BBC Inside Out – Exeter Fire and Hinkley safety concerns

When on iPlayer, worth watching tonight’s Inside Out (BBC)- a brief overview of the Royal Clarence Hotel fire and interviews about the safety of the current Hinkley nuclear reactors where there may well be serious cracks in the structure and graphite blocks weakening around the nuclear rods in a plant at the end of its useful life.

EDF says on the programme that cracks should be ok till “at least 2023” which is very reassuring! And that it wants to be allowed to work with 20% cracks and not the current 10%.

The debate on this will continue on Radio 4’s “Costing the Earth” at 3 pm tomorrow (Tuesday).

Make millions, pay peanuts … EDDC says that’s fine

“Town councillors have reiterated their opposition to Churchill Retirement Living’s plans to demolish Green Close, in Drakes Avenue, and build 36 sheltered housing apartments for the elderly.

They said the housing stock for older people cannot keep growing without also creating homes for nurses and carers to look after them – and argued the developer could cut into its 30 per cent operating profit margin to pay for it.

Planning committee members suggested Churchill should pay at least £360,000.

Councillor Ian Barlow, committee chairman, told the Herald: “Churchill’s profit margin is the one of the highest in the industry.

“They say they can’t pay more than £41,000 or it won’t be profitable – but those 36 homes are probably going to be worth £6-7million.

“Churchill is making a profit and taking it out of the town. They’re bringing in older people who will use the facilities, but they’re barely putting anything into the pot.”

The £41,000 referred to is a ‘section 106’ payment – cash that is meant to mitigate the impact of developments and fund improvements such as ‘affordable’ housing. The contribution depends on factors such as the size and number of dwellings being built.

Churchill is proposing to build 36 apartments in place of the 23-bed Green Close care home, which was run by Devon County Council until cutbacks brought about its closure in 2014.

The planning committee, which met last week, ruled: “Members noted that a contribution of £41,208 had been offered by the applicant towards affordable housing. Members expressed the view that this was an insult to the community of Sidmouth and urged the local planning authority not to accept the offer.”

Cllr Barlow compared the Green Close proposal with the Sanditon development, on the plot of the former Fortfield Hotel.

The developer there built 29 apartments and made a £1.5million ‘section 106’ payment – 36 times what Churchill is offering.

Cllr Barlow said the firm can avoid a larger payment because it is creating sheltered housing, adding: “We’re concerned that a lot of places are being provided for the elderly, but there’s nowhere being built for younger people.

“If there’s no provision at the same time for a nurse or a carer to live, who is going to look after them?”

Churchill’s planning director, Andrew Burgess, told the Herald: “We are disappointed by Sidmouth Town Council’s decision, since we have been consulting the community and working with the planning authorities for several months to develop plans for an attractive and sustainable new retirement community that will bring benefits to local people and the local economy.”

He said the proposed affordable housing contribution is based on a detailed viability assessment, industry best practice and factors such as the market value of the site.

Mr Burgess added: “We will continue to work with the council and the local community to ensure we can deliver the high-quality specialist retirement accommodation that is urgently needed by older people in Sidmouth.”

The application has been recommended for approval by EDDC’s planning officers, who noted the ‘comparatively modest’ financial contribution.

The authority’s development management committee will decide its fate on Tuesday (November 1).”

http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/home/developer_s_offer_slammed_as_insult_to_sidmouth_1_4756271

“Tory councils warn of £600m black hole after demise of education bill”

“Conservative council leaders are warning they face a £600m black hole in budgets to improve struggling schools after the government last week pulled the plug on its education bill.

With council budgets already under severe pressure after years of austerity, some say they may need maintained schools to contribute from their own shrinking budgets, while others may be forced to cut support services they provide to local schools, leaving them vulnerable to decline.

The threat to school improvement services comes as Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, described England’s schools as “mediocre but getting better”, giving the education system a rating of “6.5 out of 10”.

Local authorities – including Conservative-run county councils in Kent, Hampshire and Buckinghamshire – say they have been left in limbo by the government’s axing of educational services grants worth £600m ahead of passing the bill that would have curtailed the role of local authorities in maintaining community schools in England.

But the demise, announced to parliament by education secretary Justine Greening last Thursday, of the education for all bill, means councils will still be legally required to run school improvement services next year and meet other costs, such as maternity cover for teachers, but without funding from central government.

Martin Tett, the Conservative leader of Buckinghamshire county council, condemned the government’s failure to coordinate its funding and support for the many state schools that have not become academies.

“What we now have is a situation where the grant is being removed but the responsibilities will remain, particularly the statutory responsibility with regard to school improvement. And councils at the moment – particularly upper-tier councils, like county councils – are very financially stretched,” Tett said.

“This is a massive issue for us, because we have an important role in school improvement – not only supporting schools that require improvement or are in special measures, but actually stopping schools from reaching that stage in first place, by intervening early in a preventative approach.That costs money and, at the moment, that money is disappearing.”

The cuts will affect the bulk of the more than 20,000 state schools in England which are still maintained by their local authorities, rather than the fewer than 5,000 academies which are funded directly by central government.

Research by the County Councils Network – representing 37 unitary authorities and county councils – has found that more than two-thirds of academies choose to purchase school improvement services from their local authority, meaning that academies also rely on council support in many places. …”

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/30/tory-councils-600m-black-hole-demise-education-bill-grant-england

“Theresa May’s claim on health funding not true, say MPs”

“Two Tories among signatories of letter pointing out that PM’s statement about £10bn extra cash for NHS are untrue.

Theresa May’s claims that the government is putting £10bn extra into the NHS are untrue and the underfunding of the health service is so severe that it may soon trigger rationing of treatment and hospital unit closures, a group of influential MPs have warned Philip Hammond.

Five MPs led by the Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the Commons health select committee, have written to the chancellor demanding the government abandon its “incorrect” claims of putting £10bn into the NHS annual budget by the end of this parliament and admit the severity of its financial shortage.

“The continued use of the figure of £10bn for the additional health spending up to 2020-21 is not only incorrect but risks giving a false impression that the NHS is awash with cash,” Wollaston and four fellow committee members tell the chancellor in a letter.

“This figure is often combined with a claim that the government ‘has given the NHS what it asked for’. Again, this claim does not stand up to scrutiny as NHS England spending cannot be seen in isolation from other areas of health spending.”

The letter’s other signatures are Dr James Davies, a Conservative MP who is also a family doctor; Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, a former health minister, Labour MP Emma Reynolds; and Dr Philippa Whitford of the Scottish National party, who is an NHS breast cancer specialist.

Their letter’s detailed rejection of the government’s claims raises serious questions about the accuracy of May’s insistence, in a newspaper interview on 17 October and again at prime minister’s questions two days later, that her administration was giving NHS England boss Simon Stevens even more than he had sought in negotiations with ministers.

May told the Manchester Evening News: “Simon Stevens was asked to come forward with a five-year plan for the NHS. He said that it needed £8bn extra; the government has not just given him £8bn extra, we’ve given him £10bn extra. As I say, we have given the NHS more than the extra money they said they wanted for their five-year plan.”

However, the MPs say that May’s £10bn claim cannot be justified. “The £10bn figure can only be reached by adding an extra year to the spending review period, changing the date from which the real terms increase is calculated and disregarding the total health budget,” they concluded.

In the run-up to the general election, George Osborne, the then chancellor, promised to spend £8bn more a year by 2020, a figure that has risen since. But the MPs dispute that arithmetic, saying that the real amount of extra cash being given to the NHS in England between 2014-15 and 2020-21 is only £6bn and even that much smaller sum has only come from cutting spending on public health programmes and medical education and training by £3.5bn.

Worries about health service funding have emerged with increasing intensity in the run-up to the autumn statement on 23 November after it emerged that May told the head of the NHS in private that it would get no additional money this parliament.

Last year, finances were so tight that the NHS overspent its budget but public pressure to fund the health service generously remains strong. During the EU referendum campaign, the successful leave campaign promised to boost funding for the health service by diverting money that it said was being spent in Europe.

Warning of the political risk involved in underfunding the NHS, the five MPs add that “public expectations of the health service, and the continued rise in demand for its care produced by an increasing and ageing population, mean that measures which could be taken in some government departments are not acceptable in the NHS … including rationing of care and cuts in service provision.”

The MPs maintain that what they see as short-sighted cuts to social care threaten the viability of NHS services. They also raised the risks of the Department of Health “repeatedly raiding” the NHS’s capital budget in recent years and the decision to give the NHS only tiny budget increases in 2017-18 and in the two years afterwards.

“Our fear is that, given the ‘U-shaped’ trajectory of increases in funding for the NHS over the spending review period, these short-term pressures will become overwhelming. Despite the real-terms increases set out in the spending review, per capita funding for the NHS is projected to be flat in 2017-18 and actually to fall in 2018-19. That calls into question the ability of the NHS to maintain services in the latter part of the spending review period,” they say.

Andrew Lansley, the health secretary in the coalition government, recently called for the NHS to be given £5bn more than the money already planned.

There have also been widespread calls for the government to make good on the suggestion by Brexit campaigners that leaving the EU could add £350m-a-week to the NHS budget.

NHS England declined to comment on the letter.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said that NHS underfunding meant that “it is being asked to deliver an impossible task. Put simply, the gap between what the NHS is being asked to deliver and the funding it has available is too big and is growing rapidly”, he said.

Prof John Appleby, the chief economist at the Nuffield Trust health thinktank, said the MPs were right to warn that cutting the amount of per capita funding for healthcare could mean major restrictions to NHS services being needed in the later years of this parliament, too.

“It is hard to see how this can be reconciled with providing high quality healthcare that meets the needs of a growing and ageing population,” Appleby said. “Something will have to give – whether that’s an explosion in waiting lists, patients not being able to access new drugs coming on-stream or another record set of hospital deficits.”

The government rejected the MPs’ analysis and repeated previous statements made by May and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, including the highly contentious £10bn claim. “The government has backed the NHS’s own plan for the future with a £10bn real terms increase in its annual funding by 2020-21, helping to ease the pressure on hospitals, GPs and mental health services. It is wrong to suggest otherwise”, said a government spokesman.

“As the chief executive of NHS England said last year, the case for the NHS has been heard and actively supported. We have allowed local government to increase social care spending in the years to 2020, with access to up to £3.5bn of new support by then.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/30/theresa-mays-claim-on-health-funding-not-true-say-mps

“Wave of prefab homes planned to tackle UK housing crisis”

Second-class housing for second class citizens? Just watch the high-end house owners when one of these estates is planned in their back yard!

Lack of funding could scupper homelessness reforms, say MPs
Ministers are planning a new wave of prefabs in a drive to solve Britain’s housing crisis, it has been reported.

More than 100,000 pre-packed modular homes could be constructed as the government looks at ways to meet its target to provide a million new homes by 2020, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

A government white paper due out next month will include measures to encourage banks to lend to firms that construct the homes off-site before delivering them to their final destination, the paper said.

The initiative recalls the reconstruction drive which followed the second world war as prefabs sprung up across the country as the government sought to house families bombed out of their homes by the Germans.

While the prefabs of the 1940 homes were often a byword for poor quality, improvements in technology mean that such concerns are no longer an issue.

Ministers were said to have been impressed by the fact that some of the new generation of prefabs could be put up on site in as little as 24 hours, as well as the potential cost advantages.

The Sunday Telegraph quoted a government source as saying: “The first and most obvious advantage is speeding up the building of housing. There is pretty good evidence that if you did it at scale it is cheaper.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/30/wave-of-prefab-homes-planned-to-tackle-uk-housing-crisis?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“Secret government papers show taxpayers will pick up costs of Hinkley nuclear waste storage”

“Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year.

The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – in its previous incarnation as the Department for Energy and Climate Change – resisted repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the documents which were submitted to the European commission.

“The government has attempted to keep the costs to the taxpayer of Hinkley under wraps from the start,” said Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist. “It’s hardly surprising as it doesn’t look good for the government’s claim that they are trying to keep costs down for hardworking families.”

But, earlier this month, on the very last day before government officials had to submit their defence against an appeal for disclosure of the information, the department released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”

Separate documents confirm that the cap also applies should the cost of decommissioning the reactor at the end of its life balloon. …”

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/30/hinkley-point-nuclear-waste-storage-costs?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other