‘Jesus burgers’ and Tory councillors: The new Freedom Church strategy?

In what looks to be another effort to increase their stranglehold on Hereford, two Freedom Church pastors could be about to open a burger restaurant in the city.

Jon Johnson

Tory candidate, Jon Johnson

Josh and Rosie Snowzell are listed as directors of a Bromleys Hereford Burger Limited, incorporated in June 2014, and are rumoured to be in talks with Old Market Hereford.

The Heckler has heard from a source closely linked to the project that architects are involved in drawing up layout plans for a restaurant at the new shopping complex.

Old Market Hereford have refused to either confirm or deny these rumours.

In a separate development Freedom Church is also claimed to have put forward candidates for the local elections.

A leaflet, allegedly published by the church, states “vote for Conservative Jon Johnson, let’s vote for Hereford Freedom Church”.

Johnson had been a Freedom Church employee until 2014 and both he and his wife continue to be connected to them. He was announced as the Conservative candidate for Wormside, a south Herefordshire ward including the villages of Kingstone, Allensmore and Kilpeck.

Another Conservative candidate, Mark McEvilly, standing in Hereford’s Saxon Gate ward, is another council hopeful found to be closely linked with the church.

Jon Johnson leafletMcEvilly’s proposer and seconder, Allen and Sue Carter, are also Freedom Church supporters. Allen is employed by the televangelist Christian Broadcasting Network, which has its European office based in Hereford. All other eight of his candidacy nominees either have links to Freedom Church itself or other similar style Christian organisations.

Charity rules ban organisations like Freedom Church from getting involved in politics. Expressing support for a particular party or candidate is explicitly forbidden.

If these revelations are more than an extremely coincidental set of circumstances, then it represents a worrying development in the church’s dominant aspirations. In the past senior members have sat on the board of governors at Whitecross high school, and been involved in the delivery of youth and social services with their 2XL programme. They are potentially now not only expanding their business activities but moving into politics as well.

Freedom Church’s quest for global growth is openly documented with their 10/04 programme that is hoping to establish a further 10 churches around the world in the next four years. What is not open is the links they have being closed doors in Herefordshire.

They are becoming a powerful public and private network involved in business, politics and social care. You only need to look through press reports, and indeed videos of their own sermons, to realise the religious message they preach is ugly and extremist.

Herefordshire’s planning committee: A tale of councillor corruption

It’s that old open secret isn’t it: Herefordshire Council’s planning department is bent. You can’t put your finger on it but you know there’s dodgy deals that go on behind closed doors.

Cllr Phil Cutter taking a break from the corruption

Cllr Phil Cutter taking a break from the corruption

Those closed doors were thrown wide open on the morning of 11th February, when the planning committee met to discuss four applications, two of which were submitted by members of the planning committee themselves.

Naturally with a conflict of interest the two councillors were prevented from speaking on their own applications (and one couldn’t be bothered to turn up at all).

The committee heard of plans, submitted by Independent councillor John Hardwick, for 22 family homes and 11 affordable homes in Fownhope – a constituent village of the Backbury ward he represents.

The council’s principal planning officer concluded the application did not constitute a major development in local terms and recommended it for approval.

The chairman however, Tory councillor Phil ‘free lunch’ Cutter, ignored the professional advice and refused permission, claiming it was a major development. He then instructing council planning officers to find reasons to support his view in the formal refusal, despite their recommendation it be approved.

On to the application by the absent Tory councillor, Dave Greenow, for a three-bed house in Dinedor.

Fellow Tory councillor, Peter Sinclair-Knipe, spoke up in favour, giving it all the emotional X Factor sob-story of ‘personal family circumstances’ and the ‘demands of modern farming’.

Despite these amateur dramatics other members of the planning committee noted that:

• “The applicant had failed to engage with the planning process and provide information required to support the application.”

• “The application was contrary to policy. Information to support approval having regard to paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework had not been provided.”

• And crucially, it was recommended for refusal by the principal planning officer, who said the application had originally been for an agricultural dwelling “but evidence to support the functional need had not been provided”. The officer said the current application was for a house on the open market, in open countryside, and on that basis should be refused.

This time the committee chairman, Free-lunch Cutter (who is Greenow’s “best buddy”, according to one councillor we spoke to), approved the application with a nod.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how corruption works.

Council scoop ‘services to workplace bullying’ award

Shire Hall councilHerefordshire Council have become the unlucky winners of Private Eye’s ‘services to workplace bullying’ award.

In their 9 January 2015 issue the Eye wrote:

“Staff who complained about a flawed new IT system at Herefordshire Council were bullied by managers – and then paid to keep quiet.

“Up to 20 victims received compensation, while three senior managers were sent on their way with fat cheques. All had to sign gagging orders.

Pay-offs totalled hundreds of thousands of pounds, but the Tory–Independent coalition refused to reveal the precise price of silence.”

Congratulations, Herefordshire Council!

Councillors’ expenses revealed: what they claim

Cllr Johnson-1Last week we revealed how councillors were using public money to buy themselves computers.

As part of two freedom of information requests to Herefordshire Council we were sent copies of expenses forms and receipts for the nine councillors we featured in our report.

These documents show what councillors are claiming for as part of their expenses, ranging from petrol and computers to phone calls and food.

Click on the links below to download the PDF files.

Cllr Attwood

Cllr Cutter

Cllr Durkin

Cllr Johnson

Cllr Johnson2

Cllr Lester

Cllr Lloyd-Hayes

Cllr Powers

Cllr Sinclair-Knipe

Cllr Swinford

 

See also:

Councillors buy themselves iPads, iMacs with your money

Council leader blags two computers in less than two years

Who ate all the egg mayos? You f… Phil ate all the egg mayos

Councillors buy themselves iPads, iMacs with your money

HecklerB_V2Councillors are using taxpayer’s money to buy themselves computers while jobs and services on the frontline are being cut.

And amid the dire financial crisis Herefordshire Council finds itself in, over £35,000 has haemorrhaged, with those at the top personally benefitting.

In 2011 councillors were each allocated a £1,000 allowance over a three-year term to buy ICT equipment, a move designed to reduce paper work and encourage tablet computer use in council meetings.

Herefordshire Council decided not to use its buying power to bulk-purchase the necessary 58 tablets—and thereby obtaining the best value for money—but instead allowed each councillor the freedom to purchase whatever ICT equipment they saw fit.

And under allowance rules all computers automatically become the personal property of the councillor, not the council.

After an eight-month freedom of information battle—which initially saw the council refuse to let us see copies of councillors’ expenses unless we visited their offices in person—the Hereford Heckler can reveal the scale of the financial abuse.

A total of £36,122.86 was given away to councillors during the first two years since the scheme began (2011–2013).

Carolyn Cameron, the council’s senior governance support officer, told us that “equipment purchased by councillors under the scheme belongs to the councillor and will not be returned to the council at the end of their term in office”.

We were also told that councillors already have dedicated IT facilities at the council’s Brockington headquarters on Hafod Road.

“In addition, all councillors receive a crypto-card following election, which enables them to hot-desk from any council building [in the county] or wherever is convenient to them.”

A total of £19,960.04 was claimed in 2011–2012 for ICT expenses. The year’s top spenders were:

• Cllr Jonathan Lester, who claimed £999 for an Apple iMac computer;

• Cllr Marcelle Lloyd-Hayes, who claimed the full £1,000 for an Apple MacBook Air;

• Cllr Peter Sinclair-Knipe, who also claimed the full £1,000 for a Dell PC;

• Cllr Gary Swinford, who claimed £999 for an Apple MacBook Pro laptop.

Claims in 2012–2013 were down slightly on the previous year, totalling £16,162.82. Four top spenders all claimed the full £1,000:

• Cllr Carl Attwood, who bought an Apple MacBook Air laptop;

• Cllr Phil Cutter, who bought an Acer desktop computer, Acer Iconia tablet, keyboard dock and stylus;

• Cllr Barry Durkin, who bought an Apple iPad, Sony laptop and anti-glare film for an iPhone;

• Cllr Anthony Powers, who bought an Asus laptop, Acer monitor, Samsung Galaxy tablet, an external hard drive and a Vodafone Sure Signal 3G booster box.

Out of these eight, two councillors’ claims particularly stood out:

• Cllr Marcelle Lloyd-Hayes, It’s Our County member for Tupsley ward and a Ledbury Road resident, lives within walking distance of several council offices and with her own dedicated IT resource at Brockington just 10-minutes away on foot. Lloyd-Hayes, who undoubtedly had IT facilities at home prior to her 2011 claim, saw it fit to use council money to buy herself a top-spec computer.

We got in touch with Cllr Lloyd-Hayes and asked whether she thought spending £1,000 for unnecessary equipment was a gross misuse of public money. We were told she would “use IOC WEBSITE [sic] for those interested in my expenses”. To date she has said nothing on her party’s website regarding the ICT allowance;

• The invoice for Cllr Peter Sinclair-Knipe’s £1,047.60 Dell PC was made out to his business, The SK Partnership. Can the council be sure that the Conservative member for Hollington ward has not abused his allowance in order to obtain IT equipment for his private businesses, which include Social Season Hatters, an online retailer?

We asked Cllr Sinclair-Knipe for further information on his ICT spending, which he refused to give. Instead we were advised to contact the council’s monitoring officer.

Cllr Carl Attwood told us that home IT facilities are essential.

“Some of the work I have been asked to do as part of my councillor duties has required the writing of a document which when fully published with all the supporting papers will run to around 500 pages.
“This has to date occupied over 120 hours work, much of which would have been nigh impossible to do carting all the paperwork to council offices and often at out-of-office hours.”

All other councillors featured in this article were given the opportunity to respond but refused our invitation.*

Important questions need to be asked: Why is responsibility for IT procurement not given to council staff? And why don’t councillors return all work-related IT equipment when their term in office ends?

A review of the ICT and consumables allowance is due to take place prior to next year’s local elections.

Council leader blags two computers in less than two years

Who ate all the egg mayos? You f… Phil ate all the egg mayos

*CORRECTION: Only Cllrs Attwood, Cutter, Lloyd-Hayes and Sinclair-Knipe out of the eight featured in this article were contacted for a response.