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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘political

The Politics Of Cannabis

with 37 comments

Originally Published In ISMOKE Magazine Issue 1

Cannabis is a political issue.  Make no mistake about it.  The scientific, moral, medical and health arguments have all been won.  What we need to do now is find a way to make change happen.

It’s in the prohibitionists’ interests to keep debating all the ins and outs and going through the evidence because it diverts from the imperative for change. We have to keep repeating the truth.  We have to cut through their deception and scaremongering but above all, we have to demand action.

In the US, they’ve gone way, way past the silly and irrelevant arguments about cannabis being dangerous or harmful. We like to think that we’re smarter, a more mature democracy but so many Brits are still suckers for a Daily Mail scare story. The propaganda and bigotry still prevails here.  In America they simply accept that if you abuse or misuse something it may cause you harm. They rarely even mention the psychosis theory.  Even after Congresswoman Giffords’ shooting and the stories of Jared Loughner’s marijuana use, his friends were quick to step forward and say he’d stopped some time ago and actually seemed worse and more unstable without self-medicating on cannabis.  More importantly than that, the US media reported what his friends said rather than hushing it up because it wasn’t sensational enough.

Peter Hitchens, the Mail On Sunday columnist wrote a disgusting rant about the shooting, blaming it all on cannabis and having nothing to do with the truth at all. Now the US media are ridiculing him about Britain’s Reefer Madness.  He really is an example of the very worst in journalism.  The truth means nothing to him.  He is a liar and a mendacious frightener of the vulnerable, the elderly, of children and their parents.  You will be interested to know that the Legalise Cannabis Alliance has drawn a line in the sand.  We will no longer let such nonsense go unchallenged.  A formal complaint is being made in the LCA’s name to the Press Complaints Commission.  It will be the first of many.  We will no longer allow the British media to distribute lies without calling them to account.

The War On Prohibition Can Be Won!

Prohibition is fundamentally immoral.  It is nothing less than the unjustified oppression of a section of society.  It is as pernicious and evil as racism, sexism, homophobia or any other form of prejudice. It says that, irrespective of facts, evidence, science or justice, just because we disagree with you, we will make your activity illegal. We will criminalise you, imprison you, ruin your career, endanger your family, smear you with unjustified innuendo and suspicion. We will cause you far more harm than the activity you choose ever will.

It is pretty well accepted now, worldwide, that Nixon’s war on drugs can never be won.  It makes Vietnam or Afghanistan look like a little skirmish in some backwater.  It has been responsible for far more death, misery and destruction than any war since Nixon first declared it.  There are still those who cling to its ambitions, like our favourite preppy, baby face minister James Brokenshire   But he is rather like one of those Japanese soldiers, found on some remote Pacific island, thirty years after his Emperor surrendered – still dangerous, still committed to his cause but hopelessly out of touch, in need of re-education, a very, very sad case.

The war on prohibition is now in full flow and this is a campaign that can and must be won.  It is a war that has right and justice and common sense on its side.  It is time that we marshall our forces, determine our strategy, plan our tactics and hold fast to our courage as we advance on the enemy.  I believe that this year or next marijuana will be legalised in at least one state in America.  Once the dam is broken, progress will begin to roll out all over the world.

I believe that the Legalise Cannabis Alliance is the standard around which we should rally.  We are responsible, respectable, reasonable citizens and we need to unite to fight the war on prohibition.

What is vital is that the LCA communicates its messages effectively to the right people. It seems to me that one of, if not the most important audience is members of parliament. They, after all, are the only people who can actually change the law. We therefore have to play their game by their rules.

In the documentary “In Pot We Trust”, Aaron of the Marijuana Policy Project says that one man in short hair and a suit, lobbying congressmen can achieve more than hundreds marching in the street.  I think he’s right.

The LCA must re-launch its campaign.  We must overhaul our image, update the logo and the website.  We must become conscious of our communications, control and deliver our messages with ruthless effect, use all the spin doctor tricks and techniques, just as any other political party or pressure group.

I will put on a suit and tie for the LCA because that’s what is needed to make progress with politicians, through the media and, most importantly, with the great God of public opinion.

I think we also have to consider our name.  Not throw it out for the sake of something new but recognise that “Legalise” is a word that frightens people.  They think it means an uncontrolled free for all, whereas what we argue for is fact and evidence based regulation.  We also need to consider the word cannabis.  People are frightened to have it on their Facebook profile and concerned that it may come up in a Google search when they’re applying for a new job.  We have to consider these things.  I would argue that instead of saying “Legalise Cannabis”, we might say “End Prohibition”.

So we do need to become much more professional about our communications and image. Anything put out in our name needs to be “on message” in every sense of the phrase – look, feel, content, style, etc. Each target audience needs to be addressed on its terms. We need an analysis and a plan for each individual MP and constituency. We need a rota of pro-active media communications. We need to enlist the help of celebrities who support our cause.  This needs to be done consistently and repeatedly. We need a team of people all over the country working together with a plan to succeed.

I also believe that we should re-register as a political party and field candidates in every byelection.  In fact, I would propose that we field the same candidate in every byelection and we build.the campaign and awareness over time.  I don’t expect us to win a seat in parliament but I do expect us to start being taken seriously. I want to see us on Newsnight and on Question Time.  When Debra Bell is asked for a quote or is interviewed about a cannabis story, I want us to be quoted as well and to be on the other side of the TV sofa facing down her mischief and misinformation.

Cannabis is a political issue.  If we get our act together and get serious about the war on prohibition, get serious about achieving results, explain the facts, expose the lies, then we can prevail. We can see the truth revealed.  We can win!

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Home Office Drugs Strategy Consultation – My Response

with 14 comments

The Home Office has called for responses to its Drugs Strategy Consultation document.  See here on the Home Office website.

It is almost universally accepted that “consultation” is a euphemism for “your opinion will be ignored but we want it to look like we listened to you”.  This is a classic example of that sort of thinking.  Judge for yourself  by reading the introduction.  It is clear that ministers and civil servants have already made their mind up on many issues just by the way that the questions are phrased.

Nevertheless, this is what passes for democracy in Britain and it is vital that as many people as possible respond.  You can do so by post, email or online form. It is all set out on the website.  I offer my response here as raw material.  Please feel free to copy and use all or part of it as you wish.  Just make sure that you do make a submission.

I have answered all the questions where I feel I have something useful to say.  It dosn’t matter if you only answer one or two.  Please don’t let the Home Office get away with a whitewash.  With sufficient responses and future Feedom Of Information requests we will be able to advance the cause of rational and progressive drugs policy.

Question A1: Are there other key aspects of reducing drug use that you feel should be addressed?

* Yes

Please outline any suggestions below

The entire basis of this question is flawed. Prohibition of drug use is a failed strategy as now acknowledged by experts and leaders all over the world. So much of the subject is mired in semantics and prejudice rather than being addressed in a logical and responsible manner with fact and evidence-based policies.

Drug use can never be eliminated.  In fact, use of alcohol and tobacco, two of the most dangerous drugs, is legally promoted.  Drug misuse is, by definition, to be deplored but unless there is an acceptance of responsible drug use, then corresponding guidance or regulation to prevent misuse cannot work.

The key question, as established by parliament with the Misuse Of Drugs Act 1971 (MODA), is to how to reduce the harms of drug use.  This is the basis of the Act and of the drug classification system which is supposd to indicate the relative harms of drugs based on the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse Of Drugs (ACMD).

Regrettably the classification system is now entirely discredited for two principle reasons:

1. Failure to include the two most widely used drugs, alcohol and tobacco

2. Failure to classify drugs on a scientific basis, instead allowing political considerations and opinion to intrude where only facts and evidence should apply

The result is that government messages on drugs are widely regarded as incredible and as propaganda rather than good sense.  Young people in particular see the evidence of their  own eyes and experience as more useful and credible than government messages, especially in the case of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy where their relative harmlessness is self-evident.  Government campaigns such as Frank are widely ridiculed and both counterproductive and a complete waste of money.

Question A2: Which areas would you like to see prioritised?

Please select as many as apply

* Greater ambition for individual recovery whilst ensuring the crime reduction impact of treatment.
* Actions to tackle drugs should be part of building the “Big Society”.
* A more holistic approach, with drugs issues being assessed and tackled alongside other issues such as alcohol abuse, child protection, mental health, employment and housing.
* Budgets and responsibility devolved wherever possible, with commissioning of services at a local level.
* Budgets and funding streams simplified and outcome based.
* The financial costs of drug misuse reduced.
* None of them.

This is an astonishingly meaningless question, a little like asking “do you approve of motherhood and apple pie?”

It would be foolish to disagree with any of these ideas.

The main area I would like to see prioritised is that drugs strategy, policy, information and education should be fact and evidence based.  The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have both criticised government for failing to implement an evidence-based drugs policy and instead giving more weight to opinion.  This is a dreadful indictment of how successive governments have, in fact, contributed to and increased drug harms.  It is now a well established and proven truism that drug laws cause more harm than drugs themselves.

I would propose a five point drugs strategy aimed at reducing harms as follows:

1. An end to oppression of drug users (at least six million citizens)
2. Removal from the criminal law of any offence for possession and/or social supply
3. Fact and evidence-based policy, information and regulation
4. Re-direction of law enforcement resources against real criminals
5. Treat problematic drug use as a health issue

I would also propose that the overwhelming response on drug laws to the Your Freedom website should be included in this consultation. Top priority should be given to the massive outcry from the public for the removal of drugs from the criminal law and the more rational, fact and evidence-based regulation.

The question of cannabis needs urgent attention.  All experts agree that the harms from its illegality are greater than from the drug itself. According to Home Office figures, there are six million regular users in the UK. Recent research shows that more than 70% of the public want to see some form of legalisation.  The laws against cannabis no longer have public support, particularly in the case of medicinal use, yet the cost of unsuccessfully attempting to enforce them amounts to many billions in wasted public expenditure.  This is a national scandal of monstrous proportions which must be ended.

Question A3: What do you think has worked well in previous approaches to tackling drug misuse?

There is almost nothing that the government has done that has worked well in tackling drug misuse.  On the contrary, almost all government policy has increased the harms caused.

There have been some pilot projects in providing clean, safe environments where opiate addicts have access to a regulated supply and clean needles that have reduced harms.

Question A4: What do you think has NOT worked so well in previous approaches to tackling drug misuse?

Government drugs policy has been a disaster in almost every way, consuming more and more resources to less and less good effect.  It has been almost entirely counterproductive and has led to complete distrust of government information, alienation of users from society in general  and brought the law into disrepute.

Prohibition has not worked.

Misinformation and propaganda that distributes lies and untruths about the relative harms of drugs has not worked.  In fact, it has led to more harms and more deaths.

Criminalising huge numbers of citizens has not worked and has created disaffection and seriously damaged democracy.

Question B1: What are the most effective ways of preventing drug or alcohol misuse?

The only effective way of preventing drug or alcohol misuse is education.  This should be accompanied by a system of regulation and controls which is fact and evidence based and has widespread public support.

Question B2: Who (which agencies, organisations and individuals) are best able to prevent drug or alcohol misuse?

The government is entirely discredited when it comes to offering any sort of advice on these subjects because it has a long history of mistakes, misinformation and propaganda.  Everyone knows that you can’t trust what the government says about such matters because it almost always places political expediency above the truth.

Schools, teachers, ex-addicts and parents are best able to prevent drug and alcohol misuse.  They need fact and evidence-based support and information.  The last thing they need is government direction or interference as this is widely seen as unbelieveable and incredible.

Question B3: Which groups (in terms of age, location or vulnerability) should prevention programmes particularly focus on?

There should be no such thing as a “prevention programme”.  The most vulnerable group is clearly young people.  Tell them not to do something and you immediately increase its appeal.  This question demonstrates how utterly out of touch, insensitive and hamstrung is current Home Office thinking.

Education programmes should focus particularly on young people.

Question B4: Which drugs (including alcohol) should prevention programmes focus on?

* Those that cause the most harm
* Those that are most widely used
* All drugs

Please explain your view below

There should be no such thing as a “prevention programme”.  Education programmes should cover all drugs but focus on those that cause most harm.

Question B5: How can parents best be supported to prevent young people from misusing drugs or alcohol?

The best way of supporting parents is by creating an environment in which drugs policy is accepted as being rational, sensible and based on facts and evidence rather than propaganda.  It is vital that fact and evidence-based information is widely available.

Question B6: How can communities play a more effective role in preventing drug or alcohol misuse?

Communities will naturally come together to prevent drug misuse if we create an environment in which drugs policy is accepted as being rational, sensible and based on facts and evidence rather than propaganda.  At present, drug laws and policies create an “us and them” culture where injustice and hypocrisy brings the law into disrepute and alienates people who do not comply.

Question B7: Are there any particular examples of prevention activity that you would like to see used more widely?

There is nothing being done in terms of”prevention activity” that should be continued.  Education, based on fact and evidence-based information is the key.

Question B8: What barriers are there to improving drug and alcohol prevention?

The biggest barrier to improving prevention of drug misuse is government policy which is widely understood not to be based on facts and evidence but on political expediency and propaganda.  The lack of fact and evidence-based information and education is also a major barrier.

Question C1: When does drug use become problematic?

Drug use becomes problematic when it interferes with people conducting their everyday lives and reaching their full potential or the ability of others to do the same.

Question C2: Do you think the Criminal Justice System should do anything differently when dealing with drug-misusing offenders

The Criminal Justice System should not be involved in dealing with drug misuse at all.  This should be a matter for healthcare. Drug misuse in itself should not be a criminal offence.

Where offences are committed while under the influence of drugs, or in order to feed a drug addiction, providing appropriate healthcare has been offered, then drug use should not be a mitigating factor. In such instances, the offender should always be referred for healthcare alongside any sentence.

Question C3: Do you have a view on what factors the Government should take into consideration when deciding to invoke a temporary ban on a new substance?

* Yes

Please explain your views below

The most important factors would be those of scientific fact and evidence to be determined by a strengthened, properly funded and independent Advisory Council On the Misuse Of Drugs or equivalent.

It is most important to consider the “glamourising effect” of banning a substance.

I congratulate the Home Office on its statement that  “Possession of a temporarily banned substance for personal use would not be a criminal offence to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of young people”.  This demonstrates a new depth of thinking and intelligence that is very encouraging.

Question C4: What forms of community based accommodation do you think should be considered to rehabilitate drug offenders?

Drug use should not be an offence in itself.  Clearly as part of healthcare, community-based accommodation should be available for those suffering from problematic drug use.

Question C5: Where do you think we most need to target enforcement efforts to reduce the supply of drugs?

Enforcement efforts to reduce the supply of drugs are futile unless a legitimate, regulated source of supply is available.

Once a regulated source of supply is available, illicit sources will become less of a problem.  Enforcement efforts could then be targeted in a similar way to current policies against illicit supply of alcohol, tobacco and prescription only medicines.

Question C6: What else do you think we can do to keep one step ahead of the changing drugs markets?

The most important thing do do is to end the failed and demonstrably ludicrous policy of prohibition.  The solution is a system of fact and evidence-based regulation including a a strengthened, properly funded and independent Advisory Council On the Misuse Of Drugs or equivalent.

Question C7: Which partners – in the public, voluntary and community sectors – would you like to see work together to reduce drug related reoffending in your local area?

What does “drug related reoffending” mean?

Drug use in itself should not be an offence.

Offences related to drugs should be dealt with by healthcare intervention as well as the criminal justice system.  If appropriate healthcare has been offered then drugs should not be a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Question C8: What results should be paid for or funded?

No comment

Question C9: What measures do you think should be taken to reduce drug supply in prison?

Those prisoners with a drug addiction should have access to healthcare and regulated supply just as any other citizen.   Just as in society in general a regulated supply would greatly reduce if not eliminate the problem of illicit supply.

Recreational use of drugs in prison should be strictly controlled.  Tobacco is presently allowed but not alcohol.

As an observation, it is tragic to note how existing policies have promoted the use of heroin in prison.  Under the drug testing regimes, cannabis can be detected in urine for up to 28 days and so its use has been largely eliminated.  However, heroin flushes through the system in less than 48 hours so its use has increased.  This is a vivid demonstration of the idiocy of present policies which have led to replacement of a relatively harmless substance with one that has potential to cause great harm.

Question C10 (if applicable): What impact would the measures suggested have on:

* a) offenders?
* b) your local community?

No comment

Question D1: Thinking about the current treatment system, what works well and should be retained?

No comment

Question D2: Thinking about the current treatment system, what is in need of improvement and how might it need to change to promote recovery?

I have no specific expertise in this area but I understand that treatment for problematic cocaine use is extremely limited and in desperate need of investment.  While not physically addictive, cocaine and particularly crack cocaine is overwhelmingly compulsive and can lead to violent behaviour.  Comparatively, treatment for opiate addicton is well established and understood.  More resources need to be put into developing treatments for problematic cocaine use.

Question D3: Are there situations in which drug and alcohol services might be more usefully brought together or are there situations where it is more useful for them to be operated separately?

Services need to be client-centered. Lumping together alcohol, opiate and cocaine services for the convenience of the providers is counterproductive. Someone who drinks too much wine in the evening at home may be deterred from attending a centre where opiate addicts are injecting. Similarly, a high-earning cocaine user may not want to associate with street drinkers.

Question D4: Should there be a greater focus on treating people who use substances other than heroin or crack cocaine, such as powder cocaine and so called legal highs?

* Yes
* No

Please explain your response below

The only rational response to any problematic drug use is to treat it as a health issue, therefore treatment should be available for all substances.  The question betrays a worrying naivety as cocaine use can be problematic as powder, crack or both.  “Legal highs” is a completely meaningless term which may range from something as harmful as heroin to something as benign as cannabis.

Question D5: Should treating addiction to legal substances, such as prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, be a higher priority?

* Yes
* No
* Don’t know

Please explain your response below

No.  The drugs strategy should be about minimising harms not making some moral judgment on people based on one point of view.  This is a dreadful suggestion.

Question D6: What role should the Public Health Service have in preventing people using drugs in the first place and how can this link in to other preventative work?

Fact and evidence-based information and education.

Question D7: We want to ensure that we continue to build the skills of the drug treatment and rehabilitation sector to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of those seeking treatment. What more can we do to support this?

Stop wasting money on futile attempts at enforcement of out of date, counterproductive laws. Prohibition is an entirely failed policy and, according to Baroness Meacher in the House Of Lords on 15th June 2010 is costing Britain £19 billion per annum.

Problematic drug use should be dealt with as a health problem.  With billions saved from wasted law enforcement costs and additional tax revenue from a regulated supply system, there will be a bonanza of funds available for drug treatment and rehabilitation services.

Question D8: Treatment is only one aspect contributing to abstinence and recovery. What actions can be taken to better link treatment services in to wider support such as housing, employment and supporting offenders?

Stop criminalising drug users, imprisoning them and treating them as offenders.  They are not.  They are people who choose to use a drug that has arbitrarily been deemed illegal usually for unscientific reasons.

Question D9: How do you believe that commissioners should be held to account for ensuring that outcomes of community-based treatments, for the promotion of reintegration and recovery, as well as reduced health harms, are delivered?

No comment.

Question E1: What interventions can be provided to better support the recovery and reintegration of drug and alcohol dependent offenders returning to communities from prison?

No comment.

Question E2: What interventions could be provided to address any issues commonly facing people dependent on drugs or alcohol in relation to housing?

No comment.

Question E3: How might drug, alcohol and mental health services be more effective in working together to meet the needs of drug or alcohol dependent service users with mental health conditions?

No comment.

Question E4: Do appropriate opportunities exist for the acquisition of skills and training for this group?

No comment

Question E5 Should we be making more of the potential to use the benefit system to offer claimants a choice between:

a) some form of financial benefit sanction, if they do not take action to address their drug or alcohol dependency; or

b) additional support to take such steps, by tailoring the requirements placed upon them as a condition of benefit receipt to assist their recovery (for example temporarily removing the need to seek employment whilst undergoing treatment).

There needs to be a combination of carrot and stick adjusted to individual requirements based on healthcare needs.  Those with problematic drug use must not be allowed to fall outside society as that leads to even greater harms.  This is why it is crucial that drug use be removed from the criminal law.

Question E6: What if anything could Jobcentre Plus do differently in engaging with this client group to better support recovery?

No comment

Question E7: In your experience, what interventions are most effective in helping this group find employment?

No comment.

Question E8: What particular barriers do this group face when working or looking for employment, and what could be done to address these?

No comment.

Question E9: Based on your experience, how effective are whole family interventions as a way of tackling the harms of substance misuse?

No comment

Question E10: Is enough done to harness the recovery capital of families, partners and friends of people addicted to drugs or alcohol?

Probably not. Once prohibition is ended, with billions saved from wasted law enforcement costs and additional tax revenue from a regulated supply system, there will be a bonanza of funds available for drug treatment and rehabilitation services.

Question E11: Do drug and alcohol services adequately take into account the needs of those clients who have children?

No comment

Question E12: What problems do agencies working with drug or alcohol dependent parents face in trying to protect their children from harm, and what might be done to address any such issues?

No comment

Gender: Male
Age: 45-54
Region: South West
Occupation: Writer

Home Office Backtracks On Cannabis – Part 2

with 12 comments

See the original article here.

The Home Office has been denying to me all week that it had changed its story.  It claimed that it had said “Drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis are extremely harmful and can cause misery to communities across the country.”  It claimed that cannabis was never included in this statement.

Today it finally owned up.  It issued this statement at 5.18pm this evening:

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“There is clear evidence that drugs such as heroin and cocaine are extremely harmful substances.

“There is also clear evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can cause both physical and psychological problems. Even the occasional use of cannabis can be dangerous for people with diseases of the circulatory system, and it can contribute to heart disease and lung cancer.

“In this instance there was a drafting error with the original version of this statement, which was subsequently rectified.”

Does It Look Dangerous To You?

Now, I understand and respect the professional efforts of the Home Office PRs to damp down this story.  It just doesn’t wash though does it?

Why did it take nearly two weeks to correct this error?

Why did they try to cover up the error in the first place?

All this from a government department that emphasises how important are its “health and education messages” and that it must not send “the wrong message – to young people in particular.”

Of course, the truth is that the Home Office sends inaccurate and misleading messages about drugs all the time.  Everyone, except the Home Office ministers and mandarins, agrees that the present drug classification system is nonsense, that it amounts to nothing less than misinformation.  In fact, the Home Office is currently less than seven days away from a judicial review of its political manipulation of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  The Drug Equality Alliance co-founder, Casey Hardison, has taken it upon himself to challenge the Home Secretary and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the Administrative Court for its irrational, unfair, and possibly illegal exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from control under the Act.

Even David Cameron agrees that ecstasy should not be a class A drug – see here.  The debacle and embarrassing nonsense about the ever-changing classification of cannabis destroyed Alan Johnson’s integrity for good.  Young people have been watching the government’s “messages” for years, comparing them to their own experiences and realising  that the government talks rot when it comes to drugs.  The Home Office is inconsistent, unreliable, contradictory and nothing short of dangerous when it comes to messages about drugs – as they’ve just proved, yet again.

As for the revised statement, there is evidence to show that smoking cannabis can cause the same damage to the cardiovascular system as smoking tobacco, but no one smokes anywhere near the same amount of cannabis as they do tobacco – they’d be asleep!  In fact, the very latest research shows that cannabis has an extraordinary protective effect for tobacco smokers and may actually reduce the likelihood of lung cancer.   Other recent research has also shown cannabinoids to have remarkable effects in shrinking brain, head, neck and breast cancers.

The Home Office is so far out of date it’s difficult to believe.   It still talks sensationally about the dangers of “new stronger strains of cannabis known as skunk”.   The truth is that skunk has been the predominant type of cannabis available in the UK for more than 20 years.  That’s how up to date the Home Office is.   Finally, the “psychological problems” story.  Sure, any psychoactive substance has the potential for harm but increasingly there’s evidence to show cannabinoids actually have an anti-psychotic effect.  One of the most useful applications of medicinal cannabis is in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

To those who don’t already know the facts, I say simply google your questions.  Even the Home Office, much as it might try, has not yet found a way of silencing the truth.

A Fundamental Problem At The BBC

with 3 comments

I am very close to being the BBC’s biggest fan.  It is a remarkable and entirely unique institution.  Somehow it occupies a place between the state and the people which I can find no comparison for.  It would be easy to define it as some sort of socialist idea but it is genuinely independent from the state.  I do, however, have some concerns about its accountability.  I am very concerned about the way it handles complaints.

No Complaints Accepted Here

I have grown up with the BBC and I trust it.  In fact, I think that it’s done a better job of maintaining Britishness and values of integrity, tolerance, fairness and justice than any UK government of any political complexion.  That’s why the curmudgeons in all political parties turn against it.  I think Jeremy Hunt’s recent attacks and comments were particularly poorly judged.  He hasn’t a had a good start in government at all has he?

I made a complaint to the BBC recently and I am very, very unhappy about the way it has been handled.   The subject is not relevant here.  I shall write about it in future but for now it would distract from my point.  I am horrified to discover that the BBC does not handle complaints itself.   They are outsourced to Capita in Belfast which describes itself as “the UK’s leading outsourcing company…at the leading edge of redefining and transforming services to the public.”  For me that needs a huge pinch of salt, a mountain in fact and even then I’m choking on it.

Handling complaints should be at the very heart of an organisation.  It is the essence of your brand.  There is no more important management function.  Contracting them out is an abdication of responsibility.  More than that, it is a complete failure of integrity, a massive mistake.   If an organisation is truly committed to meeting its customers’ needs it must be as close to them as possible.  This irresponsibility strikes at the very heart of everything I value about the BBC.  I am deeply disillusioned.

If this disastrous decision had resulted in a well administered service then that might be some consolation but not a bit of it.  It is dreadful.  Every bit as bad as any horror story you’ve heard about British Gas, BT or yes, even a bank.  This is the British consumer experience at its very worst.

Not What It Used To Be

In sharp contrast to the rest of the BBC’s websites, try making a complaint online.  It’s like something from the very early days of the internet with clumsy, badly aligned fields and an archaic feel.  I almost expect to hear a modem whistling away in the background.  From a complainant’s point of view it’s quite useless.  You don’t get any option to save a copy of your complaint or email it to yourself.  You don’t even get an acknowledgement once you’ve completed it so you’re left with a completely unsatisfactory feeling of uncertainty.  Did they get it or not?  Will I get a reply?  When?

It gets worse.  Complaints are lost.  They don’t get answered at all.  They certainly don’t get answered within the 10 working days promised.  One answer I received was just laughable in its anodyne, crass simplicity.  It was nothing more than an patronising acknowledgement of what I was “unhappy about”.

Useless

I could go on even further but I won’t.  It does get even worse and it becomes embarrassingly so when Capita start to trot out the oldest excuse of all about “system problems”.  It is an excruciatingly bad, defining example of appalling customer service.  I’d say it takes the biscuit.

All this is the inevitable result of outsourcing your complaints procedure.  That aspect of business that should be one of your most important tools.  What’s worse is that Capita are absolutely useless at doing the job.

It is no exaggeration to say that, for me, this rocks the very foundations of everything I believed about the BBC to the very core.  It is not the organisation I thought it was.  I feel betrayed.  I am “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.   In fact,  I am very, very, very disgusted of Weymouth, Dorset.