MPs: time for jobs transparency – well, that’s if you feel like it

The Sunday Telegraph says that Theresa May’s “ethics adviser” (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) says General Election candidates should be “as open as possible” and should publish what income streams they currently have and what paid jobs and be clear about whether these would continue if they enter Parliament.

Trouble is, some of our potential MPs find it impossible to be open.

And the punishment for that? Nothing – zero – nada.

Bang go the ethics.

Don’t let EDDC give you a criminal record!

The Sunday Times reports that EDDC will become the first council to enforce Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)with £80 on-the-spot fines or court proceedings for feeding seagulls on beaches at Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Beer and Seaton.

A PSPO creates a criminal rather than civil offence.

There was no mention of how this will be enforced – presumably as it is a criminal offence the expectation is that police will do it, rather than “Seagull Wardens”.

Let’s hope that when a seagull pinches a chip from a child on the beach a policeman can catch it and that it doesn’t further disgrace itself in court! But at least we might recognise regular miscreants by the leg tags they may have to wear.

Bovis slow down will hit East Devon hard

“… Bovis faces the humiliation of being the only major housebuilder to report falling volumes this year as it attempts to recover from a series of blunders and a major profit warning … a 15% drop in completions … dividend cut … damaged reputation …”

Sunday Telegraph Business section

This will have a major knock on effect for East Devon, where the company is heavily involved in Axminster, Seaton and Cranbrook. Bad news, too, for the Local Plan, which similarly relies on the company to boost its numbers.

Vanity projects, speculation and unwise development could lead councils to bankruptcy

“Desperate councils risk being plunged into an Icelandic-style financial crisis after investing £1.5bn in the commercial property market, according to Sir Vince Cable, former business secretary.

Heavy cuts in central government funding have left the authorities having to consider increasingly exotic solutions to ease their financial constraints.

Between 2010 and 2015, there was a 37% cut in real terms in central government funding to local authorities. One option – popular in the last couple of years – has been to borrow from the Treasury-run Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) at very low rates of interest and then use the money to invest in commercial property ventures that offer returns of as much as 8%.

But there are fears that the strategy is creating a bubble that could bankrupt some local authorities. “This is not a wise and sensible thing to do,” said Cable, who was business secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition and is standing as Lib Dem candidate in his former seat in Twickenham, south-west London.

“Local authorities have a long and inglorious history of gambling in financial and property markets,” he said. In the 1980s, Hammersmith and Fulham council was one of several local authorities that got into financial difficulties after becoming involved in complex bets on interest rates.

Cable said he could understand why councils were considering such strategies. “When they are massively constrained in what they can do around council tax – and indeed commercial rates – they are trying to prevent even deeper and more damaging cuts by taking these unorthodox measures. In some cases they may succeed, but there is a very high risk of bankrupting their local authorities. It does suggest a certain degree of desperation.”

Local government sources have defended the councils, saying that much of the money is invested in helping regenerate their local areas. But not in all cases. “What is so bizarre, so shocking, is that they are investing in property in other parts of the country,” Cable said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”

Matthew Oakeshott, an investment manager at Olim Property, said councils were “playing a gigantic game of Monopoly with taxpayers’ cash”.

But authorities badly need returns at a time when interest rates remain low and demands on councils are rising. It is estimated that, by 2020, England’s councils will face a near £6bn funding gap between what they need to spend and what they receive. Most of this shortfall is due to rising costs linked to social care.

Two years ago, the Local Government Association warned that a dozen councils were on the brink of financial failure. Since then, the councils have had to be inventive in seeking to balance their books. Several – such as Eastleigh, Kettering and Maidstone – have successfully exploited loans from the PWLB to invest in commercial property. This, in turn, has attracted interest from other councils.

But such copycat behaviour is a concern, according to Cable, who drew comparisons with 2008, when many councils were left exposed after depositing millions of pounds in high-interest rate accounts offered by Icelandic banks, which then went bust.

“It did very serious damage to some councils,” Cable said. “It should have been a warning to all corporate treasurers in local government to not go anywhere near this.”

The extent to which councils are exposed to a downturn in the commercial property sector is unclear.

Last month, Lord Myners tabled a parliamentary question asking the government to confirm how much money the PWLB had lent to local authorities to invest in commercial real estate between 2011 and 2016, and what it was doing to monitor the risk from such investments.

Responding for the government, Baroness Neville-Rolfe said it was up to the councils to assess risk. She said: “The Public Works Loan Board is not required to collect information on the specific reasons that local authorities borrow from it, and so it does not hold information about the amount of lending that has been used for acquisition of commercial real estate.”

However, estate agent Savills told the Financial Times that councils had invested £1.2bn in commercial property last year and a further £221m so far this year.

An economic downturn could see commercial property yields drop, leaving councils exposed, say analysts. This fear has led some councils to resist investing, but others have developed considerable appetites. The Financial Times reported that Spelthorne borough council – which has assets of just £88m – bought a business park in Sunbury-on-Thames for £360m, having taken out 50 separate loans from the PWLB.

Local government sources played down fears of a bubble, pointing out that every council investment was made on a case-by-case basis and had to meet strict borrowing criteria.

Under the Prudential Code, councils must show that their investment plans are affordable, prudent and sustainable.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Responsibility for local authority spending and borrowing decisions lies with locally elected councillors, who are democratically accountable to their electorates.”

“English secondary schools ‘facing perfect storm of pressures’ “

Head teachers are not known for hysteria, so this is serious.

Secondary schools in England are facing a “perfect storm” of pressures that could have severe consequences for children, headteachers have said.

Budget cuts, changes to exams, problems recruiting teachers and Brexit are causing major upheaval, according to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The union is also expected to argue against government proposals to expand grammar schools at its annual conference this weekend.

Speaking ahead of the Telford meeting, the NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, said: “The combination of challenges facing secondary schools and their students has never been greater.

“Many school leaders are concerned about maintaining high standards in the face of simultaneous upheaval on so many fronts. It’s a perfect storm. The government is loading more uncertainty onto the secondary system than ever before. There is a real risk it will break.”

Hobby repeated warnings that schools are facing “unacceptable levels of financial pressure”, with an NAHT survey showing that 72% of headteachers believe that school budgets will be unsustainable in two years’ time.
“This is a result of the government’s choice to freeze spending and keep it at 2010 levels for each pupil. The 2010 cash isn’t going as far as it used to. You can’t expect it to. But the government is flatly refusing to admit the reality.”

Ministers have argued that school funding is at record levels, and that this will increase further as pupil numbers rise. The outgoing NAHT president, Kim Johnson, attacked suggestions that schools need to make efficiency savings.

“It’s quite insulting to have ministers say to you: ‘You need to renegotiate your photocopying contract, perhaps think about the paper you’re getting in, club together with six other schools and you’ll get it cheaper.’”

Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff, the NAHT said, particularly in key subjects such as maths, science and languages.

“Year after year, the government has missed its own targets for teacher recruitment,” Hobby said. “Thirty per cent of new teachers leave the profession after five years.

“NAHT’s own research shows school leaders have struggled or failed to recruit in eight out of 10 cases this year. Recruitment has never been more challenging.”

Schools are also dealing with exam changes this summer, including a new GCSE grading system. There are also concerns about a government expectation that 90% of pupils will study English Baccalaureate subjects – English, maths, science, history or geography and a language – narrowing the curriculum, the NAHT said, and uncertainty about how Brexit will affect the thousands of EU nationals who work in schools.

The NAHT’s motion on selective schools says the union should “campaign vigorously to reject the proposed expansion of selection” in the absence of “any compelling evidence that it promotes social mobility”.

Theresa May has said the policy will help to create a place at a good school for every child and argued that many children’s school choices are determined by where they live or their parents’ wealth.”

A new senior citizen care plan for the NHS?

Owl takes no credit for this – the post is one from the United States that has gone viral! Owl, of course, does not advocate some of the suggested actions which appeal far more to America where guns are sacred.

Social Care: Plan G

If you are an older senior citizen and can no longer take care of yourself and need Long-Term Care, but the government says there is no Nursing Home Care available for you, what do you do? You may opt for Medicare Part G:

The plan gives anyone 75 or older a gun (Part G) and one bullet. You may then shoot one worthless politician. [Owl does not support this, of course]

This means you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning, cable TV, a library, and all the health care you need. Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That’s great. Need a hearing aid, new hip, knees, kidney, lungs, sex change or heart? They are all covered.

As an added bonus your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now.

And who will be paying for all this? The same government that just told you they can’t afford for you to go into a nursing home.

And you will get rid of a useless politician while you are at it. And now, because you are a prisioner, you don’t have to pay any more income taxes.

Is this a great country or what?

Now that you have solved your Long-Term Care problem, enjoy the rest of your week.”

Election irony

Does anyone else find it ironic that Tory candidates are saying that they will “fight for” local hospitals, fairer funding for schools and our precious environment when it is THEIR party that brought the CCG’s that are already cutting beds by stealth, the unfair school funding and which wants to loosen environmental regulations as soon as possible to enable more building on green fields and who are trying to stop frightening air pollution figures being published?

The Tory battle cry seems to be:

“What do we want?”
“No bed cuts, fairer funding for schools and a healthy environment!”
“When do we want it?”
“Er, whenever Mrs May says we can have it, pretty please?”
“When will it be?
“Brexit means Brexit!”

Have fun with that one – and if you vote for the Tories in Devon just hope you, your children and grandchildren can afford a private education and health care and never need to go to an NHS A and E or GP – or breathe the air in our towns, cities and countryside – tall order!

We need a credible opposition at DCC to fight for us. Claire Wright has done a magnificent job fighting for our schools, our hospitals and our environment at DCC – but could do even more with an army of like-minded councillors alongside her whose battle cry would be:

“What do we want?”
“Our fair share in a clean, green Devon”
“When do we want it?”
“When our voters empower us to get it”
“When will it be”?
“When you vote Independent on 4 May!”

So, Independents don’t make a difference … wrong!

Devon County Council yesterday, voted in favour of my motion on sending a strong message to central government that nature MUST have at least the same level of protection after we leave the European Union.

Only one councillor voted against the motion, which is below.

Devon is thought to be the first council to endorse such a motion in the country. …


At their meeting this week, members of Devon County Council backed a motion by Claire Wright, Independent councillor for Ottery St Mary, asking for retention of at least the same level of protection for wildlife and environment, as provided by EU law. …

… Only one councillor voted against the motion – Cllr Richard Hosking of Yealmpton – who said the EU habitats regulations had “very many shortcomings”. Great crested newts were either “very successful at parachuting into every environmental impact assessment I have seen, or they are much more prevalent than their protection suggests”, Cllr Hosking said.

Sidmouth husting cancelled … so what would we have liked to see debated?

It appears only two of Sidmouth’s DCC candidates were prepared to attend tonight’s husting, which has now been cancelled at short notice – Stuart Hughes (Conservative ex- Monster Raving Loony) and Marianne Rixson (Independent East Devon Alliance).

Such a pity as there are burning questions for the Sidmouth and Sidford candidates, and the incumbent in particular, such as:

Asking Councillor Hughes why he seems to value photo-opportunities and silly songs

over action (for example, Alma Bridge…talk for years…no action)

The state of our roads in Sidmouth and Devon – Councillor Hughes having been in charge of them at DCC for years.

His worrying lack of preparedness about said highways when he should have known the information about them that should have stopped Sidford Industrial Estate ever getting into the local plan – information Sidmouth Councillor Rixson uncovered and used to help to stop it. A story of too little too late.

Councillor Hughes also needs to clarify his views on the NHS. While Sidmouth retains beds in this round of cuts, no-one can predict the future and the hospital will certainly come under pressure with extra patients from Axminster, Honiton and Seaton.

Unfortunately, a vote for Councillor Hughes is a vote for cuts – NHS and just about everything else including social care and education – big DCC responsibilities.

Councillor Rixson, and the local community, stopped the industrial estate. Councillor Rixson is an indefatigable supporter of our NHS and sees the issues way beyond the narrow confines of whipped party politics.

Councillor Rixson is the ONLY credible contender to beat Councillor Hughes, given the results from the 2015 election and to help beat any future cuts in the pipeline.

No wonder other candidates didn’t plan on turning up!