How can you be trusted with the economy if you can’t get your election expenses right!

“Details of enforcement action relating to political parties

The Conservative Party, Green Party and the Labour Party are under investigation for submitting spending returns that were missing invoices and for submitting potentially inaccurate statements of payments made.

The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats are under investigation for making multiple payments to suppliers where either the claim for payment was received past the 30 day deadline or it was paid after the 60 day deadline following the election. These deadlines are specified in law.

The Women’s Equality Party is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was inconsistent with its donation reports covering the same period.

Details of enforcement action relating to non-party campaigners:

Best for Britain is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing invoices. The campaigner is also under investigation for not returning a £25,000 donation from an impermissible donor within 30 days as required by PPERA.

The National Union for Teachers is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing an invoice.”

“Official figures mask A&E waiting times”

“Tens of thousands more patients spent more than 12 hours in A&E waiting for a bed last year than official figures suggest. Doctors and MPs called for a change to how “trolley waits” were reported in England after an investigation by The Times.

Official numbers show that 2,770 A&E patients had to wait more than 12 hours for a bed last year. These NHS statistics only capture the time between a doctor deciding a patient needs to be admitted and then being found a place on a ward. If the time is recorded between arriving at A&E and being found a bed, the number of patients who had to wait in emergency departments for more than 12 hours leaps to at least 67,406 patients, 24 times higher, according to data obtained under freedom of information laws.

The true figure is likely to be even higher, as only 73 hospitals out of 137 replied to the requests. The Times also asked hospitals for details of the longest wait they had recorded each week. Those revealed about 200 patients waiting more than a day for a bed last year. In December a 103-year-old woman spent 29 hours in A&E before she was admitted to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, Wiltshire. The trust said that it had been one of the busiest months on record. The longest wait reported to The Times, of almost four days, was a 16-year-old boy at Barking Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust.

Sarah Wollaston, Conservative chairwoman of the health select committee, said that long waits in A&E raised patient safety concerns. “When departments are already at full stretch, having to care for individuals who may be very unwell and waiting for transfer to a more appropriate clinical setting reduces the time clinicians are free to assess and care for new arrivals and this can rapidly lead to spiralling delays,” Dr Wollaston said. “The total length of time that people are spending in emergency departments should be recorded alongside the current figures.”

Paul Williams, a Labour member of the committee, said: “If the clock doesn’t start ticking on ‘trolley waits’ until this decision has been made, then hospitals can legitimately have someone waiting for more than three hours to be seen and assessed, and then another 11 hours on a trolley without this leading to a breach of targets.” In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, 12-hour waits are recorded from when a patient arrives in the department.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It’s clear from this data that many patients are enduring even longer waits with their safety, privacy and dignity compromised than the official statistics show.”

Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “I think all independent observers would agree that, at the moment, the way we are describing our 12-hour trolley waits is not accurately describing the numbers.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “In the last 12 months to February 2018 the number of 12-hour trolley waits has dropped by more than 20 per cent on the previous year, and this has been achieved while hospitals also successfully looked after 160,000 more A&E patients within the four-hour target this winter compared to last winter.” NHS Digital is set to publish separate monthly statistics on the total number of patients spending more than 12 hours in A&E, whether or not they eventually needed admission. They said there were more than 260,000 during the financial year 2016-17.

Behind the story

Hospitals are expected to treat, admit or discharge 95 per cent of patients within four hours of their arrival at A&E (Kat Lay writes).

However, they have not met that target since July 2015. In January, only 77.1 per cent of people going to larger A&Es were dealt with within four hours.

For patients who require admission — “the sickest group” attending A&E, says the Royal College of Emergency Medicine — it appears to be worse.

At hospitals that provided figures to The Times, on average only 53 per cent of patients requiring admission were found a bed within four hours in January this year.

A lack of social care means that many of the beds that such patients need to be moved on to are taken up by people who do not need to be in hospital any longer, doctors complain.

Source: The Times (pay wall)

LEPs – not fit for purpose

Owl says: No accountability, no transparency and yet they are taking over more and more money that used to be supervised by district and county councils. Why and who benefits? Certainly not us.

A group of MPs has told the government to “get its act together” regarding the governance of public-private partnerships set up to boost local economies.

A Public Accounts Committee report on the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, released on Friday, found that the LEP had failed to meet standards of accountability and transparency.

In particular, the report found that the GCGP LEP failed to publish board papers and reproduce minutes in a timely or accessible manner.

The PAC also found the former chair of the GCGP LEP- Mark Reeve- did not take responsibility for the LEPs failings and did not appreciate the importance of good governance of LEPs.

Consequently, the PAC suggested that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, should implement the recommendations of the Mary Ney review, which sets out guidelines to improve governance and transparency of partnerships, for all LEPs.

It also called for all LEP board members to be familiar with the Nolan Principles, which were published by the government in 1995 and set out the basis of ethical standards expected of public office holders.

PAC chair, Meg Hillier said: “Local enterprise partnerships are not an abstract concept on a Whitehall flipchart.

“They are making real decisions about real money that affect real people.

“This troubling case only serves to underline our persistent concerns about the governance of LEPs, their transparency and their accountability to the taxpayer.”

The report also revealed that the MHCLG’s oversight system failed to indentify GCGP LEP as one which should have raised concerns, after Cambridgeshire County Council’s section 151 officer signed off on GCGP LEP’s assurance framework without checking all of its supporting documentation.

As such, the PAC has asked the MHCLG to write to them setting out the results of its compliance checks and annual conversations and for them to publish these results.

Hillier added: “Taxpayers need to be assured their money is being spent wisely and with adequate protections in place to prevent its misuse.

“Central government must move swiftly to ensure the recommendations of the Ney review are fully implemented and we expect to see evidence that this has happened.”

The MHCLG has been approached for comment.”

Devon County Council: the place democracy goes to die

Facebook post by DCC Lib Dem Councillor Brian Greenslade

Late last year we started to learn about plans by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England to introduce by the 1st April Accountable Care Organisations to replace CCG’s in the Health Service. These organisations would provide health and social care services. Bringing these services together makes sense but democratic oversight appeared to be an after thought. ACO’s seemed to be based on similar type Organisations in the US.

What was clear was that little or no public scrutiny of these proposals had happened. Congratulations to Sarah Wollaston MP Chairman of the Health Select Committee who then intervened to stall this initiative to allow the Parliamentary Health Select Committee chance to scrutinise the proposals. The same was true at Devon County Hall where nothing about this was brought to the attention of members of the Health Scrutiny Committee.

Opposition to ACO’s started to brew up so then suddenly the Government and NHS England started to talk about integrated care systems instead which apparently are different. How different is not clear and I am concerned that this could be a back door attempt to introduce ACO’s.

Yesterday at the DCC Cabinet a report by the Chief Executive about Integrated Care Systems was considered. It failed to answer key questions but it was clear that changes from April were on the way.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I hotly contested the recommendations and called for time to have this report sent to Scrutiny first. This was voted down by the Tory majority.

We reacted to this by calling in the Executive decision for scrutiny. This as the effect of delaying any decision on this being made until 11th April at the earliest to consider representations by Scrutiny.

Amazingly the Tories are rushing scrutiny through by making it an urgent item for the Health Scrutiny meeting on the 22nd of March giving little time for consideration of this critical issue for the health of the people of Devon.

Democratic standards that the Lib Dem’s stand for mean little to Devon’s ruling Tories!”

LEP governance … in the wrong hands?

The report below states that the lead council for a Local Enterprise Partnership should exercise firm control over all aspects of the LEP’s governance and claims.

In our area that would be Somerset County Council.

Aaahhh … Owl has already foreseen a problem here:

Public Accounts Committee: “Government still failing to get a grip on oversight of LEPs”

Owl can see almost no difference between governance and conflict of interest issues between Peterborough LEP and the Heart of the South West LEP at which exactly the same criticism can be made. Another post to follow on this later today.

“The Public Accounts Committee report finds case of Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough highlights persistent concerns about ‘complexity and confusion’ in devolution.

In 2016 the Committee of Public Accounts reported on the governance of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and made clear recommendations for improvement which were accepted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (the Department).

Despite this, the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP) provides the latest example of the Department devolving powers and funding to LEPs in a manner characterised by both complexity and confusion.

The Department needs to get its act together and assure taxpayers that it is monitoring how LEPs spend taxpayers’ money and how it evaluates results.

The Department assures us that there was no misuse of public funds in this instance; however, this is due more to luck than effective oversight given that there appear to have been no effective mechanisms in place for identifying conflicts of interest in GCGP LEP. We are not at all convinced that the issues uncovered in GCGP LEP might not be found elsewhere in other LEPs.

We also put on record our displeasure at the conduct of the former Chair of GCGP LEP when giving evidence. He failed to appreciate the importance of good governance, showed a lack of remorse about the outcome for GCGP LEP, and was evasive when questioned about his potential conflict of interest.

Such an attitude only serves to underline the need for the Department to get a grip of its oversight of LEPs. It needs to implement quickly the recommendations of Mary Ney’s review of Local Enterprise Partnership governance and transparency, ensure that all LEPs and their boards are aware of the Nolan Principles for the standards of conduct expected in public life and ensure that they live up to these principles in practice.

Chair’s comments
Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

“Local Enterprise Partnerships are not an abstract concept on a Whitehall flipchart. They are making real decisions about real money that affect real people.

This troubling case only serves to underline our persistent concerns about the governance of LEPs, their transparency and their accountability to the taxpayer.

The Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership failed to comply with the standards expected in public life. Yet there are also clear failings in oversight by central government.

Taxpayers need to be assured their money is being spent wisely and with adequate protections in place to prevent its misuse.

Central government must move swiftly to ensure the recommendations of the Ney review are fully implemented and we expect to see evidence that this has happened.

But it must also do a far better job of explaining the objectives and anticipated benefits of these local partnerships to local people.

Taxpayers surveying the increasingly complex landscape of local government might reasonably ask what LEPs are for.

It is wholly unacceptable that central government does not have a clear, up-to-date answer to that question.”

Follow link for:

report summary
report conclusions and recommendations
full report: Governance and departmental oversight of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership

Bailing out Northamptonshire County Council would be “a reward for failure”

More on that scandal – so easily replicated when a few arrogant, ignorant officers and councillors, whose majority gives them the belief they cannot ever be challenged or scrutinised, think they can get away with anything …..

“Northamptonshire county council (NCC), which declared effective bankruptcy last month, should be scrapped, a devastating inspectors’ report into widespread financial and management failures at the authority has recommended.

A government-appointed investigator’s report said the problems at the council were so deep-rooted that it was impossible to rescue it in its current form, and to do so “would be a reward for failure”. It recommends that ministers send in a team of external commissioners to take over the day-to-day running of the council until it can be broken up and replaced with two new smaller authorities.

The lead inspector, Max Caller, said NCC had ignored a growing financial crisis at the authority, which he said had been beset by poor management, lack of scrutiny and unrealistic budget-setting.

Explaining why he advised breaking up the council, Caller’s report says: “The problems faced by NCC are now so deep and ingrained that it is not possible to promote a recovery plan that could bring the council back to stability and safety in a reasonable timescale.”

He added: “To change the culture and organisational ethos and to restore balance, would, in the judgment of the inspection team, take of the order of five years and require a substantial one-off cash injection. Effectively, it would be a reward for failure.”

It was unlikely councillors and the officers had the strength of purpose to bring the council back into line, he said. “A way forward with a clean sheet, leaving all the history behind, is required.”

The council’s leader, Heather Smith, resigned after the report’s publication, telling the BBC that she blamed “vicious attacks by four local MPs”, adding “you cannot win” if the “machinery of government turns against you”.

Responding to the report, Northampton North MP Michael Ellis called the management of the authority a national scandal. All seven local Tory MPs criticised the council last month saying they had no confidence in its leadership [too little too late!).

The report rejected the council leadership’s claim that it had been disadvantaged by government funding cuts and underfunded given the pressure of a growing and elderly population. Similar councils had coped with these pressures and Northamptonshire “was not the most disadvantaged shire council”, the report says.

It excoriates the council’s disastrous attempt to restructure services by outsourcing them to private companies and charities, the so-called Next Generation programme. Poor design, chaotic management, and a lack of controls and oversight meant that budgeting was “an exercise of hope rather than expectation”, it says.

It drily notes that it was not clear whether the programme was still in existence.“It would appear to have been abandoned but that is not clear,” the report says.

The council had lost control of its budgeting in 2013 after a critical Ofsted report into its children’s services forced an expensive overhaul of child protection services, and never recovered, the report says. It said the council’s approach to financial management came across as “sloppy, lacking in rigour and without challenge”.

There was a lack of realism in business plans, and savings targets were frequently not met. Senior councillors and officials ignored or evaded criticism and challenge, it says, and budgets were set by without regard to need, demand or deliverability. “Living within budget constraints is not a part of the culture at NCC,” the report concludes.

Although financial officials had raised the alarm about the extent of NCC’s growing finanical problems as far back as 2015, this had been ignored by senior management and councillors. There was a culture in NCC where “overspending is acceptable and there are no sanctions for failure”, the report says.

The council had continually patched up financial holes with one-off uses of reserves, or by selling off assets and using the proceeds. The report concludes: “This is not budget management.”

By the end relationships with public sector partners such as the NHS has deteriorated so much that there is a “significant level of distrust that NCC will ever be able to deliver against its promises and undertakiings”.

It noted that the councils’ staff were not to blame for the fiasco. “NCC employs many good, hardworking, dedicated staff who are trying to deliver essential services to residents who need and value what is offered and available. The problems the council faces are not their fault.”

Last month the council issued a section 114 note – the local government equivalent to bankruptcy – because it said it could not set a balanced budget for 2018-19.”