Why these liars, cheats and fraudsters should be prosecuted for ripping off taxpayers and cheating London’s firefighters

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John Shannon , former chief executive of Assetco. now exposed as a liar and fraudster, banned for 16 years from practising as an accountant and ordered to pay £550,00 in fines and costs

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This month one of the most devastating reports into a privatisation rip off was published by the Financial Reporting Council, which regulates chartered accountants. It involves a saga much reported on this blog, the failed privatisation of London and Lincoln’s  fire engines, handed over to what are now revealed to be liars and fraudsters who ran Assetco at the time.

The three top directors, chief executive, John Shannon; chief financial officer, Frank Flynn; and group financial controller, Matt Boyle, could not even be bothered to attend a tribunal hearing to defend themselves against 27 allegations of misconduct. Shannon and Boyle are thought to be somewhere in South East Asia Flynn is in Northern Ireland

Between them they lied and hid millions of pounds ripped off from income paid by London fire brigade – the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – through a string of Northern Ireland companies and a consultancy to Abu Dhabi and falsified invoices from the London authority to boost the income of Assetco  duping shareholders so  they could live on the hog with large salaries.

The worst culprit was John Shannon  who has been banned as practising as a chartered accountant  for 16 years – a new British record – fined £250,000 and ordered to pay £300,000 in costs. This was the same man who wined and dined the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire authority, Brian Coleman, while simultaneously ripping off the authority for personal gain.

His story included in a damning  FRC report  is a trail of dishonesty and improper financial gain for himself and his family, His first act  in 2008 was to take £1.5 million out of Assetco, ostensibly to invest in a Northern Ireland property company, Jaras Property Development. In fact the report found  the money was transferred almost immediately from the company to Mr Shannon’s personal bank account to pay off a loan.

To compound his action when Assetco’s accounts were prepared for 2010 he created a false invoice and lied about the use of the money to fellow directors and the auditors, Grant Thornton.

The second dishonest act involved Assetco’s take over of Graphic, a company that provided lettering for vehicles, in 2010. Mr Shannon claimed he was owed £685,000 by the company. No documentation was ever found to prove the debt but the money taken from Assetco was the exact same money owed by this son, Joel, to clear a debt with another business he was running. The report concludes this was a sham.

He then moved to fiddle the accounts of another Assetco business, Assetco Abu Dhabi, which was launched with a  £15m share issue. Included in the costs was a management fee to a firm called XYZ2 for £900,000. In fact there were no management services provided by this company, instead the money was used to pay off  interest owed.

Earlier Mr Shannon and his fellow directors Frank Flynn and Matt Boyle inflated the goodwill value of three other companies,UV Modular Limited (“UVM”), The Vehicle Application Centre Limited (“TVAC”) and Simentra Limited (“Simentra”). All three had been bought by Assetco and had huge operating losses, all became insolvent, yet between them they were valued at over £15m.

UVM which built ambulances and mobility vehicles for the NHS was ” in a parlous financial condition ” and collapsed. It got contracts from the NHS by offering cheap deals which meant it lost money.

TVAC built chassis and fire appliances was acquired in 2007 and went bust in 2008 and was an operational disaster. But it was obviously intended to service fire engines for London.

Simentra had just three staff and was supposed to provide management advice for emergency services.

The report found Mr Shannon was well aware of this yet  allowed the £15m for goodwill to be included as an asset in the company’s accounts.

Mr Shannon, Mr Flynn and Mr Boyle also inflated income from the London fire authority on purchasing equipment and  providing emergency crew training. All this led to inflated accounts which Mr Shannon claimed he had not seen but the report found that he had lied to them about his knowledge of what was agreed to be published in the accounts. There is an earlier report on my blog here.

The conclusions against Mr Shannon are stark :” While there have been no actual convictions, certain of the activities contained within the allegations could be characterised as causing or facilitating fraud. The Jaras and Graphic Allegations amount to fraud on AssetCo by Mr Shannon. The XYZ Investment was also a fraud.”

The report also says the level of dishonesty even put the fire fighters  work at risk. It is as well that Assetco  operations in London and Lincolnshre went bust before the tragic Grenfell fire or their services would have only compounded the problems.

Most of the misconduct by Flynn and Boyle was to assist in covering up rather than exposing the dishonesty of Shannon.

Raymond “Frank” Flynn (former Chief Financial Officer) for  banned from practising for 14 years and Matthew Boyle (former Financial Controller) for 12 years. Additionally, £150,000 and £100,000 respectively have been imposed and they share paying  part of the £400,000 costs bill.

The Financial Reporting Council has a memorandum of understanding with the Serious Fraud Office which could launch a criminal investigation.

The SFO told me that they were aware of the case but could neither confirm nor deny whether they would take action. In my view they should pursue these people – even if they have left the country- with the aim of securing convictions so they can spend some time in British jails.

 

 

 

 

A No Deal Brexit could leave nearly 500,000 expatriate Brits with frozen pensions like those living in Canada and Australia

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Last year  it looked like the 474,000 expatriates who retired to 27 European  Union countries had their pension increases protected forever and a day. A deal which meant the UK would sign up to the EU Social Security Convention  guaranteeing pension payments both to British expatriates abroad and EU citizens remaining in the UK.

There was only one caveat “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” which would prevent this happening and  the  government’s aim is the commitment would be reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was emphasised in the White Paper on Brexit in July.

But now the spectre of a No Deal Brexit is again being raised everything is being thrown into the air. Supporters like Liam Fox talk of a country thriving on new free trade but what about the social cost? What is clear is that without a signed withdrawal treaty Britain appears to fall out of the social security convention – and as EU arrangements superseded most national arrangements the automatic rise in pensions goes as well.

The House of Commons library have just produced two new reports on the issue. One published in July on Brexit and state pensions provides an accurate summary of the present situation. You can download it here. Another published this week provides the latest analysis of frozen pensions overseas. You can get it here.

There is a current official breakdown of the situation for both  unfrozen pensions in EU countries and the Channel Islands and frozen pensions elsewhere at the end of this blog.It shows that EU  countries make up the vast majority of uprated pensions.

The government has only limited agreements with overseas countries to allow Brits who settle there to get uprated pensions. Outside the EU  the UK has agreements with Barbados; Bermuda; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Croatia; Guernsey; Isle of Man; Israel; Jamaica; Jersey; Mauritius; Montenegro; the Philippines; Serbia; Turkey; the United States of America; and, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The rest of Europe includes Switzerland and Norway. The US agreement also covers American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

For those who could be confined to a frozen pension the results can be dire. And they get worse the longer you live. An expatriate living to the age of 90 in Canada would have to live on just £41.15 a week while someone who went to live in Canada in 2015 would be on just over £110.15 a week.

Ian Andexser, chairman of the Canadian Alliance of British Pensioners, said:

“The UK continue to adopt a 70 year old policy which makes no sense, is unfair and in violation of the Commonwealth charter. If you are British and live in Niagara Falls USA, you get a fully indexed pension. If you live 400 yards away in Niagara Falls , Canada, you do not!”

An even more complex situation exists in Australia where they have a means tested pension and even getting Britain to pay up part of your state pension if you have already left the country is problematic.

The latest Commons guide on frozen pensions shows campaigners – once they have lost their case for any uprating – are unlikely to get it back. Successive British governments have refused to change the rules on grounds of costs and the spurious claim that the rises caused by  British inflation rates should not apply to other countries which had different rates of inflation. If that were the case the same would apply to people living in the European Union or Mauritius where people do benefit from British inflation.

The cost to do this is about £500 million a year and opposition parties – notably the Liberal Democrats – have backed the change only to renege on it once they got into office. Indeed the only change that followed the Pensions Act that  created the new pensions system was a minute extension of the uprating to pensioners who had retired to Sark in the Channel Islands.

So Brits in the EU better keep abreast of what does happen in the EU negotiations. They need to ensure that there is an agreement with the EU. The expatriates in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Jamaica, to name   few of the frozen pension  states can only  get redress by either pressurising British politicians or by pressuring their newly adopted country to demand Britain fulfils its obligations by refusing to sign a trade deal until it does.

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Judicial Review of government’s handling of 50s women pension changes lodged at High Court

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Royal Courts of Justice – venue for handing in the papers for a judicial review for the 50s women

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Back to 60, the campaigning group  who are supported by 738,000 of the 3.9 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pensions, lodged a claim  at the High Court against the  Department for Work and Pensions yesterday.

This is the first stage of taking real action to put right the injustice suffered by the women ever since the government embarked on a policy of continually raising the pension age.  It will be followed by a High Court hearing where a judge will be asked to allow the review to go ahead. It is bound to be challenged by the government which is determined not to pay up but ministers will have to justify their actions.

Backto60 lodged the documents with only 48 hours to spare as the courts  start their  summer recess tomorrow and  the courts will not hear cases  until  after October 1.

The move is the culmination of action taken by the group which now involves support  on the issue from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intends to raise the issue at the United Nations, the Fawcett Society and  other ampaigners.

A legal statement from Binberg Peirce & Michael Mansfield QC reads:

“The basis of the legal challenge is that the pension policy implemented by successive governments in respect of women of a particular age group (those born in the 1950s) constitutes a gross injustice and is discriminatory.  The impact on the economic, social and mental well being of these women, who rightly enjoyed a perfectly legitimate expectation of satisfactory provision in retirement, has been devastating.

“The extent of individual distress and hardship is only now becoming evident through real stories of women around the UK. It is deeply ironic that all of this is done in the name of equalisation and equality, when the very means employed to achieve this are themselves discriminatory.

“It is intended that the current pension policy be subjected to both public and judicial scrutiny and, therefore, steps are now being taken towards mounting a judicial challenge.”

At the same time Stephen Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, whose coalition government made matters worse for 50s women by backing an acceleration of the rise in pension ages, has finally got a meeting on behalf of Waspi with the Ombudsman to discuss whether there was maladministration in not informing women.

His comment is picked up by Frances Martin:

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The government is going to face challenges from all sides this autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

Brexit Bombshell: All Northern Ireland people would be better off in a new united Ireland says new report

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Will this be the new prosperous Ireland? Pic credit: Istock

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It has received virtually no publicity in the mass media in the United Kingdom, But it is a question that was begging to be asked in the current impasse over whether there should be a soft or hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. And until now no one has weighed up the facts and figures of a united Ireland versus a divided Ireland. Indeed there was pressure from the Irish government to keep this report secret because of the Brexit negotiations.

But this week the the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement have published a highly controversial report ‘Brexit & the Future
of Ireland Uniting Ireland & its People in Peace & Prosperity’ which basically says the British taxpayer will be better off if it let Northern Ireland unite with the Republic and remain in the European Union.

The author is a German economist, Gunther Thumann who worked as a senior economist at the German desk of the International Monetary Fund at the time of German reunification.This provided him with the analytical understanding of the complex economic developments as they happened.

He is backed by Senator Mark Daly, Deputy Leader of the Fianna Fail Senate Group
Senate Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, the Irish Overseas and Diaspora, who yesterday lambasted officials at the Irish Dept of Foreign Affairs  after he was told officials  said that they did not want the research released until ‘after Brexit’. ‘
‘This is unacceptable interference by the department of Foreign Affairs in the work of the Dail and Senate. …The fact that officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs do not want this information released and the motivation behind it need to be answered’ “.

In one sense this is not surprising. Theresa May  only stays in power because the Democratic Unionist Party  backs her government and they want to stay in the UK. But the majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU and this report’s findings are dynamite

And Theresa May has had to lavish gifts on the DUP increasing the bill for mainland taxpayers while depriving  the rest of the UK of money for other public services like free school meals.

The central point of this report is that Northern Ireland would no longer require any taxpayer’s subsidy and could have a balanced budget – saving over £9 billion a year. Big savings could be made in administration and the UK would be left with a £2.8 billion pension bill for pensions already accrued while Northern Ireland was part of the UK.

The findings in the report which you can download here are:

– Non-identifiable expenditure of £2.9billion includes Northern Ireland’s share of UK Defence Expenditure, UK Debt Interest, International service, UK contribution to the EU, British Royal family etc. These would not be a liability of a new agreed Ireland.
– Thumann in his research explains that not all the accounting adjustments figure attributed by Westminster to Northern Ireland of £1.1billion would be applicable in a reunification scenario either.
– Also the convergence of the public service numbers between the north and the south would bring a saving of £1.7billion per annum in the current budget expenditure of Northern Ireland.

“Taking the above adjustments and savings into account the cumulative figure is £8.5 billion. With the reported deficit for Northern Ireland is at £9.2 billion therefore the current income and expenditure figure for Northern Ireland Thumann & Daly concludes comes near a balanced budget in a reunification scenario.

This is of course, before taking into account the likely potential for growth in Northern Ireland following unification as happened in East Germany following its reunification. ”

The big problem adopting such a change is political not economic. Supporters of the DUP would resist the idea of Northern Ireland not being part of Britain’s armed forces and be furious that they would no longer financially support the Queen.

But the changing demographics mean eventually the Catholics not the Protestants will form the majority adding to pressure for a united Ireland. Tensions are already growing over proposed boundary changes for the Westminster Parliament which mean that Sinn Fein are likely to gain more seats at the expense of the DUP.

The report is one of the unforeseen consequences of Brexit. Whether  Theresa May and Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, like it or not Brexit will put a united Ireland on the agenda ,particularly if we crash out and there has to be a new border. No wonder the Irish republic’s Whitehall did not want this published.

There was a debate on the report on Newstalk Breakfast in the Republic. with one economist challenging the report because he said N Ireland would have to contribute more to the Republic’s finances.The link to the podcast is here .

 

Revealed: The £271 billion “rape” of the National Insurance Fund that deprived 50s women of their state pension

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Guy Opperman – the current pension minister who says it is too expensive to pay the 50s women.

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The fact that 50s women  were robbed of their pensions  by raising the pension age is undeniable. But the biggest argument against putting this right has been the cost – a fact perpetually used by the present pensions minister, Guy Oppenman, who quotes the £70 billion plus figure.

Recently I discovered that successive governments had taken a decision  NOT to top up the fund as originally proposed by William Beveridge when the welfare state was set up in 1948.

What I did not know was how much money was lost. Now thanks to an extraordinary paper prepared for the National Pensioners Convention by a social security expert Tony Lynes,and still on the web, I now know. And it is staggering. You can read it here.

The paper written 12 years ago by a man I personally knew as a fount of all knowledge on the benefit system  when I was social services correspondent on the Guardian. He sadly died, aged 85, in a car accident in 2014. There is an appreciation of him in The Guardian here.

His calculation from beyond the grave is that for every year that the government decided not to contribute to the fund it was deprived of £11.3 billion. As he says: “Restoring the supplement at its pre-1981 level would bring an extra £11.3 billion a year into the Fund, enough to meet the gross cost of a £109 per week basic pension.”

We now know that virtually no money was paid into the fund by the Treasury for around 24 years from 1990 to 2014. I calculate – and this will be a conservative estimate – because it doesn’t count the reduced contributions post 1981 – that an amazing £271 billion  yes billion  extra would have been in the fund.

This would pay  more than three times over the money due to the women – and even allowed higher  state pensions for everybody else now.

Why this didn’t happen is because politicians of all three major parties took a decision not to do this. They took the decision knowing that their Parliamentary and ministerial pension pot would mean they would be some of the wealthiest pensioners in the land when they came to retire. And the taxpayer would foot their bills.

They decided the pain should fall on the electorate instead. In 1995 they knew  all the arguments about people living longer and that money paid out in state pensions would go up.

They  could have changed the rules and informed the Government Actuary  Department that they would deliberately build up a surplus in the fund – so it could pay out as people lived longer without changing the pension age.

Instead they chose the cheapest  route – raise the pension age so they won’t have to subsidise the fund- but try and keep mum so the women wouldn’t realise what they were doing.

The villains are the late Lady Thatcher, John Moore, Kenneth Clarke, Sir John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Steve Webb and Guy Opperman. There are many others who stood by and did nothing. That is why 50s women have been left in this situation today.

 

 

Race equality groups seek big changes to the mental health act to end stereotyping and over-medication

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Sir Simon Wesseley, planning to report on reviewing the mental health act later this year

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While Theresa May is battling to hold her line on Brexit her almost unreported initiative to reform the mental health act is leading to demands for the government to introduce radical reforms for treatment and new rights for patients.

A submission from Race on the  Agenda and the Race Equality Foundation to the review  by Sir Simon Wesseley, set up by Theresa May to look into why so many black Afro Caribbean people were being detained in mental hospitals and the need for changes to the Act. It also comes against a disturbing background of deaths in police custody.

The submission has been backed by the Runnymede Trust;Patrick Vernon OBE, Chair of the Labour Party’s Race Equality Advisory Group, writer Amy Kenyon and Professor Rachel Tribe, of the School of Psychology at the University of East London among others.

NEED FOR BIG CHANGES

The Downing Street interim report  contained many warm words but not a lot of action. It stated: “Experience of people from black African and Caribbean heritage are particularly poor and they are detained more than any other group. Too often this can result in police becoming involved at time of crisis. The causes of this disparity are complex.” The  full report  and details of its members  and terms of reference is available here.

Now the submission to the inquiry proposes major changes to tackle the problem. The link to it is here. The main proposals are:

1. The Mental Health Act (the Act) should set out principles that define human rights, anti-discriminatory practice and a commitment to combat institutional racism.
2. The Act should be amended to include a clause that states explicitly that a diagnosis for a ‘mental disorder’ must take account of the patient’s social and cultural background. And the Act should allow for appeals against diagnoses via a Tribunal, with a panel that includes experts from BAME backgrounds.
3. Patients detained under the Act should be empowered to choose which carers or family members have a say in their care and can support them during an appeals process.
4. A new system of appeal whenever a new diagnosis is applied and/or continued, to a tribunal-like body, with the right of the patient concerned to have legal representation at the hearing.
5. All mental health service providers should be set targets to reduce the use of Community Treatment Orders and minimize racial inequalities in their use. This should be monitored by the Care Quality Commission  during inspections. Specific amendments in relation to supervised treatment in the community should be made to ensure this is statutory.
6. Statutory bodies should be regularly inspected by the CQC or other appropriate body to ensure that training of professionals working in mental health services addresses issues of racial bias and cultural competence.

The  submission  says: “:We were glad to see an emphasis on the urgent need to address the disproportionate number of people from black African and Caribbean backgrounds being detained under the Mental Health Act (MHA).

Equally, we were unsurprised that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) focus group participants highlighted a lack of cultural awareness in staff and a need for culturally appropriate care as paramount. We would express concerns about racism, stigma, stereotyping and overmedication. We hope that these findings will guide and underpin the recommendations made in the final report ”

It is to be hoped that Sir Simon and Theresa May do take action to remedy these many faults in the system. Otherwise it will be another case of political posturing  like help for the ” just about managing” which has so far amounted to warm words and little else.

There were concerns expressed at the recent conference organised by Rota at the University of East London that little would really be done to tackle this. If little happens it will only make matters worse and there is a need for strong campaign to make sure Downing Street does really listen.

Revealed: The next bill for the over 40s: Your social care tax

 

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pic credit: parliament.uk

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Without huge coverage MPs from two influential Parliamentary committees yesterday proposed a new tax system to pay for the burgeoning cost of social care.

The proposal could mean a new hike in national insurance contributions, some redistribution of money going to fund your local council, higher council, inheritance and income tax  and/or abolishing some of the existing universal pension benefits, like the heating allowance or cutting future state pension rises.

Significantly it includes making existing pensioners pay more tax particularly if they are still supplementing their pension by working.

This makes this the first serious policy proposal to deliberately tax people differently depending on their age – and exempting the millennials  at the expense of the elderly. In that it feeds into the current  and my view misconceived debate that millennials are being robbed by wealthy pensioners and the system must be changed to tax pensioners more.

The proposals may well prove to be attractive to the present government which has been trying to create an inter generational wedge between the young and old people – as a sop to the younger generation who have been burdened with huge student loan debts by government policy and can’t afford to buy a home.

No one can deny that the present system for social care is in a mess and is underfunded and it is estimated by the report  using  data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that spending on  care needs to rise by 3.9 per cent a year just to keep the current severely means tested system which means many cannot get help. It will cost billions more if personal care like the NHS became free at the point of use.

At the moment many people are already paying for care through  local council tax. When people ask where is all the council tax  money  is going – anything from 25 pc to 57pc  is going on social care for the young and old. The average of 37.8 pc according to the report.

The government is also transferring a big tranche of business tax revenue from Whitehall  to the councils and at the same time abolishing grants – but not according to the MPs  earmarking any of this money for social care.

The MPs have done a lot of groundwork – suggesting an independent body should supervise the new earmarked tax-  and have used a citizens assembly to advise them of how they could do it-. The report can be read in full here.

MPs need to tread very carefully over their funding proposals because there is no doubt it could make matters worse for a lot of people.

For a start – and it is picked up by people they consulted – 40 year olds will probably have the expense of  large mortgages, or higher rents, the cost of bringing up children and  may find, if they have had successful careers that they are  paid enough to have to pay back student loans. So they may be even more squeezed.

They have completely ignored the plight of  3.9 million 50s women. – many being forced to work for up to six years – and would now have to pay extra insurance or tax just at the point when they find it difficult to get a highly paid job.

Also by extending national insurance contributions at a higher rate for those who still have a job after turning 65 could well hit people who have taken part time low paid jobs to make ends meet. The MPs also suggest the premium should apply to unearned income and investments held by pensioners – which amounts to a tax on pensioners savings.

The committee talks of  setting an income threshold to make sure some pensioners are exempt – but does not state what this threshold should be.

To my mind there are too many questions  that have not been answered or evaluated for the government to go ahead with this. People should remember that everybody who drew up this report was on an MPs salary of  £77,000 a year, way above many people’s incomes.

Yes we need a debate on how to fund social care – but it shouldn’t be used as part of way to drive a wedge between generations- and we shouldn’t rush into  yet another use for the National Insurance Fund when  they are so many women who have been robbed of a decent pension by the existing system.