(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.