Sunday 31 May 2009
Many state benefits, most notably pensions, are means tested, quite often resulting in hard working people who have put money aside throughout their working lives losing out to the reckless who lived as if there was no tomorrow.
But if means testing is good enough for the general public, then it should be good enough for MPs whose pension pots are provided for by us.
For years, Ministers from all parties have accepted lucrative directorships which they would not have received had they not held important public positions. In many (most?) instances, the Ministers are not sufficiently qualified to be employed by these companies if they applied through the normal channels. They are employed simply because they bring with them their little black book of contact names and because it looks good to have their names on the letterhead.
These MPs are thus profiting from the experience gained when they were supposed to be working for us. It would therefore seem only fair to deduct these earnings from their parliamentary pension pots.
And for good measure, any MPs found to have been troughing without reasonable cause should have that sum deducted from the pension pot as well.
What many MPs still fail to understand is that it is completely unacceptable for them to apply a different set of rules to themselves than to us. It is manifestly unfair that those MPs who have now decided to stand down at the next election as a consequence of their troughing, should still be able to benefit with an enhanced pension paid for by us.
As a result of the MPs expenses scandal, some new phrases have entered the political lexicon, most notably flipping (changing the designation of one’s main residence) and double dipping where husband and wife MPs have been using taxpayers’ money to make claims on two homes.
However, following a light hearted exchange with one of our regular correspondents, an alternative definition springs to mind.
Until recently, MPs did not have to submit receipts for expense claims up to £250. Many MPs have other jobs in the private sector.
Not The Barnet Times wonders whether any MPs have claimed the same expense twice, both from a private company, which would naturally require the receipt, and from the Westminster fees office, which did not.
Until recently, such behaviour would have been considered unconscionable, but as we now know, many MPs are so totally devoid of morality that you could not put it past them to have thought of this scam.
If you employ an MP, be sure to check their expense claims very carefully!
The Conservative Home website has reported a massive drop in support for Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers. In a poll of over 2,000 Conservative Party members, her approval rating slipped from +22% to +11% between April and May 2009.
At least she still has a positive rating. Alan Duncan’s rating has dropped an astonishing 62% to -9% and Francis Maude has gone from +13% to -26% over the same period.
Mrs Villiers is now ranked 24th out of 30 in the Shadow Cabinet. The drop in her rating coincides with the revelation in the Daily Telegraph that she charged the taxpayer almost £16,000 for stamp duty and other legal expenses on the purchase of her second home.
Last week Mrs Villiers told the Barnet Press: “I will continue to claim the allowance for six months to give me time to make the necessary changes to my personal arrangements, and will then cease to do so.”
However, she has not apologised for making her claim nor offered to repay the money involved. Barnet’s two Labour MPs Rudi Vis and Andrew Dismore have also said that they will stop claiming the Additional Costs Allowance but neither of them have apologised either.
Indeed, Rudi Vis said “I am not going to pay the money back because I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I don’t feel bad about it.” Of course he doesn’t feel bad about it. That would require a moral compass. Mr Vis will be standing down at the next election when he will receive a golden handshake of around £65,000 plus a gold plated index linked pension for life. It is a pity that the candidate who is favourite to succeed him is also no stranger to snout-in-the-troughism.
Saturday 30 May 2009
Saturday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph contained two very interesting articles.
The Leader Column was entirely devoted to a piece explaining why a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote.
On the following page, Deputy Editor Simon Heffer wrote that he would be voting for UKIP!
Just when you think there is nothing more that can shock you in the MPs expenses scandal, the Sunday Telegraph has revealed that Labour MP Frank Cook tried to claim back a £5 donation to a Church collection.
I don’t allow swearing on this blog, otherwise I would tell you what I really think of this unprincipled charlatan.
If you feel the same, send him an e-mail and let him know.
The picture on the right is the new photograph of the Conservative Administration in Barnet who are too cowardly to accept an invitation from the Jewish Community Housing Association to meet some of the residents who will be affected by the council’s proposals to scrap warden services.
Local campaigner Vicki Morris has been fighting hard to retain the warden service for residents living in sheltered accommodation, and details of the Tory snub can be found on her own blog.
If you hold public office, you are accountable for your actions. If you take a decision which is unpopular, you must be prepared to explain and defend your position.
But to refuse to meet the people whose lives your decision affects is utterly reprehensible.
In response to the invitation from Jewish Community Housing Association, Cllr Lynne Hillan, who as Cabinet Member for Community Services was responsible for the proposed cuts, told the Barnet Times: “As the association is a contractor to the council, I believe it is highly inappropriate that they should be so overtly political.”
The Conservatives do not have a mandate to slash the warden service. It was not part of their last manifesto. Jewish Community Housing Association are simply doing their job, which is far more than can be said of the people responsible for dreaming up this atrocious policy.
UPDATE: Cllr Duncan Macdonald has posted an update to the warden situation on his blog. He says: “It’s not good news.” Not The Barnet Times agrees.
Not The Barnet Times is indebted to one of our loyal readers who has sent us the link to a web site called The Saint Report which carries a very interesting article with twelve rules for dealing with the press. Four of these caught our attention.
Never lie to a reporter
Telling a newspaper that a story is not about you when it clearly is, is not recommended.
Answer the calls of the press
Putting the phone down on a journalist is not only rude, it is the sign of a person who has lost the moral argument.
Think before you speak
Common sense really, unless you have already put the phone down on the reporter.
Keep Your Cool
Threatening a journalist with legal action for having the audacity to print something which you know to be true is generally best avoided. Ask Jonathan Aitken.
These rules were designed for property developers, but Not The Barnet Times is happy to pass on the information to anyone else who needs it. Not mentioning any names.
Thursday 28 May 2009
Following revelations by Not The Barnet Times that Brian Coleman is to receive £10,000 of taxpayers’ money for legal expenses, a welcome diversion arrives from City Hall where Boris Johnson has instructed Barnet to build 15 new sites for Travellers over the next 8 years.
Cllr Coleman is a well known supporter of the Travelling community, having recently described them as itinerant labourers who should “stay put in Ireland”, and he will no doubt welcome the opportunity to speak out against Boris’s plans.
Mr Coleman is currently under investigation by the Standards Committee for his intemperate e-mail attack on fellow blogger Rog T whom he described as “obsessive” and “poisonous”, as well as calling him a liar.
Regular readers might recognise the similarity between Coleman’s comments and the famous legal case of Pot versus Kettle.
Two weeks ago, Cllr Coleman used his Mayoral inauguration speech to launch an astonishing attack on the blogging community whom, he claimed, would drive voters into the arms of the BNP.
Not The Barnet Times can only imagine the busloads of voters who will flock to the BNP once Coleman has given us his opinion on the proposals for Travellers in his own inimitable way.
It is not only MPs who have abused the public’s trust. Not The Barnet Times can now reveal the extent to which council leader Mike Freer has ridden roughshod over the rules in order to assist his good friend Brian Coleman.
Coleman is facing an investigation by the Standards Committee over a serious allegation of misconduct but refused the services of the solicitor offered by the council’s insurers. A council spokesman told the Barnet Press: “…it made more sense to have a London-based firm in this case, rather than having to pay a for a lawyer to travel from Swansea to Barnet.”
NOT TRUE! The cost of the Swansea based lawyer would have been for paid by insurance at no cost to the taxpayer.
Coleman asked to be represented by Beachcroft LLP - one of the top legal firms in the country. Their charges for a partner are £297 an hour.
To comply with council rules, the Chief Solicitor obtained comparative quotations from two other suitably qualified firms, Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP and Bevan Brittan LLP, who quoted between £197 and £250 per hour. The Chief Solicitor was required to report this information to Mike Freer but despite both firms being very experienced in local government work- and also cheaper - Beachcroft’s were appointed.
Not The Barnet Times asked the council: “Could you please state whether Mrs Martinus [Chief Solicitor] gave the leader any advice as to which firm should be selected. If so, did Mrs Martinus recommend Beachcroft’s or did the leader ignore her advice and make the decision himself?”
In reply, a council spokesman said: “The Head of Legal made no recommendation in respect of the solicitor firms.”
In other words, it was Mike Freer who made the decision to appoint Beachcroft’s and Mike Freer’s decision alone. He is not a qualified solicitor. Indeed he has no legal qualifications whatsoever, yet he took a legal decision without even asking for the advice of his Chief legal officer.
The council confirmed to Not The Barnet Times that Brian Coleman is actually being represented by a partner of Beachcroft’s with the assistance of a solicitor and a trainee solicitor at a total cost of £550 per hour.
That’s £550 an hour of your money for something which could have been provided for free!
Freer declared the payment of Coleman’s legal fees as ‘urgent’ which meant that it could not be challenged by a scrutiny committee. When former leader Victor Lyon pulled off a similar stunt in 2005, Freer was livid at the abuse of the democratic process. (Yes Mike, I still have your e-mails)
It is somewhat ironic that the latest edition of the Barnet Times reveals that Coleman called a member of the public a liar, yet he himself lied to the same paper when he tried to gag them to prevent this story being published.
In recent weeks, the public have expressed their anger at politicians who spend taxpayers money looking after their own interests. David Cameron has insisted that such behaviour will not be tolerated by Conservative MPs. It is self evident that the same argument applies to councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates.
Not The Barnet Times does not know why Freer was removed from the official Conservative candidates list in 2005, but it is clear that he should never have been reinstated. There is no place in public life for politicians who use taxpayers money to help their friends.
There is also no place in public life for politicians who tell deliberate untruths.
Coleman and Freer should both be removed from office.
Wednesday 27 May 2009
Former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Tebbit risks expulsion from the party following his recent call for the public to boycott the major parties at next week’s Euro elections as a punishment over the MPs expenses scandal.
Whilst many people will sympathise with his view, there is a clear danger that, even inadvertently, his comments might help increase support for fringe parties such as the BNP.
But David Cameron has only himself to blame for the anguish which many natural Conservative supporters feel. He has decided that after the election, Conservative MEPs will join a new alliance in Brussels which includes a homophobic Polish party and Nazi sympathising Latvians.
Unlike Westminster, elections to the Euro Parliament are on a PR basis. In London, the number 2 candidate on the Conservative list is Syed Kamall. He is a brilliant hard working MEP who took over from Theresa Villiers when she stepped down in 2005. He is a proper Tory who has helped me enormously with a constituency matter and he thoroughly deserves to be re-elected.
Number 3 on the list is Councillor Marina Yannakoudakis. Marina is one of a number of Conservative councillors who has steadfastly refused to be bullied by the ruling cabal on Barnet Council as to who she can and cannot associate with. She also deserves to be elected next week.
But whilst there are many other worthy Conservative candidates, some supporters will be unhappy at the prospect of their representatives joining such an unholy alliance of far right parties.
Political parties in Brussels form groups for what appears to be no other reason than to qualify for EU funding. The public have rightly expressed their indignation at the way taxpayers money is being wasted - especially in Europe.
Mr Cameron should give a signal that Conservative MEPs will not be forced into joining any alliance against their wishes. More importantly, no pacts should be entered into without the prior consent of the electorate.
I have just been listening to a very interesting interview on the Today programme with Professor of behavioural economics, Mr Dan Ariely.
He has concluded that when it came to MPs stuffing their pockets with taxpayers cash, the poor little lambs just couldn’t help themselves.
Prof Ariely suggests that we could all act equally dishonestly if we were in their position. Perhaps disgraced MP Anthony Steen was right when he said that the public were simply jealous?
Tuesday 26 May 2009
Monday 25 May 2009
Barnet residents must be wondering why Mike Freer, leader of the council and prospective Parliamentary candidate for Finchley & Golders Green has not taken incumbent Labour MP Rudi Vis to task over his allowances.
The Barnet Press reports that since 2006, Mr Vis has claimed £40,000 in interest payments for his London home. The Daily Mail has revealed that he also clocked up an astonishing £5,292 in mileage claims last year even though his constituency is just nine miles north of Westminster.
As Mr Vis is quick to point out, all his claims have been within the rules. That doesn’t make them morally acceptable and the public are justifiably outraged, so why the big silence from Freer? Could it be that on the subject of sticking one’s snout in the trough, he has form?
For it was Mike Freer who ignored Government recommendations and pushed through changes that have allowed him and his cronies on Barnet Council to stack up multiple Special Responsibility Allowances, even though guidelines say that councilors should claim no more than one.
As a result, Freer raked in £47,082 as leader of Barnet Council last year. Add to this the £24,248 he received from sitting on just two part time quangos and that adds up to a stonking £71,330 a year. Who needs to be cosseted by family money when it is so much easier to live off the backs of hard working taxpayers?
Cabinet Member for Resources Lynne Hillan has previously defended councillors receiving big allowances, claiming that they were worth the money because they could earn five times as much in the private sector. Last year, Brian Coleman received total allowances of almost £103,000.
Would all the private sector employers willing to pay Mr Coleman a salary of £500,000 a year please form an orderly queue as the nurse is ready to administer your next injection.
To justify their greedy snout-in-the-troughism, many MPs have bleated words to the effect: “Of course, if we were paid a decent salary, we wouldn’t have to fiddle our expenses.”
But what is a decent salary?
The basic pay for MPs is £64,766 per annum which puts them in the top 10% of earners.
They receive a generous allowance to pay for staff and office costs. Most people accept that MPs must be able to run an efficient office in order to serve constituents properly, although there is now a compelling argument for Parliament to provide secretarial and support services directly to avoid a repetition of the Derek Conway abuse.
There is also a reasonable argument that Parliament should now provide overnight accommodation facilities for MPs representing distant constituencies, to avoid further abuses of the Additional Costs Allowance.
Given that legitimate expenses incurred by MPs are already reimbursed, is a salary of nearly £65,000 reasonable? The public certainly thinks so considering that Westminster no longer has late night sittings and that MPs also receive an extremely generous holiday entitlement and a gold plated index linked pension to boot.
So what is the real market worth of an MP? There is no reason why public sector pay should not follow the supply and demand disciplines of the real world. If an MP’s basic salary was reduced to £30,000 a year, would there be a shortage of applicants standing at each election? Of course not. And at least we would then know that the candidates were standing on a platform of public service and not to stuff their own pockets with taxpayers cash.
Sunday 24 May 2009
The BBC has once again shown itself to be unfit for purpose. There are so many reasons why it should be privatised, but here are two recent examples.
On Friday the Beeb announced that in future Jonathan Ross’s Saturday morning radio show would be recorded. Although Ross has a big following, many find his reliance on smutty innuendo immature and quite distasteful. His ability to offend people just by opening his mouth reminds me of a certain member of the GLA.
It is quite clear that scrapping the live show was to prevent future gaffes such as the recent 'Hannah Montana' jibe that resulted in complaints of homophobia. A Radio 2 Spokesman said that Ross was “absolutely on board” with the decision to pre-record the show as it meant “he gets his weekends back.”
Poor little diddums!! He gets paid £6 million a year but doesn’t want to have to work for a couple of hours on the weekend. What a hard life he leads.
On the same day as the Ross announcement, it was revealed that the BBC paid £17 million in bonuses to some staff whilst making others redundant amidst £400 million in budget cuts which will inevitably affect programming.
It is simply astonishing that in the current financial climate, the BBC thinks it can justify making bonus payments of this level. In the private sector, many workers will be happy just to keep their jobs.
But this is symptomatic of the malaise in the public sector where someone else is picking up the bill - in this case the licence fee payer. The Daily Telegraph has exposed the venal greed of many so called 'honourable' Members of Parliament whilst the Evening Standard has reported allegations that senior teachers at a top London School have awarded themselves illegal bonus payments.
Where is the scrutiny that the public’s money is being spent wisely? Where is the accountability?
The public are sickened at the way their hard earned money ends up lining the pockets of a few self serving parasites. If the BBC wants to spend £6 million on Jonathan Ross, it should do so with its own money, not ours. We have to pay the licence fee whether we watch/listen to the BBC or not. It should be scrapped immediately and the Corporation privatised.
Let it compete on equal footing with commercial broadcasters. If the quality of its output is good enough, it will survive and prosper.
But it will also come to realise that it has been spending far too much money on unadulterated trash.
The BNP must be laughing their socks off. Money could not buy the amount of publicity they have received following the news that GLA Member Richard Barnbrook invited BNP leader Nick Griffin to a garden party at Buckingham Palace.
But instead of the media just attacking Barnbrook for inviting his odious boss, why has there been no criticism of the GLA’s Chief Executive Leo Boland, who was ultimately responsible for dealing with the invitations?
Boland (pictured right) was recruited from Barnet Council last year at an absurd, and frankly obscene, salary of £205,000 a year. Perhaps Boris could explain what he actually does for the money?
Anyone with even half a brain cell would have known that someone like Barnbrook would seek to exploit the invitation, and Leo Boland must accept complete responsibility for this shambles which could have been avoided.
Hopefully, as a result of this debacle, Buckingham Palace will review its invitation policy. In the current climate, the public will be sickened at the fact that any politician is granted the honour of tea with Her Majesty.
A spokesman for the Palace told the BBC that the London Assembly is one of more than 1,000 organisations given allocations of places for individuals at the garden parties. In future, perhaps political organisations should be crossed off the list entirely and instead all the tickets given to ordinary members of the public.
In the mean time, Boris should sack Leo Boland, not just for putting the Queen in an embarrassing position, but for bringing even more dishonour on one of our political institutions.
Saturday 23 May 2009
The MPs song (to the tune of the hit by Abba)
They lie all night, and cheat all day, their claims all in and then we pay
Ain't it bad
And still it just appears to be, they’re all corrupt, no honesty
Make’s us mad
To take it all, that is their plan
To rake it in the perfect scam
Expenses paid, no claim too small, they spin around and catch us all...
Money, money, money
Must be lovely
In an MP’s world
Money, money, money
Con the country
In an MP’s world
All the things they can screw
Just to claim the public’s money
In an MP’s world
They list it all for where they stay, a second home someone must pay
Ain't it bad
They say they claim it legally,, they do not care as you can see
Make’s us mad
So they must leave, they have to know
We’ve had enough, they’ll have to go
They’ve made a fortune in a game, but life will never be the same...
Money, money, money
Must be lovely
In an MP’s world
Money, money, money
Con the country
In an MP’s world
All the things they can screw
Just to claim the public’s money
In an MP’s world
Money, money, money
Must be lovely
In an MP’s world
Money, money, money
Con the country
In an MP’s world
All the things they can screw
Just to claim the public’s money
In an MP’s world
In an MP’s world
Last year, Mike Freer raked in total allowances of more than £71,300 comprising £47,082 as leader of Barnet Council plus £24,248 from two quangos.
The basic salary for an MP is £64,766.
David Cameron has made it clear that in future, Conservative MPs will only be able to claim back legitimate expenses from the taxpayer. The days of self serving, money grabbing, snout-in-the-troughism are over.
Not The Barnet Times wonders if Mike Freer still wants to be an MP as it would require him to take a pay cut of over £6,500?
Not that he’s not doing it for the money of course.
Friday 22 May 2009
There has been some discussion on the blogosphere as to the collective name for the MPs expenses scandal. Expensesgate, Snoutgate, Sorry-its-all-been-a-terrible-mistakegate, Flipgate and The Last Good Buy are just a few of the suggestions posted on Guido Fawkes’ blog Order-Order. My personal favourite is Profligate.
The American TV programme The Daily Show is calling it Scamalot.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
This is their take on the crisis.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that public confidence in politicians is at an all time low. The continuing revelations about MPs expenses is damaging the very fabric of our democracy.
But MPs do not have a monopoly for claiming excessive allowances and regular readers will know that Not The Barnet Times has highlighted numerous instances where senior Conservative councillors have received substantial payments for, frankly, not very much in return.
At the annual meeting of the council on Tuesday, Labour councillor Geof Cooke sought the necessary constitutional permission to move a motion on allowances which was not on the agenda. Unfortunately, a majority of councillors voted not to allow him to do so. This was his motion:
“Council notes the damage that has been caused to the political system by the parliamentary expenses saga in this country.
Council believes that, in the light of this crisis, members of this council should set an example and so Council resolves that the Independent Panel should be convened as soon as possible to consider a cap on overall councillors’ allowances, including the re-introduction of the cap on individuals claiming multiple Special Responsibility Allowances.
Council also asks Cabinet to lobby government for a change in the law to allow members' allowances in local government to be set by an Independent Panel, so that politicians are not deciding their own remuneration.”
Mike Freer, leader of the council, has said that the new Mayor of Barnet, Brian Coleman, will give the opposition parties “a fair crack of the whip.”
He could demonstrate this by ensuring that Cllr Cooke’s motion is the first item on the agenda at the next council meeting.
Thursday 21 May 2009
If historians ever decide to compile a list of the 37,963 most stupid comments ever made by Brian Coleman, near to the top will be his recent claim that bloggers are driving voters into the arms of the BNP.
It is just two weeks to go until the European Elections yet I have received only four pieces of election literature. One each from the LibDems, UKIP, No2EU and the BNP.
The LibDems are of course a mainstream party, but if Labour and the Conservatives cannot even get off their backsides and talk to the people (please note ‘to’, not ‘at’) then is it any wonder that the fringe parties pick up votes?
What’s that you say Skippy? Nobody is volunteering to deliver literature anymore?
Nobody wants to go out canvassing?
I wonder why that is Skippy?
For the last two weeks, the Daily Telegraph has reported tales of the utmost greed perpetrated by supposedly honourable Members of Parliament. Last week, the London Evening Standard broke the story that the head teacher of Copland Community College in Wembley, Sir Alan Davies, had been suspended along with his deputy, Dr Richard Evans, who was the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in Hendon in 2001 and 2005.
Yesterday’s edition of the Standard set out the shocking allegations in more detail. Sir Alan, who employed members of his family at the school, allegedly received unlawful bonuses and other payments of £631,500. Dr Evans allegedly received unlawful bonuses and other extra payments of £341,000.
And all the while, pupils were being taught in huts as the school around them was crumbling.
Not The Barnet Times supports teachers receiving bonuses if they excel at their jobs, but not at the expense of pupils’ education.
If the allegations against Sir Alan and Dr Evans are proven then, just like MPs who have been caught with their fingers in the till, they must be forced to repay the money in full.
The public will no doubt be wondering how effortlessly some people have been able to milk the system for their own benefit. The reason is due to the unhealthy and obsessive culture of secrecy which is so ingrained into every fibre of our public institutions, that effective scrutiny has become impossible.
In a country where the very idea of corruption by public officials was once deemed unthinkable, we have become a society where those in whom we trust are on the make and on the take. Only greater transparency and accountability will prevent future scandals. Sadly, we must rely on the very people who have abused the system to fix it.
Earlier this week I posted an article revealing how Barnet Council was spending £31,000 of taxpayers’ money on a room booking system. I then reported that a reader had used Google to find a software package costing just a few hundred Pounds.
Our friends at the Barnet Times followed up this story and interviewed the director of an internet company, Sapnagroup, who told them that his company could design a product for £2,000.
A council spokesman told the newspaper that they could not understand how the quote from Sapnagroup could be so low. Well has it occurred to anyone in the council to pick up the phone to them and find out?
The simple truth is that the council made no effort whatsoever to find out what was available in the market. The report authorising the purchase of the £31,000 gold plated system states that the council spoke to just four potential suppliers “based on preliminary research using contacts from other Councils and organisations with a similar requirement.”
When the Conservatives won control of Barnet in 2002, then leader Victor Lyon said that the council would run like a business. No business would operate in this way. They would soon go bust if they did. If you want to buy a dog, you go and talk to someone in a pet shop. If you want a new wide screen television, you visit a few retailers and look up information on the internet. If you want to buy some specialist software, go and talk to a software development company.
Barnet Council did not take even these basic steps. One of my readers found a software package costing a few hundred pounds on the internet. It might not do everything the council wants, but why not call up the manufacturer and ask how much it would cost to modify the program?
Barnet has now been told in clear and unequivocal terms by an expert that they are spending far too much money. The real question is whether the council will now go back to the drawing board and start the tendering process again, or carry on regardless pouring our money down the drain?
Never one to shy away from controversy, new Mayor of Barnet Brian Coleman used his maiden speech on Tuesday to launch an astonishing attack on the blogging community.
Coleman claimed that what he perceived to be a constant criticism of politicians served only “to reduce voter turnout and help parties like the BNP.”
You know a politician has lost the argument when he tries to shoot the messenger. Bloggers do not make the news. They report it. If voters are turning to fringe parties it is only because the mainstream politicians have proved themselves to be an abject failure in the eyes of the electorate.
But whilst it would be easy to dismiss Coleman’s remarks as simply another intemperate outburst from a politician who usually only opens his mouth to change foot, his comments are symptomatic of the growing antipathy between electors and elected, which has boiled over in recent weeks following the MPs expenses scandal exposed by the Daily Telegraph.
The problem for the establishment is that they have finally been found out. In days of yore, politicians went about their business and nobody really paid too much attention to what they were doing. There was no need to - they were respected and trusted by the public. But now, with the explosion of new technologies, a politician only has to pick his nose, and the video clip is on YouTube within minutes, available to an audience of millions.
Every word a politician says can be instantly dissected and debated on internet forums. And the public have come to realise that politicians aren’t so special after all.
But unlike medicine, law, teaching and a whole host of other professions where a qualification is required, anyone can be a politician - quite rightly so. We all have a point of view and now, thanks to websites like Blogger, we can all express our opinions to the whole world at no cost whatsoever.
And that is what really gets under the skin of politicians like Brian Coleman. They have lost their monopoly of controlling the news agenda. They don’t like the fact that we can have our say and that our opinion is just as valid as theirs. But they especially don’t like the fact that people read our blogs.
Nobody has to read a newspaper or listen to the radio. If the local newspapers are put through our letter boxes, we are not obliged to read them. But people read and interact with blogs because they choose to. And that is what scares the hell out of people like Coleman.
The political revolution which is now taking place in this country is not just about MPs expenses - that is just a by-product of the malaise endemic in the system. The public have found their politicians and the whole political process to be wanting. There is no transparency or accountability. Politicians have forgotten that they were elected to serve, not to rule.
Whilst David Cameron and Nick Clegg were both willing participants in the now discredited system, they have both come to realise that restoring trust in our democratic institutions requires far more than simply changing the Speaker of the House and booting out a few troughing MPs. The whole system of government, local and national, has to change fundamentally.
Brian Coleman, and dinosaurs like him, simply don’t get it and until they do, they will find themselves left behind.
Wednesday 20 May 2009
Last year, I posted an article following Cllr Lynne Hillan’s appointment as Chairman of the London Councils Grants Committee.
This committee met five times last year and three times so far this year, with another meeting planned for July.
My previous article stated that the job came with an allowance worth £5,299.32 a year. A spokesman for London Councils has advised me that my figure was incorrect and that the allowance is actually £10,248.
I sincerely apologise to Cllr Hillan for the error in my earlier blog.
Tuesday 19 May 2009
New Mayor of Barnet, Brian Coleman, decided to take on the blogging community in his acceptance speech at Barnet Town Hall this evening.
Coleman decried bloggers whom he claimed pulled down civic institutions by attacking officers and councillors.
The Marmite Mayor declared “I will not tolerate it!”
Quite how Barnet’s First Citizen (with special responsibility for canapés) aims to achieve this is anybody’s guess. Perhaps he has been reading Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part II, Act I, Scene I:
Yet, for all this, say not that Percy's dead.
I see a strange confession in thine eye:
Thou shakest thy head and hold'st it fear or sin
To speak a truth. If he be slain, say so;
The tongue offends not that reports his death:
And he doth sin that doth belie the dead,
Not he which says the dead is not alive.
Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
Hath but a losing office, and his tongue
Sounds ever after as a sullen bell,
Remember'd tolling a departing friend.
Our thanks to Statler & Waldorf for not suing us over the use of their picture.
Iain Dale has reported on his blog: “David Cameron is encouraging any of his MPs who have faced accusations from the Telegraph to take their case to their constituents and face them in public meetings.”
Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers is one of the MPs featured by the Telegraph. I am sure many residents will want to know why she needed a second home at our expense, given that she lives so close to Parliament.
Mrs Villiers says she will stop claiming the allowance later this year. Why not now? Will she repay the stamp duty and other fees that we have paid for out of our taxes?
Obviously David Cameron has no control over Labour MPs (and frankly neither does Gordon Brown) but Rudi Vis and Andrew Dismore also need to explain themselves to the electorate.
It is scarcely believable that all three of our MPs have been claiming the second home allowance which was intended to help parliamentarians from far flung constituencies, not those who represent London constituencies.
The sooner all three appear before the court of public opinion, the better. Staying silent will not make this issue go away.
UPDATE: Outgoing Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, has announced interim reforms to MPs expenses. With immediate effect, MPs will no longer be able to claim for Stamp Duty on second homes. Can we have our money back please?
One day a florist goes to a barber for a haircut. After the cut he asked about his bill and the barber replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The florist was pleased and left the shop.
When the barber goes to open his shop the next morning there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door.
Later, a policeman comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The policeman is happy and leaves the shop.
The next morning when the barber goes to open up there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.
Later that day, a college professor comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you, I'm doing community service this week.' The professor is very happy and leaves the shop.
The next morning when the barber opens his shop, there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen different books, such as 'How to Improve Your Business' and 'Becoming More Successful.'
Then, a Member of Parliament comes in for a haircut , and when he goes to pay his bill the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The Member of Parliament is very happy and leaves the shop.
The next morning when the barber goes to open up, there are a dozen Members of Parliament lined up waiting for a free haircut.
And that, my friends, illustrates the fundamental difference between the citizens of our country and Members of Parliament.
We all need a good laugh now and again, so thanks to the Barnet Times for reporting this gem from Cllr Lynne Hillan ahead of tonight’s full council meeting when she will be elected Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources. Ms Hillan said:
“It is a huge honour to be taking on the role of deputy leader and cabinet member for resources. Thanks to Mike Freer the state of the accounts is looking good, having recovered after Labour and the Liberals nearly bankrupted the council when they were last in control.”With £27.4m taxpayers money at risk due to the council’s unauthorised Icelandic investments (under Freer’s watch) and £11 million overspent on the Aerodrome Road bridge project (Matthew Offord’s watch) I would say that the state of the accounts is far from looking good.
It seems our political lords and masters in Barnet have yet to wake up to the new reality that the public can’t be fooled, won’t be fooled and will throw out of office anyone who tries to fool them.
Regular readers will recall the furore last year when it was revealed that Barnet Council had spent £14,000 of taxpayers’ money purchasing five flat screen televisions for its Chief officers. You can see the invoices here.
The ongoing Daily Telegraph investigation has shown that MPs also like to buy expensive televisions at our expense. Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman tried to claim a stonking £8,865 for his television whilst disgraced Justice Minister Shahid Malik tried to claim £2,100 for a Sony flat screen TV only to be told that the limit was £750.
Some hard pressed taxpayers might feel that even £750 was rather generous for a telly! Be that as it may, Barnet Council allowed its officers to spend nearly four times the amount MPs are permitted to spend.
At the time, Labour leader Alison Moore and LibDem leader Jack Cohen both condemned the expenditure. Only Conservative leader Mike Freer defended it.
Perhaps Mr Freer would now care to take this opportunity to admit that he was wrong and, like the troughing MPs he hopes to join, apologise to taxpayers for this disgraceful abuse of public money.
Monday 18 May 2009
A source close to the Chief Executive’s office has told Not The Barnet Times that senior council officers sought advice over this blog’s recent criticism of Acting Director of Resources, Clive Medlam.
Unfortunately for Barnet Council, reporting the truth is not yet a criminal offence.
What a pity that the same officers did not bother discussing Mr Medlam’s decision to spend £31,000 of taxpayers money on something which could be bought for less than £1,000.
For those of you who don’t know, Clive Medlam is Barnet Council’s Acting Director of Resources and Chief Financial Officer. He is the unelected officer who authorised the expenditure of £31,000 on a room booking system exclusively revealed on this blog yesterday.
He is also the officer who escaped with nothing more than a mild warning when it was discovered that he had buried £60,000 of legal indemnity expenses in a report to the Cabinet Resources Committee in 2005.
I have been contacted today by a pensioner reader of this blog who followed up the suggestion left by former Councillor Daniel Hope that the council should have simply Googled “room booking software” to see what came up.
My reader did precisely that and immediately found a product called Room Booking System. You can’t make this up - that’s how simple it was! This product would cost the council £210 a year with an initial set up fee of £420. Better still, it is available for a free 30 day trial with no obligation to purchase.
My reader wrote: “As a pensioner, I am on a fixed budget and every penny counts. If I want to buy something out of the ordinary, I always check on-line to find the best deal. It took me less than a minute to find this product using Google. Did the council even bother looking?”
Personally I doubt it, because their mentality is not to worry about such trivialities. It is not their money and they simply don’t care.
As a result, Clive Medlam has cost taxpayers another £30,000 which could have been avoided. How much more of this do we have to put up with before he is shown the door?
Sunday 17 May 2009
Another Not The Barnet Times Exclusive!
Barnet’s ability to waste our money seems to know no bounds. Unelected officers have decided that the council needs to buy a new room booking system to “facilitate more efficient room booking by Council staff for internal meetings held either at North London Business Park, Barnet House or Burnt Oak”.
According to the council report authorising the purchase: “Meetings can become delayed because of the inefficiency of the current room booking processes resulting in delayed timescales for resolution of Council business.”
But rather than starting with a blank sheet of paper, and working out how to solve a problem in the simplest and cheapest way, the council has gone straight for the gold plated solution with brass knobs on at a cost of £31,000. It is totally unnecessary and hugely wasteful.
This attitude sums up everything that is wrong with local government and, in particular, the abject failure of our elected politicians to keep control of costs.
In 2007/08 Barnet Council spent over £1.5 million on computer software licences - a figure which could have been slashed if it followed David Cameron’s suggestion of switching to Open Source Software.
Despite the difficult economic conditions, this waste of taxpayers money continues unabated. According to the report: “Tenders were invited from four suppliers based on preliminary research using contacts from other Councils and organisations with a similar requirement.”
In other words, rather than approach software developers, the council officer in charge of the project has just spoken to a few of his mates.
Not The Barnet Times has spoken to a small software development company - the type of business favoured by real Tories - whose owner told us: “What the council is trying to achieve is very simple in programming terms. The technology already exists and a secure web based system could be built, tested and be fully operational within a matter of months for a fraction of the amount the council are paying for an off the shelf solution.”
The decision to buy the gold plated version has been taken by an unelected officer which means that under the totally undemocratic local government laws introduced by Labour, it cannot be called in for scrutiny.
However, if the new Cabinet Member for Resources, Lynne Hillan, wants to prove she is not useless as some people think, her first job should be to put a stop to this contract, and start the process again.
When will the council stop wasting our money?
Another Not The Barnet Times Exclusive!
Tony Finn, widely regarded in the Conservative Group as a safe pair of hands, has been sensationally axed from the Cabinet by Mike Freer in a ruthless attempt to scupper Finn’s chances of defeating Lynne Hillan in the leadership contest later this year.
Moderates in the party are aghast at the thought that Hillan could be handed the top job on a plate, and Tony Finn is seen as the only candidate capable of stopping her.
For Lynne Hillan, this represents the ultimate revenge because it was Tony Finn’s intervention in the great coup of 2006 which resulted in Matthew Offord becoming Deputy Leader instead of her.
In another surprise move, Mike Freer has finally bowed to pressure to relinquish his dual role as Cabinet Member for Resources, following heavy criticism of his abject failure to monitor the whereabouts of £27.4 million of taxpayers money now at risk in Iceland. But, as if to stick two fingers up at anyone who dares to criticise him, Freer has appointed Lynne Hillan as his replacement.
That’s like Gordon Brown making Alistair Darling Chancellor. The result will be the same.
Lynne Hillan is the former Managing Director of Ashurst Direct Marketing Ltd, which went into creditors liquidation in September 2006 with debts of more than £121,000 - including £10,650 to the taxman - which remain unpaid.
Joining the Cabinet for the first time are Daniel Thomas and Robert Rams. Thomas will no doubt welcome his extra allowances as the running costs for his Ferrari Spider are going up all the time with fuel prices nudging £1 a litre.
Rams, previously thought of as being as quiet as a sheep (OK, that’s a cheap gag I know!) has recently developed cohunes. Not The Barnet Times hears that he recently told his former boss Brian Coleman to stop sending him stupid interfering e-mails.
Meanwhile Rome continues to burn.
Saturday 16 May 2009
Simon Heffer’s column in the Daily Telegraph today carries an apology. In common with the rest of the media, he has written a number of articles recently describing MPs as having their snouts in the trough.
Mr Heffer now realises that this was very unfair on pigs who have done nothing to deserve being compared to this money-grabbing, self-serving bunch of parasites.
Earlier in the week, Mr Heffer also lavished rare praise on David Cameron. He wrote:
“To be fair to David Cameron, he sounds like the only leading politician who understands the enormity of this. I commend him not only for his own integrity in his own expenses, showing a correct regard for how public money should be spent, but for his rhetoric in threatening sanctions against any of his MPs who have peculated in this way. His moral understanding is superior to Mr Brown's, who is happy to see remain in high office people who, in the private sector, would have been at least sacked and possibly even prosecuted.”Many ordinary Conservatives have been concerned at the direction David Cameron has been leading the party over the last two years. But the true test of leadership comes when you are facing a crisis, and the threat to our democracy is greater now than at any time since 1945.
Whilst the British might be reluctant to take to the streets as the French did in 1789, the justifiable anger of the public provides a perfect setting for extremist parties like the BNP to exploit.
Even if you are not a natural Tory supporter, your country needs you to vote Conservative to get rid of this wretched and discredited government and replace it with a leader who understands that the future of democracy requires something more than a cheesy grin on You Tube.
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell (one of the few genuinely honourable Members of Parliament) has announced that he will table a motion of no confidence in the Speaker, Michael Martin, next week. Mr Carswell has the support of MPs from all parties.
The Speaker’s intemperate and immature outburst against Kate Hoey proved that he would rather blame the media for reporting the truth, than deal with the crooks and fraudsters who have so undermined our democracy.
It is clearly going to be impossible to introduce the reforms necessary to restore public confidence in Westminster when you have a 1970s style shop steward running the show, and Mr Martin simply has to go.
Just as convention dictates that a new Speaker is dragged to his chair to take up the position, so Mr Martin should now be dragged back down again - and kicked out the back door for good measure.
On Wednesday, I e-mailed all three MPs in Barnet - Andrew Dismore, Theresa Villiers and Rudi Vis - asking them how they proposed to vote in Mr Carswell’s motion. I advised them that their response would be published on this blog.
All three Barnet MPs have made expenses claims for their second homes. So far, none of them have replied to my e-mail.
Friday 15 May 2009
Yesterday, Not The Barnet Times broke the story that Mike Freer was wasting £10,000 of taxpayers money providing legal services for a councillor being investigated by the Standards Committee. The real scandal of this story was that the council’s insurers were willing to provide a lawyer at no cost to the taxpayer, but the councillor in question wanted one of the biggest London firms to act for him instead.
Our friends at The Barnet Times followed this up with an article of their own in which they named the councillor under investigation as Brian Coleman.
Cue Coleman on the phone giving the journalist an ear bashing, denying that he was the councillor in question and threatening legal action. The only problem for Barnet’s Most Pompous Councillor is that his leader, Mike Freer, had already confirmed that Coleman was indeed the councillor under investigation.
Mike Freer told the paper: “…the standards board had already started their enquires and Councillor Coleman was being asked for statements and to attend interviews before the issue with the insurers had been resolved.”
Leaving aside the issue of the investigation itself, Brian Coleman, who hopes to be installed as Mayor of Barnet next week, has told a deliberate untruth to a local newspaper in order to throw them off the scent of a story which could have portrayed him in a bad light.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have in the past defended Coleman’s right to make an idiot of himself, but there are certain lines which cannot be crossed. At a time when the integrity of politicians is under scrutiny as never before, a councillor who says something to the press knowing it to be untrue, forfeits his right to remain in office.
David Cameron gets it. Brian Coleman clearly doesn’t.
In the words of another Barnet resident, Coleman has GOT to go!
Thursday 14 May 2009
It is bad enough that greedy MPs have dishonoured Parliament and defrauded their constituents with their rampant snout-in-the-troughism, but their list of excuses simply insults our intelligence.
If every MP who says “it was within the rules” had to pay a fiver to the Treasury, the National Debt could be paid off within a week.
The odious Labour MP Elliot Morley claims that it was just due to “sloppy accounting” that he hadn’t noticed the mortgage he was still claiming interest payments for had actually been paid off. One payment perhaps, but this went on for 18 months.
But nauseating LibDem MP Lemsip Opik has used the tragic death of his brother as an excuse for claiming back the cost of a summons for non payment of council tax.
In an interview to the BBC, Opik said that when his brother died in November 2005, his council tax bill was not “the highest thing on my mind.” No one would expect it to be, but that doesn’t mean the taxpayer should have to pay your fine.
If a company executive drives to a customer on business and gets a parking ticket or a speeding fine, should his/her employer pay the bill? No, of course not. If we make a mistake - even if there is a good excuse - we suffer the consequences ourselves. That’s what happens in the real world.
May Mr Opik’s brother rest in peace. Hopefully he never knew what a sleazeball his brother turned out to be.