Tag: Gazza

Garry Perkins’ reverse commitments

The universe occupied by Mr Perkins is clearly a very topsy-turvy place. In all other places, if one wants to show commitment financially, one gives money rather than taking it. In the Perkinverse, it’s the other way round, Thus with several public sector bodies — including Swindon Borough Councilstumping up £3.5 M to remodel Whalebridge roundabout, as a prerequisite to Muse even starting their Union Square development, Mr Perkins is claiming that this shows commitment by Muse.

The fact that there’s £4 M invested shows Swindon is serious, it shows Muse is serious.

And even the first phase of the Union Square development will mainly be paid for ultimately by the public sector. It consists of a car park — that Swindon Borough Council will buy — sheltered housing, and a health centre — to replace the NHS Carfax Health Centre which will be demolished to make way for the main part of Union Square.

The only commitment in evidence here is that of Swindon taxpayers’ money, being spent up-front, well before the commercial developers have even submitted detailed plans.

Bluh’s wifi hindsight was others’ foresight

It seems that the current leadership of Swindon Borough Council are going through a rather ‘retro’ phase at the moment, claiming for themselves as original thoughts ideas put forward by others years ago. First there was Mr Perkins who claimed that creating a park on derelict town centre sites await redevelopment was his idea, whereas local residents suggested it in April 2008. Now it seems that Mr Bluh wants to get in on the act too.

Now, whilst it’s always refreshing — and all too rare — when a politician admits they got things wrong, Mr Bluh has a particularly unrefreshing way of admitting his errors. In fact he does so in a way that suggests he doesn’t accept he’s failed in any way at all. As long ago as December 2009 local residents — some that were members of his own political party — were pointing out how risky his decision to invest almost £½M of our money in a wi-fi start-up company was. A company lead by someone with no track record in the industry; a company where directors seemed not to know they were directors, and a company where the directors that did realise they were directors didn’t understand what their responsibilities are. So for Mr Bluh to now say,

We did all the due diligence but perhaps in hindsight we should have looked at the risk factors a bit harder.

is little better than an admission of total economic blindness. For Mr Bluh to only recognise with hindsight what others with just a little foresight have been telling him for almost two years is, though welcome, inadequate. And at the risk of stating the obvious, if they didn’t look at the risk factors hard enough, then they clearly didn’t do all the due diligence, only some of it.

We were prepared to take the risk and we felt it was a managed risk at the time and, with hindsight, perhaps it wasn’t the best risk.

Even if it were managed at the time — which is disputable — the council then chose to relax that management, disregarding concerns that were raised. Again, there’s no hindsight required here, all the evidence was available at the time, and pointed out repeatedly to Mr Bluh, but he wilfully chose to ignore it. Until he shows some signs of admitting that this isn’t just a matter of hindsight, but something he should have and easily could have avoided, there’s no reason to believe Mr Bluh won’t be squandering our money yet again.

Garry Perkins burns his Priory Vale visa

Mr Perkins is not renowned for engaging many brain cells before opening his mouth, but in his latest outburst he might just, unwittingly, have stumbled through a nuance of planning law.

Swindon Borough Council has been busily splashing the cash from a renegotiation of Priory Vale’s ‘Haydon 3’ planing obligation — commonly known as a S106 agreement — around the borough, with little if any regard for its impact on the new housing development. According to Mr Perkins, there’s nothing wrong with that.

We’ve got to look at the town as a whole rather than individual areas. It’s for the use for the good of the people of Swindon, of which Haydon 3 area residents are part. You don’t need passports to go to Old Town because you’re from north Swindon. It’s the same town.

At first, it would seem that Mr Perkins — although he’s the council cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration — is unfamiliar with the relevant planning laws. Section 122 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 states:

  1. This regulation applies where a relevant determination is made which results in planning permission being granted for development.
  2. A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is—
    1. necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;
    2. directly related to the development; and
    3. fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.

In other words, it’s illegal to use S106 money for something that isn’t directly related to the housing development the money came from. If a council were to use the money in that way, the developer that was forced to stump up the money could reasonably demand their money back, leaving the council taxpayers to foot the bill for whatever the money had been squandered on.

The critical point here is that the money now being spent is not from a Section 106 agreement, it is from a renegotiation of that agreement. So although it would be illegal for the council to insist before planning permission was granted that the Haydon 3 developers pay for something irrelevant to Priory Vale — such as facilities in Dorcan — it’s within the law to do so now after planning permission was granted.

The occupants of Abbey Meads may quite reasonably feel aggrieved that the money to be spent in support of where they live has diminished from £18.6M to just £700,000 but unfortunately for them — and anyone else living in a new housing development — the council appear to have found a way around the legislation that’s intended to protect them.

Rikki Hunt cuts and runs

In a move that will come as no surprise to those that have studied Mr John Richard ‘Rikki’ Hunt’s business history, he’s now done a runner from Digital City (UK) Ltd — the wifi network company he set-up — leaving behind almost £½M of overdue debt to Swindon Borough Council. It’s not the first time he’s abandoned a company having lead it to financial disaster, as local football fans know only too well.

As ever on matters related to this shoddy deal, Mr Perkins is on hand, trying to make things sound better than they really are. As usual, most of what Mr Perkins has to say is deceptive. If you’re looking for an honest analysis of the situation, Mr Perkins is not the person to turn to.

He had a lot of problems to overcome which he didn’t appreciate you’d have when involved with the public sector.

Don’t forget — as Mr Perkins seems to have done — that Mr Hunt is very familiar with working with Swindon Borough Council, having been a director of both The New Swindon Company and Swindon Commercial Services.

It’s very difficult for a partnership to go forward when you’re dealing with public money and scrutiny, which quite rightly, there should be.

It seems Mr Perkins has forgotten all the abuse and spite he has vented in the council chamber at anyone daring to question this deal over the last eighteen months.

We’ve learned a lot from this, and I’m sure Rikki Hunt has as well.

I’m sure Mr Hunt has learned a lot… such as how easy it is to get gullible councillors like Mr Perkins to part with taxpayers money, then walk away after eighteen months leaving others to clear up the debts.

With Swindon Borough Council now bunging £610,000 in the direction of its Recreation Centre to right off debts, Highworth will have been the lucky recipient of over £1M of Swindon taxpayers’ money. You could be forgiven for thinking that the local blue nest put keeping their rural voters happy above dealing with the council’s dire financial position. To quote Mr Bluh in the latest edition of Swindon News:

Boiled down, if we are to have a hope of balancing our books, we have two challenges ahead of us. The first is to become as efficient as possible in the way we operate. The second, perhaps more controversially, is to reduce what we currently do.

At the moment, they appear to be doing neither.

The responsibilities of a director

When Mr Perkins was appointed as a director of Digital City (UK) Ltd last year, I was told by Mr Bluh that he was selected to represent Swindon Borough Council on the company’s board because of his skill and experience in business. The company of which Mr Perkins is a director has failed to make payments on its loan from the council… and that failure pre-dated by a month Mr Perkins claiming that payments were still being made. According to Mr Perkins, that’s all fine and dandy.

I was asked in December whether it was up to date with its payments, and I said yes — because that’s what I had been told. When I made that statement it was correct, based on the information I had at the time.

Perhaps it’s time that Mr Perkins reminded himself of his obligations under the Companies Act 2006.

(1) A director of a company must exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence.
(2) This means the care, skill and diligence that would be exercised by a reasonably diligent person with—
(a) the general knowledge, skill and experience that may reasonably be expected of a person carrying out the functions carried out by the director in relation to the company, and
(b) the general knowledge, skill and experience that the director has.

At the moment, Mr Perkins’s diligence in checking his facts before making public statements about Digital City (UK) Ltd appears to be falling far short of reasonable expectations.

It’s as though I’d never been away…

Sometimes, returning from a long absence is like awakening from a hibernation: everything is new and fresh. A new beginning. But then there’s times like now when it seems that nothing’s changed.

So what’s not new? Fanciful predictions that the old College building will soon be demolished continue to be peddled by our less-able councillors. Now — as last summer — Mr John Richard ‘Rikki’ Hunt, is begging for money for his tin-pot wifi company that’s taken almost £½M of our money and delivered virtually nothing in return, failing on its commitments whilst it does so.

And the unifying feature of it all? Mr Perkins spouting unadulterated rubbish. For example, Mr Perkins on the old College site:

We’ve been in discussions with the developer for the last few weeks. If that goes through, we’ll start removing the college from Swindon. Hopefully it’ll be going ahead by April.

Would that be April 2012? As the rather more rational Mr Bawden notes, we’ve heard this all before… many times.

We were talking about it when I stepped down. Now five years later, we’re still talking about it! It’s no good saying: it’s all the economy. Until two or three years ago, the economy was going like a rocket…. I get more and more frustrated walking around the town centre, I feel we just don’t really know what to do with it.

Quite. But hey, we’ll soon have yet another person at the council’s expense — over £45,000 of expense — puffing out a smoke screen about grand plans for nothing much in the town centre, when Forward Swindon appoints a new Head of Communications and Marketing.

Mr Perkins on wifi is no more logical, despite his alleged business acumen.

No business in its first year is completely trouble free and most of Highworth is still operating and the technical problems are mostly sorted out.

Given that Digital City (UK) Ltd originally claimed that their wifi in Highworth would be fully functional by 15 January… last year, even someone as politically warped as Mr Perkins should be able to see that’s as shining an example of failure as one could ever hope to see. They may brand themselves as ‘Get Signal’, but in Swindon getting Digital City (UK) Ltd’s signal is one thing you’re guaranteed not to do.

However, things don’t always go as you plan in business, particularly when you are dealing with something that is innovative.

As many have noted — but Mr Perkins and his colleagues choose to ignore — there’s nothing innovative about wifi. Seemingly the only thing innovative about this project has been the company’s ability to pull the wool over the eyes of the likes of Mr Perkins and walk away with £½M of our money whilst delivering almost nothing in return.

Mr Perkins also flatters himself when inviting people to talk with him.

I wish people would come and talk to us if they have a problem, but it has to be in a positive way. Going through reports to find things that are not 100 per cent right is not helpful — business doesn’t operate like that.

As anyone who has seen Mr Perkins in the council chamber will know, taking a positive approach with him is not something he rewards. Mr Perkins in the council chamber has just one mode of operation, a loud-mouthed, bad tempered yob, shouting down anyone he disagrees with, spitting with fury and hatred.

Swindon Borough Council has repeatedly waived the conditions it applied to its loan to Digital City (UK) Ltd. If Mr Perkins isn’t happy with the council being legitimately held to account over how it’s spent our money, then he really shouldn’t be a councillor.

What expenditure isn’t protected?

With the local blue councillors claiming first that expenditure on big arts events is not ‘not a priority’ and then that the programme of upgrades to play areas will be protected, I’m beginning to wonder whether there’s any scheme that — when challenged — they won’t claim is protected, despite their impending emergency budget.

But then, if that accounting genius, Mr Bluh, can claim that ‘the value is not related to money’ we really shouldn’t be surprised that Swindon Borough Council’s budget is in such a mess.

More scrutiny to come

Recently, Mr Buckland offered some sound advice to his colleagues on Swindon Borough Council.

The failure by a Council official to declare that he was in fact a Director of the operating company is an example either of incompetence or of something worse.
I blogged recently that I was sure that the lack of openness was not the result of deliberate subterfuge. I still hope that I am right. My advice to those involved is to come clean about everything now. As well as a demonstration of transparency, it may well be the best thing to do in order to secure the future of the project, which I hope will be a success.

It’s advice that Mr Bluh seems very reluctant to accept. In his view, there’s nothing more he needs to tell us about how the council is spending almost £½M of our money on a venture described in parliament as having ‘a detrimental effect on small and medium-sized IT companies in Swindon’.

This deal has been subjected to the most enormous scrutiny in the past months and has passed all those tests.

Err… has Mr Bluh forgotten that his latest attempt to throw our money at the wi-fi project didn’t pass through the last meeting of the council’s Scrutiny Committee? Just what aspect of ‘failed’ is it that Mr Bluh interprets as meaning ‘passed’?

It also seems not to have occurred to Mr Bluh that it has ‘passed’ some of those scrutiny tests only because very limited information was made available. It is for that reason that it has been referred back to the council’s cabinet, where additional information will be presented next Wednesday. It is unfortunately that the claims of Mr Patel that he did not know he was a director of Digital City (UK) Ltd seem inconsistent with the letter sent by the council’s chief executive, Mr Jones, to Ms Snelgrove on 28 January stating

we have a Director on the Board.

It’s difficult to know who, if anyone, involved in this at the council can be believed.

However, from later this week there will be a new Swindon Borough Council representative on the board of Digital City (UK) Ltd. It is proposed that Mr Perkins become a director of the company. Quite what the relevance of his cabinet responsibility for “children’s services” has towards the alleged social inclusion objectives of the wifi project is less clear. Perhaps the more relevant Mr Mattock is out of favour… or has less favours owed to him.

In a recent pep-talk to his party members the blue nest’s Mr Pickles said

We have seen what can be done as a council, and now it is time for our extremely good candidates to get into place and bring some honesty, decency and straightforwardness into government.

We have indeed seen what can be done as a council, and recently it’s not been pretty. If they’re to stand any chance of getting into national government they’ll first need to bring some honesty, decency and straightforwardness to local government.

If Mr Bluh wishes the scrutiny to stop, he first needs to ensure that the very serious concerns about the way he spends our money are answered, and answered honestly.

Monday night at the playpen

On Monday night, for the first time, I went to observe a meeting of Swindon Borough Council. This was the budget setting full council meeting. Even allowing for the poor reputation of politicians, one might expect that for an important issue like this the debate would be serious and behaviour respectable. Instead, there was a display of infantile posturing and bad temper.

The meeting started with a minute’s silence to mark the death of Ms Fowles, chief executive of the local NHS who died of cancer at the weekend. In tribute, Mr Bluh suggested that councillors should try and have a reasoned debate. It was advice that few — including Mr Bluh and his own cabinet — chose to follow.

During the first item on the agenda — confirmation of the minutes of the last meeting — Mr Perkins delivered the first of many ranting political lectures. Indeed, one of the three consistent features of the evening — the others being the number 21 bus and Mr Bluh’s now infamous smug arrogance — was Mr Perkins’ aggressive contempt for all those he disagreed with.

Next up were questions from the public. In response to one question Mr Young admitted that the £2M benefits to the local economy claimed for the Radio 1 Big Weekend were ‘partly speculative’. In response to another question, Mr Bluh claimed that ‘due process was followed’ when investing almost £½M in Digital City (UK) Ltd. He also said

As far as I am aware there is no Audit Commission investigation.

Awareness may not be one of Mr Bluh’s strong points.

Next were general questions from the councillors, during which Mr Wright got very hot and bothered over the matter of naming streets and announced he was referring the matter to the borough solicitor. The names of streets seemed to worry Mr Wright more than how the council spends our money.

After ¾ hour it was on to the main item for the evening: the council budget. According to Mr Edwards his budget was ‘brilliant’. Naturally, Mr Montaut disagreed and proposed an amended budget, for the same cost but different services. Much knockabout political squabbling then followed, with Mr Perkins and Ms Foley in rather a lot of words accusing the opposition of being stupid and Mr Bluh taking the ‘nice try but should have done better; much better’ approach, and the red nest trying to make up for lack of numbers by shouting all their speeches.

Most bizarre moments of the evening for me were Mr Bawden making a speech opposing a budget needing a higher council tax, even though that wasn’t what the opposition had proposed, and Mr Ali delivering a political speech that made almost no mention of budget plans but wouldn’t have been out of place in a general election hustings for his candidature in Devizes.

However, perhaps the most telling point was when Mr Wright observed that an essential element of civic pride is ensuring that basic things, like keeping the streets clean, are done and done well. To this Mr Bluh responded

The Tabernacle stones and canal are about the bigger picture and Swindon moving forward.

For Mr Bluh running a council during a financial crisis is clearly more about vain legacy projects than serving the basic needs of Swindon.

Bribery and allowances

Compare and contrast.

Mr Perkins on the government’s part-funded scheme to offer teachers in failing schools extra money to stay in their jobs:

At the end of the day they are attempting to bribe teachers. I thought teaching was always about being a vocational job.

Mr Bluh on councillors voting to increase their own allowances when the council’s income is dropping:

The challenging times in which we find ourselves, especially given the low level of formula grant we receive despite the borough’s needs, call for positive leadership, not political gestures.

Clearly the local blue nest — and the red nest councillors that voted with them — are rather confused. This isn’t positive leadership: it’s hypocrisy.