Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Historical Political Contrast Of Local Plans

I was reminded today by a friend that on 17th Oct 2013, five years have flown by, I wrote on, since deleted by virtue of website  space issues, that “John Hodson Spoke.  Well Worth The Admission Fee”. I copy it below.

“The protestors to the adoption of the Local Plan who heard the debate were impressed that, in his speech, a Councillor for Scott ward John Hodson  had shown a grasp of the situation that was outstanding, and more so by comparison with the dross of the majority party.

“He spoke about the National Planning Policy Framework and about Council’s flawed thinking behind it that was obviously designed to aid developers open up the Green Belt and greenfield sites for their profits. As Cllr Hodson put it, planning is not an obstruction to development, it’s more a question of lenders and the loss of confidence. It is a policy cynically dressed up as ‘Localism’ and that is the exact opposite to what the public understood it to be.

“He suggested that the Local Plan has been only partially produced under the NPPF and so is bound to be flawed. It’s not that it does not meet the test of Soundness under the NPPF, nor is it that it does not meet the test of Legal Compliance under the NPPF, but it is that it does not meet the test of the people who it is mostly going to affect, the residents of West Lancashire. Quite simply it is not the best Local Plan for West Lancashire.

“Cllr Hodson spoke of this Local Plan also letting down the people of Skelmersdale, that less than 50% of development, equivalent to just a few thousand population, is to take place in a Strategic Town Settlement which was originally designed for twice its current population of 45,000 in terms of infrastructure. What did this mean? It means less. Less attraction to potential employers, less attraction to investors, less attraction to major retailers, and less for the people of Skelmersdale New Town.

“But it also does mean more for some, and here we heard Cllr Hodson refer to what the Tories always want for their backers. More profit for greenfield landowners, more profit for developers who get to build where they want to, more safeguarding of the Political bases of certain elected members, the true ultimate NIMBYs.

“Cllr Hodson made an impassioned statement that we should be clear about the ownership of this Local Plan. He asked, does it belong to the People of Ormskirk? Does it belong to the people of Halsall? Does it belong to the people of Burscough? Does it belong to the people of Skelmersdale? Does it even belong to the people of West Lancashire? His answer was a firm No, it belongs ONLY to its creators and advocates, the Tories of West Lancashire and their National Cohorts in Government. Not to mention their land developer donors.

“For that reason, he said, “I am proud to say that I will be voting “Against” this Local Plan which is not worthy of the people of West Lancashire, and I request a recorded vote by name”.

“This contribution was worth the admission fee…my contribution to the hospitality enjoyed by the freeloaders in the Westley Arms”.

Now, about that admission fee! It was free, but it came at a cost of police presence to control the protestors. Just like September 2018. We didn’t threaten councillors, we protested against lack of democratic participation in the process. As did Cllr Hodson. He must now tell us what has changed since 2013. Why does Skelmersdale not own HIS local plan? It can’t be political, can it? Has the dross of the THEN majority party been draped around the NOW majority party? Probably!

There Are Contract Conditions And There Are Serco Conditions

Believe it or not, and having watched and reported on the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill scam as it evolved for around 5 years, WLBC  uses a “Conditions Of Contract (Works/Services)” system. Not that you would recognise it as applied if at all to the Beacon Park Golf Course “works”.

In its definitions, it includes, as the title above shows, contracts for works and services. The term ‘contractor’ shall mean the person, firm or company to whom the Purchase Order is issued. And, “The words ‘works/services’ include all works/services covered by the Purchase Order”.

In “Quality”, “The contractor  shall carry out the works/services exercising all reasonable skill, care and diligence that could reasonably be expected from a person who is properly qualified and competent in respect of the particular works/services which are the subject of this Purchase Order”. [Serco? Unqualified and incompetent in respect of Beacon Park Golf Course?]

In “Indemnity”, “The Contractor shall indemnify and keep indemnified the Council from and against any and all loss, damage or liability (whether criminal or civil) suffered and legal fees and costs incurred by the Council resulting from a breach of this contract by the contractor (his employees or agents)”.

In “Insurances” “Without prejudice to its liability to indemnify the Council the contractor shall maintain at its own cost all relevant insurances which shall include Employers Liability – £10m any one incident Public Liability – £5m any one incident Where works/services involve specification, advice or design: Professional Indemnity – £2m any one incident”.

In “Failure To Provide Works/Services”, “Where there is a breach of the contractor’s obligations under this contract incapable of remedy or the contractor fails to remedy a breach capable of remedy immediately upon being required to do so by the Council the Council may (but is not obliged to) terminate this contract”. [Serco the subject of a Breach of Conditions notice].

In “Insolvency And Bankruptcy”, “If contractor becomes insolvent [As did DTC Leisure without WLBC knowing it!] or bankrupt or (being a company) makes an arrangement with its creditors or has an administrative receiver or administrator appointed or commences to be wound up (other than for the purpose of amalgamation or reconstruction), Council may, without prejudice to any other of his rights, terminate the contract forthwith by notice to contractor or any person in whom the contract may have become vested”.

In “Fraud Etc”, “The Council may cancel this contract and recover from the contractor the amount of any loss resulting from such a cancellation, if the Contractor shall have offered or given or agreed to give to any person any gift or consideration of any kind as an inducement or reward for doing or forbearing to do or for having done or forborne to do any action in relation to the obtaining or execution of this contract or any other contract with the Council. The Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916 applies to any fee or reward the receipt of which is an offence under Section 117(2) of the Local Government Act 1972”.

In “Variations”, “The Council will be free to request any reasonable variations relating to the works/services and the contractor must comply. Valuation of those variations will be on a fair and reasonable basis”.

In “Assignment And Sub-Letting”, “The contract shall not be assigned by contractor nor sub-let as a whole. Contractor shall not sub-let any part of the work without Council’s written consent, which shall not be unreasonably withheld. Contractor shall be responsible for all work/services carried out by all sub-contractors”. [Beacon Park Golf Course landfill was sub-let/outsourced to Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd the landfill experts at dumping rubbish while receiving royalties]

In “Progress And Inspection”, “Council’s representatives shall have the right to inspect all works/services (both complete and in progress never to be completed as at Beacon Park Golf Course ) at any reasonable time and without notice. Any inspection on behalf of Council shall not relieve contractor from any obligation under the contract”.

The “Contractor shall comply with all statutory and other provisions to be observed and performed in connection with the works/services”.

In “Freedom Of Information” “The contractor will supply forthwith any information requested by the Council in accordance with its responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000”.

In a “Transparency Clause” “The Contractor acknowledges that the Council adheres to the Communities and Local Government Code of Recommended Practice for Local Authorities on Data Transparency (“the code”) in particular but not limited to the obligation to publish data (which includes costs, Contractor Information and transaction information) on all expenditure over £500. Notwithstanding any other term in this agreement/contract the Contractor hereby consents to the Council publishing this information relating to this agreement/contract with the Contractor for public inspection and the Council shall not be held liable for any loss, damage, harm or other detriment caused”.

So where, we might ask, has WLBC transparently published this information relating to this agreement/contract with the Contractor for public inspection? Answer “The information you have asked for is commercial in confidence”. Expletive deleted!

A Doctor Writes

A West Lancashire Doctor

has provided this commentary about the effect of the West Lancashire Preferred Options document (new draft local plan) which is out for public consultation until 13th December 2018. Our West Lancashire  provides it unedited and verbatim to aid debate during the consultation period.

Hospital Services
Contrary to press statements by Labour councillors recently, the proposed homes will not ensure a future for any local hospital services. Hospitals are best able to provide specialist services at scale and this scale is populations of around 500000 people. This development and other proposed developments in Sefton will not push the population to near that figure.

This means that as the population grows there is no guarantee that hospitals will reconfigure and expand. This will mean additional strain on an already critical system. I have had 2 emails this week already asking me NOT to send anybody to A&E at Southport. The system will almost certainly buckle under this stress.

You will hear that we plan to train / recruit many new Doctors and Nurses, this is simply not going to impact the system any time within the next 15 years. Even at that stage the workforce may remain critical. As you may know a recent initiative to recruit from Europe netted us a few hundred if that out of the 6000 needed.

Primary Care
As you may know the average waiting time to see a GP is about 2 weeks countrywide and this is the average in W Lancs. The service is under pressure most practices would love to close their list but only a three line whip and pressure from NHS England together with threats of removal of enhanced services prevent this. The workforce is not growing as fast as the retirements from practice are coming. Artificial Intelligence and Apps may help and may reduce waiting times but a massive influx will actually mean a significant increase in waiting times and will negatively impact healthcare access for local residents. Retirements are coming thick and fast and many GPs are choosing locums across many practices and CCG boundaries.

There are several initiatives afoot, these relate to organisation geography and centralisation of services. Increasing access will work for this defined population but unless the incoming residents for the proposed development are hand-picked health care professionals then expect further delays. In our practice we strive to constantly improve access for our patients what we cannot plan for is a random unplanned boost in population. No amount of integrated care, robo docs and virtual nurses will allow for that.

Community Services
Again there is a limited workforce, it is weeks to see a dietician. Not from lack of will, more from lack of dieticians. Community nurse posts stand vacant, across the board staff will explain the pressure that mounts especially as Hospitals and Primary care clog up.

Mental Health services
Large changes are afoot and service redesign is being planned for the residents of West Lancs. No one has mentioned or even contemplated the effect of thousands of new residents, I haven’t seen a plan for this mainly because there is scant information, population analysis, demographic prediction and estates analysis.

In short this plan will be at the very least challenging for the local health services in the current climate and at the worst a disaster. Let us have just 2 winters without an orange red black or whatever alert from local hospitals, and then even consider this. The NHS can barely withstand winter and this comes like clockwork every year how will it plan for an unspecified number of occupants in an unspecified number of homes planned to be implemented over any time over 30 years?

21st October 2018

MEPs’ Golden Goodbyes

Every British member of the European Parliament  will be given a golden handshake of at least £45,600 after Brexit with some long-serving MEPs pocketing as much as £182,400 from Brussels.

UK MEPs were briefed by officials in Strasbourg, who confirmed each one would get a “transitional allowance” of a payment of £7,600 for each year they have worked at the parliament. The payment is capped at a maximum of 24 months and a minimum of six months.

There are 73 UK MEPs, meaning that even at the most conservative estimate, the total paid out will be about £3.3 million. Other estimates put the figure to be paid after 29 March 2019 as high as £5.3 million.

Cheap as chips, good riddance! Oh, whoops, how many will end up in the “upper doss house” at Westminster?

The Lesser-Spotted Skelmersdale Councillors

Ashurst has 3 Labour councillors; Birch Green has 2 Labour councillors; Digmoor has 2 Labour councillors; Moorside has 2 Labour councillors; Skelmersdale North has 2 Labour councillors; Skelmersdale South has 3 Labour councillors; Tanhouse has 2 Labour councillors. And there are 3 more at Up Holland.

That’s 16 Labour councillors for Skelmersdale. How many of them have been to see the current state of the WLBC owned Skelmersdale leisure facility, the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC)?

The situation created by the Serco Leisure Services Ltd and the West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust, referred to in WLBC Corporate and Environmental Overview and Scrutiny Committee, referred to one year ago was that of “diversification/further development of Beacon Park”.

So, let’s examine this Labour controlled Committee that “RESOLVED: That the performance of West Lancashire Leisure/Serco for the previous 12 months be noted and the representatives be thanked for their presentation and attendance”.

The actual performance at BPGC is a litany of disaster. It includes golf buggies booked by members but not available; the club house bar often without ale and no re-ordering of stock because of bad payment records; the putting green is a joke; food is often not available, including eggs, bacon, bread, thus creating limited menus for Seniors’ after match meals; the new practice nets are dangerous , golf balls rebounding from the framework and hitting the clubhouse windows; people ‘bunking’ onto the course without paying leading to a serious loss of income; long grass on fairways; long grass on green fringes; course machinery taking ages to get repaired; course often being unplayable as a result of above; general public and golf societies getting refunds but not for annually paid up members; the Club  now closing at 3pm, it says 4pm on website; clubhouse TV, Sky cancelled; new aerial fitted weeks ago but TV does not work at all now; unavailability of broadband at club, which, if you can get it on a bus why not at the Beacon?

The effect of the landfill is a separate but serious issue, which will be the subject of another report. As for the question, how many Skelmersdale councillors have been to see this shambles? Answers on the back of a postage stamp! Perhaps they are obeying the order of Serco to keep out  ?

Cuadrilla Halts Fracking

Fracking firm Cuadrilla say they’ve stopped fracking for the day after a ‘seismic event’ occurred at the Preston New Road site. The company say the tremor was 0.4 magnitude and described it as extremely low. They say they’ve adopted extra precautions by stopping work until tomorrow. In other words, they’ve delayed more tremors until tomorrow?

A spokeswoman for Frack Free Lancashire  said the tremor was a “worrying sign”.

Cuadrilla Statement “The highly sensitive monitoring systems at and around Cuadrilla’s shale gas exploration site in Preston New Road have detected a seismic event within the company’s operational area (approx. 4.8km²) of 0.4 ML (Local Magnitude) this afternoon while hydraulic fracturing operations were ongoing.

“This is an extremely low level of seismicity, far below what could possibly be felt at the surface but classed as an amber event as part of the Traffic Light System (TLS) in place for monitoring operational activity. As such we are required to reduce the rate we are pumping  fracturing fluid once it has been detected.

“In fact we have adopted extra caution and have stopped pumping for the day. Seismicity will, as always, continue to be monitored closely around the clock by ourselves and others and we plan to continue hydraulic fracturing again in the morning.

“Local residents should be reassured that the monitoring systems in place are working as they should. These are tiny seismic events that are being detected by our monitors as we fracture the shale rock and are not capable of being felt much less cause damage or harm. Regulators have been informed”.

So, to be clear, what is happening is Cuadrilla cannot hide these tremors, which are far below the surface, but local residents will worry that there will be an earthquake. Complacent Cuadrilla say that’s OK!

What Links Knowsley, DCT Leisure, Serco, And The Beacon Park Golf Course?

Answer, VAT fraud and breach of planning permission. A Knowsley scaffolding company director from Lydiate has been sentenced for a near £100,000 VAT tax fraud. DCT Leisure Ltd that ran the Beacon Park Golf Course as leaseholder was liquidated owing £60,000 VAT, but never charged, after the “arrangements previously negotiated by DCT for the land drainage work with Oaklands leisure [Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd ] provided an opportunity to improve facilities, retain or increase future membership and increase income”. And from WLBC, Serco Leisure Operating Ltd, in breach of planning conditions, confirmed the subcontracting of the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill to Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd, a company connected but never charged, to a £100,000 unrecovered VAT fraud at UK Sports Parks Ltd .

Amanda Noble, 42, of Highbanks, must feel she was hung out to dry because, having lied on her VAT returns and submitted more than 40 false invoices to evade paying £98,000 from her company, she was sentenced to 16 months in jail, suspended for two years, ordered to complete 80 hours of unpaid community work and a 10 day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement. The full amount owed to HMRC has now been repaid.

DCT Leisure Ltd held the lease from WLBC for the Beacon Park Golf Course. Serco Leisure Operating Ltd inherited the lease in 2012 and WLBC “Confirmed Serco have now concluded their discussions with Oaklands Leisure [Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd] and have been able to project a positive financial position in future years. However the initial years of the improvement works will require Serco to cover operating losses” and sub-contracted what has turned out to be the infamous land-fill scam to Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd  the company that links back by directorship (Director Snellgrove, Jonathan Russell) to UK Sports Parks Ltd. 8 August 2009 Registered office changed on 08/08/2009 from 20 Rockery Rd Leeds LS18 5AS. Company dissolved 13 April 2016.

Now, the opportunity to “improve facilities, retain or increase future membership, and increase income” at Beacon Park Golf Course has come home to roost as the 6 month limit imposed on Serco Leisure Operating Ltd by WLBC to comply with a planning condition expires on 16 November. There is not one improved facility, membership is about to fall away in droves, and income is so low that bills cannot be settled.

Jo Turton, Chief Fire Officer For Essex

I kid you not! When I read this I wondered if April 1st had come early, because Jo Turton was an excellent CE of Lancashire. But Chief Fire Officer ?

The Southend Standard  newspaper writes “Earlier this year, questions were raised over the appointment of Jo Turton, a former council chief executive, to the role of chief fire officer of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) because she had no experience in the field. Now, at a recent meeting of the Essex Police, Fire and Crime panel, the decision to hire a deputy chief fire officer with operational experience has been cemented despite initially deciding it was not necessary.

In the meeting Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Roger Hirst described it as a “material change in the previous decision by the fire authority” and added “The original decision was not to have a deputy chief fire officer but to have a director of corporate services, a director of innovation, risk and development and a director of operations. “But what we’re doing here is deciding to extend that by one.

“We tried it with a tighter team and I think to make sure we continue to deliver the high level of public safety at the same time as completing the change programme which was started by the Lucas report as well as driving the collaboration between the emergency services, we need the capacity at the highest level.”

“This was a problem that was pointed out by the Essex Fire Brigade Union when Ms Turton was appointed. FBU spokesman Alan Chinn-Shaw  told the Echo he was hoping for someone who was previously a chief fire officer with “valuable experience of protecting the front line from cuts” would be appointed.

Jo Turton, the former council chief executive of Lancashire County Council, is the first chief fire officer to be appointed directly into this post without fire service experience.

Defending the decision after the meeting, Mr Hirst said “These new roles largely replace existing positions and create a service leadership team ready to tackle the cultural and organisational change required to make the service as good as it can be. The new team will cost £98,657 more and will be funded out of the existing budget.

“Our priority was to find a leader capable of delivering the cultural change as further operational experience could be brought into the senior team. When I appointed Jo Turton I said publicly we would most likely be looking for a Deputy Chief Fire Officer to complement her leadership skills and knowledge with their technical expertise and operational experience. That is what we are now doing.”

Jo Turton said “Like other fire services, we face significant financial challenges and it is more vital than ever that we look at how we can effectively use our resources. The investment into our Service Leadership Team – including a Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Director of Operations, Director of Corporate Services and a Director of Innovation, Risk and Development – will deliver the capacity, expertise and flexibility needed to ensure we are able to respond to future challenges and opportunities. In providing these four positions within our Service, to replace the existing structure of three, I am confident that we are prepared for the future”.

A readerof the article commented “From a politician’s point of view it is all perfectly logical. Firstly, create a role of Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner, offer a huge salary and benefits and then appoint someone who knows little about it. Secondly, task that person to appoint a Chief Fire Officer and let that person recruit a former Council executive who knows nothing about being a Chief Fire Officer. Thirdly, then spend £100k on hiring someone else to actually do the job as the Chief Fire Officer has no knowledge of fire fighting. Fourthly, then explain that the Chief Fire Officer was actually recruited to tackle cultural change. All makes perfect sense to a politician. I doubt any private company would ever knowingly recruit someone beyond his or her level of competence? They would not employ extra people, they would get rid and start again. Still it’s only public money at the end of the day and that, I suppose, is what is important”.

The Work Of An MP

Rosie Cooper  has informed us about her recent work here in West Lancashire and in Parliament.

“A busy summer of work was followed by a short return to Parliament in early September before breaking for the Conference Recess which allowed me to carry out extra constituency visits as well as dealing with more of the local issues. I am continuing to meet with Councillors and Council Officers on key projects including Skelmersdale Town Centre and Railway Station, Beacon Park Golf Course, leisure facilities and local housing. Policing and crime has been another key concern for many constituents and I’ve been speaking with the Police regularly and ensuring they have clear strategies in place to tackle the recent spike in knife crime.

“The very top of the agenda remains the fight for our local NHS  and protection of our health and social care services from the increasing threats to it by this Conservative Government and their relentless drive for further privatisation. An issue I am addressing through my role as Member of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, and also through meetings with key Ministers, NHS Leaders both nationally and at our local hospital trust. We have a long fight on our hands to retain our services but we must continue to resist privatisation and ensure the future provision of healthcare in West Lancashire be it at Ormskirk Hospital or on a new site within West Lancashire.

“Universal Credit remains one of the biggest issues for West Lancashire residents and it has been great to see Labour strengthen its opposition to the scheme which has brought misery to millions across the country and hundreds here in West Lancashire. In Parliament, Ministers have bowed to pressure to further delay the full rollout of Universal Credit. Our Shadow Chancellor’s recent statement that it “has got to be scrapped” is welcome, and under a Labour Government that is something we should set about doing from day one.

“And our local West Lancashire Borough Council has been busy since the May elections, with three by-elections held! My heartiest congratulations to Cllr Gareth Dowling and Cllr Ron Cooper elected in Knowsley and Tanhouse respectively. Congratulations also to the campaign teams and volunteers that worked so hard to make both elections a success.

“Finally, one of the biggest issues this summer which continues to rage on as it has done for years is Fracking. I was delighted to be able to bring Shadow Secretary Barry Gardiner to the fracking sites at Altcar here in West Lancashire  and to Preston New Road to meet and speak with local Labour members, residents and activists concerned and angry with plans to frack in these areas. Campaigners welcomed the promise that when we get a Labour Government, Fracking will be banned and everyone has plenty of notice of that”.

Cllr Owens Showed Razor Sharp Reactions?

Having just published the Labour report on the Motion to reduce the number of councillors, we find that “Cllr Owens (OWL)  was happy to demonstrate his razor sharp reactions to ensure it was he who seconded Labour Cllr Yates’ motion to reduce the total number of WLBC Councillors, at Wednesday’s full Council meeting.

“This policy was an OWL election commitment from our candidates last May. Naturally, OWL Councillors will always support good motions that align the desires and best interest of their electorate.

“80% of respondents to our survey in March agreed with our policy.
“Reducing the amount of WLBC Councillors by one-third (to 36 from 54), and reducing their allowance to the Lancashire average has been official policy for some time” says OWL Cllr Davis, who was also at the meeting. “I was happy to support this motion; I am pleased that another OWL policy has borne fruit”.

“OWL are free to pursue policies centred on West Lancs and it’s residents, not diktats from London HQ”.

So who DID second the Motion? The official minutes will clear the matter. We wait for the claims and counter claims from the contestants!