“Tory MPs Stop Public Submitting Petitions To Government Until At Least September”

“Members of the public are unable to submit any petitions to Parliament this summer thanks to Tory MPs.

Conservative backbenchers are delaying elections to Parliamentary committees until September – including the one which runs the petition website.

No new petitions have been allowed since Parliament broke up for the election on May 3, and all those open at the time were closed.

Mark Hunt, Communications Director at the charity Meningitis Now, is frustrated this vital tool for the public to put pressure on MPs is unavailable.

The charity helped sign up more than 823,000 people to a petition calling for the meningitis B vaccine to be given to all children after two-year-old Faye Burdett died just 11 days after contracting the illness.

Hunt said: “For us, the e-petition provided an open and transparent process for challenging government thinking around a topical and genuine issue, and whilst the petition didn’t succeed in its stated aim, it made the process of democracy more open and transparent.

“Having witnessed and been part of the e-petition process and the way that it gave the general public the chance to express its views, it would seem to be a retrograde step to postpone or deny them this opportunity even in the short term.”

The elections to parliamentary committees are organised by the Tories backbench 1922 Committee – but that body only held its own vote today on who should fill the officer positions needed to run the elections.

Should the Tories wish, they could hold the parliamentary committee elections before the summer recess – which starts on Thursday – but it has been reported the whips office are delaying the process.

Tory MP Julian Lewis – re-elected chair of the Defence Select Committee – last week resorted to asking Commons Speaker John Bercow for his help in moving the process along.

Bercow replied: “If memory serves me correctly, what the officers of the 1922 Committee usually do in respect of their party—perhaps something similar operates in other parties—is simply oversee the count.

“Whether the officers of the 1922 Committee have or have not been elected is not a matter for the Chair—that is a party matter—but, frankly, overseeing the count does not require Einsteinian qualities; it is a pretty prosaic task.

“I do not think it would be right to say that the resources of the House could be made available in what is essentially the oversight of a matter undertaken by parties.

“However, it would seem to be perfectly feasible, if my colleagues, the Deputy Speakers, were so willing, that they and I could volunteer our services to oversee the count, if the House thought that that would be helpful.

“My basic point stands: do colleagues want these Committees to be set up sooner rather than later?

“If they do not, that is a pity, but if they do, those of us who are of good will and can be relied upon to conduct the count perfectly fairly, would, I suspect, be very happy to offer our services.

Labour MP Helen Jones was re-elected chairman of the Petitions Committee last week, and spoke of her frustration that the system is in limbo.

She said: “The petitions site had to close when Parliament stopped unexpectedly for the general election. I know that this has been frustrating for many people.

“The site will open again once the new Petitions Committee is set up, so it’s essential that the Committee is established as soon as possible.

“This isn’t something that I can control, but I’ll be doing everything I can make sure that petitioners don’t have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/tory-mps-petitions-government_uk_596ce991e4b0e983c057e8e8?

“More money for schools” con trick

There is no more money for schools – £1.3 million of the enormous free schools budget and money originally earmarked for new school buildings is being moved to the local authorities’ schools budget.

Robbing a very rich Peter to give a few crumbs to Paul!

“Justine Greening, the education secretary, has promised £1.3bn in funding for schools in England to head off a Conservative revolt, raiding the budget for free schools and new buildings to pay for the rise. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jul/17/justine-greening-raids-free-schools-budget-for-education-bailout

“UK has nearly 800 livestock mega farms, investigation reveals”

“Nearly every county in England has at least one industrial-scale livestock farm, with close to 800 US-style mega farms operating across the UK, new research reveals.

The increase in mega farms – which critics describe as “cruel and unnecessary” – is part of a 26% rise in intensive factory farming in six years, a shift that is transforming the British countryside.

Herefordshire has more than 16 million factory-farmed animals, mainly poultry – which means the county has 88 times more factory-farmed animals than it does humans. Shropshire and Norfolk follow closely, with more than 15 million and 12 million animals respectively. Nearly every county in England and Northern Ireland has at least one mega farm, and they are also scattered across Scotland and Wales.

The march of US-style mega farms – defined in the US as facilities housing 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy or 1,000 beef cattle – has been revealed in an investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Most of these farms have gone unnoticed, despite their size and the controversy surrounding them, in part because many farmers have expanded existing facilities rather than seeking new sites.

Mega farms and industrial-scale farms (that count as intensive, but not “mega” under the US definition) have previously attracted attention because of concerns raised by local residents, over smells, noise and the potential for pollution or disease outbreaks, and by animal welfare campaigners, who argue that factory-style farming in which livestock are rarely or never permitted outdoors prevents animals from expressing their natural behaviour. They also worry that mega farms are pushing smaller farmers out of business, leading to the takeover of the countryside by large agribusinesses, with the loss of traditional family-run units. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/uk-has-nearly-800-livestock-mega-farms-investigation-reveals

Exeter fourth largest growth rate in UK

Surely at this rate the Exeter area economy will become greatly overheated with an inevitable crash, especially as we are told that 70% of its exports currently go to the EU? Will East Devon, with Cranbrook’s creep towards the city just become a suburb of an ever-sprawling Greater Exeter but with no supporting infrastructure to speak of?

“Exeter is in the top five cities in the UK for job creation, new figures have revealed.

The UK Powerhouse report, produced by law firm Irwin Mitchell alongside the Centre for Business and Economic research, provides an estimate of the value of goods and services produced and annual job growth of 45 of the UK’s largest cities, 12 months ahead of the Government’s official figures.

Exeter sees an annual change of 1.5 per cent when it comes to employment, putting it as fourth in the UK.

It also revealed the growing importance that the banking, finance and insurance sector has on the city, revealing that 5,900 jobs were created between 2013 and 2016.

The report also predicts that Exeter’s city economy will grow by 18.1 per cent over the next 10 years whilst employment will grow by 9.4 per cent during the same period.

Jack Coy, economist at Cebr, said: “Despite the UK-level economic slowdown over the first quarter, it is good to see some bright sparks in local economies across the country.

“In particular, the best performing cities have benefitted from a combination of cutting-edge, productive industries and high-skilled workforces.”

http://www.devonlive.com/exeter-fourth-best-city-in-country-for-employment-growth/story-30444024-detail/story.html

“The £104bn HS2 cover-up: Government refuses to publish report into whether the controversial rail route should be scrapped”

“Ministers were under fire last night after suppressing a key report into HS2 overseen by the country’s most senior civil servant.

The review assessed whether the UK’s biggest ever infrastructure project is on budget and provides value for money for taxpayers.

It was led by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which reports to the Cabinet Office, led by Sir Jeremy Heywood.

The review was concluded last summer, before the legislation required to build the first phase of the high-speed railway, between London and Birmingham, received Royal Assent.

But although the key findings were relayed to Sir Jeremy Heywood and the government spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, the report has never been published.

Sir Jeremy was nicknamed Sir Cover-Up after preventing the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War from seeing letters and records of phone calls between Tony Blair and George Bush.

The Government was last night under fierce pressure to release the findings after a rail expert warned that the London to Birmingham phase will cost £403million per mile to build, making it the most expensive railway in the world

How cash could be spent

An east to west high-speed trans-Pennine rail link – nicknamed HS3 – connecting Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Hull.

The electrification of the mainline between London and South Wales. Completion of this project has been delayed until 2024.

Improving rail links between London, Devon and Cornwall.

Rebuilding the vulnerable Dawlish coastal line between Exeter and Newton Abbot in Devon which has been repeatedly battered by storms and floods.

Reopening the Great Central passenger line between Burton upon Trent and Leicester. It was closed to passengers in the late 1960s as part of the Beeching cuts. Only freight trains now run on the line.

Electrification of the Valley lines in South Wales.

The calculations were produced by Michael Byng, the expert who devised the standard method used by Network Rail to cost its projects.

He told The Sunday Times that using his method the London to Birmingham phase, would cost almost £48billion – double the official estimate.

He claims the full scheme, including extensions to Manchester and Leeds, would cost up to £104billion. The first 6.6 miles, from Euston station in London to Old Oak Common, would cost £8.25billion, or £1.25billion a mile.
The Department for Transport stressed that it had not commissioned the report but said it would look at the figures.

One furious MP described a ‘pattern of concealment’ over HS2, with the Government also refusing to publish two critical Cabinet Office reports conducted in 2011 and 2012 on the project.

Ministers were finally forced to publish them in 2015, after losing a case in the Supreme Court brought by campaigners.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority concluded last year that the £55.7billion project was £9billion over budget.

Sir Jeremy identified £9billion of savings that could be made, but because the full report has still to be published it remains unclear how he came to his conclusions.

Campaigners expressed fears that Sir Jeremy’s report had exaggerated the cost savings that could be made.

Opponents of HS2 believe the findings of the latest Cabinet Office investigation into the high-speed link have been kept quiet by ministers anxious to press ahead with the new railway without delay.

Cheryl Gillan, Tory MP for Chesham and Amersham, said: ‘No report on a project which uses so much taxpayers’ money should remain secret.

‘There is a pattern of concealment, with previous reports also withheld. If this report was positive the Government would have had no hesitation making it public.

‘This will make the public believe there is something highly risky about this project – which people like me know is the case.’

Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, said: ‘This white elephant is growing bigger and bigger.

‘It is especially galling to waste such eye watering sums on this disastrous vanity project when there are such pressing things to invest public money in.’

A fresh row is expected to erupt today as the Government announces the final route of the Manchester and Leeds arms of HS2.

Homes on a new housing estate in Mexborough could be bulldozed to allow the line to run into Sheffield city centre.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will stress the economic benefits of HS2 as he announces the winners of the first stage of the major construction contracts for the line. He will say the Government expects that the £6.6billion in contracts will support 16,000 jobs.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘HS2 will become the backbone of our national rail network – creating more seats for passengers, supporting growth and regeneration and helping us build an economy that works for all.
‘We are keeping a tough grip on costs and the project is on time and on budget at £55.7billion.’ “

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4701986/Government-refuses-publish-report-scrapping-HS2.html

EDDC: (second) postal votes fiasco WILL be scrutinised

“East Devon District Council’s chief executive will be asked to include an explanation of how 9,000 postal votes were sent out without an official security mark ahead of June’s General Election,

The postal vote pack sent out on May 25 to 9,000 voters by the Acting Returning Officer for the East Devon Mark Williams, who is also the council’s chief executive, contained voting slips that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper.

East Devon District Council were responsible for printing the ballot papers but Mr Williams issued a statement reassuring voters that no postal votes had been affected as a result of the error.

The council’s ruling cabinet committee voted on Thursday to agree with the council’s scrutiny committee that his forthcoming report to Cabinet on his two priority areas after the Parliamentary Election must include the explanation of the postal vote issue of May 25 that did not have an official security mark visible on the front of the ballot paper.

Paul Arnott, the chairman of the East Devon Alliance, had previously raised concerns about the fact that the council’s scrutiny committee were not able to investigate what he called the postal voting ‘cock-up’.

He was told that the current legal assessment is that the remit of the Scrutiny Committee does not extend to Parliamentary elections, which is the remit of the Electoral Commission. He queried this and was told that there is nothing laid down about where electoral matters can or can’t be discussed within the framework of local authority governance, and ultimately it is up to the Council and its operation of its scrutiny function as to whether any or all elections or electoral related matters are included in that scrutiny.

He has written to the council, asking them to take on board this advice and for scrutiny to investigate the matter, but in response, Henry Gordon Lennox, the Strategic Lead (Governance and Licensing) and Monitoring Officer of East Devon District Council, said that Mr Arnott had misinterpreted the advice he had been given and said that his query was ‘politically driven’.

Mr Gordon Lennox in a statement said: “In my view, Mr Arnott has misinterpreted the advice from the Electoral Commission, who said that there were no legislative provisions dealing with the role of Scrutiny and elections and therefore it is down to the rules of each authority that will dictate whether or not there is a role for Scrutiny.

“Mr Arnott has taken this to say that the Council’s Scrutiny Committee should be reviewing the conduct of elections. However, what they are saying, and it is my view too, is that effectively it is the Council’s Constitution and the Terms of Reference of the Scrutiny Committee that determine whether they can consider elections or electoral related matters.

“In general terms the role of Scrutiny is to review the actions relating to the various functions of the Council (in whatever form that takes). The role of Returning Officer is not part of the Council, save for the elections relating to towns and parishes and the district. It is for this reason that the Scrutiny Committee do not have the authority to consider the actions and conduct of the Acting Returning Officer / Deputy Returning Officer in the Parliamentary / County elections respectively.

“I think it important to also address the political side of this. I note that Mr Arnott says this is not political. However, Mr Arnott refers to the East Devon Alliance (EDA) report submitted to East Devon District Council following the May 2015 elections.

“Mr Arnott was at the time the Chair of the EDA and therefore a part of the Executive Committee who produced and submitted the report. At the County elections, Mr Arnott was an appointed election agent for the EDA.

“In the correspondence arising out of the postal vote issue during the Parliamentary election, Mr Arnott, when officially signing off his emails, referred to himself as the Chairman and Nominating Officer of the EDA.

“So my perception, notwithstanding what Mr Arnott says, is that his query is politically driven. To that end, the role of Scrutiny is supposed to be apolitical and I would be concerned that even if it were permissible for Scrutiny to be considering this matter, that the purpose for them so doing would be questionable.

“I have explained this matter in some detail in order to ensure that the correct context is understood and to give clarity on the issue. I would further confirm that, despite the above, it is my understanding that the Returning Officer will be presenting a report to Scrutiny at its next meeting on the key priorities he is working on, following what will now be the standard practice of a review process taking place after each election.”

In response, Mr Arnott said: “The independents who campaign under the protective umbrella of the East Devon Alliance have both a right and a civic duty in the public interest to ask questions about this matter without fear of partial criticism from the council’s legal chief.

“Nothing is more serious than questionable practices in a general election, and Mr Gordon Lennox’s boss, Mark Williams, has had since June 6 to the present day to simply explain why he printed the postal ballot papers sent out with no watermark or QR code himself and did not commission them from a professional printers. He has disdained to give a much-needed open answer and his team have focussed on giving reasons why he shouldn’t have to be questioned about it at Scrutiny. Why?

“Mr Gordon Lennox’s time would be better spent persuading his employer to answer councillors about their election concerns than taking swats at me. I am a volunteer while he and his boss are both handsomely paid by council tax payers.

“This matter, and the arrogant manner in which it continues to be dealt with is the essence of why the East Devon Alliance had to be constituted. When we say this issue is not political, what we mean is that Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independents alike at EDDC should all be equally alarmed about yet another badly-run election paid for by local people. If they aren’t, they should be.”

http://www.devonlive.com/east-devon-chief-executive-will-be-asked-to-explain-postal-vote-error/story-30443902-detail/story.html

“LEP funded” project runs into problems

“A string of major restaurant chains have lifted the lid on how Plymouth’s £40million Bretonside development could look.

The Herald revealed earlier this month how Mexican food emporium Wahaca had become the ninth chain to rule themselves out of the massive cinema and restaurants complex, which is currently under construction.

They followed big names such as Wetherspoon, Pret a Manger, Five Guys, Harry Ramsden and Greggs in confirming they would not have a Bretonside branch.

And now a further six popular brands have told The Herald they will not be part of the project. …”

http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/big-name-restaurants-reveal-why-they-ve-snubbed-bretonside/story-30442774-detail/story.html