26/06/2011 The Politics Show East


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In the east we shine a spotlight on the council headed for almost one


decade by Amman now convicted of fraud - Lord Hanningfield.


And as strikes loom ahead a Union Square up over job losses and


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2516 seconds


Good morning. This week - union members in public sector jobs take


a hard line over job cuts and pension provisions. We are going to


lose the services that our state has been built on. These are not


services for scroungers and cheats. These are services that we need.


First to the case of Lord Hanningfield. He will be sentenced


for a fraught later this week. Lord Hanningfield is the only person to


have been convicted after the expenses scandal who have the dual


role of running a council. He was elected on to Essex County Council


in 1970 and was leader for nine years before he was forced to


resign. Now a police inquiry is looking into whether there has been


amiss use of Essex taxpayer's money. Liberal Democrat on the council


have called for an investigation into improper use of council


resources following the recent trial of Lord Hanningfield. If we


ask whether concerns were expressed during his time in office and


whether anything was done about them. Our reporter is looking at


whether the checks and balances on our counsellors are working.


Lord Hanningfield was good at spending taxpayers' money.


Expensive restaurants. He lived the high life. At his trial the jury


heard he had a county council credit card and run up costs of


�5,000 per month. He said in his defence at the trial that all this


entertainment was essential as it helps the council negotiate


contracts which would say that millions of pounds. He became the


man crowned King of Essex. I have raised questions of transparency


and accountability. How was it that a single individual was allowed to


do what he did? It was Lord Hanningfield's use of a council car


that led to his downfall. The driver would taken to the House of


Lords and home again while he fraudulently claimed overnight


house of Lords allowances. Or the chauffeur would have to wait while


the boss entertained guests at restaurants. The spotlight has now


turned on the expense claims he made and the charges he ran up at


Essex County Council. Police are now investigating. It may turn out


to be at all of Lord Hanningfield's claims and Essex were legitimate.


The show for it also had a pass to the House of Lords. That was quite


clear. I raised this with the chief executive at the time. He defended


the position after great consideration, but Lord


Hanningfield's role at the House of Lords was also blurred in so far as


he would be raising Essex County Council matters in the House.


then chief executive of the council says he warned Lord Hanningfield


one decade ago about the use of the one decade ago about the use of the


While it has not been alleged that Lord Hanningfield did anything


unlawful at Essex County Council there were other concerns - about


insuring value for money. The council was spending large sums of


public cash on entertainment and foreign trips which some


councillors questioned. There seemed to be no limit to the amount


of money that was available. This councillor's husband who is also a


councillor put in a Freedom of Information request about a trip to


Virginia's attended by many people from the authority. I thought it


was wrong that we should be seen to be taking trips abroad to America


and China at the same time as saying we did not have enough


funding to run facilities for up elderly people and children. We put


in a number of Freedom of Information request. We have asked


for a detailed breakdown of Lord Hanningfield's expenses. We also


wanted to know what he charged to his council credit card. The


council has declined saying it will not do so while there is a current


police investigation. This Essex councillor is concerned


about the number of foreign trips and how council money is being


spent. I am an elected councillor. As an backbencher I know what my


responsibilities are. I know what is reasonable. Ignorance cannot be


used as an excuse or an opportunity. If other people knew that was


happening then it they should be challenged. There has to be a major


independent investigation into what has been going on at the County


Hall for the last seven years. The evidence that came out at that


trial indicates that there are many questions relating to the


stewardship and governments of Essex County Council. Lessons are


always learned. As in plane crashes. But planes go on crashing. There is


no way that any political system can be made perfect. If you have an


appropriate local culture of people who want honesty and integrity and


public-spirited this, that in itself will make a difference. It


also helps to have institutions in place, people whose job it is to


find out whether things have gone wrong with a view to blowing the


whistle. Two years ago the disgraced peer signed this strategy


on it fighting fraud and corruption. The authority he once ran faces


match questions once this investigation is over. He will be


sentenced next week. Essex County Council could not


provide anybody to be with us for the programme that they have said


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2516 seconds


the programme that they have said Joining me now it is a Conservative


MP for South West Norfolk and the regional organiser of the Unison


union. Moving away from the specifics of


Essex, if we can talk in general terms, what can council staff to if


they have concerns over expenses or indeed any procedures within a


council? There are a number of options. They are mostly to do with


using a whistle-blowing policy. Most councils have a whistle-


blowing policy. It is important that the staff have confidence in


the internal systems to raise issues. I am not sure that that is


the case. I have come across a number of instances were staff


raised issues but these are ignored or the people that raise them are


penalised. I am not talking about Essex County Council but I have


been around local councils for a long time and this is my experience.


Whistleblowers can lose their jobs. I have seen that happen. I have


represented members and I have managed to get in the instated. The


professor had it right. There needs to be an element of trust. But


there needs to be a culture within the council where the systems are


used. There needs to be scrutiny on the processes. It needs to be


people whose jobs it is to ensure that expenses are done correctly.


Talking in general terms, let us talk about the relationship between


council leaders and chief executives. Leaders have a larger


say in the appointment of chief executives. Yet as I understand


that it is chief executives but are the check and balance for the


leaders and what they are doing. There is conflict there. I do not


think there is a conflict. In companies you often have a finance


director who is responsible for making sure that everything works


in the right way. They will be appointed by the chief executive,


but they have a professional role and they are meant to blow the


whistle if the chief executive is behaving in the wrong way. What we


need is more openness and transparency to that outside so


that the public can see what their money is being spent on. Sometimes


we have to rely on staff to do the whistle-blowing but really tax


payers should be seeing how their money is being spent. We have


published all items of expenditure over �500. We have a system where


MPs publish their expenses nationally. That is the kind of


thing you need. Then people can see whether it is really value for


money to be holding a dinner with these clients for these businesses.


Up until now a local government expenses we are told had been


largely taken on trust and that is not good enough. It is not good


enough. That is one of the issues with MPs' expenses. You had a


relationship between people where there was deference towards members


of Parliament and therefore people did not feel right about


questioning some of the expenses. Transparency and openness is a more


effective way in the modern world where we have the internet, where


people can publish a large amount of information at very low cost.


That is a better way of making things work effectively rather than


relying on trust. As I union do you have suggestions about how things


could be improved? The first thing to realise is that the relationship


between members and officers in the council is a complex one. There is


a need for reform. When you have Cabinet style local government what


happens is power get concentrated amongst a small group of elected


members. Time and time again that group of people develop special


relationships with senior officers in the council. What you have is


that the scrutiny that you would otherwise have through full council


is committed in that relationship. We will have to leave it there. We


will come back to you shortly. On Thursday thousands of members


will strike for the day in what is being seen as the first sign of


union anger over cuts in pensions. Industrial action was also the main


talking point at the Unison union conference this week. Union members


are angry about the pain being suffered but will it lead to an


autumn of discontent? Whether you call them necessary


savings or ideological cuts, it is that people who work for a local


authorities who have been in the firing line. 2654 people have been


made redundant by county councils and local authorities this year.


Another 9,000 jobs are expected to go over the next three -- over the


next three years. I worked at a Council for 20 years. It felt soul


destroying losing my job. It is a vocation. I put my heart and soul


into it. There are plenty of stories like that. These two are


former social workers. I appreciate that savings had to be made. We


would have welcomed an opportunity to have been able to discuss


whether there were economies that could be made with our service.


Some people are talking about it autumn of discontent. Can you see


that? Yes I can see that happening. People across. People feel do some


power. They have not been included so far been thinking about how to


do things differently. Sometimes when you were left without any


other options that is what happens. That would hurt a lot of people.


Cuts had a lot of people as well. That was the main talking point at


their Unison conference in Manchester. It was clear from


conversations outside and speeches inside that members are angry.


we do not go on strike we will lose the services that our state has


been built on. These are not services for scroungers and cheats.


These are services that we need. They are cutting further now than


Margaret Thatcher ever did. general secretary put his union are


on standby for industrial action, but no ballot has been called yet.


There is no doubt that people are angry that that does not mean


industrial action is inevitable. Union leaders wonder how much


support there would really be amongst their largely low-paid


membership for what could be a long drawn-out campaign. What would the


public think it services already under pressure from cuts were


affected by strike action? That is why there are many in the union


leadership who believe there is a lot of mileage to be had been


talking. There are a number of areas where the Government has


changed their mind. The Government is not making the cuts the first


said they would. But in certain circumstances it may well be


necessary for action to be taken. Back in Norwich are a two social


workers are setting up a business to work with problem children. It


is what they used to do before they were made redundant. My personal


view is that the impact of the cuts has not really hit yet. The general


public have not experienced that impact yet. As the increasingly do


they will see more sense in any industrial action. Let us get this


clear. There is a day of action next Thursday but you Union is not


part of it. Why is that? It is not that we do not support the


sentiments of our colleagues. That is a separate negotiation. I am not


ruling out potential problems in the future, but the regional


secretary Peter it nicely. No one likes to go on strike. It is a


position you take when you have no other choice. Hopefully we will not


be there in the future. The biggest cuts in public spending in eight


years. Industrial action is inevitable. The discussion is about


pensions. The problem is the disparity between public sector and


private sector pensions and the underfunding of public sector


pensions. That has been going on for years. We have an unfunded


pension scheme that needs to be dealt with. I take your point, but


are you saying that people are not angry about job losses? We were


hearing that in excess of 9,000 job losses may occur in our own region.


The unions need to work with the Government to find a better way of


doing things. In a lot of companies people are agreeing to take pay


freezes or pay cuts so that more workers can be retained. I would


like to invite you to shadow me in a day of negotiations. My job


currently is doing exactly what is being talked about. These


discussions are ongoing. Pay freezes and pay cuts are happening


but we are still seeing thousands of redundancies. As a union do you


except that we are in difficult times and that sacrifices have to


be made? Trade unions fully understand that. The question is


why are we where we act at? What this government has done is to


equate their deficit with public sector spending. The deficit was


created by a greedy bankers and they are getting away three. This


year they are getting �7 billion in bonuses. Public-sector workers are


taking a hammering. That is unfair. There is also that issues with


banks. We are working on reforming the banking sector. We have spent a


huge amount of public money on and reformed public services and in


particular the terms and conditions that we are operating with.


Currently terms and conditions are too rigid. It is not benefiting the


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