting stuff.

Putting aside the sheer lunacy of leaving us undefended against external threats, Corbyn’s idea opens all sorts of avenues.  He appears to be making the case for “conscience based taxation” and its intriguing.  Let’s take his idea a stage further.  If people are able to withhold a portion of their taxes because their conscience doesn’t allow them to support the Armed Forces, then that suggests that taxes should not be forced on people who don’t agree with the tax’s purpose in good conscience.

So what about people who don’t agree with welfare payments in good conscience?  What about people who don’t agree with the Police?  What about people who don’t support the NHS and the BBC.  What about people who don’t support the Climate Change Act and don’t want to see money thrown at wind farms and solar panels?

Jeremy, looney leftie that he appears to be, probably believes such people don’t exist.  But of course they do.  Every policy you can think of, every organisation, every reason for taxation will have people who don’t support them in good conscience.  You and I may not agree with them, but they are out there.

What about people who don’t support taxation at all – in good conscience?  Anarchists and hardline Libertarians and the like?  Plenty of them out there.

Imagine your Council tax bill comes, but instead of a fixed amount it has a load of selections.  Each selection has a description of what it is for and a box so you can indicate how much tax you want, in good conscience, to pay for it.  This is a truly revolutionary idea, comrade Corbyn.

Do you see where it leads?

That’ll work.

That’ll work.

Last week’s Wisbech Standard featured yet another letter from Alan Lay full of abject silliness.  I know, dear reader, you are probably bored of this by now.  You were probably bored of it months ago.  But, for goodness sake, the ammunition just keeps coming and I am only human.  The letter was so long that it filled an entire column of the newspaper from top to bottom.  I don’t recall ever seeing a letter quite so long published before, particularly not one given to so much waffle.  But there you go.  Anywhere, here comes the obligatory deconstruction.

lay 1

Starting as he means to continue, Alan Lay makes me the early feature of his letter.  He points out that I proposed him for the Working Party of the Town Plan and asks when it went ahead.  Well, sorry Alan, but things change.  First of all, although I was asked if I would Chair the Working Party I decided not to do so and am no longer involved in it.  I’ve been away for a couple of weeks but to the best of my knowledge the Working Party has not yet met, which would possibly be why you haven’t “heard” anything yet.  As your own letter states I “proposed” you for Vice Chairman, I’m just unsure why you don’t know understand what the word “proposed” means.  It is no guarantee of a post, only a suggestion.  I am not now involved in the Town Plan Working Party, but if I were I would withdraw my proposal.  You see, I made the proposal just after your election in the spirit of cooperation and teamwork.  Since then you have called the entire Town Council “corrupt” twice and written angry letters to the newspaper because you were not immediately made Chairman of various Committees.  I can safely say there’s not much chance I’ll be proposing you for anything in future.  But I’m just a humble backbencher and I don’t speak for anybody else.

In regards to your moaning about Jessica Oliver’s “touching the button on her tablet” to access information:  in the Modern World there are tablets which store digital information.  This can be very useful to quickly access notes and necessary information.  The fact that Jessica Oliver had the agenda and other notes all ready when she became Chairman is evidence of preparation, organisation and competence.  The fact you see it as some grand conspiracy is frankly a bit weird.  The fact that you are unable to be prepared yourself could be seen by some as evidence that you aren’t suited to that sort of role.

lay 2

A Chairman does *not* need extensive knowledge of the Committee they sit on.  They need some knowledge, for sure.  But extensive knowledge is provided by experts, Officers and supporting documentation.  They need to understand the role of Chairman, the terms of reference of the Committee and be able to manage the meeting.  Alan Lay continually misrepresents the role of the Chairman, which he seems to see as some oligarch of the subject concerned.  This is not correct.  All Members of a Committee are equal and all members are expected to input into the issues concerned, using their own experience and knowledge to assist.  The Chairman’s job is to manage the meeting, not to provide expertise on the subject.  As I said last time this was discussed, the fact that Alan Lay thinks the Chairman’s job is to be the “most knowledgable” in the subject at hand is evidence that he would have been unsuitable as Chairman.  Members of the Committee would quickly become tired of a Chairman who was convinced they knew it all better than anybody else.

lay 3

I’m not sure what point he is trying to make re: left eyes and right eyes and blinkers.  It seems to be a suggestion that I am very “right wing.”  This from a UKIP Councillor!  I’m not convinced he really understands what Left Wing and Right Wing mean in most contexts.  But what really puzzles me is his fascination with bringing me up every few paragraphs.  He has previously said he doesn’t read my blog, yet continues to quote it regularly.  He should probably note that I’m not the Mayor, or the Deputy Mayor, of the Leader of the Council.  I’m not even the Chairman of Wisbech Conservatives anymore.  I guess that its the fact that I’m the only one who bothers to challenge his reams of nonsense :)  I remain uncertain why Alan Lay continues to criticise Wisbech Town Council, and in such vague terms.  He has previously made accusations of corruption, but when challenged to identify this “corruption” has failed to do so.  He makes accusations of “secrecy” but when asked to clarify what he means, gives no examples.  He suggests that he cannot “offer thoughts” on issues, and his sole reason for not being able to do so is because he has not been “made Chairman.”   I put it to you, Alan Lay, that perhaps all you really want is to boss people around?  Because you can offer thoughts on a Committee simply by sitting on said Committee – you don’t need to be Chairman.  You seem to be saying you wont take part unless you can be in charge.  This doesn’t sound like somebody who “only wants to help.”  It sounds like you want to take your ball and go home.

Constantly accusing your colleagues of being corrupt and other such things is possibly, just possibly, not going to endear you to them.  Which is fine if you don’t give a stuff.  But given that those same people are the ones who vote for who the Chairman of their Committee is going to be?  Never mind.  Write another angry letter to the newspaper declaring you should be in charge of everything in the hope of bullying your way into a position?  That’ll work.

Defending The Indefensible

Defending The Indefensible

Just imagine that a prominent individual, or group of prominent individuals, were to openly admit that he, or they, had deliberately and maliciously lied.  Then to admit that those lies were damaging to the reputation and business of an innocent individual.  And then to further admit that they had done so during an election campaign for the sole purpose of gaining electoral advantage?

What would you expect to happen when such an admission was made?

You’d think that it would be news, right?  You’d think that the local newspaper would be, like, “They said WHAT?”

I mean, it’s really not a small thing, is it?  To openly and brazenly admit to lying about an individual just for electoral purposes.  To slander an individual to try and get a few dirty votes?  You’d think, once they openly admitted this is what they had done, it might be quite a story?

So once again here is my definition of a scumbag:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 19.14.57


Perhaps I am naive, but I would have thought that almost anybody would agree that my definition of the term “scumbag” was accurate.  Somebody who deliberately lies, accusing an innocent person of a crime, for the sole purpose of political advantage.  And yet I am told, several times now, by local newspaper Editor John Elworthy that there is something “wrong” with this post.  He has suggested the language is “un-statesman like.”  I don’t know if he thinks I am a senator or an international diplomat or something? The word “scumbag” is not some sort of awful swear word – and everybody who I have shown my definition to so far has agreed that yes, somebody who would do that does sound like a scumbag.  Most have gone further, using words I would not reprint here.

So, dear reader, why is the Editor so up-in-arms about my definition of the word “scumbag?”  Which named nobody and must surely be hard to deny is a reasonably accurate definition?

More to the point, since some people have self-identified from that definition, going so far as to reprint it as a screenshot proving without a doubt that they are self-identifying with exactly what I wrote – why has the local Editor not mentioned this at all?  Does the fact that a number of prominent individuals are openly admitting to lying and smearing a man’s character for political gain not matter at all?

Apparently not.

Or perhaps its just an uncomfortable fact that can be swept under the table if you have no interest in the truth?  Or if you have more interest in your own political agenda than the truth?