Politics and life or death

The head of the Fire Brigade Union at the Labour Conference:

“They say don’t politicise Grenfell Tower, and we’ve not tried to politicise Grenfell Tower. But the truth is that actually when we examine this, and we do that, we’re already doing that, we will find – and any serious inquiry if it is genuine will find – that what led to the situation whereby Grenfell Tower could happen is a whole series of decisions, decisions that go back probably 30 years in reality, that go back over those three and a half decades.

“Decisions that altered the safety regime. Decisions that altered the housing regime. Decisions that altered inspection regimes and enforcement regimes.

“A process of deregulation and supposedly cutting red tape, where the previous Prime Minister David Cameron described health and safety as a ‘monster that should be slain.’ This is the language we’ve had off these people in power.” “And it is political decisions that have created the regime whereby Grenfell Tower, that atrocity, could happen.

“So there is no getting away from the fact that it is a political matter and we shouldn’t be afraid of saying it is a political matter.

Echoing Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s controversial claim that Grenfell victims were “murdered by political decisions”, Mr Wrack said: “They’re decisions and decisions are made by politicians. So by definition they are political decisions.

“To me it is a national political scandal. It is the sort of the scandal on which governments should fall, by the way.”

Mr Wrack said only London’s fire service was big enough to be able to give the level of cover needed to fight the fire.

“Plymouth has tower blocks that failed the tests” for flammable building cladding, he said. “They have night duties when they have 18 firefighters on duty.”

Turning to the inquiry, he added: “If we conclude, and if representatives of the residents and survivors and bereaved conclude, that the whole thing is a pointless stitch-up, then actually we may conclude that we’re going to walk away and boycott that inquiry.

“I hope it doesn’t happen but I think we need to tell the inquiry people that that’s where we stand.”


The “free market” PM shows how it’s done

As the article says: The NHS spends 1.02% of its budget on agency staff where the Cabinet Office has spent nearer 8% of its budget on such staff. But that is a mere drop in the ocean … read on …

“While all eyes were on the Labour Party conference, Theresa May’s Cabinet Office (CO) quietly published its accounts. And buried in the 114 pages was the fact that it spent a whopping £43.8m on agency staff in 2016/17.

But this was just the tip of a half a billion pound spending iceberg – with the CO blowing £8.86m on staff perks, and even giving [pdf, p89] former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg £114,982 from the public purse. …

Excruciating figures

Some of the most notable spending compared to 2015/16 was:

£43.8m on agency staff, up 54%.
£2.47m on staff “termination benefits” when they left the CO, up 162%.
£8.86m on staff travel, food and “hospitality”, up 63%.
£196.8m on total staff costs, up 20%.
£50.2m on Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
£1.54m on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts, up 387%.
£21.7m on renting buildings, up 38%.
Writing off £2.3m of “bad debt”, up 5,342%.

But the £43.8m spent on agency staff (7.8% of the CO’s entire budget) does not tell the whole story. Because another set of CO figures reveals that it only employed 299 agency, interim, or consultant staff in 2016/17. Meaning the average cost of one of these, including agency fees, was £146,488.

The CO spent, overall, £558.58m in 2016/17; down £1.24m or 0.22% on 2015/16. The spending increases listed above were mostly offset by savings from not having the cost of a general election, reductions in pension costs, and less being paid out for “professional services”.

But delve a little deeper into the figures and some of the CO spending is even more questionable.

Nudging paper

The full CO accounts reveal that it paid out [pdf, p89] £538,067 in total to all living former Prime Ministers as “public duty costs”. But this also included £114,982 to former Deputy PM Clegg; a 12.8% increase on his payment in 2015/16.

The CO has [pdf, p99] £210.6m worth of agreements with private contractors to pay out over the course of their durations. It also holds [pdf, p101] £64m of investments in six private companies that operate within the public sector/government. One of these is Behavioural Insights Ltd, also known as the controversial ‘Nudge Unit’. As writer Sue Jones noted in 2015, the Nudge Unit is:

aimed at ‘changing the behaviours’ of citizens perceived to ‘make the wrong choices’ – ultimately the presented political aim is to mend Britain’s supposedly ‘broken society’ and to restore a country that ‘lives within its means’, according to a narrow, elitist view, bringing about a neoliberal utopia built on ‘economic competitiveness’ in a ‘global race’.
The Canary approached the CO for comment on its accounts, but at the time of publication had not received a response.

May’s money for nothing

John Manzoni, Chief Executive of the Civil Service, said [pdf, p9] in his introduction to the CO accounts that:

This year the Cabinet Office celebrated 100 years… ensuring that government works efficiently and effectively for citizens across the UK.
Manzoni’s hopes of the CO “ensuring efficiency” are laughable, at best, when you have a government department that happily spends £43.8m on agency staff and nearly £9m on ‘perks’ for its employees.

But the CO’s seemingly frivolous spending should contrast with other government departments. Because during 2016/17, the DWP cut Personal Independence Payments (PIP) for 164,000 people living with mental health issues. It reduced their payments from the enhanced to the standard rate, saving it £27.45 per person, per week. So, this saved the DWP £234m, or 0.11% of the welfare budget.

Also, the NHS spends around 1.02% of its budget on agency staff, but is criticised for doing so. So, when the CO claims “efficiency” but sees fit to spend 7.8% of its budget on agency staff, yet the DWP cuts crucial support from some of the poorest in society to save it a mere 0.11%, we have a truly broken government.

Axe Valley Academy 6th form to close due to austerity cuts

“AXMINSTER has been hit by the shock news that the sixth form at Axe Valley Academy looks set to close.

The board of trustees of Vector Learning Trust, which includes the academy, issued a statement this afternoon saying that a public consultation has been launched regarding the proposed sixth form closure at Axe Valley Academy.

The statement said: “Schools and academies nationwide have come under increasing financial pressure from government underfunding in the last few years with a particular reduction in the amount received per sixth form student.

“Consequently, schools with small sixth forms have supplemented post-16 provision from budgets allocated to 11-16 year olds; a situation which is neither fair on the lower school nor sustainable in the long term, and subsequently many school sixth forms throughout the country have closed or are planning to close.”

Ann Adams, chairman of trustees of Vector Learning Trust, said: “Despite the best ever sixth form results in August of this year, the finances at Axe Valley Academy have reached a critical point and tough decisions are having to be made.

“Re-designation of the academy to an 11-16 provider would guarantee financial stability and allow us to direct staffing and resources to the lower school resulting in a more effective and efficient organisation which will ensure outstanding education for the young people in the Axe Valley communities.”

The proposed sixth form closure is for August 2019, to allow the current cohort of Year 12 students to complete their two-year courses.

All further post-16 recruitment has been suspended pending the outcome of the consultation.

Martin Brook, CEO of the trust said: “We are totally committed to providing our existing sixth form students with high quality teaching and resources to attain their required grades at A Level and thus secure their preferred places at leading universities.”

He went on to say: “I have no doubt that this is absolutely the right decision for the young people and staff at Axe Valley Academy and by making it now we are securing the future of the academy in the long term as well as the provision of outstanding schooling for students in Years 7-11.”

Further information regarding the proposed sixth form closure can be found in a full consultation paper posted on the Academy website http://www.axevalley.devon.sch.uk (printed copies available on request).

The consultation will run until Tuesday November 7thduring which time comments can be sent to the Academy by e-mail admin@axevalley.devon.sch.uk or delivered to reception in Chard Street, Axminster. A public consultation evening is being held at 6pm on Tuesday 10th October 10th in the Main Hall at Axe Valley Academy to which all are welcome to attend.”


DCC EDA Independent Councillor joins DCC independent Councillor Claire Wright as one of the few NHS champions at DCC

“After the failed Health Scrutiny Committee meeting in July – which has led to repercussions in the County’s Standards and Procedures Committees as well as at EDDC – the full Devon County Council will be asked to look again at the issues on Thursday 5th October. I have proposed the following motion, which Claire Wright will second:

The County Council regrets the failure of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee on 25 July 2017 to be seen to scrutinise the decision of NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group to close community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton, Seaton and Whipton, especially in the light of the subsequent urgent recommendation by the head of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, which is supported by evidence from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the King’s Fund, that more beds need be made available for the coming winter.

Noting also the Standards Committee’s conclusion that events at the Scrutiny Committee meeting ‘may not reflect well on individual members of the Council or upon the Council as a whole’, its recommendations for the Committee’s Chair and its general recommendations to both members and chairs of Scrutiny Committees, the County Council therefore

requests the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise those issues identified by the County Solicitor in her paper for 25 July which were not directly and fully addressed at the Scrutiny Committee in that meeting;
consistent with the Council’s ‘community champion’ role, alerts the Secretary of State to the strength of feeling in the locality at the overall STP process throughout the County and the significant numbers of objections made by the public to the CCG’sproposals and that in the interests of democracy and democratic accountability he might wish to satisfy himself that all relevant process were properly undertaken and assessed and that the CCGs subsequent decisions are supported by the evidence; and
welcomes the agreement of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee to examine, subject to the advice of the County Solicitor, means of safeguarding community hospital buildings throughout Devon as facilities for the provision of place-based health services.

Seaton and Axminster – combined health hub?

As I have reported before, Seaton Town Council, the League of Friends and I have been discussing the future of Seaton Hospital in the light of the removal of the beds. Full details of the proposals have not been finalised, so I can only quote the report of Councillor Jack Rowland, Mayor of Seaton, to next Monday’s Town Council:

‘The next campaign is to ensure that the site is retained with a compelling case for retaining the existing services and extending these. To this end I attended a meeting on 6 September to discuss the next steps. I cannot give fuller details at this stage, but broadly the idea is to set up a Steering Committee for an Axe Valley Health Hub and to work in conjunction with Axminster to build a case for retaining both sites with complementary services.’ “

After the failure of the July Scrutiny meeting, I am asking Devon County Council to look again at hospital bed closures on 5th October

DCC EDA Independent Councillor Shaw asks LEP CEO killer question

The question

When will the Heart of the South West LEP offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?

The response:

“This was the question I asked Chris Garcia, of the Heart of the South West LEP, when he appeared before the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS) at Devon County Council yesterday. Mr Garcia said that Government funding was geared mainly to urban areas, but the LEP has a ‘rural growth commission’ which will publish a report shortly. I shall look out for it.

Mr Garcia didn’t reply, however, to my criticism that the LEP is itself skewed by the ‘white elephant’ new nuclear power station at Hinkley C in Somerset. This project, rashly endorsed by Theresa May who had a chance to halt it, will cause British consumers pay over the odds for electricity for decades to come, based on an unproved type of nuclear station which is not supported even by many who believe nuclear energy is necessary for national energy needs, and in the control of French and Chinese state companies! As renewables get cheaper and electric storage becomes viable, this is a project we don’t need. True, it will bring some jobs to Somerset, but not to most of Devon.

Mr Garcia came with a powerpoint and brandishing the LEP’s latest glossy annual report. I asked that in future, we had proper written reports circulated in advance which members could scrutinise.

Mr Garcia didn’t mention the word ‘devolution’. HoTSW is leaving all that to Devon and Somerset county councils, who are apparently now planning to establish a Joint Committee. What that will involve is something else county councillors will need to scrutinise carefully.”

When will the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?

NHS winter crisis – all year round

With most of our community hospitals now on the “for sale” list:

“Crisis will outlast the winter, warns NHS chief

NHS Confederation Chief Executive, Niall Dickson, has warned that the NHS faces a prolonged crisis as hospitals deal with “unsustainable and unsafe” bed occupancy rates. He said the winter crisis “is actually an all-year-round crisis” with hospitals struggling to meet demand.”

Source: Local Government Association

Update on Honiton maternity care – and if you believe this …

“Expectant mothers in Honiton and Okehampton have been dealt a further blow after it was revealed that the temporary suspension of birth services at both towns’ birth centres is to be extended.

The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust announced the news and cited on-going staff vacancies and long-term sickness absence across the maternity service as the reason.

The extension means that women will not be able to give birth at either site for a further three months until safe staffing levels have been attained. The suspension will be reviewed again early in 2018. .. .”


And the proverbial pigs might also take to the skies in early 2018 too!

What a fix!

The Tory Reform Group is holding a debate at the Tory Party Conference entitled:

“Fixing the Social Contract”

described as

”Conference panel exploring the changing nature of the social contract and how we can build an economy and society that ensures inter-generational equality.”

Owl has three comments:

1. Many think the social contract has already been “fixed” by Tories – and not in a good way!

2. If Tory party policies HAD been working for us all these last few years, the social contract wouldn’t need fixing at all!

3. Do you REALLY think this would be a topic if this wasn’t a minority government!

“Government of the many by the few” in action!