Revealed: Faked bills and dodgy deals How Assetco conned auditors and ripped off London and Lincoln’s firefighters

london fire engine

A London fire engine then owned by Assetco

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The scandal that led to the huge £3.7m  fine ( reduced to £2.4m after co-operation) against  accountants Grant Thornton and ex  partner Robert Napper is revealed in a dry 56 page report by the Financial Reporting Council.

The biggest con by the privatised company  Assetco responsible for  owning and maintaining the capital and Lincolnshire’s fire engines was in faking additional cash payments from London’s fire brigade when it was asked to do  more work.

Directors of the company took advantage of three extra requests that were approved by London fire brigade – involving new equipment for fire engines and emergency training for 700 of the capital’s firefighters.

In all three cases they fiddled the books to boost the value of the company to shareholders and lied about the cost of the contracts to  gullible auditor Robert Napper and  accountancy firm Grant Thornton.

The London fire brigade wanted its engines to be equipped with new foam pumps and thermal imaging cameras. Under the privatisation deal they could charge large sums of money per month  under a  leasing deal for fitting this equipment. But the greedy directors were not satisfied with this great deal. They decided they wanted icing on the cake and claimed even more to make their company look more profitable. And not just a few pence -literally millions of pounds.

The new foam pumps meant that Assetco could and did charge an additional £2.6m to London fire brigade. But the directors claimed that additionally they were charging London fire brigade another £46,975 a month from April 2009. This produced promised income of another £4.991 million over the next 14 years. But Assetco never even sent an invoice to the London fire brigade. for these sums. It was a complete fake – the money did  not exist and the auditors didn’t spot it.

The same applied to the thermal imaging cameras. The 140 cameras were leased to London fire brigade at a cost of £331,443 a year or £27,620 a month.  But then the directors told the auditors that it had cost over £1m to purchase and fit the cameras and that the London fire brigade was paying over £57,000 a month. This generated a total of  over £5,875m over 13 years. Again this was a complete fake and it would have shown a profit margin of 80 per cent. This went unchallenged by Mr Napper despite queries by his team.

Finally they fiddled the emergency training programme for 700 firefighters. They claimed they were receiving another £71,000 a month for ladders and hoses and guards that they were already were being paid under an existing contract.  They also fiddled the costs. They said it would only cost the company £2m to provide it over five years. In fact it was over £6m.

This catalogue of deceit was aimed at inflating the value of the company. It was particularly despicable because the directors were using the need to improve London’s  fire fighting capability as a vehicle to fiddle the books. But that was not all they were doing and I will come back to it in another blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Election 2017: Prim Headmistress v Cool Grandad

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

General elections should be all about policy rather than personalities. But what about the non political vibes that may decide how you cast your vote? And why is Jeremy Corbyn rather than Theresa May such an unlikely icon for younger voters?

Theresa May

Prim Headmistress Pic credit:BBC

The impression I get of Theresa May is that she is a retro figure who would love to turn Britain back when she was born in the 1950s – the days when the Ford Popular was the car for the aspiring masses and yes, we had lots and lots of grammar schools.

Her demeanour is everything like the prim and prissy heads of old single sex grammar schools who ruled the roost, took no prisoners, and bullied the staff as well as the pupils.

They had a very narrow vision of Britain based on God, Queen and Country and thought girls should be well mannered ( no swearing), academically bright  and get a professional job.

It is no wonder then that she has made grammar schools the centrepiece of her 21st century education policy – they reflect her own image and values. They also co-opted a very small section of  academically bright working class fellows – just to make sure the great unwashed lost any aspiring leader who  would foment dissent and acquired the right middle class values.

As a head of  a girls grammar school she would have eschewed violence- caning was for men – but anybody who was naughty would be put  in detention  and made to write lines.

I imagine as PM she would love to punish the millions of Remainers in Britain by making them stay in their homes for an hour and write ” I love Brexit” 100 times until they were forced to agree.

Her views on immigration are also very 1950s. She is not racist but she is obviously missing the almost exclusively white grammar school classroom – with just the odd aspiring West Indian and Asian to add a bit of flavour and hopefully  imbibe middle class values. Which is why we get the tens of thousands mantra rather than free movement.

I wonder what she really thinks of the internet – which allows free rein to any expression – given she wants to control  what is said – something that even China finds difficult. It reminds me of what one angry director said about me criticising his product – you ‘re quite at liberty to moan about it in the pub but you shouldn’t put your views online for everyone to see because it damages my company.

None of the above is likely to appeal to the  majority of the young who like Britain being a tolerant, open, multicultural and diverse place and don’t want to be bossed about.

Jeremy Corbyn Pic Credit BBC

Cool Grandad Pic credit:BBC

Which then brings me to Grandad Jeremy. By rights he shouldn’t be an obvious icon. Every idea and political stance he had is supposed to be old hat – like renationalisation of the railways and saying trade unions are a good thing. The youth have been told for years by the Sun and the Mail  he is an extremist and  supports dangerous terrorists and has radical policies that will destroy Britain.

But I suspect they have been surprised by what they have seen. It does not marry with what they have been told. To them he must look more like a thoughtful grandad who has retained his youthful idealism. They may not agree with everything he says but they respect him for sticking to what he believes and not being phased by strong criticism or bossy interviewers.

Also young people – being young – are normally full of idealism themselves – they are not naturally bitter and twisted and don’t hate the present Britain they live in. They might like the fact that as a politician he doesn’t do personal abuse. And they might agree that indiscriminate bombing of civilians is not the way to ensure lasting peace.

The Establishment may laugh at him having an allotment or wearing home knitted jumpers but I suspect that cuts no ice with the young – whose grandads may also have allotments and have granmas who can knit.

It is this underlying contrast that I suspect has caused a bit of a sea change in the expected outcome of the election – which on day 1 looked a slam dunk for the Tories with a majority of 150 to 200. It may still not change the ultimate result but it is no longer clear cut and there are 11 days to run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why the Tory plan to axe pensioners fuel benefits is as flawed as Labour’s Ed Balls up

Tory manifesto

Tory Manifesto: An Ed Balls Up on fuel payments for pensioners

 

CROSS POSTED ON  BYLINE.COM

This  is the extract from the Tory manifesto relating to plans to axe the £200 a year payment to all pensioners and the £300 a year payment to those over 75 . The plan is stolen from the Labour manifesto of 2015 and was originally proposed by Ed Balls to “save £100m “.

we will target help where it is needed most.So we will look at Winter Fuel Payments, the largest benefit paid to pensioners, in this context. The benefit is paid regardless of need, giving money to wealthier pensioners when working people on lower incomes do not get similar support.

So we will means test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty.

Fine words but very difficult to implement. Why?

Four years ago I investigated how Labour could implement the same policy – and found it unfair and unworkable. This is what I said:

“As a punter and pensioner who pays higher rate tax because my freelance earnings top up my pension I expected to be one of the people targeted by Ed Balls. In fact it will have zilch effect, a load of old Balls if you like.

Let me explain why. The fuel allowance is currently paid to individual pensioners with a cap of £200 per household. So for a start I only receive £100 of  fuel benefit. The other £100 goes to my wife, also a pensioner, who is a standard rate taxpayer. So his planned saving will be halved anyway in my case.

But it is actually worse than that. My wife became a pensioner before me and was entitled to the full household fuel allowance in her own right. So when I was on The Guardian, ( then on just over £80,000 a year) our household was receiving then  a £200 fuel subsidy for a short time. What will happen under the Balls changes is that my wife will get back the full benefit of £200 – so we will still continue to receive exactly the same subsidy.

I suspect I am not alone. I know of many people around me in the shires, where in traditional families of that generation the main earner is the male who will  pay high rates of tax. His spouse who brought up the children, and did part-time work instead, would be a  standard rate taxpayer. These wealthy households will continue to get the subsidy.

Ed Balls

Ed Balls in more serious mode

Now Ed Balls could get round this by imposing a household cap equivalent to the income level set by the higher rate of tax. But if he does this he will run into fresh problems.”

I chased this up with the Inland Revenue.

They confirmed four years ago that they do  not collate figures showing how many households have higher rate and standard rate taxpayers who are currently eligible for winter fuel payments. They do not need to collect the information as taxpayers are assessed individually. So they don’t know the breakdown. The only figures they have are the number of higher rate taxpayers who are pensioners. I doubt anything has changed.

Theresa May

Theresa May:Leader of the Tory party. Pic credit:BBC

So how are the Tories going to do this. They could scrap the present system and go back to the old fashioned 1950s style tax system- where the man had to fill in the form for the household. But that would be deeply regressive, anti feminist and take no account of modern relationships where couples may not even be married or have  a gay partnership.

They could limit payments only to those claiming pensioner credit – removing all other pensioners- but that would hit the JAMS – just about managing pensioners with a huge hole in their income and be deeply unpopular.

Or they could  say every person has to fill in a means test form – which means even if it was done on line – have to employ more staff at a huge cost just when they want to axe more civil servants.

It ain’t going to work and will be deeply unpopular and  be full of anomolies.  In other words Theresa May has just created another Balls-up.

The arrogance of Daniel Janner over the future of the Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry

daniel-janner-qc

Daniel Janner QC Pic credit: http://www.regulatorycriminallawyers.co.uk

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

On May 3 a final decision was made by Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse not to hold a preliminary hearing into whether there should be inquiry into Lord Janner and Leicestershire institutions of allegations of child sexual abuse.

His son and his two sisters who had already had a meeting to press the case for such a preliminary hearing were understandably unhappy. They believe their father is innocent and just the subject of an historic witch hunt and no one needs to look into it.

And it is now clear that at some suitable date there will such an inquiry so long as it does not prejudice any other investigations still under way..

Daniel Janner decided to write an article for The Times denouncing the decision and protesting again that his father was ” wholly innocent of any wrong doing ” despite up to 33 people coming award and alleging they were victims of such acts.

Thus far a perfectly understandable stance from a close relative. But then he went so far to demand that the entire inquiry should be closed down and the chair was an incompetent. He also produced one sided evidence to justify his case.

As he said: ” Professor Jay is not competent to chair the inquiry because she is not a lawyer and unqualified to make difficult complex quasi legal decisions. She is simply out of her depth.”

And on the inquiry itself : “It veers between a bloated expensive irrelevance and a vindictive witch -hunt which will be condemned by history”.

To back his case up he quoted the former judge Sir Richard Henriques in his defence : ” prominent people..are more vulnerable to false complaints than others…They are vulnerable to compensation seekers, attention seekers, and those with mental health problems.”

However he doesn’t quote what Sir Richard said about his father’s case: ” In my opinion there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction in 2007, and Janner should have been arrested and interviewed and his home searched.He should have been charged with offences of indecent assault and buggery.”

So Times readers would not have known  that the very judge warning of prominent people being accused of false complaints decided in his father’s case that he should be prosecuted.

My main complaint about Daniel Janner is his arrogance. Just because the inquiry chair has decided not to do what he and his family alone wanted and not investigate his father – he decides the inquiry is a sham and the chair incompetent.

It is also extremely arrogant to say that only lawyers have the intelligence to chair inquiries. On that basis the Hillsborough inquiry would never have happened – and no one denies that has been a success.

A chair will anyway be guided by counsel and I notice the counsel to the inquiry was of the same opinion.

The inquiry is not perfect and has had serious troubles and run into serious problems with survivor groups – but the idea that the whole process should be stopped because one man doesn’t like it is ridiculous. It would deny investigations and recommendations far beyond the Janner case.

I certainly will be keeping a critical look at what the inquiry does – but I am afraid abandoning it just because it won’t do what the son of VIP tells it  is no go territory.

 

Tony Blair’s top donor goes Bercow

lord levy

Lord Levy

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

On the very, very last day of Parliament  John Bercow, the Speaker, who faces the prospect of a contested General Election ( breaking normal precedent) announced some £20,000 in donations from some very surprising and controversial sources.

Released  the day Parliament was dissolved  it was revealed the music impresario Lord Levy – who infamously  and in his view unjustly got involved in the ” Cash for Honours” scandal has given a £5000 donation to John Bercow which presumably will go towards his election campaign.

Lord Levy, well known as Tony Blair’s tennis partner and  New Labour’s chief fund raiser  and at one stage close confidant of the former Labour PM, was arrested but never charged over the scandal which suggested that the party was soliciting donations with the hint of possible peerages for the party backers. The furore that followed led to a breach between Blair and Levy which subsequently, I understand, been healed.

john bercow

John Bercow, the Speaker Image credit: bbc

The second donation  is from property tycoon Sir David Garrard who was also involved in  the ” cash for honours” scandal before the police dropped the investigation. He had switched from supporting the Tories to New Labour.

He is also a fan of  former Labour leader Ed Miliband and gave Labour a whopping £500,000 at the last general election. He has given John Bercow a more modest £5000.

The third £5,000 donor is Sun Mark Ltd, run by entrepreneur Dr Rami Ranger ,who has won no fewer than five Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, for distributing products to supermarkets worldwide. His autobiography, From Nothing to Everything, I suspect, appeals to John Bercow, or at least the title would.

The final £5000 comes  I suspect from Michael Keegan, who is  the head of Fujitsu for the UK and Ireland. It would have been much more fun of it had been Michael Keegan-Kay, an American comedian and actor, who spent six seasons on madTV but that donation would be banned under the rules blocking foreign donors though.

 

How a Roman Catholic paedophile priest who mixed with celebs nearly escaped justice

Father Anthony McSweeney

Father Anthony McSweeney; Nearly escaped justice Pic Credit: BBC

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

One of the successes of the Met Police investigation into the notorious Elm Guest House in Barnes was the arrest and conviction of a Roman Catholic priest Anthony McSweeney who was jailed for three years  in 2015 for sexually abusing a teenager and making indecent images of children.

The inquiry into Elm Guest House led the police to focus on a Richmond  Council children’s home – long since closed – called Grafton Close which at the time was run by a friend of the priest, John Stingemore, who would have been tried alongside him at Southwark Crown Court if he had not died just before the trial.

The allegation that boys were taken by Stingemore to Elm Guest House were never tested in court – though the CPS agreed a charge should be made – because of Stingemore’s death.

But the court heard that McSweeney and Stingemore did take boys away to a flat in Bexhill on sea where they were sexually assaulted. And when McSweeney was arrested   pornographic pictures of children were found on his computer.

Until then Anthony McSweeney had escaped his crimes that took place between 1979 to 1981 and if it had not been for Operation Fernbridge he would still be a popular priest a director of a  Catholic school in Norwich, helping with Norwich City  football youth team and local boxing clubs.

He  was held in high esteem and mixed with some of the great and good. He married the boxer, Frank Bruno and Delia Smith, the celebrity cook and supporter of Norwich City, once asked to arrange a special football service for the club.

But his secret activities could have been stopped nearly 20 years earlier when it was discovered while he was working as a priest in Harlow and Leigh on Sea, Essex, that had a stash of pornographic videos. His cleaner discovered his stash of sex toys, truncheons and pornographic videos at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. Instead in 1998 the Roman Catholic Church quietly transfered him to another parish, St George’s church in Norwich.

Now an independent review undertaken by the Dioceses of East Anglia and Brentwood in the wake of his conviction has revealed serious lapses in the whole way the Church handled the discovery in 1998.

In a statement the two dioceses say:

 The Church should have taken more robust action following the discovery of video tapes in 1998, later referred to in Anthony McSweeney’s trial, and should have ensured that the matter was reported to the police so that a full investigation could have taken place.

 Local priests and parishioners were not adequately supported, their concerns were not taken sufficiently seriously, nor acted upon diligently;

 Anthony McSweeney’s subsequent transfer to East Anglia, as outlined above, was poorly managed, lacked insight and was not adequately documented.

The Church defends it behaviour by saying:

“At the time of these events awareness of the need for child protection was in its infancy. The national safeguarding procedures and processes put in place since 2001 would now ensure that such a matter would immediately be passed on to the police, via the Safeguarding Coordinator. Now over 95% of parishes have at least one Safeguarding Representative whose task it is to ensure that the concerns of the local clergy and parishioners are taken seriously, and to refer those concerns to the Diocesan Safeguarding Coordinator.”

However it is clear that the review is not satisfied even today as it recommends the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service, and the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission:

 To review and clarify the existing policy about priests transferring from one diocese to another to ensure consistency and transparency in the process in all the dioceses in England and Wales, and in particular, to ensure that any issues to do with safeguarding are resolved before any such move can take place;

 To issue clear guidelines for managing cases potentially involving indecent images;

 To review the existing “whistleblowing” policy

The Church is refusing to publish the report or even name the author who prepared it on the grounds it was an ” internal report”.

Yet it highlights one of the major perennial problems in tackling child sexual abuse – the decision by authorities to sweep scandals under the carpet – and quietly transfer the person to a new post elsewhere. Not only is this irresponsible but its is dangerous as it puts more children at risk just to preserve the reputation of the organisation.

This a good case  to be referred to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – either under its Roman Catholic investigation – or the part of the inquiry that will examine safeguarding. Alexis Jay, the chair, should seek out this report as it will help explain in detail what went wrong here and how it can be tackled in future. Otherwise valuable lessons could be missed and the Roman Catholic church will once again have to be taken on trust that it doing the right thing.