Council Fraud Team Star on BBC1

Written on . Posted in Media, Prosecutions, Your council

The patient and tenacious work by Epping Forest District Council fraud investigators was featured in the BBC TV programme Saints and Scroungers, aired on Wednesday 26 January 2011.

A Council fraud investigator said This is disgusting, it’s pure greed on the biggest case of fraud Epping Forest District Council had ever uncovered.

BBC1s Saints and Scroungers

For Bob Palmer, Director of Finance and ICT, and the fraud investigators involved, being filmed by the BBC was not part of their normal working day but all were keen to take part and highlight the extraordinary level of fraud in this case.

The investigations began after an Off-duty fraud investigator was house hunting in Epping. He told colleagues he had viewed the property and talked with the agent, alarm bells started ringing when colleagues realised they had visited the Martins before and details given were different.

Following months of investigations and working closely with agencies including the Department for Work and Pensions and the Police, scroungers Mr and Mrs Martin pleaded guilty at Chelmsford Crown Court in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Robert Martin received a two and a half year prison sentence for making false claims of £130,000 for housing benefit and council tax benefit While claiming income support. His wife Samantha Martin received a 12 month suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service.

Bob Palmer said: Well done to all the benefit fraud team who all acted with the greatest integrity and professionalism ensuring the conviction of these scroungers. It is not a victimless crime, this money should be spent on improving services for people in real need.

He continued: What we have to hope is that anybody out there who is currently committing a fraud sees what has happened, and that is a significant deterrent to them.

Residents Voice Safety Concerns at Debate

Written on . Posted in Consultation, Crime and safety, Media, Residents, Young people, Your community, Your home

Community Safety tree image

Gangs and knives, cutbacks, cross border crime, domestic violence, alcohol related anti-social behaviour, young drivers accident rates and community payback.

An audience of local people came along to the Community Safety Question Time Debate to pose challenging questions on these topics to a panel of local experts in an evening of lively debate.

The debate, filmed at Epping Forest college in Loughton, was presented by BBC Radio Essex’s Dave Monk and saw representatives from the Police, NHS, Fire, District and County Councils, and the probation service quizzed by members of the local community on issues that mattered to them.


Introduction by Dave Monk
Introduction by Dave Monk
  0:00:00 / 0:00:00


Watch the debate with direct links to all the questions below:

Watch the Community Safety Question Time Debate

    The expert panellists were:
  • Stuart McMillan, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service Assistant Divisional Officer for Harlow and Epping Forest;
  • Neeve Bishop, Essex Probation Trust Offender Management Team;
  • Alan Ray, Essex Police District Commander for Epping Forest District;
  • Councillor Penny Smith, Epping Forest District Council Safer and Greener Portfolio Holder;
  • Caroline Skinner, NHS West Essex Senior Health Improvement Specialist;
  • Yvette Wetton, Essex County Council West Area Co-ordinator;
  • John Gilbert, Epping Forest District Council Director of Environment and Street Scene.

Displays showcasing the work of the Epping Forest Safer Communities Partnership were on display outside the auditorium. Audience members and college students were asked what the top 3 priorities for the partnership should be.

    The results were:

  1. Anti-social behaviour;
  2. Domestic violence;
  3. Drugs.

The debate was the finale to a two week programme of events called “Safe ‘n’ Sound in Epping Forest” providing help and advice on keeping you safe.

Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week

Written on . Posted in Community, Crime and safety, Media, Older people, Residents, Young people, Your community, Your home

This week is Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week and Essex Police has joined with Essex County Council and local domestic abuse forums to stand up and say There’s no excuse for abuse.

To mark Essex Domestic Abuse Awareness Week a short video has been produced to push home the message that there really is no excuse for abuse.

Information and advice can be found on the Essex Police website.

Domestic abuse police units are always available to help. You can contact the Harlow, Brentwood and Epping local domestic abuse police unit on 01279 625431.

Council Website Rated in Top Nine

Written on . Posted in Media, Our performance, Your council

Socitm Insight - Better connected 2010: a snapshot of all local authority websites

Residents who access services via Epping Forest District Council online have good news. The Council website was rated as one of the top nine in England with three stars in the latest survey of shire district councils by the Society of Information Technology Managers, SOCITM.

Epping Forest District Council has a small Web Team. Councillors doubled its capacity to two employees late last year and the investment paid dividends almost immediately. Among the reasons given for the Council`s enhanced rating was its online response to the severe weather during December and January.

Over the course of four weeks the Council issued 19 separate updates ranging from cancellation of meetings to revised refuse collections and how neighbours could help each other during the wintry conditions.

Councils were measured against a range of criteria including accessibility, navigation and news value of their websites. SOCITM singled out Epping Forest District Council`s online publicity on the use of small vehicles to collect refuse from roads unsafe for larger refuse trucks and the dangers its own contract staff were running by continuing to provide services in the treacherous conditions.

As well as providing much of the content for the Website, the Council Web Team and IT Officers support a small range of other Council staff in areas such as Planning and Recycling who maintain and update their own content in addition to the day job.

Councillor Di Collins, Leader of Epping Forest District Council is delighted with the SOCITM findings. She said: This is great news. Councillors looked at website resourcing last year. Even then we were doing remarkably well within limited means but we recognised online information is the future and agreed on the need to invest in it. This survey goes to show what dedicated and skilled professional staff can achieve.

Councillor Collins added: The website represents great value for money. Residents can access or find information on practically all Council services. Unlike people, the website never sleeps and makes our services available to residents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Council in ‘Yes Minister’ Lampoon Admits ‘We slipped up’

Written on . Posted in Business, Local plan / planning our future, Media, Planning, Residents, Your community, Your environment, Your home

Embarrassed council managers have apologised, admitting `we made a mistake ` after the wrong covering letter was sent to residents as part of planning consultation on future development. The Daily Mail reported on `Sir Humphrey ` being alive and well at Epping Forest District Council after the letter was sent to local residents.

“I am sorry. We slipped up. The letter, full of technical planning jargon should not have been sent to local residents, said John Preston, Director of the Council`s Planning Service.”

He continued: We did try to write the attached guide in `Plain English` but we dropped our guard on the covering letter that went with it. We are very keen to engage local residents fully in the preparation of planning policies, which will continue to help to control development and protect the Green Belt. The planning system is increasingly complex and involves new processes and terms which remain unfamiliar or frankly quite baffling to the wider community.

The council will contact residents again shortly. John Preston said: It is very embarrassing but some people at least will see a funny side to it. Every profession has its `Sir Humphrey ` language and planners are no different but we understand that you have to alter your words according to your audience. This consultation could have far reaching consequences for the future of our district, setting policies on where to build new homes and businesses as well as protecting the countryside. It is the start of a quite lengthy process with more consultation to follow. Hopefully, the extra publicity provided by the Daily Mail will give the consultation a boost in responses.

Full details of the consultation and questionnaire are available from the Planning Area of the Council’s Website.

Text of the correct letter that was circulated as an e-mail to local residents is reproduced below:

“The Forward Planning team at Epping Forest District Council is in the initial stages of preparing a Core Strategy for the district. This is the key new planning policy document which will look ahead to 2031, and eventually replace the Local Plan.

“All new planning policy documents need to be subject to Sustainability Appraisal. This is an assessment of the likely economic, environmental and social effects of the new policies. The Sustainability Appraisal provides information to help judge whether the new policies are the most appropriate for the district, and whether changes should be made.

“In preparing the Sustainability Appraisal, its scope and level of detail need to be agreed before it is used to assess issues, options and policies.  It is a statutory requirement to hold a period of consultation on the scope of the Sustainability Appraisal, the purpose of which is to ensure that all the relevant issues and concerns have been included.

“The consultation period is from 17 May to 18 June 2010.  The consultation document, a short guide and the online response form is available from

“If you have any queries about this consultation, please contact the Forward Planning team on 01992 564517 or at .”


Yours faithfully

Employee of the Year – Dawn Jolley

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Media, Your council

Councils are facing some of the toughest decisions on spending in living memory. Epping Forest district is already well-run and efficient. Finding savings in such a lean organisation is a difficult job. It means finding new and better ways of working. Anyone who can save the Council almost a quarter of a million pounds by doing things differently is therefore more than worthy of special recognition but that is just what the winner of our first staff award has done.

The trick has been to examine, re-organise and centralise the way the Council buys external goods and services. Central purchasing may be a simple thing to say but in practice it is a massive task in persuading people to work differently. However, the results speak for themselves.

Dawn Jolley with Chairman Penny Smith

Team of the Year – the Academy Project Team

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Media, Your council

The second staff award is for the Epping Forest District Council Team of the Year award for Innovation 2010 goes to the Academy Project Team. Whenever a new system is introduced, you can expect a degree of delay and disruption. If computers are involved, you can anticipate more problems.

So when Councillors agreed to change the biggest and most sophisticated IT system for tax collection and benefit payments, with some 65,000 different individual accounts, and not knowing a major economic recession was just around the corner, you might have thought the Council was in trouble.

The Chairman Penny Smith with Fiona Bateman, Shipra Bajpai and Lorraine Martin.

The old system was Orbis. Responsibility for its replacement with Academy was given to a team drawn from Finance and ICT. The team showed great flexibility, intelligence and determination, acquiring new skills and devising solutions to complex problems along the way. And the team continued to provide high quality services with minimal disruption to residents throughout, at a time when demand for Council Tax rebates and Housing Benefit was increasing. The result has been a textbook case of best practice.

Team of the Year – Sheltered Housing Scheme Managers

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Housing, Media, Your council

The third staff award is for the Epping Forest District Council Team of the Year award for Dealing with the Public 2010 goes to the Sheltered Housing Scehme Managers.

For many people, getting older can be a daunting time. The reassurance of knowing there is someone you can call, someone you can talk to and someone who will help, can make all the difference. The winners of the third set of staff awards, Dealing with the Public, make that difference.

Chairman Penny Smith with Kath Shelton, Caroline Gleaves and Suzanne Doherty

They are a dedicated group who help to make the retirement years of many older residents the most comfortable, safe and enjoyable. Working hand in hand with another award-winning service, Epping Forest Careline, the Sheltered Housing Scheme Managers are skilled in dealing with many of life`s emergencies whether great or small. They can be called out at any time of the day or night.

But they also add immeasurably to the quality of life of our older citizens, whether organising social events, collecting prescriptions, liaising with doctors or just passing the time of day with a smile and a few kind words.

The Scheme Managers clearly love their work and care deeply for the people they support. Every day they go well beyond the call of duty or their job description.

Outstanding Contribution – Pat Seager

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Democracy, Media, Your council

This year Councillor Di Collins and Councillor Syd Stavrou decided that an additional award should be made to recognise the outstanding contribution of an employee. Indeed, without her professionalism and efficiency, the civic awards and dinner would not have happened.

For fifteen years she has been at the right hand of every successive Chairman of Epping Forest District Council. She organises diaries, makes sure people should be where they are supposed to be and has played a major part in raising some £250,000 for Chairman`s charities. Usually, she remains firmly in the background.

Chairman Penny Smith and Pat Seager

The outstanding contribution award goes to Pat Seager.

Special Conservation Award – Alan Cox

Written on . Posted in Civic events, Conservation and listed buildings, Democracy, Media, Your council, Your environment

The Epping Forest district is rich in history and culture. Waltham Abbey, the Royal Gunpowder Mills, Blake Hall and North Weald enjoy high public profiles. Historic and literary figures as diverse as Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and the infamous Dick Turpin have added colour and some notoriety. But nestling on the boundary between Upshire and Epping Upland, one of our oldest and most important historic buildings is once again becoming a centre for culture and the community.

The history of the Copped Hall Estate stretches back many hundreds of years. The first performance of A Mid-Summer Night`s Dream is said to have been performed in the grounds of the old Tudor mansion. For centuries, the lives of people for miles around were centred on the Estate.

Then, disaster struck. In 1917, the Hall was gutted by fire. It became a shell in danger of collapse and total loss.

Alan Cox with Chairman Penny Smith

But Copped Hall holds a special place in our imaginations. Battered and scarred, it still inspires. And none more so than in the mind of the winner of our next award, made this evening in recognition of his flair, passion and sheer determination to see Copped Hall restored to its former glory, though not this time as a seat of privilege but as a centre of history and culture for our whole community.

Since 1986 he has worked tirelessly, first to secure, then to stabilise, before beginning the long process of restoration. He has not been alone. There are now some 1,000 Friends of Copped Hall, many of whom are actively involved in the restoration work and community activities, a Board of Trustees and a range of other partners driving forward or supporting the process.

Copped Hall is coming back to life thanks in large part to the leadership of our award winner. Special Conservation Award goes to the Alan Cox, architect leading the restoration of Copped Hall.