Month: September 2018

Serco Cost Cutting Better Than Its Grass Cutting

While Serco Leisure Operating Ltd (SLOL) breaks planning conditions and leaves the Beacon Park Golf Course fairways sometimes unplayable, Golfshake.com Beacon Park Golf Course “Reviewed Sep 4 2018 by James N – rated 3 out of 5. Course hadn’t been mown due to a broken down mower, so the fairways and tee boxes were very poor. But the greens were pretty good. Just needs a cut!”, SLOL’s parent Serco Group plc (‘Serco’ or ‘the Group’) , the international service company, today provides an unscheduled update on expectations for the 2018 financial year.

It claims a “strong operating performance, together with transformation savings and other cost efficiencies, have resulted in trading in the first few months of the second half being better than we anticipated; in addition, we now believe that a number of non-recurring trading items such as end-of-contract settlements and other commercial negotiations will contribute to a stronger outcome for 2018 than we expected, and one which will be meaningfully ahead of current market consensus.

“Previous guidance was for Revenue of £2.7-2.8bn and Underlying Trading Profit of around £80m. Our latest view, which is at estimated reported currency rates, now indicates Revenue of approximately £2.8bn and Underlying Trading Profit of £90-95m; the latter would represent growth of between 30 and 40% on the result for 2017. Accounting net debt at the end of the year, which we previously thought would be at the mid-to-upper end of our £200-250m guidance range, is now expected to be towards the lower end of that range. This is in part because of stronger trading and in part because we anticipate that we will receive the early repayment of a vendor loan note issued on our disposal of Intelenet in 2015. As a consequence, we now expect leverage for covenant purposes of less than 1.5x EBITDA at the year end.

“With regard to 2019, our detailed budget process for the 2019 financial year has only just begun, and we are mindful of the fact that 2019 will not benefit from the non-recurring trading items we expect to see in 2018. We will update markets on our thinking for 2019 at the time of our pre-close statement on 13 December”.

Here in West Lancashire we live in hopes of an early end to the shambles created by unchecked dumping to destroy these driving bays  with building rubble, plastic, and concrete, now declared to be a breach of planning conditions. Serco have just seven weeks to remove part of the landfill which started on the driving range in December 2015 and ended December 2016. Even if only half of the landfill there has to be removed, might that take not less than 6 months?

It’s Nothing Short Of Criminal Say Beacon Park Golf Seniors

In this part 2 of our report on the letter written to the Serco Contract Manager by the Golf Club Senior players, expressions of disbelief are obvious. Never mind the protestations of the Serco Group Chief Executive with his claim to “have dedicated a considerable resource to resolving this situation to the best of our ability”. Any competent local management would never have allowed a breach of planning requiring service of a legal notice to occur at all! What system was used to check the level of landfill dumping? Lorry loads checked in, paperwork completed for payment of royalties and VAT, simple enough!    

The letter continues “The seniors section has no political axe to grind. Many of the members have retired from senior management positions within a variety of industrial contexts. It is with open-jawed amazement that they view the current position of Serco management removing the excess landfill, (which they have undoubtedly been paid for handsomely), onto the Beacon Park Golf course.

“It’s nothing short of criminal for SERCO management to now expect this huge amount of excess landfill  be moved onto the golf course with all the damage and disruption it will cause. Please can it not be left where it is now?

“The damage has been done and mistakes have been made, to move landfill onto the golf course will just cause further and unnecessary havoc.

“The green-keepers’ “lock up” which is inappropriately placed with poor security has AGAIN been broken into recently. Many vital small pieces of equipment were stolen. Some of this equipment is used to maintain the ‘green fringes’. As a result, the grass around the greens has been allowed to grow to ridiculous heights which prevented any kind of running golf shot. This was the case for our last competitive league match and allowed the visiting captain to comment about it in his after match speech. It was embarrassing”.

While Serco claim an investment of £72,000 in new greens equipment in 2016, and a new rough mower purchased for over £12,000 last month, breakdowns were incompetently dealt with. This machine  and others can be bought from  with no problem. 

 

Bribed With Mints But No EU Wine!

Labour’s ebullient ex MP Austin Mitchell  writes in his usual pithy style that “With the Labour conference over and the Euro-flag wavers returning to their care homes, it’s time to ask what the effect of the conference will be on Brexit. For me as a Brexiteer it was beneficial: I got two Brussels goody-bags containing ten quid’s worth of mints, phone chargers and assorted rubbish (but no wine from Jean-Claude) .

“For the rest, the legacy was messy: an excellent conference with a very optimistic mood and good policies marred only by an incomprehensible policy on Brexit. It came in two incompatible versions – the gospel according to St Jeremy and the runes of St Keir. The one allows for staying in, the other sets impossible conditions for coming out. Both open the way for a People’s Vote to allow some of the people to overrule the vote of all the people. This was a triumph for yesterday’s Blairites.

“Having denounced the first referendum as the result of ignorance, racism and Russian propaganda, they now say a second would be democratic because they see it as a way of ensuring that the EU will stop Corbyn’s radical economic policies by ensuring that every state aid to industry, every regional policy, every export boost, every takeover ban and every disgruntled business can be appealed to the European Court.

“The effect of this ambiguity will be to make it more difficult to get a good deal because it will convince the EU that it has no need to make concessions. Our Euro fifth column, the “Loud Remainers”, have already persuaded the EU that Brexit can be blocked. So why should they negotiate seriously when the Remainers are also convincing them that the Brits will stand on their heads and reverse their objections to the EU as the French, the Irish and the Swedes already have done?

“Far easier to remain obdurate and let Theresa twist in the wind. Both parties are divided on Brexit, but Labour’s ambivalence and its apparent willingness to betray the people left behind and the Labour regions who voted to come out, makes Brexit a party matter. It will strengthen the EU’s growing feeling that both Britain’s elite and its political machinery are incapable of doing what the electorate wants.

“Hopefully that will strengthen Theresa May’s determination to get Brexit. Her only alternatives are to get a satisfactory deal or face election defeat. That must mean toughing it out, facing the taunts of le Petit Napoleon , threatening no deal no pay, and facing up to the possibility of a deal-less departure. Oppositions can offer the best of all worlds. If governments don’t win, they’re out”.

Urban Sprawl Coming To You Soon? Of Course!

There’s anger all over the place. You name a village in West Lancashire that won’t be touched by the “Local Plan Review Preferred Options” and its eventual implementation. Action groups will proliferate and hope to emulate the success, short-lived as it happens, of the Aughton Residents Group 2012 (ARG).

In todays campaigns we already see a big difference from the previous plan. ARG was opposed by its own Aughton Parish Council (APC). There was bedlam, walking out of meetings , meetings suspended, anger and disbelief at the proposals. But then the APC was known as the local “Tory party at prayer” whose plan it was. Who can forget the insults we suffered? We started building a remembrance  wall of those who voted for the plan. Looks like it might come to pass after all!

So far, evidence is emerging of parish support. Good news. The fight is on. But when the West Lancashire urban sprawl ambitions spread into another borough council area, Rainford, St Helens Borough Council, up popped the already active Rainford Action Group (RAG) . As quoted by James Wright of RAG “The people of Rainford won’t be consulted on these plans to build two villages and two industrial estates on their doorstep but Rainford will be directly impacted”.

Adding insult to injury, Mr Wright declares that St Helens council has plans already for building on protected land in the centre of Rainford. There is “a growing sense of the village under siege from profit hungry developers, greedy landowners, and local authorities who ignore the wishes of the people they are supposed to serve”.

I hate to say it, but what the hell! Campaigning against greed is bound to fail. Even while ARG was celebrating its success for Parrs Lane and our own WLBC having paid the huge legal bill, the new draft Local Plan was in being and it includes the very same land Parrs Lane land plus another great chunk on the other side too. Burscough fought, Halsall fought, and now everyone will fight. 

Good luck!

It’s All A Matter Of Priority, WLBC Priority That Is

It’s one of those days when you wonder if the world has gone mad, or is it just in West Lancashire? WLBC Press Release “On 16 August, a Borough Council planning enforcement officer responded to a complaint that the car park at the Co-op store 52 Wigan Road, Ormskirk  was being used for all day parking in breach of the planning permission for the site.

The planning permission for the site stipulates that the car park is available to the public and is not restricted to use by Co-operative food customers. The car park is also subject to a maximum duration of stay of 30 minutes with no return within 1 hour.

The officer established that a private parking contractor had been employed by Co-op to monitor the parking at the site and ‘all day parking’ was being advertised within the store by the contractor for a fee. Co-op representatives immediately withdrew the advertisements from the store and ensured that the planning restrictions on the use of the car park were complied with.

No further action was taken by the Council.’

Now, contrast that WLBC enforcement activity to the breach in planning permission, that of the Beacon Park Golf Course, on 29 January 2017 I asked Mr J Nelson West Lancashire Borough Council I am writing to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for undisputed proof of compliance with the m3 planning condition relating to application 2011/0787/FUL, although the time limit allowed under FoI for reply in this instance ought not to be applied as the information will be recorded.

“On 21 August 2015 you stated by email “One of the issues raised by Mr Newman (member of the Golf Members Club) was the height of the mounds of soil , the planning officer was unable to make any judgement on the final levels until the ‘Shapers’ for the golf course have completed the work to bring the mounds of top soil (which had been moved to one side at the start of the works) back over the infill material”.

On 9 November 2015 you stated by email “The total volume expected on site for all 4 phases was 187,000m3 the amount anticipated for the 9 hole course was 65,000m3. I have been informed that royalties payment up to this limit have not yet been reached, however the Leisure Trust are expecting further royalties payment which will take it close to this figure for this element of the phased work. An amount of 35,000m3 has been assessed for the work to the driving range” .

The implications by visual appearance for the 9Hole course and the driving range/footgolf developments even to a layman are far in excess of the stated m3 and then added to on the entire length of the first fairway to the first green.

In speaking to golf members we have concluded that a process of assessment of the allowed m3 by a “planning officer making a judgement” of what are now final seeded levels is an unsatisfactory method of confirmation that the developers have complied with the planning permitted m3. Would you therefore be kind enough to agree that proof of the total m3 on the landfill development  is best served preferably by use of an independent professional quantity survey and will you arrange for this?

The reply “I can advise that the information you have requested is not available. The reason for this is that the Council does not hold any written or recorded information in relation to your FOI request. I am therefore unable to provide you with any of the documentation requested”.

I replied “Thank you for this reply. It surprises me that your own work related diary does not include any of the details I have requested. It is best that we do not waste two months in considering having an internal review, so in copying this to Mr Tilleray I am formally requesting that review of FoI Reference Number 2017/112 to include any and all matters raised by it”.

The outcome was “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”. Otherwise known as a bugger off response! 

Beacon Park Golf Course Seniors Hit Serco Into The Overgrown Fairway

In this latest report on the ongoing fallout from the landfill scandal, angry and defiant Senior members of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) have written to the Serco Contract Manager and made public a list of complaints that condemn the Serco management of the once glorious course .

They wrote “Please find attached a copy of a newspaper cutting which highlights the recent success of Beacon Park Seniors Section winning the South West Lancashire Seniors League against much more fashionable and better resourced golf clubs . Please take the time to read and digest its content. It was a credit to the club and the members concerned. It provided a fabulous ending to a competitive and enjoyable golfing season. Unfortunately recent golfing events at Beacon Park have not been as memorable!

“The situation with the machine that mows the fairways is a disgrace. It remained broken for weeks. There are NO excuses possible for this vital and essential piece of equipment to be out of commission for such a lengthy period of time.

“The fairway grass grew to such a height that it was impossible to play golf. Members of the general public were playing 2/3 holes and then walking off the course, demanding their green fees be returned and vowing never to return.

“Club members were losing balls on the fairway and taking 6 hours to play 18 holes. Competition rules had to be changed to allow ‘Pick and Place’ so that members could actually hit their golf balls.

“In an attempt to register a protest, many members refused to play the course. Having played other courses in the area, many members have also vowed to make this their last season golfing at Beacon Park”.

In August 2915 John Nelson Head of WLBC Leisure and Cultural Services wrote “Serco Leisure Operating Limited are responsible for monitoring the contracted works and are responsible to ensure that the finished work provides the new 9 hole facility and that any royalties received are spent on the Beacon Golf Course, including the club house and associated facilities. Serco Leisure Operating Limited is not able to take any of the royalties as a profit or to charge any management fee for the supervision of the contacted works. All the royalties received are to be spent directly on the golf course and associated facilities. So if they aren’t, where are they? Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd?

By chance I received a letter today from the Serco Group Chief Executive Rupert Soames OBE that challenged the complaints I make regularly about the dreadful state of affairs at the BPGC. He is dismissive of complaints of poor investment and claims to have “regularly verti drained and top dressed the course…invested an additional £72,000 in new greens equipment in 2016 and over £80,000 in the clubhouse in 2015, and in August of this year we purchased a new rough mower at a cost of over £12,000”. Many of you will note the largest spend was on the clubhouse while the course itself was decaying into the very poor condition that has angered the Senior golfers. 

Mr Soames does agree that “regarding the recent league match the fairway mower did indeed break down in August and we did hire a replacement for a week while it was away for repair, unfortunately the greens team deemed this as unsuitable and it was subsequently returned. The fairway mower has since been repaired and returned to site. This did present some challenges in cutting the fairways and cause a temporary dip in the standard of the course which has since been addressed”.

So, as you have read, there is an admission of less than adequate course standard. That is why some golfers will not renew their memberships, this is their last season of golfing at Beacon Park. But to return to the WLBC statement that “all the royalties received are to be spent directly on the golf course and associated facilities”, that’s bullshit.  We will return to the subject again to publish part two of the “Angry Seniors” saga. 

MEPs’ Hiding Expenses And Allowances Is Legal!

I bet you all thought the EU was a law abiding body, open and transparent, no secrets kept from its citizens? Well think again, as the EU General Court  confirms the Parliament’s refusal to grant access to documents relating to MEPs’ subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances.

In 2015, a number of journalists and journalism associations requested access from the Parliament to documents relating to the subsistence allowances, travel expenses and parliamentary assistance allowances of Members of the European Parliament (‘MEPs’). Those requests were all refused by the Parliament, as were the confirmatory applications which followed them.

The persons concerned brought an action before the General Court seeking the annulment of the Parliament’s decisions. By today’s judgment, the General Court dismisses the actions and confirms the Parliaments’ decisions refusing access to the documents requested.

The Court  recalls first of all that the institutions must refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of privacy and the integrity of the individual, which provision must be implemented in accordance with EU law on the protection of personal data. 1 Under that legislation, ‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. Indeed, since all the documents requested contain information concerning identified natural persons (namely MEPs), the mere fact that those personal data are closely linked to public data on those persons does not mean that those data cannot be characterised as personal data.

Next, the Court recalls that access to documents containing personal data may nonetheless be granted if the applicant shows that the transfer is necessary and if there is no reason to believe that that transfer could prejudice the legitimate interests of the person concerned. The General Court considers that the first of those two cumulative conditions (the need for the data to be transferred) is not met in the present case. The applicants have failed to show how the transfer of personal data at issue is necessary to ensure an adequate review of the expenditure incurred by MEPs to fulfil their mandate, in particular to remedy the alleged inadequacies of existing mechanisms for the review of that expenditure .

Similarly, the wish to institute public debate cannot suffice to show the need for the transfer of personal data, since such an argument is connected solely with the purpose of the request for access to the documents. Finally, the applicants have failed to demonstrate that that transfer is appropriate and proportionate to the objective pursued.

The Court points out that, in any event, by their arguments, the applicants are not so much seeking again to challenge the legality of the contested decisions but are, in essence, denouncing shortcomings in and the ineffectiveness of existing review mechanisms. It is not for the Court to assess that point in the context of proceedings brought before it.