Archives for April 2014

The Joys of Hospitality. And the Internet.

When was the last time you turned up in a stranger’s house and stayed the night?

It’s not something we tend to do much, staying with strangers. It’s the stuff of travellers’ tales or a lost age of exploration. We might find it in an adventure from Walter Scott, in the footsteps of Byron or the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Could the internet be bring this old world tradition out of the pages of boys-own adventure stories and into the daily lives of ordinary people?

Taking in travellers has long been a part of traditional hospitality. We’ve just lost it a bit, here in the UK.

My most vivid memories of Russia and Eastern Europe are of the hospitality of strangers. In Bulgaria, Russia — even in the now-benighted Ukraine — I stayed with old folk who waited at stations to take in lodgers. People would regularly house passing travellers. I loved their stories of a faded world and their almost painful kindness to someone totally unfamiliar whose accent probably resembled a Dalek.

It amazed me how much we had in common, from our different sides of the Iron Curtain. But it also amazed me how vast is the gulf that separates seemingly similar peoples — different habits of thought, speech, culture, history run deeper than our superficial connections in the ‘globalised’ world suggest. People still live somewhere. Home matters. Family matters. Geography matters. History matters. Our lives are surprisingly local.

In a pre-Industrial Age, travellers found rooms in towns they passed. They spread news, gossip and trade. We lost that with the advent of mass travel, which required fewer stops and mass accommodation. We lost the tradition of hospitality.

Then came the internet. It gives us our news and certainly our gossip, but it also gives us our chance to form the kind of personal connections we lost when the world got corporate.

A vague sense of this came to me in the prosaic surroundings of a small house in Llangollen. I had booked it five days in advance, for £25, for the Welsh Conservative Party Conference.

I needed a bed for one night and that’s exactly what I got. But I got more too. I got the hospitality of my host, Vanessa. We talked about her family over tea (what else?). She laid out a delicious breakfast. Her ageing dog, Hettie, an indeterminate otter hound cross watched from the sofa.

I’ve used Airbnb many times before, from Croatia to Colombia. I now learn that millions do the same for everything from a student couch to a family home or a tropical island. Such is the power of this change that the company is apparently worth $10bn, with more rooms than major international hotel chains.

All power to them, I say. I could have spent £70 in a hotel for a bed I used for less than 12 hours. Instead, I found a room, in a house and some wonderful company. I discovered – again – that the traditions of hospitality, like those of history and culture and geography, run deep.

The wonder of the internet is that, across the world, it is releasing these ancient habits of human behaviour in totally unexpected ways.

So, next time you travel, forget hotels. Go back to the old ways. Stay with someone you’ve never met! You’ve no idea what you’ll discover.



Welsh Conservative Conference speech

I visited a small town the other day. You’ll know the type. One of our loveliest.

It’s a market town on one of Wales’s great rivers. At its heart is a crossroads, a pub – or two — small shops, a school and – of course – a rugby club.

One of the great joys of this job is meeting people. We dropped by some shops and I asked about shoplifting.

“Oh yes,” came the reply, “we’ve had a fair bit of that.”

And here we see the wonderful stoicism of mid-Wales…

“I haven’t reported it. I don’t want to waste the police’s time.”

The shop knew who was doing it. They knew the family and didn’t want to ruin them. Court and the legal process takes far too long, so they had a word and hoped it would stop.

I often hear the same thing on these visits. “We’re lucky here. Crime is low. It’s pretty safe.” It is and I’m glad.

I’m no slave to statistics, but all the indicators show overall crime is down. That is testament to the fantastic work of the police across Wales. We cannot thank them enough.

But what I also hear is what we aren’t getting right. That too is the same across the country, whether we are talking about towns in mid Wales, ports in North Wales, manufacturing towns on the border, the Valleys or in Cardiff.

Antisocial behaviour blights lives. People fight. Drugs and drink fuel crime. And crime undermines people’s confidence. It brings businesses to their knees.

We don’t hear about a lot of it because people don’t report it. And when they do, we are too slow to deal with it.

I asked the police later about our shoplifting.

“Well,” came the answer, “the police see a detectable crime there… It’s an easy win. You don’t care too much about the family of the offender. You get a detection and that’s a tick from the boss.”

We have spent so long judging our police by numbers, we’ve forgotten about people.

That needs to change. And it is changing.

Thanks to this government’s reforms we have the opportunity to free the police to do their job. Communities now have new powers to decide the punishment of minor offenders.

The opportunity is there to make our homes safer to cut bureaucracy, to save money, to employ the right people to get the job done, to drive some common sense into the Byzantine mind of the criminal justice system.

And the difference?

The difference is your Police and Crime Commissioner.

They have responsibility not just for the police but for victims services, local justice, community safety.

They have funding and the power to raise the taxes for it.

They set the priorities for which those taxes are used.

They hire the Chief Constable — and others — to deliver those priorities.

And if you don’t like them, you know who they are.

Sack them.

But, before you sharpen your knives for me let me make the case for the defence!

Let me tell you what have we done in Dyfed Powys, thanks to your support and sound, Conservative values…
We’ve made savings. We are doing our bit to put the national finances back on track.

We’ve cut the cost of senior salaries. We’ve cut bureaucracy and expensive governance.

We’ve boosted the front line to protect homes and families. We are increasing the number of officers by 30. We are maintaining our PCSOs.

We’ve axed targets and freed the police to focus on their core mission.

That is not true in some nearby forces – I’ll let you guess where.

We are reigning in precept rises, so taxpayers in some of the country’s poorest areas have more to keep. We have more to do there.

That is also not true of some nearby forces. I’ll let you guess where.

We have a completely independent Residents’ Panel — ordinary people — to check on police complaints and keep confidence in standards.

We are investing more in tackling antisocial behaviour, more in mobile IT, more in closer work with mental health nurses — so the most vulnerable at their most vulnerable don’t end up in police cells but in hospital — more in rural policing, more on keeping our roads safe.

And, friends, while Europe faces the threat of a resurgent Russian bear to the east, fear not. You can tell our erstwhile European President – if anyone knows his name or what he looks like, does anyone? Does is matter? – it’s alright.

We have Europe’s western seaboard covered.

I have scrapped the £5000 we were spending on Carmarthenshire Council’s propaganda rag. No Socialist statist pap here.
We have more to do.

Over the next 12 months we will develop restorative justice so our police and communities have accessed to swift, fair redress for minor crimes.

At its best restorative justice is the modern equivalent of a clip round the ear — a quick punishment, which satisfies the victim and tells the offender they’re a scallywag without the taint of a criminal record.

We are investing now to encourage people to report domestic abuse — no one should suffer in silence.

We are joining services together to ensure we help victims deal with the criminal process.

Why can we do this?

Because we have strong local accountability. Because we’ve put people in charge.

That is what devolution is about.

We can talk about devolved policing, Carwyn, but it’s happening right here.

We know the power of devolution. We know it works best when it empowers people, not clumsy institutions.

While you are busy resitting your GCSEs and trying to ignore the stretchers piling up in hospital corridors, we are delivering better local service, lower costs and safer homes.

So I look forward to the Conservative Party giving Wales a choice.

A choice that, so long as our hospitals aren’t fixed, so long as our once proud education system is on its knees, so long as Cardiff Bay politicos continue to smother all enterprise, so long as they refuse to accept the basic responsibility of raising their own money,

Policing will stay where it needs to be: rooted in local communities and bound to the strengths and security of our national government in Westminster.

And the best way we can secure that?

To return a majority Conservative government that puts people first, that trusts communities, and that believes — like we do — in the people of Wales.

2014 Welsh Conservative Conference

Speech delivered on 12 April 2014 








ACPO’s Future

Discussions about ACPO’s future seem to have burst into the open, most prominently with a blog on the Daily Telegraph website by Douglas Carswell, a longtime critic.

In the wake of that, and ACPO’s response, there appears to be some confusion. Since the taxpayers I represent fund ACPO, I think it’s worth clarifying the position. In fact, it’s not ‘worth’ clarifying. As elected representatives responsible for policing, we need to be open. That is how we avoid the murkiness that has surrounded these decisions in the past. We must be clear what we are doing with public money.

I should emphasise that I’m not involved with the small PCC group that is working on ACPO. I speak only for myself. And I am a hawk as far as ACPO is concerned.

I do not believe a private limited company, funded by the taxpayer, should sit at the heart of British policing. That arrangement creates far too many conflicts of interest, perceived or real.

I have little time for its arbitrary diktats or ‘guidance’, a sort of holy text with which eager bureaucrats embellish the actual law. This ‘guidance’ crops up everywhere from firearms licensing to speed cameras to building design. It has huge impact on people’s lives and is seemingly impossible to question. That is not how policy should be made.

What I can say is what I think and what I know. True to political tradition, the former is the greater.

What I know is that I voted to end funding for ACPO as of 1 April 2014. I know that all but a handful of other PCCs did the same. We have released intermediate funding to oversee the transition of some ACPO functions to new bodies, like the College of Policing, a small council for Chief Constables, the Home Office and so on. This is in line with the Parker Report, which we commissioned.

I know that that work has been in progress for some weeks. I understand that the atmosphere is businesslike and progressive, with most seeing this as an opportunity to build structures that are less expensive and more appropriate for the modern police service.

I also know that, for all its faults, officers in ACPO have given many years to public service and are understandably sensitive to these changes. It is quite proper that they should be implemented carefully and methodically. But implemented they must be.

What I think is that ACPO is finished, and none too soon. The fact that its publicly-funded press office engaged in a defensive rear-guard over Carswell’s criticisms is instructive. ACPO should be there to serve the public, not itself. Instead it has grown confused about its responsibility, its purpose and its accountability. Taxpayers, via PCCs, paid for ACPO. Taxpayers have stopped paying for it. That is the end.

The question now is what the police service needs by way of coordination that does not already exist in the College, the NCA or elsewhere, and what taxpayers are prepared to fund. That is the work of the transition board, which has an independent chair and representatives of a range of policing organisations on it.

I wish them luck. I think it is a testament to the value of democratically elected PCCs that the public now have a say in who runs their police. I think it is a testament to PCCs that we are taking decisions that the Home Office ducked. And I think it is a testament to the new generation of Chief Constables that these changes are being approached as the opportunity that they are.

The transparency and accountability that policing needs starts at the top. PCCs are part of that. As far as I’m concerned, ACPO isn’t.