BLUE ON BLUE: BROX-TORIES GO TO WAR ON BROX-TORIES.

LOCAL FAVOURITE TO SUCCEED SOUBRY USURPED BY WILTSHIRE COUNCILLOR. CHAOS (WITHOUT ED MILIBAND) ENSUES.

COUNCIL CHIEF EXEC RUTH HYDE USED IN CONSERVATIVE CAMPAIGN MATERIAL

The Conservative Party Conference passes with a general sense of unity with only one key member of their parliamentary party being ejected by the police after disputing the freedom of movement of his partner and committing crimes against irony; and another celebrating the arrival of Black History Month by boasting about blacking-up because you obviously didn’t get the memo that racism is alright now, cos Brexit.

Cordiality reigns as all the dissenters who might have threatened shining a beam of reality into proceedings were handily booted out the party beforehand, followed by a hi-five to Xi Jinping and Recep Erdogan for the inspiration.

Back in Broxtowe Tory circles, this bonhomie is in short supply. To understand why, let’s draw our eye again upon perennial favourite of this site, Cllr Richard Jackson: borough councillor, county councillor, former leader of the Borough Council and, now Broxtowe’s own Miss Havisham.

When Anna Soubry decided to step down to form a party founded on principles of maintaining the status quo and therefore calling it Change, a vacancy appeared in Broxtowe. With Anna out the way, busy forming a party based on shared values, compromise and cool-headedness that subsequently disintegrated due to creative differences, a plum battleground seat was all to fight for.

It should have been a coronation. Jackson has been a slavish loyalist from the get-go, willfully serving County Councillor leader Kay Cutts with the unquestioning obedience of a hired goon. He stood aside from A-List Soubry in the late noughties. Want someone to defend the most outrageously awful behaviour from Cutts-by-name? Jackson’s your man. Destroy the actual council you are the actual leader of? Certainly, Kay. While that may have been akin to sawing off the tree branch you’re sitting on, Jackson could at least look forward to falling onto an inflatable cushion that would bounce him into Parliament and all the loveliness that come with that. Like Peggy Ollerenshaw becoming a Yellow Coat, like the Trotters becoming millionaires, the dream would become reality. The gold ticket to the chocolate factory would be his.

Except there was no inflatable cushion; rather a bramble bush.

Tories, I need not remind you, are pretty damn callous.

Conservative HQ stood three contestants: Jackson, Birmingham accountant Saqib Bhatti (a candidate that Getty Images must be desperate to snap for their stock photo ‘Apprentice Contestant’) and Darren Henry, a county councillor in, errr, Wiltshire. Both paper candidates, surely? It seemed pretty much certain that Jackson would be going home with the crown. After

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Darren Henry in a previous favourite seat.

all, Darren Henry didn’t even make Broxtowe his first choice: he’d stood to be Conservative candidate in Kensington and Chelsea in the summer. He had already failed to become the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire. In 2015 he had a crack at becoming MP for Wolverhampton North East, somehow dropping 4.5% in an General Elections that the Tories got their first majority in 23 years. To lose one easy election may be regarded as unfortunate, to lose two -and then some – smacks of carelessness.

Each time he told the various electorates that he was entirely devoted to whatever position he applied for “I’m not a career politician’. If you can reconcile the facts with the statement, you’re officially a genius or immensely daft.

When that fell through he swore loyalty to Wolverhampton Wiltshire Kensington Broxtowe. Only Broxtowe. He only ever loved Broxtowe.

That’d never convince Broxtowe Tories desperate to provide the constituency with a candidate who was committed to the area, knew its singular nature, its idiosyncrasies, its strengths and its deficiencies? Know how it is vastly diverse: from the urban south to the rural north, and how that created multitudinous challenges? Jackson, for all his faults, has shed foot leather in every street and cul-de-sac, and has rapped his knuckles on doors beside the Trent to those neighbouring DH Lawrence’s birthplace. Of course, that’s what a sensible party that cares for its constituents would do. But this isn’t a sensible party. This is not a party that sees things as complex and nuanced. This is a party that is currently both polarised and rabid, bit by the Brexit Beast and now unable to see anything other than fulfilling the promise of a free unicorn for every Brit.

You see, loyalty is all well and good until the person you’re being loyal stops being loyal to the person above them on the food chain, and Anna Soubry has few friends left in the Conservative Party (to be fair, she has few friends in her own new party, of whom the few remaining MPs are only there cos Lib Dem yellow clashes with their evening wear / they went and got all new branded pens and everything and they’ve maxed out their vouchers to Rymans).

Jackson’s devotion to Soubz became toxic.

The meeting to decide the leader thus turned chaotic. There were tears-not metaphorical- actual tears. There were recriminations. The activist running the @BroxtoweConservatives Twitter account refused to carry on: they still haven’t posted since August 17th despite it being Quite A Big Story they’d selected a new PPC. Many activists and even councillors have made it clear that they’d refuse to campaign for it, and I’ve even had them leak to me: unprecedented since rumours are my photo is the dartboard choice of target in the Beeston Conservative Club. Quoteth them: “It has been horrible: it’s obvious that the numbers mean even (Jackson’s) own councillors were against him. It’s not fair and I won’t be doing the doorsteps when it comes to it’.

I never thought I’d type this, but strange days: if any other Conservative activists, councillors or otherwise, wish to contact me then mattgoold23@hotmail.com.

____________________________________________

So, Darren Henry. Brexit Brexit Brexit. Broxtowe Broxtowe Broxtowe. He’s your man -hey Wiltshire! Hey Kensington and Chelsea! Hands off! He don’t love you anymore.

He’s got some catching up to do in getting his face out there. No worries! Here he is getting on fine with utterly neutral Ruth Hyde, the Chief Executive of Broxtowe Borough Council and in NO WAY WHATSOEVER biased towards the Conservatives and the way that, when in office, they had a habit of selling off the Town Hall at a bargain price to members of the same (misogynistic, homophobic) Evangelical Alliance she is a member of. And in no way is agreeing to appear in campaign material by a Conservative Candidate (who isn’t the former head of the council. Sorry, Cllr Jackson) is in any way a dubiously legal display of an apolitical stance.

dhrh

I’m absolutely sure this is all a huge mistake and Henry will remove the tweet well before Hyde urgently emails him to request removal.

And yes, his account is most definitely a campaign account. It’s called @votedarrenhenry.

________________________________________

I get wind that the interim monitoring officer responsible for the gross mishandling of my complaint against Conservative councillors, that was upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman last month, has been given his marching orders. I feel no gloating schadenfreude at this news, rather a deep sense of disappointment that another scapegoat has been pushed forward to take a hit and thus distract from the deep rot myself and Thomas shed some light on in our investigation into the council.

If you’d like to contribute to enabling us to keep on probing and ensuring that local democracy is kept accountable and working for YOU, then we will greatly appreciate a couple of quid thrown our way. We’ll probably do it anyway, but doing it with some funds to cover the gallons of coffee we get through makes it feel a little more like we’re doing something worthwhile and not screaming into the void. Takes a minute by clicking here and accepting sincere thanks from Thomas and I.

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Broxtowe Borough Council Found At Fault By The Local Government Ombudsman (again).

And this time it’s personal.

Hello, it’s me again. I have some news. I can also once again call myself Lord B: for reasons set down below I’ve had to be plain Mr B.

It feels strange writing about local politics in this strange time of chaotic national weirdness; it feels parochial and trivial against the constitutional contortions and internecine warfare that is witnessing, like staring up at a dying sun, the Conservative Party collapses in on itself.

Yet their is relevance as the local scene can often feel like a microcosm of the national, and after what I’ve been through over the last 18 months, which I will try and describe here, has much cross- over maybe not in scale,  but in the behavior of those who feel that ruling is not an honour, not a responsibility, but a given right.

It also has a happy ending, of sorts. Let’s hope I’m ahead of the national picture on that one.

If you’ve read this blog over time, you’ll be aware that myself and Thomas Roberts conducted a very deep, very detailed investigation into Broxtowe Borough Council, and how the Conservative administration, in cahoots with the senior management of the council, had created a chaotic, toxic environment that had serious financial repercussions on the authority.

This financial black-hole, not helped by costly pay-offs to staff dismissed in unfair circumstances and the appointment of expensive temporary management staff, led to a rapid sell-off of assets. One such building put on the market was Beeston Town Hall, home to the very council that was selling it. The symbolism would make even the broadest satirical hack blush.

Thomas and I identified many bad actors, and called them out. This was at tremendous

IMG_4323

Cllr Crow: not happy

risk: we know that the then head of council Cllr Richard Jackson was looking to sue us at the time and we know he even tried to bring in the police at one point. Chief Executive Ruth Hyde was livid at our revelations, especially when we revealed the conflict of interest she had with selling the Town Hall off to a branch of the homophobic and misogynistic Evangelical Alliance, of which she was a member. Everything therefore was assiduously cross-checked, researched in multiple different directions and sources vetted, cross-examined and, naturally, given absolute anonymity and protection. It was the most intense journalism that I have ever done, and the most terrifying. Yet it had to be done. Nobody else was doing it.

 If you’d like to support our investigative work, a small donation will be mightily appreciated: every penny will be spent on coffee to accompany hunching over screens for hours reading pages of terminally dull spreadsheets:  https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

It also really, really annoyed the council who assumed we’d trip up and leave ourselves open to being sued. That frustration boiled over at a council meeting on the 7th March 2018 where the Town Hall’s fate was sealed. Tory Councillors attacked the work Thomas

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Proud racist Cllr. Philip Owen

and I were doing, calling as ‘fantasists’ and so on, knowing full-well that as observers to the meeting we had no right of reply. The public gallery, full of people who had no previous experience of attending council meetings, were amazed at the arrogance “I thought you were joking when I read your stories of what goes off here” said one “Now I’m surprised you kept so calm”. It was a disgraceful display, not least from the awful, outright racist Cllr Philip Owen, pomposity made flesh.

Worse was to come. As the meeting broke up I was talking to a couple of others who’d witnessed the farrago. Suddenly, a hand was on prodding in my chest and I looked down to see Cllr. Shane Easom, Kimberley Tory. He was at first incoherent, then I realised he was livid as I’d mentioned his dog in a story. To update those who aren’t regular readers, Cllr. Easom loves his town so much he was caught on CCTV letting his dog shit in the park and not clearing it up. He ranted that the dog had since died, with some bizarre implication I was somehow to blame. I’ve been blamed for many things, but killing dogs isn’t my thing. I’m not a Liberal Democrat.

Capture

While I was trying to absorb this bombshell, Cllr. Mel Crow, who has form in behaving awfully, launched a pincer attack and began to harangue me. This was, it is important to clarify, all within the council chamber. She told me Cllr Easom had been ‘very close to that dog’, and then called me a liar and writing untruths. Crow is a solicitor, so I’m sure that she would sue me on the spot should this be true: my legal experience only goes as far as doing the photocopying at Nottingham Law School a decade ago. I pointed this out, inviting her to take us to court, and she stormed out, mouthing ‘fuck off’ at me.

I’m seen some awful behaviour in local politics, but this felt coordinated with intent. It was intimidation, orchestrated to stop me reporting on their misdeeds.

And it worked.

I left feeling sorely depressed. All the work Thomas and I had done was to nowt. They ruled, and they did with arrogance and accountability. They could lie, they could disassemble, they could fib with impunity, and there was no sanction against them. For what it was worth, I filed a complaint with the council about member’s behaviour, and effectively wrapped up ten years of running this blog. I wrote a final piece about how flat-earthers now ran the (pancake-dimensioned) world, and packed in.

I received acknowledgement of the complaint – put it out of a tetchy stubbornness, more than anything- and then nothing. I repeatedly asked what was happening to it, but no response. Only when my repeated public tweets started to gain traction did Broxtowe respond, three times claiming they’d contact me the following day: this never happened, and when I queried this they told me not to contact them on Twitter, but directly. Sterling work, comms. team.

They did nothing. The complaint sat there, ignored, while councillors carried on being awful. My suspicion that they didn’t want to investigate as they didn’t want to be accountable was confirmed. Reluctantly, and only after much nagging, did they interview witnesses from the public gallery. Nine months after the event, of course, when memories wouldn’t have been as sharp (both witnesses later contacted me highly annoyed that they were called so late, when they couldn’t remember clearly and obviously had more scruples than the councillors in wishing to present as honest a picture of the event as possible).

Meanwhile, the Cllrs. Crow and Easom were interviewed. The usual process in any meeting is to keep notes of an interview, at the very least for your own record. Yet these were not kept. Or were they, but withheld purposely? Incompetence, or something much worse? Either way, not a good look, and grossly unfair.

I was tempted to give up on multiple occasions. The investigation was clearly partial and would not be conducted fairly. Time passed, life happened. My beautiful baby son grew into a wonderful toddler. We started house-hunting, and found one, from where I am typing right now. My magazine thrived. My day job became more fascinating and enjoyable. Good books were read. Bad books were discarded. I grew a beard. My wife commented it was ‘almost like a real beard’. I shaved the beard off. Cllr Owen, the bigot’s bigot, was reported to the police for racist remarks.    Local elections were held, and the Tories lost their control. Time passed, life happened.

Yet I’m a stubborn bastard at times. Of course it would be a whitewash, I reasoned, but I’d make them do their jobs to the end. So I persevered, and each time they thought I’d let it drift away, I’d ask for an update. Broxtowe Borough Council’s own complaint code says it aims to resolve all complaints in 20-days. After 200 days of non-resolution, I decided to take things a step further. I called in the Ombudsman.

The LGO (Local Gov. Ombudsman) oversee councils and I do not envy their workload. They also deal with social care cases, in a sector that has had itself gutted by Tory austerity. I didn’t expect much from them, but I was wrong.

They took up my case that Broxtowe were not investigating my complaint seriously, and their clarity, professionalism and openness stood in stark contrast to Broxtowe’s behaviour. They kept me constantly updated, telling me how Broxtowe were not handing over requested documents or prevaricating in some way or another, and how they would persevere regardless. And so they did. In early July 2019, they reached a conclusion.

The council were found to be in fault in multiple areas:

20. The Monitoring Officer spoke to one of the councillors about the complaint almost
a year after the incident. The Council delayed speaking to the councillor and
failed to keep a record of the discussion. This was fault.
21. The Monitoring Officer did not speak to the other councillor, but instead relied on
an email about the incident which she sent before Mr B complained. The Council
should have told the councillor about the complaint and it should have written to
both councillors with its findings. It did not do so; this was fault.
22. The Monitoring Officer, in consultation with the Independent Person, decided in
June 2018 that Mr B’s complaint about these two councillors did not justify the
cost of an external investigation, but that the Monitoring Officer should make
further enquiries. The Council should have written to Mr B to tell him its decision,and the reasons for its decision. It did not do so; this was fault.

As a result, it is not clear if the Council decided that the complaint merited formal investigation, or whether it was decided more information was needed before it could reach a decision on whether a formal investigation was needed.

23. In any event, the Monitoring Officer did investigate the complaint. The policy says
that where a complaint merits investigation, the Monitoring Officer will appoint an
Investigating Officer, who can be a senior officer of the Council. The failure to do
this resulted in an inadequate investigation and significant delays.

24. The failings in this case have caused Mr B frustration and put him to avoidable
time and trouble. He has also been left with uncertainty as to whether a different
decision would have been reached if there had been no fault by the Council.

 

TLDR: My complaint was in turns ignored, not taken seriously, and whitewashed.

Jeez. The system works. At least, the ombudsman part works. The council, who for years I’ve been shouting about and tirelessly researching, writing and risking my livelihood over, have been found to be an utter mess. But it didn’t stop there.

You may note that I said that the Ombudsman reached these conclusions in early July. You may take a look out the window, and note the browning leaves and shortening days show its September. You might wonder why I’m only just telling you this.

Because even after THEIR OWN OMBUDSMAN had found against them, Broxtowe refused to admit fault. They would not apologise, they would not pay the suggested compensation. They held out for another two months. I rang the Ombudsman, and asked what was happening. They were as bemused as I was, and explained this wasn’t usual. Being legally barred from writing about the council, once a strand of income and reputational worth for me, was extended for another two months.

Eventually, and I don’t know why, they buckled. Two days ago Broxtowe Borough Council admitted culpability in screwing up my case, and agreed to pay compensation and issue a full apology (yet have to be received. If previous trends govern when this will be, it will be a nice letter to arrive with the Monarch’s telegraph wishing me a happy 100th).

Now I’m free to talk about this, I’m going to start asking some questions.

  • What was the Chief Executives role in this? Did she try and stop / slow down the investigation?
  • Did Cllr. Richard Jackson exert pressure on the Monitoring Officer to not investigate fully, due to the delicate timing moving into an election phase?
  • Why were no notes kept of the meetings with councillors? What was said?
  • Why did the council refuse to accept the LGO’s findings?
  • Will they reexamine the complaint in light of the findings of the ombudsman?
  • Now the investigation is over and Broxtowe has been found at home, will Cllrs. Crow, Easom and Owen care to repeat their claims on record? I will happily take you to court, and invite you to do the same to me when I am now free to describe you as nasty people in politics for nothing but their own gain?
  • Will the new administration: a rainbow coalition of Labour, Lib Dems and Indies, take a serious look at what is happening within the council’s senior management?

I will not let this drop.  I’ll also be resuming investigations into the way the council was ran during the Conservative rule, and how the sacred split between the executive and the political may have been compromised. I won’t be the only one: while I have had to publicly quiet about this for a year and a half I have kept fellow journalists informally in the loop, and the council’s seeming desire to brush their behaviour under the carpet has only led to a greater scrutiny. Some pending cases look like being very revealing: now I’m at liberty to write about them, I will be doing.

Returning to the bigger picture – and in the couple of hours I’ve been writing this I’ve been idly glancing over at Twitter and seeing more political drama pop up than an entire year’s worth pre-2016 to the extent I can’t even confidentially tell you who is in power right now – there are parallels, and I’m not just saying that to get this blog’s readership extended beyond the borough’s borders.

They can lie. They can abuse systems. They can obfuscate, they can arrogantly assume that they are born to rule, and you are born to be their lessers. We currently have a government led (citation needed) who lies to get by. Being a clubbable type of guy, he’s been given a free pass to do so by many sectors of the media and the political sphere because they wish to be clubbable guys.

But the mask can, and seemingly has, slipped. The lies, the gaslighting, the denial of reality is being called out. Boris Johnson is proving to be a tetchy incompetent mess, not the saviour his followers – and terrifyingly, his own ego – assumed. Dominic Cummings is being exposed not as a master strategist, but a yobbish bluffer. The edifice is disintegrating, the narrative changing.

There are those who I will disagree with on most policy who do at least share some common ground with me: the framework of democracy can be frustrating, can seem arcane: but if you arrogantly assume it does not apply to you, then you are mistaken. There are enough people left to make sure you will be pulled up, you will be resisted, you will be pushed back. I write about local democracy not because I want to bring it down: I write about it because I am a huge believer in it, and feel a great need to protect it from those who seek to damage and destroy it.

My own 18 month experience has been depressing, disheartening and at times made me wonder what the point was when Jarvis Cocker seemed to sort it out in a song a few years ago, but with a bit of tenacity we CAN beat them. One small local government case is nothing compared to the vastness of dysfunction right now, but for me it has blown flame back onto the kindling that needs to be burning. As Boris Johnson would no doubt put it, in the hope we would lie prostrate and supine at his superior Latin aphorisms, Illegitimi non carborundum.

We’ll say it as it mean to be said, and with resolution to resist: Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down.

______________________

Throughout the case, the LGO assigned me the name ‘Mr B’ to assume anonymity. I was tempted at times to ask them to change it to ‘Lord B’, if not just to confuse former Tory Cllr. Adam Stockwell, who, not being the brightest of bulbs in a field of dull bulbs, once tweeted about my hypocrisy of both being ‘A Lord and a supporter of socialist policies’. Thank god Stapleford booted him out.

 

 

The Tater-Haters of Broxtowe Borough Council.

GUEST POST FROM Llywellyn Pollick

  • Broxtowe Borough Council slapped down by Ombudsman

  • Cllr Crow, deputy leader of council, in ‘maladministration and injustice’ scandal

  • Councillors bullied, harassed and lied to street trader

  • Cllr Crow refuses to apologise, blames everyone else

 

Stephanie Hather is the sort of person you’d think would be extolled in the highest terms by Conservatives, especially those of a Thatcherite bent. A small-business-creating entrepreneur and single mother, she is the very model of a self-starting individual trying to make her way in life independently.

It was therefore a shock when she found that bringing a business to Kimberley didn’t result in open-arms from the local Conservatives councilors, but a systematic attack of such pettiness, nastiness and – it seems –downright corruption that the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has just ruled Broxtowe Borough Council is guilty of ‘maladministration and injustice’, dishonesty, and other criticisms. Which is exactly what we’ve been writing about for some time. Let’s go back to October 2016.

That’s when Steph first decided to take her business –a jacket potato stall- up to Kimberley. She’d successfully ran the stall in Stapleford –also in Broxtowe – without any concerns. She expected the same response in Kimberley- where she’d lived all her life -and assumed when Broxtowe Borough Council referred the application for a trial period it would be a mere formality. Broxtowe’s three councilors – Richard Robinson (Labour), Mel Crow (Conservative) and Shane Easom (Conservative) were duly asked – Robinson immediately responded saying he was happy for Steph to have a trial, Easom didn’t seemingly respond, but Crow wasn’t happy, claiming that the stall would impact on existing businesses.

Indeed, Steph’s stall in Stapleford had been lauded by local councilor Richard Macrae (Independent) who noted the increase in footfall the van created and the subsequent benefits this conferred onto other business ‘Plus, no one was doing what I was doing” Steph explains “I run a convenience outlet, not a place to come and have a sit down. How it would be competing against other businesses is beyond me” No evidence other than anecdotal was given for this –nevertheless, the trial was cancelled a day later.

Just like that, a business was stopped from trading. That wonderfully useful and ultimately meaningless explanation of ‘unforeseen circumstances’ was given, and when Steph pressed for more detail, none was forthcoming. Councillor Crow had effectively kicked her out, and wasn’t willing to explain why.

Steph, obviously bewildered and out of pocket after this, turned to Councillor Robinson for support. He was shocked at the way Steph had been treated, and took her case up. He won her the right for another trial, one day a week, for 12 weeks. Problem sorted, yes?

No. Here’s where it gets weird, and where the smell of corruption moves from a slight whiff to a full-on stink.

Steph turns up to her pitch to find that the council bollards blocking her pitch were  padlocked, meaning she couldn’t move them to access her pitch as was originally arranged. She rings Broxtowe, who explain it’s not their padlocks. Nevertheless, they get to Kimberley and use bolt-cutters to chop through the chain, and put on new , council padlocks and give Steph a key. “they had no idea who had put the locks on” Steph explains “It was obviously to stop me trading”.

Kimberley Town Council, who were almost definitely behind the bollard-chains, then upped the pettiness. “You’re parking on some ornamental mosaic tiles’ they claimed, despite the very clear fact that  Steph wasn’t. “You need a dropped kerb” they moaned –despite the fact there was already one in place. The determined pettiness was off the scale.

Then, in July 2017, a three-tiered planter was placed on her pitch. When she queried why these had been moved there, she was told that that was there proper home – they’d only been temporarily moved to make room for Christmas decorations. Now, local authorities sometime get a bad rap regarding inefficiency, but taking 7 months to move a planter is something else.

Things got personal. Kimberly Town Councillor John Sissons visited her van and, in public, told her ‘You and (Councillor) Robinson have got your faces in the paper –now piss off”. He then took to Facebook to launch a tirade against Steph (below). This is a public figure, and one that in 2015 told the Eastwood Advertiser he was ‘shocked at the level of bullying and harassment’ at Kimberley Town Council. Here’s some choice Facebook moments from the delightful Sissons (click each image to read):

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“I was born and bred in Kimberley” Steph explains “They are meant to represent me and support small businesses, not abuse me”

Steph doggedly pursued her complaint through the council, despite numerous attempts to stonewall her “They were obviously hoping I’d lose interest and go away. But I have seen corruption in action in other work I’ve done, and I’ve always been disgusted by it. I wasn’t going to go away”.

The complaint overran massively with Broxtowe trying to push it onto Kimberley Town Council, who in turn passed the buck back to Broxtowe. The whole process was an utter shambles. £200 was offered to Steph in an attempt to make her drop the complaint.

“It’s not about the money” she explains “There is something much more important at stake here”. She continued to pursue her complaint.

The Ombudsman was duly contacted, and took up the case. They were not happy at what they found. The subsequent report was issued to the council in August, but not put in the public domain until November, when it was sneaked out in committee notes. It is, especially for an organization that usually couches criticism in measured language, scathing. (See page 33 onwards here).

Screenshot 2018-12-14 at 14.54.21

From the LGO report

“We’ve done nothing wrong” claimed Councillor Shane Eason in October 2017, before using the Donald Trump method of obfuscation “It has become a political witch-hunt”. Not so, claim the LGO. Yet not an iota of responsibility or regret expressed by the Kimberley Councillors.

Broxtowe have now agreed to pay a paltry £600 to settle the matter, and an apology given. Not from Cllr Crow, however, but from an officer. Indeed, the cowardly Councillor still refuses to accept responsibility for her actions, blaming officers for the mess ““I think the whole thing is a great shame. Due diligence was not done, and it should have been done by the council officers.” she told the Nottingham Post. This is spineless, dishonest and testament to Councillor Crow’s lack of self-awareness.

Kimberley Town Council also continue to deny they did anything wrong. They are in a pretty poor state anyway, with mass resignations, intercine squabbling and a febrile atmosphere at meetings. Such is the awfulness of the situation they allowed notorious local bigot and Beestonia regular Darren ‘BNP’ Warner on board recently.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this mess? Why did Councillor Crow take against Steph and her potato fan with such vociferous energy? Could it be to do with wanting to protect a friend’s business, a local outlet that is frequently featured in Anna Soubry’s newsletter? Is this the way Kimberley works now, that unless you’re mates with the ruling party you are about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift?

Perhaps before she does the honorable thing and resign, Councillor Crow can explain?

I also hope that our MP and self-professed champion of local democracy Anna Soubry will call for an investigation into Kimberley Town Council, as she did in 2015? Then, the council had Labour Borough Councillors doubling up as town councillors, though she stressed that it was not a political act to call for scrutiny (though that investigation turned up nothing of note, and commended the council of being well-ran!). For consistency’s sake, she will call for an investigation into KTC in her next newsletter, otherwise a lot of people in Kimberley might conclude she is a partisan hypocrite.

_______________________

Every tier of Tory-ran Government, from the national picture to the town council, seems in disarray. let’s start zooming in:

NATION (UK): I’m writing this on a Friday afternoon so the government might have fell since I last checked, so there is no point in trying to give an overview on the appalling state of affairs. Our own MP is at war with her own government, it seems.

COUNTY (Notts): The Kay Cutts led, Tory-ran County Council decided, after spending eye-watering amounts on consultants, that it wouldn’t pursue its plans to scrap Broxtowe, Gedling et al and merge them into a single county.  An absolute waste of time and money.

BOROUGH (Broxtowe): The Town Hall debacle, which my predecessor on this blog covered extensively, will actually COST £100,000+ to sell, rather than making bringing in any extra revenue. A public asset is being not just given away, but costing a huge amount of money -your money- to give away.

TOWN(Kimberley): See the mess above.

Every single one of these screw-ups was easily avoidable. All of these screw-ups were down to arrogance, inter-party politics and an absolute disregard for the people they serve. Remember that when they come knocking for your vote early next year.

 

Flat Earthers and Farewells.

FLAT EARTHERS

A couple of weeks ago I had cause to walk across Nottingham Market Square, and seeing a stall decided to see what it is pushing. I was half expecting a worthy environmental cause, or perhaps one of those strangely niche far-left organisations that somehow cling on to the hope tomorrow will be the first day of the Glorious Revolution. However, what I found outdid even the most zealous Stalinist in terms of utter delusion. For this was a stall of flat-earthers.

FLATEARTHI remember a time when the term ‘flat-earther’ was a useful term to apply to the craziest ideas, the least logical and most far-off opinions. The Flat Earth Society was all but dormant, aside from a few over-ironic folk who probably thought the words’ wacky’ and ‘zany’ were perfectly fine to use, especially when wearing a comedy tie.

Yet now, and if this doesn’t make you want to repeatedly punch yourself in the face you’re evidently the new Buddha, belief in the earth being flat is on the rise.  Reason is slipping away. Homeopathy still makes billions of dollars a year despite being utterly, utterly refuted. Anti-vaccination groups are given space to espouse views that critically endangers millions of innocent children. The Enlightenment seems to be in a state of retreat.

I stood by the stall a while and watched. I tried to assess what led people to be so determinedly evangelical about such an easily-refuted idea. One of the stall-holders was arguing with a guy I ascertained was probably a scientist. The latter chap was explaining clearly that the earth was demonstrably, irrefutably an oblate spheroid, in a calm, polite mannered voice. Yet the flat-earther was wide-eyed, barking back that it was ‘fake, fake, fake’. The (presumed) scientist used rationality to back up his arguments; these were countered by ‘You have to watch this video on YouTube’. I watched, incredulous, resisted a temptation to ask if flat-earth belief was a global phenomenon, and made my way across the slabs.

Which brings us neatly to Broxtowe Tories.

I haven’t written anything since the vote on the Town Hall. Some of you will have heard I’ve quit writing about politics. That’s sort of true, I’ll explain later. Before I do stop though, I want to fire some parting shots on why the current crop of Conservative councillors at Broxtowe Borough Council are up there with Flat Earthers as evidence-ignoring, dogma-dripping enemies of reason*.

Many of you will have attended the very packed full-council meeting to decide the Town Hall fate.  Many of you would have had their first experience of such a meeting. Most of you will have been utterly horrified at the level of debate. I followed from home – childcare commitments and an ongoing complaint with the council meant it was impossible to attend – but I followed from home.

I was also sent a full audio recording of the meeting. I’ll be putting that online soon, with subtitles (the audio is a bit iffy, even with editing), and let you judge for yourself. Face still unpunched? When you get to the part about how Sarah Palin is a shining example of Evangelical Christianity I’m afraid that even Neo-Buddha will be mashing their fist in their face.

Very real concerns such as the blatant conflict of interest of Ruth Hyde and an officer overseeing the process were shrugged off. Claims that the sale will stick a million into council coffers were put out, despite being demonstrably untrue. Councillor Richard Jackson and the majority of his councillors (that he allows to speak) are, and I say this dispassionately and as a statement of fact,  liars.  They have lied on record and I explicitly state this and invite them to sue me if they feel it to be untrue. They have lied in public office. They are a disgrace to democracy, but very much with the spirit of the times.

The argument was, of course, turned from the one we clearly set out as objections into ‘These godless heathens at Beestonia Towers are goat-worshipping haters of Christianity and this is driven purely by that’, as predicted. Lies were told, smears were smeared, and the narrative was purposely changed because the actual concerns – see Beestonia passim – are irrefutable. If you can’t deal with reality, make your own.

Which gets us back to the flat-earthers. Add to them Donald Trump, who lies with such

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Jackson and Hyde. Nothing to see here, folks.

abandon fact-checkers just shrug their shoulders and prepare for another late night of evidenced refutation. It’s contagious: the rise of far-right populism embodied in unironically named ‘strong men’ (have you ever seen such a thin-skinned, fragile-ego, emotionally-stunted bunch in your life?) has spread around (along?) the world. Lies become canon. Orwell’s dystopia was a system of rationality where you wouldn’t just say that 2+2=5, you’d absolutely believe it, and love those that told you it to be true.

It’s a global mess, spurred on by those who have repurposed the word ‘elite’ to something that best describes them to ‘anyone who has ever read a book’. Broxtowe has been infected by this virulence, and it is almost utterly galling.

Yet there is hope. We can turn the tide.

Of course, the most obvious, if not immediate, is to vote the idiocracy out. There are elections in May. While Beeston has no Tories in it (which is why they like to give the town a kicking), they do exist in the hinterlands: Bramcote, Chilwell and Attenborough. They will come knocking for your vote in a few months. When you find them on your doorstep, (politely) explain why they won’t be getting it. And actually, bloody well vote. Local elections have appalling turn-outs but are often the most directly important ballot you’ll be asked to cast.

If you’d like to do something now – heck, there might not even be a council very soon to vote on if Jackson gets his way – then here’s a few tips:

  • There is potentially going to be a legal challenge against the Town Hall sale, keep your eyes peeled. Donations and/or pro-bono help will be required.
  • Listen to the audio when I post it later this week, and read the annotated fact-checks. Get angry.
  • Write to the National Secular Society. I’ve been in touch and am progressing a case, but more support will only strengthen this process.
  • Write to Private Eye’s Rotten Boroughs column: strobes@private-eye.co.uk
  • Write to your councillor -especially if your ward is represented by a Conservative. Ask them to justify the sale, and beware the traps and false-narratives they’ll try and foist on you.
  • Write to our MP – politely -and again, don’t let her twist it away from the facts, as she is wont to do.

Take a stand. Make Planet Earth Spherical Again.

T.T.F.N!

As a few of you will be aware, I (Matt) will be calling it a day with this blog in its current form.

When I started this place up it was intended to be a fairly whimsical take on my town in the style of one of my journalistic heroes, Byron Rogers  . Politics was an accident: in 2010 I wrote a couple of pieces about the forthcoming election and they were well received. I live-blogged the count when such a thing was not done by the more established media organisations, and it turned out to be a winner. I also started to get my first bits of hate-mail, but it was easy to ignore.

Back then, covering Beeston/ Broxtowe politics meant I was merely one perspective out of many. The Nottingham Post had dedicated patch reporters who would cover just about every council meeting and keep a watchful eye on whatever shenanigans shook out of the Town Hall, the BBC was pretty well-funded locally and the Beeston Express was still active.

That plurality started drying up rapidly. The Nottingham Post vastly reduced its coverage, the BBC cut back allocated budgets and the Beeston Express has gone into seemingly eternal hiatus. This is a common story across the UK: as the business model of the commercial media is diverted into digital ad spends, and the license fee is at the whim of the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, oversight gets drained away, and politicians are emboldened to behave appallingly.

This is not an attack on the aforementioned media organisations. The Post has a fine local journo in Kit Sandeman, who I’ve found to be diligent and smart in his work. Tony Roe at the BBC got a cracking scoop with his Redwood Crescent exposé (a story that is far from over, and if my sources are sound, will hopefully see the police asking a certain councillor some interesting questions) and his award-winning colleague Hugh Casswell is a bright young talent. Yet resources being what they are, and with their beat being rather huge (the complex move towards unitary councils alone is a massive amount of work to cover) things are easily overlooked.

This has left this blog taking on a role it never really asked for: the first place people come to when a story needs to be covered locally. It’s a real honour in many ways, but a tremendous responsibility. Breaking the Broxtowe Scandal story earlier this year was something Tom and I are very proud of: the sources that came forward and trusted us were terrific, the bravery of those willing to stick their heads above the parapet inspiring. Broxtowe Borough Council really is an organisation that fits the phrase ‘lions led by donkeys’ to a tee.

Yet it takes its toll. The hate-mail – vastly in the minority, but disproportionately lingeringthreat1 after reading -puts you on edge. It now usually comes via anonymous email (ironically where a method used by many of my best sources to cover themselves from leaking).  The legal worries that accompany publishing allegations are often overwhelming: this makes the level of fact-checking involved a lengthy, often tedious process**.

Verifying sources, scouring documents, interviewing, researching, writing then rewriting then rewriting then rewriting  – it takes time and patience. I currently have both in short supply***.

The responsibility is occasionally terrible. If we are leaked a story, or fed a strong lead, then to not research and publish it is akin to being complicit in the sin committed. Who else, after all, will cover it? “I always wondered why someone didn’t do something about that” runs the activist meme “Until I realised I was someone”. I’ve never aspired to political office. I’ve never felt tribal towards a political party. I’ve definitely not done this for money. I simply love where I live, and feel obliged to defend it.

Over the past few years, I’ve been very lucky in life. I get paid to write in a job I love. I meet fascinating, phenomenally talented people I’d once never have dreamt of being able to talk to. The Beestonian magazine goes from strength to strength. A play I’ve co-written is getting some very encouraging attention. And best of all, I have a wonderful wife and a beautiful son (who turns two next week). All these things bring me joy, happiness, a decent wage and a faith in humans.

Politics does none of those things. So it has to go.

However, I have given Tom the keys to this blog**** and I hope he accepts. He has the energy, the brains and the prose-panache well beyond my reach. I am very lucky to have found him, and when he is writing for huge publications I will be proud to say he cut his teeth here.

I’m also looking into how to train up community journalists professionally: after a decade I’ve picked up a lot I would love to pass on.

I will not miss the meetings. I will not miss the anxiety. I will not miss the reams of documents that get anonymously dropped into my inbox with no instructions to where the treasure is buried. It’s been fun, and I hope I’ve made a bit of a difference in illuminating local government. It’s been a riotous blast. Thanks for reading, and the loveliness I’ve received over the years.

And if you’d like to buy me a pint…well, I’m not going to stop you.  I’ll use any donations over the price of a pint to buy time for Tom and I to hand-over (probably in a pub, for efficiency). Drop us a couple of quid by clicking here: ta Matt have one on me. Bye bye, I’ll miss you, and remember, it’s not you, it’s me xx

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* No, it isn’t just Tories. I remember a cringingly awful debate in the Town Hall about global warming, when a Labour councillor, thankfully long-departed from office, explained that polar ice cap melting was not an issue due to observations he’d made with the ice in his scotch. I was willing the world to end after hearing his logic.

**I have had many verbal threats but as yet only one attempt to start proceedings: from Anna Soubry’s bully-boy partner, Neil ‘shonky builders’ Davi(d)son. It failed but did the trick in putting the frighteners up me. As Davidson’s former firm Persimmon were recently in the news due to paying the boss a £75million bonus for knocking up craply-built properties partly subsidised by the same government Soubry is part of, I’ll add ‘greedy shits’ to ‘shonky.

*** This post alone has taken the best part of a day to put together. The irony of writing about how little time I have while spending that time moaning about how little time I have is not lost on me.

**** I’m personally hoping he covers a story about how a local Tory councillor placketthas been expressly told he isn’t allowed to stand in May, after being removed from Soubry’s office after making a series of angry and threatening misogynistic remarks. I’ll spare naming him for now, and instead, put up a random photo of a councillor.

 

Twelve Reasons Why The Town Hall Sale Must Be Halted

Posted earlier on the Beeston Updated Facebook Page

.Please share widely.

Today is D-Day folks. The day the Town Hall may be, by consent of elected members of Broxtowe Borough Council, be moved from the public – who built it 82 years ago for us to proudly use in perpertuity, into private hands.

A few things to remember.

1. This was not in any councillor’s manifesto. Not a single one. There are elections in May: if they are confident this is what the people want, let them present the case then and let us decide.

2. The bid process, as has been repeatedly shown, has been flawed the whole way. The bidding system was unequal, opaque (until we leaked it) and bizarre gagging orders were attempted to be imposed on the community bid as a condition of bidding.

3. The church bid was pushed as the best option by an officer who himself was connected to the Evangelical Alliance, the umbrella group of churches that also cover the winning bid.

4. The final oversight of the bid process lies with the the Chief Executive. We have shown her connections to the Evangelical Alliance suggest conflicts of interest. These should have been declared.

5. The Chief Executive’s husband was also shown to be a senior member of a church which was also part of the Evangelical Alliance. Again, this is an undeclared conflict of interest

6. People have claimed that the Evangelical Alliance is somehow a broad church encompassing many different varients of faith. However, the EA threw the Oasis Church group out of its organisation when it showed a more liberal approach to homosexuality. This suggests a rigid system of beliefs that is not compatible with providing truly inclusive community services.

7. The church has stated it would use community usage as a recruitment tool. This again is not compatible with a truly community asset

8. Churches, mosques, temples etc are absolutely fine buying property for their own use on the open market. Their members are free to worship as they choose. That is the beauty of a free, open, secular society. However , this is not the open market, and the decision to give the church the Town Hall can be interpreted as an effective subsidy – our council tax being used to further the church’s aims. The other part of the deal that respects the freedom of religion – that is freedom FROM religion – is not being kept here.

9. As has been detailed by Jim Donaghie, who has vast expertise in the field, as the building houses servers for two Borough councils, secure relocation costs will amount to a huge figure that will leave the money accrued from the sale vastly depleted.

10. There has still been no coherent position on where a new council chamber with public access will be located.

11. There are several legal procedures not fully undertook as part of the process. I am afraid I have been advised to not yet make public what these are, but I have pushed them on to a Beeston councillor.

12. The whole narrative of the town hall has a huge elephant in the room- that is WHY are the council selling a public asset we built for ourselves 82 years ago? The answer is that they have squandered hundreds of thousands of pounds on legal fees and temporary staff to hide a long-standing scandal entirely of their own making. They have not challenged central government on why Broxtowe receives one of the worst local government settlements in England: to make sure they do not rock the boat and potentially jeopardise their career. Their own personal ambitions have supplanted public service

Tonight we can show them that this will not stand. Until every one of the 12 points above are effectively answered, the sale must not proceed. Their is no mandate.

It is important you show the councillors who they actually work for. They are our servants. It is our Town Hall. We are a strong, diverse inclusive community and we can stop this and restore some faith in local democracy.

Town Hall at 6.45 – entry is (for now) free.

We can do this.

TOWN HALL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: AN UPDATE

  • Town Hall set to be sold to Evangelical Church tomorrow

  • Further links between Cheif Executive and Evangelical Alliance

  • Call for public inquiry into Town Hall sale.

Our last post calling into question the impartiality of the bidding process for the Town Hall drew a strong reaction, and with that, some bizarre accusations.

One recurring one, which looks very much like a coordinated attack, claims we are ‘anti-Christian’ and are doing this out of spite towards the church.

This is absolutely untrue. As stated before, a secular, liberal democracy works on the principle of freedom of religion coupled with freedom from religion. That is, as a fan of secularism, a principle we live by and allows us to have friends who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi and so on. It is the backbone of a diverse and tolerant society. This concerted attempt to create a false narrative that we are all anti–theists, rather than concerned citizens demanding due-dilligence, is pretty nasty

There is also an argument that perhaps the Broxtowe Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde is only a peripheral figure in her involvement with the Evangelical Alliance, and while she may appear in the newsletter we showed last post, the association ends there.

Well, seemingly not.

Here is the website of Sutton Bonington Baptist Church, which is also under the Evangelical Alliance umbrella.

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It’s listed on the Evangelical Alliance’s own website as a church under its banner

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Who is this chap, mentioned as part of the leadership team?

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It seems that not only is the Chief Executive’s husband a member of an evangelical church, but an elder and part of their leadership team.

Now, of course this might be a different Ruth Hyde mentioned.  But if not, this is another link that surely should have been registered as a conflict of interest. Otherwise the decision-making process, where the buck stops with the Chief Executive, could look compromised.

Another slew of social media comments on our last blog made allegations of ‘brown envelopes’, ‘backhanders’ and suchlike in relation to the whole matter. We categorically DO NOT believe that is the case and still hold on to the belief that most people at the council, including councillors of all parties, are decent people with a love for the community. However, we also believe that to maintain trust in politics all perceived conflicts of interest must be declared.

That is the case we are stating. Let’s hope that’s what the one the council responds to tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

BROXTOWE CHIEF EXECUTIVE CONNECTED TO SAME GROUP OF CHURCHES AS TOWN HALL BIDDER CHURCH.

  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL HAS LINKS TO EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE

  • RELIGIOUS GROUP ALSO CONTAINS REDEEMER CHURCH – WHO WILL BE HANDED TOWN HALL ON WEDNESDAY

  • NO RECORD OF CHIEF EXEC DECLARING CONFLICT OF INTEREST

  • SENIOR OFFICER, PART OF BID EVALUATION, PREVIOUSLY SHOWN TO HAVE LINKS TO EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE

  • BROXTOWE MUST HALT PROCESS IMMEDIATELY; CALL FOR INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY

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The efforts to flog the town hall have long been mired in controversy. It is an unpopular move to save a failing council at a time when their own financial mismanagement has slowly eaten away at reserves. However, the actual tendering process has raised serious questions about the council’s impartiality.

The Beestonian reported months ago on the close relationship between the Council Officer in charge of the sell-off and one of the bidders. That Council officer provided advice to all three bidders and provided a recommendation to the council despite being a member of a sister church in Nottingham, and having attended the missions of the Evangelical Alliance, a homophobic and misogynistic umbrella group that includes the group bidding on the Town Hall.

Whilst further investigating the Evangelical Alliance following last week’s comments from Jim Donaghie the Beestonian came across further evidence of their connections to the council.

We can exclusively reveal a leaflet from December 2015 released by the Evangelical Alliance featuring our very own Council Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde. Hyde appeared to help them pitch their new service to help you become a trustee of Christian Charities both in the UK and abroad suggesting that whilst a relationship may not persist they certainly felt comfortable prominently featuring Hyde in their magazine:

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Was this link declared? As the buck stops at the council with Ruth, if she has not made her link to the recommended bid from the church, then this does not look good.

It should be made clear at this point that the Beestonian has no issue with Christianity. Our problem originates not with the Evangelical Alliance’s religion but with their approach to the LGBT+ community and women. One of our two major contributors, Tom Roberts, is bisexual and has had unpleasant encounters with the Alliance’s teachings. Ultimately Beeston prides itself on being an open and tolerant space and our civic buildings should not be sold on to a group that judges members based on their sexuality.

A tolerant, secular democracy is defined by a simple attitude to faith: there should be freedom OF religion; there should be freedom FROM religion. As the Town Hall is meant to be used for community usage, and the nature of the sale effectively subsidises the church. That’ll be with YOUR council tax.

This follows hot on the heels of the council dismissing one of its senior officers on charges that appear to relate to preferential deals (watch this space). This was the one successful outcome (out of four!) for the council from its year-long investigation into former council officers  (see Beestonia passim)and suggests that the council takes potential misconduct very very seriously. We are sure they will apply this same scrutiny to those involved in the town hall sell-off.

What Can I Do?

We get this asked frequently: people feel powerless. The next elections are in May, by which time the Town Hall will be lost and Broxtowe if the experts at the LGA are correct, will be bankrupt and consumed by Nottinghamshire County Council, and local democracy further eroded. We can not wait. Here is what you CAN do:

  1. On Wednesday (17th October), at 6.45pm, the full council will meet in the very same Town Hall they are looking to sell. This meeting will see the councillors who represent you vote on whether to hand over the building to the church, rather than the strong, viable and truly inclusive community bid put forward at the same time as the Church bid. We want you there, in the public gallery. It’s free because it’s your democracy. At least for now.
  2. Add your name to this letter being put forward by Beeston resident: simply leave your details in the comments on this article, or email me confidentially and we will pass your details onto Ed: mattgoold23@hotmail.com. You can also, if a member of the Beeston Updated Facebook group, ask to be included: https://www.facebook.com/groups/815338891820008/permalink/2112873665399851/
  3. Write to your councillor. THEY work for YOU. Put forward your concerns politely that the sale is flawed and a public, independent inquiry should be put in place before any sale happens. Who is your councillor? Armed with just your postcode, you can find out here, with contact details.
  4. Write to your MP. Yes, we have had our battles with Anna Soubry in the past, and she has been surprisingly taciturn on this issue, but we believe she would not like to see local democracy damaged and community ignored in the way the council are planning. Politely contact her on anna.soubry.mp@parliament.uk.
  5. Don’t lose hope. We have this one last chance to ensure that the much-loved totem of local democracy stays in public ownership. We can do this.