Jeremy Corbyn protests against his own decision

Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health
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I don’t very often write posts attacking the Labour leadership – not because I don’t believe the many ludicrous policies of Corbyn & Co need to be opposed, but because the Parliamentary Labour Party (and many grassroots activists) seem to be doing a competent enough job of opposing the opposition themselves.

In this instance, though, given my ongoing campaign for equal status for mental health services, I will make an exception. Mr Corbyn was once also a vocal advocate of improvements to the way mental health problems are addressed. In February 2015, he told Parliament:

All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life. I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions.

We need greater and more effective assessment of the needs of mental health services across London, because there is still a stigma in some areas. Some communities and families are more able to come forward than others. We need to create an atmosphere in which people understand that we can all experience stress and that we all need help at some time in our lives, and the NHS must and should be there to provide that help when it is needed.

It was, therefore, pleasing to see Mr Corbyn appoint a Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health in his first cabinet last September. However, the role was short-lived, with the portfolio being scrapped following the swathes of resignations in July.

That didn’t stop the newly (re-)elected leader from protesting against the decision to ditch the post at the Labour Party conference today.

Posing with campaigners for mental health, Mr Corbyn held a sign calling for the reintroduction of the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health.

The post he created himself and then abolished himself!

I’ll just leave that brazen act of hypocrisy to sink in…

Source: Jason Groves

If you value your sanity, never bank with BBVA

BBVA office
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Last Sunday, I officially became a customer of Spanish super-bank BBVA. Many people will have heard of them, if not while realising that they are a bank, because they sponsor the top league in Spanish football (named, funnily enough, the Liga BBVA).

I would mention, before explaining exactly why this particular bank is about as useful as an inflatable dartboard, that I did not become a BBVA customer by choice. Until Sunday my Spanish banking services were provided by CatalunyaCaixa, an organisation which came highly recommended and with which I have never experienced any issues in the twelve months my account had been open.

On 8 September, however, my bank closed and the process of merging with BBVA began, with CX customers allegedly able to access their new accounts from 11 September. Now, I have a new account number (which no one has thought to advise me of) but I am supposed to be able to log in to BBVA’s online banking with the same login details as my CX online account. Yet when I tried online (and again on the app), the banking equivalent of Gandalf popped up on my screen and informed me (in three different languages): “you shall not pass!”.

The helpful suggestion from this not-so-great Gandalf was to try the “forgot your password” link, even though I clearly knew my CX login details – and had used them many times over the past year. However, where the wizard shall point, the mortal shall go, so off went I entering my username to reset my password – only to be informed my username was “incorrect”. Now I really knew they were taking the piss, so, as is traditional in the digital age, I took to Twitter to vent my frustration:

Now, I appreciated that BBVA’s Twitter support was primarily in Spanish (with some Catalan answers), so I approached them – in my imperfect Spanish – looking for some help. The conversation was not entirely productive:

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The inaccurate reporting of Medway councillors’ allowances

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Every year, each local authority is required to collate and publish allowances and expenses claimed by their elected members.

Councillors are entitled to a basic allowance to perform their duties, with additional allowances payable to those who hold special responsibilities (Leader of the Council, Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Mayor, etc.) in recognition of the additional work involved.

All members are also entitled to claim for travel and subsistence, although this usually excludes items such as stationery and phone calls, which are factored in to the basic allowance.

At the end of the council’s financial year, the authority must calculate how much each councillor claimed (if anything) and produce a basic report with a simple breakdown.

Medway Council’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March, and allowances are usually published within four months, with the latest being the 2013/2014 report, which was published in August 2014:

Year Date of Publication
2014/15 July 2015
2013/14 August 2014
2012/13 May 2013
2011/12 May 2012

However, given we were now in September and no report had yet been published, last week I submitted an FOI request for the information. On Tuesday, the allowances report appeared on the Council website, albeit looking rushed and possibly incomplete. It wasn’t until I got round to examining it in detail that I realised just how poor a report it actually was.

The most striking detail was that the report had rounded all the figures to the nearest pound. It is, in fact, the first time the Council has not included the pence figures where the amount to be declared was not a whole pound.

Members who served for the whole period were given an allowance of £8,783 exactly, but those who left the Council in May 2015 may not have received £992 exactly. Similarly, those who joined at the same time may not have received £7,815 exactly, and Cllr Kelly Tolhurst, who claims she stopped drawing her allowance “since [her] election to Parliament” may not have received £1,464 exactly.

(As an aside, I have worded the last sentence very carefully, as the fact that Cllr Tolhurst’s basic allowance was markedly different to those of members who left the council at the same time she was elected to Parliament suggests that she had stopped drawing her allowance some time after her election – seemingly to the end of May 2015 – and not “since [her] election”. Whilst there is, of course, nothing wrong with claiming the allowance whilst also an MP (most simply don’t out of principle – or, if they do, donate their allowance to good causes within their ward), her entry in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Financial Interests could, perhaps, be worded so as not to imply that she stopped claiming her allowance immediately on her election to Parliament and, in fact, stopped on a certain date. But, I digress…)

So, rather than having the exact figures of allowances and expenses claimed by Medway councillors, we have a roughly accurate report which looks something like this:

Allowances

Now, like most people, I am not particularly interested in where Cllr Rupert Turpin went that he needed to claim £5 in travel & subsistence expenses, but I am interested enough to want to know whether the journey cost £4.51, £5.49 or £5 exactly.

Indeed, that no reference is made to the fact that the figures have been rounded means that it is unclear what method of rounding has been used (whether only up, only down or both) and whether the figures have been arrived at by rounding the total for each category or each individual item before addition. After all, if two claims were made for £1.51 and £2.51 respectively, then rounding each individual claim would total £5 (i.e. £2 plus £3), whereas only rounding the total of the two raw figures would produce £4 (i.e. £4.02 rounded down).

Readers may think that I am being pedantic, but I would simply ask this question: how is this report “full and complete” if the Council have employed rounding and created ambiguity as to the exact figures involved?

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Proposed Medway Constituency boundary changes published

Constituencies
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The Boundary Commission’s proposals for new parliamentary constituencies, which will be put before MPs in 2018, have been published – and the changes for Medway are largely underwhelming.

In fact, if you live within one of Medway’s 22 wards, the chances of the constituency you live in changing is less than five per cent, with only Lordswood & Capstone moving. However, all three constituencies covering the Medway Towns could see changes, with only Gillingham & Rainham containing exclusively Medway constituents.

Under the Boundary Commission proposals published today, Lordswood & Capstone ward would cease to be a part of Chatham & Aylesford, and instead be represented by Gillingham & Rainham.

Gillingham & Rainham constituency would then consist of nine council wards, rather than the present eight, including Gillingham North, Gillingham South, Hempstead & Wigmore, Lordswood & Capstone, Rainham Central, Rainham North, Rainham South, Twydall and Watling.

The Boundary Commission also propose increasing the size of Rochester & Strood, by adding the Gravesham Borough Council ward of Higham to the present constituency. The Medway Council wards comprising Rochester & Strood are Cuxton & Halling, Peninsula, River, Rochester East, Rochester South & Horsted, Rochester West, Strood North, Strood Rural and Strood South.

The biggest change, though, is reserved for Chatham & Aylesford. Although the only change for Medway residents is the loss of Lordswood & Capstone to Gillingham & Rainham, the constituency has gained four wards from Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.

The new constituency of Chatham & The Mallings would then include Chatham Central, Luton & Wayfield, Princes Park and Walderslade wards from Medway, and Aylesford North & Walderslade, Aylesford South, Burham & Wouldham, Ditton, East Malling, Kings Hill, Larkfield North, Larkfield South, Snodland East & Ham Hill, Snodland West & Holborough Lakes, Wateringbury and West Malling & Leybourne from Tonbridge & Malling.

Parliamentary constituencies are being redrawn under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, with the independent Boundary Commission for England tasked with reducing the number of constituencies in England from 533 to 501. Overall, the number of Members of Parliament in the UK is being reduced from 650 to 600 as a way of cutting the salary, pension, staffing and expenses costs of the House of Commons, while the number of voters in each constituency is being averaged out to 74,769 plus or minus five per cent.

A previous review was carried out under the coalition government, but was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats despite earlier pledging their support in exchange for a referendum on changing the voting system.

At present, the proposals are in the very early stages, and will now open up for consultation with local residents. The Boundary Commission will be holding a public hearing over the proposals at Maidstone’s KCC Council Chambers on 3 and 4 November.

What will be the electoral effect?

All three Medway constituencies were won quite comfortably by the Conservatives in May 2015, so would these changes have made any difference to the results? To find out, I created a projection model for each constituency, which uses both the general and local election results from 2015, to produce comparisons.

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Rainham Central councillor Mike O’Brien loses cancer battle

Mike O'Brien
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Sad news coming from Medway Council this morning, as it has been confirmed that Rainham Central Councillor Mike O’Brien last night lost his battle with cancer.

Cllr O’Brien, who was also the Cabinet Portfolio Holder responsible for Children’s Services, had been battling with the disease for some months. His ward colleague, and Gillingham and Rainham MP, Rehman Chishti has pledged to run next year’s London Marathon in aid of Cancer Research UK following Cllr O’Brien’s diagnosis.

First elected to Medway Council in 2007, Cllr O’Brien was given the Community Safety brief after Cllr Chishti’s election to Parliament in 2010. However, he has long been a champion for young people and was subsequently appointed as the Lead Member for Children’s Services following the sacking of Cllr Les Wicks in 2013.

Cllr O’Brien has not attended a meeting of the full Council since 25 February, while his last committee meeting was the Audit Committee on 10 March. However, he has been continuing his Cabinet role and having regular meetings at home in between treatment sessions.

The Leader of the Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said:

He was a wonderful friend to all and an outstanding and dedicated councillor and cabinet member, who I and fellow councillors thoroughly enjoyed working with. Our thoughts are with Sheila, Martin and the rest of his family at this difficult time.

Mike was incredibly committed to his children’s services portfolio and despite his illness over recent months he continued to work. I enjoyed visiting him at his home to update him on council business and to catch up with a good friend.

Over the years Mike achieved many things, but his biggest passion was by far his family – his wife Sheila, two children and six grandchildren.

Medway Labour Group Leader, Cllr Vince Maple, added:

The council chamber will be a lesser place without Mike’s wit and strong debating style. He will be missed by all who knew him personally. The thoughts of the whole of the Labour Group are with Mike’s family and friends at this difficult time.

On a personal note, I will always remember Mike as a kind and caring man, occasionally offering words of encouragement while I was studying and wise advice about the dangers of smoking (reminding me on a few occasions that I should quit!).

Medway Council has lost one of the nicest men in politics and he will be sorely missed by his family and friends.

You can support Rehman Chishti’s fundraising efforts for Cancer Research UK via his JustGiving page.

A by-election will be held in Rainham Central in due course, meaning a second round of voting in Medway following this week’s resignation of councillor Catriona Brown-Reckless. Residents in Strood South will go to the polls on 20 October.

Photo: Mike O’Brien (right) in discussion with Rehman Chishti earlier this year. Credit: Facebook/Councillor Mike O’Brien.