Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Named and shamed: Steve Bullock

Edit: This post was edited on 22 February after I received a response from a representative of the Mayor. See below.

One of the main reasons why people do not act is because they do not expect their action to have an effect.

The police don't care about crime, and nor does the council care about the area; all politicians are only in it for themselves, and businesses are only interesting in exploiting people. They don't care about people like me or you.

And so a sullen oppositional mindset builds. Constructive engagement is pushed aside, with both sides of the equation expecting nothing from the other but a big waste of time.

People become alienated, driving them towards radical fantasists or cynical disengagement. Meanwhile, authorities and businesses become sloppy, uncaring and unresponsive.

Fortunately, there are ways in which such vicious circles can be stopped. And these actions do not all have to take a lot of time.

One way is just to start sending emails to people in decision-making roles, hassling them a bit about what they do.

It helps to have a bit of leverage when writing complaints. In some cases I mention this website and say that I will write about the situation.

The first email I sent was to my mayor, Steve Bullock. My council, Lewisham, is one of only 13 in England to have approved a recently-introduced system of having a directly-elected mayor. The idea behind the system is that the mayor has both the executive power and a direct link to voters.

So, six weeks after Mayor Bullock told a local newspaper he was taking a "personal interest" in a crime hotspot at the end of my road, I emailed him to ask what action he had taken. It was not a malicious or accusatory email. It was polite and enquiring.

Soon after, I received a response from someone called Andy Williams, who said he had received the email on the mayor's behalf and had forwarded my query to Geeta Subramanian, head of the council's crime reduction unit.

The first email was sent on 5 February. Today is 19 February and I've heard nothing further. So that's pretty poor.

I've emailed the mayor and Andy Williams again to let them know I am still waiting for a response. I'll update this blog when I do.


21 February: I received an email from Andy Williams informing me that he would chase up Geeta for a response.

22 February: I received an email from Khurram Sheikh on behalf of the Mayor, responding to my original request for information.

In a fairly long email, he states two concrete responses made:
- a number of arrests were made immediately after the incident and investigations are ongoing.
- that a drinking control zone (DCZ) has been agreed in the neighbourhood. "This will tackle the street drinking and the associated anti-social behaviour taking place across the ... neighbourhood." This should become effective in March 2008.


max said...

A thing you may want to look into is to submit written questions at Council, I've done it a pack of times, it's very useful and quite some fun.
All members of the public are entitled to submit a written question and if it's submitted by the Monday morning 2 weeks ahead of the next Full Council Meeting it will be answered in writing by that meeting, the written answer is usually emailed back to you on the same day of the meeting.
Then if you're not content with the answer you can go at the meeting and ask a supplementary question verbally that should also be answered then and there also verbally. These oral supplementary must be coincise and to the point, they don't like people being too clever there.
The person to email the question to is Kevin.Flaherty@lewisham.gov.uk

Another even more fun thing is to submit an executive item for the Mayor's Agenda.
This can be done once a year and must be voted by the Area Forum.

As far as I know I'm the only one to ever have taken advantage of this constitutional right.
You can read about my experience with this here:

and here:

max said...

By the way, you are not limited to one written question per Council meeting, I don't think that there's a legal limit but 3 questions is normally considered the maximum that you can ask.
Items for the Mayor's Agenda are instead limited to one per year.

Tom said...

Thanks Max! Your efforts with the pool are a big inspiration. I'll get pondering on a written question if I don't get a response through this route.

max said...

Thanks Tom, it's a bit of an art to word these questions effectively, the more specific the better, any detour from that and you risk that they'll use the answer as an opportunity to praise themselves.