Progressive Alliance

” … Unless something drastic and decisive happens, the next election threatens to become a contest between the Tories and Ukip: in other words, between rightwing technocrats owned by the banks and rightwing demagogues owned by Arron Banks.

What is this drastic something? A progressive alliance.

This means Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin and other parties agreeing to field just one candidate between them in every constituency. Whether that means a unity candidate representing all parties (perhaps chosen in an open primary, as the political innovator Paul Hilder has suggested), or making way for the party representative most likely to capture the progressive vote is a question that needs to be debated. The Greens and Lib Dems seem ready to play. What about Labour?

Joining such an alliance means giving up Scotland and giving up its hopes of a majority in England and Wales. You could see that as a lot to ask, or you could see it as accepting the inevitable. Here’s where the kinder, gentler politics is required: to abandon tribalism and strike generous bargains with old opponents. It’ll be hard, but the urgency of the task, as we confront an elite that is now empowered to tear down the remains of postwar social democracy, should be apparent to everyone. By giving up hopes of governing alone, Labour could be offered a last chance of survival – but only as part of a wider alliance.

Combined, these forces can win the next general election, whenever that might be. Apart, they will inevitably lose. A progressive alliance need win only once, then use that victory to reform our electoral system, to ensure that the parties of the left and centre never again engage in destructive competition.”

Development Management Committee defers Bovis Seaton affordables decision to study viability figures

East Devon’s Development Management Committee has refused to approve an application from Bovis to build extra houses on the Tesco regeneration site at Harbour Road. It decided instead to bring the matter back to its next meeting to look more closely at the viability assessment for Affordable Housing.

Members were surprised when officers said that they were free to look at the viability assessment, although it will not be made publicly available.

This setback for the developers came after the DMC’s chairman, David Keys, and the Council’s Development Officer, Ed Freeman, recommended approval of an extension of the ‘zero relaxation’ for affordable housing (which means NONE at all in the huge project) in March, without bringing the matter to the Committee or informing the town council of the application.

However, it transpires that Bovis had already applied for extra houses on the site, and said no affordable housing should be included because the scheme overall was still £6 million in the red.

But as Seaton ward member Jim Knight asked the DMC, why would they be building these additional houses if the site was not profitable?

The issue came to DMC only because of the persistence of Seaton Town Council, supported on the DMC by Councillor Peter Burrows who insisted that the matter be on the DMC agenda.

The Chair of Seaton’s planning committee, Martin Shaw, argued that the viability assessment for the new application, which linked it to the viability of the scheme as a whole, was flawed because it did not take account of the improved density of the development. He questioned whether the District Valuer had been fully informed when he signed off the viability assessment.

DMC members on all sides expressed concern. Independent leader, Ben Ingham, said that for a long time Seaton had not had enough new housing, but now that it was coming on stream, Seaton people could not afford to buy the houses being built.

Conservative councillor Simon Grundy said ‘We need to stop being treated like children over this matter. The Town council seem to have got a lot closer on this than we did.’

Scandal hit academy school still being funded

Duryard Academy (see previous posts), once hailed by Michael Gove as the “Eton of the State Sector” is still being funded by the government after being threatened with closure.

Its former head teacher SIR Gregg Martin (once the highest paid head teacher in the country with a salary of more than £200,000 with around an extra £161,000 for running a swimming and gym complex in school grounds), who was knighted by Michael Gove, is now its Chair of Governors.

Mr Gove awarded the school £17 million to create a weekly boarding school in Sussex as well as running junior schools in London.

Its financial dealings have been described as “complex”.

Source: The Times

The government recently announced it would make all schools academy schools, but when MPs of its own party threatened to rebel, they rolled it back to only “inadequate” schools which would be forced to do so.

Local Enterprise Partnership scrutiny: Owl says “I told you”!

From Conclusions and Recommendations of Public Accounts Committee Report on Cities and Local Growth:

9. It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities.

There is a disconnect between decisions being made by local business leaders and accountability working via local authorities. It is therefore crucial that LEPs demonstrate a high standard of governance and transparency over decision making, at least equal to the minimum standards set out by government in the assurance framework.

It is of great concern that many LEPs appear not be meeting these minimum standards. The scale of LEP activity and the sums involved necessitate that LEPs and central government be pro-active in assuring the public that decisions are made with complete probity.

The fact that 42% of LEPs do not publish a register of interests is clearly a risk to ensuring that decisions are made free from any actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

The varying presentation and detail of financial information across LEPs also makes it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions or make comparisons across LEPs on how they spend public money.

Recommendation: The Department should enforce the existing standards of transparency, governance and scrutiny before allocating future funding to LEPs. LEPs themselves also need to be more transparent to the public by, for example, publishing financial information.

NHS Property Services: questions in Parliament hinting at privatisation

Here are just two of several questions asked and answered recently by Parliamentary Question (an opportunity unavailable to Hugo Swire – or so he says – because they conflict with his ministerial duties at the Foreign Office):

13th June 2016

Sir Nicholas Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what recent discussions he has had on (a) complete and (b) partial privatisation of the National Health Service’s Property Services.

George Freeman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences: The Department is always looking at ways to realise efficiencies and value for money from the use of its assets and investments, and this includes its investments in companies like NHS Property Services.

Hansard 39784


14th June 2016

Sir Nicholas Soames: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, if he will order a review to be undertaken of the administration and operational effectiveness of NHS Property Services in (a) West Sussex and (b) Mid Sussex.

George Freeman, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Life Sciences: Review of the effectiveness of NHS Property Services’ operations in all areas of the country is an ongoing process by the Company’s Board, which includes a Departmental senior civil servant as a Director, and by officials in the Department’s Commercial Division.

Hansard 39520

NHS Property Services: how it “works” in practice

“THE empty floor at the new Townlands Hospital in Henley shows no sign of being occupied in the near future.

Health chiefs would like the town’s two GP surgeries to move in but negotiations over rent believed to be around £250,000 a year have failed to produce a deal.

The space is being advertised on the Government’s property finder website, leading to speculation that a private healthcare provider might be interested in it.

The hospital was still being built when Sue Ryder pulled out of a deal to relocate its hospice in Nettlebed to Townlands in December 2014. The building was completed in February and opened to patients in March.

Last summer, GPs at the Hart and Bell surgeries said they would be interested in relocating but they have not agreed a rental deal with NHS Property Services, which owns the building.

Philip Unwin, senior partner at the Hart Surgery, said: “We are trying to do it but at the moment NHS Property Services is advertising it on the open market to try to get a bigger rent.

“The best way of securing healthcare services for Henley in the long term is if we move up there and rent it on a long-term lease. It would be a really tight hub of medical services for Henley and the surrounding area.

“There’s a very small window of opportunity and if we don’t grasp it we will miss out. It would be the perfect site for us to move to but we need everybody to be on side to be able to do that.

“I understand why they are advertising it but I hope it’s going to be too expensive for anyone to take the bait. If someone does, we will stay where we are and plod on.”

Ian Reissmann, who chairs the Townlands Steering Group, said the most important thing was that a tenant was found as soon as possible.

He said: “We don’t want to see an empty floor. This hospital has been built to provide medical services and we want these much-needed services to be provided locally.

“Moving the GPs in there would not be straightforward and even if everyone wants to see it happen it’s unlikely to be quick.”

Cllr Reissmann said he would be reluctant to see a private company move in but this might be the only option.

He said: “I’d like to see NHS Property Services bring in other services from the Royal Berkshire Hospital and other providers rather than some sort of private provider.

“It’s an NHS hospital and we want to see NHS services available for free there, which is what we were promised.

“It’s important that the hospital is financially viable and while the hospital isn’t occupied fully then the financial model is not as originally planned, which is a concern.

“My first preference for the empty floor is NHS services which are free to use and my second choice is the GPs. My third choice, if there’s really nothing else, is to reluctantly allow someone to move in there to provide paid-for services. The worst option of all is to leave the floor empty.

“If NHS Property Services was serious about sorting out the problem they would have.

“They’ve known about Sue Ryder for 18 months and they could have made arrangements for someone to move in at least temporarily.”

Henley MP John Howell said: “Who goes on the floor is a matter for the NHS and Townlands Hospital to decide.

“The doctors should get a move on and finalise their bid. It would be good to have them there so they need to make sure they put in a good bid.”

A spokesman for NHS Property Services said: “We are continuing negotiations with prospective occupiers of the second floor.

“It is important to secure tenants for this prime site as soon as possible and we are exploring all options. Rent would be discussed as part of negotiations with prospective tenants.

“As previously stated, we have informed public sector partners that the space is available by listing it on the Government’s electronic property information mapping service for 40 working days.

“After this period, the property also appears on the Government’s property finder website. We have not placed the property on the open market at this stage.”

“exmouth shows opposition to big seafront development”

The strength of feeling among those against the large scale development of Exmouth seafront was apparent when more than 200 people packed All Saint’s Church Hall in the town for a public meeting.

Organised by Save Exmouth Seafront (SES) the aim was to update residents and seafront users on the group’s actions and enable questions to be asked.

People put forward many relevant and knowledgeable arguments to support their thoughts and feelings, and expressed particular frustration that EDDC have continued to fail to engage with residents.`

Laura Freeman, an Exmouth resident who attended the meeting said “The fact that so many people came to SES’s public meeting shows that people do want to do something to force East Devon District Council to reconsider their plans to develop on Queen’s Drive, they just aren’t really sure how they can achieve that, but meetings like this are great for people to feel connected and share ideas”.

SES spokesperson Louise MacAllister would like to thank all who gave up a sunny Saturday afternoon to attend and contribute to the meeting, especially those who had to stand throughout.

Members of the public who were unable to attend the meeting are welcome to contact SES by email:”