“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

Sleazy DUP MP banned from Parliament for 30 days

Wonder how many days Swire has spent in the Maldives on government or Conservatives Middle East Ccouncil business?

“Ian Paisley Junior been suspended from the House of Commons for seven weeks after breaking Westminster rules over luxury trips worth up to £100,000.

The “severe” punishment has been imposed on the senior Democratic Unionist Party MP after he took his family on all-expenses-paid holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.

Mr Paisley failed to register the trips before writing to David Cameron in support of the Sri Lankan government “about a proposed United Nations resolution”.

“In view of the seriousness of this matter, we recommend that Mr Paisley be suspended from the service of the House for a period of 30 sitting days starting on 4 September 2018,” said the Commons standards committee.

His actions amounted to “paid advocacy” and “bring the House of Commons into disrepute”, a damning report concluded.

“The 30-day suspension, if confirmed by a Commons vote, is thought to be the longest period any MP has been barred from the Commons for 15 years.

It also exposes Mr Paisley to the danger of being “recalled” by his constituents, under legislation passed in 2015, which would trigger a by-election.

If a recall petition is opened, it must be signed by at least 10 per cent of the electorate in his North Antrim seat for a by-election to take place.

The lengthy suspension, to begin on 4 September, also reduces Theresa May’s effective working majority by one – ahead of potentially more crucial Brexit votes in the autumn. …”

“Dark money lurks at the heart of our political crisis”

“Democracy is threatened by organisations such the Institute of Economic Affairs that refuse to reveal who funds them.

A mere two millennia after Roman politicians paid mobs to riot on their behalf, we are beginning to understand the role of dark money in politics, and its perennial threat to democracy. Dark money is cash whose source is not made public, and which is spent to change political outcomes. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, unearthed by Carole Cadwalladr, and the mysterious funds channelled through Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party to the leave campaign in England and Scotland have helped to bring the concept to public attention. But these examples hint at a much wider problem. Dark money can be seen as the underlying corruption from which our immediate crises emerge: the collapse of public trust in politics, the rise of a demagogic anti-politics, and assaults on the living world, public health and civic society. Democracy is meaningless without transparency.

The techniques now being used to throw elections and referendums were developed by the tobacco industry, and refined by biotechnology, fossil fuel and junk food companies. Some of us have spent years exposing the fake grassroots campaigns they established, the false identities and bogus scientific controversies they created, and the way in which media outlets have been played by them. Our warnings went unheeded, while the ultra-rich learned how to buy the political system.

The problem is exemplified, in my view, by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). In the latest reshuffle, two ministers with close links to the institute, Dominic Raab and Matthew Hancock, have been promoted to the frontbench, responsible for issues that obsess the IEA: Brexit and the NHS. Raab credits the IEA with supporting him “in waging the war of ideas”. Hancock, in his former role as cabinet office minister, notoriously ruled that charities receiving public funds should not be allowed to lobby the government. His department credited the IEA with the research that prompted the policy. This rule, in effect, granted a monopoly on lobbying to groups such as the IEA, which receive their money only from private sources. Hancock has received a total of £32,000 in political donations from the IEA’s chairman, Neil Record.

The IEA has lobbied consistently for a hard Brexit. A report it published on Monday as an alternative to Theresa May’s white paper calls for Brexit to be used to tear down the rules protecting agency workers, to deregulate finance, annul the rules on hazardous chemicals and weaken food labelling laws. Darren Grimes, who was fined by the Electoral Commission on Tuesday for spending offences during the leave campaign, now works as the IEA’s digital manager.

So what is this organisation, and on whose behalf does it speak? If only we knew. It is rated by the accountability group Transparify as “highly opaque”. All that distinguishes organisations such as the IEA from public relations companies such as Burson-Marsteller is that we don’t know who it is working for. The only hard information we have is that, for many years, it has been funded by British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris International. When this funding was exposed, the IEA claimed that its campaigns against tobacco regulation were unrelated to the money it had received. Recently, it has been repeatedly dissing the NHS, which it wants to privatise; campaigning against controls on junk food; attacking trade unions; and defending zero-hour contracts, unpaid internships and tax havens. Its staff appear on the BBC promoting these positions, often several times a week. But never do interviewers ask the basic democratic questions: who funds you, and do they have a financial interest in these topics? …

While dark money has been used to influence elections, the role of groups such as the IEA is to reach much deeper into political life. As its current director, Mark Littlewood, explains, “We want to totally reframe the debate about the proper role of the state and civil society in our country … Our true mission is to change the climate of opinion.”

Astonishingly, the IEA is registered as an educational charity, with the official purpose of helping “the general public/mankind”. As a result it is exempted from the kind of taxes about which it complains so bitterly. Charity Commission rules state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. How much more political can you get? In what sense is ripping down public protections and attacking the rights of workers charitable? Surely no organisation should be registered as a charity unless any funds it receives above a certain threshold (say £1,000) are declared.

The Charity Commission announced last week that it has decided to examine the role of the IEA, to see whether it has broken its rules. I don’t hold out much hope. In response to a complaint by Andrew Purkis, a former member of the Charity Commission’s board, its head of regulatory compliance, Anthony Blake, claimed that the IEA provides a “relatively uncontroversial perspective accepted by informed opinion”. If he sees hard Brexit, privatising the NHS and defending tax havens as uncontroversial, it makes you wonder what circles he moves in.

I see such organisations as insidious and corrupting. I see them as the means by which money comes to dominate public life without having to declare its hand. I see them as representing everything that has gone wrong with our politics.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/18/dark-money-democracy-political-crisis-institute-economic-affairs

“Rise of dealmaker CEOs puts governance skills ‘at risk’ “

“The rise of the commercially-minded “dealmaker” as a local authority chief executive requires a “reappraisal” of council governance skills, according to CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman.

Whiteman spoke to Room151 at the 2018 CIPFA conference in Bournemouth, explaining the need for his organisation’s new financial resilience index.

Whiteman said that it made sense for many councils to appoint chief executives with commercial skills, but added that traditional oversight skills are in danger of being lost.

“Councils are now understandably appointing dealmakers, and that is good in terms of developing their commercial and their development opportunities.

“But there is a risk to that. For want of a better word, the town clerk element of being a chief executive is under pressure.

“This is the element which insists on good governance; that insists on options being looked at; that gives advice on there being a fit and proper relationship between officers and members, where officers can speak truth unto power and can give an opinion even if that opinion is unwelcome.”

Whiteman said that hand-in-hand with improved commercial know-how, councils must have “a reappraisal of governance skills because we are placing the taxpayer and public at more risk unless we strengthen the safeguards and assurances that we have”.

He added: “If we are going to have more dealmakers we have to have better governance and better assurance.”

Whiteman said CIPFA’s new index is a necessary response to the decision earlier this year by Northamptonshire County Council to issue a section 114 notice bringing a halt to all but essential spending.

“There is a strong feeling that, as the body that regulates professional conduct and the quality of financial management support in local government, we need to take steps to acknowledge that Northamptonshire was a failure of sector-led improvement.”

Northamptonshire’s section 114 notice was issued in February, five months after a financial peer review commissioned by the Local Government Association raised a number of issues with the authority’s financial management.

“The advice from Max Caller, the independent inspector of Northamptonshire, is that a section 114 notice should have been served earlier and, if it had been, it may have stopped the authority getting to a position which, to the lay person, was one of insolvency,” Whiteman said.

He went onto say that in some authorities, a lack of effective communication between finance officers and top level council decision makers can hinder efforts to avoid financial problems.

He said: “I speak to finance officers who think they are not being listened to by the corporate management team or by members or by the chief executive. On the other hand, I could speak to corporate managers, or members or chief executives, who think finance officers are not listening to them.

“What we cannot allow, as a sector, is the position that people might be heading for financial failure and they don’t know it.”

The proposed resilience index is also intended to help prevent a culture of denial leading to overlooked financial problems , Whiteman said.

“The reason that CIPFA is looking at the index is to make sure we have an alternative to speculation that can be dismissed or discounted.”

He said the index was driven by a need to ensure council finances were heading in the right direction.

“That is not only good for those councils but it is good for the sector,” he said.

Whiteman said that CIPFA would produce the index using its in-house team of 30 analysts, would not take sponsorship to fund it and would not charge councils for it.

“It is important that an independent body such as CIPFA produces a way of warning where failure could occur in a few years’ time,” he said.

“If CIPFA doesn’t do it, who else would do it? And, if nobody does it, could we have other Northamptonshire style failures?”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/rob-whiteman-rise-of-dealmaker-ceos-puts-governance-skills-at-risk/

“How to maintain high ethical standards in local government: a perspective on the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review so far”

Professor Colin Copus is a specialist advisor to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review into local government ethical standards. He writes here in a personal capacity:

“As academic advisor to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s review into ethical standards in local government, I’ve been reflecting on the evidence I’ve heard so far.

The aim of the review is to test the robustness of the current system for maintaining high standards of public behaviour in local government. It is not a hatchet-job on councillors or intended to identify a problem where there is not one. Rather, the review will assess evidence to enable a judgement to be made about what, if any, changes are required to the current regime to ensure the maintenance of the highest ethical standards in local government.

My impression so far is that there are two competing themes emerging that pose a challenge to anyone considering how best to create the environment for strong ethical behaviour in local government. Those themes result in the question: do we nationalise or do we localise ethical standards in local government?

The danger in any review in local government is for rose-coloured spectacles to temper one’s view of past systems. It is nowhere more the case than in the ethical standards debate.

The evidence received by the Committee so far has highlighted some difficulties with the effectiveness of localising standards that came with the abolition of the standards board and the past regime associated with the board by the Localism Act 2011.

Concern has also been expressed about placing control over the ethical regime (and code of conduct) with councils themselves and about the apparent weaknesses in the sanctions available to councils when dealing with ethical and behavioural issues.

Moreover, the review has heard that local codes of conduct can result in councillors who sit on county, district and parish councils at the same time potentially being subject to three different codes. We do not yet know how widespread this issue is or if it generates regular and intractable problems for councillors and officers.

But the review has also heard that there is a recognition that centralising and nationalising ethical standards can result in a system that is remote, anonymous, lacking in appreciation of local differences of culture, tradition and behaviour.

Nationalising the system also prevents flexibility and responsiveness to specific local issues and at worse can result in councillors feeling on ‘trial’ and subject to a remote and bureaucratic system, which in itself can damage local democracy.

The issue of sanctions also looms large as does the role of independent input or oversight of the local process of assessing standards issues.

Sanctions pose a particular problem, not least because under the current arrangements, a party in power may be tempted to misuse their majority when imposing sanctions, but also because there is a line between what is appropriate for councils to be able to require and impose as sanctions and what is appropriate that the electorate themselves have at their disposal.

The question of sanctions is closely tied to that of oversight: even the power to suspend councillors from committees, council meetings or council premises and restrict resources for a short while may be subject to misuse. Robust safeguards and rights of appeal must, therefore, be available to councillors whose behaviour is not the real problem – but instead find themselves the subject of a complaint when they are an effective and vocal opponent of the ruling administration.

We also do not yet know how widespread such a problem may be. It is clear that the issue of sanctions, the system by which they are imposed and independent oversight and involvement, will be a key theme of the Committee’s assessment of the evidence in this review.

The hazard with any ethical regime – local or national – is how the political parties in local government respond to that regime.

Given that over 90 per cent of all councillors in England are from the Conservative and Labour parties and the Liberal Democrats, the temptation to use a set of rules and regulations designed to control councillors’ behaviour for party political advantage or to silence councillors from other parties, is considerable.

Any ethical regime must not provide a system that can be misused for party advantage or by officers to restrain troublesome councillors as both can damage free speech within local democracy.

It must also be remembered that ethical standards in English local government are among the highest across Europe and that results in a commitment by the overwhelming majority of councillors to public service and the public wellbeing.

The Committee has a difficult tightrope to walk to make observations and recommendations that provide an opportunity for all local authorities and the central government to finesse and reform the current system, to ensure the highest standards of ethical behaviour are maintained and strengthened in local government. It is well worth the walk.”

http://www.democraticaudit.com/2018/07/10/how-to-maintain-high-ethical-standards-in-local-government-a-perspective-on-the-committee-on-standards-in-public-lifes-review-so-far/

EDDC: consultation on Statement of Community Involvement

“The Council is currently consulting on the new Statement of Community Involvement (SCI). This is the document which sets out how, where and when we will consult on planning matters such as Policy documents, planning applications and Neighbourhood Plans.

The SCI is available for comment from

3rd July to 15th August 2018

All comments will be considered by the Council and will inform subsequent versions of the document.

Any comments should be marked ‘SCI’ and emailed to:

planningpolicy@eastdevon.gov.uk
or posted to
Planning Policy Team, East Devon District Council, Knowle, Sidmouth, EX10 8HL
Phone: 01395 571533

EDDC’s recent external auditor facing fourth inquiry; regulator “feeble and timid”

“The accounting watchdog has launched an investigation into KPMG’s audit of Conviviality, the collapsed drinks and off-licence supplier.

It is the latest regulatory scrutiny into the Big Four firm, which is also under investigation over its audits of Carillion, Rolls-Royce and BNY Mellon.

The Financial Reporting Council has accused KPMG of an “unacceptable deterioration” in the quality of its audits and put its audits under special supervision. Last month it fined the firm £3.2 million for misconduct in its audits for Quindell, the insurance technology company. Pressure is increasing on KPMG and its competitors PWC, Deloitte and EY. Carillion and BHS shone a spotlight on the firms’ roles as both auditors and consultants to companies.

Conviviality, owner of the Bargain Booze and Wine Rack chains, collapsed into administration in April. It had been valued at more than £500 million in March but fell from grace after admitting that it had made an error in its forecasting and had found a £30 million tax bill due by the end of the month. It had 4,000 employees and 760 stores. Almost 2,000 jobs were saved when C&C acquired the wholesale business from the administrator. Bestway bought the retail business. The FRC is looking at financial statements for Conviviality in the year to the end of April 2017.

A spokesman for KPMG said: “We believe we conducted our audit appropriately. As reported by the company, it experienced margin weakness at the start of 2018 and also a significant payment to HMRC which had not been included within its short-term cash-flow projections, creating a short-term funding requirement.”

The FRC said that it would also investigate a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales over the preparation and approval of Conviviality’s financial statements but did not name the individual.

This investigation comes as the FRC, the ICAEW, and the industry-backed Audit Quality Forum prepare to launch a government-backed review that will consider the effectiveness of the existing model for auditing. They are looking for an independent business leader to lead the review.

Bill Michael, who took over as head of KPMG UK in September, supports a review. “The profession needs to be re-evaluated, otherwise we run the risk of eroding trust,” he told The Times . “We can’t have a profession that isn’t trusted. It has consequences for society and the capital markets. You only need one bad apple to lose trust in the system.”

KPMG UK employs 15,000 partners and staff, 3,600 of whom work in its audit practice. Its tax consulting, deal advisory, management and risk consulting practices have grown in recent years and now employ about 7,500 staff.

The FRC is the subject of a parliament-led review which is expected to overhaul how the FRC works and shake up the accountancy profession. MPs looking at Carillion’s collapse accused regulators of being “feeble and timid”.”

Source: Times (pay wall)