Friday, 16 September 2011


Remember this?


Or this?


Borough Council Election 2011

If not then don't worry the story is a simple one to follow. Two and a half years ago I asked the County Council to review the residents parking schemes in the Borough as it was becoming increasingly difficult for residents to park (too many permits not enough spaces) and the traffic wardens were giving out tickets like confetti. The schemes were old and needed updated, the regulations when they were first introduced were different to now But they ignored me!  I then put in an official complaint to the Council and we resolved it by them agreeing to review the schemes, But they didn't! So I complained again, and this time they got all clever with me by saying that they only promised to review the schemes, but never said when they would do it!

So I decided to fight fire with fire. Over a period of 6 months I picked up 10 parking tickets in the Billing Road area and refused to pay any of them, stating lack of maintenance and poor signage and lining as my reasons. During this period I felt victimised as my car was ticketed at any opportunity it was even towed away at one point (although I was told for a totally unconnected reason!) All this happened at the time that my brother was in hospital and unable to drive and I was helping him run his company using his vehicles which the Council wouldn't give me varied permits for.

Anyway I continued to fight all ten tickets and submitted a number to the Traffic Tribunal Service for them to pass judgement. At one point the council tried to withdraw all the tickets but I refused. All I wanted, I told them was a review. The adjudicator adjourned the first hearing and asked us to settle the row between us.

I offered the Council £300 for a charity of their choice to settle the outstanding tickets (10 X £75) if they in return reviewed the scheme. They refused!

So we went the whole distance. The hearing was eventually heard by the Chief Adjudicator for England and Wales Caroline Sheppard, two weeks ago I am delighted to say that she found in my favour in all cases! The council lost in all of it's challenges

She told the Council that their "Permit Holders Only" signs were inadequate as they failed to display the times of the scheme on each and every sign. Furthermore she told them that they could not have a visitors permit scheme which operated for different hours than the residents (currently our overnight visitors even with a permit  have to park in two hour bays the night before and move their cars at 10am into a residents bay or at 8am from a residents bay into a 2hr limit and then move again at 10am we call it the pyjama run)

She told them that they could not evidence the state of the markings because they had submitted no evidence, but that the latest changes following resurfacing had only made things worse. she told them to cancel all my tickets, and to cancel the rest that they had issued to me over the period.

The next day they were outside ticketing as usual, knowing that the scheme was unlawful. In the two weeks since the hearing they have not contacted me once to discuss the case and they told the Chronicle and Echo that they were waiting for the official notice before taking any action. Today after they had got the official notice they had no comment to make

The official judgement came earlier this week, all eight pages of it! I include below for your pleasure some of the adjudicators comments therein.

"The signs do not comply with regulations 18"
"The County Council has failed in its duty to sign the effect of the TRO" (Traffic Regulation order)
" The alleged contraventions did not occur"
"The signs used have no times of operation"
"This is hardly surprising as there are three sets of applicable hours within the TRO"
"The CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) signs do not govern the parking places"
"The County Council may not rely on the CPZ zone to inform road users"

Amazingly the Council tried to defend their ignorance by saying they thought the signs were ok when they put them up and the regulations had changed afterwards! The adjudicator said

"I cannot accept that argument"

They then said that as a Councillor I should know what the regulations were! The adjudicator said

"It is all very well to submit that Cllr Clarke knew what restrictions were intended but the test is not a subjective one, it is an objective one applying to" persons using the road" that means persons in general and not just Cllr Clarke"

Ms Sheppard then criticised the Council for misleading disable blue badge holders who wouldn't know when the scheme was or was not operating.

She then said that in summary

"Northamptonshire County Council at the time the Parking Places Order 2001 came into force failed to comply with its duty under Regulation 18(1)(a) of LATOR to adequately sign the various operational times that applied to the permit bays."

So what does it all mean? Well for a start it means that none of the Residents Parking Schemes in the Town are legal or valid, as none of the TRO's which govern the schemes, the Signs which police the schemes, or the CPZ's which give notice of the schemes are valid.

This means that the Council will now have to review not just the individual schemes but also review the whole policy and look at how to reprovide for issues such as visitors permits and how to display times (perhaps they should look at my suggestion for scratch cards?) It means that they have to draw up new TRO's send them out to residents for consultation and then they will have to replace all the signs in the town at huge cost. It means a Council which can't even afford to keep the street lights on will  face a massive bill to correct their own incompetence. (And if you get a ticket in the dark because the street lights are off I am also told you have a good chance of having those quashed as well as the signs would be not readable)

And it also means that the residents like me who have paid our £25 a year will now have no scheme operating leading to potential traffic chaos caused by the Councils stubbornness and arrogance and unwillingness to work with one of their own Cllrs to find a sensible compromise and to listen to residents concerns. At one point (about a year ago) they even had the gall to say, Tony if you win this case then we wont be able to enforce the scheme anymore and it will all be your fault! For the record I said fine then lets settle things here and now with a timetable for proper review.... They of course declined my offer.

As for the current residents schemes I wonder if we will all get our £25 back? One bit of bad news for those already ticketed is that I understand if you have paid a ticket you cannot recover the money? But if you have one outstanding in a residents  bay, you now know what to say!

It is not for me to encourage people to park where they will, and I hope people will respect the need for residents to continue to use the permit bays until the council sort out the mess they have created. Nor should people think that this covers them for other offences outside of the regulations above, but one issue that really still grinds with me is that the Council has known for two weeks that the schemes were not enforceable, So why have they let their wardens continue to issue unlawful tickets? If they say they were waiting for confirmation then it came earlier this week, so why are they out there today (now) still ticketing (till 1am in the morning)

The answer? They (the council, not the wardens) don't give a fig about serving the public, they just want your money and until they were found out they were creaming in over a £1m a year including a large sum from PCN's within the residents parking areas. My message to them is to send them out of our side streets and onto the main roads where they can do what they are paid for, keeping the roads clear, ticketing people blocking bus lanes, ticketing lorries unloading outside of hours and causing mile long tail backs!

Anyone wanting a full copy of the Traffic Tribunals decision can email me at

For more on this story see tomorrows Chronicle and Echo.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Earlier today the Independent group on the County Council submitted the following motion for debate at this months Council meeting (29th September)
That this Council notes the investigation requested by the Independent Group for the Head of Paid Service, the Section 151 Officer and the Monitoring Officer to look into:
1.     The alarming increase in the deficit in the NEL pension fund from £421k to £1.46mn between March 2009 and March 2010
2.     The potential breach of either the procurement regulations and European Directives in the buying £2m of services from NEL/NEP without going out to tender when the shareholding of NCC was below 20% or the breach of the council grant allocation procedures.
3.     The principle of NCC members of the Board of NEL/NEP in determining liability for the deficit to the pension fund to NCC, without declaration of interest either way during any relevant debates or decisions in NCC meetings or at the NEL/NLP board
4.     The failure to record any decision by NCC to underwrite the NEL/NEP pension deficit or any other loss
5.     The omission of the liability for the pension deficit from the NEL accounts without a concurrent inclusion of the same liability in the NCC accounts for 2010,
Furthermore this Council resolves to receive the Officers’ report at Full Council for open debate.

We are very grateful to Liam Costello (a fellow Independent candidate and Parish Cllr from Wooton and EH) for his tireless work and his submission of freedom of information requests to help us get to the truth of this whole sorry saga. At a time when the Council can't even afford to keep the lights on in it streets it seems that they are happy to find money for private ltd companies to spend on plugging holes in their pension funds and it also seems as if they care not what the price?

The following explanation owes much to Liam's narrative:

NEL (Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited was formed in 2006 by the merger of 6 companies that all lived off government grants delivering government programmes such as economic development, tourism, training etc. they made their money by slicing off a hefty management fee from funding programmes delivered through EMDA. Five years ago the County Council under Jim Harker's leadership brought them all together under the NEL umbrella.
When NEL was formed, this company quickly became Jim's baby. He seemed keen to hive off as much council business to it as he could. Things such as Single Regeneration Budget funding were passed over by NCC to NEL to administer etc. NCC seemed to be doing everything it could to build up the name and standing of this company.

NEL then became a member company of the Local Government Pension Scheme and its employees became eligible to join.

The articles of association of NEL stated that the borrowings of the company could not exceed the amount it receives in annual grants from the Government, or from other organisations. Essentially this limits the working capital of the company to the value of the funding programmes that it was delivering. It should therefore not be capable of going into debt if the directors abide by the articles. It has no shareholders, no equity, therefore no dividends can be paid. It makes its money by top slicing management fees from grant programmes and paying what some might consider to be fat cat salaries.

When NEL published its accounts for the year ended 31 March 2010, they showed that the company had run up a pension deficit of nearly 1.6million in 5 years. This may have been a bit of an unfortunate consequence of the recession caused by the banking crisis, but given the strict articles, the company should have considered the risk before becoming a member of a final salary pension scheme. Prior to joining the LGPS, the company paid into money purchase pensions where the risk to the company is non-existent.

The 2010 accounts state that the company considered the size of this deficit to be an ‘unwelcome surprise’, but go on to say that NCC gave a simple but unequivocal undertaking to underwrite any future deficits in the pension scheme at the time of the formation of the company. A blank cheque if ever there was one! They do however go on to acknowledge that NEL has primary legal liability for the deficit despite the alleged NCC undertaking.

We have searched the NCC website for any such mention of this undertaking in the Pension Committee minutes but surprise surprise cannot find any. Liam then made a FOI request for a copy of the Admission Agreement between NEL and NCC, and despite a statutory requirement that these agreements are made public they have refused to supply him with a copy. A complaint was made to the Information Commissioner in January this year and he has just received notification from the IC that NCC has been ordered to supply the document to him.

Jumping back to 2010, shortly after their year end, there was a change of government and the announcement that Regional Development Agencies, such as EMDA, were to be scrapped along with the funding streams they delivered through bodies such as NEL. NEL was essentially up the creek without a paddle. It had a pension debt of just under £1.5M and its funding streams had gone.

NEL is not the only company to have found itself in this situation, Visit London has a 2.1 million deficit which they are in dispute with the GLA over, and there was a piece on Look East about an east anglian tourism body that had folded leaving a LGPS deficit of £1million. We are sure that there are others across the country.

So the Council it seems devised a cunning plan to rescue NEL, and their own embarrassment. They decided that despite other Councils in Northamptonshire agreeing to support a new "South East Midlands" Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) as agreed by the government that they would form their own new body called the Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership, (NEP) and allocate it a £2m budget for the next 3 years. £1.3 million was to go on back office and administration and £700k on actual economic development, including the infamous Brussels office. (The Northamptonshire European Investment Office)

Cllr Bill Parker at the 24 Feb council meeting said of the NEP partnership
“The sum of £2million would be invested in a Northamptonshire Enterprise Partnership comprised of NCC, business and industry, the skills sector and voluntary sector”.
Yet we now find that the partnership as described by Cllr Parker which should have included the skills and voluntary sectors has not been formed, and instead NEL has now been morphed into NEP. Companies House records and confirms the change of name of NEL to NEP on June 1st 2011

This whole affair we believe was just a cover to give £2million to the former NEL to get it out of financial trouble. One problem they faced however (apart from the name of the organisation) was that because of the value of the services that they were procuring, they should have followed normal public procurement processes. This would have involved a tendering process, advertising the contract in the European Journal etc. This would have attracted great interest from other companies and it would have been difficult to award the contract to NEP. Any company it would seem could have beat NEP in a tendering process to deliver £700k worth of economic development in return for £2million.

There are of course circumstances in which the normal public procurement process can be bypassed, and these were clarified in a Supreme Court judgement recently. these are called the Teckal exemptions. NCC know about these as they referred to them in the report on The future of Direct Services to Adults and Carers in May this year. Essentially to apply the exemption the council must have such control of the company that is proposing to award a contract to, that it could be considered the be a department of the council. One of the factors in establishing whether this control exists is the amount of control that a council has over the contracting company, which should be 20% control. But the articles of NEL limit the voting power of local authority members to less than 20% (article 18). So essentially this service should have been put out to tender, and what they have done may be seen by some as being on the cusp of unlawful. 

Instead however it seems that they spent an untold sum on legal advice to tell them that the money should instead be paid as a"Grant" But the Council also have strict procedures for grant allocations and we believe a lot of local charities and other organisations will be very interested to look at how NEL/NEP were treated by the Council when awarding this "special" grant when matched against their own experiences of late. And just who made the grant application NEL? NEP? and when?

So the new partnership it seems was just a mirage to cover up giving £2million to bail out NEL which is now NEP. Not only does this quango duplicate the work of SEMLEP, (although it was SEMLEP not NEP who delivered the recent Northampton Enterprise Zone)  but is has also been given £2million of Council Tax payers money for three years by way of grant which helpfully covers the same size hole left in the companies pensions deficit.

So where do we start with this one? Well some answers to the questions we raise in the motion above might help, for instance if NEL state in their accounts that they had an unequivocal undertaking to underwrite any future deficits in the pension scheme at the time of the formation of the company then why can we find no record of any decision taken by NCC to do that?

Furthermore if as we state in the motion if NEL had removed the liability for the pension deficit from the NEL accounts in 2010 why is there no concurrent inclusion of the same liability in the NCC accounts for 2010? or in 2011's budget? And can it be lawful for a local authority to underwrite the pensions deficit of a limited company?

And whilst it may be just a standards board issue, why does it seem that certain people who were or have since become directors of  NEL or NEP not declared their interests when proposing or discussing any of these issues over the previous months?

We believe a lot of people have a lot of questions to answer? We hang back at present from calling for anyones head or even singling out individuals for censure, but we do believe that the Council. (The whole Council) has a duty to receive the requested reports and ensure clear answers and accountability's are given.

We look forward to debating these matters further on the 29th of September

Monday, 12 September 2011


Since reluctantly vacating my seat on the Borough Council I have had the opportunity to spend more time looking into affairs across the road at County Hall. A case of David Kennedy's gain being Paul Blantern's loss I guess? Anyhow for those who have wanted me to post some more local political stories I offer you up a treat in the days ahead and here's a small trailer of whats to come.


Remember all those promises made by the County Council after the Carrilion fiasco? assuring us that future contracts will be let more openly and with far more transparency and democratic accountability? Well what would happen if it happened again, but with another private company? and how about we throw in a few undeclared personal interests into the pot and stir it all around with a spoonful of financial confusion, pension deficit and undemocratic practices? Hubble Bubble, someones in a lot of trouble! More to come on Thursday.


Sometimes, just sometimes you have to be prepared to stick your neck on the block in order to see fair play and to garner a response from a large unwieldy authority like NCC. But imagine your delight if you had been complaining to the Council through all the right formal channels for 2 years without any success? Imagine then if you had to take such drastic action to prove your point that it could have a devastating financial comeback on you if you lost the case? Imagine then your delight if you were to be proved right on all counts leading to a lot of red faces on the authority and a huge bill to rectify years of incompetence. Imagine no longer and look forward to thier being thousands of relieved residents who will at last see fair play from the Council, not through the Councils own grace but by having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the alter of justice! More on this story here and in the Chronicle just as soon as the official notices land on the doormats.


News reaches me of a potentially wonderful example of direct action being planned by person or persons unknown. It seems that they have got themselves fully trained in turning on streetlights turned off by NCC and intend to do just that.

Now should a County Councillor support direct action being taken against the authority? Yes I should in this instance as in my book the Council has no moral or democratic authority to turn them off in the first place. The decision taken by councillors allowed for full consultation to be held between local Cllrs, the Police and residents groups before the switch off was implemented, and the County Council undertook no such consultation. In a response to Joe Joyce Chair of Spring Borough residents the Council tried to suggest that the consultation on the budget back in December was sufficient, and also suggested that any comment on consultation between the Police and NCC was a "security" matter and the detail shouldn't be disclosed. Well let me disclose that no such consultation was held. as a result for the first time in five years the number of Sex Workers working in Castle Ward has increased not decreased.

So to those who plan to take their own action I have this advice. Make sure you are completely safe and that you are qualified to carry out the task in hand,  this is not a task for the DIY enthusiast, do not put yourself or any others at risk, ensure that all lamp boxes are securely locked after you have visited them. Stick to the above and you have my support and my thanks for making the streets of Castle Ward and elsewhere safer places to be.



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