Thursday 11 February 2010

Can The Mirror save local journalism?

Trinity Mirror has bought Guardian Media Group Regional Titles.

The Rochdale Observer offices will have a second move in a year - from Rochdale to Manchester and now to Oldham.

Times are tough for inkies - as freesheets and other media streams have diverted already dwindling advertising revenues. Youngsters don't seem to read newspapers.
Is this the final nail in the coffin of local journalism?

We don't think so.

In fact, there is a strong argument to suggest that this move could actually SAVE and IMPROVE journalism for Rochdale. Proper journalism, not daft little blogs (like this) or Council Propaganda sheets like Local Matters, or shameless Pollyanna advertorials (furtively backed by the local Council) like the new Rochdale & Heywood Independent.

Journalism requires an element of objectivity and intelligence. It takes some thinking about. It is different from "churnalism" - the taking of professional press releases that are simply cut and pasted as copy.

Years ago, many saw the Rochdale Observer as a joke. It didn't reflect or report our town. It was patronising and blinkered by a local Establishment bias. The Great and the Good included mill owners, Freemasons, Curtain Theatre attending Rotarians, grammar school golfers and wife swapping businessmen. Ob readers - ordinary Rochdalians - were generally hard working folk who were made to know their place. Decades ago, the Rochdale Observer editorial policy tended to reflect that. There were no awkward investigations into wrong-doing or injustice. If local politicians were in the "Rochdale Observer Club" then they could get away with almost anything.
Then in 1970 came the Rochdale Alternative Press. A revelation to many in our town that knew that things were not as rosy as was stated in th'Ob.

New technology in the form of cheap lithographic printing opened up political speech and local debate. It was a product of its day: a time of radical, angry, long haired hippy types who had benefited from the 1948 Education Act and had got themselves a voice and an inquiring mind. In style, RAP was anti-establishment, cheeky and crude but acknowledged it was sometimes crass, preaching and up its own arse. An Oz of the North. It had the dangerous feel of a freethinking underground pamphlet. Thirty years after its last edition RAP is still remembered by many with affection.
One of its biggest scoops was The Strange Case of Smith the Man- the detailed investigation of the sex abuse allegations relating to Cyril Smith at Cambridge House lad's hostel. Smith never sued. The Rochdale Observer NEVER mentioned a word of the scandal.

Since the Rochdale Observer left its Drake Street home there has been a subtle shift in its reporting and editorial voice. It is as if the local Liberal Democrat strangle hold has slightly eased. Some dissent gets through. Some awkward questions are asked. This could be because of the physical distance from Rochdale (no more Lib Dem politicians barging through the office doors threatening the Editors? - fewer cosy chicken dinners at Freemason's Hall in Richard Street or quiet chats in the interlude at the Curtain Theatre?). It could be that the reporters are younger, less grounded locally and less deferential of the Old Local Establishment. The Law of Unintended Consequences may have helped - technology such as digital cameras, T'interweb emails and smartphones gives local people the chance to help journalists with sources of news in a way that doesn't need a trip to Drake Street or a professional PR letterhead. Finally there is the fact that readers' comments can be put online - allowing for a new type of feedback - raw, honest, irreverant and something that can grow organically into a bigger story. It is all quite fresh and imperfect and it is new ground for journalism.

Some lament the loss of a local office for local news - but take a look at the content of bygone Rochdale Observers - the traditional Ob fayre of photos of bonnie babies, pothole pointing politicians, the Ugly Page (drinkers "out on the town") and boy scouts rescuing cats from trees can be done over the phone and net.

Meanwhile, Paul Rowen's former spin doctor, Dave Hennigan, is back...

...only for a wee while, just to voice his opinion of the Trinity Mirror takeover.
His slipperly views are actually quite revealing. Remember, this is the little chap who wrote the front page grovelling apology in the Ob when Paul Rowen threatened to sue about reporting of his Parliamentary expenses in June 2009. It was a calucated gamble that saved Paul's bacon in the short run. (But as the facts come out about Rochdale Lib Dem finances it could become a problem that may bite him on his rosey cheeks).
Tomorrow's front cover
Dave's calculated risk of a legal threat to the Ob was based on a number known factors: Guardian Media Group's Regional Titles had shaky finances so wouldn't want to risk litigation, a new Editor didn't have much support from a Head Office that still had some residual Liberal sympahies.

For spin paramedic Dave Hennignan to lament local journalism is cunning bullshit. During the golden years of this shower's reign of spin - the controlling mind of the Rochdale Observer was the Stockport office of Richard Catlow.

So, although the Obby will be produced in Oldham by a national media title, perhaps our local newspaper will have a more robust voice?

Could the bad old days be over when allegations of serious sexual abuse are silenced?
The next time a piss poor politician, with mysterious revenue streams, tries to sue the Rochdale Observer, proper media lawyers from that there London could be on hand to defend proper journalism.

Could Kevin Maguire help out with the Trinity Mirror's newest regional title?

Thursday 4 February 2010

Cyril Smith and un"Reformed" characters?

Last year, at the height of the MP's expenses scandal, Paul Rowen suggested that the second week of June 2009 had "probably been the hardest of my political life". This was after a mildly critical exposee of his expense claims.

In a high risk gamble, Paul Rowen bet the farm on silencing the Guardian Media Group by threatening a libel action. It worked, sort of. The Rochdale Observer pulled web version of the original article and Paul's spin doctor, Dave Hennigan, drafted a front page grovelling apology.
Tomorrow's front cover

The funny farm was safe- for a while. But have the chickens now come home to roost?

A few months after the Lib Dem "correction" on the front page of the Ob, Paul Sacked Dave Hennigan. The devil is in the detail of Paul Rowen's principled stance on Parliamentary expenses. Is it a pack of lies? Will the house of cards collapse on proper inspection?

As RAW revealed yesterday, Paul Rowen claims public money for his constiuency office "142a Drake Street". The invoices come on Rochdale Liberal Democrat headed paper. The landlord is described as "Rochdale Reform". The full title of the owner of both 144 and 142a Drake Street is Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited. (RRBL)

How has Paul Rowen and the Rochdale Liberal Democrats described this company?

To find this out, the same grovelling apology that the Rochdale Observer was forced to print is most revealing. Is Paul Rowen damned by the very words penned for him by David Hennigan?

Under the headline " I have always striven to put Rochdale first" Paul Rowen explained his:

"...Drake Street offices, while part-owned by the Lib Dems, are paid for at a market rate"


"The rules for this are clear. It must be a fair market rent determined by an independent surveyor. That was what I did."

The article was concluded with the following apology:

"The Rochdale Observer would like to make it clear it has no information that Paul Rowen MP was using parliamentary expenses to fund Liberal Democrat political activities and apologises if any reader got that impression."

To recap, Paul Rowen says his constituency office is "part-owned" by the Lib Dems, his parliamentary expense claim is based on a "fair market rent" determined by an "independent surveyor" .

So who are the directors and shareholders of Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited- the recipients of Paul Rowen's Parliamentary expenses cash for constiuency office space?

The 2009 list of Directors and shareholders is most revealing...

The Company Secretary is VIVIAN COBURN (Cllr Alan Taylor's partner). The register of members is lodged at the Coburn/Taylor family home.

The first director listed is BRIAN ASHWORTH (former councillor and President of Rochdale Lib Dems) Brian is current the Chairman of LINK4LIFE trust- Rochdale Council's controversial leisure and culture qualgo, registered as the Rochdale Boroughwide Cultural Trust.

The other 3 listed directors are:


So the directors or "contolling mind" of RRRL are all senior Rochdale Lib Dems.

But who owns RRRL, who are the shareholders and recipients of any profits, from, say, lucrative rental agreements paid for from Paul Rowen's Parliamentary expenses?

Remember, Paul Rowen's explanation was that his constituency office was "part owned" by "the Lib Dems"

According to the 2009 records, Rochdale Reform Building Shareholders on 31/10/2008 were as follows:

The largest single holding by an individual is CYRIL SMITH with a 183 Ordinary shares in the company.


The largest holding was of shares is with the TRUSTEES OF ROCHDALE REFORM ASSOCIATION with 1445 shares.

Cllr ALAN TAYLOR holds 25 shares, partner and Compaby Secretary VIVIAN COBURN holds 5. Sarah Taylor holds 10 shares.

So the vast majority of ths shareholding looks very Liberal Democrat in pursuasion. Is Paul Rowen's phrase "part owned" by the Lib Dems starting to look rather suspect?

The other shareholders listed on the public register are:

Edgar Todd, 10 shares
Donald Woolfenden, 24 shares
Alan Whitehead, 24 shares
Annie Bulcock (exec of Law Bulcockannie), 24 shares
Executors of Alfred Berry, 24 shares
M Kendal, 10 shares
Alan Mills, 24 shares
Executors of James Quinlan, 24 shares
Stuart Dunbar, 24 shares
Leonard Holt, 35 shares,
Walter Ridgeway, 24 shares
F. Howarth, 24 shares
T. Fletcher (executors), 25 shares
W.Holt (executors), 25 shares
Kathleen Wilson, 24 shares
Rodney Stott, 8 shares
Charles Hudson, 24 shares
Gladys Crossley, 24 shares
Anne Ewing Crossley 24 shares
Keith Hibbert Crossley 24 shares.

Hang on a minute, didn't Paul Rowen say that his parliamentary expense claim for his constiuency office was based on a "fair market rent" determined by an "independent surveyor"

Who was the "independent surveyor" who set the "fair market rent"?

In May 2009 Paul Rowen said it was "local estate agent Andrew Crossley"

Crossley's Estate Agents are a well known, and respected, local firm. They are a well known, and respected, local family.

Was Paul Rowen specifically refering to Andrew Crossley in person, as the surveyor who independently set the fair market rent? This is dancing on a pinhead but important.

Their website is clear:

"Crossley's are the leading family firm of independent Rochdale Estate Agents and Chartered Surveyors"...

"The company has been trading since 1926 and looks forward to the challenges of the new century. Crossley's has a wealth of experience within the Rochdale housing market and is almost a 'family-friend' of some local folk!"

The company now registered as G. Crossley & Son Ltd was incorporated in 2006. Andrew Crossley holds the single share issued for the company. There was an earlier G. Crossley Limited but that was dissolved in 1995. All this said, as their website rightly says, the Crossleys are a very respected family whose business connections as estate agents and surveyors in Rochdale are well established.

Their website gives specific detail to the family business relationships:

"Andrew's father, Keith Crossley, is still employed by the company as a consultant Chartered Surveyor. Andrew's mother, Anne Crossley, retired in 1996 after over 20 years as "general factotum" and Company Secretary!"

Has Paul Rowen landed himself in an awkward situation with the wording of the apology he made the Rochdale Observer publish?

Along with Cyril Smith and other prominent Lib Dems, Keith and Anne Crossley are shareholders of Rochdale Reform Buildings Limited.

The website of the Crossley family company, trading as Crossley Estates, describes Keith Crossley as still employed by the company as a Chartered Surveyor.

Paul Rowen said a "fair rent" determined by an "independent surveyor" is paid to a company that is "part owned" by the Lib Dems.

Some of the cash in the trail comes full circle when viewing Rochdale Lib Dem's Register of Donations with the Electoral Commission:
In October 2005 Rochdale Reform Buildings Ltd donated £1793 to Rochdale Lib Dems.

All these claims must be investigated.
The public have a right to know where THEIR money has gone.
The Rochdale Observer were forced to publish an apology that does not appear to be supported by the facts.

If rules have been broken or there is any question of wrong-doing then Paul Rowen, Rochdale Lib Dems and Rochdale Reform Buildings Ltd must account for this and pay back public money.

If a correction is needed, there must be a full explanation to the Rochdale Observer AND the readers of the Rochdale Observer in the same manner the "apology" was published -

Legally and morally, Rochdale tax payers and voters must know the the full facts about Paul Rowen's constituency office expense claims and ALL sources of money to Rochdale Lib Dems.

Paul Rowen - the MP with an office that doesn't exist?

The Rowengate expenses scandal won't go away.
Public money should always be accountable.

There are strict rules about the distinction between an MP's constituency office (paid for out of parliamentary expenses) and a local office of a political party. If there wasn't then public money could be used to fund party shenanigans, staff and outgoings. That would be against the strict parliamentary rules.

That is why there is now a clear distinction the postal addresses displayed on:

1. Paul Rowen MP's website (currently paid for by the Communications Allowance - supposedly for strictly non-political information)

2. The website of Rochdale Lib Dems.

The websites even go further - to make absolutely sure there is no mistaking the exclusive roles and seperate addresses of the current MP and this Rochdale Lib Dem party offices. Check the wording that clearly states "all at"...

Rochdale Lib Dems' website - "Published and Promoted by Adam Power on behalf of Rochdale Liberal Democrats, all at 144, Drake Street, Rochdale, OL16 1PS"

Paul Rowen MP's website - "Published by Adam Power on behalf of Paul Rowen, all at 142a, Drake Street, Rochdale, OL16 1PS"

So Adam Power is
"all at" 142a Drake Street

and "all at" 144 Drake Street.

At this building, there is a front door and a side door. If there was a back door would that be 142b Drake Street? We could never condone such back door shenanigans if public money is involved.

Paul Rowen is extremely sensitive on questions and comments about party funding and the use of his (our) Parliamentary expenses. He threatened the Rochdale Observer with libel last year.

We said back then his threats were "bollocks".

As a matter of public impotance, Paul Rowen must explain why his office doesn't seem to exist.

Land Registry property searches can be done online. All you need is a postcode- eg "OL16 1PS".

The Registered Land Title list is clear. There is a 144 Drake Street but no 142 or 142a.

How does that work?
Why is 142a Drake Street not listed?
Isn't there a seperate lease for the MP constituency office? Seperate council tax? Seperate accounts?

Or is there an internal back door of the Lib Dem office 144 Drake Street that Adam uses to enter Paul's office - known as "142a" ?

How very odd.

Accounts for the Rochdale Lib Dem accounting unit are patchy. Only 2 years of accounts have been lodged with the Electoral Commission for the last 5 years.

The Rochdale Lib Dem accounts ending the period 31/12/2005 give details of office rental and funding arrangements.

The accounts show the Treasurer as Cllr Dale Mulgrew and the Chair as Cllr Peter Clegg.
The wording is clear:


Income in the year increased as a result of part of our headquarters now being rented as an office suite to the new MP.


Expenditure in the year increased due to the new leasing circumstances introduced as an outcome of the general election victory. The party now pays rent that previously had been donated as a gift in kind from the company that owns the building.

As Rochdale's MP, Paul Rowen has claimed his office expenses from his Staffing Allowance/Incidental Expenses Allowance. The claim forms clearly document regular paid invoices of almost £2000 every 3 months for "Rochdale Reform Buildings".

Rochdale Reform Buildings Ltd - Is this the "landlord" that Dale Mulgrew's 2005 accounts state that "the party" now pays rent to? A rent that was previously a "gift in kind"? A reason Dale Mulgrew confirmed why party income had increased as a result of the party's HQ now renting a suite of offices to the MP?

"142a Drake Street" - an address that isn't listed with the Land Registry?

Is public cash paying for Paul Rowen's MP office that pays rent to a company that then donates the money back to the Rochdale Lib Dems?


As Dale's dad, Jimmidy Cricket might say... "there's more"...
The 2005 that Dale prepared as Treasurer mention Rochdale Lib Dem staffing costs, income and expenditure...


There were no salaries to be included because the local MP through his parliamentary allowance now covers all such overheads.

Staff for both 142a AND 144 Drake Street?


Monday 1 February 2010

Greg Couzens - Rochdale's "Finance Boss" who can't add up?

Last Saturday's BBC North West Tonight reported on Rochdale Town Centre.
Questions were raised about our town's regeneration.
So who spoke on behalf of Rochdale Council?

Chief Executive, Top of the Regeneration Game - £140,000 a year Roger Ellis?
Leader of Rochdale Council - Cllr Irene Davidson?
Elusive portfolio holder for Regeneration - Cllr Mohammad Sharif?

Instead, we were treated to 'ambitious' Gregory Couzens- self styled "Finance Boss" of Rochdale Council.

Greg was emphatic in his dismissal of a crisis on our High Streets.

The usual shameless nonsense about jam tomorrow and "exciting regeneration" was dished out.

But there was mention of only 14 empty shops.

only 14 empty shops?

Does our town have a "Finance Boss" who can't count?

Or does he just cross his fingers when talking to the camera from a script prepared by Paul Rowen and Roger Ellis?

Greg, what planet are you on? - pictures can tell a thousands words.

Below are some photographs of the empty shops and businesses in Rochdale Town Centre.

Start from 142a/144 Drake Street- the Rochdale Lib Dem HQ with mysterious funding arrangements.

Move down Drake Street past the rubble where MFI and Focus DIY used to be... Take a walk around sometime Greg. Let's see if you can count. Turning a blind eye to this won't help our town. These are some of the EMPTY businesses . Far more than "only 14" empty businesses next to the phone, pound and charity shops. How can Greg have missed these?

Rochdale deserves much better than expensive spin and brainless propaganda from RMBC and the RDA.

Greg - next time you want to be 'economical' - please don't do it with the facts about our town.
The only way to sort this mess out is recognise there is a problem.
We are not being 'negative' about the town we love - just realistic.
The rot must stop NOW.