Last night (Weds 7th Feb), our local MP for Hendon Constituency, Matthew Offord hosted a meeting to discuss the issues of crime in Mill Hill. Local residents received a letter (see left) inviting them to attend. The Barnet Eye attended as a Mill Hill resident and also as a blogger. I have decided to write two blogs on the subject. Part 1 is my account of the evening. Part 2 (this blog) is my critique of what happened.
I deliberately split this blog into two parts. If anyone wants to share a factual account of the evening, they can share part 1. I wrote as fair and balanced a blog as I could and I doubt anyone could disagree that it is a fairly unbiased view of events. Part two is my view of what was wrong with the event Mr Offord organised.
I suggest that before reading this you read part one of the series. I don't want to repeat it here. My issues with the meeting were as follows.
1. The format. One of the things I do is I mentor young people. I show them how to speak effectively at public meetings and how to get the most out of presentations. The first thing that you should do when planning a meeting is to work out what exactly you are trying to achieve. Mr Offord got 200 residents into Hartley Hall. He had senior members of the local police on the panel. I assume that the purpose was to give people reassurance that our police and politicians understand the seriousness of the situation and have the matters in hand. When hosting a public meeting, the first thing you must do is establish who the panel are, why they are here and what their contribution will be.
I would have expected Mr Offord to start by introducing himself, saying what he could and couldn't do as an MP and then ask each member of the panel to introduce themselves, say what their role in the community was and say what they intended to contribute to the meeting. That way everyone would know who they were and what they were doing. There was one chap in plain clothes and it only became clear halfway through the meeting that he was a detective. I would havce expected Mr Offord to have briefed the Police, asked them to produce a Powerpoint preparation on local crime and initiatives to deal with it.
PC Lisa from the Safer Neighbourhood team spoke about an app that allows you to see where officers have walked the beat. I would have expected a demonstration of such things. Many people in the audience stated they never saw police. If I was seeking to reassure the community, that would have been one of the first things I'd have considered. A few stats and facts and figures on a screen would have set the context.
It was clear from the start, that Mr Offord hadn't briefed Commander Rose on what he expected him to do. He seemed taken aback that he was being asked to give a presentation. He struggled. I have sympathy. Three years ago, I flew to Pune in India to review a technical IT project I was working on. The chap leading the team had a panic attack just before he was due to speak and fled the room. I had to give a presentation that I was unprepared for. I had simply expected to answer a few questions. In my case, I accepted that my colleague was jetlagged and had a stomach upset. Being cornered as Commander Rose was last night was shocking. As I mentioned in the first blog, he had appeared at a meeting in December hosted by Richard Cornelius (Barnet Council Leader). He had simply been asked to comment on a few residents suggestions. I assume he was expecting the same. It seemed to me as if Offord and the Commander had only met and spoken five minutes before the meeting. If I was Offord, I would have ensured that everyone was singing from the same songsheet, given the difficult situation with crime in Mill Hill.
The Q&A session was also badly chaired by Offord. Serious questions were not answered. This was partly because he'd take three or four questions and then ask the police for a response. By the time the police had answered, the audience were not sure which question was being answered.
I was also surprised that Offord didn't involve local schemes such as neighbourhood watch etc in the evening, to show that there are established schemes we can join and explain how they operate.
2. The Panel. Mr Offord stated at the start that this was a non political meeting and that it was purely about local policing. He rather destroyed this pretence before he started byu ejecting a local Green party activist. If the meeting was truly set up to address local crime, he'd have had all of the relevant stakeholders. This was not the case. There are four main stakeholders. The Police who do the work (represented by three officers). Parliament who set the national budgets and make laws (represented by Mr Offord). The Mayor of London/GLA who manage the Metropolitan Police and the Local Council, who manage the local CCTV and set local bylaws etc. It is a matter of record that Mr Offord does not get on with our local GLA rep, Labours Andrew Dismore. However as Dismore gets paid to make sure the Met run properly, he should have been there to account for himself. I am also rather mystified why no one from Barnet Council stood up and explained how the Council CCTV was used and how the council work with the Police to deal with anti social behaviour. There have been major issues with the CCTV usage in the Broadway and it's use combatting vandalism and anti social behaviour. Whilst Offord stated that the meeting was non political, but by not having council representation when CCTV budgets are being cut, Offord was very much playing smoke and mirrors.
3. The Message. Mr Offord should have had a message he wanted to get across. That message should have been that all of the stakeholders are working together to make the situation improve. The Borough Commander did not help by stating that everything was better on the burglary front than it was five years ago. Whilst this may well be true in terms of stats, it does not give the perception that the issue is being addressed. I presume the Met have a burglary team and it would be good to hear what they are doing in regards to Barnet. If they are doing nothing, then Mr Offord needs to get on top of it. That should have been sorted out before the meeting. The Evening Standard recently produced an article saying Mill Hill was in the top five London Burglary hot spots. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that people would be keen to discuss.
One resident mentioned that someone was trying to break down his front door with a sledgehammer. He asked whether the Police could deal with it. I was amazed that the Borough commander didn't say "If this happens, dial 999 and we'll have someone on your doorstep in X minutes". If the gentlemen dialled 999 and that didn't happen, the Borough commander should have said "Give me the details and I will find out what went wrong". The police must know how long it takes to get a response in Mill Hill. The commander mentioned that on any given night there are a maximum of 28 officers in the Borough. He didn't say how many crimes they had to deal with. My guess is that there is more crime on a Saturday night than a Monday night. Are such things catered for? We got no reassurrance. If the Borough commander had said "On an average night, the 28 officers attend to X number of incidents. Generally we have enough officers" then that would have placated the audience to some extent.
4. Non Political meeting. This was a myth, how can something as basic as a lack of police officers be addressed in a non political way. Offord used the meeting to get countless digs in at the Mayor, who runs the Met Police. Mr Offord either believes that the Mayor has enough cash to run the police and can back that up with stats, or he thinks that the Met is underfunded and as an MP should be going back to the Prime Minister and saying "London needs more cash". Simply to say "we can't discuss budgets at this meeting" was ridiculous. He should have said "What message do you want me to take back to the Prime Minister in light of these events? Mr Offords Tory predecessor, the Late Sir John Gorst, attended a similarly charged meeting in Burnt Oak when Edgware General was being closed by a Conservative Government. Gorst stood up and said "I represent you. I know that you do not want to see this hospital closed and I will vote against the Government if they try and close it". He was true to his word. If you are going to be an effective MP, you have to represent the people who elect you.
5. What can be done. I made one of the few positive suggestions. I raised the possibility of a scheme similar to Watford Business Against Crime Partnership. I got a warm round of applause. Mr Offord replied that he was "seeing local business owners next week". That rather missed the point. He should have a look at some schemes and then see the traders. A very hot topic was the one of private security forces. I was surprised that no one mentioned that we already have several local security forces. We see them outside the local Shul and outside local Jewish Schools. As far as I am aware, these schemes work well. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there. Another resident I spoke to after said he was surprised that no reference was made to recruiting special constables. These are volunteer police officers. I think this would be an excellent idea. I was rather surprised that they didn't have a member of the Neighbour watch scheme handing out info and . This is such an obvious way we can all make a contribution. I also wonder whether there may be a way that volunteer members of the public could accompany Police officers on patrols. Give people a high visability jacket with "security" on the back. The officers could then swap knowledge with members of the community and build relationships. If I am elected as a councillor in May, I will commit to regularly joining local Police patrols. I will also work with traders etc to address issues.
6. The aftermath. When the meeting finished, I spent 20 mins chatting with residents, then joined some for a beer in the Services club, which is around the corner. Many said that they had been terrified hearing what has been going on. Many said they'd wished they'd not attended as they felt quite perturbed. I have no idea what Mr Offord intended, but the net result was that they now feel unsafe in their own homes. In the services club, once residents had had a couple of tongue looseners, I heard some very disturbing things. It all comes down to Leadership. Mr Offord had set up the meeting as the leader of our local community. He had 200 people turn up who were concerned enough to give up an evening. By the end of the evening a goodly proportion had been made to feel unsafe. That is not what I call leadership. His treatment of Ben Samuel was petty and spiteful. I expect better. His failure to involve Andrew Dismore showed that he is not secure in his grasp of the issues. As to not involving the Council and local schemes such as neighbourhood watch, that is just plain incompetence (or if it is to spare the blushes about the CCTV cuts it is scandalous).
I feel quite despondent about the whole situation. We've lost a valued member of our community. We heard of residents being terrorised. We saw an ill prepared meeting and a very poorly run Q&A. We have people on Facebook talking about setting up a quasi private police force for Mill Hill. Is this really what Mill Hill has become in 2018? Mr Offord has been our MP for nearly eight years. What has he achieved?