A bit of a miscellany, with Government skullduggery and posturing galore.
First up, Grayling's MoJ has announced a consultation into revising the rules on Judicial Review. Broadly, he is against it. Responses are due by 24 January 2013, so a busy holiday for the rest of us. Given the dubious inferences drawn from inadequate statistics, people really should respond. Our view from when the first announcement was made is here.
Next, the Home Office draft Anti-Social Behaviour bill is out (officially tomorrow 14/12/2012). The end of ASBOs and ASBIs, closure orders etc. but also the new mandatory ground of possession for breach of an ASB injunction, noise abatement order or other ASB conviction. And, lest we forget, a discretionary ground for possession of a secure or assured tenancy where a tenant, member of household or visitor commits a riot related offence. We'll be coming back to this one in detail, but our initial view of the possession proposals was here and here.
And then there is the curious case of the advisor who wasn't (or was he?). Andy Gale 'CLG Policy Advisor' was the author of a briefing paper to Council officers that appeared to advocate unlawful gatekeeping, reducing the homeless preference in part 6 to effectively nil, and acknowledged out of borough offers were going to happen (not the official CLG line or guidance). We revealed the briefing document here. The Guardian picked up on the detail of the briefing paper here, and then all hell broke loose.
The CLG aggressively denied to the Guardian that Andy Gale had anything to do with them (though I noted at the time the strange precision of the wording used "Andy Gale is not employed by the department and [...] it has no contractual arrangements with him"). Andy Gale vanished from a January 2013 conference where he was billed as CLG policy advisor. An erratum slip was issued at a November conference to say Andy Gale was not a CLG policy advisor.
Meanwhile, I was hearing odd tales, including one from several different directions that Andy Gale had been 'frogmarched' out of CLG HQ one afternoon about a week after the Guardian article. There were also whispers about him working at LB Newham as 'a CLG advisor'. Bits and pieces were coming together to make it clear that the CLG's denial was not necessarily as clear cut as it seemed.
Now the Guardian has gone public with the whole story, straight out of the Thick of It. Do read the full article. It might even make you feel rather sorry for Mr Gale. But some highlights are the CLG suggesting that Andy Gale had been effectively making up his 'policy advisor' title since 2008:
He [Gale] has advised the Government in the past, but he is not employed or seconded by DCLG, and it's not true that this advice reflects our views. This alleged advice was not paid for, or commissioned by, or given to DCLG.
He has been told he should not present himself as a government advisor, and he accepted that.
Meanwhile Andy Gale was using a CLG email address...
Then there is the Newham arrangement, CLG insisted that Gale was "an advisor to Newham BC [borough council]." But the diligent digging by the Guardian's Patrick Butler resulted in an exchange of emails between CLG and Newham in which CLG offered to pay Newham to 'host' Andy Gale:
I believe Andy has spoken to you about Newham hosting Andy Gale to continue to provide support to local authorities to tackle homelessness. I would be most grateful if Newham are able to help in this respect.
The objective is for Andy to continue to provide support for two day a week to local authorities. DCLG would provide additional grant funding to Newham this financial year of £72,000.
So, it is quite true that CLG did not have a direct contractual relationship with Andy Gale, or employ him. Instead, CLG asked a local authority to 'host' Gale to provide 'support to local authorities' for two days a week. For this Newham would get £72,000, " £52k to pay Gale, £10,000 for his travel and hotels cost, and £10,000 for Newham's administrative costs.". This is hardly 'nothing to do with us'. (My sympathy for Mr Gale for being left to twist in the wind and being portrayed as a fantasist by CLG was somewhat ameliorated by £52K per year plus expenses for a two day a week job. Though he did throw in 10 days free advice to Newham.)
Then there is the matter of the Housing Minister's answer to a parliamentary question. Karen Buck MP, who had engaged with both my post and the Guardian's on twitter, laid a written question after seeing the general surprise at the CLG's denial of having anything to do with Andy Gale, but with some further information from somewhere.
Ms Karen Buck:
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which local authorities have received grants from his Department to employ Andy Gale Consultants in each of the last three financial years.
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on how many occasions his Department has recommended Andy Gale Consultants to local authorities in each of the last three financial years.
Mark Prisk's response from today (13/12/2012) follows a similar line to the CLG's replies to the Guardian.
Mr Mark Prisk:
Andy Gale is not employed by the Department, is not contracted to the Department and, for the avoidance of doubt, does not speak for the Department. He was formerly employed by the Department in 2007. From 2008 onwards, I understand he has acted as a homelessness consultant to a number of local authorities. Under this and the last Administration, the Department has provided grant funding to a number of local authorities to support the provision of advice on preventing homelessness to complement the funding we provide to the voluntary sector. I understand that Mr Gale was commissioned by the London Borough of Croydon from 2008 to 2011 and currently by the London Borough of Newham as one of those providers of preventing homelessness advice. Whilst officials have had contact on how such departmental funding has been spent, Ministers in this Administration have had no involvement with local authorities on commissioning such services.
This is, shall we say, a little disingenuous in view of the documents around the set up of the Newham position. Whether Mr Prisk's reply is actually misleading is something on which people can draw their own conclusions. Got to love that "Ministers [...] have had no involvement with local authorities on commissioning such services". I do doubt it was Mr Prisk himself emailing Newham with a £72K proposal if they'd 'host' Gale. Mr Prisk's response is also, of course, not an answer to Karen Buck's question...
What is clear, as the Guardian concludes, is that every effort is being made to make sure the blame for the housing, homelessness and benefits catastrophe that is now accelerating remains laden on local councils rather being pointed at ministers and the ministries. Out of borough homeless accommodation - it is all the council's fault. The minister has, after all, told them not to do it.