May’s right-hand man implicated in election expenses scandal?

This is the same scandal that our Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez is involved in as an election agent in Torquay just prior to becoming PCC.

“Michael Crick over at Channel 4 news has kept on digging into the series of Conservative election expense scandals which have seen more of Theresa May’s MPs implicated than the size of her majority:

Theresa May’s Downing Street aide is in the spotlight amid questions over the Conservatives, campaign to stop Nigel Farage winning a seat in Parliament at the last election.

Channel 4 News, which has been investigating the party’s election spending since February, has obtained new evidence suggesting a “crack team” of Tories including Mr Timothy were involved in Craig Mackinlay’s local campaign from a hotel in Ramsgate.

Kent Police and the Electoral Commission are currently investigating whether the Conservative Party broke the law by failing to properly declare tens of thousands of pounds in hotel bills, including approximately £14,000 at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate where Mr Timothy stayed.

Rather oddly, the Conservative Party’s explanation as given to Channel 4 is that Nick Timothy was working on the national campaign from the hotel in Ramsgate. Not working on it from his home, or from the Conservative Party’s national HQ where the national campaign was being run. But from a hotel in Ramsgate.

It’s the same explanation the Conservatives have given to the police (which ups the stakes about it being true rather):

Any national Conservative Party staff based in the Royal Harbour Hotel were part of a national campaign team and were engaged in activities at the direction of Conservative Central Headquarters.”

Other Conservative staff has been further implicated too as Channel 4 further reports:

The new evidence obtained by Channel 4 News also suggests that Conservative staff staying at the Royal Harbour Hotel were working on Craig Mackinlay’s local campaign.

The programme has obtained a large number of press releases sent out on behalf of Mr Mackinlay by the former Conservative Party Head of Press, Henry Macrory. Mr Macrory was part of the team who were guests at the Royal Harbour.

The press releases are branded “Craig Mackinlay – Conservative Candidate for South Thanet”. They contain Mr Mackinlay’s twitter handle and Facebook page. All say “For further information please call Henry Macrory”. The press releases were promoted by his local agent.

The programme has also obtained emails showing Mr Macrory acting as Mr Mackinlay’s press officer. In one email sent in March 2016, Mr Macrory told local journalists: “I will be helping out with Craig Mackinlay’s media during the election campaign.

“Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can assist in any way. In the next few days or so I will start sending you a regular e-mail giving you an outline of what Craig will be up to during the week ahead.

Cause or effect? Sudden interest in EDW nuclear safety post

This week’s most visited page by far is one originally posted on 21 October 2016 about nuclear plants being shut down in France for safety reasons:

Coincidentally, one of the films on TV this week was “The China Syndrome” – a fictional story about a radioactive leak in a US nuclear power plant and its subsequent cover-up and unhappy ending.


Is a cost over-run of £1.1 million or £10 million more serious than a Section 106 loss of £250,000?

Owl asks because an elector successfully petitioned EDDC’s external auditor over Section 106 discrepancies. A sample found a wrongly-attributed bill of some £400,000 and an uncollected sum of around £250,000. As a result, the auditors have requested many changes in procedures:

Click to access item-12-management-of-s106-contributions-report.pdf

Now we hear at Cabinet this week that, in two years, development costs for Exmouth seafront have risen from £1.5 million to £3.2 million. Yet Cabinet apparently found this totally acceptable and, without detailed figures, nodded it through with no explanation of:

– what did the £1.5 million cover


– what does the extra £1.6 million cover.

Added to this, the projected cost of HQ relocation has risen from cost-neutral (zero due to sale of Knowle HQ for around £7 million) it is now said to be nearly £10 million – or at least that was figure a few months ago.

These are eye-watering numbers yet majority party councillors and auditors (internal and external) appear unconcerned.

Some scrutiny (internal and external) needed here, Owl thinks.

Two tier social care: rich and cared for or poor and neglected, says Conservative council leader

“A Conservative council leader says dozens of social care providers are cancelling contracts with local authorities and instead offering their services solely to wealthy private clients.

Izzi Seccombe, who is the Local Government Association’s spokesperson for social care, said the chancellor needed to take urgent action in the autumn statement to tackle a growing crisis in the sector.

She told the Guardian that a failure by Philip Hammond to plug a multibillion-pound financial black hole would result in elderly and disabled people no longer receiving help to get dressed, showered and fed.

“The challenge is we are underfunded and the concern is that if we cannot bridge those gaps with some funding through the autumn statement, we will not be able to address the needs of people who are vulnerable,” said Seccombe, the Tory leader of Warwickshire county council. She said people would instead have to turn to their GPs or local hospitals for help, resulting in a larger cost to the taxpayer in the long run.

Her comments come alongside a written warning to Hammond that councils across England and Wales are facing a £5.8bn funding gap by 2020. A document submitted by the LGA suggested there would be a serious squeeze on spending for social care, children’s services, homelessness, local parks and libraries. …”

Exmouth seafront cost increase – fantasy, incompetent, iconic or ironic!

“Calls have been made for the sacking of the ‘owner’ of the Exmouth Seafront Regeneration Project after costs spiralled from £1.5million to more than £3million.

However, East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet backed the plans with a majority vote, despite heavy criticism from some councillors.

Rob Longhurst (Ind), Ben Ingham (Ind) and Eileen Wragg (LD) spoke against, saying that it was incompetence.

Ian Chubb said it was worth paying and he was happy paying the extra costs. Unclear whether he meant worth paying despite the increases or worth paying despite the incompetence, but nice of him to offer to fund the increased costs personally.

Phil Twiss said they had to proceed because to stop would be to go backwards. Of course only true because they have destroyed existing attractions before getting the plans right and before knowing the real costs – so they can’t go back.

Philip Skinner got his words mixed up when he said the plans were iconic but clearly he meant ironic, and thought it was good for Exmouth because they all like doing watersports.

Tom Wright obviously thought the debate was about football not water-sports because he kept referring to the premier league, and said that Exmouth residents should be grateful for the cost increases.

Honestly, Trump or EDDC Tories – not sure which are the greater fantasists!!”

Poor commercial judgement and skills at local authorities worrying

Hot on the heels of news that EDDC’s development costs for Exmouth seafront have more than doubled from £1.5m to £3.2m comes this report:

The increasing scale of commercial activity carried out by local authorities could put council finances at risk, and town halls might lack the necessary skills for such projects, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.

In a report examining the financial sustainability of local government, published today, MPs accused Whitehall of being complacent about the risk to local authority finances.

Today’s “Financial sustainability of local authorities” review highlighted that councils were increasingly undertaking commercial activity intended to generate revenue income from capital investment in properties and businesses in an effort to offset government cuts. This includes projects such as developing houses and commercial units for rent or sale.

But the MPs warned councils may lack experience of such schemes, and council tax bills or other services could be hit if they go wrong. They called on the Department for Communities & Local Government to review the commercial skills in different types of authorities, and provide an update by next summer on the scale and nature of these activities in order to better anticipate risks.

We do not share the department’s confidence that the increased commercial activity in the sector adds no particular risk to the department’s own work,” the report stated. The department should also work with CIPFA to ensure the local government capital finance framework “remains current and continues to reflect developments”.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said funding cuts had led councils to rethink the way they use public money, and the government wanted councils to become largely self-financing, including through business rates retention. However, she warned that poor investment decisions could cost money that might otherwise be spent on public services.

“Our committee has previously highlighted gaps in the commercial skills of the civil service as a factor in the failure of some projects and we have similar concerns about local government,” she stated.

“Local authorities need the skill-set to invest wisely and the department must bear its share of responsibility for ensuring these skills are in place. But more fundamentally, the information central government uses is inadequate for understanding trends and associated risks in local government finance.”

This represented a serious flaw in DCLG’s ability to plan properly for the future and ensure councils are following a sustainable path, she concluded, but the department was complacent about the risk. …

Public authority accountants not impressed with ” transformation” plans

“Some sustainability and transformation plans are unrealistic and lack substance, a CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) analysis has revealed.

The institute examined nine published STPs, of the 44 currently being developed in England. They aim to improve services and reduce cross by ushering in a cross-systems approach to health and social care.

But CIPFA said some of the plans failed to set out a credible case on deliverability. In particular, they failed to quantify some of the risks of additional pressures that may emerge and of savings not being delivered.

In some cases savings targets are over-optimistic as savings as the targets lack context.

CIPFA is urging more contingency planning to ensure the STPs are achievable as well as greater use of integrated working and a cross-sector approach to social care pressures.

Commenting on the findings, CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman, who chairs the North East London STP, said: “In order to improve care for local communities, STPs will have to make tough choices to deliver meaningful change.

“However, it is of vital importance that STPs fully assess whether the actions proposed can actually meet savings targets and boost the quality of services by doing robust financial planning. …”

Police and Crime Commissioner Hernandez VERY VERY busy

Too busy for this (sent apologies):

15 December 2016, County Hall, 2 pm
Thursday, 15th December, 2016 2.00 pm, Health and Wellbeing Board, MOVED
Venue: Committee Suite – County Hall

She is REALLY busy attending things like award ceremonies, radio interviews and giving presentations to town councils and the like and attends LOTS of other meetings for PCCs all over the country:

However this scooting around means she is much busy to update other aspects of what she has been doing – some pages on her official website have not been updated since February 2016:

Record of public meetings not updated since April 2016:

Record of Strategic Partnership Meetings not updated since February 2016:

PCC TV hasn’t been updated since the previous PCC was in post. For example:

This is the person who told us she was going to use social media to fight crime! On the other hand, you can’t keep her off Twitter!