Information has reached the SKWAWKBOX that had slipped beneath the radar until now. It’s of particular interest because everyone knows that Tories will screw over Labour areas without a second thought, but the usual assumption is that they will protect their ‘heartlands’, if only out of self-interest – for example, the ‘Surrey sweetheart deal‘.
But this case shows that they will screw over their own areas just as eagerly as soon as it suits them – as long as they think they can get away with it.
Even if it means lying to do so.
The case involves Tory-controlled Gloucestershire County Council (GCC), which has been involved for some years in negotiations for a planned waste incinerator – or rather, a cabal or subset of its Tory councillors have, as until a few weeks ago even most GCC councillors were unaware of the details of the deal.
Discussions began in 2009 but local people were already fighting the plans. In 2013 the cabal signed a contract with their chosen provider and a few weeks later, the council’s planning committee refused planning permission unanimously.
The small group of councillors who were, for unknown reasons, determined to see the project go ahead, supported the developer’s appeal to the government and in 2015 the then-Communities Secretary Eric Pickles overturned the planning refusal to force through the project against the wishes of opposition councillors and the local people.
Locals continued to object strongly and the Labour opposition on the council tabled a motion to cancel the contract citing public objection (including a petition of 7,600 signatures) and the availability of cheaper alternative systems such as MBT which offered less environmental impact and recycled waste instead of burning it.
To fight off this motion, the Tories stated that the project would save the council £150 million, while cancelling it would cost a staggering £100 million – 20% of the total contract value of £500 million.
In 2015, campaigners submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the details of the contract, which the Council refused to disclose. An appeal was lodged with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the ICO decided in favour of the campaigners, ordering the council to release the contract – but the version released by the council had all the most vital information redacted:, making a mockery of the ICO’s instruction:
Campaigners appealed to the ICO and the council was told to release the information, so it lodged an appeal with a High Court Information Tribunal against the ICO’s decision.
Now things descended into farce – unfunny farce. The council spent £200-300,000 fighting to avoid releasing information of clear public interest – and then accidentally, a few weeks before the Tribunal’s decision, via an ‘IT error’ – released the whole, unredacted contract into the public domain.
This week, the Tribunal ruled in favour of campaigners and the ICO – but of course by now the issue was largely irrelevant, as all the information was available anyway, although this didn’t stop the council laughably trying to claim victory because the Tribunal had allowed them to conceal a small amount of information.
And the now-disclosed information was damning.
Where Tory councillors had claimed – at planning permission stage – that to cancel the contract would cost £100 million, analysis of the details of the contract showed this to be nonsense. If it had been cancelled at the original refusal it would have cost around £15 million, and even now, it would cost ‘only’ £36 million – less than would be saved by switching to the cheaper, more environmentally-friendly alternative that is now, thanks to a community-funded initiative, readily available.
Ironically, the Tories’ determination to spend many months and hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting to conceal their lie has made the current cancellation cost higher than it needed to be, as the cost of work done on the project has risen in that time.
There also appears to be little support in the figures for the Tories’ claim that the project would generate any savings. Any that might materialise would not appear until many years into the contract, if at all – and even then only in comparison to landfill. Compared to cheaper, more environmentally friendly options there would be no savings at all.
In spite of being caught out in their lies, the Tories remain determined to press ahead with a project that will result in a huge incineration plant on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty. 140 schools comprising over 20,000 children lie within a 5-mile radius likely to be affected by the dioxins and other pollutants that will inevitably be generated by the plant and over 43,000 children within a 10-mile radius that could still be affected by toxins.
All for ‘savings’ that will cost their residents far more than a far better alternative.
A public council meeting will take place on Weds 22 March – and will be crammed with residents bursting to put awkward questions to the council. A Pants on Fire demonstration will also take place outside the meeting:
No doubt the councillors concerned will receive the reception their behaviour deserves. If you live in the area, or can get there in support, please attend to make sure the mendacious councillors get the message loud and clear.
These events are taking place in Gloucestershire, but they are of huge relevance for the whole country under a Tory government because of what they reveal about the Tory mentality.
Tories love to talk about ‘localism’ and ’empowering local people’ – but this is merely camouflage for cuts and other unpopular measures, setting local councils up to take the blame for their unpopularity. When locally-empowered people are an inconvenience – for example when a planning application is refused – the Tories revert to central control to force through plans rejected by local residents.
In Gloucester, this means a white elephant incinerator generating toxins, reducing recycling and costing money unnecessarily. In Lancashire and Yorkshire, it means fracking licences granted against the emphatic wishes of residents and councillors.
The Gloucestershire case speaks to the Tories’ love of secrecy, to provide a cover for them to act recklessly or corruptly. Whether that’s hiding details of a contract or of the NHS Risk Register prior to the Tory-led coalition government pushing through its NHS ‘Lansley reforms’. Both of these concealments involved Tories ignoring the instructions of the ICO and the clear public interest in disclosure – and going to court to try to maintain unwarranted secrecy.
It also speaks volumes about the Tories’ hatred of admitting error – unless they have absolutely no choice.
The Tories in Gloucestershire are determined to press ahead with an expensive, inefficient, polluting ‘solution’ rather than bite the bullet and switch to a cleaner, efficient, profitable one.
The Tories in government press ahead with austerity, corporate tax cuts, nuclear missiles that don’t work (and lying about the failed test even when the truth is out), and and and. The list is almost endless.
In this case, whether you live in an inner city, suburn or rural idyll, Gloucestershire is perfect illustration of why you should ‘never trust a Tory’ – and that even living in a ‘Tory’ area is no exemption.
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