“Peer who never spoke in Lords last year claims £50,000 expenses””

“A Labour peer claimed almost £50,000 in attendance and travel expenses covering every single day the House of Lords was sitting last year, despite never speaking or asking any written questions, a Guardian investigation reveals.

The former trade union general secretary David Brookman was among dozens of other lords and baronesses who never took part in a single debate, while almost a third of the 800 peers barely participated in parliamentary business over a 12-month period despite costing almost £3.2m in allowances.

The details have emerged from a new analysis of public data that will raise fresh questions about the size and effectiveness of the Lords, and the funds that can be claimed by those who fail to regularly contribute.

The findings show:

Eighty-eight peers – about one in nine – never spoke, held a government post or participated in a committee at all.

Forty-six peers did not register a single vote, including on Brexit, sit on a committee or hold a post. One peer claimed £25,000 without voting, while another claimed £41,000 but only voted once.

More than 270 peers claimed more than £40,000 in allowances, with two claiming more than £70,000.

The former Lords speaker Frances D’Souza, a long-term advocate of reform, said the findings corroborated “what everyone suspects is going on”, and that a minority of peers risked discrediting the hard work of their colleagues.

“There’s clearly a need to reduce numbers,” Lady D’Souza said, adding that the research “clearly shows there are people who are attending the House of Lords who are not contributing, and therefore they are simply redundant”.

The Guardian’s analysis covers the attendance, participation and allowances claims of 785 lords serving for a full year between 2017 and 2018. They comprise 244 Conservatives, 196 Labour and 97 Liberal Democrats, as well as 248 crossbench peers and various others.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/30/labour-peer-never-spoke-house-of-lords-claims-50000-expenses?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“UK and territories are ‘greatest enabler’ of tax avoidance, study says”

u”The UK and its “corporate tax haven network” is by far the world’s greatest enabler of corporate tax avoidance, research has claimed.

British territories and dependencies made up four of the 10 places that have done the most to “proliferate corporate tax avoidance” on the corporate tax haven index.

The UK ranked 13th on the list, which was published by the Tax Justice Network on Tuesday.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said the findings showed the government’s record on tax avoidance was “embarrassing and shameful”.

McDonnell added: “The only way the UK stands out internationally on tax is in leading a race to the bottom in creating tax loopholes and dismantling the tax systems of countries in the global south.

“The rot has to stop. While Tory leadership hopefuls promise tax giveaways for the rich, a Labour government will implement the most comprehensive plan ever seen in the UK to tackle tax avoidance and evasion.”

A government spokesman said tackling tax avoidance was a priority and the UK had “been at the forefront of international action to reform global tax rules”. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/28/uk-and-territories-are-greatest-enabler-of-tax-avoidance-study-says?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Greater Exeter Strategic Plan: change or no change?

Now that the Local Election is over, we can see from this report in the Sidmouth Herald:

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/possible-locations-for-new-devon-villages-set-to-be-released-1-6061225

that potential sites for new villages in support of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) have been found and are due to be unveiled shortly.

A whopping 57,000 new properties cross the four council areas adjoining Exeter will have to be built to satisfy Exeter’s growth aspirations.

Quite soon, therefore, we can expect that the newly elected Councillors who represent us on the GESP, Councillor Susie Bond and Councillor Philip Skinner, will have to decide how many new villages East Devon will take and where they will be sited. Obviously close proximity to Exeter will be a significant factor and places like Lympstone, Woodbury, Clyst St Mary, Farringdon and West Hill must be in the frame.

To give an example of the impact to expect. A tiny community between Broadclyst and Pinhoe – Westclyst, has had a whopping 1200 houses imposed upon it. Where the highest quality agricultural land lay four years ago, bounded by about 30 bungalows, there are now sprawling housing estates.

In the past these decision have been kept a closely guarded secret. Will the new regime now act with transparency and openness?

We know from the CPRE study on “Devon’s Housing Needs” that:

•​Far too many homes are already being planned for Devon in the next 10 years.
•​Two thirds of these will be occupied by inward migration.
•​Vacant and second homes are becoming a problem across the County.
•​We in East Devon are taking a disproportionate share of development. Our Local Plan annual housing target is the highest in the Greater Exeter Area: 58% higher than Exeter, 53% higher than Teignbridge and nearly three times that of Mid Devon.
•​Whilst we are planning too many houses, we are failing to plan for enough homes of the right type in the right location, especially for locally generated households.

Ex Councillor and one time Leader, Paul Diviani boasted in council, just before Christmas, that the high growth policy he advocated for East Devon was justified because “we have the land and we are good at it”.

In the election Paul Diviani was decisively rejected by the electorate, receiving a derisory 319 votes.

On 3rd May the voters clearly voted for change but are they going to get it?

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

Is the East Devon Conservatives election questionnaire breaking Data Protection rules?

An EDW blog reader who stresses they are NOT a lawyer or data protection specialist, but who has extensive knowledge of the subject, has this to say about the questionnaire currently being circulated by the local Conservative party as part of their electioneering:

“Your story on the East Devon Conservatives’ questionnaire led me to take a look at their privacy policy available here:

https://www.eastdevonconservatives.org/privacy

If you have contact with anybody who knows about GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, you might like to get them to take a look. My knowledge is better than average but not complete. However, I think the policy is dodgy:

Item 3 says ‘All processing is carried out by consent’. The problem here is that Consent cannot be assumed to have been given. It MUST be a positive action on the part of the data subject so in the case of the questionnaire that you mention, there must be a means by which respondents can give their consent to having their data stored and processed.

Item 3 adds ‘or public interest’. This isn’t a lawful basis for storing and processing data. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has a list of the 6 permitted lawful bases here:

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/lawful-basis-for-processing/

There are 6 lawful bases:

Consent (as I say this MUST be given by a positive action – it cannot be assumed to have been given or be ‘given’ by means of a pre-checked tickbox. Contract (e.g. if you buy something from an organisation, they can store your data in order to complete the contract).

Legal obligation (can be used if the organisation needs to store and process personal data ‘to comply with a common law or statutory obligation’. Vital interest (to be used if the data must be processed in order to protect somebody’s life so passing medical history to A&E if you have an accident falls under this one).

Public task (The ICO says that this one ‘can apply to any organisation that exercises official authority or carries out tasks in the public interest’. It would be interesting to see whether the ICO would consider the Conservatives’ distribution of election material to be in the public interest).

Legitimate interests (is a catch-all category but the ICO says ‘It is likely to be most appropriate where you use people’s data in ways they would reasonably expect and which have a minimal privacy impact, or where there is a compelling justification for the processing’. This is one that’s used, for example, by membership organisations because a member would expect the organisation to retain and process members’ details. Again, it would be interesting to see this one tested with the ICO in the case of the Conservatives.)

Overall, I think it could be argued that the Conservatives should be relying only on Consent when it comes to campaigning activities. Obviously Legitimate interest is the the correct lawful basis in the case of members of the Association. However, if they’re relying on Consent, the questionnaire must include a checkbox that respondents must tick in order to give their consent to having their data stored by the Conservative Association.

Item 6 relates to Special category data which includes some of the data identified in your story viz. ‘ethnic origin, political opinions, and religious, philosophical and other beliefs’. The Data protection legislation says that this data requires special handling. This is a complex area but it doesn’t look as if the East Devon Conservatives have understood it.

Item 8 is their data retention policy. They appear to be saying that they may hold the data for up to 10 years ‘two election cycles’. For ordinary voters who are not members of the Association, this looks to me to be excessive.

Item 10 appears to say that they’ll share people’s data with a surprisingly wide range of organisations: ‘entities of Political Party associations, federations, branches, groups and affiliates’. I doubt that this permitted under the legislation without specific consent.

Item 11 says, amongst other things, ‘you have the right to object to certain types of processing, such as direct marketing’. They appear to be confusing the Data Protection Act 2018 with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR). This sits alongside the DPA but isn’t part of it. PECR governs the use of personal data for electronic marketing e.g. email, text messaging, telephones etc.

Item 11 also says ‘you also have the right to be subject to the legal effects of automated processing or profiling’ [my emphasis]. This looks like a typo.

Item 11 also says you have the ‘Right to judicial review:’. This seems to be a curious and confusing way of telling people that they have the right to complain to the ICO which is dealt with in Item 12.

I think one of the difficulties of this privacy policy is that it is trying to cover all instances of gathering, storing and processing of data by the Association. If somebody contacts their local Councillor or MP with, for example, a housing problem, then Legitimate interest would apply. The same is true of somebody applying to join the Association. However, to collect, store and process personal information gathered through the type of questionnaire you describe is probably (and I emphasise probably) in breach of the legislation.”

Outgoing audit chief tells government some home truths

“I still get angry – and that is the word for it, angry – 10 years into the role, when I see badly-thought-through programmes and wasted public money,” says outgoing watchdog chief Sir Amyas Morse. “And the reason I’m angry is because the citizen ends up picking up the tab. They are the ones who end up suffering.”

For almost a decade, as comptroller and auditor general – the head of the National Audit Office – it’s been Morse’s statutory duty to keep an eagle eye on the spending of central government departments, holding ministers and civil servants to account for cost overruns, project mismanagement and profligacy with taxpayers’ money.

He doesn’t have far to look. As he prepares to leave his post in May, Morse’s final public speech at the Institute for Government last week included a damning list of failures: Crossrail costing £2.8bn more than forecast; changes to probation costing £467m to put right; the smart meters fiasco that will cost at least £500m more than originally estimated; and the Ministry of Defence’s latest unaffordable and unsustainable 10-year equipment plan going over budget by at least £7bn. And that’s just a selection from the past few months.

Morse looks back in anger at the billions that could have been spent on vital services, wasted instead through what he calls “inappropriate bravado” on the part of government ministers, lording it over cowed civil servants, behind an increasing amount of secrecy and spin. “We don’t need people jumping out of an aeroplane in the dark with a parachute of taxpayers’ money,” he says.

A proud Scot – his only meeting with Theresa May was a “brief conversation” at a No 10 Burns Night last year – Morse cares passionately about public services. While his upbringing has contributed to his concern for fairness, it’s his decade at the watchdog, to which he came from a senior position in consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers via the MoD, that has fuelled his rage over the wasteful ways of too many government ministers. “I really realised that society belongs to us. We’re all paying for it.”

Public money is finite, he points out. There is no magic money tree. When money is lost in one place, it’s taken away from another programme, usually one that’s easier to cut. Every wasted £1bn, he says, is enough to run NHS England for three days, fund 625m A&E attendances, 135m day cases in hospital, or 4m ambulance attendances.

Morse has warned the government that it needs to invest more in the NHS and social care, to meet the needs of an ageing population. In 2016-17, the UK spent just over £170bn on health and social care – more than 10% of GDP, but less than the 11.2% of GDP Germany spent in 2015 on health alone. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/20/amyas-morse-head-national-audit-office-ministers-waste-taxpayers-billions