Monthly Archives: April 2018

No Conservative Vote?

Independent County Councillor Paul Greenall  tweets “It’s polling day this Thursday and for the 1st time since getting the vote 33 years ago, I’ll not be voting Conservative in the May local elections. In Lancashire the Party is poisoned and nasty, and has lost its moral compass. It simply doesn’t deserve your vote!”

How well we remember the accusation of him being called “snide” in an email exchange with D Westley? And the confrontation in County Hall that led to his departure from the party he had been loyal to for so long. Party poisoned and nasty? Probably.

No Local Animal Charity From Sam Currie?

Tweet from Cllr Sam Currie “Dog lovers: get retweeting, clicking and supporting Phoenix Rehoming. Fantastic charity and my old Royal Navy mate is fundraising for them”.

Well Sam, just along Prescot Road from Aughton is the “Carla Lane Animals In Need ” Registered Charity 1031342 at Fir Tree Animal Sanctuary, Spurriers Lane, Melling. They need support. Take a look here Sam, go and see them, they are after all near enough! Get re-tweeting for them Sam?

Revolting Hogg Revolts Again

You may have read that the House of Ill repute, also known as the House of Lords, has just voted an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill giving MPs the power to stop the UK from leaving without a deal or to make Theresa May return to negotiations. It was approved by 335 votes to 244. So much for democracy!

Unelected Conservative peer Lord “Hogg” Hailsham said Parliament, not ministers, must “determine the future of the country”. The peer, who as Douglas Hogg was an MP for many years, told the House of Lords the principle of parliamentary sovereignty was “fundamental to our liberties and must not be betrayed” when it came to Brexit. Whatever our party affiliation, our duty as parliamentarians is to our country and our conscience,” he said .

I suppose we were all disgusted by the MP expenses scandal of the Conservative MP Douglas Hogg. He wanted us to pay £2,200 for clearing his moat at his country estate. Hogg maintained he had not claimed the money but agreed it had not been “positively excluded” from paperwork submitted to the Commons fees office. “I believe that my claims fell clearly within the scope of the rules”.

He was the latest in a string of Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MPs paying back money after claims came to light. Hogg was irritated by the Telegraph’s coverage of his own claims which was included in a series of articles about how wealthy Conservatives had claimed towards the cost of maintaining large constituency homes.

He said he had never asked to be reimbursed for the cost of cleaning the moat  it had simply been mentioned in details of expenditure on his house. Why list it then? He said he was protected by a law dating back to William the Conqueror. Hogg said that because the Commons authorities approved his expenses for years it was illegal for expenses auditor Sir Thomas Legg to stop him keeping them. And let us not forget his bills for piano tuning and fixing the stable lights at his manor house.

Hogg said “I entirely understand the public anger that has erupted over expenses. The current system is deeply flawed; we parliamentarians have got it wrong and I apologise for that failure which is both collective and personal,” he said. Hogg listed gardening costs of £6,800, housekeeper £11,880, housekeeping costs of £9,466, central heating, cost of mowing the lawn-man to do that- £1,000. One of the most infamous claims he made was £247 for removing moles. He also expected us to pay £7,120 for the cost of re-roofing his lodge!

While Hogg was an agriculture minister a disgruntled farmer from Anglesey, Louis Hayward, drove six hours from his farm to Kettlethorpe Hall, Lincolnshire in order to dump three tonnes of pig manure outside Hogg’s house.

Coincidentally the current petition to “Give the electorate a referendum on the abolition of the House of Lords” is now at 124,673 signatures of support. Parliament will now consider this for debate. It can’t come quick enough!

Aughton Candidate Will Fight Fracking

With a “no backsliding” statement Labour candidate Steve Kirrelly will campaign to fight fracking if he is elected to Aughton & Downholland on Thursday . He will join Halsall Labour Cllr Maureen Mills, seen at the stall against  fracking that led to Westley whinging to police about it, as they claim fracking to be environmentally unsound and potentially hugely damaging locally. The scoping site on Downholland Moss in reality entails drilling up to 1.5 kilometres horizontally from the well head.

He takes us on a journey down memory lane by recalling Andrew Johnson the last Labour councillor to represent Downholland ward until its merger into Aughton & Downholland in 2002. He was a consultant surgeon to Ormskirk Hospital in Lancashire in 1978. He retired from the hospital in 1999 and was immediately afterwards appointed chairman of Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust where he served for seven years. In 1990 he was elected to West Lancashire District Council, representing the Downholland ward for 12 years. He was a member of the front bench team for 4 years and chairman of council in 2000.

After his Downholland seat was merged with the more Conservative Aughton in the boundary changes, O’Toole, Atherley and Westley were elected. Kirrelly wants just one hat to wear, O’Toole wears so many we lose count of them, and he told Halsall Parish Council “Finally I must mention concerns over planning applications which may result in fracking in parts of West Lancashire. I have deliberately not commented on this subject other than to say that I will take serious note of the residents’ concerns. I am not a member of the Development Control Committee at County Hall and have no vote on that Committee”. So what, an inclination of his thoughts is not predetermination. He might be best “retired” from Aughton & Downholland to concentrate on his publicly paid whipping/member duties at LCC while Kirrelly serves locally?

Kirrelly also has a pop at the “Conservative Greenbelt Panic”. Parrs Lane, the site that Labour fought to save from developers . It can make or break political careers in Aughton.

The Imprecise Interpretation Of Precise Facts About Beacon Park Golf Course

With every day that passes, the degradation of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) assets worsens as this picture yesterday  of the “driving range” shows. In 2009/10 the West Lancashire Borough Council (WLBC) Asset Register showed the BPGC to be worth £1,954,000. In 2015 a senior WLBC officer wrote “The asset value for the Golf Course was reassessed in 2014 and has a valuation of £1,000,000, an updated valuation will be obtained when the 9hole par 3 course is operational”. When or if seems to suit the situation rather well? So it seemed that bungling privatised mismanagement of the “development” of the course had almost halved this publicly owned asset value.

In respect of application number 2011/0787/FUL received on 13 July 2011 and in pursuance of its powers under the above-mentioned Act and Order, West Lancashire Borough Council as Local Planning Authority, having considered your application, hereby grants permission for: Partial remodelling of existing golf course and driving range and creation of new nine hole short course. at: Beacon Park Golf And Country Club, Beacon Lane, Dalton, Wigan. Characteristics of the Development include remodelling of the golf range to provide perimeter mounding and improved targets with 35,000cubic meters of inert soil, later changed without formal planning permission to complete landfill of the entire range area .

In August 2015 an officer precisely stated in writing that “The royalties for the materials being brought to site and currently used to re-profile an area of the golf course for a new 9hole par 3 course are paid to West Lancashire Community Leisure”. A later denial of this statement made me query if the then Officer Code of Conduct been compromised, in which “The aim of the Code is to lay down guidelines for employees that will help establish standards and protect employees from misunderstanding or criticism”? The Council has in place arrangements to govern its activities with the aim of ensuring that it is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner”.

WLBC then told me “My conclusion is that the information provided in August 2015 was not sufficiently precise and that the background information, provided by way of context, did not provide sufficient clarity as to the contractual relationships involved. However, the verbal explanation provided to the AGM, together with the confirmation provided to you in Mr Nelson’s e-mail of the 10th January 2017, did make it clear that the royalties are not part of ‘the Trust’ (WL Community Leisure) accounts [The royalties were claimed by Serco]. I also note Mr Nelson’s apology to you, if that initial response had been unclear. The Borough Council takes its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act very seriously. In addition to meeting the specific requirements arising out of a request i.e. to provide relevant written records where these are held, subject to the exemptions and tests that apply the Council’s approach is to provide additional contextual information, to assist the recipient, where appropriate.

“As regards your question regarding the applicability of the FOI Act 2000 in this case, I believe it will be helpful if I explain the following. First of all, the royalties from the infill of inert waste are part of the contractual agreement between Oakland Golf & Leisure Limited and Serco Leisure Operating Limited. In this instance, Serco are acting as the management agents of/for the contract and the royalties are paid to them. West Lancashire Community Leisure holds the lease for the site and gave permission for the works under a condition that all of the royalties, when received by Serco, were to be spent on improvements to the golf course facilities. It was this overall benefit to the Trust that Mr Nelson was referring to, but without that detailed description of the individual relationships.

“As you are aware, Serco have maintained and continue to maintain that the information regarding royalties and the payments received are of a commercial nature and remain confidential and not available to the wider public. Irrespective of this, you have suggested that the information regarding the royalties should be disclosed by the Council under the FOI Act. However, the Borough Council is not party to the contractual arrangements between Oakland Golf & Leisure Ltd and Serco Leisure Operating Ltd. and we do not hold the information. Clearly, therefore, we cannot provide it and the Act fully recognises that we are not expected to provide information we do not hold.

“Having reviewed all of the information provided to you, (and I hope that the abovementioned clarification has been helpful in this regard), I am satisfied that the Council’s obligations have been met, as per the requirements of the Act”.

That isn’t the end of it. Nor is this .Under Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999 (LGA 1999), the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (SSCLG) has powers to inspect, inquire and intervene if satisfied that a LA is failing its best value obligation. LGA 1999, s 10 empowers the SSCLG to appoint a person to carry out an inspection of a best value authority’s compliance with the requirements of LGA 1999, Pt 1 in relation to specified functions. If the inspection indicates the LA is failing in any specific areas then LGA 1999, s 15(5) empowers the SSCLG to direct the LA to take any action which they consider necessary or expedient, and LGA 1999, s 15(6) empowers them to direct that: a specified function of the authority shall be exercised by the SSCLG or by a person nominated by them (a commissioner) for a period specified in the direction or for as long as the SSCLG considers appropriate, and the LA shall comply with any instructions of the SSCLG or his commissioner and provide such assistance as they require”. Interesting prospect looming?

Meanwhile a short walk back in time makes us recall that once upon a time it was urgent that Serco took over the proposed WLBC Leisure Contract by an emergency award to them of a contingency sum of up to £610,000, to be approved within the Capital Programme, and that where urgent action is required because of the need for the Council to sign the “Authority to Proceed” without delay, the call-in procedure shall not apply.

Who said “marry in haste and repent at leisure”? It was first expressed in print by William Congreve in his comedy of manners The Old Batchelour, 1693 “Thus grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure: Married in haste, we may repent at leisure”. And so we are! The “royalties” ie landfill load payments are long gone, who knows where other than NOT to council tax payers. 

Neighbourhood Watch, A Special Responsibility Without Allowances

Would You Be Interested In Setting Up A Neighbourhood Watch (NHW)  Scheme?”. I was asked that question a few days ago. Strange, I thought, I have already set up a scheme and I am its co-ordinator. It started in January 2016. It’s now part of the Lancashire Volunteer Partnership. But when I started there was a paid Police Watch Liaison Officer.

The December 2015 Minutes of the Aughton Parish Council state “The Chairman then invited the representative from Lancashire Constabulary, Lynn Wareing, to give her presentation on Neighbourhood Watch. The Watch Liaison Officer gave details of what the setting up of a NHW scheme entailed, the number of properties involved (between 5 & 20), and the role of a Co-ordinator for each scheme. She introduced the Chairman of Chorley & District Neighbourhood Watch Association who brought his experience to the meeting and full details on how a Co-ordinator would set up a Neighbourhood Watch, manage a Scheme and listed the benefits which included: bringing people closer together, building a stronger community spirit, helping to reduce crime. Leaflets on Neighbourhood Watch were circulated at the meeting and would be available at Aughton Police Station”.

In the spirit of voluntary unpaid local service some people who attended that meeting, me being one, signed up. It might be, to some, a special responsibility without the special responsibility allowances some other, 32 I believe, elected, people are deemed to need and receive!

In October 2016 we received this news from Lynn Wareing “I have been in the role of Watch Liaison Officer since December 2011, however, I was informed last week that my role is to be disestablished and therefore abolished as part of the Lancashire Constabulary’s change process. I have been assured that police support for Neighbourhood Watch will continue although, at this time, I have no information as to how this will look in the future. Similarly, I have no information as to who will become the Single Point Of Contact within the Constabulary or indeed whether there will be such a S.P.O.C. I will no longer be responsible for the ‘In The Know’ (ITK) message broadcasts that you receive in relation to local crime, threats and updates. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with such dedicated and caring community volunteers as yourselves and I would like to thank you, personally, for your hard work, dedication and commitment to community safety and the care of vulnerable individuals”.

It became obvious that the reduced Police funding crisis made the Watch Liaison Officer an easy target, and off she popped, leaving behind some disillusioned co-ordinators.

On hearing of local unrest, the Police and Crime Commissioner  wrote to us “I have been contacted by some co-ordinators who have raised concerns regarding the role of NHW Liaison Officers as part of this work…I wanted to give you a little more information and hopefully re-assure you of my commitment, and that of Lancashire Constabulary, in supporting you and your local schemes. Neighbourhood Watch is an important part of my vision for policing in Lancashire, it is part of the key priority of Protecting Local Policing in my new Police and Crime Plan…Crime, however, is changing and so the responses to crime must also change and develop and I am keen to support Neighbourhood Watch in this…I am committed to ensuring Neighbourhood Watch, alongside our cadets and Special Constabulary get the best support possible and my office and I are working with the Constabulary and the neighbourhood and Home Watch Network as well as others on a new volunteering model across the county which recognises the importance of partnership working across all of the public sector…I want to ensure the support you receive in the future is fit for purpose and supports you in making the different you want to see in your communities…If roles are changed this will be to reflect new ways of working and I am clear that the level of support offered to co-ordinators such as yourselves should not be diminished”. Blah blah!

Anyway, back to the recent invitation. You need “a passion for making your community a better place, to become a Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator”. Act as a key point of contact to receive and cascade information between watch members, other local coordinators and partners, where relevant. Manage watch administration, ensuring that the scheme and membership information is registered in line with local policy and kept up to date. Signpost members with community safety issues to the most appropriate organisation. Promote personal responsibility for community safety by encouraging watch members to improve both home and personal security. Promote neighbourliness by encouraging members to share crime reduction information and keep an eye on each other’s homes and possessions, giving special consideration to vulnerable neighbours. Support public services to identify local issues and solve problems where there are community concerns”.

Cascading of information is a strange phrase to use about NHW, at least in Aughton, where once a month the Parish Council Chairman and Clerk attend what is called a “Meeting with Local Police”. It used to be a PACT meeting, unfortunately abandoned due to poor local public interest. They don’t let me attend, something to do with secrets, although in my work I signed the Official Secrets Act 63 years ago and remain bound by it. They receive details of crimes in Aughton which are reported at the following parish meeting. So all the crimes reported are therefore historic, perhaps five weeks old. No use whatsoever to the NHW co-ordinators and their members who must wonder why they joined. This poster    is not available to us. If I print it and stick it to a lamp-post I will become a crime statistic perhaps five weeks after I am convicted of doing it. Crazy!


Should We Be Worried About Crapita?

Did you read about Capita , the company our government has used to award 1,000 plus public contracts? Following a pre-tax loss of £515m, Capita raised £701m via a rights issue to help it to recover from a series of reputation-damaging contract bungles and repair its balance sheet.

When it was pointed out in Parliament that the Ministry of Defence and Capita have agreed an improvement plan, Tory MP Mark Francois pointed out the deal “is now known universally in the Army as “Crapita” because of its poor performance on the contract”.

The company, which provides a range of public services from collecting the BBC licence fee to recruiting for the British army, is issuing new shares at 70p each, a 34 per cent discount to the theoretical price that the shares should trade at after the rights issue. The rights issue, which will raise £662m after fees to advisers, will be used to reduce Capita’s £1.2bn net debt, fund the company’s restructuring and invest in new technology.

Out of interest, of the current major central government contracts awarded to Capita, nine were brokered under Labour (20 per cent), 24 under the coalition (53 per cent), and 12 under the current government (27 per cent).

Perhaps what might worry us here in West Lancashire, guess who is our treasury management advisor? Yes, you’ve got it in one. It’s Capita that undertakes reviews of our treasury management activities. If it cocks up OUR treasury management activities like it did to its own, Crapita  will become a household word in West Lancashire, never mind in Parliament!

How Is Our Council Tax Spent?

In his letter  to the Champion  this week Graham P Walker of Up Holland says “Surely public have a right to know how our council tax money is spent?” Of course we do. That is why the WLBC tells us how it is spent, our right to know, by law in its published accounts. [Source ]

More specifically Mr Walker claims “We…need to see how our taxes are spent at councillor activity level” and claims they receive a “weekly allowance of £70 plus expenses of approximately £20 weekly”. In fact the official allowances list states basic allowance £4,842 plus some special responsibility allowances plus some travel and subsistence allowances that have to be claimed. As for the “47 councillors” mentioned, [54 in fact] receiving “nearly £200,000 each year, they all, including the “specials”, cost us £343,565.60 in year ended 2017. [Source ].

Mr Walker claims that “Current information about council activities comes to us courtesy of the Champion newspaper and consists of numerous “ground-breaking” panaceas of activities which disappear with trace”. Actually WLBC employs a communications/press office that releases news to chosen links. It is available here [Source ] There is no need for any local resident to assume there is a lack of information.

We are told by Cllr Moran that “The most powerful voice in the country right now, is yours. So use it to send the Tories a powerful message at the polls next Thursday. #VoteLabour”. And we are told by Cllr Westley that our votes mean “stopping Labour’s destruction of our greenbelt, huge new borrowings, and cuts in council services”.

The problem people will have with any of this is that we, the public, might have a powerful voice. Actually we already had one voice that is now being muted beyond belief, the one the majority used to regain the freedom to control and determine our own destiny. Will Cllr Moran or Cllr Westley, or any other councillor, ever accept a voters’ challenge to their election promises and their majorities? No, they won’t, which is probably why most wards in West Lancashire will struggle to achieve 30+% turnout next Thursday.

Mr Sneddon also wrote about his failed efforts to get council information re the new houses at Westec House, suggesting it would have been easier to get into the KGB files in the Kremlin. He is not happy about the limited information the council shares with us taxpayers. If he, and you, are finding it very hard to find any motivation to bother turning up at your local voting station next week, you might think of attending and writing “None of the above” just to let local party politicians know the real winner is the “apathy party”.

Was Full Council Boring?

Full Council seems not to have been a bundle of laughs on Wednesday, if the accounts given by Squawkbox Sam Currie  on Twitter are to be believed. He relates how “I’ve just been described as the “Tory enigma” by one Labour Cllr at full council. Apparently I’m “very likeable outside politics but detestable in it.” Can’t decide whether I prefer my new nickname or the tried and tested “Soundbite Sam”…Well, an enigma is a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand. No mystery about Sam, other than what is he for? And just who IS this one Labour Cllr who made that statement?

He also relates that “Anti-semitism came up in tonight’s West Lancs full council. I suggested it was time that the moderate Labour members stood up against it. 2 of their members stood up after me and denied there was a problem. Nobody else said a word. Are they being silenced?” In response “Old Aunt Maud” said “The Tories will lose heavily in May and the cult will see it as a ringing endorsement of Corbyn, Nothing to see here”. I hope I haven’t offended anyone who has an “Old Aunt Maud”?