I believe this is a particularly important meeting for our Safer Neighbourhood Board, as it seems to me that we’re at something of a turning point. We’ve finished “getting going”, and we need to set the direction ahead. The last few weeks have felt very busy for me, so I’ll give you a sketch of what I’ve been doing.
You may know I’ve taken a particular interest in the complex issues surrounding Stop & Search – we have a successful monitoring group, ably chaired by Sandra, and I attended the last meeting, where the group had a particularly interesting briefing on the new body-worn cameras. Later, Sandra and I met to discuss the development of a set of Terms of Reference for that group, and we’ll be putting detailed proposals forward in the next few weeks.
I’ve been given the opportunity to join Sheridan at the regular SafetyNet meetings, and was interested to see that SafetyNet has recently finalised a structured workplan framework which helps identify which of the various constituent working groups has the lead across the various community safety issues which affect our Borough.
I’ll have mentioned previously that SNB chairs across London meet under the auspices of the London Communities Policing Partnership (LCP2) which is a registered community charity. A robust and assertive collection of voices! At the last meeting we were joined by Steve O’Connell (Assembly Member and MOPAC adviser for Neighbourhoods), with James Tate, who is programme manager at MOPAC and the key adviser for us on project funding issues. Interestingly, Steve indicated that the notional 3-year limit on SNB membership is still considered desirable, but flexible according to local conditions. There’s a lot of sharing of information and experience at these meetings, and I hope now to have another channel open with British Transport Police, who have so far failed to respond to my invitation to make contact.
SNB Chairs also meet under MOPAC’s umbrella at City Hall. At the most recent meeting we heard an account of possible future reorganisation options for the Met from A/C Helen King. We quizzed her on issues like the continuing churn of officers at all levels, and the importance to us of the Met recognising the separate identity of each Borough in their design of any future for neighbourhood policing. We had a further briefing on body-worn cameras – apparently the only force world-wide which has anything like the planned Met deployment is LAPD, and theirs is much smaller numerically than ours.
Project funding had been on the agenda, but talkative met officers almost squeezed it out. Some of us (me particularly!) insisted on delaying the close of the meeting until we’d been told the basics. Only then did we learn that a further tranche of funding would be available this year, in the same amount as last time, and with a drop-dead deadline of 31st May for submission to MOPAC. I expressed considerable disquiet about this schedule. I expressed my settled view that while it is highly desirable to bring this additional money into our Borough for work in community safety, everyone involved in our SNB essentially gives their time voluntarily, and that I believe there are “core business” functions of the SNB which end up being displaced by the pressures which this sort of timeline impose. This year, I’ve wondered if there is a fear that a new mayor may decide to pull the funding, and that this schedule may arise from a wish in the present administration to get the money distributed early for that reason.
That brings me to project funding. Once I knew the time constraints, I dropped everything else and worked out a timeline. Essentially, the key step for us tonight is to review our priorities for funding, so that applications can open as soon as possible. I calculate that applications can remain open until the last working day of April. I’ll be offering informal ‘surgeries’ for possible candidate groups as we did last year. Once applications close, we’ll follow the same process which was devised by our former Treasurer, Julie, as this is clearly highly regarded by both MOPAC and our peer boards. Applications will be shortlisted against our priorities and MOPAC’s requirements, and the shortlisted applicants will be invited to a funding panel on May 16th to give a short presentation and to answer questions. It is essential that we have a quorate SNB on that date, or the money will certainly be lost to the Borough. I will also need help in processing the applications, and will await offers. Meanwhile, I’ve advertised the availability of this funding through every channel open to me – this includes notifying WF Voluntary Action, posts on Facebook, announcements at ward panels and ward forums, and asking all our partners, including the police, to circulate details as widely as possible. I’m already aware of one group interested in bidding, and I very much hope that good quality bids will emerge as they did last year.
I believe an important part of my role is to make and maintain contacts with various stakeholders and partners, and I’ve been busy with this. I met with CI Jon Simpson, who has taken over from Mike Cowie as the officer with overall responsibility for Neighbourhood policing. I’ve also met with Insp Pat McShane who has taken over from Insp Chris Jones in the Central cluster. Chris has now moved to the North Cluster; I’m in touch with Paul Barrie in the South. I’ve attended ward panels in High Street and Leytonstone (where they have a new team) and I’ve been in touch with the Hoe Street panel. I’ve met with Cathy Mears who is Chair of the Chingford Green panel – we have something to learn from them as they often get an attendance of 70 people! I’ve met with Eldridge Cooke, who is the new chair of A Better Way Partnership to discuss his view of what that group can contribute in Waltham Forest (you may know that Sheridan has a distinguished record as former chair of ABWP). Soon, I expect to meet with Shaun deSouza Brady to get a better understanding of his work in ASB.
I laid on an informal workshop on the MOPAC SNB data dashboard last week. I believe that went very well, and that I was able to demonstrate how useful and interesting this new tool is, and how big an improvement it is on the “data packs” we had previously. However, I remain rather disappointed at the low take-up among my colleagues here for both my workshops and the ones laid on at City Hall by MOPAC. I firmly believe that this is a vital window for us into what is happening in our Borough, and I’d urge colleagues to use it. I’ll be happy to lay on further informal workshops – they take about an hour, it turns out, and I believe it’s an hour you’d find well-spent. Just get in touch and we can sort something out.
I’d like to acknowledge the high quality of the support we get from the Council’s Democratic Services team – particularly Debra, Perminder and Nicola. It’s become evident that those SNBs without support from their local authority are performing far less well, and I believe we must do everything we can to ensure this support remains available to us. Each team member is evidently heavily tasked, and I feel we must be as economical as possible in the demands we place upon them. That may mean in some aspects of our work that we’ll need to be a little more informal in the way we do things. I’ll be discussing all this with the team soon.
One issue I believe we need to address is how to cope with the continuing churn in the police team. There is little doubt that we have their goodwill, but when officers change roles it can mean that dialogues and initiatives are fractured, and need to be re-created. Despite the goodwill, I don’t believe that our partnership is working as well as it could. My own view is that a higher level of briefing from the police is needed – both for us, and at ward panel level. We don’t just want good news – we need to know quickly when staffing changes are made, and I believe we need to be kept abreast of their view of what’s happening locally. Certainly there is a wish to engage with us, and to provide us with information, but I’ve increasingly felt that this needs to become more systematic, more frequent, and probably less formal. Of course it’s understood that there are very real constraints on what can be disclosed at any time, but I do feel this is an opportunity for development.
This is, I fear, a long report, and that’s because I do feel we are at a turning point. You will have seen my draft revision of our Terms of Reference. The current ones have many omissions, and seem to require us to meet in Catford. In working on this, I’ve drawn on comments made by police officers, MOPAC officers and earlier discussions among my colleagues – particularly our former Treasurer, who contributed many salient suggestions. Some of these comments have emerged very recently, so I’ll be presenting you with some minor amendments to consider before we move to consider whether to adopt the new document as a whole. I’m happy to say that MOPAC have given it the nod, so if the Board wishes we can settle this tonight if that is felt appropriate.
Terms of Reference exist both to guide successors in our roles and to set out what we may and may not take to be our remit. My revised document is intended to capture our fundamental purpose. My own view of this is that we exist principally to hold our local police to account as a critical friend, and equally to build strong and growing relationships out into our wider community to create mutual understanding and dialogue. I’d say that anything else we do is ancillary – and I have to admit that I see the funding role this way (not that I’d want to abandon it).
How do I think we’re doing, over a year into our first full term? Mixed feelings.
We have an excellent relationship with police at all levels. We can talk frankly and easily about difficult matters. I don’t see any great need to seek more than adjustments here and there.
As for networking with our local communities – I don’t think we’re doing that well. This is why I’ve been putting a lot of effort into making new contacts. Waltham Forest is among the minority of Boroughs without an active Neighbourhood Watch Association, and we don’t have systematic representation from ward panels. We need to work on this. Recruitment will be key, and this is one reason why adopting new Terms of Reference is so important – and so why tonight is so important.
We do very well with the process of funding projects. We’re highly respected by other SNBs and by MOPAC in this. Almost too good – given the time it takes.
Our last meeting ended with an interesting workshop on priorities and possible initiatives, yet we haven’t managed to follow up anything that arose that evening. That’s not a good performance – although I believe we should concentrate on what I’ve suggested is “core business” for now. Nevertheless, there is room for development here. Initiatives of this type must be member-led, so I’ll be happy to facilitate and coordinate in any way I can.
We’re not yet succeeding in making ourselves well-known as a channel for local people of enquiry, complaint and investigation of policing issues. My simple website and a few posts on various social media channels is about it. Publicity is always difficult, but it is something we need to work on.
So how would I score us, so far? Out of five, I’d say two (but with promise of improvement). That goes for my own performance as Chair as well – much still to do. With your help, I believe we can become one of London’s leading Safer Neighbourhood Boards. The decisions we’ll make tonight will be steps in that direction.
Philip Herlihy – Chair 2014-2016