“Taxpayers still footing the bill for non-existent ‘ghost’ schools locked into £100m ‘PFI swindle’ “

Imagine how this money could benefit current pupils – and we are powerless to stop these payments:

“Taxpayers will foot a bill of over £100 million over the next two decades for “ghost” schools, as local authorities are held to ransom over outstanding Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts.

The Sunday Telegraph has identified schools across the country, built under the Government’s PFI scheme, which closed down just a few years after opening due to declining pupil numbers, poor performance or structural flaws.

But local authorities must continue to pay until the end of the contract – amounting to millions of pounds for empty or demolished buildings.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/29/taxpayers-still-footing-bill-non-existent-ghost-schools-locked/

See your Police and Crime Panel in action – in Plymouth – and how to ask a question

Owl thinks the Police and Crime Commissioner is getting an easy ride when it comes to accountability. And thinks the Police and Crime Panel (which can make recommendations to her but cannot do anything else if she disagrees with them) is getting an even easier ride.

It is very hard for people in East Devon to get to Plymouth, where the panel always meets (time for an Exeter venue?) but for anyone who wants to attend and ask questions of the panel, here is the relevant information:

Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel
Next meeting: Friday 18 August 2017 10.30 am

The agenda will be displayed in the week before the meeting

Proposed venue: Council House (Next to the Civic Centre), Plymouth

How to ask the panel a question

Members of the public can attend panel meetings (except where confidential or exempt information is likely to be discussed) and may ask questions at each meeting (up to two questions per person per meeting and up to 100 words per question) that are relevant to the Panel’s functions.

At the start of each meeting 30 minutes will be allocated to questions asked by members of the public. Responses may be oral or written.

Questions must be put in writing to the Democratic and Member Support Manager at Plymouth City Council at least 5 clear working days before the panel meeting.

Democratic and Member Support Manager
Plymouth City Council
Civic Centre
Plymouth
PL1 2AA
democraticservices@plymouth.gov.uk

Budleigh Neighbourhood Plan group apologises for being unable to save hospital garden after being outmaneuvered by Clinton Devon Estates

“A neighbourhood plan focus group has apologised to the Budleigh Salterton community after a bid to save the entire hospital garden from development failed.

The former hospital garden, in Boucher Road, had been listed in the draft neighbourhood plan as one of the key green spaces to be protected from future development.

It had also previously been earmarked for health and wellbeing activities for a new hub being built on the site of the former hospital.

In February this year, landowner Clinton Devon Estates (CDE) put in a planning application to build two houses on half of the site, keeping the other half as a public-access garden.

An independent examiner assessing the town’s draft neighbourhood plan requested more information clarifying the importance of the hospital garden.
Chartered town planners Bell Cornwell, on behalf of CDE, wrote a letter to the examiner confirming that the planned public access garden would be “more than adequate” for hub activities.

One of the examiner’s alterations to the plan, ratified by the district council, was that the area of protected green space in the garden be reduced by half.

Nicola Daniel, on behalf of the Budleigh Neighbourhood Plan Built and Natural Environment Focus Group, has apologised for not being able to secure the whole garden for the town.

In a letter to the Journal (see page 20), she said: “By the time we saw this letter it was too late to challenge it. We were outmanoeuvred.
“Bell Cornwell was given more weight than the expert knowledge of the medical practitioners involved in setting up the hub, who know the full benefits of having the entire garden as a facility for the health and wellbeing hub and its success.”

In response, a CDE spokesman said: “CDE has for many years supported the NHS in Budleigh Salterton and, more recently, the Budleigh Salterton Hospital League of Friends, by making available the garden area off Boucher Road.
“We submitted proposals to East Devon District Council which include keeping half the garden, nearest the site of the new health hub, as a garden which would be open to the public for the first time.

“Our position has not changed since the application was submitted.”

Prince Charles gets his own (beautiful?) way with his new south-west town

Owl says: bet this wouldn’t happen in the Republic of East Devon! And wonders if a “zombie town” of which they speak might be on our own doorstep!

Jerome Starkey
http://www.thetimes.co.uk

“Three of Britain’s biggest housebuilders have lost an attempt to change the plans for a garden town designed by Prince Charles’s architects, amid claims that the builders’ proposals would have created a “zombie town”.

The Sherford Valley, on the outskirts of Plymouth, had been earmarked for 5,500 new homes and was designed by the Prince’s Foundation to create an eco-friendly pedestrian community like Poundbury in Dorset.

Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey, which bought the site in 2014, had applied to Plymouth council to water down the design rules and change Prince Charles’s plan so that they could build cheaper homes more quickly.
Councillors said that the move would have created a “zombie town” with “years of planning thrown out of the window” and rejected their application.
The builders had built fewer than 300 of the homes when they applied to amend the town code and master plan.

“Instead of having the highest standard of new homes, we will instead have a rather large housing estate,” Vivien Pengelly, a councillor, said.
The housebuilders said that they were asking for minor changes that would not have affected the quality of homes. However, Ben Bolgar, a director of the Prince’s Foundation, said that they were trying to strip out commitments to quality.

He said that Sherford was designed to prove that Prince Charles’s model village of Poundbury, near Dorchester, could work on a larger scale but that the builders were determined to “build their normal boxes”.

The design code meant that the builders had to produce a range of houses, built from local materials, which were not more than 500m from the shops. Cars had to be parked in hidden courtyards rather than on the street to encourage people to walk.

Mr Bolgar said that the builders’ plans would have transformed Sherford into a “rubbish housing estate”.

Jonny Morris, a councillor, said that he did not want Sherford to end up like the sort of place you would see “in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse”.

Housing companies applied to ditch a town code drawn up 13 years ago and replace it with a set of “fundamental principles” which they said allowed them greater flexibility over materials and construction methods.

“This is simply far too premature to take such a radical act, disregarding all those measures that allowed permission to be granted in the first place,” Nick Kelly, the deputy lord mayor, said. “We want development but everybody thinks, ‘This is what we’re going to get’, and at the stroke of a pen years of planning and assurances go out of the window.”

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who wrote a report in 2015 calling for dozens of new garden villages, said that Sherford had an excellent town plan and was “overwhelmingly supported by the local community” because of its commitment to quality. “The housebuilders knew what they were signing up to. There should really be no question about what will be delivered,” he said.”

Times (paywall)

Hinkley C: more bad, bad news – and they are moving to renewable energy!

Not looking like a good idea …

“Earnings at energy giant EDF have plummeted by a fifth in the first half of this year due to ongoing woes in its French fleet of nuclear reactors and lower profits from those in the UK.

The French state-backed group behind the UK’s first new nuclear plant in a generation, Hinkley Point C, has suffered a major setback to its domestic reactors, some of which have been closed for safety checks since October.

French nuclear power output fell by 3.9pc from the first half of last year to 197.2TWh in the six months to June 30, the group said. Despite a 4.2pc rise in UK EDF’s nuclear generation to 32.2TWh, the fleet of reactors were still a drain on earnings due to the weaker market price for electricity.

The slump in its two core markets wiped more than 20pc from its underlying earnings before interest, tax, debt and amortisation to €7bn (£6.3bn) but the group has assured investors that it remains on track to meet its guidance of between €13.7bn to €14.3bn for the year.

Jean-Bernard Lévy, EDF’s chairman and chief executive, underlined the “unfavourable market context” but said the group’s move towards renewable energy was accelerating.

The roll-out of subsidised renewables in the last decade has effectively driven the wholesale price of power down, cutting revenue for existing nuclear power plants, which sell their electricity into the market.

The decline in income highlights the need for a guaranteed set price for the new Hinkley Point plant in order to recover its eye-watering costs.

Earlier this month EDF confirmed that the cost of developing Hinkley had gone from £18bn to £19.6bn but was quick to point out that this would not be borne by customers because of the fixed price of £92.50 per megawatt-hour already agreed with the Government.

However, the declining wholesale market price means the top-up payment needed to meet this set price, which is paid by consumers, has spiralled to £50bn over the lifetime of the project from the £6bn bill estimated in 2013.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/07/28/edf-profits-dented-nuclear-woes/

Seaton DCC Councillor on that shameful DCC Health Scrutiny meeting – and Diviani’s disgraceful behaviour

“Councillor-Sara-Randall-Johnson (from this article):

Why did Devon’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee block the proposal to refer the closure of our beds to the Secretary of State?

The idea that the Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson (left), was settling an old score with Claire Wright makes a nice story but overlooks the concerted Conservative position. The collusion between Randall Johnson and Rufus Gilbert – who rushed to propose a ‘no referral’ motion before Claire could move her motion to refer – was obvious to all, as was her keenness to persuade her colleagues not to have a recorded vote.

Equally striking, however, is that only one out of 12 Tories on the Committee – Honiton’s Phil Twiss – voted against Gilbert’s motion. The other 7 Tories who voted were all for allowing the beds to be closed; 2 who had reservations abstained; 2 more were (diplomatically?) absent. Whipping is not allowed on Scrutiny committees, but this gives a strong impression of a Tory consensus. Members who were uncertain of their support were unwilling to defy it beyond abstention. Twiss was obviously a special case, as the one committee member whose hospital will lose its beds.

Clearly the Conservative Group on DCC gave their East Devon members the main role in dealing with the Eastern Locality hospital beds issue when in May (with its return to Scrutiny looming) they made Randall Johnson chair and nominated two Exmouth members, Jeff Trail and Richard Scott, as well as Twiss as members of the Health Scrutiny Committee. With East Devon Tory leader, Paul Diviani, representing Devon’s district councils, 5 of its Tory members were from East Devon and only 7 from the other five-sixths of the Tory group.

East Devon Tories on the committee certainly lived up to their role on Tuesday. All except Trail voted, making half of all Tory votes cast on the committee and 3 out of 7 on the pro-CCG side. In contrast, only 4 of the 8 Tories from elsewhere in the county cast a vote on this crucial issue: East Devon’s Tories may have convinced themselves, but not their colleagues.

Paul Diviani spills the beans

With Randall Johnson preoccupied with timekeeping (except when the CCG were speaking), Scott silent and Twiss asking questions, it was left to Diviani to express the Tory rationale. He claimed to speak for Devon district councils as a whole, but has acknowledged that he had consulted none of the others. He was happy to defy his own Council, which has voted to keep hospital beds, and spoke for himself – and East Devon Conservatives.

Diviani’s caustic little speech deserves more attention than it has been given.

He started by saying that those who decide to live in the countryside expect diminished service, and must cut their cloth accordingly in current times – forgetting that many have lived here all their lives, or moved here long before the present Tory government arrived to savage the NHS.

‘Costs will always rise without innovation’, Diviani continued, forgetting that the ‘costs’ of community hospitals are rising particularly because of the Tory innovation which gave them over to NHS Property Services and its ‘market rents’.

‘Local decisions should be made locally’, he averred, overlooking the fact that Sustainability and Transformation Plans, Success Regimes and NHS property sales are all national initiatives forced on the local NHS – while NEW Devon CCG is so unrepresentative even of local doctors that only full-time managers (Sonja Manton and Rob Sainsbury) are allowed to present its case in public while its ‘practitioner’ figurehead, Dr Tim Burke, hides in a corner.

When, however, Diviani warned that ‘attempting to browbeat the Secretary of State to overturn his own policies is counter-intuitive’, he expressed the truth of the situation. The closure of community hospitals results from the determined policies of the Conservative Government. (Referral would have served the purposes of delaying permanent closures, embarrassing the Government and forcing its Independent Reconfiguration Panel to give an assessment of the issue.)

East Devon Tories are the Government’s faithful servants. ‘Don’t trust East Devon Tories’ over the hospitals, I warned during the County elections. How right have I been proved.”

East Devon Tories were central to ditching Seaton and Honiton hospital beds

Claire Wright’s report on the shameful behaviour of DCC Health Scrutiny Committee Tories

“The Conservatives on Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee on Tuesday, torpedoed local people’s views and any possibility of a referral to the Secretary of State for Health for a decision to close 71 community hospital beds.

I will keep this blog post short and instead post three articles that explain things just as well as I could have explained them.
Suffice to say that I am deeply disappointed.

Not just with the behaviour of chair, Sara Randall Johnson, who appeared to do her utmost to prevent any referral, both at the previous meeting last month and at Tuesday’s meeting.

But also with the attitude of the majority of the Conservative group, who used a variety of ill-informed views and remarks, to justify their determination not to refer, refusing to hear or see any member of the public’s distress, frustration and disbelief at the proceedings.

The chair’s attitude made me angry and led to a protracted row where I repeatedly asked her why she had allowed a proposal to be made and seconded at the very start of the meeting by her conservative colleague, Rufus Gilbert, NOT to refer to the Secretary of State for Health, when I already had a proposal that I had lodged with her and the two officers, before the meeting.

I had been indicating to speak since the start of the meeting, yet, Cllr Randall Johnson chose to call four councillors before me.

When I was finally called to speak I challenged her on why she had not made my proposal, which she had a copy of in front of her, known to the committee at the start of the meeting, which is the usual practice.

Cllr Gilbert’s seconded proposal before questions or the debate had even started had nullified my proposal, which was why I was so angry.

Cllr Randall Johnson admitted that it was her decision not make my proposal known to the committee and her decision on who is called to speak.

When they did what they did at Tuesday’s health scrutiny meeting, the Conservatives betrayed thousands of local people.

As I said in my final speech, local people had written letters, organised petitions, replied to public consultations, attended meetings, spoken at meetings, attended demonstrations, some had even spent significant sums of money on a legal challenge.

Time after time, month after month, the committee has asked questions which have not been properly answered on issues such as evidence that it will work, the staffing required, the finances, care of the dying. Local GPs are up in arms, staff have objected… yet the Conservative group knew best.

The vote was agonisingly close – six votes to seven, with two abstentions. All those who voted with Cllr Gilbert’s motion were conservative. Cllr Randall Johnson also voted with Cllr Gilbert – another unusual move at such a highly charged and significant meeting.

I am quite certain, that with a different approach by the chair, that the outcome would have been different. And local people’s views would have been respected and acted upon.

Councillors are elected by local people to represent their views.

Why was it so important to the chair and her colleagues that my proposal failed on Tuesday?

A whip at scrutiny committees, much least a legally constituted committee such as the health and adult care scrutiny committee of Devon County Council is strictly forbidden.

Yet to the members of the public present, who were repeatedly shouting “fix” it certainly appeared that way.

Since the meeting I have been inundated with messages from people who are disgusted at what happened.

Alongside two other councillors, I am seeking advice on what took place at Tuesday’s meeting.

The debate can be viewed on the webcast here – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/293466

Seaton councillor, Cllr Martin Shaw, wrote an excellent account of the meeting here – https://seatonmatters.org/2017/07/26/the-health-scrutiny-committee-which-didnt-scrutinise/

My row with Cllr Randall Johnson has led to a local newspaper running a story about revenge… – see http://www.devonlive.com/tory-sara-randall-johnson-derails-claire-wright-s-health-campaign-six-years-after-election-defeat/story-30457493-detail/story.html”

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/conservatives_torpedo_local_peoples_views_on_community_hospital_bed_closure