“Struggling Tory council paid acting boss more than £1,000 a day”

“Tory-controlled Northamptonshire county council, which declared itself effectively bankrupt last month, paid its acting chief executive more than £1,000 a day, it has emerged.

Damon Lawrenson had been interim chief executive at the council since November, having previously acted as temporary finance director at the council since October 2016. Lawrenson left the council this week “by mutual consent”.

Northamptonshire was heavily criticised in a recent government inspector’s report, which identified deep-rooted management and governance failures over the past four years as the prime cause of its financial problems.

The report highlighted what it called the council’s “sloppy” approach to financial management and lack of realism in business planning. It called for a clear-out of the existing leadership in order to restore stability to the council.

A freedom of information (FOI) request by the GMB union revealed that the council paid out £371,000 to DDL Consultancy, owned by Lawrenson, during 2016-17 and 2017-18. His company had earlier been paid a further £540,000 between 2008 and 2011, when he had stints as assistant chief executive and commercial director.

The local government secretary, Sajid Javid, is considering the report’s recommendation that the county be run by a team of Whitehall-appointed commissioners until it can be scrapped, along with seven local district councils, and replaced by two new smaller unitary authorities.

The council, which recently warned that its overstretched adults social care services were “on the verge of being unsafe” issued a section 114 notice in February, signalling that its finances were unsustainable. It banned non-urgent spending, and pushed through £40m of cuts plans, including the closure of 21 out of 36 libraries.

A GMB official, Rachelle Wilkins, said: “For Northamptonshire county council to splurge almost £1m on consultancy while people are losing their jobs and services are being cut is a real kick in the teeth.”

A spokesman for Northamptonshire county council said: “Salaries reflect responsibilities associated with the posts, many of which require highly-qualified, professional staff, while being mindful of the necessity of providing value for money.

“It must be noted that about £560k was incurred in the three years between 2008/09 and 2010/11. Additionally, as a contractor Damon is not eligible for sick pay, holiday pay or pension contributions.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/23/struggling-northamptonshire-county-council-paid-acting-boss-more-than-1000-a-day

Northern Ireland civil service did not take minutes of meetings to avoid Freedom of Information requests!

And Arlene Foster (now DUP Leader x propping up the Tories) now conveniently can’t remember what she said about a shady project …

“The head of Northern Ireland’s civil service has admitted meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.

David Sterling was giving evidence to an inquiry into a botched green energy scheme on Tuesday.

In 2009 he was permanent secretary of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, which implemented the renewable Heat Incentive. It offered financial incentives if firms switched to renewables. But critical flaws meant its claimants could earn substantial returns, far greater than intended.

The issue of minutes was raised in respect to a meeting between senior Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment official Fiona Hepper and then-minister Arlene Foster, about whether to proceed with RHI in the absence of cost controls introduced in Great Britain.

Ms Hepper has told the inquiry she clearly flagged a warning from Ofgem about the risk of going ahead and introducing the controls later. Mrs Foster has said she has “no recollection” of the conversation.

Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.

Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have it all recorded”. He said the DUP and Sinn Féin were sensitive to criticism and in that context, senior civil servants had “got into the habit” of not recording all meetings. He said this was done on the basis that it was sometimes “safer” not to have a record which might be released under Freedom of Information.

But he agreed with the inquiry panel that when it came to ministerial decisions on matters of public money it should be recorded.

Mr Sterling also said he only got involved in projects day-to-day if three potential trigger points were reached.
These included a request from staff or his minister to take a closer interest, or if he considered it necessary himself.
He said none of those triggers had been reached in respect of the RHI scheme.

Inquiry counsel David Scoffield QC said the public might be surprised to learn that a complex scheme that involved a large amount of public money was one in which the permanent secretary of the department seemed to have had “limited involvement” and this was not considered unusual.

Mr Sterling said he could understand why the public or commentators “might think it strange”. …”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-43384189

Who will be working where with the new EDDC HQ

Freedom of Information request 19 February 2018. EDDC seems to be increasing staff during austerity.

“Total number of employees working for EDDC
513 – data as at 28 February 2018.

How many currently working remotely or ‘on the move’ are:

A) based in Exmouth Town Hall -79
B) based in Sidmouth – 280
154 are based elsewhere across the district including THG, Manor Pavilion, Cranbrook, StreetScene depots, parks and gardens, Lymebourne House, Business Centre, Camperdown or may be mobile touching down at both ETH and Knowle.

How will this situation change once the new office opens in Honiton (number):

It remains to be seen exactly but I would expect the majority of the 280 to relocate to Honiton but I will be consulting with all individuals and where there are people who potentially live in Exmouth who can work more sensibly from Exmouth we may make adjustments.”

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/freedom-of-information/freedom-of-information-published-requests/

“Fears of cover-up as government departments wipe staff mail boxes”

One imagines this is replicated at all levels …

“A Sunday Telegraph investigation found that the vast majority of departments are automatically deleting staff mail boxes within three months of their departure – prompting concern that the system is a recipe for cover-ups.

… A former government adviser on freedom of information said “It is hard to resist the thought that there is a happy coincidence between the approach to record management and getting rid of material that may contain unwanted answers about how particular decisions were reached – answers a department may prefer were unavailable if an FOI came in …”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

““CAMPAIGNERS REVEAL CASH-STRAPPED KENT NHS TRUST PAID MILLIONS TO A PRIVATE COMPANY TO FIND SAVINGS”

Dame Ruth Carnell is also leading Devon’s STP after her appointment os chief of the “Success Regime” on which her consultanct company worked prior to her appointment.

PRESS RELEAE:

“Two local Kent campaigners claim they had to mount a year-long investigation, involving numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a meeting with top NHS executives, in order to confirm that a small private consultancy firm had been paid over £6 million of local NHS funds to find cuts and “efficiency savings” in Kent.

Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer say they became concerned when they saw Dame Ruth Carnall, a former NHS executive who heads the private consultancy, Carnall Farrar, had been made Independent Chair of the Programme Board of the local Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) – one of 44 regional bodies put in place by NHS England to implement cuts and “savings” within the NHS.(1)

Author and campaigner, Julie Wassmer says “I raised concerns with former Canterbury MP, Julian Brazier, at a public (CHEK) meeting last March, questioning how Dame Ruth could possibly claim ‘independence’ when her own company was set to profit from the contract. At the same time, I was aware that my colleague, Diane Langford, had already been coming up against a wall of obfuscation in trying to discover how much that contract was worth and who was actually making the payments.”

Ms Langford, a writer and former Hansard transcriber says: “I actually submitted my first Freedom of Information request in December 2016, then dozens more to all eight Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway as well as to Kent County Council (KCC) and NHS England in order to try to establish who was paying Carnall Farrar. As each respondent has up to 20 days to reply, it was an extremely time-consuming process and all the bodies denied having paid the firm though KCC had disclosed that the money came from ‘the NHS.’”

A complaint to the FOI Ombudsman against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was triggered when no reply was received within 20 days.

Eventually the campaigners found that millions of NHS money had been paid to Carnall Farrar by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, of which Glenn Douglas was then CEO. Wassmer then obtained a meeting last month, at which the campaigners discussed with Douglas (now – CEO of the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership) and Michael Ridgwell (its Programme Director) the huge sums that had been paid to Carnall Farrar and why they were not appearing on the Trust’s usual spending records for payments of £25k and over.

“Ironically,’ says Wassmer, “this was on 7th December, just before the local NHS was about to implode with the pressure of Christmas and New Year emergencies. Michael Ridgwell was unable to produce an exact figure of how much had been paid to Carnall Farrar, but suggested the sum of £2.2M. I then explained that with the help of research organisation, Spinwatch,(2) we had actually confirmed that a figure of £6,051,199 had been paid to September 2017 (3) – though only just over half of it had been logged in the Trust’s spending records, with no record of any significant spending on Carnall Farrar before June 2017 – and no trace of the remaining millions. At the meeting Glenn Douglas explained to us that as the STP is not an “organisation” it is not obliged to publish its payments, but Michael Ridgwell then agreed to publish the full expenditure on the Trust’s website and has since done so. These records show that Carnall Farrar has been paid well over half a million pounds a month since September last year, although it’s not known whether this money is on top of the £6m it has already charged the local NHS.“

The campaigners insist it is crucial to challenge the lack of clarity, transparency, and accountability surrounding such huge payments. Even more so as the government now seeks to introduce new bodies – Accountable Care Organisations – that could see billions of pounds of the NHS budget handed to commercial companies.

“This is public money,” says Wassmer, “NHS funds being diverted away from services and into the pockets of private consultancies. We know that over £6 million, and possibly more, has been paid from the local NHS budget to this one consultancy for barely 18 months’ work on the local STP. How much more is going to management consultants across the whole of the UK? It’s almost impossible to hold the system to account and I fear it will only be worse with the impending introduction of so-called Accountable Care Organisations (4). Paying millions to private companies, like Carnall Farrar to find damaging cuts within an underfunded service is not only senseless – it’s immoral.”

Diane Langford agrees: “This lack of transparency conceals not only the sums involved, but the role consultancies like Carnall Farrar play in axing services. At our meeting on 7th December, we mentioned that Dame Ruth Carnall had appeared in a 2011 list compiled by the Sunday Telegraph of the highest paid NHS “fat cats” – earning an annual salary of over £200,000 at that time.(5) Glenn Douglas was on the same list, and while he admitted he was still earning in excess of £200,000 a year, the point is that as an NHS member of staff he can be held duly accountable for his work, in a way that private companies like Carnall Farrar cannot.”

Dr Coral Jones, GP, vice -chair of Doctors in Unite and member of Keep our NHS Public commented: “As the campaigners Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer have uncovered, over £6 million has been paid to a single consultancy company run by a former director of NHS London to tell the Kent and Medway CCGs how to cut services. Downgrading of services at QEQM hospital in Margate, as proposed by Carnall Farrar, will put lives at risk. Patients in Thanet and all those in East Kent living miles away from Ashford will be at risk of death, or avoidable disability, after a review of Kent and Medway urgent stroke services plans to concentrate hospital treatment for strokes in three sites across Kent and Medway. There is no discussion of alternatives apart from the concentration of services in three hospitals, and none on how to avoid the poor outcomes for patients when treatment is delayed due to travel times. The use of management consultancy companies is widespread in the NHS. Their reports, costing many millions of pounds, all follow the same formula of cuts, re-configurations and concentration of services. On Saturday 27th January at 10.30 am there will be a community conference (6) at Queens Rd, Baptist Church, Broadstairs CT10 1NU to oppose downgrading of local NHS services and I urge everyone concerned about the NHS in Kent & Medway to come along.” ENDS

Source: http://www.spinwatch.org

CEO and Head of Audit suspended after irregularities in voting at General Election

Here in East Devon there were numerous mistakes made by our election officers but, so far, they have avoided examination or censure.

Nothing will change till electoral officers have to legally submit budgets of exactly how much money they spent (or did not spend), how much extra they were paid to do the job (average £10-20,000 per election, some got much more) AND they come under the Freedom of Information spotlight (they are currently exempted).

“Almost 1,500 voters were unable to take part in a general election contest which was won by just 30 votes, an independent inquiry has concluded.

Two senior officials in Newcastle-under-Lyme were suspended today following damning investigation into the June 8 election.

Newcastle Borough Council chief executive John Sellgren and Elizabeth Dodd, head of audit and elections, have been criticised for a number of issues by the Association of Electoral Administrators.

It found 500 postal voters were disenfranchised, nearly 1,000 potential electors were not included on the voting register and two people were able to vote who were not eligible to.

Labour’s Paul Farrelly held off a charge from Tory Owen Meredith to hold Newcastle-under-Lyme with a reduced majority.

The election cannot be re-run because complaints about the running of a poll must be made within 21 days.

But the probe concluded the result could have been different if the wrongly excluded voters had been allowed to take part.

The investigators it was ‘impossible not to question the result’ and detailed a ‘complex picture of administrative mistakes around registration and postal voting processes’.

There was an ‘inadequate performance by inexperienced and under-resourced elections office staff’, the report found.

Mr Farrelly described the election arrangements as a ‘shambles’ in the aftermath of the poll.

Mr Meredith said today: ‘It is vital lessons are learnt from this experience and that the recommendations of the report are implemented in full.
‘Urgent action must be taken by Newcastle Borough Council to ensure the credibility of upcoming council by-elections in December and the all-out elections in May.

‘Voters will be rightly horrified by the details of the report’s findings and trust in the democratic process in Newcastle-under-Lyme has been badly undermined. Urgent action is needed to restore that trust.

‘Voters have been truly let down by the Council officers and leadership and those involved must consider their positions.’

Council leader Elizabeth Shenton, said: ‘I sincerely apologise on behalf of the council for that situation but we can’t turn the clock back and right any wrong that occurred at that time.’

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: ‘Good planning and open communication are vital to ensure voters can receive the quality of service they deserve.

‘Both our guidance and this independent report recognise these factors.
‘We will now consider this report’s findings as part of our assessment of how Returning Officers performed at June’s election.

‘The Commission will continue to support and challenge the performance of the electoral services department at Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council to ensure forthcoming elections are well-run.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5125083/1-500-people-STOPPED-taking-election.html

“Ombudsman criticises city council for inappropriate use of confidentiality notices”

“The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised City of York Council for excessive secrecy in dealing with complaints.

In his annual performance letter to the council Michael King, the LGO for England, said York had been criticised last year about “inappropriate use of section 32(3) confidentiality notices” and this shortcoming had been repeated.

The notices are used where a council provides information on cases but says this should be confidential to the ombudsman.

“Last year we stressed that serving such notices should only be done exceptionally to avoid giving the appearance of a lack of transparency by the council,” King wrote.

“It is, therefore, very disappointing to see this practice has continued this year. Your council has issued two section 32(3) confidentiality notices that we considered were not appropriate but the council, when asked, did not comment on why they had done so.”

He said York should “address this issue as a matter of urgency as it affects our ability to properly investigate complaints against it.”.

York’s chief executive Mary Weastell said: “We are committed to being an open, honest and transparent council and would never attempt to address complaints in any other way.

“I was very disappointed to receive this letter without any prior contact from the ombudsman or an explanation as to what the complaints related to.
“Despite asking, we still haven’t been given any further information.”
A meeting is due between the council and Mr King.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php

Do we have ANY statistics on votes at elections? Seems unlikely

It would appear that someone or some agency appears to ask for this information regularly – wonder how many local authorities register the replies that EDDC registers?

“Verification statements for the 2017 general election count

Date submitted: 19 July 2017

Summary of request

1. For each of your constituencies, a copy of your full verification statements for the 2017 general election count, including

(i) for each polling district separately, (a) the number of electors; and (b) the verified number of ballots
(ii) for postal votes,
(a) total postal ballots issued; and
(b) total postal ballots received

2. The same information as in 1), but for the 2015 general election

3. The same information as in 1), but for the 2016 EU referendum
(Note: Some of you sent us this information for the 2016 referendum in response to our survey last year seeking other referendum voting details; if you are one of the authorities who already sent us this, there is no need to send it again, please simply confirm this has already been sent).

4. Please also let us know if the boundaries of any polling districts have changed between the 2015 general election and the 2017 general election. If so, please indicate which polling districts were affected and when the change took effect

Summary of response

1. For each of your constituencies, a copy of your full verification statements for the 2017 general election count, including

(i) for each polling district separately,
(a) the number of electors; and
(b) the verified number of ballots –
This information is not recorded

(ii) for postal votes,
(a) total postal ballots issued; and
(b) total postal ballots received –
This information is not recorded

2. The same information as in 1), but for the 2015 general election –
This information is not recorded

3. The same information as in 1), but for the 2016 EU referendum –
This information is not recorded

(Note: Some of you sent us this information for the 2016 referendum in response to our survey last year seeking other referendum voting details; if you are one of the authorities who already sent us this, there is no need to send it again, please simply confirm this has already been sent).

4. Please also let us know if the boundaries of any polling districts have changed between the 2015 general election and the 2017 general election. If so, please indicate which polling districts were affected and when the change took effect –
This information is not recorded.

Date responded: 27 July 2017″

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/access-to-information/freedom-of-information/freedom-of-information-published-requests/

Electoral Officers might – one day in the distant future – be fully accountable

The Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill is slowly (very, very slowly) wending its way through parliament and, as the title suggests, hopes to extend the reach of the FOI Act. The Statement of Purpose (in full here) sums up the aims:

‘The Freedom of Information (Extension) Bill will seek to make housing associations, local safeguarding children boards, Electoral Registration Officers, Returning Officers and the Housing Ombudsman public authorities for the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, whilst making information held by persons contracting with public authorities subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000…’

See:
http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/freedomofinformationextension.html

for the very, very, very slow timetable.

Our Election omnishambles – and the Returning Officer’s pay

In addition to the omnishambles about postal vote mistakes (twice) we should not forget this, too:

East Devon’s returning officer has defended the delays at the count for the General Election in Sidmouth.

In a statement given to the press Mark Williams said: “This the first time since 1979 that we have had three elections in one night. The reasons why the government stopped this was that in rural areas like East Devon means the sheer volume of ballot papers that are prepared for counting causes a huge volume of work.”

Earlier Mr Williams said his team was ready and said the count would conclude at 2.30am. …

http://www.devonlive.com/election-2015-east-devon-returning-officer/story-26463810-detail/story.html

Question: How come other rural areas didn’t have this problem?

AND remember Mr Williams is paid EXTRA for his election duties. Wonder how much extra and whether cock-ups mean a pay cut? We will never know, because the job is not covered by the Freedom off Information Act and EDDC refuses to tell us. AND the Returning Officer has a big budget but because of that Freedom of Information block, we are not allowed to know what it is and, crucially, what happens to any underspend.

However, we do know that the Sheffield returning officer refused his fee of £20,000 in 2015 and here is a list of what other election staff are paid:

“Fees

Election officials’ fees vary widely from constituency to constituency but might typically be:
Presiding officer: £250-£300;
Poll clerk: £115-£190;
Postal vote issuer: £8 per hour;
Postal vote opener: £9 per hour;
Count supervisor: £150 night shift;
Counting assistant: £12.50 per hour (plus £10 training fee).”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/general-election-2015-explained-who-registers-the-parties-who-counts-your-vote-and-how-much-do-they-10171387.html