“Electoral register loses estimated 800,000 people”

“An estimated 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the government introduced changes to the system, with students in university towns at highest risk of being disenfranchised, the Guardian has learned.

… Overall 1.8% of voters are estimated to have dropped off the register across the population and figures compiled by the Labour party found the register had shrunk more dramatically in areas with a high population of students, such as Canterbury, which has seen a 13% drop, and Cambridge and Dundee West, both with an 11% fall.

Gloria De Piero, the shadow minister for electoral registration, said the data revealed an alarming reduction in students on the register, which is likely to raise fears that election results could be swayed by missing blocks of like-minded voters. …”


Sidford Fields – questions, questions, questions

From a correspondent – views expressed are those of the correspondent:

Sidmouth Employment Land

Dspite a vote by full Council on 26 March to exclude the proposed new industrial site north of Sidford from the local plan, it remained listed in the Review as O41 at 5.97ha. The wording in the draft plan was for a site of “up to 5ha”. The table on page 154 showed 5.97ha as the area of the intended site.

It is now known that the Inspector was left to decide whether the Sidford site should stand. The case presented was that there is no proven need for it as there is ample scope on the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate.

The inclusion in the Local Plan of a “need to promote a new employment site on the northern edge of Sidmouth” is not, in my opinion, supported by any evidence of need over and above that available at far less cost and more suitable location at the Alexandria Road site which is not in the AONB. It should be rejected.

Recent history of Alexandria Road and Sidford Fields:

The Employment Land Review 2014 was sent to the planning inspector as supporting evidence for the revised Local Plan. On page 65 is the appraisal of the Alexandria Road Industrial Estate in Sidmouth. This appraisal is based solely on the Tyms Study(2011) with passing reference to the Atkins Report (2006). This evidence is years out of date and not a reflection of the current state of the area, particularly its description of the northern area presently accessed only via Pathworlands. But even the remark that “the southern area is occupied by builders merchants in an old railway premises” is couched in language designed to imply its unsuitability! In fact the yard is on the land of the former railway sidings so is flat and well suited to its use, as is the substantial old building now equipped as a store and a purpose built new brick building for stock and offices. The use of this appraisal will be very much criticised during the Public examination process.

The two most inaccurate comments are: “The northern area is being used for self storage shipping containers” and “The estate is made up of a number of plateaus and is quite densely developed. The majority of accommodation provided is relatively poor”.
Since those 2006/2011 reports the containers have been re-sited to a higher level secured area in a glen well out of sight from the rest of the estate (05/2722/FUL approved January 2006) so there is now also available a large empty area, part used just for the casual parking of assorted private vehicles and the dumping of rubbish.

In addition, the area formerly occupied by a gas holder is now available for use after the ground has been de-toxified and was purchased in 2013 by the majority owner of the rest of the site – a large mainly empty area presently being part used for a log business, storage of palletts and parking for Voluntary Service vehicles. An application is currently awaiting decision for a Certificate of Lawfulness for change of use to Business uses (14/1866/CPE).

Since Tyms, one of the site businesses, Sidmouth Tyres and Exhausts who own the freehold of their part of the site, has invested heavily in two large new buildings fully equipped with vehicle lifts (6!) and a rolling road for MoT testing after demolishing an old office and one of the old workshops. EDDC are fully aware of these developments as it was they who granted two separate planning applications (09/1377/FUL & 12/1978/FUL) for their construction. Yet they continue to present outdated information.

Many of the older buildings in the northern section are “relatively poor” as stated. But that is largely because the current owners have not invested in them in the same way, probably in anticipation of being the sponsors of a proposed new industrial estate at Sidford and a recent (2012) approach by a major retailer to buy part of the site which has subsequently been discontinued.

The site as it is today is far from being “densely developed” – it has masses of underused space which with suitable modest investment could meet the needs of growing or start-up businesses for Sidmouth for many years to come, especially now that there is a commitment to provide improved access directly from the main road.

It is surprising that EDDC officers appear not to have not troubled to check the validity of evidence they present to the Inspector but continued to rely on outdated reports – especially as they had a record of discarding these two particular reports in the past because they did not accord with the wishes of certain Councillors involved in the inordinately long period of preparation of the Local Plan.

Questions about Sidford Business Park

1. Did Mr Thickett actually visit Alexandria Ind estate or did he rely solely on the evidence submitted by EDDC in the Employment Land Review 2014 page 65? The evidence above shows that this was outdated and inaccurate. Was it considered?

2. On what criteria did Mr Thickett rule that Alexandria Industrial Estate was “unsuitable”?

3. EDDC has said that Mr Thickett “considered all the options and concludes Sidford is the best of a bad bunch.” The 5 additional options listed in the ELR 2014 in addition to Sidford were all remote from Sidmouth and totalled 7.29ha. But these are all existing sites already in use for employment so would not have figured in Mr Thickett’s consideration of “all the options” for additional employment land to serve the needs of the Sidmouth area. The only new site he was offered was Sidford.
Many many questions, no answers.

Is the Conservative Party just as split as Labour? Time for the Hogwarts Sorting Hat!

Now we hear different factions of the Conservative party disagree about education policies:


Add this to the Conservative splits on the EU, housing policy, rural issues (including broadband), tax evasion, freedom of information and austerity cuts and Labour’s splits on just about everything else and it seems we really have three or four or five or more parties all slugging it out in Parliament and getting nowhere fast.

Is it time to put our MPs through the Hogwarts Sorting Hat procedure? We could vote to give them positive or negative points and positive or negative bonus points and the one with the most points would be in charge next time!

Owl (a most revered bird at Hogwarts) knows who it would expect to be in Slytherin!

Lords allowance of £300 a day isn’t enough says donor Lord who has given £7m to Tory Party

Lord Farmer, a hedge-fund boss and Conservative donor with a reported personal fortune of around £150million, said the £300 daily allowance claimed by some House of Lords peers was ‘inadequate’.


Why? He says: because many of them could be earning more money elsewhere so they are taking a hit in earnings if they attend


Sometimes you wonder if DCC and EDDC are on the same planet let alone run by the same party

From the blog of Independent DCC Councillor Claire Wright. My comparison, EDDC’s majority councillors from the same party seem to be rolling on their backs to be ticklec.

County councillors today overwhelmingly agreed to urge Devon MPs to speak and vote against the swingeing funding cuts that are set to be debated in the House of Commons in mid February – possibly on 10 February.

I made the proposal at today’s joint budget scrutiny meeting, which saw all four scrutiny committees come together to scrutinise the budget, which is set to have £28m shaved off it by central government.

I said (among other things) that if enough MPs actually voted against the settlement central government might think twice about imposing such draconian cuts, which affect the most vulnerable in society.

It comes on top of £174m of funding cuts since 2010.

This year’s cuts will mean the removal of funding for the arts, school crossing patrols and many many other cuts within services, which will mean a poorer service for vulnerable people.

The tenor and tone of today’s meeting from all parties was total exasperation, anger and frustration with central government – firstly for providing news of the final financial settlement so late as to be almost impossible to set a budget within the required timetable. The public health budget isn’t even available.

Voicing his own frustration, Conservative deputy leader, Cllr John Clatworthy said of the delay “It’s really not good enough.” And referring to the areas (most) where Devon is hugely underfunded compared with other parts of the country, Cllr Clatworthy pointed the finger at local MPs saying: “MPs are the guys who should be doing something about this.”

Leader, Cllr John Hart said “This has been the most difficult budget so far. We still don’t know what the final settlement will be. If it is lower, it will have to come out of our reserves.”

The council’s reserves are among the smallest in the country and would last for just a few days if relied on for austerity funding cuts.

Cllr Sara Randall Johnson – chair of people’s scrutiny said: “The people’s department (social services etc) is very very fragile. Just a small number of adults or children would topple that budget.”

And speaking generally about the people’s budget, she said: “The risks are massive…”

A briefing to all Devon MPs described the scale of the proposed funding cuts as “unprecedented.”

Chief executive, Phil Norrey, pointed out that this was the last budget of the first stage of austerity and next year the council would be not only planning for three years, but would be looking at the complete removal of the government grant, to be replaced with by a new distribution of business rates.

Devon County Council will have to rely on business rates and council tax income only in the coming years. John Hart commented that he was sceptical that any redistribution of business rates would see Devon better off.

The joint scrutiny committees voted in favour of the the proposed budget and in favour of the increase in council tax of four per cent, on the basis that there was simply no other choice given the unprecedented government funding cuts.

The criticism of central government’s cuts as well as the tardy financial settlement was powerfully made throughout each recommendation.

Devon MPs are set to receive the minute this afternoon, urging them to speak and vote against the huge funding cuts.

Here’s the webcast – http://www.devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/195910 (my speech is at 57 minutes)


LGA fights further government attack on council finances

From a correspondent:

The Local Government Association is taking a strong stand against very damaging parts of Housing and Planning Bill currently in the Lords. Fundamentally, the proposal is to tax councils for a third of their most expensive council homes, expecting them to have been sold at a discount whenever vacant. Ministers Lewis, Clarke and presumably Osbourne are very intransigent on this issue, saying it was in the manifesto which 36.9 per cent of people voted for. They are dead set on a smaller public sector.

Under new legislation, councils will have to hand over the estimated equivalent sum for the sale of a third of their housing, whether they have sold them or not. Housing Associations will be expected to use that money towards building more housing somewhere in the country. It is hard to make it add up when substantial discounts are taken out along the way. It is also very discouraging for councils to build, knowing they will have to sell cheap. That pushes more people into the private rented sector. That is accompanied by an increase in the cost of welfare benefits and a greater risk of homelessness. Meanwhile the councils’ ability to assist is reduced.

Working with the Lords, the LGA has been clear that this legislation as it stands is very damaging. Crossbench Peers who have a great deal of expertise on this field and are working very hard on this, this week. They are proposing improvements in the legislation and hopefully some amendments will survive the course through the Lords and when it goes back to the Commons.

Next week, the Minister is considering our responses on the Finance Settlement 2016/17. The LGA submission is hefty and wide-ranging at nearly 30 pages long. It follows a series of direct meetings by leading members and officers to clarify each point. The Independent group members have played a substantial role in this. The reductions of 40 per cent in real terms is enough for some councils to be unable to set a budget at all, even with raising their council tax by 2 per cent. The additional 2 per cent care tax on top is a big help but will not cover the rising costs. Effectively there is a replacement of the income tax, in the government grants that comes to Councils in RSG, with council tax. This is less and being a property tax is a blunter tool.

The new business rates that are due to arrive are to be allocated to particular responsibilities of councils. For example, public health, capital development for transport in London, housing benefit administration and attendance allowance. This means the cuts we face now are long term. The effect of this is very harsh in some councils. For example, in one County Council it is currently proposed in this one year to use pretty well the remains of irs reserves to make the budget balance (£38m) and make cuts/savings of £42m, all on a budget of £476m. The council has also been selling off property as fast as possible, not looking for longer term gains, to help cover next year’s shortfall. However, it is now evident that the shortfall is not likely to be temporary.”

East Sussex Council: councillors of all parties condemn cuts

“A Conservative-controlled local council has written to David Cameron to tell him the cuts included in his budget are “unrealistic”.

East Sussex County Council, a Tory stronghold since its creation, said the Government’s fiscal policy would “significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex”.

The letter to the PM was signed by Councillor Keith Glazier, who leads the council, and the leaders of the other political party groups in East Sussex.

… “The fact that leaders of all parties have put their names to this letter shows that this is an issue which transcends politics,” Mr Glazier said.

“We have done everything possible to ensure we bear our share of the burden of reducing the national deficit, and produce a balanced and responsible budget, but the savings we are now having to make will place a heavy burden on some of our residents.

“We’re calling on the Government to acknowledge the impact of funding cuts, particularly on social care authorities, to work more closely with local councils and to adopt a fairer approach to the way it allocates funding.

The letter was signed by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Ukip group leaders on the council, as well as the leader of the area’s independents group.”


“South West MPs poised to rebel over rural funding settlement”

” … Under the provisional settlement announced in December, Cornwall Council will see its grant cut by £12 million in 2016/17, bringing its average spend per household down from £1,687 to £1,643. Devon will see its grant cut by £14 million, reducing spending per household from £1,402 to £1,363.

In contrast, despite a £15 million squeeze on Manchester’s grant, per household spend in the city will be £1,872. And over the next year the Greater London Authority will see its budget increase by £26 million. ”


Relocated MPs could be forced to be t-total under Sharia Law!

No, it isn’t 1 April!

The Department of Health, the Whitehall location where MPs could be temporarily rehoused, is governed by Sharia law because the building was transferred to finance an Islamic bond scheme. …

… Richmond House is one of three Whitehall buildings that were transferred to the £200million Islamic bond scheme, which switched their ownership from British taxpayers to wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen and banks.
George Osborne announced the move in June 2014 as part of an effort to make the UK a global hub for Islamic finance. …”


Beach hut price rises hit the headlines

“To help us decide how much to increase our rents by, we compared our hire charges for beach huts sites in East Devon with those made by other local authorities (Torbay, Teignbridge, Torridge, Brighton & Hove, Adur & Worthing and Poole).”


Interesting that they use 3 local areas and then 3 of the richest areas in the south of England to make their decision!

Whose fault is it the Local Plan took so long? Sidmouth says EDDC’s Mark Williams!!!

Not the false start made by the first Local Development Framework group, which spent 2-plus years visiting sites of favoured developers.

Not the East Devon Business Forum and its Chairman disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown which attempted to get an iron grip on it.

Not the officers and councillors who employed consultant after consultant until they found one they agreed with.

Not the same officers and councillors who had their drafts thrown out twice by the Planning Inspector.


Sidmouth delayed the Local Plan! and Mark William’s loses it!

At a heated meeting of EDDC councillors tonight to approve the Local Plan, CEO Mark Williams lost control of himself in a big way.

In response to a fairly conciliatory speech from resident Richard Eley, on behalf of Save our Sidmouth, a furious Williams lambasted Sidmouth for delaying the Local Plan and increasing the number of houses in it!

“But for Sidmouth we would have had a local plan three years ago,” he ranted, adding that “the end result of all your objections is that we’ve ended up in the local plan with more houses than originally proposed.” (Gasps of astonishment from the public and cries of “rubbish” and “nonsense”.)

A few minutes later he rounded on Richard Eley again accusing him of “churlishly” calling the Inspector “idiotic”. Eley sprang to his feet and angrily denied he had used that word about the inspector, and demanded an apology – supported by more cries of “scandal” and “apologise” from the public.

He insisted on reading the offending part of his speech again which proved his point that the i-word was never used. In fact, he described the decision to include land at Sidford for a business park as “stupid”.

After more moments of mayhem and shouting from the public, a reluctant apology was extracted from the CEO.

Many observers were left wondering if Mr Williams might not need a long rest –as in retirement on a generous pension………

David Cameron still unhappy with his constituency council’s cuts and demands they “look again”

Prime minister David Cameron has once again advised the Conservative leaders of his local council to “look again” at its budget proposals after the council’s leader announced £69m of planned savings for this Parliament.

In a letter sent to Oxfordshire County Council, in response to its cabinet’s warning of the “devastating impact” of cuts, the prime minister said he understood it will be challenging to make further needed savings – but urged it to reconsider its plans.

“Oxfordshire and other councils must continue to reform the way they work to become more efficient, both in back-office functions and in front-line service delivery,” he said in a statement today.

“The recent Spending Review… made it possible for councils to sell property assets and use the capital to invest in transforming local services – and ensure further savings.”

Earlier this week, the council’s leader, Cllr Ian Hudspeth, was “desperately sorry” to announce that cuts to the county would have to go even further than imagined, with these options once considered just a worst-case scenario that councillors believed would not be needed.

“The clear message from our budget consultation in the autumn was that making proposed savings would have a real impact on people and communities,” he said. “We will be doing everything we can to help communities manage their impact. It should be remembered that this is our sixth consecutive year of having to make cuts and by 2020 we will have completed a decade of savings.”

The letter from the prime minister follows similar correspondence in November, after which Cameron was accused of breaching the ministerial code by offering special help to his Witney constituency in the face of looming cuts.

The exchange triggered a wave of criticism of ministerial hypocrisy at the time, as well as accusations that the prime minister failed to understand the impact of his own government’s cuts.

This was further exacerbated when Hudspeth sent a letter to Cameron detailing, in a six-page analysis, accurate figures showing the depth of the county council’s financial plight, despite reductions in back office expenditure.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail this morning, Cllr Hudspeth said the county council’s deep cuts were a result of the government’s “difficult decisions to reduce the national deficit”, an aim which it had always been clear about.

“There is no row. We are two men trying to do very difficult jobs in a difficult situation,” he said. “The county council is using its reserves, selling its property assets and working on co-location with other authorities to become more efficient, so to be quit honest Mr Cameron and I are both saying similar things.”

Overall, Oxfordshire has been forced to bring savings originally proposed for future years back into 2016-17, as well as slash spending in certain areas in a one-off basis, including library services and training budgets. It also warned that there will be more cuts to come after the council assesses whether there are different ways of working, with a lot of debate still expected in the coming months.


“Build on flood plains despite the risks, say government advisers”

“Homes and businesses should continue to be built on flood plains across the UK, despite the increasing risks this would involve for future residents, according to the government’s advisors on climate change.

Lord Krebs, the government’s statutory advisor on adapting to the effects of global warming, told an influential committee of MPs on Wednesday that although recent flooding has caused houses and other buildings built on flood plains to be inundated, property could continue to be constructed on flood plains. He made it clear that in cases of such construction, the attendant risks and the possible devastation would have to be made clear to households, local government and developers. ….”


But again we ask: what if subsequent development renders your property prone to flooding when it wasn’t before?

And who decides whether a site is flood prone or not? And how do later owners get to know?

Devolution: major decision due to be made by EDDC tomorrow

From the Save our Sidmouth blog:

“Key decisions about this region’s future, at EDDC special meeting at Knowle (Thursday, 28th January, 6.30pm).

Decisions made at tomorrow’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) are key to the future of East Devon, and the wider (‘Heart of the South West’) region.
Everyone living, working or visiting here, will be impacted by the District Council’s Local Plan, and by EDDC’s involvement in Devolution.

The Heart of the South West, HotSW, (Devolution) strategy is powered by the not-yet-built Hinckley Point nuclear power station, part-funded (one third) by China (Please see link to breaking news, on blog link below*.) The Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) of big businesses will be working in tandem with local authorities. Thursday’s meeting may approve delegated powers for Leader Paul Diviani, to represent EDDC for the Devolution bid to Government.
The meeting begins with public question time (maximum of 3 minutes per question).”


The blog has links to background papers.

” Unproductive oldies”? Yes, says EDDC Chief executive, No says Bank of England

At a recent council meeting, EDDC Chief Exec , Mark Williams, referring to the age profile of some East Devon communities, apparently described older people as “unproductive”.

Perhaps he should chat to the Bank of England chief economist quoted here:

“… The British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) has asked 5,500 households across the UK about the nature and scale of their volunteering activities. If extrapolated, the data suggests volunteering in the UK might amount to as much as 4.4 billion hours per year equating to 1.7 hours per week for every UK adult aged over 16 years.

The survey found volunteering to be more prevalent among older people. Data published by NCVO in June 2015 found levels of ‘formal volunteering’ declined at the start of the recession, increased during the recovery and is now stable.” …


Hinckley Point nuclear power station – decision delayed by French investor

Our LEP is heavily betting on this project to boost “growth” – do they have a strategy for this delay?


And maybe don’t (yet) go to one of the LEP seminars about all the wonderful things it is supposed to be bringing to us all.

Devon and Cornwall Police ask for more money from council taxes

“Police in Devon and Cornwall hope to raise an extra £1.8 million from council taxpayers next year after a cut in their government grant.

Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg is to ask homeowners in Devon and Cornwall to pay an extra 1.99 per cent on the slice of the tax which goes to support the police.

This amounts to an extra 6.5p a week for a typical Band D homeowner, or £3.37 a year.

Mr Hogg said the money was needed to ensure that policing resources can be maintained in the region.

He will ask his scrutiny body, the Police and Crime Panel, to agree the 1.99 per cent increase for 2016-17 when it meets next Friday. 5 February …”


Mayor offers referendum for change to committees

Voters in North Tyneside will be asked this May if they want the council to continue to be run by an elected mayor or move to a committee system.
The local authority adopted the elected mayor model of governance from May 2002, after a public referendum the previous November.
The current elected mayor, Norma Redfearn, had previously promised to give the electorate the opportunity to decide on the form of local governance they want.

North Tyneside’s full council last week (21 January) backed the proposal to hold a referendum on 5 May. This is the same day as local council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Voters will be given two choices: to stay with the current elected mayor and cabinet model or to change to a committee system (with a leader).
Should voters back a change, then this will take effect at the end of Redfearn’s term of office in May 2017. If the outcome is to support the current system the next mayoral election will take place on 4 May 2017.
North Tyneside has recently held a consultation and also conducted a web-based discussion with a residents’ panel, staff and business partners.
Redfearn said: “Before I was elected in May 2013, residents asked me to hold a referendum and I promised I would take it forward. This referendum will give the voters of North Tyneside the opportunity to choose how they want their council to be governed from May next year.”


Rural Services Network attacks government rural funding cuts

Remember that ALL MPs in the far south west, rural and urban, except Ben Bradshaw in Exeter, are Conservatives.

“THE Rural Services Network has told the government it must listen to MPs on the vital issue of rural funding.

The network issued the warning after MPs slammed a proposed financial settlement for local authorities as unfair.

The Rural Fair Share cross-party group of MPs and the Rural Services Network are both calling for £130m to be redistributed to rural councils. This is the amount campaigners say the government still owes rural local authorities after it agreed to alter its funding formula in 2012 and give greater weighting to sparsity.

Government ministers have proposed a much lower settlement. Campaigners say it unfair that urban residents receive 45% more in central government grant than their rural counterparts – despite paying £81 less in council tax per head of population.

The impact of the balance is exacerbated because it costs more to deliver public services in rural areas.

Network Chief executive Graham Biggs said already cash-strapped local rural councils would face the prospect of being forced to increase council tax much more than urban councils. Even then, they would still have to undertake swingeing service cuts, he said.

“The government must think again on this issue of fundamental unfairness.”
Proposed changes to the funding formula had been applied unevenly and at the last minute by the government, said Mr Biggs. Without any forewarning, they would have the effect of further penalising rural areas, he added.
The government has announced plans to increase the Rural Services Grant work for the most rural areas by an extra £20m in 2016-17. But Mr Biggs said a promised extra £50m by 2019/20 over and above the £15.5m paid in 2015/16 was “back-end loaded”.

The government had implied there was £20m extra funding in 2016/17 when, in fact it amounted to just a £4.5m increase to £20m compared to 2015/16.”