Monday, 29 June 2009

Fraud inquiry into new government jobs scheme

Rising unemployment and the UK Government's determination to get people off Incapacity Benefit is likely to see increased pressure on recruitment companies to deliver, by whatever means necessary.

Recruitment companies getting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to find jobs for the unemployed are at the centre of a fraud probe after staff made false claims of getting people into work.

The Observer found that A4e, one of the government's biggest private contractors, is at the centre of the Department for Work and Pensions inquiries. It is understood that at least two other recruitment companies have been probed by the DWP. Last night Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, confirmed that investigations were under way and said she could cancel multimillion-pound contracts if widespread fraud was uncovered.

The revelation comes weeks after A4e was earmarked for £100m of contracts for the government's Flexible New Deal, in which private companies will be paid for each person they place in a job.

One of A4e's consultants is David Blunkett, a former work and pensions secretary who advocated private involvement in welfare reform. Blunkett, now a backbench MP, is paid up to £30,000 a year by A4e, which is based in his Sheffield constituency. There is no suggestion of impropriety by Blunkett, but he may be embarrassed by the probe as details of MPs' earnings outside parliament are published this week.

The DWP started its investigation into A4e's Hull office in May 2008, after discrepancies emerged in "confirmation of employment" forms submitted by the company. Two recruiters filled in forms meant for employers who agreed to take on workers. In some cases, employers' signatures were falsified.

One of the recruiters had also entered into a fraudulent deal with a local temp agency. In January, the recruiter was sacked, while the other resigned. "It had the smell of a conspiracy," a source close to the company said.

An A4e spokesman said it had found only 20 fraudulent claims. It remained unclear last night why the DWP investigation has been going for 13 months, when A4e was a bidding for major government contracts. A4e is expected to repay £15,000. Another recruitment company has been asked to repay £48,000 following a DWP inquiry.

The controversy has echoes of the 2001 crisis that forced the government to abandon individual learning accounts, under which training providers were paid for each person given vocational training. The £268m initiative initially fell prey to small-time fraud, but later it was proved that the providers invented phantom claimants to get a "starter fee", costing the government hundreds of millions.

A DWP spokeswoman named no companies in the welfare probe, but said: "Specialist employment organisations help 200,000 people back to work every year. Unfortunately our audit processes have uncovered some specific cases of fraud involving particular individuals who have since been sacked and money paid back. Our investigations found no evidence of systematic abuse."

A4e, with a turnover of £145m, claims on its website to have helped 19,725 people into work. Its spokesman said it had begun its own investigation and was co-operating with the DWP. "While we tackled these matters swiftly and transparently, and have strengthened our anti-fraud procedures."

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Great News...Pontcysyllte Aqueduct has been granted World Heritage Status, the 28th WHS site,which all goes to raise Wales's profile in the world and hopefully increase tourism and the economic benefit to the whole of the County Borough. Congratulations to the lead officers within the Council's Economic Development Department for their hard work and committment in achieving WHS status. For more go to BBC Wales

Monday, 22 June 2009

European Conservatives and Reformists.

So the 26 Conservative MEP's have gone into an alliance with other right wing European parties like the Polish Law and Justice Party (PIS) and the Czech Civic Democratic Party in the European Parliament. The new Alliance is called the European Conservatives and Reformists group and they will have about 60 MEP's, around the same size as the Greens and the Liberal ALDE group. It is very doubtful whether the Conservatives will wield anything like the influence they would have wielded within the EPP Centre Right group which is by far the largest group. The new Conservative grouping is also well beind the Socialist PES group in terms of the number of MEP's.

The Group Declaration is as follows (credits to Guy Fawkes



1. Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.
2. Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.
3. Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.
4. The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.
5. The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.
6. The overriding value of the transatlantic security relationship in a revitalised NATO, and support for young democracies across Europe.
7. Effectively controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures
8. Efficient and modern public services and sensitivity to the needs of both rural and urban communities.
9. An end to waste and excessive bureaucracy and a commitment to greater transparency and probity in the EU institutions and use of EU funds.
10. Respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries, new and old, large and small.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Mark Tami and his Council Tax!

The Daily Telegraph claims that Mark Tami, Labour MP for Alyn & Deeside is one of 50 MP's who claimed expenses for council tax but which they have not paid. Mr Tami is alleged to have profited by about £1500. Mr Tami said he would look into whether he had over-claimed and if he had, would pay the money back.

Pay the money back, isn't that jolly good of him, what would he have done if he hadn't been found out? This is like a shoplifter getting caught handling the goods back and then expecting to walk away with no repurcussions...sorry but it doesn't happen that way!

What Tami and these other 50 MP's have done with their council tax is tantamount to fraud, there is prima facia evidence here that a crime has been committed and it should be investigated as such.

Ian Lucas makes the News of the World!!

This is what the News of the World had to say about Ian Lucas paying his own firm of solicitors Stevens Lucas to do work for him which he then charged to parliamentary expenses:

We can also reveal Business Minister IAN LUCAS claimed for work by the solicitors firm he used to own and where he is now a consultant.

Lucas submitted an invoice for £176.25 for legal fees for the lease of his consituency office and £894.50 for the sale of a property.

The money was paid to Stevens Lucas solicitors. Lucas said: "I have no financial relationship with the firm. It is an honorary position."

Last night Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "In other countries it is illegal for MPs to use their families' firms. That should be extended here to stop MPs giving money to firms they are involved in."

Friday, 19 June 2009

MPs' expenses: Ian Lucas

For full details of Ian Lucas's expenses follow this link to the BBC Website.

Police investigate MP's expenses!

Today's revelations that Police will investigate the worst excesses of the MP's expenses scandal is to be welcomed and will go a long away to reassure those that have lost confidence in politicians and the polotical system that change is on the way and that this type of behaviour will no longer be tolerated.

It is of course only right that anyone who claims mortgage interest payments on a non existent mortgage should face a criminal investigation as there would seem that a prima facia case of fraud was committed.

The numerous cases of 'flipping' that have come to light (swapping second homes to maximise their second home allowances) are not quite as clear cut as being worthy of criminal investigation as claiming phantom mortgage payments; but there is most certainly a big question mark over their 'ethical behaviour' and calls into question their fitness to serve in government. One of those 'flipping' MP's and a Minister in the Office of the Leader of the House is Chris Bryant who has done rather well out of the expenses and Andrew Nutt in his blog today outlines Bryant's claims in detail. The question now is, should he stay or should he go?

The Future of Social Services in Wales

Extracts from Rhodri Morgan's keynote speech at yesterday's Social Services Conference in Cardiff:

“Social services will need to consider more cross border working across boundaries, both within local authorities and between local councils and the National Health Service and other bodies.”

"The key question is just because we have 22 separate local authorities, do we necessarily have to have 22 separate Social Services departments? Collaborative working is proceeding and progressing but is it moving ahead fast enough to cope with improving front line delivery during the austerity era.

“Ever since we launched Making the Connections in 2004, we have emphasised that the citizen needs to be at the centre of service delivery – and the importance of feedback from the front-line in improving service to the clients and their carers and their families as it would be seen from their perspective.

“How do we recruit sufficient high calibre social work students to our university social work courses? How do we keep them motivated and enthusiastic in thirty or more years in the job on the front line? How do we provide the right environment to encourage child care services to stay on the front line and carry out their child protection duties and do so in an atmosphere of high morale, good job satisfaction, plentiful back up and top notch professional leadership and councillor support in setting the strategy.

“There is an important part which the Assembly Government can play in this. I’ve put on record, recently, our recognition that, in a period of constraint, we have to ensure that the demands we place on services, in terms of regulation and inspection, for example, have to be proportionate and designed, as much as possible, to help you with the jobs you do, rather than to get in the way of them."

Is he talking collaboration here or AMALGAMATIONS? Anyway I welcome his announcement that inspections are going to be more proportionate as social workers at present spend far too much time preparing for inspections rather than doing front line work.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Boost for local firms over council tenders

Changes in the way Wrexham Council puts out work for tender could see a real boost for local firms.

A meeting between Plaid Cymru and senior officers at the council heard that changes being proposed to the council procurement strategy was placing support for the local economy and sustainability at the forefront of council priorities.

Cllr Arfon Jones, Plaid member for Gwersyllt West, said: "Since we were elected a year ago, we have been pushing Wrexham Council for a change in emphasis to ensure that local companies weren't excluded from the tendering process because they couldn't compete with the big multinationals. I'm glad that this seems to have been taken on board and we will see jobs and skills retained in the local economy to a greater extent.

"There is a greater awareness that large contracts need to be broken down to enable the smaller enterprises to compete and that is a real step in the right direction. Councils and other public sector organisations have got a big role to play in boosting the local economy after all the job losses we have faced recently - this is one way forward. Plaid councillors will continue to monitor the situation and keep pressing for public money to remain, as much as possible, in the local economy."

North Wales Assembly Member Janet Ryder also welcomed the news that a new North Wales Procurement Partnership between the six councils stretching from Anglesey to Wrexham was aiming to ensure that tenders were broken down into smaller lots that local firms could bid for.

She said: "Many local firms across North Wales have contacted me over the past 12 months with concerns about the way they are excluded from tendering for some projects under a system that has favoured the larger companies. This means that skilled work is being lost and public money is being spent elsewhere when it could remain in the local economy.

"The multinationals that win these tenders often then sub-contract the work to local firms but keep the cream of the tender for themselves. That means we're losing the more skilled work from the local economy. I'm very pleased that Wrexham Council has listened to their calls and is moving towards a strategy that will enable them to compete fairly for contracts.

"Perhaps the most frustrating thing for local firms is the different criteria that have been used by different councils across North Wales to qualify for tenders and these often differ from the Assembly Government's criteria. The new partnership will hopefully see a move towards more standardisation of contracts.

"I'm also very keen to ensure that this has the maximum benefit for the likes of Remploy, which is bidding for council business and will not now be excluded because of its size."

The new procurement strategy will be going before Wrexham Council's executive board on June 30 for approval.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Council serves up a dog's dinner

The Housing Revenue Account is meant to be spent on improving council housing and its environment. It's made up of tenants' rents and Assembly grants for major repairs and is separate from the rest of the council's income. Wrecsam Council allocates about £800,000 a year from this budget for environmental improvements across the borough.

Today's Housing scrutiny committee discussed the environmental improvement budget that each councillor is allocated according to the amount of council houses in their ward.

The budget has, up until now, been spent on a variety of projects such as off-street parking, landscaping and play areas on council estates as well as alley gating and new security doors for flats. With many of these, both tenants and private residents benefit.

At the meeting I argued that the criteria should be tightened for the sake of clarity to ensure that tenants benefit from the money they spend and that this should be introduced in the next financial year (2010-11) rather than mid-way through a financial year when some schemes have already been planned and allocated. In the mean time, the existing arrangements should be permitted.

Cllr Carrie Harper, who sits on the committee, proposed this formally but failed to get a seconder.

After the meeting she said: "No officer or member of the committee could provide a rational, or in fact any, explanation at all for the change of rules only applying to play areas and not other schemes, yet they still refused to second the motion to take it out, the reasoning for which was explained clearly. When these recommendations originally came to scrutiny, play areas were not a particular issue, we still do not know on whose suggestion this was added into the report."

What was passed was a dog's dinner that permits landscaping but does not permit play areas, it permits security lighting but not path lighting. Off-street parking schemes are not limited to tenants - the parking bays are open to all and private tenants are probably more likely to own a car. So which benefit tenants and which do not? Nobody knows.

Changing the criteria mid-year will be seen by many, not least the tenants who took part in a public participation event earlier this year, as moving the goalposts to exclude them from the democratic process.It leaves the council open to a charge of changing the rules arbitrarily.

The master race?

He didn't mind the egg whites apparently...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Brown Loyalist

Yes Ian Lucas MP is certainly a Brown Loyalist who has been rewarded with a junior ministerial job (Under Secretary) in Lord Mandelson's Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Lucas was previously a government whip who was probably part and parcel of the team of Labour whips that quelled a rebellion of Labour MP's who were intent on forcing Brown out yesterday. Prior to that Lucas was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Liam Byrne, Minister of State at the Home Office. Labour having just been pushed into second place in his constituency by the Conservatives, one wonders how his constituents will view Lucas's loyalty to a lame duck and unpopular Labour Prime Minister?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Labour decimated in Wales

Labour has seen its vote collapse in the Euro-elections in Wales. Plaid's vote was up, as was the Tory, UKIP, Green and BNP vote. Well done to Jill Evans on being re-elected and commiserations to the rest of the team for missing out. Not a great result for Plaid to be honest.

Conservative: 145,193 (21%)
Labour: 138,852 (20%)
Plaid Cymru: 126,702 (19%)
UKIP: 87,585 (13%)
Lib Dems: 73,082 (11%)
Greens: 38,160 (6%)
BNP: 37,114 (5%)
Christian Party: 13,037
Socialist Labour Party: 12,402
No2EU Yes to Democracy: 8,600
Jury Team: 3,793

Locally, Plaid increased its vote substantially in both Wrecsam and Clwyd South. It's not possible to make direct comparisons because the count last time was for the whole borough. In 2004, Plaid got 10.5% of the vote - this time Plaid won 14% in Wrecsam and 18% in Clwyd South. In the latter seat we came within 175 votes of beating Labour and comfortably saw off the Lib Dems and UKIP.

In Wrecsam, a great effort by party activists and supporters saw 25,000 newsletters hand delivered in the last few weeks. This contributed to us getting within 700 votes of Labour and just 8% behind the eventual winners, the Tories.

In both seats Plaid is emerging as a real challenger to both Tory and Labour in the coming Westminster elections. If Plaid's motion in Parliament wins support, we could see an election sooner rather than later.

Wrecsam result
Labour 2712
Plaid 1972
UKIP 2037
Tory 3199
BNP 1092
LibDem 2078
Green 525
Soc Lab 233
Christians 175
No2EU 173
Jury 68

Clwyd S result
Labour 3063
Plaid 2886
UKIP 2259
Tory 4010
BNP 1060
LibDem 1492
Green 735
Soc Lab 282
Christians 190
No2EU 247
Jury 66

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Obama Beach!

Gordon Brown renames Omaha Beach Obama Beach!

He just can't help himself can he but I just can't bring myself to feel sorry for him; mind you, does anyone who elevates Glenys Kinnock to the Lords as a Baroness AND then appoints her Minister of Europe deserve our sympathy? Wales seems to have been haunted by the Kinnock's for decades; we really do need a break from this couple.

Who said ....

Who said...
My policy on gays and lesbians is very simple.I don't think councils should be spending money on them parading through town advertising their sexuality

...has also stated he intends to cut funding for translation services for non-English speakers in the borough.

They also advocate withdrawal from the European Union, the "right to enjoy and celebrate Englishness", an end to political correctness and an end to mass immigration.

English freedoms and values, not multiculturalism

No you are wrong it wasn't the BNP or UKIP...these words were in fact spoken by Peter Davies the newly elected Mayor of Doncaster and an English Democrat. Clearly Doncaster will no longer be a town where there will be a welcome to anyone bar white, middle class and English speaking.

Didn't someone else legislate against 'those that were perceived as being different' in 1933?

BNP/UKIP/English Democrats; can anyone tell me the difference?

Friday, 5 June 2009

Mebyon Kernow

Llongyfarchiadau i'n cyd genedlaetholwyr yn awdurdod newydd Cernyw ar enill tair sedd gydai arweinydd Dick Cole yn cael ei ethol gyda 78% o'r bleidlais yn St Enoder. Hefyd ennillodd maer Cambourne, Stuart Cullimore sedd i Mebyon Kernow hefyd ac roedd hyn ar ol i'r Rhyddfrydwyr Democrataidd rannu taflen yn disgrifio Mr Cullimore fel 'greasy haired twat.'
Mae gwefan Mebyon Kernow yn ddiddorol iawn gyda problemau tebyg i be sydd ganddo ni yng Nghymru, tai fforddiadwy a gor gynllunio.

Euro-election - voters shun polls

Voters in Wrecsam and Clwyd South have effectively boycotted the Euro-elections, with only 25-8% turnout in both areas.

In some wards, notably in Caia Park, the vote was as low as 9% while more affluent areas such as Marford and Rossett saw the vote rise above 30%.

Don't be surprised therefore if the UKIP and Tory vote is up and the Labour vote is down.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

No Good Boyo

If you need some light relief, this is one of the funniest takes on the Welsh language I've seen.

Welsh is a language spoken by people in Gwynedd pubs about 15 seconds after someone an Englishman knows once walked in.

Most languages are written in ink. Welsh is written in green paint on road signs and cars belonging to passing morticians from Birmingham.

Welsh has only two genders - masculine and feminine - thereby proving its reactionary nature through this deliberate deprivileging of the hermaphrodite community.

Welsh is the only language that cannot be taught. The traditional means of transmission to non-members of Plaid Cymru is through being "rammed down the throat" and the denial of toilet rights to apocryphal children on Anglesey.

Welsh has no vocabulary to convey complex modern ideas like "engine", "love-grinder" or "tea", and Welsh-speakers from the south use diametrically opposed opposite words to those from the north, and perhaps vice versa. According to a bloke in the Cader Bookshop in Dolgellau who smelled of Deep Heat.

Welsh is an ancient language, having been invented by the BBC in 1928. For many years it was only spoken by the late sister of George Thomas, quondam Secretary of State for Wales, Speaker of the House of Commons and pit-pony, until JRR Tolkien made it the official language of Trollland. Since then computer scientists and the t-shirt community have taken it up.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Lost in translation

At yesterday's Executive Board Cllr Howard Moysen asked the following members question:

(a) What is the total annual cost of translating all Council material, correspondence, etc into Welsh?
(b) Does the Council have any evidence of the numbers of residents who read the Welsh translations?

Why did he ask this? And why only the cost of Welsh translations when the Council's website has information in 12 languages as well as Welsh?

Does he believe that the £146,000, which is the cost of translation Welsh/English and vice versa, is excessive? Should we cease to translate into Welsh despite the 2001 Census showing that 22% of the county's population can either read, speak or write Welsh with 11% having all three skills, the latter figure represents about 15,000 people. The numbers are increasing with the demand for Welsh medium education.

The officers were unable to answer the second part which was purely hypothetical... perhaps he should have sought to ascertain the numbers of people who read the Council's publications per se but of course that question wouldn't help his agenda.

For those of you who don't know, Councillor Moysen is a non aligned member for Cefn Mawr. Last year he was deselected as the sitting Labour councillor and went on to win the seat as an independent. Despite having been deselected by Labour he is still close to the group and asking this question in conjunction with questions about The Venture makes one wonder if he is not being used to undermine the Council's support for the Welsh language and its use.

The fact that the Council as a public authority in Wales are bound in law to provide a service in both English and Welsh just goes to show how utterly pointless and irrelevant his questions were. Mischief making for the sake of mischief making.

Money for children goes to lawyers

Wrecsam Council has received a letter from the Venture Adventure Playground, which is managed by Labour's Councillor Malcolm King, informing them that the Council's decision to reduce funding by £130,000 to the organisation will be the subject of a judicial review.

A Judicial Review costs a minimum of £20,000 and could cost both The Venture and the Council a lot more. This is money that will go into the pockets of lawyers rather than for frontline services.

What those of us who are interested in 'ensuring better outcomes for children' want to know is this: is this the best way to spend taxpayers' money?

Cllr King has been asked to provide a breakdown of The Venture's core funding and agreed to do so in a face-to-face meeting in May 2009 with other Caia Park councillors. Immediately after that meeting he changed his mind.

As this is public money, it's important that we know how and where it is spent. The management of the Venture don't want to co-operate with the council to explain where and how they spend their money... because they just can't justify it.

The Council should call in the Welsh Audit Office to investigate why a charity is spending taxpayers' money on lawyers rather than children's services.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Lib Dem Campaigning Tactics

The Lib Dems in Cambourne, Cornwall, have been forced to apologise after describing a Mebyon Kernow candidate in Thursday's Council Elections as a 'greasy haired twat'
There is no need to say no more is there!

Affordable housing

What do you think is an appropriate level of affordable housing in any new development?

Last night's Wrecsam Council planning committee rejected an ultimatum from a housing developer in Brymbo to reduce the number of affordable homes on a 120-house estate from eight to four. The developer also demanded that its agreed contribution to a new school in Brymbo should be reduced to zero.

The developer cited lower house prices and won the backing of the free-market loving local Tory councillor. He claimed that there were plenty of affordable homes in the Brymbo and Tanyfron area and the reneging on a section 106 agreement was of little concern.

The old steelworks site will soon consist of 600 homes, with barely a handful of them affordable in any meaningful sense of the word. The developers on the site have offered some to a housing association but they turned out to be below the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and therefore unacceptable - a basic error that appears to have gone unpunished.

If the developer does not contribute to the school, the council will be left to pick up the bill. The economic downturn is affecting the council as much as any developer - why should taxpayers pay when developers have made super profits from the housing boom?

I do not remember any developer offering to pay more in section 106 contributions when house prices in Wrecsam soared by 207% between 1995 and 2005. They were happy to take the money and run.

No more - this is a new council with a very different approach to planning matters as shown by the overwhelming decision to reject the developer's ultimatum.