Independent councillor saves the day (again) in Sidmouth

The way of the EDDC world – don’t choose the best long-term option – choose the cheapest short-term option – except when it comes to their own offices,

District chiefs have backed down in the face of united opposition from Sidmouth representatives on a project to shore up the seafront.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) looked set to choose the least expensive scheme, Option 1, but beach management plan (BMP) steering group members said this was putting economics ahead of finding a solution that could protect the town for 100 years.

The authority has agreed to look again to see if £11million can be secured for the ‘technically preferred’ Option 4B, to install breakwaters along the seafront. Option 1, to install one or two groynes at East Beach, would need £2.3million in partnership funding.

EDDC will also sound out key stakeholders on whether they would give their blessing to works that will dramatically change the seafront.

Speaking after Wednesday’s steering group meeting, district councillor Cathy Gardner said: “There was so much opposition in the room to EDDC’s attempts to railroad through Option 1. The BMP is about finding a solution to protect the seafront for the next 100 years, but it’s become about making it affordable. There are so many unknowns. If we find out in a couple of years [the chosen scheme] doesn’t work, we haven’t really achieved anything.”

A report to steering group members from EDDC’s consultants, CH2M, said Option 4B would be the most effective – but it had the ‘worst economic case’, so recommended Option 1.

An EDDC spokeswoman said the authority has done some initial work to look at external funding sources, but securing £11million for Option 4B is ‘unlikely’. To provide ‘further confidence’ in the level of availability, EDDC has formed a sub-group to look specifically at funding over the next six months – while the BMP progresses.

Unless partnership funding can be secured, an Environment Agency (EA) grant of between £5million and £6.75million towards the chosen BMP scheme will not be made available.

Sidmouth Town Council chairman Jeff Turner said: “We’re getting the message that the scheme everybody favours and seems would be most effective is extremely expensive. Funding Option 4B would need such a huge council tax increase across East Devon there would need to be a referendum. The chances of the rest of East Devon supporting that are pretty remote.

“We still back 4B – we haven’t given up on it yet.”

Steering group chairman Cllr Andrew Moulding said: “It is vital that we maintain momentum with this crucial project.

“We are delighted that the local community has committed to working with EDDC and the EA to look at funding, which is crucial to ensure the ongoing protection of Sidmouth.”

He said the BMP is due to be completed this autumn and EDDC is having ongoing discussions with various statutory bodies to ensure the chosen scheme ultimately gains the relevant permissions.”

Well, they could always cancel their plans for their plush offices which will coincidentally cost about £11 million!

And perhaps a joined-up plan for the whole coastline might be a good idea in case there are unintended consequences to other coastal communities?

PFI (2) – Many Scottish schools owned and traded by offshore companies

“More than 200 schools built in Scotland under private finance initiative (PFI) schemes are now at least partially owned by offshore investment funds.
Under PFI, the private sector builds and manages school buildings in return for a fee, typically over 25-30 years.

In one project in Edinburgh, 17 new schools were built, with the council paying £1.5m a month.

Analysis for the BBC found there had been 13 trades involving equity in the Edinburgh schools scheme since 2001.

Although published data does not confirm the exact number of PFI schools owned wholly or partly offshore, it is clear they represent the vast majority.

Stakes in PFI building projects can be sold. They can then be traded on the secondary market to become parts of larger investment funds and pensions, as the monthly fees paid by councils provide a steady income.

Dexter Whitfield, from the European Services Strategy Unit, told a BBC Scotland investigation the Edinburgh PPP1 scheme was now owned by four different companies.

“Those four different companies are located offshore in Guernsey and Jersey, and they are basically controlled by shareholders,” he said.

A critic of PFI, he has described the projects as “wealth machines”, adding: “There are an awful lot of people making very substantial sums of money out of it.”

The 17 schools built in Edinburgh under PPP1 were closed for repairs earlier this year after construction faults were found.

The problems – with wall and header ties, used to hold exterior and interior walls together and attach them to the rest of the building – first became apparent when part of a wall at Oxgangs Primary fell during stormy weather.
About 7,600 primary and secondary school children in the capital were eventually affected.

An independent inquiry into the matter will consider whether the private finance method contributed to the structural issues with the buildings.

The City of Edinburgh Council said the schools would be safe and well-maintained for as long as the contract is in place.

Andrew Kerr, the chief executive of City of Edinburgh Council, said the terms of the contract ensured that schools are kept in a good condition.

“That’s something that was decided 10, 15 years ago. Our job is to make sure we manage that contract going forward as well as it can be,” he added.

There are 93 PFI projects in Scotland – responsible for hundreds of schools, road, hospitals and energy projects – and worth more than £6bn.”u

PFI (1) – tax avoidance and rape of public assets by all mainstream political parties

“The scandal of Edinburgh’s unsafe schools is the last gasp of a discredited model of public finance, forced on us by a tax-avoiding governing class.

The Acronym Soup can get confusing. PPP, PFI, NPD – they are all hurled about, but there will certainly be no alphabet learning for more than 7,000 pupils across Edinburgh locked out of school since the Easter break as building safety standards are assessed and repairs undertaken. The schools were built under the controversial private finance initiative – PFI – by the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration at Holyrood, and there’s now even talk that some of them may need to be knocked down and rebuilt.

Serious defects found at two more Edinburgh schools built using PFI
As a tangible symbol of rip-off Britain and the failed privatisation of the public sector, it is exemplary. In a week where the reality gap between rich and poor and the fetid reality of our tax-dodging governing class has been laid bare, it feels like the end of a really bad experiment. The system is discredited. The model is broken. It is crumbling before our eyes.

What have the Panama Papers got to do with schools in Edinburgh? It’s a perpetual circle. Tax avoidance drains money from society, forcing solutions that suit private contractors and let politicians off the hook.

These building problems raise significant wider issues about how we finance big public building programmes, and it’s not just about schools.

As early as 2011, BBC Alba’s Eorpa programme revealed that some contracts included leases lasting more than a century. The contract for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary building lasts 25 years, but the lease on the land is for 130 years. It’s a debt we’ll have to pay for years to come.

George Monbiot has called PFI: “A racket, the legacy of 13 years of New Labour appeasement, triangulation and false accounting.” Certainly this scheme, which started under the John Major government, was enthusiastically embraced by Blair and Brown’s administrations. Scotland wasn’t just the testing ground for this disaster (the first PFI project in Britain was the Skye bridge), it has a far higher proportion than anywhere else. As the writer Gerry Hassan pointed out: “Scotland has 40% of PFI schools with 8.5% of the population.” Why is that? The journalist Mark Leftly suggests it was Brown who persuaded Blair to take PFI forward – resulting in a debt Leftly puts at a cool £222bn.

Predictably the political parties have been trying to blame each other. The beleaguered Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, said that “she had nothing too apologise for, for building schools”, and her Conservative counterpart, Ruth Davidson, had the brass neck to claim it was the Scottish government’s fault for not monitoring the building work. The Liberal Democrats have called for an inquiry, a move they may regret.

Others have been dismissing the whole affair as simply a case of “poor construction”. Yet as many have pointed out, that’s a hell of a coincidence. Unison’s Dave Watson has argued that there’s a built-in likelihood of cost-cutting: “There is a profit incentive to keep costs to the minimum. Any saving that the construction partner can make increases profits to both the construction company and the other SPV [special purpose vehicle] partners. There is therefore a stronger cost-saving incentive than in conventional procurement.”

PFI was widely used by the Labour/Liberal Democrat executive and scrapped by the SNP when it came to power in 2007. The SNP then established the Scottish Futures Trust and introduced the non-profit distribution (NPD) model. NPD differs from PFI in that contractors invest solely in the debt of a project, not putting in any equity and not receiving returns on their capital investment. Critics argue that it’s not as different as its supporters make out.

But the sorry saga is not just about private solutions that don’t work. PFI fundamentally alters the relationship between the citizen and the state, so that our public bodies, buildings and institutions are no longer owned by, or accountable to, us. It’s a failure of democracy, not just bad accounting. In this way it’s not just a turn away from public ownership, from the protection of a non-commoditised realm in areas of common good such as “health” and “education”. It’s a turn not just from public to private, but from public to secret.

That’s a defining characteristic of the tax-avoidance culture we’re getting a glimpse of. This is a world in which the Tory MP Alan Duncan warns us that “we risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and know absolutely nothing about the outside world” – and Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor, can tell Channel 4 News: “In Britain we tend to keep these things private”.

It’s a world in which Toby Young pleads: “Winston Churchill was notoriously bad with money. He borrowed and spent with abandon, ran up huge debts, and was an inveterate gambler. If he’d been forced to ‘come clean’ about his financial affairs, he’d have been hounded from office.”

This week is reminiscent of the end days of Major’s sleaze meltdown, and it’s no coincidence that PFI is at the heart of the crumbing ideological shambles. Yesterday it emerged that a fund registered in a tax haven owns a 20% stake in the schools. Something called the John Laing Infrastructure Fund has its registered office in Guernsey, though a spokesman has said that the company pays tax in the UK.

We have a governing class that has been found out, and it needs to be dragged out of the shadows of backroom deals and casino culture. Why should our children have to put up with shoddy, potentially dangerous buildings? That’s a disgrace in 2016.”

Swire: spot what is missing

“I am pleased to be joining my close friends David Cameron, George Osborne and others on the backbenches. I feel deeply honoured and privileged to have served as a Minister of State – one of only three to have done so continuously from 2010- and loved my time both in the Northern Ireland Office and more recently the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

I have travelled more than any other Minister promoting the UK abroad both politically and in terms of trade. I have championed the Commonwealth and re-established links in Latin and Central America. I have been all over Asia, Australasia and the Pacific racking up the air miles and promoting our great country.

But all this comes at a price not only to me but my family and I shall be relieved not to have to embark on yet another exhausting trip for a while.”

Er, what about now having time to work for your constituents and perhaps seeking to relocate your second home from Mid Devon to East Devon?

Oh, Owl forgot – you are on holiday but you won’t tell us where. Still, wherever it is, it won’t be an exhausting trip.

Those air miles are going to be SO useful … for all the family – though as Mr Swire employs his wife in his office who will be answering the phone and the mail?

“The changing image of seaside towns”

A 2011 publication, but many relevant points:

“… Older resorts have suffered a lack of investment and political will, with a steadily decaying and inadequate infrastructure, whilst new arrivals are vulnerable to poor quality development.We see too many examples where design quality is sacrificed in a desperate bid to secure investment, reducing the chance of long-term success. …”

Election fraud: more names, no progress …

“Police in South Yorkshire are investigating MPs Sir Kevin Barron, John Healey and Sarah Champion after they allegedly failed to declare tens of thousands of pounds in the May 2015 election expenditure.”

Scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny

“The Department for Communities & Local Government has been urged to develop a closer relationship with councils to better mitigate the risks of service failures that led to Whitehall interventions in Rotherham and Tower Hamlets. …
… The interventions should highlight to councils the need to ensure that proper checks and balances and scrutiny arrangements are in place to drive a culture of transparency and continuous improvement, the review also concluded. Whitehall should consider additional oversight measures for councils exiting from interventions, such as the phased withdrawal of commissioners, assurances from external auditors or monitoring by other councils.” …

“Councillors have no power”

“Sick of seeing Falmouth planning decisions overturned by centralised bodies with no local knowledge, one woman has launched a campaign to change the “undemocratic” planning process.

Kathryn Philpott has been spurred on to launch her petition, ‘Give Our Councils The Power To Make A Decision,’ after plans for Bosvale in Falmouth went to appeal at the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol, and plans for 94 homes at Poolfield in Budock were granted on appeal. Both had been refused permission by Cornwall Council following objections from Falmouth Town Council.

She said: “I think the most important thing I have realised is that our council has no real authority.

“Right through the county people are up in arms because their local councillors have got no power to stop building on inappropriate places.

“An issue for everyone here is that they have just passed out of county permission to build on the fields leading up to Budock Church. A stunningly beautiful area.

“It was taken off our council and taken out of county for the decision.”

She added: “Can someone tell me why we have a democratic vote to elect our counsellors to work on our behalf, protecting our county, as every time a planning issue arises and is turned down it immediately goes out of our county to a person or persons that know nothing about the wishes of the general public.

“We seem to have a democracy that is ill equipped to stand up for us. In fact it is very undemocratic to take a decision of this magnitude and sweep over our local council rendering them powerless.”

Kathryn has also said that having a Neighbourhood Plan in place would prevent developers “building everywhere” – a process which is already underway.

She is concerned that current developments pay no heed to problems like drainage and sewage, or to local amenity and open space.

But she is also worried that developers are rushing to get their planning applications in now, before Falmouth’s Neighbourhood Plan comes into effect, with designated areas for housing or other development, as well as areas that cannot be built on.

She said: “People are frantically putting their applications in because they want to get in before the Neighbourhood Plan comes into place, because that will be the end of this building.”

Kathryn wants appeals to go back to Cornwall Council for reconsideration rather than to the Planning Inspectorate, and is petitioning the government to give local councils the final say on planning decisions, not just in Cornwall but nationwide.

She needs 100,000 signatures if she is to hope to have the issue debated in parliament, and so needs her petition to circulate much further than Falmouth, although she has started a physical petition at Boslowick Garage for those without access to the internet.

She said: “Now is he time if people want to act. Now is their chance, but they have got to stand up and say, it’s people power.”

To sign the petition go to:

Junk food lobbyists meet ministers more than 40 times

Why were the new obesity regulations watered down?

“Food industry lobbyists met health ministers 40 times before the Government issued its ‘watered-down’ obesity strategy, official records reveal.
Experts last night accused the Government of caving in to industry pressure – and warned that child obesity will continue to boom as a result. …

… In the past two years, former public health minister Jane Ellison met representatives of Coca-Cola, KFC, the powerful Food and Drink Federation and the Advertising Association trade group, according to Department of Health records.

The full list of 40 appointments, dating between July 2011 and March 2016, also includes meetings with Pizza Hut, Tesco and Nando’s. …”

NIMBY – reality or slur? COVOP conference debates

“Community Voice on Planning National Conference

NIMBY – reality or slur?

Th first National Conference of CoVoP. It will take place at the Queen’s Hotel Leeds, Saturday October 15th 2016 (10.45 -3.45).

We are fortunate that we have a number of guest speakers as well as presentations from some of our trustees. We have confirmation that a cross party group of MPs will be attending and there will be a plenary session where we can address issues surrounding the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The theme of the conference is that the NPPF is not working – either for communities or the country. We will be producing a report from the meeting to present to the planning Minister to make sure that the Government gets the messages that arise from the discussions. We are determined to use this opportunity to state the case further for significant changes to the planning system.”