Citizens could lose right to sue Government post-Brexit; government says tradition will protect us

“The Brexit Bill includes a provision that could strip UK citizens of the right to sue the government, campaigners have pointed out.

Currently, the UK is subject to rulings of the European Court of Justice, including the so-called Francovich rule, which has been part of EU law since 1991. It allows EU citizens the right to sue their respective governments for failing to implement EU law such as environmental law, workers rights and business regulation.

However The European Union Withdrawal Bill states: “There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich”.

This has sparked concern that this weakens the rights of citizens to seek redress if the government were to fail to uphold certain laws.

Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake, said: “This is a shameless attempt to take away people’s rights through the backdoor.
“Citizens must be able to hold the government to account when it breaks the rules.”

Martha Spurrier, director of the civil liberties group, Liberty, told The Times: “This chilling clause, buried deep in the Bill’s small print, would quietly take away one of the British people’s most vital tools for defending their rights,

“Putting the government above the law renders our legal protections meaningless. It exposes a clear agenda to water down our rights after Brexit.”

However, the government said the UK has a “longstanding tradition” of ensuring public rights and liberties are protected.

A government spokesman said: “The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU and that is exactly what we are doing. The right to Francovich damages is linked to EU membership – the government therefore considers that this will no longer be relevant after we leave.

“After exit, under UK law it will still be possible for individuals to receive damages or compensation for any losses caused by breach of the law.”

Clinton Devon Estates to take over work of Jurassic Coast Trust

Oh dear sweet Lord – clifftop holiday homes and Disneyland here we come – and definitely no National Park!

An East Devon landowner is set to play a significant part in the future of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

Clinton Devon Estates, which owns and manages 25,000 acres of land across Devon, has pledged its support to the Jurassic Coast Trust which is taking over the management of the 95-mile stretch of world heritage coastline, from Devon and Dorset county councils this July.

The landowner is joining the Trust as one of four Lead Business Partners, currently the only partner in Devon alongside three based in Dorset, and will pledge £3,000 per year to the charity, helping to safeguard its future.

The Trust’s link with businesses and landowners is essential in ensuring it can carry out its work looking after the world class coastline, which stretches between Exmouth in Devon and Studland Bay in Dorset, on behalf of UNESCO for the “benefit of the whole of mankind”.

A large part of the Estate’s East Devon acreage is made up of the Pebblebed Heaths, which are named after the Budleigh Salterton pebblebeds and are a designated conservation area.

The Trust is poised to support the landowner’s existing educational outreach, which focuses on the ecology and management of the heaths by the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust.

Kate Ponting, countryside learning officer at Clinton Devon Estates, said: “We have had an informal, mutually supportive relationship for a long time as our paths have crossed over the years.

“The Estate owns land very close to, or on the Jurassic Coast, and the Trust is keen to extend its work in East Devon, so the partnership should afford more opportunities for collaborative working.

“We have a lot in common with the Trust whose work is based on geology; the geological story of the Pebblebed Heaths is part of our shared heritage which we’re passionate about.

“We hope to celebrate this heritage further, through extended community engagement and we’re hoping the Trust’s expertise will enhance what we already do.”

The Trust also plans to provide downloadable audio guides about East Devon’s geology for the Clinton Devon Estates’ website.

Guy Kerr, Programme Manager for the Jurassic Coast Trust, said: “We are delighted to have Clinton Devon Estates on board as one of our Lead Business Partners. The East Devon pebblebeds are a crucial part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and we look forward to working closely with Clinton Devon Estates to preserve this landscape and enthuse people with its incredible stories.”

Flooding – the past doesn’t predict the future

“Nearly every major city and town in Europe is built on a river and we protect this urban infrastructure by using past floods as a gauge of the potential risk,” said Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London.

“The study shows that this approach underestimates the risk, as climate change has made European floods occur earlier in the year, increasing their potential impact.

“This means all the infrastructure that we have built to protect our cities needs to be reviewed as much of it will be inadequate to protect us from future climate change-induced extreme flooding. … “

Outsourcing kills democracy

“Outsourcing of public services began in the 1980s, a central feature of the drive to roll back what neoliberalism casts as a bureaucratic, inefficient state. Its proponents claimed the involvement of private providers would increase cost-savings and efficiency, and improve responsiveness to the “consumers” of public services. Thirty years later, the value of these contracts is enormous – more than £120bn worth of government business was awarded to private companies between 2011 and 2016, and their number is increasing rapidly. At least 30% of all public outsourcing contracts are with local authorities.

Unlike government, private companies have no duty to provide for any public interest; the laws of the market mean their primary motive must be to maximise returns for shareholders. Questions have been raised about whether corruption or “misuse of public office for private gain” contributed to the Grenfell disaster; but the nature of outsourcing public services means that even the most well-meaning politicians can enter into contracts that result in severe detriment to the public, in both financial and human terms, without any crime having been committed.

The relationship between local councils and companies bidding for contracts is usually highly unequal. Local government funding cuts have caused a reduction in resources dedicated to providing scrutiny and oversight. The Audit Commission, previously responsible for scrutinising local authority contracts, has been abolished. The private companies involved, often huge multinationals, have significant advantage over local authorities in terms of technical knowledge and negotiating experience.

If it’s hard for councillors to evaluate and oversee these contracts it is nigh on impossible for the people using and experiencing services to apply scrutiny to the contracts governing their delivery. “Commercial confidentiality” is frequently cited as a reason for not disclosing the information necessary to assess contract content – and services, when delivered by the private sector, are not subject to the rules on freedom of information that apply to local government.

Attempting to use opportunities promised in legislation when the Audit Commission was abolished, residents in Lambeth, London, recently undertook a “peoples’ audit” of the councils accounts. The resident audit group included highly experienced finance professionals, who spent hundreds of hours chasing information requests and working their way through poor quality data. The published report claims to have identified numerous instances of inadequate governance of contracts, including questionable valuations of council property and land, systematic overcharging and billing for work that wasn’t carried out. The report calculates financial losses that run into millions.

In the London borough of Haringey, council leaders are planning the highest value local government-private sector contract in history. It was never presented in any manifesto on which voters could express their opinions or make their voices heard. The deal involves placing £2bn worth of council homes, property and land into a new “development vehicle” that will demolish and rebuild vast swaths of the area. This new entity will be 50% owned by private company Lendlease, a multinational property company with a turnover of billions of dollars.

Lendlease has form when it comes to contracts with the public sector. Its redevelopment of the Heygate estate in Southwark initially promised 500 social homes, that number reduced to just 82 in the final plan – only 20 have so far been built. It has made millions of pounds from its contracts with Southwark council.

Five years ago the company admitted fraud in government contracts in the US. Three years ago an Australian local government deal resulted in the authority being hundreds of millions of dollars out of pocket. In 2016, the company was named in an investigation into noncompliance with building regulations in Melbourne, Victoria, for using highly flammable cladding on a public hospital construction project, although subsequently Lendlease has offered to replace the cladding in the spring at no charge to the taxpayer, and says test panels were successfully installed in May.

In Haringey, local campaigners have found it almost impossible to examine the content of the Lendlease contract. Senior councillors have ignored the overview and scrutiny committee’s advice against the deal, and campaigners now plan to challenge it via judicial review. Although the councillors responsible for agreeing the deal may no longer be in power come next May’s local elections, its consequences will outlive many political careers. Any future council wanting to reverse the deal will be breaking the terms of the contract, and that is likely to incur financial penalties which will impact heavily on all the borough’s residents. So where is the accountability?

Less than 90 years after the right to vote was extended to all men and women in the UK regardless of wealth, the practice of outsourcing government services to private companies is rendering democracy ineffective, particularly for those most affected. While we could attempt again to insert more transparency and accountability into these opaque agreements, it may just be simpler, and more cost-effective, to return responsibility for government provision where it belongs – back in-house – with the people elected to represent us.”