YP Comments: Prisons - Cameron must grasp reform opportunity

DAVID CAMERON clearly does not intend to be blown off course by the EU referendum '“ the Queen's Speech, and a subtle shift in emphasis from the economy back to social welfare, points to a Prime Minister with unfinished business.

If the Queen's Speech delivers prison reform, it will be considered a success.

Time will tell whether he delivers this agenda. His party may not allow him if Britain votes to leave the EU on June 23 – and then there is this Government’s propensity for u-turns. Where possible, Ministers should reach a consensus before tabling legislation.

There also needs to be greater consistency in the delivery of all policy. Take, by way of example, the prison reforms which will look to equip criminals with the qualifications and skills that will enable them to obtain work on their release back into society. A noble objective, it was first advocated by Ken Clarke when the Tory grandee was made Justice Secretary in 2010. It was then jettisoned by his successor Chris Grayling – the Government favoured a more draconian approach prior to last year’s election – before this stance was reversed by Michael Gove. A divisive Education Secretary, he appears more enlightened than most on the importance of rehabilitation in order to break the, frankly, criminal cycle of reoffending which has been allowed to become so endemic.

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Many of the current difficulties stem from the 1990s when Labour and the Tories tried to outflank each other on law and order, hence Tony Blair’s desire “to be tough on crime” and its causes. Prison must be a punishment – that goes without saying and there will be those offenders whose crimes are so serious that they deserve to spend decades behind bars – but it’s also a chance for criminals to show remorse, learn from their errant ways, seek help for addictions and learn skills so there’s no excuse for them to return to their lawbreaking ways once freed from custody. It’s up to Mr Gove to demonstrate that this approach can work in practice – provided he’s given the time to do so.

Sheffield’s future: Sajid Javid’s credit rating

ON the plus side, Business Secretary Sajid Javid deserves credit for acknowledging the “cynicism” surrounding the Northern Powerhouse as he prepares to address tonight’s Sheffield’s Cutlers’ Feast – an annual celebration of manufacturing. Too many senior Ministers remain in denial about the scepticism that became self-evident last summer when the Government “paused” pre-election promises on rail improvements.

On the debit side of this political balance sheet, however, is Mr Javid’s decision not to use this opportunity to meet local political leaders who oppose controversial proposals to shut the Sheffield regional office of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and transfer the jobs to London. Though the Minister will say he can’t pre-judge the consultation and imminent final decision, the resurgence of the North will be best achieved by national and regional politicians working in tandem.

The Minister, who remains at the centre of the steel crisis, needs to realise that this cost-cutting proposal appears to totally contradict, and undermine, the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Many also contend, with justification, that Mr Javid and his officials have not considered possible alternatives. This is regrettable. Rather than moving staff to London for more watercooler conversations, the reverse should be happening if this is to be the “One Nation” government promised to voters 12 months ago.

Heat is on cold callers

GIVEN the distress and misery that cold callers have caused to the elderly and other vulnerable members of society, the fact the traders will now have to display their telephone numbers will offer some reassurance and make it easier for them to be traced if dubious practices are used to mis-sell products to the unsuspecting – or those without the mental agility to question a sales pitch.

After all, the telephone is a lifeline to the elderly and lonely. They should not be afraid of answering the phone for fear of being plagued by salesmen. If they asked not to be contacted again, then this wish must be upheld.

However three other points need to be considered. First, not all OAPs have the telephone technology to identify nuisance callers. Second the full force of law needs to be used against those firms caught breaching these rules and, finally, the Government should identift and investigate those organisations who still sell personal information, like the details of the recently bereaved, for profit.

Is the country so hard up that such details cannot remain private at a time of unspeakable grief?