Saturday, 21 January 2012
Nothing to declare? Our Tory councillors' interesting interests
Sins of omission? The infant Mrs Angry at prayer
So ... Mrs Angry is not welcome at North London Business Park, it seems. The senior management team is very scared of letting the wicked witch of Broken Barnet loose on the withheld interests of our Tory councillors, and reluctant to let her see the updated interests and gifts and hospitality too.
Why would that be, do you think?
Is it something she said?
Or could it be that some naughty councillors have forgotten to update their declarations, or to make a full and open disclosure of all the interests which must be disclosed by law?
No. Mrs Angry does not believe that to be possible.
Perhaps one or two of them have forgotten that they own that particular property, or have that undeclared post ... I do that all the time, you know, misplacing things, don't worry: where are my reading glasses? You're wearing them, Mrs Angry. Ah yes - all the better to see you with, Tory councillors of Broken Barnet.
We have no reason to believe that our Tory councillors have any reason to be anything but open, transparent, and eager to be scrutinised by the armchair auditors of Broken Barnet. Do we?
The interests listed online on the Barnet Council website are from June 2010. There are thirty three listed, and six withheld. For the purposes of this post I will refer only to those online, excluding former leader Lynne Hillan, who is unwell.
Now, Mrs Angry was under the impression that these forms are meant to be re-submitted every year, but perhaps that is not so. Certainly it is a requirement that any changes, or additional gifts and hospitality, must be updated within 28 days. The rules, as dictated by the local Code of Prractice, and of course the statutory requirements of section 81(1) of the Local Government Act 2000, are very clear about the duties of councillors to be open and honest in their declarations: to omit information, or to provide false information, or to fail to give further notices of additional details, is clearly a breach of the regulations.
Mrs Angry is not fully confident that all councillors have entirely understood their responsibilities in this respect, despite the clear instructions on the forms they have signed. It may also be possible that the council has been negligent in not updating information received. In either case, Mrs Angry would argue that the failure to provide clear and open and easily accessible information in regard to their elected representatives' interests signifies that the residents of Broken Barnet are yet again being wilfully obstructed from a proper process of scrutiny of the authority's actions and policies.
And about half of the councillors have, since June 2010, made additional declarations, either a new position on a committee, or an attendance at a charity dinner or similar, but almost all of these entries are very brief, and few in number. The other councillors, poor old loves, have apparently received no gifts or hospitality at all, and many have apparently not taken any additional roles either in business or in the community which ought to be declared.
Sadder than the number of councillors that no one likes enough to buy a present worth more than £25, or to invite out to dinner, are the number of them who - sorry, Mrs Angry is reaching for her hankie - are seemingly homeless.
In section 10, there is a requirement for members 'to declare land in the borough which you have a beneficial interest (that is, in which you have some property interest for your own use) ...'
Most councillors have declared a home address, but not all of them. Councillors Maureen Braun, Tom Davey, David 'Goldenarse' Longstaff, Wendy Prentice, the current Mayor Lisa Rutter, Andrew Strongolou, and Reuben Thompstone, have nothing to declare.
This must mean, presumably, that they are all tenants - or living with their mum and dad?
Well, perhaps not the latter explanation for Maureen Braun, above. Her declaration is very short in detail, in fact: the word NONE is scrawled repeatedly over every section, in what looks, Maureen, to be frank, like rather bad tempered handwriting. Mrs Braun lives in a nice road in Mill Hill, but her home there is not listed as a beneficial interest, therefore it must be owned by someone else.
Ah: hang on, according to land registry records, there is a house at the same address owned by a Mr and Mrs Braun. Mrs Angry is confused. She is sure there is some perfectly satisfactory explanation for this and is happy to publish any such explanation, but on the face of it there does appear to be a rather puzzling contradiction of the facts as listed on the declaration, doesn't there? Perhaps Maureen did update this omission at some point, and the senior officers in charge of the register have forgotten to update the register?
Wendy Prentice, as we have remarked before, has given no address but written cryptically 'about three acres of Hadley Green' in response to this section. There is of course a requirement in the declaration form that states: 'You should give the address or a brief description which is sufficient to identify a location' Hmm. Mrs Angry can only conclude that Councillor Prentice is being a bit of a tease. Mrs Angry can be a bit of a tease, too, and nothing wrong with that, but there is a time and a place, you know,as it can lead to unfortunate misunderstanding.
About three acres of Hadley Green ... let's see ... according to a potted history on Barnet online, historic Hadley Green is 24 acres in size, so, erm, 1/8 of the green is owned by Councillor Prentice, but we have to guess which ones. Or, as we have previously speculated, perhaps she is, like some of Mrs Angry's forebears, a member of a gypsy/travelling community, and moves about a bit?
As there is, rather disgracefully, no provision for gypsies and travellers in the London Borough of Broken Barnet, Mrs Angry wonders how Mrs Prentice has managed to escape the beady eye of the Old Bill and her fellow Barnet councillor Rowan Turner, who has a great interest in this issue, and pitch her tent on Hadley Green without being spotted. Is she engaged in some sort of Tory #Occupy protest? (She is rather new age in her appearance: Mrs Angry observed at a council meeting last week that Mrs Prentice, who is a woman of, well, mature years, has adopted a surprising new hairdo: a sort of Glasto granny look - blonde crop with flamingo pink edged fringe. Very courageous. Miss Angry wants to do something similar with her hair, Wendy, but I won't let her.)
At last weeks Boris bash, Tory Leader Richard Cornelius expressed his concern about the high number of young people in the borough who are unemployed: it is a very serious problem, and clearly one not unknown amongst our councillors too.
Andrew Strongolou, pictured above, not only has no home listed, he has nothing listed under employment. Andrew, like his colleague David Longstaff, was rumoured to have aspirations (there you go, that can only be a good thing, can't it?) to be an Actor. He has in the past had some extra work, and been listed on a casting agency. Since Mrs Angry took an interest in Councillor Longstaff's golden arse, as revealed in a promo film on his own agency listing, Councillor Strongolou's own details on the Lynchmob Agency appear to have disappeared from the internet. Shame.
Why his former acting career is not declared on his form, Mrs Angry does not know. Perhaps he is shy. Not a good thing if you want to be on the stage, darling, one would have thought. Or perhaps he has jacked it in. Must be hard living on just the pittance he receives as a councillor, though. Still, he seems to keep himself busy: he is involved in the Cypriot charity Rizokarpasson Association, listed here as a committee member, and on Linkedin described as 'Hospitality Secretary'. He has also had an interest in a company called Sunlight Productions Ltd, which is a non-trading company. Whatever that means.
Ironic, perhaps, that Councillor Tom Davey, who is now the stern faced young Cabinet member responsible for housing, has no property interest of his own to declare. Presumably he must be in rented accommodation too, or maybe with Mum & Dad. His form, Mrs Angry notes, is dated from 2008, with a couple of amendments scribbled in in 2010.
Tom Davey, who works as a finance analyst for British American Tobacco, has strong views on many issues. He is very keen, for example, to wean the undeserving poor from their dependence on social housing, and in his new role is overseeing the introduction of wonderful Victorian values of self help and aspiration to respectability.
Would be council tenants who wish to have any real chance of one day being housed in Broken Barnet now have to demonstrate a 'positive contribution to the community' and will only be granted a tenancy for a limited number of years, in order to prevent stability of tenure, sentimental attachment to their homes, or demanding too much in the way of subsidised housing, a concept only allowed in the real world of Broken Barnet for Tory cabinet colleagues of Councillor Davey who might be in need of a charity owned flat, and whose Mum & Dad cannot accommodate them. For the majority of non property owning residents of this borough, this means living in privately owned housing, paying rapidly increasing rentals, which those in need of benefits are finding it impossible to afford.
Councillor Reuben Thompstone, who will yet again have the pleasure of Mrs Angry's company tonight at our local residents forum, where Mrs Angry will upset him by trying to ask questions, and he will upset Mrs Angry by refusing to allow her to speak, has declared his home to be leasehold, but given no details of where this is. Another tease. Or perhaps he is worried Mrs Angry might come round and peer through his letter box. She might.
The Mayor of Barnet: no declarations since July? ... it's a mystery
Lisa Rutter, the current Mayor, above, also states that she has no beneficial property interest in the borough. She seems to be a nice enough woman, and Mrs Angry is sure that she is entirely honest in her declarations. Perhaps she does not live in the borough, or own any property here.
Ah: hold on - according to land registry records, a Mr Mark and Mrs Litsa Rutter do have a property in N20 - again, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this being omitted from the declaration, and Mrs Angry is happy to clarify this if so. Perhaps it is another case of details not being updated?
It must be noted, however, that as regards the list of gifts & hospitality received, the declarations here end in July. Mrs Angry imagines that Mrs Rutter has continued to declare all her gifts and hospitality, but that these entries have not been updated online. This would be typical of the way we do things in this borough, and reminds us that transparency is not held in the highest regard by our senior officers or our councillors. Council staff are under great pressure of work, of course, and making redundant, last year, the officers most experienced in this area would appear to have had a significant impact on the Governance department's ability to cope with certain aspects of their responsibilities ...
The declaration form comes in two parts: Form 1, General Notice, the -ha -compulsory section, and then a second part, 'Additional Voluntary Declarations', in which the council 'asks' that members give details of membership of organisations or directorships -oh, and shareholdings -not registered under the previous section.
To be fair, some Tory councillors have decided to do the right thing and made some declarations in this section. Mrs Angry commends councillors John Hart, Graham Old, Andrew Harper, Helena Hart, and David Longstaff for doing so.
Mrs Angry confesses to being amused by Councillor Longstaffe's declaration of shares in three companies, and their total value (at the time of signing in 2010) - he tells us rather crossly: 'WHICH IS A LOT LESS THAN I PAID FOR THEM.)
Please remember, Councillor Longstaff, that the price of stocks and shares can go down, as well as up. Market forces, darling: don't complain.
Oh dear, Reuben Thompstone. Not only does he not want us to know where he lives, he has objected to being asked about his stocks and shares, and has written: 'I do not wish to declare'.
It seems that only 13 of our Tory members have been offered any gifts or hospitality. Mrs Angry finds this rather a poignant fact to contemplate. Perhaps the Barnet bloggers should club together and buy presents for those whom nobody likes enough to bother with? Deputy Leader Daniel 'John' Thomas: nothing. Admittedly Mrs Angry would leave the country rather than have to sit through dinner with him, due to the risk of falling asleep with her head in the soup, but all the same. Brian Gordon: ah, well, ditto. Rowan Turner - oh, hold on, something of a pattern forming here.
Those councillors who have made declarations of gifts or hospitality are a bit more lively.
Leader Richard Cornelius, the cheeky monkey, sneaked off from his duties here in Broken Barnet on a trip to Morphou, in Cyprus, 7-10th October, and got £745 worth of accommodation and flights from the local municipality so he could attend, erm, hold, on what is the phrase ... 'a peace demonstration'. Good man.
Oh look: Councillor Joanna Tambourides has also been to Morphou. In 2010 and 2011. She paid her own air fares, she tells us. She is also keen to point out, in both entries, that she shared her bedroom with her husband. Why she should worry about any doubt on this point is unclear.
Mr and Mrs Tambourides: shocking declaration reveals they shared room in Morphou hotel
(*Note to any municipalities reading this: Mrs Angry is also available, at very short notice, to attend any 'peace demonstrations' at your expense providing it is somewhere sunny, warm, with a nice room, and free.)
Not only that, But Richard was given a glass paperweight, and a bottle of wine. You know: the sort of thing you normally get on a demo. You should see the cut glass decanter and key ring I got for my attendance at a poll tax riot in 1990. Worth a few quid now. See, Cllr Longstaff: invest wisely, like Mrs Angry, in socialist activism, and you'll be quids in.
Oh look: here comes Councillor Andrew Harper. Now, interestingly, Andrew, according to the online form, has not updated his change of role. He was of course Deputy Leader of the council until this summer, but has not altered his description in the declaration, holding on with determination to the full extent of his portfolio. Funnily enough, Cllr Harper has updated a change in his role as member of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute council around the same time.
Former Deputy Leader Andrew Harper has been recycled, but is still coming to terms with it
Andrew has had a few good dinners in his time: likes going to the Guildhall, and had some fun at the Tory conference too, entertained by Localis, who have worked with Barnet over some Big Society type balls, and hello, dining with two lady MPs, Penny Mordaunt and Sarah Newton so as to er 'discuss social care and health issues'. Hmm. The old devil. Oh, and what's this? Dinner & full English breakfast at the Sandbanks Hotel, Poole, with Mrs Angry, 14th February 2011, 'to discuss the new localism bill, especially the extension of transparency, accountability and the empowerment of the local blogosphere'. You fecking liar, Councillor Harper. We stayed at the Haven, if you remember ... yes, yes: a joke. It was the Sandbanks, but another councillor entirely. He's promised to take me to Morphou in October.
Now stop joking, Mrs Angry, and make a serious point.
Q: Why does it matter in the slightest, what our Tory councillors declare, and that this information is regularly updated and put in the public domain?
A: It matters because, apart from the fact that there is a legal requirement to declare such information, councillors have control over an enormous budget, paid for by our hard earned money, and must be seen to be acting at all times without being subject to personal or commercial interest. At the moment, scrupulous attention to such declarations of interest, gifts and hospitality is of the most vital importance as we are going through the process of giving away £1 billion worth of business contracts (maybe, you never can tell in this borough) to the private sector.
It is regrettable that so many councillors do not feel moved to declare their stocks and shares, as it would be most unfortunate if, say, some of the members had shares in one of the short listed companies currently vying for one of the enormous outsourcing packages on offer, wouldn't it?
If you haven't got shares in one of the short listed companies currently vying for one of the enormous outsourcing packages on offer, btw, citizens, now might be the time to buy (see: more investment advce from Mrs Angry). Mrs Angry can think of at least two companies who are about to see profits rise considerably, and it might be one way of offsetting the enormous rise iin charges in council services about to come our way.
Finally, and thanks be to God for that: Mrs Angry has still had no response to her request to see the withheld and any updated interests so she and Mr Mustard have informed the relevant officers of their intention to arrive on Wednesday afternoon to exercise their right to do so. If the Director of Corporate Governance sees fit to bar them from exercising their right to do so, Mrs Angry will be obliged to make a formal complaint to the Monitoring Officer. Who is ... er let me check ... the Director of Corporate Governance. Ah. Oh dear.
And to night: the Residents Forums. Mrs Angry has had six of her eight questions banned, despite the fact that they are about parks and other public works issues. She has been informed by the officer in charge of parking that we may now not discuss issues even if they fit the criteria of public works if they are 'boroughwide' issues. This is of course absolutely outrageous, and an act of incendiary provocation, as far as Mrs Angry is concerned.
This is Broken Barnet: have you noticed?