EDDC officer accuses East Devon Alliance chairman of “point scoring” over (second) postal vote cockup

Owl says: if the point IS scored, surely that speaks for itself! And anyone reading this supposedly “neutral” officer’s report is bound to wonder if it is, er, political!

“East Devon District Council’s monitoring officer has accused the chairman of the East Devon Alliance of political point-scoring after he raised concerns that the council’s scrutiny committee were not able to investigate a postal vote ‘cock-up’ ahead of the General Election.

Packs that were issued on May 25 contained voting slips that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper were issued to more than 9,000 voters in the constituency.

East Devon District Council who were responsible for printing the ballot papers but Mark Williams, the council’s returning officer, issued a statement reassuring voters that no postal votes had been affected as a result of the error.

The ‘cock-up’ has left Paul Arnott, chairman of the East Devon Alliance, furious, and said that he would have more confidence in a village raffle than in Mr Williams running the forthcoming election and asked the council’s scrutiny committee at their last meeting in June to interrogate the reasons why 9,000 unmarked Parliamentary ballot papers were issued to postal voters.

But in response, he was told that the current legal assessment is that the remit of the Scrutiny Committee does not extend to Parliamentary elections, which is the remit of the Electoral Commission.

Mr Arnott queried this advice with the Electoral Commission, and says he was told that there is nothing laid down about where electoral matters can or can’t be discussed within the framework of local authority governance, and ultimately it is up to the Council and its operation of its scrutiny function as to whether any or all elections or electoral related matters are included in that scrutiny.

He has written to the council, asking them to take on board this advice and for scrutiny to investigate the matter, but in response, Henry Gordon Lennox, the Strategic Lead (Governance and Licensing) and Monitoring Officer of East Devon District Council, said that Mr Arnott had misinterpreted the advice he had been given and said that his query was ‘politically driven’.

The scrutiny committee have recommended to the council’s ruling Cabinet that the Chief Executive’s pending report on the election does includes explanation of the postal vote issue of May 25 that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper.

Mr Gordon Lennox in a statement said: “In my view, Mr Arnott has misinterpreted the advice from the Electoral Commission, who said that there were no legislative provisions dealing with the role of Scrutiny and elections and therefore it is down to the rules of each authority that will dictate whether or not there is a role for Scrutiny.

“Mr Arnott has taken this to say that the Council’s Scrutiny Committee should be reviewing the conduct of elections. However, what they aresaying, and it is my view too, is that effectively it is the Council’s Constitution and the Terms of Reference of the Scrutiny Committee that determine whether they can consider elections or electoral related matters.

“In general terms the role of Scrutiny is to review the actions relating to the various functions of the Council (in whatever form that takes). The role of Returning Officer is not part of the Council, save for the elections relating to towns and parishes and the district. It is for this reason that the Scrutiny Committee do not have the authority to consider the actions and conduct of the Acting Returning Officer / Deputy Returning Officer in the Parliamentary / County elections respectively.

“I think it important to also address the political side of this. I note that Mr Arnott says this is not political. However, Mr Arnott refers to the East Devon Alliance (EDA) report submitted to East Devon District Council following the May 2015 elections.

“Mr Arnott was at the time the Chair of the EDA and therefore a part of the Executive Committee who produced and submitted the report. At the County elections, Mr Arnott was an appointed election agent for the EDA.

“In the correspondence arising out of the postal vote issue during the Parliamentary election, Mr Arnott, when officially signing off his emails, referred to himself as the Chairman and Nominating Officer of the EDA.

“So my perception, notwithstanding what Mr Arnott says, is that his query is politically driven. To that end, the role of Scrutiny is supposed to be apolitical and I would be concerned that even if it were permissible for Scrutiny to be considering this matter, that the purpose for them so doing would be questionable.

“I have explained this matter in some detail in order to ensure that the correct context is understood and to give clarity on the issue. I would further confirm that, despite the above, it is my understanding that the Returning Officer will be presenting a report to Scrutiny at its next meeting on the key priorities he is working on, following what will now be the standard practice of a review process taking place after each election.”

The scrutiny committee have recommended to the council’s ruling Cabinet that the Chief Executive’s pending report on the election does includes explanation of the postal vote issue of May 25 that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper.

East Devon District Council’s Cabinet committee will consider the recommendation on Thursday, July 13.”

http://www.devonlive.com/east-devon-alliance-chairman-accused-of-politically-driven-query-over-postal-vote-scrutiny-request/story-30434940-detail/story.html

Swire’s latest question in Parliament – this time on India

While I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised the issue of the Chennai Six with Mr Modi at the G20, may I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to focus his efforts on the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and to seek an urgent meeting with her? Our boys have been languishing in jail there for almost four years—I visited them there myself—and it is time, frankly, that they were brought home.”

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-07-11b.151.7&s=speaker%3A11265#g155.7

Who watches over East Devon with its busy absentee MPs?

Neil Parish was re-elected as chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, beating Tory former London mayoral candidate [and multi-millionaire] Zac Goldsmith.

So, the Honiton and Tiverton constituency will be seeing very little of Parish, especially as he will return to his Somerset home when not in London.

And with Swire terribly busy with his other jobs which bring him in £5,000 a month (directorship of Photo-Me and chairmanship of the Conservative Middle East Council) and retiring to his home in mid-Devon on his days off we are mostly bereft of their company here in East Devon – except for the odd whistle-stop tours and photo opportunities.

That just leaves runner-up general election candidates Claire Wright (Independent, resident of Ottery St Mary) and Caroline Kolek (Labour, resident of Honiton) to watch over East Devon in their frequent absences.

Many might feel that this is the better outcome!

When privatisation goes bad – Carillion part 2

We are endlessly being told that “privatisation good, state ownership bad”. There is an implied belief that anything state-run is inherently badly managed, inefficient and wasteful whereas companies which take on former state-run entities are well-managed, efficient and better at using resources.

Carillion (and earlier on this year Capita and Mitie – not to forget all the utility companies) have proved that this idea totally wrong.

“… there is a support services arm [of Carillion], which includes maintenance on buildings and cleaning services. And, thirdly, there is PPP, where it might fund and manage the building of a new NHS hospital.

PPP is one of those financial inventions that was sold as being a win-win for both sides. The government might get some new infrastructure more quickly and without having to pay the huge upfront costs of building it, while the private companies financing the deal gained a valuable long-term income stream – often over 20 years or so. At least, that was the theory.

Just three Carillion PPP contracts – thought to be the Midland Metropolitan hospital in Smethwick, Merseyside’s Royal Liverpool hospital and an Aberdeen road project – are behind the bulk of the £375m losses that relate to the UK.

Industry watchers say that project delays – caused by such astonishing occurrences such as cold weather in Aberdeen over the winter – have introduced huge extra costs. Construction of the Royal Liverpool hospital has also been beset with hold-ups, most recently after workers found “extensive” asbestos on site and cracks in the new building.

Meanwhile, just before the profit warning, it was revealed that another Carillion project – an experimental tram-train linking Sheffield and Rotherham – has cost more than five times the agreed budget and is running almost three years late. The government has been forced to compensate tram operator Stagecoach for the delays with a £2.5m payment.

These types of setback are frequent complaints of investors in the sector and is one of the reasons the City has long taken a dim view of Carillion. For months, the company has been one of the UK stock market’s most shorted companies – meaning that investors have been placing bets on a fall in the company’s share price. …”

So, what do we learn from this? Well, one thing is that big investors, such as hedge funds, never lose. As soon as they sniff failure of a company, they lay bets on that failure and collect if they are right. Other “investors” seeing these bets also bet on failure.

Cream off profits, increase directors’ pay when things are going well, collect on bets when things go wrong and sometimes STILL increase director pay. And the state ends up picking up some, or all, of the losses.

Privatisation: as big as the sub- prime mortgage scandal but more secretive till the excrement hits the climate controller.

And here a couple of observations about the company from commentators on the article:

“Would love to see this company fold this is the best news I’ve heard all year. Having worked for this poorly managed company for 2 years from which I resigned because the management made life difficult this is music to my ears. Please remember this is also the company that operated the black book they kept a lot of good people on the dole because their faces didn’t fit. Hopefully They will be history very soon.”

and

“The FCA should look into this debacle. A company of almost 50,000 employees and annual revenue of £5bn does not suddenly sink like this without good reason. Many companies survive on slim margins in competitive industries. Senior managers must be held to account and for the umpteenth time …. what were the auditors doing?”

Don’t let (tax avoiding) Google influence your views

Google spends millions on academic research to influence opinion, says watchdog

“Google has spent millions funding academic research in the US and Europe to try to influence public opinion and policymakers, a watchdog has claimed.

Over the last decade, Google has funded research papers that appear to support the technology company’s business interests and defend against regulatory challenges such as antitrust and anti-piracy, the US-based Campaign for Accountability (CfA) said in a report.

“Google uses its immense wealth and power to attempt to influence policymakers at every level,” said Daniel Stevens, CfA executive director. “At a minimum, regulators should be aware that the allegedly independent legal and academic work on which they rely has been brought to them by Google.”

In its Google Academics Inc report, the CfA identified 329 research papers published between 2005 and 2017 on public policy that the company had funded. Such studies have been authored by academics and economists from some of the world’s leading institutions including Oxford, Edinburgh, Stanford, Harvard, MIT and the Berlin School of Economics.

Academics were directly funded by Google in more than half of the cases and in the rest of the cases funded indirectly by groups or institutions supported by Google, the CfA said. Authors, who were paid between $5,000 and $400,000 (£3,900-£310,000) by Google, did not disclose the source of their funding in 66% of all cases, and in 26% of those cases directly funded by Google, according to the report.

The CfA is calling for Google-funded academics to disclose the source of their funding to ensure their work can be evaluated in context.

Google described the report as “highly misleading” as it included any work supported by any organisation to which it has ever donated money. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/13/google-millions-academic-research-influence-opinion

Tax avoidance:
http://www.itv.com/news/2017-03-31/google-accused-of-being-less-than-transparent-after-revealing-latest-uk-tax-payments/