Private Eye Rotten Boroughs Awards 2015

And what a magnificent bunch they are … so many troughs, so many pigs … so many snouts. Here are the awards in all their glory:

FROM the council in Waltham Forest that for two years hired out a room for “ladies tea afternoons” to what turned out to be a group of burqa-clad Isis supporters, to the council employees in Wigan who were caught sleeping on the job by a TV crew making a documentary about how dynamic they were, here are the gongs awarded by Lord Gnome for the most egregious municipal mishaps – and worse – in 2015…

Michael Jones, Tory leader of Cheshire East council, revealed last month that he had lost an impressive six-and-a-half stone since engaging the services of local physiotherapist Amanda Morris, whom he described as “awesome”. Alas Cllr Jones also announced that he will be stepping down next month. This is a consequence of Eye 1403’s revelation that council contracts for fitness classes, worth £156,000, had gone Ms Morris’s way without a normal tendering process.

to Ukip, which triumphantly took control of its first council, Thanet, in May, then quickly lost it as the ’kippers fell out among themselves in a series of bitter personal squabbles.

former Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman, who was barred from office for five years after being found guilty by an electoral court in April of “corrupt and illegal practices”, including vote-rigging and bribery. As the winner of multiple Rotten Boroughs awards over the years, Lutfur will be missed. Somehow it feels that we have not heard the last of him.

When Larne council in Northern Ireland voted to put up a memorial to eight local women who were persecuted and jailed for “witchcraft” in 1711, Alderman Jack McKee of the Traditional Unionist Voice party voted against because he “couldn’t be sure” they were wrongly convicted and was worried the plaque would become a “shrine to paganism”.

Disgraced former Guildford Tory councillor Monika Juneja, who narrowly escaped going to prison in June after being found guilty on charges of forgery, deception and falsely claiming to be a barrister, kept up the good work by raising a petition in favour of an elected mayoral system for the town. Thousands of signatures were obtained by Surrey university students, who were paid £1 per signature by Juneja. Monika’s “very close friend”, council leader Stephen Mansbridge, was widely believed to have mayoral ambitions but denied having any involvement in the petition. In October local website the Guildford Dragon revealed that he had, in fact, secretly lobbied the students’ union to back the idea. Mansbridge resigned shortly afterwards.

Independent Allerdale councillor Jim Lister’s election leaflets campaigned against “unnecessary windfarms blighting our countryside” – a vexed issue in a borough with more of the useless eyesores than the rest of Cumbria put together. He forgot to mention that six months earlier he’d applied for and won permission for a 113ft turbine on his own farm.

The deputy leader of South Lanarkshire council, Jackie Burns, was fined for peeing in public outside a nightclub at 2am. He had no choice – there are no public toilets in the Labour council’s area because it has closed them all to save money.

Until an undercover Channel 4 reporter discovered the truth, for two years Labour Waltham Forest council hired out a room for “ladies tea afternoons” to a group of burqa-clad women… who turned out to be an Isis supporters’ group.

Bristol’s mayor George Fergusoncelebrated more than 200 electric car charging points having opened in the area since 2012, at a total cost of more than £1m. The Bristol Post discovered that each one was used on average fewer than eight times a year.

Sixteen years after resigning as a Lancashire county councillor and West Lancashire district councillor when exposed by this column (Eye 987) for deliberately falsifying a local MP’s election expenses, Frank McKenna was re-elected to the latter council in May. In these difficult times the Labour party needs every honest man it can get.

Runner-up: Coventry city council’s Labour leadership got out the onions after the sudden death of the council’s deputy leader, solicitor Phil Townshend, saying he had been held in “deep affection… locally, nationally and internationally” and spent more than £8,000 on funeral costs and a reception afterwards… while ignoring the fact that Townshend was the subject of a police fraud investigation into how he had come to acquire the home of an elderly vulnerable woman who was one of his clients. Winner: Nuneaton and Bedworth council said it would be flying the borough flag at half-mast on the day of the funeral of former Labour mayor Bill Deacon as a mark of respect. The flag remained unlowered after someone remembered that dear Bill had been jailed in 1994 for child sex offences.

to Norfolk county council (NCC) whose children’s services department was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted for the second time in three years. In February one of the department’s managers, Peter Barron, was sacked after the Eye exposed how he had manufactured evidence which led to a child being removed from a blameless foster carer. Despite further Eye stories about Barron’s unethical behaviour, he secured a job managing a private children’s home to which NCC remains happy to send looked-after children. In the wake of the Barron scandal the council’s £1,000-a-day interim children’s services boss Sheila Lock set up an “independent” review chaired by former Middlesbrough chief exec Ian Parker into the council’s treatment of foster carers. Nine months on it is still to report, but has excluded the county’s main body representing foster carers and, according to emails between Lock and Parker seen by the Eye, was at pains to only offer “a small window” for complaints.

Ripon councillor Andrew Williams, who had previously been found guilty of stealing hundreds of pounds raised by the council from the sale of ice-creams during the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, was made chair of… the finance committee.

The London borough of Waltham Forestwas fined £66,000 with £16,000 costs for failing to protect staff and public from asbestos on its premises. The council had known about the deadly dust in its basement since 1984 but had done nothing about it until 2012, despite being ordered to undertake remedial work by the Heath and Safety Executive in 2002.

Runner-up: After a Labour councillor in Stoke-on-Trent was caught using false names to praise his own council in text messages to local radio, Cheshire Eastcouncil’s Tory leader Michael Jonesboasted that on his mobile it was “all me”. It was then revealed that Jones’s clunky tweets were actually written by council press officers. Winner: Wigan council, whose attempt to get some free publicity by participating in a TV documentary about how brilliant and dynamic it was backfired badly when cameras caught council staff asleep on the job, nicking off early to play darts and moaning about their bosses.

to Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, who spent nearly £90,000 of council-taxpayers’ money on legal bills fighting his dismissal from a £4,500-a-year part-time job as a school “learning mentor”. Despite having not actually carried out any duties since 2010, when he became council leader, later mayor, Anderson continued to be paid until 2012. When the school then, not unreasonably, decided to dispense with his non-existent services, Joe (salary £80,000+ p.a.) called in m’learned friends – and lost.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between the dead and the living when it comes to Berwick councillors.” – local resident after Berwick-upon-Tweed council held a minute’s silence for a “deceased” former mayor who turned out to be alive and well and living in New Zealand.

“He must be blind.” – Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver’s retort at Lib-Dem opponent Steve Darling’s apparent inability to appreciate the benefits of Tory rule in Torbay. Cllr Darling is blind.

“Just told the local Big Issue seller to fuck off back to Romania.” – Dover Tory councillor Bob Frost makes his contribution to the immigration debate via Twitter.

“Flashy freebies.” – Richmond council’s high-minded Tory leader, Lord True, refusing free Olympic tickets, 2012.
“Thank you very much.” – Lord True accepting free Rugby World Cup tickets, 2015.

“Once you’ve got in your car you might just as well go the extra mile.” – Cardiff Labour councillor Iona Gordon attempts to explain the environmental benefits of closing half the city’s recycling centres, thereby making people drive further to dump their waste.

Shake-up for Devon-wide health services brought to you by the “Success Regime”

The first report on Devon health services since the county was put in special measures (re-branded as a “Success Regime” !) is published today and promises (threatens?) major changes, some of which “may” need public consultation at a later stage. Oh, and Owl likes the way the phrase “best performing” is used to mean “cheapest”!

The usual buzz words abound: transformation, best practice, latest thinking, latest technology …. One surprising finding is that community hospitals are under-used:

“Possible changes that could be considered to achieve the aims of the Success Regime programme range from looking at highly specialised services covering the whole of Devon and Cornwall, and possibly beyond; and further investigation into community hospital beds in Devon because the report says there is still a lot of space in community hospitals that is not being used.”

Is it that space is not being used or there are not enough members of staff available to use it? And which are the community hospitals that fall into this category?

What next? According to the (very long) press release:

“There have been 20 opportunities identified in the document. Out of those we will be looking at the options that might emerge, and how we engage with patients and the public.

“That will be by March or April, and those 20 opportunities will become four or five options to move into more diagnostic consultation.

“There will be some things we can just get on and do such as addressing agency staff as they are operational matters. Other options will require much more engagement and there will be some consultation with people in the summer months.”

In the meantime they have published some of their initial findings:

The ‘Case for Change’ facts:

. Health and social care spending in Devon was £1.9bn in 2014/15.

. Local health and social care organisations are facing a financial shortfall in 2015/16 of £122m, rising to £442m in 2020/21 if nothing changes.

. People in Devon are living longer. More than one in five people are over the age of 65, rising to one in four by 2021.

In Devon, 3.1 per cent are over the age of 85, higher than the national English average of 2.3 per cent.

. Devon is generally affluent but there are health inequalities in deprived areas.

• There are 280,000 local people, including 13,000 children, living with one or more long-term condition such as asthma, cancer and mental illness.

. Around 150,000 people in Devon have a mental illness.

.There are 40,000 people with cancer.

• Around 95,000 people with a long-term condition also have a mental illness.

. Local health and social care services are likely to be £442m in debt by 2020/21 if nothing changes.

. There is predicted to be 37,000 more emergency admissions to local hospitals over the next five years, an increase of more than 30 per cent. Many of these admissions are preventable.

• An estimated £85m is being spent on areas where staff may be able to provide the same quality of service but more efficiently.

. Over £30mwas being spent on temporary staff in hospitals in 2014/15.

. Up to £25m could be saved on clinical supplies if hospitals work together to buy them.

. Up to £21m could be saved by matching spend on continuing care to best performing areas.

. A third of bed space in community hospitals is empty or under-used.

. Every day, more than 500 people are in local hospitals when they could be elsewhere. Most of them are old and many have dementia.

. Over half the people in Devon who are fit to leave the community hospital have been waiting to leave for at least four days. It costs £250 per day to care for someone in an acute hospital bed.

• There are difficulties recruiting and retaining staff at all levels. Almost a quarter of GPs in Devon intend to leave the NHS in the next five years.