Ugh. Some realities about our local government.
To return to questions of politics and Caversham and Emmer Green – and, indeed, Reading. Herewith, below, are some local issues and what we’ve noticed in connection with them.
First things first – two things to keep in mind:
a) This is what we’ve found by looking into issues a little. If we’re wrong we’re more than happy to be corrected. Just use the ‘Something To Share?’ link on this page to get in touch.
b) Inevitably, the bulk of the focus of Reading’s local politics is on Labour, simply because they are in power and have been for yonks. Do not make the mistake of thinking we are anti-Labour, pro-Tory or any other permutation. We set out our views on English politics in our earlier entry, ‘In Every Dream Home’.
Building On The Golf Course
Sadly, all the issues we raised in the ‘In Every Dream Home’ entry remain true. To bring things up to date.
We contacted South Oxfordshire MP John Howell (Conservative) about ‘calling in’ the decision by Reading Borough Council (RBC) to allow the development. After all, the developers have made it clear they want to expand their building into South Oxfordshire. We heard nothing from him.
Incidentally, you can find out more about how Mr Howell votes in parliament here, on the ‘They Work For You’ website:
On the 31st March we contacted Reading East MP Matt Rodda (Labour) about the same thing. On the 8th April, we heard back from him. In his reply he reiterated that he opposed the development, and says he asked RBC to oppose it. His letter to RBC is on his website:
He does not say if anyone from RBC replied. (He didn’t explain how he can be so out of step with ‘his’ local party – a question we raised with him on the 8th March). And he did not make it clear if he personally asked the government to call RBC’s decision in.
He did say that he is trying to prevent the development expanding – and also that he is concerned about other developments in Caversham/Emmer Green. It seems to us that how he can achieve much without RBC’s support is a moot point.
You can find out more about how Mr Rodda votes in parliament here, on the ‘They Work For You’ website:
Should you wish to know more about this particular issue, the ‘Keep Emmer Green’ (KEG) website and newsletters –
– provide all the information you need about the whole development, RBC’s changing stance and, indeed, what they are getting out of it all.
We’ve not seen any explanation or justification from RBC as an entity (as it were) for its actions, nor have we seen any individual Labour councillors justify/explain either RBC’s actions or their own personal positions on the issue. Take from that what you will.
For us, at the end of the day Climate Change is the dominant issue with this building work. As individuals, we can all do our bit to mitigate the damage that’s happening to the environment. If you’re in a position whereby you have greater influence than the purely personal – e.g. if you are on a council planning committee – then you can do that much more. That RBC, the golf club owners and the developers have all decided to not act in the light of the looming climate disaster reflects on them accordingly. Everyone’s legacy will be judged by their role in combatting climate change. ‘Money doesn’t talk, it swears.’ (Bob Dylan) Indeed.
The Popularity Issue
We came across this item, at face value about the popularity of RBC:
Now, we’re no statisticians, but what was screaming out at us was the survey had ‘Over 1,000 responses …’. That didn’t seem very many. And we have heard about the concept of statistical significance.
So, our first question was, how many people live in the RBC area who could have responded. A quick check gave us this –
– which suggests about 160,000 people.
We then went looking on ‘Survey Monkey’ (after all, they should know) where we found this –
– which includes this tool –
which says to us that even if there had been 1,500 responses, the results would not have been statistically significant. (And in fact there were only 1,057 responses, according to the footnote on the Council’s press release.)
To double-check as best we could, we then asked a professional marketeer, and they confirmed our suspicion.
The upshot, it seems, is that the survey results are, in effect, meaningless.
To go with the ‘Money doesn’t talk …’ quote above, it feels like we could add ‘Lies, damned lies, and statistics.’ (Possibly, Benjamin Disraeli.)
And then there’s your million quid
Now, this is even trickier than popularity. We are not accountants. In the traditional press and social media we came across claims that RBC’s accounts are late and, where they exist, are qualified. What’s that all about …? Well, looking on the RBC website here:
we found that:
a) yes, the 2020/21 accounts are delayed;
b) the 2019/20 accounts have ‘draft’ status;
c) the 2018/19 accounts have ‘qualified’ status;
d) the 2017/18 accounts have ‘qualified’ status;
e) the 2016/17 accounts have ‘qualified’ status.
That begs the obvious question – what in this context does ‘qualified’ mean. We didn’t know, so we looked it up. ‘The Law Dictionary’ gives an easy to understand explanation:
“A term used by auditors about accounts which have been audited and the auditor has doubts or disagrees with certain aspects of the accounts.”
The ‘Accounting Tools’ website offers a longer but, we thought, quite measured definition, here:
“A qualified opinion is a written statement by a certified public accountant in an audit report, stating that the financial statements of a client are fairly presented, except for a specified issue. The issue typically relates to a limitation on the scope of the audit, so that the auditor was unable to obtain sufficient evidence to verify various aspects of the transactions and reports being audited. Qualified opinions may also be issued if there is a lack of conformity with GAAP, inadequate disclosure, uncertainties in estimates, or the statement of cash flows has been omitted.
“The qualified opinion is listed in the third position in the audit report, after a statement of management’s responsibilities for preparing the financial statements and maintaining a system of internal controls, and a description of the auditor’s responsibilities.
“In essence, an organization that is being audited tries to avoid a qualified opinion, since it casts doubt on the financial statements of the entity.”
And the financial section of ‘The Free Dictionary’ offers a more blunt, or perhaps crass explanation, depending on your point of view:
“An auditor’s statement that he/she is unable to render a full opinion about a company’s finances, or a portion thereof, because the company’s accounting does not meet the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or because the information was for some reason incomplete. In other words, a qualified opinion states that the company’s accounting is so sloppy that the auditor cannot render an opinion. This is placed on the front page of an audit.”
How significant is all this?
Well, it seems to us that it boils down to how you, personally, value public money – which, of course, is your money if you are paying tax.
This item from ‘The Reading Chronicle’ (October last year) explains that the current attempts to sort out RBC’s accounts have cost us – the people who pay their bills – over a million quid in additional fees. Yes, these are additional fees. (And in case you’re wondering, that doesn’t cover all the costs that are still to be worked out.)
(There’s more reporting on the ‘Chronicle’ if you’re keen. And also ‘Berkshire Live’, if you can find your way around that awful website!)
And if you read/hear that the council’s accounting problems ultimately lie in ‘historic failures’ to keep good accounts, then that has to be seen in context. After all, RBC has been Labour controlled for a long time:
Of course, it is up to you to decide what you think about a local government that’s spending that amount of your money (and more) on fixing their own accounts.
What would you have done with a million quid?