People with certain convictions to be barred from being councillors

“The government is to strengthen rules preventing people found guilty of serious crimes from serving on local councils, it has been announced.

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak said the new rules would mean any person who is subject to an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction, a Criminal Behaviour Order, a Sexual Risk Order or who is on the Sex Offenders’ Register, would no longer be able to stand for elected office in their community.

Current conditions make clear that anyone convicted of an offence carrying a prison sentence of more than three months is banned from serving as a local councillor.

The new measures will see the disqualification rules changed to include the alternatives to a prison sentence as a barrier to becoming a councillor.

They will require changes to primary legislation, in particular the Local Government Act 1972, the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, and the Greater London Authority Act 2009.

The government will “look to identify a suitable legislative opportunity to bring the changes into law”.

Once the rules are implemented, councils across England will have the power to prevent individuals from standing as a councillor or mayor at the point they trigger the revised disqualification criteria. These proposals will not apply retrospectively, the government said.

Sunak said: “Elected members play a crucial role in town halls across the country, and are the foundations of local democracy. They are community champions, and have a leading role to play in building a better society for everyone.

“With such an important role comes great responsibility, and these changes will protect residents while upholding the values and high standards of behaviour we all expect.”

The move follows a consultation. The government’s response can be found here.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/disqualification-criteria-for-councillors-and-mayors

893 gifts or hospitality from developers in 6 years did not influence councillor’s decisions says Monitoring Officer [insert hollow laugh here]

On average accepted gifts or hospitality 3 times a week, every week for 6 years! But he resigned anyway ….. deja vu, deja vu says Owl!

“The Deputy Leader of Westminster Council has resigned following an internal investigation into his conduct.

Deputy Leader Robert Davis announced today he is to resign “with immediate effect” after 36 years of service.

Mr Davis’s resignation comes after he reportedly accepted hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years. These gifts frequently came from property developers who were seeking planning permission, according to the Guardian.

In a statement, Mr Davis said: “I am very proud of my 36 years’ service in local government during which I made a major contribution to the wellbeing of the City and its people.

“Earlier this year there was some press coverage concerning the hospitality I received during the course of my duties. To avoid this becoming an issue in this year’s elections, I agreed to refer myself to the Monitoring Officer, and stand aside as Deputy Leader while an investigation was carried out.”

Mr Davis, who chaired the Conservative borough’s planning committee for 17 years, continued: “My approach to declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide.

“I registered all my hospitality and it was posted by officers on the Council’s website. I have been making such declarations since 2007 when the requirement was first introduced.

“I also declared any relevant interests at the beginning of every planning committee I chaired during this time. I have acted with the utmost transparency and probity at all times and have only ever taken decisions on the basis of what I thought was best for Westminster.

“An inquiry has been completed by the Council. They have confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful.”

He said his actions “created a perception that was negative to the Council.

“While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter. It is now time for me to move on to the next stage in my life, and for the next generation of councillors to lead Westminster.”

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/westminster-council-deputy-leader-resigns-after-hospitality-inquiry-a3958681.html

Senior police officer alleges he was told by Foreign Office to stop money laundering investigation

“The former senior police officer in charge of investigating corruption has revealed that he was ordered to halt an inquiry into Russian money laundering.

Jon Benton, who headed up the National Crime Agency’s international corruption unit, said a more senior official linked to the Foreign Office told him to drop his inquiry.

Mr Benton’s claim is deeply embarrassing for the Government which insists it is clamping down on Vladimir Putin’s cronies who have stashed their wealth in the UK. Mr Benton, a detective superintendent, headed up the international corruption unit (ICU) when it was set up in 2015. He retired last year. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/22/national-crime-agency-ordered-stop-investigating-russian-money/

“Home builders’ lobbyist pushed council leader to ‘sort’ and speed planning”

Is this any different to having a (Tory) COUNCILLOR in charge of planning running his own planning consultancy AND chairing an influential business forum? And if this expose came about from a Freedom of I formation request about events in Wandsworth in 2011 and 2013 …..

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9920971/If-I-cant-get-planning-nobody-will-says-Devon-councillor-and-planning-consultant.html

“A lobbyist for some of the UK’s biggest property developers used a direct communication channel to the leader of a flagship Conservative council to help push through planning applications for luxury apartment developments.

Peter Bingle used his longstanding relationship with Ravi Govindia, the leader of the London borough of Wandsworth, in attempts to circumvent council officials he believed were being obstructive to his clients, including over the size of payments due to public projects.

Bingle’s access has been revealed in a cache of emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that show him asking Govindia, a former flatmate, to smooth the passage of planning applications for hundreds of luxury homes between 2011 and 2013. Govindia responded in some cases by promising to chase officials and fix meetings.

Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m

Bingle is a former Conservative councillor at Wandsworth and was chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, once one of the country’s biggest lobbying firms. He set up Terrapin Communications, whose clients have included Ballymore and Bellway, the housebuilders, and Royal Mail when it was selling off its land for housing.

When Royal Mail complained about the junior rank of the planning officer assigned to its application and having to repeat details of its plans to officials, Bingle emailed Govindia: “This wouldn’t have happened under the old regime. Your help would be appreciated in sorting things out.”

Bingle later forwarded the Royal Mail’s plan for its presentation to the Wandsworth planning committee to Govindia asking “What’s your advice?” Govindia replied two minutes later: “Will call as soon as I finish this meeting”.

Nearly 100 London councillors have links to property industry

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the correspondence provides a rare window on the methods developers use to apply pressure to politicians behind the scenes to speed up high-stakes planning decisions and to reduce infrastructure payments. An investigation last week revealed how Berkeley Homes, one of London’s largest developers of luxury homes, routinely told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In April, the Guardian revealed planning lobbyists regularly entertained Robert Davis, Westminster city council’s former planning committee chairman. Davis received hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years, frequently from developers and their agents, including Bingle. He has since resigned as deputy leader.

The emails relate to when Bingle was working as a lobbyist for the Royal Mail, which had submitted plans for a 1,800-home development on its site close to Battersea Power Station. In one email to Govindia he lambasted the council’s handling of a negotiation about how much his client should pay to the public purse as “chaotic and shambolic”. He told Govindia it “does nothing for Wandsworth’s reputation in the property world … Something has gone seriously wrong.”

The planning application was eventually approved. Royal Mail last year sold part of the site to US investors for £101m.

Bingle chased Govindia for updates on progress of another 252-home application at Battersea for another client, complaining about “non-committal” planning officials. He applauded the leader when a separate application for 104 private flats in Putney by Berkeley Homes was approved, signing off an email: “Many thanks for a great result.” It had no social housing.

Bingle has denied exerting any undue influence and Govindia said he made no apology for delivering more homes for Wandsworth.

Public records show Bingle has entertained at least 31 councillors in different London boroughs in recent years, taking some out for lunch or dinner more than a dozen times. When Govindia, who was among those he entertained, was awarded a CBE in 2017 Bingle said: “Never has an award for services to local government been more deserved.”

Govindia did not sit on Wandsworth’s planning committee, but Bingle repeatedly urged him to help, often simply forwarding on complaints from property developers.

In January 2012, Royal Mail was concerned about what the council wanted in terms of payments for schools and education. Bingle forwarded an email about that directly to Govindia saying “Ravi, Views?”

Govindia replied later that day: “I will chase the education chaps”.

By March, the development consultant on the scheme asked Bingle to “prod Ravi that we need to get on with this”. Bingle forwarded the email to Govinidia saying “I thought it simplest just to forward this to you”.

When Bingle sent an email asking: “Leader, Can we get a meeting with you in the diary for next week? This scheme is now stuck,” Govinida replied: “I have asked for an update from planners next week.”

Asked about the relationship Bingle said: “The fact that this information came from a freedom of information request shows that it was always available for scrutiny in the public domain. And rightly so. Having been a long-standing friend of Ravi I know it is impossible for anybody to have undue influence over him. Since his earliest days on Wandsworth as a backbench councillor he has always resolutely defended his own viewpoint even if it meant voting against the Conservative group.”

Govinidia said: “It is first and foremost the job of any council leader to press those on all sides to deliver improvements to their borough and improve the lives of their residents. To do the job effectively you need to listen to all voices and make sure that when problems or snags arise that you are on top of them and that you can secure solutions to drive forward and deliver these improvements. I make no apology whatsoever for fulfilling my role as a council leader to deliver more homes, more jobs and more opportunities for our residents.”

He said the Royal Mail development will deliver 318 new affordable homes, a higher number than the developers were originally offering.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/13/home-builders-lobbyist-pushed-council-leader-to-sort-and-speed-planning

Failing academies cannot return to local authority control

Not only can failing academies not be returned to local authority control, they also retain control of the land that the failing schools occupy …. aaah, Owl begins to see a loophole here …

“… parents are asking why, when a school is failed by multi-academy trusts, can it not go back to local authority supervision? Just as with other botched privatisations, schools should have the opportunity to go back to the public sector. This leads us to the biggest part of the scandal – currently there is no mechanism to allow academies to go back to being community schools under the supervision of local authorities. Academisation is irreversible.

One school in Sussex pushed the education secretary, Damian Hinds, for an answer. The Department for Education didn’t give an inch – apparently the government is not considering returning any academies to local authority control because academisation has been a huge success with more children getting a good education as a consequence. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/11/academies-parents-tories-labour

” ‘Culture of impunity’ among MPs over hospitality from corrupt regimes “

“More than £330,000 was spent on flights and accommodation for MPs to visit Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2017, and 12 MPs were paid more than £90,000 to appear on Russian state TV, according to a report by Transparency International UK.

The report focused on parliamentarians who had accepted hospitality from corrupt and repressive governments while providing political access and lobbying.

It said many of the MPs and peers had been given all-expenses-paid trips to such countries paid for by the host government.

The publication of the report follows the suspension of the DUP MP Ian Paisley last week after he admitted he had failed to declare £50,000 of family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Paisley had breached the rules on paid advocacy by writing to David Cameron in 2014 to lobby against a UN resolution on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, after receiving holidays from the country’s government.

Transparency International UK’s report also found that two MPs had provided advisory services to the king of Bahrain over the period the government enforced a brutal crackdown of Arab spring protesters in 2001.

The authors of the report say that not only have some MPs actively supported corrupt and repressive governments, but that there is also a “culture of impunity” regarding such practices.

“The activities of the Azerbaijan lobby in parliament has become so infamous that it is seemingly tolerated as almost an eccentricity,” the report said.

Steve Goodrich, Transparency International UK’s senior researcher officer and one of the authors of the report, said: “This is not the first time that the inappropriate behaviour of foreign regimes in lobbying UK parliamentarians has been exposed. But our report shows that this has become a systemic pattern of behaviour, with many MPs and peers completely ignorant or knowingly dismissive of these problems.

“This type of engagement between parliamentarians and corrupt and repressive regimes can no longer be kicked into the long grass because it’s politically convenient. It is a detriment to the UK’s standing as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law.”

Following the publication of its report, Transparency International UK is calling for an inquiry into the conduct of MPs and peers in legitimising corrupt and repressive governments.

The group recommends that MPs and peers should also be banned from taking trips paid for by foreign states and their lobbyists over £500 in value. Instead, the group suggests that a list of organisations should be agreed in parliament for whom paid trips over this amount are acceptable.

Transparency International UK also recommends that MPs should be prohibited from providing paid or voluntary services to foreign governments and state institutions, and that the register of members’ financial interests should be published as structured open data.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said it was “time to end the discredited practice of our parliamentarians enjoying generous foreign hospitality”.

He said: “International visits can certainly aid informed parliamentary debate, but when these trips are offered by foreign governments they undermine the independence of those MPs accepting them.

“Our politicians are elected to work on our behalf, not the interests of foreign states who increasingly have subversive desires. Global scandals have exposed the activity of foreign states meddling in the affairs of others and we need to shore up our defences against this sort of activity.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/30/transparency-international-uk-hospitality-corrupt-regimes-azerbaijan

Russians give May’s Tories £800,000

“Theresa May could be forced to come clean on the source of Tory cash linked to Russia.

A report on meddling in UK politics by Vladimir Putin’s regime urges the Electoral Commission to devise “more stringent requirements for major donors to demonstrate the source of donations”.

The intervention by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee comes after a Mirror probe revealed the Prime Minister accepted a £50,000 donation from the wife of a former Russian minister – on the day she blamed Moscow for the Skripal poisoning.

In total, Mrs May has let more than £800,000 from Russia-linked sources into Tory coffers while PM.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett said she should hand it all back, adding: “Serious questions must be answered about why she thinks it is appropriate to accept this money after warning about Russian interference in the UK.”

And Lib Dem spokeswoman Christine Jardine said her “refusal” to explain donations “threatens the integrity of our democracy”.

A Tory spokesman said all donations are properly declared and comply with the law.”

http://flip.it/D1jX6R