Saturday, 29 March 2014

Skidder Shorts - No.4 - The Art of Spin

The Art of Spin Revisited!

Sandwell Council recently trumpeted expenditure of £500,000 on new LED lanterns for the street lighting in the Borough - presumably so that people could better see the all-pervading dog-turds strewing the streets. The press release was duly trotted out by the local media without question (even though SMBC keeps claiming to be hard-up).

Of course, this is all taxpayer money but, hey, it's environmental (?), will save power (?) etc etc. Doesn't sound too bad does it?

But what is this in the "Street Scene" capital budget 2013/14 -"Street Lighting LED replacement - £371,000 - "prudential" borrowing! Strangely there was no mention of this in the press release nor in comments from councillors. And so, like much else in Cooper's Wongaland, it is not "tax and spend" but "borrow and spend".

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Skidder Shorts - No. 3 - An Interesting Comment on the Economy.....

An interesting comment on the economy:

"Until 2013, the economic recovery in the UK since 2008 had been the worst and
slowest recovery in recent history, however growth has rebounded during 2013 to
surpass all expectations, propelled by recovery in consumer spending and the
housing market. Forward surveys are also currently very positive in indicating that
growth prospects are strong for 2014, not only in the UK economy as a whole, but
in all three main sectors, services, manufacturing and construction.

One drag on the economy is that wage inflation continues to remain significantly
below CPI inflation so disposable income and living standards are under pressure,
although income tax cuts have ameliorated this to some extent. This means that
labour productivity must improve significantly, for this situation to be corrected by
the warranting of increases in pay rates."

So as long as everyone works harder it should all be OK.... Now where did this come from? George Osborne? The Daily Blackshirt?

In fact it is from the Budget document for "socialist" (sic) Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. Right On, Comrades!


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Monday, 24 March 2014

Skidder Shorts - No. 2 - MP's Expenses (Labour) - Sandwell

Wealthy Tom Watson still tops the list of Sandwell MP's for expenses.

The figures for 2013-2014 show that the scourge of Eton College, ex-public school boy John Spellar, got by on a modest £12,442.27p whilst Bailey (who he? - Ed) next door and with (presumably) similar travel, office costs etc clocked-up a whopping £23,237,14 according to the IPSA website.

But for more than two Spellars you get one Watson. The would-be London restaurateur, Champagne Tommy, received a mere £27,833.97 from hard-pressed taxpayers.

Why the big difference when they all come from the same small area?

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Friday, 14 March 2014

Sandwell Council and College - Taking The Urine

Before reading this post may I invite you to visit WhatDoTheyKnow.com and search for the two FOI requests by Mr Darryl Magher relating to the, still secret, deal concerning The Public, West Bromwich. The quickest way is to simply type "Concordat" in the search box. There you will see that ALL relevant information on the "deal" - which was not put out to tender or open competition - has been redacted (ie blacked-out) so that us mere scum cannot see it. This from two publicly-funded bodies....

It is noteworthy that the Public Accounts Committee have just called for contracts with private providers to be subject to Freedom of Information disclosure and, apparently, G4S, Capita, Serco and Atos are agreeing with this!

We are indebted again to Mr Magher for requesting an internal review of the so-called "disclosure" and this is worth a read as it shows the bizarre route Sandwell Council and Sandwell College have taken in awarding the contracts in the first place - attempting to resurrect the Building Schools for the Future programme which was scrapped by the Government in 2010. It is admitted that they "went to great lengths" to keep the deals secret! I have set out the request for the review below.

STOP PRESS - OUR "FRIENDS" INTERSERVE HAVE JUST "UNDERBID" TWO OTHER LARGE CONSTRUCTION COMPANIES AND BEEN AWARDED THE NEW SMBC CONTRACT TO BUILD THE NEW WEDNESBURY LEISURE CENTRE!!!!

Here is Mr Magher's request for a review:

To:  (1) Adrian Scarrott, Director of Neighbourhoods, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council;
        (2) Mr C. Davies, Vice-Principal (Standards & Information), Sandwell College.
Application for an Internal Review – Freedom of Information Act 2000
SMBC Ref: INT1-658301905
Sandwell College Ref: 192984-c35c6c92c@whatdotheyknow.com
I repeat my original request dated 15th January, 2014 in its entirety. The reply does not answer the request in any way and it has been so-heavily redacted so as to have been rendered entirely meaningless. I believe that I am entitled to have the original request answered fully in accordance with Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Background to the Request
In 2013 Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) closed the public-owned facility in central West Bromwich known as “The Public”. SMBC is a local authority funded by the taxpayer, both locally and nationally. It is a matter of public interest that their financial dealings are open to public scrutiny save in exceptional circumstances or where the law specifically permits non-disclosure.

SMBC resolved to convert The Public for use primarily as a sixth form school/college and to grant a lease for the educational usage of the building to Sandwell College (SC). There are some ancillary agreements whereby SC are apparently to provide a level of artistic/cultural service to the general public, some adult education and so on.

Sandwell College (SC) is another public body reliant for the vast majority of its income from the taxpayer, mostly via central Government through the Education Funding Agency. It is a matter of public interest that the financial dealings of SC are open to public scrutiny save in exceptional circumstances or where the law specifically permits non-disclosure. It is noteworthy that only in September, 2012 SC took possession of a brand-new £77 million building, also in central West Bromwich, which was funded from the public purse. Ironically, the same contractors responsible for that new building are those that feature in these matters.

The Public was a landmark, bespoke, building designed by an internationally-renowned architect. Nevertheless, SMBC resolved to undertake major conversion works to the building (the “Fit Out Works”) so that it was “fit” for educational usage. This was specifically against the recommendation of reports from property consultants which cost £39,000 excluding VAT. In the normal course of events, one would expect SMBC to tender for the conversion works or open the project to some other form of open competition so that SMBC and the taxpayer could be satisfied that the final accepted quote constituted good value for (public) money but SMBC rejected this approach. Indeed, it resolved to gift the conversion contract to Sandwell Futures Limited (SFL) utilising the “standard form BSF (“Building Schools for the Future”) Design and Build contract” and specifically resolved on 16th October, 2013 “that any necessary exemptions be made to the Council’s Procurement and Contract Procedure Rules” to permit this transaction. SMBC were acting with considerable haste since the “Cabinet” only formally resolved to proceed in October, 2012 but had already (June, 2013) made public pronouncements that the college/school would be open by September, 2014. This may well have had a significant bearing on the decision to disallow open procurement and to enter into so-called “negotiations” with a single party.

Having excluded the world-at-large from the procurement process, I submit that it is particularly incumbent upon SMBC to show that the said contract was fair, reasonable and represented good value for the taxpayer and public (insofar as it is lawful at all).

Sandwell Futures Limited (SFL) has an opaque chain of control/ownership but SMBC itself owns 10% of the shareholding of the Company. The annual return of 17th June, 2013 shows a further 10% of the shares in the hands of Building Schools for the Future Investments LLP and the remaining 80% in the hands of Environments for Learning Sandwell PSP Limited. There are other companies related to this tangled web but the “ultimate parent company” is Interserve Plc and its subsidiary undertakings of which the aforementioned companies are two. The said annual return also shows that two taxpayer-paid employees of SMBC are Directors of SFL. One, at least, is very senior and highly paid from the public purse.

SMBC appears to state that open tender/competition was not necessary since SFL is a “special purpose vehicle procured as part of the Sandwell Building Schools for the Future Project” and that the BSF Design and Build contract was awarded in 2009 following appropriate & lawful procurement procedures. With respect, this is nonsense.

The current agreement in respect on the fit out works is a secret bipartite affair. The decision by the Cabinet to enter into it was based on a secret “strategic review”, part of a so-called “fundamental review”, which has not been placed in the public domain. The fundamental review and Cabinet decision itself are heavily redacted insofar as they have been disclosed.

The Building for Schools project commenced in 2003 and was always a tripartite affair. The Department of Education appointed a delivery agency called “Partnership for Schools” and the delivery vehicle was the “Local Education Partnership” (LEP). Whilst not an actual shareholder within the meaning of company law, the PFS was, itself, a stakeholder or partner of the LEP in the whole BSF scheme.

A local authority could opt into the scheme and present a “Strategic Business Case” to the PFS. This was followed by an “Outline Business Case” (OBC) which set out, inter alia, the scope of the project, costs, affordability, risks, the procurement route and a timetable. If approved a LEP was formed between the authority and a Private Sector Partner (PSP) which was identified after a tendering process in accordance with EU requirements.

In this particular case, I am prepared to accept that SMBC set up a LEP called Sandwell Futures Limited with a PSP - Interserve Plc and its subsidiaries as the major shareholders (as above) for the SPECIFIC purpose of delivering building and ancillary works pursuant to the BSF programme. I do not believe that the relevant contractual documentation for this has ever been placed in the public domain. Very importantly, the LEP once established was not limited to the first wave of projects but was expected to endure for the 10 or 15 years required to fulfil the whole local authority BSF programme. By a Strategic Partnership Agreement the LEP was granted exclusivity for the programme (but not for anything else).

(For the sake of brevity I will refer to Interserve Plc and its subsidiaries simply as “Interserve” save where the context demands otherwise).

In general, the BSF programme was delivered in “waves” in accordance with a “Funding Allocation Model”. After the first wave, an OBC was still required (save in respect of the formation of the already existing LEP which had by then already been appointed and acquired exclusivity). Once this further OBC approval had been given the authority and LEP did further work on the scope of the next wave to RIBA Stage E which was then forwarded to PFS as the “Final Business Case”. If approved by the PFS in conjunction with HM Treasury a promissory note was issued to fund the “wave”.

The OBC in particular was a significant milestone in that approval demonstrated that the project was robust and prepared for procurement but was not the end of the story. The PFS would then work closely with the authority and LEP through a two-stage process up to FBC where the LEP was required to show evidence of value for money. Costings were compared to the PFS benchmarking system before final approval.

This scheme was highly bureaucratic, costly and time-consuming (one of the stated reasons for its abandonment in 2010) and was “policed” by the PFS/Treasury. This did not suit SMBC in the current case where the “decision” was made and had, accordingly, to be carried through in haste. With a close review of costings, benchmarking etc the scheme was the very antithesis of the secret and private deal allegedly done here between SMBC and the LEP, Sandwell Futures Limited, alone. Further, as far as one can tell from press reports, there is no external funder (PFS/H M Treasury). Rather SMBC is funding the fit out works itself via what it calls “prudential borrowing” and will then lease the building to SC. There is no apparent mechanism to benchmark costings nor, indeed to check standards against the RIBA or other such schemes (although this may be contained within the redacted parts of the so-called contracts). It is not clear whether the lease to the College has been negotiated at less than an open-market rental for what is a very large building and/ or whether there is any mechanism for repayment by the College of any of the borrowing costs. It is in the public interest for the taxpayer and public at large to ascertain who is paying for what? For example only and without prejudice to all issues, the local taxpayers of Sandwell have a legitimate interest in determining that they alone are not shouldering the burden of the borrowing when the College funding should be spread to the whole country via central government taxation and funding. (Although it seems unlikely that central Government would have agreed to the College acquiring a second £70 million plus building so soon after it had moved into its own £77 million one).

In any event, future BSF schemes were stopped by the Secretary of State for Education in July, 2010 and so any concept of SFL having exclusivity in procurement terms is absurd. The alleged contracts are based on false premises and are a sham to avoid an open procurement process and to allow the project to proceed with all possible haste, regardless of the costs to the public purse. Accordingly, I will seek to persuade the Information Commissioner (“the IC”) that the contracts are unlawful and void. It follows, if the IC is with me on that point, that ANY and ALL clauses in the said “contracts” purporting to thwart disclosure of information pursuant to the FOA are also null and void and cannot protect any information that has been redacted on the grounds of either “commercial confidentiality” or “commercial sensitivity”. I shall rely on the statement of the Secretary of State for Education of 5th July, 2010 that all future BSF projects which had not reached financial close would not go ahead together with his further comments in letter form, “In particular, I do not wish to allow the creation of area-wide exclusivity agreements over many years with a single contractor”.

If the IC does not accept that point, it is in the public interest to see the terms of the contract and full costings so that an attempt can be made to benchmark those costs. There is clearly a very real risk that the taxpayer will not have received best value. As the situation is obviously not one in which BSF applies at all there is also the question of whether there is any conflict of interest in two taxpayer-funded employees (one, at least, highly paid) working for both parties to a secret bipartite transaction.

Further, the only information that has been forthcoming about the fit out costs has come purely from SMBC press releases which have suggested two quite different but significant sums of money ie £5.5M on one hand and £6.7M on the other. Once again, it is the public interest that full procurement and costing arrangements are available for scrutiny to clarify this apparent and considerable discrepancy. There is also the question of any mechanism for payment of extra sums in the event of the project “running over” or for any other reason.
As far as one can tell from the limited press reports and the heavily redacted information available through my original request there should be the following principal documents:

1. An agreement between SMBC & the so-called LEP;
2. An agreement between SMBC & SC plus a lease.

Although most of the shareholding of SFL is in the hands of Interserve it has specifically sub-contracted the fit out works to one of its own subsidiaries, Interserve Construction Ltd, and this has been disclosed in heavily redacted form as the “Design and Build Contract”. As above, this contract which also purports to have been made pursuant to the BSF, is no such thing and is a sham created purely for the convenience of the parties. I will submit to the IC that it too is unlawful so that any clauses therein designed to thwart the disclosure of information pursuant to the FOA can have no legal effect. Again, if the IC is not with me on that point then I will say that the public interest is not served where public money is manipulated through a company controlled by one party (Interserve Plc in this case) and paid to a subsidiary of the same company (Interserve Construction Ltd in this case). Accordingly, the IC should allow public disclosure of any information which is alleged to be either commercially confidential or commercially sensitive between two companies which are, in fact, two parts of the same organisation. It is noteworthy in this context that one of the contracts provides for notices relating to same to be sent to SFL via an Interserve address in Birmingham and for notices to the other contracting party (an Interserve subsidiary) to be sent via Interserve’s Head Office in Reading!

If the shareholding of 10% in SFL owned by SMBC has any bearing upon the matter then it is anathema that a public body – SMBC - should seek to use contractual clauses drawn up by its own lawyers to thwart the operation of the FOA and to attempt to use a small shareholding in a private company to subvert an open procurement process and award contracts to a single, favoured, party.

Response to the Disclosure to Date
May I deal firstly with the lease between SMBC and SC which appears to be of 25 years duration. It is said that the lease need not be disclosed as it will be registered at HM Land Registry in due course. I believe the lease was signed on or around 19th December, 2013 but as at 8th March, 2014 it has NOT been registered and so it is not in the public domain. As a matter of law, the lease may be considered an outright disposal of the property by SMBC and it is in the public interest to determine the true position. As above, it is in the public interest to determine that the lease terms accord with those available on the open market.

It is said that information as to personal data within the meaning of s40(2) should not be disclosed ie principally in respect of persons signing the documentation and also, as far as one can tell from the redacted information, names of persons appointed to a joint “strategic body”. I do not accept that where two public bodies are concerned – both funded by the taxpayer – that any secrecy is necessary as to appointments to joint boards etc and will ask the IC to order disclosure in the public interest. (I also specifically reserve my position noting the heavily redacted disclosure to date). I have no particular objection to the redaction of names of signatories etc unless any of the documents are signed by Sarah Melanie Dudley and/or Kerry Anne Bolister since these individuals are both employees of SMBC and Directors of SFL and it is in the public interest to determine that no conflict of interest has arisen in respect of their involvement in these matters. As Directors of a Company they must have a reasonable expectation that their identities will not be private in respect of these matters and disclosure would not be unfair to them.

It is said that some information is redacted pursuant to s21 FOA on the basis that it is available elsewhere. I have already dealt with the question of the lease which has not, as yet, been filed at HM Land Registry. Apart from a few press releases, I am not aware of any other information relating to these matters that has been placed in the public domain save that there is an argument from the College that the SMBC Cabinet decision of 16th October, 2013 and fundamental review are already in the public domain although they accept this is in heavily redacted form. (It seems that I will have to make a separate FOI request in that regard). I say for the purposes of this review that SMBC and SC should state publicly where such information may be located. Accordingly, at present, I do not accept redaction of information on this ground.

Section 22 FOA is also raised ie that certain information is to be released at a future date. I refer to my original request. The vast majority of the information requested was clearly in existence when the purported “contracts” were executed on 19th December, 2013, now some 3 months ago. I accept that it APPEARS that certain programme details are to be finally determined in respect of ancillary cultural/artistic/adult education “offerings” but these matters have, presumably, been budgeted for and those sums were what was originally requested. For both of these reasons I do not accept redaction of information pursuant to S22.

It is claimed by SMBC and SC in respect of the main bulk of the redacted information that it is either commercially confidential and/or commercially sensitive. Firstly, they rely on clauses within the various agreements themselves which are designed to protect such information and, secondly, they rely upon Sections 41, 42 and 43(a) FOIA.

I have already rehearsed the arguments above that the contracts are not what they purport to be. They are shams designed to avoid an open procurement process and to prevent the details thereof from entering the public domain. Again, if this view is not accepted, it is abhorrent that SMBC should seek to hide the facts of its transactions behind a 10% shareholding in a private company so that they are unavailable to public scrutiny. I have quoted above the precise wording whereby SMBC sought to restrict its “normal” contract and procurement procedures and so it is particularly incumbent on them to show that their dealings are open, fair and constitute good value for public money. As there is not, so far as I can tell, any mechanism for a third party (as in the BSF arrangements) to check or benchmark costs this information is of public interest so that full independent scrutiny can be made thereof. Where the “public interest test” applies, therefore, I say that the information must be disclosed.

Interserve are a very large public company with multi-national interests and although costing many millions of pounds of public money, in the general scheme of things this is a one-off, bespoke “contract” for them and a small-scale one to boot. It is, when all said and done just a conversion of an existing building to them and it is difficult to imagine what details thereof would constitute either “commercially sensitive” information or “trade secrets”. There is not, nor is there likely to be a comparable job in the area that one can foresee and so it seems unlikely that competitors (who have been deliberately excluded from this work) are likely to obtain any unfair competitive advantage from knowing the details of this unique transaction. Indeed, it is in the public interest that competitors DO see the details as they have been deliberately excluded from tendering since they are the persons/companies who may be best able to give an informed opinion on the “agreements”.

It is advanced that the disclosure of commercially sensitive information would mean that the “LEP”, ie SFL, would be likely to refrain from “bidding” for future public sector contracts which would lessen the competition available when public bodies are letting public contracts in the future. This again, is nonsense as rehearsed above. SFL was a single purpose delivery vehicle within the BSF scheme as is clearly stated by the parties themselves in the recitals to the various so-called contracts. It is a curious argument to advance noting that all competition was excluded so that ONLY SFL could bid for this particular project and it is difficult to imagine what contracts SFL would be bidding for as BSF has been cancelled.

As above, these contracts (unlike BSF) do not appear to be “policed” by any third party and so the three parties here have set themselves up as the sole arbiters of what is or what is not commercially confidential/sensitive. The contractual clauses, insofar as they are lawful at all, are too widely drawn for contracts (mostly drafted by their own lawyers) involving public money and two public bodies should not be allowed to determine between themselves what is commercially confidential/sensitive and therefore not disclosable. This is not in the public interest and it is, in law, inequitable.

It is also said that disclosure would impede future discussions and the viability of current proposals and future projects in particular the renovation of The Public and that disclosure would in some unspecified way affect the ability to secure “best value” in the future. As the so-called contracts were signed some three months ago and Interserve are in the building and gutting it, I do not understand these arguments nor, for the reasons outlined above, do I consider they apply on the facts of this highly-unusual  and unique case.

Finally, it is said on behalf of the College that disclosure can be adequately dealt with by transparent College decision-making and reporting and accountability through regular monitoring. I am afraid this is nonsense again since ALL publicly available College Board and Audit minutes have been released with all references to The Public redacted. This, indeed, is now subject to a separate FOI request (from another member of the public).

Noting the substantial delay in dealing with my original request by both SMBC and SC, please conduct an internal review as a matter of urgency.

Mr Darryl Magher

11th March, 2014

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Monday, 10 March 2014

Skidder Shorts - No 1 - The Things Lawyers Say!

The things lawyers say! This is the first in an occasional series of short blogs to relieve the diet of all the "heavy" stuff surrounding the SMBC/College deal, the "highly-unusual" Ice Rink deal etc etc.

The following is a direct quote, with only some irrelevant bits omitted, from a submission by a lawyer acting for Sandwell Council. I wonder whether it is indicative of SMBC's general approach to matters.....

"Mr B, the legal advisor to the (SMBC) licensing panel, advised the panel that the effect of the words 'may not be issued' .... was not to impose a prohibition .... Mr B submitted that the words 'may not' should be construed as 'may' ..."

Strangely, a High Court Judge said that this submission was rightly rejected by the lower court!

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Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Hussain Hoaxed! Red Faces at The Kremlin?

Ah, the vanity of politicians - especially as an election approaches.....

For those readers unfamiliar with The Socialist State Of Sandwell, "Birchley Island" may conjure images of a verdant sanctuary amid a tumbling stream whereas the reality is a hideous, traffic-clogged roundabout next to Junction 2 of the M5. A picture of the wretched place of torment follows:

Picturesque Birchley Island
Nevertheless, Labour Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (SMBC) have attempted to polish this particular turd with the liberal use of taxpayers' money. And so in November, 2009 Hussain, one of the so-called deputy leaders of SMBC, announced the start of "major improvements". Even he thought Birchley was a "blight on the Borough" (which is saying something in Sandwell) but SMBC always feel they can "do a deal" with big business and Hussain said he was negotiating a sponsorship deal "with a number of parties". He was suggesting a name change and gasped excitedly, "it could be The AA Island" - presumably named after the motoring organisation rather than a type of battery.

Of course, no sponsorship was forthcoming for this hell-hole and the taxpayer duly stumped-up £450,000 on new lights, flowers, semi-matured trees, ornamental shrubs and gravel paths to give drivers a "more welcoming entrance point to Sandwell". It was claimed that the huge sum - including a ludicrous £30,000 (yes, thirty thousand pounds) "Welcome to Sandwell" sign - had turned the former eyesore into "an urban oasis" - albeit one somewhat disturbed by 92,000 motorists a day. Judge for yourselves:

Urban Oasis

At this point, SMBC had spent the thick-end of half a million quid on this nonsense but Hussain was still claiming that sponsorship talks were continuing.......Needless to say the Express and Star were happy to puff all this - take the headlines, "Island basks in £450,000 improvements" and "Sign of a warm welcome to Sandwell". Unfortunately, some "bask-ards" risked life and limb to cross the road and nick the exotic plants so that SMBC had to invest in something called a "dome hawk camera" (no, I am not making this up!)

Then a casino came on the scene despite SMBC having banned them in Sandwell from 2006. An application from Grosvenor Casinos (Rank) apparently pre-dated the ban and so the lure of filthy lucre proved irresistible to the socialists under the usual cover that it would create jobs (see also the current ice rink scandal). Accordingly, the Planning Committee approved the casino plan with all thoughts of concern about gambling in an area of high deprivation put to one side and Hussain was able to say, "I am really pleased. It is another way we are improving a major gateway to Sandwell." As ever the Express and Star jumped in with the headline, "Oldbury Casino brings jobs joy". 

But oh dear....after a legal challenge a High Court Judge ruled that SMBC should not have granted a gambling licence and they should consider an application to revoke it but the "licensing bosses" decided the licence was valid and should remain in place. All this has cost the taxpayer at least £5,800 in legal fees which SMBC "finance boss", Eling, says he hopes he will "get back" (we wait we bated breath particularly as SMBC seems to have been at fault and therefore not usually entitled to a costs order.......)

In the meantime SMBC have decided to block the casino idea anyway by driving a new road straight through the "urban oasis" including the near half million quid worth of trees, exotic plants etc etc so that the bulk of that money looks to have been totally wasted by Hussain and his Labour colleagues.

If this situation could become anymore farcical, it has today. Step forward jolly Kevin Beresford who shot to fame a while ago with his infamous "Roundabouts of Redditch" calendar which achieved national cult status. He apparently approached SMBC with a view to presenting them with an award from his "UK Roundabout Appreciation Society" and the morons fell for it hook, line and sinker.

Clearly anyone who claimed Birchley was "attractive" with "high quality design and layout" was likely to be either mentally-ill or taking the mickey but so obsessed are SMBC with spinning "good news" no-one seems to have bothered to have a look at cheeky Kev's website - roundaboutsofbritain.com. There they could, for example, have seen Kev's "roundabout jargon" and if you haven't got time to look here are a few:

"Desert Island" - a somewhat uninteresting island with nothing on it.Can be made more interesting if placed in an exotic or unusual location. Thinking about it there is no such thing as an uninteresting roundabout;
"Gyratory Galactico" - a roundabout with the X-Factor:
"The Monty Don" - a roundabout in full bloom;
"Toker" - grass only roundabout!

Someone, presumably in the press office, saw an opportunity for spin, arranged an "award ceremony" and good-old Kev had the chutzpah to turn up and go through with it. Even Hussain felt he had to get in on the act and this is the unbelievable result:


The spin doctors start, "An attractive gateway traffic island....has been praised by a national body which encourages high-quality roundabouts" and Hussain pronounces himself "pleased" with the "recognition" for the key gateway. He is pictured receiving a calendar from Kev.

Once again, and so swiftly after the ridiculous "dog-shit" campaign, Sandwell Labour have managed to bring the Borough into disrepute and they even seem to be in denial that they have been duped.

A £10 donation to MacMillan for the best "new name" for Birchley Island via thesandwellskidder@gmail.com within next 7 days (result will be announced via @bcrover twitter a/c). To start the ball rolling, how about "Hussain's Folly"?

Special thanks to Kev for his brilliant jape.

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