Tagged: Berkshire

A4e staff jailed for DWP back-to-work training fraud

Six employees at a back-to-work recruitment company have been jailed for a fraud that saw them falsely claim almost £300,000.

They worked for Action 4 Employment (A4e) which helped people gain training to get into work.

They made up files, forged signatures and falsely claimed they had helped people find jobs, enabling them to hit targets and gain government bonuses.

Four more employees received suspended sentences.

Following a 13-week trial at Reading Crown Court, four people were found guilty of taking part in the fraud in January. Six others previously admitted their part, and a further three were acquitted.

Prosecutor Sarah Wood said between them they created 167 false claims which cost the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which contracted A4e to carry out the work, £288,595.

Some falsified files using the names of family members, while others offered bribes in the form of vouchers to get people to fill out false forms, the court heard.

A4e ran the Aspire To Inspire lone parent mentoring programme between 2008 and 2011.

The £1.3m contract covered Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and was funded by the European Social Fund.

A4e was also paid £10,500 a month to implement it, and received payments for each person it helped gain employment.

In sentencing, Judge Angela Morris said there had been a “systematic practice” of compiling bogus files over a “considerable period of time“, behaviour which she described as “appallingly cavalier”.

She said:

“No amount of pressure justifies the wholesale fabrication of information in files or the forgery of other people’s signatures on documents, all of which is designed to extract money from the Department of Work and Pensions.”

She added it was “simply wrong”.

The defendants were:

  • Charles McDonald, 44, of Derwent Road, Egham, Surrey, pleaded guilty to six counts of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
  • Julie Grimes, 52, of Monks Way, Staines, Surrey, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery. She was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
  • Nikki Foster, 31, of High Tree Drive, Reading, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery, and was jailed for 22 months.
  • Ines Cano-Uribe, 39, of Madrid, Spain, was found guilty of one count of forgery and one of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was jailed for 18 months.
  • Dean Lloyd, 38, of Rochfords, Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of forgery. He was given a 15-month jail sentence.
  • Bindiya Dholiwar, 29, of Reddington Drive, Slough, pleaded guilty to seven counts of forgery, and was jailed for 15 months.
  • Zabar Khalil, 35, of Dolphin Road, Slough, was found guilty of one count of forgery. He was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Matthew Hannigan-Train, 31, of Westacre Close, Bristol, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. He received a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Hayley Wilson, 27, of Middlesex Drive, Milton Keynes, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit forgery. She was given a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.
  • Aditi Singh, 32, of Albert Street, Slough, pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery and one count of possessing items to commit fraud, and received a 10-month sentence, suspended for two years.

A4e chief executive Andrew Dutton said the company has a “zero-tolerance policy” towards fraud and money had been set aside so “the taxpayer will have lost nothing” from the scam.

Mr Dutton said: “Their claims do not reflect the way this company operates, or the values of our 2,100 staff, whose honesty and integrity are much-valued.”

> But seldom practised, it seems.

Source – BBC News, 31 Mar 2015

Tories accused of being “deeply patronising” to voters in North West Durham

Tories who selected a parliamentary candidate who lives 240 miles away to stand in County Durham have been accused of being “deeply patronising” to voters.

Charlotte Haitham-Taylor, the Conservative vying for the safe Labour seat of North West Durham, has rented a home in Shotley Bridge and was chosen to stand for the party in August.

However, she is also a councillor at Wokingham Borough Council, and this week faced calls to stand down from her role as Lead Member for Children’s Services.

Opponents in Berkshire say she cannot be a ‘part time head of department’, but rivals for the Durham seat say Ms Haitham-Taylor should not have been selected by David Cameron’s party to run in the North East seat at all.

Owen Temple, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate, said: “The Conservatives’ approach to our constituency is deeply patronising.

“Election after election they put up a candidate from the other end of the country (Maidstone in 2005, Cambridge in 2010, and now Berkshire) who is never seen again once the election is over.

“If they want to be taken seriously they need to develop a local candidate. The problem is there just are no local Conservatives.”

Pat Glass, the incumbent Labour MP for the constituency, said: “I think that Ms Haitham-Taylor needs to be open about where she lives.

“It appears that she is telling people in North West Durham that she is local and has moved to Shotley Bridge whilst at the same time telling the people of Wokingham that she is only renting in Shotley Bridge and her home is in Wokingham.

“I think that the people of North West Durham deserve to be represented by someone that not only lives in North West Durham but also shares an understanding of the issues that are important to them and affects their daily lives but also shares some collective history with them.”

When  approached  for a comment, Ms Haitham-Taylor said she had rented the Shotley Bridge home at her own cost and had committed considerable time with voters in County Durham already.

However, the Tory campaigner, who is a mum-of-one and a professional fine artist, also made a press statement hitting out at her critics in Wokingham and insisting her role with the Berkshire council was more important.

She told the BBC: “I can understand why they might have concerns but I want to assure them that I absolutely prioritise my duties of lead membership for children’s services.

“That is incredibly important to me. I will not desert my role in order to put my canvassing in North West Durham ahead of that.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Sept 2014

The number of households kept out of homelessness by North East councils has soared

The number of households that North East councils prevented from becoming homeless has rocketed in parts of the region.

In South Tyneside the local authority stepped in on 3,208 occasions in the last 12 months, a 123% rise on the 1,437 figure for the previous year.

This works out at a rate of 47.07 per 1,000 households in the borough, almost five times the national average of 10.11.

Meanwhile, in the same period, Gateshead saw a 65% increase from 2,094 to 3,453, an average of 38.28 per 1,000 households.

Newcastle City Council numbers rose 23% from 3,673 to 4,529, which works at 37.89 per 1,000 households.

There was also a small rise in Northumberland and Durham, but falls in North Tyneside and Sunderland.

Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show preventions and relief in England rose nationally on average 12% from 202,900 to 227,800 between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Prevention includes things like resolving problems with housing benefit, advice on debt or rent and mortgage arrears, or mediating with families to stop family members being kicked out.

Relief is when a council has been unable to prevent homelessness but helps someone to secure accommodation, even though the local authority is under no statutory obligation to do so.

Coun Allan West, Lead Member for Housing and Transport on South Tyneside Council, said the figure revealed how a policy initiative it took last year was working.

He said: “In 2013, South Tyneside Council’s Place Committee undertook a Commission scrutinising how homelessness in the Borough was tackled and how well the Council was equipped to deal with future demand.

“This led to the development of our new homelessness strategy which made homeless prevention one of our key priorities.

“This is reflected in our updated allocations policy, which gives priority to people at risk of becoming homeless before their case becomes critical.

“We have introduced a Homelessness Forum with representation from key partners including landlords, Public Health and the third sector.

“The forum ensures a collaborative partnership approach to tackling homelessness, sharing good practice and maximising opportunities for early intervention and prevention for homeless households.

“The review established a post of ‘Homelessness Prevention Lead’ within the Council to continue to develop housing and support options for people at risk of homelessness.”

My life on the streets of Tyneside – by homeless man ‘Carl’

Graduate ‘Carl’ has been homeless, on and off, for 16 years now.

He came to the region from Berkshire to study politics and economics at Newcastle University.

By the time he graduated aged 23 with a 2:1, he was in a secure unit at St Nicholas’ Hospital where he was being treated for Bipolar Disorder.

They let me out for the day for my graduation ceremony and that night when the other students were out having a drink celebrating I was back in the unit pumped up with drugs,” he said.

He describes himself as a ‘hand tapper’, someone who walks the streets asking for money, making anywhere between £25 and £100 a day.

The beggars are the ones who put signs around their necks and wait for people to come to them,” he said.

Carl said at the moment he sleeps rough in a city centre car park. “It’s best to sleep somewhere with CCTV as it gives you a feeling of security that someone might see if you’re in trouble and help.”

Over the years he has ‘sofa surfed’ with friends, and stayed in hostels, but nowhere permanent for long.

The money he makes he spends on food, tobacco and drink.

“I don’t drink that much,” he says.

He was a heroin user for six to eight years but has been ‘clean’ since June.

Carl is currently taking heroin-substitute buprenorphine, its trade name is Subutex.

It’s better than methadone, like Peaches Geldof was taking. You can take other drugs as well as Methadone but not with Subutex.

“You’re supposed to crush it and place it under your tongue. I crush it and snort it like snuff.”

However he added: “I’ll probably have a relapse soon.

His condition means he’s hyperactive.

I walk the streets all day. Sometimes I don’t sleep.

“It’s OK at the moment with the hot weather. When its cold you keep moving or you die of hypothermia.

“People in the North east are friendlier than down south so I don’t get much grief.”

He says he stays in touch with family down south. His father is the Governor at a primary school, his three sisters and brothers hold down full time jobs.

Some of us are just different. I’ve had a few jobs but I’m just not reliable.

“Also, my specialism is international politics and economics. I can’t see many employers in that field offering me a job.

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  25 July 2014

Low profile United & Cecil Club funnels cash to Conservative must-win marginals – including Berwick

An organisation registered at a stables in the Home Counties, with a former tobacco lobbyist for an honorary secretary, is a key weapon in the Conservative Party’s battle to win the next election.

The United & Cecil Club is playing an increasingly crucial role in funding election bids in the most tightly contested constituencies. The club has been used to raise funds for the Conservatives for years and these funds are now being deployed strategically as the party targets United & Cecil Club ahead of the 2015 election.

Since the last election, the organisation has given £282,250 to Conservative candidates  – nearly double the amount it has given to Conservative central campaign headquarters. In the first quarter of this year alone, the U&C club has given almost as much to candidates as it did in the whole of last year. Most of the cash is targeted at key swing seats.

Despite its increasingly important role, little is known about the U&C club. Donations to the club tend to be small and so there is no obligation to identify the donors. Only the identities of individuals making donations of more than £7,500 are published by the Election Commission under disclosure rules.

In disclosures made and published by the Electoral Commission the U&C club is registered at an an address in Iver, a village in Buckinghamshire. However, in the parliamentary register, the U&C lists its address as a riding school in Berkshire.

The stables are run by Tim Lord. Lord, a former chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, confirmed to the Bureau that he is honorary secretary of the U&C club.

When asked  to supply further details about the U&C club, Lord declined to elaborate. “We are a club, we have our objective and we comply with the law,” he said.

Christopher Fenwick, a member of the wealthy retail family which has an estimated fortune of £500m, was until recently a former deputy chairman of the organisation, Lord confirmed.

Fenwick hosted a table at last ​week’s Conservative fundraiser at the Hurlingham club, which was focused on the 40 seats to hold and the 40 seats to gain. Last year he sponsored two tables where the table plan showed his guests included U&C chairman, Brooks Newmark MP and Anne-Marie Trev​elyn, a Tory hopeful who is bidding to win the Lib Dem marginal seat of Berwick-​up​on-Tweed.

Related story: Interactive – Who sat with whom at the Conservative Summer Party

The Tories have been criticised in the past for taking money from organisations which lack clarity about the identity of their donors. The Midlands Industrial Council, an organisation based in a small Lincolnshire village, was for years used to channel money to the party from wealthy businessmen who wanted to keep their donations private.

The Tories have learned the language of modern government,” said Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch who leads the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency coalition. “They talk about transparency and fairness but the reality is they are continuing with an antiquated way of doing things, like secret donor clubs.”

A Tory spokesman said: “All donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules.”

Analysis by the Bureau reveals that hundreds of thousands of pounds have already been donated to Tory candidates ahead of next year’s election, one that polsters suggest may produce the tightest result in living memory.

Marginal image

With Labour having to rely largely on the unions for funding, the Bureau’s analysis shows that leading Tory hopefuls are powering ahead in the sums raised.

Political funding and the way this money is raised has been thrown into sharp relief following the Tories’ annual fundraising dinner, held last week at the exclusive Hurlingham Club in south west London.

The event proved a huge money-spinner with oligarchs, Middle Eastern businessmen and City financiers vying to bid huge sums at an auction that raised, according to those there, £500,000 for David Cameron’s party.

At this year’s dinner a Russian banker – the wife of a former Kremlin deputy finance minister – paid £160,000 to play tennis with David Cameron and Boris Johnson. A bottle of champagne signed by Margaret Thatcher went for £45,000 with a pot of honey fetching £20,000.

Source – Bureau Of  Investigative Journalism,  05 July 2014

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/07/05/the-low-profile-lunch-club-funnelling-cash-to-conservative-must-win-marginals/

Areas of North-East worse off than former East European communist countries

Parts of the North-East are poorer than many areas in former communist countries in Eastern Europe, new figures show.

People living in County Durham and Tees Valley have a lower income than places in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, according to the Brussels statistics.

Large chunks of Greece also boast higher living standards than the North-East’s poorest sub-region – despite that country’s recent economic catastrophe.

And the figures also lay bare the extraordinary wealth of central London, where incomes are 4.5 times those in Tees Valley and County Durham.

Phil Wilson, the Sedgefield Labour MP, said the analysis was a stark reminder of just how far the region had to go to catch up, saying: “These are poor figures.

“There is a lot to do to raise the standard of living in the North-East. People face a cost of living crisis, which has only got worse over the last two or three years.

“However, we should remain part of the EU, because the North-East has benefited from a lot of inward investment, including from multinational companies like Nissan and Hitachi.”

The statistics, produced by Eurostat, an arm of the European Union, compare wealth across the EU using a measure known as “purchasing power standards” (PPS).

 It takes into account the effect of prices on the cost of living, rather than simply measuring gross domestic product (GDP), or output per person.

They show that, in 2011, Tees Valley and County Durham, GDP per head on the PPS measure was £14,700 – or just 71 per cent of the EU average.

That was significantly lower than Northumberland Tyne and Wear (83) and North Yorkshire (89) and the third lowest figure in the UK, after Cornwall and West Wales (both 64).

But it was also lower than the Yugozapaden sub-region of Bulgaria (78) and two areas in Poland – Mazowieckie (107) and Dolnośląskie (74).

Four sub-regions of Greece enjoy a higher income and Bucureşti-Ilfov (122) – which takes in the capital of Romania – is far, far wealthier.

Meanwhile, two other sub-regions of the UK – North Eastern Scotland (159) and Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (143) – are among the EU’s richest.

Separate figures, yesterday, also threw fresh doubt, on the Government’s claims that the region has enjoyed a jobs recovery, despite the flatlining economy, until recently.

Since the start of the recession five years ago, the number of self-employed people has leapt by 23,000 in the North-East and by 37,000 in Yorkshire.

Meanwhile, the number of traditional employee jobs has dropped by far more – by 91,000 in the North-East and by 64,000 in Yorkshire.

> I think that says all you need to know about the job situation in the North East.

Worryingly, the average weekly income of someone in self-employment is 20 per cent lower than in 2008, earning them 40 per cent less than a typical employee.

Source – Northern Echo  07 May 2014

Government Ministers Accused Of Waging War On North East

Ministers have been accused of declaring “war” on the North East as MPs and council leaders gathered at Westminster to plan their fight-back against funding cuts.

> Well it’s taken them long enough ! Have they only just noticed what’s been going on under their noses ?

The region’s Labour politicians warned the debate about funding and grants obscured the real impact of cuts, which was worse public services and the prospect of councils running out of money.

Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland Council, said families in the North East would receive poorer police and fire services than those in wealthier parts of the country.

And the region’s politicians accused the Government of quietly scrapping the long-accepted convention that funding was allocated in part on the basis of need – so areas with higher levels of poverty, a higher proportion of older folk a low skills base or other pressing needs were given the cash they needed.

The change means a council like Newcastle is facing budget cuts while those in much wealthier areas are enjoying increases in funding.

The warnings were issued as council leaders delivered a presentation to MPs in a Commons committee room at Westminster, following a meeting with Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis.

> And they all said: “Bugger me, we had no idea this was going on. When did this start, then ?”

GatesheadMP Ian Mearns told the gathering: “There is a war being fought against our communities and it is being inflicted on us in the most ruthless fashion I can remember in my 30 years in politics.”

North Durham MP Kevan Jones added: “This is a war. They know exactly what they are doing. They are diverting money from our areas to areas in the south.”

A presentation produced by the Association of North East Councils (ANEC) warned that cuts in council budgets in the North East amounted to £467 for every household between 2010 and 2016 – compared to just £105 in the South East.

The discrepancy is partly a result of the Government abandoning the principle of funding based on “need”, which traditionally meant some councils received more than others.

A higher proportion of the North East’s population is elderly than the national average. The region also has more adults who need social care and long-term unemployment, as well as more children in care, all of which would traditionally have meant councils received higher funding.

But ANEC estimates that by 2019-20, Newcastle City Council’s spending power per household will be equal to the money available to a council in a wealthy areas such as Wokingham, in Berkshire.

Meanwhile, Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell, has revealed that a poll of her constituents shows that more than 90% of respondents expect their standard of living to get worse or stay the same over the next three years.

The survey on her website found that 79% of respondents were concerned by energy bills, 56% by food prices and 39% with the cost of transport.

> So now our Labour representives finally seem to have caught on to what’s going down. Question is, what are they going to actually do about it ?

Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Jan 2014