The owl returns …..


Shining a light into the darkest corners of East Devon

Contact us at

“Nothing about us, without us, is for us”




“Time for a Change”

Saturday 26 May, 2018 – Beehive, Honiton

10.00 – 13.30

To reserve a free place and for more information, see:

About our Local Enterprise Partnership’s promise to double growth …

“The weakest household spending for three years and falling levels of business investment dragged the economy to the worst quarter for five years, official statisticians have said.

The Office for National Statistics confirmed its previous estimate that GDP growth slumped to 0.1% in the first quarter, while sticking to its view that the “beast from the east” had little impact.

The latest figures will further stoke concerns over the strength of the UK economy, amid increasing signals for deteriorating growth as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year. Some economists, including officials at the Bank of England, thought the growth rate would be revised higher as more data became available. …”

And does our LEP have a plan B … er, apparently not.

“Devon County Councillors have just given themselves a 15 per cent pay rise”

“Devon County Councillors have voted to give themselves an immediate 15 per cent hike in their allowances.

The independent remuneration panel had recommended that a rise from the current figure of £10,970 to £12,607 to be implemented by the council.

No rise in allowances for members has taken place in the last nine years.

The allowance for the leader of the council will go up from £25,000 to £31,518. …

The leader of the council, Cllr John Hart said that since the Conservatives had come to power in 2009, over a million pounds had been saved already as they had reduced the number of committee places and that there had been report after report from the independent remuneration panel recommending this.

He said: “This report came to us in 2016 and we all bottled it and didn’t recommended putting it up before the election in 2017. But this is the time to do it and link any future raise in allowance to raises in staff pay.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Alan Connett, said that no-one disagreed with the proposals but the money for this wasn’t in the budget and that by putting up allowances straight away, it won’t change a thing in terms of how diverse the council will be. …

… Of the 60 current county councillors, 52 of them are over the age of the 50, and 15 are aged more than 70. There are just three councillors who are younger than 40 and none under the age of 30.”

OFSTED too poor to inspect failing schools adequately

“The schools watchdog has failed to hit targets while suffering “constants cuts” to its budget for more than a decade, the National Audit Office has said.

The full spend on inspecting the schools sector in 2017-18 has fallen in real terms by 52% compared to 1999-2000 – from £125m to £60m, the public spending watchdog highlighted in a report released yesterday.

Ofsted had failed to meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools graded ‘inadequate’ in 6% (78) of cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

It also did not meet its statutory target to re-inspect schools within five years in 43 cases between 2012-13 and 2016-17, mainly due to it categorising 32 schools as new when they were expanded or amalgamated, the NAO publication showed.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The fact that Ofsted has been subject to constant cuts over more than a decade, and regular shifts in focus, speaks volumes.

“The department [for education] needs to be mindful that cheaper inspection is not necessarily better inspection. ”

He added: “To demonstrate its commitment, the department needs a clear vision for school inspection and to resource it accordingly.”

Cuts have occurred while Ofsted has been handed new responsibilities, including evaluating children’s social care, early years and childcare, the public spending watchdog noted.

The NAO highlighted a high level of turnover- 19% in 2017/18 – of HM Inspectors, who cited workload pressures as a key reason for leaving.

A lack of inspectors has meant that Ofsted has “found it difficult to meet inspection targets,” according to the NAO report.

Under current legislation, schools graded as ‘outstanding’ are exempt from routine re-inspection, meaning that at August 2017 1,620 schools had not been inspected for six years or more.

Of these, 296 schools had not been inspected for ten years or more.

The NAO estimated the cost of inspection per school in 2017-18 was £7,200.

Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, said: “Like much of the public sector, we are operating in a difficult financial climate.

“We have had to make tough decisions about how we prioritise resources. I am confident that Ofsted gets the balance right.”

She added: “The NAO’s conclusion that we cannot prove the value for money we represent is explicitly not the same as demonstrating that we do not provide value.”

In 2017-18, Ofsted spent £44m on inspecting state-funded schools. ”

Council behaviour standards falling – says Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

“The risks of standards in local government being breached have increased since 2010 while many of the mitigations that were in place have been weakened or removed, Solace (the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) has warned.

In its submission to the Committee for Standards in Public Life’s Review of Local Government, Solace said that since 2010 much had changed in local government which it believed was likely to have had a significant impact on the risk of poor ethical standards.

“For example, the financial environment has, over time, raised the stakes of councillors’ decision-making. Pressure on individuals has significantly increased as the consequences of their choices have become stark and more difficult. This pressure leaves individuals more vulnerable to inappropriate influence themselves or subjecting others to that type of behaviour. In a broader political environment which, as the work of the committee has already identified, sees increased intimidation of politicians and the demonization of experts, these risks are only heightened,” the submission said.

Solace also pointed out that local government was now operating in a significantly more complex operating environment.

“Every council has a wide range of strategic partners, commercial contractors and arms-length bodies. The governance picture is incredibly varied with individuals often required to act within different legal structure performing different roles.”

Solace highlighted how the simple client/contractor model of commissioning had been replaced by a multitude of business models operating in different services, to different geographies with different governance arrangements.
“While these innovative approaches are to be welcomed, for example, in the way they have enable additional investment to be unlocked or more system-based approaches to be utilised, this does risk arrangements becoming unclear, less transparent and blurred. Without continuous and consistent advice and counsel, innocent individuals can be left susceptible to crossing the ethical line, while others can take advantage of such ambiguity to operate inappropriately and unseen.”

On the weakening or removal of mitigations, Solace said the most significant change was the abolition of the Standards Board and the national Code of Conduct as part of the Localism Act 2012.

At that time the organisation recommended that its members worked with their elected members “to ensure a robust and proportional local systems were put in place, that the local codes of conduct which underpin each regime are clear, unambiguous and appropriate to local circumstances. Such an approach should ensure any code is practical while able to minimise the risk of external challenge.”

Although it has not conducted detailed research, Solace said a short review suggested that many local codes of conduct stuck tightly to the Nolan Principles but in a way that left little room for further explanation or context setting.

The submission continued: “In addition to a local code of conduct, a clear and transparent local process should be in place to administer complaints relating to the code. During the Localism Bill’s consideration in Parliament, Solace argued that a councillor panel with independent involvements was the most appropriate model for this. While the legislation has removed the requirement for such a body, Solace see no reason to change its view and would recommend a member panel should support the statutory ‘independent person’ in performing their duties.”

Solace also noted that the abolition of the Standards Board was not the only significant change that removed checks and balances relating to local government standards. “The abolition of the Audit Commission and a reduction in the ‘public interest’ activities of local external auditors have also removed an independent mechanism through which standards issues had historically been identified and dealt with.”

It meanwhile argued that the campaign to remove protections for senior officers, remove employment rights and recent senior figures undervaluing professional leadership in council had “eroded individuals’ ability to effectively speak truth to power”.

Solace argued that without adequate protection, senior officers in local authorities were “less likely to feel able to raise issues of governance and hinder openness and transparency within their authority, and that it was an erosion of the balance of local accountability which ensures high standards in local government on behalf of local tax payers”.

It suggested as an example that it was unlikely that successful criminal proceedings for corruption, as in the 2004 Lincolnshire County Council Cllr Speechley case, would have been successful if employment protection had not been afforded to the chief executive or monitoring officer.

The submission claimed that England had been left with a light touch approach to local government standards reliant on local codes, implementation and sanction. “Unlike the rest of the UK, there is an absence of national oversight, an inconsistency of sanction and a weakening of a range of mechanism that might reduce the risks of a decay of standards in other ways.”

However, Solace said it would not like to see a return to the “pernicious and over bureaucratic approach” of a national Standards Board. It did argue, though, that greater independent monitoring was required. “In an environment where evidence is unclear or anecdotal it is too easy to turn the other way and allow important challenges to remain out of sight.”

It argued that that inconsistency between different levels of Government was also unhelpful. “Parliament has done a great deal of work exploring the appropriate sanctions for elected politicians and it would seem appropriate that powers, including the power of recall, within local government mirror those introduced in Westminster.”

£1 million homes sales in East Devon increase by 157% in 10 years

“Million-pound sales have increased by 157%, with 7 sold in 2007 and 18 in 2017, with the most expensive sold for £3,100,000”

For comparison: In Exeter there were 55 homes over £1m sold since 2007, with the most expensive sold for £2,900,000

Stating the obvious …

We have an EDDC Tory councillor saying their new Leader is a “problem solver” and now we have an Exmouth town councillor saying Exmouth’s new mayor is ‘the man to get things done’.

Anyone heard of a Leader or Mayor who can’t solve problems or doesn’t get things done? Aren’t they basic requirements of the job?

On second thoughts maybe don’t answer that …

Council auditors forced to audit!

Nowhere in this report is the question asked: how come internal and external auditors failed to spot this before it was too late?

“Auditors say that the quality and transparency of financial reporting at Northamptonshire County Council has prevented effective decision making.

In its interim audit report for the 2017–18 financial year, KPMG says that finance reports to the council’s cabinet are a barrier to proper financial governance.

The report follows intense scrutiny of the council’s financial problems which led to the issuing of a section 114 notice earlier in the year followed by the appointment of commissioners by central government to run the council.

KPMG said: “We reviewed the authority’s financial reports submitted to cabinet in 2017–18.

“We note that the reports are unclear and lack details, including in the accompanying appendices.”

In particular, it said, the council reports a forecast outturn variance of nil, despite this being the position after accounting for one-off measures.
This, it said, clouds the authority’s underlying performance.

“The full position can only be ascertained by piecing detailed outturns of individual directorates; even so, the inconsistency in reporting within each individual directorates makes this a very difficult exercise,” the report said.

KPMG said the budget report does not provide members with a clear view of the variances and overspends within each directorate.

“The narrative is often vague and written in dense management speak; the style does not promote clarity of reporting. This style of reporting is consistent across all directorates,” its report concluded.

The auditors criticised the authority for describing slippages in its savings plans as “budget delivery pressures”, language they said was “vague and does not truly reflect the issue”.

The report went on to criticise inconsistencies within budget books submitted by budget holders to the finance business partner teams.

These books, it said, allow the authority to keep track of expenditure and challenge overspends and underspends as necessary.

KPMG said: “In some cases it was clear that variances to the budget have been investigated as the budget books contained comments to support this.

“These variances were reported in the quarterly finance reports. In other cases there was very little detail in the budget books to support large variances, and in some cases these variances were not reported in the quarterly finance reports.” …