Don’t believe everything you hear – and check it!

Express and Echo today, article on Exmouth seafront campaign, quote from Swire:

“Councillor Moulding assured me that under the plans, there will be a number of free facilities for the people of Exmouth and new attractions for younger people.”

Er, that number could be ONE Mr Swire – and note the construction of the sentence means that the facilities for younger people may well not be free!

Could we have clarification, Councillor Moulding? It seems plans are well advanced so you should have something less vague to tell us.

Is austerity really worth the price we all pay?

We see the devastating effect of flood prevention and relief cuts in the north of England and, closer to home, the effect of flooding on the school at Tipton St John yesterday – denied new buildings even though it floods frequently – which Claire Wright illustrates so movingly here:

Yes, we have to live within our means. But which of us lucky home owners has a mortgage – which, given that we pay back around twice the purchase value of our homes over 25 years – could be said to be very much living beyond our means. We buy cars and pay for them (with interest) if we are not rich enough to pay cash. Why? Because we want secure roofs over our heads and many of us (given our poor and worsening public transport links) must have cars to go to jobs to pay for those roofs.

Surely, when it is the education of our children we should similarly expect them to have a decent, secure roof – and floors and walls – as they learn.

Austerity for some but not for others … and our children suffer in so many ways.

One post office box, two mobiles, an 0300 number and a “promise” ….

This page of last week’s Sidmouth Herald is SO entertaining!


Swire says we shouldn’t be worried that devolution deals are being done behind closed doors and that power is being devolved from politicians in Whitehall.

But he neglects to say that it is being devolved to … er … a bunch of anonymous, unelected businessmen in … er … well, they have a post office box number in Exeter, two mobile phone numbers and an 0300 numbers on their contact us webpage:

so they could be anywhere!  Running their businesses, perhaps …..

and as a bonus we get a” Buy one, get one free” offer from Diviani promising us those missing relocation documents (the ones he was ordered to produce last May) ” soon”. Was the “Sale, amazing offers” advert a coincidence or a subliminal message to us all?

BOGOF indeed.

Nine housebuilding companies are sitting on at least 615,000 agreed planning permissions

“Britain’s biggest housebuilders possess enough land to create more than 600,000 new homes, an analysis by the Guardian has found, raising questions about whether they are doing enough to solve the housing crisis facing Britain.

The nine housebuilders in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 hold 615,152 housing plots in their landbank, according to financial disclosures. This is four times the total number of homes built in Britain in the past year.

Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey – the four biggest companies in the industry – account for more than 450,000 of the plots. They are also sitting on £947m of cash and declared or issued more than £1.5bn in payouts to shareholders in 2015.

Shelter said the figures showed how dysfunctional the housing market has become. Toby Lloyd, head of policy for the housing charity, said: “Developers do need a pipeline of future sites – but when housebuilding is still stubbornly low and landbanks are this large it is a signal of how dysfunctional our housebuilding system is….

… The land held by housebuilders includes sites they own and sites that they have an contractual option to build on. Some housebuilders do not publicly disclose all the land they control, meaning their total landbank could be even bigger. For example, Bellway does not report land that has not got planning permission for house construction, while Persimmon says it controls 18,000 acres of “strategic land” on top of more than 90,000 plots that already have planning permission.

1985: NHS privatisation would be good as it would stop staff resting

“David Willetts also sent a memo to Margaret Thatcher in 1985]about the benefits of private healthcare compared to the NHS.

In one section about whether the private sector should be brought in to run a psychiatric hospital, he explained:

“The hospital is run cost-effectively. Only one in 20 patients gets a tray meal: the rest go to one canteen which is shared with the staff.

“The building avoids ‘staff traps’ – private areas where staff can take a rest.”

Independent online today

Compare with:

“A Freedom of Information request reveals how peers are so unhappy with their 8 eateries they’ve been sending handwritten complaints to Parliament.

Peers can buy confit halibut for £15, “prawn and lobster meat folded into Avugar caviar” for £10, or a full roast dinner for £9.50.

A restaurant in central London would charge £25 for a similar halibut dish, while prawn and lobster with caviar could rack up around £30 and a roast dinner could set you back £18.

One complaint was from a very angry member of the Lords left waiting 30 minutes for a sandwich in the Bishop’s Bar.

He was so dissatisfied he wrote a letter to Lord Sewell, Chairman of the Committees at the House of Lords – one of several revealed after the information request by MailOnline.

He wrote in the letter, dated 26 November 2014: “For the second time in two weeks I waited over half an hour for a sandwich in the Bishops Bar.

On the first occasion, a chef who did not seem to be doing anything was present and today it was just chaotic.”

Another complaint was from a Lord who was “very disappointed” because his creme brulee wasn’t very cheesy – and a worker put a pat of butter in his soup, which he found “a bit odd”.

He said the “supreme of Hake” dish was “awful” and too plain, saying:” The Hake was completely unadorned, with a hard crust on top.”

He claimed that he requested something to make the dish more bearable, but was handed more pats of butter.

This particular Lord says he will no longer be able to entertain guests there unless the food improves.

The Head of Catering services Tim Lamming, said he read the peer’s complaint “with dismay” and said: “I must apologise most sincerely for the dip in standards and I will investigate the issues you have raised.”

Further upset has been caused by the fact that peers can now no longer select a second vegetable with their dish.

One peer complained that there was a lack of variation in the vegetables served, saying: “Cabbage, broccoli, sprouts and spinach have almost vanished completely in favour of root vegetables.”

This week with the roast meat we have had in succession carrots, parsnip and celeriac, so that with roast potatoes there is a considerable excess of carbohydrates.”

Other bugbears were that wine per glass had increased by 30p, the yoghurt is too heavy and staff need to smile more often.

No wonder the government wants to curtail Freedom of Information!

Warnings about Devon’s flood defences we published in February 2015

“… The Environment Agency data showed the majority were in areas where large numbers of homes and businesses could be vulnerable to flooding.

However, the agency said “most of the issues are minor”.

Other failures from the agency’s latest inspection report included some sea defences, culverts, outfalls and embankments.”

Devon – Tavistock, Horrabridge, Plymouth, Lympstone, Ottery St Mary, Exeter, Totnes, Barnstaple, Dawlish Warren, Ilfracombe, Tiverton, Kingsbridge, Teignmouth, Torbay and Clyst St Mary

First published on

and at

on 10 February 2015

Devolution problems for dummies

“Devolution: the moving of power or a responsibility in a main organisation to a lower level or from a central government to local government”


The moving of power from an elected body of councillors to an unelected small group of business people (Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership) who have their own agendas and pecuniary interests and who are untransparently unaccountable to no-one.

And all being done in secret with no public consultation.

Anyone not understand why people might be critical of this?

Claire Wright asks: ” Why is Mr Swire angry over devolution criticisms?”

I see that Mr Swire has been publicly critical of those of us who have expressed concerns about devolution.

Devolution is essentially the transfer of some government responsibilities to local councils.

I am not opposed to the principle of devolution, however, Chancellor, George Osborne has strong-armed councils into taking on these extra responsibilities, which gives me a cause for considerable scepticism.

A group of councils in Devon and Somerset, as well as the NHS and businesses are currently negotiating a deal to be put to ministers for devolved powers.

As Devon County Council prepares to shave off nearly £40m again, from its budgets in a few weeks, thanks to austerity measures, it will be even less well equipped than before to provide vital services.

But now Local Enterprise Partnerships (run by largely by business people) must take a leading role in preparing a bid to government for devolved powers. Ministers have insisted that bids must be business focused.

At the Devon County Council meeting in December, councillors voted in favour of my motion to allow public consultation on the bid. Although, from Mr Swire’s recent opinion, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was a Conservative proposal!

East Devon District Council Independents (especially the East Devon Alliance councillors) have been very proactive in raising concerns about plans, which up until now have been extraordinarily vague and tricky to get to grips with.

From what I have seen however, the bids will be very big business focused. And politically conservative, with a huge emphasis on the importance of Hinkley Point for example … while renewable energy, which has been a thriving industry in the south west – or at least it will be until the 64 per cent subsidy cut hits in a few weeks, doesn’t appear to get a look in.

Mr Swire might not like Independents expressing opposing views to government policy (has he ever voted against the party line?) but I tend to take the view that councillors (and MPs) are here to represent constituents, not to protect corporate interests or nod in sage agreement with every ministerial announcement.

I have raised many important issues in many of my columns in this newspaper and invited Mr Swire’s to respond.

He appears to favour silence, however.

Here’s the article –

Many people don’t know they live on flood plains

“Two million households do not realise they are living on flood plains – while chronic underinvestment and climate change are increasing the risks of serious flooding, Government advisers have warned. …

… About 12,000 planning applications to build up to nine properties each on flood plains did not receive specific advice from the EA in 2013 due to staffing cuts, the report finds.

As a result, more than 100,000 homes could have been built without proper oversight to ensure that they are safe, resilient and do not increase the risk of flooding elsewhere.

More than 800 jobs – 20 per cent of staff – have been lost in the Environment Agency (EA)’s flood risk management team since September 2010, with more than half of those in roles specifically tasked with avoiding floods, despite ministers’ pledges to protect frontline jobs, the CCC warns.
Key pieces of legislation designed to reduce the risk of floods by improving drainage from new properties have not been properly implemented, despite being recommended by the 2008 Pitt review into the floods the previous year, which left 13 people dead and 45,000 homes flooded.”

More new homes built on flood plains than off them

“New houses are being built in England’s highest-risk flood areas at almost twice the rate of housing outside flood plains, according to figures which a Government adviser warned showed the country was “storing up problems for the future”.

Housing stock in areas where flooding is likely at least once every 30 years has grown at a rate of 1.2 per cent per year since 2011, according to analysis by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). By contrast, housing outside of flood plains – in areas with less than a 1-in-1,000 year chance of flooding – increased by an average 0.7 per cent a year over the same period.

Lord Krebs, head of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee, said: “We are building faster in the flood plain than anywhere else.

“If the planning system is going to allow people to carry on building in the flood plain, we have to be aware we are storing up problems for the future because flooding is going to get more frequent.

“So you are locked into cycle of building and having to defend, and then having to build bigger defences because the flood risk has increased.”
On current trends up to 20,000 houses are likely to be built this year in flood risk areas.

Lord Krebs said he expected about 4,500 of these to be medium or high risk areas, where flooding is expected at least once every century.
Many of these are being built with the Environment Agency (EA)’s approval because they are behind existing flood defences, which the agency judges provide adequate protection, he said.

But such protection may not be adequate in future, with defences already being overtopped in recent weeks by “unprecedented” floods. “Today’s unprecedented may be tomorrow’s norm,” he warned.

Thousands of other homes in at-risk areas may be being built without the EA’s oversight because they are in small developments of less than 10 houses, he said.

Lord Krebs warned the continued spread of concrete and paving tiles over gardens and other green spaces was worsening the risk of flooding because it prevented water draining.

Farmers and grouse shooting estates had also increased the risk for urban areas by draining peat bogs on surrounding uplands, which used to provide a natural “sponge” for rainfall.

Senior EA officials have been among thousands of social media users to share a photograph in recent days showing flood waters lapping around a sign marking a development site with permission for 39 new homes, near Whalley in Lancashire.

But documents reveal the EA did not object when consulted by council planners on three applications for the development.
In two cases it made no comment, while in one case it said it had “no objection in principle”, only proposing conditions of sustainable drainage for the new homes.

The agency did raise concerns about an earlier plan that extended into the official flood risk zone, but waved through a tweaked plan that would see houses built immediately abutting the flood zone.

Photos appear to show that flood waters in recent days have extended at least to the edge of the proposed development site.

When the Telegraph attempted to contact the applicant for the development, his wife claimed the picture was “misleading” because the proposed houses were not to be built right by the sign, and were not due to be built “on what the Ribble Valley says is the flood plain”.

She would not confirm whether the flood waters had however extended into the area designated for development.

Ministers on Tuesday announced a further £50 million funding for local authorities to help support households and businesses affected by this weekend’s floods.

Quiz question

Who said this to Mrs Thatcher about black people in 1985:

“The root of social malaise is not poor housing, or youth ‘alienation’, or the lack of a middle class. Lower-class, unemployed white people lived for years in appalling slums without a breakdown of public order on anything like the present scale.”

Laying out their Thatcherite interpretation that the unrest was purely due to moral decay, the document continued: “Riots, criminality and social disintegration are caused solely by individual characters and attitudes. So long as bad moral attitudes remain, all efforts to improve the inner cities will founder.

“[Lord] Young’s new [black] entrepreneurs will set up in the disco and drug trade; Kenneth Baker’s refurbished council blocks will decay through vandalism combined with neglect; and people will graduate from temporary training or employment programmes into unemployment or crime.”

Answer: West Dorset MP and friend of Cameron and Swire, Oliver Letwin – recently appointed Flooding Czar. Wonder what he thinks of Northerners!

Unfortunately, he didn’t suggest how “bad attitudes” could be changed.

A lot of people in Exmouth appear not to trust Swire and Moulding

“Campaigners against plans for the proposed redevelopment of Exmouth seafront have renewed calls for an independent consultation with residents.

The Save Exmouth Seafront (SES) campaign group was reacting to the outcome of East Devon MP Hugo Swire meeting with Councillor Andrew Moulding about the plans for the seafront.

The meeting was organised after Mr Swire met with representatives from SES, who welcomed the meeting but were disappointed to have been excluded.

SES said it seemed the meeting was nothing more than Cllr Moulding relaying to Mr Swire what was being planned for the area, as no clear actions appear to have been agreed upon or made clear to the public.

Louise MacAllister for SES,said: “While Mr Swire’s emphasis on local businesses, affordable facilities, and genuine consultation are welcomed, he states that he finds this development exciting for Exmouth.

“This is not representative of the majority view of his constituents in Exmouth who find this anything but an exciting time.

“The failure of any of our elected representatives to act in the interests of residents will only increase the alienation and sense of mistrust that is growing in Exmouth.

“We therefore reiterate the importance of an independent and fully considered consultation with Exmouth residents before any further steps towards development are undertaken”.

After the meeting, which took oplace earlier this month, Mr Swire said: “I stressed to Cllr Moulding the importance of any development being affordable for local people as well as visitors.

“Cllr Moulding assured me that, under the plans, there will be a number of free facilities for the people of Exmouth and new attractions for younger people.

“I also highlighted the importance of a genuine consultation with the people of Exmouth, their elected councillors and local businesses.

“I am particularly keen on the idea of a 3D model of the plans so that my constituents can get a better idea of what this proposed development will look like.”

Mr Swire has also met with campaigners to discuss their concerns over the proposals and what they perceive as a lack of consultation on the plans.

The authority claims there is clear support for the redevelopment and said it was crucial for the future success of Exmouth.

The latest development proposals currently being discussed include a free water splash play area, mini golf, a multi-screen cinema and a large open public space area.

The council claims the development will be a major benefit to the town by boosting visitor numbers and creating new jobs.

When privatisation of council services goes wrong

“Since the 1st December, BT Cornwall (BTC) and Cornwall Council have been locked in a legal battle in the High Court over the BT contract. The reason is because the Council believes it has the right to terminate the agreement for breaches in that contract by BTC. Of course, BTC disagrees with this.

To recap, BTC filed an application with the High Court in order to seek an injunction on 12 August 2015, preventing the Council from terminating the agreement. This resulted in a hearing which took place on 12 August 2015 in the High Court (Commercial Courts). The outcome was that the Court agreed to the request to have an expedited trial set for December.

As for the reasons why, please read the previous blog post HERE.

Anyone who has been reading this blog, will know I have written a lot (all blog posts HERE) about this subject. Reading back through them reminds me how the Council was in open warfare against the Cabinet. There were petitions; the Portfolio Holder for Finance, Jim Currie resigning and the no-confidence motion which saw the disposing of the Leader of Cornwall Council. It was a bloody and costly war that saw the BT-light deal being signed on the 27th March 2012. I finished off that post with the line of: ‘Lets hope the Council does not regret this day’.

Today, the Judge gave his judgement after hearing the evidence from both sides. I am very pleased the judgement was in favour of the Council. This judgment which confirms our argument that BT Cornwall had been in material breach of the contract due to their failure to carry out services to the required contractual standards and, therefore, that the Council was justified in reaching the decision to terminate the contract.

The ruling also means that the Council will be seeking payment of its costs from BT Cornwall in connection with this legal action. From this, the Council intends to hold discussions with BT Cornwall to agree the level of damages the Council will receive. This could run into the millions.

I would also like to say well done to the Council’s legal team who took on the might of an international corporation – and won.

Has the Council regretted that day? I have thought about this and it would be easy to say ‘I told you so’ but that would serve no purpose. However, it is clear the principle of outsourcing great swathes of public sector to commercial companies who have little, if any, understanding of the public sector is flawed.

I feel the reason why so many council’s took the outsourcing route is because they thought it was an easy way of saving money. The commercial companies were quick to whisper sweet nothings into any local government ear promising to solve their funding problems. The truth be told, local governments, are better at knowing how to save money. They do this without thinking of how it will affect the profit margin. Local government do not think about profit margins, but how changes will affect the service user.

Following this legal ruling the Council intends to provide notice of termination of the contract before Christmas, but there will be no immediate change in the arrangements as termination will not take effect until January. The process of transferring staff and services from BT Cornwall to the Council and our Public Sector Partners will begin in January and will be completed as quickly and smoothly as possible. This will involve approximately 250 members of staff.

The following services will transfer back to the authority: HR Transactional Services including Payroll, HR Employment Support, First Point Helpdesk, Financial Processing, ICT, Despatch, Printing and Telecare. My thoughts are with the staff who will yet again be affected with this judgement.

I will now wait till the judgement is released to give a further viewpoint……”

Margaret Thatcher’s maiden speech in 1960 to Parliament on press freedom and council secrecy

This speech was made when only the press was allowed into council meetings:

This is a maiden speech, but I know that the constituency of Finchley which I have the honour to represent would not wish me to do other than come straight to the point and address myself to the matter before the House.

I cannot do better than begin by stating the objects of the Bill in the words used by Mr. Arthur Henderson when he introduced the Bill which became the Local Authorities (Admission of the Press to Meetings) Act, 1908, which was also a Private Member’s Measure. He specified the object and purpose as that of guarding the rights of members of the public by enabling the fullest information to be obtained for them in regard to the actions of their representatives upon local authorities.

It is appropriate at this stage to mention that the public does not have a right of admission, either at common law or by statute, to the meetings of local authorities. Members of the public are compelled, therefore, to rely upon the local Press for information on what their elected representatives are doing. The original Measure was brought as a result of a case in which the representatives of a particular paper were excluded from a particular meeting.

The public has the right, in the first instance, to know what its elected representatives are doing. That right extends in a number of directions. I do not know whether hon. Members generally appreciate the total amount of money spent by local authorities. In England and Wales, local authorities spend £1,400 million a year and, in Scotland, just over £200 million a year. Those sums are not insignificant, even in terms of national budgets. Less than half is raised by ratepayers’ money and the rest by taxpayers’ money, and the first purpose in admitting the Press is that we may know how those moneys are being spent. 1351 In the second place, I quote from the Report of the Franks Committee: Publicity is the greatest and most effective check against any arbitrary action. That is one of the fundamental rights of the subject. Further, publicity stimulates the interest of local persons in local government. That is also very important. But if there is a case for publicity, there is also a case for a certain amount of private conference when personal matters are being discussed and when questions are in a preliminary stage. It is in trying to find a point of balance between these two aspects—the public right of knowledge and the necessity on occasion for private conference—that the difficulty arises.

An attempt was made by the 1908 Act to meet this difficulty, and I now turn to the history of the Measure which I am about to present. Provision was made by the 1908 Act for Press representatives to attend meetings of local councils and meetings of education committees in so far as they had delegated powers, and, also a number of other bodies which have now ceased to exist because successive Parliaments have substituted new bodies to carry out the powers which the 1908 Act formerly permitted the Press to publicise.

Long before the events of the past summer, there was a very good case for amending the 1908 Act. The first good case arose when the Local Government Act, 1929, abolished boards of guardians, to whose meetings the Act admitted the Press. Boards of Guardians were responsible for the administration of hospitals and many other matters. The first attempt to bring the law of 1908 up-to-date came in 1930, when the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) introduced a Private Member’s Measure, which I am happy and relieved to learn received a Second Reading. It did not get any further because of a rather precipitate change of Government, which I do not think even the most optimistic hon. Member opposite would believe was imminent at the moment. The case for the Bill then was that boards of guardians no longer existed and the Act needed amending, firstly, by reference to its past performance, and secondly, by reference to the new legislation of 1929.

1352 Then came another major local government Measure, the Local Government Act, 1933. That Act has very considerable significance, because in Section 85 local authorities were empowered to appoint any committees they chose. As a result, many authorities began to go into committee of the full council, not merely for the purpose which is in the spirit of the 1908 Act—that is to say, in order to discuss something which was truly of a confidential nature—but in order merely to exclude the Press, without addressing their minds to whether such exclusion was justified by reference to the matter to be discussed. That began to provide the first major legal loophole in the Act. Where previously local authorities had to deliberate in open council, with the exception of circumstances arising from the business which justified the exclusion of the Press, after that Act they were enabled to resolve themselves into committee merely as a matter of administrative convenience.

Two more Private Members’ Measures attempted to bring the 1908 Act up-todate—one introduced in 1949 by the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston), and the other introduced in 1950 by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay). In the meantime, the need was becoming even greater, because in 1944 came the Education Act, which removed from the sharp light of publicity education committees which had been within purview of the 1908 Act. So we find that the purpose of this Act which governs the position now is no longer effective, because its provisions have become greatly out-dated. This is one of the major grounds for attempting now to bring the 1908 Act up-to-date and make its purpose effective by means of a new Act.

I now turn to the Bill before the House and will try to deduce its general principle from the Clauses there set down. There are six points I should like to make. The first point is, on what occasions in local authority work will this Bill entitle the Press to be present? I use the word “entitled” because there are many authorities which already practise the admission of the Press to a far greater extent than the Bill would necessitate their doing if it became law. This is meant to establish a minimum legislative code of practice for the local 1353 authorities. Therefore, the first question is to which meetings of local authorities would the Press be entitled to be admitted by virtue of the Bill. I would refer hon. Members to Clause 2 (2), which contains the major point with reference to committees, and I will try to put the point in fairly simple language —rather simpler than the complicated drafting we find here.

May I point out that committees of local authorities whose only power is to recommend a course of action to the council—a course of action which must be taken by the council and which cannot be taken by the committee without reference back—are not included at all in the Bill? Therefore, any committee of a local authority whose only task is to recommend a course of action to the council is not within the purview of the Bill.

I am well aware that a number of committees of local authorities have two different kinds of power—power to recommend and power to discharge the function of the local authority itself because that local authority has specifically delegated that task to the committee. Where the committee has both of these functions, it comes within the realm of the Bill if, and only if, a substantial Dart of its functions consists in discharging delegated powers. Where a committee only has the odd delegated power referred to it, it will not come within the Bill. Where local authorities have made a practice, as some have, of delegating their own functions to committees, these committees have substantial delegated powers, and therefore come within this Clause.

The Press will be admitted to the main council meetings of local authorities and to those meetings which effectively discharge the functions of the council; that is the committees with substantial delegated powers, but others are not included. I know that some authorities include them, and I would like to see more authorities include them, because I think it would be in the interests of local government, but they are not entitled to be included under this Bill.

Having got the Press in to these meetings, or having entitled them to be in, there must inevitably be occasions, such as personal circumstances coming under discussion, matters preliminary to legal proceedings, matters with regard to the 1354 acquisition of land, or such matters which would inevitably come up, when the Press were entitled to be present, unless some effective provision was made to exclude the Press on these occasions.

My second point, therefore, is: having got the Press in, upon what grounds is a local authority entitled to exclude it? There must inevitably be some occasions. We have had great difficulty in drafting the Clause to fit all cases. I had hoped to draw up a schedule of circumstances in which local authorities would be entitled to exclude the Press. That was not possible, and we have had to go back to a kind of omnibus Clause. I refer hon. Members to Clause 1 (2), which is the operative Clause for this purpose. I suggest most earnestly that when the Press is excluded it must be because of some particular reason arising from the proceedings of the local authority at the time, and there must be very good reason for the exclusion. The real reason for excluding the Press is that publicity of the matter to be discussed would be prejudicial to the public interest.

There are two prongs to this Clause. Publicity would be prejudicial for two main groups of reasons. The first group is where the matters under discussion are of a confidential nature. They may relate to personal circumstances of individual electors. They may relate to a confidential communication from a Government Department asking local authorities for their opinion on a subject which the Minister would not like to be discussed in open session until he is a good deal further on and has received the views of local authorities.

There is another group of subjects which perhaps could not be strictly termed confidential but where it would be clearly prejudicial to the public interest to discuss them in open session. They may relate to staff matters, to legal proceedings, to contracts, the discussion of which tender to accept and other such matters. On this prong the Press has to be excluded for a special reason which would need to be stated in the resolution for exclusion. Where the matter is confidential it would not need to be specified further in the resolution for exclusion. Where it was for a special reason, that reason would need to be specified in broad general terms in the resolution for exclusion. This subsection is effective 1355 and wide enough in its drafting to cover all occasions upon which a local authority could possibly have good grounds for going into private session. Those are the two main operative Clauses of the Bill.

My third point relates to documents. I understand that there is a very wide variation in practice between the number of documents which different local authorities give to the Press. I do not know how many hon. Members have tried to obtain information about a local authority of which they are not a member but happen to be a ratepayer. One sometimes goes to a council meeting without any idea of what is to be discussed. One sits there for about 15 minutes and all one hears is numbers being counted up to about twenty and starting all over again. Unless the Press, which is to report to the public, has some idea from the documents before it what is to be discussed, the business of allowing the Press in becomes wholly abortive. Therefore, Clause 1 (3, b) makes provision for a limited number of documents to be supplied to the Press at its request in advance of the meeting. It specifies that the agenda must be supplied to the Press if it so requests and is prepared to pay for it.

Agendas vary very much. Some are couched in terms which do not betray for one moment the subject which is to be discussed. One sees such items as “To discuss the proposal of Mr. Smith” and, “To receive the recommendation of Mr. Jones”. As distinct from the supporting accompanying documents, the agenda itself is usually a comparatively brief document. I have, therefore, thought fit to put into the subsection a provision that the agenda shall be supplied to the Press together with such further statement or particulars as are necessary to convey to an outside person the nature of the subject to be discussed. Therefore, the Press must have some idea from the documents what is the true subject to be discussed at meetings to which its representatives are entitled to be admitted.

If the whole agenda was supplied, it might include some things which would be likely to be taken when the Press was excluded. I understand that the practice in many councils is to have Part I and Part II, to take subjects in public session 1356 first, and then have a resolution and go into camera for the next group of subjects which come up in private. The corporation, acting through its proper officer, to whom it would have to give instructions, is entitled to exclude from the agenda matters which are likely to be taken in camera so that no confidential matters will leak out by that process. Another provision in the Clause is that the corporation may, if it thinks fit—not must—include supporting committee reports or documents, but it would have to exercise its mind to include them. The Press would not be able to demand such documents as of right.

Fourthly, I have been approached and asked about the question of qualified privilege for local councillors and people who serve on local authorities. I have been approached by people who suggest that the privilege should be made absolute. I could not possibly accede to that, as I think that absolute privilege should be given very rarely indeed. However, there is a consequential provision in the Bill which means that where qualified privilege at present exists for statements made by people serving on local authorities that qualified privilege shall not cease to exist merely because the Press is present. That retains the present position and removes one of the reasons why people can object to the Press being present, because unless there were a consequential provision it might serve to remove the qualified privilege.

Fifthly, I understand from various sources that my proposals are under some criticism because they contain no sanctions or penalties upon local authorities. I should therefore like to state briefly what I am advised the position is when any statute is breached. There are general sanctions available at law for this purpose. Where a public right is infringed, as it would be in the event of the Bill becoming law and local authorities wrongfully excluding the Press, any person can apply to either the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General for what is known as a relator action. He must state on the application the grounds and enclose counsel’s opinion that there is a good cause of action, that is to say, that it is probable that the council wrongfully excluded under particular circumstances. The person must supply also—I have no doubt that this is very important—a 1357 solicitor’s certificate to the effect that the person to take action and to go to the courts is a person who is likely to be able to meet the costs, because the Attorney-General will not foot the bill. He only lends his name to the action.

When that is done, the courts can adjudicate on whether that exclusion was legal or illegal. In the event of the litigant getting a declaration that the exclusion was illegal, he would get costs, and the district auditor already has power to surcharge those costs upon the members of the local authority whose misconduct was responsible for the illegal action occurring. I submit that those sanctions that are available by the ordinary law are sufficient to enable this Measure to be enforced.

My sixth point relates to the Schedule. I shall not go through the Schedule in any great detail, except to point out that a considerable number of the bodies referred to in it are the successors in title to those mentioned in the 1908 Act—the divisional executives established under the Education Act, the regional hospital boards and so on. Hon. Members will note that some committees of authorities are specifically excluded—those whose functions consist solely of determining matters of a confidential nature.

For example, committees of regional hospitals boards are specifically excluded. Committees of executive councils are specifically excluded, which means that any disciplinary matter relating to doctors, nurses, and so on, would not come before the public eye because the committee discharging the function does not come within this Measure.

I hope it is evident from what I have said that we are trying very hard to put into the form of legislation a code of practice that will safeguard the rights of the public. There was, last summer, one instance of the letter of the 1908 Act being contravened, and in a number of instances certainly the spirit of that Act was contravened. It is not, therefore, only a matter of bringing the 1908 Act up to date; because of the abuse of the law, there is a case for safeguarding the rights of the citizen. I hope that hon. Members will think fit to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to consider that the paramount function of this distin- 1358 guished House is to safeguard civil liberties rather than to think that administrative convenience should take first place in law.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I should like to acknowledge the help given to me by my right hon. Friend and his Department which, I understand, has been as great as any Government Department could give to a private Member. I want also to acknowledge the help of those who have been good enough to subscribe their names to the Bill, and I should like to thank the House for its very kind indulgence to a new Member.

Developments on flood plans: responsibility of local authorities

“Scientists have linked the recent weeks of flooding to climate change while the prime minister and Liz Truss, the environment minister, appear to have acknowledged that view, with both speaking of “unprecedented” weather conditions.

Even so, one new home in every 14 built in 2013-14 — the most recent year for which data are available — was constructed on land that has a significant chance of flooding, either from a river or the sea, according to FT analysis of official figures.

As 138,000 homes were built in total, this suggests that 9,700 properties were built on floodplains, with housing built on more than 90 hectares of land that is at risk of inundation.

The methodology changed in 2013-14 but earlier data indicate a fairly constant level of construction on floodplains, at about 7 per cent of total housebuilding.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing minister, called on the Conservatives to “make sure planning policy keeps up” with climate change. Despite the UK’s housing shortage government planning should take the increasing risk of flooding into account when deciding where homes should be built, he said.
A government spokeswoman said it had “put in place strong safeguards to stop inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding”.

The final decision on whether to grant permission for construction on floodplains lay with local councils, which receive advice from the Environment Agency, she added.

After weeks of heavy rain from winter storms Desmond and Eva, KPMG, the professional services firm, said the total economic impact on the region could be £5.8bn. KPMG said its figure included £2.6bn-£3.3bn of losses and £2bn needed to boost flood defences.

The government was facing further pressure after the Federation of Small Businesses said about 75,000 smaller businesses at risk of flooding had found it difficult to find flood insurance and 50,000 had been refused cover nationally.

The FSB said it would be pressing the government to reverse their exclusion from the government’s flood programme, Flood Re, which guarantees affordable insurance.”

East Devon Alliance on devolution bid secrecy

“A district council decision to discuss a ‘multi-billion-pound’ transfer of cash and powers to the South West in private has been branded ‘disgraceful’ by the independent East Devon Alliance (EDA). … ”

A young person’s thoughts on austerity

Bradley Allsop, student member, Green Party in today’s Huffington Post online:

“David Cameron came under fire recently for what was perhaps the second most bizarre story to emerge about him this year (no prizes for guessing the first), when he seemingly chided his own council for following his own policies to their logical conclusion. Decrying the loss of ‘frontline services’ by his own local Oxfordshire council, he suggested that they instead attempt to find more ‘back-office savings’, even offering to set up a meeting with Downing Street advisors to help them do so. Commentators make much of the ridiculousness of Jeremy Corbyn disagreeing with his own front bench, but it’s something else when you speak out against your own policies. Never has there been a clearer example of a politician aloof to the impacts of his own decisions. Mr Cameron simply fails to understand the destruction austerity is reaping across the country he is meant to serve- his economic approach is causing irreversible damage to local communities and the future of British society.

Many services are simply disappearing entirely, and those that are not are either being hoisted upon volunteers (commenable in terms of giving local communities more control over their services, but at times woefully unable to provide the same level of skill and commitment as paid, trained staff) or put into the hands of private companies where profit, not provision, is the priority.

Already I see austerity eroding away many things I have held dear in my life, be it threatening the provision of local libraries that have provided such a nurturing of my own creativity and provide so much more to so many others, or the loss of staff and courses in my university due to reduced government funding. Other areas are suffering too; parks and other recreational facilities that are crucial for both physical and mental wellbeing, youth centres that give young people purpose, direction and community and the social services that protect vulnerable communities. In a damning report by the poverty-campaign charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, cuts to local services have been shown to be exacerbating and entrenching inequality, disproportionately hitting the most deprived areas where spending is, ironically, needed most. These cuts are setting in motion a damaging process of widening class divisions with impacts that will ripple throughout many generations.”

Flooding – a Taunton solution

A comment on the Guardian website:

“I live near Taunton Somerset and the local Council are on a flood plain crusade-If they see a flood plain, they build on it. Their defence is 1 in 50 year risk or 1 in a 100 year risk, and this bares [sic] no relationship to what is happening. They also like using attenuation storage, but imagine when we have sustained rainfall, what are they going to do? Yes you have guessed right-release all the attenuation water storage at the same time into River Tone-exactly!

They in my opinion don’t care about traffic congestion, traffic pollution, over development and are destroying what was a beautiful market town. They ought to be ashamed!”