rotten boroughs

Rotten Boroughs Awards 2018
Rotten Boroughs Awards 2018, Issue 1487

FROM Payoff of the Year to Services to the Arse (yes, really), Private Eye’s coveted Rotten Boroughs Awards 2018 honour the wide-ranging achievements of councillors and officers in local authorities across the land…


KIM JONG UN AWARD
Council officialdom’s instinct for secrecy was much to the fore in 2018. In August Thurrock council chief exec Lyn Carpenter ordered the council’s press office not to talk to the weekly Thurrock Independent because reporters had had the temerity to ask awkward questions. Sheffield council objected to the presence of a reporter at a public meeting. South Ayrshire chief exec Eileen Howat wanted councillors to go on courses to learn why they shouldn’t talk to hacks.

Runner-up: Norfolk county council, which suspended a union official for giving an innocuous quote to a newspaper, and snooped on councillors’ emails to try to discover if any had been talking to the press. Winner: Richard Cooper, Tory leader of Harrogate borough council, who got the Harrogate Advertiser’s local democracy reporter Peter Lilley fired because his coverage of council affairs was insufficiently arse-licking. Special Award of Shame to Jean MacQuarrie, the spineless editor who showed him the door.


BARGAIN HUNT AWARD
After selling 60 vintage leather and rosewood chairs from its council chamber for £5,000 -- less than £100 each – cash-strapped Darlington council was embarrassed to learn that the 1960s chairs, by fashionable designer Peter Hoyte, were re-selling for up to £4,500 a pair. Meanwhile the council spent £17,710 on replacement chairs – a net loss to local taxpayers of £12,710. Brilliant!


DOWN WITH THE KIDS AWARD
Scarborough councillors and staff were able to book tickets for pop concerts at the town’s open air theatre ahead of members of the public, thanks to an online link. Fans were annoyed to find that tickets for a Britney Spears gig, which sold out within minutes, then appeared on resale websites at up to £800 each.


FOOTBALL FEVER AWARD
Councillors in Labour Croydon were supposed to meet on 3 July to discuss a crisis in social care, because the outsourced company responsible for providing respite for thousands of carers had collapsed. But the committee meeting was scheduled for the same time as England’s first World Cup match in Moscow – so it was cancelled. A meeting the following week to approve a pay increase for councillors went ahead with no problems.


NICE WORK AWARD
Tory Cotswold district council paid Douglas Edwards QC £30,865 for two days providing “guidance” to councillors determining Lord Bathurst’s contentious scheme to build 2,350 houses near Cirencester. Objectors pointed out that two Tory councillors had refused to recuse themselves from the vote despite being fellow members with Lord B and his land agent, of the Cirencester “Bull Club”, a dining club established in 1745 to “protect Tory interests in the town”. The QC ruled that membership of a mere social club could be no bar to their continued participation in such an important planning application. Both voted in favour.


PRIORITIES IN ORDER AWARD
Tory-led Lancashire county council agreed to buy all councillors new iPhones, at a cost of £38,000. They then voted to double bus fares for disabled passengers travelling during rush hour. The increase from 50p to £1 will raise £43,000 a year – the cost of the councillors’ new phones, plus £5k change.


SERVICES TO THE ARSE
Labour Croydon council contributed £10,000, and provided the venue, for an arts festival which featured performers inserting “butt plugs” intended “to demystify the anus”, while others consumed laxatives and diuretics until they “lost control of their sphincters”. Strategically placed microphones amplified the results.


SMOOTH OPERATORS OF THE YEAR
The ruling Lib Dems in Kingston-upon-Thames held a bad-tempered group meeting at the council’s Guildhall. Alas the in-house public address system was switched on, making their fractious deliberations audible to everyone in the building -- including the opposition Tory group holding its own meeting next door.


USEFUL IDIOTS AWARD
Coventry taxpayers part-funded three Labour councillors for a five-day jolly to Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) for a “peace conference”. One of the “round-table discussions” they attended was titled “Cities as Peace Messengers: Municipal Peacemaking Practices in the 21st Century”. The people of Salisbury are still awaiting feedback.


JEWISH HUMOUR AWARD
Hounslow Labour councillor Nisar Malik is something of a conspiracy theory enthusiast, especially when it comes to the you-know-whos. In a tweet he explained that “the Zionist lobby controls all the media” – except that the Z-word was spelled “Zaniest”. Those screwball Illuminati jokesters get everywhere!


WOMEN’S CHAMPION OF THE YEAR
When former Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram became “metro mayor” of the Liverpool city region authority in 2017 he took some flak because all the principal portfolio holders were male. In May he announced the appointment of nine “deputy portfolio holders” – all women – who were paraded for the camera. The effect was undermined by the fact that at the first meeting attended by the new deputies, no one thought it necessary to provide the poppets with the agenda or minutes.


EXPENSES KING OF THE YEAR
Hats off to Nathan Elvery, chief exec of West Sussex county council, who accepted a £47,500 “permanent relocation” allowance upon getting the job in 2016 but, as revealed by Eye 1484 in November, did not actually move out of his Surrey home of 12 years.


IN MEMORIAM
Before his resignation in October following embarrassment over revelation of his prodigious appetite for freebies from property developers, former Westminster deputy council leader and planning chief Robert Davis had devoted much of his energy to keeping alive the memory of Sir Simon Milton, his late civil partner and former leader of the council. So much so that since Sir Simon’s death in 2011 at least six statues and memorials dedicated to him have appeared across central London. Some feel that for Sir Simon, a strong supporter of Westminster council’s disgraced leader Dame Shirley Porter and her “home for votes” policy, to be memorialised in London more than Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher is, well, a bit much.


KEEPING THE BIZZIES BUSY AWARD
Tory Cheshire East council became the subject of no fewer than seven separate police investigations in 2018, encompassing a range of subjects including land deals, the letting of contracts and the manipulation of air quality data.


LOOKING ON THE BRIGHT SIDE AWARD
Despite controlling Britain’s official most-badly-run council, Northamptonshire’s Tories refused to be cowed. In September they hosted a glittering gala dinner – guest of honour Sajid Javid MP – at which businesses could pay £2,000 to have their name on balloons or £1,200 on sponsored pens. And for £95 guests could be seated “near” the home secretary – but for just one course.


PAYOFF OF THE YEAR
It seems unlikely the £440,000 awarded to last year’s winner, Slough borough council’s chief exec Roger Parkin, after just a day in the job, will be surpassed any time soon. But there was a strong performance from Tory Teignbridge council in Devon, which finally admitted that former chief executive Nicola Bulbeck had received £264,000 after falling out with council leader Jeremy Christophers in 2017. “Transparent” Teignbridge had previously claimed it couldn’t say how much Bulbeck had walked away with as it would breach the Data Protection Act. It later changed its story, claiming “it was not in the public interest” to do so and might cause Bulbeck “unnecessary distress”. Happily hacks spotted the figures when the council’s accounts were published this year.


GET OUT OF THAT AWARD
Stuart Burrell, Southend council’s former head of private sector housing, was due to be sentenced this week after admitting defrauding the authority out of £307,401. Mr Burrell’s other expertise is as an escapologist. He has featured several times in Guinness World Records and currently holds the world record for the number of handcuffs unlocked in a minute (nine).




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