Has Claire Perry MP broken the law?

I have corresponded with Claire Perry, MP for Devizes on a few occasions, on personal matters or on wider policy issues. In all cases I was writing to her in her role as MP and not as an individual or as a representative of the Conservative Party.  I was surprised therefore to receive an e-mail from her which was part of her campaign for re-election. I replied pointing out that I believed she was in breach of data protection legislation. After further discussion on Facebook in the Devizes Debate group I have put together this post.

Lets look at the big picture first:

According to the Radicati Group’s Email Market 2012-2016 report (PDF), the total amount of emails sent worldwide on an average day is roughly 140 billion.

According to Symantec’s Intelligence November 2012 Report (PDF), 68.8% of all emails sent daily worldwide were spam.

According to a paper called “The Economics of Spam,” (PDF) by Justin M. Rao and David H. Reiley, researchers at Microsoft and Google respectively  dealing with these messages adds up to a $20 billion cost in the US alone. That eleven-figure number is derived from the cost of developing the software required to filter out spam emails and the few seconds it takes to delete every spam email that isn’t successfully blocked. World wide the cost is estimated as $50 billion in lost productivity and other expenses this year, according to a report issued by Ferris Research.

On top of that the estimated cost of ‘false positive’ junk mail (emails you gave permission to receive that never actually reach you, for a variety of reasons) is estimated at €19.4 billion in Europe alone.

http://tech.eu/features/202/cost-of-spam-email-marketing-deliverability-europe/

So it isn’t a trivial issue and for a Government Minister to be adding to this torrent, even in a small way is unacceptable.

Moving on to Claire Perry. I don’t have access at the moment to the PC on which her e-mail is sitting, so I can’t remember whether it came from her parliamentary address or her personal one. However that isn’t an issue for the point I want to make.

It is clearly unacceptable to use a government e-mail address for political campaigning. It is funded by the tax payer and to do so would mean tax payer funding to one party over the others. Assuming for the moment therefore she used her political address, this means she has copied some or all of the database from government servers to create her own mailing list. That data is not hers personally, so to that degree it could be considered theft. Creation of marketing databases can only be done on an opt-in basis, which she has not done, so that is a breach of the regulations and de facto and de jure, illegal. She has removed the name on request, which minimises the breach, but the fact remains it should not have been there in the first place.

I’m not up on electoral legislation, so it is possible that there have been additional breaches of electoral law.

Again this is not trivial. As an MP, which she presumably was when the database was created, and as a Minister in the government, she is involved in both making and implementing the law. She is not above it and should expect to be held to the same standards as the rest of us. We saw in the expenses debacle what happens when they don’t.

In summary, I believe that she, or others acting for her,  have broken data protection legislation by misusing data gained in her role as MP for political purposes.

Guidance for MPs and their staff:

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/advice-for-members-offices.pdf?hc_location=ufi

http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/researchguides/your-employment-status/promotion-of-a-political-party-guidance-from-the-information-commissioner/?hc_location=ufi

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Posted in Politics

Ideas for Devizes #1 – Main Street USA

Rather than trying to produce long screeds that no-one reads, this is the first of a series of posts that will point to examples of good practice that could be adapted for Devizes.

From the web site.

“Over the past 34 years, the Main Street movement has transformed the way communities think about the revitalization of their historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts, and helped put historic preservation back in the community revitalization conversation. Cities and towns across the nation have come to see that a vibrant, sustainable community is only as healthy as its core.”

“We all know where our Main Streets are, but do we know what they are and why they matter? Whether they are named First Avenue or Water Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, what they represent is universal. Main Streets are the traditional center for social, cultural, and economic activity for their communities. They are the big stage, the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where the entire community still comes together to live, work, and play.

So what is Main Street?  The phrase has been used to describe everything from our nostalgic past to our current economic woes, but when we talk about Main Street®, we are thinking of real places doing real work to revitalize their communities and preserve their character. Specifically, Main Street® is three things: a proven strategy for revitalization, a powerful network of linked communities, and a national support program that leads the field.”

“Main Street is a national movement that has spanned three decades and taken root in more than 2,000 communities – a movement that has spurred $56 billion in reinvestment in traditional commercial districts, galvanized thousands of volunteers, and changed the way governments, planners, and developers view preservation. Over the past 34 years, the National Main Street Center has overseen the development of a national network of 46 coordinating programs. These coordinating programs help cities, towns, and villages revitalize their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Coordinating program staff help build the capacity of local Main Street programs, expand the network of Main Street communities, provide resources and technical assistance, and work with the NMSC to explore new solutions to revitalization challenges and respond to emerging trends throughout the nation.”

Eight Principles:

  • Comprehensive: No single focus — lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events — can revitalize Main Street. For successful, sustainable, long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach, including activity in each of Main Street’s Four Points, is essential.
  • Incremental: Baby steps come before walking. Successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that “new things are happening ” in the commercial district. As public confidence in the Main Street district grows and participants’ understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, Main Street is able to tackle increasingly complex problems and more ambitious projects. This incremental change leads to much longer-lasting and dramatic positive change in the Main Street area.
  • Self-help: No one else will save your Main Street. Local leaders must have the will and desire to mobilize local resources and talent. That means convincing residents and business owners of the rewards they’ll reap by investing time and money in Main Street — the heart of their community. Only local leadership can produce long-term success by fostering and demonstrating community involvement and commitment to the revitalization effort.
  • Partnerships: Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street’s revitalization. Each sector has a role to play and each must understand the other’s strengths and limitations in order to forge an effective partnership.
  • Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets: Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Every district has unique qualities like distinctive buildings and human scale that give people a sense of belonging. These local assets must serve as the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.
  • Quality: Emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies to all elements of the process — from storefront designs to promotional campaigns to educational programs. Shoestring budgets and “cut and paste” efforts reinforce a negative image of the commercial district. Instead, concentrate on quality projects over quantity.
  • Change: Skeptics turn into believers and attitudes on Main Street will turn around. At first, almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around. Changes in attitude and practice are slow but definite — public support for change will build as the Main Street program grows and consistently meets its goals. Change also means engaging in better business practices, altering ways of thinking, and improving the physical appearance of the commercial district. A carefully planned Main Street program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process.
  • Implementation: To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way and succeeding. Small projects at the beginning of the program pave the way for larger ones as the revitalization effort matures, and that constant revitalization activity creates confidence in the Main Street program and ever-greater levels of participation.
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Posted in Community, Design, Economy, Town Centre

Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership

All the posts I make here are automatically shared on a number of social media sites. From one of those, LinkedIn, I was pointed to the Local Enterprise Partnership and more particularly to the Strategic Economic Plan recently submitted to government. You can find the strategy and the various supporting documents here.  I haven’t had time to look at in detail yet, but I intend to and will be posting on my response. However my reason for posting the link now is that I am told that the Strategy picks up the idea of agglomeration mentioned in my last post in terms of the A350 corridor; in other words the old West Wilts District Council Five Towns project. 

I’ll be looking at this in particular, but also at the wider strategy soon. In the meantime if you have any views yourself, please get in touch. I’m happy to offer a platform to anyone with something cogent to say, although I reserve the right not to publish any submissions. I won’t edit anything without talking to you first. So, if you want to write something about the Partnership Strategy or anything else affecting the future of Devizes and its surroundings, again please get in touch.

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Posted in Economy

What can Devizes learn from London—or Hebden Bridge?

On another blog I recently published quite a quite long post triggered by two recent TV programmes about the dominance of London. In that poste I looked at how investment in transport infrastructure across the North of England could create the right conditions to develop an alternative economic hub to that which is currently ruining dominating our lives in the form of London.

Now obviously Devizes is not a major metropolis. It isn’t even a large town compared to say Exeter, or Weston super Mare. It is what it is, a small market town. Even so there are lessons to be learnt from London’s growth, or if you watch the second of these programmes, from Hebden Bridge. That lesson is one of connectivity. It is connectivity that drives economic growth – the growth of London and if it were to be implemented the growth of  a new, world scale, city running from Liverpool across to Leeds. Improvements in connectivity could also drive economic growth in Wiltshire.

Five Towns Initiative

Seeing these programmes reminded me of some work done for the former West Wiltshire District Council that led to the creation of what was called the ‘Five Towns Initiative’. The starting point was a study carried out for West Wilts by a consultancy called URBED which looked at the five towns of the district generally stretching down the A350 – Melksham, Trowbridge, Westbury, Warminster and Bradford on Avon. My memory is hazy now but I think this followed on from work for Wiltshire County Council published as ‘Revitalizing the Towns and Villages of Wiltshire’. One of the basic ideas behind the Five Towns Initiative was that individually the towns of West Wiltshire are too small to support very much in the way of services but collectively have a population approaching 100,000, the size of a significant town (by comparison Exeter had a population of 117,000 in 2011.) URBED explicitly linked this to the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and his concept of a group of linked towns set in a rural landscape.

Garden City Concept of Ebenezer Howard

Unfortunately the Five Towns Initiative degenerated into a series of small projects, with each town competing for money from the District Council and no attempt seems ever to have been made to develop the core principle of improving connectivity between the towns. 

One council for Wiltshire was supposed to offer better integration of local services, not just savings. So far we’ve seen lots of the latter but in planning and development terms not much of the former. No big Vision for Wiltshire has emerged. Opportunities to improve links between the towns of Wiltshire towns are still there, although Wiltshire Council appear to be on the point of cutting its support to public transport, rather than increasing it. Even so, with some creative thinking, there is still a chance, both to improve links between the market towns of Wiltshire and to improve connections with the larger cities and towns of the region. I don’t know of any reason why agglomeration benefits should not hold true for the towns of Wiltshire as it does for London or Liverpool/Manchester/Leeds, even if those benefits are at a much smaller scale. Improved links between towns that provide reasonable journey times would create a much larger pool of workers for employers and a larger pool of jobs for workers to mutual benefit.

What is needed?

Clearly we would be talking about different levels of investment to what is required in Northern England, but at a minimum I think we need to be looking at:

  • ‘Trunk’ bus routes between towns. Town to town services  seem to meander all over the place, the Chippenham to Devizes bus for example has a substantial dogleg towards Calne. The Trowbridge to Swindon route Trans Wilts Express 49 service is a good example.
  • Services within and around the towns provided by a mixture of linear services where population allows and a demand responsive service (as with the ‘Wigglybus’ in the Pewsey Vale) for areas of lower population density.
  • A minimum service frequency of an hour, preferably half hourly.
  • Services running from at least 7.00am to 11.00pm.
  • Maximise use of rail services. The TransWilts Community Rail Partnership might usefully get involved in wider rail issues affecting Wiltshire.
    • Swindon to Bath rail link – this would require the replacement of the missing link at Staverton.
    • Swindon to Salisbury rail link  (TransWilts line)
    • Refurbishment of stations like Melksham plus improved bus links into town centre.
    • Reinstatement/new stations for towns like Marlborough, Devizes and Corsham.

The diagram below shows how this might work.

Bus diagram

There would probably also be a need for other infrastructure improvements, perhaps  in the form of bus gates, short stretches of bus only road or road and  junction improvements favouring public transport.

Revenue support for public transport is being cut by Wiltshire Council. This needs to be reversed. In addition, the amount generated from s106 agreements for housing and other developments need to be boosted significantly. This income needs to be put into an infrastructure development fund. Larger employers could also be approached to make contributions to such a fund on the basis that it would increase their access to a much larger labour pool.

Wiltshire Council are currently considering the replacement of the Demand Responsive Connect 2 services (aka Wigglybus) in Pewsey Vale  with traditional linear routes. Given what I have said above this would clearly be a mistake in my view. I’ve already posted my response to the consultation.

I would be very interested in getting views from others on this. We can’t go stumbling on as we are now.

NB – I haven’t considered here the other aspects of connectivity – fast broadband in particular. There is a programme for improvements but it is almost impossible to get details. Anyone who has information, please get  in touch.

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Posted in Economy, Transport

Changes to Pewsey Vale Connect2 services

Wiltshire Council are proposing to do away entirely with the Demand Responsive bus services running under the banner of Connect 2 (as an aside I really really hate the faux ‘hip’ renaming from WigglyBus). You can find the consultation paper here:

http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/pewsey-vale-info-sheet.pdf

Responses to the proposal should be sent by 14th May to buses@wiltshire.gov.uk  or by post to the Passenger Transport Unit, Wiltshire Council, County Hall, Trowbridge BA14 8JN (attention of Ian White).

My own response is below.

The proposed replacement of the Demand Responsive Connect 2 services in Pewsey Vale  with traditional linear routes would be a mistake for the following reasons.

  1. Demand responsive services have proved their worth in improving accessibility for many people across the Pewsey Vale and in other locations in the county. This was evidenced by the response to the WigglyBus on its launch, and via public involvement in the service before that forum was done away with by the Council. If numbers have dropped it seems likely that is because the sense of community ‘ownership’ of the service at its inception has been dissipated by removal of that direct public involvement.
  2. No linear route can ever properly meet the needs of the many small hamlets and settlements across Pewsey Vale. Removal of the present service would inevitably result in a significant reduction in the quality of life for residents of those smaller settlements, especially the elderly or those without a car available during the day. A linear route may well be cheaper to run but will actually be more inefficient since it will only meet the needs of a limited number of people.
  3. Removing the option of public transport would also increase the likelihood of households acquiring a second or even third vehicle. Since the Devizes end of the present journeys comes in down London Road, already subject to congestion and likely to get worse, this would have an adverse effect on many other people not using these services.
  4. Reliance instead on community or voluntary transport is likely to extend journey times for users, not reduce them. 
  5. Criticisms of the service based on poor performance in terms of journeys between Pewsey and Devizes or between Pewsey and Marlborough miss the point. No DR service could ever expect to provide for such journeys.
  6. The cost of the call centre is a red herring. The cost per journey should be defrayed by extending them across more DR services so extending the benefits to a much wider area.

Far from cutting back Demand Responsive services they should be extended across the County supplemented by a recasting of the between town routes as express services. My last journey by public transport from Chippenham to Devizes for example took me almost halfway to Calne before the bus turned back towards Devizes. Improved connectivity between towns will improve access to employment and boost overall economic growth in the county. These changes would have a wider impact than just bus users and should therefore be the subject of a much wider consultation with employers and others.
I have included a diagrammatic representation of the approach I believe is needed.

Bus diagram

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Posted in Economy, Transport

We still need planning

There is a tendency to blame ‘the planners’ for everything that goes wrong, from dog mess to lack of public toilets to the failure to provide a full size Marks and Spencer’s store in town (I’ve come across all of these in Devizes) and of course that nasty habit of approving planning applications.

In that last context, the current applications for yet more housing along London Road come to mind. It was interesting therefore to find this statement in the latest copy of Town and Country Planning, the Journal of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), coming as it does from David Lock, one of the countries pre-eminent planners and a Vice-President of the TCPA.

The facile assertion that it is always ‘more sustainable’ to piggyback globules of new homes onto the amenities and facilities of an existing town, rather than start anew, is running out of steam: peripheral growth of a town may be locally justified by most careful design and analysis of the receptor town and its people, but as the default response that it has become it has succeeded in upsetting the existing locals who thought they were on the edge, and in stressing the life of the old  town by overloading it.

Clearly not all planners should be seen as the villains of the piece. The focus of the article however is not a call to stop development, but for new settlements. It may suit residents of Devizes to call a halt, but what if the alternative were to be an expansion of say Worton or Bromham to perhaps 5000 people?

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Posted in Community, Design, Housing

Wiltshire Council Review of Youth Service

WC have published details of their proposals for the Youth Service on its young people’s web site called Sparksite. This is the start of a so called consultation. The information provided is however misleading, manipulative and dishonest.

It pretends that the review is driven by a desire to do things better but makes no mention of the fact that the budget will be reduced by £500,000 – a cut of almost 40%. It says that youth workers will support local communities in developing youth services but doesn’t say that the staff will be reduced from 140 (at all levels and including many part time posts) to only 8 across the whole council area. It says that youth workers will continue to support young people with disabilities or learning difficulties, but doesn’t say that the staff for this will aspect will be reduced to TWO!

EDIT – I’ve got these numbers reversed. Two staff would support area boards etc. and eight would deal with young people with disabilities etc. In both cases this is full time equivalents.

http://www.sparksite.co.uk/entries/positive_leisure_time_activities_young_people_wiltshire_review

The information published on the main site is not much better. There are no costings, numbers or any sort of detail about the options, no indication of the thought process that went into selecting the ‘preferred’ option. There is no information on the capacity of local communities to step in and meet the demand.

As an exercise in public policy making this is a travesty. As a consultation process it is dishonest, manipulative and misleading.

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Posted in Community, Education, Politics
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