Election expenses scandal – update

Conservative MPs embroiled in an election expenses row have accused party officials of trying to dodge blame.

Two dozen Tories are understood to be under police investigation over claims they overspent on their local campaigns during the 2015 general election in which spending limits are tight.

Karl McCartney, MP for Lincoln and one of those under investigation, wrote a bombshell email to the party chairman attacking the party’s handling of the controversy linked to its election “battle bus”.

In it, he wrote: “We didn’t create this mess, the clever dicks at CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) did, and I don’t see their professional reputations being trashed in the media.”

Sky News can reveal:

:: An email sent to 30 Tory MPs claims the party has withheld a draft report it has already received from the Electoral Commission into the issue.

:: A second email to the party chairman claims Conservative Central Office was to blame for the expenses “mess”.

:: The MPs held a showdown meeting with party chairman Patrick McLoughlin on Tuesday afternoon to air their concerns.

:: MPs implicated in the row said they felt “scared” about the outcome of the investigations and believe Downing St is worried.

The spending row centres on the Tories’ use of an election battle bus to campaign in key seats, and whether spending on hotels and campaign material were incorrectly registered as national spending, which has much higher limits than local spending.

Meanwhile, Kent Police refused to confirm reports Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who defeated ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage in Thanet South, was questioned under caution last Friday over his expenses.

If Conservatives are found to have committed any offence, their political opponents could ask for the contests to be rerun.

Mr McCartney, a justice of the peace who was elected in 2010 and fought off a challenge from Labour in 2015, is said to be acting as an informal “shop steward” to the group of mainly newly-elected MPs implicated.

He wrote to colleagues last week saying Conservative Central Office (CCHQ) had received a draft report from the Electoral Commission, which has been investigating party spending for a year.

Mr McCartney said this information came from a Conservative-party appointed solicitor who is acting for the group, but claimed the contents of the report had not been shared with MPs.

However, a Conservative source denied officials had received the report.

Mr McCartney wrote: “I have made my disquiet and disbelief at this course of action pretty clear in a blunt email to the party chairman and the whips office overnight.”

In that email, also seen by Sky News, and addressed to Mr McLoughlin who is in the cabinet, he wrote that his colleagues “feel completely cast adrift by CCHQ/whips/the parliamentary party and left to fend for themselves”.

He added: “At what stage do you think you (the Party) might inform us that another media s***storm is coming? We didn’t create this mess, the clever dicks at CCHQ did, and I don’t see their professional reputations being trashed in the media much.

“The initial cock-ups, ‘strategy’ and ineptitude with regard to this issue that has so negatively impacted our: lives, standing in our communities, standing amongst colleagues, families and our regard for particular parts of the Party centrally, and were all of CCHQ’s making…need to stop.

“We are the ones who are now (and since the beginning as individuals have been) in the media spotlight and it might have been a little more reassuring and collegiate if the powers that be in our party perhaps tried to be a little bit more supportive and less interested in covering their own backsides.”

Mr McCartney asks why MPs were not warned about the Electoral Commission report, expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

He said none of the MPs have been questioned by the Commission and asked: “Who else has had a copy? And what are the ramifications of its current version and what if it accepts your feedback and rewrites whole swathes of their draft?”

He asked the party chairman for guidance on dealing with media inquiries, saying: “We do need a press release for national and local media interest. I would rather sing from the same hymn sheet.”

On his website, he wrote: “The Conservative Party advised us that the so-called campaign ‘battle buses’ were, as at previous general elections and in keeping with the practice of both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, a national campaign expense.

“This meant that they were not to be declared in our own election expenses.”

Another of the MPs in the group, elected in 2015, and under police investigation said they firmly believed the spending was correctly registered.

The MP said: “People are scared, this has been hanging over us for more than a year. I absolutely believe it was legitimately national spending in my case.

“Our solicitor which they have paid for agrees that the law is what it is and we haven’t broken it. But I think CCHQ have been quite complacent about how far it would go. No 10 is now very concerned about it.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “We are cooperating with the ongoing investigations.”

http://news.sky.com/story/expenses-scandal-tory-mps-say-party-officials-covering-own-backsides-10801909

Travellers take over Cranbrook railway car park

Cranbrook Town Council Facebook site:

We have received a number of reports tonight about the arrival of travellers in the Cranbrook train station car park. We are aware of their arrival and the relevant partners have been informed. Thank you to all who have contacted us.

Julie Bellham What have the relevant partners said they will do?

Kym Davies I have also reported to the police as they were being very sexual towards my daughter and have been witnesses stealing bikes from people’s gardens

Julie Bellham There are quite a few on bikes!

[Cranbrook has been chosen for a new gypsy and traveller site]

EDDC Local Plan not fit for purpose as developer (and Clinton Devon Estates) challenge succeeds at Newton Poppleford

“Cavanna Homes already has outline permission for the site off King Alfred Way, but East Devon District Council (EDDC) refused its reserved matters proposals due to a lack of ‘pepper-potting’.

The Planning Inspectorate has overturned the decision, arguing the authority’s Local Plan policy – intended to encourage integration between market-rate and ‘affordable’ homes – lacks ‘substantive evidence’ on its specific requirements.

In his report, inspector Andrew Dawe said Cavanna Homes, in a joint application with Pencleave 2, had modified the distribution of the 16 ‘affordable’ homes in a way that was materially different from a previous application.

He said two sheltered housing providers were opposed to ‘pepper-potting’ and supported clustering to cut costs.

As a result, Mr Dawe said he was satisfied that an acceptable level of integration could be achieved and moved to approve the reserved matters application.

District councillor Val Ranger previously argued the importance of getting this ‘major development right’.

Responding to the decision, she said: “This just shows the Local Plan is not worth the paper it’s written on. The social housing is not dispersed throughout the site. This will only encourage [landowner] Clinton Devon Estates to continue to lobby the Government that they should be able to build anywhere in the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “It is unfortunate that the inspector has overturned the council’s decision on this matter, however, the extent to which affordable homes should be mixed in with market housing within a site is a grey area in planning. While the decision does not lead to the level of integration that we had hoped to achieve on this site, it is good that the inspector accepted the principle of what we were trying to achieve, and it does at least provide some clarity over what inspectors consider acceptable to guide consideration of other schemes in the district.”

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/official_overrules_decision_on_40_homes_in_newton_poppleford_1_4929184

Election expenses scandal: some Tory MPs in panic mode

Our current Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, was election agent for MP Kevin Foster [Torbay] who took the seat from Lib Dems with a majority of 3,286 at the last election with just over 40% of voters choosing him.

http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2017-01-04/police-chief-interviewed-over-election-expenses-scandal/

“A Conservative MP has been interviewed under caution as part of an ongoing police inquiry into whether the party overspent in its campaign for South Thanet in the 2015 general election, when they were up against Nigel Farage.

Craig Mackinlay, the MP who won the seat against the former Ukip leader, is said to have spent about six hours speaking to police about their investigation, which has been going on for about a year.

Asked about the interview, a Conservative spokesman said: “We are cooperating with the ongoing investigations.” Mackinlay did not reply to a request for comment.

There is growing panic in the Conservative party about the scale of police probes into election spending, which could affect dozens of MPs. A separate investigation by the Electoral Commission into whether the national party broke election spending limits is also under way and expected to come to a head within weeks.

The allegations, first uncovered by Channel 4 News, are that spending in marginal seats on a battlebus tour and teams of party officials was wrongly recorded as national, rather than local spending.

The penalties for wrongly declaring local elections are steep, with possible criminal charges for MPs and their election agents, and results can be declared void.

It is understood police could meet the Crown Prosecution Service as early as 21 March to discuss bringing a possible charge in relation to South Thanet, where Farage was narrowly beaten by Mackinley.

Nigel Farage says he would stand for election again in South Thanet
Farage, the former Ukip leader, has already said he may be interested in rerunning in the Kent coastal seat if it there were to be a prosecution and byelection.

Kent police said: “The investigation into this complex matter is ongoing and officers continue to follow lines of enquiry. Therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further.

“Officers from Kent police continue to work with the Electoral Commission as the investigation continues.”

Separately, a group of Conservative MPs under investigation over their election expenses are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of support from the party’s headquarters.

One has sent an email to Tory HQ accusing the party of keeping secret a draft of the Electoral Commission report from MPs whose local spending returns are under investigation.

In an email seen by Sky News, Karl McCartney, a Tory MP [Lincoln] under investigation who is helping other MPs, accused party officials of trying to save themselves rather than help those who were elected.

He wrote that his colleagues “feel completely cast adrift by CCHQ/whips/the parliamentary party and left to fend for themselves”.

He added: “At what stage do you think you (the party) might inform us that another media s***storm is coming? We didn’t create this mess, the clever dicks at CCHQ did, and I don’t see their professional reputations being trashed in the media much.”

“The initial cock-ups, ‘strategy’ and ineptitude with regard to this issue that has so negatively impacted our: lives, standing in our communities, standing amongst colleagues, families and our regard for particular parts of the party centrally, and were all of CCHQ’s making … need to stop.

“We are the ones who are now (and since the beginning as individuals have been) in the media spotlight and it might have been a little more reassuring and collegiate if the powers that be in our party perhaps tried to be a little bit more supportive and less interested in covering their own backsides.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/14/conservative-mp-craig-mackinlay-interviewed-under-caution-over-election-spending

Crackdown on MPs employing family – will it affect Mrs Swire (salary £30,000+)?

Mr Swire has employed Mrs Swire for many years as a “Senior Researcher” and has said in the past that she helps with his press releases and website.

“MPs are to be hit with tougher restrictions on employing their wives and children amid concern of a François Fillon-style scandal in Britain, The Sunday Telegraph understands.

New stricter rules on employing relatives from the taxpayers’ purse are expected to be announced this month in the biggest expenses shake-up in six years. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), created after The Telegraph’s expenses investigation, will start contacting MPs from tomorrow.

Politicians are likely to be urged to advertise all available jobs, interview candidates not linked to them and justify any hiring of relatives to voters.

There remains some public concern about MPs’ employment of ‘connected parties’ … and any financial support provided to MPs’ families, such as by paying for their related travel and accommodation.

However, it is understood that copying a blanket ban on employing family members currently in place in the Scottish Parliament has been rejected.
Sources said the scandal in France over allegations that Mr Fillon, the presidential candidate, paid his wife hundreds of thousands of pounds for little work is being borne in mind.

The move comes as the publication of new expenses records revealed nine MPs claimed for subscriptions to the online video streaming service Amazon Prime. Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters and Jeremy Clarkson’s The Grand Tour are among thousands of shows available on the service, which costs £79 a year.

Some MPs involved said they had made the claims by mistake or were caught in a “subscription trap” after taking out a free trial.

Conclusions from a consultation into Ipsa’s rules – the first comprehensive review since 2011 – will be published as early as this week. The consultation covered a wide array of topics, from how MPs claim expenses for travel and accommodation to diversity among their employees.

The body is expected to approve a significant pay rise for MPs’ staff for the first time in years after a review of current caps. Staff have received only a 
1 per cent annual pay rise on average.

But it is changes to rules around MPs employing their wives and partners that are likely to generate headlines. Last March it was found that 139 relatives or people with a “close business connection” were working for Britain’s 650 MPs.

In total they are paid around £4.5 million a year, which has recently made up around 5 per cent of total staffing expenditure. Ipsa warned in its consultation that “controls to prevent misuse of funding on employing connected parties were limited”.

It also said staff with links to MPs had “salaries significantly higher than the average [employee] across all MPs’ staff”, although only because they tended to work in more senior roles. “There remains some public concern about MPs’ employment of ‘connected parties’ … and any financial support provided to MPs’ families, such as by paying for their related travel and accommodation,” the consultation said.

This newspaper has learnt that the watchdog is planning to do more to reassure the public the system of employing spouses and relatives is not being abused. A source said the focus would be on MPs “providing a justification for what they are doing” and “having a recruitment process that is more like the rest of the world”.”

Source: Daily Telegraph via news feed

Devon MPs: powerless to stop cuts try to talk their way out of trouble

“The Royal Devon and Exeter hospital is facing a £20million deficit, city MP Ben Bradshaw warned a debate on health and social care in Parliament.

Meg Hillier, Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, called the debate, which was dominated by Devon MPs.

Ms Hillier warned: “We are in the grip of a crisis in social care.”

Mr Bradshaw said the clinical commissioning group which provides health services in North, East and West Devon is facing a £40 million deficit.

And the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital – “one of the best run hospitals in the country” – is facing a £20 million deficit.

Mr Bradshaw urged the government to “end the uncertainty” over EU nationals working in the health and social care system.

“We face a workforce crisis exacerbated by uncertainty over Brexit.

“People are already leaving and they are not able to recruit. The workforce crisis is going to do more damage in the short term than anything else.”

Mr Bradshaw added: “We need to have an honest conversation with the British pubic about how we fund this.”

He called on Health Minister Philip Dunne to say whether the government had ruled out a “posthumous levy” on people’s estates.

Devon MPs urged the government to ensure fairer funding for rural areas.

Councils have been given the right to raise an extra 3% from April to pay soaring adult social care costs.

In his Budget last week the Chancellor allocated an extra £2 billion for social care.

Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes and chair of the Commons Health select committee, said: “While £2 billion over three years is welcome, I would like the minister to address how this gets to the front line and is distributed according to need.”

She warned that £1.2 billion had been transferred from capital to revenue budgets, hampering the ability to put in place effective plans.

The Chancellor also announced that GPs would be “co-located” in A&E departments.

Dr Wollaston said that GP practices would struggle to provide that service while they also have to offer out-of-hours and Sunday services, and alongside a “retirement bulge”.

She said spending had been squeezed just as Britain was experiencing an “extraordinary demographic change”, and called on the government to stop and take stock.

Most of the MPs joined Dr Wollaston in calling on the government to widen its proposed green paper review of adult social care to include the NHS.

Anne Marie Morris, Conservative MP for Newton Abbot, said: “The NHS is the envy of the world. The social care system, frankly, is not.

She said social care took £14.4 billion – a third of local authority spending. “Those of us in rural areas are clearly having to pay more because we pay more council tax overall,” she said. “We have a disproportionate number of over-85s, we have rural sparsity not properly dealt with.”

“The government must face up to the problem, but the public must also play its part. We must accept change.”

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones said the number of Devon MPs speaking in the debate reflected concern that rural areas of the South West are not getting their fair share of funding.

He said the NHS “sustainability and transformation plan” reforms were causing concern in North Devon, particularly about the future of some acute services at the district hospital.

Any cuts at the hospital would be “absolutely unacceptable” because of the “three Ds” – distance, demographics and deprivation.

Kevin Foster, the Torbay MP, said the problems had been caused by the success of the NHS, which meant that people were living longer.”

http://www.devonlive.com/exeter-hospital-faces-20million-deficit/story-30202550-detail/story.html

DCC and 37 other councils oppose school funding cuts

Owl say: but if you voted Tory you voted for continuing austerity and cuts to public services, including schools, health and social care. Did you honestly think the cuts would be limited to libraries and lollipop ladies and gents:

http://www.devonlive.com/devon-is-among-38-english-council-s-who-have-joined-forced-to-oppose-school-funding-changes/story-30202588-detail/story.html