EDDC HQ builder goes bust – another privatised services company bites the dust

Shareholder lose money one day, debtors get nothing, hedge fund starts it up again next day with no debts. Who profits? Not us.

“The government contractor Interserve has gone into administration after its largest shareholder, the US hedge fund Coltrane, led a rebellion against financial rescue plans drawn up by the company’s lenders.

About 16,000 small shareholders have lost their investment, with the business sold to hedge funds and banks via a “pre-pack” administration which means Interserve, which employs 45,000 people in the UK, can continue trading.

Interserve has thousands of government contracts including hospital cleaning, school meals and maintenance of military bases in the Falklands. It also runs parts of the probation service, which was part-privatised under a heavily criticised process overseen by the former justice minister Chris Grayling.

The company and the Cabinet Office, which oversees state suppliers, said there would be no disruption to the public services that Interserve manages and job losses were not expected in the short term and the pension scheme was protected.

Interserve’s chief executive, Debbie White, said: “Interserve is fundamentally a strong business and with a competitive financial platform in place we see significant opportunities as a best-in-class partner to the public and private sector.”

But the failure of another outsourcing firm, little more than a year after Carillion’s collapse, sparked fresh calls by trade unions and Labour’s business select committee chair Rachel Reeves for public services to be taken back in-house. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/15/interserve-to-go-into-administration-after-shareholders-reject-deal

“Public Accounts Committee calls for ‘step change’ in transparency in local public bodies”

“There is a need for a step change in transparency by local public bodies and particularly those in the NHS, MPs have said.

In a report, Auditing local government, the Public Accounts Committee noted that in 2017-18, auditors found that more than 1 in 5 local public bodies did not have proper arrangements in place to secure value for money for taxpayers.

“The numbers are worst for local NHS bodies such as clinical commissioning groups and hospital trusts, where 38% did not have proper arrangements,” it said.

The MPs added that some local bodies were not putting enough information in the public domain about their performance, including reports from their external auditors.

The report called on central government departments to make clear their expectations, “not only for what is made publicly available, but also for making the information accessible to users and so helping citizens to hold local bodies to account”.

The PAC said there appeared to be few consequences for those local bodies who did not take auditors’ concerns seriously and address them promptly. “Even where local auditors use their additional reporting powers to highlight failings, this does not always lead to the bodies taking immediate action.”

The report also recorded the MPs’ concern that, as partnership working becomes more complex, accountability arrangements will be weakened, and the performance of individual local bodies will become less transparent.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “Taxpayers must be assured that their money is well-spent but in too many cases local bodies cannot properly safeguard value. Particularly concerning are NHS bodies such as Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospital trusts: last year almost two in five did not have adequate arrangements.

“As we reported last week, many CCGs are underperforming and this must improve as they take on responsibility for commissioning services across larger populations.”

Hillier added: “It is vital that local bodies take auditors’ concerns seriously, address them swiftly and ensure meaningful information on performance is made accessible to the public.

“Our report sets out ways central government can help to drive improvements at local level and we urge it to respond positively to our recommendations.” …”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/396-governance-news/40088-public-accounts-committee-calls-for-step-change-in-transparency-in-local-public-bodies

“Stronger Towns Fund” not new money

“Theresa May’s £1.6 billion ’shameless bung’ to MPs in a bid to get them to back her Brexit deal is not new money, it has been revealed.

Much of Government’s ‘Stronger Towns Fund’ Much will be distributed to Leave-voting Labour heartlands to give communities a boost after leaving the EU.

Angry Labour MPs accused the Prime Minister of trying to woo them to back her plans ahead of this week’s failed second vote.

But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) have confirmed it is not new money and will be met from existing departmental budgets. …”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-mays-shameless-16m-brexit-14139714

“Schools have become ‘fourth emergency service’ for poorest families”

It makes one ashamed to be British. “Suffer the little children …” and they do.

“Schools have become “an unofficial fourth emergency service” for vulnerable families across England and Wales, offering food parcels, clothing and laundry facilities to those worst affected by austerity, according to a new report by a headteachers’ union.

A majority of the 400 school leaders surveyed by the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) said they were seeing a “rising tide” of poverty among their pupils, at a time when they were having to cut their own budgets and receiving less support from local councils.

Sarah Bone, headteacher of Headlands school, a comprehensive in Yorkshire’s East Riding, said: “We have far too many children with no heating in the home, no food in the cupboards, washing themselves with cold water, walking to school with holes in their shoes and trousers that are ill-fitted and completely worn out, and living on one hot meal a day provided at school.”

Other heads reported pupils with no winter coats, while others said they regularly had to buy shoes for their pupils.

“A decade of austerity has wreaked havoc with the social fabric of the nation and schools have been left to pick up the pieces while coping with real-term funding cuts,” said Geoff Barton, the ASCL’s general secretary.

“They have become an unofficial fourth emergency service for poor and vulnerable children, providing food and clothing and filling in the gaps left by cutbacks to local services.

“Politicians must end their fixation with Brexit and work together to build a new sense of social mission in our country. We simply must do better for struggling families and invest properly in our schools, colleges and other vital public services …..

”Nine out of 10 heads said they gave clothes to their most disadvantaged pupils, and nearly half said they washed clothes for pupils. More than 40% reported operating a food bank at the school or giving food parcels to pupils and their families.

One school leader commented: “In 24 years of education I have not seen the extent of poverty like this. Children are coming to school hungry, dirty and without the basics to set them up for life. The gap between those that have and those that do not is rising and is stark.”

Another teacher said some families had nowhere left to go for help: “We have seen an increase in the number of families needing support for basic human needs.”

Edward Conway, headteacher of St Michael’s Catholic high school in Watford, said: “Pupil poverty has increased significantly over the past eight years, with us providing food, clothing, equipment and securing funds from charitable organisations to provide essential items such as beds and fridges.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/15/schools-have-become-fourth-emergency-service-for-poorest-families

Exmouth: Where are we with the Grenadier agreement?

A councillor implies it is agreed and is signed or on the point of being signed:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/03/09/has-the-grenadier-contract-been-signed-or-is-councillor-stott-confused/

A Freedom of Information request implies that it is not:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/03/13/exmouth-what-do-they-know-that-they-dont-want-you-to-know-you-cant-know/

Purdah (when local government is forbidden to enter into politically sensitive agreements or public announcements because of the proximity to local elections) starts on 26 March 2019, so this should be ironed out before then.

Or is that the “cunning plan”?

Dangle the “is it” or “isn’t it” carrot to 26 March 2019 to buy time to try to sort out major problems between then and 2 May – while leaving voters in the dark about whether it is on or off till after elections?

“Local bodies poor at securing value for money, says Public Accounts Committee “

“An increasing number of local public bodies are demonstrating “significant weaknesses” in securing value for money, MPs have warned.

Auditors found more than 20% of local authorities, NHS bodies and police and fire authorities in England did not have proper arrangements in place to achieve value for money in 2017-18, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

Central government’s measures to stop this were “limited”, the watchdog added.

NHS bodies, like Clinical Commissioning Groups and hospital trusts, were found to be the worst public bodies for assuring taxpayers’ money is spent effectively, according to the PAC report out today.

Qualified audit opinions – which signify weaknesses in an organisations accounts – were issued to 38% of NHS bodies in the last financial year, compared to 29% in 2015-16, it said.

In 2015-16 18% of non-NHS local bodies were given a qualified audit opinion, compared to 22% in 2017-18.

There were 495 local authorities, local police and local fire bodies subject to external audit, with responsibility for £54bn of net revenue spending in 2017-18. Another 442 local NHS bodies received funding from the Department of Health and Social Care of approximately £100bn.

Only 5% of local bodies had implemented changes to address weaknesses highlighted by auditors last year, according to information obtained by the National Audit Office.

The PAC noted that some bodies were failing to put enough information in the public domain, including reports from external auditors and suggested that central government should “make clear their expectations” for information that should be made public helping citizens hold bodies to account.

“Local bodies should also be taking auditors’ concerns seriously and addressing them promptly, but there appear to be few consequences for those who do not,” the report said.

The committee said that central departments were not doing enough to make sure that local bodies take “prompt corrective action”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: “Taxpayers must be assured that their money is well-spent but in too many cases local bodies cannot properly safeguard value.

“Particularly concerning are NHS bodies such as CCGs and hospital trusts: last year almost two in five did not have adequate arrangements.

“It is vital that local bodies take auditors’ concerns seriously, address them swiftly and ensure meaningful information on performance is made accessible to the public.”

DHSC and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/local-bodies-poor-securing-value-money-says-pac