Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 13, 2019

Spending Public Money No Problem For The BBC

BBC spending increases

The basic State Pension and new State Pension both increased by 2.6% from 6 April 2019, a cash increase of £3.25 a week and £4.25 a week respectively, a maximum of £221 a year. The triple lock pension is the greater of the annual price inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, earnings growth, or 2.5%.

State pensioners are today probably wishing their new earnings growth had been measured against BBC earnings, as BBC staff received rises of at least 10%, while 256 of those got at least 20%. The average rise was £6,980, which, compared with the basic state pension of £6,714, is grotesque.

The BBC has insisted cutting pay would not free up enough money to continue free licences for the elderly, and it would instead need to close BBC Two and BBC Four. Fine, close them!

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 12, 2019

The Great Smart Meter Swindle

When the Conservatives wrote about smart meters

in their 2017 election manifesto it went un-noticed that the smart meter programme was effectively put to death. Page 60 stated that everyone ”will be offered a smart meter by 2020”. The so-called mandatory national programme became voluntary. The programme was dumped on us in 2008 by Ed “Stone” Milliband using a dishonest impact assessment. All the parties backed it after 2010, leaving no-one to point out that it was going to cost us all a fortune and never save any carbon.

Part of the Smart Meter swindle was the plan that all replaced gas and electric meters, 47 million meters with smart meters, could be turned off remotely. The energy companies demanded this facility so that customers who don’t pay their bills can be switched to prepayment tariffs without the hassle of getting court orders against them. If the Government bought this argument, then the off switch had better be closely guarded. You don’t want the nation’s enemies to be able to turn off the lights remotely do you?

Today we read that energy giants have been accused of ‘blackmailing’ customers into installing these smart meters. Money mail has reported that many of the ‘Big Six’ are now insisting that customers have a smart meter to secure the cheapest deal, according to research by Money Mail. Those who refuse are often told they can only sign up to a deal that cost hundreds of pounds more.

The cheapest tariff offered by Britain’s biggest supplier, British Gas, costs an average of £954 a year. But the small print reads “By signing up to this tariff you agree you’ll book a smart meter installation appointment within three months”. The hell I will!

Those who don’t will be switched to another tariff, but British Gas’s cheapest deal without a smart meter costs an extra £266. A spokesman said ‘Sometimes a deal may require smart meters’. Energy companies had to offer every household in the UK a smart meter by 2020. Customers can refuse but firms face fines if they cannot prove they have done enough to promote them. Smart meters automatically send meter readings and show customers how much they are spending. The aim was to end estimated bills and help households reduce costs by cutting consumption.

However, the roll-out was hit by delays, which has led suppliers to find new ways of tempting customers. Money Mail has been contacted by Eon customers who say that without a smart meter they must take the company’s standard variable tariff. This is currently £211-a-year more expensive than the firm’s cheapest deal. A spokesman said ‘If someone doesn’t wish to have [a smart meter] they will be able explore our other options’.

Npower’s cheapest deal also requires customers to get a smart meter installed. Scottish Power and SSE customers must register an interest in a smart meter when they sign up for the cheapest tariff. But both companies admit they are not obliged to install one. EDF Energy is the only firm to make it clear in the small print that customers can opt out of having a smart meter. Meanwhile, other suppliers are luring customers with promises of credits or cashback when they sign up.

Steve Playle, of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said ‘Blackmailing energy customers with financial incentives has sadly been adopted by much of the industry and it’s only going to get worse. George Chalmers of switching website Migrate said: ‘While smart meters are not mandatory, many suppliers have been doing their best to make them seem mandatory to consumers. By making their cheaper tariffs only available to people willing to accept a smart meter, suppliers have been effectively allowed to force consumers into getting one’.

As Trevor Brigden told the Mail, he has no intention of installing a smart meter but was recently blocked from the best value tariffs at energy giant Eon as a result. The 79-year-old switches suppliers regularly and, with his current Scottish Power deal set to expire, phoned Eon to ask for its energy prices to compare with others in the Big Six.

The retired education welfare officer, from Coventry, said ‘I was told they could not offer me any prices for tariffs apart from the standard expensive one. ‘I was furious. Those meters allow companies to gather information about you. And they can change the pricing and control your energy supply. It’s wrong that companies are clearly pushing people to have meters when they don’t want them’.

The scheme, which started in 2011, has been controversial and could eventually cost taxpayers £23bn, only £10.9bn being budgeted for. As recently as September 2018 Britain’s energy regulator has been fighting to keep secret the claims of two whistleblowers who independently raised concerns about potentially serious irregularities in projects worth billions of pounds.

The so-called big six energy suppliers were hoping to introduce a new kind of pricing to go with smart meters, a system used elsewhere in the world called time of use tariffs. This could mean that you are charged much more at peak times, say between 16:00 and 20:00, for using electricity. The idea is that you are being nudged to use your appliances when it is cheaper. Critics worry that this might have damaging effects on vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly and those on low incomes.

The EU, (yes them!) has said that all its members must provide smart meters by 2020 as long as there is a positive economic case to do so. Germany employed accountancy firm Ernst and Young to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and they concluded it did not make economic sense, because most householders did not use enough energy to make it value for money. As a result, Germany declined to stage a mass roll-out.

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 11, 2019

Down At The Cash Rich Old Cock And Bull

Aughton Parish Council

The Section 2 Accounting Statement for the year 2018/2019, approved on the 26 June 2019 shows “Balances carried forward” from 31 March 2018 £117,750 to 31 March 2019 “£130,047”, an increase of “£12,297”.

Cash and short-term investments are increased from £117,857 to £121,378, while “Total fixed assets plus long term investments and assets total £325,559, an increase of £4,750”.

The latest CIL Retained report shows “Total amount of CIL received in financial year 2017/2018 and retained (unspent) at the end of the reported year 2017/2018 £26,028.00. Total amount of CIL received in previous years and retained (unspent) at the end of the reported year 2017/2018 £7,356.73. Total Cil Receipts Retained (Unspent) £33,384.73.

The APC bean counters remain as fond of the parishioners’ unused cash as ever! 

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 11, 2019

Calais Trade Cock-up? C’est Des Conneries!

C’est la Bullshit!

The head of the French channel ports has dismissed warnings of Brexit chaos on the Dover-Calais trade route as irresponsible scare-mongering by political agitators.

“The British authorities have been doing a great deal to prepare. People say they are asleep but I can assure you that they are highly professional and they are ready” said Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of Port Boulogne Calais.

“There are certain individuals in the UK who are whipping up this catastrophism for their own reasons. This has provoked a lot of concern but basically ‘c’est la bullshit’. Nothing is going to happen the day after Brexit” he told The Telegraph.

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 11, 2019

Worried English Voters Deserve Better

Writes former Labour Cabinet Minister John Denham

Professor of Knowledge Exchange and Director of Politics and Society of the University of Winchester.

“If John McDonnell’s shock endorsement of a second independence referendum is bad for Scottish Labour, it could be a veritable hammer blow for the party in England. Whatever his intention, the Shadow Chancellor has conjured up the disastrous image that an incoming Labour government would be dependent on Scottish Nationalists to get anything done.

“Jeremy Corbyn may be in No 10 but Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh would be calling the shots. Labour needs a much better answer to worried English voters – one that can reassure them that the SNP will have no say over English public services and cannot inflict the damage the SNP government in Scotland has done to education and health south of the border.

“That answer is clear: for the next Election, Labour must publish a strong England-only manifesto alongside the wider UK-wide one.

“This English manifesto should set out cast-iron promises on what Labour will do on the many issues that are now ‘English only’ such as how our health service is funded or how university education is paid for.

“It’s often forgotten that, as a result of devolution, many big political questions already have different answers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Labour often trips itself up over this. Last year it announced the water industry would be brought back into public ownership, promising to ‘cut Britain’s water bills’. It took a couple of days to realise water is already socially owned or run not-for-profit in the rest of the UK: it’s an England-only issue.

“Labour already publishes Welsh

and Scottish manifestos. Now it needs, for the first time, an English manifesto that sets out in detail its English policies. This manifesto must be non-negotiable in the event of a hung parliament. No party and no MP from outside England would have any power to demand any change to Labour’s plans for England.

“I hear it said that John McDonnell’s referendum move was intended to neutralise the independence issue and shift the focus on to the SNP’s many failings in Scotland. In doing so, he’s raised a ‘Scottish question’ to which the only answer is an English manifesto”.

And while they are at it, they, and the BBC, should fly

 the English flag for English teams, events, news, rather than the almost permanent use of the Union flag!

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 9, 2019

Transparency, WLBC Style?

There will be a meeting of the WLBC Chief Officers Committee on Wednesday, 14 August 2019, the agenda for which is “Open to the Public”.

“A meeting of the CHIEF OFFICERS COMMITTEE will be held in the CABINET/COMMITTEE ROOM – 52 DERBY STREET, ORMSKIRK L39 2DF on WEDNESDAY, 14 AUGUST 2019 at 5.00 PM at which your attendance is requested.

“Yours faithfully

“Kim Webber Chief Executive”.

AGENDA (Open to the Public)

Part 2 Agenda Item 7. RECRUITMENT TO POST OF CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER. To consider the report of the Chief Executive.

6. EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC

It is recommended that members of the press and public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of the following item of business in accordance with Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 3 (Financial/business affairs) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the Act and as in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemption under Schedule 12A outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

PART 2 (Not open to the Public)

7. RECRUITMENT TO POST OF CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER. To consider the report of the Chief Executive.

The only Agenda item that might be of interest to the invited public is the one “Not open to the Public”. What a farce! Transparency? The outgoing Chief Executive reporting on the recruitment to the new post of Chief Operating Officer should not involve secrecy and is a matter of public interest. 

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 8, 2019

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Become Bolshy?

Or truculent, antagonistic, persistent, even argumentative. Being assertive helps, being right is best! Especially when challenging the Information Commissioner (the First Respondent) and West Lancashire Borough Council (the Second Respondent) at the First Tier Tribunal.

Which is what Burscough resident and anti-flooding campaigner Gavin Rattray did in May this year. As Bernie Webster, the resident of Crabtree Lane referred to yesterday, fought flooding of his and his neighbours’ homes by practical means, Gavin Rattray sought a legal remedy.

In this instance his evidence, photographs and other, was proven without challenge to the First Tier Tribunal.

To cut a long story short, Risk Management Authorities as in LCC, WLBC and UU are responsible for managing flood risk locally, for the supply of water, and for waste water services. With the help of Rosie Cooper MP Mr Rattray sought information connected with a planning decision relating to a local property which had been denied to the public.

As the Tribunal states, The Council (WLBC), through Mr John Harrison, Director of Development and Regeneration, responded in a letter of 7 December 2017, addressed to Ms Cooper. He referred to a “protracted correspondence” between Mr Rattray and Council officers over a number of years regarding drainage matters and to Mr Rattray having issued requests for information under the freedom of information legislation and complaints under the Council’s formal complaints procedure.

“It is the Council’s view that Mr Rattray’s requests for information, be that directly with the Council or indirectly, regarding drainage matters in and around Burscough are vexatious and therefore the information is exempt from disclosure under section 14(1) of the (FOIA) Act.

By a letter of 2 January 2018 Mr Rattray complained to the First Respondent (‘the Commissioner’) about the way in which the Council had dealt with his request. The Commissioner proceeded to carry out an investigation, considering the written representations and supporting documents submitted by Mr Rattray and the Council. By a decision notice dated 19 September 2018 the Commissioner determined that the Council had correctly applied EIR reg 12(4)(b) and that the public interest favoured maintaining the exception.

Bad news! But by a notice of appeal dated 9 October 2018, Mr Rattray contended that the Commissioner’s decision was wrong. By her response dated 7 November 2018 the Commissioner resisted the appeal contending that her decision of 19 September 2018 was correct. In the same document, she noted that it was apparent from the contributions of Mr Rattray and the Council that they disagreed on matters of fact and that in the circumstances it might be necessary to add the Council as a party to the proceedings.

The Council’s response to the appeal, dated 4 January 2019, defended its reliance on reg 12(4)(b), and developed the arguments already made in response to Mr Rattray’s request. It repeated the broad complaint of frequent and overlapping requests and of “unreasonable persistence” on his part. It also charged him with using an “accusatory” tone.

Of particular note is the statement at paragraph 19 of the Judgement, that “In our view the effect of these provisions is clear. Reg 12(1)(b) places the burden firmly on the public authority relying on an exception to show two things: first, that the exception (here, that under sub-para (4)(b)) applies, and second, if (but only if) it does, that the public interest favours maintaining it. That the onus is on the public authority is evident from the wording of the legislation and confirmed by the authorities. The point is further reinforced by sub-para (2), which operates at both stages of the analysis”.

And, at paragraph 20 “We note with some consternation that our understanding of the statutory framework seems incompatible with the Commissioner’s written case. As we have recorded, she contends that the appeal should be dismissed on the footing that the public interest favours maintaining the exception. On our reading of reg 12, the public interest test does not arise at all unless and until the public authority shows that the exception is applicable. This divergence has caused us anxiously to examine our thinking afresh. Having done so, and with diffidence, we stand by it. We regret that we were not able to explore these matters with the parties face-to-face. The disadvantages of deciding disputes like this without an oral hearing have been commented upon at a higher level (we will come back to this later)”.

At one stage of the Judgement, in paragraph 32, it seems that “The Council [WLBC] also places reliance on an anonymous social media post dated 4 October 2018 by the West Lancashire Record entitled, “If At First You Don’t Succeed, Become Vexatious”. It is evident that the piece was composed by someone with knowledge of the request of 27 October 2017 and the subsequent response of the Council and adjudication of the Commissioner. It is deeply critical of the Council’s perceived failure to deal with the flooding problems in Burscough and its response to the request. It ends by ironically congratulating “the complainant” for the successful outcome conveyed in the Commissioner’s subsidiary finding that the Council was in breach of the freedom of information legislation by failing to respond within the statutory 20 working days period, adding, “you’ve proved that those bureaucrats ARE accountable!” Despite its title, however, the post does not advocate the presentation of further requests for information, vexatious or otherwise. If anything, its general tenor is that no good would come of doing so”. WLBC placing reliance on WLR? Fame indeed, we didn’t know they read it!

The end game. “The Commissioner asks us to dismiss the appeal on the ground that the public interest in maintaining the exception outweighs the public interest in disclosure. As already explained, we think that this ignores the prior question whether the exception is shown to be applicable. We answer that question in the negative”. And “The Council’s [WLBC] own case appeared to acknowledge that the specific request, in itself, could not be characterised as excessive and that it was the wider historical context which made it so. That is plainly right. Having examined the evidence carefully, we are not persuaded that the requests for information presented by Mr Rattray, viewed collectively, have been excessive”.

“We are troubled by the logic of the Council’s case, which it does not shrink from expressing in plain language, that the door must now be closed on any further request for information related to flooding risk in and around Burscough. That logic runs counter to the entire spirit of the freedom of information legislation. It seeks to deprive Mr Rattray and, by extension, other concerned individuals who might be seen as associated with him, apparently for ever, of an important constitutional right to seek information in order to hold a public body to account on a matter of obvious public significance…”.

Outcome “We do not suggest that any of these reasons is individually determinative of the appeal. But we are satisfied that, taken together, they lead irresistibly to the conclusion that reg 12(4)(b) was not correctly applied. It follows that the appeal must be allowed”. Game, set and match to Burscough and Gavin Rattray.

Read the whole case here https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKFTT/GRC/2019/2018_0219.pdf

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 7, 2019

The DIY Pensioner Who Saved His Burscough Neighbours From More Flood Misery

In the Champion today

 Back in 2015 LCC and WLBC were sent/copied an email with an attachment that described the horrors of the Boxing Day flood damage in Burscough. As we all know WLBC subsequently approved multiple planning applications in Burscough, including YTF and the football ground which are cumulatively adding to Crabtree Lane and other areas flooding problems. The attachment was five pages of cast iron proof of internal and external household flooding.

LCC refused to include Burscough Flood Group’s evidence in its S19 flooding report on the 2015 Boxing Day flood (even though LCC Councillor Dereli supported Burscough Flood Group and fought for it). Consequently the S19 report painted a false picture of flooding in Burscough.

Bernie Webster, a resident of Crabtree Lane, suffered his home being flooded on Boxing Day 2015, the third such event. Knowing as he and others did, that local flooding was not only a low priority for United Utilities, LCC and WLBC but actually denied as a problem, Mr Webster installed drainage pipes, automatic electronic pumps, and a large manually controlled diesel engine-powered six inch water pump.

And, true to form, as the recent torrential downpours started to flood Crabtree Lane, Bernie’s pump saved his and his neighbours’ homes from yet more flooding. Not that he wants the responsibility of such a traumatic experience. But the ineptitude and ignorance of WLBC, LCC, UU, and Network Rail have conspired to create this chronically ill pensioner as a true community hero. When will Bernie Webster be officially recognised by any and all of these inept, official, publicly funded/parasitical organisations?

And, more to the point, how soon will any resident of flooded Burscough be able to believe a word from any of the above service providers?

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 7, 2019

The WLBC Green Bin Tax

WLBC is putting stickers on residents’ garden waste bins

of those who haven’t signed up to the Garden Waste Collection Service for the 2019/20 subscription year. “Residents must sign up to the service to ensure that their bin is emptied. The 2019/20 Garden Waste Collection Service costs £30 and is valid until June 2020”. It’s taxation, pure and simple, and should be described as such by WLBC.

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | August 7, 2019

Brexit Negotiating Errors Boris Johnson Should Fix?

Steve Baker MP writes

We urgently need to correct some vital structural problems in our negotiations. The restoration of Cabinet collective responsibility is the first step. Long may it last. Of course, Boris has fixed the problem of our restrictive over-interpretation of the duty of sincere cooperation which has shackled officials and prevented negotiation: as a departing member state, the UK is under no obligations to the EU over the deals to come into force after we have left.

Next, we must operate a global trade strategy centered on the department established for the purpose. Liz Truss and our expert negotiator Crawford Falconer must be in charge of the EU trade negotiation within our overall approach, engaging our allies and leading the world into a much-needed new era of free trade, especially in services where we have a comparative advantage.

We must stop behaving as if we are on the same side of the negotiating table as the EU, accepting their interpretation and demands as immutable poles to which we must adjust as supplicants. Of course, we must hear and respect the Commission’s views, but as a well-prepared equal, not a fearful subordinate, arguing with ourselves and relying, stupidly, on their goodwill.

It is time to ask for what we need and mobilise our allies, tabling legal text to take control of these negotiations. We should act with speed and agility, out-manoeuvering the slow and clumsy EU, while promoting our mutual best interests. Acts of devasting idiocy by [Remainer] Cabinet members to undermine our negotiating leverage at critical times, say, by taking no-deal off the table, must be put behind us.

Beyond these obvious problems, some issues are more subtle. We should never have tried to engage member states’ self-interest before taking the customs union off the table. Why would they break from a hard line leading towards it? Why would they move on the backstop if we were not clear what we would be forced to do on tariffs and quotas in the event of intransigence? Too often, matters have been seen as merely “technical”, that is, administrative, when such things often have a political dimension which must be handled politically, like acceding to the Common Transit Convention to help solve the Irish border issue.

Cartoon Credit; Telegraph

It’s time to get out there in the world, making the case in foreign capitals for our negotiating objectives of a free-trading, open and liberal Britain which respects the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of our partners. It’s time for relentless clarity, absolute resolve and a warm hand of friendship. From the back-benches, that is what I am backing Boris to deliver.

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