Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Power of the Media

Because my wife and I have just appeared in Cheshire Life for our efforts at fostering, we have been complimented by those that read middle class magazines for our efforts. We appeared in Cheshire Life because my foster daughter put my wife forward to receive "Parent of the Year", and well deserved it was too.

It now appears that we are the only deserving foster parents in Cheshire, when quite the reverse is true. Yes it is arduous, difficult, emotionally demanding, and stressful, but there are thousands of others who work harder than we do, have more children than we do, but unfortunately do not have a foster daughter who had the foresight to put my wife Jan forward for a trophy.

The message we wanted to get across was that there is a dire need of foster parents. If you have a heart, have a go. You don't know how rewarding it can be until you try. Countrywide we need 10,000 more foster parents.

Sadly the government are cutting back so hard, who knows how much support we will continue to get. Undoubtedly things are a lot better than they used to be. Training in Cheshire is 100% better than some areas. We are in an affluent part of the country. Life must be much tougher in the inner cities where Councils are poorer, and need is greater.

So what am I saying? You don't know how much you will get out of fostering until you give it a try. We are much in need of the extended Family Type to replace the welfare state, but last time I looked they were knocking down Chimney Tops Housing Estates where Grandma used to be in charge of everything. Now we put her in a home to fester, cared for by well meaning underpaid professionals.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Let's clamp down on those awful "No Win No Fee Lawyers"

During the budget speech yesterday, an ill informed government once again has attacked the only measure in our legal system which allows anybody access to justice - the no win no fee agreement. Who does it harm? Those who have to pay for their own mistakes of course. And who is that? Fat Wallet insurance companies of course. Does it harm the man on the street? Of course not. Who is it that has brought about these attacks - the well organised insurance company lobby of course.

So why is it that the government are in the pocket of large companies, insurance companies who are listed on the stock market, and doctors who make mistakes leading to sometimes death or permanent disablement? Beats me. 

It all started with Mr Gordon Brown a few years ago. Allegedly he was a devotee of Stalin when at university. What did Stalin believe in? Give the common man lots of rights, but no lawyers to allow those rights to be enforced. Lock more and more people up, and be very very tough on crime. What did Labour do whilst they were in power? They put so many people in prison that more and more prisons had to be built. Why? Because the public love a good hanging. We didn't quite get to the stage of old ladies knitting at the gallows, but there again Labour lost the last election didn't they?

So why don't Conservatives, or more accurately David Cameron like lawyers. Simple really. They are smarter than the government, and challenge silly decisions that bureaucrats and politicians make by bringing judicial review proceedings. That's not good is it? Politicians like enough power to do just enough to make sure they are popular with their voters. Lawyers are an easy target. It is a good thing for businessmen like Phillip Green to make money because he is an employer of many many people. He also trades in business which is the bread and butter of the Conservative Party. Judges and lawyers just make sure that law is fair and just rather than politically advantageous to whatever the government decide will win votes.

I will say one thing about the Labour Party. At least they believed in Human Rights. It was a Labour Government after all that introduced the Human Rights Act into our legislation. Not a Stalinist leader mind you, a Central Socialist, if that is how you choose to describe Tony Blair.

I am glad that I have got that lot out of my system. So will the government really clamp down on what they don't need to interfere with. I hope not, but there again, the government seem to have the bit between their teeth. Will anything change? No not really. Lawyers are smart enough to find a way round whatever obstacles the government decide to throw at us. We will just change our business model to suit. So will the much despised Claims Management Companies that are the real villains of the piece stay in business. Of course they will. They too will find a way round legislation. The best the government can do is keep their nose out of our business. We can't guarantee, however that we will keep our noses out of their business.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Are BT trying to make my life difficult?

I have decided to have a rant about British Telecom on a day when we happen to be the only house within a radius of half a mile that has a telephone connection. Why? Because either BT has managed to cut our neighbours off, or failed to install a new line in anything less than 3 months. Quite honestly I have never dealt with a company with a worse standard of service.

In an age of the monopoly commission and illegal cartels, why is it that there is only one company who can install telephone cables to houses and businesses. If that supplier came up to scratch rather than making life impossibly difficult for all its customers then people like me would not be having a rant on his blog. The reality, however, is that whenever my family or I have anything to do with them, we end up with nails bitten down to the quick, sticking pins in our arms, and tearing out huge lumps of hair. So what on earth has been going on? Well.

My best mate Dave died of bowel cancer on 17th December last year, missed his daughter's wedding on 29th December, and left behind his lovely wife Debbi and 3 daughters, 1 of whom still lives at home. What did God do then? On 28th January this year one Friday night a fire started in the loft and burned the house to the ground. So what did we do? Well we put them up of course because they were homeless, then moved them into our brand new bungalow, we had just rebuilt in our top field. You are thinking what has this got to do with BT?

Because we live at the top of a hill the mobile reception is awful. No we can't blame that one on BT. Mind you Debbi has an O2 mobile, which is the only service provider that gives no reception at our farm. So what does she desparately need? A land line of course so that if there is another fire she can ring the fire brigade, and so that if any of her well meaning friend want to contact her to wish her well they can. So do you think BT have made that simple task easy? Oh go on. They're having a laugh at us.

We ordered a new line for the bungalow 6 weeks ago. Did it matter that there had been a line to the bungalow before? Of course not. Debbi took the day off for the new line. Did they turn up? Course not. We got on the phone. They said they weren't turning up because they had not done a survery. Why you may ask do you need a survey? We are not trying to guard against wet rot, dry rot or ring worm. We just want a new telephone line. That isn't the point, obviously. This is a new line. They maintained they had written to us. That was untrue but we couldn't prove it.

They said they had to put up a telegraph pole. How much? Go on have a guess? £900. Not a gold pole, or one made out of alibaster from the caverns of Bagdad? No, a pine one. We have one already we told them which was taken down when we built the bungalow. Our builder will do it for £200. No they said it is a "health and safety issue". They have to do it at over 3 times the price. Now you tell me if that is profitering. They also wanted to charge us an extra £350 for a survey. So the bill for a new line comes to about £1500.

If you have ever tried to get through to your telephone line suppliers you would think it was easy as it is their line. No. You need to take a day off and wait hours to get through. That is if someone answers the phone. When you finally get through, you find out that the person you spoke to about the new line has wiped your enquiry off the system marked "problem solved". Now if we were raving paranoid depressives, which by this time we were fast becoming, you might think there was a plot, and it had been done on purpose.

The joke is that, whilst we were trying to sort all this out, our next door neighbour came round to ask if she could borrow the phone, because BT had visited to repair their second business line. In the process they had swapped the neighbours lines over, so they were answering each other's lines, then cut all 5 of them off completely. When they complained, they were told that it was their fault and it would cost them £130 to repair. I ask you. When they were just pulling out their last clump of hair they were told that BT could not fix the problem for 5 days.

What are we going to do? Find an Open Reach van, box it in with vehicles, kidnap the engineers, tie them up, take them hostage, and contact the local papers. No not really, only joking. We wouldn't tie them up, obviously.

So what have they managed to balls up at work then? We have an ADSL line, which is meant to run at 8 megabytes. What speed does it run at? 2 megabytes if we are lucky, but with the added bonus of disconnecting between once an hour and 3 times a day? That would not be such problem, if it were not the fact that one of our staff dials into our server using a VPN connection from Brighton. She has pulled out all her hair in frustration, and we are paying for implants. Not really, but this problem has been going on since July last year.

So what has BT managed to do? First of all they sent about 4 different engineers out to attempt to solve the problem, each of whom had no idea what the last person had done. We wanted a Broadband engineer. What did we get? A systems engineer, several times. They changed the line 3 times and the problem has not improved. Then they said they were not allowed to tell us what the problem was, in case it was our neighbour causing the problem, and we fell out with him. Have you ever heard such tosh. It could, for example, apparently be our neighbour using his hair straighteners interfering with our Broadband signal. Well, not hair straighteners perhaps, but certainly a circular saw, or a fridge with an attitude.

What are BT doing about it? Well we are back with the REINS team who will try and find out what is causing the disconnection. How many times have they been? About 3 times so far. So we go round and round in circles. Why have the same engineers been back to look at the same fault over and over again? Because BT do not use human beings to organise their fault repairing service, but an automated system which is not controlled by human beings. That is why, when after waiting 6 weeks for our first installation at home we were told we had to wait another 6 weeks for them to come back again. That is what the computer organised in its wisdom for them.

What the moral of the story? If you want a telephone the best way is two baked bean cans and a piece of string you put together yourself. Don't ask BT to do it unless you want to spend at least £1000 and get a load of grief. I must go now because this rant has worn me out and the phone is ringing. It will be that nice man from the advert ringing to say he is in love with me. I hope not.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Claims against Social Workers

I appeared as a guest on Radio 5 Live last Thursday in response to a story that had appeared on the BBC News Website about claims against Local Authorities for failing to look after children in care, resulting in them being allowed to remain in abusive environments, instead of being taken into care, to a place of safety. The gist of the online story was that, in times of cutbacks, tax payers should not be burdened with claims for compensation, and that claims instead should be made against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (they are a government body who compensate the victims of crimes of violence). Naturally the tenet of the story got me a little enraged.

I was joined on the news item by Sarah Erwin from solicitors who act on the other side for insurers, and an independent social worker. Almost to my  disbelief, the expert opened by saying he did serious case reviews, and came across cases where the social worker wanted to take the child into care, but was overruled by his/her manager who refused to act on financial grounds. In other words it was too costly to take a child into care. The argument was extended to say that, as resources become more stretched and budget constraints get  worse, the problem will increase.

I explained that the question of individuals not being allowed to make claims against social services where there had been a clear breach of duty of care, was something which had been looked at by not only the House of Lords, but also the European Court, due the state of English Law at the time, which afforded social workers immunity from civil suit.  Human rights law dictated that individuals be free to make claims where appropriate, unhampered by any argument, that it is contrary to public policy that certain types of professional be immune from litigation.

It was suggested that if litigation made it unattractive to do social work, there  must be a recruitment  crisis fuelled by compensation claims. I suggested that the government should invest sufficient resources into protecting children from harm, and anything less was unacceptable.

In reality the high cost of claims such as those under discussion are entirely under the control, not of Councils, but their insurers, whose only concern is the saving of money, not the welfare of individuals whose condition will undoubtedly be made worse by an antagonistic, contentious attitude to litigation.

Sad though it may be, the future in the world of cutbacks, does not bode well for the care of children by the welfare state. I am in no doubt that the mistakes being made right now will escalate, and the welfare of children will take more of a backseat to the saving of money caused by government cutbacks. One way of stopping this, it appears to be argued, is to stop people making claims. That is the world of Stalin, not even the severe world of Conservatism.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

St. Bede's College

On the front page of the Manchester Evening News, yesterday, was a story entitled "Church says sorry over sex abuse claims." It was an apology from the Bishop of Salford for abuse, which a long since departed convicted Priest abuser, had committed at St. Bede's College in Manchester.

The allegations were uncovered by Mike Harding, the well known folk singer, himself a former pupil but not a victim of abuse of St. Bede's. The apology was given publicly in terms, which were allegedly vetted by the school's insurers, and "did not go far enough" according to Mike. There was a lack of genuineness about the way in which the apology was worded.

It is easy to understand how angry victims of abuse feel about the past, which cannot, of course be altered by the present. Many survivors' motivation in coming forward, is to ensure that the same sort of thing does not happen again, and the children of today are protected. Ironically, today's bishop, though no doubt genuine in the sincerity of his apology, is many years detached from the abuse itself. The survivors really want those involved to apologise, rather than an insurer vetted bishop from the present. Tragically this is frequently impossible to achieve.

It is sad that people these days are made to feel guilty about making claims for compensation. The insurer's lobby is stronger than ever. It is in their interests to save money and discourage people from telling the truth and exercising their deserved rights to be given money, in order to compensate for mistakes made in the past.

In the case of abuse victims, money is often not their motivation, but rather a quest for justice, and an apology. If the nature of the gesture lack sincerity, then it often causes yet more unmanageably anger. A lot of work should go into getting the apology right. More work should also be done on making the compensation for abuse victims more appropriate for the abuse which has been committed and the harm it has caused. What our clients get in reality is a pittance. I have been quoted in the press as saying that it equates to the cost of a cup of coffee per day.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Manchester Legal Awards

I meant to blog about our award for "Small Firm of the Year" at the Manchester Legal Awards 2011 shortly after the event on 10th March, but forgot. It was a real honour for the whole team, who deserve most of the credit.

We all had a great time at the Midland Hotel at a grand ball. The bubbles of the celebratory champagne seem a long time ago now.

Paul Durkin and I were shortlisted as finalists for Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year, but did not win. A very worthy winner, however, Ben Taylor from Glaisyers, who does a lot of publicly funded housing work won this category, so well done to him.