Sunday, December 23, 2007

Money and Politics V

To illustrate the perils of believing what you read in the newspapers, Skuds has suggested that the figures quoted in my last post (about how Henry Smith and his chums on West Sussex County Council have had large increases in their allowances despite an independent review concluding that no such increases be given) were incorrect.

Good job too, because it meant that I read the actual reports, and there are some differences.

Firstly, the Special Allowance for the Leader, Henry Smith, has gone up from £26,523 to £29,394, an increase of 10.8% (about the same as the Argus' 11%).

Secondly, the Cabinet members allowance has risen from £15,691 to £18,283, a jump of 16.5% (which is 2.5 percentage points more than reported by the Argus). Eight councillors receive this allowance.

Thirdly, it's not clear what is meant by non-Executive Chairmen, because under the old scheme there were two levels of allowance for committee chairs. For six of the posts, the old allowance was £8,375. For three others, it was £6,582. If the increase applies to all, then they will all now get £8,989. That's 7.3% for the first six, and 36.6% for the other three (The Argus report refers to three chairmen getting 24%, which I can't see from the figures at all).

Fourthly, all of the other Special Responsibility Allowances are increasing as well, by an index-linked figure, which was actually what the panel recommended for all posts. There are 32 councillors who receive these allowances, out of a total of 70. The number affected by the self-determined increases is up to 18.

Fifthly, all of the above will also be getting the standard councillor's allowance that all councillors receive - £10,546 in the 2006/7 year. I believe that this is also index linked.

Money and Politics IV (my previous post on this)
Original Evening Argus article

From WSCC:
The Scheme as it stood before 14 December 2007 (pdf format)
The report of the Independent Review Panel (pdf format)
The Report before WSCC on 14 December with the large increases (pdf format)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Money and Politics IV

Henry Smith was apparently happy to complain about our MP's expenses. Of course, we all know that our Henry would never, ever, put himself in a position where he could be accused of putting his nose into the trough.

Or would he...

According to the Evening Argus, West Sussex Council recently reviewed the councillor's allowances. What happens is that an independent review panel is set up, and they make recommendations. The same happens at Crawley Borough Council, and when I chaired the relevant committee (the excitingly named 'General Purposes Committee'), it was certainly expected that the review body's recommendations would be taken as they stood, and certainly that councillors would be very careful before voting for more cash.

The WSCC review panel recommended a freeze on increases. So what did our elected servants in Chichester do? Did they accept a pay freeze, because as the panel's report said, "Public service, rather than material reward, should be the primary motivation for involvement in local government."

Well, er, no. They instead voted for increases. Three committee chairs will get an increase of 27% (that's about 10 times the rate of inflation). The Cabinet members, such as Lt Col Tex Pemberton, get a 14% increase (a mere five times the rate of inflation).

Henry will have to make to with only an 11% increase (four times the rate of inflation) as Leader.

Now, WSCC will claim that because they didn't spend money on a pension scheme for councillors, they've saved money. However, it's only a matter of time before such a scheme is set up, and of course it will more than likely be a final salary one, so an allowance increase now just makes the scheme more expensive when it does come in. I predict it will arrive some time after the next County elections, or before if they can suddenly pull out one of their rare low tax increase budgets (rare? they happen every four years, by some sheer coincidence).

The allowance increases are apparently backdated to April.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When is rape not rape?

Apparently, according to John Redwood, rape isn't that bad if you know the woman first. Who knew? I'd always thought that 'No' means 'No' was a pretty universal truth, that it's a horrific crime whether the rapist is a total stranger or whether they are someone they though that they could trust.

Here's what he said, on his blog:
They [the Labour government] decided to set date rape alongside stranger rape. Again, none of us want men to rape women, but there is a difference between a man using unreasonable force to assault a woman on the street, and a disagreement between two lovers over whether there was consent on one particular occasion when the two were spending an evening or night together.

Labour's doctrine of equivalence has led to jury scepticism about many rape claims, in situations where it is the man's word against the woman's and where they had agreed to spend the evening or night together. Young men do not want to have to take a consent form and a lawyer on a date.

When I read that this morning, my immediate thought was what if we replaced the crime of rape with another one. The Provisional BBC beat me to it with murder. You could try it with robbery or with child abuse if you like, just in case the full ridiculousness of the MP for Wokingham's views aren't immediately apparent.

Essentially, Redwood is saying that because it's a bit hard to tell whether an alleged 'date rape' is genuine or just a woman getting revenge, we shouldn't bother to treat in the same way as any other rape.

There is this attitude from the right that certain crimes are not really crimes. Speeding, for example, even when there's pretty clear evidence and any driver ought to know what the limit is. And now it appears that rape can be added to the list of things that 'law abiding' people just happen to do, as if they aren't in control of themselves.

It's total rot, it really is.

In the same article, he argues that corporate manslaughter is being made 'equivalent' to murder (when in fact it isn't, but it is being made equivalent to manslaughter), presumably because corporate negligence that leads to a employee's or customer's death shouldn't be punished in the same way as any other deadly negligence. Under the Human Rights Act, limited companies are considered to have the same rights as people. So, under that basis, they should have the same responsibilities, surely?

Ahh, but of course the Tories don't agree with the Human Rights Act. Despite the fact that all it is incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our law, so we don't have to keep having cases heard at The Hague, and despite the fact that it is something that their great hero, Sir Winston Churchill, was fully in favour of.

David Cameron is trying hard to convince us that the Tories have changed. Redwood is giving the lie to any such claim.

Money and Politics III


Cameron's constituency accepted illegal donations

Monday, December 03, 2007

Money and Politics II

The local press have been giving Laura Moffatt a lot of hassle recently about her expenses, and the nearby Tories have not been avoiding the opportunity to crow about it.

However, as Skuds shows, there are two sides to the debate about the cost of someone's work - the output. For example, Laura has voted in 89% of Commons divisions. That sounds a bit low to you?

Well, Nicholas Soames, who we remember fondly as our MP before 1997 (when he agreed with cuts at Crawley Hospital in a way that Laura has never done), manages 46% in his new capacity as MP for Mid-Sussex. Francis Maude barely manages to represent the voters of Horsham a third of the number of times that he could. Both claim lower travel expenses than Laura Moffatt, but should we be surprised if they don't bother to exercise their votes, and so don't need to go up to Westminster as often as more committed parliamentarians.

Why are these MPs absent so much though? Could it be that they have something better to do? Oh, it turns out that Soames and Maude are pretty active outside their jobs as MPs. Seems that Soames has five other jobs and Maude has eight. They presumably are spending some of the time that could be used for representing their constituents out earning money that they don't need (the MPs salary is fairly generous). If they aren't doing what they were elected to do, no wonder they don't generate as much of an expenses bill. However, despite the fact that Maude votes about two-fifths as often as our MP, his expenses are proportionally much higher.

Laura costs more in expenses, but on a per-vote basis, Skuds' figures show that Maude is far worse value for money.

Money and politics I

What can anyone say about the ongoing scandal concerning party funding?

As a member of the Labour Party, I have to say that I'm absolutely hopping mad about the Abrahams 'dodge' of paying through third party's, and utterly disgusted that people at the top of the party organisation knew about it and didn't think it was a problem. I'm no expert on the law, but I think it's pretty obvious that this is a no-no.

Personally, I don't care how high up they are, if people working for the Party knew about this and didn't question it, then they should be sacked.

The problem of how we pay for our political parties will not go away, although I think that stiffer spending caps would be a good way to reduce the pressure and would mean less expensive adverts cluttering up the screens.

The media are loving this, and there's always potential for an error (such as Hain's campaign not fully registering all donations properly) being blown up into part of the mire. It's quite clear that the person who makes an illegal donation is the prime wrongdoer. If due diligence is carried out and a problem is not carried out, then the recipient can't be blamed. However, if they did know that the donation was iffy, then they have acted outside the law. If they didn't check and a such a check can reasonably have been shown to show something up, then they have at least been negligent.

However, it's strange that all this focus is put on to one party. The Lib Dems had a real problem with a major donor who turned out to be ineligible - and quite possibly giving them other people's money. The Tories are being very quiet about Lord Ashcroft (who was ennobled after he started bunging them large amounts, but apparently 'cash for honours isn't an issue for him) who appears to still be a tax exile, despite promising to regularise his affairs with HMRC, and who gives the Party a lot of money through third parties - companies, not individuals - as well as flying the leader and shadow cabinet out on top-class jets all over the world at bargain basement prices.

Of course, Labour would have less of a problem with money if the income from the unions and members wasn't on the slide. My view is that the decline of union participation is not something that the Party has taken seriously enough. For some reason, the unions have been regarded as trouble-makers (when often they have been the stalwart supporters of the leadership against us uppity full members). Party membership has slipped over the past ten years, and I detect that quite a bit of that is down to disappointment with the course of the Government, and with the way that the party changed under the New Labour ethos of centralised control.

The main issue that I have about the centralised control links back to the start of this piece - that they may think that they know what they are doing, but at times the organisation of the party leaves a lot to be desired. The historic problems with membership systems appear to have been solved after many years of complaints, but regional and central offices really are not responsive and as we have seen, have been complacent about something as fundamental as keeping within the law on donations.

Luckily, the party central office have very little to do with the Government. However, with civil servants ignoring the Data Protection Act at the same time...