Revealed: The bucolic wine buff accountant who let privatisation spivs fiddle London fire brigade

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Robert Napper: Pic credit: Twitter

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He has been fined £120,000 and barred for three years from his professional body for ” professional misconduct ” by the Financial Reporting Council in April for his part in allowing a now bust private firm to fiddle its income from London Fire Brigade.

But before this happened Robert Napper, a partner with Grant Thornton, one of the big accountancy names, had already quietly retired with his pension to live in the rural Oxfordshire countryside and become a pillar of the local community.

Grant Thornton will have to pay a £2.3m fine for their part in allowing Assetco to fiddle the books after the company took over responsibility for maintaining London’s 700 fire engines in a privatisation deal which went badly wrong.

The scheme had been pushed by the now disgraced former Tory chair of the London fire brigade, Brian Coleman, to save money and curb the power of the Fire Brigades Union. Coleman was wined and dined by the director John  Shannon and given a Christmas hamper from Harvey Nicks for his trouble.

The union all along protested about the way the company was run – but even they did not know it was fiddling and inflating the books with false invoices for claims that were never made ( see my earlier blog).

To be fair neither Robert Napper nor Grant Thornton made any money out of it – indeed the auditors ended up as creditors with unpaid bills. But they did allow enormous latitude to the directors of Assetco, John Shannon and Frank Flynn, to fiddle the books and rip off the company, the shareholders and ultimately the taxpayer.

So who is Robert Napper who got duped? He lives in East Hagbourne in South Oxfordshire near Didcot.  It is a village of 1882 people with  a mixture of  modern properties (where he lives)  and many  chocolate box cottages. It has a community shop and post office which Robert Napper is one of the directors.

Village_cross_East_Hagbourne

Village Cross at East Hagbourne. Pic Credit: Creative Commons Rob Stallard

He was a senior accountant with 23 years experience who as a partner – one of the top paid jobs at Grant Thornton –  and should have known better. The report by the FRC distinguishes between his role and junior staff who were inexperienced in handling Assetco’s accounts.

It also turns out that he is a serious wine buff – his Twitter account includes many pictures of fine wines- and the best food to accompany it. Among these are his Christmas 2015 selection ( see below).

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Robert Napper’s Christmas wine collection

He will have to pay the fine in instalments. I contacted him to ask him if he had anything to say about the scandal or whether he knew the whereabouts of the people who had duped them.

He said he could not comment because of legal reasons though he did say he was not appealing the findings against him.

As for John Shannon and Frank Flynn they appear to have fled the country – he thought one of them could be in Thailand. Anyone who knows where they are could  they contact me and I would be very grateful.

 

 

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

A modern morality tale: The decline and fall of Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman: Once high on the hog now out of politics

Brian Coleman: Once high on the hog now out of politics

Last week’s local elections  which saw  a massive revival for Labour in London – also witnessed the disappearance from political life of one Brian Coleman.

The once powerful chair of the London fire authority and domineering Tory figure in Barnet Council saw defeat at the hands of  the electors of Totteridge after being finally disowned by the Tory Party and forced to stand as an independent.

Four years ago Mr Coleman was riding high and he knew it. His extortionate expenses claims from the taxpayer were one of the highest  for a councillor in the country. His disdain and hatred of  the Fire Brigades Union and anything that London firefighters stood for was beyond any reason.

 His introduction of a hated parking system in the borough and championing of outright privatisation of everything that moved were well beyond  the pale – down to tearing down posters  from small shopkeepers opposing his parking scheme and even assaulting one of the people who objected to it.

 He seemed to revel in  the role of a Pantomine villain goading and bullying opponents almost wanting  the electorate to hiss  and boo him while centre stage.in whatever political drama he had created. Even Tory mayor Boris Johnson, not one to avoid the limelight, sometimes put his head in his hands at the mention of his name. No wonder he was sometimes called Mr Toad or worse.

Obviously there is a debate to be had between the Right and Left about the running of our public services, the role of unions but there was no need to show such contempt for one’s opponents and arrogance about using taxpayers’ money for expensive  and excessive taxi journeys running to hundreds of pounds.

 His defenders tended to call him a ” colourful character ” or  “a good Conservative” but this was beyond just human foibles. In a way  his demise is a modern morality tale that would not disgrace in another century a story from Chaucer.

 His final act on Twitter as he was defeated was to report that he was at home listening to arias from Puccini’s tragic opera Tosca. Here the heroine throws herself off a parapet in the final scene. While I would never wish such a fate for Mr Coleman it seemed a fitting dramatic musical  backdrop to the end of a political career that almost brought down the borough of Barnet for the Tories and may still do so after a by election at the end of next month.

 

 

Brian Coleman Convicted: A Tory bully and now a thug

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No moreexpense account lunches

Brian Coleman: convicted of assault. No more expense account lunches

On the day the purple spots of UKIP started to pop up across the English shires, one former prominent Conservative councillor got even more than just a  drubbing at the polls.

Brian Coleman, former mayor of Barnet, former chair of the London Assembly and chair of the London fire brigade, pleaded guilty to assaulting a  woman cafe owner who tried to  film him breaking his own parking regulations.

Rather than acknowledge that he was breaking the law and the hypocrisy of what he was doing, Coleman resorted to violence that might be associated with a common street brawler. He hit her and grabbed her breast in his attempt to snatch her Iphone..

The representative of the party of law and order ended up with a £1400 fine and restitution for injuries to Helen Michael. For all the gory details of the hearing and the remarkable silence from his fellow Tory councillors in Barnet, read the detailed  and tremendous account by Mrs Angry,   on her very popular  Broken Barnet blog ( http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk ).

Frankly after Mr Coleman’s attack on decent firefighters in London, his botched privatisation of the London  fire service through AssetCo and his rude attacks on other Barnet citizens, including a desperate single mum, justice was done.

I am sure it is only a matter of time before Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, feels moved to disown his behaviour. Or perhaps not . it is too embarrassing for  Tory words.

Eric Pickles: No privatisation of the fire service

Eric Pickles: Amazing no to fire privatisation

Eric Pickles: Amazing no to fire privatisation

Eric Pickles, the communities secretary,thisweek made an extraordinary statement for a Tory Cabinet Minister. He categorically ruled out the privatisation of the fire service in England. This has not been reported in any national newspaper or TV network.

Even more extraordinarily he made this statement in a very public place in front of  some 80 journalists from the Westminster elite body of lobby hacks as guest speaker  at a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch. And only one, the questioner, Rob Merrick, a freelance parliamentary correspondent who writes for the Northern Echo and other regionals, bothered to report it.

Evidently such a statement is not regarded as news by journalists.

Yet it is significant. Mr Merrick had spotted that the government was using some obscure measure to  amend an act passed by the Blair government in 2004 to allow the core of the fire service – the  full-time firefighters – to be privatised.

The reason they were doing it was that Cleveland fire authority wanted to become a mutual – a half way house to privatisation – but had found it was illegal. The Tories ever keen to end the state look like ready to oblige.

First Mr Pickles denied that the government was going to privatise the fire service only encourage mutuals. But Mr Merrick came back and said the same change in the law could permit privatisation as well as mutuals. The in an extraordinary statement Mr Pickles said: ” If this is the case we won’t go ahead with the change. I repeat there will no privatisation of the fire service.” So he seemed to suggest that even Cleveland’s mutual plan could be dead in the water.

To me this was extraordinary . First one of the big privatisers in government had actually ruled out full-scale privatisation – not a normal statement from the Tory right.

Second the press -even on the old man bites dog scenario – thought this didn’t  merit any attention.

I know that no privatisation does not equate to no cuts – see what is happening in London and elsewhere now- and it does not stop some of the services being run by private companies. But it seemed that a very senior Tory had decided that they could not turn the whole system over to the private sector. Perhaps the Assetco scandal in London has made its mark. Perhaps they have decided that it is not worth a full-scale dispute between them and the Fire Brigades Union, led by Matt Wrack. But whatever a Rubicon was crossed and nobody reported it. But now he can held to account.

Fire Privatisation was flawed says AssetCo Chairman in £50m claim

london fire engine                                                                      London Fire Engine: Pic courtesy i.newsrt.co.uk

The scandal over the privatisation of the vehicles owned by London and Lincolnshire  fire brigade is a never ending saga. First the company pulled out of the UK to concentrate on the Middle East  and then sold its London assets to a baronet for £2 only to have them taken over by Babcock in an emergency deal by the London Fire Brigade. ( see previous stories on this blog).

Now with a new interim report from the firm the real cost to the people who invested in a” couldn’t fail” take over of public assets is revealed in the balance sheet.

And astoundingly the chairman of the rump company, Dr Tudor Davies has now admitted publicly that the  PFI deals with the London and Lincolnshire fire brigades to take over and replace all the brigades’ engines were  based on a ” flawed business and financial model.. without any reasonable prospect of shareholder value.”

For the public record this is his signed statement in the latest interim accounts:

“The new Board has been considering claims to recover value for shareholders given the very significant decline in value following the four separate fundraisings amounting to £53m between 2009 and 2011 when, from the published accounts it appeared the Group’s financial position was satisfactory.

“As explained in the 2011 Annual Report, the massive restatements to the 2009 and 2010 financial accounts and the requirement for a Scheme of Arrangement subsequently showed a very different situation, and the differences arose from the UK businesses.  The funds raised between 2009 and 2011 had primarily been utilised in support of an apparently flawed business and financial model associated with the UK vehicle leasing and maintenance business, without any reasonable prospect of shareholder value.

“Following expert advice, the new Board is at the early stages of pursuing claims against those associated with the past for in excess of £50 million.”

His proposed launch of a £50m claim against dismissed chief executive  John Shannon and chief financial officer, Frank Flynn, among others who quit, may have little chance of success. As this blog has already reported Shannon is selling his mansion in Northern Ireland and was on the way to be declared bankrupt. Flynn’s fate is not known.

But the figures speak for themselves. The accounts reveal that by offloading the company’s UK assets to the baronet, Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, some £84m  of losses was averted.  Last August net liabilities were £51m for the two fire brigades and that  was after creditors had to settle for a £4.9m payment –  losing around 78 per cent of their investments.

Shareholders lost virtually all their money – when the shares were reduced to junk statues – some 300 times below their best value.

Shares are still trading in the remainder of the company which now is exclusively providing fire services in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where it has made a £3m profit. One wonders what  Arab Investors would make of the shennaghins in the UK if they knew the full picture.

The lesson of this privatisation exercise seems very clear. It was bad for public services in London and Lincolnshire, bad for the banks and other big investors and even bad for the ” get  rich quick ” small shareholders who lost most of  their cash. Anybody who thought they were going to make a quick buck  out of the emergency services should think twice.

Exclusive: London Fire Brigade sacks the 2cv racing baronet

Sir Aubrey Brocklebank: Sacked by the London Fire Brigade; Picture courtesy Daily Telegraph

The  incredible scandal surrounding the botched privatisation of London Fire Brigade takes yet another mad twist.

Sir Aubrey Brocklebank, the baronet who bought  the brigade’s entire fire engine fleet for £2 just three months ago, has had his contract terminated by the London Fire Brigade today. His company has gone into administration only  four months afterv it was set up, it was among a string of companies that appear to have been set up by the baronet only to fail.

The eccentric baronet who loves to race ageing  2cv’s at  racetracks across the UK and lives in a three bed semi in Wellingborough, Northants, thought he could make a fast buck by selling on the company. There is a previous blog which will tell you everything you need to know about him on this site.

You the  council taxpayers have been  paying this man £1.5m a month to look after London’s fleet. He got this  at a knock down price because  the Greater London Authority foolishly sold off  London’s fire engines and a 20 year lease on its own maintenance headquarters in Ruislip to a private firm.

The firm was sold on to AssetCo ( which I have written about extensively) whose  own chief executive, John Shannon, dismissed by the firm, after he left it teetering on bankruptcy.  He is now going bust himself. The engines are at present owned by bankers, Lloyds TSB, one of the chief creditors of AssetCo London which had over £30m in debts and haven’t a penny to  replace the ailing fleet of engines from 2014. This has been admitted by Sue Budden, director of finance,of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. She told councillors at a meeting in September: “When they look ahead and look at the big vehicle replacement that is due to start in 2014, I think they can see they are not set up to cover that.” The full story by me is on the Exaro  news website at http://www.exaronews.com.

Now it emerges  surprise, surprise that after a few months that he can’t deliver and the authority has had to use emergency powers to end the contract and has handed it over to Babcock without any tender competition. The interim contract will last next 18 months.

This is their statement:

LONDON FIRE BRIGADE APPOINTS BABCOCK TO MANAGE  999 FLEET

London Fire Brigade has appointed Babcock International Group to manage and maintain its fleet of fire engines and specialist equipment on an interim basis.

Due to a deterioration of the services provided by Premier Fire Serve Limited (previously called AssetCo London Ltd), the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which runs the Brigade, has exercised its right to terminate the contract and appoint a new provider.

 While, undertaking a full, competitive procurement of the services, it has appointed Babcock to maintain the fleet on an interim basis of 18 months until the new provider has been appointed.

 London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “This move should stabilise the way in which our vehicles and equipment are managed and enable London Fire Brigade to continue to provide the Capital with the world-class fire and rescue service it deserves.”

However London Assembly’s Green Party spokesman Darren Johnson said:

“The sensible long term solution is to bring the contract in house and scrap the PFI arrangement. Many other fire authorities have a straight forward leasing arrangement. I hope that both the Mayor and the Government will see sense and recognise that the experiment with PFI has failed. We shouldn’t be taking financial risks with something so essential as our fire engines. Government funding guarentees for PFI credits could be better spent on developing an in house contract.”

what a mess!

AND THERE IS REPORT FROM DONEGAL REPORTING THIS FALL OUT

WORKERS LEFT SHOCKED AS DONEGAL CALL-CENTRE CLOSES WITH LOSS OF 30 JOBS

BREAKING NEWS: A Donegal call-centre has gone into administration with the loss of 30 jobs.

Workers at the Buncrana-based Assetco Manage Services ROI were told the bad news this afternoon.

The company, is part of a larger company, Assetco London Ltd, which works with London Fire Brigade.

London Fire Brigade failed to renew a major contract for Assetco London Ltd leaving workers out in the cold.

Shell-shocked workers at the company, based at the IDA Business Park in Lisfannon since 2006, were told the news today.

Even worse is the fact that none of the workers will be paid redundancies.

Ironically most of the London-based employees will be taken on by the company who won the new contract, Babcock.

However, the Irish company have not been given part of that new contract and will lose their jobs.

Members of KPMG, who are acting on behalf on London banks, turned up at the Buncrana company’s headquarters today to break the news.

Angry workers say they are outraged at how they have been treated.

A spokesman told Donegal Daily that they are considering their positions and are even thinking of staging sit-in at the plant.

“We have been very loyal to Assetco London and this is how we have been rewarded.

“We would like London Fire Brigade to know this and to know how we are being treated.

“There are 30 families being thrown on the scrapheap just before Christmas it’s just not on,” said a spokesman.