Claire Wright continues to fight for tax transparency

“LAST week the Echo revealed that out of four local MPs asked about their tax affairs, only one (Ben Bradshaw) answered the questions put. And one (East Devon’s MP, Hugo Swire) wrote an extraordinary furious letter to the paper in response.

While steadfastly refusing to address the queries put to him, Mr Swire embarked on a furious tirade against those of us he sees as intruding into personal issues.

Tax avoidance by big business has been a hobby horse of mine since I campaigned in the general election last year.

I find it shocking that there is one rule for super wealthy oligarchs and multi-nationals – which have the potential to make massive contributions to public services, and another for the rest of us. Last year, despite its monumental profits, Facebook paid just £4,000 corporation tax in this country!

Of course, such financial contributions to the treasury are especially vital at a time of austerity when public sector budgets are subjected to crippling and swingeing cuts.

Those with the least are always hit the hardest when this happens, as they rely more on public services, such as benefits, buses and care, than the wealthy, who can afford cars, private healthcare and have access to plenty of cash.

I organised a demonstration against aggressive tax avoidance outside the Sidmouth Conservative club, in February, where Mr Swire often holds his surgeries.

I also lodged a motion (which the Devon County Council Conservative leadership hopes they have kicked into the long grass) aimed at clamping down on tax avoidance by county council contractors.

The final debate on this will be on May 12 at full council.

Mr Swire dislikes that the prime minister and chancellor have published their tax returns, describing the move as a “difficult precedent.”

But Mr Swire, didn’t the prime minister publicly pillory Jimmy Carr for his tax avoidance activities?

And doesn’t Mr Osborne say how keen he is to get big business such as Facebook and Google to pay tax more equivalent to their income generated in the UK?

Mr Swire suggests that if MPs are to be asked about their tax affairs people in public life should also be scrutinised, including newspaper editors, BBC journalists and councillors.

This is perhaps an issue for discussion, however, as I see it there are two big distinctions between MPs and newspaper editors or BBC journalists. A journalist’s job is to report the news. But an MP’s job is to make decisions, pass laws and act for their constituents. They are in a position of trust and are paid very well for that position… with money from the British taxpayer.

The taxpayers who pay the East Devon MP’s generous salary deserve a bit of openness about his tax affairs, now the public interest has understandably rocketed in the ongoing scandal that is tax avoidance.”

No doubt we haven’t heard the last of this story.

Germany asks Belgium to turn off two nuclear reactors due to safety concerns

RLIN/BRUSSELS, April 20 (Reuters) – Germany has asked Belgium to take two nuclear reactors temporarily off the grid while questions about their safety are cleared up, an unusual diplomatic move that underscores German concerns about the plants.

Production at Belgium’s Tihange 1 nuclear reactor was halted for about 10 days in December because of a fire. Staffing has also been reduced to minimise the risk of unauthorised personnel gaining access to the plants after the November attacks on Paris and the March attacks on Brussels.
Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said on Wednesday that the decision to request another shut down of the Tihange 2 and Doel 3 reactors came after Germany’s independent Reactor Safety Commission advised that it could not confirm the reactors would be safe in the event of a fault.

Deputy Environment Minister Jochen Flasbarth telephoned the Belgian Interior Minister on Hendrick’s behalf on Tuesday to request a shutdown pending further safety investigations. Officials did not specify a timeframe.
The core tanks at the 33-year-old Doel 3 and Tihange 2 reactors were built by Dutch company Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, which has also built reactors in other countries.

The two reactors, both with about a gigawatt of capacity, were closed in 2012 and again in 2014 after a brief restart, after inspections unveiled tiny cracks in their core tanks.

But the Belgian regulator authorised a restart in November 2015 after finding that the cracks were hydrogen flakes trapped in the walls of the reactor tank and had no unacceptable impact on the plant’s safety.
“I consider it right that the plants are temporarily taken offline at least until further investigations have been completed. I have asked the Belgian government to take this step,” Hendricks said in a statement.

She added the move would send a strong signal to reassure Germany and show that Belgium is taking the concerns of its neighbours seriously.
Belgian nuclear regulator FANC expressed surprise at the German minister’s remarks, saying in a statement that it had explained the issue with the reactors at a meeting of international experts.

“The nuclear reactors at Doel 3 and Tihange 2 fulfil the highest security standards,” the agency added.

Spurred by the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant in 2011, Germany pledged to abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022 in favour of other power sources.

Hendricks’ comments are the highest profile criticism of the Belgian nuclear reactors so far in Germany, with the region around Aachen and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia having previously voiced concern.

Last week, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia said it would join a lawsuit brought by the Aachen city region against the Tihange 2 reactor, which is roughly 65 kilometres (about 40 miles) away from the west German city.
Germany has long been nervous about the safety of the reactors and a working group of officials met earlier this month to discuss the issue. Flasbarth told reporters talks with Belgian authorities had been constructive.
He added the decision to make the request had not been taken lightly and that Germany would give the Belgian government time to respond.”

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Devolution – not all it is cracked up to be

There are significant accountability implications arising from ‘devolution deals’ which central government and local areas will need to develop and clarify, the National Audit Office has said.

In a report, English devolution deals, the spending watchdog said these implications included “the details of how and when powers will be transferred to mayors and how they will be balanced against national parliamentary accountability”.

The NAO noted that the ten deals agreed so far involved increasingly complex administrative and governance configurations.

It stressed that, as devolution deals were new and experimental, “good management and accountability both depend on appropriate and proportionate measures to understand their impact”.

The watchdog said that to improve the chances of success, and provide local areas and the public with greater clarity over the progression of devolution deals, central government should clarify the core purposes of the arrangements as well as who will be responsible and accountable for devolved services and functions.

Central government should also ensure it identifies and takes account of risks to devolution deals that arise from ongoing challenges to the financial sustainability of local public services, the NAO added.
HM Treasury and the Cities and Local Growth Unit are responsible for managing the negotiation, agreement and implementation of devolution deals on behalf of central government as a whole.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “Despite several iterations of deals, the Government’s approach to English devolution still has an air of charting undiscovered territory. It is in explorer mode, drawing the map as it goes along.

“Some of the opportunities and obstacles are becoming clearer, but we still do not have a clear view of the landscape or, crucially, an idea of the destination.”

Morse added: “Devolution deals provide important opportunities to reform public services. As with any experiment, some elements will work better than others. As we have said before, it is in the interests of both local areas and the government to know which programmes have the biggest impact for the money invested. Localism is not a reason for failure to learn from experiences or to spread best practice.”

Responding to the NAO report, a Local Government Association spokesman said: “Councils are working hard on implementing agreed deals and are working with government to finalise those deals which are still to be signed.

“It is imperative that the momentum is maintained to secure deals, especially in non-metropolitan areas whose economic potential is just as significant as that of big cities.”

“In terms of accountability, devolution has the potential to improve the democratic process by allowing decisions to be made closer to local people to best meet their needs. But councils should be free to put in place the appropriate model of governance for their communities and not have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model imposed on them where significant new responsibilities are devolved.”

The LGA spokesman added: “The report rightly recognises the possible complications arising from differing geographies for service delivery and councils, particularly for the recently announced sustainability and transformation plans. Councils and their partners will continue to take a pragmatic approach to designing and delivering services that best meet the needs of their communities.

“We support the study’s findings that devolution needs to be accompanied by fair and sustainable funding by Whitehall to manage risk and ensure devolved areas can run services successfully.

“This will help to ensure that the opportunities provided by devolution – delivering economic growth, building more homes, creating jobs and a skilled workforce, and joining up health and care services – will be actively embraced by both local and central government.”

Publicans and ex-publicans enjoy a jolly good night out …


Colin Brown, East Devon District Councillor for Dunkeswell, EDDC Development Management Committee and Licensing Enforcement Committee, of the Monkton Court Hotel, Honiton; director of Bell Vue Developments

Paul Diviani, Leader EDDC, Devon County Councillor and Local Enterprise Partnership board member and formerly of the Stockland Arms Hotel, Stockland

Jenny Wheatley-Brown, also of the Monkton Court Hotel, Honiton and Conservative candidate for district council seat (lost) at Seaton at the last election and also director of Bell Vue Developments


John O’Leary, EDDC Councillor, Licensing Enforcement Committee, with special responsibility for the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton and Town Councillor for Honiton St Pauls, also formerly of the Stockland Arms Hotel, Stockland

at The Deer Park Country House Hotel for the unveiling of it’s orangery.

Photographer: Terry Ife (Midweek Herald)

Who chose Local enterprise partnership boundaries?

Owl has today alone read three articles about “Devon and Cornwall” but reads none at all (except when discussing devolution) “Devon and Somerset”.

Given the focus of our LEP on Hinkley C, would it not have been a better fit for one LEP to represent Devon and Cornwall and for Somerset to link northwards towards Bristol and Gloucestershire?

This now means that Cornwall goes it alone as a single parent and Devon is forced into an arranged marriage with Somerset!

There are a massive number of synergies between Devon and Cornwall but none between Devon and Somerset except the M5 and A303.

Who drew the lines and got us underwriting Hinkley C and its infrastructure with Somerset instead of concentrating on urban regeneration, tourism, rural infrastructure and environmental stewardship with Cornwall?

“Britain’s two-party political system isn’t working” – more Independents needed says former Conservative spin master

“Voters are disillusioned with a malfunctioning democracy. The system must change so independent candidates have a fair chance of election:

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s clear that people are looking for a new kind of politics that goes beyond traditional party lines: a politics first and foremost of engagement and transparency, not reducible to the old left-right divide. …

… Change is long overdue. In the 1950s, politics was simpler. Workers voted Labour, the middle class and the wealthy voted Conservative. About 90% of votes went to one of these two parties. But by 2015, the combined total had dropped to just over two-thirds. Voters today are searching for new options beyond the two-party model. …

… In today’s age of nearly unlimited information, our world views are nuanced and sophisticated, but our creaking democratic processes struggle to reflect this. Where do you go if you are a Conservative on the economy, a Green on the environment, Labour on social justice, Liberal Democrat on human rights? That is not an unusual combination. But Westminster politics still pushes a false, binary simplicity. …

… Even if an independent candidate does get on the ballot, it’s next to impossible for voters to discover that there might be someone outside the two-party system who genuinely matches their views. …

… In today’s age of nearly unlimited information, our world views are nuanced and sophisticated, but our creaking democratic processes struggle to reflect this. Where do you go if you are a Conservative on the economy, a Green on the environment, Labour on social justice, Liberal Democrat on human rights? That is not an unusual combination. But Westminster politics still pushes a false, binary simplicity.

This is where the corruption comes in, because the principal barrier to a more open and diverse politics in the UK is money. Thankfully, it plays a far lesser role in Britain than America – where money from fundraising Super Pacs dominates campaigning. But even here, you need cash to stand for office, to run a campaign, to get elected. Who can afford to do that? Only the centralised party organisations. And where do they get their money? The same old sectoral interests – the financial industry on the right and the unions on left. …

… Even if an independent candidate does get on the ballot, it’s next to impossible for voters to discover that there might be someone outside the two-party system who genuinely matches their views. …

… If we’re ever going to see the kind of modern, responsive and open-minded politics that people are crying out for, we have to break the grip of the party machines and get more independent, and independent-minded, candidates elected to office, at every level of government. But such candidates face enormous obstacles. Only parties have the muscle to win most elections, and party insiders control candidate selections tightly.

The barriers to political participation must be removed and the stranglehold of the big party machines broken, so that the power can be taken out of the hands of the insiders, the moneyed interests and the Westminster power brokers – and put where it belongs: in the hands of the people.