Funding for a multimillion-pound (£369 million) refurbishment of Buckingham Palace has been approved by MPs.

“[MPs] backed changes to the Sovereign Grant – the funding formula for the monarchy’s official duties – by 464 votes to 56.

The grant will increase by 66% to pay for the £369m refurbishment.

Officials say the essential work – set to take 10 years – is needed to avoid the risk of “catastrophic building failure”.

Ageing cables, lead pipes, wiring and boilers will be replaced, many for the first time in 60 years, amid fears about potential fire and water damage.

Two Labour MPs – Rushanara Ali and Dennis Skinner- were among those who opposed the move, along with 46 from the SNP.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39280770

The Queen pays – not a penny for the 775 room, 78 bathroom property refurbishment, which is only one of many properties she and her family occupy throughout the year.

EDDC holds up Freedom of Information request on HQ relocation

It seems EDDC is VERY reluctant to answer any FoI requests relating to relocating its HQ:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/body/east_devon_district_council

What’s the problem? It can’t be the old chestnut “commercial confidentiality” as the project has not been tendered so there is no outside commercial involvement.

Requests now cover not only Knowle but also the massive cost overrun at Exmouth and the added costs of relocating the Estates Department to Manstone Depot.

From one HQ to an HQ and two satellites. All against a background of massively increasing costs, decreasing availability of skilled labour and no plan for how it will be financed after PegasusLife failed to get its planning permission.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds already spent (excluding officer costs which are never added in), expensive days in court losing to the Information Commissioner.

What is being concealed?

Will Swire do the right thing and fire his wife? Or will she do the right thing and resign?

“MPs will be banned from hiring relatives using public money after the next general election, according to new rules issued by the expenses watchdog.

The new rules, released on Wednesday, state that no new “connected parties” can be employed in politicians’ offices. Members of MPs’ families who are already employed will be allowed to continue to work in their offices, despite widespread criticism of the practice.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said it would not force MPs to sack individuals who are currently working for them.

The rule change was released following a comprehensive consultation of MPs’ business costs and expenses. It comes amid the scandal in France over allegations that presidential candidate François Fillon paid his wife hundreds of thousands of pounds for little work.

Ipsa’s senior officials have argued that the employment of “connected parties” is out of step with modern employment practice, which requires fair and open recruitment to encourage diversity in the workplace.

Pay for MPs’ relatives costs the public purse around £4m a year, and around 150 are currently on the payroll.

Employing relatives is one of the most controversial practices still allowed under the changed expenses rules….

… MPs will be banned from hiring relatives using public money after the next general election, according to new rules issued by the expenses watchdog.

The new rules, released on Wednesday, state that no new “connected parties” can be employed in politicians’ offices. Members of MPs’ families who are already employed will be allowed to continue to work in their offices, despite widespread criticism of the practice.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said it would not force MPs to sack individuals who are currently working for them.

The rule change was released following a comprehensive consultation of MPs’ business costs and expenses. It comes amid the scandal in France over allegations that presidential candidate François Fillon paid his wife hundreds of thousands of pounds for little work.

Ipsa’s senior officials have argued that the employment of “connected parties” is out of step with modern employment practice, which requires fair and open recruitment to encourage diversity in the workplace.

Pay for MPs’ relatives costs the public purse around £4m a year, and around 150 are currently on the payroll.

Employing relatives is one of the most controversial practices still allowed under the changed expenses rules.

In 2009, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a ban on the practice as it was “not consistent with modern employment practice designed to ensure fairness in recruitment, management of staff and remuneration”.

Proposals to ban family members from working for MPs following parliament’s expenses scandal were dropped by Ipsa after a backlash from politicians – with the caveat that they were restricted to putting just one family member on the payroll.

MPs who have employed family members include the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, and the Conservative MP Johnny Mercer, who employs his wife, Felicity.

Many MPs say their relatives are willing to work much longer hours than they could ask of other staff. They believe the practice helps them maintain a family life amid the long hours and pressures of Westminster.

A report by the watchdog earlier this year revealed that the pay of connected parties is on average £5,600 higher than that of other staff, and going up at twice the rate of other staff in parliament. At the time of the last general election, relatives’ average salary was £31,350 a year.

Ipsa has said controls to prevent misuse of public funds in payments to family members are “limited”. There is no central time-keeping system for MPs’ staff, and MPs are responsible for monitoring and paying overtime.

Ipsa said it was “difficult to discover whether MPs are breaking the rules” and said there was a risk MPs could break the rules or “act fraudulently without detection”.

It added: ‘The quality of our data records and the absence of controls to prevent false declarations of connected party status means that there is a high risk that any instance of an undeclared or inaccurate status will not be identified.’

Between 2010 and 2015 the cost of employing MPs’ relatives was about £21m.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/15/mps-to-be-banned-from-using-public-money-to-hire-relatives-expenses

Election expenses scandal – Devon and Cornwall info passed to Crown Prosecution Service

“Twelve police forces have passed files to the Crown Prosecution Service over allegations that Conservatives broke campaign spending laws at the last election, after a 10-month investigation by police forces across the country.

The revelation is likely to increase concern in Downing Street and the Conservative party about the seriousness of the investigations, which could affect several sitting MPs and even lead to election results being declared void if there are prosecutions.

The CPS said it had been passed files from Avon and Somerset; Derbyshire; Cumbria; Devon and Cornwall; Gloucestershire; Greater Manchester; Lincolnshire; the Metropolitan police; Northamptonshire; Nottinghamshire; West Yorkshire; and Staffordshire police.
Continue reading

Midweek Herald: hospital bed closure meeting makes front page

Saturday 18 March

Colyford Memorial Hall

4.30 pm

Speakers: Claire Wright, Independent DCC councillor and long-term health campaigner

East Devon Alliance DCC candidates:
Martin Shaw (Seaton)
Paul Hayward (Axminster)
Paul Arnott (Sidmouth)

and

EDA Leader at East Devon District Council, Cathy Gardner

see also Facebook page: Save Our Hospital Services East Devon

More MASSIVE speculative industrial development at Clyst Honiton with benefits to LEP

Owl says: watch the claims of “new” jobs – most companies are relocating from premises just outside the “Growth Point” to take advantage of subsidies such as business rate holidays and are NOT creating “new”jobs at all.

“It appears major development at Clyst Honiton on the edge of Exeter will not cease any time soon, with outline plans in for an 110,000sqm industrial park next to the Lidl depot. The massive development would create between 1,530 and 1,817 new jobs and contribute an extra £90 to £105m to the regional economy. [Owl says: pinch of salt needed here – Skypark made similar claims but has attracted few NEW jobs – mostly only locally relocated ones, see above].

It’s second phase of development at land at Hayes Farm on behalf of Church Commissioners For England. The huge chunk of land is earmarked for more storage and distribution warehouses, offices and business space as part of the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point.

It would also need associated parking, servicing, yard areas, landscaping and engineering works including demolition of existing building within the site. The development also sits near the Skypark, a similar development of a similar size [Owl:which is currently still mostly empty after several years of marketing and an abortive attempt to relocate the EDDC HQ from Sidmouth].

At the moment the future occupiers are unknown, but it’s possible a major company could take the entire site. Options for the land include space for 540 car parking spaces on a two unit scheme, and 530 for a multi-unit scheme. [Translation: speculative building].

Alongside news of the latest planning application, buildings at the nearby Skypark development are already taking shape. Built over 20 years, the 110-acre Skypark site will provide 1.4 million sq ft of warehouse, industrial and office space and deliver up to 6,500 new jobs.

When it completes this autumn, this new office building will create 17,142 sq ft of employment space.

The new offices will join the Ambulance Special Operations Centre (ASOC West) and DPD UK’s new 60,000 sq ft distribution centre on site [relocated from nearby Sowton]. They will benefit from the £3.5 million worth of investment in road and services infrastructure at Skypark and the five-acre public realm area, complete with trim trail exercise stations.

Ian Guy, Senior Development Manager for St. Modwen and Devon County Council’s development partner for the £210m Skypark development, said: “These speculative [Owl’s BOLD] offices are going up alongside the new headquarters for Devon and Cornwall Housing [relocating from central Exeter], which is also under construction on site. They represent the first major office development in Exeter for many years and are a strong sign of the improving occupier market in the local area.”

http://www.devonlive.com/massive-homes-plan-next-to-lidl-depot-near-exeter/story-30206010-detail/story.html

How can you say the market is improving when buildings are speculative, they have no confirmed interest and those which ARE occupied are taken by locally relocated businesses taking advantage of incentives such as no business rates for 5 years to move. And, of course, the Local Enterprise Partnership benefits!

“The current iteration of Enterprise Zones was established by the Government in 2012, as part of their long-term economic plan. They are geographically defined areas, which aim to support growth by encouraging businesses to locate within them, providing a number of incentives including:

Up to 100% business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over 5 years
Simplified local authority planning
Roll out of super-fast Broadband where necessary
For zones in Assisted Areas, 100% enhanced capital allowances (tax relief) to businesses making large investments in plant and machinery.

Any business rates growth generated by the Enterprise Zone (over the next 25 years) is retained by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to reinvest in local economic growth.”

Click to access CS1622%20Enterprise%20Zones.pdf

Tory voter or NHS supporter? You can’t be both

Up to 100 Tory MPs believed to have been ready to revolt over National Insurance hike for self-employed. Result: abandoned after Budget within a week.

Absolutely no Tory MPs ready to revolt about cuts, privatisation and contraction of NHS. Result: it goes forward – with budget funding to speed it up.

Tory voter or NHS supporter? No middle ground.

Who will help people in sub-standard new build homes?

“There are rising concerns that the rush to build new homes is causing housebuilders to cut corners. Many firms have set tough targets to cash in on huge demand.

There are rising concerns that the rush to build new homes is causing housebuilders to cut corners. Many firms have set tough targets to cash in on huge demand — and meet the Government’s pledge to build 200,000 new homes a year.

Thousands of victims of poor workmanship have formed groups on social media websites such as Facebook, including Taylor Wimpey Unhappy Customers, Avoid Persimmon Homes and Bovis Homes Victims Group.

Hundreds have posted on Snagging.org — named after the jargon builders give to the task of finishing a project — citing problems such as creaking floors, scratched windows and stained carpets.

Campaign groups want a new homes ombudsman who can step in when families are let down. Buyers should also be given a chance to inspect their new-build before being handed the keys, they say.

Paula Higgins, chief executive of HomeOwners Alliance, says: ‘You have more consumer protection when you buy a toaster.

‘The industry is tilted too far in favour of developers, and the complaints system is too confusing.’

A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment found more than nine in ten buyers report problems to their builder.

Oliver Colvile, chairman of the parliamentary group and Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, says: ‘There have been too many reports of new homes that are quite simply uninhabitable.

‘We need to ensure there is a clear process whereby developers can be held to account and are responsible for correcting any below-par workmanship as soon as possible.’

Britain’s biggest house builders nearly all reported soaring profits last month. Persimmon reported a pre-tax profit of £783 million for 2016 — a 23 per cent increase on 2015.

Barratt Developments saw a 20.7 per cent rise to £682.3 million, Bellway a 36.5 per cent rise to £492 million, Redrow a 35 per cent rise to £140 million and Taylor Wimpey a 21.5 per cent rise to £733.4 million.
Bovis reported a 3 per cent fall in profits but still made £154.7 million.
Bovis has been forced to set aside £7 million to compensate buyers who have complained about the poor quality of its homes.

In January the firm was revealed to have offered up to £3,000 to buyers who moved into their houses by December 23 as it struggled to meet targets.
Sales have been boosted by the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, which has helped 100,284 first-time buyers onto the property ladder since 2013.
All the firms reported an increase in both the number of homes built and average selling prices. …

… A spokesman for the National House Building Council says: ‘We carry out spot check inspections at key stages during construction… [but] the builder is responsible for ensuring homes conform to building regulations and our standards.’

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman says: ‘We recognise that we do sometimes get things wrong, but we are committed to resolving those issues.’
A Bovis spokesman says: ‘We are putting more resource into customer care and reviewing our processes to ensure a focus on quality.’

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/article-4314028/Who-help-families-forced-live-half-built-homes.html