“Huge amount of taxpayers’ money’ used for gagging orders at East Devon council”

Owl says: 10 people with some very interesting stories we will never know ….. and which will never be scrutinised.

“Figures obtained using a Freedom of Information request show that East Devon District Council has spent more than £200,000 on gagging orders over the past four years.

A total of £205,074 has been spent by East Devon District Council on gagging orders for former members of staff since 2014, according to figures obtained by the Journal.

The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, reveals 10 settlement agreements, or gagging orders, were agreed by EDDC between 2014 and October 31, 2018.

Gagging orders are often referred to as confidentiality clauses and are usually agreed when an employee leaves an employer due to redundancy, a work place problem or a disagreement.

A number of opposition councillors have said they are shocked by the amount of money spent on gagging orders.

Independent group leader at EDDC, Ben Ingham, said: “When any one of us is thinking about how we can afford to pay our latest council tax bill, I do not believe we expect one penny to be spent on gagging orders.

“If we did, non payment may become a real expectancy. As Leader of EDDC Opposition, I can tell you at no time has the current leadership contacted me to discuss this issue at all.

“This is not acceptable, but to me not surprising. Merely another piece of evidence against an exhausted regime.”

A spokeswoman for EDDC said: “Settlement agreements are legally binding contracts that waive an individual’s rights to make a claim covered by the agreement to an employment tribunal or court.

“The agreement must be in writing. They usually include some form of payment to the employee and may often include a reference. They are voluntary and have therefore been entered into on that basis by the individuals.

“Part of the agreement is that they must seek independent advice from an employment lawyer.”

Exmouth district councillor Megan Armstrong said: “I am extremely concerned at the huge amount of taxpayers’ money, which should have been used to provide services for the people of East Devon, which has been spent on gagging orders.

“The council has a duty to be open and transparent; yet over £200,000 – a vast sum – has been spent on suppressing information. Exactly what is the Conservative administration trying to hide?”

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/gagging-orders-at-east-devon-district-council-1-5785868

“How the Big Four accountancy firms have become guardians of greed”

“Accountancy is by ­reputation a boring ­profession. We imagine a middle-aged man in a dusty office totting up figures.

This image is just how the Big Four accountancy firms like it, not least because it hides what they really are – the handmaidens of greed, graft and crony capitalism.

Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers are supposed to be the guardians of good business but have become the pin-striped promoters of the worst corporate practices.

They signed off the accounts of the banks which collapsed, failed to raise the alarm over BHS and Carillion and helped firms avoid tax on an industrial scale.

If you want to know why capitalism has such a bad reputation you need to look at the very people supposedly responsible for policing it.

It was not always like this. When the big four started, they were simply auditors.

But the deregulation after Thatcher’s “big bang” in the 1980s saw banks turn to ever more inventive ways of making money.

They could bundle up debts and sell them on, and bet against how much money that would make.

Instead of loaning money to firms, the banks started buying them. Instead of investing, they speculated. And the accountancy firms wanted a slice of this action.

In addition to auditing, they started offering consultancy – often to the firms whose books they were meant to be checking.

Nobody seemed to care about this blatant conflict of interest… until things went wrong.

Take the collapse of Carillion, which went bust with debts of £7billion.

Ten months earlier, KPMG had given its financial statements its seal of approval.

Since 2008, KPMG had received £20.2million in fees from Carillion.

In the same period, Deloitte netted £12million and Ernst & Young £18.3million.

The real winner, though, was PwC – which banked £21.1million from Carillion and is expected to make £50million overseeing its liquidation.

MP Frank Field accused the accountancy firms of “feasting on the carcass” of the firm.

Defenders of capitalism like to claim it encourages competition but this does not appear to be the case when just four firms have a near monopoly of the market.

In the UK, they audit 341 of the 350 biggest listed companies. And why go elsewhere when you can hire firms apparently willing to sign off accounts at the stroke of a pen and bag a lucrative consultancy contract at the same time?

A PwC auditor signed off BHS’s accounts days before it was sold by Sir Philip Green after spending just two hours looking at files. An internal note suggests the worker backdated his audit and failed to gather evidence on “whether BHS was a going concern”.

Then there is Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock, HBOS – all deemed going concerns by auditors shortly before their collapse.

In 2007, PwC’s audit of Northern Rock concluded “that in our opinion there were no matters relating to the going concern … that were required to be reported to shareholders”.

The bank’s ­collapse a few months later cost the taxpayer £2billion.

PwC later said it was not the “job of the auditor to look at the business model of a business”.

The Big Four also stand accused of advising big firms and high net worth individuals on how to stash cash away in tax havens.

The Paradise Papers showed Ernst & Young helped F1 champ Lewis Ham-ilton set up an offshore structure to avoid paying tax on his private jet.

Members of the Big Four have also faced accusations of misselling, turning a blind eye to bribery and collusion in corporate fraud.

Instead of questioning such behaviour, the Government rewards them with lucrative deals. Since 2015, the four firms have bagged Government contracts worth £1billion.

The Commons Business select committee has now launched an investigation into the Big Four and whether they should be broken up.

Chair Rachel Reeves said: “The audit market is broken. The Big Four’s overwhelming market domination has failed to deliver audits which are fit for purpose.”

Regulation is so lax we have no idea how much an auditor charges or how long they spend looking at the books.

Prem Sikka, emeritus professor of accounting at the University of Essex, says reforms are needed.

“The quality is low, competition is non-existent and the regulation is poor. It is almost impossible to sue negligent regulators in this country. To this date not a single accountancy firm has been investigated, prosecuted, fined or disciplined for selling tax avoidance schemes even though some of those schemes are unlawful.”

Will the accountancy firms finally be held to account?”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/how-big-four-accountancy-firms-13581124

“UK nuclear power station plans scrapped as Toshiba pulls out”

Makes you wonder what’s going to happen at our LEP’s favourite (highly vested interest for many board members) project – Hinkley C.

“Plans for a new nuclear power station in Cumbria have been scrapped after the Japanese conglomerate Toshiba announced it was winding up the UK unit behind the project.

Toshiba said it would take a 18.8bn Japanese yen (£125m) hit from closing its NuGeneration subsidiary, which had already been cut to a skeleton staff, after it failed to find a buyer for the scheme. …

The only new nuclear power station to get the go-ahead so far is EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which started construction in 2016 and is expected to be operational between 2025 and 2027. As well as EDF, Chinese and Japanese firms hope to build further nuclear plants in the UK. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/08/toshiba-uk-nuclear-power-plant-project-nu-gen-cumbria

(Another) self-serving own goal for our Local Enterprise Partnership?

Our LEP is padded with business people who have heavy direst, indirect and subtle links to the nuclear industries and housing development around Hinkley C, so the longer they can keep this white elephant limping along the better. Eggs … basket …. though if the eggs fall out of the basket WE will be clearing up the financial mess, of course.

“France has postponed a decision on whether to order more nuclear reactors in an indication that it may be losing faith in the technology it has sold to Britain.

François de Rugy, the ecology minister, rejected calls for the swift launch of the construction of new French-designed European pressurised reactors (EPRs).

He said no decision would be taken before 2021 and hinted that the authorities might rule out more EPRs altogether. “That is a question which remains open,” he said.

His comments were a blow for EDF, the mostly state-owned French electric group that is building two EPRs at Hinkley Point in Somerset at a cost of £19.5 billion.

Hinkley has faced continued criticism and calls have been made for the project to be halted because of its spiralling costs as well as fears over the technology.

EDF, which is struggling to build France’s first EPR at Flamanville, Normandy, hoped to have a second one up and running by 2030. That is now highly unlikely, given the reluctance of President Macron’s government to place an order. An internal French government document leaked to Agence France-Presse said ministers had told EDF to show that it could limit construction costs before a new order would be considered.

Doubts about the EPR programme have grown amid a series of setbacks at the five sites where they are under construction.

EDF says the one at Flamanville will not be operational before the end of next year.”

Source: The Times

“Optum CEO resigns from top NHS Job, Optum partner replaces him”

“This is an everyday story of the sordid revolving door between US Health insurance company United Health and the NHS.

In the UK, United Health’s subsidiary Optum sells the NHS what it needs in order to morph into a version of United Health – the previous employer of NHS England’s boss Simon Stevens.

With NHS England’s blessing, Optum is all over the NHS, installing their technology & redesigning the NHS through its use.

Optum sells the NHS:

Commissioning support services
Scriptswitch decision support for GP prescribing (which United Health UK acquired in 2009) is in most GP surgeries.
Referral management services
GP Empower (accelerating large scale GP practices

Integrated Care Systems support: “Optum® brings practical hands-on experience having delivered integrated care for over 20 years in the US. Our tried and tested approach has helped systems deliver proven results.” This updates an earlier brochure on accountable care systems/organisations which is no longer available. However NHS For Sale quotes Optum’s now defunct webpage: “We currently operate 26 accountable care organisations in the U.S., and are supporting sustainability and transformation partnerships in the U.K. to manage population health risk and deliver care as an integrated group of providers.”

The overall aim is to control, sideline and override doctors’ treatment decisions – as we can see through NHS England’s consultation on stopping funding numerous elective care treatments and its mandatory Integrated Urgent Care Services specification. This removes patients’ direct access to clinicians and redirects them through NHS 111 to a clinical advisory service that works off the algorithms in a clinical decision support tool.

And now it has its finger firmly in the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence pie – the organisation responsible for providing evidence-based guidance and advice to the NHS.

The revolving door that connnects United Health, Optum and the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence

This concerns:

former United Health Director Andrew Witty
Lord Darzi (head of the Imperial College department which is partnered with OptumLabs, a United Health business); and
a new public-private partnership in the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence called the “Accelerated Access Collaborative“, that’s about pushing new technology and drugs through the NHS.
It puts Optum centre stage in the Accelerated Access Collaborative. Now there’s a surprise. Or not. If you have been following United Health’s relatively rapid takeover of the NHS.

As a result of these shenanigans, we would treat any new recommendation from NICE with a pinch of salt.

Here is a short Witty timeline:

March 2017 – Andrew Witty leaves CEO position at Glaxo Smith Kline
August 2017 – Witty joins UnitedHealth’s Board of Directors
November 2017 – Following the Accelerated Access Review, the Department of Health appoints Witty as head of the Accelerated Access Collaborative. The job is to fast track drugs & technology into the NHS, to start April 2018
March 2018 – United Health announces Witty to be new Optum CEO, to start July 2018
Andrew Witty must have been rumbled somewhere along the line as he graciously resigned from the Government position in March 2018, due to the enormous conflict of interest of him starting as Optum CEO in July 2018. Ignored of course was the huge conflict of interest in hiring Witty in the first place while he was a Director of UnitedHealth.

And who replaced him? Lord Darzi.

Who is Lord Darzi

I am tired of writing about Lord Darzi. He stalks the NHS like a zombie. He was behind the New Labour government’s massive, failed and costly privatisation of elective NHS services in the horrible Independent Sector Treatment Centres – one of which totally messed up my son’s broken wrist – twice, before an NHS hospital fixed it for him.

This is what his nasty scheme has come to now. Regardless, he has returned to push his idea a second time as Accountable Care – with the apparent support of the Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth. This time from his perch in the Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) at Imperial College, London.

Which, surprise surprise, is an OptumLabs partner.

What is OptumLabs

OptumLabs (launched in 2013) is all about United Health number crunching and framing raw patient data for academics to play with to derive the “best treatments” for patients.

OptumLabs is desperate to pass itself off as pioneering and respectable in the academic research field. But reality of the profit motive and UnitedHealth’s track record of

“deception, manipulation of data and outright fraud”

(see the Ingenix case ) means their number crunching will most likely point to treatments that United Health finds most profitable, not what’s best for patients. And OptumLabs is useful cover to collect patient data.

We pointed out some time ago Optum’s invidious position as a provider of commissioning support services, able to direct Clinical Commissioning Groups to commission Optum products. Now they have their fingers in the NICE pie too.”

https://calderdaleandkirklees999callforthenhs.wordpress.com/2018/10/16/optum-ceo-resigns-from-top-nhs-job-optum-partner-replaces-him/

Labour MP who voted NOT to investigate bullying to chair Commons Standards Committee because no-one else wanted the job

“A Labour MP who voted against a probe into allegations of bullying by Speaker John Bercow has been elected as chair of the Commons standards committee.

Kate Green was one of three MPs to oppose an inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into claims against Mr Bercow, which he denies.

She was elected unopposed to the body after no other candidate came forward.” …

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-45867687

Second judicial review as a Development Management Committee defies first one!

Owl says: another “follow the money” situation?

“Folkestone & Hythe District Council faces its second judicial review in a year over a dispute concerning a proposed holiday park.

Local businessman Tim Steer was granted an application for the latest judicial review by Deputy High Court judge John Howell QC.

The case concerns an application to develop a 5.5 hectares site at Little Densole Farm, which is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and locally designated as a special landscape area.

Planning and licensing committee members rejected officers’ advice and allowed the application last year, leading to Mr Steer successfully taking the council to judicial review.

When the application came before them again in July councillors again went against the officers’ recommendation and gave planing permission.

Judge Howell: “It is at least arguable that [the committee] failed to give any reasons for rejecting their officer’s appraisal that the development and associated landscaping proposed would not conserve the existing character of this part of the AONB…and that it would introduce alien and incongruous features that would permanently change the existing character of the landscape in that area.”

Mr Steer said: “Not for the first time the council will waste taxpayers’ money defending the blatantly questionable decisions of its planning and licensing committee, a committee which in my view is not fit for purpose and is unable to grasp or follow policy and legislation.

“It might appear to some that this particular committee simply follows its own agenda.”

He said the project would cause “permanent destruction” of the AONB.
Clive Goddard, chair of the planning and licensing committee, said: “Leave has been granted by the court to apply for judicial review in respect of Little Densole Farm. The council has nothing further to add and will be seeking legal advice.”

Folkestone & Hythe was known until last April as Shepway District Council.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36987%3Arow-over-holiday-park-sees-permission-granted-for-second-judicial-review&catid=63&Itemid=31