Rotten Boroughs — Paul Humphries — 5th June 2017.

(This blog will be short and con­densed, as to refer to names men­tioned in Paul’s talk, could be to the det­ri­ment of the club!)

Paul gave us an inter­est­ing talk into “behind the scenes activ­it­ies” in many local coun­cils, and how the media has been involved in expos­ing mal­prac­tices.

Some local coun­cils work hard and others  have been involved in cor­rupt prac­tices and should have been brought to account.

Paul men­tioned that the “Private Eye” pub­lic­a­tion was report­ing many cases of alleged cor­rup­tion but the stor­ies were not taken up by the national press and thus the prac­tices were allowed to con­tinue.

Accounts of misuse of coun­cil money were many, accord­ing to Paul. It has been known for coun­cil­lors to arrange expens­ive trips to places such as Chicago, Japan and Africa on the pre­text of attend­ing meet­ings which would have little impact on the lives of people in their con­stitu­en­cies.

Paul was a freel­ance journ­al­ist for The Guardian news­pa­per and repor­ted the “Donnygate Affair” in full.  To demon­strate how some coun­cils abused funds there was much abuse of small amounts. For example, Paul related that he knew of one coun­cil­lor in Doncaster who had been to a con­fer­ence in Torquay, then moved on to a con­fer­ence in Bournemouth, and then yet another con­fer­ence, this time in Eastbourne, and had run out of clean shirts. The solu­tion to the prob­lem was that a member of Doncaster coun­cil staff was instruc­ted to deliver a clean shirt to him in Eastbourne.  Thus he trav­elled to the South Coast with the said shirt and had an overnight stay all at the tax­pay­ers expense!  (Why didn’t the coun­cil­lor buy a new shirt in Eastbourne?)

The Donnygate scan­dal was the worst case of gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion since the Poulson scan­dal in the 1970’s.  With Donnygate, two former coun­cil lead­ers, two former mayors and twenty-one coun­cil­lors were con­victed of fraud.  The unrav­el­ling of the scan­dal owed a lot to Ron Rose, a local res­id­ent and former coun­cil­lor.  He approached the media and a three-year police enquiry was launched.  Senior civil ser­vants had to be brought to Doncaster to run local gov­ern­ment.

In Lincolnshire (a Conservative-run coun­cil), the leader of a county coun­cil had the route of a £25 mil­lion road scheme redrawn to boost the value of his land was jailed for 18 months.

Paul men­tioned how a coun­cil­lor in Rotherham spent money from an anti-poverty fund set up to alle­vi­ate poverty in the former coalfield areas.  This money was spent on tick­ets to race meet­ings, foot­ball matches, pros­ti­tutes and, in all, £172,000 was taken from the anti-poverty fund to be spent on coun­try jaunts and booze binges.

Andrew Norfolk, chief invest­ig­at­ive reporter of The Times, received “Journalist of the Year 2014” award for his invest­ig­a­tion into the wide­spread exploit­a­tion of teen­age girls in north­ern England.

Thus many wrongs can be righted by good journ­al­ism.

Paul answered many ques­tions from the floor and was thanked for his inter­est­ing account.