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More Tales from a Four Star Council

Dodgy LibDems General

Dateline 6/11/12

Extraordinary Council Meeting (aren't they all!)
I attended the Extraordinary Stockport Council meeting on 6th November 2012. It was called to debate the financial irregularties of £4.7 million at SMBC Arms Length Management Organisation - SK Solutions.

There were some excellent speeches from the united opposition - from Councillor Verdeille,  Councillor Lloyd, Councillor Bailey, Councillor Harding, Councillor Wragg, Councillor Booth and Councillor Gantois. The points they made were that the LibDems set up this company and despite concerns expressed by the opposition their recommendations for safeguards to be incorporated completely ignored. The LibDems set up a committee in circa 2007 to oversee SK Solutions.  The first meeting of this committee lasted just 30 minutes. They were to have monthly reports and meet regularly. They didn't receive or ask for any financial reports, at their first meeting decided to not meet for another 12 months; in one case they didn't meet for 14 months and often did not have the required quorum. All in all scary indictment of the way council taxpayers' money is wasted at Stockport.  The Committee could only be LibDems and no other councillors were allowed access to any information.  Opposition councillors were only given access to a vital and complex report  the evening before last night's meeting.  Their FOIA requests had been repeatedly refused, and I know the feeling.

Two former LibDem Executive Councillors now having jumped ship to opposition parties, admitted their part in this financial scandal - Councillor John Smith and Councillor David White.  Councillor White is a serial ship jumper!

Madam Mayor, it must be pointed out, was wearing shoes which would have been rejected by Dame Edna as de trop. Fortunately, she is a strict disciplinarian, as when former LibDem and now People Matter councillor Patrick McAuley made a mysoginistic comment which brought an agast gasp from those in the chamber (and obviously Women Don't Matter) he was made to apologise for his remark. At the end of the meeting he tried to withdraw his apology saying he didn't make the comment in the first place.   Madam Mayor refused to let him withdraw his apology.  I must say, whilst on the subject of Madam Mayor, whilst I do bang on about the financial waste at SMBC, I feel sending her and Councillor Embonpoint on that  four day Brian Blessed Voice Projection Course was perhaps something which should not have been proceeded with.  I jumped out of my skin every time she opened her mouth - and I am a delicate, elderly lady.  Perhaps there should have been warning notices posted.

Councillor Derbyshire, though Leader and Deputy Leader of the Council during this time, couldn't admit any blame for the loss or failure to properly oversee - her hands trembling as she read her prepared statement. Councillor Hazel Lees, Director of SK Solutions, has presumably Carthusian tendencies, as she didn't utter a single word during the entire meeting - just shuffled about a lot  in her seat and went red regularly. Councillor Uriah Heap admitted although he was paid to oversee what went on, it all went above his little head and council officers never told him things were going wrong and they should have done - so not Councillor Heap's fault either.  Councillor Paid-By-The-Word said it wasn't his fault either, although I might have nodded off during his speech and missed something. Councillor Rictus-Grin seemed, as usual, to be ordering goods online from Tesco during the entire meeting.  Councillor Embonpoint blustered loudly.  He was paid well to oversee what went on and to ask questions (and he is jolly rude to me when I ask questions).  His hands shook as he read his prepared statement. The explanation of how he had done nothing wrong trumpeted on and on and I found my mind wandering to consider how many years it had been since he had last been able to see his feet whilst in a standing position.

So with the help of Councillor Peter Burns, Councillor Nottingham, Councillor Sylvia Humphreys and the Women Don't Matter councillor, Patrick McAuley, the LibDems were off the hook.  I wonder whether these same independents will prop up these incompetent LibDems when the next financial scandal rears its head - and I believe several financial scandals are currently in the stack waiting to land at SMBC Municipal.

Explanations from Councillor Derbyshire sooner might have stopped much of the speculation on the reasons for the discrepancy in SK Solutions's accounts (equal to around 10% of its turnover), that fraud or cash were not involved but the cause was simply a massive accounting error in over-valuation of work in progress, which should have been obvious to management, internal and external auditors - or somebody? This was not going to go away unnoticed and had to come out in the wash in due course.
I also understand that the management of  ISSK is currently in difficulty and stands accused of management incompetence by Unison. SSK and ISSK have the same M.D. - I hope he has more knowledge of the care industry that of the refuse disposal and school meals business.
There is a strong body of opinion nationally against the creation of subsidiary companies to run operating functions. How many such companies do we have and will this trend continue in the light of the SSK and ISSK experience?   I asked Councillor Derbyshire this on the 5th of November 2012.  It is unlikely she will ever respond, or even listen.

Town Hall Protester
Finally, for those of you following the scandal of Mr Parnell, the town hall protester, Mr Barry Khan, the Council Solicitor still hasn't sorted out his simple-to-solve problem, prefering instead to waste possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money in police arrests of this completely innocent man.  I could have solved his problem years ago and offered Councillor Tiddles my services as a mediator.  Mr Majothi, the Council's Don't Bring Your Complaints to Me Officer has also failed to sort out his simple problem year after year.  His latest trick was allegedly to see Mr Parnell in his lunch hour and tell him he couldn't do anything for him as he was on his lunch and therefore not allowed to act! You really couldn't make it up, unless you know Mr Majothi of old as I do.  If you need the police ever, don't bother to ring them as they will be being tied up by Stockport Council in hounding a completely innocent man:-

Comments of a wise council taxpayer (not mine, of course)
" It makes me uneasy to think of the tradition which is that nothing ever gets done and wrongs are not righted because inertia is such a powerful force. Problem shelved/got rid of "on a nod" - effortlessly.However, could it be that we have come to the point in time when "Business as usual" is no longer acceptable when it masks the reality of "avoid hassle or bother."

So, all in all what did we learn from last night's meeting?  What we knew already - that being a LibDem means never having to say sorry!

If you have been, thanks for listening.

Dateline 08/11/12

The Council has to implement the Access to Information Regulations. I suppose they will ignore them as they ignore everything else under dubious Council Solicitor Barry Khan and dubious Council Leader, Sue Derbyshire:-

I learn with great delight that Stockport Council's District Auditor, Tim Watkinson, has stepped down. Yippee, good news  I found it simple, as an experiment,  to get information on the Trident Nuclear Weapons Programme but almost impossible to get any information from Watkinson.

There are reports issued to the Corporate, Resource Management & Governance Scrutiny Committee every month regarding the Council's use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (the Council's use of directed surveillance and covert human intelligence resources).  I shall ask to see them with names blacked out for Data Protection.  It will be interesting to see what is going on in this regard in Stockport. This is supposing, Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive,  Barry Khan, Council Solicitor, and  Councillor Derbyshire, who all preside over the Schweinerei going on in Stockport will allow the reports to be released. With their track records I doubt they will.

The SEMMMS "consultation" on the proposed M56 to A6 Bypass is currently underway.
"People attending the bypass "consultations" were staggered by the lack of knowledge from the representatives - of the 5 present 3 were there to make up the numbers.  It is an insult to the community to send representatives who are so badly prepared and have no knowledge of the scheme and can merely point to the display board and utter glumly that they cannot answer the relevant questions. This is a £290 million scheme affecting thousands of lives and at that cost one would expect a thoroughly professional presentation."

Outside Sainsburys in Hazel Grove the effect of the new road is to reduce the A6 traffic by 17%.
The A6 traffic might be expected to use the new road to go up the A34 instead, and here the traffic rises by 23%.
I hardly think this makes a compelling case to build the road!

Jim McMahon became a non- executive member of the Board of SSK in August 2012 and has been involved in the SEMMMS road scheme proposals since 2001, becoming Project Director for the scheme in 2009. So, Mr McMahon would appear to have a lot on his plate.
Jim McMahon
Director of Major Projects
Communities, Regeneration & Environment Directorate
Stockport Council
Office: 0161 474 4800
Mobile: 07800 618 223.

SK Solutions - the details from the Corporate Performance and Resources mid year report 2012-13:-
"Solutions SK Ltd (SSK).
2.9.6 SSK is currently preparing a recovery plan aimed at addressing the balance sheet deficit brought forward into the current financial year. The primary aim will be to achieve at least a breakeven position in 2012/13 and recover the accumulated deficit over the next three to four years. The recovery plan will have implications for the Council, the details of which will be reported to the Executive and Scrutiny Committee in the near future. At this stage it is anticipated that, in line with previous practice, the Council will fund any redundancy costs associated with the Company meeting its financial targets. Early indications suggest that such redundancy costs could amount to around £0.5m during this year and 2013/14.
2.9.7 At the end of 2011/12, the Council established a £5m revenue reserve to ensure that SSK could continue to trade as a going concern. It is recommended that £0.5m of that reserve now be specifically earmarked to meet the redundancy costs associated with the delivery of SSK’s recovery plan. In addition approval is sought to release funding from  the reserve to meet the costs of the investigations undertaken by Cobbetts and KPMG, the final costs of which are estimated to be £0.250m. These, once approved, will be reflected in the quarter three report."

Yet another full Council Meeting:-
My questions -

1) in light of the SK Solution scandal, am I now allowed to question the NPS financial irregularities of circa £5 million at Vale View Toxic Waste Dump School?
2) Why are the payments probably being made to the owners of Offerton Precinct come December being kept secret? Surely protecting the commercial interests of such a company is now out of the question.

She said she would protect their commercial interests.

Councillor Derbyshire again refused to answer any question about the financial irregularities amounting to over £5 million at NPS and the Toxic Waste Dump School.  She is going to send me her reasons, which I will post up here should I ever receive them:-

Councillor Rictus-Grin again spent the time was there on his i-pad; I don't know if he was ordering goods on line from Tesco or not, but he wasn't listening  to or taking part in the debate (yet again!).

ISSK Arms Length Management Organisation of Stockport Council is apparently still not a sustainable business.

Mercifully, the contribution by Councillor Paid-By-The-Word was uncharacteristically short.  Madam Mayor bellowed her way through the proceedings, as seems to be usual now. Fortunately, I was shielded from her choice of footwear by the Mayoral pulpit, and we must be grateful for that.

Councillor Inkompetentenchemiker's depressing demeanour was, as always, that of an undertaker suffering from chronic, septic, weeping piles.  What on earth is the point of Councillor Inkompetentenchemiker's presence in the Council Chamber?

What is happening with the old  Post Office sorting office:-
"Two Stockport office schemes are about to be launched.  Greater Manchester Property Venture Fund, which bought the site in 2010, is to develop offices on the site of the former Royal Mail parcels depot on Wellington Street.  It had hoped to build a hotel, but the development posed technical problems for the fund, which has now decided to build offices instead. Market sources say deals with two potential occupiers are close. Damian Master, a director at GVA and asset manager for the fund, said: “We hope to submit planning applications early next year.“
Meanwhile, Salford-based developer Muse is preparing for the first phase of a £145m office scheme close to Stockport station.
The 370,000 sq ft project will be on the 12-acre Grand Central site acquired for £15m last year by Stockport council from the administrators of Norwich developer Targetfollow.  The first phase will be a 1,000 space multi-story car park which is due for completion early in 2013.
Mike Horner, a regional director at Muse Developments, said: “We are working with Stockport council to deliver a new high-specification office quarter.”

Stockport Sports Trust
There may well be accounting discrepancies at Stockport Sports Trust - only time will tell.  Do they pay full rent for their premises, because they charge very high fees and have recently stopped free pensioner memberships? Who pays the energy useage bills for their sites?  I am on the case and will keep you informed.

St Peter's Square
This is a new 1950s-style, brutalist square, only lacking a 40 foot high statue of Enver Hoxha, or as someone mischieviously suggested - Councillor Tiddles.  How much has it cost you? £4,169,046 - yes, that is what I thought too!

Fees - feasibility,design, supervision/CDM - £507,499
Construction - specialist paving - £466,590
Construction - earthworks, drainage/paving/signing/lining/street lighting/materials - £2,639,915
Construction - carriageway surfacing - £63,002
Construction - water feature construction - £69,888
Construction - street furniture - £192,232
Construction - landscaping works - £163,379
Construction - specialist materials - £18,723
Construction - other works including statutory undertakers £47,819

Traffic Wardens (or Civil Enforcement Officers)
There are at present 16
What is the annual cost to local taxpayers, ie; what is the total cost of direct salaries for these people, the cost of uniforms and the direct and indirect cost of administrative staff monitoring their work?
For year 2011-12 this expenditure was £382,147.

What fiscal benefit do they bring to the tax payers?
The income from Penalty Charge Notices for 2011-12 was £487,132.

Since inception, by how much have "civil matters", within their remit, has been reduced?
At present no ‘compliance monitoring’ is carried out to assess levels of unlawful parking. Penalty Charge Notice issuing levels have fluctuated over the years but this is not considered to give any measure of compliance.

Against what yardstick is their performance measured?
There is no single ‘yardstick’ or performance indicator by which CEO performance is measured, and there are no national comparisons. A wide range of measures are used; some regularly and some for specific one-off purposes.

Who assesses their performance?
Performance is assessed by their line-management at various levels, depending on the issue being assessed.

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