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

“Revealed: Tory donors who paid £7m to socialise with Theresa May”

Owl says: hedge funds expect to make squillions from Brexit.k

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, Brexit backers and wife of Putin minister among benefactor

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, a string of Brexit backers and the wife of a former senior minister to President Putin are among the Conservative donors who have paid more than £7m to socialise with Theresa May since the general election.

Eighty-one party benefactors have paid a total of £7.4m to the Conservative party for access to the prime minister at dinners, post-prime minister’s questions’ lunches and drinks receptions since July 2017, records show.

Party insiders say the large amount raised over just nine months from a single revenue stream is evidence that the Tories are aiming to be “election ready” for the autumn.

At least 10 of the donors, who joined the Leader’s Group for £50,000 a head, are supporters of a hard Brexit.

Dominic Johnson, who attended two of the group’s events in 2017, is the co-founder of Somerset Capital Management – an investment firm set up with Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiter and the chairman of the European Research Group [ERG].

Somerset was recently reported to be warning its clients about “considerable uncertainty” as a result of Brexit, and set up a fund in Ireland, which benefits from EU financial passporting rights.

Sir Michael Hintze, the hedge fund billionaire who gave £100,000 to Vote Leave, is a familiar figure in Conservative circles and attended at least one dinner in 2017 with the prime minister, sources said.

Hardy McLain, a retired US hedge fund manager living in London, attended events in 2017 and 2018. He previously donated £20,000 to the Vote Leave campaign.

It is the first time since July 2017 that any details of dinner guests of May’s Leader’s Group have emerged. Their identities have been quietly released by the Conservatives this week.

Receiving campaign donations is a routine activity for politicians. But each gift carries with it a potential conflict of interest if the prime minister’s policies appear to benefit those who made the donations.

Edmund Truell, who attended dinners in 2017 and 2018, owns a Swiss-listed private equity business called Disruptive Capital, whose mission statement is to “exploit market uncertainty” to generate returns.

Only two women are among the Leader’s Group donors disclosed in the documents.

Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband, Vladimir, was the deputy finance minister of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was given access to the prime minister between last July and September. She has given £626,500 to the Tories since 2012, including £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and £30,000 to dine with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Alisa Swidler, a US philanthropist and friend of Bill Clinton who has given £336,686 to the party, also attended an event with May.

The party’s chief executive, the mining tycoon Sir Mick Davis, told a meeting of donors in September that the party needed to raise an additional £6m through the parliamentary cycle if it was to win the next general election.

The party spent £18.5m on last year’s election, when the Conservatives lost their working majority, compared with £11m by Labour. Sources told the Guardian the Tories are aiming for a 40% annual increase in the party’s budget – money that will be spent on up to 100 local campaign co-ordinators.

Records show that Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party treasurer who gave millions to the party under William Hague’s leadership but stopped donating during Cameron’s premiership, appears to be back in the fold and is a member of May’s leader’s Group. He was joined by the former government adviser and investor in payday loans, Adrian Beecroft.

May appears to bring cabinet members to each event. She was joined by Amber Rudd and the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, at events between the election and the end of September; the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, accompanied her to Leader’s Group meetings in the autumn; between January and April this year, May was joined by Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and four other cabinet ministers.

The Conservatives had not updated details of donors who attended events since July 2017. Cameron pledged to release donors’ data following an outcry over the Leader’s Group dinners and whether they were allowing the rich and powerful to buy access to the cabinet.

The documents were spotted this week by campaigners for a second referendum on membership of the EU. Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “People will rightly be angry to see the government listen to Brexit donors in return for donations to the Tory party while denying the British public a vote on their deal.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/20/revealed-tory-donors-who-paid-7m-to-socialise-with-theresa-may

“New MP’s EXPENSES SCANDAL: MP’s fiddling the books will be allowed anonymity”

“MPs who are accused of cheating on their expenses will be able to remain anonymous under rules it has emerged, just after a record ban was handed to Ian Paisley after he went holidays funded by Sri Lankan Government.

The Government has been accused of trying to push through the change under the radar.

It would hide the names of all MPs under investigation and the Government has been accused of “protecting the sensitiveness of politicians”.

Since the expenses scandal in 2008, all MPs under inquiry are automatically published on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The new system would mean the process would be anonymous.

Further, the commissioner would not be required anymore to automatically publish the verdicts.

However, the Commissioner could decide to make decisions and complaints public if it is deemed to be in the public interest.

Ian Paisley was handed a record 30-day suspension from the House of Commons after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph he went on two family holidays funded by the Sri Lankan government.

If the new change was already implemented the public may not have found out about the case of Mr Paisley.

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the Commons, published the results as she is also head of a cross-party group set up last year after the sexual harassment scandal.

The Committee on Standards, that analyses complaints made against MPs, has said it does not agree with the decision and opposes it.

It aims to table an amendment to block the changes before a vote by members.

The Committee said: “Any decision to step back from this will be perceived as conducting investigations in secret and a radical departure from a commitment to openness and transparency.

“It is important to publish at least a summary of each case she has concluded so that it can be shown that justice has been done and that MPs are accountable.”

Kevin Barron, the chair of the Standards Committee, said: “It would be a huge step backwards in terms of transparency to block the publication of all disciplinary cases, including cases outside of the new code for things, such as incorrect use of stationery or abuse of their expenses.”

The commissioner’s inquiries this year have included Jeremy Hunt and Craig Mackinlay.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it would “seriously undermine our democratic system”.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/991074/MPs-anonymous-expenses-new-plans

“UK democracy under threat and reform is urgent, says electoral regulator”

“The Electoral Commission has called for urgent reforms to electoral law after a series of online political campaign scandals, acknowledging concerns that British democracy “may be under threat”.

Following a series of revelations involving the likes of Cambridge Analytica, the elections regulator has asked Westminster and the devolved governments to change the law in order to combat misinformation, misuse of personal data and overseas interference in elections.

Among other recommendations, the Electoral Commission has called for:

A change in the law to require all digital political campaign material to state who paid for it, bringing online adverts in line with physical leaflets and adverts.

New legislation to make it clear that spending in UK elections and referendums by foreign organisations and individuals is not allowed.
An increase in the maximum fine, currently £20,000 per offence, that the Electoral Commission can impose on organisations and individuals who break the rules.

Tougher requirements for political campaigns to declare their spending soon after or during a campaign, rather than months later.

A requirement for all campaigners to provide more detailed paperwork on how they spent money online.

The intervention follows years of debate about the largely unregulated world of online political campaigning in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“Urgent action must be taken by the UK’s governments to ensure that the tools used to regulate political campaigning online continue to be fit for purpose in a digital age,” said Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission.

“Implementing our package of recommendations will significantly increase transparency about who is seeking to influence voters online, and the money spent on this at UK elections and referendums.”

His organisation also backed proposals to publish a database of political advertisements that will enable the public “to see what adverts a campaigner has taken out and how much they paid”. Facebook is already due to launch such a facility for UK political adverts within the coming months.

The regulator, alluding to foreign governments such as Russia, also raised concerns that there is currently no explicit ban on overseas organisations buying online political ads aimed at a British audience. …

… A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to increasing transparency in digital campaigning in order to maintain a fair and proportionate democratic process, and we will be consulting on proposals for new imprint requirements on electronic campaigning in due course.”

The Electoral Commission has also asked for the power to investigate individual political candidates if they have broken constituency spending limits in general elections. At the moment only the police can investigate such allegations, resulting in the long-running investigation into Tory candidates’ spending on battle buses, which was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to insufficient evidence.

Other proposals include pushing political parties to count online advertising targeted at local constituencies within individual candidate spending limits – which can be as low as £10,000 – rather than as part of national campaigns which are allowed to spend up to £19.5m. During the 2017 general election the Conservatives were able to target Facebook ads regarding local issues at individuals in specific constituencies and count it as national spending – just so long as they didn’t mention the name of the local Tory candidate.

Both Labour and the Conservatives spent substantial sums of money on online promotions during the last general election, with digital spending accounting for more than 40% of all advertising spending by political parties in 2017. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/26/uk-democracy-under-threat-and-reform-is-urgent-says-electoral-regulator

Have Cranbrook’s roads been adopted yet? Hope so, because, if not …

It’s not just Cranbrook – this could happen in any new development anywhere.

But it WAS a problem in Cranbrook in March this year:
https://www.cranbrooktowncouncil.gov.uk/concerned-about-our-roads/

The undated letters addressed to “The Occupier”, were pushed through doors along a cul-de-sac in Aldershot, Hampshire, on a Thursday in November. Those who bothered to open what looked like junk mail discovered that part of the road had been sold to a private company and they would have to buy a £2.50-a-week permit to leave their cars outside their homes where free parking had been available for 50 years. They also had to pay a £75 deposit or face a £60 further charge. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/may/28/parking-enforcement-private-law-fines-penalties-appeal

Public perceptions of Carillion collapse

” The parliamentary select committee report pulls no punches in blaming the greed of the Carillion executives, who gouged out millions from the business up to the moment of collapse, with £1.5bn owed to creditors and £0.5bn to the pension fund (Carillion fall blamed on hubris and greed, 16 May). The wider issue, for all financial institutions, is the greed of the “big four” auditors, paid £72m, who colluded with the directors, gave no warnings and signed clean certificates. Surely the executives and auditors should pay all the creditors in full. At what point does the “cosy relationship” become a criminal fraudulent conspiracy? As Polly Toynbee argues, the people want their money back from the fat cats, not slippery apologies. Are the supine regulators part of the conspiracy or will they bring charges?
Noel Hodson
Tax Reconciliations, Oxford

• We in the west criticise Putin’s Russia as a “kleptocracy”, but the damning report into the collapse of Carillion shows that something similar exists in too many of the boardrooms of British companies. Time and again we read reports of chief executives and their boardroom cronies, to quote Frank Field, “stuffing their mouths with gold”, while their companies go to rack and ruin with thousands thrown out of work and pension schemes impoverished. There is a word for people who appropriate other people’s money: “thief”. If boardroom larcenists can steer clear of the law and go unpunished, it is surely time that the law was changed.
Ron Mitchell
Coventry

• A simple solution is to ban the auditors of all public companies from undertaking any consultancy or other non-audit work. We need specialist audit firms and totally separate consultancy organisations so that audit opinions are not influenced by potential consultancy fees.
Jim Michie
Chester

The government’s culpability and responsibility for the collapse of Carillion and its consequences is broader and deeper than your article and the select committee’s report suggest: the government’s insistence that its estate be constructed and managed through prime contract procurement strategies increases the risk of prime contractor default and its disastrous consequences, as well as increasing the cost of everything it purchases. There was a time when local builders or suppliers would deal direct with their local government client: now we must go through a pyramid of consultancies, all adding 20% and “retaining” 10%.
Michael Heaton
Warminster, Wiltshire

• If a benefits claimant makes a fraudulent claim they may end up in court for their abuse of public funds. When I read about the way in which public money has been handled by Carillion, I find myself wondering when we can expect the court appearances of the directors and their accountants.
Stephen Decker
Chelmsford, Essex”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/carillion-and-britains-modern-kleptocracy

What a surprise! “Outsourced public services ‘still not adopting ethical standards’ “

“Little significant progress has been made on reinforcing ethical standards in outsourced public services, a Lords committee has cautioned.

It also suggested a consultation be set up looking at whether the Freedom of Information Act should apply to private sector providers working on public sector contracts, the Lords committee on standards in public life also said in report out yesterday.

Chair Lord Bew noted “very little progress” had been made on implementing the recommendations of the committee’s 2014 report, aimed at enhancing the ethical standards of contractors commissioned by the public sector.

“Disappointingly, very little progress has been made on implementing these recommendations and evidence shows that most service providers need to do more to demonstrate best practice in ethical standards,” Bew said.

He called for services providers to “recognise that the Nolan Principles apply to them, for moral courage among key financial and other professionals in securing and maintaining high ethical standards”.

The Nolan Principles were drawn up in 1995 and are seven ethical standards people in public office are expected to uphold: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Bew added: “Some [service providers] remain dismissive of the Nolan Principles or adopt a ‘pick and mix’ approach which is not in the public interest.”

The committee noted one-third of government spending is on external providers and that “the public is clear that they expect common ethical standards”. But some providers were not applying these public sector ethical standards in their work, the Lords concluded.

Bew said the committee called for a “consultation on the extension of the application of the Freedom of Information Act to private sector providers where information relates to the performance of a contract with government for the delivery of public services”.

The committee recommended that service providers should acknowledge the Nolan Principles applied to them.

Bew also said: “The committee remains of the view that more must be done to encourage strong and robust cultures of ethical behaviour in those delivering public services.”

The CSPL report suggested commissioners of services should include a ‘statement of intent’ in addition to contracts to set out the ethical behaviours expected by the government.

In the light of the collapse of Carillion, the committee suggested it is “essential” that ethical standards are reinforced for those delivering services with public money.

The report released yesterday is one in a series being done by the committee on ethical standards of providers of public services.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/05/outsourced-public-services-still-not-adopting-ethical-standards

The new sleazy politics: “shadow lobbying”

A new one to add to cash for questions, conflicts of interest, payments in kind and direct lobbying:

“The disclosure that Donald Trump’s legal fixer Michael Cohen was quietly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise corporations highlights the inability of US laws to prevent secretive “shadow lobbying”, analysts said.

Companies such as the telecoms giant AT&T and Novartis, a major pharmaceuticals firm, confirmed they paid Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, large sums last year in return for what they describe as guidance on navigating the new administration. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/10/payments-to-michael-cohen-show-how-shadow-lobbying-eludes-us-law