Cllr Kevin Bentley, Leader of Essex County Council – Payments made to Simon Harris

This blog post is regarding the payments made to Simon Harris by Essex County Council to run some Facebook groups. £500,000 was paid directly to Simon Harris, but the full cost of the Facebook groups/pages since 2018 was over £1 million.

Simon Harris is a grifter and a hypocrite. He routinely attacks the Tories and highlights their failings. He also pretends to fight for the poor and vulnerable. All while taking half a million of public money from the Tories. He is nothing buy a fame and money hungry grifter. I strongly suspect that his career as an ‘influencer’ is now over as nobody could possibly take him seriously ever again. I do really hope his career is over.

That said, if Essex County Council offered me £500,000, i’d take it, i’ve got a family, that is a life changing amount of money, so yes, I would have taken it. Mr Harris has stated that he paid £163k of that money to other people, even if that is true, that is still a life changing sum of money that Mr Harris received from Essex County Council. However, i’m not a grifter so I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to go about relieving the public of huge amounts of mone.

I am going to take a wild guess that if you are reading this you know at least the basics of what has been going on, unlike Essex County Council who appear to have no clue about anything that has been going on, to be fair, they never do.

This is the statement that Essex County Council released regarding the payments made to Mr Harris and others.

They then followed this up in the Full Council Meeting on the 13th February 2024. It was streamed live on Youtube and I was watching it. It was great, if you can call watching Kevin Bentley try and whitewash the council throwing away £1,000,000 great.

I am actually not sure if Kevin Bentley et al are really stupid or were just acting that way to try and make the public think this is a one off and they aren’t usually this incompetent.

This blog may be a bit rambling and what I say may not be in the order that the issues were raised and discussed during the meeting. I’m tired, i’m stressed, i’m an unpaid care and exhausted.

It turned out that it was actually £1,000,000 of public money that was spent on Essex County Council’s foray into Facebook over the past few years. They kept on saying ‘social media’, but that isn’t correct, they only utilised Facebook, which is the platform that attracts an older crowd. MySpace was the first big social media platform, and then Facebook came along and was mostly the only platform people used for a while. Facebook is coming up for 20 years old now, and it’s not longer the go to platform, especially among younger people. By concentrating solely on Facebook they were excluding a huge portion of society, especially those who are younger.

What struck me as funny was all of the questions over who actually owns Essex is United, both the group and the page and shows the level of incompetence amongst the members who actually run Essex County Council. I’ll tell you all who owns the group and pages:

Simon Harris owns the Essex is United group, he is the creator of the group, it is tied into his Facebook profile as he used his Facebook profile to set it up, the group is his. You cannot change that, he could be removed as an admin, though he’d have to remove himself, but as the creator, it’s his group, hence why his profile is still active on Facebook as without that the group would disappear. Here is the proof:

I should have put a trigger warning that you will be exposed to Simon’s face, my apologies for any distress caused.

As you can see he created the group, it was originally called Essex Coronavirus Action Support, the name was changed on the 9th June 2022. Just to show you how Facebook differentiates between a creator and just an Admin, here is a screenshot of another Admin, all screenshots were taken today.

You can see that Kirsty O’Callaghan is listed as an admin, but not a creator, she became a member of the group the day after Simon Harris created it and is still a member and an Admin, which means she still has access to absolutely everything on that group. She can delete things, edit things, decide who joins the group, can decide to remove people from the group, lot’s of lovely things like that.

Kirsty O’Callaghan? The same Kirsty O’Callaghan who was the person in charge of chucking £500k in the general direction of Simon Harris while she was employed by Essex County Council? Yup, the very same.

This is where you have to find it funny or else you’d cry, she is no longer employed by Essex County Council who are as we speak still financing the Facebook group, but she has full control of the group, she can do whatever she wants with the group, and the personal information of anyone in that group. All of her emails from her time at Essex County Council have been deleted, the Audit and Governance committee will be investigating her actions and the actions of her department alongside a lot more, yet she is still an admin of the group.

This shows how little control Essex County Council had over any of this, and how little control they have now. The public were told that Essex County Council were involved with the group, there are 4 years of posts and comments by the public, some of which may be personal, anything could happen to them after the contract between ECC and Simon Harris ends in a couple of months. The group is private at present but could easily be set to public which means the information would be searchable by anyone on Facebook.

Simon Harris could change the name of the group and use the group to advertise some scam or something like that. I doubt that there is anything on a contract that states the group/page are the property of Essex County Council, not that it’s even possible as it’s tied in with Simon’s profile.

The whole group could be deleted, but this is where it gets fun, to permanently delete a group you have to remove every single member of that group, so 35k members, and you have to do it individually, then all the admin have to leave the group, it’s not just the press of a button, it’s tedious and time consuming and i’m guessing almost impossible with 35k members.

If you really wanted to be totally accurate on who owns the group and the page, that would be Facebook. Essex County Council spent all that money on something they don’t even own, priceless! What I can’t understand is how ECC don’t already know this and Kevin Bentley especially doesn’t know this. I would love to show off regarding my superior intellect and in depth knowledge of Facebook groups that has led me to know what I know about Facebook groups, but I can’t, I used Google which led me to the Facebook help centre, which is where I got all my information from. It took just a few minutes.

They are all so out of touch.

When you join a private Facebook group, which Essex is United – your questions answered is, you can view all of the other members, you just search for them. Given that the group is the most amazing thing in the world EVER according to members of ECC, I took it upon myself to see which Cabinet members are in the group.

Kevin Bentley, yes, since November 2020 which means he was not a member during the first lockdown and while the group was ‘saving lives’.

Louise McKinlay – yes – Since 24th March 2020

Beverley Egan – No

John Spence – No

Tony Ball – No

Lee Scott – No

Christopher Whitbread – No

Tom Cunningham – Yes, Since 28th March 2020

Peter Schwier – No

Mark Durham – No

All live in Essex, all should have an interest in the group, especially as they are members of ECC. How can they formulate an opinion without being a member, or at least having a quick look. It’s a private group so you have to join to see the posts. If only three members of the cabinet are members of the group, I am going to take a guess that not many 0thermembers are either.

I got most of my information throughout the pandemic direct from government sources, most people did, the government was publishing the rules all over social media, I didn’t get one single piece of information regarding the rules of lockdown from anywhere else but directly.

Then we come to the vaccines. John Spence was talking about the vaccinations in the meeting. He stated that most of the money was spent to get vaccinations done, and with an emphasis on hard to reach groups. He also stated this was “in the face of highly concerted, highly professional, highly competent anti vaccination campaigns”. John Spence is the cabinet member for Health in Essex, this scares me a little if i’m honest.

It’s shocking that given his role he has described anti-vaxxers like that, how can he not know anything about the whole antivax thing? Highly professional? Very Competent? Messrs. Dunning and Kruger have already told us all we need to know about the whole Covid Conspiracy ‘activists’. Messrs. Dunning and Kruger also appear to have an insight into Cllr John Spence.

It wasn’t organised, it wasn’t professional, it’s full of grifters and those with huge ego’s. Those who were the names appearing in headlines with regards to anti-vaccine activities all hate each other. It’s a very very fractured movement and always has been.

I went back and looked at the posts regarding anti-vaxxers on Essex is United, whose purpose were i’m guessing to encourage those who are sceptical to get vaccinated, some of them mock antivaxxers, nothing like mocking people to get them to change their mind.

I read a post in the group, it was something about vaccines, an antivaxxer responded, another group member then attacked the antivaxxer, the admins allowed this to happened and the attacking comment to stay up. There are no responses from admin, no responses from anyone trying to educate the antivaxxer or signpost them to any resources

I am utterly shocked that the cabinet member for health at ECC appears to have no understanding of antivaxxers, given that he has been in the role since 2021, he should have thoroughly researched all of this, and been keeping track of things since then.

Kevin Bentley stated that the groups/pages were set up to help communicate and as a non local government voice. Everything on there are just shares from other local government pages, there is no new fresh content, it’s just being shared by people who aren’t employed by ECC but who are being paid by them.

Kevin Bentley stated that the £1million spend on the Facebook pages/groups is only 0.02% of the council’s spend. Well that makes it ok then. Only a rich, white, male politician could attempt to minimise a waste of £1 million of public money by saying it’s not really that much when you compare it to everything else.

Kevin Bentley stated regarding Essex is United that the content is extraordinary. Almost every single post on both the page and the group is just a share from another ECC Facebook page, it’s utterly ridiculous, and given it’s not a group or page that is particular to one section of the county, a lot of the pages are of limited or no value to the majority. Things to do with children with SEND for example, the overwhelming majority of people in Essex have no need for any information regarding children with SEND. Those of us who do are already members of groups that are focused on children with SEND.

There is absolutely nothing you can find on either the group or page that isn’t available somewhere else, and with more engagement. There is almost no engagement with any of the posts. They are just shared posts, it’s very boring.

Kevin Bentley kept on going on about a temporary mortuary being set up during the pandemic and he was indicating that was one of the reasons the whole group/page disaster happened, despite there being no link between the two.

Kevin Bentley stated that Essex Coronavirus Action saved lives. How? I did not engage with either the page or group during the pandemic yet I still knew all of the rules, I knew how to get help, I knew the symptoms, I knew when I could get my vaccine, everything. When it was your turn to be vaccinated you received a text message and/or letter. Daily briefings were going on, you couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing a Government sponsored post telling you the latest information.

Local Facebook groups that weren’t paid for by ECC were also there for peer to peer support. What saved lives were people following the rules and then getting vaccinated.

There were a lot of people who refused to be vaccinated. It is almost impossible to change the mind of someone who doesn’t want to be vaccinated, especially if they have a distrust of authority. The absolute worst thing you can do, something that is guaranteed to make the person disengage entirely is to mock. I found a few posts mocking antivaxxers on both the page and the group.

Simon Harris always come across as thinking he is better than those who don’t believe the same things he does, and has openly mocked antivaxxers a number of times. That is absolutely fine on his personal social media, we have free speech, do what you want to do. However, it is not okay to do on social media that claims it is run in conjunction with public health in mind. It’s disgraceful actually. I’m very pro vax, like many I got upset when antivaxxers died when the vaccine could have saved them. The way to go about encouraging vaccines is not to mock antivaxxers.

Simon Harris was also in charge of something to do with getting Travellers to engage with vaccination, I cannot get my head around that, something like that should be run solely by Travellers. The same with any hard to reach group of people.

It brings me back to the “Use your head and spread” slogan that Simon Harris used for the cervical smear campaign. That makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable every single time I think about that, it actually makes me feel dirty. It’s also incredibly misleading as you do not actually ‘spread your legs’ as such for a smear test. I guarantee that there were some women who saw that and decided not to go for a smear test based on that slogan alone. The multitude of failings that led to that being used is disgraceful, it clearly was never seen by a woman, it shows a complete disrespect for women and is disgusting.

Stop using men to tell women what to do with their bodies and what is best for them. That Simon Harris thought he was a good person to be encouraging women to get smear tests absolutely reeks of misogyny.

Essex County Council are clearly going to try and whitewash this as much as possible, they have already started. Saying that Essex is United saved lives is a load of rubbish.

John Spence states that there were far more horrible decisions being made than ‘this’, he’s referring to the payments. I fail to see what horrible decisions have got to do with £1,000,000 being spent on Facebook, it has nothing to do with any of it. He’s just trying to make the loss of £1 million of taxpayers money seem less significant by comparing it to what was happening during the pandemic.

He also states that £600,000 of the money that was given to Facebook groups was in 2021 when the government were urging people to get vaccinated. As far as I can tell from the figures, only a small amount of money was set aside for onboarding volunteers to help with vaccination. That money was also paid directly to Simon Harris so we only have his word that is where the money went to. I am guessing that John Spence is talking about the Facebook pages pushing vaccination, again, I never once saw the pages, or the group during the pandemic.

The group is private so you can only view if you are a member. I have seen posts saying to get vaccinated, but they were everywhere at the time, there were leaflets, the government put out a whole campaign as well. If John Spence is trying to say that the success of the covid vaccination plan in Essex was completely down to the £600k given to run the Facebook pages/groups to put out pro vaccine things, then he really hasn’t got a clue how that money was spent. There is nothing unique about the Essex is United group and page. It’s just a page and group full of spam from other groups and pages.

Or John Spence just doesn’t care, he just wants to whitewash it as much as he can to make ECC look better. He is not a man who actually cares. Cabinet member for Health and adult social care, but doesn’t care about anyone buy himself. Wants the council to be blameless in every single thing they do as that reflects on him.

He has no understanding of things that comes under his remit and doesn’t care. Literally no understand of antivaxxers. As i’ve already ranted about on a few occasions, he doesn’t care about unpaid carers.

He also does a lot of things in the church, he is a lay canon, and has other roles at Chelmsford cathedral as well as other churchy things. He’s one of those that is all religious and hopes it makes him look like a good person when in reality he’s all about money and power and doesn’t give a crap about those who he deems are beneath him. Does he really think that his God would think he is a good person given the way he acts? During the unpaid carers presentation thing last year he refused to come and talk to the table where everyone was crying due to us all being exhausted from our caring roles with no help. He then proceeded to run out of the room without saying goodbye.

I don’t know of any religion that would condone that kind of behaviour. the opposite in fact, There is no religion and no God that would label his behaviour as anything other than going against the teachings of any of the main religions.

Yes, I am still annoyed by the way he ran out of that meeting, i’m even more annoyed that the provision for unpaid carers in Essex is absolutely disgusting, yet he is all about how they are going to do better and they have done all this work to make things better and they have listened.

They wrote down everything that is rotten for unpaid carers but haven’t done a thing about it. By law I should be receiving help, in reality John Spence doesn’t care.

I’m depressed, sometimes wishing I wasn’t here anymore, I can’t see my life ever getting any better, I sometimes sit here just wishing I was somewhere else especially when i’m dealing with meltdowns. Then you just get signposted to groups, I haven’t got the time or the privacy to join groups. I sleep on a sofa and i’m disabled.

What is even worse than that is not only am I not alone in being abandoned as an unpaid carer in Essex, i’m not even close to being the worst off, there are many many more unpaid carers that are in a worse position than me,

That £600k that John Spence seems to think was a good deal in 2021 for a handful of posts about getting vaccinated would have been better spent on numerous other things.

Mr Gavin Jones is in charge of all of this now, i’m guessing he’s going to be gathering all the things to hand to the scrutiny committee during the periods of time he’s not making music that nobody is listening to. I am also going to guess that he then has to whitewash what comes out. Hopefully he won’t need a Twitter account with thousands of followers and thousands of tweets, I can’t remember if that was 2 or 3 years ago but that will never stop being funny.

So Essex Conservatives are all holding up the carpets at County Hall so this whole business can be swept under them. There will of course be talk of ‘lessons learnt’ and blame will no doubt be put on the Head of Strengthing communities who has now left, which while i’m not saying it would be wrong to say the Head of Stregthening communities may have thrown a lot of public money at Simon Harris, it is the members who are ultimately responsible. If the members take responsibility for when the council does something well, which they do, and brag about how amazing they are, they also need to take responsibility for when things go wrong. They won’t, that is evident in what they have already said about the whole Simon Harris situation.

They don’t care about the money, they don’t care that it’s less money to help the residents of Essex, all the care about is that it could reflect badly on them

Services are being cut all over the place, service users in Essex are being screwed over. Unpaid carers are being let down, we are desperate and alone, suffering from depression and we just cannot cope anymore. Nobody at Essex County Council is fighting for us, nobody at Essex County Council is fighting for any resident of Essex.

Central Government is not giving out enough money, this means that services have to be cut and this will have a detrimental effect on the most vulnerable in Essex. All of the executive officers at ECC state how passionate they are about serving the residents of Essex, all the members don’t shut up about how they relentlessly strive to make life better for the residents of Essex and they will do everything they can to make that happen.

The only thing i’ve read in response to the cut in money from central government is that it’s ‘disappointing’. Shouldn’t those who were elected on promises to do the best for Essex residents be screaming from the rooftops that this is unacceptable? It shouldn’t matter that they belong to the same political party, they should be absolutely furious. They said nothing about from that it was disappointing and they won’t say anything else because when it comes to the members of Essex County Council, their priority is themselves and not the residents.

I fully believe that the one of the reasons I have been refused help as a carer is because of this blog, I was told by a lady at the carers presentation thing last year that she would contact me when she found out about my carers assessment. I was never given the results, I was just told that they didn’t have enough money to help me. It’s been many months and still no email. I also have absolutely nothing in writing to do with any of this. They don’t put things in writing i’m guessing so that you can’t hold them to something they said they would do.

I’m okay with knowing we will never get any help because of this blog, and because Cllr John Spence just doesn’t care about vulnerable people in Essex. As i’ve said before, i’m severely depressed, i’m exhausted, I often have feelings about not wanting to be here anymore, our lives are a complete mess and i’m struggling to get through each day. I cannot advocate for my children because all of my energy goes on keeping my children safe, I have nothing left. I do not have the hope that we will get help and things will get better and that is actually better than having hope and getting nothing.

So, after watching the full council meeting it is clear that ECC are going to do their best to whitewash the loss of £1 miillion of public money. Kevin Bentley insisting that the content on Essex is united is extraordinary. I guess he’s right, it’s extraordinarily bad as it’s just admins spamming the page and group with content from other pages and groups.

It’s taken me over two weeks to write this blog post, I have 3 children with autism and an ex husband with Huntington’s disease who I am meant to be caring for. The ex is likely going to be made homeless because I am in such a bad way that I just cannot deal with all of his housing benefit claims etc. I was told by Essex County Council to just stop caring for him as that would make my life easier. They really are that cold and uncaring.

I’ve just had enough, or everything. I’ve mentioned this already but it is really important to point out that it’s not just me going through this in Essex, there are so many of us. There are also so many carers who have it much much worse than I do without help. I really feel I need to emphasise that, there are so many unpaid carers in Essex who are in a much worse situation than me. I know it’s not a competition, but it’s really important that people understand just how badly Essex County Council have failed cares and those they care for.