Friday, 30 November 2012

Independent Panel on Forestry report

BFTF received an email today about the Independent Panel on Forestry report, which has made a series of recommedations to government on the future of the UK's forests. I urge you to read the very moving forward to the report, which you can find at the link below:

And it is perhaps worth mentioning three of the recommendations that particularly struck a chord with BFTF :

Recommendation: We urge society as a whole to value woodlands for the full range of benefits they bring. We call on Government to pioneer a new approach to valuing and rewarding the management, improvement and expansion of the woodland ecosystems for all the benefits they provide to people, nature and the green economy.

Recommendation: Government and other woodland owners to give as many people as possible ready access to trees and woodlands for health and well-being benefits – this means planting trees and woodlands closer to people and incentivising more access to existing woodlands.

Recommendation: We propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England.

Lime Tree Fruit

The Secretary of State for the Environment (who was then Caroline Spelman) has responded in a communication you can find in the link below:

The key points of the response are perhaps these two paragraphs below :

"The Panel’s work will also inform the future of the Public Forest Estate, a key component of our English woodland network. I therefore agree with the Panel that the Public Forest Estate should continue to benefit from public ownership. A well managed and publicly owned estate provides the sort of public benefits we need to protect – such as access and biodiversity.

But I also agree with the IPF that the way that the Estate is cared for and managed should evolve to meet the challenges ahead of us. We need a new model that is able to draw in private finance, make best use of Government funding and a means to facilitate wider and more comprehensive community support."

bluebells at Bucknell Woods

BFTF is keen to support the reports recommendations so has eamiled the current SEcretary of State (Mr Owen Paterson MP) with the following :

Dear Secretary of State

I have just read the recommendations of the The Independent Panel on Forestry and found that many of them struck a strong chord with the way I would like to see the UK's forests managed. In particular, I am deeply supportive of the recommendations to ensure that the value of the countrys woodlands are recognised, that sustainably industries using woodlands are encouraged and their value to the health and wellbeing of the country is recognised.

I know that you care about the environment, and that your work on fisheries has been welcomed by environmental groups, so I hope that you can do all you can to implement this report's recommendations so that the UK's forests can be something we are all proud of.

Update 03Jan13: Received the following encouraging response from the Defra:

The issues you raise are important and will be considered along with the rest of the report in the Government’s response to the Independent Panel on Forestry report. Our forests and woods are part of our heritage and our future. We want to see them protected and enhanced, so that they can make a better contribution to the environment, the economy and people’s well-being. We agree that a well managed and publically owned estate provides the sort of public benefits, such as biodiversity, and access that we need to protect.

The Government is committed to safeguarding the natural environment, one of the key themes contained in the report. In the Natural Environment White Paper we committed to providing appropriate protection to ancient woodlands and to more restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites.

We want to ensure a robust ecological network that is resilient to climate change and other threats and covers a range of habitats, including open habitats. It is important that we also ensure the condition of existing habitats is of high quality through good management.

We are currently considering the Panel’s report and recommendations and will respond fully in January 2013.

Update 18 jun 2013: Challenging the Government to fund DEFRA and the Forestry Commission properly:

Following a prompt from the Woodland Trust to challenge the Government to do the right thing in the forthcoming spending review, BFTF has done exactly that with the following email to Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP (with a copy to BFTF's locla Labour MP and Conservative party for good measure:

"The Government has made positive moves to recognise the importance of the nations forests by agreeing with much in the Independent Panel on Forestry report of 2012. Please do not undo that good work by reducing the funding for the agencies (such as DEFRA and the Forestry Commission) that are needed to actually put those recommmendations into practice"

Update 25 Jun 201: Apparantly, the Woodland Trust received feedback that the "message has been heard" and that the campaign had been put in front of Danny Alexander

Update 17 Aug 2013: BFTF has been of the view that it is better to send an individual, hand crafted, email rather than just being part of an email petition, believing that the former was evidence of some degree of committment while the latter was sometimes just bandwagon jumping. BFTF asked the Woodland Trust about this and they responded with the following interesting comments :

"...[all petition emails] in this campaign go direct to where they need to at the Treasury - they are sent to a monitored inbox which [the government] confirmed would be the best one to use. We arrange for supporters to come via our website to take action so we can give them updates and latest news as the campaign progresses, and also to make sure we can say to our target, in this case the Treasury, that we have had x actions taken, as this means we can check on what they say they have received and it also enables us to hold them to account. When our call needs to be specific, for example when we are dealing with a complicated issue like this, we pre-populate the email in order to ensure the message gets through, and include the option to add personal messages which give it extra weight and also means emails can't be dismissed as spam."

Related Links
Woodland Trust

Image Sources
Lime Tree Fruit
Bucknell Wook Bluebells

Related Posts
Woodland Trust Interview

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Palestine recognised as a State at the UN

Palestine today achieved recognition as a non-member State at the UN - a momentous achievement.

But far from supporting this, the UK government abstained - you can read about the lead up to the Vote, the responses of the UK Government to BFTF's questions on the issue, and how some local mosques actively campaigned to support the recognition of Palestine at the UN - here

You can read an article about the vote itself in the Guardian here

Many things follow from this event, the first being this:

Email to local Conservative Party:
Just wanted to let you know how dissapointed I was to see the UK abstain from the vote on Palestinian statehood - and willfully muddy the water by linking it to Arab-Israeli negotiations. These would be the "negotiations" which Israel simply does want to bear fruit, as evidenced, for example in an article by Jonathan Friedland, where to quotes a senior Israeli official as saying "Negotiations are good, results are bad."

I would remind you of the part the UK has played in creating the current conflict in the middle east, regarding wihich Jack Straw has commented that ""A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now. . . are a consequence of our colonial past"

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sustainably sourced notebook at ASDA

This post has moved here. Sorry !

Israeli targetting of journalists in Gaza

BFTF has been disturbed to read (via Twitter) reports that the Israeli military has been deliberately targetting journalists and media organisations reporting on the current "Operation Pillar of Defence" conflict in Gaza.

One report describes how, at around 2am on Sunday 18th November, Israeli warplanes fired several missiles at the Al-Shawa Wa Hassri Tower,, which houses local and international media organizations. Around 15 reporters and photographers wearing vests with the word “TV Press” were on the building’s roof at the time, covering the Israeli air strikes.

Five missiles destroyed the 11th-floor offices used by Al-Quds TV and a number of journalists were injured, including Khadar Al-Zahar, whose condition was described as being critical after one of his legs had to be amputated.

Then, at around 7am two missiles were fired at the Al-Shourouk building, also known as the “journalists’ building”. The attack damaged the offices of Sky News Arabia, the German TV station ARD, the Arab TV stations MBC and Abu Dhabi TV, Al-Arabiya, Reuters, Russia Today and the Ma’an news agency.

Another report describes the events of Wed 21st November, when the following occurred:

An Israeli air strike hit the tower block containing the offices of the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

Another airstrike targeted the vehicle of two Palestinian cameramen, which was clearly marked with the words “Media” in Arabic. The attack killed both journalists. They were from the TV station Al-Aqsa and were on their way to the northern part of the city to film Palestinian victims of Israeli air strikes.

Another airstrike targeted the car of Mohammed Moussa Abu Eisah, executive director of Al-Quds educational radio, killing him.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, Avital Leibovich, said later that preliminary results of an investigation indicated that the three journalists were Hamas operatives

Another three missiles hit the offices of AFP (The Israeli military said they believed the attack was on a Hamas military operations room)

RWB comments that :
“Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns these deliberate attacks on those working for media organizations affiliated to, or with links to, Hamas, and also the statement by the Israeli government spokesman. The press freedom organization points out that, under humanitarian law, journalists are entitled to the same protection as civilians and should not be regarded as military targets.

The fact that they are considered to be propaganda outlets is not sufficient reason to treat them as military targets. Indeed, the commission of experts appointed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to examine the NATO bombing campaign in 1999 ruled that journalists and media organizations were not legitimate targets for “merely disseminating propaganda”.

“Attacks on civilian targets are war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. Those responsible must be identified,” [said] Christophe Deloire, Reporters Without Borders secretary general”

In a related report, Issam Younes, director of the Gaza-based al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, suggested that Israel’s questioning of Palestinian journalistic standards was just a pretext to justify its destructive attacks on the Gaza Strip.

“Imagine if Hamas said that those commentators on [Israeli news channels] Channel 2 and Channel 10 are [Israeli intelligence] Shabak people; then they are legitimate targets for Hamas to attack? It’s just a pretext,”

Other Links
Save the Children report on the effect of the blockade on childrens health in Gaza
List of Palestinian Rocket attacks in 2012

Related Posts
The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement
Families Forum - An Israeli Perspective
Families Forum - A Palestinian Perspective

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Recipe - Easy Fruit Dessert

When BFTF was buying ingredients for the Easy Coconut Macaroons recipe, BFTF was initially not sure whether "evaporated milk" or "condensed milk" was required, so BFTF bought both, just in case. Some checking revealed that the macaroons needed the condensed variety - so BFTF was left with a couple of cans of evaporated milk and wondered how they might usefully be employed. . . At a whim, BFTF tried the recipe below - and found it rather scrummy. And spectacularly easy.

400g (i.e. one can) Evaporated Milk
1 can tinned peaches in fruit juice
1 can tinned mandarins in fruit juice
Actually you can probably use whatever fruit, tinned or otherwise, that takes your fancy.

a) Drain tinnned fruit, saving juice in a glass.
b) Put fruit and evaporated milk in a bowl.
c) Bung the bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours.
d) Serve.

The juice in the glass - well you can drink that as a reward for a job well done!

Easy Fruit Dessert.

The dish rates as "EASY" on the BFTF Washing Up Index

See also the RECIPES post for other easy recipes to try, both sweet and savoury.

The Chair

The latest in the series of Café Scientifique talks was quirkily named “The chair - Just somewhere to sit?” and was presented by Clive Edwards, Professor of Design History from Loughborough University (School of the Arts)

Prof Edwards described how their was much more to a chair than just a place to sit, pointing out that they were also used for ceremonial, travel and other uses - and that other parts of the world used other ways (such as squatting or sitting cross legged ) of relieving pressure on the legs.

He then described four ways in which a chair could be viewed, namely :

Authority / Status : Consider the use of “Kings Throne”, “University Seat” or “Judges Bench” as examples of how specific types of chair have particular stus.

Identity : Consider how what the type of chair we buy says about us.

Discipline / Domination : For example, the use of the “electric chair” and the lack of chairs in Victorian prisons.

Comfort / Relaxation : Consider what shape of chair is comfortable, and the use of ergonomics to design comfortable chairs.

Prof Edwards went on to point out that Humans were not really designed for sitting in chairs and that it was only really in the 17th-19th centuries - with the advent of mass transit - that any significant thought was given to the ergonomics of chair design.

He also commented on how the genders prefer different types of chair, with males preferring tilting chairs while females prefer rocking chairs and added that one of the most ergonomic chairs (if not necessarily the most practical) was the “womb chair” which had been designed based on the observation that women often side curled up with their legs beneath them

Womb Chair

To close out his talk, he mentioned that “The Chair” by Galen Cranz was an interesting book on the subject if people wanted to research further.

However, arguably the best bits of the event came in the Q&A session that followed….

In answer to a question about how long metal chairs had been in existence, Prof Edwards mentioned that the Romans had made a folding (!) bronze chair, of which an example survives and is known as “Dagoberts Throne

Throne of Dagobert

Dagobert? That is a name that BFTF is sure he has heard before. . .

In response to a question about the most ergonomic chair, the Prof mentioned the Balans Chair, in which one kneels (although the weight is still supported largely through the buttocks)

Kneeling Chair

Incidentally, there is also a chair known as a “saddle chair” that aims to improve posture in a similar way. The Wikipedia entry states that the chair seat is either solid or divided and that, winningly, “A divided seat reduces pressure on the genitals and lowers the temperature in the genital area.”

(Genital Friendly) Saddle Chair

One of the audience commented that they had been given a very expensive chair at work, only to find it rather uncomfortable, and had switched to an £11 chair from IKEA which he found much better, and now uses a big rubber ball, which is the most comfortable of all, and allows him to move around his workspace easily. However, he is now working at home and wonders whether a big rubber ball would have been allowed at the office.

A rich vein of discussion was found in the topic of “chairs that are not comfortable” - and it seemed that architects were particular culprits of this crime, with (expensive) chairs from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright being mentioned, as was the 19th century Astley Cooper Deportment chair, which was designed to correct childrens posture - but was actually often used as a “naughty chair” in schools because it was not comfortable and did not allow children to slouch or move around.

Charles Remy Mackintosh Chair

On the other hand, some timeless, and very comfortable chairs discussed were the traditional wooden Windsor and Bentwood chairs, with 50million Bentwood chairs produced between 1859 and 1930. Another comfortable chair, and one that give the person using it a feeling of power is the “Barcelona Chair”, so called because it was designed for the Barcelona exhibition.

Bentwood Chair

Barcelona Chair

As a parting comment at the end of the event, Prof Edwards mentioned that “The Chair Blog” was a place worth visiting to see more about chair design, adding that it did contain quite a few chairs whose primary purpose seemed to be to look unusual.

Image Sources Womb Chair, Throne of Dagobert, Kneeling Chair, Saddle Chair, Charles Remy Mackintosh Chair, Windsor Chair, Barcelona Chair

Friday, 23 November 2012

Taxonomy, Type Specimens and Art

Another fascinating article in the UoN "Making Science Public" blog discusses the role of samples in botany. Written by Maura C. Flannery, Professor of Biology at St. John’s University, NY, the article was a genuine revelation for a non-specialist like BFTF.

Durian (Durio zibethinus), Anonymous Chinese artist, ~1820.

Accessing botanical samples
Apparently, for each species of plant that has ever been identified, there is a "type" example that is the definitive example of that species, often collected by the scientist who first catalogued the plant. These "type" examples are kept as pressed specimens attached to paper and stored in "herbaria".

Botanists who are researching the taxonomy (classification) of plants often need to access these type specimens in order to check or examine some point of their structure.

And, for researchers in the developing world, this is where the problems start . . .

... because as a linked article explains, for the Rubiaceae (coffee plant) family, some 430 type specimens (over 95%) of catalogued species are stored in European herbaria (312 in the UK, 127 in Portugal, 99 in Franceand 70 in Belgium). There are only 50 type specimens in African herbaria, all duplicates of "definitive" type sample stored in Europe.

This relative lack of specimens in Africa means that researchers have to travel to Europe just to study speciments - which represents a significant economic burden on botancial departments that are already economically disadvantaged.

Grape Variety (Muscat Hamburgh) Goethe and Lauche, 1895

There are projects (such as the African Plants Initiative) underway to digitally photograph these European herbaria, but the paper suggests that photographs cannot replace phyical examination of actual specimens and points out that if they could then perhaps the photograhps could stay in Europe and the actual speciments returned to Africa.

But returning speciments to Africa has its own issues as they would need to be suitably housed, curated and maintained - again a costly excercise for developing African countries.

Photos versus pictures Another topic covered in the UoN article is that of the role of drawings to supplement the type samples and how drawings can be more useful because the artist is able to filter out some of the extraneous or irrelevant detail to focus on the the important structures of the plant. Indeed, for flora such as fungi, which cannot be dried without drastically changing their appearance, drawings are the key identifying tool.

Arabic translation of Dioscorides "De Materia Medica" c.1200

Other Comments
Whilst digging around on the Interweb to prepare this post, BFTF stumbled upon some other interesting related resources.

One is the The Glass Flowers Collection Harvard University which contains over 3000 painstakingly made glass models of various plants. They really are an incredible example of craftsmanship.

Wikipedia has an awesome, gorgeously illustrated, list of Botanical Codices (BFTF notes that it much much easier to look at and browse some of these illustrations at Wikipedia than at any of the Universities that are so lavishly funded with taxpayers money.)

Image Sources
Durian, Grapes, Arabic Translation

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kings of Pastry

The unremittingly outstanding BBC4 recently aired a award winning documentary entitled “Kings of Pastry” which covered the preparations of top French pastry chefs for the “Meilleurs Ouvriers de France” (MOF) competition.

Part of the Storyville series, the programme focused mainly on Jacquy Pfeiffer, a chef working in Chicago as he prepared for the three day event, which is only held once every four years.

The MOF is a test of the chefs ability to work against the clock , making a range of confections ranging from small chocolates to ornate sugar sculptures a few feet tall and weighing several kilograms.

The chefs spend years preparing for the event, thinking about the confections they will produce and honing their skills - and for several months before the event they practice their recipes and check to see whether they can work within the timeframe allowed.

The event is not a tournament with just one winner, it is a competition to see who meets the standard required - and all those who are good enough receive the right to wear the prestigious blue, white and red striped collar worn on their chefs jackets.

The programme was mesmerising from start to finish, both for the dedication of the 16 contestants and for the skill and sheer physical hard work required to achieve success.

This isn't a sugar sculpture. . .

. . . THIS is a sugar sculpture

Note : Spoiler Alert !

There was heart-stopping drama too, not least when, on day three, Philippe Rigollot was moving his beautiful sugar sculpture. As he gently placed it on the worksurface, a piece at the top of the sculpture fractured, toppled over and brought down much of the construction like shattered glass.

Understandably, Phillipe was distraught and walked out of the building. He considered quitting but then remembered some advice that he had been given “No matter what happens, see it through to the end” and returned to the kitchen to see whether he could reconstruct at least a token sculpture.

The MOF judges (all top chefs themselves), who had spent the competition looking over the contestents shoulders to see what they were doing now tried to help Phillipe regain his composure. One said “Phillipe, go for it. Your are good at making ribbons. Make one”. Another said “Phillipe, you know how to blow sugar, Do that, it will give your piece volume”.

Heartbreakingly, the judges had tears in their eyes as they made these comments, which only made it more difficult for Phillipe!

In the limited time available, Phillipe managed to prepare a sculpture that, to BFTF, looked pretty impressive.

But, given that there had been many comments from the contestants saying that any mistake would leave ones chances of achieving MOF status in tatters, it seemed pretty clear that Phillipe was now only along forth ride.

Phillipe and his sugar sculpture, just before disaster struck

At the awards ceremony, the judges making the announcement said that he wanted to give all 16 contestants MOF status, but it had not been possible to do so. He read out the list of those who had made the grade :

David Capy, Arnaud Larher, Angelo Musa, Christophe Rhedon…and….Philippe Rigollot

Wow! BFTF certainly did not see that coming ! One of the judges explained that they had been impressed with Phillipe’s perseverance and his performance on the first two days had been good enough to make up for his below standard sugar sculpture on the final day.

Truly a great piece of programming. Perhaps one day, all telly will be this good.

The programme closed by showing Jacquy Pfeiffer, now retired from MOF competition, back at his pasty school in Chicago - and by mentioning that the Philippe Rigollot later opened his own patisserie, whose rather scrumptious website can be found here.

Sugar Sculpture from Wikipedia
Screenshot from Iplayer, used as "fairuse", copyright BBC
"That's not a sugar scuplture" line stolen shamelessly from Crocodile Dundee:

Related Posts
Great Stuff on the BBC
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Communicating the risk of earthquakes

A recent article on the UoN "Making Science Public" blog discussed the issues of how scientists should communicate risk to the public - an issue that has been brought to the fore recently by the prosecution of six scientists (and a public official) in Italy for poorly communicating the risks of an earthquake in miscommunictaion of the risk of a major earthquake in L'Aquila.

Very helpfully, the article contains a link to the very comprehensive report on the issue by Nature.

It's perhaps worth outlining a few of the key points of the story:

1) In late 2008 and 2009, L'Aquila was hit by dozens of low-magnitude tremors (knows as seismic swarms), each month. Stronger shocks, around magnitude 5, occured on 30th March and 5th April.

2) L'Aquila is situated in an earthquake zone, and many of the inhabitants instincitvely leave buildings to spend the night outside when they feel tremors.

3) The concern at the time was whether these small quakes, and the 3.9 shock, were the precursor to something big.

4) Research suggests that the risk of a medium sized shock in a seismic swarm being accompanied by a major quake within 2 days to be around 2%. However, in a earthquake prone region such as the area around L'Aquila, there is always a certain level of risk of an earthquake.

5) A resident of the area, Giampaolo Guiliani, was using home made radon detectors to measure the levels of radon, which is alleged to rise significantly just before an earthquake (an idea that has not been scientifically proven). Guilianos predictions were causing public alarm.

6) Guido Bertolaso, head of Italy's Dept of Civil Protection, convened a risk commission on 31st March in L'Aquila. According to the minutes, one of the scientists said that "It is unlikely that an earthquake like the [severe] one in 1703 could occur in the short term, but the possibility cannot be totally excluded." But - and this is a key part of the prosecution - there was little discussion about risks of a severe quake to the old local buildings, or what residents should be advised to do in the event of a severe quake.

7) Shortly after the meeting, two commission members - Barberi(Head of Serious Risks Commission) and De Bernardinis(then vice-director of the Department of Civil Protection), along with town mayor Cialente and a civil-protection official department - held a press conference to discuss the findings of the commission meeting. According to the Nature article, "De Bernardinis said that the seismic situation in L'Aquila was "certainly normal" and posed "no danger", adding that "the scientific community continues to assure me that, to the contrary, it's a favourable situation because of the continuous discharge of energy"."

Importantly, there is no mention of the "Discharge" theory in the commission meeing notes, and a number of the scientists on the commission strongly disagreed with this statement.

8) The public comments - particularly that more tremors meant less danger - were reassuring for the local population and may have been a factor in some people staying at home after the 5th April shock.

9) At 3.32am on 6th April 2009, a severe magnitude 6.9 earthquake hit L'Aquila. It killed 309 people and destroyed some 20,000 buildings.

Further Comments
One interesting approach to commicating the risk of earthquakes is that taken by authorities in New Zealand who simply report the percentage risk of an earthquake and let the public make up their own mind as to what precautions they should take.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Great stuff on the BBC

Whilst the BBC is not without its problems in terms of its dramatic and news output, its factual programming world class. So much so that BFTF thinks it needs its own page to showcase some of this great stuff...

A State of Mind
Fascinating programme of the lives of two gynmansts in North Korea preparing for the annual "Mass Games" event. See here for a more detailed post on this prog.

Apr 2013 : The Genius Of Turner - Painting the Industrial Revolution
Great programme describing how some of Turners paintings covered key changes in the Industrial Revolution. See here for a more detailed post on this prog.

Mar 2013 : This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain?
Very, very sad programme about the state of Basra 10 years on from the US-led invasion of Iraq. The programme looks at the story of Geoff Dunsmore who travels to Basra to see how the city has progressed in the years since his RAF reservist son Chris lost his life there in a rocket attack on a UK military base in 2007. A full review on this program can be found here. BFTF recalls that it was a Labour Government that took the UK into that war and asked the local MP whether, if it had been the current leadership in place back in 2003, whether they would also have taken the UK into Iraq and precipitated the disaster that Basra then suffered.

Nov 2012 : Storyville : Kings of Pastry
A documentary about chefs competing in a once-every-four-years pastry competition in France. See here for full post on this programme.

Nov 2012 : Storyville : From the Sea to the Land Beyond: Britain's Coast on Film
Storyville rarely disappoints, and this was no exception. Produced using over 100 years of BFI archive footage, the programme showed how the people and industry on the UK's coastline had changed over the decades, all to a soundtrack by Brighton-based band British Sea Power. A particularly moving sections included how London Docklands has changed from being a warehouse and fishing based area, to an area of dereliciton, to a place of luxury flats for city workers.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

PCC Accountability Assembly

Nottingham Citizens (who are a broad based alliance of Nottingham based community organisations) held an event earlier this week to challenge the prospective Police Crime Commissioners to commit to specific actions aimed at addressing issues of concern to Nottingham's citizens.

Called a “PCC Accountability Assembly”, the event was attended by almost 1000 people from over 30 community groups including trade unions, faith groups, schools and universities (together representing tens of thousands of Nottinghams Citizens) who came together to challenge the candidates to commit to implementing four “Asks”, which had been debated by the Nottingham Citizens groups over a period of several weeks and voted on in a gathering of over 170 people on October 17th.

The candidates had been given the “Asks” some weeks before and had been invited to discuss them with Nottingham Citizens in the intervening period and, at the event, were given 7 minutes each to tell the assembly their response

Some of the nearly 1000 citizens at the assembly

The “Asks”

Safer Schools
Every week in Nottingham, schools receive an average of four “alerts” from Police, informing them of incidents where schoolchildren, very often girls, were approached by adults in an inappropriate way around schools and school bus routes. These incidents can cause real and long lasting trauma to the children concerned, leaving them fearful when walking to school. It was particularly sad to hear how parents who had had once of their children go through such an incident became overprotective of their other, younger, children, in an attempt to ensure that theydid not suffer something similar - or something worse.

The "Ask" was for the Prospective PCCs to commit to ensuring that there was a PCSO at least once a week on the core 6-8 bus routes used by children in Nottingham for a 12 month trial period and to help develop a Nottingham Strategy for School Children.

Sensible Stop and Search
A member of Nottingham’s Black community came to the stage, wearing a hoody, and described how fumbling for his car keys had resulted in him being stopped and searched by Police. He then removed his hoody to reveal that he was Bishop Paul Thomas. Bishop Thomas pointed out that Black people were nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites, while Asians were four times more likely. He acknowledged that stop and search was a valuable tool, saying that if he matched the description of someone who had just commit a burglary he wanted to be stopped in order to protect his neighbourhood. But like all powers, stop and search needed to be used intelligently.

Bishop Paul added that, whilst a receipt was given for stop and searches, there was no receipt given for “stop and account” incidents, and that this was an injustice.

He also described how difficult these incidents made it for him to teach youngsters to respect and co-operate with the Police, a comment which brought home just how counter productive excessive stop and search actions were.

The “Ask” was for the Prospective PCCs to commit to retaining receipts for Stop and Search, detailing the individuals age, ethnicity and the purpose of the stop - and to introduce receipts for Stop and Account. Also to make the resulting data available to the University of Nottingham and NTU so that proportionality can be reviewed.

When wearing a hoody, Bishop Paul Thomas is a candidate for Stop and Search

A Safer City Centre
A citizen living close to Forest Rec described how, soon after moving to the area some 20 years ago, his neighbours were blessed with a lovely baby girl. He happened to see this same girl, now a young adult, recently and asked how she was. She replied that she has recently been the victim of a violent attack whilst crossing the Forest Rec in daylight. The citizen pointed out that it was sad that he had been almost relieved to hear that she had not been the person who had been viciously attacked after being 20p short of her bus fare.

The Citizen went on to say that, not long after this conversation, his wife was injured in an attempted burglary on Forest Rec and that the PSCO who attended said that the Rec should be a no-go area.

A No-Go area? In central Nottingham? In daylight? In the 21st Century?

That cannot be right.

Anna Priestly, from NTU continued the theme, adding that it was unacceptable for Nottingham to be a city where it was unsafe to walk home.

The “Ask” was for the prospective PCC’s to commit to creating a contact point for the Police in the Forest Rec and encourage use of it during Friday and Saturday nights, to work with Nottingham Citizens to address other concerns relating to the night time economy and to ensure that PSCO’s working in the area have the equipment and training needed to do their jobs safely.

Helen Black, from UNISON, addressing the assembly at the start of the event.

CitySafe Cabs
The assembly heard from Mohammed Ali, a cabbie who had been violently attacked by a group of men and had his cab - ie his livelihood - severely damaged. Sajid Mohammed, from Himmah, provided some statistics as background, pointing out that in just one week, Nottingham’s cab drivers suffered 1,900 incidents of abuse, 180 incidents of vehicle damage and 166 assaults.

The “Ask” was for the prospective PCC’s to commit to £80,000 match funding to introduce CCTV into an initial 400 taxis, and a further £10,000 to a charitable partner to administer the scheme.

Lisa Davis, from the Bestwood Estate, described how the community there was suffering there because the relationship between the people and the Police had broken down. She described how, when the Police informed her that her brother had died in an accident they said that she should call the hospital before going in case there had been a communications glitch and the Police had got it wrong. She added that perhaps 95% of the residents in the area were law-abiding but the Police sometime made people feel it was the other way round.

The “Ask” was for the Police to be accessible and open to meeting when one was requested; to give access to the draft Police Crime Plan in January and meet to discuss it before it is submitted to the Crime Panel, attend the Annual Nottingham Citizens Assembly to make yourself accountable for the promises you make today; to identify a person whom complaints can be directed to and to spend a day with Nottingham Citizens in the next six months.

Dr Chandran, Mr Roberts, Mr Spencer and Mr Tipping.

The Responses

Dr Raj Chandran
Dr Chandran, who was the only one of the candidates who had not responded to Nottingham Citizens request for a meeting prior to the Assembly, said that he was supportive but that the cost of CCTV for cabs and providing appropriate kit to PSCO’s were items he could not commit to unless the auditors found a “pot of gold” that could be used to fund them. He added that he could not commit to PSCO’s on bus routes.

Tony Roberts
Mr Roberts committed to all of the “Asks”.

Malcolm Spencer
Mr Spencer committed to all of the “Asks”, wih the exception of the PSCO’s on bus routes as this was something that was not within his remit, as it was an operational decision for the Chief Constable. He added that he was supportive of this ask and would raise it in his first meeting with the Chief Constable. Regarding Stop and Search, Mr Spencer pointed out that a similar scheme in Leicester had resulted in a 50% reduction in BME Stop and Search.

Paddy Tipping
Mr Tipping committed to all of the “Asks”, although he also made the proviso that the PSCO’s on bus routes was an operational decision for the Chief Constable.

Some Final Comments
It is perhaps worth ending this post with two comments. The first is from Dean, a member of Nottingham’s Black community, who recalled being shot in the chest as an innocent victim of gun crime and finding that he was prevented from reaching the ambulance that came to his aid because the Police insisted on questioning him first. Dean commented that “experiences like that make moments like this worth every single second”.

And the second is a comment from Jesse Boot, who said that “Common hopes, common sympathies and common humanity bind us together; and whatever fosters this happy union is valuable”

For more information on Nottingham Citizens, contact :

Related Posts
Nottingham Hope and Homelessness Commission Report
Citizens UK and Himmah

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Muslim Merchant Seamen in WW2

Remembrance Sunday is perhaps a good time to mention the very significant contribution that Muslim sailors made to the British war effort in WW2.

A contribution that particularly needs to be told given the current fashion for anti-Muslim media stories.

If we look at just the ships sunk by U-boats in WW2, we see that over 3,300 Indian crewmembers died in these attacks, of which the overwhelming majority were Muslim. This compares to the 34,000 British Merchant Seamen who lost their lives to U-boat attacks.

For example, on 20th September 1941, the Cingalese Prince sunk by U-111 in the mid-Atlantic. Of the 77 crew, 57 died, around of these being Muslims - people like Ahmed Shah(43, greaser), Matab Bin Salam(39, quartermaster) or young Ab Manuf Ab Hamid, aged just 19.

While on 9 Jul, 1941, the Designer was torpedoed by U-98 and sank in just 6 minutes,near the Azores. In this case the crew comprised some 78 people, but 67 of these lost their lives in the attack, (the majority of those dying being Indian Muslims). Fortunately the survivors were picked up the next day. One wonders about the stories of people like Abbas Ali (25, Trimmer) or Ishaq Mian(43, Fireman)

The passenger ship City of Cairo, was sailing in the South Atlantic on 1st Nov 1942 when it was hit by a topedo from U-68. The ship was abandoned and only 6 of the 311 on board were lost during the evacuation. However, they were 1000 miles from the mainland. Estimating that they could reach the Island St Helena in 2-3 weeks they rationed their water to 110ml per day and and made their way towards the Island. During the trip, many boats were lost, while others were picked up by passing ships. Only a handful of people made it to landfall. 40% of those who died were Muslim, including seamen Sultan Baker (39) and Abdul Karim (20)

A Merchant Ship is sunk in a U-boat atack

2 Nov, 1943, was the last day afloat for the Baron Semple, as she was sunk by U-848 northwest of Ascension Island. The whole crew of 62 was lost, with nearly half being Muslim, including seamen Shams-ul-Haq (33) and Bashir Ali(27)

One of the most tragic incidents was that of the sinking of the City of Benares on 18th Sep 1940 by U-48 as she was sailing from the UK to Canada. It was tragic because the ship was carrying 90 evacuated children, of whom some 77 lost their lives. So amongst the casualty list, which includes the names of some 72 Muslim crew, such as fireman Abdullah Ibrahim and seaman Sheik Husein, there are also the hearbreaking names of the children, such as Alan John Capel (5) and Beryl Irene Carr (8)

BFTF could go on and on, describing how many Muslim crewmembers gave their lives during attacks on ships such as the Nurmahal, the Aymeric or Cap Padaram - but you can probably get the picture by now.

BFTF wonders what other little known roles British Indian Muslims played during WW2. . . . the water

Friday, 9 November 2012

2012 BNP Flyer

BFTF was disturbed to find that the BNP was distributing flyers in Luton that appeared to have come straight out of 1930s Germany (and BFTF does not use that analogy lightly) - with the exception that instead of hate cariacatures of Jews, it was Muslims that the BNP were now choosing to portray as the evil menace in our midst.

BFTF wonders whether this is part of the fun of political debate and that the Muslim community should just grin and bear it, or whether this qualifies as an inciteful document and should not be allowed.

So BFTF has asked the local council and MP what (if anything) would happen if the BNP started distributing flyers like this in Nottingham.

BNP Flyer distributed in Luton in October 2012

Update : 11 Dec 12
The sympathetic Council response included the following advice should such a leaflet be distributed in Nottingham:

"...citizens, mosques and groups can individually report this as racial or religious harassment or hate crime - our community officers would support them to report it to the Police and Stop Hate UK...."
The Council also suggeested the person to ask how the Police would react to such a leaflet was the Police and Crime Commissioner, so BFTF did .

Update : 13 Dec 12
The Office of the PCC forwarded BFTF's question to the Office of the Chief Constable, as it related to an operational matter. They responded with remarkable speed, sending a pdf letter which stated that distribution of leaflets similar to that shown above would very likely fall under the offence of "distribute written material to stir up racial hatred" which is contrary to sections 19(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986.

The letter added that if BFTF (or presuambly anyone else) became aware of leaflets similar to that above being distributed they should report the matter to their local Police station immediately.

Update : 13 Dec 12
Also received a reassuring response from the local (Labour) MP stating that:
"The BNP leaflet you forwarded from Bedfordshire was truly shocking and clearly intended to undermine community relations...After the failed prosecution of Nick Griffin in 2006 the then Labour Government passed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act to strengthen existing provisions against incitement, making it a specific offence to incite religious hatred...I certainly don't believe that the Muslim community, or people from any community, should view this disgraceful and divisive literature as a normal part of the political process."
Related Posts
Muslims and the Holocaust Memorial Day
Positive Muslim Stories
Muslims working to strengthen civil society

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Broxtowe Save The NHS - Public Meeting

The newly formed “Broxtowe - Save Our NHS” group had a public meeting recently regarding the effects of the 2012 Health and Social Care Bill, which many believe will result in a two tier heath service, based on ability to pay and will see much the NHS fall into private ownership.

BFTF has a deep affection for the NHS and regards it as one of the UK’s crown jewels, so attended the meeting to see what was said.

There were three main speakers, and some of their points are outlined below.

Nick Palmer (former Labour MP for Broxtowe)
Nick began his talk by pointing out that when Labour entered office in 1997 the average waiting time for a hip replacement was 2yrs, and that patients were routinely told that they could instead have the same operation, by the same surgeon (!!!) privately within 2 months.

During Labours time in office, waiting times dropped dramatically. And the result of this was that fewer patients went private and the private healthcare companies lost a lot of business.

Nick went on to describe the three types of privatisation that he felt were now underway.

Privatisation of Provision - the fees that the government pays for each specific medical provision (from a hip operation to open heart surgery) are loaded in favour of the easier procedures that private companies prefer to undertake. In contrast, the fees for complex surgery do not cover costs. Traditionally, NHS hospitals could use the surplus from the easy operations to cover the losses in the complex ones - but with the easy operations being stripped out and handed to private companies this will no longer be possible. And as a result, NHS trusts will find themselves at much greater risk of going bust.

Privatisation of Patients - the amount of private work the NHS is allowed to perform was increased in theSocial Care Bill from the previous limit of around 5% to 49%. Supporters of the Bill claim that this money will go straight back into the NHS but Nick was concerned that NHS managers- under intense financial pressure - would use the money not for general care but to build more money-making private facilities - sending us back to the situation that existed in 1997.

Privatisation of Preventative Care - Unbelievably, the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) do not have any responsibility for preventative health care, so this is being landed on councils, who do not have the funding or the expertise to undertake this work. To call this shortsighted seems something of an understatement. Nick pointed out that the Nye Bevin, the architect of the NHS, said at its inception that it was about prevention as well as cure.

So what is to be done? Nick felt that it was not necessarily wise to simply dismantle the whole Bill, should Labour be elected at the next election, and that there were two specific areas that, if addressed, would alleviate most of the damage that the Bill was doing. Firstly, that the financial pressure on hospital managers should stop and secondly the existing NHS provision should be given priority in any tendering competition.

Dr Arun Chopra (Consultant Psychiatrist at QMC)
Dr Chopra began by pointing out that the public’s satisfaction with the NHS was at an all-time high at the time of the 2010 election, and has already dropped since then. (Incidentally, you can download the data here, and BFTF has plotted the relevant chart below)
Public Satisfaction with the NHS

He continued by saying that doctors were being asked to make some £20billion of savings, an unprecedented amount, in the midst of a huge re-organisation of the NHS and that this was causing doctors to take their eyes off the ball in terms of their clinical roles. Morale was also being affected by concern about job losses and the impact of pay freezes (effectively pay cuts due to the effects of inflation)

Dr Chopra expressed anger at seeing senior Conservative politicians saying that there services were being protected , saying “that’s absolute crap - it’s a lie”.

The doctor said that some of the objectives that Landsley stated for the Bill (such as clinicians input into service provision) were things that doctors were happy to do for free - it did not need legisalation. What needed legislation were the elements of the Bill that enabled privatisation.

Dr Chopra felt that this profit motive was having adverse effects for the NHS, saying that GP practices run by private companies sometimes had only one permanent doctor, with the rest being made up of locums. This saved money but provided a poorer quality of service for the patient. Another example given was that of the report into Winterbourne View Hospital, were patients were ill treated, with Dr Chopra stating that the investigation into the abuse there identified the profit motive as being a factor (BFTF has found a link to the report (see here) and it states that “Castlebeck Ltd appears to have made decisions about profitability, including shareholder returns, over and above decisions about the effective and humane delivery of assessment, treatment andrehabilitation “)

Dr Chopra also said that suicides were increasing, partly due to the recession, partly due to cuts in services and partly due to the effect of ATOS, who are reviewing the cases of everyone who receives disability benefit.

He also raised the issue of training, pointing out that private companies would not have any incentive to train our next generation of doctors, leaving this job (and its associated costs) with the NHS - further reducing the NHS’s ability to compete for contracts. In addition, if the easy medical care is siphoned off by private companies, the NHS will no longer be able to train future doctors using these routine cases.

Dr Chopra pointed out that Labour did not get it all right, admitting that the PFI programme was now a millstone around the necks of NHS Trusts.

And he closed out by saying that his perception was that people did not want lots of “choice”, they wanted to know that they would receive good quality care in a timely fashion. Adding that he hoped that the next time the UK hosted the Olympic Games, the opening ceremony would also feature the NHS logo prominently.

And finally, reminded the audience of the Conservatives pre-election promise to “cut the deficit, not the NHS”

Sharon Vasselin (Unison Notts Healthcare)
Sharon reviewed much of the history of the NHS Health and Social Care Bill, listing a number of useful resources and reports. Unfortunately, she rattled through her talk so fast that BFTF had no chance of accurately writing anything down. My bad, but I’m only human.

Question and Answer Session
Perhaps worth noting a few points from the Q&A Session:

ATOS won a contract for performing “Benefit Tests” and then promptly subcontracted the work back to the Lanarkshire NHS - presumably after taking a profit.

Nick Palmer pointed out that his (Conservative) opponent at the last election had been much better funded than he had and that the private funding of political parties was “a cancer in out system”

One or two of the questions came from people who described the problems they had faced in accessing mental health care, and Dr Chopra commented that it was good to hear people talking about mental health in the same way they did about physical ailments. Dr Chopra also cautioned against accepting the Conservative view that the NHS was overfunded, pointing out that it was only after several years of Labour funding increases that the amount the UK spent on health care matched that of our European neighbours - around 9.6% of GDP

Dr Chopra also suggested that making Health and Wellbeing boards more powerful would allow then to champion the interests of the patient more effectively.

Nick Palmer wondered why ATOS appeals took so long (about a year) and pointed out that this was a hugely stressful burden on the people concerned - people who, by definition, are not in the best of health.

The deadline (apparently) for amending CCG constitutions, for example as suggested by 38degrees, is April 2013 (see here for more info about this - its important!)

What the British Public thinhs the Government should be spending money on

A Few Personal Comments
Whilst BFTF cares deeply about the NHS, this is not from any particular political point of view. Indeed, the last election left BFTF with the choice of the Conservative Party, who increasingly seemed to favour dog-eat-dog social policies and Labour, who had spent a great many years forcing the NHS to take disastrous PFI contracts whilst adopting a foreign policy that appeared to be largely about helping the US bomb brown people. Some choice!

And issues such as Trident and PFI seemed to be off every party's radar at election time.

So, BFTF was not particularly keen on hearing the chair state that he had "a seething hatred for the conservative party", nor on members of the public being addressed as "comrade" (Mr Chairman, you can be sure that BFTF isn't your comrade, sunshine) because this kind of, frankly, tribalism, isn't good for democracy and is exactly what puts ordinary people off engaging in the political process in the first place.

Dear Politicians, for goodness sake, there must be many things that Labour and the Conservatives agree on - why don't you ever talk about those? Why is is always about conflict and disagreement?

Q&A with Dawn Smith from Notts CCG
A public meeting organised by 38 Degrees at the Mechanics Institute, 3 North Sherwood Street, Noots NG1 4EZ on Mon 26th Nov at 7.30pm

Other Links
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe Conservative MP) response to Nottingham Save the NHS Campaign
Anna Soubry NHS "Mythbusters"
Kings Fund NHS Reform "Mythbusters"
Interview with Prof Ian Shaw (Health Policy Prof at UoN)
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill
Post on the NHS Bill

Lastly, in the spirit of being fair and giving everyone a chance to state their view, BFTF asked the Nottingham Conservatives what they thought of this article and whether there were any counter points they wished to raise.