Dan Byles MP – did he benefit from Lobbett’s claims?

When I looked up the Tory candidate in the 2010 General Election, the one who won by a margin of 54 votes and who was being backed by Barry Lobbett, who was getting Warwickshire council tax payers to subsidise his campaigning, I found that he was being highlighted for his election spending last year.

Then, it was a question over whether buying a new hoarding with his name, face and the 2010 election slogan should be fully charged to his 2010 election campaign or (as he actually did) only a third of it need be – with the remainder to be charged to future campaigns we assume. The difference was between £1600 and about £500, and had the larger figure been used, he would have been in excess of his allowed spending.

In the end, there was no action taken against Dan Byles on the basis that it is ok to shift the cost over future campaigns, and he remains the MP for Warwickshire North and Bedworth.

However, we now know that during the same ‘short campaign’ period, claims were being made to Warwickshire CC for a councillor to drive to events in support of the election campaigns for that councillor and for Dan Byles. Given that Cllr Lobbett feels he should be recompensed, what would be the effect if Byles’ campaign paid the costs? Would it tip the amounts over the legal limit?

At the very least, Byles could do worse than distance himself from the penny-pinching councillor.

Two kinds of fraud?

Keen Green activist Keith Kondakor has for the second year running pulled his fine-tooth comb through the County Council’s member expenses. Last year he doggedly pursued Martin Heatley over the irregularities in his very large expenses claims (first class travel, curiously long journeys between home and Shire Hall, double claimed journeys). This year he’s obtained via a FOI request another year’s worth of claims by Warwickshire County Councillors.

Along with a very expensive hotel break (£2,500 for five councillors to spend three days in Bournemouth!) and I’m sure a few other inconsistencies, there’s one particular scandal.

It seems that Cllr Barry Lobbett is being told to repay over £600 he claimed for travelling around to do election campaigning. This is clearly a breach of the rules of councillors’ expenses, because election campaigns are not council business. I expect Keith Kondakor will be pressing for more action than just getting the money back and a symbolic rap on the knuckles, as happened with Heatley.

However, there emerges another question. What about Cllr Lobbett’s notification for election expenses? By law all candidates have to declare how much has been spent on their campaigns. So did he include this cost? Because if he didn’t, that would be another matter. If it puts the total over the allowed limit, then he’s in a serious breach of the rules.

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

Tories caught out in hypocrisy

Tonight there was a local forum held at Rugby College, at which a presentation was made by people who are unhappy at the cuts to Youth Services that threaten Hill Street and other centres around the time.

After the heartfelt presentations, the three county councillors present applauded the efforts of the youth. So good it was to see local politicians supporting the causes of the young.

However, a sour note was raised when someone had the temerity to ask how the councillors concerned (all Tories) voted when cuts to youth services in Warwickshire were slashed by millions. Apparently, this was not a time for ‘politics’ said the politicians, before they had to admit that they had actually voted in favour.

Serve them right for trying to pretend that they supported the groups that they only weeks ago agreed to cut.

Seeing the Wood for the Trees – before they’re flogged off

A recent article on the proposed sale of Forestry Commission land on LibCon seems to have revealed a far more far-reaching attack on Parliamentary democracy by the government. The amount to be sold in England over the next few years is about 100,000 acres, which is 15% of current holdings. However, they want to sell far more – potentially over 500,000 acres (leaving only about 10-20% not privatised). The reason that they cannot do that right now is down to existing law that restricts the sale or externalisation of the bulk of the public forestry estate.

To get around this, a series of extra powers on forestry have been added to a bill has that has been raised in the House of Lords by Baron Taylor of Holbeach, called the Public Bodies Bill (PBB). This Bill itself goes far beyond just forestry, and it gives Ministers at Westminster (or at the devolved assemblies/parliaments) powers to order abolition, merger or constitutional changes to huge swathe of organisations. Read the rest of this entry »

One step forward, two steps back

I noticed this story on the local Observer website this week: High demand for debt help about a Rugby-based Christian charity that are reporting a large increase in people coming to them for help on debt. The recession has hit people hard, and the programme of spending cuts (which means job cuts) and the recent increase in VAT are combining to squeeze people who are already struggling.

So it is great that there are organisations out there to help.

However, since I saw that story, two more things have come to light that will make it much harder for people in debt to get help. Firstly, the Tory-led government has axed funding for debt advice. The Financial Inclusion Fund cost £130million. But in the last 5 years it has helped:

• 379,000 people manage more than £6bn of debt.

• 3,000 families stay in their homes, resulting in a £150m saving to the courts and mortgage lenders in court and repossession costs.

• create an estimated £700m in annual cost savings for the NHS because of avoided mental health problems and stress.

• creditors recover an estimated £300m more of their debt than they would have recovered without the service.

Secondly, reports are coming in from across the country that local Citizens Advice Bureaux are facing possible closure, such as in Birmingham, due to local councils hacking away at grants to local voluntary groups as they try to deal with the effects of Eric Pickles’ 28% reduction in funding. CABs spend much of their time dealing with people who have debt problems. As much as they have been trying to diversify their funding so they are not wholly dependent on council grants, now is really not the time to pull the rug.

As much as the Tories in Westminster talk about the ‘Big Society’, they are undermining the voluntary sector with their deep and early cuts and trying to pass the blame down to local councils. When it comes to dealing with debt, it’s important to ensure that people have access to advice and support, because very often a little help can go a long way to avoiding bankruptcy and homelessness.

No wonder that Phil Redmond has become disillusioned with the ‘Big Society’ project. Projects like Rugby’s CAP are going to have to pick up all the of slack when the cuts hit other agencies. I just hope that they can cope. Because the real losers will be those who are already suffering from debt problems.

Bob nails it

One of my favourite Labour bloggers is Councillor Bob Piper. His patch in Bearwood, Sandwell, is just up the road from where my gf’s family are based. As a proper socialist within the Labour Party, and one who isn’t afraid to buck the party line in public, he seems to get a fair amount of notice and respect.

Today he posted probably the most comprehensive take-down of Cameron and the NHS reforms. I heartily recommend the following post:

Cameron’s NHS Myths

He outlines 6 key myths (or should we say ‘lies’) that the Tories are putting out to sell the NHS reforms. Each one is shown to be total hogwash. Yet Tory and Lib Dem MPs are soon going to troop through the Commons divisions to back these reforms.

Galsworthy Guilty

Mike Galsworthy pled guilty to all four counts of fiddling on Council Tax benefit, and was fined £350 (plus costs and a £15 victim surcharge).

As he’s already resigned from the council, the matter won’t go any further – assuming he pays the fine. It’s good to see that a benefit fraudster has been caught ,although the penalty seems a little lenient, it can carry a three month jail sentence, and a much larger fine. Perhaps he has already repaid anything owing, and pleading poverty appears to have helped. Still his fine doesn’t come close to the cost of the by-election that he caused.

I expect the local Tories are pretty embarrassed about this – he’d not only been a Parish councillor for some time, but he’d also been on the Borough’s Standards Committee, which monitors the ethical standards of councillors. If anything his position should have meant a harsher punishment, but apparently the man has ‘limited means’.

The real reason for the Dunchurch byelection

When Mike Galsworthy stepped down from his  seat this autumn, there was something odd about it. The local press seemed to know more than they were saying, because they reported him as announcing his resignation within a day of stating he would remain, but they didn’t report why the question had been asked in the first place.

The reason given at the time was ‘personal’. I heard that it was something like his family weren’t happy with the extra commitment of being a councillor, and he’d been given an ultimatum by his wife. As he’d only been elected in May this year, that made some sense (although he appears to have been an active parish councillor for some time, so should have been prepared for extra effort.

Now it can be reported – as per the Advertiser – that Galsworthy is facing a court date next week, having been charged with  “four offences of failing to notify the council of change of circumstances namely partner, partner working, private pension and councillors’ allowance under section 112(1A) Social Security Administration Act 1992.”

That means he’s been accused of what would come under the heading ‘benefit fraud’. It’s not clear what benefits this covers, but I’m not sure that makes a difference. As it is the council that are pursuing him, he’d have little choice but to resign even if he is later cleared, because there would be a clear conflict of interest.

I wonder if the byelection was called quickly so that it took place before the news came out?

I also wonder whether the good voters of Dunchurch and Knightlow would have thought twice before electing another Tory to replace him, had they had the chance to know about this before December 2nd?

Council defends censorship

The farce gets even more convoluted. But the lucky people of Rugby get to see my ugly mug in the Observer.

I found out that someone had tried to ask a question at the last Cabinet meeting at Rugby Borough Council, but it had been rejected. What concerned me most that it wasn’t just an officer doing the vetting, as has been the case before, but the Leader of the Council, Craig Humphrey.

Who was the subject of the question? Read the rest of this entry »