LEP conflicts of interest – Heart of the South West LEP’s striking similarity to censured Greater Cambridge/Greater Peterborough LEP

This is our LEP board:
https://heartofswlep.co.uk/about-the-lep/lep-board/

Many of them have interests in the nuclear industry, housing and commercial development, procurement and recruitment allied to many of our LEP’s investment choices.

The Chairman of our LEP is Steve Hindley, Chairman Midas Group Limited.

Just one headline from many
“Midas to deliver new National College for Nuclear in Somerset”
https://www.midasgroup.co.uk/news/?id=770

This is what the Public Accounts Committee had to say about conflicts of interest at Peterborough LEP:

“… the Chief Executive of Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, told us that she had been concerned because the conflicts of interest policy “needed to be more detailed.”

In her written evidence, she stated that the conflicts of interest policy “did not include other interests such as land, property and investment interests of board members.” …

… We asked the former GCGP LEP Chair repeatedly about his own potential conflict of interest, concerning his construction company having the contract to build on a site, while the LEP was advising on what infrastructure should be on that site. Mr Reeve refused to discuss the matter. …

… We pressed Mr Reeve specifically on when his construction company had signed the contract and when he became aware of the potential conflict of interest. We found it hard to understand how there could not be a conflict of interest if his construction company was building a site on which the LEP, of which he was Chair at the time, was putting in funds to the infrastructure, which was presumably increasing the value of the site. Mr Reeve would not provide us with any dates. We pointed out that Mr Reeve’s attitude to openness was not in keeping with the Nolan principles for holders of public office and that people in the local area are entitled to know the answer to when his company signed the contract. Mr Reeve commented “It is a private matter, it is not relevant and there was no conflict of interest.” We do not agree that it is a private matter.

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/896/89602.htm

And here is a National Audit Office report which came to similar conclusions:

https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Investigation-into-the-governance-of-Greater-Cambridge-Greater-Peterborough-Local-Enterprise-Partnership.pdf

“Tory minister dodges questions on why Russians donate to his party and what they expect in return”

“A Tory minister has dodged a question asking him why Russians donate to his party and what they expect in return.

The Conservatives have received more than £820,000 in political donations from Russian oligarchs since Theresa May became Prime Minister.

This includes a £30,000 from the wife of a former Putin crony to dine with the defence secretary.

The widow of the murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko called on the Tories to return the donations telling the Prime Minister: “You need to be very careful who you are friends with.”

Transport secretary Chris Grayling was representing the government on Question Time.

But he ignored the question posed by presenter David Dimbleby who asked: “The point is why do they want to give money to the Tory Party, what do they get back from giving money to the Tory Party?”

Mr Grayling replied: “You can’t accept money from people who are not UK citizens or UK businesses.”

Russia Today presenter Afshin Rattansi hit back saying: “The wife of the former deputy finance minister, Putin’s former deputy finance minister Lubov Chernukhin at a fundraising event for Gavin Williamson the defence secretary of this country who protects national security in this country.”

Earlier this week Jeremy Corbyn was accused of politicising the Salisbury poison attack for criticising Russian donations to the Tory Party.

He told the House of Commons: “We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics,” he said.

“Meddling in elections, as the prime minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.”

This evening Chris Grayling had no answer as to why those Oligarchs are so keen to donate to the Conservatives.

Instead he parroted the line about his party following electoral law saying: “We have clear rules about political donations, we follow those rules, they are properly scrutinised.

“What we must not do, we have a lot of people who are Russian, who are now UK citizens who live in London who’ve actually left Russia.”

He continued to say that those people should not be tarred with the same brush but he was interrupted by Afshin Rattansi who said: “This is the wife of the former deputy finance minister, where do you think she got the £30,000 to give the defence secretary?”

The Daily Mirror reported last month that the Tories had accepted £30,000 from the wife of a former crony of Vladimir Putin to dine with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson .

The money was given by Lubov Chernukhin, who is married to ex-Russian deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin, after she made a successful bid at last week’s Tory lavish Black and White Ball.

Her prize includes a private tour of Churchill’s War Rooms in Whitehall by the defence secretary before he hosts a dinner for her and a group of friends.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the Conservatives had repeatedly opposed Labour plans for tackling financial crime by Russians in the UK.

“Over the last two years the Tories have repeatedly opposed our plans for smashing money laundering by the oligarchs,” he wrote on Twitter.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tory-minister-dodges-questions-russians-12197819

LEP governance … in the wrong hands?

The report below states that the lead council for a Local Enterprise Partnership should exercise firm control over all aspects of the LEP’s governance and claims.

In our area that would be Somerset County Council.

Aaahhh … Owl has already foreseen a problem here:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/03/09/warning-light-for-our-lep-council-partners-finances-somerset/

Public Accounts Committee: “Government still failing to get a grip on oversight of LEPs”

Owl can see almost no difference between governance and conflict of interest issues between Peterborough LEP and the Heart of the South West LEP at which exactly the same criticism can be made. Another post to follow on this later today.

“The Public Accounts Committee report finds case of Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough highlights persistent concerns about ‘complexity and confusion’ in devolution.

In 2016 the Committee of Public Accounts reported on the governance of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and made clear recommendations for improvement which were accepted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department).

Despite this, the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP) provides the latest example of the Department devolving powers and funding to LEPs in a manner characterised by both complexity and confusion.

The Department needs to get its act together and assure taxpayers that it is monitoring how LEPs spend taxpayers’ money and how it evaluates results.

The Department assures us that there was no misuse of public funds in this instance; however, this is due more to luck than effective oversight given that there appear to have been no effective mechanisms in place for identifying conflicts of interest in GCGP LEP. We are not at all convinced that the issues uncovered in GCGP LEP might not be found elsewhere in other LEPs.

We also put on record our displeasure at the conduct of the former Chair of GCGP LEP when giving evidence. He failed to appreciate the importance of good governance, showed a lack of remorse about the outcome for GCGP LEP, and was evasive when questioned about his potential conflict of interest.

Such an attitude only serves to underline the need for the Department to get a grip of its oversight of LEPs. It needs to implement quickly the recommendations of Mary Ney’s review of Local Enterprise Partnership governance and transparency, ensure that all LEPs and their boards are aware of the Nolan Principles for the standards of conduct expected in public life and ensure that they live up to these principles in practice.

Chair’s comments
Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

“Local Enterprise Partnerships are not an abstract concept on a Whitehall flipchart. They are making real decisions about real money that affect real people.

This troubling case only serves to underline our persistent concerns about the governance of LEPs, their transparency and their accountability to the taxpayer.

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership failed to comply with the standards expected in public life. Yet there are also clear failings in oversight by central government.

Taxpayers need to be assured their money is being spent wisely and with adequate protections in place to prevent its misuse.

Central government must move swiftly to ensure the recommendations of the Ney review are fully implemented and we expect to see evidence that this has happened.

But it must also do a far better job of explaining the objectives and anticipated benefits of these local partnerships to local people.

Taxpayers surveying the increasingly complex landscape of local government might reasonably ask what LEPs are for.

It is wholly unacceptable that central government does not have a clear, up-to-date answer to that question.”

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/cambridge-peterborough-lep-report-published-17-19/

Follow link for:

report summary
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/896/89605.htm
report conclusions and recommendations
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/896/89605.htm
full report: Governance and departmental oversight of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership
https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/896/89602.htm

Developer refuses to build more homes

Guardian report:

“Theresa May is saying builders need to open up their land banks and develop more sites, while Berkeley is unwilling to aggressively ramp up production. With conditions in the capital starting to look more precarious, it’s easy to see why Berkeley has reservations. After all, adopting overly ambitious strategies just before the market turns has caught out many a builder over the years.

Its comments on the complexity of getting work started is a clear signal to the government that it believes the best way to move forward is not to churn through the land on its books, but to remove the red tape around the development process.

Property Week agree, saying that:

Berkeley Homes has positioned itself directly against prime minister Theresa May, by refusing to increase the number of homes it builds despite government threats to housebuilders to either build homes on their land or face planning blocks.

Sarah Gatehouse, real estate tax director at Grant Thornton, tweets that the ball is back in the PM’s court:

“Berkeley announces in trading update it won’t build more homes than forecast, citing high transaction costs, the 4.5 times income multiple limit on mortgage borrowing and prevailing economic uncertainty. What’s Theresa’s next move? #housing”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2018/mar/16/housebuilder-berkeley-group-homes-building-government-wetherspoons-trade-war-business-live

Another county moving to unitisation despite district council protests

Owl wonders what is going on under the radar in Devon and whether district councils are more worried about loss of power and influence rather than economic considerations … recalling that EDDC Tory Leader Paul Diviani rejected the idea of a Jurassic national park with Dorset because EDDC would lose control over planning.

“District councils in Buckinghamshire have responded angrily to government plans to abolish them.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid said yesterday that he was minded to agree a proposal from the county council to create a county-wide unitary council.

In a joint statement, Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe councils said: “While we are extremely disappointed, the ‘minded to’ decision is not set in stone, and we will be making the strongest possible representations to the secretary of state that this decision is not the right one.

“We don’t believe that this decision is in the best interest of our local residents, businesses, community groups, parish councils and various other stakeholders across the county and, based on our own engagement, we don’t believe it has strong local support.”

The districts had made a rival proposal under which Aylesbury Vale would become one unitary and the other three councils would form another.

They said this recognised differences in the economy, jobs, growth and housing markets across the county.

“A single large unitary will mean major opportunities will be missed in these areas and that a one size fits all model will not mean the best deal,” they said.

“We also question the savings the single unitary model claims to deliver.”

http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/03/buckinghamshire-councils-angry-governments-unitary-plans

Number of secondary schools in deficit has ‘trebled’

Apparently, the South West is the region most being harmed by this underfunding.

“The number of state secondary schools falling into deficit in England has almost trebled in the last four years to more than a quarter, research says.
Analysis by independent think tank the Educational Policy Institute (EPI) found the proportion of local authority secondaries in deficit rose from 8.8% in 2013-14 to 26.1% in 2016-2017.
Its study of official figures also found a significant increase in the number primary schools in deficit.
The government disputed the findings.
The EPI report focuses on local authority schools because the data is publicly available. It excludes academies, which account for about 60% of secondaries and 20% of primaries in England.
The research adds to growing evidence of the financial struggles faced by a significant minority of schools.
This was highlighted during the General Election campaign as a major issue for voters.
The report also found two-thirds of council schools spent more than their income in 2016-17, while 40% have had balances in decline for at least two years in a row.
“For a significant proportion of schools in England, being able to meet the cost of annual staff pay increases from a combination of government funding and their own reserves looks highly unlikely, even in the short term,” said the report.
Jon Andrews, EPI’s director for school system and performance, said: “We are seeing an increasing number of schools spending more money than they have coming in and our analysis shows that increasing costs on staff are going to add to that pressure, even with the additional funding being delivered by the National Funding Formula. …”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43415477