“Is our democracy OK?”

by Peter Cleasby

“The behaviour of Trump and May over the past few days should make us ask some hard questions about our governance.

I don’t normally go to public demonstrations. Yesterday evening I made an exception, and joined in one of the many rallies around the country provoked by President Trump’s travel ban. Even more out of character, I stood up on a bench, took the proffered microphone and spoke to the crowd.

The speakers before me had concentrated, rightly, on the impact of Trump’s travel ban and the damage and hurt it was already doing to individuals and families. They spoke movingly, based on personal experience and knowledge. I spoke to highlight the other spectre in the room – the UK Prime Minister, who failed to condemn the ban when first asked about it, and has since made only mild disapproval known through other ministers and her spokespersons. This is further evidence that Mrs May is not keen on human rights – during the EU referendum campaign, her most memorable intervention was to favour withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (which is nothing to do with the EU).

Mrs May has steered our country into a position where our government is in effect begging the United States for an early post-EU trade agreement, as if that were the only priority in international relations. Trump had barely paused for breath after being sworn in as President, before she was on a plane to see him. And Trump knows we are the supplicant: the pointed refusal at the press conference to confirm his “100% backing” for NATO that May claims to have extracted from him; the hand-holding; and the executive order for the travel ban as soon as she was on the plane home (he clearly couldn’t have tipped her off, otherwise she would not have been so equivocal when asked about it in Turkey – wouldn’t she?)

What we’re seeing is the two leaders of the “special relationship”– both novices in their own way – practising bad government. Trump is rushing out executive orders on hugely controversial topics, firing anyone he can who disagrees with him (the acting US Attorney General has just been removed), and allowing his press secretary to use inflammatory language: the Attorney-General was guilty of “betrayal”, the senior US diplomats who are protesting against Trump’s policies should “either get with the programme or they can go.” No respect, no acknowledgement that others may have a point.

Back on our side of the pond, the Prime Minister is unmoved by a petition of over 1.5 million signatures protesting against a state visit by Trump – note that the objection is to a state visit involving the Queen, not to a working political visit. Statements from May and her office completely fail to recognise the strength of feeling on the issue: she’s issued the invitation and that’s that, is the line. Even though it’s unprecedented (I think) for a state visit invitation to be issued no more than a week after the invitee has taken office – but then there’s that trade deal to be thought about, isn’t there? A deal, by the way, that will almost certainly favour the US more than the UK, and will resurrect the objectionable elements of the now-defunct TTIP [1].

Our Prime Minister also has scant regard for Parliament. It took a decision of the Supreme Court to reassert the need for Parliament’s authority to approve the decision to give our Article 50 notification to the EU.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the behaviour of May and Trump highlights the fragility of the arrangements for representative democracy, here and in the US. Government is, at the end of the day, a series of negotiated settlements between competing interests, and the purpose of elections is to redefine from time to time what the “public interest” is in those negotiations. Ministers need to be sensitive to the views of others, open to change where that seems to be in the public interest, and ready to acknowledge and respect other views even where they do not agree with them.

It would be ironic if the two countries who perhaps more than any others stood firm in the defence of freedom, tolerance and democracy during the 20th century were now to be debased by leaders who prefer diktat to persuasion. But that is what seems to be happening. In the UK, Parliament needs to remember that it is the source of all legitimate authority – and start acting on it. And a critical appraisal of our governance should be high on its list of priorities.


[1] The TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – was being negotiated behind closed doors between the EU and the US until talks broke down last year. In the name of “free trade” the TTIP would have led to some weakening of EU rules on the environment, food standards and employee rights; and would have ensured that once a public service had been privatised it could never be returned to the public sector. It was drafted as, in effect, a charter for big business to do pretty much what it liked.”

Is our democracy OK?

“Queen’s Drive. Is it a full planning application or not?”

Press Release 31.1.17

A most heated debate took place at Exmouth Town Council’s Planning Committee meeting last night.

Cllr Megan Armstrong, an EDA Independent District Councillor for Exmouth explained at some length that the “Reserved Matters Application” they were about to debate was in effect a “Full Planning Application” for phases 2 and 3 for the Queen’s Drive development.

The Chairman however interjected half way through her 3 minute allocated time and stated she wished to make a point clear. She then explained that East Devon District Council (the Applicant) has not allocated funding for the project, and therefore was not in a position to proceed.

NOTE (The consideration that an applicant has funds to deliver a project is not a consideration for a planning committee to debate).

Cllr Megan Armstrong was then allowed to proceed and stated she hoped the committee would consider the planning application without reference to the press releases and documents sent to each councillor by the applicant.
“Forget the promise of further consultations and further promises of more planning applications, don’t be confused by the press releases and further information sent to you, they are inadmissible.”

“You have to consider this application on its own merits from the documents and plans presented and anything else you have been told is irrelevant and should not be a consideration.”

NOTE (Planning regulations state that an applicant can apply in one of two ways. To submit a “Full Planning Application”, or if the application is substantial or problematic the applicant can submit an “Outline Planning Application” reserving all the detailed drawings and details to be submitted if the outline application is approved within a 3 year time period. This is known as a “Reserved Matters Application”).

Following the representations from a number of local residents and Cllr Armstrong the Chairman opened the debate to the planning committee.
Cllr Bill Nash (Conservative) started the proceedings explaining to the committee that Cllr Armstrong was incorrect and referring to the press release and documents sent by the applicant, explained that the application was merely an extension to the outline, and that there will be further planning applications and consultations for Phases 2 and 3.

At no time during the whole debate were the plans explained or shown on the large screen. The only document shown throughout the debate on the overhead projector was a flowchart of the possible suggested consultations and planning applications that may be brought forward at a later date.

In fact one councillor stated he looked forward to the plans for the “Watersports Centre” in phase 2 and another councillor was most interested in seeing the proposals for the hotel plans in phase 3.

This simply demonstrated that some of the planning committee members had not seen the full list of documents that they were now discussing.

The local authority planning portal has all the detailed plans for the application, and it is standard practice for major planning applications for the local authority to provide paper copies as well as providing the information online to assist councillors to understand the proposal that they were required to debate and on which they should agree a proposal.
Within the documents provided were very detailed drawings of both the proposed hotel and full details of the watersports centre, showing every aspect including the positions of the tables and chairs and the cycle store layout!

The public who are not allowed to comment or interject during the debate were at times most vocal to the discussion and content of the debate, demonstrating their displeasure as much as they were able.

The whole debate centred on the issue that it was a “mere exercise” in extending an outline application (this is not permitted in National Planning Policy). The other issues debated were the further consultations and further planning applications.

NOTE. (A planning application should be considered in its entirety with only the planning documents presented by the applicant and separate from any other planning application).

Without a single explanation of the design and layout and without a single illustration of the proposal the chair asked for a vote and the decision was carried 6 votes to 3.

The decision demonstrates the change in opinion as the previous outline application was not supported by the Town Council and in fact Cllr Bill Nash wrote a very strong letter of objection regarding the outline proposal in 2013 on behalf of his constituents living on Trefusis Terrace overlooking the proposed development.

Cllr Megan Armstrong when asked about the decision said:

“I was not surprised by the inconsistencies and change in opinion. It is unfortunate that such an important decision seems to have been turned into a party political game which is so sad. Party politics should not be an issue for such a momentous decision for the people of Exmouth.”

“However the town council planning committee is simply a consultee and the final decision will be made at East Devon’s Development Management Committee meeting at Sidmouth in a few months’ time.”

“Let us all hope that the facts will be explained without any spin and the decision is agreed democratically by the members on the district council committee.”

Adult and Social Care Crisis

Older and vulnerable people could stop receiving vital help to get out of bed, washed and dressed, because the underfunding of social care has become so severe, councils have warned.

Leaders of 370 local authorities in England and Wales fear that some councils are finding it so hard to provide the right level of support they could face a high court legal challenge for breaking the law.

The Local Government Association said care visits could become shorter, carers could face greater strain and more people could be trapped in hospitals, making NHS services even busier as a result. The LGA estimates that there will be a £2.6bn gap by 2020 between the amount of money social care services need and their budgets.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the chair of the LGA community wellbeing board, said: “The intentions and the spirit of the [2014] Care Act that aims to help people to live well and independently are in grave danger of falling apart and failing, unless new finding is announced by government for adult social care.”

The act, which came into effect in 2015, was intended to ensure that councils provided help with basic everyday tasks to anyone who was struggling to undertake at least one of them on their own, because of a physical or mental impairment. But the purpose of the legislation is at risk because councils cannot afford to meet demand, the LGA told the Treasury in its submission ahead of the budget in March.

Only 8% of council directors of adult social care said they were confident that they could fulfil their full duties under the act in 2017-18.

Barbara Keeley, the shadow social care minister, said: “It is deeply worrying that councils are now having to spell out the risks that this lack of funding is causing. We should not tolerate the fact that growing levels of basic needs are going unmet, care visits are shorter and there is increased strain on unpaid family carers.”

A government spokesman said: “Local authorities have a duty to implement new rights introduced in the [2014] Care Act and while many are already providing high-quality social care services, we will continue to challenge and support those not currently doing so.

“We have provided councils up to £7.6bn of dedicated funding for social care over the course of this parliament, significant investment to ensure that vulnerable people get affordable and dignified care as our population ages.”


“Budleigh fishermen’s fury at 350% shed rent hike”

If any of the fisherman voted Tory at district elections, they really should have expected this!

“Users of the sheds, used by many to store vital equipment and petrol for their boats, have been told they face having to pay more than four times their usual ground rent.

Landowner East Devon District Council (EDDC) has written to the fishermen to inform them that, when their current annual licence expires in April, renewal will cost £450 instead of £100.

Former town mayor Roger Pym, 72, has been fishing on the seafront for 50 years and still helps his son Sam, 43, with the business.

He said: “I’m furious – we’re being ripped off. It appears to me that they are trying to price all the fishing fraternity out for extra beach huts.
“You don’t need to have a beach hut. If you have one, it’s for pleasure. We need to have a shed as we have a 16ft boat with crab pots.”

Dave Perkins, 60, has been fishing full-time on Budleigh beach for 12 years.

He said: “I expected prices to go up, but to suddenly get a jump of that amount is silly.

“The thing is they’re trying to put it down as commercial ground rent to be in line with all commercial rents, but not all the huts are used by commercial fishermen.

“Nothing is supplied with the sheds – no water, no electricity, no amenities.

“With everything else, with trying to fish on the beach, to get this thrown at us is ridiculous.”

Current Budleigh town mayor Chris Kitson said: “I support the fishermen that have been there on our beach for years and this is not acceptable to have these hikes in rent imposed on them.”

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “As with all our commercial transactions, we prefer to deal directly with our tenants and we would therefore ask Mr Pym to write to our property services team or to telephone them to discuss the matter of his rent.”


“Councils staring into the abyss”

“… A spokesman said Devon County Council’s budget, which will be debated next month, calls for an extra £18.8million for adult health and social care – almost 10% up – to cope with the increasing demand and recognise that Devon has significantly more over- 65s and over-85s who need care and support.

The increase would take the total social care and health budget to £216.5 million.

In all, the target revenue budget for 2017/18 would be £459.5 million.

‘We must step up to the plate’

Council leader John Hart said: “Health and social care is under immense pressure both in Devon and nationally.

“We must step up to the plate. Devon has one of the highest proportions of people over 65 and people over 85 and they need and deserve our help and support.

“So despite the continuing austerity agenda from the Government, we have found extra money for these vital services.

“We have always said our priority is to protect the most vulnerable in our society and I believe this target budget will help to do that.

“That’s why we are also increasing the budget for children’s services again following on from big increases there previously.”


How to cure the housing shortage?

“Private builders will never meet the demand for homes. We need more social housing, denser cities and new suburbs – and those require real political will.

People often say to me, “Jonn, why do you keep ruining parties by banging on about the housing crisis?” And I always tell them that the joke’s on them, because I no longer get invited to any parties.

If I did, though, I imagine I would clear the room just as quickly as I ever did, because it’s impossible to address our national shortage of housing without addressing the worthy-but-dull issue that lies at its root: land, or, more specifically, the lack of it. There is no piece of blue-sky thinking, no big idea, that could help solve the housing crisis without explaining where we’re going to put those extra homes.

It’s thus hard to come up with a fantasy housing policy that doesn’t shatter on contact with matters of concrete (sorry) reality. Proposals that don’t even try to address the land question ascend rapidly into the realm of science fiction, whether that means Star Trek (“What if new transport technology meant we didn’t need to live near the office any more?”) or Logan’s Run (“If only there weren’t quite so many people, somehow …”).

So, let’s limit ourselves to policies that are difficult thanks merely to politics, rather than the laws of physics. Let’s imagine we had a government that was genuinely determined to solve the housing crisis. What would it actually do?

Well, it would begin by accepting that the private housebuilders were never going to solve this problem for us. The amount firms pay for land is based on the price they’ll be able to sell homes for. They’re never going to build homes at a rate that could make prices fall, for the very good reason that they’d all go bust if they did.

And so, a government set on a real solution to the housing crisis would abandon ministers’ touching faith in the power of markets. Instead, it would invest in a huge increase in social housing, loaning money to housing associations, to get them building, and allowing councils to borrow money and build homes on their patch once again. This would require a change in attitudes towards public debt, and an understanding that council housing was a long-term investment – an asset, rather than a slightly embarrassing relic of a bygone age.

This doesn’t, however, solve the question of where we’re going to put all these new houses. The standard answer to that is “brownfield” – conveniently vacant land that’s already been built on, and so won’t offend too many people if it’s built on again. But the truth is that, in much of the country, there isn’t enough of that to go round. If we’re actually going to meet demand for new homes, we have only two options: we can either build up, or build out.

Building up doesn’t necessarily mean skyscrapers. British cities, with their reliance on semi-detached homes occupying individual plots, are actually very low-density compared to most European cities. Gradually filling London with apartment blocks of the sort that line the boulevards of Paris or Vienna could go some way to meeting the city’s housing need, without turning it into the set of Blade Runner. The public sector even owns large tracts of land where we could put these new homes.

The drawback? Most of that land is occupied by homes already, in the form of existing council estates. Real world governments have shown themselves more than willing to redevelop those – but they’ve generally tried to do so on the cheap, maximising the number of private homes available at the expense of social homes, and repeatedly breaking promises to tenants.

Our fantasy government wouldn’t pull these tricks: it would guarantee social tenants’ rights to homes of equivalent size in the same area, and it would act in a way that showed that it understood these are homes, rather than simply government property for it to dispose of as it wishes. Nonetheless, it would replace some of the more crumbling and impermeable postwar council estates with new streets, filled with European-style mansion blocks rather than the cramped, magnolia, hall of residence-style that characterises most British new-builds. Such is the need for new homes that, in select areas, it would probably use stronger compulsory purchase rules to acquire land.

Increasing density in this way would allow it to increase the number of both private and social homes, creating vibrant, new mixed communities. This would probably take a bit more cash upfront than past redevelopments – but since our government has shown itself willing to invest for the long-term, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Comprehensively redeveloping the inner cities will take time – but luckily, there is an easier way to meet housing need. All around London, Oxford, Bristol and other cities in housing crisis, there is open space, often inaccessible to the public and occupied by nothing prettier than some chemical-drenched arable land. The reason we don’t build on it? Because when green belts were introduced in the mid-20th century, it just happened to be unoccupied.

Our fantasy government would recognise that a land-use policy designed for 1955 was not much use in 2017. It would take its inspiration from Copenhagen, whose “fingerplanen” has seen development take place in five rail corridors (the “fingers”) extending outwards from the city, separated by green space.

Is it time to rethink Britain’s green belt?

To that end, the government would formally review the green belt to identify areas that would be better used as the site of new communities. Around London, it would prioritise areas next to railway lines, such as that baffling open space surrounding much of the eastern end of the Central line. In smaller cities such as Oxford, it would designate new urban extensions, linked to the city centre by new tram lines. Further green belt land would be turned into public parks: surely an improvement on the inaccessible farmland that sits there now. And, to minimise public whingeing, it could even designate new green belt, to protect land in areas less plagued by demand for housing.

More social housing, denser cities, and properly planned new suburbs: in these three ways, a motivated government would be able to end the housing crisis in just a few years. It’s only a pity that a government like that seems like science fiction, too.”


Another problem for our Local Enterprise Partnership?

Perhaps partnering with Somerset, with its massive reliance on Hinkley C is not such a good idea.

“Forging a trade deal with the European Union must be Britain’s top priority in negotiations, because the bloc is the largest export market for 61 of 62 of the nation’s cities, a think-tank has said. …

…”The West of England is disproportionately reliant on exports to the EU, with the great majority of total exports from cities in the region destined for the bloc. Out of all cities in the UK, the top three cities in terms of their dependence on EU exports are Exeter (70%), Plymouth (68%) and Bristol (66%).

The least dependent city in the UK is Derby, which still sends almost half (48%) of its exports to the EU, followed by Hull (29%).”


“Greater Exeter” dependent on EU for 70% of its exports

Exeter is more reliant on trading with the EU than any other city in the country, according to a new report.

Centre for Cities released a report today which reveals that 70 per cent of Exeter’s exports are sold to the EU – meaning our city would be hit worse by a bad Brexit deal than anyone else.

That figure is much higher than average, Almost half the exports from UK cities are sold to the EU.

That is three times more than to the USA and five times more than to India, Japan, Russia, South America and South Korea combined.

The annual Cities Outlook survey shows that the whole of the South West relies on EU trade more than other regions – with Exeter the most dependent of any city in the country.

The same report also says Exeter is the fastest growing city in the country, with a population increase of 2.4 per cent in the last year.

Exeter’s main exports are in goods and services such as insurance and pensions, as well as transport equipment.

While across the UK the average is close to 50 per cent of trading done with the EU, in some cities it is as low as 25 per cent.”


Knowle relocation costs: it’s up to us to check as councillors don’t get the information

And this is how we do it (whilst we have a Freedom of information Act):

Dear East Devon District Council,

I would like to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I am also making this Request under the Environmental Impact Regulations 2004 which require disclosure on the part of Local Authorities.

Please let me have the costs to date of the Knowle relocation project, to include all preliminary pre “moving decision” costs, and subsequent costs of all work associated with the intended reallocation, including those at The Knowle, Manstone, the intended Honiton site and Exmouth Town Hall

I should also like to know the current projected costs of the Exmouth Town Hall move, (including all associated costs such as moving, staff compensation and travel costs and fitting out costs), and for Honiton and costs associated with the “mothballing” of various parts of the Knowle contingent upon the intended relocation of 90 staff to Exmouth.”


And if they say they can’t tell us how much it has cost so far …..

Exmouth Visitor Survey

Last year nearly 5000 people in Exmouth voted in favour of further “INDEPENDENT consultation before any further action (including submission of planning applications) was taken on The Queen’s Drive.

While this has been roundly ignored by EDDC. they did at least seek the opinion of visitors. When independent Cllr Megan Armstrong carried out the Seafront Survey with support from SES we found visitors hold similar values around the seafront as residents, and that it was Exmouth’s unique charm that kept them coming back. Alarmingly many said they would no longer visit Exmouth if The Queen’s Drive development went ahead. I would have thought EDDC would be concerned about this yet it is just another piece of evidence that has been ignored.

Here is the EDDC website announcing the visitor survey, note the last paragraph states the results will be reported to ‘the team’ (Coastal Communities) at the end of the year (2016) …”


Knowle yesterday, Parliament today!

“Plans for a £4bn restoration of the Palace of Westminster that would mean MPs and peers leaving the building for six years have been thrown into doubt by a powerful Commons committee, which says there is insufficient evidence for it to back the project.

In an extraordinary move, the all-party Treasury select committee is to appoint its own team of specialist advisers to gather what it says is the necessary level of detail about the work and costs, claiming previous exhaustive investigations by parliament and private consultants failed to produce sufficient evidence. The committee’s chairman, Andrew Tyrie, took Commons authorities by surprise by announcing that a Commons debate, which he says was due to be held this week on the restoration, had been postponed because MPs did not have the facts they needed. Commons sources said Tyrie was mistaken and no date for the debate had been fixed.

The committee’s surprise intervention is evidence of a growing split between those responsible for managing parliament along with MPs who back the restoration project, and others who are worried about the disruption and the likelihood that costs will soar. …”


NHS: Underfunding, underfunding, underfunding

And our CCG’s solution? Cut hoppital beds.

“Hospitals were dangerously full during the recent onset of the winter crisis and breached an edict from NHS bosses to keep one in seven beds free, a new King’s Fund analysis reveals.

England’s 153 acute hospital trusts were told by the health service regulator on 9 December to run at no more than 85% bed occupancy between 19 December and 16 January, the internationally recognised level that hospitals are meant to stick to in order to minimise the risk of potentially deadly infections and to maintain the capacity to deal with emergencies.

Hospitals only managed to meet the target for three days over that period and were running at far higher levels of bed occupancy, often exceeding 95%, the King’s Fund found. Occupancy only dipped below 90% on four days since mid-December, it added.

“Bed occupancy rates above 85% increase the chances of bed shortages and the risk of infection. The fact that hospitals have missed the 85% objective by such a significant amount is further evidence of the huge pressure facing hospitals,” said Richard Murray, the thinktank’s director of policy who undertook the analysis.

The NHS entered the winter period with bed occupancy rates already high by historic standards, given that they were at 87.5% in the normally “quiet” second quarter of 2016/17. “The NHS did indeed achieve occupancy rates below 85%, but only on 23–25 December, when bed occupancy often falls as hospitals discharge as many patients as they can for Christmas, ”said Murray’s analysis.

“However, whatever spare capacity the NHS managed to create was quickly eaten up. As a consequence, it should come as no surprise that early January was an exceptionally difficult time as occupancy rates rose quickly above the 95% mark, although they do appear to have eased somewhat since then.”

Hospitals were operating at close to capacity even though flu, the winter vomiting bug norovirus and extreme, snowy weather, which oridnally might make it more difficult for hospitals to cope, did not cause significant problems. But the fact that unprecedented numbers of trusts were forced to declare an alert in the early weeks of January underlined that hospitals have come under unprecedented strain in recent weeks, Murray said. …”


Just poor grammar in the Sidmouth Herald? …

In its piece on EDDC being forced to publish the PegasusLife contract for The Knowle, it concludes:

“… Mr Woodward had previously challenged EDDC in 2015 when it refused to comply with Freedom of Information requests, also on its relocation. The eight-month legal battle saw EDDC blasted as ‘discourteous and unhelpful’ and cost taxpayers £11,000 in lawyers’ fees.”


What is not made crystal clear is that it was the JUDGE in the case – the judge in the case, Judge Brian Kennedy QC – who made this remark, not Mr Woodward.

In fact the full sentence read:

“Correspondence on behalf of the council, rather than ensuring the tribunal was assisted in its function, was at times discourteous and unhelpful including the statement that we had the most legible copies possible.”


Sloppy, Sidmouth Herald, very, very sloppy.

NHS crisis? Not in Swire’s backyard!

Our MP’s questions in the House this week:

Written Answers – Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Politics and Government (26 Jan 2017)

Hugo Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what plans he has to discuss the political and human rights situation in North Korea with the incoming US administration.

Written Answers – Foreign and Commonwealth Office: North Korea: Politics and Government (26 Jan 2017)

Hugo Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with his counterparts in (a) Japan,
(b) South Korea and (c) China on the political and human rights situation in North Korea.”

(First and second) jobs for the boys – easy when watchdog has no teeth

“A Whitehall watchdog was accused of an extraordinary cover-up last night over the lucrative investment job given to George Osborne’s former top aide.

Rupert Harrison, nicknamed ‘the real Chancellor’ when he was Mr Osborne’s chief-of-staff, got a six-figure salary to work for asset management firm BlackRock two years ago.

But now it has emerged that the official appointments committee, Acoba, was reprimanded for approving the job without disclosing meetings he held with the firm while he worked for the ex-chancellor.

An investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office into the apparent cover-up denounced Acoba for a ‘shortfall in public interest transparency’. And last night Labour MP John Mann said: ‘The advisory committee is not fit for purpose and its chair must now resign.

‘There is far too much cosying up to banks. It is as if BlackRock had taken shares in the Treasury.’

The row comes as Mr Osborne himself faces controversy over his new job with BlackRock, which will pay him more than £200,000 a year to work as an adviser while he is still an MP.

His appointment was also waved through by Acoba and there are growing calls for reform of the committee and the rules surrounding MPs and second jobs.

Acoba is supposed to vet ministers and senior civil servants when they take jobs in the private sector. In the past eight years it has looked at more than 370 appointments without blocking a single one. …”


Underfunded schools recruiting science teachers from EU

The Government is sponsoring a £300,000 drive to recruit teachers from the Czech Republic, Germany Poland and America in an attempt to plug a physics and maths shortage by September, it has emerged.

A bid specification document, seen by The Daily Telegraph, invites recruitment companies to apply for the contract which will begin next month.

It is thought to be the first Government funded international recruitment strategy since the mid-1970s, when teachers were also in short supply.

The initial focus will be on signing up maths and physics teachers, but “there may be flexibility to increase the scope to cover other subjects that are challenging to recruit to”, the bid specification document says.

John Howson, chair of the teacher recruitment site TeachVac and a visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University said: “I am frankly very surprised that in the middle of the debate on Article 50, that the Government is busy going off to these European countries to try and attract teachers.

“In terms of the wider political debate it is a very odd approach to be trawling round a bunch of countries which we are trying to cut off association with.”

It comes as the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), recommends widening the number of subjects for which schools could recruit from non-EU countries.

The MAC, which was asked by the Government to review the labour market for teachers and secondary education last year, recommended that Mandarin and general science teachers should be designated as “shortage occupations”.

The Department for Education (DfE) has failed to meet its targets for recruiting maths and physics teachers every year for the past five years.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “This crisis will get worse with the bulge in pupil numbers, make it hard for schools to find a teacher for every class and risk the quality of education for children and young people in England.

“The Committee’s failure to stop the loss of highly qualified overseas teachers may well be the straw to break the backs of our underfunded schools.” ...


One tax for the rich and one for the poor … and guess who wins out

“Britain’s wealthiest people appear to get preferential treatment from HM Revenue & Customs and are not being properly pursued for outstanding tax bills, parliament’s spending watchdog has concluded.

HMRC’s failure to clamp down on rich tax dodgers is undermining confidence in the whole system, the public accounts committee said.

The highly critical report released on Friday examined HMRC’s specialist unit, which collects tax from high net-worth individuals with more than £20m. It found that “the amount of tax paid by this very wealthy group of individuals has actually fallen by £1bn since the unit was set up” in 2009 – even as tax receipts rose to £23bn.

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said HMRC’s claims about the success of its strategy to deal with the very wealthy did not add up.

“Cosy terms such as ‘customer relationship manager’ and HMRC’s reluctance to be open add to the picture of arrangements that, while beyond the reach of ordinary taxpayers, are also ill-suited to the increasingly sophisticated methods the super rich can use to reduce the tax they pay,” she said.

“If the public are to have faith in the tax system then it must be seen to have fairness at its heart. It also needs to work properly. In our view, HMRC is failing on both counts.”

Tax officials calculated that there were about 6,500 high net-worth people in 2015-16, about one in every 5,000 taxpayers. In 2009, a specialist unit was set up to bring in more money from them.

MPs questioned the role of the specialist unit and some of its practices.

“We were not convinced by [HMRC’s] assertion that there is a clear line between giving its view on potential transactions and giving tax advice and we do not think there is enough clarity about what customer relationship managers can and cannot do,” the report says.

The committee pointed out that advice from officials to wealthy taxpayers was not recorded. “While calls from most taxpayers to HMRC call centres are recorded routinely, meetings and phone calls with high net-worth individuals are not recorded,” the report says.

The committee also highlighted concerns about “potential abuse” of image rights by top footballers and entertainers to minimise their tax liabilities. It confirmed that HMRC had “open inquiries” relating to the use of image rights by 43 footballers, 12 clubs and eight agents.

Committee members said they were appalled to learn that not all clubs were providing HMRC with the data it required under the terms of a voluntary agreement with the Premier League.

However, they praised HMRC’s managers for trying take action against the clubs. “We were encouraged by the evidence HMRC’s senior management gave to the committee on image rights and we look forward to news of meaningful action in this area.”

HMRC said the pursuit of high net-worth individuals had resulted in the collection of an additional £2.5bn in revenues. But it was unable to explain why the income tax they paid fell by 20% – from £4.5bn in 2009-10 to £3.5bn in 2014-15 – when the overall income tax take rose to £23bn.

The committee said about a third of the individuals concerned were likely to be under inquiry by HMRC for unpaid tax – with cases with a potential value of £1.9bn currently under investigation.

However, the report found HMRC had a “dismal record” when it came to prosecuting the very wealthy for tax fraud in the criminal courts.

In the five years to 31 March 2016, it completed just 72 fraud investigations into high net-worth individuals, with all but two having been dealt with using its civil powers. Only one case resulted in a successful criminal prosecution.

Of the 850 penalties issued to the very wealthy since 2012, the average charge was £10,500 – a figure the committee said was likely to be too small to act as a deterrent.

The problem was likely to become more acute because wealthy people were moving from off-the-peg tax avoidance schemes – the “high street equivalent of Primark or Next” – to bespoke “made-to-measure Savile Row” arrangements, the report says.

An HMRC spokesperson denied there was preferential treatment for the rich: “There is absolutely no special treatment for the wealthy and, in fact, we give them additional scrutiny, with one-to-one marking by HMRC’s specialist tax collectors to ensure that they pay everything they owe, just like the rest of us do. We have secured an additional £2.5bn from the very wealthiest since 2010.”


Four arrests for bribery at developer Barratts

Cash-for-contracts scandal engulfing one of Britain’s biggest builders sees four people arrested on suspicion of bribery

The cash-for-contracts scandal engulfing one of Britain’s biggest builders has seen four people arrested on suspicion of bribery, it has emerged.
Alastair Baird, managing director for London at Barratt Developments, was arrested in October last year at his pig farm in Gloucestershire where his wife Irayne Paikin makes award-winning sausages.

The 52-year-old was arrested by the Metropolitan Police complex fraud squad along with a 47-year-old London woman who used to work for Barratt.

Last night the Met said two more arrests were made – a 47-year-old man and a 49-year-old woman– on November 8. They come after Barratt referred findings of an internal probe to the police in April following an audit relating to possible misconduct in the process for awarding and managing supply contracts in the London region.

Barratt began the investigation in August 2015, which also led to civil legal action against an employee who was sacked last February. Projects Baird has overseen include buying of West Ham United’s former home, to build 842 houses.

Barratt said: ‘While the Metropolitan Police and internal investigations are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment.’


Save Exmouth Seafront response to Councillor Skinner and EDDC

“Representatives from SES were invited to attend the presentation from Cllr Skinner and EDDC Officers Richard Cohen and Alison Hayward at Ocean on 18th January, and SES would like to thank EDDC for this invitation.

While the event provided some information for those businesses and associations perhaps not so aware of the plans, the SES representatives found they left with many questions still remaining.

For example there was no answer given on whether the watersport’s centre will be run as a members only club and who is to manage this facility.

Unfortunately Cllr Skinner also fended off some of the questions with evasive answers, such as when asked how ‘phase three’ of the development is even to be funded.

SES would welcome the opportunity for an open public event so that all members of the public can hear what is planned for the seafront now and in the future, and ask questions, yet EDDC seem reluctant to do this.”