“DWP forced to admit more than 111,000 benefit deaths”

“The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to release updated Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) mortality statistics, in response to a Freedom of Information request from disability campaigner Gail Ward.

The shocking statistics reveal that 111,450 ESA claims were closed following the death of claimants between March 2014 to February 2017.

However, the DWP stress that “no causal effect between the benefit and the number of people who died should be assumed from these figures”.

This is because the Department “does not hold information on the reason for death”, meaning they cannot be directly linked to any benefit problems faced by those claimants or whether some of these people had died after wrongly being found “fit for work”.

The DWP has since been urged to update these statistics to include individuals who flowed off ESA after being found “fit for work” and who died soon after this time.

The data also shows that more than 8,000 Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disability Allowance claimants died over the same period.

Gail Ward told Welfare Weekly: “The fact the DWP know that disabled people are dying in such large numbers and refuse to adjust policy to reduce the stress on claimants and make sure the right outcome is 100% all the time, and with Universal Credit coming with such strict criteria, doesn’t bode well for the future for the disabled community”.


“Chief exec suspended over election failures leaves council by mutual consent”

Amongst other things, our CEO “misplaced” 6,000 voters by using inadequate means of registering them and had to explain himself (not terribly well in Owl’s opinion) to a Parliamentary committee:


“A chief executive who was suspended over failures in the running of the 2017 general election process has left by mutual consent.

John Sellgren was suspended from his post at Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council in November 2017 after a review by Andrew Scallon, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, which found that more than 500 postal voters were disenfranchised, and close to 1,000 potential electors not included on the register.

A statement from the council on Sellgren’s departure said: “We would like to place on record our thanks for John’s efforts during his seven years with us. The council recently had its first all-out elections and the new administration has an ambitious manifesto and many significant projects to deliver in the years ahead.

“With this in mind the authority will now consider what management leadership arrangements to put in place to support this programme.”

Sellgren said: “I have enjoyed my time at Newcastle and send my best wishes to the dedicated team of staff and partners with whom it has been a pleasure to have worked.”

The council said it wanted to point out that there had been no additional payments made to Mr Sellgren.

Labour’s Paul Farrelly held the Newcastle-under-Lyme seat by 30 votes with 21,124 to his Conservative rival’s 21,094.

The Scallon report was commissioned shortly after the election when claims were made that some students at Keele University and postal voters were unable to vote despite following the correct procedures.
Some said they were turned away from polling stations despite having polling cards with them, and others who said they had registered to vote by the deadline were turned away for not having provided extra information required.

Scallon’s report said: “Human error and judgement and a lack of knowledge were responsible for the things that went wrong and led to the disenfranchisement of a significant number of people, raising questions about the mandate of the candidate declared elected as Newcastle-under-Lyme’s member of Parliament.”

He noted inadequate performance by Mr Sellgren (as acting returning officer/electoral registration officer) and consultants, worsened by a lack of experience among elections office staff and over-reliance on a software system, which was not properly managed.”


So many problems worrying the Electoral Reform Society …

Why it’s time to shine a light on ‘dark ads’ online:

In these divided times, a new consensus is emerging around our broken election laws:

Our democracy faces many threats – but the government has picked the wrong priority:

Campaign regulation is needed now before all trust is gone:

Evo-North: 11 business-led Local Enterprise Partnerships unite to hijack funding formerly controlled by local authorities

Coming soon to a group of Local Enterprise Partnerships on your doorstep.

On 9 July 2018 it was announced that 11 Northern Local Enterprise Partnerships would join together as “Evo-North”:

“Christine Gaskell, chair of the Cheshire and Warrington LEP and vice-chair of NP11, said: “To translate the Northern Powerhouse concept into increasing impact requires new types of conversations across the region and at the heart of this collaboration are common goals which transcend local interests.”

Gaskell noted that the The NP11 will serve as a “strong coherent regional voice” with national government about the potential of an innovation-led economy for the North.”


Now we see the full take-over of former local authority funding by this new business-led UNELECTED group as a press release publicising one of its forthcoming events makes clear:

“Following last month’s announcement from Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry that 11 LEPs will form the government-funded body ‘NP11’ to act as a modern-day ‘Council for the North’, last week, a cross-party group of MPs called for £100bn investment to transform the north of England’s transport by 2050 and for the date of Northern Powerhouse Rail to be brought forward to 2032.

This makes EvoNorth the perfect opportunity to put your products and services in front of the budget-holders who are actively seeking them. You get the opportunity to ask questions and network with the people responsible for delivering the Northern Powerhouse by attending this exclusive event. You can benefit from branding and exhibition opportunities by contacting the events team on 0161 833 6320, and you can also submit an enquiry or click here to contact us by email.

EvoNorth is an important event and platform where the Northern Powerhouse is discussed and debated across a wide range of topics including skills, employment & apprenticeships; digital revolution and innovation; health and social care; wellbeing & fulfilment; and infrastructure, business and inward investment.

It stands out from the crowd with its immersive series of lively and engaging Q&As, roundtable discussions, workshops and exhibitions. You can be a part of this exciting opportunity by attending, exhibiting or sponsoring: just contact the events team on 0161 833 6320, submit an enquiry or click here to contact us by email.”


So, very, very soon our district, our county and our region will almost certainly be in the grip of these unelected business people who have already shown their conflicts of interest countless times.

And we can do nothing to stop them …. unless the Conservative government which has enthusiastically x nay zealously – driven this initiative is removed from power.

“These [Tory] councils smashed themselves to bits. Who will pick up the pieces?”

“The people running an arm of the British state confessed last week that they can no longer do their job. That is not how the collapse of Northamptonshire county council has been presented, but it is what’s happened. From now on it will provide only the legal minimum of services. From children in care to bin collection, all are in line for “radical reductions”. Normal service will not be resumed for years, if ever.

Nor is Northants alone. East Sussex says it will follow suit. Soon will come a third. Then a fourth. Make no mistake, this is a hinge point in British politics.

The obituaries for local government are already being written, and come in two flavours. For ministers, the calamity is local bungling; critics snort that town halls have been pulverised by the cuts imposed by David Cameron and Theresa May. Neither argument is wholly inaccurate, yet both miss the truth. What is happening in Corby and other well-to-do authorities is the collapse of an entire ideology.

Call it pulverism, the idea that councils should use financial crises not merely to make savings but to smash up and reshape the public sector. Tried out here and there for decades, in the past few years pulverism has gone nationwide. Aiding and abetting and cheering it on have been the biggest beasts in Conservatism. Under this regime, financial mismanagement isn’t opposed to austerity – but feeds upon it, as local officials hand over taxpayer cash to “project managers” on eye-watering day rates and any passing huckster in pinstripes. It leads to town halls being looted by multinationals for millions, even while adults with learning disabilities are turfed out of their homes to save pennies. If this sounds familiar that’s because what is playing out in local government is an extreme version of the story still unfolding in Whitehall. And one of the best places to see it is on the northern outskirts of the capital.

The London borough of Barnet is the alpha and omega of pulverism. It was a role model for Northamptonshire, and the two are eerily similar. Both true blue Tory; both preaching the need for sound finances while raiding their contingency funds and refusing to raise council taxes; both happy to chuck millions at consultants and build themselves swanky headquarters. And, crucially, both adamant that their council’s future lies in smashing itself up and handing out the shards to big companies to provide the bulk of public services.

Budget crisis takes Northamptonshire council into uncharted territory
Barnet’s plan was to slash direct employees from 3,200 to just 332, while Northamptonshire wanted to outsource 95% of its staff. It was cartoonish, it was reckless, it was grotesque. Most of all, it was meant to serve as an example to the rest of the country of how the right can mobilise austerity for its own brutish ends. Northamptonshire is now a front-page scandal, but Barnet is one to watch. I’ve been writing about it on these pages almost since the start of the great contracting out. Largely unnoticed by the newspapers, this summer the council confessed that it faces a giant financial black hole – precisely the fate that their masterplan was meant to safeguard against. The council will now have to cut services even more drastically. To heap on the humiliation, it must also rip up its outsourcing strategy.

Barnet’s Tories raced down this road even before the 2008 financial crash, eventually unveiling the “easyCouncil” model. Just as Cameron’s big alibi was that wretched note from Labour’s Liam Byrne, saying “there’s no money left”, so Barnet brandished a “graph of doom” showing its budgetary crunch. Bringing in the private sector – in particular the FTSE giant Capita, which snared two vast 10-year contracts worth about £500m – was meant to be the fix. It would ensure better public services for less money.

Wrong on both counts. Under outsourcing, basic bits of local administration are now a bad joke. Barnet’s pensions are in such a state that last year the regulator fined Capita for not filing essential information on time. Roads, also managed by Capita, are so potholed that they became a big issue in the May elections. Recently a Capita employee working for Barnet was jailed for 62 instances of fraud worth a total of £2m. He had violated financial controls for well over a year, yet the council admitted to me that the crimes were spotted neither by it nor by Capita, but by the employee’s own bank.

All of this is costing not less money, but more. Just how much more not even the council’s leaders are clear. The Tories went into the May elections boasting of the borough’s financial stability; the next month they confessed to a black hole of £62m by the middle of next decade. To stave off ruin, the axe will be wielded again.

Both Barnet and Capita claim that outsourcing has delivered “significant financial savings”. That is doubtless true on the core work contracted out – but outsourcing companies always make their money by charging for extras. Resident and blogger John Dix reviews the invoices submitted by Capita under the outsourcing contracts (256 for the last financial year alone) and can tell you what those extras typically include. A parent phoning the library to check if a Harry Potter is in stock? Capita used to charge £8 a call. Training for senior officers? Capita pockets £1,200 for just one session.

Just as I and others warned at the outset, having handed over so much to Capita, councillors have effectively lost control of their own council. Last month the council admitted to “significant issues” with Capita’s new system to manage social care – including the failure to “efficiently bill clients and pay invoices” – making it impossible to keep tabs on costs. Not that Barnet isn’t trying to monitor its outsourcing contracts. It’s created an entire parallel administration to do so, costing £7.8m each year in pay and perks. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a story about a map matching precisely in size and detail the territory it depicted. Today, in the entrails of a suburban bureaucracy, his dream has at last come true.

All this cash could have been spent on something other than ideology. Take the £24m spent on management consultants primarily to draw up the plans for outsourcing, or the running total of £90m that Barnet has since shelled out on agency and temp workers: how many school dinners, carers for older residents or council houses could that have paid for?

Instead, that money has been spent on projects that served as a launchpad for a handful of careers, such as Mike Freer who as Barnet leader came up with the easyCouncil model and is today a Tory whip in the Commons. Or Nick Walkley, the former Barnet chief executive who was responsible for implementing that model and who now heads a Whitehall quango. Plum jobs for them, worsening public services for the residents left behind.

All this is directly linked to another issue stalking Britain: the rise of aggressively racist politics. Under austerity, Cameron and his ministers took migrants’ taxes – then, with devastating cynicism, blamed migrants for putting pressure on the NHS, schools and other services that they themselves were starving of money. To further their own careers they fanned the embers of race hate. In places like Northants and Barnet, residents who have already seen their child’s youth centre shut, their nan lose her care visits or their buses stop running will now see even sharper cuts to their services – purely to keep their councils alive. It will not be the councillors who cop the blame for that, nor the predatory outsourcing firms.

It will be the buggy-pushing mum in a headscarf, the teenager in a wheelchair trying to get on a crowded bus, the Polish guy on minimum wage. They’ll be the handy targets when frustrations rise and tempers blow. Because the point about pulverism is that it is never the originators who get pulverised.”


“Government to trial citizens juries and mass online polls in local decision-making”

Owl says: as with all these ideas, proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Remember, we are less than a year away from local elections and promises will be poured out until they are over!

And, maybe, it’s just a way of forcing us to make rationing decisions and deflecting responsibility from government policies leading to rationing in the first place

“The government is to trial ways for people to take a more direct role in decisions that affect their local area, with proposals for “Citizens’ Juries” or mass participation in decision-making on community issues via an online poll or app.

The proposal is part of the first Civil Society Strategy in 15 years, which was unveiled today by Tracey Crouch, Minister for Sport and Civil Society.
“Many people feel disenfranchised and disempowered, and the government is keen to find new ways to give people back a sense of control over their communities’ future,” the document says.

“Participatory democracy methods, such as Citizens’ Juries, can make a profound difference to people’s lives: evidence shows that enabling people to participate in the decisions that affect them improves people’s confidence in dealing with local issues, builds bridges between citizens and the government, fosters more engagement, and increases social capital. It also increases people’s understanding of how decisions are taken, and leads to authorities making better decisions and developing more effective solutions to issues as a broader range of expertise can be tapped into to solve public issues.”

The ‘Innovation in Democracy’ pilot scheme will take place in six regions across the country “to trial face-to-face deliberation (such as Citizens’ Juries) complemented by online civic tech tools to increase broad engagement and transparency”.

The publication also says the government wishes to go devolve more power to community groups and parishes. It will explore with the National Association of Local Councils and others the option for local ‘charters’ between a principal council, local councils, and community groups setting out respective responsibilities.

“This could include joint service delivery or the transfer of service delivery responsibilities to local councils, parishes or community groups, the transfer of borough council assets to local councils, or from councils to parishes, and the opportunity for councils or parishes to ‘cluster’, that is to form a consortium with sufficient scale to commission or deliver larger service functions,” it adds.

Other initiatives set out in the Civil Society Strategy include:

Revising the guidance that helps communities take ownership of local assets.

Exploring means of ensuring community-led enterprises which take over public assets or services are able to secure the funding they need.

Improving the use of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 “to ensure that organisations can generate more social value for communities when spending public money on government contracts”. The government will explore the potential for the use of social value in grants as well as contracts, and the suggestion that the Act should be applied to other areas of public decision-making such as planning and community asset transfer. Also, “as announced on 25 June 2018, central government departments will be expected to apply the terms of the Act to goods and works and to ‘account for’ the social value of new procurements, rather than just ‘consider’ it as currently. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will lead the way by applying this wider remit to major projects, to be followed by other departments in due course.

Exploring (through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) the potential of transfers of public land to community-led housing initiatives, such as Community Land Trusts, by which residents become members of a trust which holds land and housing on behalf of the community.

Unlocking £20m from inactive charitable trusts (those which spend less than 30% of their annual income) to support community organisations over the next two years.

Supporting charities “to make their voices heard on issues that matter to them and ensuring that charitable trustees reflect the diversity of the society they serve”.

Distributing money from dormant bank accounts to independent organisations that will (a) get disadvantaged young people into employment (£90m) and (b) tackle financial exclusion and the problem of access to affordable credit (£55m).

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Our plans stand side-by-side with the Industrial Strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making.

“These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.”
Tracey Crouch said: “Civil society is the bedrock of our communities. It is made up of the volunteers, youth workers, charities and innovative businesses that work to improve lives and make areas better for all.
“Our strategy builds on this spirit of common good to help create a country that works for everyone. I want people, organisations and businesses to feel inspired to get involved and make a difference.

“Through collaboration, we will unlock the huge potential of this incredible sector, help it grow, support the next generation and create a fairer society.”


Devon CCGs want to merge (but looks like they already did it!)

Owl says: anyone recallveing consulted about this? And surely, if it is for cost-sVing, all previous financial scenarios at the two CCGs must be recalculated. And shouldn’t this be rescrutinised by DCC?

“North East and West (NEW) Devon CCG is hoping to merge with South Devon and Torbay CCG in April next year. Both CCGs have expressed an interest to NHS England to merge the organisations, in what they say is the ‘next natural step’. In May last year, NEW Devon CCG refuted claims it had ‘gone bust’ – though it did have a defecit of £42million in 2016/17.

Last year (2017/18) NEW Devon CCG had a planned defecit just shy of £50million.

It is thought the merger would help both organisations face funding challenges in the years ahead; they have already made a saving of £4million working together in the last year. This has includinged merging the two executive teams and establishing a common governing body and committees.
Executive directors now sit in Devon-wide roles working across both CCGs.

Dr Sonja Manton, director of strategy at the two CCGs in Devon, said: “We have made significant progress working as a health and care system in Devon over the past two years.

“As commissioners (buyer) of health care services for our local population, our two CCGs have worked more closely together for over a year, and this has brought many improvements and benefits such as speeding up decision making and making cost savings and efficiencies of nearly £4million on running costs.

“We have achieved much more together than we would have working separately. “A merger of our two organisations is the natural next step, and we have expressed an interest to NHS England to merge our two organisations from April 2019. “We are working with staff, clinicians, partners and stakeholders to ensure that everyone is involved in the changes as they develop. “This is an important step in our journey to better integrate health and care services to benefit our local communities.

“In Devon, we have well-established joint working arrangements with our local government partners and this will be strengthened as we design a new more integrated approach.”