Keeping Their Eye On The Powerful In South Yorkshire – New Website!

South Yorkshire’s newest political website went live this week. We wish them well for the future and look forward to further web developments as political debate increasingly goes online. Click on the image below of their banner to take you straight there.

Rotherham makes it on to the first posting with an interesting story about Alan Atkin, a Labour councillor, representing Wath ward and his freebie trip to York races.

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The Expenses Saga – What Have We Learned? How Trust Can Be Restored!

The long running expenses scandal has provided clues that illuminate the murky depths in much the same way, you can see more below the surface of a smooth pond, if you throw a few stones in!

Even the role played by other central players, some still on the green benches, was illuminated in an excellent Play broadcast on the BBC last year. The role of Speaker Martin and his closest allies in encouraging a climate of laxity and excess when it came to claiming expenses was crucial!

The cases of Jim Devine, David Chaytor, Eric Illsley and Lord Taylor plus the investigation of Denis MacShane, have taught us much about the attitudes and methods employed in claiming expenses beyond expenditure! Otherwise known as fraud to you and me!

Investigative journalism, assisted by a rather important leak to the Telegraph, has also contributed an enormous amount of detail, unlocking the inside secrets that would never have reached public attention were it not for them.

Members of Parliament, never shrinking violets at the best of times, made the erroneous assumption that they were important and were underpaid! The incoming Labour Government in 1997 were anxious to maintain peace on their benches and it became the practise to expand the interpretation of the ‘Green Book’ to allow significantly larger claims. Eventually all relationship with the original intention of the rules broke down and by all accounts there was a free for all!

Those MPs given to greed, were practically give the green light to fiddle their expenses. Labour members were advised to ‘fill your boots’ and as we now know they most certainly did! Speaker Martin and his crew bear a heavy responsibility too, the Fees Office were so undermined that any objection from them fell on deaf ears, they stopped checking claims properly, which only compounded the problem. Many MPs made ‘arrangements’ with the Fees Office to pay invoices, believing this would ‘cover them’ if questions were to be later asked?

As we know, with claims for Duck Houses and moat cleaning, the free for all had become so absurd it was surreal! As this story has unfolded it became clear that there was more than evidence of greed to be exposed but, amongst a group of MPs, actual fraud by means of deception! Not having the required receipts did not stop them either, they used the ‘friendly printer’ route or even made their own up, often in the most amateurish way. Propelled by an overwhelming sense of entitlement amongst this group of MPs they ceased to realise the significance of what they were doing. Equipment purchase, office rentals, computers, laptops, printers, council tax, mortgage payments, food, dry-cleaning and many other third party services such as printing became fair game in the rush to supplement their salaries.

There is an important difference between making up a claim with a false invoice and the greed involved in moat cleaning! The moat cleaning actually happened and the invoice paid, Devine’s printing did not! Moat cleaning is an example of outrageous greed, not dishonesty.

The fact that fictitious invoices can be checked through bank account records of transactions many years old simply did not occur to this group of greedy MPs. This is the problem with this crude deception, it is so easily verified!

At the time of the General Election in May 2010 Eric Illsley and Denis MacShane survived scrutiny because we didn’t know they were even under any investigation. Disgracefully there was a conspiracy of silence before the elections last May to keep this knowledge from the voter. How many more of these greedy and dishonest MPs, still enjoying an entirely undeserved reputation, are there remaining? An important question, that will be answered eventually, no doubt!

Rotherham Politics Opinion:

All public representatives are required to practise the Seven Principles of Public life.* It is time for MPs to live up to these principles and to demonstrate their leadership, openness and honesty in practical ways to restore trust in politics and politicians.

Members of Parliament serving through this period of excess, who are still MPs, should now voluntarily submit themselves to investigation by means of a proper audit of their expenses and undertake to publish the audit report along with all relevant information on their websites! We deserve nothing less than this rather modest attempt at transparency.

Perhaps in this spirit, Kevin Barron, no less than, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, a Privy Councillor, member of the General Medical Council and long serving member for Rother Valley, a true pillar of society, should now show his leadership by volunteering to be the first to clear the air, in this open and transparent way?

Notes:

*THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC LIFE
SELFLESSNESS
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.  They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
INTEGRITY
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
OBJECTIVITY
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
ACCOUNTABILITY
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
OPENNESS
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.  They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
HONESTY
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
LEADERSHIP
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Illsley Sentenced – One Year!

Eric Illsley appeared at his sentencing hearing today at Southwark Crown Court overnight bag in hand. He is the first sitting MP to be successfully prosecuted over expenses. He stood down as an MP on Tuesday, at the last minute, after receiving his salary and benefits for a full month more after he admitted his guilt! He has pocketed a further £5,400 by means of this delay!

Mr Justice Saunders sentenced Illsley to a year in prison and has now started his sentence.

Extraordinarily at the court, Eric Illsley also emphatically denied being the whistle blower who has reportedly implicated six other Parliamentary colleagues in the expenses scam, three Labour, two Tory and a Liberal MP have been reported to the authorities for investigation, it is understood.

Now that Eric Illsley’s name can be removed from the list, suspects are running out fast! After all, how many male MPs representing Northern Constituencies, who have also been investigated by the police and who are still sitting MPs, can there be? The answer is now obvious, at least to me! Share your thoughts – leave a comment by clicking the button below.

Another One Bites The Dust – Devine Guilty!

The jury trying Jim Devine at Southwark Crown Court delivered their verdict this morning. They found him Guilty on two counts of fraudulently obtaining £8,385 by the use of deceptive documents.

Seeing through Devine’s threadbare defence the jury of six men and six women took two hours and 45 minutes of deliberation before reaching their verdicts.

Jim Devine will be sentenced at a separate hearing at Southwark Crown Court in a month. A prison sentence is a distinct possibility, better pack a bag for that one then!

Westminster Hall Debate 8th Feb 2010 – MacShane Mobilises Supporters!

Yesterday Denis MacShane, the now Independent Member for Rotherham, got all his Labour friends and supporters together for a Private Members Westminster Hall debate on the subject of his proposal for a National Defence Medal.

Watch the debate on Parliament TV Here or on BBC Democracy Live Here.

The day before on the 7th, eyespymp shared this little tweet with the world at 10:46; Overheard @DenisMacshane saying “Joan is leaving me and I’m going to jail”.

The first part of the tweet seems to have come to pass, maybe the Labour benches are more knowledgeable than we are on other matters too?

South Yorkshire MPs Expenses – April to October 2010

Expenses by South Yorkshire MPs – April to October 2010

Angela Smith, Lab, Penistone and Stocksbridge £22,272.08
Paul Blomfield, Lab, Sheffield Central £19,310.96
David Blunkett, Lab, Sheffield, Brightside & Hillsborough £18,624.71
Meg Munn, Lab, Sheffield Heeley £15,438.70
Nick Clegg, Lib Dem, Sheffield Hallam £14,451.33
Michael Dugher, Lab, Barnsley East £14,355.51
John Healey, Lab, Wentworth and Dearne £13,345.34
Clive Betts, Lab, Sheffield South East £10,574
Eric Illsley*, Ind, Barnsley Central £9,197.74
Caroline Flint, Lab, Don Valley £8,067.55
Ed Miliband, Lab, Doncaster North £7,601.87
Rosie Winterton, Lab, Doncaster Central £7,366.64
Denis MacShane**, Ind, Rotherham £4,163.36
Kevin Barron, Lab, Rother Valley £3,402.01

This list, compiled with the help of the new site upon which IPSA now publishes details of all claims and payments made in the specified time frame. Look for yourself  here:             IPSA Home Page, IPSA Publications Page, IPSA Search Here for your MP.

Observations: This is the first time this information has been published in this way and everyone is at various stages in operating the system so comparisons cannot be direct with the old data and the rules have changed since Parliament previously published this data.

It is interesting to note, that two of the new systems greatest critics, are at the very bottom of this list. They had, under the ‘old’ system, habitually claimed their whole entitlements to within a few coppers of the maximums allowable! Kevin Barron has answered his critics, justifying himself by saying; “I submitted bills that took me up to the limit for what I could get”. A quite outrageous thing for any MP to say, but as the Chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee and a Privy Councillor, entirely unacceptable! But nevertheless, it could be enormously illuminating at the same time?

It seems also from this data that the system is working, because most MPs have succeeded in being reimbursed for their prior expenditure with little difficulty or Angela Smith would not have obtained the £22,272.08 she  had spent!

Notes:

* Eric Illsley, the MP for Barnsley Central, has already admitted his guilt at Southwark Crown Court and is awaiting sentence for his false claims. He still is the MP for Barnsley Central as he outrageously has not yet resigned his seat and is still drawing his MPs salary and expenses, milking it to the end! It would appear!

** Denis MacShane, Rotherham’s MP, now sitting as an Independent, was suspended from the Labour Party last October, when it was revealed that he had been referred to the Met Police for investigation for as yet undisclosed irregularities in his expenses claims. News of progress of this little bit of ‘unfinished business’ is awaited shortly from the Metropolitan Police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The trial of Jim Devine this week has focussed attention on to some of the methods employed by MPs to obtain extra monies beyond their expenditure and the phrase ‘friendly printer’ may become an established part of the political lexicon from now on! We shall see? At least we can now content ourselves that the police understand how they were doing it and are not put off by the obfuscations and flak throwing tactics of MPS. There must now be other MPs with concerns that the past will catch up with them? The same people are reportedly engaged in lobbying for the position that a line must be drawn under the past! The people still want the truth, all of it!

Yorkshire & Humberside Labour Party made serious errors of judgement in approving Eric Illsley and Denis MacShane before last May’s General Election, others may have slipped through! We should be told? Complete transparency is now required of our MPs!

Kevin Barron and Denis MacShane unlike John Healey, have been failing the transparency test! If they want our trust they must earn it! To start with, they should publish their expenditure on their websites and we will stop demanding this minimal amount of accountability from them, it was our money after all! Kevin and Denis could always ask John for help with this, I am sure he would assist if asked!

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) – Latest MP Expenses Published Today!

The, much loathed by MPs, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has today updated their Website to include latest details of parliamentarians claims.

Citizens throughout the country will be able to see what has been going on. No small wonder then that MPs are still angry, perhaps they have realised that the ‘Spanish practises’ of yesteryear are over!

What exactly is wrong with demonstrating that you have actually expended the money before getting reimbursement, especially in the light of recent cases involving, David Chaytor, Eric Illsley, Lord Taylor and the ongoing case of Jim Devine, demonstrates in spades, why the new system was needed. Have they forgotten already? We haven’t!

We also remain convinced that there is still ‘unfinished business’ yet to be exposed and dealt with! Dealing with it properly is the only way to restore trust in politicians, not more cover ups!

IPSA Home Page, IPSA Publications Page, IPSA Search Here for your MP.

For Rotherham readers, their MPs are: Rother Valley, Kevin Barron (Labour); Rotherham, Denis MacShane** (Independent); Wentworth & Dearne, John Healey (Labour).

Note ** Denis MacShane, Rotherham’s MP, now sitting as an Independent, was suspended from the Labour Party last October, when it was revealed that he had been referred to the Met Police for investigation for as yet undisclosed irregularities in his expenses claims. Previously it has been suggested that Laptop purchases and payments for translation services were said to be involved amongst other issues. News of progress of this little bit of ‘unfinished business’ is awaited shortly from the Metropolitan Police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Denis is also a leading critic of IPSA, embarrassingly so at times! Start here for detailed previous coverage.

Labour MPs were selected and approved after Gordon Brown promised, that all Labour candidates had been thoroughly vetted, were honest and could be trusted in May. Only for Labour to be disown them soon afterwards when information, already known to the Labour Party, became public.

One rotten apple getting through may be considered unfortunate but two, both from South Yorkshire! We are left with the inevitable conclusion that Labour’s attempt at clearing out the rotten apples from amongst themselves did not work! At least not in the Yorkshire & Humberside Regional Labour Party! Red faces all round, from Director down I shouldn’t wonder! How can they have done such a poor job of weeding out those who should most certainly not have represented Labour in May 2010? Remember they already knew about Eric and Denis yet they still let them stand, Why? When their exposure was inevitable! It beggars belief!

We can also conclude, that there will be others yet to be exposed, in addition to Eric Illsley and Denis MacShane. We gather that those MPs with the most to fear, are those who habitually provided less than complete sets of receipts.