Hugo Swire appointed Chairman of Conservative Middle East Council

So you thought we would see more of our constituency MP now that he is a backbencher – now he has even MORE reasons to be away from East Devon.

He won’t have time to save our NHS, he will be too busy brokering arms deals.

“I’m delighted to become Chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council this week, taking over from Sir Alan Duncan. Alan has been a superb Chairman over the last year and leaves CMEC firmly established and respected among Conservatives.

I am particularly delighted to be back in a role I much enjoyed before the 2010 election and my renewed involvement in CMEC reflects my longstanding interest in the Middle East.

Having been a Minister of State in the Foreign Office for the last four years I understand British foreign policy. And without doubt, the Middle East is of unparalleled importance.

For that reason CMEC is more active and more important than ever before. It’s imperative that Conservatives seek to understand the Middle East and appreciate the many challenges facing that region. But we must also recognise and celebrate the diversity and dynamism of the region. And we must appreciate the wealth of commercial opportunities the Middle East presents and – more importantly – the many longstanding friendships and historic alliances we have across the region.

CMEC has a busy program for this autumn and I am delighted that we will also be launching a new and improved website in the coming days.

Whether on Syria, Palestine, the Gulf, Egypt, Iran or the many other countries across the region CMEC will continue under my Chairmanship to facilitate a greater understanding of the issues, and to allow Conservative parliamentarians to travel to different parts of the region to see it for themselves.

I look forward to seeing you at a CMEC event soon.

The Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire KCMG MP”

“Hinkley: where Tories’ private bank balances are going nuclear”

“On 15 September, Prime Minister Theresa May officially gave the go-ahead for the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. After May put the project under review in July, there were rumours that it might be cancelled. But today’s sudden announcement appears to have cemented the deal.

But the move should come as little surprise. Because when you look at who is behind it, and who benefits from it, it appears that the Tories (once again) have their snouts firmly in the trough.

An eye-watering white elephant

The £18bn new plant in Hinkley, Somerset is being built by French energy company EDF, and financed by both them and the Chinese government. The latter agreed to the financing, in return for approval of a Chinese-led and designed project at Bradwell in Essex. But there are concerns about escalating costs and the implications of nuclear power plants being built in the UK by foreign governments.

The deal been slammed by both Labour and environmental campaigners. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, meanwhile, has called Hinkley “the biggest white elephant in British history”. She said that it was absurd and disappointing that the deal was to proceed when the government is reducing support for cheaper, safer and more reliable renewable alternatives:

Instead of investing in this eye-wateringly expensive white elephant, the government should be doing all it can to support offshore wind, energy efficiency and innovative new technologies, such as energy storage.
But a quietly released report by Greenpeace shows that the deal was probably always going to go ahead.

EDF: in bed with the government

Analysis done by Greenpeace found that ten advisers and civil servants who worked at the former Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the last five years had links to EDF. One was recently employed by the DECC and was also a manager at the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the regulator for the nuclear industry. This was before they became a licensing officer for EDF.

An EDF Strategy Manager had a 13-month secondment to the DECC commercial team while working for auditors KPMG. As Greenpeace notes, the DECC commercial team “played a crucial role in deciding to press ahead with the Hinkley project”. It was this team which had oversight on who invested in Hinkley Point C. Additionally, a communications officer for EDF was previously the Senior Ministerial Visits Manager at DECC until early 2016. And a policy adviser and analyst for the now-defunct department had previously done the same job at EDF.

This is on top of the fact that former Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, now works as a lobbyist for MHP Communications – where EDF just happens to be a client. As Martin Williams describes in his book Parliament Ltd: A journey to the dark heart of British politics:

When he lost his seat in 2015, he [Davey] went off to join MHP Communications. He had connections with the firm already: MHP acted as lobbyists for EDF Energy, who Davey “had dealings with as a minister”… When MHP’s Chief Executive announced Davey’s appointment he was able to speak candidly about the benefits of employing a former energy minister. “Ed’s unique insight into the energy sector will be particularly valuable to the companies that we work with in that sector. His knowledge of the top-level workings of Britain’s political system will also prove immensely useful to a range of our clients and to MHP itself”.

It was Davey who was responsible for the initial agreement between the government and EDF. But the links to EDF Energy and the Tory government run deeper than the Greenpeace analysis. And go right to the top of the Conservative Party.

Tories: in bed with EDF

Sir Richard Lambert heads EDF’s Stakeholder Advisory Panel. It gives EDF “strategic advice and direction”. Knighted under David Cameron, he’s a non-executive director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, acting as lead advisor to the Foreign Secretary. He was in this role under Philip Hammond, who appears to have been crucial in getting the Hinkley deal pushed through. Lambert said of the Hinkley deal:

The Stakeholder Panel will be taking a particular interest in the final investment decision on Hinkley Point C.

Also advising EDF is Dame Helen Alexander. She is a non-executive director at Rolls-Royce, which has £100m worth of contracts at Hinkley, Alexander is also the Deputy Chair of the “women on boards” review. She was appointed by Sajid Javid in February 2016.”

Sovereignty- an example

The [Parliamentary]committee [on Arms Export Control]is split into three factions and its constituent parts have released two reports [recall that arms export to Saudi Arabia was a Hugo Swire ministerial responsibility and he was accused of being ‘economical with the truth’ about the Foreign Office’s involvement in the deals and their ethical implications]:

“In a bizarre twist of parliamentary protocol, three competing cross-party factions on Committee on Arms Export Control (CAEC) are putting out two separate reports recommending different conflicting courses of action.

Members of the Business and International Development committees have banded together to recommend a harsher approach against the autocratic petro state. They want a ban on arms to Saudi until an international investigation into alleged war crimes by the autocracy during the course of its operation in Yemen has concluded.

The Foreign Affairs Committee faction, led by Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, however believes that the legality of the weapons sales should be left to the courts. Campaign Against the Arms Trade has already launched legal challenge, set to be heard in the coming months, meaning arms sales will continue for now. It also backs an international investigation and says arms export control should be more widely addressed.

Meanwhile a third group, MPs drawn from the Defence Committee, are understood to be in such deadlock themselves have backed neither report. The split within CAEC is so bitter than MPs have not even been able to agree to designate one of the reports a “minority” report, as would be the usual practice when MPs have disagreements.

But don’t worry it won’t make a difference because the UK government – that great believer in parliamentary democracy have said PARLIAMENT WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO VOTE ON IT”

Devolution and scrutiny

It is no coincidence that George Osborne, whose current Cheshire parliamentary seat will be lost in boundary changes and who wishes to remain an MP, has created a ‘Northern Powerhouse Partnership’ think tank and put himself in charge of it:

If Owl lived in the area it would be VERY afraid!

“The proposed reduction in the number of MPs in the House of Commons will affect how government is held to account and how Whitehall’s devolution schemes are scrutinised.

The publication of the Boundary Commission for England’s plans for new parliamentary boundary has received heavy press coverage. Inevitably a lot of this has focused on the fate of some high profile MPs, and the possibility of increasing the country’s democratic deficit through the reduction of the number of parliamentarians in the House of Commons from 650 to 600.

However, some of this coverage is speculative in nature. We won’t know until 2018 the details of the boundaries on which constituencies will be fought in the 2020 election. And we don’t really know what the effect will be on politics both national and local.

What we do know is that it will create uncertainty in Westminster – and is likely to have an impact on the devolution agenda, too.

It’s early days but here are what I think could be some of the likely outcomes.

• MPs may find themselves distracted from their parliamentary activities. For some this will be because they are having to deal with reselection battles; for others it will be because they are having to prepare to campaign in a new constituency without the benefit of incumbency. This probably won’t affect the government’s legislative programme but it may affect scrutiny in select committees and the quality of scrutiny in Public Bill Committees, as MPs direct their time to the more pressing business of reselection and re-election. For progress on devolution, it could mean that the progress of deals – and a continued focus on pursuit of the devolution policy in the heart of government – is not held to account as effectively by MPs;

• Some MPs – those who fail to be reselected and/or those who choose not to stand again – may start to be more independent-minded. This may serve, in contrast to the point above, to enhance parliamentary scrutiny, and place government under pressure to do more to pas power down to local levels;

• In areas where prominent MPs have been a driving force in pushing forward devolution, the possible disappearance of those people from the current political scene may cause uncertainty and difficulties both for local areas and for government.

For local areas, this will bring additional uncertainty. Between now and 2018 comes a period during which local authorities can attempt to capitalise on what they have achieved so far, and can use existing channels to try to achieve more. Local areas will need to press on with more, and more ambitious, deals while the opportunity exists.

The pace of this exercise reflects the fact that between 2018 and 2020, boundary changes will lead to the reorganisation of political parties at a local level and the ramping up of the 2020 general election, not to mention the need to direct resources (parliamentary and otherwise) to the Brexit negotiations, which will presumably by then be in full swing.

The next two years, therefore, are crucial in embedding some results for local areas that are as positive as possible, and arguing successfully for more powers. This will be important if devolution is to maintain momentum over the 2018-20 period, which is likely to be more politically febrile.

Effective member-led scrutiny at local level can help to play a part in this. Local councillors, through scrutiny, can keep up pressure to continue to argue for strong deals which will make a difference for local people; they can help to demonstrate and promote an appetite within the local area for more powers. They can also help to draw together the evidence to support new proposals to government. Even where combined authorities have been set up and the election of Mayors is on the horizon, good scrutiny can still – in the next two years – help to get that message across both to government and to local people. Beyond 2018 at the latest, all bets are off – the prospect of boundary changes and Brexit will make Westminster a strange and unpredictable place, and government’s (and parliamentarians’) interests are likely to have moved elsewhere.”

Ed Hammond is the head of programmes (Local Accountability) at the Centre for Public Scrutiny

“Community Voice on Planning National Conference NIMBY – reality or slur?”

The Queen’s Hotel Leeds, Saturday October 15th 2016

Welcome and Introduction 10.45-10.55 Cheryl Tyler

Statement from Clive Betts, Chairman CLG committee 10.55-11.00 Cheryl Tyler, CoVoP

Saving the Green Belt 11.00-11.40 (speaker TBA)

The Best Laid Plans? Does the NPPF work? 11.40-12.10 Jenny Unsworth, CoVoP.

Housing targets- fact or fiction? 12.10- 12.45 Julie Mabberley, Chairman, CoVoP

LUNCH 12.45- 1.30 (included)

Communities and the House Builders
1.30- 2.10 Dr Quintin Bailey, Senior Lecturer in Housing and Planning, Leeds Beckett University

Providing sustainable affordable housing
2.10-2.50, Dr Hugh Ellis, Head of Policy, Town and Country Planning Association.

Plenary Session and “manifesto”.
Facilitator Geoff Rice. 2.50 – 3.45
Jason McCartney MP (Con), Greg Mulholland MP (Libdem) and Paula Sherriff MP
(Lab) will be present.

Closing remarks and close of meeting 3.50

Cost: £5
For details on how to book by 22 September 2016 contact:
07866 496 469

“Devon’s ‘devastating’ hospital cuts to be scrutinised”

We await Hugo Swire and Neil Parish’s plans on how to deal with devastating health and social services cuts in Devon. In the meantime, DCC councillor Claire Wright continues her long and tireless campaign on behalf of East Devon residents.

“Plans to cut nearly 200 community hospital beds across Devon by 2020/21 will come under the scrutiny of county council health bosses on Monday (September 19).

Councillor Claire Wright (pictured) described the proposals in a leaked document as ‘devastating’ and said the underfunding of the NHS should not mean that patients suffer.

More than 400 acute hospital beds in the county – one in six – could close, as the NHS in Devon looks to plug a predicted funding gap of £572million by 2020/21.

The leaked Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for Wider Devon states: “The changes we are proposing will result in a reduction in the number of acute and community beds across our system of the order of 590 by 2021.

“NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are developing consultation proposals on the overall strategic direction of travel and provision changes, the components of new models of care and specific intentions to close a number of community hospital beds.”

NHS bosses were approached for comment, but would not specify how the cuts would affect different localities.

Cllr Wright said: “My understanding is that the document was submitted to NHS England for its consideration in June.

“That’s three months ago – why on earth it has been kept so secret from residents, and councillors including those like me on the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee?

“As an Ottery St Mary councillor, I am very worried indeed now for Ottery Hospital’s future – and the impact that so many acute and community bed closures in general will have on patient care all over the county.

“The fact that the NHS is massively underfunded should not mean that patients have to suffer.”

A statement issued by NEW Devon CCG says more analysis and consideration was to be undertaken before a further submission is made in October.

It said: “The STP creates the opportunity for health and local authorities to work together and formulate plans to improve and secure the sustainability of services we deliver to people across Devon.

“The programme of work to review acute and specialised service across Devon will commence in October.”

A report on the STP will be given to Devon County Council’s health and wellbeing scrutiny committee on Monday.