This is Sir Aubrey Thomas Brocklebank, 6th Baronet Brocklebank, of Greenlands and Irton Hall, Cumberland.
He is now the proud owner – not just of a battered 2cv racing car as pictured here – but of the entire fleet of fire engines owned by the London fire brigade. When you next have a fire in Greater London this is the man who will responsible that the crew arrive in a properly maintained and equipped fire engine.
In the mad world of privatisation Sir Aubrey was able to snap the fleet and get his hands on an income stream worth nearly £200m over the next ten years – for JUST £2.
You the council taxpayers will be paying this man £1.5m a month to look after London’s fleet. He got this at a knock down price because the Greater London Authority foolishly under Ken Livingstone and even more foolishly under Boris Johnson and former London fire chairman, Brian Coleman, sold off London’s fire engines and a 20 year lease on its own maintenance headquarters in Ruislip to a private firm.
The firm was sold on to AssetCo ( which I have written about extensively) whose own chief executive, John Shannon, had to be dismissed, when he left it teetering on bankruptcy. The actual engines are at present owned by bankers, Lloyds TSB, one of the chief creditors of AssetCo London which had over £30m in debts and haven’t a penny to replace the ailing fleet of engines from 2014. This has been admitted by Sue Budden, director of finance,of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, . She told councillors at a meeting last week: “When they look ahead and look at the big vehicle replacement that is due to start in 2014, I think they can see they are not set up to cover that.” The full story by me is on the Exaro news website at http://www.exaronews.com.
Step in Sir Aubrey who bought ailing AssetCo for £2 – without the fire authority or its staff- even knowing until the deal was signed. Such is the new world of privatised services – elected people aren’t even important enough to know who owns them.
Now Sir Aubrey appears to be the scion of a very famous and powerful shipping family who owned two stately homes. One, Nunsmere Hall in Cheshire was built for his namesake, the third baronet, who went on to join the board of Cunard, and drew up plans for the original Queen Mary in the 1920s. The family have a steam locomotive on the narrow gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale railway named after them and in 1927 there was a swish saloon known as the Brocklebank.
The present Sir Aubrey even graces the picture collection held by the National Portrait Gallery – with portraits of him and his first wife, Dr Anna-Marie Dunnet, purchased by the gallery in 2004. He was also like the all the family, educated at Eton but too old at 60, to be a contemporary of London mayor Boris Johnson.
But a closer investigation reveals that Sir Aubrey is not all he seems. Gone it appears are the two stately homes – both are now hotels. And Sir Aubrey now remarried with wife, Lady Hazel, is actually on the electoral register at a£162,500 three bedroomed semi in Stanwick, Wellingborough in Northants – in the constituency of Tory Mp, Peter Bone.
He doesn’t even own his house outright – he has a mortgage with the very democratic Nationwide building society.
It is at this address in July that he set up a small private company A & AB Investments Ltd, which paid the princely sum of £2 for London’s fire engines. It is this company that is now the ultimate owner of London’s fire services. He has since set up another company Premier Fireserve, based at the leased maintenance plant owned by the fire brigade.
Nor does he have any of the illustrious careers of his ancestors. Instead he is non executive chair of a series of venture capitalist funds, under the name Puma – who simply offer very good tax avoidance schemes – by investing in anything from hotels, property, antiquarian books – and then liquidating their investments after five years to secure maximum tax relief and returns for their investors. Hardly reassuring for such a permanent feature as providing a fire service which cannot be traded for tax avoidance.
His only other passion is racing 2cv cars – with a team known as Twin Snails. Indeed the elderly boy racer competed at Snetterton in Norfolk over the August bank holiday weekend in the British championships. His team have had mixed fortunes -doing better at Snetterton but coming a cropper at Brands Hatch -see http://www.flickr.com/photos/maisiehexagon/492921242/
Now you may think I am making all this up. I tried to contact Sir Aubrey five times to find out his side of the story. But he is shy and reclusive when it comes to the press – and he never returned my calls. I wonder why as I never bite.
But I think any reasonable person would think he is not the first person you would want to run a public service and he hardly even has a particularly good business record. It is time he is held to account and I have great hopes that Ex MP Andrew Dismore, the Labour assembly member for Camden and Barnet, will pursue him on our behalf by every means possible to find out the truth behind this, on the surface, very dodgy development.