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.”

Sidmouth ward councillor not told about advanced development plans

“A leading Sidmouth councillor has said she is ‘alarmed’ after illustrations as to how Sidmouth seafront could look as part of plans to redevelop the Port Royal area of the town have were revealed.

Consultants are carrying out a scoping study to assess the feasibility of redevelopment of the area on behalf of Sidmouth Town and East Devon District Councils who are the major landowners of the site.

Plans were put on show on Monday and Tuesday at consultation events at Kennaway House in Sidmouth and revealed that the seafront could get up to 30 flats that stand five storeys high.

But Cllr Cathy Gardner, who represents Sidmouth on East Devon District Council and is also the leader of the East Devon Alliance, said she was very surprised on Monday when she saw a five storey block of flats revealed on the consultation boards.

Cllr Gardner said: “We are concerned and I was alarmed at what I saw. At this early stage of the consultation, we expected to see a review of what the limitations of the site are and what would be possible.

“What we certainly did not expect to see what a five storey flats building included in the consultation board.

“I am alarmed that we are looking at five storey building within this area of the seafront. There will be a lot of discussion over the next month about this and I am sure we will get a lot of comments about what people want, but this is not what we expected.”

She said that everyone accepts that the Port Royal area of the town, which includes The Ham, the riverside, the car park, fishing compound, the public toilets, the Drill Hall, the sailing club and the lifeboat station, does need something doing to it, but said that it should be something more in keeping with the town.

She added although it is a consultation exercise, it had the feel of something that was fait accompli, particularly as questionnaires as part of the Sid Valley Neighbourhood Plan survey asks residents their views about Port Royal area of the town are currently out with residents to fill in.

She added: “I am told that feedback from this will be taken into account, but it does seem to be putting the cart before the horse.”

The consultation boards say: “The existing lifeboat station and sailing club need to have a waterfront location for operational reasons, but there are no obvious technical reasons that would prevent the lifeboat station, sailing club, Drill Hall and toilet block from being demolished with an alternative development provided on that part of the Study Area.”

Under potential development opportunities, the boards say: “The development could comprise a building of between 3 and 5 storeys. It could be a single building incorporating various uses including a new lifeboat station, a multifunction unit that could incorporate the sailing club, other water related clubs already operating, public toilets and wider community use. Space could also be created for a café and restaurant. These could occupy the ground floor and first floor of the building.

“Up to thirty residential apartments with potential to be of various sizes could form part of this development occupying the second, third and fourth floors.

The illustrations on this board are only intended to give an impression of the scale and size of a building on the site and how it might appear in relation to other buildings nearby. It is not a proposal for how the building will look

“Pedestrianisation ofthe Esplanade from its junction with Ham Lane running eastwards towards Salcombe Hill would create an opportunity for a vibrant, active frontage to the new development on the allocated site where people can use the space free of traffic whilst maintaining access for emergency vehicles, e.g. lifeboat.

“An access road from Ham Lane could be created to provide additional pedestrian access through the site along with access for service vehicles, access to sailing club storage and some water users.”

The Ham and East Street car parks have also been included in the scoping study area, but as they are within a high risk flood zone, further discussion will be required with both the Environment Agency and East Devon District Council planning department before any proposals can be taken forward.

Consultants will use the feedback to produce a set of recommendations that balance community expectations with what is achievable in the area.

These recommendations are expected to be considered by Sidmouth Town Council and East Devon District Council later in the year.

You can fill in the survey here…”

No secret cabinet meeting for Grenfell Tower council

A judge has ordered a London council to lift a ban on the media reporting on the first meeting of councillors to discuss the Grenfell Tower disaster, after a legal challenge by the Guardian and other media groups.

Downing Street had expressed concern after survivors of the fire and members of the media were barred from the Kensington and Chelsea council cabinet meeting on Thursday evening which was to hear a report about the blaze.

The council had opted to hold a private cabinet meeting to hear an oral report about the fire, citing the potential for disorder, and previous threats against staff. Such meetings are usually open to the public.

The meeting was to be led by the council’s Conservative leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, who has been widely criticised in the wake of the fire.

However, a court application by the Guardian and five other media groups saw the high court order the council to admit members of the media with press cards.

Downing Street had said it wanted all parties involved in the fire aftermath “to be as open and transparent as possible, both with residents and the wider public, to ensure full confidence in the response effort”.

A spokeswoman said: “We would encourage everyone involved to respect this wherever possible.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, had also urged the council to reconsider. “In order to deliver a response that survivors, residents and the wider public can trust, there is no room for anything less than complete transparency,” he said.

The decision to bar survivors and the wider public from the meeting followed protests two days after the fire, in which at least 79 people died, when angry residents stormed the town hall.

The council said the decision to exclude the public was made in accordance with its own standing orders “which are confirmed in common law”.”

Er, seems the council’s legal officer might not be quite up to scratch – Owl thinks that common law is that made by case law and the judge just made the appropriate case law!

Take note EDDC!

Swire offers his constituents up as health care guinea pigs – who voted for that?

Did you vote for this, Tory voter?

“Queens Speech Contribution (Hansard)

Thursday, 29 June, 2017
Sir Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), who made some extraordinarily sensible points. May I take this opportunity to associate myself, on behalf of my constituents in East Devon, with the earlier tributes paid to the victims of Grenfell Tower and the terrorist attacks? I also pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the emergency services and to NHS staff for their incredible efforts.

In the 2017 Gracious Speech, the only mention of social care, to which I will dedicate my speech, was:

“My Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation.”

That is in line with the revised section of the 2017 Conservative manifesto, but no more details have been announced about the Green Paper or when it will be published. When it is published and goes out to consultation, it is vital that elderly people, who do not always have access to the internet, are given fair chance to respond and to put their views forward.

I, too, believe that the recent election showed how worried people are about their future healthcare needs. While the system needs to be fixed, it is incumbent on the Government to have a frank and honest consultation on how we fund and provide social care for the most vulnerable in our society. The issue has been kicked into the long grass for too long, so I have two offers to make to the Government this afternoon.

Over 850,000 people in the United Kingdom are living with dementia—equivalent to the entire population of Devon—and that number is expected to double in the next 20 years. Over 12,000 people in Devon are living with dementia, 4,500 of whom are in East Devon. The number of over-65s in Devon will increase from 195,000 in 2015 to 264,400 in 2030—an increase of 35.5%. Seventeen per cent. of the UK population is over the age of 65, compared with 24% of the Devon population. Some 2.38% of the population is over the age of 85, compared with 6.25% of the population of Budleigh Salterton in my constituency. In other words, with those ageing demographics, the rest of England will look like Budleigh Salterton in 2050. East Devon has over 6,500 people over the age of 85 and about 40,000 over the age of 65, so my offer to the Government is this: if we want to get long-term social care right nationally, look at what the country will look like in 2050, which is what towns such as Budleigh Salterton look like now. If we get it right in Devon, “we will get it right across the country. As a Devon MP, I am offering— I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) will also agree—to act as the guinea pig for getting social care right in this country. That is offer No. 1.

[Offer No. 2 goes on to suggest a cross-party group to talk about the future of health care.]

Those are my two offers. As a humble Back Bencher, I will work with other Back Benchers to get social care right in this country, and I offer up Devon, particularly East Devon, as the guinea pig or template for trying to get a social care system that is properly integrated with the rest of the NHS. If we get it right there, we will get it right across the nation, and everyone, including our electorates, will be enormously grateful to us.”

Now we must add the cost of women coming to England for abortions to the English NHS costs not Northern Irish

Surely these costs should be passed back to Northern Ireland? But better still, shouldn’t these wonen be spared the trauma of leaving their homes just to satisfy a few hypocrits? But there you go – the DUP is now in charge and we must expect this sort of stuff.

Swire and Parish vote (of course) not to lift pay cap on fire and police

No surprises there then.

But this is going to be interesting – for every such vote in future every Tory and DUP MP is going to have to physically be at the Houses of Parliament.

No “fact-finding” missions to the Maldives, no jaunts to Dubai, no popping over to the French château … Owl sees trouble ahead.

The Grenfell judge, housing and human rights

“A recently retired court of appeal judge who specialised in commercial law has been appointed to head the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire. Sir Martin Moore-Bick, 70, only left the bench last December.

Among his more controversial cases was a decision allowing Westminster council to rehouse a tenant 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. It was later overturned by the supreme court.

The former senior judge has in the past been praised by the justice minister, Dominic Raab, for applying “long-awaited common sense” to limit human rights law in a case where he deported a foreign-born criminal whose young children lived in Britain. But Moore-Bick, who is widely respected within the legal profession, will have to gain the confidence of the North Kensington community where the tragedy occurred.

… In one 2014 case, Moore-Bick said Westminster council could rehouse Titina Nzolameso, a single mother with five children, more than 50 miles away in Milton Keynes. He ruled that it was not necessary for Westminster to explain in detail what other accommodation was available and that it could take “a broad range of factors” into account, including the pressures on the council, in deciding what housing was available.

In April 2015, the supreme court reversed his ruling, pointing out that the council had not asked “any questions aimed at assessing how practicable it would be for the family to move out of the area”. …”

“Who really goes to a food bank?”

“… A major study from researchers at Oxford University and King’s College London has tried to get beyond the stereotypes, looking at those using the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks.

In the most basic terms, these are people with many overlapping forms of “destitution”.

They have been missing meals, often for days at a time, going without heating and electricity. One in five had slept rough in recent months.
They are at the lowest end of the low-income spectrum, with an average income below £320 per month, described as living in “extreme financial vulnerability”.

These are usually people of working age, middle-aged rather than young or old, mostly living in rented accommodation.

About five out of six are without a job and depending on benefits.

But among those in employment, this is usually unpredictable, insecure work, with an unreliable income.

The long stagnation in wages seems to have made it harder to be self-reliant through work – and the research warns of the rising number of jobs that are low-paid and insecure.

The best inoculation against needing a food bank seems to be a full-time permanent job.

Although there have been reports of people in decent jobs turning to food banks, the research suggests this remains very unusual.

But there are some distinct characteristics of food bank users that are different from the general face of poverty.

The most typical users are single men, lone mothers with children and single women – between them accounting for about two-thirds of all food bank users.
Social isolation, the lack of a friend in need, plays a part, as well as threadbare finances.

Ill health is a very common feature. Almost two-thirds of users had a health condition, half of households using food banks included someone with a disability and a third had mental health problems.

Debts and a long tail of repayments are often dragging them down.
They can be months behind with bills and having to pay back bank loans, credit cards, loan sharks, pawn shops and payday lenders.

Food bank users are overwhelmingly UK born and even though 4% have a university degree, they have much lower education levels than the average working-age population.

Put together, it shows people living closest to the edge being the first to be pushed over. Lone adults, saddled with debts, with ill health, high levels of depression and anxiety and few qualifications to get a more secure job.

These are people on the margins in many ways.

But the researchers show that living on “chronic low incomes” and facing “severe food insecurity” are not necessarily the tipping points.

There is often something else – an income or expenditure “shock” – that puts them on the road to the food bank. This can be an rise in rent, energy bills or the cost of food; or it could a delay in benefits or fewer working hours.
On wafer-thin margins, it can be enough to literally turn out the lights and leave nothing for food.

The research is also a reminder that the prevalence of food banks is a recent phenomenon, a tale of our times. In 2010-11, the Trussell Trust gave out 61,500 food parcels, but by 2016-17 this had risen to almost 1.2 million.

Rachel Loopstra, leader author of the report and lecturer in nutrition at King’s College London, said people had been “surprised and shocked” at the growth in food banks.

But there had not been enough understanding of the circumstances that meant people ended up having to ask for food.

Dr Loopstra said the study showed how apparently small changes in income or outgoings could leave people with absolutely nothing, even for the most basic of needs.

Over two-thirds of food bank users had often been going without food.
“The severity of food insecurity and other forms of destitution we observed amongst people using food banks are serious public health concerns,” she said.”

New refuse collection schedules: has EDDC got its priorities wrong?

From a correspondent:

“A couple of very nice Suez employees turned up this morning to pick up our recycling – because we complained (again) on the day at 6pm that it had not been collected, though it was in fact collected on the correct day if rather late in the day i.e. c. 6:30pm.

The employees very kindly explained that the system is not working because they do not have enough lorries. My initial thought was that Suez should buy some more, however it turns out that, so they said, it is not Suez’s fault at all, but (surprise, surprise [sic.]) EDDC’s.

Apparently they say that Suez’s contract with EDDC is to run the collection using vehicles provided by EDDC, and EDDC are simply not providing sufficient vehicles for the number of homes in East Devon, and in particular are not providing enough lorries to cope with the growth in housing numbers. So they say the staff are working many more overtime hours than they would like and are still struggling to make all the collections needed.

Once again it seems that EDDC have got their priorities wrong. They can waste several million pounds on a vanity project for new offices – the financial business case for which would be very suspect if EDDC had actually produced a financial business case – but they cannot afford to provide sufficient vehicles for collecting waste.”

Owl welcomes comment from EDDC for balance.

“Sidmouth seafront redevelopment plans revealed”

“… Under potential development opportunities, the boards say: “The development could comprise a building of between 3 and 5 storeys. It could be a single building incorporating various uses including a new lifeboat station, a multifunction unit that could incorporate the sailing club, other water related clubs already operating, public toilets and wider community use. Space could also be created for a café and restaurant. These could occupy the ground floor and first floor of the building.

“Up to thirty residential apartments with potential to be of various sizes could form part of this development occupying the second, third and fourth floors. … “

So, mostly housing development rather than regeneration – no surprises there then. First impressions? Owl’s is: meh – overpowering, underwhelming, out of place, dull and boring. But what do Sidmothians think?


If Owl asks nicely do you think we can get the Nasty Party out? No? OK Plan B it has to be – not nicely!

“The man advising the Government on its response to the Grenfell Tower disaster argued in favour of cuts to fire service funding and against fitting sprinklers to tower blocks.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid announced last night that Sir Ken Knight will chair an “independent expert advisory panel” to advise on new fire safety measures.

It has been pointed out that Knight advised the Government against retrofitting sprinklers to high rise residential buildings in his report on the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, in which six people died.

He wrote: “It is not considered as practical or economically viable to make a requirement for the retrospective fitting of fire suppression systems to all current high-rise residential buildings.”

Scrapbook has also found that Knight was the author of a 2013 report which advocated £200 million worth of cuts to the fire service.

The report’s recommendations included cutting the number of firefighters. In a BBC interview at the time, Knight said:

“The protection of services is not just about jobs, it’s about redefining what we want firefighters to do, what we want the fire service to do.

“So it is right, there will be an adjustment to numbers, of jobs, of people, of people doing different jobs, but that’s right in any business, in any industry, in any area of the public sector. …”