Monthly Archives: December 2018

Sercockup And A Rotten Borough

As many readers know, Private Eye  publishes a “Rotten Boroughs” feature. West Lancashire has had a “mention in despatches” for its elected councillor late payments of council tax, having to send reminders to 10 councillors, and one being barred from voting.

But WLBC itself is no paragon of virtue. Its outsourcing relationships for leasing the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) have been embroiled in scandal involving non-payment of VAT. First, around late 1990/2000, came DCT Leisure Ltd, much admired for its £25,000 a year donation to WLBC in return for its £1 a year lease. DCT Leisure Ltd expired owing unsecured creditors Former Employee tribunal Claim £11,551; Employee Redundancy £4,515; VAT £55,000. There was no due diligence ever applied to DCT by WLBC which allowed this sorry state of affairs to exist. WLBC stuck its head in the sand and did nothing.

In 2004 came Serco, demanding and receiving a golden hullo of £610,000 to comfort their introduction as the Council’s preferred leisure services partners on a 15 year contract worth annually circa £1million. And with the demise of DCT Leisure in 2011 the BPGC £1 a year lease passed over to Serco Leisure Operating Ltd (SLOL) too.

Also passed over from DCT was a landfill dumping “development of BPGC” with Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd, which became the chosen partner of SLOL. Obviously oblivious to connections to VAT avoidance, no due diligence checks done by either SLOL or WLBC, of the director of Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd who had breached planning conditions, for which his company was prosecuted by Knowsley Council, convicted and fined £9,000. As UK Sports Parks Ltd, and previously Cottage Fields Sports Park Limited, the principle trading address being 20, Rockery Road, Leeds LS18 5AS. The unpaid VAT was £100,000.

The same name and address on a BPGC planning development application 2016/0040/FUL was, you’ve guessed it, Oakland Golf And Leisure Limited, 20 Rockery Road Leeds LS18 5AS. Not, as you have realised, SLOL. Approved 22 February 2016, by the Director of Planning WLBC.

Moving on to the landfill royalty scandal, from 23,375 HGV loads of landfill each of 8m3 per delivery, in fact the excess material brought more than 23,375 loads, fortunately delivering more royalty payments. Lovely jubbly!

Time elapsed on the Breach of Planning Condition Notice E/2015/0223/BCN issued to Serco Leisure Operating Ltd to “Remove all excess material placed on the land hatched black on attached Plan 2 dated 11 May 2018 etc” and signed by the Borough Solicitor. They didn’t, and now BPGC faces another 14 months minimum of disruption. Who cares? 

NHS Loses Out To EU In Health Costs

The UK paid out £674 million in health costs to European countries, but received only £49 million in return. Addressing this could “transform the financial situation of the NHS”.

A Parliamentary question from John Mann MP  revealed that the UK does not recover the costs of balancing the huge deficit of £625 million, The discrepancy is partly due to how the NHS recoups the money it is owed, but also partly because the costs of treating UK citizens abroad are high in comparison to the costs of treating European citizens in the UK.

It is claimed the amounts involved are relatively small compared to the overall NHS budget, so the claim that changing this “in itself would transform the financial situation of the NHS” is exaggerated.

But it’s a matter of principle for the UK. The UK Government reimburses other European Economic Area countries and Switzerland for the cost of providing treatment to people it is responsible for under European Union law, irrespective of nationality.

In the same way, other EEA countries and Switzerland reimburse the UK for the cost of the NHS providing treatment to people they are responsible for under EU law, including UK nationals insured in another EEA country or Switzerland.

The UK Government has said that cost recovery is poor because the NHS struggles to identify patients whose treatment costs it can recover under this scheme. This means that the UK is unable to invoice the appropriate country for the costs of treatment. The Government has been trying to improve this process. A 2017 evaluation of this work said that there had been “good progress towards increasing cost recovery from EEA patients, although this has slowed significantly”.

Bad debts show UK/France loss to UK circa £141million, UK/Germany loss to UK circa £23million, UK/Spain loss to UK circa £220million. John Mann suggested “This is a shambolic state of affairs and we are being played for fools”. He’s right! Send in the bailiffs!

BBC Cash Call On Pensioners

A government announcement on state pensions “Those that receive the full old Basic State Pension will also see their payments increase by £3.25 a week, rising from £125.95 in 2018/19 to £129.20 in 2019/20. The 2.6% increase means that, annually, these pensioners get a total of £6,549.40 during this tax year and £6,718.40 in 2019/20, a rise of £169”.

A week ago the BBC made a report, critical that Chief Executive pay in industry rose by 11% last year to almost £4m, much higher than rises for workers. At the same time the BBC, with no commercial pressures, was defending its decision to award some of its highest-paid executives wage rises of up to 30 per cent.

The BBC raises, worth up to £75,000 each, mean that the number of BBC managers earning more than £150,000 has gone up to 102, four more than last year, despite promises to reduce the figure.

MPs criticised the “scandalous” increases at a time when the average annual pay rise is 3.3 per cent and when the corporation is trying to cut programme budgets. It is also considering scrapping free television licences for the over-75s to save money .

Ken MacQuarrie   Director Of Nations And Regions, was the biggest winner, with a wage rise from £250,000 to £325,000. In January the BBC said its “English Regions would move out of the News Division and into Nations and Regions as the Corporation seeks to enhance its offer to communities. Ken MacQuarrie, the Director of Nations and Regions will now take charge of English regions as well. Director General Tony Hall, salary £450,000, said the move was “really good news for teams, and for audiences, in our nations and regions”.

Last year MacQuarrie claimed £30,000 in expenses. More than 2,700 BBC staff were handed pay rises of more than 10 per cent last year, despite the corporation’s claims that it does not have enough money.The scale of the pay increases can be revealed as the national broadcaster prepares to ditch free television licences for the over-75s, arguing that the benefit is too costly!

In response to a freedom of information request from The Times, the BBC said that 2,709 people received a rise worth at least 10 per cent of their salary in the financial year to March 2018. The median increase was £4,979, and the total cost to licence fee-payers is £17.8 million a year. The BBC’s total headcount is about 18,200.

By comparison, Health Service staff in NI will be able to receive pay rises of more than 1% after extra money was allocated to the Department of Health. Staff in other departments will only be able to get rises of above 1% if it can be paid for with efficiency savings. If that’s the yardstick for Health Service staff, why isn’t it the same for the BBC?

Pensioners’ increase 2.6%; industry increase 11%; BBC increase 10% up to 30%, just so you know!

Thousands Of Local Pensioners Set To Lose Their Free TV Licence

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper  has warned that thousands of pensioners in West Lancashire could lose their free TV licence if the BBC implement options they are currently consulting on, which include scrapping free TV licence for over 75s altogether. Millions of older people across the country are set to lose their TV licence in 2020 despite the Conservatives promising in their 2017 general election manifesto to protect free TV licences until 2022.

As part of the last BBC charter the Government devolved responsibility for the free TV licence policy, and the cost, to the BBC. The BBC can decide what to do with the benefit from 2020 and they are currently consulting on a number of options including scrapping the free TV licence concession altogether, raising the eligible age to 80 and means testing it, for example by linking it to pension credit.

New figures produced for the Labour Party by the House of Commons Library show that under each of the changes proposed by the BBC in their consultation, millions of pensioners will lose their free licences. The House of Commons Library calculated that were the free licence linked to pension credit, i.e. means tested, over 3 million people would lose their free licence. If the eligibility age was raised to 80 over 1.8 million older people would lose their free licences. The House of Commons Library has also calculated local figures with 6,820 older households in West Lancashire at risk of losing their free TV licences.

If the age threshold is raised to 80, 2,780 local pensioners will lose their TV licence. If free TV licences are means tested 5,010 will lose their free licences. Free TV licences are an important benefit for older people who suffer disproportionately from loneliness and social isolation. The Campaign to End Loneliness found that 40% of older people say their television is their main source of company.

The Christmas period is a particularly bad time for loneliness. Analysis by Age UK found that almost a million (873,000) pensioners wouldn’t have seen or heard from anyone over the festive period. The prospect of elderly people losing their free TV licences makes a mockery of Theresa May’s claim that austerity is over. The Government should take responsibility and save TV licences for the elderly.

Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Media Rosie Cooper said “The Tory Government knew what it was doing when it forced the cost of paying for free licences for over 75s out to the BBC. Labour was completely opposed to this and we are still firmly of the belief that the Government was totally wrong to outsource a social policy in this way that can have such serious impacts on pensioners across West Lancashire. 

“It will be a terrible blow to older people who already struggle to make ends meet and particularly to those who are housebound or isolated and rely on their TV for company. The Tory Government needs come clean and to tell us urgently what they are going to do to ensure free TV licences aren’t cut and they don’t break their manifesto promise. If they do nothing, responsibility for older people losing their TV licences will rest firmly at their feet.”

Currently a free TV licence is available to all households that have at least one person aged over 75. Free TV licences for over 75s were introduced in 2000 by the Labour Government. The 2017 Conservative Manifesto promised to “maintain all other pensioner benefits, including free bus passes, eye tests, prescriptions and TV licences, for the duration of this Parliament”.

However, the Government had already outsourced this social policy by shifting the cost of these licences to the BBC in its 2015 Royal Charter. From 2018/19 onwards, responsibility for the policy and funding of licence fee concessions will move over to the BBC, who will be singularly responsible from June 2020. Labour opposed this move at the time, and throughout the passage of the Digital Economy Act. The cost of the free licences is expected to reach £745m by 2021/22. This could be a fifth of the BBC’s budget – the equivalent to what is spent today on all of BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel, CBBC and CBeebies.

The BBC has launched a consultation, which will run until 12 February 2019, to gather views on the best way forward https://www.bbc.com/yoursay/consultation.pdf

In West Lancashire, 6,820 older households could face having to pay a licence fee. If the concession is means-tested, for example by linking to Pension Credit, 5,010 households will lose this crucial pensioner benefit. If the age for the concession is raised to 80, 2,780 households will be hit with new expenses.

So just as the Police Commissioner wants us to pay for police pensions from our pensions, the BBC wants us to pay £millions to so-called stars, like football commentators, also from our pensions. Well, good luck with that. We pensioners will have to don our yellow jackets and protest as they do in France when stupid politicians become even more stupid. The answer of course is to flog the BBC to someone who can use it for paid adverts. They’ll be queuing up to buy it. 

EU Contingency Road Haulage

 

Will trucks be able to continue carrying goods between the UK and the EU if the UK leaves in case of no deal? Is there a restriction in numbers?

The Commission is proposing that operators from the United Kingdom are temporarily allowed to carry goods into the Union, provided the United Kingdom confers equivalent rights to Union road haulage operators and subject to conditions ensuring fair competition. This measure shall enter into force in case of no deal, and cease to have effect on 31 December 2019.

EU Questions And Answers-Transport

 

Transport General

Why are you proposing contingency measures for aviation but not for rail transport? Are you treating modes of transport differently in case of no deal?

“The withdrawal of the UK from the EU without a deal will cause disruption in all modes of transport, but to a different degree. In particular, some modes of transport benefit from an international system, which will remain in place in a no-deal scenario and provide limited, continued basic connectivity. Moreover, in many areas it is possible for economic operators to take preparedness actions. Contingency measures do not compensate for the lack of preparedness actions from stakeholders.

“In aviation, there is no existing regulatory fall-back option that would allow the continuation of basic connectivity for air transport services between the EU and the UK. In road transport, the existing fall-back options (European Conference of Minister of Transport’s quotas) is not sufficient to avoid major disruptions, which leads the Commission to propose a contingency measure to ensure some basic connectivity for road haulage.

“As regards the maritime sector, existing international rules will enable some basic connectivity. In general, EU rules already allow stakeholders and national authorities to prepare, before the withdrawal date, for a possible no-deal scenario by making sure that they obtain the relevant certificate from an EU27 Member State (e.g. railway undertakings can establish themselves in one of the EU27 Member States to obtain an operating licence or they can request safety certifications from EU27 authorities, airline pilots can apply for EU27 licences, seafarers can obtain recognition in the EU27 of the UK certificate, etc.)”.

The Aughton Mudslinger Is Coming

On December 13th WLR reported on the Aughton Parish Council and how a lady who resides on Long Lane single handed brought the meeting to a 10 minute suspension. It used to take about 50+ unruly Aughtonians to achieve that!

She was the author of a letter/survey to Long Lane residents. Included in it was “Now, in our quest to determine, why, on God’s good earth this Lane has no traffic calming in place already we contacted Lancashire County Council Highways Department (Preston) 0300 123 6701 which has two divisions: Road Speed Safety Management –Deals with road signage. Traffic Calming–Deals with traffic slowing obstacles (highway engineering).

“With great fortune, I spoke to Alan in the Highways Department who told me there have been many highway complaints from Long Lane over an extended period, but his team only logs reported incidents and since not everyone formally reports incidents the list he sent me is remarkably short. Yet, I alone know of 6 this year (and guess what? they are not on his list).

“Now, apparently, the key criteria for placing road-calming measures is the number of “incidents”. Therefore, if like ourselves: 1 You have experienced or have seen accidents & incidents in the last 5 years on the Lane. 2 Are elderly/have young children who are at your property and fear that Lane (crossing it, driving out onto it). 3 Suffer from the noise and emissions pollution in a residential area. 4 Are seriously concerned about the implications of the above and want a solution, then, please, take the time to fill out your concerns and information about any “Lane” incidents you’ve had in the past 5 years. Then post this back to us/scan it and email it over, or if you are elderly and can’t get out, give us a call and we’ll pick your contribution up.

“We will then collate and send on all of our concerns to the Highways Department, the Local Parish Councillors, the District Councillors, the Local Paper (the rest of Aughton) clearly demonstrating the extent of the risk and misery we endure as a very loud collective voice and demand traffic calming measures restoring Law and Order  to the Wild West outside all of our front doors. The ticket reference with the Council is 139216”.

She now writes “In any event, you’ll be quite surprised (or maybe not) that we are now up to 218 incidents & near misses recorded and responses are still being received as with the weather I didn’t send them all out at once and likewise, who wants to traipse up this dangerous Lane in howling wind and rain at this time of year?

“It’s highly likely there’ll be a very much higher count in the end. The Highways Agency only had around 15 recorded incidents in 5 years which is well below reality. Unfortunately though, smiley faces aren’t going to cut this, some of the stories are horrific, it is a ticking box exercise from as you allude, inept Councillors, who I’m proud to report adjourned their monthly meeting with my presence as they didn’t like what they heard from me. That being the truth!

“I’m thinking of moving forward with this as “The Most Dangerous Lane in Lancashire” since your other problem is that of the Local Housing Plan which likewise, we think is an utterly appalling idea. Citing this end of the Lane as being responsible for the aforementioned namesake might well help stick a big nail in that problem for you. I mean, mud sticks, and I’m up for a lot of mudslinging on this. And again, if the Councillors can’t get fundamental resident safety right then one has to question their ability to make a decision on housing. They should be thrown out if road safety is anything to go on”.

As we all know, the Borough Aughton Park councillors are Stephenson (known to sleep on the job ) and M Westley. They live in Halsall. It’s time they were advised to stay there and Aughton, all of it, should elect Aughton residents. 

Here Comes The Commissioner’s Begging Bowl

Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner  has launched a survey asking council tax payers across Lancashire if they are willing to pay more to support the recruitment of 80 police officers and increase proactive policing in their community. The consultation follows the budget announcement last week, where the Government has once again passed the burden of the cost of policing onto council tax payers .

The latest financial settlement for Lancashire sees it increase by £6.8m and whilst the Commissioner welcomes any additional grant, it does not even cover the increase to employer pension contributions for policing, announced in September. The real world consequences of dealing with this pensions deficit alone, is forecast to cost Lancashire Constabulary around £7.1m per year from 19/20 – the equivalent to over 150 police officers.

However, since 2010 Lancashire Constabulary  has had to make over £84m of savings as a direct result of the Government cutting £50m of central funding during the same period, with an additional £18m of savings required by 2022. In the same period Lancashire has lost 800 police officer posts and 350 support staff, meaning there are increasingly fewer places where savings can be made. Despite the cuts, the Constabulary is still deemed to be efficient and effective by external inspectors.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner said “I strongly believe that more funding should come from the Government and I will continue to lobby the Home Secretary and Policing Minister. The current funding for policing isn’t sufficient to deal with growing demands on the police and the financial settlement allows me to raise further funds but only through passing this burden onto council tax payers. This isn’t fair and it isn’t sustainable” .

“However, raising funds through council tax contributions is the only option the Government have given me to protect and bolster policing and if I did not consider this, it would mean a cut to our budget. There are over a million calls for service every year to Lancashire Police and investment is needed to keep up with ever increasing demands on policing and to deliver a service the public expect. Police officers and staff are working round the clock to keep people safe but, they are over stretched.”

“The public are being asked if they would be prepared to pay an extra 46 pence per week for a Band D property to invest in policing services in their area. Three quarters of Lancashire residents are in lower bands and so would pay less, and this would raise over £10m for policing in Lancashire”. 

Increased revenue raised through council tax would help to deal with the changing nature of crime and provide more local, visible and accessible policing that is more responsive to local issues. Mr Grunshaw explained, “Across the county residents tell me that they want to see better investment in policing. More detectives are also being recruited by the force ollowing public feedback asking to prioritise investigations around major crimes, child exploitation and domestic abuse but they want more police officers, and they want to see them out on the streets, tackling crime and keeping us safe.

“The reality is the ability to invest in our policing teams and meet the pressures on the service is completely reliant on raising council tax by the highest amount we can. With rising demands, increasing costs through inflation and growing crime we cannot accept a further reduction in our police budget.

“Asking for more money , the public quite rightly expect to get something in return and need to feel the difference which is why if the proposals go ahead, it would be spent on 80 extra police officers. These officers would form task forces in every district in Lancashire to support neighbourhood policing teams to solve problems in communities, focusing on reducing and preventing crime, anti-social behaviour, public order and supporting public events. This would include three officers dedicated to tackling rural crime in each of the county’s policing divisions.

“Specialist target teams would be increased to strengthen the force’s ability to tackle cross border crime and criminality, focusing on burglary and robbery 24/7 to ensure police are making an impact around the issues that really matter to people and cause the biggest misery and concern. These extra officers would also work alongside drones funded by proceeds of crime to locate and track offenders and support searches for missing people”.

The thing is, Clive, you want ME to pay for police pensions from MY pension. How fair is that?

WTO Trading? Just Ask JCB

Lord Bamford  has written “I have decades of experience selling British-made machines to WTO and EU countries. Nearly three quarters of what we manufacture is exported. Likewise, my company buys components from all over the world. Trading with Australia on WTP terms is as natural to us as trading with Austria on EU single market terms. To underline the point, 40% of JCB’s exports go to WTO countries, 27% to EU countries. We import components worth £250million from WTPO countries. This two-way trading arrangement happens every day”.

Construction equipment manufacturer JCB  enjoyed a record year in 2017 thanks to rebounding global markets, as it saw its sales surge 28% to pass £3bn for the first time. Sales turnover in 2017 was £3.35bn, up from £2.62bn the year before. Machine sales increased to 75,693, up from 66,011 in 2016.

Meanwhile the company’s earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose by almost 19% to £341m (up from £287m in 2016). The company said sales continued to rebound in 2018, pushing JCB’s global production levels to a record level of 500 machines per day.

Lord Bamford wrote “I voted to stay in the Common Market in 1975. I did not vote for a political union, I did not expect us to hand over sovereignty to the EU. I certainly did not expect unaccountable leaders in Brussels to govern over us”. Nor did I.

When Politicians’ Lips Move

What a kerfuffle we have witnessed, just because a politician moved his lips and then denied how they moved. The shape of the lips when saying stupid “woman” and stupid “people” is so obviously different that who can deny the fact? Well, Jeremy Corbyn did . Silly really, “mea culpa” M’Lord. After all, nobody disputes he said “stupid”, do they? But now being called a misogynist, that’s serious stuff.

Lip readers are flavour of the day. Their verdict? “Contempt of Theresa May” case proved.

Many of us believe politicians until their lips move! Then they lose our respect. The House Speaker Bercow , well known for his own accusations denied without shame, declared he “had consulted ‘lip speakers’ – people who can hear but interpret for deaf people – and they believed Mr Corbyn probably did deliver the slur, but no-one could be ‘100 per cent’ certain”.

One of Mr Corbyn’s MPs, a solicitor, compared herself to Jesus in an extraordinary message to Labour colleagues after she was found guilty of perverting the course of justice, having lied to police. It was, she declared, due to widespread media coverage.

Perhaps live coverage of Parliament will be blamed for the Corbyn kerfuffle!