“Government spends almost £100m on Brexit consultants”

Owl says: When people such as “Failing Grayling” (chaos in all departments he has run, the latest being transport) and Swire’s choice for PM Dominic Raab (the Brexit Minister who didn’t realise how much traffic to and from the EU goes through Dover) in charge – was it money well spent?

And how come these consultants had all the experts and the civil service didn’t?

“… The vast bulk (96%) of the Brexit consultancy expenditure under Cabinet Office arrangements – which accounts for £65m of the £97m total – has so far been handed to six consultancy companies: Deloitte, PA Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), Ernst & Young, Bain & Company and Boston Consulting Group.

Five departments: the Cabinet Office, Home Office, Border Delivery Group, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, account for the majority of spending via the Cabinet Office. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/29/government-spends-almost-100m-brexit-consultants

“English councils warned about use of reserve cash”

Somerset, which oversees funds being spent by our Local Enterprise Partnership, is one of the councils mentioned in this BBC article.

“Some councils in England have been warned they risk running out of cash reserves if recent spending continues.

Analysis by the BBC has identified 11 authorities the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) said would have “fully exhausted” reserves within four years unless they topped them up.

The Local Government Association said councils faced “systemic underfunding”.

The government said councils were responsible for managing their funds.
Councils have faced cuts to their government funding and rising demand for services such as social care, while MPs have warned children’s services are at “breaking point”.

Cash reserves – money held back for specific projects or emergencies, such as flooding – are seen as a measure of financial security.

Between them the 152 major councils in England had £14bn in reserve in March 2018, £500m more than the year before but £400m less than in 2015.

The BBC analysis of government data follows work by Cipfa, which published a “resilience” index of councils, but stopped short of naming those it warned were depleting reserves the fastest.

The warning was based on the latest data available, comparing reserves as of March 2018 with March 2015.

The analysis reveals which 11 of the 152 major English councils have used so much of their reserves since 2015 that Cipfa said they would run out within four years if spending patterns continued.

The research comes ahead of Wednesday’s Panorama, which reveals the failings of the social care system as the population gets older and more people need help with day to day living. …”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-48280272

East Devon Alliance county councillor Martin Shaw adds his thoughts about TiggerTories

From his blog “Seaton and Colyton Matters”:

“I was unfortunately unable for personal reasons to attend last night’s annual meeting of EDDC, but many Independent supporters who were there have expressed considerable disappointment. I have however close knowledge of the situation and offer the following comments.

Mandate for change

On May 2nd, after 45 years of increasingly dysfunctional rule by the Conservatives at East Devon District Council, the local electorate reduced their number to just 19 of the 60 councillors. Instead voters elected a majority of 31 Independents, including 11 members of the East Devon Alliance (EDA), 8 Liberal Democrats, and 2 Greens.

A clear mandate was given by local people. Big gains by Independents – both EDA and others – Liberal Democrats and Greens all represented their desire for change. The best administration would have been a coalition of some of these groups, which could have formed a progressive majority of up to 40 seats out of 60.

A new ‘Independent Group’ excludes the East Devon Alliance

Before the elections, all Independent councillors including EDA members were part of the Independent Group, led by Ben Ingham. EDA expected this to continue and looked forward to working with other Independents to form a progressive new administration, possibly in cooperation with the Liberal Democrats and Greens.

However on the day after the elections, Ben formed a new Independent Group, which EDA councillors were not invited to join. He was elected leader and Susie Bond deputy leader. As a result of this exclusion, EDA councillors formed their own group but continued to work for an alliance of EDA with the Ingham-led Independent Group.

The Independent Group relies on the discredited Tories

Since the new Independent Group with 20 members is the largest group on EDDC, they had the right to take the initiative in forming an administration. In this light the EDA leader, Paul Arnott, was happy to second Ingham’s nomination as Leader of the Council.

However there was no justification for the Independent Group, with only one-third of all councillors, to form an exclusively Independent Group cabinet. Even the outgoing Conservative administration, which had an overall majority, was more inclusive, including some non-Conservatives in the Cabinet.

In both the Axe Valley and the Sid Valley, the East Devon Alliance had routed the Conservatives, but in Ben’s selection of his new Cabinet and chairs of key committees, he could find no place for EDA Independents from these areas. The east of East Devon is once again drastically under-represented in the EDDC leadership.

Rewarding the discredited Tory party

Clearly there were personal issues here – Ben had left EDA after being voted out as leader in 2017 – but we had still collaborated in the old Independent Group. Nothing can justify Ben’s apparent decision now to rely more on the defeated Tories than on his fellow Independents.

The Conservatives are the official opposition, entitling them to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee. But the Independent Group have also allowed them to take the key positions of Chair of the Council and Chair of the Development Management Committee. In contrast they offered EDA only the position of Vice-Chair of the Council. In addition they appear to have voted members of the discredited Tories on to other bodies, at the expense of EDA and Lib Dem candidates.

At the very moment when the electorate voted for change, and the Conservative Party has lost all credibility nationally as well as locally, the EDDC Independent Group seems to have breathed life back into this exhausted party and allowed it to keep several important positions, while turning its back on the other advocates of change.

A way forward

The East Devon Alliance believes that many members of the Independent Group share our desire for change at EDDC. They must surely realise that yesterday was a highly embarrassing false start.

Despite the way that group has chosen to form its administration, I know the EDA group will support them, as the Lib Dems have also said they will, when they propose positive policies for the benefit of East Devon, as well as seeking their support for our own proposals.

In particular, I welcome the fact that when questioned by Paul Arnott, Ben Ingham yesterday repeated his long-held position that EDDC should consider the option of a more collaborative Committee system, rather than the all powerful Leader-with-CEO and small Cabinet model which he has inherited, which leaves most councillors with little real input into major decisions (as I know from the County Council).

In any case, EDA councillors will have healthy proportionate representation on key committees such as Planning, Strategic Planning, Scrutiny, Audit & Governance and Overview, and I am certain that this will give them many opportunities to change the district council in a collaborative and positive way.

We must now hope that despite yesterday, both groups of Independents together with the Lib Dems and Greens can do some real work for local communities in the new Council. “

A false start at EDDC sees new ‘Independent Group’ relying on the discredited Tories rather than the East Devon Alliance, Lib Dems and Greens who local communities voted for in order to achieve change. And the Axe Valley is left out in the cold again.

Surprise, surprise: the business people running Local Enterprise Partnerships are not attracting funding – from business people!

As Owl has been saying for YEARS – THESE EMPERORS HAVE NO CLOTHES!!!!! Neither do they have transparency or accountability.

It’s verging on the corrupt, definitely a conflict of interest and is certainly unethical – it means a very, very few business people, taking no risks for themselves or their businesses, divvying up OUR money for their own pet projects, with almost no oversight from the councils they have robbed of funds and no loss for them if projects fail or over-run in time or cost.

A national scandal.

“Private sector firms are not matching public sector funding for local regeneration, senior civil servants have admitted.

Two senior civil servants at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that cash from the EU, public sector and higher education are still the main sources for funding regional development projects.

The department’s permanent secretary Melanie Dawes and director general Simon Ridley said match funding for the £9.1bn Local Growth Fund is largely dependent on match funding from councils and other public bodies.

Ridley also admitted there were still challenges over transparency and the boundaries of some Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

The LEPs were set up following the abolition of regional development agencies with the idea that they would be a partnership between business and local government – with an expectation that firms would help funding regional regeneration.

Ridley told the committee that the main private sector input into the LEPs is the time and expertise of board members who work for free.

Committee member Anne Marie Morris said: “Clearly, you are having the private sector involved, so how come you haven’t got a significant financial commitment from them?”

Ridley responded: “The capacity funding we give requires match from the LEP in different ways.

“A large number of business people on the boards do it without renumeration. A lot of the capacity support around the accountable body that the local authority provides is paid for by the LEP.

“Our core expectation was to set up partnerships between the private sector and local government to think about local area development.

“Some of those funding streams are matched by private sector funding schemes.”

Committee chair Meg Hillier asked if developers and construction firms were giving over and above Section 106 contributions to enable projects.

She said: “There is a danger that without having any skin in the game, businesses can walk away and local taxpayers end up picking up the bill.”

Ridley replied: “What the LEP is seeking to do is bring forward projects in the local area that wouldn’t otherwise be coming forward.

“They are often funded by more than one funding stream from the public sector.”

The committee also challenged the pair over a claim that LEPs tended to go to the top-five local employers and as a result, other firms were being left out of key decisions.

Oxford University has become a major decision-maker for its LEP, the committee heard.

Committee member Layla Moran asked: “How do we know that everyone who is a stakeholder in this money is actually involved in the decision?”

Hillier also questioned if the LEPs were accountable, citing Oxfordshire, where meetings were not being held in public.

Dawes said the use of scores in the LEPs annual performance review were conditional for funding being released and this had impacted on responses.

She said: “The real test is how it feels for local communities and I think that’s something that’s very difficult for us to judge in central government. We are on a bit of a journey here. It’s going to take a while.”

Ridley said local authorities had a crucial role in oversight, specifically through Section 151 officers who are ideally placed to deal with complaints.

He said: “All LEPs have got their complaints procedures. We have a clearer role realisation with the accountable body and the 151 officer, so they [the public] might write to them.

“The section 151 officer does have to get all the information that goes to the LEP board. I can’t personally here guarantee that absolutely all of that is in front of every scrutiny committee.”

Dawes confirmed the department has no metrics for assessing complaints being made about the LEPs.

MPs also raised concern about territorial battles between LEPs and combined authorities.

Decisions have still yet to be made about the boundaries in nine LEPs.

Dawes told the committee: “There are legitimate reasons why these geography questions are there. We are working actively with them.

“What ministers will have to work through is whether to impose a decision centrally.

“That would be a matter of last resort.”

Businesses failing on LEP match funding, MPs told

Tories for Trumpery? Drafting new law to protect MPs on party overspending

Tories draft law to protect MPs if parties overspend

Conservative ministers are drawing up a new law to protect MPs and party officials from prosecution if their national parties overspend during elections, leaked documents disclose.

It follows the conviction in January of Marion Little, a Tory party organiser from head office, and the acquittal of the MP Craig Mackinlay after they were accused of breaking electoral law as the party fought off a challenge from Nigel Farage in Thanet South. …

Transparency campaigners believe the government’s latest move is an attempt to avoid future prosecutions and would overturn a ruling by the supreme court.

Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, said a “test of authorisation” would give candidates and party officials another level of defence from prosecution. “Such a move would not appear to be about reinforcing and strengthening electoral law. This would instead protect party candidates and open up the possibility of outspending rivals.”

Plans for a new law have emerged in correspondence seen by the Guardian and sent to cabinet ministers by Kevin Foster, the minister for the constitution.

“Legislation currently requires candidates to account for free or discounted goods or services that are made use of by or on behalf of the candidate. There have been calls to amend this legislation to include a test of authorisation by or on behalf of the candidate,” he wrote.

Foster told members of a cabinet subcommittee that the law on notional expenditure was tested in July when the supreme court ruled that the statutory requirement for an election candidate is to declare notional expenditure incurred on their behalf during a campaign. This might arise where a national party provided additional campaigning support in the constituency and was not limited to authorised campaigning.

Foster wrote: “There is a concern that candidates, their electoral agents and others acting on their behalf could be operating under legal risk. I am seeking the committee’s agreement to announce at an appropriate time that the government is exploring options to clarify the law on notional expenditure to alleviate the concerns highlighted. Any amendments in this area of law would require primary legislation,” he wrote.

Little, who had been employed by Tory campaign headquarters since 1974, was charged with three counts of encouraging or assisting an offence related to the filing of election expenses. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/21/tories-draft-law-protect-mps-party-overspend

Government lacks transparency over local authority governance

“There is a complete lack of transparency over the government’s handling of local authorities with governance issues, MPs have warned.

A damning report from the Public Accounts Committee has called on the government to strengthen audit and governance of the “complex and fast-moving” environment that local authorities find themselves in.

The cross-party group of MPs warned that local authorities are now pursuing shared services and taking on commercial risk, but are simultaneously dealing with a “significant” reduction in resources.

The report noted that while some authorities have robust arrangements, others are under strain and have “audit committees that do not provide sufficient assurance, ineffective internal audit, weak arrangements for the management of risk in local authorities’ commercial investments, and inadequate oversight and scrutiny”.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s oversight of local authority governance has until now been “reactive and ill-informed”, the report said. However, it noted that the department has now committed to improving its oversight.

MPs said that MHCLG lacks reliable information on key governance risks and relies on weak sources of information, meaning it has “no way of pinpointing at-risk councils”. They also said that the department is not focused on long-term risks to council finances.

“There is a complete lack of transparency over both the department’s informal interventions in local authorities with financial or governance problems and the results of its formal interventions,” the PAC said.

The report claimed that taxpayers have a right to know if there are problems with their councils’ finances. It cited the demise of Northamptonshire County Council, which it said was an ‘open secret’ but only for those in the sector.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “On the rare occasions a local authority fails, the impact on local citizens is severe. Residents facing decimated services get no comfort from being told that their council’s dire finances were “an open secret”.

“The government needs to recognise the extra pressure that squeezed budgets and increased commercial risks are having on local government and make sure it is monitoring the risks effectively so that it can be alert to the impact of changes on local government.”

MHCLG has been contacted for a response.”

Appearing before the PAC in March:

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/03/whiteman-local-government-finance-needs-be-more-transparent

CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman called for an improvement in local government audit.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/05/mhclg-oversight-local-authority-governance-reactive-and-ill-informed

“Carillion’s ‘relationship with auditors too comfortable’ “

“Ninety-three per cent of construction industry suppliers think the relationship between the ill-fated firm and its auditors, KPMG, was “too cosy”, according to a poll of construction industry leaders.

A further 57% of respondents believed that reforming the ‘big four’ audit firms – PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte – is a necessary step.

The poll, which surveyed more than 50 senior managers across the construction sector, found that 76% believed the Financial Reporting Council was too timid in its challenging of questionable financial information.

Mark Robinson, chief executive of Scape Group, which carried out the poll, said: “We need to be able to have faith in company accounts and the work auditors are carrying out, especially when public sector contracts and people’s livelihoods are at risk.

“Greater oversight and closer management of auditing practices [is needed] in the search to rebuild trust in the industry, but we also need to make sure we are putting in place sensible reforms that do not put increased cost pressures on an industry that is already contending with the cost of materials and reduced access to labour.”

The report from Scape Group also found that 64% of respondents thought that Carillion’s downfall was owing to debt mismanagement, acquisitions and long payment terms, created by a focus on revenue rather than profit.

The Competition & Markets Authority recently suggested that the ‘big four’ separate their audit work from the rest of their consultancy work. This move, CIPFA said, could have implications for local government.

KPMG and the FRC have been contacted for comment.”

https://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2019/05/carillions-relationship-auditors-too-comfortable