Thursday, 2 January 2014

Concerns in the light of Brightons' own Golli-gate

It is my intention to send a copy of the following to the CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council, Penny Thompson CBE. If you wish to co-sign this letter, please contact me at

In addition I am preparing another letter to the same addressee with regards to the closing of the Hearing by the Standards Panel. The secrecy surrounding the hearing is concerning for two reasons.

  • Due Process and Procedure requires that reasons be given for invoking the mechanism that allows for the closing of a public meeting to members of the public and press. No reason was given though the mechanism for closing the meeting was given as the reason. This now means that the precedence for declaring all meetings, ostensibly open to the public, as closed purely on the basis of quoting the mechanism is now established.
  • The Public cannot scrutinize a decision that was reached in secrecy, behind closed doors. Considering the strength of feeling, as evidenced by the various responses to articles on the subject in the Evening Argus, it is clear that the public does want to be able to scrutinize the reasons behind the conclusions reached by the Dawn Barnett hearing on 19th December 2013.
I will put that on this blog in due course.

Dear Ms Thompson,
I would ask that you consider the fact that the BMEWF is a workplace forum open only to employees of Brighton & Hove City Council. Membership of this forum is not possible for any person who is not employed by the City Council; with neither agendas, minutes of meetings, its membership list nor the composition of its Steering Panel being open to public scrutiny.

I hold that the BMEWF has grossly overestimated its remit. Ms D. Barnett is not an employee of Brighton & Hove City Council but an elected representative of residents of this city. It is therefore not appropriate that the BMEWF go to the extent of placing a complaint against Clr. Barnett unless she acts directly against the interests of working conditions.  
Further, the refusal of the BMEWF to consider any resolution aside from a Full Panel Hearing, including its refusal to consider any meeting with Clr Barnett until after said full hearing lays the BMEWF shows a level of intolerance, segregation and lack of conciliation that does not sit well with the concept of a multicultural community.
Enclosed you will find the reasons for concern as highlighted by the conduct of the BMEWF. As CEO of Brighton & Hove City Council I would request you ensure that the BMEWF engages to ensure that it does not overstep its remit in future.

Having read all the documentation provided for the now deferred Standards Panel meeting 28 November 2013 there are some grave concerns regarding the position adopted by the BMEWF. The context being that there were three complaints from private individuals.

  • Mr D. Hermitage – who requested that Cllr D. Barnett be placed on an Equality & Diversity Training Course.
  • Mr T Read – who requested Cllr D. Barnett undergo Diversity Training and provide an apology for her comments.
  •  Mr N. Madhar – who requested that Cllr D. Barnett be ‘immediately expelled’.
 There is one additional complaint from the BMEWF, claiming to act in response to some concerns from members of staff. Further, it is made explicit that the BMEWF consider their complaint to be a staff complaint rather than a private individual complaint as evidenced by the email from Richard Butcher Tuset dated 16 September 2013 17:32. The complaint from the BMEWF has caused concern for a number of reasons.

Putting these concerns in context:·        

  • The BMEWF wrote a Letter of Concern to Cllr G. Theobald, Leader of the Conservative Group via email on 05 September 2013 12:15. 

  • Cllr G. Theobald responded to this Letter of Concern via email on 06 September 2013 17:00 informing the BMEWF that he could not respond on the matter as Cllr Barnett was at that time subject of an official Standards Complaint. 

  • Ms S. Cartwright, BMEWF Steering Group, responded by contacting Richard Butcher Tuset by email on 16 September 2013 16:30 imputing a history of publicised racist views, unsubstantiated, to Cllr D. Barnett; requesting that their Letter of Concern to Cllr G. Theobald on 05 September 2013 12:15 be accepted as an official complaint from the BMEWF.In addition it seems that they are not aware of the nature of the Standards complaint referred to by Cllr G. Theobald in his email of 06 September 2013 17:00. 

  • Mr B. Foley proposes a possible course of action to conclude the complaint in an emailed letter dated 27 September 2013 to the BMEWF. 

  • There is no mention on record whether the members of the public, Mr D. Hermitage, Mr T. Read and Mr N. Madhar, who initiated the Standards complaint against Cllr D. Barnett, were proffered the option to accept this proposed conclusion to their complaint.
  • Ms S. Cartwright on behalf of the BMEWF Steering Group rejects this and demands that a full public hearing is the only resolution it will accept. This is despite the fact that it has been made clear that it is unlikely to result in any stronger measures being laid against Cllr D. Barnett in resolution to the complaint.
The substantive complaint against the BMEWF:
1.      The BMEWF is actively pursuing a course of corporate blackmail.
This charge is based on that the council is warned that accepting the proposed conclusion would amount to it once more ignoring racism within BHCC. Further there is an implicit threat of possible further action by the BMEWF. “BMEWF members feel very strongly that if your recommendations are followed, the Council will have yet again allowed discriminatory and racist behaviour and attitudes to go unpunished, which has been documented in the corporately-commissioned GHPO regarding BME people within Brighton & Hove City Council. The BMEWF would be very disappointed if these recommendations were followed, and may take further action. yet again allowed discriminatory and racist behaviour and attitudes to go unpunished, which has been documented in the corporately-commissioned GHPO regarding BME people within Brighton & Hove City Council.”[1]
2.      The BMEWF is evidencing a highly subjective and prejudiced ethos.
This charge is based on their presumption that a letter of recommendation, unseen, must of necessity be ignorant of either inter-racial relations or excuse ‘poor behaviour’[2] just because it was written in support of an individual that regulated body has voiced concerns about is unprofessional and undemocratic.
3.      The BMEWF is non-transparent.
We cannot read its minutes, see the membership list or discover who has been selected to sit on its steering group. Yet it is the general public of the City of Brighton & Hove that finance the BMEWF as members are attending meetings during work time. In addition it is the general public that provides the funds for their administrative support. 
4.      The BMEWF is non-conciliatory.
This charge is based on the fact that the BMEWF is unwilling to consider meeting with Cllr D. Barnett as per her suggestion in order that she may learn from the BMEWF and its members. They instead assume that this is a “Public Relations exercise”[3]. They are however willing to meet with Cllr D. Barnett following a full hearing. 
5.      The BMEWF ignores due process for the sake of a political agenda.
This charge is based on the distribution of the email sent by the BMEWF on 21 October 2013 09:48 to Mr B. Foley but cc’d to a large number of individuals and forums not involved in the complaints process. This email is clearly an attempt to steer the Council into adopting a more rigid standard then the one recommended by Central Government. 
It is felt that the conduct exhibited by the BMEWF around this complaint against Cllr D. Barnett has been highly questionable. Forcing through a full hearing when officers who deal with these Standards complaints on a professional basis, Mr B. Foley, the Monitoring Officer and the Independent Person have already expressed the opinion that it is unlikely that a full hearing will end in a different resolution to the complaint is not conducive to either social cohesion, equality or diversity.
Further, it shows a great disregard for the added financial burden to the already stretched budget.There is also grave concern about the political maneuvering exhibited by the BMEWF. Equality and diversity is not an issue that affects just the BME members of society. 
In addition it is felt that the BMEWF has stepped outside its own stated aims by using their formal body as a means to further complaints made by individual members of the public.
Brighton & Hove City Council's Black & Minority Ethnic Workers' Forum (BMEWF) is an organisation that represents Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) Council employees. Their aim is to:

  • ensure that BME staff have access to equal opportunities and receive fair treatment 

  • look to involve the many diverse ethnic minority communities in the city in the council’s work.

  • Support the personal development of members through training and empowerment opportunities.
  • Facilitate the involvement of BME staff in consultations about council policies - in particular employment and human resource issues.
  • Provide a confidential support network for members and a safe environment in which concerns can be discussed and addressed.
  • Increase awareness of BME cultures and issues among council employees and our city.
  • Build relationships between members, the council and communities in the city through events, communications and joint work.
  • Work with the LGBT[4] Workers’ Forum, the Disabled Workers’ Forum and the unions to jointly address issues that are of common interest to all.
  • Keep members up to date through regular bulletins and wider newsletters.
 (Source: date: 5 December 2013)

[1] Response to the suggested course of action – email from Sandra Cartwright to Brian Foley dated 07 October 2013 18:46
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender

Nostalgia & Racism

In Brighton a rather nasty virus has infected due process and procedure. It all started with a rather small store called Bert's. They stocked up on some rather kitschy coasters featuring the Robertson Golly and friends.

The coasters came to the notice of the general public via the pages of a local paper on 30th August 2013. A rather well respected local Councilor, Dawn Barnett, was asked for her opinion and here are her 59 words.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. In fact I’ve got a golliwog magnet sitting on my boiler. They’re nostalgic, not racist. When I was young I remember saving up for a badge showing a golliwog playing a banjo. My children had golliwogs and they preferred them to teddy bears. It’s because they’ve got happy, smiling little faces.”
The paper however is nothing but balanced and it also gets us the profound words of a veteran campaigner for Social Cohesion, Abigail Sinclair, who is the community worker for a registered charity operating as a not for profit company, Mosaic, a black and mixed parentage family group. The group works in Brighton & Hove and surrounding area; just in case you are wondering where your local chapter is.

This veteran campaigner for Social Cohesion is reported to have stated that pictures of golliwogs have “no place” in the city. She proceeds to clarify this as follows: 
 “I was called a golliwog as a kid so it’s very offensive to me. It’s not something that belongs in the present day. I hope we have moved on from that. For people like me, it resurfaces old wounds. It’s got all kinds of negative connotations.”
Now we must bear in mind that here we are talking about a coaster portraying a kitschy retro image. Further the owner of Bert’s Homestores has also assured the paper that if this coaster actually offends anyone then he would withdraw it from the shelves. In addition the image is not banned and is therefore perfectly legal. We are not dealing with pornographic images of children nor is this a depiction of a public beheading.

You would have thought that that would be that. Okay, a tad over the top if you ask me. There are plenty of objects for sale in the high streets that I find highly objectionable. Some of them I find rather offensive to my tender emotions. My solution? I don’t buy them! But it seems that this rather short article has started a whole furore.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Satisfactory conclusion.

To those who have been following my latest saga re ATOS.

Following a refusal to give in I eventually managed to get my old claim reinstated in full. It has been a struggle and has required a lot of contacting various people. I think that possibly the best lesson I have learned from all this is that you can never tell where the chink in the armour of officialdom is.

In my case it was the worry about my housing benefit, which was but one of the many consequences to my losing my benefit award, that lead to the window of opportunity to regain my original claim.

It is outrageous that severely ill and disabled individuals may be put to the additional stress of having to fight for their dignity in addition to fighting the condition that disabled them in the first instance. But sadly such is the case. I hope that my success will encourage others who are still facing this outrage. There is a light at the end of the tunnel ... even if the tunnel may at times seem endless.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Sometimes a bit of good news is only the beginning of bad news

Received a letter from the DWP informing me that they are reducing my DLA by £144.32 starting 26 November 2013.
I only get £402.80 every four weeks which consists of my higher rate mobility allowance and my medium rate personal care allowance, which is currently the only money I have coming in. So as of 26 November 2013 I will have to rely on £258.48 to not only provide the additional care I, as a severely disabled individual need but also to provide everything else ... effectively I'll be living on £64.62 a week.

I wonder what else I can do without.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Whys, the Hows, the Therefores ...

I've been asked why I've given up. There are a couple or so of answers to it all, like with most things I suppose. The short one is that I am tired, worn out, right through to the bone. There is no joy in living anymore, no spontaneity, no hope. Possibly worse is the fact that there is no sense of purpose or meaning to any of it. But the very worst without a doubt is the utter lack of control, the dis-empowerment and the constant requirement to justify your very existence.

I am disabled. It isn't a condition I particularly aspired to. I didn't elect to become a cripple. I didn't wake up one morning and decide that actually it might be quite fun not to walk anymore. It happened to me gradually and over a number of years. At first it was just the occasional cramping of the leg muscles, the pins and needles, the creeping numbness. The waking up from the middle of a deep sleep with red hot flames of agony. And you carry on taking kids to school, walking the dog and going to work.

And gradually, the occasional cramping and pins and needles and red hot flames waking you up becomes more and more frequent and eventually, you spend more time in pain and it takes you longer and longer to walk to the shops. And before you know it, you spend more time resting between steps then you spend stepping between rests and your entire life is now centered not on where you are going but how you are going to get there.

 My ex had walked out just before my youngest was born. My children were 27, 18 and 17 years of age when I was finally diagnosed. They were all either already living their own lives or well on the way to doing so. That was a relief actually. The only ones directly affected by my increased impairment and crippledom were the cats, the dog and I. The animals couldn't care less if some days I did not have the energy to dress myself.

The dog was elderly and quite happy to just wander about the back garden on the odd days I couldn't walk her. She was sedate enough to amble beside the mobility scooter on the days we did manage to get out. As long as my weak right arm did not mean that I couldn't open a tin ... and with an electric tin opener that didn't happen ... they were all happy to sleep when I did, awake when I was and adjust to a new way of life.

Which was just as well as little did I realise that the reality of living with an impairment was going to take that much of an effort. Everything had to be fought for. I was used to fighting, I'd been a single parent for most of my life. During the Thatcher years I'd fought for my right to work. During the Blair years I was actually £40.00 a week worse off working then I would have been had I elected to stay on benefits.  I'd spent years working in deprived neighbourhoods as a community development worker and a community activist. But nothing prepared me for the fight I now faced as a disabled single individual in my fifties.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Blood from a Stone

And so it started ... I am old enough to remember a time when few of us had bank accounts. You got your wages in cash, you paid for your purchases and bills in cash; no cash ... no purchases till the next wage packet came in. But banks and the use of them became more widespread and commonplace. Next,  the government decided that all benefits would be paid directly into bank accounts and so even those of us who lived on the fringes of the economic society ended up with bank accounts. Not through choice and education but through necessity.

Next came the notion of direct debits ... wonderful things really if there are no hiccups and your income keeps dribbling in at a steady pace. It may take a while to figure out how to avoid missed payments, melding up the incomings and the outgoings so that there are no gaps but eventually, you get there. Those expensive bank letters informing you that you have missed a direct debit payment because you have no money in your account stop.

(Just as an aside I always wondered what good it was to charge someone for not having money in their account. So that the next time you have some money it suddenly is reduced because they have written to you to tell you you didn't have any in there. But hey hop ... banks have to make a living I suppose even if it is at the expense of those who haven't one ...)

I've had no income since the 28th of August 2013 thanks to ATOS claiming not to have received a questionnaire I sent them. Over the past couple of days I have had no less then 6 letters from my bank ... Each one putting me further in debt to the bank by £15.00 ... so now I owe the bank a total of £90.00. I am not even thinking about the late payment surcharges I will owe the various utilities - water, gas, electric, telephone.

Cameron, you may have used your sons' payments from disability benefits to pay for his nappies but I need it to live my life. To live it, not luxuriously but just to live it. To pay my bills, to eat something other then cold toast or lukewarm soup. To keep my wheelchair functioning ...