26 June 2009

It's Oh So Quiet

There isn't anything funny to say about the island nation of Iceland and High Peak Borough Council.

Small, inward-looking, populated by strange people. And Iceland's just as bad.

Anyway, the Audit Commission's report on local authorities and this major financial scandal has just been published. £2 million of taxpayers' money was sent from our local Borough Council over to the land of Bjork then lost in space - basically at the push of a button.

Our three main neighbouring authorities are Derbyshire County Council, Staffordshire Moorlands, and Tameside. The grand total of these councils' financial exposure to Icelandic banks is respectively zero, and er... zero. Oh, and zero.

The new Audit Commission report on this scandal, 'Risk and Return', is available here:

25 June 2009

Incredible Shrinking Council

On the third of June 2009, the following revelations about High Peak Borough Council's big property sell-off were published here on High Peak Transparency.

It took the Glossop Chronicle over two weeks to catch up, and even then they printed a question mark next to their headline. The Buxton Advertiser was so late it had us wondering if they've heard about the Beatles breaking up yet.

Here is the original article, as published on High Peak Transparency at 19:48 on 3 June 2009:

A little bird - an extremely reliable little bird - has told High Peak Transparency that the Borough's headquarters are to be disposed of to the highest bidder.

The news is unlikely to do anything for the morale of staff already trying to work under the conditions of sometimes not knowing who - or even where - their boss is on a day-to-day basis.

The Property and Estate Management function has already been earmarked to be carried out by another council, not within High Peak.

For many years High Peak Borough Council has operated mainly from its self-contained office complex just outside Chapel-en-le-Frith. One feature of the bizarro-world arrangements that are currently emerging, which involve getting into bed with Staffordshire Moorlands Council, is that the bosses think one of the two councils' headquarters isn't necessary.

Indeed, rationalisation of assets is one of the prime purposes of Staffpeak, or Highfordshire Moorlands, or whatever name the new administrative thing is going to end up with.
The purpose - efficiency - is well-intentioned. But many unintended consequences are inevitable when this kind of experimentation is attempted. Accountability is already becoming one obvious casualty.

Before this merger goes past the point of no return - which clearly is fast approaching if major properties are being disposed of - is there sufficient foresight and thinking-power available to those who've only recently climbed into the driving seat at the council?
There will be dancing in the cubicles of local government tonight.

For earlier dispatches on this 'innovative' way of running councils, please see:

23 June 2009

Rest In Peace

This site is published in England.
If any citizen of this country wants to level criticism at the things local politicians get up to, or call our Prime Minister a big fat fraud, or point out that the government has become a bunch of incompetent spongers who couldn't run a bath, then it is our hard-won birthright that we are free to do so. The colours of any particular party or politician who is being commented upon are irrelevant.

The above is a picture in life of Neda Agha Soltan (16), one of the innocent young people shot dead on Saturday by pro-government forces in Tehran.

Thanks to the massive new phenomenon of citizen journalism, the video of the moments of her death on a street in Iran is now available on YouTube. Key in 'Neda'.

The more worldwide hits these videos attract, the more the chances of freedom, and free speech, for the future young citizens of Iran increase.
Note: this real life death scene is so graphic that YouTube requires you to be over 18 to see it.

Save The Planet - Hours Of Daylight Only Please

The fairly nice nutters over at New Mills Hydro power have run into a problem.

Currently - no pun intended - no electricity is being generated at night. They've stopped it because a complaint was sent to High Peak Borough Council from a member of the public. The complaint is 'noise-related'.

Another ridiculous halt to the green electricity is when the river is at its usual summer levels. During those periods, the so-called Environment Agency has made it a requirement that the water goes over the weir and therefore run to waste, rather than passing through the channel where it generates green energy.

So for significant parts of the day and the year, for completely irrational reasons, the Goyt riverside generating plant is made idle. Environmentally free power is lost forever. Not only is the thing a blot on the landscape, it is now an extremely inefficient one.
At the moment, all concerned have ended up with the worst of both worlds.

19 June 2009

Waste Watchers

The government has announced its white paper 'Digital Britain'. The national headlines were about broadband, but slipping under the radar was the white paper's concerns over the uncontrolled growth in councils' newspapers.

"While local authority information sheets can serve a useful purpose, they will inevitably not be as rigorous in holding local institutions to account as independent local media..." is one part of its assessment.

The trucks and other road transport, delivering the hundreds of thousands of the latest paper copies of Derbyshire County Council newspaper Insight all over the region, provided residents with the following important information:
- 'For every person in Derbyshire we will spend £18 on contingency' (page 4);

- 'The hunt is on to find the location of a view featured in a 1842 watercolour just acquired by the county council'. Councillor Bob Janes said "It's a lovely painting." (p5);

- 'We've been named as the 63rd top gay employer in the UK' (p8) [note: not that there's anything wrong with that];

- People should look out for the new Gold Card magazine, which will 'hit the streets' shortly (p9);

- 'We've now sold 50,000 compost bins to keen recyclers across the county' (page 7)

- 'Around 35 couples tie the knot every year at our County Hall headquarters in Matlock' (page 2);
- 'We've sold 50,000 compost bins to householders around the county' (this time on page 10 - they've done an interesting bit of recycling themselves there);

We stopped the review of 24-page Derbyshire County Council Insight at page ten. As News of the World reporters used to say, at this point 'we made our excuses and left.'

The same Labour crew has had its feet under the desks in County Hall for 28 years. On the latest figures, the total spending by Derbyshire County Council is £1,104,000,000. In a year. Not forever, just in a year.
It is possible - just possible - there may just be a chance - that the brand new administration at County Hall might be able to find some efficiency savings somewhere.

The copy of Derbyshire County Council Insight from which the above extracts are taken was headed 'March 2009', ran to 24 tabloid-sized pages of newsprint and ink and had a self-ordered print run of 330,000.

For more DCC adventures see also:

16 June 2009

The Village Green Claim Scam

The 'village green claim' scam is finally being properly exposed.

Amazing as it may seem, someone who doesn't own a property can claim that, because they led some dog or other onto it for a whoopsie, they have 'rights' over that land.  As a result, they can effectively deprive the landowner of it.

The cuddly name for the dog defecation area in question, the spurious label used in order to stop development, is 'town or village green'.

To take the most prominent local example, this was how the new High Peak Courthouse was finally halted.

It has been possible for any random nimby to use this ploy ever since 1999. In that year a landmark case - very carefully selected in order to win one case on narrow grounds but by doing so establish a binding country-wide legal precedent - was brought. The location chosen was Sunningwell in Oxfordshire.

This one perverse decison opened the national floodgates for these modern, false 'village greens'. We are now at the tenth anniversary.

Labour MP Tom Levitt gave a tremendous performance on this subject, in Parliament on 25 March 2008: "Someone who once flew a kite or walked a dog there - albeit while trespassing - puts in a town green application..." The result is that yet another socially valuable development is stopped. Valuable employment opportunities are also cynically thwarted using the village green scam.

Conservative councillors Tony Ashton, Linda Baldry and Emily Thrane (all High Peak) have now joined in. These prominent councillors have made an articulate plea to government to end the current abuse of this originally well-intentioned, but very naive, legislation.

The lobbying letters that MPs and councillors receive against new homes being built are from existing well housed residents. Their 'views' over somebody else's land are to be treated as sacrosanct, as if they own it rather than somebody else. They are happy to live in a house, but don't want homes for others.

This articulate few - always opposed to something being done near where they happen to live - are very careful to use emotional buzz-words. These include 'save' and 'campaign' and 'protect' and so on.

They are also expert at dog-whistle politics. This is where words like 'property developer' are used in the local press as boo-words, to try to build up a head of steam against new homes or employment or community facilities.

But the people - often the working poor - in desperate need of homes and other facilities, and who would benefit from social housing or new job opportunities, are not in a position to write to their MP or attend planning committees or 'campaign meetings'.

The new government in 2010 - of whatever colour - should put an end to this cynical, shameful travesty of the traditional village green of England.  That is, if the present government will not do it.
. .
Acronym corner:

'Nimby' is quite well-known when applied to unreasonable opposition to nearby proposed developments, standing for 'not in my back yard'.

Less well-known is that the crack squads from the local middle-class nimby ranks, the people hiding behind Keep High Peak Green and so on, are 'Bananas'. This stands for 'build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone'.

Excellent new book The Village Green Preservation Society, dealing with this subject in an informative, entertaining and occasionally hilarious way, out shortly.

12 June 2009

Fear and Loathing in New Mills

Lynne Cardwell (above, right) is a Labour activist. She is one of the more prominent victims of Labour Party mis-management in the area.

Tom Levitt MP, in his Buxton Advertiser column (11 June), speaks about Lynne. He unconsciously revealed how decent, hard-working Labour supporters like Lynne have been badly let down.

In New Mills a corrupt, dishonest Labour administration was in the town hall for years. A few factual examples from their track record in this respect:

- their electoral fraud, after the town referendum was called over the courthouse and they stopped it from taking place;

- they defrauded a High Peak resident by engineering a spurious claim that his property was a 'village green';

- for years they had a local postman bragging in the press and elsewhere that he was 'Leader of the Town Council', even though no such public office exists nor has ever existed;

- they mindlessly opposed and obstructed beneficial developments put forward by ordinary people outside their clique, meanwhile hypocritically pushing their pet scheme, Sir Martin Doughty's grandiose courthouse development, as far as it would go;
- they flouted planning legislation by organising a garish modern 'youth shelter' to go up in the grounds of a listed building, in a conservation area, and in green belt - but all with no planning permission being applied for;
- they promoted the dismal act of trespassing as something to be 'celebrated';
... and so on and so on.

The list in New Mills is surprisingly long, considering just how small the town is.
Oblivious to all the damage caused by their own politicians running the town hall, when pronouncing upon the recent election results Labour's Tom Levitt MP dismissively claims that 'Lynne Cardwell... lost to a second rate sitting councillor'.

As the above list shows, the prominent local Labour politicians in fact treated the public with utter contempt. This corrupt, dishonest behaviour has now been definitively pronounced upon by the local people whose trust they abused for so long.

Firstly, Labour managed barely half the votes of the elected Liberal Democrat councillor that Mr Levitt refers to (2009).
Secondly, in the popular vote for the last town council elections (2007), from a position of complete control Labour were beaten 12-0. They were lucky to get nil.

Mayorzilla returns - Chairzilla!

Cllr Robin Baldry (right) has been anointed as Chairman of Derbyshire County Council and should be confirmed on 17 June.

Cllr George Wharmby, also in the picture, is to be vice-chairman. This completes the new er, 'heavyweight' line-up.

In the event High Peak Transparency gets complaints of weight-ism, size-ism, or just the usual ism-ism in general, please note the further past the date of posting (12 June 2009) you are reading this, the more it shows that local politicians have not all had that rumoured sense of humour by-pass.

Mayor trivia enthusiasts: for one of the best mayoral photographs ever taken anywhere, see:

11 June 2009

'That money was just resting in my account' - Father Ted

Lancelot Edgar Dowson is a former Labour mayor of High Peak and Labour Party councillor. At the time of writing, he is a town councillor in New Mills.

Since 2007 Cllr Dowson has professed 'independence' as a politician. However, he was seen delivering party leaflets in the recent local election.

In the Glossop Chronicle of 11 June 2009, Cllr Dowson shares the following heartwarming story:

"Like many people I have watched the ongoing saga of the exposure regarding MPs' expenses with amazement, disgust and a growing anger.

"They expect to be allowed to get away with it by simply repaying the amounts that they claimed, a process that would not be acceptable for the rest of us..."
'Like many people' indeed. Like many people who do not know this particular politician and who would take his statements at face value. But there is a history of facts concerning Cllr Dowson, helpful in assessing where reality ends and Lanceworld takes over.

For example, let us examine the events of 11 July 2006. On that day Cllr Dowson went into the town hall in New Mills. This was when it was under Labour Party control and had been for many years. Cllr Dowson's personal friend - Labour's Ian Huddlestone - was claiming to be 'Leader' there.  This is in spite of the fact that no such position exists in town and parish council law.
On 11 July 2006 Labour Cllr Dowson cleaned out the chairman and mayor's expenses allowance fund. The town clerk obtained a receipt from Cllr Dowson for the money. A copy of this document has been obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.

Move on a few months. Remembrance Sunday, 12 November 2006. For countless years, New Mills mayors have laid a wreath, paid for from the mayor's allowance. This year, panic. No money in the fund for a wreath, the account has been cleaned out by Labour Councillor Dowson. Some other taxpayers' money was found, from a different account, to cover up.

In a statement to the police* Lancelot Edgar Dowson said: 'I repaid the money to the town council on 6 December 2006'.

* made on 31 July 2008

07 June 2009

Trust, Competence, Or Just Electrical Equipment For Use On The Hair?

When someone on Tom Levitt MP's staff tried to get money for a poppy wreath, it was from taxpayers. The same goes for Tom's hairdryer, or perhaps that should be whoever in Tom's office wanted a hairdryer paid for by the taxpayers.
MPs, and the staff they employ, are supposed to be trustworthy and competent.
Careful examination of any official photograph of Tom Levitt MP will show why taxpayer funding of the hairdryer needs of Mr Levitt - or whoever it was who put the claim in - is an embarrassing question. Is this spurious claim a matter of trust or of competence?
As Michael Howard memorably used to put it, 'peepil want answers'.
Those unfamiliar with Tom Levitt MP's look can see it here:

06 June 2009

The Right Honourable James Purnell, MP

The real, private, views of several local MPs on one important subject have not been published.

The topic is whether Prime Minister Gordon Brown is an asset or a downright hazard to their chances of holding on to their seats at the general election.

Four local Labour MPs are shown in the photograph (top left) that was concocted, sorry given out to factual news outlets, in September 2007. The image depicts them standing in front of construction works at Tameside Hospital.

The connection between all these photographs, each of which contains the image of James Purnell MP, is that James Purnell MP wasn't there on any of the occasions.

All four MPs knew that fact in respect of the Tameside Hospital image. It didn't stop them taking part in this casually arrogant deception of the public.

As well as Mr Purnell, the other local MPs are David Hayes (Labour), Andrew Gwynne (Labour), and Tom Levitt (Labour).
The Labour Party winning the next election? It's not revealing any political secrets to say that we've entered 'snowball in hell' territory with this one.

The odd one out, in respect of letting their views known about the Prime Minister, is Mr Purnell. After giving a refreshingly frank assessment, he then resigned from the government in a rare display - for a politician of any party - of courage and honesty.

05 June 2009

Fall of Rotten Council

Friends of democracy have cause to cheer this evening, with news of the fall of the Labour gang that has been running Derbyshire County Council since 1981.

1981 - how long ago that is. Adam Ant and his luxuriant head of hair ruled the charts, Charles and Di were happy newlyweds, coal miners had jobs for life, Sierra and Metro were radical cutting-edge car designs, and bus routes and trains were organised in a generally rational way.

Now, for the first time in 28 years, the Lubianka-like County Hall building is home to a new administration. Hopefully, proper open, honest and accountable governance may gradually start to appear.

The self-serving and extensive 'jobs for the boys' culture may now be curtailed in this new period. There is no way it can be as bad in the future as it was under the rotten tenures of long term political leaders Doughty and Bookbinder.

The fraternal trips to North Korea, the disastrous court case against Times Newspapers, the closing of a vital link road being trumpeted as a 'claim to fame', the pension scandal, the banning of the most popular weekly Education Supplement from appearing in Council-run libaries, the Black Sea resort acquisition to enable holidays for selectively chosen council apparatchiks... these and many more adventures all unwittingly paid for by the ratepayers of Derbyshire.

For once, the description Hard Labour is an accurate protrayal, as set out by the local Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. Twenty eight years? You often don't get that for murder these days.

04 June 2009

Notional Burglars Face Notional Crackdown

The double-speak of those in power has scaled new heights.

The latest example is the introduction of the concept of 'notionality' to avoid the politically inconvenient word 'capping' where public services are concerned.

In May, Local Government Minister John Healey imposed what he called a notional budget cut on Derbyshire Police.
The 'notional' cut from Whitehall is £1.6 million and in real life this will be used to cap what Derbyshire Police can spend to protect the community. Mr Healey did not seem to notice that serving police officers are not notional.

The government did not reveal there was any spending cap - sorry, 'notional budget adjustment' - until after the Police Authority and Chief Constable Mick Creedon had gone through all the work of setting the budget.

The Man from the Ministry did not indicate whether the citizens of High Peak who suffer the cuts are notional or real.

03 June 2009

The Other Cost Of School Milk

'Do as we say, not as we do'.

The two-facedness of County Hall bureaucrats when they talk about the environment is in danger of being exposed again.
This time it's their treatment of local dairy farmers that puts County Hall's attitude in the spotlight.

In public they lecture us on the environment: 'reduce packaging', 'save energy', 'make fewer car journeys' are just some of the exhortations to the public on the Derbyshire County Council website.

In private they look to change the milk contracts, losing locally-sourced fresh produce. This would mean lorries thundering around this country and others importing milk - a very heavy commodity - into the High Peak by road transport from overseas.

A simple environmental Food Miles toll should be factored into the calculations where large public supply contracts for food are being awarded.

The Lord, the Tax Haven, the Campaign Funds and the High Peak Conservatives

Conservative central office has heavily targeted High Peak as a marginal seat where its strategists think concentration of resources should pay dividends.

Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative deputy chairman, is using his fortune to finance candidates in marginal seats. Transparency subscribers will have noticed how slick their local campaign is. 'No expense spared' is the sublimal message coming over from the literature and the personalised mail shots.
The other parties trying to take part in our local democracy are getting badly left behind in money terms.

On the 2 June 2009 edition of BBC's Newsnight, one simple question was put to former leader William Hague on behalf of all people with an interest in the Conservative Party and where its local election money is coming from.

What follows is the transcript of how the interview started, to give a taste as to how straight the answer was.

Paxman: 'Your deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft - the man whose peerage you lobbied for, saying he would become resident in Britain for tax purposes - can you just tell us, is he resident in Britain for tax purposes now?'

Hague: 'I've no reason to think that he's not complied with the commitments that he gave.'

Paxman: 'That is not the same as an assurance that he is.'

Hague: 'Well it is the truth as I know it...'

Paxman: 'Have you asked him?'

Hague: '...absolutely no reason to think that he hasn't...'

Paxman: 'Have you asked him?'

Hague: '...complied with the assurances that he gave...'

Paxman: 'Have you asked him?'

Hague: '...and whenever I've discussed it with him I've... that is the conclusion I've come to.'

Paxman: 'Have you asked him directly?'

Hague: 'Yes, I have discussed it with him and I've no reason...'

Paxman: 'Have you asked him?'

Hague: '...to think that he hasn't complied...'

Paxman: 'Did you say to him, "Are you resident in Britain for tax purposes?"'

Hague: 'I said to him, at the time...'

Paxman: 'Now?'
Hague: '...that of course I expected him to fulfil his commitments...'
Paxman: 'Yes. Have you asked him?'

Hague: 'I have no reason to think to think that he hasn't..."

And so on...

The full interview is available through the link at the bottom of this article or by going to the Newsnight pages on the BBC website.

01 June 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Borough Tax Statistics

Someone high up in High Peak Borough Council is not being straight with the poor people in the area who they demand money from.

Calculations printed on the council tax demand are being manipulated. The purpose of the manipulation is to get a political message across, favourable to the local Conservative party and those it wants to be seen supporting.

In essence, the issue that has blown up is the politicising of the local tax, its measurement and its collection.

Transparency subscribers with longer memories will recall it was this same subject that was the end of Margaret Thatcher. At that time the collection of local tax became known as 'Poll Tax'. For almost a century previously in local government it had been called simply 'the rates'.

If one gets out this year's Council Tax bill and last year's, and places them side by side, the manipulation of the presentation of the figures becomes apparent.

The High Peak Council Tax bill is broken down into four principal headings, universal to every household: Derbyshire County Council; High Peak Borough Council; Derbyshire Police; Derbyshire Fire Authority. On some bills there is also a smaller figure for a parish, for those who happen to live in one. Each of the headings has an amount of money next to it, demanded from the council tax payer.

Look at last year's bill. The above is all there is. The bill deals with money and is otherwise blank. No message from on high.

The first issue over manipulation arises if you compare it with this year's bill. This year, someone composed and wrote an 'Efficiency Message' at the bottom. And strangely enough, it selectively chooses statistics that present the Conservative-controlled authority (HPBC) in a good light, and the Labour-controlled authority (DCC) in a bad light.

The other sinister feature is that the Police have been selectively left out of 'Efficiency Message'. If Derbyshire Police figures were included then - calculated the way the Conservatives have done it - their statistic would not look flattering. This does not suit the local Conservatives' agenda, so instead of being honest and putting all of the four headings in the 'Efficiency Message', or alternatively being honest and leaving out all of the four headings and having no 'Efficiency Message', they handled it differently. In a less than transparent way.

The two manipulations, set out above, find the local Conservatives exposed as trying on the oldest political trick in the book.

Incidentally, it was a Tory prime minister* who coined the expression 'There are lies, damn lies, and statistics'.

* Benjamin Disraeli 1804 - 1881