UK has lowest economic growth of G7 countries – the implications for East Devon

Owl says: According to our Local Plan, the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan AND the plans of Local Enterprise Partnership, development in East Devon, Exeter, Devon and Somerset (economic and housing) was based on an expectation of constant, uninterrupted high growth. Now what?

“The consumer-driven momentum that has kept the British economy afloat since the Brexit vote is declining rapidly, with new data showing households in the grip of the most protracted squeeze on living standards since the economic crisis of the mid-1970s.

Against a backdrop of rising prices and stagnant wage growth, incomes adjusted for inflation have now fallen for three successive quarters, the first time this has occurred since the International Monetary Fund had to bail Britain out in 1976.

At the same time, the amount being set aside as savings has now slipped to just 1.7% of disposable income – the lowest level on record, and a fraction of the near-10% average for the last 50 years. Just a year ago, it was more than three times the current rate.

The new data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in the first three months of 2017, the mounting financial pressure on consumers brought the UK’s strong performance following last summer’s Brexit vote to an abrupt halt.

On Thursday, separate figures showed an unexpected jump in consumer credit. Households borrowed an extra £1.7bn in May – £300m more than had been expected – on credit cards, personal loans and car finance. A survey of consumer confidence also showed a steep decline.

Despite saving less and borrowing more, consumers still reined in their spending, contributing to economic growth confirmed today at just 0.2% – the lowest of any of the major G7 industrial nations.

Spending in the shops, new car sales and property transactions have all showed signs of weakness, and the Bank of England has expressed concern about rising levels of consumer debt. …”

Fukushima yesterday, Hinkley C tomorrow?

Owl says: think there is no chance of a tsunami on the Severn estuary? Think again:,_1607

Three former executives from the operator of Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant went on trial Friday, the only people ever to face a criminal court in connection with the 2011 meltdowns that left swathes of countryside uninhabitable.

Ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, all pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, more than six years after the worst atomic accident in a generation.

Katsumata told the Tokyo court it was impossible for him to have directly foreseen the risk of the towering waves that pummelled Japan’s northeast coast in March 2011.

“I apologise for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials,” Katsumata said in a barely audible voice, as he bowed.

But “I believe I don’t have a criminal responsibility in the case”.

The indictments are the first — and only — charges stemming from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges against the men, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.

But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the trio should be put on trial, which compelled prosecutors to press on with the case under Japanese law. …”

“Public sector workers ‘most likely’ to seek payday loans, poll finds”

Owl asks: where are we on this? Has there been a u-turn on the u-turn on the u-turn yet, or does it come later today?

“Public sector workers are the most likely employees to take out payday loans, according to survey by a loans comparison website.

A survey of 8,000 people by revealed the majority of employed people taking out payday loans were working in the public sector.

Of those in employment seeking a payday loan, more than a quarter (27%) work in the public sector in roles such as nurses, teaching assistants and for councils, according to Readies.

The findings came a day after a proposed amendment to the Queen’s Speech to increase public sector pay and end the 1% pay cap failed to pass the Commons. There has been some suggestion that the government is poised to relax public sector pay limits.

Commenting on the poll’s findings, Stephanie Cole, operations manager at Readies, said: “Payday loans have a negative stigma attached to them, but the reality is that they are now part and parcel of some people’s’ lives as the pay squeeze intensifies as wage growth falls further behind inflation.

“The pay squeeze, particularly on public sector workers, will only serve to increase the number of people turning to payday loans who are already struggling with rising fuel, food and transport costs.”

Public sector unions have protested ongoing public sector pay restraint.

Speaking after the Queen’s Speech vote on public sector pay, Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Pay for all public sector workers needs to be increased. The autumn budget must ensure that this 1% cap is lifted for all public servants.”

“Judge lifts stay on council continuing investigation into conduct of councillor”

“The claimant in Hussain v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council [2017] EWHC 1641 (Admin), Cllr Mahboob Hussain, was alleged to have been engaged in various transactions in early 2012 which involved procuring the sale of council assets to family friends at a substantial undervalue.

The councillor, an elected Labour member of the Labour controlled authority, was also alleged to have used his power and influence as a senior politician within Sandwell to have parking tickets issued to his family expunged.

The council’s audit committee had commenced an investigation after various allegations circulated in 2014 in the press and on social media that there had been serial and longstanding wrongdoing by elected members.

An external firm of solicitors were brought in to assist. The firm interviewed Cllr Husssain on two separate occasions about the allegations.
“Regrettably, towards the end of the process, the solicitor conducting the investigation made a personal and derogatory observation about the claimant and his family to the chief executive,” Mr Justice Green said.

The chief executive, Jan Britton, then considered whether it was proper to continue with the firm given the risk of bias. It was decided that – with the investigation at an advanced stage – the work should be completed. But it was also decided that the evidence and report should be submitted to leading counsel for independent advice.

The solicitors’ report was presented to Sandwell Council in April 2016. A QC then advised in May 2016.

“The gist of the advice was that there was a serious case to be met by the claimant and that the solicitors report and the opinion should be placed into the public domain to address criticisms then being made in the press that the authority was suppressing wrongdoing and not taking its obligations seriously,” Mr Justice Green said in a press summary of the ruling.
Counsel also advised that a formal investigation of the allegations against the claimant under the Localism Act 2011 be initiated.

The judge said the investigation then became ‘political’ in the sense that the investigation was used by members against each other during elections of a new Leader of the council. The solicitors’ report and the QC’s opinion were leaked.

When the council said it intended to publish the two documents, Cllr Hussain sought permission for judicial review and an order prohibiting publication.
The High Court refused permission for a judicial review challenge, but the Court of Appeal went on to grant permission. Sandwell’s investigation was stayed by the High Court pending the outcome of Cllr Hussain’s challenge. This also prevented the authority from convening a standards committee investigation to hear and then rule upon the allegations against him.

The claimant advanced a number of grounds of challenge. The judge said these raised issues about the scope of the powers of local authorities generally to investigate alleged wrongdoing under the Local Government Act 1972 and the Localism Act 2011 and the interaction between these measures and the Data Protection Act 1998.

The claimant argued that:

The investigation was and remained flawed and unlawful because it was infected by bias, politically motivated, oppressive, irrational and unreasonable.

There was no lawful power to investigate alleged misconduct pre-dating the coming into effect of the Localism Act 2011 (1 July 2012), and no power more generally to invoke the powers in the Local Government Act 1972 and the Localism Act 2011 in support of investigations into this sort of alleged misconduct.

In relation to the decision to place the solicitors’ report and the QC’s opinion into the public domain, this was an irrational and politically motivated act, that it was infected by bias, and in any event the decision was unlawful under data protection legislation and violated the rights of Cllr Hussain and his family under Article 8 ECHR.

Dismissing the claim for judicial review, Mr Justice Green said: “On the evidence before the Court there is a serious prima facie case against the claimant. The allegations should now be investigated properly in accordance with the formal arrangement instituted by the council under the LA 2011 [Localism Act].

“The council has ample powers to conduct investigations into this sort of impropriety. The argument that Parliament intended an amnesty to be accorded to those engaged in wrongdoing before the coming into effect of the LA 2011 (on 1st July 2011) is rejected. The decision to publish the solicitors report and the opinion were fully justified and in the public interest and were not prohibited by data protection laws or Article 8 ECHR.”

The judge said he had also decided that even if he were wrong in his analysis of the powers of the local authority and that it had in the past acted unlawfully that none of these breaches would be material or have any real impact on the fairness of the investigatory procedure going forward.
“A striking feature of the case is that the standards committee, which will hear and adjudicate upon allegations made against the claimant, has not yet been convened, due to the stay that the claimant successfully obtained from the High Court,” Mr Justice Green said. [His emphasis]

“When the stay is lifted, which it will be by Order of this Court, the claimant will have a full opportunity to present his case and establish that the allegation against him are to be rejected.”

The judge said he agreed with the position adopted by the council that the allegations were serious and that there was a powerful public interest in those allegations being thoroughly and fairly tested and adjudicated upon.

“The fact that the issues have acquired a ‘political’ flavour to them is not a reason for the council, as a body, to act differently. On the contrary it must act independently and objectively throughout, as it has done,” he noted.

The stay on all proceedings was lifted.

Commenting on the ruling, Sandwell’s Britton said: “We welcome the judgment that the claim for a judicial review has been rejected in totality and that the council’s case has been vindicated.

“Now legal issues have come to a conclusion, the council is able to proceed with its standards process.”

Rubbish rubbish collections hit the headlines again

Something going very wrong here … seems like ” working well for 99% of users” may be more spin than substance”

“Maggots found in Sidmouth bin after three weeks with no collection

Maggots were found feeding on ‘rotting, stinking mess’ after food bins in Sidmouth were not emptied for the first three weeks of a new waste scheme. …”

…The recent heatwave – which also beat down on ‘disgusting’ overflowing dog bins around the valley – worsened the situation and left 83-year-old Joyce Waterhouse ‘unable to cope’, so a relative took all her recycling to landfill.

East Devon District Council (EDDC) said the rollout to 51,000 homes was working well for 99 per cent of residents and asked people to ‘bear with us’. …”

Big meeting in Honiton on bed cuts: 11 July, Mackarness Hall, 7 pm, Claire Wright and Parish speaking

“A public meeting to update the community on the saga surrounding Honiton Hospital will be held next month.

The session, which will be held at the Mackarness Hall on July 11, from 7pm, has been organised by Honiton Senior Voice and the steering committee of Save our Hospital Services.

Honiton and Tiverton MP Neil Parish and Independent councillor Claire Wright have been invited to the meeting, as well as Honiton mayor Cllr John Zarczynski.

Cllr Wright recently proposed to Devon County Council that NHS Northern, Eastern and Western Clinical Commissioning Group’s (NHS NEW Devon CCG) decision to close all inpatient beds at Seaton and Honiton hospitals should be referred to the Secretary of State for Health.

The proposal was deferred until July but the meeting will be updated of any progress and given details of how to represent their view when the council meet.

June Brown, chair of Honiton Senior Voice, said: “We are far from giving up on saving our hospital beds and the ball has now been placed at the feet of NEW Devon CCG to answer the questions that have been raised by East Devon and Devon county councillors.

“As far as we are concerned the case for retaining the beds is overwhelming given the needs in this area and the pressures on Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and other services.

“We think our GPs also want these beds retained so hope to send a very strong message from this meeting to the NEW Devon CCG to answer the case made. In coming months we shall continue the fight to retain these beds.”

Senior Voice spokesman Tony Simpson added: “Staff at Honiton Hospital are already having to consider their futures and there is already uncertainty about what will happen after September by doctors, nurses and patients who may need in patient facilities locally.

“There seems little prospect that the alternative quality home care systems promised will be in place.

“Look around Honiton – almost every care agency is desperately advertising for staff on fairly low wages and sometimes without adequate training. There are just insuffient care resources being put in.

“We also call on our MP to organise a delegation to Jeremy Hunt from local bodies representing patients, professionals and health trade unions.

“Mr Parish should now be standing up in Parliament telling the government that he and the people he represents will not accept the closure of beds, maternity and other services at any price.

“We expect him to vote according to his constituent’s wishes.”

Education cuts bite in Sidmouth: students at Sidmouth College to share books or parents to spend at least £57 to buy them

No whining those who voted Conservative – this is what you voted for and what Swire and Parish vote for in Parliament. Once again, poorer students will lose out if their parents cannot afford the expensive books.

“The principal of Sidmouth College has addressed concerns that the school cannot afford enough textbooks in some subjects by vowing pupils’ education will not be compromised.

James Ingham-Hill says history and geography have been affected following changes to its GCSE and A-level syllabuses.

He said that a class set of geography books costing £650 will have to be shared between the GCSE groups and that the Sidmouth College Association had helped with funding.

The school has also purchased A-level books and offered students opportunities to buy their own to later sell back to the school at a second-hand price.

Mr Ingham-Hill told the Herald: “It has indeed been a challenge to fund the new textbooks required for new GCSE and A-level specifications. This year, it has been a particular issue for geography and history, but all subjects will be affected as the rollout of new exams is completed. The cost of these textbooks is yet another pressure on our budget during a period of real terms reductions in funding.”

Parent Janice Papworth has spent £57 on three textbooks for her son to reduce the number of pupils sharing resources in class.

The Colaton Raleigh resident has written to MP Sir Hugo Swire and called on the community to support the school.

The mum-of-two said: “This is not a criticism of the school. The teachers are doing a fantastic job to provide the best teaching they can under these difficult circumstances. I cannot imagine what extra work they must have put in to manage without the necessary books.

“I am fortunate that I am able to do this and I guess this is not the case for all pupils. Many parents may be unaware that their children are being taught without enough textbooks to go around and, in some subjects, no textbooks at all. Surely state education should be the same for all pupils? I feel very sad that it has come to this, but I cannot see any way around it other than to fund the books ourselves.

“On the whole, Sidmouth College pupils are pleasant and polite. They even give up time for local charities and fundraise for others in the community. If the Government has let them down, then maybe the Sidmouth community can support them – after all, they are the future of the town and surrounding areas.”

Mr Ingham-Hill wrote to parents this week, saying individual student textbooks are not a requirement to complete any GCSE course.

He said in the letter: “At Sidmouth College, despite well-documented issues regarding reduced funding, we have always ensured that department capitation enables subject areas to purchase the materials required to deliver excellent lessons and enable students to achieve the best outcomes.”

He added the school provided a bursary scheme for students from low-income families and a donation fund to support the college in ‘difficult times’.

Devon county councillors Stuart Hughes and Claire Wright said this week they will continue to fight for fairer funding.

Cllr Hughes, who represents Sidmouth, said: “One of our key pledges during the recent county council elections was to continue our fight for fair funding for Devon’s schools. Every child in Devon is worth £290 less than the national average and that’s not right.”

Cllr Wright, who represents the Otter Vale division, said the Government has let Devon’s schools down ‘very badly’.

She added: “The idea that local schools cannot even afford to buy GCSE textbooks is shocking and unbelievable in the fifth largest economy in the world and it is seriously compromising the education of our children.

“Not only should this damaging new funding formula be scrapped, but our local schools should be properly compensated for their costs and properly funded compared with other schools in the country.”

Another building regulation dropped for developers

“The government must reverse its opposition to new building regulations that ensure homes, hospitals and schools do not overheat as the number of deadly heatwaves rises, according to its official climate change advisers.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommended the new regulations in 2015 but ministers rejected the advice, citing a commitment to “reduce net regulation on homebuilders”. Without action, the number of people dying as a result of heat is expected to more than triple to 7,000 a year by 2040, the CCC warns in its annual report on the UK’s progress on tackling global warming. …”

Tory MP hates that social media is available to all – then retweets a picture of a pink penis!

After a tumultuous day of U-turns and PR disasters in Parliament yesterday, Theresa May probably thought things couldn’t get much worse.

However, one of her Tory MPs has just gone and said something on social media that a huge section of Britain will find highly offensive.

In typical sneering Tory fashion, the Conservative MP for South West Devon, Gary Streeter, in a heated exchange with journalist Paul Mason, said:

“This is why i (sic) hate social media. It gives a voice to people who dont (sic) deserve one”.

Yes, you read that right. A Conservative MP doesn’t think ordinary people deserve to have a voice.

In a further display of how little this particular Tory MP understands about the real world, he promptly proceeded to retweet one of the numerous responses to his elitist outburst – a response which just so happened to be a GIF of a pink penis running through a forest.

One can only imagine the thought process that an elected representative must go through when deciding that retweeting a set of galloping gonads is a good idea.

To Mr Streeter’s peculiar retweet, another Twitter user replied:

Gary… you retweet a penis running through a forest but won’t answer a polite question from one of your constituents… #confused”

We have contacted Gary Streeter for comment on his elitist comments, but presumably his head is still firmly inserted up his own backside, because he has not as yet had the good grace to respond.”