Posts Tagged 'Local Authorities'

Police and Bailiffs resort to desperate measures to prevent court case exposing criminal phantom visits and illegal fees

Back in August last year we covered a story that typifies the behaviour of bailiffs, local authorities and the police when they respectively choose to break the law and refuse to take action against such law breaking.

It is an incredibly important and far reaching story with implications for many people and the way the law is applied in this country by the police, in what is a biased and uneven way which treats ordinary people differently to the agents of local authorities.  As we explained at the time:

A compelling and detailed case history has been sent to Detective Inspector Caroline Stainer by Peter North.  North’s stand against the illegal fees and refusal to pay for phantom visits has so far resulted in Rundles clamping his vehicle, even though they had no right to do so, North being convicted of criminal damage for removing it by cutting the padlock and Rundles then reporting his car as stolen even though they were not entitled to possession of the vehicle and did not have possession of the vehicle.

Avon & Somerset Police, like forces up and down the country, have turned a blind eye to such criminal behaviour by bailiffs, because they consider the activity of recovering debts on behalf of branches of the establishment – even by illegal means – as upholding law and good order.

Yesterday the case came to court.  Peter North, with barrister representation ready to fight the charges on clear points of law, was confident of victory.  Yet despite months passing since it was known that this case would come to court and be vigorously contested, the bailiffs and police hatched a new plan in front of the judge.  North picks up the tale in detail on his blog which is dedicated to this matter:

Click here to visit the blog

Click here to visit the blog

We were well prepared to go in there and knock their socks off. But Avon and Scummerset Plod had different ideas.  They sabotaged the trial by suggesting to the prosecution that they are “considering” filing a complaint of contempt of court and, get this… Witness Intimidation!

These claims are based on North having published the email address of a witness on his blog; but more pertinently he posted a scanned image of a witness statement, which could be considered contempt of court if he did not remove it, but which was removed immediately – months ago – when he was made aware of the situation. Although North was firmly within his rights to publish the email address of Nicola Spring, a Rundles employee who had anonymously posted comments in an effort to undermine North on a public advice forum, attempting to discredit and libel him while ironically using the forum username ‘truthful and honest’, posting the witness statement was an issue, hence his action to edit both of his blog posts.

Even so, subsequent to this, Rundles made a complaint of witness intimidation (ironic considering their behaviour in the matter over a period of months) on the basis of North publishing the witnesses email address.  Rundles have had months to do this if they felt there was a case to answer for what they are alledging and the police have had months to consider whether arrest is appropriate and have the the Crown Prosecution Service assess the merits of the case, if they believe there is one and if there is a substantial chance of winning such a case.

Yet neither party have done anything about it until the very moment a judge, the police (who would otherwise be on duty, you know, supposedly catching real criminals), two bailiffs, prosecution barrister, defence barrister and a defendant who would otherwise be at work earning his pay in gainful employment, have been assembled in court.  The only reasons they would have done this are:

  1. because Rundles realise their case is wafer thin (their case notes are apparently in complete disarray) and is being contested by a defendant who is rather more clued up and motivated than most people
  2. North has employed a barrister who is doing more than go through the motions and is seeking to make the law work
  3. Avon & Somerset Police consider the activity of recovering debts on behalf of branches of the establishment – even by illegal means – as upholding law and good order, and are desperate not to have the floodgates opened, forcing them to deal with bailiffs who act in a criminal manner when appointed as representatives of local authorities

The blatant abuse of the law, use of illegal methods to enforce collection of debts and even false reports of a vehicle theft to ensure harrassment of the debtor, as exhibited by Rundles, needs to be put to an end and punished severely.  The actions of Avon & Somerset Police yesterday appear to be a conscious attempt to prevent that from happening – to prevent the establishment from being held to account by the law when its agents break the law.

Readers should draw their own conclusions from what North has presented on his blog, but as we said last August, it seems the police have been backed into a corner over bailiff phantom visits and illegal fees.  Now they, with Rundles, seem to be resorting to desperate measures to prevent North having his day in court to expose this contemptible inaction and have it held to account.

Bailiffs and Councils squirm under fresh spotlight

The epidemic of criminality by bailiffs and law breaking by local councils is being dragged blinking into the sunlight thanks to the Citizens Advice Bureau, which is accusing councils of letting bailiffs get away with threatening and aggressive behaviour when collecting council tax debts.

The CAB report that in a survey of 500 people who were being subjected to bailiff action instigated by local authorities, 38% said that they were charged fees for visits bailiffs never made and 40% reported that they were threatened with the removal of items that did not belong to them. Both of these actions constitute criminal behaviour.  The bailiffs’ ‘trade body’ (no, really), the Civil Enforcement Association, is aggressively denying the findings and rubbishing the survey’s validity, saying:

This is based upon distorted facts, the use of pseudo statistical analysis and highly emotive and inappropriate language. This self-selecting sample of 500 unhappy individuals cannot be extrapolated to imply that it reflects the situation amongst the general population of debtors.

The problem for the association and the vested interests of its membership is that we know from many low profile stories in the local press, and write ups on blogs, that what is being described in the CAB report is not out of the ordinary, but typical features of bailiff action.

The only reason the Civil Enforcement Association is able to say what has been attributed to its director general, Steven Everson, is that councils wrongly and deliberately refer complaints about bailiffs operating on their behalf back to the bailiffs themselves, where the complaints are routinely ignored.  Even where complaints are made to the police no action is taken, for fear that taking action against entities working on behalf of the establishment will undermine the establishment’s ability to extract monies it has determined for itself as being due.

With enforcement of the law not forthcoming because the police ignore the reports made to them despite the evidence provided, and despite reports of criminal behaviour being wrongly and deliberately written off as civil matters, the only organised voice for a large number of victims of fraud perpetrated by bailiffs and councils, is Citizens Advice.  How long that lasts, before pressure is appliedon the CAB to put the matter back under the carpet, remains to be seen.

For newer readers not familiar with the issues, a brief explanation…

The most common example of criminal behaviour is the fraudulent charges applied for liability orders by councils.  The Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 (as amended), permit councils to charge ‘costs reasonably incurred’ for liability orders to enforce council tax demands.  The court fee cost of liability orders, according to the Magistrates’ Courts fee schedule, is £3.00.  When factoring in administration and postage overheads the total charged to the resident should be no more than £10.  Yet many councils are charging between £80 – £125 per order, making a profit after costs reasonably incurred.  See here and here.  This is blatantly against the law. Also against the law is the practice of bailiffs charging for visits they have not made, charging fees that are higher than the statutory schedule for fees, threatening behaviour and intimidation, and threatening to undertake actions they have no power to carry out, such as entering a home or changing the locks unless payment is made immediately – which happens frequently.  Councils also seek to evade responsibility for the actions of their contractors despite full responsibility resting with them as  is made clear by the government:

The hypocrisy in all this is we have an establishment that uses the law to ensure people who do not pay the council tax demand in full are threatened, bullied and harrassed until the money is prised from them.  Yet the same establishment works in concert to ensure when its own break the law, no legal action will follow.  The rules are only for the little people.

The UK, war and the British people

This is not a reference to the impending armed adventure in the Middle East.  This is not the UK being at war with Syria, but the UK government being at war with its people.

If there was ever a compact between the government and the people, it has long since rotted away.  The latest example of this is the news that the government and police are rushing to investigate an alleged fraud by the services provider, Serco, concerning irregularities in records kept for its £285m prisoner escorting contract.

The investigation focusses on the allegation that Serco overcharged the government a sum in the ‘low tens of millions’ of pounds.  As well as the probability of criminal prosecutions, the company faces being barred from tendering for other government contracts.  The punishment, if Serco are found to have engaged in fraud, will be swift and sure.  As well as column acres of media coverage, we can be certain the matter will surface in the House of Commons as MPs rush to criticise and condemn both outsourcing per se and the company’s actions and greivous offence against the ‘public’.

Here we see the government pressing the full force of the state into action to punish any offences committed against it.

Now let us compare this laser-like focus of the state on punishing fraud amounting to perhaps £20-30m with the state’s focus on a much larger and more widespread criminal enterprise made up of fraud, harrassment and threatening behaviour, amounting to many hundreds of millions of pounds – possibly over £1bn – committed in the last year alone against many of the more than 1.8 million members of the public who had unpaid charges put into the hands of bailiffs… the wilful overcharging and illegal application of fees by local authorities through liability orders and the illegal charges, false accounting and criminal behaviour of bailiffs.

This week another example of the many instances of this racketeering has managed to sneak its way into local news coverage in Wales, where a Caerphilly resident owed unpaid council tax just £180, yet despite receiving no warning letters was faced with bailiffs, acting as an agent of and on behalf of Caerphilly County Borough Council, at her door demanding payment.  Not only that, but the bailiff fraudulently added a further £200 charge to the debt for their services.  The amount set down in law that bailiffs can charge is £24.50 for their first visit and £18.00 for a second and final visit.  They can only charge for two visits.  Attempting to charge hundreds of pounds in the way they do is blatantly illegal.

The bailiff is reported to have returned to visit the resident last week and told her that if she did not pay £75 he would come back and change the locks on her house.  This is not only a clear example of harrassment, it is also an attempt to extract money with menaces as bailiffs do not have the power to change the locks on a residential property over an unpaid debt, and asserting such a course of action is a clear offence.  A fraud is being perpetrated against this resident, a mother of four with limited means. She is just one in over a million.

As is standard practice in such cases, which all too infrequently get press attention in this way, a Caerphilly Council spokesman said:

We are unable to comment on individual cases, but the council makes every effort to assist residents who are in arrears before taking further action.

You will note that despite Caerphilly being wholly responsible for the behaviour and actions of their agents and representatives, the council has not addressed the illegality of the bailiff’s effort to charge fees above the legal amount or taken any steps to address the harrassment and intimidation by the bailiffs they engaged.

The police’s readiness to investigate and take action against Serco, which is alleged to have committed crime through fraudulent overcharging for services and charging for services not undertaken, contrasts dramatically with the refusal of the police to investigate and take action against bailiffs who are alleged to have committed crime through fraudulent overcharging for services and charging for services not undertaken.

The double standard is clear.  The people of this country are being denied the protection of the law when the state and its agents break the law to suit their own interests, yet when the state feels it has been wronged its full arsenal is brought to bear on the alleged offender, be that a rich company being greedy or hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who struggle to pay the ever increasing sums demanded by government to service its activities.

And new methods of gouging money from the public are being developed all the time.  A report in the Telegraph explains how over 1 million drivers in the last year have had traffic enforcement charges (mainly parking infringments) put into the hands of bailiffs, with the AA observing that even when mistakes are made, councils seem to readily wash their hands of drivers trapped in a cycle of threats from debt collectors and bailiffs:

The bailiff process is virtually unstoppable, even for the innocent and getting someone to listen is virtually impossible.

The fact that bailiffs are now swanning around like bounty hunters in vehicles with ANPR cameras to find vehicles with outstanding warrants is sinister.

The story also includes a reference to evidence given earlier this year by the London Motorists’ Action Group to the Transport Select Committee that bailiffs “frequently and fraudulently demand fees which are far in excess of the permitted statutory level.”

Barrie Segal, who runs the AppealNow website also said for the Telegraph piece that, “It’s a bit like the wild west, but there are no good guys out there to look after motorist”.  And this is the point, the double standard reinforced, the police – the supposed good guys – are refusing to do their sworn duty turning a blind eye to fraud committed on behalf of the state, while always going after anyone who is alleged to have committed fraud against the state.

How is this not a war being waged on the people of this country by those who are supposed to serve us?

Police backed into a corner over bailiff phantom visits and illegal fees

No doubt this will be shamefully ignored by the media, including those journalists who read this blog.  It seems a determined effort by Avon and Somerset Police to not investigate the bailiff and debt recovery firm, Rundles, for the criminal application of attendance fees that exceed the statutory limits – and fraudulent phantom visits – has run out of road.

A compelling and detailed case history has been sent to Detective Inspector Caroline Stainer by Peter North.  North’s stand against the illegal fees and refusal to pay for phantom visits has so far resulted in Rundles clamping his vehicle, even though they had no right to do so, North being convicted of criminal damage for removing it by cutting the padlock and Rundles then reporting his car as stolen even though they were not entitled to possession of the vehicle and did not have possession of the vehicle.

Avon & Somerset Police, like forces up and down the country, have turned a blind eye to such criminal behaviour by bailiffs, because they consider the activity of recovering debts on behalf of branches of the establishment – even by illegal means – as upholding law and good order.  The blatant abuse of the law, use of illegal methods to enforce collection of debts and even false reports of a vehicle theft to ensure harrassment of the debtor, as exhibited by Rundles, needs to be put to an end and punished severely.

The self promotional claims of Rundles contrast dramatically with the reality of the behaviour of their bailiffs on the ground.  Rundles, which describes itself as ‘a 5-star debt recovery agency specialising in council tax, penalty charge notices and national non-domestic rates’ say on their website:

Our team of certificated bailiffs is one of the largest in the country. Each of them is handpicked for their skills, attitude and approach and given comprehensive training to make sure they continue to deliver excellent collection rates.

Integrity and transparency are vital to us. Our clients’ accounts are fully audited by an independent Top 20 accountancy firm and Dun & Bradstreet recently gave us a 5-star rating, which means the condition of our business is superior to other firms in the industry.

The evidence presented by North lays utter waste to these claims.  It is no wonder collection rates are ‘excellent’ when people who do not know the rules bailiffs are supposed to follow and are subsequently cowed into paying more than they owe, thus made victims of fraud in pursuit of debt recovery.  Particularly when local authorities who are responsible for the conduct of the agents they retain, also ignore the illegal behaviour and tactics deployed.  Councils seemingly feel their residents are fair game for such maltreatment if for whatever reason they don’t pay the monies demanded, at the time and in the way the council demands.

North has drawn a line in the sand and is refusing to be fobbed off.  Any failure by the police to act now, after so much detail has been provided that shows the bailiffs have engaged in fraud and criminal behaviour, would represent a scandal of immense proportions and destroy any faith ordinary people have in the police and local authorities.

Crime is crime.  The establishment does not have immunity under the law.  It does not have a free pass to behave illegally with impunity.  Our public servants need to remember their place and serve.  That process needs to kickstart with the bringing charges against the bailiffs from Rundles acting on behalf of South Gloucestershire Council.

The Great Robbery Train rumbles along in Yorkshire

Once again, all bets are off once ‘government’ decides you have given offence by not paying the Council Tax they demand.

While ordinary people who fail to pay are considered law breakers, those who seek to hoover up our money continue to act in an illegal fashion, demonstrating that they refuse to be bound by the rule of law themselves.

We learn from the Darlington & Stockton Times that Hambleton District Council secured liability orders for non payment of Council Tax against 505 households, each being slapped with costs of £123.  Richmondshire secured 216 liability orders, again with costs to each household of £123 and a further 15 orders secured for non payment of business rates with costs for each of those imposed at £176.  Meanwhile Northallerton secured no less than 721 liability orders against households in its district – although the costs sought and awarded were not reported, we can make an educated guess that the same court also awarded those at £123 each.

We have no way of knowing if these cases are flat out refusals to pay, or whether the residents are experiencing financial hardship that makes it difficult or even impossible for them to pay.  But we can be sure that in each case the residents are being asked to pay ever more for ever fewer services, the quality of which are steadily declining.   We can also be sure that in this so-called democracy of ours, these residents have never been asked how much they think the councils should demand, or asked to give a mandate for how the authorities spend the monies collected.

In each case, the cost to the councils of securing a liability order from the court is £3.  Add on administration, postal charges and reasonable overheads and the figure would not exceed costs of £10 in total per case.  So in these 1,457 cases, councils which by law are only allowed to charge ‘costs reasonably incurred’ for liability orders to enforce council tax demands, have gone beyond what the law permits them to charge by around £113 in each and every case.

And the court, in allowing this to happen by not limiting the costs awarded to the councils to those ‘reasonably incurred’, have facilitated the law being broken.  As a result, in just one court sitting, over £164,000 of residents’ money to which councils are not entitled is being taken from residents illegally by a branch of the state, sanctioned by a court that has exceeded its authority by awarding costs far beyond what has been reasonably incurred.

We have returned to the age of the Robber Baron, where the serfs are fair game to be preyed upon and treated as cash cows by those who set aside the rules on a whim and break the law without sanction whenever it suit their own ends.  This is today’s establishment in action.  It is little different to the establishment of past centuries.  The only change is that people who are supposed to be our servants have morphed themselves into our modern slavers.  This is 21st Century Britain.

Another day, another effort by Robber Barons to snatch our money without our consent

tax_lordsWhen the talking heads take to the press and airwaves to witter on about tax ‘fairness’ and the need of taxpayers and businesses to pay their ‘fair share’ the comments and the kneejerk reactions to them are enough to make one lose the will to live.

For while the governmental entities, local and national, are striving to relieve us of ever greater sums of our money, too few people stand up to demand these entities explain why they need so much of it and to account for its use. The media never asks.  There is no accountability.  When the Americans waged a war of independence from the British one of their demands was ‘no taxation without representation’.  Today in the UK we have plenty of taxation, but the only representation we see is the political class representing its own agendas at our expense.

Whenever governmental entities cite the consequences of a lower tax take from us, do you notice how they always provide examples of the effects of lower spending on essential services and describe any inability to confiscate from us whatever they want as being a ‘cost’ to the council or government?  The notion of living within their means is alien to them.  There’s always someone else’s bank account to raid to make up the difference.  Notice also how they never provide examples where essential services are unaffected, but rather the council or government’s discretionary (non essential) spending is reduced, so their pet projects and bribes are scaled back instead instead of core services.  You see, their priorities are always put before our priorities.

If we refuse to feed the parasitic beast then it will dole out punishment by protecting spending on what it wants to focus on, while reducing spending on what it has to focus on.  Rather than enforce the law when it comes to taxation and illegally set fines, local authorities are not even behaving as if they are above the law – they are behaving as if they are the law.  This is a matter of great concern that will be revisited here soon.

But, focusing on local government for now, we must not – like the waste of time press – ignore how council income has increased substantially through the ever growing list of charges and fees which residents have to pay for services that we already pay taxes to provide.  Councils not only get their central government grant and collect council tax from residents, they also make a fortune in charges that far exceed the cost of administration they were supposedly designed to cover.  The total amount that councils take from residents over the course of a year far exceeds the council tax demand we receive each year.  Ask your local paper where they’ve written on that subject.

Despite all this, just over one week ago, the Local Government Association published a briefing note in which it suggested a number of amendments, one of which demanded the government in Westminster scrap its plans to embed council tax referendums in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill:


Not only is local government increasingly abusing its ability to snatch money from us at every turn (as we saw earlier this week in Barnet  and is something that is happening up and down the country) its mouthpiece representative body (guess how that is funded) is demanding that we residents should not be asked for our consent via local referendum for increases above a very small percentage.

Brighton & Hove City Council has already declared its refusal to hold a referendum on any proposed council tax increase.  The leader of the Green Party minority administration in Brighton, Cllr Jason Kitcat, really took the biscuit when he told the local press:

The referendum rule is mad. It’s not really workable and would cost about £300,000 to run.

There you have it.  A sitting councillor who no doubt prattles on about ‘democracy’ and the ‘wishes of the people’ when trying to get elected, declaring that having to seek our democratic consent for a raid on our personal wealth, is unworkable.  In other words, the council should be allowed to demand what it likes and to hell with what residents think.

No doubt Cllr Kitcat subscribes to the view of elected politicians and council officials throughout the country (which Richard articulated so effectively in a post on EU Referendum) that revenue-providers (aka citizens) are confined to expressing their wishes on council tax via approved channels – such as voting – which can be safely ignored, or funnelled into areas where the message can be discounted.  Find one party political manifesto for borough or county council elections that has not been torn up mid-term so a council can do something different.

Of course, forcing residents to declare their revenue raising wishes by voting in council elections also has the happy coincidence of giving the impression these parasitic charlatans have legitimacy for their subsequent actions, which is almost impossible for voters to control once those fat arses settle on the comfy chairs in the council chamber.

Understand this.  Unless you withdraw your consent and stand up to press for change, you are nothing more than a cash cow who risks being turned into a debt slave.  Your rights are ignored by your public servants, you are treated with contempt by them and even the guardians of the law will not uphold the law to protect you from illegal actions that echo the outrageous, lawless and intimidatory behaviours of feudal lords, robber barons and corrupt clergy in centuries long since passed.

Have you had enough yet?

Update: Richard beat me to the punch, and with far more eloquence expands on how councils whine about having to place statutory notices in the local papers, yet won’t yield an inch when it comes to spending a small fortune producing, printing and distributing their propaganda sheets – which always give a self congratulatory take on the news they want to share.

Try and find a single story in those reams of dead trees about why councils issue liability orders to residents that are way above the cost of the administration in producing them, which is legally all they are allowed to recoup.  Find one story about how the bailiffs they contract to enforce their council tax or parking fines break the law by charging illegal fees and claiming for visits that never happened.   Find one explanation about why we pay an ever rising policing precept to the county council, yet the borough council uses money for local services to fund restricted-power PCSOs to make up for a shortage of real police on our streets.  It’s happening everywhere, and no one is holding these slimeballs to account.

Talking out of his Barnet

The Leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius, is another example of a politician who resorts to weasel words and refuses to acknowledge or accept when his council has exceeded its authority and broken the law.

Speaking after Barnet Council was found to have illegally driven up the charges for controlled parking zones in the borough in order to raise revenue, rather than simply maintain the scheme, Cllr Cornelius tried to play down the seriousness of the issue by saying:

It is fairly clear that the council raised the price of parking permits, after five years of a price freeze, too abruptly and rather charmlessly. I will make sure that doesn’t happen again.

With the council considering spending more taxpayers’ money to pursue an appeal, Cllr Cornelius then attempted to play the ‘everyone else is doing it’ card:

Both our pricing and spending are very much in line with other London boroughs.

That of course doesn’t make it right.  Cornelius is whining like a spoiled child at the unfairness of being pulled up for his council’s illegal behaviour.

This matter is yet another case of councils doing what they think they can get away with.  It is also a splendid example of the importance of residents taking an interest in what goes on in Town Halls and challenging councils who think they can bully people into compliance through threats and using taxpayers’ money to fund legal action.

The lesson from residents is not only that you can take on local authorities when they are in the wrong and win, but that we all have a duty to do so.  The forget they are supposed to be our servants and we need to correct the unacceptable imbalance in the relationship.

Defeated Council to spend yet more taxpayers money in attempt to rob residents blind

The local government resident-robbing machine is hard at work in the London Borough of Barnet.

The Evening Standard reports that a Judge in the High Court has ruled Barnet council acted unlawfully when it increased the cost of residents’ parking permits and visitor vouchers in controlled parking zones (CPZs) in order to raise revenue.

From the Standard’s piece there is a familiar story here.  Residents in part of the borough are frustrated at parking problems in their streets caused by commuters trying to park close to the local London Underground station.  So they get the council to agree to create a controlled parking zone in certain roads where residents and their visitors will have permits to park and everyone else gets a ticket or towed away – even though they also pay for a road fund licence and were entitled to park there.

To meet the administration costs, the council imposes an annual charge, which in this case back in 2001 was £20 per year for the first vehicle in each household and 35p for each visitor permit.  After several years the council puts up the administration charge, in this case in 2006 to £40 for the first vehicle in each household and £1 for visitor permits.  Doubtless Barnet feels the amount of administration of the CPZ scheme warranted such an increase.

But then, in the way councils do because they feel they can do what the hell they like, Barnet sought to turn these residents into official cash cows to subsidise other transport related matters the council wanted to spend money on.  So in 2011 Barnet donned its balaclava mask, put on its black and white hooped sweatshirt, and took it upon its collective self to charge residents in the CPZ £100 for the first car in each household and £4 per visitor permit.  As one resident, who unhelpfully for Barnet is a solicitor who does know a bit about the law, pointed out:

Simply holding a summer BBQ or a children’s party could cost £40 in parking charges. An elderly person enjoying regular visits from a relative could face an annual cost of £800.

Extrapolate that across the whole CPZ and you can see there is serious money being taken from residents for the council to spend as it sees fit.

However, it would seem Barnet Council’s solicitor is underused (not consulted) or overpaid (incompetent in the law), because the council did not have the power under the 1984 Road Traffic Regulation Act to charge local residents for parking in order to raise surplus revenue for other transport purposes!  And that is what was held by Mrs Justice Lang in a rare example of the judiciary upholding residents’ complaints about the illegal behaviour of councils and their agents.

But, not content with having their kleptomaniac tendencies reined in by the High Court, Barnet is udderly determined to milk its unwitting cash cows and now intends to spend a significant sum of taxpayers’ money to appeal the case – so desperate are they to suck every drop they can from the taxpayers’ teat.

For the moment it seems at least one council that acts as a law unto itself has come unstuck.  But this is just one example of what councils up and down the country are doing, blatantly ripping off and pressuring residents to part with ever larger sums in fees and charges to service its own agenda, without any consideration of the legality or the probity of their actions.  We will watch with interest how the case pans out.

Some Councils are on the verge of collapse, are they?

The FUD is in full flood today with the BBC faithfully reproducing, without any effort to question or challenge the assertions, claims that a number of local authorities are at risk of collapse as a result of cuts in central government funding.

Clearly bored (for the time being) of demonising companies who quite properly seek to minimise the tax they pay, Margaret Hodge has moved the Labour Party agenda on to eeevil reduction of central funding to local councils.

Never mind that councils now derive more income from the charges and fees they impose on residents than they collect in Council Tax.  Never mind that the budgets of local authorities are loaded with spending commitments on non-essential activities that have never been to voters for approval.  Never mind that the funds from central government that local authorities are being to work with are no lower than they were only several years ago.  Never mind that just before the end of each financial year departments are falling over themselves to spend money left in the budgets so they can claim the same amount or more in the next budget round.  No, the councils are apparently on the edge of catastrophe.

This is all about power.  Whoever controls the money wields the power.  The problem is, as I saw all too clearly when a councillor in a mid-sized authority, not only do voters have no say in how the money is spent, elected councillors often have little idea exactly how much and where money is being spent.

The proliferation of ‘cabinet’ run councils and devolved powers to council officers mean the elected members have little to no control over where the money goes.  To molify them, councils now give members a sum of money each year to spend within their ward on a local initiative – subject to approval.  In my local authority the Labour councillors in one ward pooled their money to fund a one-day festival for ethnic minorities.  Me and my fellow ward councillors pooled our money and used it to fund SmartWater being put on residents’  personal property in a burglary hotspot.

Thousands of pounds were spent across the borough each year, but not a penny could be spent on the essential services an authority should be providing.  Regardless of the utility or otherwise of the councillors’ decisions, the fact remains councils and councillors were focussed on discretionary spending.  By way of another anecdotal example, a nearby authority broke its own funding criteria to divert hundreds of thousands of pounds to a maintain a theatre that was failing because it didn’t offer anything that enthused residents to want to use it. At the same time funding for a local care home was reduced.  Another example saw the council stump up thousands of pounds for PCSOs to walk the streets, even though residents had already paid the policing precept to fund officers, meaning residents were paying twice of ‘police presence’ on the streets.  Yet another saw demands to fund NHS staff to help reduce teen pregnancies, even though the primary care trust had decided it wasn’t a sufficient priority for money from its own budget.  And everywhere, the sustainability agenda never goes without cash, as councils – regardless of what councillors or party groups say or want – follow the directives, regulations and whims of supranational entities.

These are not the actions of ‘Baron Hardup’ stuck in a dusty Chief Executive office, getting by on a frugal stipend.  Rather these are the actions of people who fancy themselves as businessmen, only without competition or risk, where they cut a dash on six figure salaries and half a million pound pension pots as they devise new ways to extract ever larger sums from residents under pain of prosecution.

The fact is councils have expanded their reach into far too many activities where government has no business, let alone being core to their remit of providing essential services.  Try to get a line item breakdown of all the spending and grants made by your authority and you will be made to jump through hoops before being told some of the information is confidential, with items hidden on ‘pink papers’ that are barred from public release, so you can’t even see how your money is spent in your name.

Scare stories from the Public Accounts Committee and the Local Government Association aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  Local democracy is anything but, accountability is non existant, and to maintain their perceived control the councils are misleading people into thinking working this coming year with budgets that were perfectly fine five or so years ago is completely impossible and requires a raft of essential services that have been provided for decades to be cut.

These ‘cry wolf’ warnings are not financial, they are politically motivated and they have nothing to do with serving the interests of the residents.  It’s time residents woke up and started to challenge the deceptions of these thieves in suits.

Does being a Common Purpose graduate mean never resigning for incompetence?

In the news today is Joanna Simons, the lavishly renumerated Chief Executive of Oxfordshire County Council, whose social services department comprehensively failed to help the young girls who were being systematically raped and pimped out by so called British Pakistanis around the south of England.

Despite the catalogue of failings Oxfordshire Social Services, and even one of the abused girls detailing on radio last night how social services had threatened her family not to make waves when they failed to act to safeguard the girls from the abuse, Joanna Simons refuses to accept responsibility and resign.

Being such a familiar pattern, I wondered if there was another similarity between La Simons and a number of other local authority trough plunderers who it transpired were members of the insiduous organisation, Common Purpose.

Well what do you know!  You could knock me down with a feather.  My flabber is well and truly ghasted.

The pattern continues.  Where there is a fat snout in a publicly funded trough, coupled with a catalogue of failure and incompetence, there is a Common Purpose marxist refusing to be accountable and resign.  Clearly taxpayers should ask for their money back – the leadership development Simons has been through at their expense doesn’t seem to have developed any leadership qualities at all.

Whatever happened to the selfless commitment to public service?

There was a time when people who went into local government did so because the rewards were fair, the role they would perform would be stable, it would be valuable to the community, and often they saw it as a way to use their abilities to serve people.

Local government today is less about serving the needs of a local population.  It is now a localised monopoly business.  It is seen as a tool for people who haven’t got the talent to make it big in business to earn huge sums of money off the back of compulsory ‘distress payments’ in return for delivering ever less, while demanding ever more money in taxes and ‘charges and fees’.

That is why, up and down this country, we taxpayers are being increasingly ripped off in short order by councillors with dreams of Westminster or Brussels careers, deluding themselves they are in charge of a mega corporation with bottomless reserves of cash and handing out our money like confetti to grubbing little upstarts like this.

In a democracy, where the people would have the power rather than the servants, we could do something about it.  Of course, the good people of Surrey could simply vote out the current lot and replace them with another lot.  But as we have seen for so long, the only thing that changes is the face attached to the suit.  When it comes to issues the political class and bureaucracy have their issues, which they pour money and resources into, and we ordinary people outside the bubble have ours which remain neglected and treated with contempt.

Another £16m of our tax pounds abused

Much of what is said and done in Parliament by the political class doesn’t get reported because the media doesn’t find it sexy or controversial enough to form a sensational story.

But there are always snippets of information that, if they were given more exposure, have the potential to make people realise the British government doesn’t work in the interest of the British people.  This question and written answer published this week is one such example:

Chi Onwurah:To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what steps she is taking to help improve local government in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lynne Featherstone: In 2010-11 DFID worked on decentralisation and subnational government in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, spending a total of £16,279,000 through its bilateral programme. This support includes strengthening departments of regional and local government, regional and local authorities and their national associations. DFID has also supported peer to peer learning mechanisms, through the Commonwealth Local Government Forum which has achieved good results in several African countries.

The obvious point to raise here is, how come so much taxpayers’ money is being spent on ‘improving’ local government in sub-Saharan Africa when the UK needs to get its own house in order for local government to be effective, efficient and a servant of the people rather than their master?

Is it not ironic the British government wants to tell other countries how their local government should be and throw our money at realising that vision, while our local government is a functionary branch of central government?  Here local government is only good for soaking up more of our money in fees and charges to service its own existence while delivering ‘services’ for which we pay ever more and get ever less.  Here local government is administered by a core of unaccountable and overpaid bureaucrats whose target is to restrict our rights and freedoms while carrying out the wishes of the EU overlord, regardless of what elected Members decree.

Perhaps that is the vision our well-heeled mandarins have for the people of sub-Saharan Africa.  Perhaps our money is being spent in this way to ensure the structures there are just right for future supranational control by an unaccountable authority that takes its steer from the equally unaccountable UN and the various bodies operating beyond democratic control, who impose their will on the rest of us regardless of what we want – made possible through our taxes.  He who controls the money and how it’s spent…

Referism anyone?

What a waste

The Daily Wail has a piece today titled ‘Binmen take a battering‘ which reports how frustration among residents at ever more rules and regulations on household waste disposal – combined officiousness and high handed behaviour by councils and rubbish collectors – is boiling over into instances of violence.

What has happened has being typically overblown by the Wail, but where it’s happening it is an unsurprising reaction to public servants imposing constraints on the people they are supposed to serve, without any consultation or permission.  In short it is a reaction to everyday, overbearing, anti-democratic behaviour by the establishment.

As is usual with the British media the article stops where it does and makes no attempt to explore possible solutions or explain where and how the regulations originated.  So being a considerate chap, I have just left the following comment for consideration:

There is a simple solution to disposing of rubbish that would go into landfill – PLASMA GASIFICATION. It is a safe form or incineration that doesn’t put dioxins in the air and leaves only a small amount of residue which is inert and can be used as hard core for roads and developments.  Plasma gasification units, which have a 35-45 year life and would pay for themselves within 10 years, can also work in the same way as combined heat and power units.  Instead of putting waste into landfill, incurring huge costs thanks to the EU, landfill can actually be emptied and sent for gasification thereby generating power and solving the waste problem.  Ask your local and county councils and councillors why they are not installing this technology instead of burying rubbish or using incinerators.

To be clear, I have painted the positive side of plasma gasification and not referenced some of the cost and maintenance issues.  But the cost and maintenance issues could be quickly reduced if the technology was taken up more widely because there would be commercial value in improving the offering and increasing the longevity of systems within the plant.  The technology has opponents who play up the downsides, from anecdotal experience these tend to be people with interests in building and running incinerators, which is why the Wikipedia page puts concerns before the advantages.

In the county where I live I raised this issue with the county council ‘cabinet’ member with responsibility in this area.  He pledged to look at gasification but did nothing of the sort, and is now involved in a local fight over his decision to sanction a new incinerator.  Lazy, backward thinking and ignorance of the opportunities that exist.  Yet another example of how the public interest comes a distant also-ran to vested interests and narrow minded views.

Democracy and politics, Stoke-on-Trent style

If one wants yet another small but significant piece of evidence demonstrating that we don’t live in a democracy and the political process is an utter failure, look no further than a story from early last week from Stoke-on-Trent.

For it is there, as The Sentinel reports, that council officers are running out of control and operating in defiance of the law.

More than £118,000 has been spent on a survey to review how much repair work is needed on the city’s council houses – but tenants and councillors are not allowed to see the results.

Not just tenants, but their supposed representatives who were elected (albeit by a small minority of voters) to make decisions and direct governance in the city.  The refusal was of a Freedom of Information request for which there is no legal basis at the local authority for rejection.  Taxpayers’ money has been taken (from national and local level) and spent to garner information, but no one can see the results collected by the authority’s Officers.  Well actually, as the story goes on to qualify, councillors can see the information but only after Officers have ‘briefed’ them – presumably to tell them what they must not say in public.  But ‘information control officers’ say releasing the results would cause:

… an increase in customer enquiries relating to when improvements will be carried out.

Prior to publishing the stock condition survey it will be necessary to properly brief frontline staff, elected members and other stakeholders.

Information control?  How apt a description.  Heaven forbid that the public, the majority of whom pay their taxes to fund essentials such as housing repairs to council stock, should deign to ask about the findings or draw upon the very services that they are entitled to receive.  There can be no more clear example of the inversion of the positions of servant and master.

Since then, to compound the sense of incompetence that seems to permeate the city’s halls of ‘power’, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has gone on to write off £7.5m of unpaid council tax in addition to £8.1m already wiped off the books.  Out of control and above the law, councils are gouging the wallets and purses of taxpayers with the usual raft of charges and fees in addition to the annual charge – to fund non essential boondoggles rather than essential services only – which is undoubtedly fuelling resentment at the ever rising level of council tax and avoidance of its payment.

There is a perfect storm brewing caused by the failure of politics and absence of democracy.  An alternative, positive vision is required and thankfully a group of people are developing one known as the Harrogate Agenda,  but some residents are failing to grasp this and rather than demanding the council limit its scope and activities to essential services, instead are calling for it do more to chase down non-payers, and even call in bailiffs with their often illegal and intimidating tactics, to recover unpaid council tax.

Perhaps those who thought Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s ‘corporate logo’ was meaningless were being somewhat unfair.  The image, with its ever decreasing circles sinking lower and lower while fading away, seems somehow rather prescient.  Perhaps it was designed that way intentionally as a metaphor for the continuing erosion of illusory people power and democratic control.

FOI gamechanger – Bolton Council loses court appeal over senior officers’ outside interests

Regular readers may remember the story of the battle between transparency campaigner John Greenwood and the bureaucrats at Bolton Council to force the authority to make public the register of interests of Council Officers, so the business dealings of senior town hall staff are a matter of record.

As we said in a blog post about the matter in June last year, John Greenwood won what amounts to a game changing battle when the Information Commissioner ruled that the details of the register of interests should be released.  Imagine for a moment what would happen if Council Officers – and by extension civil servants in other branches of government – had to release the details of business dealings with developers, or reveal relationships with organisations such as Common Purpose.

Undeterred by the Information Commissioner’s ruling, Bolton Council has used thousands of pounds of council taxpayers’ money to appeal the decision so it could continue hiding information about the outside interests of its officers from the public.  That the elected councillors in Bolton have let this happen is not only shocking but should also raise alarm bells about what might be being concealed.  As various branches of government keep telling us, if there is nothing to hide there is nothing to fear.  So what is it Bolton Council’s public servants fear?

The story returned to the fore last week with John Greenwood kindly contacting AM to point us to this news in the local Bolton press.  In Court it has been ruled that the council’s appeal will be partly allowed, in that lower-paid staff’s privacy would be protected.  But the outside interests of senior officers – the real decision makers in the local authority -  must still be made public as per the Information Commissioner’s earlier ruling.

This really is the gamechanger in Freedom of Information we hoped for last year.  The outside interests of senior council officers must by law be made public.  FOI requests about these interests cannot be refused.

However, the story in the Bolton News omits a number of important points that put matters into proper context and should, once again, cause the residents of Bolton some concern.  Although there were around 1,000 council officers who were paid at Grade 8 and above, only about 70 of them bothered to to submit a declaration of interest to the Council register.  So it is estimated there are more than 900 council officers who have failed to comply with the requirements to declare their outside interests.  Also omitted from the story is that while the lower paid council officers will now have to declare they have outside interests, they won’t have to say what those interests are.  This is a very odd state of affairs and one which will only serve to raise more doubts in the minds of the public about their probity than before.

As John Greenwood observed to AM, what will now be interesting to see is what Bolton Council Director of Legal Services (and standards monitoring officer) Alan Eastwood does personally.  He is due to retire in May but Greenwood is wondering if Eastwood will now decide to go earlier in order to keep any outside interests he has out of the public domain.

Liverpool City Council’s latest money making scheme

In November a trawl of local newspapers unearthed this little story in the Liverpool Echo.

It is another example of local authorities looking for opportunities to use their official status to forcibly part people from their money, while increasing the powers and adding to the weight of regulation for which they are responsible for enforcing:

BUSKERS could soon have to hold a permit to play in Liverpool under new plans being drawn up by Liverpool Council bosses.

Proposals due to be put to the council’s cabinet before the end of the year could see street musicians told to buy a licence – and then being limited to when and where they can play and for how long.

Performers would also be required to take out costly public liability insurance.

Importantly, the article went on to tell readers that:

A council spokesman described the current arrangement as a “free for all” and said the proposals came in response to requests for better regulation from the public, city shopkeepers and even other buskers.

One thing that never rings quite true is a claim from a council that residents and businesses want more regulation and officialdom.  So AM sent a Freedom of Information request to Liverpool City Council to see their evidence for this claim.  The response arrived during the hectic pre-Christmas period, hence the delay in writing this up.  It is shown in full below:

Imagine my shock and surprise to find the response provides no formal evidence whatsoever for Liverpool’s council officers to justify the regulation and increase in council powers!  Yet the officers are asking councillors to put the regulation into force.  Clearly the questions are a little too inconvenient, hence the response being packed with text that is irrelevant to the FOI enquiry.

Liverpool City Council is setting itself up as the judge and jury of which performers are the ‘more professional entertainers’ thereby stopping others from plying their trade and perhaps being noticed by someone who might open doors for them to build a career.  The people who benefit are the City Council and their approved entertainers, creating the conditions for cronyism and backroom deals.

Drunk on power and free from anything approaching proper oversight and control by elected councillors, this is another example of councils serving their own interests at the expense of the taxpayers; who are treated as nothing more than cash cows to fund the whims and biases of officers and their bumper salaries and generous pension schemes.

AM has written back to Liverpool City Council asking for a copy of the papers officers have prepared for elected councillors about this recommedation to see all of the evidence the decision will be based upon.

Civil Ceremonies – the latest Council cash cow

Regular readers will be familiar with this blog’s occasional focus on local authorities that take advantage of their largely unscrutinised position to fleece residents with unjustifiable charges and fees, on top of Council Tax.

One such reader, Alan Douglas, got in touch to share his story of how councils have seized upon Civil Ceremonies as the latest method of prising money from our pockets.

As Alan explains, by law each Registration District has to offer Civil Ceremonies at a cost of around £43.50. Councils fulfill this obligation, but in such a grudging manner no one in their right mind would accept the package on offer.  For example, Kent offers these £43.50 ceremonies two days a week, at about 10.00 and 10.30am, and the ceremony is held literally in an ordinary office.  Hardly the kind of memory a couple would want for their venue for such an important moment in their lives.

When Alan personally enquired about a Civil Ceremony at Royal Tunbridge Wells, he was told it could be performed at the council’s suite Monday to Thursday – but at a cost of £505, with weekend ceremonies being charged at up to £675.  The Council Officer dealing with Alan’s enquiry said that these ceremonies were the cheapest they did.  There was no mention of the £43.50 ‘waste transfer station’ version that has to be provided by law.  Another enquiry, this time to Crowborough in Sussex, saw a Civil Ceremony provided – for £75.00 – still with no mention of the basic version that has to be offered.

Alan did some more digging, phoning a number of local authorities to enquire about Civil Ceremonies in their boroughs.  It won’t come as a raging shock to learn that while all councils are meeting the letter of the law with the basic ceremony, many focus all their attention on flogging their up-market alternatives without giving the full facts to those making enquiries.

Most of the basic ceremonies are performed in dedicated rooms of various sizes and standard of decor.  But the investigation shows many local authorities are now “decommissioning” their rooms, only to redecorate and renamed them in order to charge higher fees.  Not only that, many councils are actively putting couples off from choosing a basic Civil Ceremony by providing so few “basic” slots that they don’t even come close to covering the demand.  In their impatience to join a long waiting list, couples are being kettled into paying much higher fees in order to solemnise their relationship.  Going back to Kent, there is only one office providing basic ceremonies for the whole county and it is providing only four ceremony slots per week.

In surprisingly candid admissions, two authorities contacted by Alan confirmed they would not tell an enquirer about the basic charge wedding, preferring to push their much more profitable alternatives.

This all leads to a simple question.  Do these councils exist to serve the local community, or does the local community exist to serve the interests of the council?  Draw your own conclusions.

     With thanks to Alan Douglas.

Did anyone ask Newcastle council taxpayers what they want?

In Newcastle, the Sunday Sun is reporting that:

Newcastle Council has pledged to hand over the wages it saves as a result of Wednesday’s national strike – potentially up to £100,000 – to good causes.

The Tyneside decision has put the spotlight on other councils who have so far refused to offer any extra help, despite the strike action set to see them save more than £1m.

This underlines the lack of accountability in our town halls.  Lets remind ourselves why we pay tax to councils.  Newcastle City Council‘s website kindly explains:

Every year the council assesses its budget and plans what needs to be spent on the services we provide for you. When that is decided – at the end of February – we calculate how much council tax we need to help us fund the work.

Not all council services are funded by council tax, in fact only around 20% of a council budget comes from council tax. We get money from the Government, from European funds and other grants. When the tax is calculated we send out bills to everyone who has to pay, based on their circumstances at the time.

There is a principle here.  This is yet another example of a small, unaccountable group of people deciding how other peoples’ money should be spent because there is no mechanism that requires councils to refer back to taxpayers.  Some Newcastle residents might feel giving their money away to charity is a good thing, but others might feel that as they pay increasing council tax charges and experience reduced basic services, the money should be kept and taken off council tax charge next year.

Yes, it is only 1/365th of the council tax bill, which for a Band A property in Newcastle works out at £2.47 and for a Band D property equates to £3.71.  But the money was appropriated to provide services, not to be given to charities so some officials can appear virtuous.

The real story about those ‘mad’ town hall bigwigs

Casting an eye over the RightMinds section of the Daily Mail the other day, this blog post by Chris Moncrieff stood out.

The title was right on the money, but the content tells only a fraction of the story.  By focusing on Council Tax payments, it misses the really outrageous behaviours that show just how much residents are at the the mercy of the mini potentates and unaccountable officer corps who work to an anti democratic agenda and take their lead from EU regulations instead of voters.

There is no mention of the explosion of revenue raising activites that now account for nearly 50% of town hall revenue receipts.  There is no mention of councils exceeding their authority by charging more than ‘reasonable costs’ when issuing summonses and liability orders.

There is no mention of the imposition of frequently damaging and increasingly expensive parking controls around shopping areas, designed to take more from our pockets to fund their pet schemes while basic service provision is eroded.  Councils are increasingly out of control and operating above the law.

And there is no mention of the way councils increasingly attempt to withhold information about their actions from the very people they are supposed to be serving and who pay to fund their existance.

Is it any wonder that in frustration and anger, with town halls stuffed with ignorant party hack councillors who have rings run around them by power hungry officers, we see this kind of response from people?  It is a consequence of banana republic ‘democracy’, lack of accountability and the absence of any check on officials acting as overlords, as our interests are treated as an annoying distraction from the business of social engineering and embedding the power of the bureaucrats and technocrats.

What was supposed to be the servant of the public, controlled by elected members chosen every four years – delivering essential services to the local community at a reasonable cost – has become a voracious parasite feeding off its host, doing us increasing harm and undermining our interests to serve theirs.  The issue is much wider than council tax payments. Moncrieff’s piece is a missed opportunity to connect the dots so more people can see what is being hidden from them in plain sight.

Ignore the sensationalism, understand the real issue

A senior EU official has caused outrage by appearing to suggest that the national flags of member states should be dropped in favour of the EU design of a circle of stars on a blue background, the Mail on Sunday informs readers.  The MoS thinks there’s a story here, but being part of the mainstream media it manages to spectacularly miss the real issue and instead focus on a tiny element of a much wider and more significant problem.

The paper tells readers that:

Christine Roger, the communications director of the European Council, the EU’s governing body, made her comments in a speech to 650 ‘spin doctors’ from local authorities across Europe, including the UK.   She called for a new, dedicated public-relations budget to help ‘sell’ the EU as a ‘brand’ to its increasingly disenchanted citizens.

Before going on to add:

In her speech, a copy of which has been seen by The Mail on Sunday, Ms Roger – a veteran Brussels apparatchik – posed a series of leading questions, including how Europe should be defined. ‘Are we talking about a state-to-be? About a federation?’ she asked.

For good measure the MoS then trotted off to get some quotes from Nigel Farage, who duly obliged by prattling on about flags, the trampling of national identities and the waste of taxpayers’ money, suggesting he clearly only a faint idea what had been discussed and what the real concern is.  Once again the MSM has failed the public and the blogosphere has to step up to spell things out.

It is time to put the witless sensationalism into proper context, then hopefully get some people to sit up and understand the real story here.

Context first…  The ‘speech’ was actually nothing more than one part of a workshop presentation (Workshop I on page 15) delivered as part of EuroPCom 2011, which is organised by the Committee of the Regions.  The workshop was running at the same time as three others, the titles of which are altogether more concerning: ‘Citizen Journalism, opportunity or threat’; ‘Connecting with young people through social networks’; and ‘Outside the Brussels bubble: Europe going local’.

Also, the only thing the MoS would have seen of Ms Roger’s ‘speech’ was a PDF document of slides she used in her presentation.  It’s not just the MoS which has access to a copy, anyone can see it by clicking on the appropriate link.

Now the real story…  EuroPCom 2011, like its forerunner, EuroPCom 2010, is a concerted effort to spread EU propaganda via the national and local media in member states, using public servants on the government and local government payroll to wage a spin campaign from withing government departments, City Halls and Town Halls.  The attendance of many of the participants has been made possible only because our money has been spent to send them to the two day conference.

A measure of how deeply rooted the EU propagandists are in our public bodies can be gained by looking at some of the UK based speakers at the event, who included Nick Jones, the Head of Digital for the Prime Minister’s Office & Cabinet Office; Geoff Meade, Europe Editor of the Press Association; Gyorgy Szondi, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations at the Leeds Business School; Tony Halmos, Director of Public Relations at the City of London; Carl Holloway, Senior Communications Officer at Preston City Council (pictured).

While the Committee of the Regions spins that the total cost of putting on EuroPCom 2011 was around €50,000 (£43,000) for  a two-day event bringing together 75 speakers and 650 participants, that does not tell us how much public money might have been spent by participants on the registration fee, travel, accomodation and subsistence in order to attend.

The aim of EuroPCom is to push a positive vision of the EU at local level in member states.  The real targets are local authorities and regional public entities, the so called decentralised bodies, which send out their free (taxpayer funded) newspapers and issue press releases to local papers.  With that in mind, one wonders how many Councillors will know if Council staff from their authority have attended and if public funds have been used, and how many residents in cities and local boroughs would feel happy with their Council Tax pounds being used for such a purpose.

The real issue is what EuroPCom symbolises.  It is not just the naked propaganda effort and talk of replacing national flags with the EU dishcloth, but the lack of democratic oversight and direct accountability in our boroughs.  That is the point missed by the Mail on Sunday and Nigel Farage.  That is the point that needs to be understood by residents in towns and cities across this country.

So once again blogs like this one will have to do for free the work the MSM journalists are so lavishly paid for, but consistently fail to do. While EuroPCom speakers have considered how social media can be used to advance the European project, so we EU opponents can make use of social media to expose once again how taxpayers across Europe are being compelled to fund their own brainwashing.

A Freedom of Information request has been submitted in an effort to identify which UK local authorities and public bodies had employees at EuroPCom 2011.  From there we will attempt to discover whether public funds have been used to register and send participants to Brussels for the workshops, and if so, how much.  Then where applicable we will try to find out who took the decision to authorise that spending on enhancing local EU propaganda and see which of those people are accountable to the public they are supposed to serve.

It will take some weeks, but watch this space.


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