Monthly Archives: August 2020

From The Borough Leisure Advert “Golf Courses In West Lancashire”

As published “Golfers can feel at home in West Lancashire – there are a number of excellent golf courses.

“Beacon Park Golf Course
Up Holland, Skelmersdale
Tel: 01695 625551
“Web: New website coming soon……..
“This 18-hole golf course is a picturesque testing ground set high above the Lancashire plain. The 5,996 yard course has a par of 72. Golfers can just turn up and play without needing to be a member. Just phone in advance to book a tee time.

“The course has bar and restaurant facilities which can cater for individual groups, private functions and golf societies”.

This is how picturesque it is courtesy of Serco!

800 Bullies To Collect The TV Tax

The 16 page BBC letter and application form being sent to over-75s is their own version of War and Peace without the peace, as 800 bullies on success bonuses will be calling.

The BBC will seek today to quell a growing revolt over the end of free TV licences for people aged above 75 as it sends out millions of letters to affected households. The corporation has hired 800 licence-fee agents [Crapita] and will allow poorer over-75s to claim a free licence without submitting documentary proof as it tries to reassure pensioners.

The first letters informing people that they must pay the £157.50 annual levy will arrive today. Pensioner groups are co-ordinating resistance, urging all over-60s to cancel their TV licence direct debits in solidarity with over-75s and instead offer to pay with monthly, backdated cheques.

Dennis Reed, of Silver Voices,   the community organisation behind the protest, pledged a “long attritional campaign” to force the BBC into a U-turn. He told The Times that many members had already cancelled their automatic payments. The goal of the campaign is to gum up TV Licensing’s administration systems, making collection and enforcement unworkable, without putting protesters at risk of prosecution by refusing to pay.

Jan Shortt, of the National Pensioners Convention, a separate group, said that she was aware of members planning to ignore demands, even if that led to criminal proceedings. “We cannot condone people breaking the law,” she said. “But, individually, each member will take their own choice. There will be people who refuse to pay”.

The BBC was forced in 2015 to take responsibility for funding TV licences for all over-75s by George Osborne,     then the chancellor. It has said that maintaining them beyond this year would cost an annual £745 million and necessitate the closure of BBC Two, Three and Four and a number of radio stations.

The corporation is scrapping the universal subsidy from this month but will continue to provide free licences to over-75s on pension credit. This benefit is available to single pensioners on a weekly income below £173.75 and couples on less than £265.20.

A 16-page letter and application form sent to 4.5 million affected households when their present licence expires states that applicants should submit photocopies of documents from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Pension Service to prove that they are in receipt of pension credit. Those who do not have access to a photocopier can post bank statements instead.

TV Licensing confirmed to The Times that an over-the-phone “verbal declaration process” was also available for over-75s who could not leave home or go online. Staff will ask questions to verify whether applicants are receiving pension credit, without seeing documents. It would not reveal the questions. Means-testing the benefit will lead to about three million older pensioners being stripped of their free licences.

Crapita, the outsourcing company that runs TV licence enforcement, has previously been accused of heavy handed tactics, but the BBC has indicated that over-75s who fail to pay will not face home visits, at least for now. There were 129,446 prosecutions for licence-fee evasion in 2018, resulting in 120,533 fines. Defendants who refuse to pay can be jailed but only five were given a custodial sentence that year.

The BBC said that 90 per cent of older pensioners were aware of the new system after it was promoted on its services, and 450,000 had applied for a free licence. A spokeswoman said “Over-75s will start to receive letters from today. No one needs to do anything until they have received the letter and no one needs to leave their home”.

The National Pensioners Convention was concerned about over-75s whose income put them a few pounds above the pension credit threshold. “They will have to buy less food and not put the heating on to afford a licence,” it said. And Silver Voices said “It defies belief that, as a second wave of coronavirus marches over the horizon, the BBC are doing this. It shows a lack of compassion, a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding.”

What to do if you are asked to pay? • Over-75s will begin receiving letters from TV Licensing from today, saying they are required to buy a licence unless they receive pension credit. Those no longer entitled to a free licence are able to pay the £157.50 in one go or spread the cost over a year. Arrangements can be made online, by post, or over the phone.

• Recipients have two months to respond to the letter. If they do not, their licence will be cancelled. Anyone who continues watching live TV or BBC iPlayer without a licence is committing an offence.

• TV Licensing pays the outsourcing company Capita to make “enforcement visits” to unlicensed homes. However, the BBC insists there are no immediate plans to send agents to the homes of over-75s.

• Enforcement officers have no legal authority to enter properties.

• TV Licensing says it only prosecutes as a “last resort”. More than 120,000 people were fined in 2018. At the going rate of £69 per success, the BBC paid the Crapita bullies £8,280,000 between them. It shames them!

We, WLBC, Have Neither Eyes To See Nor Tongue To Speak

Misquoting Speaker William Lenthall appears to be the position of West Lancashire Borough Council

when the subject of the Beacon Park Golf Course (BPGC) mismanagement is raised, specifically about allegations of VAT fraudsters, the destination of landfill royalties, and the involvement of Serco Leisure Operating Ltd and Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd and its Director Jonathan Snellgrove.

Because there is no trust in public life. Landfill in-Ruined Golf Course-Cashed out with  The Royalties. One Beacon Park Golf Course VAT fraudster might have been misfortune, but two was simply negligent.

At the last WLBC meeting, 22nd July 2020, an agenda item was to secretly discuss the “Leisure Contract Extension – Short Term Measures in response to COVID 19” rather than to discuss the Beacon Park Golf Course in response to the Serco control of the BPGC shambles, including the secrecy surrounding the officially agreed 23,375 lorry loads of landfill plus the unknown loads that created the excess now supposedly being spread around the course.

Basic VAT fraud arises when a business dishonestly fails to charge and account for VAT when they should have done so, or VAT is charged but not paid over to HMRC. Cheating the public revenue is a judge-made criminal offence. In order to obtain a conviction, the prosecution only has to show that the defendant has made a false statement with the intention of defrauding HMRC. So it’s clear that there was no effective scrutiny by WLBC of the DCT Leisure Ltd accounts leading up to its dissolution, its demise as the golf course leaseholder.

In the case of R v Mavji, 84 Cr. App. R 34 the Court of Appeal held that an actual act of deception is not necessary. A failure to submit a VAT return or pay the VAT due can be sufficient if done so with dishonest intent to evade tax, for example, of £100,000.

Former Labour Cllr John Bullock said, of the new Borough development company “The entity acquiring the land is essentially passing the wealth of the Borough to a separate legal personality in which we may or may not have tools of control (to be tested – hopefully not in a court of law) [Think Beacon Golf Club]”.

How ironic is it that on 1 April 2011 we were told that a “New operator for Beacon Park Golf Course, West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust has been announced as the new operator of Beacon Park Golf Course from the New Year. John Bullock, Labour, Chairman of the West Lancs Community Leisure Trust, said “We are delighted to take on the day-to-day operations of the golf course. The Leisure Trust is committed to making sure the sporting facilities in the area are first class and we hope to continue this at the golf course. The course, on Beacon Lane, Up Holland, will continue to operate as normal and members and visitors will see no change in the service offered. All staff will continue to be employed at the site”.

We are asking how WLBC failed to prove the element of suspicions of VAT fraud/landfill royalties and/or corruption in relation to the Beacon Park Golf Course landfill development in not one case but two. The application 2011/0787/FUL for “Partial remodelling of existing golf course and driving range and creation of new nine hole short course” was submitted for a scoping opinion on 2nd February 2011. 17 other items of documentation were submitted on 13th July 2011.

One of the 17 documents is key to the suspicions, a “Letter from communities and local gov re planning fees”, Dated 21st July 2010 in which the name of a company director Jonathan Snellgrove was provided as querying concerns about the costs of planning applications for low impact outdoor leisure facilities. “The applications to which Mr Snellgrove refers should be subject to a maximum fee of £1,690…reducing the cap from £250,000. I hope this clarification goes some way to allaying Mr Snellgrove’s concerns”. Signed by Minister Greg Clark MP. And nobody in WLBC thought fit to check who and why.

From WLBC to “Agent of the Beacon Park Golf And Country Club, Matthews And Goodman Nations House Edmund Street Liverpool, 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. Signed by John R Harrison, DipEnvP, MRTPI Borough Planner Dated: 12 December 2011”.

Following reports to Cabinet (15th November 2011) and Council (14th December 2011) interim arrangements were put in place with West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust and the trust partners Serco Leisure Operating Limited to undertake temporary arrangement for the management of the golf course.

The report included “The arrangements previously negotiated by DCT for the land drainage work with Oaklands Leisure [Oakland Golf And Leisure Ltd Company number 07006297 Incorporated 2nd September 2009 Director Jonathan Russell Snellgrove] provided an opportunity to improve facilities, retain or increase future membership and increase income”.

And it included “The trust partners have examined the previous financial years and membership records of the golf course. The information provided by DCT confirmed that the golf course had been losing money during the past two years, as a result of falling memberships and increasing costs”.

There was never any public disclosure made of the “arrangements previously negotiated by DCT for the land drainage work with Oaklands Leisure” and DCT Leisure Ltd gave notice and relinquished their lease for the management of Beacon Park Golf Course on 31st December 2011. Thereafter DCT Leisure Ltd was dissolved with huge VAT and redundancy debts.

And, the infamous planning application by Jonathan Snellgrove who WLBC denied meeting, and then admitted in writing DID meet, with the then Deputy Director of Leisure and Wellbeing for the West Lancashire Borough Council, who DID meet Jonathan Russell Snellgrove of 22 Rockery Lane, Leeds LS18 the Director of Oakland Golf and Leisure Ltd which company was, with Serco, a major financial beneficiary of the enormous landfill operation at Beacon Park Golf Course.

In “Review Findings” the Director stated he “can find no evidence of any written or recorded dates, minutes or reports from any meeting with officers and Mr Snellgrove in relation to the “potential remodelling works at Beacon Park Golf Course”.

But he can advise that “Mr Nelson recalls a recent on-site meeting with Mr Snaylam from Serco/West Lancashire County Leisure Ltd (perhaps you meant West Lancashire Community Leisure Ltd?) regarding the re-modelling works at which Mr Snellgrove was in attendance but after introductions took no part in the meeting. There are no minutes or reports produced as a result of that on-site meeting”.

I was “sorry to appear pedantic about this matter which is extremely important to residents and council tax payers of West Lancashire, but your answer in your “Review Findings” paragraph 1 is directly contradicted by your answer in paragraph 2, as the meeting you do mention was “regarding the re-modelling works”. Isn’t what Mr Nelson tells you recorded by you as evidence?. Which paragraph do you prefer me, or the Information Commissioner, to believe?”

“As for Mr Snellgrove being “in attendance” but “took no part in the meeting” would you be kind enough to ascertain what his role was in the “on-site” part of it? I’m sure Mr Nelson can recall if Mr Snellgrove expressed an opinion about the landfill, even if it was hearsay between [Serco Manager] and Mr Snellgrove since the meeting was about “the re-modelling works”? In view of the contradictions I have pointed out might you now need to re-consider your up-holding of the FoI response from Mr Nelson?

No, he didn’t! They had neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak!

Landfill in-Ruined Golf Course-Cashed out with  The Royalties, that’s the new history of the Beacon Park Golf Course.

The Future For West Lancashire?

As already reported, a row over plans for a county combined authority erupted last week. And now, it seems that Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire councils say they have not yet lent their backing to the combined authority proposals and have instead written to the Government Minister Robert Jenrick with an alternative suggestion for a Central Lancashire unitary authority comprising the three councils.

Their letter states “There is a widely held belief that the current structure of local government in Lancashire is not fit for purpose. It means that local government across the county is unable to fulfil the role it should in providing clear and accountable leadership to our residents, nor does it support the development of sustainable public services.

“Having considered this position we have come to believe that the challenges faced by public services are such that local government needs to radically change to ensure that Lancashire is served by clear structures that promote accountability and quality public services.

“With all of this in mind and while we remain open to constructive conversations with our partners within Lancashire and central government, we believe that the combination of West Lancashire, South Ribble and Chorley boroughs could provide a coherent basis for a single council”.

“Such an authority would serve a population of more than 340,000 people and not entail breaking up borough areas or crossing county boundaries, the letter states. This would represent a functioning economic area and serve communities with many commonalities. Importantly, it would fit with a wider reorganisation of the rest of Lancashire.” For example, the number of directors of children’s services and adult social care across Lancashire would not need to increase” it said.

The letter asks Jenrick for the opportunity to work with Government to develop the outline proposal into a fully worked business case. Under Lancashire County Council’s plan, three councils would be responsible for the delivery of services to the people of Lancashire. This would pave the way for the election of a mayor for the whole county and the creation of a Lancashire Combined Authority.

However, Cllr Ian Moran above, leader of West Lancashire Council, said “For [the county council] to push forward with its agenda without consensus of the other leaders is disappointing, and I fear sets an environment of disjointed communications and mistrust across the region on what is a fundamental decision to be made.

“I am pleased that I can stand alongside my colleagues at South Ribble and Chorley who share the same view as to what is best for our boroughs and residents”.

Cllr Paul Foster, leader of South Ribble Borough Council, added “I am deeply disappointed with the county council’s decision to press forward and request dialogue with the Secretary of State on this matter without our consensus.

“I look forward to moving forward in constructive discussions with all partners, including the County Council in the hope of finding a resolution we are all comfortable with”.

And Chorley Council leader Cllr Alistair Bradley said “Discussions amongst Lancashire leaders on this matter have been ongoing for an extremely long time and I echo my fellow leaders’ disappointment. Over the past weeks and months, we have collectively tried to work with our neighbours to develop a consistent and joined up view of where Chorley’s interests may be best placed in any changes to local government.

“Position documents have been drafted by various councils however, unfortunately, we were unable to achieve any unanimity of view. It is prudent for us to voice the opinion of Chorley Council to ensure that the voices of our council, our residents and beloved communities are heard.”

“ChorleyRibbleWest” has a nice ring to it, rather than that awful monolithic Lancashire County Council? 

The Elderly Should Be In No Rush To Pay The BBC

Somebody has broken a longstanding implied contract that guaranteed over 75s free television viewing, ie without buying a licence to view. It can only be the BBC or the government. Over 75s are innocent, and have been duped, which is not unusual for easy targets.

In the Telegraph, Charles Moore writes a compelling report as, being without a TV but in receipt of 76 letters from Crapita TV Licencing, he is under suspicion of evasion. 

“Over75-year-olds are worried now that, from the first of this month, payment for their television licences has fallen due. They should not be, says the TV Licensing website: they will be “supported through the changes” and “TV Licensing will write to all licence holders aged over 75 with clear guidance about how to pay” says the BBC, which is a polite way of saying, “We know where you live.”

“But do they? If I were in the “at risk” category, I would not, Heaven forfend, advocate non-payment, but I might lie low. After all, the free-licence privilege has existed for 20 years, so the BBC’s database must itself be pretty elderly. Since it has not been demanding money of the old since the year 2000, it presumably has no accurate way of telling whether the people it has sent free licences to are still alive. You are supposed to say on voter registration forms if you are over 75, but it would surely be an abuse of data privacy if this information were transferred to the BBC. If you are dead, even the BBC cannot get £157.50 out of you.

“In my flat in London, where I do not have a television, I receive a steady stream of letters in brown envelopes from TV Licensing. My current pile adds up to 76 of them. They often carry threats on the envelope (“Investigation has started in your area”), but I refuse to answer or even open them, since I do not see why I should be compelled to inform anyone that I do not have a television.

“Despite the threats, nothing ever happens to me. TV Licensing has no legal right, contrary to what it implies, to enter your property. I wonder how, in the era of Covid-19, the BBC proposes to chase the old whom it suspects of evasion. Will it dare get a warrant to knock down the front doors of 90-year-olds wearing masks, and then drag them to the magistrates’ courts? Surely not. Old people can scarcely be blamed if they sit tight and wait for the Corporation to fulfil that promise to “help them through the changes”.

Or will the lust for bonuses paid to the BBC Licencing Stasi for every new licence paid overcome the so-called “support through the changes”?

Planning Permission In Principle

Local councils, WLBC included, are to lose their powers to block individual housing developments under planning reforms to be unveiled this week. Ministers will announce what they describe as a planning revolution that will force authorities to allocate land for developments that will then not have to go through the full planning process.

Critics said yesterday that the move would reduce democratic accountability and lead to poor-quality new houses being built in areas without adequate public services.

CPRE, the countryside charity, said it would lead to a “gross oversimplification of the planning system” and was not the answer to the shortage of high-quality housing.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it would result in poorer-quality housing and take away the protection of residents to shape the area in which they lived. The government insisted that the new system would not only speed up house building but ensure those developments happened in the right areas.

Ministers said they would create new “design standards” to ensure that properties which get the go-ahead in this way are in keeping with the style of existing properties. They will also introduce a system of developer contributions to fund local infrastructure.

On Times Radio yesterday Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, insisted that councils would still have a say in where developments took place. He said the measures would end the problem of housing being turned down by planning committees even when it was in areas designated for development in local plans. “It will be a system which places a demand on local areas to build the homes that they need. It will be much simpler and faster, and enable people to get on and build”.

Under a new zoning system for planning approvals, all land will be designated into three categories: for renewal, for growth and for protection. In the first two categories there will be a new legal “permission in principle” approach for new buildings. Areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt will come under the protection category where most new buildings will be automatically banned. [We wish!]

The reforms will be published this week in a paper entitled Planning for the Future. It will also outline plans to use money from developers to give local people discounts of up to one third off the cost of a house.

The reformsAll land in local authority areas to be designated as either for renewal, development or protection. • Developers wishing to build on land designated for renewal or development will no longer have to go through full planning procedures. • Areas of outstanding beauty and green belt designated for protection. • Standards to ensure properties match the style of existing homes. • New system of developer contributions to local infrastructure.

Can you imagine the big land developers, already sitting on huge land banks, suddenly contributing to the provision of modern drains and sewers? No, nor me!

How Refuse Workers and Street Cleaners Beat Serco

The story of how refuse workers and street cleaners in Tory controlled Bexleyheath won a landmark victory against Serco last week, including increased pay, sick pay and reinstatement of sacked members, after a campaign which saw union density rise from 25 to 95%, has been reported by Willie Howard in Tribune.
There are 45 Councillors elected to the local council that represent their local community across 17 wards, 34 Tory, 10 Labour, 1 Independent.

They even achieved a change of management. On March 21st, workers had downed tools and went on strike. Contracted out to Serco, the Bexley refuse workers were some of the lowest paid council workers in London. The campaign centred around poverty pay, but also the fact that there was no sick pay policy often forcing people to choose between coming to work sick or staying at home poor. On top of that, like many other private waste contracts, a culture of bullying was ingrained in the depot where people were forced to work shorthanded, insulted and shouted at as Serco sought to squeeze workers as much as possible to maximise their profit margins.

Over the previous months the workers had organised a campaign at breakneck speed; they engaged in mass community outreach, pressured the local council with protests and door-to-door canvassing while union density shot from around 25% to 95%. New reps were elected and an organising committee was put in place with representation from different shifts and teams that managed the campaign from day to day; one that culminated in a victory.

While the Bexley dispute was undoubtedly inspiring, it’s important to understand the context in which this and other recent disputes have taken place.

Local authority ‘outsourcing’ (‘privatisation’ is probably a better term) began under Thatcher’s government, but the implementation of austerity in 2008 and the slashing of government funding to local authorities saw an explosion in councils utilising the services of companies such as Serco, Carillion, Veolia and Interserve. Faced with the task of balancing local budgets, often with half of the previously available funding, many opted to take the privatisation option.

Workers who had loyally served their communities now found themselves under the management of corporations whose only priority was profit. A race to the bottom quickly began, new contracts were brought in with pay being driven down and vital benefits like sick-pay and pensions were removed. [This in 2020!]

Far from being ‘more efficient,’ the quality of the services often plummeted as staff numbers were slashed and turnover became high. A similar process took place in the NHS and across the wider public sector – services being underfunded and run down while privatisation ensured a mass transference of public wealth into private hands.

As successful outsourcing disputes have shown us, it is also key that unions focus not only on the contractor which is essentially a parasitic middleman, but on the client. It’s a key tactic of outsourcing councils to sell the workers off and then wash their hands of them, a complete fiction when one considers the workers are still ultimately working on behalf of the council.

It is vital unions shine a spotlight on those who engineer this process on a local level and who are ultimately the paymasters. In Bexley we loudly protested the council meetings with ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ blaring from a PA system to disrupt proceedings.

All of this local leverage was secondary to the fact workers were using their labour withdrawal. A rock solid picket took place with 120 disciplined workers severely limiting strike-breaking efforts, regardless of the threats of management, scabs and the police. Unions cannot afford to engage in symbolic one-day strikes with six on a picket line; either a strike has teeth or it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

“The refuse workers in Newham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Bexley have set the model, it is now vital we harness that on a national level and push back against low pay and the privatisation of our public services”.