Brexit Ministers get a taste of civil service “impartiality”

“… Is the civil service orchestrating an EU referendum cover-up?

Whitehall sources have confirmed that Heywood [Head of Civil Service] told senior civil servants that there would be times when they would have to bypass the six senior ministers who want to leave the EU.

And in a statement issued by the Vote Leave campaign group, Patel said: “It is important that the civil service maintains impartiality during the EU referendum. Jeremy Heywood’s unconstitutional act threatens the reputation of the civil service.

“Secretaries of state are responsible for their departments. For an unelected official to prevent them being aware of the information they need for their duties is wrong. …

… Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Commons public administration select committee, who is tabling an urgent question in the Commons, said Heywood appeared to be acting in an “unorthodox and unprecedented” manner. The row first broke out last week when Heywood issued guidelines banning civil servants from showing official papers related to the EU referendum to Brexit.

In a move aimed specifically at Iain Duncan Smith, Heywood issued guidelines last week to ban civil servants from preparing new research for anti-EU cabinet ministers that could be used in the EU referendum campaign. No 10 had feared that Duncan Smith, who has strong doubts about the welfare elements of the prime minister’s EU reform plan, would seek to ask his officials to assess the credibility of the plan.

At least one permanent secretary is understood to have raised concerns with their Brexit secretary of state that Heywood may be acting in a constitutionally inappropriate manner because secretaries of state, technically at least, are solely responsible for their departments under a seal granted by the Queen.

Officials in Heywood’s office are also contacting the private offices of ministers who have yet to declare which side they are supporting in the referendum, asking them to make their intentions clear. This is designed to work out whether they are entitled to see all papers in their department related to the referendum. Duncan Smith urged David Cameron to reverse the Heywood guidelines.

Jenkin said that any attempt by Heywood to bypass a secretary of state would be unconstitutional and could be unlawful by infringing the Carltona principle, which says that officials in a department work “under the authority of ministers”. Jenkin, whose committee will question Heywood on Tuesday, said of the cabinet secretary’s guidelines: “This is unorthodox and unprecedented. In law the minister is indivisible from his or her department.”

Well, we can tell them all about how restricting information works in East Devon! If you don’t belong to the Cabinet (even if you are a councillor from the same political party) you will never get to know how some decisions start out, get developed or even end up. Your colleagues won’t tell you and senior officers won’t tell you either.

Welcome to our world Ms Patel!

First time buyers lottery: 141,000 to win up to £200,000 – nothing at all to 2 million

“The government’s starter homes initiative could deliver a taxpayer-backed windfall of £141,000 each to 200,000 lucky first-time buyers, but 2 million more aspiring homeowners will be stuck renting, campaigners say.

The scheme, which allows developers to replace shared ownership and affordable rented homes with properties sold at a 20% discount, has been widely criticised since it was first announced in December 2014. One of the key concerns for housing campaigners is that the homes can be sold on at the open-market rate after five years.

Lobby group Generation Rent said that this meant a “£27bn raffle” in which the original buyers stood to gain, while those who missed out would find it ever harder to get on the housing ladder. It said the scheme’s potential rewards “far exceed the already generous returns of home ownership”.

The figures are based on average newbuild house prices and numbers of new homes being built around the country. The average cost of a newbuild property in England stands at £297,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. So as a starter home it would be bought at £238,000, Generation Rent said. If house prices rise at 5% a year, after five years the same property could be sold for £379,000. Outside London, the maximum cost of a qualifying home is £250,000 but in the capital that rises to £450,000. Generation Rent said buyers could stand to make a profit of £228,139 on a home bought for £383,200.

The group is calling for the homes to be subject to rules saying that they can only be sold on at a 20% discount. Betsy Dillner, the director of Generation Rent, said this would help multiple first-time buyers “instead of a jammy handful of winners in a multibillion pound raffle”.

She added: “The government said its starter homes would be exclusively for first-time buyers, but by letting them vanish into the open market after five years, they’re betraying the millions who are stuck renting.”

The housing charity Shelter last year described the properties as “non-starter homes”, saying that by 2020 in more than half of the country they would be unaffordable for families earning average wages.

Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, said: “While the government is offering these discounted homes to a select few, for those who aren’t so lucky, all they’re offering is more time spent in expensive and unstable private renting, or living with mum and dad well into their 30s.

“This crisis can be turned around, but only if the government moves beyond schemes that only help the well off, and starts investing in homes that ordinary families can actually afford as well.”

As the House of Lords prepare to debate the policy as part of the housing bill this week, experts said there were many unanswered questions surrounding the policy. Neal Hudson, an associate director at property firm Savills, said that despite the scheme being a key plank of government housing policy “there is still a massive amount of detail outstanding on how it will work”.

He added: “There is likely to be a lot of uncertainty about how much people should be paying for land because they are not sure how they will be able to use it.”

Hudson said uncertainty remained over how the prices of starter homes would be determined if there were no comparable properties nearby, and how mortgage lenders would treat a property that could not be sold at market rate for five years.

Other analysts have questioned how the policy will run alongside the government’s help-to-buy loan scheme, where buyers are offered a 20% interest-free loan but must repay it when they sell.

In January the head of housebuilder Taylor Wimpey said that confusion over how the scheme would work was causing problems for developers. Pete Redfern said: “It’s quite hard if you’re looking at a future site to know how that policy balance will end up, because local authorities feel more threatened by starter homes than by anything else.”

Research carried out by Savills for the Local Government Association (LGA) found that the discounted starter home prices were out of reach for all people in need of affordable housing in 220 council areas and for more than 90% in a further 80 council areas.”

Devolution 2: the missing link and the heart of our problem with it

The missing link is the cultivation of citizen participation and the development of structures and mechanisms for doing so, without which levels of accountability and alienation could be no better than before, for two reasons.

First, citizens have to wait until the next mayoral election to make their voices heard just as they do with local and general elections.

Secondly, people do not automatically feel more connected to local leaders because proximity is only one part of accessibility, which also involves visibility and approachability.” …

… While it is possible to argue that democratic structures could be developed after powers have been devolved, it makes more sense to set out ambitions for participation and accountability early on. These ambitions will affect which powers are needed and the governance arrangements of devolution agreements. For example, if the ambition is to use ‘pop-up parishes’ to design town- centre regeneration, then it may be necessary to devolve more power over planning and land use, and to ensure that proposalscan be tabled by citizen groups and not just by members of the combined authority leadership. …

… There is neither realism about the growth outcomes of devolution nor much concern about generating particular bene ts for local economic stakeholders, such as residents, local workers, and business owners. NEF’s work on local economies has shown that if cities are to ‘meet their full economic potential’13 in terms of benefiting local economic stakeholders, this will involve:

• Supporting people to be nancially strong individuals in terms of income-to-cost-of- living ratios and being able to have savings.

• Developing a strong local business sector with supply chains connecting small enterprise to big business.

• Making more ef client use of distribution of resources, with positive local circulation of money, low levels of wasted resources in local supply and production systems, a high level of staff retention in jobs, and falling levels of inequality and poverty.

In the documents, these sorts of economic outcome for local people are only rarely discussed. For example, reducing poverty is mentioned four times in a total of 1,129 arguments and cost of living is not mentioned at all. This is a gap in the debate. ‘More jobs’ is the overwhelming focus rather than ‘better jobs and wages’.

In current devolution agreements power remains firmly in the hands of Westminster who can revoke devolved functions and budgets in future if it is dissatis ed with progress, without clear criteria de ning success. Westminster will retain a stick with which to beat localities if they are not achieving outcomes desired by central government, perhaps especially economic growth and cost savings. This could prove restrictive rather than liberating. A Voluntary and Community Sector worker from Liverpool, for example, raised the concern that a devolution agreement for the Liverpool area would ‘cast a potentially narrow economic glow over our world’ and that the local government would be unable to prioritise non- economic outcomes which also matter to local people.

The devolution debate could go one of two ways. It could roll on in the backrooms of Westminster leading to opacity, confusion, and potentially falling public support for the policy.

Or it could be brought into the open, where there will be space for criticism and consideration of the downsides of devolution, as well as discussion of its potential to transform and strengthen our towns, cities and democracy. “

Click to access 1888588d95f1712903_e3m6ii50b.pdf

At last some straight talking on devolution

” … Should growth be the main goal?

Our research found that arguments for economic growth are weak at explaining how these outcomes would be achieved; they tend to focus on the benefits devolution would bring the national purse rather than the local economy. Devolution could improve the lives of local people, yet the current debate pays little attention to how this could be achieved.

How devolution would affect income-to-cost-of-living ratios, which affect everyone’s day to day economic reality, is seldom mentioned. The number of jobs that would be created is discussed far more often than the quality of jobs that would be created. Reducing poverty through economic growth is mentioned only four times in a total of 1,129 arguments.

Devolving fiscal and policy making powers to the local level over skills, housing, business rates and enterprise, could improve how the local economy works for its residents and local stakeholders. It could, for example, enable local government to better shape local business stock and promote resilience to external shocks through reasonable diversity in sectors, business size and ownership models. While economic growth may be one measure of success, it should not be pursued at the expense of other key economic and social goals that devolution could benefit.
Building a more democratic country

Creating a more democratic country seems an obvious aim for devolution but it is neglected by advocates of devolution, particularly in local government as Figure 2 shows. Discussions currently neglect the greater role citizens could play in political decision-making if decisions are made closer to home, but also the ways in which devolution could increase the accountability of elected leaders to the public. Simply creating elected mayors is not enough to revive an ailing democracy. This is why local governments should also be considering the mechanisms and structures for citizen participation which could make devolution worthwhile.

How can we change the debate?

We need to bring the debate into the open for public discussion, locally and nationally, so that everyday economic concerns like the quality of jobs created, and reducing inequality, feature strongly in discussions around what goals devolution should deliver.

So far, the debate has been conducted in the backrooms of Westminster rather than in public forums. Several parties in government have proposed a Constitutional Convention – a citizen forum where the governance of the country is discussed – but are yet to act on the proposal.

In the meantime, a group of academics and civil society groups have piloted this model in Sheffield and Southampton, showing how it would work. Drawing on examples from countries including Iceland, Canada, the Netherlands and Scotland, they show that the direct participation of local people in decision-making improves not only the democratic quality of decisions, but their effectiveness. It’s a match made in heaven for the devolution revolution.”

‘The briefing Democracy: the missing link in the devolution debate’ is available for download here:

Key findings:

Of the arguments made for devolution, 41.6% focus on achieving economic growth as the main justification for devolving power.

Only 12.9% of arguments make the case for devolution in order to shift power, strengthen democracy, and increase citizen involvement in decision-making.

Just 7.4% of arguments address inequalities in wealth and power between regions.

Environmental sustainability is part of just 0.8% of arguments.

Only 2.9% of arguments address the potential downsides and risks of devolution.

Local governments in particular seldom consider the impact of devolution on democracy, discussing democratic outcomes less than central government or think-tanks.

Hugo Swire still doing the hokey-cokey!

According to tonight’s BBC Spotlight news, only 2 South West MPs have not yet declared whether they are for or against staying in the EE: Jonny Mercer (Con Plymouth Moor View) and our own Hugo Swire.

Please Dave or please Boris. … oh, the agony. He will soon be down to flipping a coin.

Wonder whether his constituency party realised he was torn between the two and had no firm views on the EU when he was parachuted into East Devon? Did they even ask him his views on the EU? Probably not.

Still, if he throws himself behind Boris and Dave fires him, we might see more of him in East Devon.

“Planning policy discourages larger homes says housebuilder”

Forgive Owl being cynical but larger homes sell for more money and make more profit for the builder! And why does “empty nesting” need larger homes?

“One of the UK’s biggest housebuilders has hit out at government planning policy as new figures emerged showing a steady decline in the number of larger family homes being built.

The number of homes constructed with four bedrooms or more halved between 2001 and 2011, from around 50,000 to 25,000, research carried out by law firm Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners and Cala Homes found.

Since 1991, only 28pc of new homes built have had four bedrooms or more, which Cala blamed on rules that require developers to build a minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare, favouring smaller homes.

The housebuilder warned that with the rise of the UK’s middle classes and a growing trend among the nation’s ageing population for “empty nesting”, more home owners are now demanding larger houses. It claimed more than 700,000 households in England are overcrowded.

Price inflation for large detached family homes has significantly outpaced that of other housing types over the last 20 years, further putting the squeeze on families looking to move up the housing ladder.

Recent government policy has focused on boosting housing supply for first time buyers through new initiatives such as the Help to Buy scheme, which provides mortgage guarantees and equity, and Starter Homes.

Cala wants the Government to review housing policy to give large home development at least equal weighting to that of smaller homes – saying it is currently too biased towards first time buyers. It also criticised the Government’s strategy to encourage older or single people to downsize, saying the policy will never contribute sufficient numbers of homes to affect housing supply.

Alan Brown, chief executive of Cala, said the policies failed to meet “the real demands of growing families across the country”.”

Money to demolish “sink estates” is really loans to developers!

David Cameron’s promise to spend millions on bulldozing and rebuilding sink estates as a key part of his prime ministerial legacy appeared to unravel last night as it emerged that the small amount of money set aside for the project can only be accessed by private developers in the form of loans.
To great fanfare, the prime minister announced his intention in January to potentially tear down 100 of the UK’s worst estates to tackle drug abuse and gang culture. The modest size of the £140m “fund” set aside by Cameron to meet costs was widely questioned at the time, but Downing Street insisted that the redevelopment programme would reverse decades of neglect.

The housing developments being targeted reportedly include the Winstanley estate in Wandsworth, south London, the Lower Falinge estate in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, north London.

Now the Observer has learned that the £140m is only available in loan form to private sector organisations who come forward to regenerate stricken areas. A statement quietly released by the Department for Communities and Local Governmentin February admitted: “£140m of loan funding has been set aside by government, to be used as a springboard for partnership and joint venture arrangements, with the active involvement of communities.”

A spokesman said the rate of interest on the loans to private companies would vary “scheme by scheme”. The application process, more than a month since the announcement, has yet to be opened to interested parties.

The revelation will be an embarrassment for the prime minister, who claimed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show at the time that “in the worst estates … you’re confronted by concrete slabs dropped from on high, brutal high-rise towers and dark alleyways that are a gift to criminals and drug dealers”.
Promising to transform the worst estates, Cameron added: “For some, this will mean knocking them down and starting again. For others, it might mean changes to layout, upgrading facilities and improving road and transport links.”

His announcement on the regeneration of sink estates was widely seen as an attempt to claim the centre ground as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party moved to the left. The redevelopment programme is to be overseen by Michael Heseltine, who helped to transform the Liverpool and London docks in the 1980s. However, in the light of revelation about the reality of the funding, John Healey MP, the shadow secretary of state for housing and planning, accused the prime minister of making “hollow announcements to make headlines”.

He said: “After five years of Tory failure on housing, those living on estates around the country need investment in new homes and estate regeneration – not an announcement of a new fund that is quietly downgraded when it is hoped no one will notice.”

A DCLG spokesman said the loan status of money set aside for regeneration had been laid out in the autumn statement, ahead of Cameron’s claim in a Sunday newspaper and on the BBC to have put aside a “fund” for the initiative.He said: “We’re determined to kick-start the regeneration of council estates to provide high quality homes to benefit thousands of people.

“The autumn statement made absolutely clear that the government is providing loan funding for council estate regeneration projects. “The £140m will be used to lever in additional funding from local authorities, housing associations and private investment. High up-front costs and long timescales for development mean regeneration schemes can become stalled because upfront finance is unavailable. These low-risk loans will help remove blockages and speed up processes to transform estates.”

Time to put an end to retrospective planning applications?

East Devon District Council deals with a large number of retrospective planning applications – sites that were started without planning permission. If these sites remain undetected for long enough, sometimes a local authority is powerless to refuse permission.

One major area where retrospective planning applications has been relatively common is at Greendale Business Park, for example, where the speed of development appears to have outstripped the speed of obtaining the relevant permission at the proper time. And at Pooh Cottage (see previous posts)

What excuse is there for this? One can understand, say, a single householder not realising that they need permission for a new window opening or a new drive. But can one really excuse hard-nosed businessmen and women who know the score but don’t quite manage to keep to the rules, even with the best architects and “consultants” available to them?

Once there is a Local Plan, surely there is no excuse for this. A development is either in it or it is not.

In the case of illegal developments commenced BEFORE the Local Plan came into existence, people could be given six months to “come clean” and have their cases decided.

AFTER the Local Plan has been adopted and after the six month period of grace has elapsed the ability to put in retrospective planning applications should totally cease. The consequence of starting work BEFORE planning permission had been granted should automatically be that the building(s) be demolished within three months at the applicants expense. No ifs, no buts, NO fines – they would almost certainly be disproportionate and developers would happily pay up to circumvent the Local Plan – with planning lawyers getting rich on case law.

With a Local Plan there is no case for retrospective planning applications.

Retrospective planning applications