Ex- council employee defrauds council with fake companies

It can happen anywhere.

“A former employee of West Sussex County Council who set up fake social enterprises to defraud the authority of more than £91,000 has been given a 30-month prison sentence.
Pepe Chisenga, 54, of Little Corner, Waterlooville, Hampshire, was a senior contracts officer in the drug and alcohol team at West Sussex in October 2012.
She engineered service level agreements with the social enterprise companies, of which she was a director.

… On the face of it they appeared to be legitimate companies but in fact offered no service to the council, employed no real people and were based at ‘mail drop’ addresses. This evidence was key in showing that the money was put into numerous bank accounts and spent on personal expenditure.”


West Hill or Westminster – local author shares experience of Claire Wright campaign


West Hill or Westminster

“This is the remarkable story of an independent’s first ever campaign to win the Parliamentary seat of Devon East. In the 2015 General Election, lacking a party label, an experienced party machine and relying on private donations and friends, County Councillor Claire Wright, a hard-working and energetic candidate from West Hill in Devon, contested one of the country’s safest Tory seats. She won the highest number of votes, 13,140, of any independent in the UK. Only one other independent candidate attracted even 5,000 votes. Usually, independents fail to win more than a few hundred votes and their story is seldom heard.

This book offers a rare insight into what is necessary to challenge the big parties. Written by a member of the core team, it reveals the techniques and dilemmas, the problems and successes of the campaign. It explains how the independent, backed by hundreds of supporters, beat three of the four national parties. The developing drama is put into the context of the wider national political scene during the last 100 days and the immediate aftermath of the General Election is discussed.

West Hill or Westminster? will appeal to all those interested in politics, especially at grass roots level, and will be a revelation to the inhabitants of East Devon on the mechanisms behind their own election. This is the 10th book by Philip Algar. Initially an economist, he spent many years as an editor, journalist, lecturer and occasional broadcaster, working in 30 countries.

This book is available from local bookshops and from Amazon or Lulu within the next few weeks. The author, Philip Algar, can supply copies for £9.99 including postage and packing.”

Lobbying: dark art or vital part of democratic process?

Letter in Western Morning News from Justin Robbins, Yealmpton:

Your leading article on November 13 concerned the Countryside Land and Business Association and its new president Ross Murray, and it makes the outrageous claim that “in politics today lobbying ministers has gone from a dark art to a legitimate and indeed vital part of our democratic process.”

Surely the opposite is the case, lobbying ministers is still a dark art which is anti-democratic and potentially corrupting. It occurs behind closed doors so how can anyone assess its legitimacy?

It is hard to see how democratic principles apply to landowning in England and Wales where 33,000 CLA members own half the land. At a local level landowners have far more power than any elected representative, and their power is without any democratic accountability.

It is good to know that Mr Murray is concerned about the need for affordable rural homes (also WMN Nov 13). A major factor in the high cost of houses is the high cost of the land due to speculation and the way in which land value shoots up as soon as its use changes, through the planning system, from agricultural to residential, enabling landowners to gain hefty unearned profits. Profits that under a fairer system should revert to the community whose needs and activities serve to create the land’s value.

If Mr Murray could persuade his members to this view he would help solve the rural housing crisis. If not then Winston Churchill’s view will remain as true today as when he stated it over a century ago:

“Land monopoly is not the only monopoly but it is by far the greatest of the monopolies – it is a perpetual monopoly and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”


Has your MP signed today’s letter to George Osborne?

Critics say rural broadband in Devon is in dire straits, partly because EDDC failed to work together with DCC to get maximum funding.

Now more than 100 MPs concerned about lack of broadband investment in their own areas have written to George Osborne, as detailed in this extract from the Broadband for Rural Devon and Somerset (B4RDS) Facebook page:

‘Over 100 MP’s of all parties have today taken an open letter to George Osborne calling for him to invest in fixed and mobile broadband. This is before next Wednesday’s announcement of the Autumn spending cuts. If your MP hasn’t signed you should ask him/her why not.’

Link to the letter, and names of MP’s who’ve signed, is here:


Seaton to lose its Voice?

Yet another example of East Devon District Council cherry-picking which assets it sells and which it keeps.

You might think it was simple: sell those that don’t make money and keep those that do. But it isn’t that simple when it comes to the arts and the community. Money was poured into the Honiton Beehive complex (£300,000 plus and maybe much more gifted, not loaned), the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, also in Honiton, has never made money but we are not allowed to know exactly how much it loses and the Manor Pavilion (Sidmouth) is similarly a financial mystery. EDDC hived off its leisure facilities to Leisure East Devon years ago but we are never too sure how much that company still receives in subsidy – information is scant.

But not so Seaton Town Hall – the town’s only arts and entertainment venue run by local social enterprise company Seaton’s Voice and called The Seaton Gateway. [A social enterprise company is not a not-for-profit company, it is simply a normal company that has a social mission as part of its Memorandum of Association according to government information]

Currently, the Gateway occupies the large ground floor which includes a large hall and bar facilities, the town council has the much smaller first floor and the museum the even smaller top floor. The upper floors are not accessible to disabled people having many stairs for access. The Gateway has three directors who run the venue with a large number of volunteer staff.

For some years, it appears that EDDC was prepared to subsidise The Gateway – which has made a name for itself with regular musical entertainment, live theatre broadcasts and rooms rented out to local groups and societies – EDDC has just written off a £30,000 loan it gave to Seaton’s Voice and was also paying 20% of the building’s utility bills.

Now all has changed. EDDC wants to divest itself of Seaton Town Hall and will only entertain transferring it to the town council and not to Seaton’s Voice.

However, in a twist of fate, at the same time, Devon County Council was keen to get rid of its own building in Seaton – the former Marshlands Centre which has been closed for some time – and for a knock-down price and the town council decided to buy it from them, using its reserves for the purchase, fearing that such an opportunity might not happen again.

This has put Seaton Town Council on the horns of a dilemma: move into its own almost purpose-built accommodation which it would own and run for itself or share an old building where the vast majority of the space is taken up by a private tenant which has been used to being subsidised or keep both buildings and all the financial pressures and problems of owning them both. But at the moment the Council IS saying both rather than one or the other.

It has been revealed that to make the building fit-for-purpose, the town council would need to take out a Public Works Loan of £400,000 plus and The Gateway company would need to fundraise around £200,000 – massive amounts for a small town council and for a small company.

If it keeps the town hall and raises the money, the town council will have a tenant which needs most of the useable and income-producing space but which operates with a shoestring staff of volunteers and which has not been used to operating at full cost and which will presumably also expect some sort subsidy from the town council.

In yet another twist of fate, the company running The Gateway has now said in the pages of the local press that it will not co-operate with the town council on a plan for the town hall now that it is purchasing Marshlands, because the council discussed the purchase behind closed doors without including them, and fearing, presumably and probably correctly, that the town council’s priorities cannot be its priorities.

It seems now that either the town council will decide it does not want the town hall at all or it will take on two buildings with the result that they will of necessity have much less to spend on the Town Hall than if it had been the only building it owned. But at the moment the Council IS saying both rather than one or the other.

So, we have SOME arts and community venues being subsidised by EDDC, and one it doesn’t want to subsidise and wants to slough off onto a small town council which would have to raise its precept in order to subsidise a private business to provide arts and community services.

Well done, EDDC. Still, at least councillors in the new HQ in Honiton will be able to pop to the Beehive and the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in their free time.