Local elections: Will the citizens of Salisbury revolt this week? Is it a new trend?

Ex Tory minister and MP for Salisbury Robert Key is one of the people supporting the Independent revolt. This is one of five podcasts he did criticising the system.

City’s former loyalist Tory MP and minister backs the revolt

UPDATED: The newly formed Independents did win their first seat on the council with Annie Riddle winning a seat in Harnham. But the other candidates failed to win a seat. However the composition of the council has change radically. It was 15 Conservatives, five Labour, one Liberal Democrat, one Independent. It is now no longer a Tory majority council. The new council is now 11 Conservative, 6 Labour, 6 Liberal Democrat and one Independent.

The City of Salisbury is not a natural place to start a revolution. Indeed in the seventeenth century it staged a Royalist revolt against Cromwell and kidnapped its High Sherriff. The last Bishop of Salisbury to be murdered by an unruly mob was William Ayscough in 1450. And apart from the horrendous Novichok murder and attempted poisonings by Russian spies it is not a place normally associated with sudden dramas.

So it is all the more surprising that this city of 45,000 people which has returned Conservative MPs without fail since 1924 should suddenly be facing a challenge to its Tory status quo in this week’s local elections.

And even more extraordinary that a man who is advocating change is former Tory minister and a long standing former Tory MP for Salisbury, Robert Key. One of the most loyal Tories for over 50 years he now says ” in his old age he is becoming a revolutionary.”

The reason for this sudden grass roots rebellion is local government reform. Whereas much is said about devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, at the local level power is being taken away from England’s towns and small cities like Salisbury, by the creation of mammoth unitary authorities like Wiltshire and Dorset. And more are to come soon in further local government reform. So Wiltshire is governed by officials in Trowbridge, Dorset by Dorchester etc.

It also does seem extraordinary that a city with a cathedral should have no more power than a small rural village parish council in remote Lincolnshire.

Salisbury Cathedral

Judging from public reaction many people agree. A brand new Facebook page called Save our Salisbury (SOS) has attracted 2600 members and an energetic former journalist and sub editor, Annie Riddle, is among eight Independent candidates standing for the City council. There is also an independent, an ex detective inspector, Mike Rees, challenging the Tory police commissioner for Wiltshire

The current 23 member council has 16 Tories, 5 Labour and one Liberal Democrat. By putting one independent in each of the eight wards – the candidates are telling people to give one of their three votes ( in most cases) to an Independent and not a political party.

What’s the point?

Annie Riddle says in her own blog; “all the main parties have had trouble putting up a full complement of candidates for the local elections in May – largely, I think, because people are disillusioned and ask: “What’s the point?”
Now I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and try to do something to help our community by standing as an independent candidate for the city council in Harnham.”

And it seems to be admitted by the Tories themselves with people like John Brady, former chair of Salisbury Conservative Association saying:

“It is the officers who make the decisions (recommendations). They know that councillors are transient and as with Harnham, where councillors persuaded them to take a proposed development off the Strategic Plan, officers reinstated it as soon as they could when dealing with a different councillor (cabinet member). “All the ‘consultation’ that has to be done is a complete waste of time as I know that this is merely a way of allowing locals to let off steam.”

The situation in Salisbury is not unique. Pressed by issues like houses left empty and an unpopular road closure scheme and people having no say are among the local flash points. A number of small towns in other parts of England are doing the same.

Revolts in other towns

Frome in Somerset in 2015 replaced all its Conservative councillors with Independents for Frome and re-elected them again in 2019. Alderley Edge First in Cheshire did the same – re-electing them on a 42 per cent poll ( high for a parish council) in 2019. Uttlesford near Stansted Airport in Essex, is an Independent majority council – the impetus being concern over the expansion of Stansted Airport.

And some have taken seats from Labour controlled councils such as Ashfield in Nottinghamshire and the mayor of Middlesbrough where an Independent took over from a Labour mayor.

In the last large scale local elections in England in 2019 – across the country Independents gained 250 seats – while the Conservative and Labour parties fell back.

National interest in this year’s elections will be on how Labour and Tories do – whether it is Tory gains in ” Red Wall” seats in the North and Midlands – or whether Labour can make gains elsewhere. The Liberal Democrats and Greens performances will be analysed in areas where they made progress last time.

But beneath all this lies a generally unreported interesting trend in towns and cities – local people standing on local issues – often revolting against the major parties and Big Brother councils in places miles away from where people live. Who said democracy was dead?

Last of the Summer Lyme

Indefatigable campaigner: Stan Williams,. deputy mayor Lyme Regis council

A quirky tale of campaigning pensioners exposing dodgy council dealings in a quaint old English seaside resort

This is a story of two extraordinary 85 year old campaigning pensioners. For 40 years have fought their local council over a dodgy land deal in a quaint Dorset seaside town and so far literally hit a brick wall.

It is happening in the unlikely place of Lyme Regis. The family holiday town, home to numerous bed and breakfasts, and with its iconic Cobb on the marina immortalised by the famous English novelist ,John Fowles in The French Lieutenants Woman ( later as a film with Meryl Streep) is not seen as a hotbed of intrigue.

But behind the public image of Olde English teashops lies a dark story that involves questionable dealings, dubious planning applications. illegal blocking of a public eight of way, secret deals over cream teas, fake entries put into Land Registry records, information hidden by local worthies, and threats to people who tried to find out what was going on.

The characters would not be out of place in a novel or could appear in a West Country version of Last of the Summer Wine. One, Stan Williams, is deputy mayor of Lyme Regis, now 85, and one of the longest serving councillors. The other, Nigel Marsh ,also 85, is probably regarded by officialdom as a local busy body questioning local decisions. Yet the two have combined to try and solve a land deal that has been festering for 40 years and still the town council won’t come clean.

The Cliff House mudslide that made 14 people homeless

The catalyst for the scandal took place almost 60 years ago. According to a paper by Richard Bull on the history of Lyme’s sea defences in the Lyme Regis museum the local council gave permission to property developer Edward Keen to build 20 bungalows and flats on unstable land prone to mudslides above Marine Parade. He excavated 50,000 tonnes of soil.

The book says: ” On..12th February 1962, only a few days after the excavation was completed, movement was noticed, with cracking and heaving in some nearby houses. Movements continued through the evening and by 9 pm the whole slope failed. Cliff House, which was standing empty, moved 3.2m nearer the sea and was back-tilted and ruined. Sunnydene Guest House caved in, and three other houses were left at crazy angles. Other houses were extensively damaged and 14 people made homeless. Above Cliff House a large back-scar appeared at the top of the slip plane or shear, cutting Stile Lane.”

Even after this the town clerk, Harry Williams was reported in the Daily Sketch as saying, … that the development project will eventually completely stabilise … the site…and, as far as the Borough Council knew, work could continue to excavate soil from the site.” This bloody mindedness was to be repeated by successor town clerks.

1964 compulsory purchase order

The developer aborted the plan and council put in a compulsory purchase order for the land in 1964 and have created a pleasant public gardens on the site of the now demolished Cliff House.

What was saved was the gardeners cottage called Cliff Cottage which was jacked up and restored. As the Lyme Regis book says: “Cliff Cottage, which still stands …was miraculously jacked up
back to true from a drunken angle, leaning into the landslip scar, using dozens of
hydraulic car jacks and quickly concreted in after use.”

The Cadbury conveyance

The Cadbury chocolate dynasty connection

The property had been owned by Celia Jeannette Cadbury who married into the famous Cadbury chocolate dynasty. Her husband George ran an electrical engineering business in West Bromwich. She lived in Kidderminster which suggests the property was a holiday home.

She sold the property to Kathleen Dorothy Tompkins in 1955. A splendid deed of conveyence exists in Dorchester Archives with a map of the land.

In 1980 the rebuilt property changes ownership to Marilyn Bolton, then a formidable local councillor. There is no record of the price paid in the Land Registry entry and the property transaction appears to have taken place without a plan of the land. The solicitors were a respected local firm Kitson and Trotman who are also the council’s solicitors.

It is then that a series of events happened. First an old garage next to the cottage was replaced with a tearoom and then an extended high class restaurant was built with a terrace overlooking the new public gardens. The restaurant is now managed by celebrity chef, Mark Hix – see my previous blog here.

My own investigations of what happened next revealed that this new development was carried out illegally with the council’s connivance who then tried to cover it up what had happened until it couldn’t any more – including a false declaration to the Land Registry and the illegal removal of a right of way.

Merry Bolton, now an ex councillor in her 70s, told me of a meeting with a former town clerk, Mr Robin Munday.

cream tea deal

Over a cream tea with him in 1985 she said: ” We looked at the land next to the cottage and agreed that the boundary should be a line of trees. At the time the land was a mess after the upheaval so it wasn’t clear where it was.”

His successor Mike Lewis duly registered the boundary with the land registry allowing her to encroach on the council land covered by the compulsory purchase order. He was later challenged by both Nigel Marsh and councillor Stan Williams and promised to change it but never did.

It was her two planning applications in 2006 to turn the tea room into an extended restaurant that caused the biggest stir. The tea room already obstructed a public footpath called Stiles Lane which is illegal but the new planning application encroached on to the council land. At the same time she never applied to either divert or extinguish the public right of way.

Plans for restuarant showing the encroachment on council land and the old right of way

Dorset council have confirmed to me that is the case. The told me:

“We can confirm that Footpath W2/12 from Pound Street to Marine Parade in Lyme Regis is obstructed by a number of buildings and landscaping works carried out over many years to re-profile the area following landslips and the creation of Langmoor Gardens.

“The Highway Authority has powers to enforce an obstruction of the public’s right of free passage over a public highway, but there is an alternative route, which is safer and more commodious for the public. Therefore, this is a considered to be a low priority for already stretched public funds.

“When planning permission was granted to extend the building that is currently obstructing the footpath, this did not give permission to obstruct the footpath. The applicant was advised to apply to divert the footpath by legal order and that this order must be confirmed before work commenced. We do not believe that West Dorset District Council received such an application.”

Gorgeous view of Lyme from restuarant

In 2009 after the restaurant had been extended the row led to the appointment by the council of a distinguished boundary demarcation expert David Powell. His report, which I have seen, came down firmly that the former councillor had encroached on council land. He suggested calling in the lawyers to sort it out.

But neither the council nor Ms Bolton agreed. She wrote to Mike Lewis on 2 November 2009 ” We are anxious as the Town Council to avoid expensive and pointless litigation, which will make both the experts and the lawyers rich, but leave the parties to the dispute the poorer”.

What followed was a rewriting of the council’s entry to the land registry to create a retrospective lease on the council land to the restaurant. But absolutely nothing was done to change the title deed of Cliff Cottage which included the council land.

John Wright town clerk

In 2017 the current town clerk John Wright put in an application to do this on Marilyn Bolton’s cottage but he never proceeded.

Instead he has followed his predecessors and tried to hush matters up. This included a letter to Nigel Marsh banning him from speaking to any Lyme Regis councillor or official. I am told this is not the first time he has done this which must be legally unenforceable.

Lyme Regis’s quirky town hall

Since then he has declined to reply to my questions after telling me had no intention of doing anything about the footpath which he sees as a Dorset Council matter. The council’s lawyers have pleaded ” client confidentiality ” to any queries though they have refuted one allegation that they were working hand in hand with the ex-councillor and the council at the same time – which would lead to a complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

As for the two indefatigable pensioners. Stan Williams says: ” As a kid I used to walk up that footpath to go to school every day. I don’t wish to see the restaurant run by Mark Hix demolished as a result but I do think the council and Marilyn Bolton should come clean about what happened particularly as she has benefitted financially from the deal.”

Nigel Marsh also does not want the celebrity chef caught up in this shenanigans but is determined to get a solution and not be stopped by a brick wall.

Saved by a judge: Historic Victorian station with a military history and a setting for “Dad’s Army”

Historic Brandon Station dating from 1845, built by a notable Victorian architect and now listed following the judgement.

Judicial review saves 175 year old station from ” unlawful” demolition by privatised rail company for a car park

When Save Britain’s Heritage appeared before Mrs Justice Lang to argue the case for saving Brandon Station it was almost a lost cause. But the judge who is pretty independent and also recently granted a judicial review to women born in the 1950s so they could seek compensation for the rise on their pension age was not be put off.

Breckland Council in Norfolk had already given the owners Greater Anglian railways the go ahead to demolish the booking hall that had been empty and boarded up for 16 years so they could create a 100 space car park for commuters to Norwich, Cambridge and Ely. The scheme would have cost £1m and was accepted by the Railway Heritage Trust.

The station on the Norfolk /Suffolk border is becoming busier as more rail services are introduced. The town itself is a mixture of historic flint buildings and sprawling estates and has strong military connections because of the nearby Lakenheath and Mildenhall air bases.

unlawful development certificate

But when the judge started examining the case she found the development certificate issued by the council was unlawful because the scheme appeared to encroach on land not owned by the private rail company because of irregularities in the boundaries of the site.

She was not impressed by the council granting permission while the building was being considered for listing. It has since been listed.

The railway station building is constructed of local knapped flint, gault brick and slate to a design by Victorian architect John Thomas in 1845. Mr Thomas had Parliamentary connections as he who was appointed the superintendent of stone-carving at the Palace of Westminster by Sir Charles Barry. when Parliament was rebuilt. He was also commissioned by Prince Albert for stone carving work at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Royal visit to Brandon: Pic Credit D Norton via Save Britain’s Heritage

Local people have archive coverage of a Royal visit by King George VI and the Queen Mum to Brandon station in the second world war. There is a website by Darren Norton about both world wars here.

There were also many foreign troops stationed there. Here is a picture of Polish troops in 1946.

Units of the Polish 2nd Corps arriving at Brandon Station in 1946. Photo: Victor Lukaniuk,locaL councillor

Also the station and the town of Brandon were used for an episode of the iconic BBC series Dad’s Army. See here.

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: “This shows that determination, persistence and resourcefulness can bring back historic buildings on death row. We have already commissioned plans by the architect Doug Reid, obtained initial costs from builders, and will now be working with the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust on raising finance.”

The most recent press release from them is here.

The aim is to restore the buildings as local business units with a cafe to encourage new start ups in the area.

Covid-19: How the year of the bus became the year of bust

Pic Credit: Wes Hicks – Unsplash

2020 was supposed to be the Year of the Bus. A newly elected Tory government promised £220m to improve services which had been in decline since 2010 when another newly elected Tory led government created the cuts.

The initiative ticked every election promise box. It was going to reverse service cuts – mainly in the shires as part of levelling up. It was going to produce a brilliant new demonstration package of co-ordinated bus and train services in Cornwall – one of the poorest areas of England. It was going to be green -promising the first total electric powered bus service in an English city. It was going to be faster with more dedicated bus lanes and expressways and it was going to be easily accessible by introducing a national data system for services and fares available on the internet.

Then came Covid 19. And as a new National Audit Office report revealed on Friday the bus plan crashed off the road.

unglamourous buses

Buses have never been a glamourous subject. As the NAO report shows they are mainly used by the poor, over 70s, the 17-21 age group before they get their own wheels and single women seeking a safe way home.

It also suffered huge service cuts and big fare rises for many of its passengers outside London. A useful map in the NAO report shows how passenger traffic has declined by an average of 10 per cent between 2010 and 2019 – falling highest in places like Tyne and Wear, Lancashire, Teesside, East Sussex and Lincolnshire but rising in Bristol and Brighton and Hove.

Pic credit: Suzy Hazelwood Pexels

Some 3000 routes have disappeared with bus mileage down from 243 million to 112 million and the average local authority support for services dropping 38 per cent with 42 authorities slashing expenditure by over 50 per cent. Some of the worst examples are West Yorkshire, Surrey and Northamptonshire. Average fares went up 18 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

free bus pass

The biggest cost to local authorities has been the free bus pass – now estimated at £650m a year – a national service – but funded by the local authority where you live. Funding from central government to bus operators has dropped from 31 per cent to 24 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

One of the problems is that since the de-regulation of services the government has had little control – so it can make a lot of noise about improving services – but it can’t force private operators to do it. The plan for a national data system for bus timetables and fares – depends on whether individual operators want to spend the money.

When Covid 19 hit the government was faced with a dilemma – only key workers were encouraged to use public transport – slashing revenue. The government did provide extra cash in tranches to bus companies to keep them going. But it also raided its shiny new support budget to improve services.

The plan for a co-ordinated Cornwall transport service from Plymouth to Penzance was dumped.

So was the money put aside to restore cut services. And it looks like – despite interest from 50 different towns and cities – to be the first to run an all electric bus service – is being delayed by Whitehall inertia.

And other promises to improve express bus services = especially in the West Midlands – have been undermined by the operators themselves.

First Worcester cut service

One check I did on Google First Worcester company had created a furore by halving the number of express buses between Worcester and Birmingham north of Bromsgrove – forcing people to use more expensive services elsewhere. Yet this is an area given priority in the government’s new bus plan and it happened before the Covid 19 crisis hit.

There are some bright spots. Bristol has improved passenger use by 36 per cent. Nottingham has increased bus use and invested in clean bio gas buses and new trams by imposing a work car parking levy. And London, which was not examined in this report, has seen bus use up 89 per cent.

The lesson is clear to all. Grandiose plans to ” level up ” the poorest parts of the country are going to be very expensive if they are to work. And if they don’t deliver there will be a political price to pay for falsely raising people’s hopes. You have been warned.

Assetco: The negligent privatisation audit that has cost Grant Thornton over £20m in damages

Top accountancy firm loses appeal over failing to spot forged documents in huge London fire brigade privatisation scandal

A London fire engine -once owned by Assetco

The big four accountancy firms make a fat living from auditing the large number of private companies taking over public services.

But a Court of Appeal ruling last month suggests that if they don’t do the job properly they could now face huge damages claims from directors of companies who were duped by their negligent auditing.

The Assetco saga has been extensively covered on this blog. It involved the sale and leasing of the entire fire engine fleet of London and Lincolnshire to a gang of spivs and fraudsters – who were last known to still be evading justice nearly a decade after swindling investors and conning the London Fire Brigade. The Fire Brigades Union also took up the issue on behalf of its members.

ban after causing fraud

A separate investigation by the Financial Reporting Council found Assetco’s chief executive John Shannon ” causing or facilitating fraud. He was 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.

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.

Grant Thornton, and the accountant who audited the company Robert Napper,  has led to a £3.7m fine for  both of them for professional misconduct. ( Napper was fined £120,000) Neither Grant Thornton nor Mr Napper made any financial gain out of the scandal. The accountant took early retirement and now lives in a bucolic Oxfordshire village developing his hobby as a wine buff.. See here.

Now the Abu Dhabi directors of Assetco who took over in 2011- straight after the London and Lincoln operations collapsed have successfully sued Grant Thornton for £22m and their case has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.

The first trial lasted 20 days, involving extensive evidence from factual and expert witnesses and consideration of a large volume of documents and of 877 pages of written submissions as well as oral submissions.

Grant Thornton appealed but lost the case. The court was told that if Grant Thornton had audited the accounts properly they would have found evidence of forged documents which inflated the value of the firm.

Fraudster John Shannon when he was boss of Assetco

The court were told Mr Shannon and Mr Flynn told GT that the “unitary payments” due under the London Contract had increased by nearly £47,000 per month (£564,000pa) from April 2009 and produced documents to establish it. The statements were dishonestly made, and the documents were forged. It was only on the basis of these alleged payments that the London Contract appeared to be profitable.

Grant Thornton argued unsuccessfully that they couldn’t be responsible for all the losses. The judges found in the company’s favour.

The Financial Reporting Council did pass its findings to the Serious Fraud Office but so far it appears nothing further has happened. Mr Shannon has thought to have moved to Thailand while Mr Flynn remains in Northern Ireland.

The most important development is this judgement could form a major piece of caselaw if any other major accountancy firm does not do its auditing job properly. It is a big shot across the bows of the big four accountancy firms to be more diligent.

Exclusive on Byline Times: Disappearing London voters as foreign buyers and new build AirBnBs flood neighbourhoods

110-112 Vauxhall Bridge Road; One of the AirBnBs block of apartments springing up in Westminster Pic credit: booking.com
The Surprise: This was the old pub that is now a new rebuilt AirBnb The original planning application was for it to be replaced by residential housing.

I have done a special investigation for Byline Times showing the extraordinary contrast between the decline of the electorate in Westminster and Kensington and the huge property and tourist boom bringing in non voting oligarchs, foreign buyers and purpose built blocks of AirBnBs.

This may have contributed to Labour winning Battersea and Kensington from the Conservatives at the last election. This time it is not so clear as Labour and the Lib Dems are vying for votes.

See my full story here.

On Byline Times: The failed Tory manifesto pledge that dashed the hopes of 200,000 first time buyers

Promised starter home? Pic credit; Money Which?

As the manifesto season gears up – a very timely report today from the National Audit Office. It reveals David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto pledge to build 200,000 homes for first time buyers has resulted in not a single starter home being built. The full facts of this failed pledge are on Byline Times here.

Johnson slammed for wasting £137 billion of taxpayers’ cash while denying 50s women a penny in pensions compensation

Carole Irwin in Spain: Rightly angry at waste of taxpayers money when nothing is paid out to 50s women

Today I have decided to highlight one of my angry blog supporters who lives in Spain and is a victim of the pension scandal that has seen 3.8 million 50s women waiting up to six years to get their pension.

So outraged at the Prime Minister refusing to consider any compensation for the women that she has written to complain to Boris Johnson and highlight how much money he and his ministers have wasted after researching the bills.

As she puts it: ” Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet you are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night!

Carole Irwin lives in the mountains behind Malaga. She tells me :

” I am 60 years old and during my working life paid NI payments whilst working as a nurse for several years, and as a civilian in the Police Service.  I then brought up my children, so received child benefit credits for those years.

I moved to Spain to retire with my family 14 years ago. 6 years ago l was diagnosed with an incurable and life changing illness. This costs me between 80€ and 90€ in medications per month alone.

This is why I became a member of  #WePaidInYouPayOut which has been supporting  Back to 60. 

….I am one of the many who has received no letter informing me of this change. When I started working it was on the understanding although only an assumed agreement that I would receive my pension at 60.This change of retirement age along with my illness has affected our plans for our future life in Spain. “

This is her full letter to Mr Johnson:

” I am writing to you as l have many concerns about the enormous amounts of money being wasted by Government’s various departments.
In order to be concise l am writing it in bullet points so as not to waste your time.

Firstly Chris Grayling ( who possibly has wasted the most money) who has served in several roles during his time in government and unbelievably still is employed as
Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom
(2016 to 2019). Had he been employed in the private sector would have been dismissed as his record shows how incapable he actually is!
*Chris Grayling alone has so far wasted almost 3 billion pounds of public money…

*At least £500 million to sort out the mess he made when attempting to privatise the probation service (source: National Audit Office)

*£33 million when sued by Eurotunnel over Seaborne Freight fiasco (source: The Guardian)

*£38 million – cost to the economy in the north of England due to the rail chaos in July 2018 (source The London Economic)

*£50,000 on the failed ‘lorry jam’ Brexit exercise in Kent (source: The Guardian)

*£70,000 on failed attempt to ban books from prisons (source: The Independent)

*£2 billion cost to taxpayers on the collapse of Virgin Trains east coast franchise (source The London Economic)

*£15 million a year in additional costs to the Carillion contract to run facilities management in prisons (source The London Economic)

*£5 million on ‘wasted rail fares’ for HS2 staff (source: Huffington Post)

*£50 million on cancelled No Deal ferry contracts (source: The Guardian)

*£32 million of charges that were unlawfully collected – which the government were ordered to pay back (source The London Economic)

*£23 million contract to develop a new generation of GPS tracking tags for dangerous offenders written off because the project proved “too challenging” (source The London Economic)

*£60 million over the £130 million original budget on the electronic tagging programme – described by the PAC as a “catastrophic waste of public money” (source The London Economic)

More government waste is shown by the Tax payers alliance.

Although excellent work has been undertaken by the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group in terms of finding savings, taxpayers’ cash has still been wasted in a number of ways, with significant sums ripe for being saved in many areas, including:

*£53 billion – Additional cost of funding pay and pensions for public sector workers over and above the private sector average, based on analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Pension Policy Institute
*£25 billion – Amount wasted through inefficient public sector procurement and poor use of outsourcing, based on an authoritative report from the Institute of Directors
*£20.3 billion – Cost to the economy of public sector fraud, according to the National Fraud Authority
*£5 billion – Amount paid in benefits to those with an income in excess of £100,000
*£4 billion – Losses to the taxpayer from RBS and the sale of Northern Rock£2.9 billion – Amount spent needlessly by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and Department for Culture, Media & Sport, which should both be scrapped
*£1.2 billion – Annual subsidy to foreign farmers through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy
The planning of the London garden bridge cost £58 million without so much as a pot plant being placed!
These figures are also almost certainly an underestimate. A rigorous assessment of the public sector efficiency commissioned by the European Central Bank found that if the UK’s bloated public sector were as efficient as that in the economies of countries like the US, Australia, and Japan, no less than £137 billion could have been saved in the last year! Those is a Huge amount of money!

In addition to the big ticket items, we have identified hundreds of examples of smaller sums being wasted. It is, however, all still taxpayers’ money and there is no excuse for waste, regardless of the amount involved. Among the culprits identified are:

Arts Council: Gave a £95,000 grant to artists in Brighton for “Skip”, a rubbish dumpster outlined with yellow lights!

Crawley Council: Spent £5,070 on 12,200 hot drinks from vending machines for council employees, when the equivalent number of tea bags would have cost just £200!

Department for International Development: Spent £21.2 million on a road maintenance project in Bangladesh, later pulled due to “fiduciary irregularities” after it emerged that less than 10% had actually been spent on roads!

Durham Council: Funded a £12,000 clothing allowance to allow councillors to wear “Geordie Armani”!

Hull Council: Spent £40,000 on a concert in honour of the councillor who is Lord Mayor this year!

Ministry of Defence: Paid £22 for light bulbs that are normally 65p!

Prison Service: Paid £720,000 to professional actors for role playing that is aimed at helping inmates become employed.

Scottish Government: Signed a £1.4 million 4-year contract for taxis for civil servants in Edinburgh – despite staff being told to use buses.

Stoke-on-Trent Council: Spent £330,000 to pay for redundancy packages and subsequently rehiring 25 members of staff.

All this money wasted by your government was paid for by the hard working tax payers and I’m sure if l did more research l could find many more examples.
One being to your own embarrassment the purchasing of water cannons. I wonder what they were worth at the local scrap dealer?

There are a great many extremely angry women not yet receiving their hard earned Pensions which was paid for by themselves throughout their lives by paying national insurance.
I’m sure they would not have chosen to waste so much money in the way you did, as had that money still been available you could have decided we earned and deserved our pensions.
Had we run our household budgets as you have run yours, we would have lost or homes and been made bankrupt yet to are able to get away with it. You will get extremely good Pensions unlike the true workers of the country who get the smallest Pension in Europe. I actually don’t know how you can sleep at night!
Due to the appalling waste as listed above, please do it get too comfortable in your role as Prime Minister as l have a strong feeling come the next general election you will have many people choosing not to vote for your incompetent and cruel party.”

On Byline next month I am planning to try and see how much money the PM has also wasted on the No Deal Brexit which increasingly looks unlikely to happen on October 31. This can be added to the figures she has researched.

But I thought it was worth publishing this gigantic list because it highlights the anger people feel about this issue and the waste of taxpayers money by politicians. No doubt the reply will be stuck in a queue in the PM’s correspondence unit. But wider publication will not allow him so easily to get away with it. Nor should he.

The surreal 2019 local election results

Conservatives lose, Labour disappoint, Lib Dems revive and Greens grow

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The 2019 local elections were one of the most surreal in recent times. For a start two of the newest party groups, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party and the breakaway group, ChangeUK, were too late to field any candidates. So they didn’t reflect the range of political alternatives on offer.

The voting results Pic credit: BBC

They took place against a background of massive disillusion with politicians and country bitterly divided between Remain and Brexit.

The comparison with 2015 – the last time the seats were fought- was not equally valid as the 2015 elections were on the same day as a general election when more people turn out to vote.

England scoreboard

PARTYCOUNCILLORSCHANGE +/-
Conservative3564-1330
Labour2021-84
Liberal Democrat1352+705
Green265+194
UKIP31-145
Others1177+660

So it was not surprising that the two major parties suffered and there was a rise in the number of Independents elected reversing a trend for decades.

However contrary to some of the reporting disillusionment did not fall equally on the Tories and Labour. The Tories lost out massively , Labour did not.


The Conservative party lost 1,330 seats and lost control of 45 councils. They now have control of 93 councils. Labour gained some councils but finished with an overall loss of six councils ending up controlling 60.

The Lib Dems managed net gains of 11 councils – leaving them in control of 18. The Greens did not win any council but are now a presence in both rural and urban areas.

When you get down to the detail you find Labour’s performance reflects a trend that was going on last year. The party is finding it is losing ground in some traditional working class areas where they have dominated for decades but still gaining ground in the most unlikely of places, particularly in the South.

The must dramatic losses were in Sunderland ( 10 seats), Bolsover (14) and North East Derbyshire ( 17), Redcar and Cleveland ( 13) all traditional working class areas. They also were driven back in Derby where the Tories are now the largest party and lost five seats in South Tyneside. Labour lost to a landslide of Independents in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire and now only have two councillors left. Labour disappeared completely in Dacorum ( Hemel Hemsptead) where they have been declining for years. In Stoke on Trent where Labour launched its local election campaign it lost five seats and the Tories gained eight. They also lost control of Bolton, Darlington , Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.

Now the council leader of Sunderland Graeme Miller blamed the loss of Labour seats on a ” massive protest ” over the party’s attitude to Brexit by agreeing there could be a second referendum. This may have been partly true – as other big losses were in Leave areas – but in Sunderland voters seem to be saying ” Anybody but Labour” by voting in UKIP, Liberal Democrat , Conservative and Green councillors.

Now if this was repeated all over the country it would have been a very bad night for Labour. But it wasn’t. Labour gained seats to take control of Trafford, High Peak and Gravesham in Kent. They also remarkably took over Witney town council winning 15 of 17 seats on David Cameron’s doorstep.

And again like last year they won seats in areas where Labour hasn’t existed for years. This included one seat on South Norfolk council, one seat on Lyme Regis town council, 16 gains in Thanet – last time a UKIP stronghold, six in Folkestone and Hythe, where they hadn’t been represented, and they doubled their councillors in Worthing from five to ten. They also won 3 seats on Lewes council in East Sussex where they have not been represented for a decade.More surprisingly they took two seats in Surrey on Waverley council – both in Godalming, bringing back into politics the former Labour MP for Broxtowe, Nick Palmer. The rout in Waverley which covers true blue Farnham and Haslemere saw a 49 seat Tory majority collapse with 30 Tory councillors losing their seats ( Lib Dems gained 13, Greens two, and Farnham Residents, an independent group ended up with 14 councillors.

The Liberal Democrats did well with landslide results in Chelmsford, North Norfolk, Bath and North East Somerset, Vale of the White Horse, Hinckley & Bosworth, Winchester, Cotswolds, North Devon, Mole Valley, North Devon, Somerset West & Taunton and Teignbridge. Without doubt at a local level they have shrugged off their appalling performances after the coalition government but it is not entirely clear that in every area it will mean a rejection of Brexit. The Greens also now have a presence on many councils by winning seats in both rural and urban areas and strengthening their position in Lewes, Brighton and Norwich.

The Conservative losses are so numerous that it is impossible to list all the 45 councils they no longer control. But there was a devastating trail across Kent and Surrey and serious losses in the West country. Among the biggest losses were Waverley (30), Guildford ( 22) Bath and North East Somerset ( 25) ,Chelmsford (31) , Swale (16) North Norfolk (19) and Kings Lynn (16).

What does all mean? It is too facile to see this as a Brexit v Remain result particularly as they have been a substantial rise in Independents. These are by no means all Tories in disguise. On one level it is the reverse of the 2017 general election which saw the two main parties dominate. Now they are in the back foot in some of their strongholds – whether it be the North East or parts of the Midlands for Labour or the South East, West country and parts of East Anglia for the Tories.

Labour is still advancing the South East and has strengthened its position in Manchester. The Lib Dems are back with a vengeance in former strongholds.What will happen next with the European elections and the Peterborough by-election may also not be a true guide.

We live in surreal times and these were surreal local elections.

Can the Independent Child Sex Abuse Inquiry really properly investigate Elm Guest House?

Elm-Guest-House

The former Elm Guest House in Barnes, south west London, now a respectable residential property

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The news that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is to investigate events  surrounding Elm Guest House in the London borough of Richmond is to be welcomed. But I have serious doubts whether the inquiry will have the time and space to properly investigate.

The item is one of a number sandwiched into three weeks of hearings under the Westminster  strand of the inquiry and Alexis Jay, the chair made it clear ,last month there is no intention to make any of the investigations exhaustive.

As she said:”It is important that everyone, including the public, understands that this is not, and has never intended to be, an exhaustive examination of  all Westminster-related child sexual abuse issues. Even focusing on institutional issues, a comprehensive
examination of all the allegations that have been made, and all the questions that have been raised, particular on the internet, would involve hearings lasting months, if not years.”

So what will this brief cover. Again  according to her statement it will be limited:

“Another category of these investigations concerns allegations relating to Elm Guest House. Those allegations include possible misconduct on the part of the Metropolitan Police in the way in which investigations into goings on at Elm Guest House were conducted, and also allegations that the fruits of those investigations were covered up.

“The latter allegations include the well-known allegation that evidence relating to Leon Brittan’s presence at and/or involvement with  Elm Guest House was suppressed. We propose to call some more detailed evidence relating to these cases at the hearings next year.”

So even the remit looking at Elm Guest House will be confined.

I got involved in reporting this after a source  who was neither a  child sex abuse survivor nor a politician, stumbled across it during an unrelated dispute. The source had also discovered – and I have never had time  to investigate this – allegations of elder abuse at a home in Richmond. Until then as a journalist I had never investigated any cases of alleged child sexual abuse.

What followed was a whirlwind of allegations, some involving national politicians, others pointing to a lack of duty of  care for children by Richmond Council at Grafton Close children’s home, a muddled police investigation, and a series of  very disturbing stories from people  who were children at the home at the time.

Father Anthony McSweeney

Father Anthony McSweeney; Pic Credit: BBC

It ended with the successful prosecution of  a well connected Roman Catholic priest, Father Tony McSweeney and charges against the former deputy manager of the children’s home., John Stingemore.  McSweeney was sentenced to three years in gaol, Stingemore died a fortnight before he was due to appear before Southwark Crown Court.

Unlike Operation Midland the Met Police  investigation did produce results. In McSweeney’s case it forced the Roman Catholic Church to commission a report into what went wrong when it was revealed that the paedophile priest was caught some 30 years later with a file of indecent pictures on his computer while playing a major pastoral role with young boys and men in Norwich scouts, boxing clubs and with the Norwich City Football youth team.

While the evidence about any connection between Elm Guest House and Grafton Close was never tested in court because of Stingemore’s death the trial did reveal that both McSweeney accompanied  by Stingemore took boys away from the home without permission for weekends at a flat in Bexhill. They were present where various alleged sexual assaults took place. If Stingemore had been convicted, the jury would have found out that soon after leaving Richmond, and working for another authority he was arrested and convicted of child sexual abuse.

All this suggested that Richmond Council was seriously amiss in looking after children in its care and that both elected councillors and officials should have known what was  going on. But it looks that the inquiry would not look at this aspect, allowing the council to be let off the hook.

As serious as this is when Elm Guest House was raided by the police, Grafton Close was designated as a place of safety for any children that might be found there. Effectively the police  unwittingly were sending children to an establishment run by a paedophile with a paedophile friend who regularly visited it.And by alerting Grafton Close in advance if there was a connection with Elm Guest House, the establishment would have got a tip off about the raid.

As for the place itself  it seems like many hotels that welcomed gay guests in late 1970s and early 1980s, tolerated both consenting gay adults staying overnight and possibly paedophiles. The fact is unlike today homosexuality was viewed as a closet activity, driving both adults and paedophiles to the same venues. The situation is reflected in hotels used as gay haunts in North Wales at the same time.

As for VIPs and a police cover up  at Elm Guest House the inquiry will have its work cut out. Perhaps they can throw light on the Metropolitan Police’s reply to Channel Four Dispatches that Sir Cyril Smith visited the venue. As for Leon Brittan, the identification that he is alleged to have visited the venue come not from survivors or any list compiled by anybody but from enraged residents of this posh Barnes road. They say they spotted  both him  and at other times boys getting out of cars late at night and were fed up with this sort of traffic in a respectable neighbourhood.