Wednesday, June 24, 2009

St Burstow Sins After All

The expenses scandal has rightly horrified and appalled members of the public. Local councillors get tarred with the same brush as being in it for ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth for the vast majority of local politicians who give up so much of their time for scant reward. Most politicians have realised that this is not a party political issue but something that MPs from all parties have been caught up in and requires a solution from all parties.

Local LibDems however have been using it as an election message in the Nonsuch by-election to get people to vote for a local councillor, not on the 23 year track record of the Liberal Democrat council, certainly not on the previous track record of the LibDen candidate who failed to turn up to a single local committee meeting in his final year as councillor representing another part of the Borough, but instead on the issue of the behaviour of MPs outside London.

Why did they not look closer to home? Paul Burstow was lauded as a saintly MP by the Telegraph because he did not claim a second home allowance. Perfectly sensible for an MP in a marginal seat with a precarious majority. However he didn't warrant further research which would have uncovered the fact that he paid his wife to do his books and then got them checked by an accountant who did his self-assessment tax return (for one example see page 91 of his online expenses. Both were paid using taxpayers' funded expenses. Nick Clegg called upon Alistair Darling to resign for doing exactly the same thing. I won't be holding my breath for the same call to come for his Chief Whip.

MPs are PAYE, with their salaries being paid after tax has been deducted. The only occasion that a Member of Parliament would need to amend their taxes as a result of their work in Parliament is if they have claimed expenses for a high value item that would still be theirs should they lose a subsequent election. They then have to pay tax on that item as if it was a benefit, over a three year period. This would mean that the folding machine bought via Paul Burstow's £10k communication allowance would be taxable (which through some deft juggling of allowances ended up as a bill to the taxpayer of £15,525, one of the highest of all the MPs), but the £643.01 paid to a company to stuff 23,815 envelopes the month before and the £22.52 spent on wine and crisps "for stuffing" would not be.

Fortunately the residents of Nonsuch aren't taken in as easy as the Liberal Democrats would wish. One resident who has switched their vote from LibDem to Conservatives this time around, wrote comments on their letter. Next to "After all it's your money that is being spent", they have added "Yes we know. You waste ours Sutton." I hope that the rest of the election campaign can focus on the issues that the candidates can actually have a direct bearing on for the residents of North Cheam and Worcester Park and in the meantime, the Westminster politicians can stop the yah-boo politics that they purport to hate and get on with cleaning up Parliament.

UPDATE: The Sutton Guardian carried a story on this in their Thursday edition. Paul Burstow explained that he needed to get the taxpayer to pay for his accountant in order to account for his expenses to the taxpayer. Two issues here. He needed the accountant to do his self-assessment tax return according to the invoices. Surely accounting for expenses just requires the occasional use of a photocopier. Secondly, he didn't account for his expenses, Parliament eventually did by putting them on the website for the Sutton Guardian and others to read after being forced into it. This is in sharp contrast to Ben Wallace MP who made all of his expenses public as far back as February 2008 .

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sutton Takes Rap On Knuckles Over Iceland

A group of MPs has criticised councils for ignoring the warning signs about the Icelandic banking system. The BBC reports that the all-party Communities and Local Government Select Committee said that complacency, lack of expertise and inaction all helped put taxpayers' money at risk. The Local Government Association defended councils saying that they had received poor advice.

Sutton lost £5.5m after investing in Heritable Bank, a UK subsidiary of Landsbanki. Lead Councillor for Resources John Drage has dismissed each of the accusations over the last year despite admitting that he himself, had taken his eye off the ball. Cllr Drage is a retired Bank of England economist, working through the collapse in Japan in the nineties. When Cllr Drage fell asleep on the job, this smacked of complacency and robbed the authority of some expertise, leading to inaction, thus fulfilling all three of the accusations included in the report. End result? Sutton taxpayers are £5.5million worse off for the time being, with the latest prediction that we will lose £1.1million and get the rest back in a few years.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Introducing Georg Braun for Nonsuch

Following the death of my colleague and friend, Chris Dunlop, the by-election to elect his replacement in Nonsuch will be held on July 2nd.

We are really lucky to have an excellent candidate, Georg Braun, who lives in the heart of the ward. He has four children who go to local school, runs his own business and lives in Hampton Road which is used as a rat-run to avoid Central Road. This all means that he has a good grasp of the issues for people in North Cheam and Worcester Park. He shares the same issues on a day to day basis.

Georg has already hit the ground running in Nonsuch. Literally in his first five minutes of campaigning for the by-election he found three severely blocked drains due to longstanding neglect by the Council and called them in. He's also signed up to our Freeze The Tax campaign at He's a local guy with local priorities. He'll make a fantastic addition to the team and a strong voice for Nonsuch. I know he'll work hard to carry on Chris Dunlop's positive approach to local politics.

Georg told the local newspapers "I'm not your typical politician but Chris showed me how important our local representatives can be. His positive approach to our area has inspired me to stand for election. I hope I can count on residents' support in continuing his legacy of making a difference.

"Nonsuch Ward - covering North Cheam and Worcester Park - is forgotten by this Council. We're almost always at the back of the queue for help from Sutton Council. Our area needs a positive new vision. A Conservative-run Council can provide it and I will be campaigning for it."

You can catch up with news from the area and his jottings from the stump throughout the campaign via his blog, changeNonsuch

Friday, June 05, 2009

Get The Euro-Results First

My fingers are slightly numb after 12 hours of ringing on doorbells. Nonetheless, Iain Dale
is hosting a results show, so it's worth logging in to see if it was all worthwhile.
I'm bound to pontificate on my blog about the result sooner or later, but you should listen to those in the know first by clicking on the link and listening to Iain and commentators across the country.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Police Called In Over LibDem Leaflet

According to the Sutton Guardian, police have been called in by a Sutton resident on a contravention of electoral law by the LibDems. Regular commenter on this blog, Adrian Short has asked the Special Crimes Unit to investigate Paul Burstow and Tom Brake over claims made in their European election literature which I commented on this morning.

You can see the whole article via the link above but I have reproduced a snippet below:-

Mr Short said: “Let me be very clear that I am not a lawyer and I am not saying that anyone has broken the law.

“However, in my reading of the law, I have formed a suspicion that the law has been broken and, as with all suspected crimes, I have reported it to the police.

“Regardless of the outcome of the legal process, I think it’s very important that people understand that, whichever party they vote for on June 4, their vote will be equally valuable and will help their preferred party to gain MEPs, entirely contrary to what the Lib Dems’ leaflets are saying.”

Bob Steel, the Sutton Green Party chairman, added: “The leaflets are deceitful and patronising.
"They will only further corrode trust in politicians, already at an all-time low.

“Lib Dems apparently have such a low view of their European performance that they devote 90 per cent of their leaflet to trying to dupe voters they are electing Tom Brake to deal with local issues like recycling.”

I agree with Bob Steel. It is disappointing that after nearly quarter of a century running the Borough, the LibDems have run out of steam to such an extent that they feel the need to prop up their remaining hopes through such means. They have asked for proportional representation for years. Now they have it, they seem to have decided that they don't want to use it after all. If politicians can't be straight with the public about something so basic, what trust can we have left in them.

European Elections - Vote Conservative

Today the polls are open to vote for your Members of the European Parliament. You might not think that this is important but there are a few good reasons why it is worth turning up to your polling station and voting Conservative.

Tim Montgomerie on Conservative Home covers it well:-

  • Vote Conservative because it's the vote that Labour fears most.
  • Vote Conservative because of David Cameron's tough response to expenses-gate.
  • Vote Conservative because the Tory MEPs are set to leave the EPP and form the largest centre right grouping in the European Parliament opposed to ever closer union.
  • Vote Conservative because Tory MEPs will vote against the EU's
    ambitions to spend our way out of recession.
  • Vote Conservative because it's the surest way of getting a referendum on Lisbon.
  • Vote Conservative because David Cameron is the only UK party leader fit to be Prime Minister.

Voting for minor parties may well salve your conscience about the shenanigans in Westminster but Gordon Brown will shrug this off as only he can, as a blip. Whilst from a party point of view, I believe that Gordon Brown is the Conservative's greatest asset, as a British taxpayer, it is time that the message gets through to his Cabinet colleagues that it is time for him to go. This country cannot afford another year of hiatus with the global economic climate as it is.

Meanwhile, the LibDems have been pushing out leaflets with their usual barcharts. They are the foremost proponents of proportional representation, yet when they campaign in an election with exactly the kind of electoral system that they want, they campaign as if it was First Past the Post. They explain that only the LibDems and Conservatives can win in Sutton, Carshalton & Wallington. The only problem with this is that this is a London-wide election. You vote for a party's slate of candidates rather than individual names (unless they are independents). The ballot paper is two foot long. Messages like this only go to confuse people further.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Battling Garden Grab in Coleridge Avenue

At the last Development Control Committee, residents from the Poets' Estate made their feelings known about the latest in a string of applications to knock down an attractive house and build four houses in the garden. You can see from the number of residents in the picture, alongside Eric and Paul Kelly, that it isn't just a few Nimbys complaining.

The application is wrong for a number of reasons. The house is situated on a tight bend. Up to eight cars coming in and out would present a real danger. There would be intolerable disturbance to number 38, next door. The garden often floods as a result of underground culverts that remain from the redirection of a brook that gave Brookfield Avenue its name. Two of the houses would be built directly on the affected area. I wouldn't fancy buying one.

Finally, this is back garden development of the worst kind. Both main local parties have talked a good game about being against such planning applications. Both parties need to put their money where their mouth is and act.

I spoke to the committee about these problems. They were being asked to make a decision without knowing about the flooding, without any details of the ground levels and so the ridge levels of the housing and without details of protective landscaping. I was able to persuade them that they really cannot take a decision with so many unknowns and they decided to defer the decision until they could clarify these issues. Eric and I will keep local residents informed about progress and the date of the next meeting.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Rogue Trader Day

I've taken my eye off the ball in keeping the blog up to date in recent days so I've some catching up to do. A couple of weeks ago, I joined Sutton's Trading Standards officers and local ward police in Carshalton to go on a tour of the area for a Rogue Trader day.

This entailed driving around the ward looking for any signs of building works and interviewing both the contractors and residents. Part of the exercise was to look out for rogue traders who prey on the vulnerable, overcharging them or creating opportunities for distraction burglaries. However, most of the time was spent on just making people aware. This allowed residents to take simple precautions so they did not fall victim to such scams. It also made contractors aware of the borough's Safer Sutton Trader Scheme, which acts as both security for residents and an advertising opportunity for contractors. We finished off at a mobile exhibition in Carshalton Village where crime prevention officers were on hand to offer advice to residents.

I certainly appreciated the time spent by council officers and police officers explaining their roles and the effect that they have. Trading Standards is a small department that often gets overlooked as a lot of their work goes unsung. Even on our short trip, the police picked up some useful intelligence that may help prevent crime in the ward. That's got to be time well spent.