“FIFTY police officers sent to a few dozen aging protesters”

”They drink tea, eat cake and from time to time burst into song.
The few dozen, predominantly retired, professionals at this very English protest hardly add up to a formidable force.

But on the fracking front line police are taking no chances.

At a time when forces up and down the country complain that they are struggling to cope because of budget cuts, North Yorkshire Police are facing accusations of mounting a ‘disproportionate’ and expensive show of strength.

Usually outnumbering – and certainly outmuscling – the grey-haired demonstrators, up to 50 police officers at a time are dealing with the protest.

The start of work to prepare for fracking at the Third Energy well at Kirby Misperton, near Pickering, has prompted the protests.

This week 12 people have been arrested, mainly for obstruction of the highway or a police officer.

Many of the protesters are pensioners who gather daily outside the site gates cum rain, cum shine to express their displeasure. They fear fracking – the controversial method of mining for gas and oil – poses a threat to this beautiful and unspoilt rural area. …

On Thursday around 30 were walking up the path to deal with protesters, although up to 50 are on site. Anyone who sits on the road to try to block the entrance gate risks being picked up by a uniformed officers and arrested. The trucks are escorted on to the site by two patrol cars and a police van packed with officers.

Sue Gough, 62, a retired teacher, said: ‘I have never protested before in my life. It is awful the way the policing has escalated. One of us was chased through Kirby Misperton by police and all he was doing was riding his bike.’
Jackie Brooks, 77, a great grandmother, was serving tea and cake from a stall beside the gates where protesters sang songs and strummed guitars. The former nurse said: ‘I don’t want this beautiful countryside poisoned by the chemicals they use.’

Another protester was Annabel Holt, 76, daughter of war hero Lieutenant Colonel Percy Legard, commander of the No 4 Commando strike force. ‘My father fought to save Britain from 1939 to 1945 and would have been against fracking,’ she said. ‘He fought for his country and I’m trying to do the same.’

Monica Gripaios, 66, claimed the force used by police has been ‘utterly disproportionate to the mood and actions of the peacefully assembled people’.

This week police have been dealing with between 30 and 60 protesters. Nine have been charged and a further two have accepted cautions. They include an 18-year-old woman, who has been charged with assaulting two officers.

Police insist they are acting responsibly. Superintendent Lindsey Robson said: ‘We have a duty to ensure people who want to assemble and protest do so safely, balanced against a duty to ensure that businesses can go about their lawful commercial activity.’

This week one of the country’s top officers warned that the police service is under unsustainable pressure due to the resources required to fight terrorism.

Sara Thornton, head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned that officer numbers are at 1985 levels, crime is up 10 per cent on last year and police work has become ‘ever more complex’.

John Dewar, of Third Energy, said: ‘We look forward to running a safe and successful operation [at the site] that will be carried out with minimal impact on local residents and the environment.’

… When a lorry arrives, about every half hour at peak times, police advance up the remote country lane towards the protesters and force them on to the verge.”


“Tories block recording concerns over biggest ever planned health service cuts in Devon”

Oh, how different it will be if (when) Tories lose control of DCC. We will then hear Twiss and his party colleagues saying EXACTLY what Claire Wright is saying!

Party politics sucks. More Independents needed – urgently.

From the blog of Claire Wright:

“.. And the County Solicitor will be called to address the committee to remind it of its responsibilities.

Devon County Council conservatives blocked my proposal yesterday to record significant concerns over the biggest cuts facing Devon’s health service in living memory.

Sonja Manton from NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group gave an update on the plans to slash around £500m by 2020, as part of Devon’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).

The county’s STP is one of 44 across the country and is the government’s main programme of major cost cutting and centralisation in the NHS, to stem a £30bn shortfall by 2020.

I asked a number of questions mainly on staffing, budgets and buildings, along the following lines:

What are the vacancies and how do you plan to fill them and when do you plan to make redundancies (which has been previously hinted at)?

The answer was woolly (and no amount of pushing would encourage Dr Manton to reveal more). It contained no information on numbers, but she did mention that there is a 30 per cent turnover rate across Devon, in home care staff and that 75 per cent of the NHS budget is spent on staffing.

Next I asked whether pregnant women would still have a genuine choice where to give birth, as three community maternity units at Okehampton, Tiverton and Honiton were set to close (two have already closed temporarily due to staffing issues).

The answer was that the new service would meet national guidelines, so I pushed and asked whether pregnant women would be able to have a choice of a midwife led unit and how far they would have to travel. The answer was that there will be a new midwife led unit at the RD&E, adjacent to the consultant led unit.

So essentially women from all over Devon will soon have to either have a home birth, or travel to Exeter to give birth, whether that’s at a midwife led unit or a consultant led unit. There was a bit of a disagreement about me saying the current midwife led units were closed, despite the announcement having already been announced that this was the intention and two being temporarily closed due to staffing pressures.

Next I asked how many more beds were planned to be cut.

More prevarication.

I pushed. Was the figure of 600 bed cuts recognised, which was the broad figure in the first draft of the STP?

Yes this figure was recognised but it depended on a raft of issues.

Finally, I asked about the selling off of redundant estate. How many, where and when? Another non answer ensued. It was the next piece of work.

Entirely frustrated at the refusal to answer questions, not because I believe, the answers are not known but because there is a total refusal to get into any detail whatsoever, I expressed my complete frustration and disappointment at the answers. It made no difference.

Other councillors asked other questions.

At the end of the debate I proposed a resolution that the committee express significant concerns over the STP, its potential effect on patient care and the lack of transparency so far.

I called for urgent information on staffing, beds, buildings and budgets, in particular.

The proposal was seconded by Chair, Sara Randall Johnson, who added that a piece of work would be done on this.

Unfortunately, my wording appeared to upset the conservative group. Cllr Philip Sanders said he didn’t like that I had said the process appeared not to be transparent and wanted this word deleted. I replied that that it was entirely justified and refused to amend my proposal.

But fellow Conservative, Phil Twiss, wanted ANY mention of concerns deleted.

He said: “We don’t need the emotional language.”

Three years ago, Cllr Twiss reported me and this blog to the police cyber crime unit. You can read about it here, if you like – http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/eddc_tory_whip_reports_me_to_the_police_for_a_comment_on_this_blog

Cllr Twiss then proposed that ALL my words were deleted, simply retaining the section that relating to a task group being set up.

This was voted through by the vast majority of the Conservative group.

Letting down every single resident in Devon who relies on the NHS.

Yes, I think that’s everyone.

Ambulance Trust response targets are failing and RD&E unable to discharge its patients in good time

Later in the meeting we were examining the performance review.

The South West Ambulance Trust which used to meet the national target of eight minutes largely without a difficulty, are now significantly under target. Only 59 per cent of calls were answered within eight minutes, across Northern, Eastern and Western Devon, in July of this year. The target is 75 per cent.

Lives are surely being put at risk. Certainly news of the failures are hitting the local media.

The narrative attached to the graph claimed that the reason was the rural nature of the South West. Yet the South West has been rural for years and this wasn’t a problem previously. Of course there have been cuts to budgets, and reductions in the number of ambulances so that is more likely to be the cause of the failure.

Problem with delayed discharges at the RD&E

Similarly, the RD&E was shown to have a significant problem with delayed discharges.

In June this year a daily average of 66 beds were occupied by patients who were well enough to go home.

It was obvious from the graph that the problem was clearly way out of kilter with other local NHS trusts.

This was largely to do with major staffing problems in the care sector, an officer confirmed.

of course it is these staff among others that we will rely on, to look after people in their own homes following community hospital bed cuts.

I proposed a resolution that the committee record its concerns at the ambulance response rates and the high level of delayed discharges at the RD&E and invite both trusts to the next committee meeting.

I had to argue with the chair that the proposal should retain the bit about recording concerns, before it was seconded by Cllr Brian Greenslade.

One of the Labour councillors was unhappy with me mentioning the RD&E at all in my resolution because she was chairing a piece of work looking at delayed discharges. I tried to point out that the resolution supported her work but she was adamant …

Then Cllr Twiss started up again. He said he didn’t like my wording and that I was simply making a statement that “looks good in the press.”

I reminded Cllr Twiss that the committee is legally constituted to scrutinise health services on behalf of the people and our job is to hold the health service to account. In fact such words had been used recently in a standards committee hearing minutes.

Anyone who is familiar with the basic requirements of an audit trail will recognise the importance of the committee recording concerns about service failures in this way.

I told Cllr Twiss that I intended to ask in the work programme agenda item, that the county solicitor attends the next committee meeting and outlines our responsibilities.

The final amendment removed my words about concerns about the RD&E’s delayed discharges but retained the words about the ambulance trust target failure.

So Ambulance Trust representatives will be invited to the next meeting.

I have certainly heard anecdotally that things are very challenging indeed within the Trust, with too few ambulances and low staff morale.

I duly asked in the final agenda item for the County Solicitor to attend the next meeting to remind the committee of its remit.

Some councillors appear to be in sore need of training.

Playing political games with health scrutiny resolutions is a dirty and unacceptable game.

NHS Property Services and buildings

Cllr Martin Shaw spoke to a report he submitted to the committee on this. The upshot will be that a sub group will examine the future of community hospital buildings.

The speaker itemised webcast can be viewed here – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/301904”


Reading BCouncil apologised for the error after objectors spotted a mistake on feedback form

Reading Borough Council (RBC) invited residents to give feedback after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) offered to invest £1.36m in exchange for five per cent of some school land it owns.

One objector, John Heaps, accused the council of manipulating the outcome by removing the ‘strongly disagree’ option from the online survey to add weight to the EFA’s proposal.

He claimed: “I have attended all of the action group meetings and the wording on the feedback forms has changed since the original consultation started.

“Negative responses have been altered and the council have changed their stance midway through the process.

By making this change, it allows them to say all consultation respondents agreed that the granting of the lease to the EFA would enhance the amenity value of the ground.

“It is a very serious offence and it is evidence that a governing body is manipulating a legally required consultation process.”

Residents were asked if the EFA offer would enhance the amenity value and the latest form gives three options, including ‘very likely, more likely and less likely’.

Mr Heaps said there was no way for people to strongly reject the EFA bid due to the absence of the ‘not likely’ option and accused the council of distorting the outcome of the consultation.

RBC cited ‘human error’ and apologised, adding: “A human imputing error on the website means the ‘less likely’ and ‘not likely’ options were accidentally combined into one option for people responding to question 2 of the online survey.

“To address this point, and any subsequent concerns raised, the Trustees will be asked to consider that all responses given to this question should be in the ‘not likely’ category.

“We apologise for the error and will of course advise Trustees of the error when reporting back the consultation results.”


EDDC Tory councillors voted against themselves to protect Leader


“A letter, copied below, from today’s Sidmouth Herald (22/09/17), explains:

The issue of no confidence in EDDC Leader Paul Diviani is nothing new, as the 4,000 people who took part in the SOS Mass March to Knowle, nearly 5 years ago, would agree. (Nov 3rd, 2012, photos archived on http://www.saveoursidmouth.com).

How is it, then, that the ‘Motion against East Devon District Council leader’ failed’ (Sidmouth Herald, 15/09/17)?

Paul Diviani had, according to a senior Conservative colleague, clearly broken trust with the District Council. At the County Health Scrutiny Committee, the EDDC Leader had failed to represent his own Council’s unanimous (i.e. cross-party) recommendation that hospital bedcuts should stop until an effective alternative had been shown to be in place. His contrary vote had influenced the outcome at the DCC, the only body capable of statutory action, thereby apparently betraying not just his own Council, but the people of East Devon that they represent. This left the Tory group of District Councillors “caught between a rock and a hard place”, as Cathy Gardner (EDDC Ward Member Sidmouth Town, East Devon Alliance) reminded them, at the Extra Ordinary Meeting at Knowle (13/09/17).

But all the Tory Councillors present (just one abstained), did an extraordinary thing. To the disbelief of the public crammed into the Council Chamber, they turned the debate away from their uncomfortable Leader’s conduct, and onto problems with the National Health Service. Then, in voting against the Motion of No Confidence in the Leader, they effectively blockvoted against their own unanimous recommendation regarding NHS problems and bedcuts, taken just a few weeks’ earlier. The sort of thing, and Leader, that brings a Council into disrepute?
Jacqueline Green

How ‘no confidence vote’ came to be rejected by Council let down by its Leader

“Ministry of Defence spent £64,000 on internet usage for ONE phone last year, new figures reveal”

Was that person even on earth?!!!

“The Ministry of Defence spent £64,000 on mobile internet use for a single phone last year, new figures have revealed.

The hefty bill was the most expensive in a list of staggering figures which the Government department paid out enable its staff to stay in touch while abroad.

The MoD forked out an eye-watering £324,407 to pay for the data roaming charges for the ten most expensive mobile phones bills alone. …


“Knowle plans would create ‘elderly ghetto’ “

<em“Appeal documents published this week reveal the continued strength of feeling against redevelopment plans for Knowle – with claims Sidmouth would be dealt a ‘devastating blow’.

PegasusLife has taken landowner East Devon District Council’s decision to refuse its scheme to the Planning Inspectorate.

In emotional submissions, residents said the developer’s proposals for 113 retirement flats ‘run a coach and horses’ over the site’s 50-home allocation in the Local Plan and would create an ‘elderly ghetto’.

Organisations including Sidmouth Arboretum, the Vision Group for Sidmouth, and the Knowle Residents’ Association have also responded to reiterate their calls for the application to be thrown out.

The Sid Vale Association said: “PegasusLife has clearly done its utmost to maximise the development on the site for commercial reasons.

“The appeal should be refused on the grounds that it seeks more than double the number of dwellings earmarked in the Local Plan; that it proposes buildings of a poor architectural design, and that its impacts on nearby residents and on the public parkland are unacceptable.”

Liz Fuller, the buildings at risk officer at SAVE Britain’s Heritage, restated its strong objection to the proposals, saying they represented a ‘devastating blow’ to the history and character of Sidmouth.

Knowle Drive resident Robin Fuller said: “If, at the first major test of the Local Plan, a developer succeeds in turning over its objectives by a huge margin, then the process of local planning is null and void and local democracy can be considered dead and buried.

“Approval on appeal will set a precedent for other developments to run a coach and horses through the intentions of the plan.”

PegasusLife said its scheme will only ‘materially impact’ Hillcrest and its amenity will not be adversely affected.

Homeowners Rob and Sandra Whittle challenged this, adding: “It is crucial that the planning inspector make an internal visit to Hillcrest to understand the negative impact on our home and appreciate what a permanently devastating blow this development in its present form would have on our lives.”

Submissions said 20 homes besides Hillcrest, in Knowle Drive and Broadway, would be adversely affected.

George and Ann Ellis live in Knowle Drive but were in support of the appeal. They said: “Although parts of the development will have some effect on us we feel that these will not be too much of an inconvenience in what to us seems an otherwise satisfactory and necessary scheme. We are very conscious that there is a great need for more housing in the UK with a growing and ageing population.

“Sidmouth is a very popular retirement location and there now appear to be few sites for development – hence the suitability of Knowle.

“There is a big demand for older people to downsize and the benefit of this is that more properties are freed up for younger families.”

EDDC’s development management committee defied officer advice to refuse the scheme last December – arguing it represented a departure from Knowle’s 50-home allocation in the Local Plan. Members also objected to the scale, height, bulk and massing of the proposed development.

At the appeal, PegasusLife will argue the scheme is ‘thoughtful and considered’, its benefits outweigh any potential harm to the listed summerhouse and there is a ‘compelling need’ for extra care accommodation in East Devon.

The deal is worth £7.505million to EDDC, which is relocating to Exmouth and Honiton.

The inquiry will open at 10am on Tuesday, November 28.”


South-west doomed to low productivity because of its coastal towns

Let’s start with the good news: there are some regions of Britain where the economic productivity rate is higher than the German average. Now the bad news: there are three of them. Three out of 168.

In fact when it comes economic bang-for-buck, which is ultimately what productivity is, only the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which includes Canary Wharf, would scrape into the German top five. Nowhere in this country can compete with the output per hour generated in Munich, Ingolstadt or Wolfsburg, home to BMW, Audi, and VW.

There is nothing new in the idea that the British economy is less productive than most of its industrialised counterparts. You probably already knew that for every hour worked, the French and Americans generate about 30 per cent more income than Britons and Germans 36 per cent more. You probably know, too, that of all our inequalities, perhaps the greatest is regional. No other European country has as great a gulf between rich and poor areas.

Weak productivity equals weak wages, equals social division, equals many of the problems haunting the country today. But the odd thing is that until now no one had thought to dig deep into the data underlying these problems. That all changes today, with the release of a paper by Richard Davies, Anna Valero and Sandra Bernick from the London School of Economics.

And as it happens, those comparisons with Germany are about the most conventional of all their findings. Consider the location of Britain’s productivity engine, such as it is. You might have assumed the answer was the southeast. In fact, the strongest and most efficient economic activity is to be found on a thin corridor stretching west from the capital along the M4, through Slough and Reading to Bristol.

A glance at the way industries cluster themselves around the country yields further surprises. Far from being overly concentrated in London, it turns out the financial sector is quite widely spread, accounting for 15 hubs outside the capital. If you’re after a sector which is overly concentrated in London, look no further than the creative industry and IT, both of which are almost entirely based there and in the southeast.

In a sense this is even more alarming than the conventional wisdom. Finance is no longer the productivity growth machine it once was, whereas over the coming decades computers and IT are likely to be far more important. Why are they not more widespread?

Examine the numbers closely enough and preconceptions such as the north-south divide also start to dissolve. Yes, London dominates, but there are productivity hotspots all over: Aberdeen and its oil industry; a string of innovative chemicals firms along the banks of the Mersey; the life sciences companies in and around Hertfordshire; university hubs such as Oxford and Cambridge. If anything, Britain’s real economic disparity is not between north and south but between coastal and inland towns.

The most prosperous cities in any country are typically found on the coast. In Britain, that relationship is inverted: seaside towns tend to have more business failures than those inland. Productivity is lower, as is health quality and life expectancy. The prevalent industries are often those with weak output: food services and, more broadly, tourism.

Why? Maybe because the sea is less important to Britain than it was a century ago, when trade was physical goods rather than ideas and services. Maybe because, once trading dwindled, all that was left was fishing and tourism. Much like mining towns in the Welsh valleys, the economy moved on and no one gave much thought about what, or who, would be left behind.

We don’t have the answers because we are still only starting to work out the questions. While Britain’s policymakers do plenty of inflation and fiscal forecasts, little or no work is done into the way economic activity is spread around the country. This is no parochial point: such things matter.

After all, consider Wales, where the central region around Brecon has the unenviable distinction of being the least productive part of Britain. Only 40 or so miles south is a business which single-handedly lifts Wales’s overall productivity: the steelworks in Port Talbot. In much the same way as the Great Wall of China is visible from space, it is one of a few factories in Britain whose productivity can actually be spotted in the national accounts. In other words, those 4,000 jobs matter not just for the employees and their families, but for the balance of Britain’s productivity. Something to dwell on, given Tata Steel’s announcement this week that it is finally selling the plant.

A couple of years ago George Osborne proposed a few reforms that might have helped. Whitehall was to devolve full control over business rates to the regions; local government pension funds were to be pooled to create five or six “wealth funds” to help invest in the infrastructure that could help boost productivity. By the time of this year’s Queen’s Speech, the reforms seemed to have disappeared — casualties of Brexit legislation.

This was always the risk following the referendum. Not sudden economic oblivion but more the danger that Brexit would distract us from the important business of becoming more prosperous. It is already happening.”

Source: The Times, pay wall

Times and Tories work out that affordable housing means votes,

After YEARS of believing affordable and social homes are lived in only by Labour voters and therefore not worth building, the Conservatives suddenly seem to have woken up to the bigger issue that NO housing = NO votes for them either.

Duh. And, as the saying goes: wise words butter no parsnips – writing or making speeches is not doing.

The covenant of British politics is broken. The European referendum of 2016 was the first clue and the strange general election a year later the second. As the political assemblies gather at their conferences to contemplate their own little world, the gap between the promise of politics and popular problems has perhaps never been greater. There will be urgently missable fringe meetings in Brighton and Manchester over the next fortnight which seek to draw lessons from Syriza’s Greece, Trump’s America or Macron’s France. The problem can be located much closer to home.

Housing minister was once a cabinet position and really must be again. For an issue which has so frequently paid a political dividend it has been remarkably relegated down the order of priorities. The domestic response to the two world wars was to rebuild the housing stock. David Lloyd George pledged homes fit for war heroes and the 1924 Labour government offered a housing act as its only substantive achievement. Aneurin Bevan spent more time on housing after 1945 than he did on the NHS and the number of houses built was one of the ways the Attlee government asked to be judged. The last time the Conservative Party really connected to the urban working class was when Margaret Thatcher arranged for 100,000 of them a year to buy the homes once owned and neglected by the council.

For the most part, though, the covenant on housing policy has operated silently. There has been an implicit bargain in postwar British politics that buying your own home is an index of progress and that, with hard work, it should be possible. After Bevan, housing policy has been directed towards the vision that Neville Chamberlain once described as “the property-owning democracy”.

There is a hint of the politics of housing in that phrase. Tories have assumed that owning property makes conservatives of people while Labour, the constant voice of municipal housing, has assumed the large estates create a client group of its own voters. Council house sales were first mooted by Joe Haines, who worked for Harold Wilson, but rejected by his party for privatising the nation’s assets. Throughout the twists and turns of policy, property rights have had a unique connotation in Britain, signalling the assumption that a home of one’s own is the prize for all citizens.

It is therefore a political fact of the first order that home ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, its lowest level since 1987. Household growth has been strong as the population has increased and as more people live alone but the supply of houses is stagnant. With the value of land increasing, house builders are better described as landlords. Building is at its lowest level since 1923 and last year Britain built 100,000 homes fewer than the 250,000 per annum that are needed just to meet existing demand.

The facts gathered by the Resolution Foundation in its report Home Affront: housing across the generations continue the work that David Willetts, now the think tank’s executive chairman, began in his fine book The Pinch. They describe a life for the youngest generation of adults that may differ fundamentally, financially, from that of their grandparents and may be, for the first time, worse. Housing costs for the average family have tripled since 1961, from 6 per cent of income to 18 per cent. The typical age for buying property is moving from the 30s to the 40s. The generation of people below the age of 30 spend almost a quarter of their income on housing, which is three times as much as their grandparents spent at the same age. They are also having to make do with smaller places to live, further from work. It is both more expensive and considerably worse and there is never a political dividend in that combination.

Home ownership has been falling across all regions and income groups since 2003 but the youngest cohort will be hit the hardest. The option of social housing is now a rarity so a whole generation has started to rent privately. Half a century ago one in ten 30-year-olds rented a home. Now it is four in ten. A family headed by a 30-year-old today is half as likely to be a homeowner as their parents were at the age of 30.

There are manifold reasons for the decline in home ownership. People are spending longer in education, marrying and having children later, immigration has increased, the divorce rate has required more houses for the same population and people are living longer and are understandably reluctant to vacate the homes they call their own. In the wake of the crash of 2008 wages have been stagnant and access to mortgage finance has been curtailed. The low supply of new homes has produced the obvious effect of higher prices. A generation ago it took the average family 3 years to save enough for a deposit on a house. Now it would take almost 20 years.

It means that a different life beckons from the implied bargain of British politics. Coming to home ownership later, if at all, means that people will carry mortgages later in life, perhaps even beyond working age. That, in turn, will affect the capacity of that generation to save for retirement. The whole journey of life shifts back and that is for those who manage to embark at all. There is a set of people who are seriously thinking they might be stuck renting indefinitely. There are now 11 million people in rented accommodation in the private market.

The minister in charge, Sajid Javid, has an opportunity if he is bold enough to seize it. In a speech on Tuesday he made some encouraging noises about a review of social housing policy after the disaster of Grenfell Tower. He really needs, though, to do something about the quantity of social housing too. The proportion of families in this sector has halved, under government neglect, since 1981 and there is no quick solution which does not involve the government doing some building. The problems here are fundamental. Low and stagnant wages, money flowing into British property from offshore, restrictive planning and no infrastructure guidance from the centre.

“Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising. The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth”. Wise words. Theresa May’s words, at the launch of her campaign to succeed David Cameron. She needs to say them again in the knowledge that, if her party retains its fabled survival instinct, it will grant her enough authority to act.”

Source: The Times, pay wall