The Hanningfield expenses saga drags on …

Read about it here on the BBC site.

A pre-trial hearing has been held by a judge in the case of a Conservative peer facing accusations that he fiddled his parliamentary expenses.

Lord Hanningfield faces six charges of false accounting between March 2006 and May 2009.

They are said to relate to overnight allowances for staying in London when records allegedly showed he was driven to his home near Chelmsford, Essex.

Lord Hanningfield is the former leader of Essex County Council.

 

Tories wrong on AV – again!

The latest Conservative newsletter distributed in Rayleigh contains some inaccurate and misleading comments about AV.

1) they say it is complicated. It isn’t. Instead of marking an X by your preferred candidate, you number candidates 1, 2, 3 and so on, in order of preference. If you find that tricky, you can still use the old X method. (If our MP finds it tricky, we might need to look for a new MP!)

2) they say some votes are counted several times, some votes only once. Not true. What happens is this: all the votes are counted. If no candidate has more than 50% of first preferences, votes for the lowest scoring candidate are re-allocated to their second choice, and ALL VOTES ARE COUNTED AGAIN. Everyone has one vote. All votes have the same value.

3) they tell you what Churchill said about AV. They don’t tell you what he said about our current first-past-the-post system:

“The present system has clearly broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. In many cases they do not secure majority representation, nor do they secure an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation, freak representation, capricious representation.”

Local Lib Dem spokemsman Sid Cumberland says: “It’s about time we had some honesty in politics. Trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes like this in order to keep the old, broken system is deceitful and patronising. The old guard don’t like AV because they’ll have to work harder and their safe seats won’t be quite so safe any more.”

For more information:

A Fair Voting System At Last – part 2

Ten reasons why the ‘Labour No’ campaign are wrong on AV

(The same reasons apply to the Tory No campaign as well.)

Lib Dems claim victory as Tories close 'Banking on Essex'

Liberal Democrat County Councillors are claiming victory over the scrapping of the Banking on Essex scheme following the announcement made at yesterday’s County Council budget setting meeting by the Leader Cllr Peter Martin to “close the initiative”.

Long term critic of the scheme County Councillor David Kendall has raised questions about the scheme and challenged the whole process from when even before he was first elected back in June 2009. His concerns covered the following points:

* When the first phase was launched in December 2009 the stated ambition for Banking On Essex was to create a local municipal bank.

* The County Council put aside £50m from its cash balances to support the scheme.

* It cost £380,000 to establish the scheme but the money could never be recovered.

* He asked for the scheme to be reviewed by the Economic Scrutiny Committee and this took place in June 2010.

* By May 2010 only twelve loans had been approved with a value of £320,000

* No figures were ever made available on the number of applications turned down.

* Following the scrutiny in June members were told they were going to get regular updates on how the scheme was going but it never happened.

Cllr Kendall said:

“I believe the County Council has made the right decision to scrap Banking on Essex. I had serious concerns about £50m of Essex residents money being set aside to support Banking on Essex. I was also very concerned that It cost £380,000 to establish the scheme back in 2009. Since then the number of loans granted has been quite small and only half a million pounds has been lent to local businesses.

“I was also concerned that no figures were ever made available as to the number of applications turned down and members were not given updates on how the scheme was performing. There were also instances of businesses applying for loans experiencing problems with paperwork being lost.

“I have never been convinced that it was right for the County Council to get directly involved in Banking and it seems the Tories running Essex County Council have now finally come to the same conclusion.”

Tories gag opposition in revenge campaign

In a blatant act of  revenge, Lord Hanningfield and the Conservative administration group at Essex County Council have today (5 August) voted to cut off the only opposition group’s one full time support staff in a bid to gag the opposition.  The Conservative group itself will continue to employ 13 full time staff to support its own Administration group and will also continue to accept Special Responsibility Allowances totaling around £600,000 on top of their normal councillor allowances, all at the taxpayers’ expense.  The move came when the administration decided to make political staff to the Liberal Democrat and Conservative group redundant.

Speaking about the decision, Lib Dem group leader Cllr Tom Smith-Hughes said: “Only recently, Lord Hanningfield was complaining to the national press that a “vindictive campaign” had been launched against him by a Liberal Democrat MP.  This was in response to the news that Scotland Yard had decided to investigate Lord Hanningfield’s House of Lords expenses.  It can hardly be a coincidence that a short time later the Lib Dem group has been thrown off the council’s Waste Advisory Board and is now having its only full time staff member made redundant.

“Given the already outrageous number of full time employees dedicated to working for the Administration group, it is clear that this Tory group’s main preoccupation is with occupying power and then cutting down the opportunities for anyone to question them.  It appears there are shades of North Korea in Essex Conservatives’ style of governance, rather than the bright new Conservative image peddled by David Cameron.”

Tories plough more cash into troubled Banking on Essex project

Essex taxpayers are being asked to cough up another £200,000 to fund ‘research’ into the Conservative county council’s Banking on Essex project, despite significant sums of money and hundreds of hours of council staff time already invested in the scheme.

Speaking about the decision, Cllr David Kendall, Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “Only a couple of weeks ago my group raised concerns about the council’s about turn on lending criteria after only a few weeks of the start of the project.  We were told that this was on advice from Santander the bank operating the project.  Why the council had not checked appropriate lending criteria with Santander before launching the project remains a mystery.

“The increasingly haphazard fashion in which this project is being managed, accompanied by increasingly significant amounts of taxpayers’ money being ploughed into it, is starting to ring alarm bells.”

The Liberal Democrats have called in this decision which will be discussed at the council’s scrutiny meeting in September.

Lib Dems become main opposition at Essex County Council

Lib Dem group leader Tom Smith-Hughes, said: “We are delighted with our performance in these elections which has come off the back of well run local campaigning.   We have some very able councillors who have been doing outstanding work in their local areas and this was reflected in the results. Our group is now the official opposition at Essex County Council and we take our role of holding the Conservative administration to account very seriously.  We will press for them to get the basics right.

“It has been an astonishing result for the Labour group who have been virtually extinguished – left with a single councillor.  Clearly Labour is finished here in Essex.  The shambles that is the Labour government was no doubt a factor in the way people voted this time, although the Labour presence has been in steady decline at county hall for over a decade.”

County Council recycling fiasco

The government has called in the county’s plan to build a waste treatment site at Rivenhall – and another Tory flagship runs aground.

Here’s how the story was reported in The Braintree and Witham Times, 20 May 2009:

“Government minister Hazel Blears has backed hundreds of residents who opposed a waste facility being built in the countryside. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has called in the proposal for Rivenhall Airfield, allowing a public inquiry to be held. The controversial waste management site could be binned if a Government inspector backs opponents to the scheme. Essex County Council (ECC) granted planning permission last month, despite only one favourable representation out of more than 800 made during public consultations. A letter sent on behalf of Mrs Blears to ECC said: The Secretary of State is of the opinion that the application is one that she ought to decide herself because she considers that the proposal may conflict with national policies on important matters.”

 

  • The Tories have spent years advocating 2 big waste treatment plants as the way to deal with waste in the future
  • They have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in real money and in officer time in pursuing this policy and the taxpayer will now have to finance a public enquiry
  • They have ridden roughshod over the objections of local people and local councils and opposition parties, led by the Lib Dems, who have campaigned for a change of policy
  • This is a flagship policy of the Tory administration, now in shreds, and it’s left the Tories pushing plan B, which is essentially the Lib Dem view that if the county gives financial incentives to boroughs/districts to increase recycling, there will be no need for big treatment plants. The Tories are now doing this and Rochford, for example, has increased its recycling dramatically
  • This is evidence that the Tories are incompetence and incapable of making major decisions
  • The whole life of the contract is worth around £5billion

 

Where would you hide if you were David Amess?

You might be interested in this story from The Echo

MP David Amess ran from the Echo to avoid questions after his expenses showed he claimed the maximum of £400 for food every month for the past four years.

The Tory MP sought refuge in a hairdressers’ as he tried to duck the issue.

He eventually made his escape when a car arrived at the salon in Westcliff and drove him away, with Mr Amess hiding his face behind a leaflet.

The Southend West MP’s extraordinary actions came after it emerged he claimed the maximum £19,000 on expenses for food over the past four years.

LIB DEM SPIN MACHINE KICKS INTO TOP GEAR

Yes, this is us …

We thought we would comment on the Conservatives’ latest leaflet in Rayleigh North.

It starts with the dramatic headline “LIB DEM SPIN MACHINE KICKS INTO TOP GEAR”. Ahem – we don’t have a ’spin machine’, just a few volunteers …

But then it gets into more serious stuff – regarding the Park School site. They are claiming that it’s a ‘Lib Dem Housing Legacy’. Oddly enough, they don’t mention that back in 2001 they were 19 Conservatives on the District Council, 9 Lib Dems, 8 Labour and 3 others. Did the Lib Dems have some kind of supernatural powers to impose their will on the majority? No wonder they seem afraid of us!

Here are the minutes of the meeting that originally allocated the land for development back in 2001.

To be quite clear about this the proposals were supported by the leaderships of the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. In our opinion, they were wrong – there’s been too much building here. Chris Black was the only district councillor at the time to oppose.

Lib Dem Councillor Sylvia Lemon was seriously ill in hospital.

Ron Oatham, Chris Lumley , June Lumley and Jackie Dillnutt weren’t district councillors then.

Stephen Castle was a County Councillor – and could have had some influence. But when Chris Black asked him on the phone before the meeting whether he could quote him as being against the proposals, he said “No”.

But those decisions are history now. What about the future? The Conservative leaflet says about future housing “We have even discussed joint tactics to stop it”. Trouble is, that isn’t really true. We hardly ever see Cllr Castle. We’d have loved to sit down with him and discuss future tactics. If he has been against more housing along Rawreth Lane that’s good – but he’s kept that awfully quiet. This year Chris Black has been in something like 18 hours of meetings and discussions with Conservative District Councillors on this housing – and not once did the Conservatives even mention Cllr Castle’s views.

And what about the Olympics? Their leaflet says he is doing a ‘fantastic job’. Well, we know Cllr Castle is very interested in sport, and that’s great. But maybe he should just stay involved in Sport England, and let someone from Rayleigh do the less glamorous role of being a County Councillor.

Which brings us to the final point. Their leaflets have still not given Stephen Castle’s correct home address on Canvey – they misleadingly keep using the Tory office address in Bellingham Lane.

And what’s more their latest leaflet describes him as “Stephen Castle – the local choice”. But calling him “local” is a lie – and the Rayleigh Conservative Association should be ashamed of themselves.

Tories not up to running a bank

In this age of financial uncertainty, when even the banks can’t run banks properly, our County Councillors are setting up a new bank themselves … is this what you pay your Council Tax for?

The Conservative administration at Essex County Council is not competent enough to run a bank and should stick to doing what Essex taxpayers expect it to do – provide better  quality services than it does at present, according to the Liberal Democrat group at the council.

Speaking about the proposal, Lib Dem group leader Cllr Tom Smith-Hughes, said: “The Conservative administration is currently having to put right its service to protect vulnerable children, which has been assessed as being one of the worst in the country.  As a consequence, it is difficult to have confidence in this administration’s ability to run its own core business, so the idea of it getting involved with running a business in which it has no experience or knowledge, is a delusion of grandeur which is hard to swallow.

“For £50m of taxpayers money, plus operation costs of a minimum of £250,000, to be put at risk and especially in this time of financial turbulence, requires the strictest of guarantees that the money will be protected.  As far as we can make out, the proposal on the table does not give these guarantees and it is unclear how and when the taxpayer will get this money back.  My group has already recommended that any excess funds should be distributed back to taxpayers in Essex, to help them through these difficult financial times.

“There is a serious question of whether an administration that is badly failing to run some of its own services to acceptable standards, can be trusted with taxpayers money in a business it knows nothing about.  If Essex was a top performing council there may be a better case for it getting involved with other ventures, but at this point, the Conservatives should focus more on providing basic services that the taxpayers’ pay for, to a standard that is expected by all the residents of Essex.”