1) Whoopee!!!:

It is so nice to be able to start my Christmas Newsletter with a couple of good news items for Buckley. The first one is that, at long last, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel in the long-standing battle to improve the safe flow of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists along the length of Mill Lane and for cyclists on the routes to other local schools.

With welcome support from the current head teacher at Elfed High School and lot of diligence and effort put in over many months by a team steered by Sam Tulley from FCC, the Wales Government has recently advised us of the granting of £400,000 towards the widening of Mill Lane from Hawkesbury Road to the traffic lights on the town centre bypass, the provision of parking spaces for residents, widening of pavements and the creation of safe cycling routes to Elfed and other schools.

The second one is that the Welsh Border Community Transport Scheme, a registered charity based in offices above the town council has been supported by the Morgan Foundation to the sum of £27,000 which is better than half of the cost of replacing an existing and very tired 16 seater minibus, which some of you may be familiar with. With much of its pre-Covid-19 routine and regular workload disappeared, because of the virus, the scheme’s paid and volunteer drivers, who get not half of the credit they deserve, for the good work they do for the community, have been kept busy delivering essential food supplies and prescription medicines to the elderly, infirm and vulnerable who, for various reasons are having to remain house-bound.

Naturally, income from normal activities has vanished, but, recognising the community value of the scheme, the National Lottery Community Fund has just provided £60,000 by way of a support grant, in order to guarantee wages and essential running costs over the months ahead. I confess to a certain amount of personal interest and pleasure in that last item as my wife and I are both Trustees of WBCT and have been for some years.

2) Covid-19. Who Knows When?:

Sadly, throughout the course of human history, written and unwritten, Plagues, as such things were called long ago and more recently, Pandemics, have periodically attacked us humans with damaging and deadly effects.

In major impact terms, there are about 20 pandemics on the list, starting about 5,000 years ago, when an epidemic wiped out a prehistoric village in China. The bodies of the dead were stuffed inside a house that was later burned down. No age group was spared, as the skeletons of juveniles, young adults and middle-age people were found inside the house. The archaeological site is now called "Hamin Mangha" and is one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in north-eastern China. Archaeological and anthropological study indicates that the epidemic happened so quickly that there was no time for proper burials and the site was swiftly deserted and never inhabited again. Before the discovery of Hamin Mangha, another prehistoric mass burial that dates to roughly the same time period was found at a site called Miaozigou, in north-eastern China. Taken together, these discoveries suggest that whatever it was, an epidemic ravaged the entire region.

Stepping forwards about 3000 years, 541-542AD saw the well-established Byzantine Empire being ravaged by the Bubonic plague. Records indicate that the plague spread rapidly across the then known world. Some estimates suggest that up to 10% of the world's population of the time died.
What we know as The Black Death here in Britain, which initially rolled around for 7 years between 1346 and 1353, travelled from Asia to Europe, leaving devastation in its wake. Some estimates suggest that it wiped out over half of Europe's population of that time.

That plague changed the course of Europe's history. With so many dead, labour became harder to find, bringing about better pay for workers
and the end of Europe's system of serfdom. Studies suggest that surviving workers had better access to meat and higher-quality bread. The lack of cheap labour may also have contributed to early technological innovation.

The Black Death's last major outbreak in Great Britain, some 300 years later, caused a mass exodus from London, led by King Charles II. That plague started in April 1665 and spread rapidly through the hot summer months. By the time the plague ended, about 100,000 people, including 15% of the population of London, had died.

At the tail end of WWI in 1918 and continuing into 1920, an estimated 500 million people from the South Seas to the North Pole fell victim to Spanish Flu, which actually originated in Asia and was another deadly viral infection. Around 100 million of those 500 million victims died. Some indigenous communities were pushed to the brink of extinction. The flu's spread and lethal effect was enhanced by the cramped conditions of soldiers and poor wartime nutrition that many people were experiencing towards the end of World War I.

The last one I will mention is the Asian flu epidemic of 1958 to 1959, which a lot of older readers of this newsletter will, like me, have lived through.. This was a particularly nasty viral strain of Influenza A (also known as H2N2). In the 2 years of its global circulation it took the lives of around 70,000 people.

Although we rightly look back at these waves of viral infections with a sense of horror at the scale of the loss of human life, perhaps we also have to reflect that if nature had not thinned out our human numbers over the ages, our likely numbers today would be more than this Earth could possibly provide for.

3) Is the EU Waking Up?:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – On Thursday 30th July 2020, The European Union imposed travel and financial sanctions on a department of Russia's military intelligence service and on firms from North Korea and China because of their suspected participation in major cyber-attacks across the world. In a statement explaining the event, its first ever sanctions related to cybercrime, the EU clearly targeted the department for special technologies of the Russian military intelligence service, known as Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The EU nations together accused the Russian service of having carried out two cyber-attacks in June 2017, which hit several companies in Europe, resulting in large financial losses. The service is also accused of two cyber-attacks against Ukraine's power grid in 2015 and 2016.
Four individuals working for the Russian military intelligence service were also sanctioned for allegedly participating in an attempted cyber-attack against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands in April 2018.

A North Korean company Chosun Expo was also sanctioned on suspicion of having supported the Lazarus Group, which is deemed responsible for a series of major cyber-attacks worldwide, including an $81 million heist against Bangladesh Bank's account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2016, the world's biggest cyber fraud. That same company is also allegedly linked to an attack against Hollywood film studio Sony Pictures to prevent the release of a satirical movie about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2014.

The U.S. Treasury last year imposed sanctions on the Lazarus Group and two other North Korean hacking groups for their alleged participation in the attacks on Sony Pictures and the central bank of Bangladesh, among others. It said North Korea's main intelligence service was behind the hacking groups. North Korea has of course denied any involvement in cyber-attacks. What else would we expect?

The EU sanctions also hit Chinese firm Haitai Technology Development, which is accused of having supported cyber-attacks - known as Operation Cloud Hopper - aimed at stealing commercially sensitive data from multinationals across the world. Two Chinese individuals allegedly involved in the attacks were also sanctioned.

The EU Sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes. EU individuals, companies and other entities are forbidden from making funds available to those blacklisted.

4) Fake News or New Fakes?:

Technological “advance” is updating the motto of the 12th-century Assassins’ Guild . Whereas the Ismaili sect said: “Nothing is true. Everything is permitted”, the malicious, embittered, mentally disturbed and pornographically minded will, if we are not very careful, soon make every truth a lie and every lie a truth.

We did not reach fake news saturation with the Brexit referendum and the Trump presidential campaign. We have barely dipped our toe into these dark waters. Artificial intelligence will allow smartphone users to generate synthetic voices and images that reach a Hollywood level of special effects at next to no cost and with a minimum of effort. If your enemies have video of you, they can make you appear in a porn scene so authentic only you will know that it is false. If they have a recording of your voice, they can have you mouthing racist slogans that could get you fired from your work or suspended from your political party or social club. Some are already doing it. Deep Fake tools, such as “Fake App” are the beginning of an explosion in online lying that makes fake news indistinguishable from real.

Because we now trust video as the most reliable part of our shared reality, we are likely to believe fakes initially, or if it suits us and will go on believing until trust in a shared reality finally totally shatters. Jordan Peterson may not be a thinker all readers reach for, but when he launched a legal action in 2019 against a website that allowed users to generate, “Believable audio of me saying absolutely anything they want me to say”, he gave a warning that’s worth remembering. “How are we, in the near future, going to be able to trust anything electronically mediated? What do we do when anyone can imitate anyone else, for any reason that suits them?”

To give you a bearing on where we are heading, watch the wriggles of the USA’s political right wing as it manoeuvres to downplay the death of George Floyd. At the end of June, a Republican candidate in Missouri produced a dossier alleging that the video of George Floyd’s killing was a deep fake made up of composites and face swaps.

Deep fake technology gives nations such as Russia, China and Iran, which all appear to be swiftly moving into information warfare, the opportunity and the ability to shape international popular opinion into just the form they want it to be in. Coming down to the ordinary person level where we are, think of the people who have been persuaded to hand over bank account and credit card details by manipulative persons invading their world by phone, email or any of the Bluetooth gadgets which we are content to have taking over our lives.

Many of the female readers of this newsletter will be able to explain what is likely to happen in the near future because they have already confronted deep fakery in their private lives. Even Hollywood stars have found they lack the resources to stop the distribution of synthetically generated pornographic films supposedly depicting “them”. One of the American stars of the big screen, Scarlet Johansson, recently gave up the battle to protect her image after her lawyers tried and failed to protect her after “she” appeared in a pornographic film put out for public consumption.

Traditional defences of freedom of speech that most of you and I have long subscribed to are inadequate. You may argue that war, colonialism, fascism and communism all happened without the help of Facebook or the web and we should calm down. Unfortunately, the speed of technological change is an argument against complacency. There were almost four centuries between the invention of the printing press in Europe and the development of photography in the 1830s. That span of time gave opportunity for some steady adjustment, so that societies of those times could and did adapt, both in social mind-set and in Law. Against that, there have been just a bare 29 years between the oldest web page going up in 1991 and the current figure of some 4.7 billion people now on the world wide web.

The need for government to adopt radical policies is obvious. However, there is the urgent question of whether we can actually trust our Government to operate in the interests of the ordinary people, given examples of cash for questions, personal advisors and large donations from corporate entities and billionaires to this or that political party. Somehow, I suspect that we should be more frightened of the present British elite for its foppish laziness and abject cowardice. We have a House of Lords and a civil service stuffed with political appointees whose primary aim seems to be self-interest rather than national interest and I sense most of us genuinely worry about the real purpose and worth of certain “Personal Advisors”. On that point, do please read on.

5) The Good Law Company Limited:

I am a supporter of the above non-profit company, which beavers away quite quietly on behalf of you and me. In a recent publication, there was an article on public money allegedly finding its way somewhat informally in the direction of friends of Mr. Dominic Cummings, who is fairly well known as our P.M.’s apparently favourite personal advisor.

Under the headline, “Money for Dominic Cummings' mates,” the text set out, “Why do so many public contracts end up with friends of Dominic Cummings? Like us, you might have wondered. But, although reporters pick these stories up, nothing ever happens. Well, this time it’s

On 3 March 2020, the Cabinet Office shook hands with Public First, a small privately held polling company. There was no formal contract, prior advertisement, or competitive tender process. It just made what procurement lawyers call a 'direct award'. It formalised it retrospectively on 5 June 2020 and publicised it a week later. The total contract value is £840,000.

The directors and owners of Public First are Ms Rachel Wolf and Mr James Frayne. They have close connections with both the Minister for the Cabinet Office (the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP) and his long-time colleague and Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister who works in the Cabinet Office (Mr Dominic Cummings).

We believe that money for your mates, on a handshake, formalised later, is unlawful. This is why Good Law Project has instructed Rook Irwin Sweeney and leading procurement lawyers Jason Coppel QC and Patrick Halliday. To ensure value for money, to protect public funds, to guard against cronyism and bungs, one must put public contracts out to tender. And there was no exception here to that rule.”
For those of you readers who might wish to find out a little more on this item, you can find more by looking on the Good Law Company’s website. All I can say, as both a Town and County Councillor, is that if either council had acted like that I am dead certain that the staff from Audit Office Wales would be asking questions and making several adverse comments.

6) At Least They Are Fighting For Us!:

Way back in 2017, the Good Law Project declared that they were going to challenge HMRC’s total failure to assess UBER for VAT responsibility, which intentional lack of action clearly erroded public trust in HMRC, which of course has been for many years now, operated and controlled by a Private Firm, CAPITA. As you can read on their website, it has been a long and bumpy battle, with highs and lows along the way, but just recently, UBER’s accounts, in the USA of course, have displayed that they have now been assessed for VAT on fares taken in the UK. As a result, UBER will have to pay to the UK Government, for the eventual benefit of ordinary folks like us, the sizeable sum of £1.5billion.

7) Ward Boundaries & County Councillor Numbers:

Many of you will perhaps recall that in my last ward newsletter, way back in December of last year, I advised you of the activities of the “Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales” and their designated task of trying to bring, to the whole of Wales, some greater levelling of the number of voters represented by each county councillor. Just to refresh your minds a little, their initial recommendations for Buckley was just 2 wards instead of 4, with 3 county councillors in each, for a total of 6, which was down 1 from the total of 7 we have had for some many years. At County level, they were looking to reduce the present total of councillors from 70 down by 10% to 63.

I did report at that time that all of Buckley’s councillors, both at Town and County levels I am pleased to say, were against what was being proposed, because with just a little alteration of ward boundaries, Buckley’s wards and councillor to voter ratios could be brought within 10% or so of their average target figure of 1,836 voters per councillor. Collectively Buckley Town Council represented against the Commission’s initial proposals and submitted what we believed was a better plan. What we proposed was adopted by County Council and some of us councillors, such as me and Cllrs. Neville Phillips, Carol Ellis, along with Mike Peers, each submitted our own reasoned arguments against the Commission’s initial proposals.
I am content to record that the Commission clearly took note of our collective submissions for Buckley. They came back at us with one or two questions as a result of which we did, collectively, make some adjustments to our original proposals and make a re-submission.

In June the Commission published their final recommendations, which will go before the Wales Government later this year for approval. If accepted by the Senedd, Buckley will retain its present 4 wards and its long-standing total of 7 county councillors, with two each in Bistre West, Bistre East and Pentrobin and 1 in Mountain ward. For Bistre East ward, the voter numbers will rise from the present 2,621 to 3,262, by taking in a small portion of Pentrobin ward, across Chester Road, from Church Road down to Drury New Road.

At County level, it now looks as though the final proposals will be that the total number of electoral wards represented will shrink from the present 57 in number, down to 42, but that the total number of county councillors in Flintshire will only reduce to 66.

All of the proposed changes will only have legal standing if the Senedd accepts the final recommendations, which will come into effect as of the local authority elections scheduled for May of 2022.

8) County Council Funding & Financial Peformance During the Past Year:

In round figures, since 2008 financial crash, your county council has lost £100million of funding from the Wales Government, That over a period of time when demand for services is growing and new enactments from the Wales Government, in Social Services and Education, to name but two, have not been accompanied by increased funds to cover the additional cost the legislation has created. In the 2020-2021 financial year which we are now in, with the national inflation figure at some 2.5%, Flintshire received a 0.3% reduction in annual funding, setting us back some 2.8% at a time when there were almost no more easy efficiencies to be found. That meant either reducing service provision or digging more deeply into your private personal pockets by way of increasing the Community Charge. On that point, when we found ourselves needing to raise your Community Charge by 4.7% for this current year, in order to balance the budget, which we are legally required to do, there were many voices raised in protest, because very few residents had received anywhere near a 4.7% pay-rise in the year and Pensions certainly had not gone up by that amount.
Those I spoke with at the time were somewhat less vociferous when I pointed out that the Wales Government advised all 22 County Councils to increase their Community Charge by 7%.

By the time that this newsletter reaches you, the Budget figures for 2021-2022 should have been announced by the Wales Government, but as I and other county councillors start to try to build a budget for that year, we are already aware that we are staring in the face additional cost pressures. Three levels of likely cost pressures (takes that word as “increases” please) have been developed by our finance team. The low figure is a shortfall of some £3.982milion. The medium figure is £4.981million and the top figure is £6.273million if we are to balance the probable budget.
Officers and Councillors such as myself will be seeking every possible way we can to deliver the level and quality of services that residents deserve and need, but it is not going to be easy, or financially painless on residents’ pockets, as far as I can see from the viewpoint of right now. If I am
wrong, I shall be delighted to lead the cheers.

9) Youth Service Funding:

In a recently published report, the young person’s charity YMCA has warned that spending on local youth services is at ‘breaking point’ with an almost 70% decrease in funding in a decade.

An analysis of 84 councils across the UK reveals that while the average budget allocation for youth services per local authority in 2010 was £7.79m, the planned average spending for 2019/20 is just £2.45m. This represents a 69% decline in spending.

According to YMCA, 29% of local authorities have planned financial cuts that would see their spending on youth services decline by 80% since 2010/11. A vast majority of local authorities, (83%), have deliberately planned to cut their funding in half over the nine-year period.
‘Youth services offer a vital lifeline within local communities, providing young people with support, advice and a place to go when they need it most,’ said Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England & Wales. ‘The year-on-year cuts to youth services are not without consequences and we are already seeing the impact of these cuts in communities across the country.’ YMCA also found that there were quite a few areas with planned spending cuts of 80% or more. Liverpool, for example, is planning cuts of 86%, and Southampton and Gateshead are planning 94% and 96% cuts respectively.

The chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, Cllr Judith Blake, warns that because of Government cuts and priority demand pressures, councils have had to divert money from youth services to children’s social care. “They have been forced to cut spending on youth services, by 52%, from £652m in 2010/11 to £352m in 2017/18,” she said. Referring to the YMCA report, Cllr Blake added: “This report provides further evidence of the need for adequate funding for councils’ youth services to make sure that every young person gets the support they need to live healthy, safe and fulfilling lives.”

All that I can do as a councillor who is highly concerned over cut-backs to support for youth clubs and youth services in general, is to agree with Cllr. Judith Blake. I trust that somewhere down in Cardiff, where they not long ago created a legislative item entitled, “The Welfare of Future Generations Act, 2015” those same legislators might get around to realising that we, as a nation, are presently failing to invest adequately in the youth of today, whose need for youthful welfare is right now. That is unfair for our youngsters and unwise for the nation’s future.

10) Deaths Among The Homeless:

The number of homeless people dying has increased by 22% in the past year, according to recently released figures,
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that an estimated 726 homeless people died in England and Wales last year, up from 597 in 2017. This figure also means that the number of deaths among homeless people has increased by 51% over the last six years.

Connected with that increase, the number of those deaths related to drug poisoning has increased by 55% in the past year, accounting for two in five deaths. Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis and life events at the Office for National Statistics said: “The death of 726 homeless people in England and Wales recorded in 2018 represents an increase of over a fifth on the previous year. That is the largest rise since these figures began in 2013. A key driver of the change is the number of deaths related to drug poisoning which is up by 55% since 2017, compared to 16%, for the population as a whole.”

The think tank Reform said the figures show government’s current policies are failing. Dr Luke Heselwood, senior Reform researcher, said: “One year on from the flagship Homelessness Reduction Act and the Rough Sleeping Strategy, which were meant to bolster efforts to prevent homelessness, the number of people dying on our streets should not be on the rise. Short-term, hand-to-mouth funding for local services has inhibited councils’ efforts to implement this legislation and prevent those at risk from becoming homeless.

Long-term sustainable funding for these services is a must to reverse this terrible trend.” John Glenton, executive director of care and support for The Riverside Group, commented that early intervention was key to cutting the number of deaths. “Analysis of rough sleeper figures earlier this year showed that areas which received additional Rough Sleeper Initiative funding saw the number of rough sleepers fall by almost a quarter (23%) on average – almost halfway to the Government’s manifesto pledge to halve rough sleeping by 2020,” he said. “However, statistics released earlier this year also show that the number of households in temporary accommodation increased by 5% to the highest level for more than 11 years. In order to tackle our country’s homelessness crisis we need to see significant and sustained funding increases for rough sleeper services, supported housing, mental health and substance misuse services, and affordable housing.” The figures show that the highest numbers of deaths among homeless people were recorded in London and the North West region. The number of deaths in these two regions equated to a third of the total number. John Leech, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Manchester, said: “Today's figures highlight the gross incompetence and lack of proper prioritisation by local and national politicians. Not only is it a complete embarrassment, but it exposes the deeply worrying, critical and consistent failure of a local and national system that simply doesn’t care.’

11) Results from July’s truck and bus checking operation show big rise in drink and drug offences

A WEEK-LONG police safety operation across UK and Europe has led to the removal from the roads of some 1,326 trucks and buses for dangerous defects. The action followed checks of more than 322,772 trucks across 27 countries between 22 and 28 July. Co-ordinated by TISPOL, the European Road Policing Network, the operation saw police carrying out a wide range of safety inspections that focused on speeding, alcohol, drugs, seatbelt use, tachograph infringements, excess weight, dangerous loading and document offences.
Altogether, 18.2 per cent of the 200,298 trucks and 6.9 per cent of the 122,474 buses checked by officers had some form of violation against the rules. The number of drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs (257) has increased considerably since 2018, when there were 147 offences detected in a similar European week-long operation.

A total of 44,745 offences were reported, including the following:

257 drivers for alcohol and drug offences
5,680 instances of drivers exceeding their maximum permitted time at the wheel 266 manipulations of digital tachographs 4,801 examples of incorrect tachograph management.
1,756 overweight trucks and 1,514 insecure loads. Of the 2,929 trucks prohibited from continuing their journeys, most were because of technical defects on the vehicles. Officers checking buses recorded 685 cases of missing documents, 1,146 seatbelt offences, 1,634 speeding violations and 332 technical defects. TISPOL president Volker Orben said: “TISPOL is committed to safer, more secure roads across Europe. Key to this is improved monitoring of large goods vehicles, their drivers and their cargoes. We know that the vast majority of truck drivers and operators take a pride in the quality and safety of their work and we strive to support them. We find they value the work we do, and co-operation with them at the roadside is generally excellent.

“It is against the less scrupulous operators, who put profits first and who will cut safety corners in the process, that our efforts are focused. We are also working to ensure a more consistent enforcement of current laws governing large goods vehicle safety.”

12) Fraud, Yes, but Action, No!:

Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, has been heavily criticised for the way it treats the victims of fraud. In August, The Times newspaper published an article by one of their reporters who had been sent, undercover, to work at Concentrix which runs Action Fraud’s day-to-day operations. The reporter found that victims who phoned in were routinely mocked and called “morons” and “screwballs” by low-wage call-centre staff pretending to be police officers.

Staff were banned from telling victims that the majority of their cases were dismissed, instead giving the impression that their case would be investigated further. Call-centre employees themselves chose whether a victim’s case was filed as a crime report or the less serious information report, which was unlikely to receive a follow-up. The Times article said crime reports were likely to be passed to fraud investigators only if there was a high chance of a suspect being caught. Most were rejected by call-centre staff, or by an algorithm which the reports were put to.
In 2018 there were an estimated 3.6 million incidents of fraud reported, but as few as one in 50 fraud cases lead to a suspect being caught. Action Fraud was set up and is funded by The Home Office. It is supposed to be supervised by the City of London Police and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), but its incoming phone-call activities have been outsourced to a call-centre in Glasgow, which employs staff with minimal training on £8.50 an hour. The Times reported that staff admitted to being drunk at work and falling asleep on calls.

Commander Karen Baxter, national lead for economic crime at City of London police, said she is “personally leading the review” into the allegations. She said: “The incidents he [the journalist] describes do not represent the standards of work and ethics we expect from anyone associated with the City of London Police. We will be carrying out an immediate examination of standards and requiring our agents to do the same.” She said the “vast majority” of staff do a good job, and she hopes this will not dissuade members of the public from reporting fraud they have fallen victim to. A spokesperson for Concentrix said four people had been suspended following The Times report. She added: “We take these allegations extremely seriously and have launched an immediate investigation. “A small number of isolated incidents have occurred which are not representative of our organisation and our values.”

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which? said: “These reports will be very worrying for people who have been victims of fraud. Too often, victims are left feeling abandoned and confused as investigations drag on with little sign of progress. Our own research estimates only one in 20 cases reported to Action Fraud are solved. While it is right that an investigation has been launched, these disturbing revelations reinforce the need for the government, banks and regulators to move swiftly to introduce better protections for consumers and vital anti-fraud measures like confirmation of payee security checks.”

In response to the Action Fraud report by The Times, APCC Fraud Lead, PCC Clive Grunshaw, and Deputy Fraud Lead, PCC Anthony Stansfeld, said: “Speaking on behalf of all Police and Crime Commissioner colleagues, we are deeply concerned by the content of The Times report on failings in Action Fraud. Victim care should be at the very heart of a whole system approach to combat this vile crime, whereby criminals often target the most vulnerable in our communities.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners support the recommendations from the recent HMICFRS thematic inspection of fraud, particularly in relation to Action Fraud and wider victim care. We will be seeking assurances from the City of London Police that the recommendations are being urgently progressed and the allegations in this report are being
properly investigated.

Fraud accounts for around a third of all crime in England and Wales with an estimated 3.6 million incidents last year alone, which cost the UK economy an estimated £190 billion. Government needs to ensure a whole system strategy is in place, together with adequate investment, to prevent fraud in the first place and provide a good service to those who fall victim.”

13) What A Cheek!:

The chief executive of Caerphilly County Borough Council has recently been sacked after a six year suspension, on full pay of £137,000, p.a. over ‘unlawful’ pay rises. Anthony O'Sullivan was suspended in March 2013 after a report by the Wales Audit Office concluded that 20% pay rises given to senior officers at the council in 2012 were unlawful on a number of grounds.

Assistant Auditor-General Anthony Barrett found that the Senior Remuneration Committee was not properly advertised in accordance with the Local Government Act. The agendas for the meeting were also not made available for public inspection. He also found that Mr O’Sullivan, his deputy Nigel Barnett and head of legal services Daniel Perkins participated in the committee’s decision making process when they had a disqualifying financial interest.

“Certain officers, including the chief executive, who would have been (and indeed were) beneficiaries of the decision were present at the meeting to approve the salary increases,” he said. “No declarations of interest were made and these officers did not leave the room while the decision was made.”

All three were subsequently arrested on suspicion of fraud and misconduct in public office and suspended from the council on full pay. However, the charges were dropped in 2015. Mr. Barnett and Mr Perkins agreed pay-outs worth £300,000 between them, while Mr O’Sullivan remained on special leave until 4th October 2019, when a Special Meeting of council decided to dismiss him ‘with immediate effect’.
It is estimated that the row has cost the local authority £4m.
“We regret the amount of time and money that has been spent on this matter, but we had no choice other than to follow the agreed statutory process,” said interim council leader Barbara Jones. “It should also be noted that during this time we had to allow criminal investigations to proceed, which added almost two and a half years to the overall time-frame. This decision concludes a very difficult chapter for the council. However, we must now move forward.”

Following on from the decision, Mr O'Sullivan told The BBC he would appeal the decision, and said there had been a 'vicious media campaign' against him. Since his suspension, Mr O'Sullivan has received nearly £900,000 in salary payments. With legal costs and payouts to the two other officers involved, the cost to the UK’s taxpayers has been estimated at between £4m and £6m. As if that £900,000 quantity of income, for sitting at home and doing nothing over the past 6 years were not sufficient, on 24th October, 2019, he set in motion a legal action contesting his sacking.
Mr O'Sullivan has since made claims for about £319,000 that will be considered by councillors shortly. The biggest claim is understood to be for payment in lieu of leave since 2013, totalling £159,000. A claim for legal costs of £41,000 along with money claimed for Returning Officer Fees totalling £79,000 have also been submitted. In addition to those claims, other claims include reinstatement of salary from May 2017, for £22,000 and a £15,000 pay award for a chief executive.
A pay rise which Mr O'Sullivan might have been entitled to could take the total to £328,000, which is more than he claimed.

14) Corporate Profits or Climate Protection? No Contest!:

The Guardian newspaper recently revealed the 20 fossil fuel companies whose relentless exploitation of the world’s oil, gas and coal reserves can be directly linked to more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era.
New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965. Those identified range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell – to state-owned companies including Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Gazprom. Chevron topped the list of the eight investor-owned corporations, followed closely by Exxon, BP and Shell. Together these four global businesses are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

Twelve of the top 20 companies are state-owned. Together their extractions are responsible for 20% of total emissions in the same period. The leading state-owned polluter is Saudi Aramco, which has produced 4.38% of the global total on its own. Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, said the findings shone a light on the role of fossil fuel companies and called on politicians at the forthcoming climate talks in Chile in December to take urgent measures to rein in their activities.
© Guardian

15 . Christmas & The New Year:

Sadly, because of the Covid-19 situation, the town’s usual Christmas Lighting and other events cannot be held. Just what the rules will be in 8 weeks’ time, I can only guess, but I hope you are all able to enjoy Christmas and the New Year, in whatever way is permitted at the time.

If you have problems and need a word of advice or support, I am always available, 24 hours of the day and seven days of the week, via my home phone number of 01244 549421. If I am out, please leave a recorded message. I will get back to you as soon as I can. I can also be contacted on email at arnold.woolley@flintshire.gov.uk and emailaddytobearranged. You are also very welcome to visit my website at www.arnoldwoolley.com.


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