The number of reports of discrimination in English football have risen in the past year to 184.
The anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out have reported a 35% increase in the period August-December 2014. This compares with the same period in the 2013-2014 football season when there were 136 grievances received by the organisation.
The breakdown of these complaints shows that racism and anti-semitism were the most common forms of abuse recorded.
The complaints received came from every level of English football, from grassroots to premier league, and involved top footballers as well as fans.
At a sweeping majority 60% of the discrimination that was reported originated online, in social media.
While these figures may at first give the impression that football discrimination is on the rise, both the Football Association and Kick It Out are treating these figures as a positive sign. It is believed that the increase in the number of reports of discrimination denotes a growing refusal to accept bigotry in football. Moreover, it is thought that this increase demonstrates that people are less tolerant of prejudice generally and more willing to come forward and complain about incidents.
However, Roisin Wood, the director of Kick It Out, said that she believes these numbers “barely scratch the surface of a widespread problem”.
These figures are released in the same month that the Metropolitan Police are investigating an alleged racist incident involving Chelsea fans in Paris and while the British Transport Police are making inquiries about a separate incident involving Chelsea supporters on a train to Manchester.
Lord Herman Ouseley, Kick It Out chairman, said that “Major improvements have been made over the last 30 years” but that the incident in Paris “reminded people that such things still go on below the radar.”
Lord Ouseley went on to point out that these problems are not solely the responsibility of those in football: “there is a persistent problem, there is prejudice in society, which is being increased by the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-benefit scroungers drip-drip in politics.”
“Comedy is the new opera” Stewart Lee quipped at the outset of his new show, referring to his Grand Opera House surroundings. He might just be right too. Lee’s brand of comedy is dramatic, intense and, at times, beyond his audience.
Throughout the ninety minute set Lee effortlessly kept everyone laughing. However, underneath the mirth, omnipresent, lay a didactic, challenging style. Lee is unforgiving of ignorance and regularly broke from his set to goad punters (not unkindly) for failing to grasp some of his more cerebral allusions.
I imagine that many English comedians may find playing Belfast a daunting experience, there must be something of an internal struggle about whether or not to mention the troubled past and present of the city you’re standing in. Lee had no such reservations:
“Unlike you I don’t live in a culturally divided war zone. I live in Hackney.”
The locals rewarded him for his frankness time and again; there was no shortage of spontaneous applause. But then perhaps this was not your average Belfast audience. As Lee pointed out, if all the Guardian readers of Belfast were in the Grand Opera House who was going to smooth over any pub brawls.
Lee’s intelligence is palpable; nothing leaves him speechless or gag-less. When improvising, which he did frequently, you didn’t see the struggle for material register on his face.
This comedian’s greatest talent is for building seemingly endless and meaningless hilarity only for the punch-line to hit you entirely unexpectedly.
However, the most arresting aspect of a Stewart Lee show is his vitriol. The stand-up’s capacity for hate is far-reaching, no one is too big or too small and he has no fear of making enemies. If he has you in his sights and he doesn’t respect you, watch out: I’m looking at you Michael McIntyre.
Lee’s latest show is yet another work of artistic brilliance. But it isn’t for everyone; this is exclusionary comedy for an intelligent, sharp, liberal minority. Lee uses this show to talk about the world as he sees it, his understanding of it and, often, his utter exasperation with it. You can tell Lee really couldn’t care less whether he has universal appeal or not, he won’t put on a front; his satirical meanderings, his irony, his fury are who he is. This isn’t a character, or an act, this IS Stewart Lee.
In the run-up to the launch of Northern Ireland’s local government reforms adverts assured the general public that the new councils with additional powers would create a “stronger”, “more cost effective” and “citizen focussed” government. One month on from the super-councils take-over what are the major issues facing the new councils?
Considering the fact that the biggest change to the councils has been the devolution of planning responsibilities it is hardly surprising that an issue connected to planning has proven to be the first stumbling block. The primary concern appears to be over the possibility of corruption and incompetence in the new planning processes. But what planning powers exactly have been transferred and why?
As far back as 2002 the Northern Ireland Executive commissioned a review into public administration across Northern Ireland. Many suggestions were made as a result of this inquiry, importantly the recommendation that the number of councils (26 at this time) be reduced. By 2008 the Executive was finally able to reveal plans, after several years of delays, to condense the 26 councils to 11 and devolve some centrally held powers to the local government. A package of £47.8 million was set aside to fund the changes. The chief aim being to create cheaper, more efficient local government.
The transfer of planning responsibility from the Department of the Environment to the super- councils was a major part of the 2008 reform package. It was felt that giving councils the work of planning would mean that decisions would be more transparent, more likely to reflect the local communities, and support local needs. This transfer also afforded the government the opportunity to overhaul planning procedure: in theory it has now become a much quicker, simpler and more streamlined process.
There are three planning application categories: local, major and regional. Councils have sole responsibility for the decision-making on all local and major applications, while all regional applications are to be decided on by the DoE. The DoE will also retain legislative, policy and oversight responsibilities.
Each council must establish a planning committee that will create a document known as a “Scheme of Delegation” and this will dictate what is dealt with by the committee (most probably controversial applications or plans for large developments) and what is dealt with by planning officers. There are also local planning offices opening in each council area, meaning more communication and clarity for those applying. Mark Durkan has said of the reforms: “these improvements will bring planning closer to the public and make it easier for the public to access and participate in the planning process”.
Mr Durkan’s comments seems reasonable: these reforms to planning are certainly an improvement on the old system which left un-elected civil servants making the majority of planning decisions centrally, but there are major areas of concern which have been flagged-up in the last few weeks.
The Northern Ireland Ombudsman Tom Frawley has spoken out about his anxieties over the possibility of corruption infiltrating the planning process. His concerns are related to the fact that Northern Ireland’s political parties do not currently have to declare donations made to their party. Mr Frawley therefore believes it may be possible for property developers to bribe councillors into approving applications.
Northern Ireland’s Chief Planning Officer Fiona McCandless countered Mr Frawley’s misgivings by claiming that the new code of conduct that was drawn-up for councillors who sit on the new super-councils will ensure impartiality. The code stresses the importance of acting in the public interest at all times and specifies that no councillor should act in order to gain financial or material benefit. A section that specifically refers to planning has also been included. Ms McCandless has said of the transfer of planning powers to councils: “We have done a huge amount of work in terms of making sure the necessary procedures are in place to ensure that there is accountability in order to secure confidence in the system”.
However this new code of conduct and the procedures that have been introduced to councils are not universally popular. Belfast City Councillor Claire Hanna, for example, was unconvinced when I interviewed her:” I’m not yet persuaded that the changes will be effectively worked between a restrictive code of conduct (particularly as regards advocacy on planning) and potential log-jam from the ‘call in’ (qualified majority voting) mechanisms, which are likely to be abused in a similar manner to the petition of concern at Stormont.”
Others are aware that a balance between bureaucracy and transparency must be reached: Councillor John Hussey was clear on this matter when I spoke with him: “people worry that poor or dubious decisions will be made if the members of the Planning Committees don’t properly understand their role and function. To prevent this, a great deal of training has been given to Councillors who will serve on the Planning Committee which should ensure they make proper and fair decisions.”
On the question of possible venality in the planning process Cllr Hussey said: “The potential for corruption in the administration of government functions is always a concern. However there is less possibility of corruption in a planning system which is entirely open to the public as this new system is, than in the previous system where planning decisions were taken by civil servants acting alone and out of public view.”
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association is keen to emphasise the great gains that will come with planning reforms: Chief Executive Declan McCallan has said that there will be no “poverty of ambition” from politicians and rate payers alike. The potential for regeneration is being held-up as the legacy of new council powers and politicians have only to point to the transformation of Manchester, where the city council were given development responsibility, to show what can be achieved.
Despite controversy and apprehension for better or worse these powers have been devolved and only time will tell whether this move will lead to regeneration and growth, or exploitation and ineptitude.