Senior Tory MP accuses Downing Street of “selling” policies for “cash and political favours”

[Conservative MP] Bernard Jenkin claimed the government watered down the Trade Union Bill to ensure union support in its campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

Mr Jenkin told MPs “this stinks” like “cash for questions” and showed the government was at the “rotten heart of the European Union”.

But Business Minister Nick Boles said his claims were “not right”. He told Mr Jenkin, who is a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, that “not every compromise is a conspiracy”.

Mr Jenkin made his comments in the Commons on the day the Guardian published an article jointly written by Prime Minister David Cameron and the former TUC general secretary Sir Brendan Barber.

In it, they say that “very special circumstances” have brought them together, adding that despite their political differences they are “united in our conviction that Britain – and Britain’s workers – will be better off in a reformed Europe than out on our own”.

Last week the government backed down over plans to end the right of workers to pay union subscriptions by deducting them from their wages.

MPs approved concessions to the Trade Union Bill on Wednesday following a series of defeats over the plans in the House of Lords. They included a climb-down on attempts to force all union members to “opt-in” to paying a political levy – which will now only apply to new members.

‘Wholly unexpected’

Mr Jenkin told MPs in the Commons: “Yesterday, the ministers’ concession was wholly unexpected.” He questioned whether the changes were linked to reported claims that unions could donate up to £1.7m to the “Labour In for Britain” campaign to remain in the European Union.

Mr Jenkin said: “It has been confirmed to me through more than two independent sources that No 10 instructed these concessions to be made after the discussions with trade union representatives.

“This being true would amount to the sale of government policy for cash and political favours.”

He went on: “This stinks, this reeks of the same as cash for questions. This shows this government really is at the rotten heart of the European Union.”
But Mr Boles said the Cabinet Office had advised him there was no breach of the ministerial code and nothing for the prime minister’s adviser on ministerial interests to investigate.

Ping pong

Mr Boles said it was “customary” for ministers to have regular discussions with shadow ministers to discuss possible compromises that would secure the passage of a Bill.

“The Trade Union Bill is now in ping-pong and, as is customary at such times, ministers have held regular discussions with shadow ministers to discuss possible compromises that would secure passage of the Bill and delivery of the commitments made in the Conservative Party’s manifesto,” the business minister said.

Mr Boles also said that the TUC, GMB Unite and Unison had declared their support for remaining in the European Union before concessions were offered.
He added that major opposition from peers, including prominent Conservatives, had encouraged the government to make concessions.”

“‘Behind-closed-doors, secret stuff’: council leader slams devolution deal-making”

“A COUNCIL leader who has spearheaded devolution for the Tees Valley has condemned the “behind-closed-doors, secret” nature of the deal-making process.

Sue Jeffrey, chair of the new Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA), said she “absolutely agreed” with a National Audit Office (NAO) report’s finding that English regional devolution needed to be more transparent.

“We’ve all said that the deal-making process is very ad-hoc and all this behind-closed-doors, secret stuff isn’t very helpful at all,” the Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council leader said.

But she insisted the TVCA would deliver democratic accountability.

Ten English devolution deals have been agreed in the past 18 months, covering 16.1 million people across Greater Manchester, Cornwall, Sheffield City Region, the North-East, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, the West Midlands, East Anglia, Greater Lincolnshire and the West of England, and a further 24 proposals are being discussed.

The Tees Valley’s five councils, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Hartlepool, and the TVCA which brings them all together, have backed a package handing powers over transport, economic development and skills and planning to a new mayor to be elected in May 2017.

Negotiations with Whitehall are continuing, ahead of public consultation later this year.

But there has been criticism of the lack of public involvement to date and in the North-East the process has been riven with problems. Last month, Gateshead Council rejected the offer outright, while the other six members of the North-East Combined Authority (NECA) voted to postpone a final decision.

Last week, six County Durham Labour MPs wrote to every Labour member of Durham County Council urging them to reject or delay the deal until further details were confirmed.

A NECA spokeswoman said discussions with Government were ongoing and good progress had been made. An update is expected when the NECA meets on Friday, May 13.

The NAO said devolution deals offered opportunities to stimulate economic growth and reform public services but were untested and Government could do more to “provide confidence that these deals will achieve the benefits intended”.

A Government spokesman said the report recognised the “huge progress made in our revolutionary devolution agenda”, but added: “We agree there is much more to do and we will continue to talk to areas so everywhere that wants to take part in the process can do so.”

Hinkley C: who shoulders the costs if construction stalls?

“Energy secretary Amber Rudd (Letters, 21 April) clearly has the gift of clairvoyance. She says that no liabilities would fall to the UK taxpayer or consumer should Hinkley Point C be cancelled. Who, pray, would foot the bill to complete the project should EDF withdraw after a few years of construction when cost and time overruns became apparent, as they have with other projects in France and Finland?

And assuming the plant ever began generating its costly electricity, who would be responsible for the waste management costs, the size of which can only be estimated since the location, depth, technical details about cladding, inventory, or even if there will ever be a repository, remain stubbornly vague and could yet result in indefinite storage on site? Spent nuclear fuel from Hinkley C or Sizewell C would be on their respective sites for an estimated 160 years. Who will take title to hundreds of tonnes of spent nuclear fuel if, as is likely, within that time period, EDF disappears?

As usual, the public purse would be required to bail out a private venture. Rudd’s claim of “no liabilities” is as irresponsible as a short-term response to legitimate concerns as government’s energy policy will prove to be in the long term. Better to cancel Hinkley, Sizewell and all the other nuclear plans now while some semblance of energy policy credibility remains, than to see it unravel in the most embarrassing way over the coming decades, leaving communities like ours to carry the can for government obsession with a nuclear fix.
Pete Wilkinson
Chairperson, Together Against Sizewell C”

Two more reasons to vote for Robert Spencer (Ind) for Police and Crime Commissioner

“Richard Younger-Ross, the Liberal Democrat candidate for police and crime commissioner, has been forced to admit his campaign leaflet has massively exaggerated cuts to frontline policing.

The former Lib Dem MP wrongly claimed that there are now 200,000 fewer police officers than when Coalition austerity began in 2010.

The figure – which has been printed on 100,000 leaflets – was supposed to say 20,000.

According to a rival, who is a former police officer, the total number of officers in England and Wales is about 120,000.

The figure – which has been printed on 100,000 leaflets – was supposed to say 20,000.

According to a rival, who is a former police officer, the total number of officers in England and Wales is about 120,000.

Mr Younger-Ross is the second candidate to commit an embarrassing PR blunder during the campaign, after Tory hopeful Alison Hernandez spelt the job title incorrectly on her leaflet.

Mr Younger-Ross, who has pledged to campaign to abolish the commissioner role if elected, said the printing error was “very irritating”, aiming a jibe at his rival.

“At least I know how to spell commissioner,” he added.

Topsham: developers win appeal to build on green wedge

“Developers have won their appeal to build on the so-called Topsham Gap.

Now opponents are worried about a “domino effect” that could lead to more developments.

Hundreds of local people attended a planning inquiry to voice their opposition to plans for a 60-bed care home, plus more than 100 homes for over-55s.

Critics said the development would swallow up green belt land between the city and old port of Topsham.

The Planning Inspectorate has now decided that Exeter City Council was wrong to turn down the application by Waddeton Park Ltd.

The council has six weeks to make a further appeal to the High Court.

Earlier this year hundreds of protesters joined the battle over plans to build on green space separating Exeter and Topsham during a crucial public inquiry.

Banner-waving protesters made their feelings known at the start of the inquiry over proposals to develop land known as the Topsham Gap.

It followed Exeter City Council’s failure to determine Waddeton Park’s plans to build a 60-bed care home and more than 100 homes on fields next to Topsham Rugby Club.

The developer says it would provide “much-needed” housing for the area’s ageing population.

But campaign group, Save the Topsham Gap, claimed the town has its own identity and the “gap” is the last piece of land physically separating it from the city.

Organiser Lily Neal, 56, of The Topsham Bookshop, said:”It seems to come down to tough luck Topsham”

“The inspector has accepted all the developers’ arguments and are only hope was that he would accept the idea of more harm than benefit – but he hasn’t

“He says it would only cause modest harm.

“The council have six weeks to appeal but I have my doubts i it is expensive and its is the ratepayers of all of Exeter who would have to pay.

“I have to say I am worried about a possible domino effect – what’s next?”

Campaigners were anxious stop Topsham becoming just one more suburb of Exeter and retain its distinct, independent and unique identity.”

The proposals go against the council’s local plan, which designated the site a strategic “green wedge” not suitable for development.

Planning inspectorate Jonathan Bore had said he would determine the plans based on the need for additional housing in the city, and the effect on Exeter and the landscape.

“Local government is a failed state” and devolution is ” unresearched and unconsulted”

“George Osborne knows it, Theresa May knows it, the Hillsborough families know it. We all know it. Britain’s national government may be a democracy, but its local government is a failed state.

There were plenty of moments in the Hillsborough saga when local accountability could have lanced the boil. Local pressure could have forced the Sheffield police chief to resign after the Taylor report, not to wait until his successor resigned. A district attorney could have prosecuted the police for gross negligence. An elected mayor of Sheffield could have sacked the police chief or, if need be, been voted out of office.

Such customary processes of democracy do not obtain in Britain. Instead, we must wait for a shambolic quarter-century of bumbling and costly inquiries, inquests, lobbying and lawyers. Still they leave a lingering sense of justice unfulfilled. No one has been properly blamed and punished.

Some ministers, we thought, had got the point. In 2012 Theresa May introduced locally elected police and crime commissioners. Their impact has been derisory. Voter turnouts have been between 10 and 20%. The police commissioners have dispersed electorates and minimal powers.

The concept works only in London, where the mayor is also commissioner and can bring the political weight of his mandate to bear.

Osborne seized on Manchester as the base for his northern powerhouse, and showered it with powers and money, provided it accepted his newfound fascination with elected mayors. In Manchester, at least, this made sense. Soon other cities were clamouring and were told to reorganise themselves into city regions and accept elected mayors. Osborne was forced to offer everyone more power, until England is on the brink of reordering itself into mini-regions, run by a third tier of local government under mayors, however inappropriate the political geography.

Osborne told Bristol to merge with Bath and Suffolk with Norfolk.

In doing so, the chancellor was reviving the various attempts at sub-regional government that have started and failed since 1974. Britain hates provinces. It knows and prefers cities and counties. Regions may reflect Whitehall’s bureaucratic convenience, but they are poor substitutes for local identity. The former local government secretary, Eric Pickles, understood this. He wisely said he “kept a pearl-handled revolver in my drawer to use on the first person who suggests local government reorganisation”.

Despite his good intentions, Osborne’s bid to restore local accountability to English government has hit trouble. It is unresearched and unconsulted, advancing in fits and starts.

Above all, he lacks a consistent concept of distributing power. His new planning regime obliterates local opinion. He intends, so far, to seize local councils’ most prized institutions, their schools, declaring local councillors unfit to run them. He is dumping NHS services on to local care authorities, with no extra money.

The result has been a fierce reaction from within the Tory party, from an alliance of county leaders, such as Kent’s Paul Carter and Norfolk’s Cliff Jordan, with disgruntled Tory backbenchers and peers. They see a prime minister and a chancellor in thrall to green-belt speculators and academy chains, careless of the countryside and of local people.

Now these county leaders are told they are to be overruled by “strategic” mayors for whom few will bother to vote. The Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham compared the mayors to central government gauleiters. This alliance is now strong enough to veto Osborne’s reforms; it is torturing his budget aftermath and is rendering Cameron a minority prime minister in all but name.

Whenever asked, Britons say one thing loud and clear: they want more local accountability, not less. Their faith in modern government diminishes the closer it gets to the centre. An Ipsos Mori poll three years ago put trust in local government at 79% and in central government at 11%.

When offered more local devolution in the past, the public has tended to say no, thank you – as with John Prescott’s elected regional authorities in 2004. Locally elected mayors have won scant support in referendums, for instance in Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, which remain firmly under party control. But people are keen on mayors where city government is seen as failing in the past, and where there is a strong sense of civic identity. Bristol’s George Ferguson, Middlesbrough’s Ray Mallon and Leicester’s Peter Soulsby stand out in this respect.

Next week London voters go to the polls to choose a successor to Boris Johnson. London’s two elected mayors have been an undeniable success. Johnson and Ken Livingstone may have fumbled reform of the capital’s police and transport unions. Johnson has left a metropolis forever scarred with planning disasters. But everyone knows whom to blame. London’s rash of luxury high-rises will forever be Johnson’s follies. No one wants the capital to go back under the control of a junior environment minister, as under Thatcher and Major.

Local government makes most sense when rooted in locality, in coherent communities used to running their own affairs. The cities and county boroughs inherited from the 19th century were such bodies. They attracted good local people to serve their councils, as happens today in Germany, France and the US. Local turnouts in the first two are between 60 and 80%. In Britain it is nearer 35%, a sure sign of democratic failure. Osborne’s random scatter of mayoralties is unlikely to stir the juices of accountability.

Proper democrats want someone local to hear and act on their complaints. They do not want to be perpetual supplicants at the gates of Whitehall, as the Hillsborough families have been. They want someone to blame, someone to sack, someone they know. Only in England is that someone denied them.”