Keeping Britain Tidy

So, yer National Staff Dismissal Registry. Several people have asked me to comment on this horrible intersection of Blairite justice-style product and the good old Economic League, and they won’t be surprised that I’m against it. For all the usual reasons – you don’t actually need to do anything wrong to be on it, and there is no effective limit on who gets the information, and no way of getting off it again.

But the curious thing is how it fits into a very specific set of Government policies and ways of seeing. I started making inquiries about it, thinking that some of the old Economic League/Caprim folks might be involved. I haven’t found any yet, but the people I did find were interesting. It kicks off with something called the “Alliance Against Business Crime”, a Home Office-sponsored talking shop for large retailers (basically). It actually runs the NSDR, and until this year it received Home Office funding.

Here’s the board of directors. Note that its independent existence doesn’t even run to a Web site – it’s part of the British Retail Consortium’s facilities. The board is a lineup of interest group representatives, cops…and who’s this? Richard Barron, Director, Encams. Encams? That has a good, sinister sound to it. Right? In fact, Encams is what used to be called Keep Britain Tidy, and Barron is indeed its Director of Community Safety and Town Centres. What does this mean in practice?

Well, it looks like he and his organisation have become part of the general government-inspired push for greater private control of public space. He shares the board with one Dr. Julie Grail, chief executive of “British BIDs”. BID here means Business Improvement District, a government scheme under which private companies essentially get to take over the management of a chunk of a city. It’s been much protested about, and it’s probably worth mentioning that such police/business hybrid entities often run CCTV deployments. The AABC appears to link these with Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, which are yet another Home Office-driven security privatisation exercise. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s Hazel Blears’ fault.

Unsurprisingly, its head for the North-West is a casino security manager. Me, I find the very words give me the cold dreads. Barron, it turns out, actually went from the AABC to Keep Britain Tidy; note that this AABC newsletter encourages members to lobby the government for heavier sentencing and more toughosity in general. There you have it – the Home Office actually paying people to tell it how scared of crime they are. It’s a kind of inverted Stafford Beer process – a recursive feedback loop with the bullshit output coupled to the input.

Here we have Barron speaking at a conference for the private security industry:

The patrollers, largely young, many women, visit premises, note problems, and are in radio contact with PCSOs – as in Lincoln, four are paid for by the BID – and police. There’s a dedicated town centre police team. Bedfordshire Police entered into a baseline agreement as to where and when the team will work. As a result police in the town centre have moved from being an ‘arrest squad’ to a ‘prevention squad’. The BID runs a retail radio link and equivalent Nightnet scheme, and runs a photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies. Reported crime and stock loss have fallen.

Richard Barron, previously a regional manager for AABC, is now community safety and town centres director with charity Encams, the former Keep Britain Tidy. He too stressed the government’s cleaner-greener-safer agenda.

Note the bit about the police actually handing part of their role over, as well as the delightfully Orwellian “photo-exclusion scheme for the day and night-time economies” (I think it means people in uniforms ostentatiously photographing and following persons suspected of being poor). They are literally rolling back the frontiers of the state. Further down, you’ll notice him encouraging the distribution of more fixed-penalty tickets (thus increasing the reported crime figures).

We used to imagine the totalitarian enemy as being insanely, unnaturally orderly – Prussians heel-clicking around general staff situation conferences, Soviet officials poring over their input-output tables. Whatever short-term advantage this machine society gave them, we thought, it could never overcome the smelly creativity of our democracy. But now, keeping Britain tidy extends to a state-sponsored labour blacklisting exercise, which seems to be conceived of as a subsidy to commercial property developers. What does it say about us when a campaign against litter is part of a scheme like this?

Further, what does it say about Dan Norris MP, that he was directly involved in killing off the Economic League, but voted for ID cards?

  1. The “photo-exclusion” thing is probably a bit less sinister than you say – think mugshots behind the counter (or bar) for staff to check when Known Undesirables roll up. I’ve spoken to someone who’s used one of these systems (I think they’re pretty common in pubs these days) and as I understand it they don’t include names, possibly for legal reasons. Presumably actually saying “John Smith is a troublemaker” would be vulnerable to legal challenge, but “keep a look out for this pattern of visual stimuli” isn’t.

    Not sure about the fixed penalty notices affecting the reported crime rate, either; I suspect they’re recorded separately. FPNs and penalty notices for disorder are weird in the extreme – it’s not a fine, it’s a fee to avert prosecution (which 90+% of people pay, on the well-founded assumption that they wouldn’t stand a chance in a magistrate’s court). Pay the nice man and you’re in the clear, not a stain on your character.

  2. Peter Jackson

    I remember my Dad (managing director of an engineering firm in Manchester) getting the old Economic League booklets in the 70s – A5, in a nice red cover if I remember right – listing people he should watch out for. I also remember him telling me that the Engineering Employers’ Federation (or at least a bit of it) was pushing him to take action against people in his factory based on the info.

    He swore quite a lot and binned it, although the EEF didn’t invite him to its lunches any more.

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