Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Rave from the Grave

Looking through my old posts for something else I found a piece I wrote about Andy Coulson two years ago.

Ce n'est pas la change!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Spam Spam Spam Spam...

We can finally see exactly what a steaming pile Labour's "consultation" amounts to. With the quite laughable phrase " an (almost) Premiership football team" it's clear that this has been a back of a fag packet job from the Labour stream of consciousness as channeled through Jon Hartley.

This sham consultation has been exposed as a simple harvesting exercise so that they can sell your details to third parties. Of course, like all RBC exercises there is an amount of duplicity in this. The web site form says:

This data will be stored securely and electronically, and will not be shared with any external organisations,

Yet the leaflet you pick up at the Civic Offices not only details that they want to be able to send your details to third parties, but the default option is that you agree to having your details available for sale to marketing companies. You have to opt out!

The consultation leaflet reads as a piece of Labour propaganda funded by the council tax payer which I can't believe was nodded through by officers even though it should fall foul of ultra vires being a clearly partisan reading of the financial predicament Labour left us in.

The sham extends deeper and is a supreme exercise of passing the buck about the financial mess Labour left the town in. Residents are not being given access to all the information required to respond to, as they put it, "difficult budget decisions".

For example, how many residents, pleased they have benefited from Labour's restoration of "green" waste collections, realise that their £22.50 windfall will mean that at least two jobs are being axed from Arts, Museums and Libraries? Grass cutting and leaf clearing is being mown down? The planning department is having its in-year budgets slashed? These aren't "savings" they are additional cuts which Labour refused to reveal properly in their cabinet papers and they have done all they can to keep the details of these cuts secret. Yet we know that 91% of people were willing to pay the charge so these cuts to jobs and services are completely unnecessary.

How many knowing these facts would now feel happy about their "free" collections and that's without even considering that the green credentials of the scheme are quite bogus. How many more jobs are residents prepared to see Labour chop for no good reason?

Labour's way is to steal from the poor to give to the rich. It was they who bailed out the bankers. It was they who removed the 10% tax band from the poorest. It was they who gave non-domiciled billionaires a huge tax break and now we see 25% of the wealthiest people in the town (because let's face it, you need a big back garden to justify having a 240 litre green bin) being subsidised by the poor. Staff are losing their jobs and services are being slashed to pay for Labour's uncosted election bribes, just as I predicted.

But that's Labour's way of reacting to having no money. They will desperately try to blame it on the coalition whilst wielding the axe but these are Labour's cuts and Labour's alone. Why do we know that? Because the axe isn't falling in the Environment department. It's other departments which are suffering because Labour cannot balance the books in Environment to pay for their uncosted promises and they are denying residents the information required to make informed decisions.

If Labour have suddenly decided to be honest with the public, let's see them publish the full list of budget options currently being worked on right now by officers. They should be public documents to allow residents to make in informed choice. Without them, it's a consultation worthy of complete contempt.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Just a thought...

I see that Kelly Edwards has declared an interest in Green Issues Communiqué on the council web site still without mentioning that she is lead manager on the Tesco and Bellway accounts. She may not be employed on projects within the Borough herself but as a partner, shareholder and manager on those accounts she does have a beneficial interest in her clients being successful. She should have named them. She has done so on the Green Issues communique web site!

Interestingly her declaration of interest document is "dated" 24th May 2011. I published her involvement as lead manager on the Tesco account on the 20th June 2011. The properties of the PDF file reveal that it wasn't created by Councillor Services until the 22nd June 2011. It may also be of interest to readers that Green Issues Communiqué did the community "consultation" for the controversial Lok 'n' Store planning application. The local residents haven't forgotten, it was they who reminded me!

Ms. Edwards declaration of interest also reveals another interesting nugget. Her election expenses were part-paid for by Unison and the T&G Union. Putting aside the fact that the T&G doesn't exist anymore and they've just pensioned off Derek Simpson with a £1/2m pay off whilst bleating on about "fat cats", it does reveal a nice little dodge that Reading Labour appear to be using to avoid putting union money through their books. It's legitimate, as it is perfectly permissible to donate directly to a campaign but it does avoid an observer from creating a direct link from union donations to Labour to their receiving payment in kind through the facilities agreement. It would be interesting to know whether the Unison money came from their General Political Fund although I suspect it wouldn't make much difference. The GPF is used to campaign for Labour anyway.

At least Kelly's link with Tesco is in the public domain and she is not on any body that could directly influence a decision but if you are clever enough, there is a loophole in council policy and one which is almost impossible to unravel.

If you are a self-employed councillor providing consultancy services, you don't have to reveal your client list. If you don't have to declare your client list, there is no way to independently check on potential conflict of interest. There is no requirement by the council which forces you to do so.

I guess that's okay with people?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

RCRE Employment Tribunal Judgement

I shall have to think very carefully about how to respond to the findings of an Employment Tribunal heard in mid-June. I have much background information and complete notes from the hearing not yet in the public domain that will make uncomfortable reading for many.

What the judge led Tribunal determined was that RCRE ran a personal vendetta against one of their employees for daring to disagree with them. Recognise that scenario?

In May 2010 I chaired an internal RCRE grievance panel to hear the same evidence considered by the Employment Tribunal and came to the same conclusion, namely that Mr Deva was owed money by them. Straight away senior RCRE members did not like my conclusions, conspired to over turn them on the day I gave them my panel report and then deliberately and with malice aforethought embarked on a campaign of character assassination to cover up their actions.

The evidence given to the tribunal by senior RCRE figures was given under oath. None of the members of RCRE took a religious oath and instead made a 'general affirmation'. I have, from my notes, many examples of where their evidence bordered on, if not constituted downright perjury. I suspect the latter because during a lunch break the current chair of RCRE threatened me in the lift with: "It's just your word against many". As my witness statement was backed by documented evidence, there was no need to take anyone's word for it. Was he suggesting that he was prepared to lie to the Tribunal to discredit me?

If could be that I was just be being over sensitive to their aggressive gestures but then here are three statements made by the Judge in his findings about the evidence they gave:
  1. In his witness statement Mr Sophal states that as well as following the procedure he was trying to encourage a meeting between the Claimant and Mr Abdoul as a "way of resolving the matter without escalation." The Tribunal do not accept this evidence.
  2. Dr. Elahi is wrong in his evidence.
  3. The Tribunal therefore do not accept the evidence which has been given by Mr Raichura on this issue.
That's three senior RCRE figures who have given on oath evidence that was not credible and rejected by a judge.

On the face of it I have paid a heavy price for my decision to find in favour of Mr. Deva in May 2010 against the wishes of the RCRE Executive but I have no regrets. I would rather have my integrity than crawl on my stomach in the dust like others who have sucked up to them for the sake of political expediency and personal vindictiveness.

I want to thank my local party for their full support throughout this quite distasteful episode. The Tribunal finding calls into question the actions and motivations of many senior people in several organisations over the last year. As I said, I will need to have a period to think about what to do next because right now I would be quite happy to publish and be damned about what has been going on behind the scenes. That may not be long term in my own best interest.

I am just so desperately sorry that I couldn't do anything a year ago when I saw what they were doing to Mr. Deva and for the stress and harassment he suffered at the hands of an organisation that is supposed to defend equality and human rights. For that he has my full and sincere heartfelt apology.

You may read the full findings here: RCRE Employment Tribunal

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Busman's Holiday

Labour have moved swiftly to reinstate their former iron grip on Reading Transport Limited which has to be bad news for Reading. Their last controlling era resulted in the ethanol bus fiasco, which was forced on the company for a few pictures on Labour's election leaflets and nearly had catastrophic consequences.

Thanks to the Greens, the current board make-up is a politically unbalanced Labour: 3; Trades Unions: 1; Conservative 2; Business Appointees; 2. With David Sutton in the chair this gives Labour complete control and with Tony Page no-doubt planning to resurrect his role as a shadow director there are good grounds for concern over political interference in the company's future operations.

Labour also closed the Station Hill approach which meant that the long standing ambition of Reading Transport Board for a fully integrated interchange was nobbled before it could get off the ground. The long term effects on the company are yet to be known.

I have to say that I've enjoyed my time as a director of Reading Transport Limited. James Freeman is an excellent Chief Executive for tough times and I thank him for his open mind to new ideas. There is a good team at Great Knollys Street and I give a big thanks to all the staff who made me welcome.

I think I made a difference. At my very first board meeting I brought up the issue of the effect of that flat fares had on the inner town area and was met with a ferocious attack from one Tony Page, who at that time was double-dipping as a director and lead councillor for Transport. Data from the transport department was showing that residents in Battle ward were driving their cars to work whilst those in Tilehurst were using the bus! His position was clearly untenable but he couldn't help but puff himself up and rail against the temerity of someone having a new idea that wasn't his.

Three years later, an inner zone in the guise of the '£1 to Town' fares is being rolled out across the network and my idea for a discount irregular user card became the EasySaver 10. I also trialled using Twitter during the 2009 snow problems as a method of customer communication and was pleased to be successful in getting it adopted as a standard customer service tool. I still get a "I did that" feeling when I see the buses go past with their @reading_buses twitter feed adverts!

I shall have to check carefully as an ex-director what I am now able to say about previous episodes as my main concern would be to protect the reputation of the company but Labour control of the board does not bode well given their previous interference.

I also wonder whether Trish Thomas will be trousering the £6,000 that the company normally pays to non-executive directors who are not councillors. I've been told that Mike Townend will not be claiming it so a statement that Labour are not using directorships to financially reward yet more of their former councillors with company cash would be welcome.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Fourth Council Estate

The News of the Screws has brought to public attention the long running cosy relationship between the media and politicians. It also highlights what happens when you are slightly "off-message" with the establishment and just how far they will try to squash you in order to keep their self-serving agendas on-track.
Resitance is futile!

I hold no brief for Andy Coulson. He is a Spurs fan responsible for some quite vile news stories. I have written several jokes about him whilst he was editor of the NotW but it is as clear as day that he has been thrown to the wolves by Murdoch in order to keep his Borg Queen in place.

In 2003 Rebekah Wade personally admitted during a Select Committee paying police for stories but so far she is only being called on to give evidence as a witness. Obviously it makes you proud to be British to know that we have the best police force money can buy.

The most damning revelation has been the hacking and deletion of messages from Milly Dowler's phone. It was the story that caused the tipping point in public perception. She ran the story yet is getting the full might of News International behind her. Why isn't she being hauled in to have a not innocent even if proven not-guilty DNA swab taken?

When Vince Cable "declared war" on News International, to their shame, we saw the Conservatives react by marginalising him.

Yet even more digracefully Ed 'The Hypocrite' Miliband demanded that he be sacked for daring to hint that Rupert Murdoch wasn't a fit and proper person to control so much of the national media. In the next few days his (in)actions will be in the spotlight.

Pre-Dowlergate the establishment tried to deal with him in the only way it knew how, to smear and trash. Labour, in contrast to their sudden revulsion with Murdoch, were some of their biggest cheerleaders. Now that The Times and Sunday Times are beginning to get caught up with the scandal as it is now revealed that someone from those papers tried to illegally obtain Gordon Brown's accounts, Miliband may regret his defense of Tom Baldwin on Andrew Marr's show when it seems he had done exactly the same as Cameron:  "Are you lying?" "No" "Well, that's all right then."

But the reaction to Vince is just typical of the politics and media in this country. Scare people until they are unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet and want to bring to account vested interests for their actions. It's why most people are turned off by politics when telling it like it is is something to be attacked by the media. The best advice I ever saw for a whistleblower was to have courage and be prepared to never work in your industry again. I might have to take that advice!

At national level you have a press whose direction is driven by owners' agendas rather than principles of good journalism, whilst at local level, financial pressures on journalists reduces them to regurgitating press releases. There is simply no longer the time available to properly research a story or dig. That's why nationally shortcuts were taken and locally we have seen the death of investigative news. We've seen one lie from the Labour administration communicated by the RBC press office and printed as fact with no checks by journalists [although it probably says more about RBC who have allowed council facilities to be abused for political purposes].

In Reading the council spent years denying that there was a problem over Section 106 receipts, despite knowing that there was an internal report suggesting that there was one and a quite serious one at that. The council gave incorrect information to councillors and Labour is now trying to bury the report. It has taken over a year to get this far and there is more to discover. Yet an ordinary journalist on local paper deadlines would never have been able to research the story and would have been fobbed off way before uncovering anything.

It is not a criticism of the local media, that's just telling it how it is and is especially true now that many local papers derive a considerable proportion on income from local authority publicity spending. What is in for them in biting the hand that feeds them?

Oscar Wilde wrote:

"In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism."

This is still true at both national and local levels. The national picture shows what happens when the press run the agenda and corrupt it to the purposes of their owners. The local picture shows what happens when the local press can no longer be called the custodians of enquiry and holding the elected to account. Different ends of the same spectrum but the same spectrum all the same.

There is something quite rotten at the heart of politics when power is involved. We saw what happened with the expenses scandal when the press failed for years to do their duty as they cosied up to smooth commercial takeovers and garner influence. We've also seen locally the same effect but for other reasons. There is a rotten heart at the centre of this town and that rotten heart is the local Labour party. But they wouldn't get away with it if they weren't aided and abetted in that by a willing host of partners keen to get their hands on council tax money or protect their own self-interest.

Like nationally where people failing to care got the tabloid journalism they deserve, locally the failure to engage with the political process has got us the self-serving council we all deserve. I saw a good analogy somewhere. People sit down on Sunday morning reading their paper, eating bacon and eggs and don't want to know what goes on in the abbatoir.

It's time for people to stand up and be counted and restore politics to the people. Give a damn!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Recycled Gags #73

Typical Guardian trying to take all the credit for exposing Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade's dodgy practices. Up the Arse! exposed their shameless pursuit of circulation figures in March 2006!

I do like the sychronicity that it refers to Harry Potter on this the day of the last film's premier. Ce n'est plus la change!

Up the Arse! Exposes News of the World Arselicking Shocker

Up The Arse! has been given details of sordid and perverted activities being carried out by two major British newspaper “editors” acting under the directives of a foreign national who has come over here to take our jobs, steal our women and drink our beer. We cannot reveal the identity of the duo engaged in these sordid activities, so we’ll call them Rebekah and Andrew to protect us from libel.
One of the people who have come to the notice of UTA! is rumoured to be very fond of the bizarre sexual practice of coprophilia which involves sticking one’s nose as far up the arse of an Australian business man as is humanely possible and showing off the resulting brown-nose in public. Stories have come to our notice that the Spurs supporting man in question will stop at nothing in his pursuit of what he refers to in his twisted mind as “improving circulation”.
One of the “editors” caught in the act of preparing to give Rupert Murdoch a surprise  arse licking.

The other is a drunk and violent thug who likes nothing better than giving  defenceless men a damn good fisting because they know they will never be able to report the crime to Police for fear of being thought a soft-touch. She is also known to police as a serial  publisher of  pictures of 15 year old stars of Harry Potter films with suggestive headlines whilst running an anti-paedophile campaign. Both without any shame of being thought a hypocrite.

You have been warned!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Bin There. Done It.

We are now beginning to see how the Road to Damascus conversion by Labour to consulting residents over matters that effect them will actually work in practice. There was no conversion and there isn't going to be any. Instead they have come up with a scheme designed to give them the answers they wanted all along. So no change there.

Last year I had a look into the idea of providing a more flexible refuse collection service for residents in areas where there were problems with the existing alternate weekly collections. There was never any intention to impose it on residents, a clear majority needed to be in favour and there were certain criteria laid down to ensure that it was needs driven rather than politically. There are already streets in Reading that have weekly black back collections and my experience was that there were probably more where it would be beneficial to residents and the refuse collection service alike.

To acheive that I was going to assert the role of councillors as community advocates, as promoted by the Centre for Public Scrutiny and provided by the council's constitution. And the way I was going to do it was to take the lead councillor out of the equation and allow ward councillors to consult directly on options for residents based on their ward experience in a neutral fashion.

Of course, I had to junk that idea when Labour councillors refused to co-operate with the efforts to stop kerbside parking which is not only inconvenient but downright dangerous when emergency vehicles are blocked. Such consultation doesn't work if councillors are more intent on using if as party propaganda and fail in their constitutional obligation to represent all residents. Instead Labour put out misinformation and used scare tactics and refused to consult with their residents. Their non-cooperation meant that the scheme had to be put on hold and a hugely expensive consultation considered.

It was clear from their shameless behaviour that that any attempt to involve ward councillors in an honest and fair consultation would be met with hostility and yet more false propaganda.

So what do we see them doing about consultation over weekly bin collections? Yep, they want to implement the very idea which they themselves wrecked. Well, I'm sorry. If they didn't back consultation by ward councillors last year, why should they be so keen on it this year?

Simples. Being Labour it's not about doing a proper consultation at all. It's a means to an end and that end is getting the answer they wanted all along. Already you can see them putting out statements designed to gerimander the result.

There have to be serious questions asked about the conduct of one Labour councillor who has already written to residents over what is meant to be a neutral consultaion exercise at the same time telling them that she has "big reservations" over it. The timing of her letter is suspect as well as she posted that she had already started delivering letters about her "consultation" on the 1st July at 17:03 - the first day that the cabinet papers had been made available to all councillors and which aren't delivered until early evening. There has clearly been some pre- briefing from the lead councillor going on here. That's hardly unbiased consultation is it? No, it's shoddy politicing on the rates.

As a reminder, for a party has set itself so dead against weekly black bin collections, it was only in 2007 that Labour were putting on their election leaflets pleas to residents that if they wanted to get black sack collections to call their Labour councillor. Of course, we know since that date that if a Lib Dem asked for a street to go on the weekly collection list they would reject it out of hand. That's the Labour way.

Labour are in a complete mess over how to consult because quite frankly they have no idea how it is done unless it gives them the answer they wanted in the first place. Their idea of consultation, like the Shinfield Road, is to decide what the answer is and manipulate the answers until they get what they want. A few loaded questions here and there and ignoring the ones they don't like and hey presto, you get the Shinfield Road fiasco à la Labour.

Labour simply cannot be trusted for as long as their idea of consultation is to slant the questions and warp the responses. Anyone who believes in local democracy should keep well clear of this sham.

If Labour truly believe in local democracy then the only way now for residents to feel that their consultations are fair, honest and completely unbiased is for council officers to be responsible otherwise Labour risk bringing the council into disrepute.

They won't of course. An independent consultation might give an answer they don't want.

Friday, 1 July 2011


Sometimes you should be careful what you ask for. I should know I've warned people about that myself before.

Yesterday I was finally given a copy of the Wokingham Borough Council report on Section 106 receipts. The problem? It is a blue paper report which means that I will be in breach of the councillors code of conduct if I reveal its contents. A cunning move there but I can't complain, I did ask for it!

I am deliberately writing this before I read the report so that I can't be accused of leaking confidential information. I will then have to decide what I am to do in the light of reading its contents.

What do we know that is in the public domain?

Reading Borough Council used Section 106 monies to pay for things that a reading of the law suggests should have come out of the revenue accounts and were not capital items. I've already reported that it included fixing leaking roofs and gas main repairs.

We know that the records kept in the Parks department were poor but at least shed some light on where some of the money was meant to be spent even if it wasn't. We know that the Education department kept no records worth speaking of.

My understanding from what I have discovered so far is that Section 106 monies were put into the capital accounts obstensively to accrue interest. So far so good. However what I believe actually happened to that money that should have been returned for earmarked capital projects wasn't and that  a significant proportion was leeched back into the ordinary general fund to pay for operational costs like the aforementioned repairs.

The scandal is that no one actually has a clue where some of the money was spent and Labour and officers have no interest in getting to the bottom of it, an attitude which leaves the Council open to legal action. There is clearly an attempt to sweep the whole thing under the carpet and the laissez faire attitude is just wrong.

Jo Lovelock has taken great pains to say that there was no "wrongdoing". Well, that depends purely on your point of view and your definition of wrongdoing. No one has alleged embezzlement or corruption for personal benefit so by that definition she is correct. However, if what she is trying to do is suggest the money was spent in accordance with legally binding agreements then she is wrong. Finacial competance is what it is really all about.

In fact what we have here is the tip of the iceberg. I know of one area where reserves were over budgeted so that they could be used later in the year by Labour to help shore up the inevitable budget variances and whole sections of the Streetcare budget were not actually under the control of the department but were instead cross charged from central finance leaving me little scope to do something about them. When I asked finance for access to the below the gold book figures I was told by officers they didn't exist - and I was the lead councillor!

If an audit of the capital programmes was conducted and the Council's debt was properly analysed, rather than the superficial and carefully controlled data that is given to councillors, a whole new set of questions would come crawling out of the woodwork. It's why I believe what is going on now amounts to a whitewash.

Jo Lovelock has promised to release the report... but edited. So much for transparency! What you won't see though is the second part of the report - the legal advice. I still haven't been given a copy of that myself. The council is classing it as legally privileged so that they don't have to release it under Freedom of Information.

Astonishingly, the reason given is that publishing it may expose the council to legal action from developers! Well, excuse me. If there was no "wrongdoing" as Jo Lovelock claims, how on earth could publishing it result in legal action unless it suggests that the council didn't act correctly.

As long as the report is only released in a redacted form and/or the second report is kept secret, I think council tax payers have a legitimate reason to wonder about what exactly is being covered up and by whom.

I am now going to read the report. If you don't hear from me...