Parliamentary Commissioner finds MP guilty of using public funds for political purposes
- Misleading information given by MP during investigation
- Apology demanded for two local councillors named in rule-breaking mailing
An MP has been found guilty of misusing public money for political campaigning. Maria Caulfield MP was found to have breached the rules by the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards. The investigation followed a complaint about a mailing Ms Caulfield sent to residents in Newhaven in May in which she named two Liberal Democrat councillors.
The letter was during the consultation on the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service's Integrated Risk Management Plan. Ms Caulfield's response to the Commissioner contains a series of false statements. This includes claiming that Newhaven was the 'only town affected' in the constituency when in fact Lewes, Seaford and Barcombe were all affected. She also wrongly claims that Newhaven is represented by 'Conservative, Labour, Green and Independent councillors' when in fact there are no Green or Labour councillors representing the town at any level.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson, James MacCleary, who represents Newhaven on the District and Town Councils, said: "This is clearly very disappointing to hear. Not only has Maria Caulfield abused public money to try and score political points, but she has then attempted to mislead the Commissioner.
"We know that Ms Caulfield does not live in the constituency, but you would expect her to know that important communities like Seaford, Lewes and Barcombe are in her patch. It is also disappointing that Ms Caulfield who claims to take such an interest and has an office in our town is so unaware of its political make up and representation. This may explain why she gets her facts wrong about Newhaven.
"The least we should expect here is a public apology for misusing public funds. It is a very serious matter regardless of the scale. Unfortunately, we are more likely to get a list of excuses."
Councillor Carolyn Lambert, who represents Seaford and is Vice Chair of East Sussex Fire Authority, said: “I am pleased that the Commissioner has made this finding. Maria Caulfield has repeatedly made inaccurate comments about Liberal Democrat members of the Fire Authority. In addition, she continues to repeat her untrue comments about being asked to lobby for further funding for the Fire and Rescue Service, including at a recent briefing meeting.
"We are still waiting to hear about when we can expect funding from government to reverse years of cuts to funding for fire services across the country - including East Sussex.
"It is important that the public can trust their MP to give them accurate information and not to mislead them.
"I now look forward to receiving an apology from Ms Caulfield."
The full report from the Commissioner which includes all the evidence can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/globalassets/documents/pcfs/rectifications/ms-maria-caulfield-mp-rectification.pdf
Tony Parker, a Liberal Democrat from Lewes, has been described as central to Shoreham Port’s nomination for a national award. Shoreham Port’s press release is below.
SHOREHAM PORT NAMED MARITIME UK AWARDS FINALIST
Shoreham Port has been shortlisted for a Maritime UK Award, it has been announced this week.
The Maritime UK Awards recognise the very best of the UK’s maritime sector, focusing on a wide range of areas including business growth, innovation, sustainability, and diversity. Shoreham Port is nominated for The Clean Maritime Operator award; one of three new Maritime UK Award categories focused on green growth and decarbonisation, comprising the Department for Transport’s Clean Maritime Awards.
The Clean Maritime Operator award will be awarded to a maritime company who have taken action to move their UK operation towards zero emissions. The finalists were announced as part of the celebration of Maritime UK Week 2020, which has been organised to shine a spotlight on the UK's maritime sector, its role and future. It follows a period where the maritime sector’s role as the fundamental enabler of trade and critical freight supplies into the country were reasserted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The winners will be announced at a live-streamed event across the world from Plymouth on 12 November 2020.
Shoreham Port’s nomination is attributed to Tony Parker, former Director of Engineering and Director of Infrastructure & Sustainability at Shoreham Port since January 2019. Tony has brought a wealth of over 40 years of expertise with him to this pioneering role, setting Shoreham Port on the path to achieve net-zero air quality emissions by 2021 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Working closely with local authorities and communities, Tony has successfully reduced the Port’s reliance on fossil fuels and has driven Shoreham Port to make major strides forward in the generation and use of green energy sources.
Other initiatives include introducing low emission Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) fuel to power operational machinery, creating the Port’s LED lighting strategy, introducing electric-powered Port vehicles, and continuing to develop a biodiversity corridor as a Board Member of the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership, creating strong community links with the Trust Port’s stakeholders and organisations across their city. In addition, a water source heat pump (WSHP) will be fitted at their fully-serviced business centre Maritime House later in the year, saving 70 tonnes of carbon and damaging emissions from entering the atmosphere once installed.
Tony commented “I’m incredibly proud of the whole team here at Shoreham Port. We have worked so hard to help drive our neighbourhood forward towards truly clean air, net-zero carbon emissions and greater biodiversity. The entire team puts a huge amount of passion and enthusiasm into the work, so to see our efforts appreciated in this way by our fellow Maritime UK colleagues feels like a great honour. There is always much more that can be done for our environment and this nomination will only encourage us to work ever harder to reach and exceed our sustainability targets.”
Harry Theochari, Chair of Maritime UK commented “We’re delighted to announce the finalists for the Maritime UK Awards 2020. Across all fourteen categories we can see some genuinely world-beating products, services, and operators. I’m particularly pleased to see some fantastic projects being showcased in the new Clean Maritime categories. Given the importance the sector places on getting to net zero, it is important that we celebrate the progress made on that journey and connect people together so that they can achieve more than on their own. These awards help do just that. The quality of entries this year is testament to the strength and commitment of our maritime sector to be world-class despite the most challenging of circumstances.”
Conservatives on East Sussex County Council refused to support a Notice of Motion asking them to sign up to the UNISON Ethical Care Charter as soon as possible.
Liberal Democrat and Labour County Councillors pointed to the huge contribution made by carers during the pandemic and argued that it was high time that they were properly rewarded.
Cllr John Ungar, Shadow Spokesperson for Adult Social Care, said:
“It seems that the Conservatives are happy to clap for carers but don’t care enough about them to pay them properly. There is no reason why the County Council should not sign up to this Ethical Charter as many other authorities have done, and it would give a strong message to our carers that we recognise the value of the work they are doing”.
Cllr David Tutt, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group adds:
“Boris Johnson came to power promising to sort out Adult Social Care. Signing the Charter would set a firm framework for improving conditions for hard-pressed care workers at a local level and services to some of the most vulnerable people in our community”.
Unison launched the Ethical Care Charter in 2013. The Charter calls for councils to commission homecare services which establish a minimum baseline for the safety, quality and dignity of care by ensuring employment conditions which:
A) do not routinely short change clients and
B) ensure the recruitment and retention of a more stable workforce through more sustainable pay, conditions and training levels.
Since it was launched in 2013, 46 councils with responsibility for social care have signed the Charter.
Claims in recent news stories that a £77m support grant is earmarked for ports are about as real as one of Chris Grayling’s phantom ferries, say Lewes Lib Dems.
“Only this Tory government would have the nerve to dress up measures to sort out its desperate Brexit chaos as a good news story”, said Cllr James MacCleary, Lewes Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson. “With something as important to us locally in Lewes District as the ferry service and freight capacity in Newhaven, to spin a grant that isn’t real as a big win is cynical to the highest degree. Announcements like this should be subject to proper scrutiny. This isn’t about supporting the port but putting in emergency measures to cover the transport of critical goods in the event of severe Brexit impacts at Dover, a situation which would have never arisen had the government negotiated a proper exit deal.
“This announcement is bad news for the NHS, local people and the UK. The ferry contracts only kick in if the main cross channel route is logjammed and other less heavily used routes such as Newhaven, Portsmouth and Southampton need to be brought in as emergency support for Dover crossing. The £77m agreement only secures an emergency freight capacity. Importantly, these contracts only last for 6 months and if there is no need for the extra freight capacity then the contracts will be terminated and only a fraction of the contract paid to the ferry companies.
“In practice, this means £77m in support is an illusion. It’s another smoke and mirrors trick from the hand of Dominic Cummings. Only if we have a chaotic Brexit and the Dover crossing under massive pressure will any of this money come to Newhaven. For Newhaven to benefit under such circumstances would mean that the surrounding economy and businesses would pay the price of our no deal exit with the deeply negative effects on our town and local economy. Maria Caulfield or the Tory Government are not saving the ferry industry and Newhaven port. They are engaging in a last ditch stand to delude voters about the devastating effects of a No Deal Brexit.”
This evening (21/10/2020), the Conservative party will vote against a motion in the House of Commons that would guarantee that all children in receipt of free school meals will continue to receive them during the upcoming school holidays.
Commenting on the issue, James MacCleary, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Lewes said, “The Tories are voting down a motion that would support over one million children who receive free school meals. Their excuse is to hide behind their policy of supporting only 50,000 children, which is less than 5% of children in desperate need. The government has found billions to fund other projects but will not find the relatively small amount to fund this.
“It is highly divisive at a time when families are under strain and children particularly are suffering and losing out on their education because of the Government’s mishandling of Coronavirus. Families who are already having a tough time are having to deal with finding extra money to feed their families at a time of unique hardship.
“In 2019 in East Sussex, 10,825 children were receiving free school meals. If these figures haven’t increased, this means that Tory MPs across our county including our local MP and government whip, Maria Caulfield, will vote to leave nearly 10,000 children in East Sussex to go hungry. As a parent of a primary school child, I cannot imagine what it feels like to be in such desperate need and deemed to be unworthy of support as if my family and their needs don’t matter.
“I would like to ask Maria Caulfield how she can justify pulling the rug from under so many working families and their children? As a government whip, she will be there to drive through the government’s opposition to this motion, ensuring that thousands of children across our county will go hungry this autumn. The Liberal Democrats have been long term campaigners for free school meals and fully support this motion. We have always believed in a country like the UK, no child should be going hungry. This is why free school meals has been one of our flagship policies and one of the achievements that we were most proud of in Government.”
Data on numbers of children in receipt of free school meals can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/free-school-meals-supplementary-grant-2019-to-2020
Newhaven Lib Dem councillors and South Heighton resident Milly Gilbert are calling on East Sussex Highways to help with access along Avis Road and the A26.
They are asking East Sussex Highways to maintain the footpath between the A26 and Avis Road.
Milly is a local resident who has a number of disabilities that make walking more difficult. She needs to use special crutches to be able to get around and she is finding it almost impossible to leave her home due to the footpath verges being so overgrown and poorly maintained.
The path [photographed] is the only way for Milly to walk to town but it is so overgrown with branches hanging over head that she has to walk on the uneven grass verges. This is dangerous for her as due to her condition it can lead to dislocations.
Milly suffers with a number of chronic health conditions including Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and she oftens slips and trips on the grass leading to her having injuries to her knees and ankles. Milly also suffers with seizures that mean she finds herself walking into overhanging branches and brambles leading to cuts on her face.
They say that East Sussex Highways need to maintain this section of pathway so that residents such as Milly do not feel that their freedoms are being taken away due to poorly maintained footpaths. This is especially important during the current crisis as use of public transport is discouraged due to the risk of COVID-19 infection.
They would like to see a confirmed commitment from East Sussex Highways to regularly maintain this area.
Milly Gilbert said: “ When I’ve reported these problems before to East Sussex Highways and Highways England my concerns haven’t been listened to. Due to my health I'm losing the will to keep fighting this cause.
I didn’t want to go out for months because of a tree overhanging on the path of the A26. I had been contacting East Sussex Highways who accepted responsibility for this and after many months decided it was actually down to Highways England to sort. The road is scary enough but we were having to take babies and young children onto the road with cars flying at us. It was such a dangerous situation to be left in”
Local Councillor George Taylor added: “It is appalling that East Sussex Highways say this is acceptable, especially since it has such a detrimental effect on the lives of disabled residents. It shouldn't be hard for them to fix. This is only one of many sites within the area that is in such a poor condition. We have raised the lack of maintenance many times with East Sussex Highways - It is their duty to maintain pavements and footpaths in a safe condition that allows everyone to use them safely. This is a dangerous failing on their part.”
Cllr Sean Macleod, District Councillor for Ouse Valley, Ringmer and South Heighton “ I am pleased George brought this to my attention. It's an issue that I have raised time and time again with East Sussex Highways about how poorly maintained the footpaths are between Paradise Park and the A26. What is happening with Milly and others is shocking as it is affecting her ability to be able to access many things that the rest of us take for granted. Milly has spoken with how this situation is leaving her isolated to her home, Through their neglect, East Sussex Highways are taking away residents' rights of freedom. They really need to act and act fast as the situation is frankly disgraceful.”
Cllr Darren Grover, East Sussex County Councillor for Newhaven, Denton and South Heighton added: “This is yet another example of the Conservatives' neglect and the massive consequences their cuts have for local residents. I would invite the Tory leaders of the County Council to try to walk around the Newhaven area and see for themselves the dangerous impact of their decisions. I very much doubt that they would allow dangerous conditions such as this in their own areas."
At their Autumn Conference this weekend, the Liberal Democrats have agreed proposals that would see the BBC licence fee level set independently next year after government cuts forced the BBC to end free TV licences for most over-75s.
As of 1 August 2020, TV licences are now only free for people over the age of 75 if they are receiving pension credit. According to analysis by the Liberal Democrats, this dramatic cut has impacted more than 7,000 people in the Lewes constituency.
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper warned that ending free TV licences for the over 75s “could push some of the poorest pensioners into poverty, and jars with common decency.”
The Party is also fighting for review of the decision to cut hundreds of BBC staff working across regional programmes and agreed new measures to ensure the BBC workforce is more diverse and reflective of the country it serves.
Local Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson, James MacCleary, said:
“We are amid a national crisis. I find it shocking that 7,000 people in our area have lost free access to public broadcasts at a time when it could not be more important, especially for those who are vulnerable or isolated.
"The BBC provides a valuable and respected service that not only adds value to our society but is relied upon as a source of truth around the world. The government's politically motivated attempts to undermine it are shortsighted and self-defeating.
“Liberal Democrats are calling for an independent body to review the licence fee. We also want to see the Government step in now and provide funding to reinstate free licences given the crisis we are facing.”
Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP added:
“Ending free TV licences for the over 75s, which could push some of the poorest pensioners into poverty, jars with common decency.
“We must be clear: the responsibility for these cuts falls squarely at the feet of Conservative Ministers. People deserve better.”
Lewes Liberal Democrats announced the appointment of a new parliamentary spokesperson, James MacCleary, currently leader of Lewes District Council.
Cllr MacCleary said, “I am delighted to have been appointed as Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Lewes constituency. I would like to thank Oli Henman for all his work during the General Election where we ran the Conservatives so close.
“We are at a critical point in our politics with challenges to our law, the economy, work and health. So it is vital that this government and our local MP are held to account. The Liberal Democrats will continue to challenge this government for their incompetence, their mismanagement of both Covid-19 and the Brexit negotiations, and their devastating impacts on our local community and economy.
“Locally, residents want an MP who puts our community first and speaks out on the issues affecting our towns and villages rather than just toeing the government’s line. I’ve lived in the constituency for over 14 years and am raising my two young children here, so the future of our area means a lot to me. I am looking forward to standing up for residents who are being badly let down by the Conservatives.”
Cllr MacCleary succeeds Oli Henman, who stood as the Liberal Democrats’ parliamentary candidate in the 2019 election.
Cllr Henman commented: “I welcome James’ appointment as Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson and am confident he will to continue to hold the Tories to account locally and nationally.
“I am taking the difficult decision to step back from the role of parliamentary spokesperson to pursue a major opportunity in international development with the charity I co-founded. My work takes me to the UN, working with governments around the world to drive sustainable responses to the climate emergency. It is a chance to affect the future of the planet and make a difference to what I believe is the most important issue of our generation. I was proud to represent the Liberal Democrats in Lewes at the 2019 General Election and I would like to thank all of those who voted for the Liberal Democrats and supported me locally.”
Lewes Constituency Chair Simon Burall said, “Our campaign saw the Conservative majority cut by over half to under 2,500, a majority of less than 5%. This moved Lewes from a safe seat in 2017 to hyper-marginal in 2019. The party can build on this strong record thanks to the efforts that Oli and all the team put in during 2019. Oli will remain as a councillor in Lewes, a part of the Liberal Democrat team locally, who will continue to build on the 2019 campaign and work to take the seat from the Conservatives in 2024.”
Lewes Lib Dems are calling on Lewes MP Maria Caulfield to clarify her stance on adherence to international law. Following the Government's decision to introduce legislation which would undermine key aspects of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, Lewes Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson Oli Henman said:
“Boris Johnson is preparing to rip up the rule-book so I am writing to Maria Caulfield to request her assurances that she will uphold our international commitments, will she vote for credibility or chaos?
"This government is playing fast and loose with our international commitments. At a time when the economy has already been severely weakened by the Covid-19 pandemic, people in our area need assurances that there will be a proper settlement with our nearest neighbours across the channel. It is in no-one’s interests to create a major legal and trade dispute to add further uncertainty on top of our already extremely challenging economic position.
"Any attempt to tear up commitments made to Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement and confirmed in the Withdrawal Agreement could have very serious consequences for the UK. These could include international legal action and a downgrading of our reliability as a trading partner around the world, threatening our businesses at an already difficult time; as well as a potentially catastrophic destabilisation of relationships on the island of Ireland.”
The Lib Dem’s Brexit Spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP said:
"The head of the Government’s own legal department quitting over Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit should signal how serious a situation this is.
"For Johnson to think it is acceptable to row back on international agreements and assurances made to Northern Ireland shows he has no respect for international law or the UK's obligations.
"How can the UK expect other countries, like China, to respect the international treaties we hold with them if we don’t do the same when it comes to the Withdrawal Agreement?
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Text of letter to Maria Caulfield MP
I am writing to request that you clarify your position on the UK’s commitments to international law and treaty obligations.
Following the resignation of Sir Jonathan Jones, the head of the Government’s legal department and the extraordinary comments from the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that the proposed Northern Ireland customs rules legislation will “break international law”, I would like to ask you to confirm that you would not vote for any legislation that would undermine the UK’s historic commitments to international rule of law.
As I am sure you are aware, any attempt to tear up commitments made to Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement and confirmed in the Withdrawal Agreement could have very serious consequences for the UK. These could include international legal action and a downgrading of our reliability as a trading partner around the world, threatening our businesses at an already difficult time; as well as a potentially catastrophic destabilisation of relationships on the island of Ireland.
I am sure you would share my concern that, at this moment in which the country needs to re-build after the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be very damaging to create further tension and uncertainty for the businesses and residents of our area.
I look forward to your reply.
With best wishes,
James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council has written today to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, asking him to rule out any plans for a lorry park in the Newhaven and the wider Lewes district area.
The letter from Councillor James MacCleary follows the government’s recent introduction of sweeping powers, known as a Special Development Order, that allows for the construction of lorry parks in 29 different council areas across England without any approval from local planning authorities.
East Sussex is one of the 29 areas that has been included in the order.
Newhaven resident Councillor James MacCleary said:
“In any circumstance it is a very worrying sign when a government grants itself such wide-ranging powers without any consultation with either the local Council or residents. The assumption we have to make is they know how deeply contentious and unpopular these actions will be.
“Tories like Lewes MP Maria Caulfield try to dismiss any questions about Brexit as ‘scaremongering’ but for those of us who actually live in Lewes District, it is important to understand what is planned for our community. East Sussex has only one major working port, Newhaven, so to rule out lorry parks at ports in East Sussex is to rule out this development at Newhaven or indeed communities whose transport links serve the port such as Lewes or Seaford.
“Maria Caulfield has claimed publicly that there will be no lorry parks locally, but if that is the case then why is East Sussex listed in the legislation? The country was told Brexit was about reducing red tape and delays. This discussion about lorry parks shows that a massive increase in checks on lorries and paperwork is planned and the Government is planning locations for these extensive new checks to be carried out.
“The uncertainty is causing widespread concern within our community so I hope the Secretary of State will quickly rule out any possibility of a lorry park being built in the district and at Newhaven port.”
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The text of James MacCleary's letter to Robert Jenrick, Minister for Housing, Communities & Local Government is as follows:
Dear Secretary of State
Construction of Lorry Parks in East Sussex
I am writing to you to express significant concern that the Government will be able to start construction of lorry parks in 29 different council areas without approval of the Local Planning Authorities.
Despite East Sussex being named within the instrument put before Parliament last week, I am extremely disappointed that Lewes District Council and East Sussex County Council were not advised at any point of the Government’s intention to grant itself such wide-ranging powers.
The lack of any communication has caused concern within our community I have received numerous enquiries from worried residents asking where parking facilities will be located. This is causing particular concern in the Newhaven area where we have an important international passenger and freight port.
I understand that Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes, has stated via social media that there are no plans to build in the Newhaven/Lewes area. However, if this is the case it seems unnecessary to include East Sussex in the new powers as Newhaven is the only port of its kind in the county.
I would be grateful if you would formally confirm that you do not have plans for such a facility within the Lewes/Newhaven area and commit to meaningful engagement with Councils where such proposals are being considered.