Rottencouncil http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk Local Authority Impropriety & Misconduct Exposed Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:45:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Rottencouncilhttp://feedburner.google.com Camden Council Could Be Fined Over Data Protection Blunder http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/council-could-be-fined-data-protection/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/council-could-be-fined-data-protection/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 21:45:50 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2250 Camden Council could be fined by a government watchdog after officers potentially jeopardised the safety of alleged victims of anti-social behaviour.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a government agency with powers to issue sanctions of up to £500,000, has confirmed it will begin “making enquiries” into the blunder, in which the identities of five witnesses were handed to the man they had given evidence against.

A spokesman said: “We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of an alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action needs to be taken.”

The council initially said it was seeking an anti-social behaviour order against a council tenant, but a spokesman has since claimed the case was in fact one of home repossession.

Legal officers forgot to blank out the details of six residents of a housing estate in the south of the borough, where the man also lives, in legal papers that were served to him.

The council reported itself to the ICO after the Ham&High exposed the blunder in March.

The incident sparked fears that witnesses will be deterred from giving evidence in future.

Source: Ham & High (17/04/2014)

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Ombudsman Criticises York Council Over Draft Local Plan Papers http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/ombudsman-criticises-york-council/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/ombudsman-criticises-york-council/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 19:26:30 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2248 Ombudsman criticises York council over draft Local Plan papers

A WATCHDOG has criticised City of York Council for failing to make background papers available for public inspection before it launched its draft Local Plan last summer.

The Local Government Ombudsman, giving its provisional view on a complaint about the authority, also said that by not finalising some papers before a meeting, the council had left itself open to allegations of intentionally withholding information from the public.

It has also recommended that the council should finalise background papers before public meetings and make them available for inspection before such meetings in accordance with regulations, and that the council should provide training to relevant staff to ensure they are fully aware of the requirements of regulations.

The complaint was made by local economic development adviser Gwen Swinburn, who on May 14 last year asked to see a report which she considered was a background paper to the Local Plan preferred options.

The Ombudsman said the council told her it was not yet able to share the report but all the supporting documents and studies would be made available on June 5, when the public consultation on the Plan would start.

“It explained that it was finalising and checking some of the studies to ensure the information was organised and presented in a co-ordinated and coherent way,” said the Ombudsman. “The report was then made available on June 5.”

Th Ombudsman said Ms Swinburn claimed that when the background papers were made available in June, it was clear from the dates that some of them had been finalised before April and the council failed to comply with regulation requirements by not making all the background papers available before a cabinet meeting on April 30.

“I consider that, on the balance of probabilities, at least one of the background documents had been finalised before the Cabinet meeting on April 30 and therefore should have been made available for inspection by members of the public,” it said.

“This was administrative fault. I will reconsider this view if the council is able to provide evidence to show that each of the background documents had not been finalised before April 30.”

Ms Swinburn said she had complained to the Ombudsman because she believed there was a growing disregard for democracy at the authority and she was pleased by the provisional view.

Council director Darren Richardson said: “We are looking at the Ombudsman’s provisional comments and will be preparing a response to this soon. Until this has been carried out, we’re unable to add any further comment at this stage.”

Source: The Press (19/04/2014)

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Council’s Links To Radical Islamists Probed By No 10 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/councils-links-radical-islamists-probed/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/councils-links-radical-islamists-probed/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:24:57 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2247 Ministers’ concerns about the London borough of Tower Hamlets are revealed in leaked report

In 2012, Mr Rahman changed Tower Hamlets’ procedures to ensure that he personally decided all council grants over £1,000, with the help of his “adviser to the third sector”

A London council at the centre of an investigation into alleged fraud is also under scrutiny over its links to Islamic extremism, according to a classified government document leaked to The Telegraph.

Ministers sent inspectors to Tower Hamlets council, in east London, last week to investigate the alleged abuse of public resources to reward supporters of Lutfur Rahman, its controversial directly-elected mayor.

However, the leaked document, classified “restricted”, makes it clear there may be another, publicly unstated motive for the action — deep concern among ministers and the Prime Minister over the council’s alleged support for extremist-linked bodies.

As early as last year, the document shows, David Cameron’s task force tackling extremism and radicalisation secretly drew up a special “Tower Hamlets action plan” to address problems with the council.

MI5, police counter-terrorism command, a number of other agencies and “senior local officers” from the council itself have “discreetly” provided information about the authority, it says.
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Three community centres owned by the council or its housing agency, Tower Hamlets Homes, are named as venues for extremist activity in the area’s “counter-terrorism local profile”, according to the document.

Two are used by al-Muhajiroun, a group linked to dozens of convicted terrorists. Another has been the venue for weekly meetings of the racist and separatist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, and “may still” be, the document says.

The document, a report to Mr Cameron dated Sept 2013, expresses particular concern about the council’s lavish funding of the East London Mosque and the Osmani Trust, a Muslim-only youth group. The mosque is also named in the counter-terrorism local profile, the document reveals.

The document says there are “serious concerns” about both organisations’ “links to extremists, or willingness to host extremist speakers or organisations”. The East London Mosque has hosted hundreds of meetings with extremist preachers, including a “live telephone Q&A” with the al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, advertised with a picture of Manhattan under bombardment.

Both bodies are closely linked to the extremist Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which seeks a sharia state in Europe and played a key part in Mr Rahman’s election as mayor in 2010. Together they have received more than £2 million in council funding.

A councillor with close connections to the IFE and a long record of encounters with the police, Alibor Choudhury, has been appointed by Mr Rahman as his cabinet member for finance. Some senior officers at Tower Hamlets are also members of the IFE. At a full council meeting last September, Mr Choudhury and other councillors proposed a motion to “accept the IFE as a progressive organisation we will aim to engage”.

The document says Mr Rahman is “unwilling to actively engage with or promote” counter-extremism policies and the council has shown “a lack of willingness to tackle some institutions that still tolerate or promote non-violent extremism, such as the Water Lily conference centre and the Tayyibun Institute”.

Both venues, in Whitechapel, regularly host extremist speakers and the document notes that the Tayyibun Institute has been allowed to advertise in Tower Hamlets’ official newspaper, East End Life. “While not unlawful, these are not the actions ministers would expect of a local authority committed to tackling extremism,” it says.

On community cohesion, the document accuses Tower Hamlets of a “long-standing isolationist approach, characterised for example by separatist youth provision [and] funding to single faith groups”. Investigations by the BBC’s Panorama programme last month revealed that millions of pounds in grants were diverted away from secular or non-Muslim groups, against council officers’ advice, to favour Mr Rahman’s Bangladeshi community.

In January, this newspaper revealed that a 10,000 sq ft council building a stone’s throw from Canary Wharf had been sold for just £875,000 to the owner of Mr Rahman’s election campaign website and another man linked to the IFE. Council officers have now given planning permission to turn it into a 25-bedroom hotel without any kind of reference to the elected planning committee, as would be normal in such a case.

A second case where a valuable council asset has been transferred to friends of Mr Rahman can be revealed today. Last year, an unknown new Muslim organisation called the Docklands Community Association (DCO) was given a lease on an 8,000 sq ft, council-owned site at 111 Mellish Street, on the Isle of Dogs, wanted by local residents for a school. The DCO had only been in existence for a few months when it was granted the site and has never filed any accounts. One of its directors is Ahmodur Rahman Khan, one of Mr Rahman’s candidates in next month’s council elections.

The site includes around 5,000 sq ft of temporary buildings, only a few years old, left by a previous tenant. The DCO is paying around £580 a month in rent for the large site and buildings, less than a bedsit in the area would cost.

The DCO has now opened the Mellish Street site as a mosque, using the temporary buildings, which were refurbished. At the opening ceremony, attended by Mr Rahman, a council officer gave a presentation on how the site would be turned into a permanent mosque. There are already five in the vicinity.

At around the same as the DCO was given the site, another new organisation with the same directors, the Westferry Community Association, was given £15,000 by the council’s “faith buildings fund” for “refurbishment works”, even though it owns no building to refurbish. The council denied it was used for the Mellish Street mosque.

Mr Rahman’s cabinet member for housing, Rabina Khan, said the Mellish Street site was “not right for purpose as a primary school”. The site was a school until 2006.

Peter Golds, a Tory councillor on the Isle of Dogs, said: “There is a far greater need for new schools in this part of the borough than there is for a new mosque. Yet an organisation only weeks old, run by an associate of the mayor, has been allocated a site worth millions of pounds. Something is seriously wrong.”

The council said the DCO had been granted a lease on the Mellish Street premises while it “evaluated the long-term options”. It said it had “no record” of any presentation by a council officer “in the relevant directorate” about a permanent mosque. Mr Khan refused to comment.

The document shows ministers have considered intervention for months. Describing Tower Hamlets as “the local authority with one of the highest threats from extremism”, it suggests the council should be “leading action to tackle it, and not subject to financial or other mismanagement that would undermine its ability to do so”.

A council spokesman said: “Tower Hamlets has a strong record in partnership working with many different agencies in tackling and preventing extremism, from Office of Security and Counter Terrorism-funded projects, to our Prevent programmes receiving Home Office sign off, to working with Stonewall on faith and sexuality.

“Our approach to diversity, equality and social cohesion has been recognised by our peers and is reflected in the ‘excellent’ rating received from the Local Government Association.”

Source: The Telegraph (13/04/2014)

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Ombudsman Warns Children With SEN Not Always Treated ‘Fairly’ By Councils http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/sen-children-lgo-warns-councils/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/sen-children-lgo-warns-councils/#comments Sat, 22 Mar 2014 08:37:09 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2245 The Local Government Ombudsman is warning councils to ensure the ‘fair’ treatment of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

In a new report, the ombudsman outlines several examples where pupils have been unlawfully excluded from school, have been denied specialist support, and have suffered long delays in receiving the right education.

SEN: Preparing for the Future calls on councils to learn from past mistakes and ensure children with SEN and their families have the support they need.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: ‘Children with SEN, and their families, must be treated fairly by councils so they receive the support to which they are entitled. It is not acceptable when pupils miss out on crucial education, are unlawfully excluded or have their education opportunities adversely affected.

’A common phrase we hear from families when resolving a dispute about SEN is that it feels like a constant battle. It should not be this way. When things go wrong it is vital that councils act quickly to avoid children being disadvantaged.’

Education and children’s services is the most common complaint to the ombudsman, with complaints about SEN provision accounting for 8.6% of these.

Source: LocalGov.co.uk (04/03/2014)

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When Councils Shroud Their Deals With Private Developers In Secrecy, You Get The Feeling Something’s Up http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/councils-private-developers-deals-secrecy/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/councils-private-developers-deals-secrecy/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 21:59:06 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2243 By Mira Bar Hillel

Openness and transparency is on trial at the Heygate tribunal

Is taking the Information Commissioner to a tribunal to protect deals done with private developers a proper way for local councils to spend public money?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this is a rhetorical question.

The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to increase transparency in public life. When councils decide to deny FoI requests citing, as they often do, “commercial confidentiality”, it is up to the Commissioner to balance the pros and cons and reach a decision as to what best serves the public interest.

When councils decide to challenge such rulings, my nasty mind immediately suspects the worst. So when Southwark Council appealed against a ruling to reveal documents regarding the financial deal it made with Australian giant Lend Lease to redevelop the Heygate estate, near the Elephant & Castle in South London, into 2,500 mostly private new flats, those suspicions went into overdrive.

I had already been concerned about the Heygate deal when I found that dozens of leaseholders on the estate had to accept Compulsory Purchase payments so low that they were forced out to live in places like Sidcup and Slough. Good-sized two-bedroom flats were valued at under £150,000, while Lend Lease are pricing their cheapest “regenerated” studios at over twice that.

It was obvious to me that the deal was a license to print money for Lend Lease, but I was mystified by Southwark Council’s stubborn insistence on keeping the terms agreed with the private developer confidential. I still am.

The Heygate tribunal hearing lasted six days, ended last week and a decision is expected in around four weeks. In their summation, counsel for Lend Lease argued amongst other things that the public interest is best served by the company protecting its own commercial interests. Southwark suggested that disclosure of the Heygate viability assessment would “damage regeneration”(!)

The Information Commissioner robustly defended his decision to order disclosure to allow the public their right to effective participation in the planning process. The barrister representing Adrian Glasspool, who was the Last Leaseholder Standing on the Heygate before being physically evicted, suggested that the secrecy surrounding the finances allowed developer and council to breach their own planning policies, and not only on affordable housing.

Whatever the outcome, the tribunal hearings offered fascinating insights. For instance, it was revealed that no Southwark planning officer had actually seen the viability assessment. This job was given to the District Valuer Service (DVS), an agency of HMRC. This is a good way of reducing the possibility of bias, but it is neither transparent nor accountable, especially when the DVS report is deemed confidential. Moreover, the tribunal heard that Lend Lease has established a restricted-access ‘data room’ which admits only selected Southwark Council officers on a need-to-know basis. This process is therefore opaque and not democratically accountable.

One of the Lend Lease’s arguments I found hilarious. It claimed for itself, as a “legal person”, the Human Right to ‘peaceful enjoyment of its possessions’, arguing that disclosing the viability assessment would amount to “unjustified interference with this enjoyment”. The Information Commissioner, bless him, robustly rejected this daft argument.

Southwark offered the incredibly patronising argument that there could be no public interest in disclosing a very hefty and complicated document, which many would simply not be able to understand, poor dears.

Mr Glasspool’s barrister made the main arguments on behalf of the public interest. Full participation in the planning process, he said, had been thwarted by the secrecy of the viability assessment. Without it, no one could judge whether the loss to the public benefit from the development was outweighed by anything other than the developer’s self-determined “human right” to maximise profits.

The outcome is crucial. Campaigners up and down the country are being denied vital information about development schemes on the grounds of “commercial confidentiality”. If the Heygate campaigners are victorious their success will level the playing field for many other, to the benefit of open local democracy.

Source: The Independent (28/02/2014)

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Council ‘Must Repay Motorists’ Fined For Bus Lane Signs Fiasco http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/repay-motorists-bus-lane-signs-fiasco/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/repay-motorists-bus-lane-signs-fiasco/#comments Sun, 02 Mar 2014 14:31:04 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2242 Paul Biggs, of the Alliance of British Drivers, said the authority now had ‘‘no excuse’’ but to return the huge amount of cash raised after a tribunal upheld two appeals

A leading motoring group last night urged Birmingham City Council to repay the thousands of ‘‘ridiculous’’ fines issued to motorists in the bus lanes fiasco.

Paul Biggs, of the Alliance of British Drivers, said the authority now had ‘‘no excuse’’ but to return the huge amount of cash raised after a tribunal upheld two appeals.

The Traffic Penalty Tribunal agreed with motorists that the signage was ‘‘inadequate’’ and that the city centre scheme was ‘‘confusing’’.

Decisions on up to 500 other appeals are expected within days but council highways boss Tahir Ali has insisted there will be NO automatic refunds – but new warning signs have now gone up.

Yet Mr Biggs said the appeals should set a precedent for other drivers unwittingly caught out by the cameras, including in Priory Queensway

He added: “Birmingham City Council should be paying back drivers now, not wait for them to appeal. It has been shown that the signs were inadequate, so they really haven’t got an excuse. These appeals should set a precedent. The number of people fined in Birmingham is ridiculous. There is going to be a huge amount of money to pay back.”

More than 100,000 of the fines have been issued since the unpopular scheme was introduced in the city centre last September.

Both Ben Cheney, 70, from Sutton Coldfield, and Reverend Robert Ash, 69, from Tamworth, had their £60 fine rescinded because the tribunal found no contravention had occurred. The rulings could now open the floodgates for other motorists.

Traffic law expert Julian Hunt said: “It isn’t a binding precedent that has been set and cases are decided on a case by case basis. But what motorists who face fines and haven’t pleaded guilty or admitted them can do is go to the tribunal and argue that their case is based on the same facts and their fine should be cancelled.’’

But Coun Ali said: “The view has been that bus lane signs are legal and that has been confirmed by the adjudicator. If fines have been paid then in affect those people have waived their right to appeal. If the adjudicator had ruled that the signs were non-compliant we would have refunded people.”

Source: Birimingham Mail (01/03/2014)

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Scam Cost Leicestershire County Council £200,000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/scam-cost-county-council-200k/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/scam-cost-county-council-200k/#comments Sat, 01 Mar 2014 22:27:20 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2239 Leicestershire County Council was cheated out of up to £200,000 in a scam run by two of its employees and two other people, a jury has heard.

Malcolm Farnish (64), a stores controller based at the council’s highways depot, in Croft, deliberately placed orders for equipment with a firm set up to facilitate the fraud by grossly overcharging the authority, it was claimed.

His wife, Valerie Farnish (64), who was a director of the allegedly fraudulent equipment business, Ground Products Ltd (GPL), worked at the same county council depot as a secretary. Businessman Stephen Reynolds (61) and his wife, Anna Reynolds (61), who was also a director of GPL, were also both said to be involved in the plot to defraud the council.

Andrew Peet, prosecuting, told Leicester Crown Court: “Greed and easy money is at the heart of this case. The four defendants agreed to scam the council and they were successful.”

The Farnishes, of Whitestone Road, Nuneaton, and the Reynolds, of Homestead Close, Cossington, deny conspiracy to steal credit balances from the county council between 2004 and 2007.

They each deny four counts of conspiring to commit fraud by abuse of Malcolm Farnish’s position with the council, between 2004 and November, 2010.

Mr Peet estimated the council, in a £400,000 outlay with GPL, lost between £147,000 and £200,000 by overspending up to four times the correct amount for specialist industrial blades for use on the highway.

He said: “At some stage, these four realised there was money to be made through the exploitation of Malcolm Farnish’s position within Leicestershire County Council. Ground Products Ltd was set up as a vehicle through which Malcolm Farnish, in his procurement capacity, would order the necessary items at inflated prices.”

Mr Peet said thousands of pounds made its way into a Farnish joint account, and asked the jury: “Where did it come from?” He said: “Are you smelling a rat?” He told the jury Malcolm Farnish “signed the orders for the equipment – sometimes they were counter-signed and often not”.

“This group relied on the lack of council management (of Malcolm Farnish’s) activities. It was thoroughly dishonest.

“The plan involved him stealing from the people who paid his wages. They were going to diddle the county council out of tens of thousands of pounds.

“It was public money and he had a responsibility in his job to his employer and to the public that he’d take care of his duties honestly. He could order almost without hindrance what was needed at whatever price they could get away with. They made a pile of cash.”

He said the Farnishes were not “transparent” about their involvement with GPL, which was established in October, 2004, and whose sole customer was the county council.

They did not reveal the “conflict of interest”, said Mr Peet. GPL used a post office box address to allegedly distance them from the business.

Mr Peet gave an example of 20 concrete blades bought by GPL for £22 each being sold to the council for £130 each, with a £2,120 profit in December, 2005.

They were charging almost double the previous supplier’s prices.

He said Valerie Farnish received a £67,000 dividend from GPL for doing “nothing at all”.

In interview, she said: “I was amazed by the amount of money I was given because I’d done so little, if anything, to earn it.”

Mr Peet said: “Not bad work if you can get it – particularly if you’re a director of a company benefiting as a result of orders made by your husband.”

Anna Reynolds, who did the GPL administrative work, allegedly instructed a delivery firm to ensure there was “no paperwork with the goods delivered to the county council” to preserve the secrecy.

Her husband allegedly negotiated deals on behalf of GPL with two portable cabin contractors to supply the council with cabins, with GPL taking about £21,000 and £4,000 “introduction” and “consultancy” fees from the deals.

Each defendant maintained they had acted honestly and denied any underhand dealing.

The trial continues.

Source: Leicester Mercury (27/02/2014)

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Benefit Fraud Councillor Urged To Quit By Colleagues http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/fraud-councillor-urged-to-quit/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/fraud-councillor-urged-to-quit/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 21:52:52 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2240 PRESSURE to resign is mounting for a councillor who committed benefit fraud after his colleagues passed a motion calling on him to stand down immediately from office.

Cllr Kevin Wilson who is a member of Mid Devon District Council pleaded guilty last month to dishonestly claiming £3,800 in benefits from the authority.

Fellow Tiverton councillor Colin Slade proposed a motion condemning the actions of the councillor and calling upon him to tender his immediate resignation. The meeting held in Tiverton Town Hall last night was well attended by members of the public as it was the first major meeting since sentencing.

Cllr Martin Binks told Cllr Wilson he had “let himself down, and his family, his party, his town and his council” and he should do the “honourable thing and resign”.

Cllr Clive Eginton added: “Through this whole sorry episode, one word has been missing from Cllr Wilson’s statements: ‘sorry’.

Council chief executive Kevin Finan said staff had faced a “barrage of criticism” from the public following the outcome of the case and said Wilson had been a “brazen and convincing liar” in his dealings with council investigators.

Some colleagues spoke in defence of Cllr Wilson, among them was Cllr Nick Way who is a member of the Liberal Democrat group, which Cllr Wilson was part of, until stepping down from the party. He said: “This is a very sad day for all of us in many ways…it is almost like a second trial is taking place tonight. I think we are reopening the trial because some of us don’t like the sentence Cllr Wilson was given.”

Cllr Wilson is not obliged to resign as he received a suspended sentenced of 10 weeks, three short of the minimum needed to trigger an automatic disqualification from holding local government office.

Members passed the motion by 22 votes to three, with eight councillors abstaining.

The council’s costs in pursuing the case were around £10,000 the meeting heard.

Source: Mid Devon Gazette (26/02/2014)

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Housing Officer Fraudster Ordered To Pay £16k http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/fraudster-ordered-to-pay-16k/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/fraudster-ordered-to-pay-16k/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 12:35:47 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2241 A former Slough Borough Council (SBC) housing officer has been ordered to pay £16,631 – and could face losing his own home.

Izein Atafo is currently serving a two years and 10 month sentence for fraud and was served with a confiscation order at Reading Crown Court on Monday.

The amount he has to pay is equivalent to 50 percent of the equity of a house he owns in Southall, which he would have to sell to pay the bill.

SBC council’s housing fraud investigator, Jon Moores, said: “This case shows that no matter who you are, if you are committing housing fraud, we are determined to deal with it.

“The sentence in this case was severe, and the confiscation order is also high which I hope warns others of the penalties they get when caught committing fraud.”

Following Atafo’s conviction in June, SBC launched an investigation into any benefit he had gained from his criminal acts which led to the confiscation order being served.

The fine will be paid to the Home Office.

Atafo was dismissed by SBC in February last year after pleading guilty to his crimes.

Source: Slough & South Bucks Express (25/02/2014)

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Another 20 Councils Launch ‘Cash Cow’ Spy Cars That Film Motorists Breaking Road Laws AFTER They Were Told The Government Is Planning To Make Them Illegal http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/spy-cars-councils-defy-government/ http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/spy-cars-councils-defy-government/#comments Thu, 27 Feb 2014 10:11:09 +0000 http://www.rottencouncil.co.uk/?p=2238 Ministers say the 100-plus CCTV cars fleece motorists on ‘industrial scale’
The cars automatically catch drivers breaking traffic rules as they pass
Eric Pickles vowed to outlaw them – but more keep hitting the streets
Councils with new spy cars include Manchester, eighth-biggest in Britain
The ‘cash cow’ fines were worth £30 million in the last year alone

Town hall chiefs are defying the government and launching CCTV spy cars even after they were told the ‘cash cows’ will be made illegal, MailOnline can reveal.

Local government secretary Eric Pickles has announced he will ban the controversial vehicles, which film people breaking traffic rules and send them fines of up to £130 in the post.

Yet since his pledge in September, 20 authorities – including one of the country’s biggest, Manchester City Council – have either introduced a new spy car regime or have firm plans to do so.

Another 38 councils have had meetings about the controversial technology in the last year, and have yet to reveal if they will introduce it.

About a fifth of authorities in England and Wales now use CCTV cars despite complaints by motorists, ministers and civil liberties groups.

They handed drivers more than 340,000 fines worth at least £30 million in the last year.

Yet of the 2,500 drivers who appealed to an independent tribunal, almost half (44 per cent) won their cases.

Some 697 won outright while another 379 had their cases dropped by the council once they mounted a formal challenge.

Mr Pickles said: ‘CCTV spy cars are just an excuse for councils to raise money from issuing parking fines on an industrial scale.

‘They undermine natural justice, as car owners receive the fine weeks later in the post making it extremely hard to challenge on appeal. This is why the government has published proposals to ban CCTV being used for parking purposes.

‘We are going to rein in the town hall parking bullies.’

MailOnline obtained the figures by sending Freedom of Information requests to 373 councils, of which 296 replied within the legal deadline.

We asked about CCTV car use between November 2012 and the end of October 2013, and asked if councils which did not run the technology had held meetings about it or made firm plans to introduce it.

Five authorities – Manchester City Council, Derby City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, Slough Borough Council and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council – said they had already launched CCTV cars in the time between Mr Pickles’ landmark announcement on September 27 and the end of October.

Another 15 areas had made firm plans to do so, with many claiming they were inundated with requests for CCTV from the public.

Only one of the 15, Rushmoor Borough Council in Hampshire, said it was delaying introducing the cars until the government released firm guidance.

Cllr Kate Chappell, Manchester City Council’s cabinet member for the environment, defended the technology.

SAFETY NET OR CASH COW? THE SPY CARS THAT RAISE MILLIONS
With more than 100 specially adapted cars across Britain, ‘mobile CCTV’ has become the bane of many motorists’ lives.

The technology was legalised under Labour in 2004, allowing councils to break from the tradition of always using traffic wardens.

We’re watching you: CCTV cars were legalised in 2004 and there are now more than 100 in use across Britain. Fines worth at least £30 million were handed out last year – but almost half the people who appealed won
Since then more councils have brought in the technology every year – but while a traffic warden can be reasoned with, said critics, a machine cannot.

High-profile ‘victims’ included one driver who pulled over to vomit and another whose windscreen had smashed.

Drivers who feel they have been wronged can take their cases to a Traffic Penalty Tribunal, a network of independent adjudicators, or a parallel system for London.

Adjudicators often criticise councils and have questioned their definition of the ‘difficult or sensitive’ circumstances in which CCTV fines should be given out.

Richmond Council, south west London, faced having to repay thousands of fines in 2011 after campaigner Nigel Wise discovered its four cars had not been properly registered.

She said: ‘Parents, teachers and children regularly tell us that illegal parking on roads outside schools is a major problem.

‘Despite their efforts to urge people to park more responsibly, a minority of motorists still persist in putting the lives of school children at risk.

‘These clearly marked cars have been introduced to improve road safety and protect children and while it is disappointing that Eric Pickles does not share this view, we would be more than happy to meet him and explain why we believe it is important to effectively manage parking outside schools.’

The National Association of Head Teachers also attacked Mr Pickles’ pledge.

Policy adviser Sion Humphreys said: ‘Parking outside schools can be a big problem. Many drivers take risks to avoid the rush such as ignoring the hatched areas outside or speeding.’

Cllr Peter Box, transport board chairman of the Local Government Association, added: ‘CCTV cameras cars account for just two per cent of total council parking income.

‘These figures also show that less than one per cent of motorists are appealing fines issued by CCTV enforcement and that when they have grounds for appeal the system works.

‘The reality is that the average motorist is paying 30 times more to Whitehall in charges and taxation each year than they do to their town hall through parking.’

Among more than 60 councils which already run CCTV cars, the biggest earner was Bristol City Council – which handed out 27,719 fines worth almost £2 million.

Nick Pickles, director of the anti-CCTV pressure group Big Brother Watch, said many councils ignore strict rules which say CCTV cars must only be used where it is dangerous for a traffic warden to work.

He added: ‘The huge numbers of tickets given out in error and later dropped highlights the risk to innocent people of these spy cars.

‘When people see the multi-million pound enterprise CCTV cars have become they will rightly be asking if this is less about public safety and more about revenue raising.

IN THEIR SIGHTS: THE 15 COUNCILS PLANNING TO LAUNCH SPY CARS
Braintree District Council*
City of York Council
Colchester Borough Council*
Dartford Borough Council
Epping Forest District Council*
Harlow Council*
Middlesbrough Borough Council
Rushmoor Borough Council**
Tendring District Council*
Uttlesford District Council*
Cardiff Council
City & County of Swansea
Buckinghamshire County Council
Leicestershire County Council
Nottinghamshire County Council

*Areas are all overseen by the North Essex Parking Partnership, which plans to introduce mobile CCTV in early 2014

**Introduction will be delayed depending on further statements from the government

‘Equally, the high revenues highlight what a lousy deterrent CCTV is – even when it is a blindingly obvious spy car.

‘Councils should be working to solve the underlying problems of congestion around schools and understand why so many children arrive by car.’

Just one council in Britain which could introduce CCTV cars has publicly ruled out doing so.

A spokesman for West Dorset District Council said it ran ‘contrary to the spirit of fair[ness] and common sense of on-street traffic management.’

It emerged on December 15 that transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has tabled an investigation into CCTV cars with a view to banning them.

The government’s changes will also extend the grace period before motorists receive a fine from five minutes to 15.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: ‘We have recently published proposals to ban CCTV for parking.

‘Subject to the consultation process, the Government will then amend legislation and associated statutory guidance to deliver on this pledge.’

Source: Daily Mail (23/02/2014)

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