THE BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL SCANDAL : FINALE (FOR NOW)

BY MATT TURPIN AND THOMAS ROBERTS

BROXTOWE ‘PUTTING TENANT’S LIVES AT RISK”

COUNCIL REFUSE TO DISCLOSE COST OF SCANDAL

HOW THE COVER-UP WAS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN

COUNCILLORS ‘DEMAND SPECIAL TREATMENT’

Welcome to our latest dispatch from the Foster Avenue Frontline: with our final (for now) uncovering of the scandal, gross profligacy and cover-up rocking Broxtowe Borough Council right now.

So where are we? You are probably feeling a little concussed with the slew of stories we’re putting out, so let’s have a TL;DR overview of the past two stories.

  • Since 2015, Broxtowe Borough Council has been run by a hard-right bunch of Conservative ideologues who find the idea of public services – indeed, the council itself – contrary to their beliefs.
  • Policies have been implemented that degrade council services and put locals at risk.
  • Council workers who oppose these policies are ostracised and driven out. Those who remain are working under a strict code of silence, where morale is rock-bottom.
  • Councillors are using their positions, not for the public good, but to further their own private causes /friends.
  • These policies have proven to be counter-productive, and instead of keeping budgets low have led to a scandal that has seen hundreds of thousands of pounds of council tax pounds diverted into lawyers / temporary staff pockets.
  • The council, seeing these spiralling costs, are attempting to sell off assets – such as the Town Hall- that we have all owned for years, to make ends meet.
  • We think, that in light of the above, instead of getting rid of the Town Hall, it is time for Cllr. Richard Jackson to face up to his mistakes and resign.

So what have we for you this week? Read on, and find stories about the continued cover-up at Foster Avenue, how Cllr. Jackson has eroded scrutiny and democracy over the past three years and about another councillor abusing their position. However, we start with a severely serious issue: how the lives of tenants are being put directly at risk by council policy and mismanagement.

If you would like to help fund our investigative journalism, we’d be dead grateful. You can slip us a few quid (and many thanks for those who have done so already: it is gratefully received and will be spent solely on the hours we put into this) then please click here : https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

GAS LEAKS

Perhaps the most worrying detail is not the effect on staff morale but the effect on council duties. Whilst the council’s reports paint a rosy picture of gas safety a leaked Morgan Lambert report paints a far more unsettling picture. Between 2015 and 2016 Broxtowe Borough Council “[had] been in a position of high risk for several months.”

Whilst the report admits that “improvements have been made” it is at pains to stress that there are “still some high-risk areas.” From the start of the report, it was noted that Broxtowe’s gas servicing and repair procedure was “onerous and subject to human error.” The council’s trigger point for gaining access to properties reflected that of Gallion’s Housing Association, who were the first housing association to violate the Housing Regulator.

Several clear failings were identified in the council’s 10-month cycle. One property had not been accessed for 15 months, another for 13. The law requires properties to be inspected every 12 months. Beestonia has been reliably informed that there were at least four houses which had not been serviced for a number of years. Some of these properties were listed as wholly solar, with no record of gas attachment at all.

The Landlord Gas Servicing Record asks engineers to record carbon monoxide (a highly toxic gas) levels, however “it was evident that they are actually recording the CO2% readings.” “It [was] important to brief the engineers on [this] requirement.” “A complete overview of how the gas boiler programme is managed [needed] to be undertaken.”

According to a former operative approximately 100 houses were found to be non-compliant, whilst we have not seen documents to confirm this it pokes holes in the council’s reporting of 100% compliance. Moreover, our source suggests that despite this report dating to the end of 2016 it was not acted on for approximately 18 months and will take a further 9 months to implement all of its findings.

Our sources say that such a situation exposes Broxtowe to ‘a Grenfell-esque tragedy’. Of course, we’ll only know when it is too late.

RUTH HIDE?

Another week, another council meeting. Same sweltering building, same furious glares, same greying Councillors. Despite this, the room has a different ambience. I (Thomas) am the only person sat in the press gallery and a councillor takes time out to whisper “you’re not going to cause trouble, are you?” “Me,” I smile “Never.”

The Town Hall has dropped off the Agenda but it has been replaced by the budget. I have three questions I want answering, how much do the council believe the investigation has cost so far? How much more will it cost in future? And how long will it take? Thankfully, several Labour councillors have the same bee in their bonnet.

“We’ve heard estimates from some people in this room that this investigation is costing £400,000. Others say £500,000. If you read the local papers they’re saying £600,000,” Cllr Greg Marshall thunders, “Can you tell me how much has been spent? And how this compares to the original £38,000 that was agreed?”

“Obviously,” says Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde, “costs change. You have received monitoring reports as it progressed.”

The Interim Deputy Chief Executive starts to explain how spending has been accounted for. The provision of funds sits in the 2017/2018 budget and there are currently no funds allocated for 2018/2019. After being prodded by Cllr Dawn Elliott, Ruth Hyde explains that costs are paid from the normal legal fund, the Housing Revenue Account, and the general fund. The spiralling costs are now part of the overall over or underspend of the council.

This is one of the greatest difficulties with tracking how much has been spent.

A later debate discusses funding for the secret Ad-Hoc committee set up to deal with the findings of the investigation. The committee decides to delay the decision until the committee has delivered their findings, Cllr Dawn Elliott takes this opportunity to ask one of my questions.

“When will that be?”

“Cannot say,” says Ruth Hyde, “it’s not in our control.”

“Will it be this year? 2018/2019?”

“I cannot confirm.”

The resolution passes with Finance Chair, Paul Simpson saying that the decision on allowances will be made “on the delivery of their findings, whenever that is.” Which is reassuring.

“Do you have any estimate at all of the full cost?” Asks an exasperated Marshall.

“I will not share this figure with the public,” says Simpson.

I think he means me. And by extension, you.

“Is that because you do not know the figure or because it will never be made public?”

“The costs will be subject to a full audit,” interrupts Council Leader, Richard Jackson “and you will see how much our choices have saved.”. Italics our own.

I cannot wait.

The Deputy Chief Executive kindly offers to sit down the next morning and provide a figure of the costs so far. This was said on Thursday; the Councillors and I are still waiting.

CLOSING DOORS ON OPEN GOVERNMENT

How has this whole rotten, costly scandal evaded notice for so long? How has a (not particularly well covered-up) cover-up happened? Where is the scrutiny?

There are a couple of factors. Firstly, the strange death of local investigative journalism.

Once, the Nottingham Post (formally the Nottingham Evening Post) would have been over this story like a rash. Once, not so long ago, they would have a dedicated bunch of highly trained, well-resourced, contact-book crammed journalists keeping an eye all over the actions of the council.

Many of the whistle-blowing emails to us are prefaced with “I did send this to the Post 12 months ago…”. Once, they would have been read and reported on, followed up and splashed over front-pages and spreads. Alas, such days are long gone.

The Nottingham Post, like many elements of local media, has seen advertising and circulation drop significantly as online news sources usurp their exclusivity. This is not the fault of the journalists and editors involved, merely a symptom of the ongoing change in how we view news. Proper journalism is costly in terms of time and resources: why pore over five hundred pages of committee reports for the hope of one possible lead when you could write a dozen chunks of revenue-raising click-bait in the same time? This is not a criticism, we fully understand the economic realities but simply mention it to show the sad fact that scrutiny from the press has gone. Emboldened, councillors run rampant.

So how well does the council police itself? Well, some of the measures put in by Cllr Jackson would make a dictatorial regime blush.

Out go scrutiny committees. These were put in place for the council to monitor their own workings; Cllr Jackson abolished them. Why?

Staff at Broxtowe write to us telling of cover-ups, serious incidents not taking seriously, and a culture of secrecy that has made their job intolerable.

Once, Councillors could debate freely at full council meetings. This proved too uncomfortable for Cllr Jackson, and in 2016 that was abolished and replaced with a system that for full council councillors have to apply in advance, in writing, to ask a question. This stymies, and often outright extinguishes, any real debate.

Cllr.Jackson, as we have mentioned before, abhors free thinking and keeps his councillors tightly whipped. A disgruntled former councillor who served under him described this as ‘tantamount to bullying’.

Freedom of Information requests are not being dealt with in time, with a failure to reach the statutory response time. Chief Executive Ruth Hyde recently stated that this was due to the ‘complex nature of the requests”, which is really not an excuse. An FOI request we have made has gone well past the time allowed for a response, and as such, the case has been referred to the Information Commissioner. Another journalist working on a parallel story to ours reports that his requests are often betted away on the flimsiest of reason, or simply stonewalled. So it’s not just us.

The whole internal scandal rocking the council right now is masked behind a wall of secrecy. The secret committee that decides such things, the Ad Hoc Committee, is so secretive that members of the committee apparently don’t get to see the full documentation about the issues they have to subsequently pass judgment on: a bizarre situation that saw Labour members recuse themselves in disgust at the farce of it all.

We have a council that is rigid with stress, terrified that Cllr. Jackson and his cronies will identify them next to not being in-line with his scorched earth thinking. When stress counselling was offered to all staff in 2017, the applications to attend were so high they well exceeded the number of spaces available. As far as we’re aware, no further spaces were offered.

DOGSHIT COUNCILLORS / RUBBISH COUNCILLORS

As writers, we always love a ridiculously fitting analogy. Tories shitting all over their wards? Metaphorically, seemingly so. Literally? Well, sort of.

We are not sure if Kimberley Councillor Shane Easom’s dog is a Tory or not, and we don’t want to smear a hapless canine with such an assumption without knowing what rosette he’d choose to wear. But if a dog is the responsibility of the owner, then when the councillor was caught on CCTV letting his dog poo on a local park and not clear it up, we can be confident of what level of affection Cllr Easom has for those he represents.

He ended up being hauled before the law and fined. But what other councillors have contempt for those they perceive as below them?

Step forward, once again, the Owens, the married councillors for Awsworth. Sources tell

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The Owens, in their natural habitat.

us that they don’t feel their bins are collected quite how they’d like them, so have made a few demands. Their bins must be pushed back into his drive (despite anyone else only getting theirs put curbside), and made demands that the refuse workers change their round so as to not wake him too early. We are well aware that Councilor Owen needs his sleep, (see pic)  but surely this is the height of arrogance. Refuse workers feel ‘stressed, under pressure and hate how the Owen’s don’t see themselves as public servants, but Lords of the Manor.

We’ve had other stories about similar incidences of alleged abuse of power: we will report back once we get these stories verified.

GOING NATIONAL

We will be leaving this story for a few weeks now, while we work on processing information and carry out more interviews. We will also be getting this story to a national audience in a few days: follow me on @beeestonia for more details.

If you would like to help fund our investigative journalism, we’d be dead grateful. You can slip us a few quid (and many thanks for those who have done so already: it is gratefully received and will be spent solely on the hours we put into this: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

If you want to get in touch with us, we will treat all correspondence with utter confidentiality: send to mattgoold23@hotmail.com tpgroberts@outlook.com 

 

 

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THE BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL SCANDAL: PART TWO

stephen miles

pic: copyright Stephen Miles

 ATTEMPTS TO SAVE £60,000, “COUNCIL SPEND £600,000”

FAKE NEWS FROM SOUBRY

NUTHALL COUNCILLORS DECLARE WAR ON COLLEAGUES

KIMBERLEY COUNCILLORS UNDER INVESTIGATION BY THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT OMBUDSMAN

INTRODUCTION (AND A BEGGING BOWL)

When we pressed ‘post’ on Part 1 of this story, we expected it would cause something of a stir, but we wildly underestimated the scale of this. The article became the best read of anything previously written in ten years of this blog, and suddenly our inboxes were full of more whistleblowers than a referee’s convention and more leaks than a Welsh Country Fair. We realise the latter works best said out loud.

We have a colossal amount of information to work through, including reams of complex documents; windingly strange anecdotes and highly-sensitive information of potential criminal activity that needs very careful handling before publication. We are very aware of how fast certain people would be to get this blog offline and sling us both in the libel courts, so please be patient while we sift the accumulated info. If you have written to us and we haven’t replied,  we will, in time. One of us is a full-time student and part-time worker; the other a full-time worker with a baby, a magazine and a raft of projects to nurture.

As such, we’ve set up a PayPal account for anyone wishing to help us along with this case. Donations will be spent solely on stuff around the story: generally, the vast amount of hot beverages we need to sip while writing, but also the odd bit of professional help. It will also cover the time and money we lose when we could both be working on our own freelance projects. If you could slip us a couple of quid to make this a little more sustainable, we will be hugely grateful. click below to do so:

https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

DAM BURSTERS

“Do you know what it is like to go into work every day, and know that you might be made redundant?” She sips her coffee through pursed lips “To go in and try and serve the public when you know them upstairs want to get rid of you? It’s no way to live”.

Today’s source isn’t really telling us anything we haven’t heard before. She wrote to us after reading our article and felt she had to talk. We arrange to meet in a busy cafe and talk she does: of how her job has been ground down over the past couple of years, how she is forced to do more for less, and how she has to put up with a council that has lurched into dysfunction by a leader who is openly contemptuous of those he oversees: after all, “He voted to get rid of us that time didn’t he?”.

No, this isn’t new. We have heard this many times in the past week, as employees came forward in droves to tell us their experience of working at Broxtowe. Each contact came with a similar desperately sought condition: “this would be strictly confidential, yes? We’ve been threatened about speaking out before, and I can’t afford to lose my job”.

We assure each time that contact confidentiality is sacrosanct. Upsetting tales of jobs done under impossible conditions are related. Tears bud and flow. Coffee is sipped. Papers are handed over. Yesterday it was tea and an email address, the day before beer and a phone number. Days blur, stories pile in, notepads tot up anecdotes and evidence.

It seems that what we did last week was less shine a light, more burst a dam. The council troubles have been an open secret for some time, with both councillors and council workers having to work under an almost dictatorial code of silence. And as often is the case, once one person starts talking, they all do. Our inboxes are testimony to this.

Since our last article was published, stories of the systematic defunding and demoralising of the nation’s local authorities have hit the news. Council tax is set to rise this year due to central government starving councils of funding. Council -owned assets being sold off to make shortfalls, less the most vulnerable be denied care. Tory-controlled Northamptonshire County Council is effectively declaring bankruptcy. After 8 years of austerity, there is simply nothing left to cut.

Councils are teetering on the brink, and hundreds of thousands of workers devoted to public service see a bleak future. They also see the people they directly help suddenly plunged into peril. These are grim days, and a survey of local authority staff would probably turn up a similar sense of widespread discontent.

So what makes Broxtowe special? Well, while other council leaders try and mitigate against cuts, our own leader, Cllr Richard Jackson, seems to take great delight in grinding down a once-decent council. The current situation is to a great extent a self-inflicted wound that ordinary Broxtowe council tax payers are having to pay for. Our proud Town Hall, standing as a symbol of civic democracy for 80 years, is now having to be sold to pay for the destructive of Jackson and his acolytes, while a seemingly out -of-her-depth Chief Executive is caught frozen in the headlights.

THE KILLER LINE

“The original allegations are routine” they say, fixing me with a stern look, “the sort of thing you’d expect from any large organisation. It’s what happened afterwards that was the problem.” As documents pour from our desk it slowly becomes apparent how true that statement is. An independent investigation found “outdated” HR policies in need of “urgent review,” policies that were “inconsistent with current legislation.” Delegated powers are riddled with “ambiguities,” “inconsistencies” and “impracticalities.” Guidelines on conflict of interest are needed and implicitly the council has lost “staff confidence.”

Leaked emails show allegations flashing back and forward between departments accusing departmental heads of being “vindictive” and “malicious.” Legitimate grievances become buried in acres of personality clashes that stretch back to 2015. Weakness at the top allowed these squabbles to foment and develop to the point where council business is, according to one source, “crippled.” But the fact that rings true in all of this is that the original failings, the ones that the current “chaos” stems from, are routine. They happen, they are bad, but they happen.

The settlements agreed to staff to resolve them sit at a reported £60,000, although we are keen to intimate that we have only seen details of two payments, one for around £15,000 and one for around £35,000. But, as investigations rumble on, the desire to avoid paying £60k appears to have cost us £600,000 in investigations, interim staff and staff hours lost to interviews. The investigation allegedly interviewed over 100 staff, guzzling down 1000s of staff hours.

Poetically, £600,000 per annum is the exact amount that the Council have listed as a funding gap in the medium term for 2017. Told to save £600,000, the council SPENT £600,000. Brilliant.

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Jackson and Hyde

As with Watergate, the problem is always the cover-up. How much do we have to pay to preserve the ego of the council’s leader?

CLOWN HALL

And all the time, as our last episode explained, lawyers and recruitment firms are receiving vast amounts of public money that could be going to services, preserving both democracy as a concept, and its physical manifestation: the Town Hall. And it is to the Town Hall we will visit to see the ground-zero of this gross mismanagement of the council.

I’m told more than once by those gathering into the public gallery that this is the first time they’ve witnessed a council meeting. It’s a frigid Tuesday night in February, and we’re at a committee meeting where we can just watch, not interact. The room is, as always, ridiculously warm and overlit.

Yet the gallery is packed out with people who have gathered to hear what the elected representatives of the borough have to say about the future of the very building we sit in. “They should get rid of them councillors, not the building,” says an elderly lady as we take our seats, as Cllr Jackson glares over at the throngs gathering. This is where the Town Hall’s future will be debated, and the councillors can speak freely, albeit whipped to the party line by Jackson, who chairs the committee

The meeting opens with a bit of great news. Due to the sterling work of the Beeston and District Civic Society (who I urge you to join, find out more here), the building is being considered for Listing by Historic England, with the council formally advised the day before the committee meeting. As one of the main proponents for listing is Sir Neil Cossons, former Chair of English Heritage (and former Beestonian), which means it looks likely that the Town Hall will indeed be listed. Great news, for now.

What follows is a travesty of debate.

While the opposition parties whole-heartedly stick to the line that the building must be retained, the Tories throw up as many clunky rhetorical tactics as possible.

There is the false-dichotomy: “It’s either the Town Hall or key services” says Richard Jackson, forgetting to mention the astronomical amounts going directly to lawyers and employment agencies due to his gross failure at leadership.

There is the absurdist, with Councillors arguing that “there are people in Eastwood who don’t know where Beeston is, so why should we save the Town Hall?” Reductio ad absurdum, and Cllr Steve Carr, Lib Dem, points out this fallacy, to much applause and laughter “There are probably people in Eastwood that don’t know where Caernarfon Castle is; that doesn’t mean it should be knocked down.”

Despite claiming to have an open mind on the future of the building, it is abundantly clear that they are desperate to sell it, and sell it soon. Those lawyers aren’t free, you know.

In wades our MP, making a rare excursion to matters of her constituency rather than the more luxuriant surroundings of her Charnwood mansion / every TV + radio studio going. “Fake News” she cries in her newsletter

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Errr, unfortunately, this in itself is fake news (fake soubz?) As the many, many people who completed the consultation form saw very clearly, it was Option C. When that option was requested to be removed, the council point-blank refused. “Everything is on the table” they stated.

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Now, aren’t the Conservatives hell-bent on following the will of the people? Surely the result of the consultation should, therefore, be treated similarly?

So that’s where we are on the Town Hall right now: disassembling, diversion, and demolition very much on the cards.  Let’s get back to what is driving all this.

OWEN GOAL

Enter the Owens. The Nuthall Councillors (and married couple), Phil and Jill, have been causing some waves.

Say what you like about the Owens (and we have) but their commitment to the horrors of austerity is ideological, NOT practical.

Presiding over their fiefdom of Nuthall, staff at Foster Avenue have a very special place in their spleens for the dynamic duo. Aloof, snobbish and dripping with the idea that they have the divine right to rule, these are the sorts of characters that Roald Dahl wrote about. Curiously their ire now seems to be turned inwards, towards council leader Richard Jackson.

Phillip Owen apparently feels that he was overlooked for a suitably self-important role after the Tories took the council in 2015. Perhaps the deputy leadership would befit his stature? Or at least a decent chair to nap in…

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The Owens. Fighting for Broxtowe.

No, Owen allegedly feels betrayed. After decades as an elected nuisance, he should have been rewarded and Jackson denied him the pomposity he felt he deserved. According to one source, the Tories have split into three factions, the bad, the also bad, and the ugly.

This may be a display of spontaneous solidarity with their national level colleagues. How does this tie into our investigation? Well, it appears that Phil’s feeling of exclusion extends to Council business itself. After being caught asking a few uncomfortable questions about what he wasn’t allowed to know he was handed a legal warning by the council.

This warning, allegedly approved by Ruth Hyde and sent by Richard Jackson, apparently cost an eye-watering £250 and became a talking point at the next council meeting. Owen supposedly waved the letter around like Augustus Gloop had caught Charlie’s ticket to meet Mr Wonka; proffering it to those in attendance and wondering loudly what it all meant. The authors would like to make it clear that we have not wrote this to imply that Mr Owen cannot read. However, wouldn’t it be funny if we did?

The Owens are wild cards here. They have opened a front on Cllr. Jackson when he least needs another battle to fight. More chaos ensues.

POTATO HEADS

Slightly further North, we enter Kimberley, where Tory Councillors Mel Crow and Shane Easom hold sway. Their approach to democracy is certainly interesting.

A local woman, Stephanie Hather, born and bred in the town, decides to bring her business closer to home. Ms Hather, a single mother with a talent for tasty spuds, had previously traded happily in Stapleford without concern. Pitching her van in Kimberley, she proved an instant hit, and things looked good.

Then she was told, out of the blue, to sling her hook. In a letter from Broxtowe Borough Council, she was told her van might ‘damage mosaics’ near her pitch. She was not alone in thinking that this was a rather bizarre reason, but obliged and stopped trading.

Now, who was really behind this? It seems that the Cllrs. Crow and Easom were eager to prevent Ms Hather trading due to being friends with other traders who didn’t want the competition. Spurious reasons were thus concocted, and Ms Hather had to move on.

This doesn’t seem to be a one-off. Other businesses appear to be have suffered similar indignities and have been pushed out of the town, only to thrive elsewhere. This is hardly good for the town and local economy.  Crow and Easom, it seems, care little for this. Kimberley: open for business (as long as you are on the right side of Crow and Easom)?

But Ms Hather didn’t take this lying down. She kept the story alive in the public eye, and the fuss subsequently made the press, reflecting badly on Crow and Easom. So badly, it seems, the Cllr Crow rang a journalist on the Eastwood and Kimberley Advertiser and demanded she stopped writing ‘negative’ stories about the potato affair. Open democracy, eh?

The Council eventually decided to stem the tide of bad publicity with money. £200 was plucked out of coffers and offered to Ms Hather as a way of saying sorry for what they’d done. This was dismissed by Ms Hather as risible bearing in mind everything she went through, the abuse suffered along with all of the obstacles to trade put in her way. Council officers then denied that a certain meeting took place where this issue was discussed (there is documentary proof of this) and papers were “temporarily” lost. It looks like a huge, potentially costly and utterly self-inflicted fiasco.

Instead of taking the £200, the plucky Ms Hather decided to take Cllrs. Crow and Easom to the Local Government Ombudsman, who are currently investigating. If allegations of gross mispractice are upheld, we could see further trouble from this council in the grips of chaos.

CONCLUSION

The Council is clearly in disarray. Dysfunction at the top is ruining the working environment of many. The ruling party are at one and others necks. Local businesses are treated like dirt. Councillors appear to be free to pursue their own agendas. Costs are spiralling all over the shop. As money haemorrhages from the coffers, central government cuts continue to deepen and the situation worsens.

This is, as we have clearly stated before, a self-inflicted wound. We are paying for the gross mismanagement and leadership failings of Cllr Richard Jackson and Chief Exec Ruth Hyde. It is now time they were open about their failings and take responsibility.

On Tuesday, Councillors will vote on increasing their allowances by 2%. Let’s hope they do the decent thing.

More to come next week. If you want to get in touch with us, we will treat all correspondence with utter confidentiality: send to mattgoold23@hotmail.com tpgroberts@outlook.com 

If you wish to support our work, please feel free to make a donation here: https://www.paypal.me/BEESTONIA

THE BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL SCANDAL: PART ONE

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY MATT TURPIN AND THOMAS ROBERTS

HUMAN RESOURCES POLICY DEEMED ‘ILLEGAL’

COUNCIL STAFF ‘TREATED APPALLINGLY’

SERIES OF LEGAL CASES LEAD TO ‘ASTRONOMICAL COSTS’

COUNCIL FORCED TO CONSIDER SELLING OFF KEY ASSETS, DIP INTO RESERVES

MORALE AT AN ALL TIME LOW

ADMINISTRATION DESPERATE TO KEEP STORY OUT OF PUBLIC EYE

AS THE COUNCIL TRIES TO SELL BEESTON TOWN HALL, WE LOOK AT THE EYE-WATERING COSTLY SCANDAL BURNING THROUGH THE COUNCIL FORCING SUCH DECISIONS:

It may not have escaped your notice, but Broxtowe Borough Council seems to be in a bit of a desperate state: assets are being rapidly sold, services closing down; staff reporting a toxic workplace environment. Now, the Town Hall is mooted to be sold and demolished by a local developer with little scruples. If this isn’t the heftiest bit of symbolism imaginable, we don’t know what is. The flagship of local democracy is being razed due to…well what?

Before we get into the details of why this is, let’s go back to 2015.

ALL-CHANGE AT THE COUNCIL

In the run-up to the local (and general) elections, Broxtowe was hit by the most severe cut to its local government settlement – the amount it receives from the government each year. This blog asked our MP Anna Soubry to raise this with the local government minister (Eric Pickles), but the self-proclaimed Broxtowe’s Voice In Westminster didn’t bother – and why should she? The cuts wouldn’t touch her, securely away in her Charwood mansion.

The 2015 General Election surprised everyone, not least the Conservatives who, against expectations, came to power. Similarly, the Tories in Broxtowe took back control of the council, again against expectations. Suddenly, Cllr Richard Jackson was leader, with a council largely populated with Yes-men and Yes-women who stood not out of any strong party allegiance, but to bang their own particular campaign drum. Many would leave in the next couple of years, disillusioned and disappointed by the experience. The majority don’t do a great deal, rarely speaking at meetings and entrusting that to a core set of ideologues: Jackson, Mel Crow, Shane Easom, Philip and Jill Owen. The rest obligingly vote the way they’re told.

Election dust settled, stuff began to happen. Over at Foster Avenue, in strode a member of the new administration “I’m in charge of finances now” he crowed to the officers working at their desks. “Changes are going to come”. “It was intimidating” recalls an officer who witnessed it “It was arrogant and designed to make us all fear for our jobs. That was the start of the decline”.

Since then, we’ve been contacted on numerous occasions by council staff who have wanted to let us know – always off-record – about the troubles at the council. How the decisions made by Cllr. Jackson and co. were impacting on them, how they had to absorb the blame. How they felt harassed and disenchanted, years of experience and loyal service cast aside by the Thatcherite ideology of Jackon and his hatred of public services. It didn’t help when Cllr Jackson, in his role as a County Councillor, decided the very existence of Broxtowe Borough Council was a Bad Thing and voted to abolish it. Yes, abolish the very council he was head of.

A PAIN IN ARREARS

Rent arrears have been increasing at a steady rate between 2012/2013, then accelerated when the Tories took power, increasing in one 18 month period by an eye-watering 27%. This triggered alarm bells across the council, particularly when arrears topped £454,000 in 2015/16.

This figure is most likely a kind one: the way these figures have been reported is described to by one source as “a misrepresentation: the figures seem massaged to hide the true extent of arrears”.

One cost-saving policy implemented was a restructuring of the collection of rents, which it seems they paid KPMG approximately £30,000 to oversee.

This report was handed to the portfolio holder for Housing, Cllr Eric Kerry. Never the most competent of individuals (his tenure on the Notts County board coincided with the astonishing Munto Finance affair; while his own company has been repeatedly threatened with being wound up due to late submission of accounts ), this was probably a dubious idea. It seems, errrr, that swathes of the report were simply ignored.

The report did, however, recommend the merging of the Housing Department with the Rents Team, a move that an officer told us was ‘Utterly lacking nuance and implemented in an over-zealous fashion. It was hugely unpopular, and they said it was going to be a disaster but weren’t listened to”. The teams were effectively being pushed together, despite occasionally working at cross-purposes (housing are mandated to keep people in their homes; rents to enforce evictions if necessary). Staff engagement, a fairly decent indicator of morale, plummeted. Quite simply, it was a catastrophe.

To facilitate these changes, the top three officers in Rents were offered, and accepted, voluntary redundancy packages despite being an underperforming team. This is akin to seeing a building on fire, and thinking it best be tackled by laying off firefighters.

After implementation of this new shared service arrangement, collection rates did change – but not necessarily for the better. While the deficit decreased very slightly, more money would have to be set aside in ‘irrecoverables’: basically, bad debts increased. By 2018, rent arrears reached an unprecedented percentage of total rents.

Ah, you say, welfare changes such as the Bedroom Tax and Universal Credit would have seen increases irrespective of the administration: however, neither have been implemented in Broxtowe to date.

This is a clear failure of policy.

THE GAS ENGINEER AND THE BAILIFF

What happens when a council starts to become dysfunctional? Well, all sorts of stuff. One particular incident perhaps highlights this more than most.

In 2016, a council-employed gas engineer was on his rounds in Chilwell. He visits an elderly lady, who is in tears. When pressed, she tells him a bailiff has recently visited and made threats to evict. She feels utterly vulnerable, and the engineer decides to take action. He jumps in his van and seeing the bailiff’s vehicle, parks opposite. An altercation ensues on the street, and the bailiff drives off and reports the engineer to the council.

An investigation follows by a manager outside the Directorate, and the gas engineer is sacked. The engineer is miffed, understandably, and appeals. While the appeal is processing, the council overturn his dismissal and he is reinstated. The council’s HR policy is suddenly in the spotlight – which we’ll get around to later. Meanwhile, the incident triggers differences of opinions across the council: some supporting the engineer, some the bailiff. “Increased animosity forced a lot out, people started to argue,” a source tells us “Things began to bubble to the surface”.

UNHAPPY FAMILIES

To try and nip these problems in the bud the Chief Executive, Ruth Hyde, decides to send herself and around a dozen other high-ranking members of staff on a team-building course at Nottingham Business School. This course, which took place over several days, involved trust exercises, individual sessions and leadership training. The hope was the antagonism would be massaged away by all of this, and the council would return to Foster Avenue as close as the Waltons.

They ended up more like the Mansons.

This is unverified footage from the sessions:

Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to find how this was procured, or the cost of the failed exercise. However, similar courses at Nottingham Business School typically cost £1,350 +VAT per person. This would suggest a bill of around £27, 000 – not to mention working days lost.

THE UNLAWFUL HUMAN RESOURCES POLICY

Multiple grievances were aired, often at a high level. There was a strong feeling amongst those caught in the cross-fire that these were not taken seriously by HR. Personal attacks become commonplace. Whole swathes of the council become engaged in open warfare. Things become untenable. Eventually, councillors are asked to approve spending money on an investigation. They oblige.

On the recommendation of law firm Browne Jacobson, they hire a barrister, Richard Powell, to investigate allegations within the council about staff and what action should be taken. This isn’t cheap: a council were asked to approve a payment to Powell of £18,720 (with VAT) in 2017, this payment was duly made on the 18th July, 2017. However we have reason to believe the total bill will actually be higher: council invoices show another payment to a ‘Richard Powell Ltd” in April 2017 of £30,000 (inc VAT) from the council. The cost of this dysfunction begins to snowball. Between April and August 2017, a further £47,696.52 (inc VAT) is trousered by Browne Jacobson, in what is described in council invoices as ‘miscellaneous expenses and counsel fees’. Hmmm.

These are only the expenditures we can confirm, these only cover from April to September 2017. A number of individual sources suggest the figure is considerably higher if expenditure outside this period is taken into account. What the council does confirm is that they have estimated a further £35,000 be taken into account for further investigative work. Again, sources say this is wildly optimistic. According to the agenda of the Policy and Performance Committee. The approved budget for this was £29,200: this had been massively exceeded by September, with investigations set to rumble on for some time.

HEADS BEGIN TO ROLL

Following receipt of this report, in the Summer of 2017, four senior officers at Broxtowe are suspended. These are the Head of Legal; Head of Housing; Director of Housing, Leisure and Property Services; and the Housing Allocation and Options Manager. This is a significant blow to the smooth running of a council; even more so within a council with terminally low-morale.

But worse was to come. We understand from several sources, and from a leaked internal email, that large swathes of the Council’s own HR policy were not just lacking, they appear unlawful. While we have not been privy to this report, which was not made public, we believe the following areas required significant change:

  • Grievance policy
  • HR Data reporting
  • Bullying and Harassment in the workplace
  • Mediation
  • Stress management
  • Code of Conduct for agency staff
  • Disciplinary rules, policy and procedure
  • Removal of informal warnings, changes in formal warnings
  • Amendments to the council’s whistleblowing (!) policy

These aren’t a few minor tweaks: they’re a comprehensive rewrite. A dysfunctional council appears to have been working with a dysfunctional HR policy for years. The aforementioned gas engineer case might not have appreciated the funny side of all this for his case: he was sacked and reinstated under a questionable HR policy. Does his temporary sacking actually count, or does it hover eternally in the ether? Perhaps Brian Cox could advise.

STUFFING THE CRACKS WITH CASH

With staff suspended as costly investigations roll on, jobs still have to be done. Finding staff with the level of specialist expertise required is neither cheap or easy. Here’s when The Venn Group rolls up.

Specialists in senior-level recruitment, they were tasked with filling the vacancies of staff forced to sit at home. While there are no figures for individual officer replacements, we can confirm that a staggering amount was spent with The Venn Group. The final implications of filling these roles will be quite significant, with Councillors being told the costs were:

  • £150,000 p/a for Interim Deputy Chief Executive
  • £107,000 p/a for Interim Strategic Director
  • £99,000 p/a for Interim Housing Manager

(p/a: per annum: 40 weeks per year).

These are well above the expected salaries of the roles if they were permanent appointments. This is a costly business.

There are also the costs involving current staff. One of the suspended managers was paid off, receiving £14,693 as a kiss goodbye. Of course, if he had been found guilty he would have received not a penny in severance.

Total payments for 6 months (between April and September 2017) to the Venn Group total £269,982.20. That’s money that could be being spent on vital services, and retaining public buildings such as the Town Hall. This is frivolous, and the buck stops at Cllr. Richard Jackson’s desk.

As the situation is far from resolved, these costs continue to mount and put huge pressure on council budgets. The council were forced to admit employment savings targets will not be achieved, and any additions to the capital programme will have to be taken from the council reserves: something with anathema to Tory councils, which abhor touching reserves.

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 15.42.50

CONCLUSION OF PART ONE

So where are we right now? Council morale is still low, which is hitting productivity. Unnecessary, self-inflicted costs are spiralling, and as such services are being put at risk; the council are forced to look into selling assets such as the Town Hall. This symbol of local democracy is at risk due to the deficit of management and leadership at the council since Cllr Richard Jackson and his Conservative administration took over.

It’s not just symbols of democracy that are at risk: it’s local democracy itself

Cllr Jackson has already tried to destroy the council once and failed. This attempt seems like it might succeed. We deserve better.

We have only scratched the surface here. Next week we will detail further expenditure; the secret committees set up to look into the crisis; how a lack of transparency is leading to staff feeling threatened and under constant pressure; and how the final combined total of this affair could well exceed a seven-figure sum. Oh, and why Tories are at war with each other…

Tune in!

If you wish to speak to us confidentially, send an email to mattgoold23@hotmail.com and /or tpgroberts@outlook.com .

We will protect all sources.

TOWN HALL: VITAL MEETING

Wow. Despite seeing more than adequate evidence over the past few years to show me we live in a community that cares about its town, I still am rapturously shocked when I see it in action. My last article on this subject had a staggering amount of views and shares, and the call to action put out by this blog and Beeston Civic Society has been answered with in excess of 1,000 replies to the consultation. That is incredible, and even the council admits they were surprised; whether they respond to such a deep level of concern is, of course, a political decision, which I’ll deal with in a second.

But first, what now? You’ve sent in the consultation form, you’ve got the information you need, you’ve told your friends and family…but is that it?

Well no. Now the real fight begins. The consultation had the look of a rushed exercise in statutory lip-service. If democracy is contingent on our leaders listening to those they represent, the rulers of Broxtowe Borough Council are extremely hard-of-hearing. As such, we need to whip out our metaphoric (and perhaps literal!) megaphones and shout louder. Thus, please ensure the following two things are done:

  1. SIGN THE PETITION: this closes at midnight tomorrow.
  2. WRITE TO THE PLANNING COMMITTEE: ensure you copy in all councillors: for the addresses, scroll to the end of the page and cut and paste. Tell them your wishes, be polite, ask for a reply.
  3. ATTEND THE MEETING ON WEDNESDAY, TOWN HALL, 7PM: I cannot stress this enough. Often councillors are cossetted away from all but their most immediate constituents, and it already clear many of the key politicians don’t care about Beeston. We need to have a show of strength at the meeting – a full council meeting where the petition will be presented, and a brief speech made by Beeston and District Civic Society Chair, Judy Sleath. The event is free, and an ideal chance to actually see the Town Hall serving the purpose it was put in place for (although I can’t guarantee the same from the councillors!). Arrive at 6.45pm, and go straight in – you’ll be directed to the chamber.
  4. COME TO THE PUB AFTERWARDS: actually, this isn’t that important, but we’re having a drink afterwards, and give us an opportunity to all meet, chat, and plan the next move.

We have a real struggle ahead. Politically –and this decision is purely political – the Tories running the council don’t have a lot of love for Beeston and its people. They consistently fail to get their party elected in all but the far margins of the area (Toton, and Attenborough). Beeston simply isn’t a concern for them: they are no votes here. They feel they have impunity to do anything: we have to show them that they most definitely don’t.

There are also rumours –some from incredibly reliable sources – that the council have a deal on the table and are just running through the formalities of a sham consultation before ink is signed into contracts. I worked on the campaign to keep Eastwood’s DH Lawrence Centre open: despite putting forward arguments that the building could become not just cost-neutral, but a revenue-raiser were ignored: the sham consultation day I attended there was almost hilariously pointless: as we discussed ways to keep it open, the council were putting a ‘TO LET’ board in place. It’s now a nail bar, and missing out on a large chunk of tourism funding currently being distributed around Notts.

Next week, I will be revealing here the utter shambles the council has become due to political mismanagement. The current party seem to be in power but not in control, with meetings and committees stuffed with councillors who make no contribution whatsoever, having little clue as to what is going on. Oversight and scrutiny has been eroded with glee. Council officers – the poor staff who have an obligation to do what the politicians tell them – are reporting a huge crisis of morale, such as the poor decision making they have to act upon. Officers are obliged to remain neutral and not express public opinion: yet many have come to me (with all due protection of sources in place) with incredible tales of incompetence, idiocy and what looks like a systematic attempt to run the council down while they can. It takes a lot for an officer to resort to this, anonymously or otherwise. But they are at the end of their tethers.

On top of that, the wide-ranging fall-out from a high-level sex-scandal (yes, really) has raged through Foster Avenue, and proved enormously costly to date, with bizarre levels of secrecy doing everything to prevent transparency. This is why intent on getting a quick buck for council assets such as the Town Hall: mismanagement of a once decent council.  I will bringing the full-story out next week, stay tuned.

In the meantime, the Town Hall is the focus: I’ll see you on Wednesday.

mick.brown@broxtowe.gov.uk

mel.crow@broxtowe.gov.uk

shane.easom@broxtowe.gov.uk

jan.goold@broxtowe.gov.uk

richard.jackson@broxtowe.gov.uk

martin.plackett@broxtowe.gov.uk

ken.rigby@broxtowe.gov.uk

paul.simpson@broxtowe.gov.uk

milan.radulovic@broxtowe.gov.uk

dawn.elliott@broxtowe.gov.uk

greg.marshall@broxtowe.gov.uk

john.mcgrath@broxtowe.gov.uk

ruth.hyde@broxtowe.gov.uk

 

Beeston Town Hall: The Answers You Need To Know.

Hopefully, this article isn’t news to you, and the substantial media coverage the planned selling off of the Town Hall has garnered over the last few weeks has already informed you. I’ve spoke about it in the papers, on TV and radio and, of course, all over social media, as have representatives from Beeston and District Heritage Society and others.

It is often the case that when big issues like this come about that a lot of confusion follows: rumours, misinformation etc. It is seldom malice, but more a case of Chinese Whispers, as the story pings around the internet or through general chatter. I helped man a stall in Beeston Town Centre on Saturday, and was surprised by some of the suppositions bandied about. While the vast majority of people I talked to were very much anti disposing of the Town Hall, most had a phalanx of good questions the answers of which might be obvious to me,(who has been working on things like this for years so sees the cogs and wheels), but not so much to someone who hasn’t got that same geekish attraction to civic stuff.

As such, I’ve written the following FAQ (frequently asked questions) to help clarify as much as I can right now; and to show you how YOU can have your say. Information is a vital component to democracy; do not hesitate to get in touch if a question you have remains unanswered here, and myself or a fellow member of the Civic Society will be happy to attempt to answer.

Although I am a committee member of Beeston and District Civic Society, the entirety of this article does not necessarily reflect the exact views of the society, and are expressed in a personal capacity as a resident of Beeston. 

WHAT IS BEESTON TOWN HALL?

The building was built on Foster Avenue by the people of Beeston in 1936 as a civic centre to Beeston. It’s a fine building, with some wonderful exterior and interior features, and since the adjacent library was rejuvenated last year, has been seen from a new perspective as the library now opens out onto the area. With the library, the new council offices and the police station It forms a civic centre to the centre of Beeston, on a parade of fine buildings.

WHAT GOES ON THERE?

The building currently has several functions, serving as offices and as a location for council committees and meetings. It has a purpose-built council chamber, reception rooms and more. Civic functions are also held here on occasion.

SO WHY SELL IT?

Money and ideology.

SURELY COUNCILS NEED MONEY THOUGH, SO THAT’S A GOOD THING?

Of course. And if the figures issued by the council are to be believed, the upkeep of the building is considerable, totalling over £100,000 per annum.

WELL IT SEEMS LOGICAL TO SELL IT THEN, DOESN’T IT?

That’s the way the council are portraying it. If the council continues to spend so much money, then that is cash diverted from more pressing needs. However, this argument presents a false dichotomy. This is not a question of ‘this or that’.

The first point to note is that the figures released by the council on the upkeep costs are open to a great deal of scepticism. Not only do they not seem to tally with other figures in the public domain, but they include duplicate and transferable costs: business rates for instance. Staff costs and server costs are also included, those these are costs that will have to be retained even if the Town Hall closes. It seems that an emotive, 6 figure number has almost been plucked out of the air in an attempt to justify this.

The building is an asset to the council, and an either be cashed in once, or made to work to generate income into the future (and still be ours).

SO WHAT WOULD IT ACTUALLY SAVE?

We can only find that out with proper scrutiny, in the form of an impact study. However, the council have not responded to the Civic Society’s call for this to be conducted, which means the savings they set out are utterly pie-in-the-sky. We call on them to conduct an independent assessment.

BUT WHATEVER THE FIGURE, IT STILL COSTS SOMETHING TO RUN, YES?

Of course, buildings do. But the Town Hall serves a purpose and has great potential to recoup costs – and possibly even turn a profit – if used correctly.

TURN A PROFIT??? HOW?

Well, venue hire is an ever-growing market.

BUT YOU CAN’T HIRE THE TOWN HALL? I’VE CERTAINLY NOT HEARD THAT YOU CAN.

You can, but the council have been notoriously keen NOT to promote this. The Hall was once licensed for marriages: I met a couple of pensioners who had done just that many years ago. When I married a few years back, I enquired about marrying there, but found their license had lapsed, so instead had to have the ceremony at Nottingham Council House. With very little effort, the council could make the place available.

That’s just one idea. I’ve heard dozens of brilliant suggestions over the last few weeks, including a fully costed detailed submission from a local retired academic.

SO THE COUNCIL ARE KEEN TO HEAR THESE IDEAS?

Errr….no. The public consultation form that is currently available for residents to complete gives just three options.

WHICH ARE?

  1. RETENTION: leave the building as it is (where it will be left to decay and then sold off at a later date)
  2. SELL FOR HOUSING: This sounds ok, as we do have a housing crisis, but would almost certainly mean the demolition of the building as it is purpose-built to be functional as a town hall and would cost more to convert than to start from scratch. Plus, many of the exterior and interior features are worth a lot of money on the open market, so would be too attractive to retain.
  3. DEMOLITION AND SELLING OFF TO A DEVELOPER: This is almost certainly the favoured choice for the council, as it means getting a quick buck and having the building off their hands as soon as possible.

UMMM.. THAT LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE A POORLY WRITTEN, LEADING QUESTION CONSULTATION.

Indeed. The way it is worded, and the way the council are refusing to extend the consultation plan despite the Civic Society requesting as such (conducting a consultation over Christmas, when the populace is less likely to notice it in the haze of Quality Street and turkey dinners- see also Network Rail last year) suggests that the administration is keen not to consult, but close down any objection.

BUT AREN’T WE A CONSERVATIVE LED COUNCIL? SURELY ‘CONSERVATIVE’ MEANS RETAINING OUR SHARED HERITAGE?

While I am sure many Conservatives do think that way, and for that they deserve our credit, the leader of Broxtowe, Cllr. Richard Jackson takes a much different ideological view. Paradoxically, he does not believe that the council he leads should exist at all, having voted for the abolition of Broxtowe at County level, where he is also a councillor. To suggest that abolishing a council and absorbing the responsibilities into the County would be financially beneficial ( Broxtowe Councillors receive a relatively small expenses payment for their role, while County councillors receive a significant sum that would no doubt be boosted by extra responsibilities) is perhaps unfair: this is more about Cllr. Jackson’s philosophy that a council should do as little as possible. After his plans to abolish Broxtowe were thwarted at County level, he’s doing the next best thing: selling off the council incrementally. The council will thus receive a bump in their budgets through selling off the Hall, but once it is sold, it is gone forever.

We propose that the building is retained and invested in so it becomes sustainable,  so future generations can enjoy it and feel that they have some stake in their town, as our predecessors in the 1930’s so wished.

IS IT EVEN THEIRS TO SELL?

A moot point. Broxtowe absorbed the building when it came into being in 1974, but it will require scrutiny on the legalities of their responsibilities of property from the Beeston and Stapleford Urban District, Broxtowe’s predecessor.  Only a proper impact assessment can determine this.

Not a single councillor mentioned that they wanted to sell the Town Hall in their 2015 election materials. This is utterly without mandate.

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE?

Yes it can, but you have to do it, and do it now.

  1. Fill in the consultation form online: it takes five minutes. We recommend ticking ‘none of the above’ and putting your suggestions on usage in the space provided.
  2. Sign the petition. We have had a staggering response to this so far and will be presenting it to the council soon, but still ensure your name is on it.
  3. Write to councillors: first, your own, then members of the committee who will determine this decision. These can be found in full below. Be reasonable and polite in your correspondence. 
  4. Write to the MP: Although she is for selling it off (see below) she is obliged to listen to you at the very least. Again, please be reasoned and polite when doing so: anna.soubry.mp@parliament.uk 
  5. Tell people about this: not everyone is on the internet or has noticed this, so ensure friends and neighbours, or even random passers-by, are informed. Feel free to print this off and distribute if you so wish.
  6. Attend the council meeting where this will be discussed. The council meeting where the matter will be discussed will be held in the Town Hall at 7pm on the 31st January: it is here that the petition will be handed to the mayor and a representation given. Please attend -and see the Town Hall at the same time!

WHO IS ON OUR SIDE?

We’ve even been surprised by the response: several hundred consultation forms have been returned to the council already, and the petition has 2070 signatures online and many more over other locations.

Also:

  • SIR NEIL COSSENS: The retired head of English Heritage has come out to support the campaign, and has written to the council expressing his dismay at the plans.
  • PROFESSOR SIR MARTYN POLIAKOFF: As well as being a global scientific sensation, Martyn is also very proud of where he lives and frequently engages in civic matters.
  • BEESTON AND DISTRICT LOCAL HISTORY SOCIETY: The venerable local historians do a wonderful job showing Beeston’s rich past history.
  • DR PETER ROBINSON: The brilliant mind behind Beeston’s (and beyond!) Blue Plaque project is very much against the sell-off, and has accordingly sent representations to council.
  • STEWART CRAVEN: Over a decade ago, Stewart looked at the canalside cottages by Beeeston Weir and saw a potential no one else could. Gumption, hard-work and belief saw this vision made real when the cottages opened as the Canalside Heritage Centre last year. Such an addition shows how we can be innovative with our heritage, and build something for all of us to share.
  • THE BEESTONIAN: Well, of course.
  • POSSIBLY, BROXTOWE COUNCILLORS: Steve Carr (Lib Dem) has stated his opposition, and we’ve heard rumours of discord within the Conservative group about the proposals. Labour, as far as I am aware, have not set down an official line which is rather disappointing.  If this changes, I will willingly amend.

WHO ARE WE UP AGAINST?

  • CLLR RICHARD JACKSON: The brainchild behind this, the aforementioned Jackson is a vigorous asset-stripper and a staunch opponent of public ownership.
  • ANNA SOUBRY MP: We can perhaps forgive Soubry’s lack of civic affinity to Beeston as she lives in the rather more genteel bucolic fields of Charnwood, Leicestershire, but she has stated that she supports Cllr Jackson and wants the building disposed of. She claims that she doesn’t support demolition, but as explained above that would be the most likely outcome of any sale.
  • DEVELOPERS: While the council have struggled to find a developer for the Square Phase 2 (despite numerous promises that a deal is ‘nearly done’, huge amounts of public money have so far failed to get anything certain), the location of the Town Hall is hugely attractive to developers, prime land that could be used for high-end housing, or simply for land banking.  

CAN WE DO THIS? OR HAVE THEY MADE THEIR MIND UP ALREADY?

We can, and with determination, we will. Last year, Network Rail were shocked by the level of opposition to their plans to close access across the tracks to Attenborough Nature Reserve and put the plans on ice for the foreseeable future. We can do this, if we do this together.

RESOURCES

CONSULTATION FORM:

Currently not being made available: we will explain more when we find out why.

PETITION:

https://www.change.org/p/broxtowe-council-save-beeston-town-hall-from-demolition

LIST OF RELEVANT COUNCILLORS TO EMAIL / WRITE TO:

mick.brown@broxtowe.gov.uk

mel.crow@broxtowe.gov.uk

shane.easom@broxtowe.gov.uk

jan.goold@broxtowe.gov.uk

richard.jackson@broxtowe.gov.uk

martin.plackett@broxtowe.gov.uk

ken.rigby@broxtowe.gov.uk

paul.simpson@broxtowe.gov.uk

milan.radulovic@broxtowe.gov.uk

dawn.elliott@broxtowe.gov.uk

greg.marshall@broxtowe.gov.uk

john.mcgrath@broxtowe.gov.uk

ruth.hyde@broxtowe.gov.uk

 

 

We need to talk about Anna.

I have a confession. I once had a soft spot for Damian Green. I know little about him other than he is in cabinet and has a rumpled look that makes him look like a benign Greg Dyke. Oh, and he likes  the band Half Man Half Biscuit.

As a fellow fan of the Wirral satirists, my logic ran thus: if he also likes them, actually likes them in a wgay much different than Gordon Brown’s professed love of the Arctic Monkeys, then he must be alright on some levels. Not enough to vote for, should the chance arise, but enough not to see him in same way I see the other rapacious rats in a sack that make up our current government.

Then it turns out he’s accused of abusing his power to harass women and has a massive load of extreme grumble on his hard drive, and suddenly being able to appreciate the nuances of Joy Division Oven Gloves isn’t quite enough to ameliorate his shiteness.

Soubry is, to far too many people, a similar case. She appeared on Channel 4’s Last Leg this week, where one question sent in via twitter asked if it was ok to simultaneously hate Conservatism but like Anna Soubry.

At a glance, it’s probably not so surprising. Anyone on the political left of Farage probably sees her as an insurgent in the Hard Brexit Tory party, calling out the excesses of the rabid Europhobes that have set this country on a course to crapness. An outspoken free-speaker, who called for Theresa May to ‘consider her position’ in the early hours of the Tory electoral foot-shoot. A liberal on social issues, a modern, uber-Cameroonian who comfortably shakes off the sleazy hypocrisy of moralising Toryism that saw them rot from the core out in the nineties.

As such, she also has fans on the left-leaning commentariat: Owen Jones has professed to a soft spot for her, as has Jack Monroe and others. Then there is More United, a group set up following the politically divisive Summer of 2016, when the referendum split the country (thanks, Cameron!). In an attempt to stop the further polarisation of the nation, they set out with a noble mission statement:

We believe it has never been more important for people to come together to champion what unites us and to stop the growing hatred and intolerance in our country.

Roll on 2017, and the snap election as May attempted a power-grab to allow her to implement a much harder Tory agenda and Brexit than her slender majority allowed.  More United picked out several MPs from all parties, who shared their values. Soubry was one of them, picked by their supporters who then contributed to crowdfunding donations to the MP’s in question. To many people in Broxtowe who donated to More United, Soubry was one of them, and subsequently received an endorsement, volunteer support and £6,000 towards her campaign – though heaven only knows what that was spent on considering her lacklustre, invisible campaign.

When More United accompanied her to Beeston in June, I received the true wrath of Soubry when I asked her about her dubious claims to have ever lived in the constituency (she did buy a flat in Bramcote, but very rarely used it, instead seemingly using to put up activists). Knowing about the well-documented physical abuse I suffered as a child, she used it to attack me when in public.

Since then, I received much correspondence from people who Soubry had similarly treated. Former staff and activists told me of her tantrums, her frequent and loud use of the word ‘cunt’, and how she was intolerable to work for/with. I even heard from an ex-tech who worked with her at Central News in the eighties, who reported that her behaviour was horrific to anyone she perceived as lower down the ladder than her – while obsequious to those she perceived as her superiors

So what led More United to back her? I asked, they answered:

Anna is a passionate and principled campaigner who has repeatedly demonstrated a desire to promote More United’s values of openness and tolerance, even when it has meant defying her party. That sort of bravery should be applauded and supported, wherever possible.

Many of my readers here, especially those who tune in when I turn my mind towards local politics, will be aware I’ve known Soubry a long time and will remember the consistent theme of my pieces on her: Anna Soubry is a nasty, perfidious person. This is no knee-jerk reaction to the fact shes a Tory, because even if you strip away the policy and party allegiance you have a woman who has built a career bullying, lying and treating others like the crap she perceives they are. I’ve seen such people right across the political spectrum in the years I spent working with them, and I do know that politics is structured to reward such behaviour. It is still wrong and must be called out.

I’m going to list a few of the reasons that Anna Soubry is not the liberal, rebel minded liberal hero many seem to think she is. We’ll assess this through More United’s stated values, and see how they match up. I’ll link through to articles that expand on points, and try and be as thorough as possible; if you’d like more, please contact me. This is a mere dusting of her awfulness.

Right, let’s check out More United and theie principles, and see how Anna matches up:

Tolerance: we want to live in a free, diverse society where our differences are celebrated and respected:

Anna has long been intolerant of alternative viewpoints, to the point she simply doesn’t bother listening or replying to correspondence of those who she perceives to be politically different to her. She boasts of throwing away petitions that come via 38 Degrees and similar crowd-campaign aids, and when the local Royal Mail sorting office staff asked her to not support privatisation, she instead stood up in the Commons and lied that they were, in fact, in favour.

  • Her behaviour in the Commons shames Broxtowe. The speaker has frequently had to admonish her when she has used inappropriate language, on one notable occasion three times in one session.
  • She has constantly tried to divide. Those against her are ‘trots’, rather than people she is paid to represent. She makes no effort to reach out across the political divide, instead using division to rule.
  • She endorses the notoriously racist and rabid Ranting Rooms: a Facebook group set up to try and polarise opinion in Beeston. The site, thankfully now in its death throes, was infamous for banning anyone and bullying them online should they step out the party line. They doxxed people, and took delight in issuing violent threats: to this day, I still have to report these to the police when they arrive (this article will provoke a few, i can almost guarantee). When I asked Anna why she continued to support this group, she told me ‘she couldn’t control what happens online’. Yes, but you can think twice about endorsing them in parliament, perhaps? (added note: after the Grenfell tragedy, one of the central users / avid Soubry ickmahoneycheerleader of the site wrote a post that blamed immigrants for the disaster; the post stayed up until the police had to pay a visit. Did Anna speak out against such intolerance, when asked? Nah, she didn’t).
  • Talking of Grenfell, Soubry had to get her grubby oar in there as well, retweeting a Mel Phillips article that tastefully claimed the left were ‘fanning the flames’. Aside from the wisdom of retweeting anything from notorious Islamophobe Phillips, she then failed to apologise for repeating the phrase ‘fanning the flames’, claiming those who found it a wee bit offensive were  – and that sound you here is irony about to die – politicising the issue.

Democracy: we want you to have real influence over politics. 

 

  • Environment: we must do everything possible to tackle climate change and protect our environment:

  • Soubry loves a bit of fracking, even when it is earmarked for her own constituency, and has gone on record supporting the industry. Fracking beneath both Bramcote Park and Attenborough Nature reserve might not be what her constituents want, but donations to her party are always of greater value than those she is supposed to represent.
  • Soubry touted herself as the saviour of the greenbelt in Broxtowe, coming out against the development of Stapleford’s Field Farm. That will be the Field Farm that currently is covered in earth movers and dug up turf, despite Tories running the local council and the Government. Is this a case of gross incompetence, or was she being a little less honest with the truth when painting herself as the local Caroline Lucas?Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.52.01Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.52.35 Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.53.15

 

 

  • Openness: we welcome immigration, but understand it must work for everyone, and believe in bringing down international barriers, not raising them. We also want a close relationship with the EU:

Her voting record hardly shows a rebellious, EU-championing hero:

  • Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.46.15Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.46.50Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.51.18

So why do More United continue to support Soubry? I wrote to them over the Summer asking this in light of the aforementioned child abuse mocking. They agreed it was wrong of her, and promised to review their support…then nothing. Another MP supported by MU got in touch to say they were probably a bit trapped as they struggled to find a Tory in the first place. They too were suckered into thinking Soubry is a moderate ‘good’ Tory. I hope after this is read the true Soubry, the principle-free, misanthropic careerist Soubry, reveals herself and they take appropriate action.

 

 

 

Happy 18th BirthdayLeif.

My son Leif turns 1 today. I’ve written this for him to read in seventeen years. Promise I’ve kept the schmaltz as much at bay as I can, but still….

You’re 18 today. I might not be around to read this with you, and if I’m not I’m sorry. I’ll try and stay healthy so I do. I can’t imagine what you’ll be like as an adult, I can barely get my head around you moving to mewling infant to grinning toddler. Imagining you with stubble and a broken voice before I’ve even heard the unbroken version is head-spinning. I’ll get down the gym. I’ll take my vitamins. I won’t interrupt mummy during Bakeoff1 and tell her ‘It’s just cake”. I’ll do my utmost to be around, ok? Ok.  Let’s talk about your appearance in our lives.

A year ago today from when I write this, and 18 years before you read this, you came along. 5.40am in the morning, after a 52-hour labour where every fear was thrown up and we went from the tranquillity of a softly lit birthing suite to the clinical shiny fluorescent-lit operating suite.

You appeared on the second yank of a pair of forceps (check the above photo for the temporary mark they left behind, which gave you a strange sideburn effect) and when they put you to your mother’s chest I shouted ‘Oh fuck it’s a baby!’. I’m sorry about that, I was tired. Swearing isn’t big or clever, but sometimes you have no choice.

I also apologise for appearing surprised: I was aware that you were coming along, although my sweary shout would perhaps make it seem like your mum had just popped by to have her appendix removed and they’d found a son swimming around inside. I knew you were coming, so no idea what that was about. Probably because when you leiflittlewere the size of a poppy seed, or even full size but shielded behind a swollen belly in a sac of warm heaven, I couldn’t imagine you. On telly, where you appeared when they pushed an ultrasound against your home, you were just a mess of topography ‘There is his nose!’ the sonographer had cried, pointing to a small blob on a larger blog next to a larger blob. You then moved around, annoyed by this sonic intrusion and two buttocks appeared. I felt strangely proud as the sonographer blushed.

Yet you weren’t real, and it wasn’t until you were there in the flesh, a tight tiny but huge thing utterly helpless and wailing, that it hit me. They say it’s the most wonderful moment of your life. Not true, that was probably last week when we both lay on our backs and kicked our legs and waved our arms and both joyfully yelled before bursting into laughter that made us both cry. That was much better. To be honest, when you appeared I was just so, so relieved: relieved you weren’t dead, mum wasn’t dead. Relieved you were now breathing air, warmed by arms not amniotic fluid, alive. I wanted to wrap around you and mum, enclose you and be enclosed, create our womb we could rest in together and never have to look the fear in the face again.

A lot of mad thoughts fly through your head at that point. Again, I don’t hold that childbirth is miraculous: if it was they could have cleaned it up around the edges a bit. Walking on water, water you then turn into wine: miracles. Childbirth: intense it is, miraculous it’s not. You don’t remember it, mum was whacked out on a cocktail of drugs and sheer exhaustion, and I was really sweary and emotionally wrought. Let’s not dress it up. It was utterly awful. Great end product, for sure. But jeez. Sort it out, evolution.

The tears came then, from which emotion I do not know. The hugeness of the occasion was broken by a conversation between two of the otherwise heroic NHS2 theatre staff

“Looks like Donald Trump3 got in then” a face-masked surgeon told the woman standing by the machine that went bing ‘That’ll be the end of the world then”. I had last checked my phone about midnight, when it still looked like Clinton. Oh crap. We’d just bought you into the world only for that same world to be scheduled for annihilation.

Your mum didn’t want to hear this ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT DONALD TRUMP!’ she gasped, her utter weariness not masking her indignation.  You began to cry, and you were held harder to the breast.

I cut your umbilical cord: when making the birth plan4 I’d asked not to but when you appeared I had to do it, some possessive parental compulsion taking over. You have probably realised now that I’m quite clumsy, and that could have been disastrous. But I encourage you to do some navel-gazing son: I did a pretty good job there. If you need your tonsils doing, bear me in mind, yeah?

There were tests to ensure you are ok, beds on wards sorted (mum had to stay in for a20161113_123526 few days after, due to fatigue). Phone calls were made, after frantic running around the reception of the QMC trying to find the islands of phone reception. I couldn’t stop looking at you. You were perfect. You were fascinating. It made me gasp to think of what you were to me. I realised I was in love, deep deep love that shocked me when I approached it. How did wattle and daub dwelling peasants feel when they first stepping beneath the dome of a grand cathedral? The sheer awe, the breath-taking dimensions of it. I just looked at a picture of you, and I felt it freeze me again: to know such love is a fearsome, beautiful thing.

At some point, I went home for some sleep, sitting on a bus5 amazed that people were doing normal things, commuting and suchlike. I felt like grabbing them all and shouting ‘DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED? SOMETHING WONDERFUL HAS HAPPENED!” , The woman sitting next to me was reading an article on her phone about trump, and frowning. How could she frown? What madness was this? In retrospect, she probably had more right to question the sanity of the crazily grinning, rumpled red-eyed mess sat next to her.

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I never really thought I’d have kids. I had a pretty disastrous relationship with my own parents, which you probably know all about by now. I was terrified I’d make their mistakes, that the violence they dispensed and had in turn been dispensed onto themselves, generation after generation, the misery that, as Larkin 7 put it, ‘Deepens like a coastal shelf’ would be as locked into my genes as surely as the green of my eyes. I don’t know what type of father I have been over the years, but I know from where I am sitting right now I would never do anything to hurt you, would never do anything that didn’t somehow ultimately lead to your happiness. I don’t just know with a simple clarity I would stop a bullet for you, but find myself willing that situation to occur to demonstrate that I would.

I wish you’d met your great granma Lil. She would have been so proud.

I don’t want to live vicariously through you, but I do want you to take your parent’s curiosity for the world, couple it with kindness, love nature, help those less fortunate, and realise that all that remains is love 7 Son, I orbit you. Son, I love you. Welcome to adulthood.

NOTES

1 Bakeoff was a popular TV series in the years around your birth where ten people made cakes and the one who made the worst cake was sent away to consider their awful cake until one person was crowned king or queen of the cake and everyone cheered and bought their branded cake or cookbook in a shop for a maximum of 9 months before they abdicated and the hunt for a new cake emperor or empress began anew.

2 If you still have an NHS when you read this, congratulations. They did things prior to your birth which made them seem like superheroes. A whole team appeared at 5am. Just like that. Imagine. I hope you don’t have to. If the NHS isn’t cherished then it’s likely that when you find yourself in such a room again, there will be no instantaneous response in the maternity theatre, but a 10-month waiting list.

3 A quick primer on Trump: by the time you read this the orange fascist who conned a nation will either be a bizarre regrettable footnote in history, not unlike when all them Eastenders stars had pop careers; or PREZTRUMP3000, a half human half mechanoid tango-faced cyborg of hate ruling over the galaxy and enslaving us all. He won the election on the day you were born, and your appearance was for many a silver lining on a huge sulphurous cloud.

4 A detailed plan you make a few weeks prior to the due-date outlining how you’d like things to precede once birth begins, drawn up utterly ignorant of the fact that NATURE DOESN’T CARE and only the really arrogant won’t wave a little white flag the moment they feel the baby move down and defer to the infinitely more trained and knowledgeable midwifery team. Ours had all sorts of things on it. Not one of them was an excruciating terrifying two days of sheer tedious horror. It had whale music. Bollocks to whale music.

5 Back then, these didn’t fly, but instead trundled down these big tarmac rivers called ‘roads’. Madness!

6 ”Bloody hell dad, quoting Larkin in a piece about child-raising. Nice. Any other clichés you want to get out the way? He also said ‘Get stewed. Books are a load of crap’. Perhaps you should take heed here: stop writing and get me down the pub. I’m 18 now, you realise?”

7 “I spotted that and don’t think I didn’t”