Monthly Archives: February 2021

West Lancashire Records Its Lowest Coronavirus Cases Of 2021

The West Lancashire Ormskirk & Southport NHS Trust Hospitals have reported 9 new confirmed positive test results on 28 February 2021. Between 22 February 2021 and 28 February 2021, 126 people had a confirmed positive test result. This shows a decrease of 29.6% compared to the previous 7 days. The West Lancashire cumulative infections are 8,480 cases, that’s 7,396.8 per 100,000 of our population.

There were no deaths within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus reported on 28 February 2021. Between 22 February 2021 and 28 February 2021, there have been 6 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. This shows a decrease of 25% compared to the previous 7 days.

Rotten Boroughs Breed Rotten Development Companies?

How many rotten councils have set the example of corruption by their [our] own development companies? We are indebted to Private Eye for its regular briefings.

We recall Northumberland, with its “Arch” development company that developed free accommodation, meals, booze, and a meeting in Cannes. Nearly £250k spent on company credit cards. Arch became Advance Northumberland, in which fraud by use of fake bills and large bank transfers became rampant. It now reports “continuing weaknesses in governance” and the company now owes the council, ie taxpayers, £281million.

Labour Croydon is “Looking for a buyer for Brick by Brick (BxB)” which made the council broke! BxB owed the council £286million, and a likely loss on the sale will be at least £100million.

Tory Cambridgeshire loaned a huge sum to its own wholly owned building company This Land which then could not keep up the loan repayments and didn’t make profits anyway. Solution? Lend the company more money to cover the interest and sell off council land to developers!

Nottingham is infamous for its £1.1billion of debts due to its failed commercial property speculations and its disastrous Robin Hood Energy scheme. A Section 114 notice (bankruptcy) is due soon!

Labour Warrington, with debts of at least £1.6billion was reported to have bought the Bristol Energy (City Council energy) scheme after it went bust! The Warrington Council “Together Energy” saga seems hell bent on Section 114 action!

Labour West Lancashire with its Tawd Valley Developments Ltd

is a minnow by comparison. But already its early losses, £446,606, and more to come before homes are built while its new director is paid circa £100,000 a year, are causing some concerns.

The wholly owned company has a plan to build up to 340 homes over the next 5 years and is already working on plans to build 77 good quality homes in Skelmersdale in the next 12 months, including 48 to be retained by the Council for social housing. The other 29 homes to be sold must put cash in the bank quickly before doubts arise. Quality has costs but pays in the end.

Remote Council Meetings

LLG & ADSO Serve Pre-Action Letter on Secretary of State

“The Association of Democratic Services Officers (ADSO) and Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) have been lobbying the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to change primary legislation to enable local authority remote meetings to take place beyond the current statutory deadline of 6 May 2021.

“In the event of this not being successful, and to support the Secretary of State in his wish to find a solution, ADSO, LLG and Hertfordshire County Council have instructed counsel to issue proceedings in the High Court to seek a declaratory judgement to enable such meetings to take place within existing legislation.

“A pre-action letter has been served on the Secretary of State giving him the opportunity to respond to our proposals. Once this notice period expires, if there is no material change to the present circumstances, we will submit our claim to the Court. We are not yet in a position to provide a timeline as to when the case might be heard. We will apply to expediate any proceedings, but it is a matter for the court as to when our case will be listed. We will advise all interested parties when we know more.

“In the meantime, we are asking local authorities (if not submitted already) to provide us with quantifiable evidence to show the benefits of remote meetings and why they should continue”.

Local authorities, including West Lancashire Borough Council, should tell the people they serve what benefits, if any, there are to continuing with remote meetings after 6th May. Many elected members will by than have received vaccinations that are 90% successful against coronavirus infections. Is that a material change? It may not be right for a packed council chamber but committees are smaller and can be spaced. Justice seen is justice done? As so should be public accountability?

Council Size Submission

On 16th August 2010 at 2.04 pm, Wally Westley replied to my query that “The number of Borough Councillors is set by the Government and the Boundary Commission. My personal view is that there are too many and that the number could be reduced by 50%”.

I replied “As for the number of councillors, why don’t you instigate a review of WLBC with the Boundary Commission? Perhaps the county might be trimmed down too?”

Back came Wally at 3.55pm, with his head in the sand “I would not want to waste money on a Boundary Commission Review or the resultant election. There are far more important matters and it would only be an unnecessary distraction”.

Moving on over ten years since that crass nonsense, we have another review. OWLs have submitted their views. “This submission sets out the response of the Our West Lancashire Group on West Lancashire Borough Council to the LGBCE’s invitation to put forward a case for Council Size.

At the meeting of Full Council on 22 July 2020 it was resolved that the Council would maintain elections by Thirds. It must be noted this was the view only of the majority group on the council. The Conservative and Our West Lancashire Groups wished to move to all-out elections or elections by halves to retain small single-member wards that better reflect the rural nature of parts of the Borough.

The Our West Lancashire Group was represented on the Electoral Review Working Group (ERWG) which considered the council size matter and has had the benefit of the assessment of the work of the Council, and the roles and responsibilities of its elected members prepared by council officers and which informed the submission of West Lancashire Borough Council.

Our West Lancashire considers that a council size of 39 [or 36] Councillors, elected by thirds, will be able to secure effective local government. However, we have concerns that three-member wards elected by thirds will make the subsequent task of maintaining strong community identities and interests in the Borough more difficult when ward boundaries are drawn. For that reason, we favour all out elections so that wards in rural areas do not have to cover very extensive geographical areas. We recognise also that all-out elections are the ‘direction of travel’ in local government.

We note that the decision to maintain elections by thirds was not unanimous and does not have the support of the two opposition groups and may be changed after the May 2021 elections.

That’s a flavour of the OWL submission. There is much more. We doubt they changed their minds after just one hour and fifty one minutes.

Read the document here

FINAL OWL Council Size Submission.pdf

West Lancashire Coronavirus Cases Reducing

The Ormskirk & Southport NHS Trust hospitals reported 10 new coronavirus infections on 26 February 2021. Between 20 February 2021 and 26 February 2021, 134 people had a confirmed positive test result. This shows a decrease of 32.7% compared to the previous 7 days. The West Lancashire total is now 8,455 infections, that’s 7,396.8 per 100,000 of our population.

There were 0 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus reported on 26 February 2021. Between 20 February 2021 and 26 February 2021, there have been 6 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. This shows a decrease of 40% compared to the previous 7 days.

Drink Driving

Thanks to the alertness of staff at a local shop in Tarleton this morning a female was arrested for being over the legal limit whilst in charge of a vehicle.

National research published by Drinkaware showed that some people have significantly increased their alcohol consumption at home during the lockdown. And while the initial lockdown saw dramatically fewer cars on the roads, loosening of restrictions means that traffic levels are almost back at normal levels, giving added cause for concern.

Information published by the road safety charity Brake shows that even when someone is only just over the legal limit they are still six times more likely to be involved in a fatal collision than someone who has drunk nothing.

You are more likely to be involved in a crash if you drink drive which could cause serious injury or death. The consequences of drink and driving can also include: • A minimum 12 month driving ban • A criminal record • A hefty fine • Up to six months in prison • A licence endorsement for 11 years.

All of which also result in increased car insurance costs, or loss of employment.

The public are encouraged to report drink and drug drivers, providing as much information as possible so they can be investigated.

Stay Safe, Neil PC 7176

Outsourcer In Profit, Despite Leisure Centre Losses

Serco runs Northlink Ferries, which operates the service from Scrabster in Caithness to Stromness in Orkney past the striking Holborn Head Lighthouse. And it may be a year late, postponed because of the onset of the pandemic, but Serco is paying a dividend again, its first in seven years.

The one-time FTSE 100 star of the outsourcing sector, private companies that provide, and some say ruin, public services, Serco crashed to earth in 2013 in a fog of mismanagement and fraud.

Rupert Soames, who had made his name turning round Aggreko, the power business, was hired in 2014 to rescue the business, but has been unable to pay a dividend since because he had to unwind onerous legacy contracts. His turnaround meant that Serco was ready to pay dividends last year, but that was scuppered by Covid-19.

Yesterday Soames announced a 1.4p-a-share payout as the company reported a 20 per cent jump in revenues to £3.8 billion in 2020 on which it made £163 million of trading profits, 36 per cent better than the year before.

The stock market has welcomed Serco’s return to making payouts with a 10 per cent rise in the share price in recent days. The stock put on a further 4p, or 3.1 per cent, to 133¼p yesterday as Serco spoke of its expectation that there could be a further 6 per cent to 7 per cent rise in revenue and profit this year.

The group provides services working for governments in the Britain, the United States and Australia, running privatised prisons and asylum seekers’ accommodation, transport services such as the Caledonian Sleeper and Scottish ferries and processing claims in the American health service system.

Soames, who likes to use a cultural quote in summarising a year’s operations, previous examples have included the boxer Mike Tyson’s “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”, turned this time to Robert Burns, the poet “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley”.

He had promised that 2020 would be the year that Serco had profit margins moving toward 5 per cent and revenues rising at 5 per cent. “Maybe now, in 2021, we can think again of the ambition we set ourselves a year ago of being a more ‘normal’ company” he said.

He also landed a blow on those in the investment community who mark down companies on environmental, social and governance issues. He said that some may be more comfortable with Serco now that it is no longer involved in the development of nuclear warheads at the Atomic Weapons Establishment, but added “There will always be certain parts of our business, which will cause concern to some. Most notably, the fact that we do on governments’ behalf some of the hard things that citizens expect their governments to do, like deport some people and hold others in prison; all on behalf of democratically elected governments, but unpalatable to some”.

The outsourcing sector has fallen from its past heights: Capita and Mitie, both under new management, are stuck in multiyear turnarounds; Interserve was taken private by its debtholders, who broke it up; and Carillion famously went bust.

Serco has been paid about £50 million a month to package Covid tests and trace those who have tested positive. It marshalled an army of 9,000 people to make the scheme operational. That a commercial company was making a margin on such work put Serco at the centre of the criticism of the scheme when it got the blame for a sputtering start, when much of the ire might have been reserved for government policy and implementation.

Soames’ point to investors is that if it had not taken on the government contract, and admire outsourcers or not, Serco is one of only a handful of companies able to take it on then the group’s financial picture would have been a lot weaker, after all the business it lost to the pandemic from running public services such as trains and leisure centres.

Talking of which, Robert Burns also wrote in To a Mouse “Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste, An’ weary Winter comin fast, That wee-bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble Has cost thee monie a weary nibble! Still, thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee: But Och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear!” and surely he was ahead of his time knowing what Serco would do to the Beacon Park Golf Course?

What a “tim’rous beastie” company Serco is!

News From The Upcoming Parrs Lane Development War Zone

Comments about the latest attack on local democracy in Aughton by housing developers show the feelings still held by the public and the local Residents Group. Previous attempts to develop cheaply on shovel ready agricultural land showed the appalling lack of support from elected ward members who live outside the ward. But local parties should nail their colours to the mast now.

“The proposal by Barrett/David Wilson Homes re the above to build 500 houses adjacent to Parrs Lane on Green Belt Land needs to be strangled at birth”. No argument with that!

“The developers have invited comments by way of a “Consultation” with local residents. We know from experience that this is merely a cosmetic exercise and it is highly unlikely to result in any meaningful alterations to their planning application when that is eventually put to WLBC”.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is parrs-lane-sign-300x225.jpg

A) The proposed development lies in the Green Belt and no amount of obfuscation can avoid this.

B) The agricultural land in question is undoubtedly of the “Best and Most Versatile ” type and as such NPPF 2018 deems it to be primarily way down in the scale in sustainability for building on.

C) As recently (in planning terms) as 2013 WLBC confirmed that the Green Belt Boundary would rest at Parrs Lane and as we know a previous Pre Planning Submission at this site to WLBC under the banner of Aughton East was rejected. This was before NPPF 2018 which actually strengthened the case against such a proposal. Incidentally the revised NPPF seriously undermines the suitability of the Parrs Lane “safeguarded” sites and this must be reviewed as part of the New local plan and not be rolled forward without regarding current guidance and statuary policies.

D) The proposals include reference to the Plan “B ” sites on the opposite side of Parrs Lane on which other would-be developers wished to build approx 500 houses. This was rejected by WLBC, with the support of ARG who gave evidence at two appeals which the developers lost mainly because they were attempting to raise the issue of “exceptional circumstances” to try to force WLBC to grant permission on “Safeguarded Land” by way of build targets not being met.

E) The current Local Plan is believed to be delivering new houses at a rate which is comfortably in excess of those build targets and this is confidentally expected to be the case at the next review date in  2022. This clearly removes any special pleading from developers on these grounds.

F) It is acknowledged that the Local build targets likely to be imposed as a result of the National Review will result in WLBC actually LOWERING the targets that the current Local Plan is accounting for.

G) At a new target of 193 per annum over 15 years WLBC are likely to need 2895 new houses over that period .A proposal to build 1000 house on prime Agricultural Land in the Parrs Lane area would be completely unjustified and totally unbalanced taking up as it would over 30% of the total build target for the whole borough.

H) The local infrastructure including Schools and Roads are not capable of absorbing development on this scale .It is inappropriate and unsustainable regardless of the vague undertakings given by Barret/Wilson.

I) The Council is duty bound  by National Policy to keep a record of brown-field sites and to encourage them to be developed for housing before any Greenfield Belt sites. The Parrs Lane sites clearly do not comply in this respect and it is reasonable to assume both brown-field and “windfall” developments will comfortably provide the undemanding new national targets during the term of a new Local Plan.

j) There is a specific referral in NPPF 2018 under the reference to the “Guide to assessing development proposals on Agricultural Land”. The guide states “LPA’s and developers should refer to relevant government policies and legislation when considering development proposals that effect agricultural land”.

Such policies “aim to protect BMV land and soils. There should be no SIGNIFICANT, INAPPROPRIATE and UNSUSTAINABLE development proposals”. In such cases Natural England will use these policies to advise on such development proposals as a Statutory Consultee”.

There is no doubt that any and all potential proposals at Parrs Lane will fall under this guidance and that WLBC will be obliged to consult with NE .Something they may be reluctant to do particularly as many far less contentious sites will no doubt emerge when “a call for sites “is made.

This, below, is the only use for the “Best and Most Versatile” agricultural land in Aughton. Who will stand up for it?

Open Democracy Spilling The Beans On Corruption?

Open Democracy is suing the UK Government about a deal with Palentir.

“Imagine you’re doing something unlawful – how do you avoid getting sued? Lately, if you’re Boris Johnson’s government, it seems you try sneaking it through before anyone notices. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t work this time. We’ve just issued a lawsuit over their £23m NHS data deal with controversial ‘spy tech’ company Palantir.

“We’re taking the government to court because, right before Christmas, they quietly gave this CIA-backed firm a major, long-term role in handling our personal health information, and in England’s cherished National Health Service”.

Palantir Technologies, we are told, is a software company that builds enterprise data platforms for use by organizations with complex and sensitive data environments. From building safer cars and planes, to discovering new drugs and combating terrorism, Palantir helps customers across the public, private, and non-profit sectors transform the way they use their data.

“We believe in augmenting human intelligence, not replacing it. With good data and the right technology, people and institutions today can still solve hard problems and change the world for the better.

“In 2004, when we looked at the available technology, we saw products that were too rigid to handle novel problems, and custom systems that took too long to deploy and required too many services to maintain and improve.

“We saw automated approaches that failed against adaptive adversaries, and all-or-nothing access controls that forced organizations to make unacceptable trade-offs between collaborating and securing sensitive data from misuse. We saw a need for a different kind of technology, and we knew it would take a different kind of company to build it. That’s why we founded Palantir”.