Tom Richmond: Justice is still in short supply despite promises

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TONY BLAIR could not have been clearer when he began to win over voters two decades ago – victims had to be placed “at the heart of the criminal justice agenda”.

Ten years later, his 2004-08 Strategic Plan for Criminal Justice reiterated the sentiment. “A failure of political will,” wrote Mr Blair, meant “crime and criminality had got ahead of the capacity of the system to defend the overwhelming majority of decent, law-abiding citizens”.

Yet, despite these promises, justice still appears to be in short of supply for victims despite David Cameron saying as recently as 2012 that he will take the necessary action so “victims’ voices are heard not just in court but right at the heart of government”. If only.

In response to a question about charities such as Barnardo’s reporting unprecedented demand following a number of high-profile abuse scandals, not least those relating to the shamed Jimmy Savile and also Rotherham, Home Secretary Theresa May said an extra £7m would be made available – but that organisations would have to make bids. Convinced? I’m not. There is no guarantee of additional money if, as I suspect, this sum proves to be inadequate.

It does not end here. When Mrs May imposed police and crime commissioners on the country, she did not make clear that the Home Office would pass responsibility for the funding of Victim Support’s work to these locally-elected tsars.

How typical that this was not made clear at the time. The consequence is the prevailing uncertainty in Yorkshire because the county’s four crime commissioners have not been able to reach an agreement on their priorities, and the way forward.

Yet, while I can see the merit for services being tailor-made for local communities, this smacks of a sleight of hand and that politicians are, once again, playing fast and lose with the needs of victims.

This is not good enough. If public confidence is to be restored following a succession of scandals which have been exacerbated by the political establishment’s failure, whether it be at Westminster, Rotherham or elsewhere, to treat sex abuse victims with respect, Ministers are going to have to raise their game.

This is too important to be left to the tokenism which has characterised past election campaigns, and which is already symptomatic of the 2015 poll. They have been warned.

I’M afraid MPs complaining about their workload are undeserving of any sympathy when you look at Monday’s business in the House of Commons.

Proceedings began at 2.30pm with Home Office questions which were followed by an emergency statement on the HSBC tax scandal. The session ended at 5.46pm after a debate on peanut allergies.

If you’ll excuse the phrase, it’s nuts – and it is disappointing that Commons leader William Hague, supposedly one of the country’s foremost Parliamentarians and the Minister responsible for setting the schedule, has allowed this to happen.

Why could he not have sanctioned a full debate on corporate tax – both George Osborne and the Chancellor’s opposite number Ed Balls do have serious questions to answer about HSBC’s governance and the appointment of the then boss Lord Green as a Tory Trade Minister – or on Britain’s foreign policy, given the scale of the Ukraine crisis and concerns about this country’s very limited role in the struggle against Islamic State terrorists?

I can only assume that Mr Hague had been tasked with clearing the decks so every Minister could attend that evening’s election fundraising ball for the Conservative coffers which was staged at London’s exclusive Grosvenor House Hotel. Shame on him.

AS the General Election draws ever nearer, the Tories appear increasingly over-reliant on David Cameron and George Osborne – other Ministers do not appear to be sufficiently trusted by the party’s hierarchy.

Yet this is short-sighted. Both Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former leader Iain Duncan Smith, the quietly effective Work and Pensions Secretary, have made contributions in the past week that the Conservatives should have done more to highlight.

On the NHS, Hunt revealed that he begins each day by writing letters to NHS patients before adding: “It’s not about public versus private. It’s about good care versus poor care.”

Why are the Tories unable to get this message across to neuter Labour’s Andy Burnham who was Health Secretary at the time of the Mid Staffs scandal, and who continues to wash his hands of one of the most appalling episodes in the history of the NHS?

And then Mr Duncan Smith explained how his reforms will have saved £50bn – yes £50bn – in this Parliament because the welfare system is being measured on its ability to get people into work rather the amount paid out in benefits.

It is another key Tory message which appears to have become lost in translation.

AN early contender for the most unoriginal and sycophantic question of the year goes to Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney who asked David Cameron at PMQs: “Tomorrow I am meeting local manufacturers at the award-winning Huddersfield University. Can I tell them that the Prime Minister will continue to put Yorkshire at the heart of his long-term economic plan?”

He was hardly going to say no, was he?

The record-breaking AP McCoy made a profound point when he rode at Catterick – 48 hours after announcing his forthcoming retirement. Champion jockey for 20 successive years, he said it was preferable that racing fans spoke about why he was retiring rather than ‘when’. No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson observed to this correspondent: “Only people who have had to live with great expectations can understand why they should go out at the top.” He is right. Not only has McCoy won more than 4,300 races in one of the toughest pursuits of all, but he deserves to hang up his saddle as one of the all-time greats of world sport.

THANK you to the Yorkshire governors chairman for writing to endorse last week’s suggestion that there should be closer collaboration between secondary schools, and their feeder schools, if the Government is serious about raising standards.

He noted: “We federated with a failing feeder primary and very quickly got it to good, but the wonderful thing has been all the other advantages pupils have gained from seamless progression. It is the way forward financially and for the good of the students.” Another lesson for politicians of all persuasions to acknowledge as they promise the onset of ‘super-heads’ to transform education policy.