City faces corruption crackdown as IMF investigates wealthy countries

“The City of London will come under the spotlight of the International Monetary Fund as part of a crackdown on corruption that will investigate whether Britain and other rich countries are taking tough enough action against bribery and money laundering.

In a hardening of its approach, the IMF said it needed to look at those giving bribes and financial centres that laundered dirty money as well as improving the existing clampdown on wrongdoing in poor countries.

London has won the unenviable reputation of being the global centre for money laundering, partly as a result of cases such as the Global Laundromat, under which British-registered companies and banks helped move at least £20bn of money from criminal activities out of Russia.

All members of the Group of Seven industrial nations – Britain, the US, Germany, Japan, France, Italy and Canada – together with Austria and the Czech Republic will be looked at by the IMF to see whether their legal systems criminalised bribery and have the right mechanism to prevent laundering of dirty money.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said: “The flip side of every bribe taken is a bribe given. And funds received through corruption are often funds concealed outside the country, often in the financial sectors of major capitals. It is quite possible for countries to have “clean hands” at home but “dirty hands” abroad.

“To truly fight corruption, therefore, we need to address the facilitation of corrupt practices by private actors. To do this, we will be encouraging our member countries to volunteer to have their legal and institutional frameworks assessed by the Fund – to see whether they criminalise and prosecute foreign bribery and have mechanisms to stop the laundering and concealment of dirty money.”

Lagarde said the willingness of the G7 plus Austria and the Czech Republic to allow their anticorruption regimes to be tested was a “a major vote of confidence in the new framework”.

The investigation will form part of the annual Article IV health check that the IMF conducts on every member country. Philip Hammond said in Washington that the size of the City of London meant he could not definitively say that there was no illicit money flowing through the UK financial system but that the government was working hard to reduce and eliminate illicit flows.

Lagarde said there was empirical evidence to show that high levels of corruption were linked to significantly lower growth, investment, foreign direct investment and tax revenues.

A country that slid down from halfway to three-quarters of the way down a league table of corruption and governance was likely to see growth of national income per head decline by half a percentage point or more.

“Our results also show that corruption and poor governance are associated with higher inequality and lower inclusive growth.” …”

Flagship Tory council may turn red due to councillors’ cosy relationship with developers

Owl says: If every Tory council with cosy relationships with developers turned red there wouldn’t be any left!!! Tory/developer, horse/carriage!!!

“It is the Conservatives’ local government flagship, blue since its creation in 1965. But in Westminster, amid a growing row about the influence of property developers, next month’s local elections are starting to look a bit tight.

In the ward covering London’s West End, some of the priciest real estate in Europe, two of the three sitting Tory councillors have been ousted by the party after opposing a wave of new building, which they say is overwhelming the area.

One of the councillors, Paul Church, said he had “tried to stand up for the communities I was elected to represent against the dominance of property developers and their agents, patronage and power in Westminster” but he had been “bullied, silenced and threatened by their powerful allies. Local government shouldn’t be like this.”

The other, Glenys Roberts, who has represented West End for 19 years, said: “I have tried to find out why I was deselected and they won’t tell me, so I feel as if I’m in a Kafka novel.” She said she had protested against “too much demolition” in Soho, part of her ward, adding: “If you completely get rid of the loucheness and the interestingness, do you just get rid of Soho and the reasons that anybody would ever come there?

“These are the issues I was very deeply involved with. They [the council leadership] didn’t like me being involved with State of Soho [a local group that campaigns against overdevelopment], but I just wanted the best for my area and the people I represent.”

Soho, a small area made up mainly of 18th and 19th-century houses, faces almost 20 large development schemes. Seven involve significant demolition of historic buildings, including the former Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road, a plan described by Historic England as doing “substantial harm” to the Soho conservation area.

The row will reopen concerns about developer influence at Westminster council, whose former deputy leader, Robert Davis, accepted more than 500 gifts or freebies, 150 of them from developers, while chairing the committee that decided on some of their planning applications.

Even the council leader, Nickie Aiken, admitted to The Sunday Times: “I do recognise that there was an historic issue in Westminster with the perception of these relationships. To date I have found no evidence of any wrongdoing or impropriety… [but] Westminster city council under my leadership will reassure residents about the integrity of the planning process.”

Davis left the planning job last year and “stepped aside” as deputy leader last month after it was revealed that he had taken gifts, meals or hospitality 514 times in three years, including nine free foreign trips, tickets to dozens of West End shows and hundreds of meals at top restaurants including the Ivy, the Ritz and Sexy Fish. He referred himself to a standards investigation but denies any wrongdoing and has been selected to stand for re-election as a Conservative.

In Mayfair, another part of her ward, Roberts said that “a lot of the rules [the council] have for keeping conservation areas in the right proportions and all the rest of it were being totally overruled”.

She said that Davis had once told her to “shut up” about a development and a number of other councillors “have told me he has tried [to silence them]”.

A third councillor who has been deselected in a different ward said Davis had telephoned to threaten them with “consequences” for their council career if they publicly spoke against controversial planning projects in their ward.

Davis said last night that he “never discouraged anyone from raising legitimate objections or concerns” but had “advised Mr Church that it is often sensible to air concerns with officers and members prior to a committee hearing, so as to allow them to be carefully considered and, ideally, addressed beforehand”.

He “expressly” denied threatening anyone with any consequences for opposing a planning application.

Roberts also said pressure was put on Westminster’s planning officers to change their recommendations to favour certain schemes.

“I was rung up by one of the officers saying there were meetings being held behind the scenes, off the record, no minutes taken,” she said.

“He was asked to change his recommendation and he refused . . . [but] the recommendations were changed subsequently.”

Roberts did not accuse Davis personally of pressurising officers and Davis said he had never asked any officer to change a recommendation.”

Source: Sunday Times (pay wall)

Potholes: a sign for the middle-classes that austerity is biting them too, and it hurts – literally!

Matthew Parris in today’s Times – it’s a sign of the times when a deep blue Tory says “enough is enough”! But it will NEVER be enough for your political masters , Matthew … as long as the people at the bottom of this stinking heap bear the brunt and you – and those high above you – live in your golden bubbles and prosper.

“I blame myself. My bicycle boy-racer days should have been over. I’d had two whiskies at the Duke of York, the night was dark, the lane was narrow and I knew well enough there were potholes. This one was a stonker. Crash, bang, wallop. Anyway I survived. I broke a few ribs but the crash helmet did its job, the ribs healed, the bruises faded and I live to tell the tale more than a year later.

I tell it now more as parable than anecdote. In a couple of weeks come important local government elections in many places. We don’t think enough about local government, whose job it was to mend that pothole.

But by starting with a me-and-my-pothole story I risk sounding like a parody of one of those ghastly charity appeals on the radio, showcasing the plight of some victim, typically a child. “So poor little Matthew fell off his bike. For just £5 your local council could fix that pothole. Please send your donation, however small, to HM Treasury, Great George Street . . .”

My story is trivial compared with cuts which for others may have meant the loss of social care in dementia, no Sure Start centre for a child, the closure of a small local hospital or the end of a vital local bus service. So is there a connection?

Yes. Throughout history rings the cry “It’s when it happens to you . . .”. Austerity often doesn’t “happen” to people like me (and many of you) as fast, as often or as painfully as it does to millions of others. But potholes we Times readers see. When in our own lives our nearside front tyre is shredded, the ruddy pothole represents a momentary twitching-back of one tiny corner of a great curtain, behind which lie, no, not potholes, but a million anxious human stories, caused in part by cuts in public spending.

And, no, I’m not going to decry cutting public spending. Much of it had to happen. But I’m making two points. First, the exercise cannot be without limit. Second, the time-lag between the cut and the pain can be so long that by the time you feel the pain the cut may have gone much deeper than you noticed. We need to wake up to that.

So back, without apology, to potholes. Thanks to another of these, a friend in Lincolnshire has just broken his neck, though not fatally, thank heaven. Potholes matter in themselves. But they are a parable for others that matter even more.

Over roughly the last decade (my figures don’t cover 2017) spending on roads by councils has fallen by about a fifth. Serious injuries to cyclists have trebled, while cyclists’ numbers have increased by a fraction of that. According to the RAC, the number of cars needing roadside assistance after hitting potholes has almost doubled since January.

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance there are 24,000 miles of roads urgently awaiting repair in England and Wales. On present trends a road is resurfaced every 78 years and it would now take 14 years, and more than £9 billion, to return the network to a “steady state”. Our roads have been crumbling.

Roads spending has just started to rise, albeit gently. Late in the day, local and central government politicians have woken up to what’s happening.

The trouble is, it’s already happened. Voters in their millions, including Times readers in huge numbers, are telling them so. Just as my little argument with Mawstone Lane was a parable for a wider problem with potholes nationwide, so potholes nationwide are a parable for a problem far wider than that. We may be deceived by the fact that you can get away for years, but not for ever, with pushing a problem to one side.

All the pressures on those who run government, local and central, are to worry about the short-term. George Osborne had the aftermath of a world economic crash to get Britain through. Philip Hammond has Brexit. And when the Devil drives (as in politics he always does) and if you can block your ears to the caterwauling of those who always cry wolf anyway, it is usually possible to leave issues like road maintenance, decaying school buildings, rotting prisons, social care for the elderly, Britain’s military preparedness or a cash-strapped health service, to tread water for years or even decades. “They’ll get by,” say fiscal hawks, and in the short-term they’re often right.

Nobody’s likely to invade us; the NHS is used to squeezing slightly more out of not enough; cutting pre-school provision is hardly the Slaughter of the Innocents; the elderly won’t all get dementia at once; there’s little public sympathy for prisoners; teachers can place a bucket under the hole in the roof; and road users can dodge potholes.

In the case of local government Mr Osborne found you could slash, not snip. It has lost, unbelievably, almost 50 per cent of what it gets from the general taxpayer in less than a decade. But, hey, the rubbish is still collected.

All this has encouraged those, like me, of a Conservative disposition who see state wastefulness everywhere, to think that maybe you can just keep on cutting and never reach bone. For so it has often seemed, however urgent the shrieks of doom-mongers.

But beneath the surface problems build up. The old get older, and more numerous. Potholes start breaking cyclists’ necks. Care homes start going under. The Crown Prosecution Service begins to flounder. We run out of social housing. Prisoners riot. And is there really no link between things like pre-schooling, sports and leisure centres and local outreach work, and the discouragement of knife crime? It all takes time, though.

In that most unfashionable thing, public administration, the life cycle of a problem may be counted in decades, even generations. The cycle of an elected politician’s term is four or five years. Democratic politics and good public administration march to different drumbeats.

When New Labour was elected in 1997 we Tories groaned as it tipper-trucked money into the NHS, school building and other public services. But after 18 years of saying no, we had let an undersupply arise: of bricks, mortar, equipment, wages, staff and morale — invisible on any Treasury balance sheet. Thirteen years later when Labour left office the undersupply was monetary, the red ink all too visible.

Must we forever oscillate like this? Probably. Unless politics understands this paradox: the right time to fill a pothole is before it’s a pothole.”

Beware “Independents” with dubious intentions … next time around

We currently have VERY Independent Independents at EDDC.

But, given the “race to the bottom” that is happening in party politics at the moment, we can expect more of this sort of thing:

Care at home? Not if there are no carers for the homes

Care for 13,000 Britons at risk as provider seeks rescue plan

“The care of more than 13,000 elderly and vulnerable Britons could be thrown into turmoil after one of the biggest providers of home care visits in the UK warned it would go bust unless creditors backed a rescue plan.

Allied Healthcare, which has contracts with 150 local authorities and also provides out-of-hours services for the NHS, is asking for breathing space on its finances after cashflow problems that have been triggered in part by an £11m bill for back pay owed to sleep-in care workers.

The loss-making company has 12,000 employees and cares for 13,500 people in their homes via a network of 83 branches around the country. According to the Allied website it is the country’s largest domiciliary care business, twice the size of its nearest competitor.

Its Primecare division provides primary and urgent healthcare services, including NHS 111 telephony services, GP-led medical centres and end-of-life care. It also provides healthcare services in a number of secure settings including prisons, immigration centres and secure training centres.

Allied was bought by the German private equity firm Aurelius in a £19m deal in December 2015 but it has struggled against a backdrop of local authority funding cuts.

In a letter to creditors seen by the Guardian, its chief executive, Luca Warnke, said it had “significant funding pressures on our customers that have impacted on their ability to deliver financially viable health and social care services”. It added that it had taken the decision to pursue a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure that will enable it to agree a payment plan with creditors that include landlords and members of its pension schemes. It expects to file for the procedure on Monday.

Warnke blamed rising agency labour costs for its woes, pointing to the shortage of doctors and nurses since the Brexit vote as well as a potential £11m bill for backdated “sleep in” payments depending on HMRC’s calculation of the pay period.

Last year the government changed its guidance on how sleep-in carers should be paid, advising that they were entitled to earn the national minimum wage for the entirety of the time they were present in a house rather than just a flat rate. At that time some charities warned it could cost the sector £400m and potentially bankrupt many social care charities and providers.

The company said in a statement: “As with many independent providers in the UK health and social care sector, Allied Healthcare has been operating in a highly challenging environment for a sustained period of time, which has placed pressure on the company.

“As a result of these challenges, Allied Healthcare has has taken the decision to pursue a company voluntary arrangement as part of a prospective business plan that will ensure safe continuity of care across our UK-wide operations, place the company on a sustainable long-term footing and maximise repayments to creditors.

“The proposed CVA will not impact on the safe continuity of care that Allied Healthcare provides across the UK,” it said. “Allied Healthcare will continue to trade safely and it remains business as usual for Allied Healthcare employees and customers.”

The company insisted there were currently no plans for redundancies or branch closures.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities, insisted that councils have “robust” contingency plans in place to manage the care of individuals if necessary if the company were to fail.

“The absolute priority for councils affected is to protect the vital care and support that older and disabled people rely on and ensure it is able to continue without interruption,” a spokesman said. “The LGA is working alongside the Care Quality Commission and the government to support Allied, where possible, as it plans to financially restructure the business and continue to provide high-quality home care.”

“Poorest families ‘going without food or power’ “

Owl says: Are we back in the Middle Ages with rich feudal barons and poor serfs?

“Hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in Britain are going without basic necessities, according to two separate surveys.

Citizens Advice said as many as 140,000 households are going without power, as they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters.

And the Living Wage Foundation – which campaigns for fair pay – said many of the poorest parents are skipping meals.

However the government said workers are now earning more, and paying less tax.

The survey conducted by Citizens Advice suggests that most households that cannot afford to put money in the meter contain either children or someone with a long-term health condition.

Some people are left in cold houses, or without hot water.

“It is unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“For some people self-disconnection is easily managed, but for many others it is an extremely stressful experience that can have harmful physical and emotional effects.”