“Tories accept £30,000 from Vladimir Putin’s crony to dine with Defence Secretary”

“The Tories have accepted £30,000 from the wife of a former crony of Vladimir Putin to dine with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. The donation by Lubov Chernukhin, who is married to an ex-Russian deputy finance minister, comes just a fortnight after Mr Williamson said a Russian cyber attack on Britain’s electricity supply could kill thousands.

Mr Williamson will give Mrs Chernukhin a private tour of Churchill’s War Rooms in Whitehall. He will then host a dinner for her and a group of her friends there after she made a successful bid at last week’s Tory lavish Black and White Ball.

Banker Mrs Chernukhin previously successfully bid £160,000 at a Tory fundraiser to play tennis with Boris Johnson, and also paid £20,000 to dine with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson in Edinburgh.

The Tories deny that Mrs Chernukhin, now a British citizen, is a Putin crony. Her billionaire husband, Vladimir, 49, fell out of favour with the Russian president when he was forced out of his post running a state-run Moscow bank.

Mr Williamson said last month that Moscow had been photographing UK power stations in a threat to damage our infrastructure.

The Conservative Party declined to comment.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tories-accept-30000-vladimir-putins-12009563

Tonight’s Countryfile: how to rewild a disused quarry – one for Clibton Devon Estates to watch?

“Ellie and Matt are in Cambridgeshire where Matt is looking at a huge project to turn a quarry into the UK’s biggest reed bed. Thousands of tons of sand and gravel are being shifted at Ouse Fen to create the perfect habitat for wildlife.”

BBC1 18.30 hrs

How does a council become effectively bankrupt?

“… Earlier this month, Northamptonshire went effectively bankrupt, becoming the first local authority in two decades to issue a section 114 notice. This signalled that its finances were so precarious it would be unlikely to balance the books this year and was at risk of being unable to set a legal budget for 2018-19.

As a result, One Angel Square [its new HQ] is likely to be put up for sale, three months after it was formally opened by the communities secretary, Sajid Javid. A fire sale of assets is the only way to keep the council afloat, say officials, though even this temporary fix may not be enough to save it.

… The council’s predicament has triggered bitter recrimination among local Tories. Northamptonshire’s seven MPs, all Conservatives, accused the council of mismanagement. Heather Smith, the council leader, said the government had starved it of funds. Eighteen backbench Conservative councillors called on Smith to resign.

The irony is not lost on some observers that the first local authority to go bust under austerity is not the profligate Labour municipality of media caricature, but a Tory-run council in the heart of middle England.

Penny Smith, the council’s Unison branch secretary, said: “Can you just imagine if this was a Labour authority? They’d be saying ‘Typical Labour, can’t run anything’.”

Furthermore, it has crashed after rigid adherence to the Tory ideological rulebook for local government. Northamptonshire embarked on a “next generation” reform plan in 2014. Services would be outsourced or turned into profit-making companies. The council would drastically shrink in size and be run like a business. “The old model of local government no longer works,” it declared.

The grand plan failed at a cost, say critics, of more than £50m on consultants and rebranding. Expected efficiency savings did not materialise, some privatised services have since been hauled back in-house, and the scheme’s political architects, including the then council leader Jim Harker and the then chief executive Paul Blantern, have departed. After years of freezing council tax bills on principle, the authority has raised them by 6% from April.

… Northamptonshire’s future remains precarious. A government inspection into alleged financial and governance failures will report back in March. Staff morale is at rock bottom, said Smith. There is speculation that the county could be abolished and merged along with its five constituent district councils into two new unitary authorities.

There are fears that a handful of councils could follow Northamptonshire into bankruptcy. Conservative-run Surrey county council has a deficit of more than £100m. A survey by the Local Government Information Unit thinktank found eight out of 10 councils were concerned about their finances.

McLaughlin has warned Northamptonshire’s councillors that they should not assume the government will ride to the rescue. Ministers have promised a review of council funding, but this “is more likely to be concerned with the distribution of an ever-shrinking quantum of support than a major injection of spending power”.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/feb/11/northamptonshire-county-council-effective-bankruptcy-tories-cuts

Unitary authorities – the austerity measure that can’t be stopped?

Wonder what that new £10m EDDC HQ will be used for?

“Simon Heffer writes in the Sunday Telegraph to call on the Government to simplify and streamline the UK’s councils, replacing the system of county and district councils with county-level unitary authorities.

The need for “wholesale reform”, he says, has been made urgent by the problem of “social care that will break local government” and former chancellor George Osborne’s “disastrously flawed business rate system, which has had a profound effect on revenue-raising”.

He says that a system of unitary authorities would reduce payroll, offer the chance to sell off assets, and improve the handling of planning decisions, while the Government should remove “huge strategic questions such as social care from council control altogether”.

The Sunday Telegraph, Page: 21

“Fears of cover-up as government departments wipe staff mail boxes”

One imagines this is replicated at all levels …

“A Sunday Telegraph investigation found that the vast majority of departments are automatically deleting staff mail boxes within three months of their departure – prompting concern that the system is a recipe for cover-ups.

… A former government adviser on freedom of information said “It is hard to resist the thought that there is a happy coincidence between the approach to record management and getting rid of material that may contain unwanted answers about how particular decisions were reached – answers a department may prefer were unavailable if an FOI came in …”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

“Sleaze watchdog to look at tighter curbs for councillors”

” … The inquiry comes after a government adviser warned that the Coalition “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when it abolished the controversial Standards Board for England that enforced a nationwide code of conduct for councillors.

Dr Jane Martin, the member of the Committee leading the inquiry says she “regularly receives correspondence” from the public expressing concern about councillors’ behaviour. …

There are concerns that council standards committees can only “censure” politicians, rather than suspend them in the most serious cases. …”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

Owl says: once again, too little too late:

See and hear our own disgraced Tory ex-councillor Graham Brown (ex-chief of the equally disgraced council-run East Devon Business Forum) explaining that “if I can’t get planning, nobody will” but that he won’t work for peanuts:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9920971/If-I-cant-get-planning-nobody-will-says-Devon-councillor-and-planning-consultant.html

and the chapter on East Devon in Anna Minton’s Spinwatch report “Scaring the living daylights out of people – the local lobby and the failure of democracy”:

https://www.annaminton.com/single-post/2016/03/21/Scaring-The-Living-Daylights-Out-Of-People