“Financial Peer Review Northamptonshire County Council”

Northamptonshire County Council is effectively bankrupt. This is a peer review report if their financial situation last year. Some worrying similarities!

Some lessons for officers and councillors.

For example:

“4.3.8 There is a lack of sufficient challenge among officers and from members. There is a considerable amount of trust in plans that are presented without evidence that those plans have been challenged. Some Portfolio holders readily accept the information they are given without systematic and robust challenge. There is a tendency for cabinet members to trust that the relevant individual portfolio holder has challenged proposals.

4.3.9 Decisions taken by the Cabinet need greater transparency. Council members and scrutiny chairs need access to more information. There was a desire expressed from some cabinet members for greater discussion and challenge across portfolios. However, where challenge has been provided, for example from the Audit Committee, that has not been welcomed.”

Northamptonshire CC – FINAL Feedback Report

Do our council officers have enough to do?

Owl says: And if EDDC pitches for these services and does not get them , who foots the bill and what work will the officers NOT have done that we are paying for? And what about that dang conflict of interest?

“We will explore the potential benefits that might arise from working with other local authorities including Exeter City Council, Teignbridge District Council and Mid Devon District Council to deliver advice, support, training and auditing services to businesses across the region.”

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2319199/170118-joint-overview-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf

“Nurses priced out of housing developments on former NHS sites”

“Four out of five homes on NHS land sold by government too expensive for nursing staff and only one in 10 offered at social rent”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/09/nurses-priced-out-of-housing-developments-on-former-nhs-sites

Sidmouth Port Royal: an independent view

“In July, ‘Three Rs’ campaigners unveiled their alternative vision to ‘retain, refurbish, re-use’ the site’s existing buildings.

They wanted to challenge suggestions that the ‘only apparent option’ for the development of eastern town was to construct a multi-use building with 30 homes that could stand up to five storeys high.

Campaigners argue the existing buildings should be retained, the whole area should be refurbished as needed and sites such as the Drill Hall and the old boat park should be re-used.

In a bid to keep the public informed, they have created four information sheets ahead of the publication of a final report on Port Royal.

Councillor Cathy Gardner, [Independent East Devon Alliance] who is one of those leading the Three Rs campaign, said: “We think it is important people have more background information for the proposals for the Port Royal area, particularly while we are waiting for the final report from the scoping study – we are expecting that in January.

“We have tried to be as factual as we can. People ask a lot of questions and sometimes there are misunderstandings, and we just want to help clarify it for everybody.”

The information sheets explain the challenges East Devon District Council (EDDC) faces in redeveloping the site and the importance of the authority deciding on what happens, and argue it is essential to retain the Drill Hall.

The guides also look at what the Ham is and its conveyance, the role played by Sidmouth Town Council, what the Local Plan has to do with Port Royal, and where Devon County Council comes in.

As well as this, the information sheets will address how the car parks could be refurbished.

Cllr Gardner said the campaigners could also cover other topics so asked residents who were unsure on anything or think something should be clarified to let them know.

The information sheets have also been pinned up on a notice boards around Sidmouth and are available online at http://www.retain-refurbish-reuse.uk.

Alternatively, email cathy.gardner@eastdevonalliance.org.uk for an electronic copy.”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/info-sheets-released-to-help-all-understand-potential-port-royal-development-in-sidmouth-1-5322440

What you can get away with in business in a greedy, unregulated system

“Palmer & Harvey paid out £70m since 2008 despite ongoing losses.

UK’s biggest tobacco distributor called in administrators and ceased deliveries on Tuesday, making 2,500 people redundant.

Palmer & Harvey directors, former directors and other shareholders extracted about £70m in cash from the grocery wholesaler over the past nine years despite ongoing losses.

The company, where 2,500 people were made redundant earlier this week and a further 900 jobs are at risk, had been owned by dozens of private individuals via a complex web of equity and loans. The company supplied 90,000 stores including 50,000 independents that are now struggling to secure stocks of tobacco and groceries at one of the busiest times of the year.

The UK’s biggest tobacco distributor called in administrators and ceased deliveries on Tuesday after hitting “challenging trading conditions” while efforts to restructure the heavily indebted business were unsuccessful.

P&H was bought by its management team in 2008 in a deal that valued the company at £345m. The deal was largely funded by debt.

P&H (2008), the wholesaler’s parent company, has paid out more than £8m a year in dividends since 2009 to its shareholders despite making losses of about £10m a year or more in all but one year, 2014.

The company’s net debt hit £48.6m in April 2016 and has been above £29m every year since 2011.

Some former managers, including the former chairmen Christopher Adams and Christopher Etherington, hold special preference shares, according to the latest list of shareholders filed at Companies House. These “B preference” shares pay out a fixed dividend twice a year.

Etherington, who stepped down as chairman earlier this year, and his wife were entitled to an estimated £300,000 in dividends last year and Adams £941,000. Half of this payment was deferred under an agreement with shareholders which pledged that it could be repaid if and when the B preference shares were ultimately redeemed.

Etherington and his wife have together held the same number of these B shares since the takeover, entitling them to about £2.5m in dividends since 2009.

In 2009, Etherington also held another form of preference share, the “A preference”, that entitled him to an annual dividend. The latest annual report indicates he no longer owns those shares. He was able to redeem them for £1 each or £500,000, before dividends owed.

Accounts for Palmer & Harvey McLane (Holdings), another parent company of P&H, also show that Etherington received a £3.44m interest-free loan from the company’s employee benefit trust with which to fund his stake in the company. This was repayable on the sale of any shares held by him.

Only a handful of shareholders in P&H (2008), most of whom are former and current staff, retained their A preference shares at the time of the last Companies House filing. But their rights to redeem the shares were protected at the time of the 2008 buyout with ring-fenced cash of £42m held in a separate company, Buildtrue, in April 2016. That company is not part of the administration process and it is understood that the majority of A preference shareholders have cashed out in the past year, receiving funds from Buildtrue.

Administrators at PricewaterhouseCoopers declined to comment.”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/01/palmer-harvey-paid-out-70m-since-2008-despite-ongoing-loses

Public spending jeopardised by Brexit uncertainty

“Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has been warned by Whitehall’s spending watchdog that continuing uncertainty over Brexit could jeopardise the public finances.

In a report released on Tuesday, the National Audit Office (NAO) says high levels of government borrowing since the financial crash meant there are already significant risks to the UK’s finances.

Sir Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said these risks could be exacerbated by “unexpected developments”, including any unforeseen consequences of leaving the European Union.

Auditors said that borrowing had increased since 2009-10 by 61%, while interest payments on the UK’s debts had cost the government £222bn. Over the same period, managing the public finances had become more difficult since the global financial crash of 2008.

The NAO pointed to an increase in the use of index-linked gilts to finance the government’s debts which meant a rise of just 1% in retail price inflation could add £26bn in interest costs between 2016-17 and 2020-21.

The latest warning comes after the trusted Institute for Fiscal Studies warned last week that Hammond could be forced to abandon his target of eliminating the deficit by the mid 2020s when he delivers the budget on 22 November.

Morse said uncertainty over Brexit, as well as the eventual unwinding of the Bank of England’s programme of “quantitative easing”, meant it was essential the Treasury kept the risks under constant review.

“Put simply, public and private borrowing are high, kept affordable by record low interest rates, and quantitative easing continues 10 years after the crisis it responded to,” Morse said.

“There are significant risks to the public finances and any unexpected developments, potentially including consequences of leaving the EU could exacerbate them. In these circumstances, the Treasury needs to constantly monitor these risks and be ready to react quickly and flexibly. It has taken steps to increase its capacity to respond. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/07/brexit-uncertainty-is-jeopardising-public-finances-watchdog-warns