Tory general election call centre being investigated by police

“Police say they are carrying out an investigation of “scale and significance” into allegations the Conservative Party broke the law during the election campaign with its use of a call centre in Wales.

The investigation into the contracting of the business in Neath was confirmed in a letter from South Wales Police to Labour MP Wayne David.

Secret footage obtained by Channel 4 News suggested the Tories may have broken data protection and election laws by using Blue Telecoms to directly contact voters in marginal seats.

The Conservative Party has said it did not break the law by using the company, which it said was hired to carry out legal market research and direct marketing.

The CPS statement on charging an MP in Tory electoral fraud in full
In a letter to Mr David, South Wales Police confirmed the investigation is being carried out by its economic crime unit, who have experience in dealing with “electoral integrity investigations”.

It adds there is no timescale for the investigation because it is of “sufficient scale and significance that South Wales Police are unable to offer any specific timescale”.

“Rest assured that the officers within this department have the required specialist skills and expertise for this often challenging area of business and will, as with all investigations, act in a diligent and expeditious manner,” the letter said.

The Information Commissioner’s Office also confirmed it is “currently investigating the Conservative Party in relation to a possible breach of Regulation 21 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003”.

“The allegations that the Conservative Party and Blue Telecoms broke electoral law during a general election campaign are extremely serious and the public need to have confidence in our electoral process. That is fundamental to our democracy.”

A spokesman for South Wales Police said: “South Wales Police is currently reviewing information received in regards to Blue Telecoms.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “We are unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.”

More on Port Royal “Retain, Reuse, Refurbish” meeting last night

All the presentations, and programme for the meeting, are detailed here:

Vigorous audience participation at last night’s ‘3Rs’ Public Meeting, for a Retain-Refurbish-Reuse alternative for Sidmouth’s Port Royal

Slides are here:

Click to access 23-aug-3rs-final-slides.pdf

Report of meeting:

“The five perfectly-pitched short presentations at last night’s Public Meeting were each restricted by Chair, Di Fuller, to not much more than 5 minutes. This maximised the time for questions and comments from the audience packed into Sidmouth’s All Saints’ Church Hall, and ensured ample time for the questions to be answered. There was a clear strength of opinion in the room, that Port Royal regeneration should be carefully conceived as a suitable legacy for the town. Local knowledge from those attending, raised issues such as flood risk and contamination that could disadvantage residential development on this site. Potential loss of existing public parking behind the lifeboat station was also a concern.

Speakers were EDDC Councillors Marianne Rixson (Ward Member Sidmouth-Sidford), Cathy Gardner and Matt Booth (Ward members Sidmouth Town); and local residents Mary-Walden-Till and Jeremy Woodward.

Mary Walden-Till concentrated on The Ham conveyance land.

She told the crowd:

“Under the terms of the Conveyance the land was given to the inhabitants of and visitors to Sidmouth as a place of recreation ‘for ever’. Subject only to ‘reasonable restrictions and regulations in accordance with the law for the time being affecting the use of Public Parks and Pleasure Grounds’.
It was a Trust for which Sidmouth Town Council is now the Trustee, with all the legal responsibilities that entails. Sidmouth Town Councillors act to manage that trust on behalf of the Council. It is a complex legal arrangement but it does not in any way affect the terms of the Conveyance which forms the Governing Document of the Charity.

It was therefore incorrect to allow part of The Ham to be included in the Local Plan area ED03 as being available for redevelopment. The toilet block stands on Ham land, and the Land Registry deed says it is covered by the terms of the Conveyance. I have asked EDDC Councillors to correct the boundary of ED03 but they never even bothered to acknowledge my email.
None of The Ham land is available to be built on or to be used in any way other than for free recreation for all. It can not be used as parking for cars or boats, as that is restricting its use. Using it as car parking was suggested, and thrown out, in the early part of the 20th C. Nothing has changed since then as far as the Conveyance is concerned. And nothing can change with the Conveyance except through our connivance or apathy.

It is in breach of charity law to do anything which adversely affects the rights of a charity’s beneficiaries, and any of those beneficiaries has the right to complain to the Charity Commission. Anyone who has ever been to Sidmouth is covered by the terms of the Conveyance, so there are a large number of people who can demand that the terms are kept.”

Vigorous audience participation at last night’s ‘3Rs’ Public Meeting, for a Retain-Refurbish-Reuse alternative for Sidmouth’s Port Royal

Internal audit, external audit or no audit?

Gambling addict Mark Conway diverted Dundee Council money to his own account for seven years after running up online gambling debts and was only left with £7,337. …

He admitted defrauding £1,065,085 between August 2009 and May last year. The money was lost betting on football matches and only £7,337 was recovered.”

SEVEN years!

Hawking totally skewers Hunt on NHS!

The NHS is facing severe crises, from staffing to funding. Hunt misquoting me and misrepresenting research doesn’t help.

The secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, has challenged me on Twitter and in an article for the Sunday Telegraph over a talk I gave recently to the Royal Society of Medicine in defence of the NHS. Having been accused by Hunt of spreading “pernicious falsehoods”, I feel the need to respond.

Hunt doesn’t deny that he dismissed research contradicting his claim of excess deaths due to poorer hospital care and staffing at the weekend. He admits he relied on one paper by Professor Nick Freemantle and colleagues. But even if one accepts its disputed findings, the authors explicitly warn that “to assume these excess deaths are avoidable would be rash and misleading”. The editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal, Fiona Godlee, wrote to Hunt to reprimand him for publicly misrepresenting the Freemantle et al paper. As a patient who has spent a lot of time in hospital, I would welcome improved services at the weekend. For this, we need a scientific assessment of the benefits of a seven-day service and of the resources required, not misrepresentation of research.

Hunt’s statement that funding and the number of doctors and nurses are at an all-time high is a distraction. Record funding is not the same thing as adequate funding. There is overwhelming evidence that NHS funding and the numbers of doctors and nurses are inadequate, and it is getting worse. The NHS had a £2.4bn shortfall in funding in 2015-16, bigger than ever before. NHS spending per person will go down in 2018-19. According to the Red Cross, the NHS is facing a humanitarian crisis. There is a staff recruitment crisis. The BBC reported that on 1 December 2015 there were 23,443 nursing vacancies, and a 50% increase in vacancies from 2013 to 2015. The Guardian reported in May that the number of nursing vacancies had risen further to 40,000. There are increasing numbers of doctor vacancies and increasing waiting times for GP appointments, treatment and surgery.

Hunt misquoted me, saying that I claimed the government wants a US-style insurance system. What I said was that the direction is towards a US-style insurance system, run by private companies. The increasing involvement of private health companies in the NHS is evidence for this. Hunt chose to highlight – dare I say, cherry-pick – the fact that private companies’ share of NHS contracts rose 0.1% over the last year. This is an anomaly among the data since 2006. The NHS private providers’ share was 2.8% in 2006-7 and rose steadily to 7.6% in 2015/16. The amount of private health insurance has fallen since 2009 as Hunt said, but that is because of the financial crash. We can conclude nothing about health policy from this and in any case, it is now increasing again. As waiting times increase, private companies report an increase in self-pay where patients pay directly for care such as hip and knee replacements.

Further evidence that the direction is towards a US-style system is that the NHS in England is undergoing a complete reorganisation into 44 regions with the aim of each being run as an “accountable care organisation” (Aco). An Aco is a variant of a type of US system called a health maintenance organisation in which all services are provided in a network of hospitals and clinics all run by the HMO company. It is reasonable to expect the powerful US HMO companies such as Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealth will be bidding for the huge contracts to run these ACOs when they go out to international tender. Hunt referenced Kaiser Permanente as a model for the future budgetary arrangements in the NHS at the Commons health select committee in May 2016.

The NHS is political, but not necessarily party political. I am a Labour supporter but acknowledge that privatisation increased under Labour governments in the past. The question is whether democracy can prevail and the public can make its demands for proper funding and public provision undeniable by any government.

• Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, is director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, where he was Lucasian professor of mathematics”

Silliest silly season spin headline?

The award goes surprise, surprise) to Archant newspapers (Midweek Herald, Exmouth Journal, Sidmouth Journal) for the headline from this EDDC press release:

Council backs campaign against hate crime

It isn’t offering money or resources. It isn’t doing ANYTHING AT ALL except issuing a press release backing a Devon and Cornwall Police initiative. No doubt one of those great ideas that come – at a price – from our Police and Crime Commissioner.

Can you imagine the furore if the council DIDN’T back it!

Now that WOULD be a headline!

(At least) five of EDDC’s councillors are also Freemasons

Ian Hall – Axminster Rural and Axminster DCC
Ian Chubb – Newbridges and Whimple and Blackdown DCC
Tom Wright – Budleigh
John Humphreys – Exmouth Littleham
Andrew Moulding – Axminster Town

That’s a clean sweep for Axminster which must give the boys plenty to talk about at their Lodge(s). And all of them Conservative majority councillors wearing many hats in many posts, both at DCC and EDDC.

And that’s only the ones who declare it!

Why is it a problem? This very old article (1966) is still pertinent today:

Freemasons who sat on a council’s planning committee have been found guilty of malpractice after a lengthy inquiry by the local-government ombudsman.

The investigation into their activities on the council at Canvey Island, Essex, began after complaints that they had given a fellow lodge member the go-ahead to build a leisure complex. …”

The ombudsman said:

“Freemasonry is generally viewed with suspicion among non-Masons not least because of the secrecy attached to the `craft’ … in my view, knowing that a councillor and a planning applicant are Freemasons and members of the same lodge, members of the public could reasonably think that such a private and exclusive relationship might influence the member when he came to consider the planning application.”
(where you can also see details of other councils and councillors in Devon).

Though, nowadays, we don’t have a national standards board or a “National Code of Local Government Conduct” – both were abolished by national government some years ago.

Leaving each council to decide on its own standards – hhhmmmmm!