Friday, 28 September 2012


Successful policing and reductions in crime rarely happen without crucial cooperation between professionals and volunteers. Our officers in uniform may be second to none, yet without the back up they rely on from volunteers they would often be frustrated and less effective.

Volunteers are so varied they’re difficult to count as a single group. They’re householders helping to set up a Neighbourhood Watch; pub landlords working together to keep licensed premises safe; victim support groups using first hand experience to help others; Special Constables; campaigners for improved road safety; lawyers working pro bono to provide access to justice that would otherwise be denied and many, many more.


 All help make our communities work better and for the benefit of all.

Having been a volunteer and helped run a voluntary organisation, you might expect me to support the so-called ‘Big Society’ ideas promoted by Cameron's coalition.
Well, yes and no – in that order.

Direct experience of the difference that volunteers can make for others, not just to crime reduction, convinces me we’d lead poorer lives without them. I take no persuading of their value. When you work alongside them, it’s soon clear that, however humble the task, what they do is more than just a job.

Local and national, charities, campaign groups, trade unions and reformers have one thing in common; they run on effort and time given freely. They form a vital thread running through civilised society. They deserve our thanks and recognition. The Games Makers at the Olympics are a fantastic example of this.


They’ve brought change and improvement that, fortunately, we can take for granted – everything from free family planning advice to rights at work, from hospital transport to the army reserve, the protection of natural environments to looking after our historic buildings.

Work on issues like these was first started, campaigned for or provided, not by people doing it for money, personal gain or fame. It was usually by those driven by unwavering convictions; that what they were doing was right and much needed by others.

They’re often pioneers, leading the way in innovation, changing minds, offering fresh outlooks, setting new norms and standards - think HIV awareness, Women's Aid, international debt relief - even promoting healthy eating.

That’s why I'm so sad to see the damage this Government’s doing under Cameron’s slogan of “Big Society” and determined to change it.

Volunteers are called on to step in when vital services are deliberately withdrawn.  Many charities are being turned into businesses, to deliver what were previously public services; multinational private companies exploit others to ‘sweeten’ their bids for profitable government contracts. 

Local voluntary sector groups, grant-aided by councils, face a squeeze on funding.  For too many youngsters, doing for free what was previously paid work is becoming the only route into employment.   Basic rights, of the poorest among us, to nutrition and shelter are no longer guaranteed and are becoming ever more dependent on charity.


These are not simply questions of cash and resources, they’re matters of political choice and priorities.

Just last year Suffolk Conservatives decided to scrap school crossing patrols to save £170,000, despite having £millions tucked away.  If people were concerned about road safety outside schools, volunteers would step in, That was their thinking.

In the face of countywide protests they eventually backtracked. “The pain probably wasn’t worth the gain on this one” said their leader - though crossing patrols have since gone down by a third.


I think their cynicism with children’s crossings forfeited their right to speak credibly to the people of Suffolk about both community safety and the value of volunteers. Regardless of the risks to schoolchildren, had there not been a public outcry, they’d have been happy to get away with it.

Regrettably, that's the reality of the Conservative's 'Big Society', the part I oppose and resist; it isn't a voluntary sector that I recognise, want to be part of and to promote.

Nor is it, I’m pleased to hear from many of our valuable volunteers, one that they want to promote either. Do you?

Saturday, 8 September 2012


November’s  elections & candidates for Police and Crime Commissioners are getting some really bad press.  As you might expect in a political campaign, views of candidates on the ‘hot’ issues – spending cuts and privatisation in particular-  are sharply conflicting.  It worries me, given the broad role intended for Commissioners, all the negative hype, and the tendency of media coverage to focus on conflict, that voters will have little chance  to understand much about the people behind those seeking election.

Of course I care about keeping Suffolk safe and protecting all citizens of Suffolk from crime. These words will inevitably trip off the tongue of many candidates, simply replacing ‘Suffolk’ with their own county. But how do my experiences and values make me as capable a candidate as others and – dare I say it – even better than some?
During the freezing months earlier this year, I was privileged to work as a volunteer providing a warm and safe place for those of ‘no fixed abode’. Last year 12 people who had no home died prematurely in Ipswich. Two of these were the victims of a brutal murder. Statistically if you are homeless you are far more likely to die in your 40’s. That’s a life expectancy that takes us back to Victorian times and one that, in a modern developed nation like ours, I find unacceptable.
Whilst volunteering I met a man who was 42 (let’s call him Aleksandrs) but who looked twice that age. He came to us unable to speak initially. I understood this was due to a mix of having been waiting in the freezing weather for our shelter to open and having drunk excessive amounts of alcohol.
He cried with pain and desperation  as he removed one of his shoes to show a badly infected foot. The action of removing his shoe was made virtually impossible by his hands that were red and black with cold and gnarled with what appeared to be arthritis.
He held my hand and repeated the words ‘dirty, dirty, dirty’ - gesturing to his shabby clothes. His English was broken and I gave up with the ‘risk assessment’ I had been trained and instructed to undertake, going back to it later. Instead we made him coffee and gave him some time to defrost a little.
I started a shaky conversation with him and gradually he gave me a small plastic bag with a bundle of papers in it. Here there were two seperate discharge documents from Norwich Prison. Here too was what looked like a passport. On closer inspection it was a fisherman’s licence from Latvia that allowed him to travel from port to port. The face that beamed out from the tattered document I shall remember always.
Looking directly at me was a handsome and certain young man. His head of hair was full and shiny black. His shirt was white  and it contrasted sharply with his crisp suit, jacket and tie. This image was a lifetime away from the man in front of me with his gnarled hands, scuffed shoes and dirty clothes.

I felt a connection with this man. The connection was through the sea. My late father had been in the Navy and  we scattered his ashes from the bailey bridge at Southwold. I looked again at the date of birth on the fishermans licence and thought then he could have been my brother or my cousin. I thought that of course he was certainly someone’s son.
I wondered, what had led him to this? Why he was now in Britain a lifelong alcoholic with no home? I reflected on who he had perhaps been and what was his personality? Of his journey within a system that, for some people, creates a cycle that they cannot escape. Living rough; perhaps being drunk & disorderly on the street; getting arrested and imprisoned. On release the cycle begins again: a waste of his life first and, of course, our services second.
This tells you a little about me.
As Commissioner I will face some real challenges.  Commissioners will be the local ‘fall guys’ for spending  cuts. These include cuts to services like the police, but also to drug and alcohol services, to prisons, to mental health care providers, probation & to charities providing support for people like Aleksandrs.
As the Commissioner, I’ll have some tough decisions to make.  

What’s important though, is that the people of Suffolk should  know that at the centre of my decision making will be consideration and  empathy for  those who live a life a million miles away from  my own; a million miles away perhaps from most of us in Suffolk.
My decisions will not be taken in isolation and  they will never condone criminal & unsocial behaviour and its impact on people. I will consider and  challenge how partnerships and services currently work.  How effectively partnerships include agencies such as health and housing services. Vital to this is the grass roots voluntary, community & social enterprise sector.
This sector is often best placed to be there for lost souls like Aleksandrs, passing no moral or social judgement on the reasons for him being where he is today. There with their advice; with a warm space; with donated food & clothes. There with a desire to help people turn their lives around to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour through their sense of humanity.
That’s the sort of Commissioner I want. One whose strategic vision never loses touch with the realities of the lived lives of all people; the causes of crime & the importance of preventing reoffending.
What sort do you want?

Saturday, 1 September 2012


LETTER PUBLISHED IN BURY FREE PRESS FRIDAY 31 AUGUST response to one published the week before urging people to vote 'no' to Police & Crime Commissioners
Andrew Donovan ('Jobs for the boys?’ letter 24 August) was slightly wide of the mark about Police & Crime Commissioner elections. I'm not an ex-politician and I've never been a councillor. Nor am I a 'boy', but I plan to stand for election this November.

I'd prefer that the cost of the elections was devoted to keeping and improving frontline police numbers but that's not my decision. The elections will happen and my job is to offer the people of Suffolk a real choice when they cast their votes.

I oppose the privatisation of police work and the cuts to their funding. I'll do my level best to protect local communities from both. ‘No change’ is no longer an option – it’s not a ‘yes or no’ vote.

I have a unique combination of experience at a senior level, both in the police service and the voluntary sector, with a track record of making public services accountable to all local people without fear or favour. I'll work with any willing partner that shares my objective of driving down crime and re-offending.

The Commissioner job is full-time and pays £70,000 p.a. and I have pledged to donate a proportion of the salary to charity. Costs will be met from switching funds from the present Police Authority structure which will go.

Jane Basham
Suffolk Police & Crime Commissioner Candidate
Labour Party