BBC BLOGS - Graham Smith's Blog

Archives for May 2012

How to start a war

Graham Smith | 14:28 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

My thanks to Torbay MP Adrian Sanders for this analysis of the government's spectacular retreat on the pasty tax. Here's part of his interview with Matt Woodley from today's Good Morning Devon. The really controversial bit is at about 2:30 - on the origins of the pasty.

Lib Dems decide, finally, to contest Police Commissioner election

Graham Smith | 14:16 UK time, Monday, 28 May 2012

The weekend's gathering of the Devon & Cornwall Liberal Democrat regional executive endorsed a recommendation that the party should, after all, field a candidate in November.

The decision ends months of dithering and internal constitutional arm wrestling - and will put further distance between local activists and the Lib Dem High Command in London. Party leaders have said they are opposed to participation in the Police Commissioner elections.

But the soap opera isn't over yet. Now the Lib Dems must start the business of selecting a candidate. The Conservative and Labour Parties say they hope to announce their nominees within the next three or four weeks.

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Graham Smith | 12:23 UK time, Friday, 25 May 2012

Today's news about rabies made me wonder what happened in days gone by. I found this entry in Hansard for 24th October 1918:

asked the President of the Local Government Board if, in view of the danger arising from the existence of rabies in the country, he will issue information to the public as to what facilities there are for obtaining Pasteur treatment and as to the steps that should be taken by individuals who may be bitten by suspected dogs?

A circular on the procedure to be adopted was sent to medical officers of health in Devonshire and Cornwall as soon as the Local Government Board were informed of the presence of rabies among dogs in these counties. It has now been revised, and a copy of the revised circular will be sent to the Press.

If you can think of more recent cases of rabies in Devon or Cornwall please let me know.

How Devon was saved from Cornish flag outrage (or not)

Graham Smith | 16:53 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

I'm really not sure what to make of this - an outrageous attack on Cornish self-identity, or much ado about nothing? The controversial bit is at about 3:12. I do wonder if this isn't a case of you-couldn't-make-it-up life imitating art.

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson is clearly of the former opinion. He emails to say:

"When the last runner with the Olympic flame left Cornwall and set off across the Tamar Bridge, he held in his hands a Cornish flag that was sadly confiscated by the police who were running alongside. Despite a helpful policeman initially carrying the flag with Mr Ball, his colleague clearly received instructions to remove it.

"This incident has understandably sparked anger across the Duchy. To many in Cornwall, this sends out a signal that English, Welsh or Scottish identity is fine, but that Cornish identity is not to be accepted by the London-based Olympic authorities.

"I have written today to Seb Coe, the Chairman of the LOCOG (the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) about the incident. As a former Cornish MP I am sure he will agree with me that Andrew Ball and the people of Cornwall quite rightly deserve an apology."

Were the Metropolitan Police security team really thinking about politics as they approached the Tamar Bridge last weekend? And I'll do my best to post Lord Coe's reply to Dan.

Accidents will happen

Graham Smith | 15:49 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

The trouble with stories based on reams of data is that they are like looking for a needle in a haystack, with no clear idea of what the needle looks like or the shape of the haystack.

So when the Ministry of Defence press office helpfully drew my attention to the Site Event Report Committee's annual publication scheme, my heart leapt - and then sank just as quickly.

These documents detail hundreds of nuclear incidents and accidents at Devonport dockyard over the years - some years running at the rate of one a week. My heart leaps - what a story! But then my heart sinks. What's the context?

Is the detail contained in the annexes to these reports good news or bad? It's obviously good that the MoD choses to tell us about it. And in an environment which must involve several hundred opportunities for something to go wrong every day, it's probably good that, on average, only one thing goes wrong per week. And it's a matter for considerable relief that the vast majority of mishaps are relatively trivial.

But the quest for context poses yet more questions. How much of this is old news? For example, on 8th November 2008 this happened:

"Whilst conducting a primary plant discharge, the hose between the submarine and the PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) on the jetty split discharging liquid from the submarine to the environment. One member of Ship's Company came into contact with the spray from the hose."
This sounds serious, and it was. A "Category B" accident, forcing managers and MoD civil servants to do the unthinkable - tell the minister. Yet I've been doing stories about Devonport for 30 years and I don't remember that one, nor can I find any mention of it in any local media archives, so maybe the minister kept it to himself, at least for a while.

And the SERC documents don't appear to mention some other accidents which we know happened, such as the 30th April 1992 "large fire" on board HMS Turbulent. I definitely remember that one because I was in a local television newsroom which just happened to have a camera crew in the dockyard when it happened. Subsequently an old fashioned Parliamentary Question solicited the somewhat disconcerting information that, on average, there's a fire on a nuclear submarine about once a month.

So what does this leave us with? Stacks of data detailing hundreds of mostly trivial "incidents" which the rules say must be reported. Look hard enough and we find a handful of serious mishaps capable of causing real concern. I quite like data-driven stories. But I prefer original eye-witness testimonies. If you have any, drop me a line.

Can Devon learn from Cornwall?

Graham Smith | 11:54 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2012

The Mayor of Torbay tells me the time has come to consider abolishing every council in Devon, including his own. Gordon Oliver thinks a super-unitary council, covering the whole of Devon, could save millions of pounds. His critics wonder if the dustbins would ever get can hear all about it on Good Morning Devon, with Matt Woodley on Wednesday morning.

Hello Goodbye

Graham Smith | 16:49 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Cornwall councillor Chris Pascoe texts to say he's quitting the Lib Dem group and joining the Independents. Next year's elections are suddenly in focus.

Crime and punishment (2)

Graham Smith | 10:39 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My thanks to the FoI team at Devon and Cornwall police for crunching yet more numbers for me in relation to juvenile arrests and subsequent criminal proceedings. This follows my earlier inquiries about DNA and fingerprint records. The team has now refined its answer to exclude those arrested, but not taken to a police station. Over the past three years, 12,257 under-18s were arrested and "processed" at a police station. Only 4,970 (40%) were charged with any offence. This means that of the 14,300 juvenile arrests during this period, about 2,000 (presumably the younger ones) never made it to the police station and have therefore not (yet) started a DNA/fingerprint record.

Yet more glittering prizes

Graham Smith | 16:41 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

It's not just local councils which like to let their hair down at awards ceremonies. Congratulations to BBC Radio Cornwall's Laurence Reed, on yet again being shortlisted at the EDF SW Media Awards for his lunchtime phone-in. Laurence has won this award so many times that they really ought to create a separate "not-counting-Laurence" category for everyone else. Modesty prevents me drawing too much attention to the shortlist for radio journalist of the year.

It's all about timing

Graham Smith | 16:19 UK time, Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Last week Cornwall councillors voted 10-9 in favour of a 15,000-home estate at Threemilestone, near Truro. Had they not done so, they would have killed immediately any chance of a sports stadium on an adjacent site. This morning councillors voted 55-46 against putting taxpayers' money into the stadium project, which has planning permission but practically no funding. Any thoughts about what would have happened to the housing application if it had been considered after today's decision?

Pop pop pop

Graham Smith | 15:46 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

I suppose it's some comfort that the law sets the age of criminal responsibility at 10. Otherwise some of the shotgun licences issued to primary school children in Cornwall over the past three years could be in very dangerous hands. There were two shotgun licences issued to 10-year-olds in Cornwall last year; two to 11-year-olds, three to 12-year-olds and five to 13-year-olds. Firearms licences were issued to four 14-year-olds.

Who pays, wins

Graham Smith | 14:08 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

The annual reports and financial accounts of Devon's main National Health Service hospitals tell me they earned more than £5.5 million last year from treating private patients.

Here are the details of private patient income:

Derriford £3.434 m
Royal Devon & Exeter £1.142 m
Torbay £466,000
North Devon £463,000

So keen is Derriford to pitch for this kind of business that its tariff is on-line. The £466/night Meavy Clinic in particular looks like the ideal place for those untroubled by the politics of envy:

"Rooms are cleaned daily, with fresh towels and toiletries provided for your convenience. You will be able to select each meal from a varied menu during your stay with us. Our dedicated chef oversees the menu planning to make sure that we offer a healthy and appetising choice to suit most tastes."

I'm trying to get the data I need to make comparisons. On the face of it, Cornwall is cheaper.

Arrested for rape, aged 12

Graham Smith | 18:44 UK time, Sunday, 13 May 2012

Note to self: must call the cops tomorrow to find out more about this answer posted on their FoI disclosure log. The youngest person arrested for rape in Devon and Cornwall last year was only 12. I wonder how the case ended. Similarly, the oldest person arrested for rape was 81. Youngest person arrested for any offence was a 10-year-old accused of assault causing actual bodily harm.

Top cop job - the field narrows

Graham Smith | 11:03 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

Some Liberal Democrats from Devon and Cornwall meet in Plymouth tomorrow to decide whether or not to face the electorate in the contest for a Police Commissioner. If they decide in favour of fielding a candidate, then they also face the wrath of some of their own party leaders who've made it clear that in their opinion, the Lib Dems ought to sit this one out.

The Conservatives have a shortlist of six, including Torbay councillor Alison Hernandez and Cornwall councillor Lance Kennedy, who will jump through the hoop of "open hustings" events in the last week of June.

Labour will select either Ccouncillor Nicky Williams, from Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Labour Party, or Patrick Canavan, from Torbay Labour Party, through a one-member-one-vote system next month.

Other parties, including the Greens and UKIP, have said they will not be fielding candidates.

After the Lord Mayor's Show

Graham Smith | 09:40 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

Last night's elections look like they will certainly dent the crusade for directly elected mayors, with some fairly dramatic rejections of the idea in some of Britain's biggest cities.

The only directly elected mayor in our patch, of course, is Torbay's Gordon Oliver. Torbay voted in 2005 to create this powerful political post - arguably far more powerful than simply being a Member of Parliament.

As we ponder the pros and cons of whether directly elected mayors represent an advance in democracy for local government, it's worth remembering that only 55% of those who voted were in favour of the idea in Torbay. And those who voted accounted for only 32.1% of the electorate. And last year Gordon got the job with just 25.7% of the vote.

Who said that?

Graham Smith | 08:26 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

Congratulations, councillor Tudor Evans. I've been trying to find out who first coined the phrase, "The greatest comeback since Lazarus." It wasn't Tudor, the new (well, reborn, again) leader of Plymouth city council. But it should have been. I remember him winning his seat on the council for the first time, a quarter of a century ago. They do say that everything comes to he who waits.

Jumpers for goalposts (2)

Graham Smith | 14:56 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

My thanks to Jason Clark for tweeting the result of Cornwall planners' deliberations overInox's 1,500-home development at Threemilestone (10-9 for approval.) So there'll be a big housing estate, for sure. But will the "extras" include a sports stadium?

From the disclosure logs

Graham Smith | 15:50 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

This might be the start of an occasional series of snippets from Freedom of Information logs. None of the questions are mine.

Information Request
Please provide me with sick leave details ref your FOI officers whom have been on sick leave as a direct cause of my FOI requests since June 05 to now.

Devon County Council's response
Devon County Council records staff sickness by type. It does not record additional information regarding the cause of the sickness. Therefore the Council does not hold the information you have requested.

Ship, sinking, joining (but not in that order)

Graham Smith | 11:08 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

I shall wait until after polling day on Thursday before letting this post see the light of day. And I can only marvel at this chap's timing. I gather that new Lib Dem recruit 21-year-old Tristan was a member of Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw's campaign team at the last election and is a former chair of Exeter Labour Students.

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