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Panorama...pre-match commentary

Edit: I wrote this as a generic introduction to the issue of the police being held to account. I intend to write about the IPCC and issue of officers resigning once the program has aired.
 
Some of you may have noticed that the tag line for DJ changed last week. I did it for a few reasons. Firstly, it reflects what i have learned from my own mistakes as a blogger. Secondly, it encapsulates how seriously i take my responsibilities as a writer. Thirdly, and unintentionally, it summarises by view on policing by consent. The new tag line is;

"To earn the privilege of holding to account...
...i must first learn to be held to account"

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As a police service we are charged with the ultimate responsibility. UK citizens give us a power over their liberty in exchange for the authority to exercise that authority over the minority who seek to undermine the safety of society. This is how I would define policing by consent. Where we individually, or institutionally, overstep our authority, or abuse our privileged position, it is right that we are held to account. For some that may sound like a bit of a soft approach, after all we have a job to do right? I'm not forgetting that, and in this article i am not talking about front line tactics...i am talking about the politics of policing, and the ethics of our role and relationship with our citizens.

Every police officer in the country will have heard how difficult it can be to be in the job when mistakes are made. Being held to account generally isn't comfortable. It can be embarrassing. It can be upsetting. It can make the job of policing much harder. What can be easy to forget is that the public, often through the press, have the absolute right to challenge us when we make mistakes. If we want to enjoy public support we must welcome such scrutiny.

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This evening Panorama are going to challenge the way we work, and how we respond as an organisation will undoubtedly effect public confidence. We may not like what the program has to say, but we should be grateful. Panorama are good at what they do...they are fair, and they have the public interest at heart. Where allegations by the media are totally wrong it is right that policing leaders make a stand against that. But the problem comes when we hit the grey area. It may be that we have to bite our lip when presented with some of their evidence. Their statistics may not match statistics presented to us by more sympathetic think tanks, the home office, or our own databases. It could be that some of us know that particular types of behaviour is the exception rather than the rule. It is even possible that some officers will see close colleagues behaving hugely out of character. It is bound to be an emotive program for those people who have dedicated their lives to keeping the public safe.

However, we must put those feelings to one side, accept Panorama's findings without quibbling over semantics, and behave like the highly professional family of good honest public servants that the majority of us are.

It is right that we should be held to account, no matter how uncomfortable that may be at times...but is there a limit? I would love to hear your thoughts on the program, aired tonight (Monday 31st October 2011) on BBC1 at 20:30. It would be great to hear if you agree with my definition of 'policing by consent'...have i got it right?


PS: Note the lack of cat photos...it wasn't easy to avoid them lol

Perspective

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Something that can be very easy to lose in life is perspective. Last year i did some research about meditation and one of the things I learned was how to live in the moment. It was actually one of the best bits of advice I've had for a long time, and it helps side step the burdens of the past and the worries of the future. Living in the moment can be a strength, like in this scenario, but it can also be a hindrance.

I can very easily look back on summer 2011 as the worst period in my life. It was horrible to live, and it upsets me to think about it. Since then my life has turned around for the better, and it happened in a matter of weeks. So why did I have such a bad day yesterday?

I consider myself very lucky. I have accommodation, family and friends, opportunity for education, a hobby I love, a job, and not just any job: its a job I love. Yet I still am struggling, why?

I can only conclude that sometimes our ability to live in the moment strips us of perspective. By comparison things are so much better now, yet it comes with its own unique challenges, some that feel equally as stressful to those over the summer.

Things are good, but what are the stresses of the day? Yes I am a lot better in terms of health...but I still have some healing to do and a fitness mountain to liberally climb. Yes I have a great job...but due to my inability to work over the summer the necessity to earn money outweighs all others. Yes I am doing a degree I love to bits...but I have to make compromises in order to earn money and work flat out with personal study to keep up with a degree that I cannot attend. Yes I have the most awesome hobby...but despite the uniform, it is still a hobby and therefore must drop to the bottom list of priorities. Yes, I get to have a lovely early morning bus ride that is beautifully relaxing, but I have to get the bus home in the evening having done a full day of work and 3 hours of study...in the rain.

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This is the life I am living now, and because of its own unique challenges I lose the ability to view my life as a whole...with perspective.
My dad said to me once; imagine your current problems as a huge cinema screen size picture. You're living that life so you are right up close and only able to see the individual pixels...so nothing makes sense. Find a way to stand on the back row, and everything seems clearer and more manageable. Its something I've never forgotten. I may not have forgotten it, but the older I get the more ways I find to stand back.

This blog has been my chosen method of late, and I can't think of a more effective device for finding that perspective.

So with my new found benefit of perspective what do I have to say about my current circumstance? I've never been happier while feeling so terrible. I didn't choose to be so unwell over the summer, but I have chosen my current situation.

I've got a long road ahead, but the past few years has shown me that no amount of involuntary strife will stop me from putting my self in voluntary strife for a better future for me, my family, my friends, and the public. More importantly, i do so so I can look myself, my family, my friends, and my readers in the eye.

Change...we need?

I think almost everyone in the country could relate to this topic, either through their own experience, or that of family or friends. Its something that is endemic in organisations, and particularly in government departments, QUANGOS and statutory bodies like the Police, Fire and Ambulance Service. It has been hugely encouraged, often rightly so, in light of the current economic climate. If the title didn't give it away; i'm talking about change.

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I've worked in the Police since i was 19, that's just 6 years. In that time i can't think of a day that goes by where i don't have to learn a new policy or change the way i work. As annoying as it may seem to me, i can see the justification for most of it.

The Police has been accused of many things, the most serious of which was, in the late 80's and early 90's, its inability to learn from its mistakes and take a proactive approach to improvement. Our ability to admit our mistakes, learn from them, and actively avoid complacency is something that we, as an organisation, should be very proud of. Despite the huge improvements, we still have a long way to go.

There is a gold standard industry when it comes to the investigation of mistakes, errors, critical incidents and change management, and that's the airline industry. There are very few serious incidents involving planes, but when they do occur a large response is coordinated to safe lives and gather evidence. The most important part of that response, in my opinion, is the investigation into the cause of the incident by organisations like Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB). I call them the gold standard because very rarely do two alike incidents ever happen, and the credit for that goes to the persistent investigation by expert investigators, legislation allowing safety changes to be made very quickly, and the requirement for regulated aircraft to make those changes within a short period.

My point is; i'm not criticising the climate of change. I am, in fact, encouraging continued and increased change. The difficulty comes with the method with which change is managed. Change does not ever have to be traumatic or overwhelming for the staff involved, but more often than not it is. Again, this isn't necessarily a criticism of those who manage change. Us humans can be very unpredictable, we have varying needs, hugely varied home lives, and even more varied personalities. As they say; you can't please everyone all the time. With the benefit of hindsight we could all criticise decisions, but that's not a useful approach to take.

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To really understand how change effects individuals we have to look at human psychology. I have mentioned Maslow's Hierarchy numerous times, most recently on the subject of The Big Society in mid September this year. It's not fool proof, and on its own it doesn't paint the full picture. However, it is useful because it is easily understood and provides us all with a useful framework with which to begin at.

The hierarchy has had a lot of different labels. The main image you will see is of a pyramid...actually Maslow did not ever use a pictorial version of his hierarchy. Some pyramids will be based on Maslow's original work, some will have extra labels as applied by subsequent psychologists...im going to keep it simple to prove my point.

What is important to know about the hierarchy is that it is like a ladder. The bottom rung of the ladder is the start of your journey, and the top is where you aspire, psychologically, to be. It's our job to make sure that each rung is strong enough to take our 'weight' before advancing on to the next one. Let me give you an example.

The Scenario; I have just got a new job which challenges me on an intellectual level, as well as university. I'm feeling much better after my spell in hospital, i have secure accommodation and a great group of friends.

The first rung of the ladder is psychological...i tend to refer to this as homoeostasis, which is basically the bodies ability to "maintain a condition of equilibrium or stability". Food, drink, sleep, health etc.

In my scenario i've got all those things, so that rung of the ladder is strong enough for me to advance to the next level; Safety. Safety is about having a roof over ones head, being free from any form of abuse, and being able to support a safe lifestyle through some form of income. A few days ago i didn't have that. I was in my overdraft, thought i would have to leave university in order to earn, and didnt know how i was going to continue to pay my bills. I could not have advanced up the ladder, so i would be stuck at the first rung until the second was strong enough to support my 'weight'.

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The next 3 levels are; social, esteem, and self actualisation...the latter being our goal.

So i'm sitting on the second rung of the ladder beavering away to strengthen the next rung, social needs. Tomorrow i go into work and am told that my job is at risk because of the economic climate, and that they cannot tell me anything else yet. This is an immediate threat to my security, and where a threat exists the relevant rung of the ladder starts to break down and you need to start descending. One could achieve self actualisation, and when their job is at risk they could drop right down to psychological. This is an innate defence mechanism that cannot be avoided, after all we are human and not robots.

The higher up the ladder you are, the happier you will be. The happier you are, the more productive you are, the more you learn, and its on this happiness that true success is built. One mention of my job being at risk drops me right down to the bottom, and due to the psychological reaction to that drop i start to experience negative responses...these are responses that cannot be avoided, they just have to be managed.

So knowing this i would say to anyone involved in managing change; check out Maslow's Hierarchy. Your staff will be happier and more productive if you do everything you can to advance them up the ladder. Change has the immediate effect of making people feel insecure, and that will set off a domino effect across everyone...and i mean everyone; staff, customers, general public, senior managers, and the local community.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this article, do you have anything to add? any best practice you would like to share for individuals or organisations? any experiences of poor practice? I'd love to hear them.

Catfish

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 I just watched the docu-film 'Catfish', which is about an online relationship being uncovered by one party for what it is. It is  really fantastic documentary and that one situation is both an example of the risks of modern online relationships, and textbook on how to deal with them when they turn out to be based on lies or deception.

What i wanted to share with you is a quote at the end, which explains the title Catfish. I will give you my version of it, and i would love to hear what you think as i think it is really provactive.

A certain type of cod is shipped, by sea, from the US to China. They are transported alive, in large tanks inside the ship. The journey is long, and when they arrive in China the long period of inactivity has left them unsuitable for human consumption. They are tasteless, bland and unpleasant to eat. To solve this, a few Catfish were placed in the tanks with them to keep them active....this gave them more flavour and much more pleasant to eat.

Maybe we should love our human catfish a bit more, cause without them we would be bland...and unpleasant to eat.

I highly recommend the documentary, and would love to hear your thoughts on the above quote.

E-Petitions...to be, or not to be?

Today the House of Commons will be debating the release of all files relating to the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, something that has been a long time coming. This debate is the first that has been triggered by the e-petition system, which allows anyone to create a petition that may be debated when it attracts 100,000 'signatures'. Being the first debate, it's outcome will either make or break the e-petition's future.

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I'm still very unsure about how sensible this e-petitions system is. Some would say that, in principle, the ability of the citizen to trigger parliamentary debate sounds like a wonderful development in modern democracy. In principle, it is very hard to argue against. Yet i feel that, in practice, it could be the exact opposite, may actually a huge step backwards, and has the potential to be quite dangerous.

The advantages of such a development are obvious, so i am going to focus on why i think it could be dangerous, and result in a step backwards for democracy.

Lets start with the obvious; parliamentary debate time. The time available for debates has always been limited. MPs are trying to spend more time in their constituency's, yet the busy debate timetable means they have to spend more time in Westminster than they really ought to. The Backbench Business Committee has this in mind when planning debates, and therefore must try to cram in as much debate as possible in the shortest possible time. This clearly effects the quality of debates, yet it is very important that MPs aren't tied to the Chamber when they should be at their constituency offices.

However, the time issue is, in my opinion, just a distraction from the more important danger of inappropriate suggestions. I have no doubt that if a topic was obviously inappropriate The Backbench Business Committee would refuse to timetable a debate on it, but there is a grey area.

Looking at the list of petitions sheds some light on this grey area. Some of the 'open' petitions are outside parliaments reach*. Some of the issues are minor irritations and parliament should not be forced to debate them. Some have already been debated to death. Some are short sighted or based on a total lack of understanding. And some are attempting to fix a problem that either does not exist, or effects so few people that a debate in the Chamber could not be justified. Some are just plain offensive**. And lastly, some topics can be dealt with by a department and there is no need for them to be debated in the Chamber. Although i consider a lot of the topics to be inappropriate for whatever reason, i do expect there to be one or two 'gold nuggets' that make the whole system worth while. Hillsborough may be one such gold nugget.

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An issue that i have found quite intangible and difficult to explain is the citizen priorities verses individual priorities. Government and Parliament have to maintain a balance between government, bigger picture, priorities and, individual***, citizen priorities. On the one hand it may be more important for the chambers to debate, for example, a fiscal issue which may be complicated and not of much 'interest' to the wider public. On the other hand, the government exists to represent its citizens, and individual citizen priorities should play a big part in the business of the chambers. Yet often only our elected representatives can see the true bigger picture, and the topics that citizens want debated are insignificant compared to National and International policy that the security of our economy and security depends on. This issue relies on an element of trust in Parliament, something that the public struggle to muster due to the behaviour of people like Dr Fox, and those who abused their expenses.

My point is that it may be dangerous for the chamber to be expected to debate individual citizen issues at the expense of bigger picture issues. Lets look at some statistics. The current UK population is approximately 62 million. For an issue to be discussed under the e-petitions scheme it must have 100,000 signatures. So for an issue to be discussed it will have less than 0.2% public support.

Some questions it raises in my mind; Is that enough to trigger debate? Should it be higher? Should other factors and criteria be considered? or to be truly democratic should it be purely based on figures, regardless of the topic? I have tried to answer these myself, but i come up with conflicting arguments. Parliament should debate all important issues, even if they only effect a small number of people...yet i feel like 100,000 isn't enough to really demonstrate the public's wishes.

What concerns me the most is the 'refused petitions' list. On the first page 17 out of 20 refused petitions are on the topic of capital punishment. Let me be clear about my views; Capital Punishment is wrong, prohibited, and calls for its return should not be acted upon. Those who support its return are ignorant of the reasons for its abolition. Were it not against the principle of parliamentary sovereignty i would like to see the Murder (Abolition of death penalty) Act 1965, and other death penalty abolition legislation, bind all future governments. This is a good argument for the introduction of a written Constitution.

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Thankfully sanity has prevailed and the "Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment" has had 30,139 signatures to the 21,935 signatures of the "Restore Capital Punishment" petition. This restores my faith in humanity :-)

So to conclude; These e-petitions can be dangerous if not moderated properly, and measured against a set of criteria that protects parliament from unethical, immoral, ill-informed and offensive petitions, regardless of how many signatures a petition may have.



Do you agree? 
Do you disagree? 
I would love to hear your views. 
Drop me a comment.



*In law, under the principle of Parliamentary Supremacy, nothing is out of reach of Parliament...However, there are many things that are politically out of reach of parliament, and that is what i am referring to here.
**This link refers to a petition entitled "No State Funeral for Thatcher". Whatever my views on Thatcher i find such a petition offensive.
***When i talk about the 'individual' i am referring to individual in the group, community sense.

Afternoon Quickie: Age discrimination on the way out, or is it?

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 I took a trip to the dentist this morning and was told that the treatment i needed would be costing £204. Fair enough i suppose.

What is not fair enough is the rules on who can get free dental treatment. I am a full time student, and 25 years old. Were i under 19, and a full time student, i would get it for free.

The financial burdens of full time education are the same for me, as they are for my under 19 year old class mates. In fact, i suggest that most mature students have even more of a financial burden than under 19's. Why do they get free prescriptions, dental care etc for free, when i have to pay a fortune for it?

As if the Supreme Court were reading my mind they made a judgement today that is relevant. The facts of the case do not match my situation, but i think it sets a precident for future challange to legislative discrimination.

This is just a quick blog post about it, i will write something in a bit more detail tomorrow...in the meanwhile, what do you think? Is this rule right? is this rule wrong? Should it change? and how should it change?

I would love to hear your views,

Photography v Terrorism

Photographers are massively important to our culture, and i've always been a bit uncomfortable with the rules that limit what they can do. The most often used rules are ones born out of terrorism legislation. I don't think anyone would disagree that terrorism legislation is very important, but it becomes all too easy to forget basic legal principles when interpreting and applying it.

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Lets look at Lady Justice for a moment. In one hand she carries the Scales of Justice, and these scales represent what i consider to be the most important legal principle; balance. Check out this video. In it you will see a journalist innocently recording what appears to be the Gherkin. He was approached by security officers, a plain closed police officer (i think) and then two uniformed police officers. It is very clear that all the police officers involved do not really understand the terrorism act, and certainly not its application.

The principle of balance is endemic in all aspects of justice. On the one hand, in this situation, we want to protect London from hostile reconnaissance, and on the other hand we want to protect freedom of the press. I tend to put these on equal footing, until there is a reason to limit one for the protection of the other.

A journalist recording or taking pictures of public buildings is normal. The mere presence of a camera is not enough to satisfy the limiting of press freedom, as there is no objective evidence that he is anything other than an innocent journalist. There needs to be something more to suggest criminal behaviour.

So much for not being allowed
to take a pic of the reception
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It may be annoying to police officers when they are challenged on their powers. There will almost certainly be times when it is not appropriate to enter into a debate about powers. Butit is an essential part of a democratic society and those who hold an office over a citizen must recognise the citizens right to ask "what power are you using?".

In the above video we are seeing a journalist asking that exact question. We don't know what had happened before or after the video, nor do we know why the police officers involved wanted to perform this stop and search. It would be unfair to enter into a debate about a set of circumstances we know nothing of. What i think is important to note is that the officers involved were unable to give an explanation as to their grounds or the legal power used. Police officers are required by law to be clear about the legal authority they use.

The journo in this video seemed like a reasonable person. Had the officers been clear about their grounds and their authority im sure he would have co-operated...he was exercising the principle of legality, and the officers failed to justify their actions.

So, it is clear that s44 Terrorism Act 2000 is used wrongly, and this view has been supported by the European Court of Human Rights...here is an example of why being party to the European Convention of Human Rights is invaluable to UK citizens. In the case of Gillan and Quinton V the United Kingdom the court ruled that our Article 8 rights to respect for private life were violated by s44 Terrorism Act 2000.

The above video was filmed in 2009. The court made their judgement in 2010. So in theroy, we should never see this sort of situation again.

My advice to police officers? 
  • Be prepared for citizens to exercise their right to challenge the legality of your actions. You need to be totally sure of your powers, be humble enough to explain them where doing so is appropriate, and be totally confident that you can justify your actions.
  • Some people may not like having their, or their buildings, photos taken. Make your own assessment, and remember that the mere presence of photography equipment is not sufficient to establish suspicion of criminal activity. Politely remind building owners and security guards that your not going to do their dirty work for them.
  • Take a balanced approach to terrorism. We need to protect our citizens from terrorism, but the word terrorism doesn't give us the power to set aside common sense and reasoned, measured assessment and responses.

Here are two great articles on terrorism stop and search powers;
Here is a list of interesting YouTube videos on the subject of Terrorism v Photography



    Closed for a bit...back now

     Hi Everyone...

    You may have noticed that DJ was closed for a few days...it was due to me being absolutely mortified about having upset someone, someone who didn't deserve it. I've gone through a few days of being totally ashamed of myself, and have come out the other end with the intention to fix it and learn from it.

    I set myself very high standards, and i failed on this occasion and i apologise for that. I hope to never make the same screw up again.

    If you guys ever see anything you think is wrong, or could upset anyone, feel free to remind me of this incident...although i dont think i will forget it!

    Thank you!

    Question time...

    Very quick one, but wanted to share with you the next development in my rage against the machine. The Student Loans Company has backed down to only reclaiming part of my grant from last year. Its not ideal, as its unfair that they are recovering any of it...but it still feels like a victory, a victory that i thank my wonderful readers who have supported me throughout this, and Jon Ashworth who has written to them on my behalf.

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    There is a wider issue, and we aren't finished with that yet. Students are being let down when unable to study due to illness, a time when they need more support than ever. They are in need of the exact same financial support, if not more, than other students. This would be easily solved if students were able to claim benefits, but they cannot. There is absolutely no support for a student that is unable to study due to sickness, and this is an outrageous oversight.

    If you have been following my financial situation you will know that i have been unable to study and work due to illness. I was told that i cannot claim benefits, and found that my student funding is being reduced. With no other options available i was within a week of having to drop university so that i can go on benefits in order to continue to eat and pay bills. Luckily, and with no credit given to our welfare state, i managed to make my last £250 last 2 months.

    Something needs to change here, especially if our government is to put its money where its mouth is in terms of social mobility. I think its important to offer as much support to those who want to further their education, and where policy is forcing them out of education something MUST change, immediatly.

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    Having not had a satasfactory answer from the DWP or Student Loans Company it is time to start addressing the Ministers responsible; Dr Vince Cable. Actually, i have a lot of faith in him so i am confident that we will make some progress.

    Jon has submitted written questions to Dr Cable today, and we hope to get an answer in Hansard in the next couple of weeks. So here are the questions that Jon has proposed. We are both in the process of thinking of more questions, and if you guys can think of any appropriate questions i will certainly share them with Jon.

    Here are the questions submitted today;
    • To ask the Secretary of State for BIS, how many complaints have been made in each of the last 5 years regarding the Student Loan Company?
    • To ask the Secretary of State for BIS, on how many occasions in the last academic year have the Student Loan Company reassessed a student loan following representations from a University?
    • To ask the Secretary of State for BIS, how many students in each of the last 5 years have been forced to interrupt their studies due to illness but return to study in the following academic year?
    • To ask the Secretary of State for BIS what guidance does the department issue to the Student Loan Company when deciding loan and grant settlements for students who have been forced to interrupt studies due to illness?
    • To ask the Secretary of State for BIS what financial support is available to students who have been forced to interrupt their studies due to illness?
    As a slightly side issue, i have proposed that we also address the collateral issue of the clarity and quantity of paperwork. I will let you know if we follow up on that.

    Look forward to hearing you question suggestions and views,

    Have you had a bad experience with the student loans company? I'm taking a portfolio of individual experiences to the Minister; email me the details, and find out more about the campaign here

    Calling all students...campaign time!

    (Source)
    During the last few months i have been arguing with Student Finance England, through my MP Jon Ashworth, about their policy on overpayment recovery. They have been unhelpful, obstructive and incompetent at every turn and have left me with the clear impression that this QUANGO is not fit for purpose. A combination of automation, fear of discretion, and poorly trained staff leads to students being let down.

    I get that feeling that something must be done. Despite the bad press we students get i think that most people will agree that it is important to offer students enough funding to keep them supported during their studies. The fact of the matter is, we don't really get enough. To survive through university we have to make a compromise; less time spent studying and more time spent earning. Fair enough, life is about compromise and its an important lesson to learn. The problem is, the body charged with administering our funding is weak and incapable...this leads to funding arrangements failing and on occasion students forced to quit their studies in order to support themselves.

    So many of the bad experiences are anecdotal, and its about time we start gathering together some actual evidence of their incompetence. This is where i can help.

    With the support of my MP, Jon Ashworth, i am seeking to identify the most common issues students have. Once that is done, i will arrange a meeting with the HE Minister, Jon and I where i will present the findings in an attempt to make education more accessible, and funding more reliable. I want to speak to the HE Minister on behalf of as many students as possible, so please spread the word.

    I cant guarantee that we can solve every case. What i can guarantee is that i will pass your details on to the Minister with the expectation that he will take steps to resolve each problem.

    So how can you help?
    • Have you had a bad experience with your student funding? 
      • Email me - Start with a brief summary of the problem, who you have dealt with, the relevant dates, and your customer reference number.
    • Do you know someone who has had a bad experience with their student funding? 
      •  Ask them to email me. the above details.
    • Can you help publicise my campaign?
      • I need as much data as possible in order to put together a representative portfolio of evidence. Can you share this blog post on your social media profiles? Can you add a link to your website? Can you email your friends, family, customers with the details?
    I can't achieve this on my own, so i will be seeking the support of as many people as possible...we need to cast the net wide. 

    Thank You!