Blackburn leads the way on local accountability

Wasting police time is quite a serious criminal offence. The maximum penalty is 6 months in jail.

Last Friday I thought I came close to being charged with this

The particulars of the charge would have been these: that I had inveigled a police constable, a PCSO, along with the commander of our large police division, Chief Superintendent Bob Eastwood, to waste two hours at a public meeting for no particular purpose.

There were witnesses, too – at least eighty were present, so an alibi would have proved impossible.

The meeting was a regular residents’ meeting – this time for the Brownhill and Roe Lee area of town, held in Holy Souls’ Church Hall on Whalley New Road.

Now in their ninth year, these meetings follow a familiar pattern. There’s a detailed printed report on the area, prepared jointly by council officers and police staff, put round before the start.   Brief oral presentations are made by the Council Leader, the Chief Executive or Deputy, Mr Eastwood the police chief, the senior officer responsible for bins, litter, blocked gullies and similar delights, and by me. That’s followed by an open session with questions or comments from the residents. A full note is kept, and an action report subsequently sent to everyone who attended.

For some years after this cycle of meetings began in 2003 they were dominated by complaints about crime or anti-social behaviour. These days – as at the Holy Souls’ meeting – such complaints are a rarity. Indeed, at this lively meeting there wasn’t a single comment about crime.

There’s an easy explanation for this: the kind of crimes which really worry people, like house burglary, have fallen dramatically.

When, some years ago, Mr Eastwood was the inspector for the east side of Blackburn there might be fifty burglaries in a month. In contrast, in one month last year there were just twenty-five for the whole of his Division – Blackburn, Darwen, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley.

Joking aside, the police at the meeting were not wasting their time because they had no complaints to answer. Rather, that was a tribute to their effectiveness.

A tale of two phone numbers

I often read the comments on the thisislancashire.co.uk website. I’ll be honest, I’m fairly new to all this politics business and I don’t pretend to know everything about it but what I do know is what I think would work for Blackburn. I am Blackburn born and bred, but now I do live in Darwen (simply due to the cheaper house prices and the nightlife).

My first encounter with Jack Straw was at a residents meeting which my Mum dragged me along to (literally dragged, it was on a Friday night – I mean who organises these things?!).  Once I was there I actually got quite into it.  A discussion very close to my heart came up (thanks to my Mum) – youths.  At this point I was working at a local law firm and knew the youths in the area and often asked them why they committed crimes, or why they thought it was funny to rip someone’s fence down “for a laugh”.  I found myself faced with Jack Straw and various Councillors and an audience and I stood up and said my bit in response to a comment from one of the local residents, “it’s all the parents fault”, something that I feel is not necessarily true.  After a bit of a “heated debate” Jack said to me, “talk to me at the end”, followed by some grey haired man laughing at me and said, “if I knew so much about how to put the local area right why didn’t I get involved”.  I told him why, “because I work full time and have a part time second job at the weekends as I am struggling to pay my mortgage and I am trying to fund my university degree otherwise I would!”  I sat down and my Mum whispered, “You’re in for it now”.

At the end of the meeting I was approached by a really nice lady and man, they introduced themselves (I had no idea who they were) and told me just how impressed they had been and asked for my opinion on various local issues.  This man was Michael Law-Riding, the Tory candidate for Blackburn. Michael told me he’d really like me to help him with his campaign and asked for my phone number and said that he’d definitely be in touch.  I also had a few comments from Councillor’s that where there -the grey haired man who was laughing at me, turns out he’s the leader of the council, Michael Lee, another Tory.  I finished the meeting having a chat with Jack Straw.  I’d never met him before but my grandparents knew him very well when they were alive.  We had a good chat and he also asked me for my contact details.

I don’t judge people by what others tell me, I make my own opinions, same as I think everyone should.  Jack Straw rang me and offered me a job; I’m still waiting for Michael Law-Riding’s call and Michael Lee, you were right, I can’t do anything about my local community and changing it for the better by sitting at home on my computer slagging everyone else telling everyone how wrong they are and how they shouldn’t do things that way.

So I dedicate this blog to the both of you, the two Michaels, because this year I’m standing as the Labour candidate for Livesey with Pleasington, hoping that I will be given the chance to make a difference and starting off with the basics – following through with something I say I’m going to do not just talking about it.  And for those people who chose to comment on the thisislancashire website this is for you – in the words of Michael Lee, “if you think you can do a better job why don’t you stand for council?”

Vote for someone who will actually do what they say they’re going to do! Vote for me on Thursday 6th May 2010.