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1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Richard Holden: Dogs h... · 1 reply · +1 points

Missing cats are a bit different, because they're less likely to be stolen in the first place and when they do go missing, it's usually because they've got stuck in someone else's shed or simply got lost after wandering too far from home. So offering a small reward is reasonable in such cases, if it helps create an incentive for people to keep their eyes open for it. Cats are also, usually, free-range if they're "outdoor" cats, so they can (and do) go missing entirely of their own accord.

Dogs, on the other hand, are rarely allowed to roam freely outdoors without the owner being present. So if one disappears then it's far more likely to be theft rather than just the dog wandering off and getting lost or stuck somewhere.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Richard Holden: Dogs h... · 4 replies · +1 points

Unfortunately, one of the things that contributes to the rise in pet theft is the attitude of many owners. Anyone who is a member of a local or "spotted" group on Facebook willl be familiar with a common form of post, which tells of a lost or stolen dog and offers a "no questions asked" reward for its safe return.

All this is doing, though, is incentivising criminals to steal dogs in the hope of getting the reward for returning it. It's a lot less effort, and lower risk, than stealing a dog for resale. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that if a reward is not paid, missing dogs - particularly those of lower value, such as rescue dogs or others with no pedigree certificate - often turn up at the county dog pound a few weeks later having been dumped by the side of the road and picked up by the dog warden.

It's difficult to know how to tackle this, since one obvious solution - making it illegal to offer a "no questions asked" reward for the return of stolen property - will only end up criminalising people who are, fundamentally, still victims rather than perpetrators of crime. But maybe an education campaign which makes it clear that rewarding criminal behaviour is a bad thing would be useful. "Tell the police before you tell social media" should be a mantra drilled into every property owner, including pet owners. It goes along with things like making sure your dog is chipped and the database kept up to date.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Harry Fone: Parish cou... · 0 replies · +1 points

They can. but they need to provide a very good business case to justify it. It isn't a free for all, by any means.

One of the cases referred to by Mr Fone is Huntingdon crematorium. A crematorium is a cash cow for a local authority to own; any parish which could afford to build one but did not would be missing out. A parish near me has recently used PWLB funding to buy land for a cemetary; given that cemetary provision is one of the statutory duties of a parish council this is something that would have had to be funded one way or the other, but a cheap loan is an excellent way to spread the cost.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Harry Fone: Parish cou... · 1 reply · +1 points

As has already been pointed out above, Mr Fone does not seem to have made the slightest effort to research the subject of his article. If he had, he would also have found that, unlike principal councils, a parish council can be abolished as easily as it can be created if sufficient residents wish for that. But, as it happens, the trend is in the opposite direction - local residents are increasingly calling for the creation of parish councils in areas which do not have them, while the number which have been bolished can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Equally, parish councils are among the most amenable authorities to public oversight. Unlike principal councils, which meet in often distant towns and cities, parish councils have their monthly meetings (Covid exepted) in their own local community. Anyone can go along to watch, and the vast majority of parish councils have space on the agenda for public questions. And, again unlike many principal councils, parish councillors almost always live and work among their taxpayers.

Finally, Mr Fone appears to assume that if you abolish a parish council, its expenditure will magically vanish. But that's not the case. Almost all of the work done by a parish council would, if the parish did not exist, have to be done by the next tier up. In some cases, such as cemetaries, that's a statutory responsibility, so if the parish doesn't do it then the district must. In other cases, such as parks and open spaces, the district could close them if it wanted. But that's unlikely to be popular with local residents. Having control over their own neighbourhood is one of the reasons why people vote to create parish councils in the first place. So that precept (trivial by comparison with a shire county) would, in the vast majority of cases, simply be added to the district precept if the parish is abolished.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Iain Dale: 400,000 pol... · 1 reply · +1 points

Ministers aren't CEOs, though. And the police (rightly) have operational independence. Ministers are more like the board. If the police equivalent of the CEO has made a serious procurement error, then the board (ie, the government) can, and should, be insisting on their resignation. But it's only an error if the failure of the system was reasonably foreseeable.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Iain Dale: 400,000 pol... · 6 replies · +1 points

While the loss of data from the PNC is a serious issue, this is one thing that really can't be laid at the feet of politicians. Creating a database that meets the needs of the police is a highly specialised technical task, and is precisely the sort of thing that should be left to the experts without any political interference. If the organisation which created the database (I'm presuming that the police were not foolish enough to believe that they had the necessary expertise in house) is shown to be at fault, they should be publicly named and shamed and be required to fix the problem at their own expense. But if a minister who has no technical qualifications (ie, nearly all of them) made the absolutely correct decision to leave procurement to those who do have the necessary qualifications, then they cannot, in any meaningful sense, share any of the blame.

Unless, of course, ministers did actually interfere in the procurement process, in which case, yes, heads should be rolling immediately. But not because of the loss of data, but because ministers made decisions they were not competant to make.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - The amazing story of M... · 1 reply · +1 points

While the Sarwar family's story is an inspiring one, and I do not doubt the ability of either Mohammed or Anas, we do need to be a little wary of over-enthusastically embracing the principle that my enemy's enemy is my friend. Arwar Sr and Jr are both associated with a party that has very different aspirations to our own, and the fact that we share a common foe north of the border does not change that. While Scotland may, in the short term, gain from Labour providing a more credible opposition to the SNP, the United Kingdom will not benefit if Labour makes significant gains in Westminster seats in the region. We must be careful not to lose sight of the real goal of the Great Game.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Izzi Seccombe: Council... · 0 replies · +1 points

In principle I agree with most of this, although we have to bear in mind that one of the key reasons for having procurement rules is to eliminate nepotism and "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" deals with businesses run by friends of councillors and council officers. It is really important that contracts are awarded on the basis of good service and good value for money rather than who happens to be the drinking buddies of the portfolio holder.

I do definitely agree, though, that, subject to procurement being transparent and acessible to all potential suppliers, we should be able to favour local suppliers where appropriate and, equally, to be able to downweight suppliers based on previous bad experience. One of the biggest flaws with the current system is that it favours large organisations with the resources to write technically perfect tender documents even if, with the benefit of other information, we wouldn't want to pick them. We need to be able to take account of all relevant factors, including local knowledge, past experience and the council's own priorities.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Harry Fone: Reserves s... · 1 reply · +1 points

Firstly, both the councils that I'm a member of are aiming to keep council tax level next year. Even during a pandemic, it's possible to budget responsibly. Please don't tar everyone with the same brush.

But, secondly, Mr Fone misunderstands the point of reserves. Other than for minor adjustments, budgeting for a deficit is always a bad idea. Reserves aren't there to be budgeted to spend, they're for unbudgeted expenses. For example, covering the costs incurred by unforeseen circumstances, such as the civic centre catching fire, or recovering from a cyber-attack, or unexpected loss of key staff. Or, indeed, loss of income caused by a pandemic. Or they may be earmarked reserves for future capital expenditure, such as property purchases necessary to build new roads. Using those to prop up the budget is gambling with the council's future - and with the council taxpayers' future.

Because, of course, many councils have been dipping into their reserves already this year, as Covid has significantly affected income. Council tax arrears have increased. Commercial revenue has decreased. Expenditure has gone up as councils have had to make workplaces Covid-secure and/or make adjustments to facilitate remote working. And so on. We've had our rainy day. Or, at least, one of them.

Budgeting for a significant deficit next year would, therefore, be completely irresponsible. If it's possible to keep council tax level with only a small budgeted deficit, then that's worth considering. But only if there are still sufficient reserves for any further emergencies. We can't assume that Covid is the only risk we face, and we can't assume that it's all going to get better this year. We need to plan for the future and make sure that we'll still have the finances to cope with whatever life throws at us next. Not spend it all now just because that panders to the prejudices of pressure groups with no grasp of fiscal reality.

1 year ago @ http://www.conservativ... - Harry Fone: Reserves s... · 0 replies · +1 points

Spot on.