On Thursday 23rd February Wycombe Labour’s Youth Officer asked the Cabinet Member for the Community at the Wycombe District Council meeting whether she’d support Carolyn Harris MP’s campaign to make all funerals and burial free for children who pass away under the age of 18.
Carolyn Harris herself lost her child in a tragic accident when he was under-18 and has recently spoken out about the horrible experience she had to go through planning a funeral and being constantly worried about the costs. The strain which she had to go through shouldn’t be experienced by any other parent.
It is to be commended that the council currently provides free burial for those that pass away under the age of 16. However we feel that two further things need to happen.
- Free burials need to be extended to include 17 and 18 year olds as to pay for an adult plot without life insurance is vastly too much for many people.
- The council should also work with funeral directors and others to try and secure free funerals for under-18s as again, it is far too expensive for grieving families to pay for without life insurance.
We are willing to work with the current administration at Wycombe District Council in order to at least partially alleviate the pain bereaved families go through by not burdening them with costs that funerals and burials bring.
Wycombe Labour believes that PREVENT the counter terrorism programme, is a counter-productive strategy and does not deal with the problems of extremism. WDC cannotgive any data on its success, what kind of extremism it has stopped nor how much money it gets for PREVENT.
We asked WDC a few questions on PREVENT through aFreedom of Information (FOI) request, but received largely evasive answers to most questions, and some questions were left unanswered. We then asked WDC to conduct an Internal Review of their decision, which led to the same result. Finally we complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office, who investigated whether WDC complied with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigated whether the answers provided by WDC to our questions were in line with FOI policy, and whether or not they should have given more detail. Whilst the ICO agreed with WDC’s response to most questions, it has adjudged that Wycombe District Council should:
“Confirm if information is held for part 10 and provide any recorded information in the scope of the request, subject to the application of any exemptions.”
We asked in part 10 “How do WDC and the police coordinate their efforts?” – The ICO wants the council to at least confirm through noting of meetings in a diary kept by WDC officers, (as minutes are apparently not taken of such meetings) as to how the police and WDC coordinate their efforts.
While the ICO believes other parts of the request were answered adequately, we believe that it is inexplicable as to why the following questions were not answered:
“Can you provide a breakdown of the number of people referred to PREVENT by ethnic origin and religion within WDC?” – WDC initially stated that to provide this information was a national security risk. After our complaint to the ICO, WDC confirmed that the only information on demographics was types of ideologies referred and this is held by the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) in the police. We still consider this explanation unsatisfactory, as there are communities being victimised due to PREVENT.
“How does WDC consult the community on the PREVENT programme?”
WDC replied that “The Council has not undertaken public consultation and considers it would not be appropriate to do so, as this is a central government programme with local implementation.”
This means WDC does not care that a whole community is under suspicion without any explanation. “A central government programme with local implementation” – meaning public servants, teachers and hospital staff have a statutory duty to do the job MI5 is supposed to do. Further showing how the basic human rights of a whole section of the community are being undermined.
Rafiq Raja, leader of the Labour group on WDC, attended PREVENT training and has said that “It is essential that we live in a safe environment and those who pose a threat to our security are apprehended, but the minutia of the Prevent programme in action is very perplexing. The Prevent trainingwas eye opening in the sense that it provided evidence of how little things can add to create a profile of someone, even a child, as being radicalised (2 & 2 adding up to 5). The programme is having the conveyor belt argument that if a person is becoming more ‘religious’ or styles his facial hair in a certain way then they are at risk of radicalisation, indeed the methodology of identifying suspects becomes one in one with treating a large part of the Muslim community as suspected terrorists, as it is based on a flawed methodologyand its use of teachers and other public servants is sowing seeds of suspicion and alienating members of the Muslim community.”
Between 2012 and 2014, 56% of PREVENT referrals overall where of Muslims. This is disturbing, when one considers that the Muslim community accounts of 4.8% of the UKpopulation.
The ex-Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham has called PREVENT ‘toxic’ and called for it to be scrapped. He also described it as a “policy felt highly discriminatory against one section of the community”. He further went on to say “It is creating a feeling in the Muslim community that it is being spied upon and unfairly targeted. It is building a climate of mutual suspicion and distrust. Far from tackling extremism, it risks creating the very conditions for it to flourish.”
Not only this, on a national level, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have official policy against the PREVENT agenda, showing the extent of discord among students, academics and teachers.
PREVENT both treats communities as suspects with implausible evidence, and WDC is being secretive and its answers to the various questions about its use of PREVENT in our schools, hospitals, universities and colleges shows a lack of accountability and transparency in public life and Wycombe Labour believes this cannot be good for community cohesion.
At yesterday's council meeting, where the annual budget was presented, Cllr. Rafiq Raja called out the local Conservatives on their constant mismanagement of Wycombe's budget and the real affect it is having on local people.
Here is his full response to yesterdays budget:
"For any local government organisation, the financial plan is supposed to support the plan for delivering services to residents and the community. The budget should serve the district council, not vice-versa.
The officers who have been instrumental in producing the budget have to be congratulated for having produced a balanced budget within the parameters given to them. Naturally, the political direction must come from the party in charge and lest we forget “the budget is based on information and assurances from members and the senior management team”. Moreover, an explanatory note attached to the draft budget to the cabinet, says clearly that “the council faces a significant challenge in continuing to deliver a balanced budget and will either need to implement significant income growth policies or service reduction” so you have it in a nutshell!
The creation of the new unitary system of local government is no doubt going to ensure that some of the estimates are going to be wildly out of synch; the budget is just a ‘fire fighting’ exercise.
So, yes, we have a balanced budget and ‘earmarked reserves’ of over £36M but where is the overall reference to the ‘big picture’, for societies are judged not just on what the majority of the people attain but what the minorities have to endure.
We certainly live in an affluent part of the country and we are repeatedly told that we are doing very well.
So after years of Conservative control at County and District levels, what do we see?
In our prosperous part of the country we have pockets of deprivation, for example, a third of children in the East side of Wycombe and Castlefield and a quarter in Bowerdean live in poverty. These are not my figures but produced by the Centre for Policy studies.
The Conservatives boast about excellent schools and many support the extension of the Grammar schools. Yet they pay little attention to the educational attainment gap, between the different socio economic groups, which continues to be one of the widest in the country.
Indeed, the school system is practically dysfunctional, given that upper schools are going to have reduced funding imposed upon them as a change in the funding formula.
A few developments for affordable housing have been undertaken, but who can afford to buy a place in Dawes Hill? There is no mention of any programme to offer affordable housing to people on lower incomes or the young.
Many of the roads and footpaths in Wycombe are in a pitiful state and it is not easy to get even street lights repaired, without people having to email the relevant people and then act as progress chasers.
We have already heard about the ANPR fiasco, which has cost a tidy sum in lost revenue for WDC.
There is no enforcement of traffic parking rules and as a result commercial vehicles and cars are parked on footpaths and verges.
The people of High Wycombe yearn for the town to have its own A & E, but no one is listening. Less charitable people than me believe that it is because no cabinet member represents a Town ward?
You may also have seen (in last week’s BFP), which reported the “Council’s broken record over homelessness crises”. It is reported that residents and homeless charities fear that WDC has resorted to ‘insidious measures to force people out of the town’s multi story car parks as temperatures plummeted below zero. Apparently, loud repetitive music is being played into town centre car parks in a bid to drive vulnerable rough sleepers onto the streets. So is this the compassionate side of the Conservative party at work? Why some of the reserves cannot be used to help such small but vulnerable groups is difficult to comprehend. Yet we are quite happy, as a council, to pay our share of £25K for the commissioning of the Unitary Authority report of our choice.
You may also have noticed that there are a number of empty and boarded up shops and offices in the town, go to the Chilterns Centre or walk between the White Hart Street entrance to the Eden shopping Centre and Oxford Road; what does this tell us about the state of the business in the Town?.
We were told that there was consultation with the business community about which way the unitary authority debate should head but this democratic luxury was not offered to the residents, who are going to be affected and will have to pay for it.
Mr Chairman Since it is clear that this council has no plan for sustainable delivery of key services, this financial plan is effectively meaningless, it is just a set of numbers."
The Lib Dems and Labour today forced Bucks County Council to speak up against the Government’s proposals to force all schools to become academies.Read more
Wycombe Labour today reminded Wycombe District Council of its commitment to engage and work with the community, including in combating extremism. It asked WDC to review its decision to withhold information, on national security grounds, about the PREVENT programme.Read more