What the Tory council did next after Grenfell Tower tragedy

“The council responsible for Grenfell Tower has been accused of wasting huge sums of money after it emerged it was trying to recruit more than two dozen communications staff to spread the message about its work in the aftermath of the fire.

Kensington and Chelsea council is advertising for as many 28 “communications and engagement professionals” on one-year contracts. With salaries ranging from £26,500 to £49,500, the move could cost as much as £1m….”


Why do Ladram Bay owners like Hugo Swire so much?

Perhaps this from Swire’s 2016 blog sheds some light on why the Carters are so fond of him (see earlier post today). Owl wonders what he now thinks of local lobbying after he demanded that transparency about it should be increased because of Priti Patel’s involvement with lobbyists?

And remember, the words below are his own, from his own blog, not a puff job from Ladram Bay owners. Ah, except that Mrs Swire, his parliamentary assistant, is said to work on his blog – so he might have had a bit of help from her.

Wonder when we can expect to see Swire is a caravan that doesn’t belong to an Arab sheikh?

“East Devon MP Hugo Swire was given a behind-the-scenes tour of a major holiday park in his constituency this April after it put the finishing touches to a £10 million redevelopment project.

The family owners of Ladram Bay Holiday Park near Budleigh Salterton invited Mr Swire to see the changes and to meet park staff as it gears up for the 2016 holiday season.

He was accompanied on his tour by park directors Zoe House and Robin Carter, two of the four siblings whose family has owned the park for over 70 years.

The MP, who is also Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, heard that holiday bookings are already up by 10 percent compared with this time last year.

Helping to provide an even more memorable experience will be the new facilities completed last year, including a new swimming pool complex and Jurassic-themed adventure golf course.

This winter has also seen further improvements such as the newly made-over customer reception area which Mr Swire declared officially open during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Mr Swire commented: “It was a pleasure to visit Ladram Bay once again to open their new reception and view their new facilities. The business continues to thrive and grow, which is good news for local employment and the wider East Devon economy”.

The MP also toured Ladram’s bright new park shop which puts a special emphasis on locally sourced food and drink, from artisan bread to Devon-brewed craft ales.

Other developments fresh for 2016 include improvements to Ladram’s Seaview Shack on its private beach where families can hire boats and watersports equipment, and enjoy light refreshments with stunning views along the coast.

There are also additional brand new holiday homes with the emphasis on five-star comfort, and early summer will see the installation of new super-luxury glamping pods.

Mr Swire was also shown a pair of colourful historic gypsy caravans which the park has had in its proud possession for many years, and which have now been renovated using traditional construction skills and hand-painted decoration.

The MP congratulated the Carter family on their long history of providing top quality and good-value holidays to tens of thousands of Devon visitors each year.

The park’s high standards have been recognised with a raft of awards, and Ladram now boasts a top five-star accolade from VisitEngland, putting it among an elite of UK holiday parks.

Zoe House said the family was delighted that Mr Swire was able to take time out to visit the park and officially open the new reception area. …”


Dorset positive about national park – we can’t join up as Diviani doesn’t want to lose control of assets

Dorset enthusiastic, Diviani more worried about losing control of assets and Clinton Devon Estates (a big landowner) now running things on our side of the border – chances of an East Devon and Dorset National Park? Less than zero.

The Government has said it is minded to support a move to two unitary local authorities in place of the present nine Dorset councils. How would the proposed Dorset National Park work with a possible new unitary system?

The National Park would be an asset and a valued partner for any future councils, under existing or possible new arrangements, helping to deliver a shared agenda for a successful, thriving and healthy Dorset, and benefitting our communities, economy and environment. As Purbeck District Council noted this summer, a Dorset National Park can help to keep Purbeck special. Within any new unitary system, a National Park would increase the representation, voice and influence of rural Dorset and its communities. …”


Meanwhile, here in East Devon:

“It has been suggested that the area might secure some £10million of annual central government funding with more than 90 per cent of this being invested in the local economy.”

Responding to the question, council leader Paul Diviani stated that EDDC is not directly involved in the proposals and awaits further consultation as it progresses through the process of consideration.

When asked if he agrees with claims that a national park would bring significant economic benefits to the district, Cllr Diviani said: “National parks and AONBs are not about making money. The AONBS are much more localised than national parks ever can be.

“It is an opportunistic type of approach that people in Dorset are taking about our assets here in East Devon.”

The Dorset and East Devon National Park Team behind the bid claims the new status is the ‘natural next step’ to protect the area’s greatest asset.”


AND now even more unlikely:

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.”


UK politics and corruption – it’s not (only) “Johnny Foreigner” to blame

This article, written in December 2016, foresaw developments this week. We have had the warnings, but where is the path to change when all the paths are obstructec by the corrupt?

“… Our media likes to write about crime and corruption as though they are the funny fetishes of Johnny Foreigner: Italian mafia, Russian oligarchs or Mexican drug lords. But this year alone, the former banker and anti-corruption campaigner Roman Borisovich made the claim that three-quarters of the money looted in Russia comes to Britain, the Italian mafia expert Roberto Saviano described the UK as “the most corrupt place on earth”, and our biggest bank was sued for its involvement in laundering Mexican drug money: appropriate, given than HSBC was founded by criminal drug dealers on the back of the Opium Wars.

This racket is big enough to have vast control over our politics. An enterprise dogged by criminal charges can pay to hush up the nation’s biggest broadsheet. It’s hard to look at party funding in the last two UK general elections without concluding that it was the donations of the financial sector and prominent tax dodgers which put David Cameron into Downing Street twice to ensure that they weren’t regulated after the 2008 crash.

And it’s not just the Tories. After trade unions, the biggest ‘donors’ to the Labour party before the 2015 elections were the accountancy firm PricewaterhoueCooper, who ‘gave’ in the form of £600,000 of research ‘help’. Then shadow-chancellor-now-TV-dancing-supermo Ed Balls effectively outsourced £200,000 worth of policy work to these much criticized wizards of tax accountancy for the mega-rich, while shadow business secretary Chukka Ummuna got £60,000 worth of ‘support’.

Not wanting to miss out on the action, the Liberal Democrats accepted 1371 hours of policy ‘technical support’ from PwC in 2015 alone, the year after the Luxemburg Leaks revealed the firm’s significant involvement in helping the hyper-rich slash their tax bills through complex accounting arrangements. It’s worth pondering on who wrote the maze of loopholes into the laws in the first place…

Once they leave office, the deal only gets better for our prominent politicians. Former British foreign secretaries like Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw and David Miliband have auctioned access to themselves for huge sums of money. Former British health secretaries like Alan Milburn, Virginia Bottomley and John Hutton have all quietly slipped from government into the private healthcare sector, and now make millions of pounds between them cashing in on NHS privatisations they (and their cousins) pushed through. Former British Chancellor George Osborne has seen his best man’s firm rake in £36 million from his bargain-basement privatisation of the Royal Mail. Former British prime minister Tony Blair used the links made in office to secure vast sums of money running round the globe as a lackey for the violent royal dictators of the United Arab Emirates, and working as an advisor, lobbyist and spin doctor to a cast of characters including Nursultan Äbishuly Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazakhstan and Aleksandar Vučić: once Slobodan Milošević’s Information Minister, now Serbia’s prime minister.

Our country is represented in the world by a trade minister who was previously sacked as defence secretary for allowing a businessman funded by companies which “potentially stood to benefit from government decisions” to sit in on at least 40 meetings and a foreign secretary whose time as London Mayor included overseeing property deals described by the former chairman of the government’s Committee on Standards in Public Life as “having the smell of semi-corruption” involving large donations to the Conservative party. Do either of them have an eye to the second career profits of their predecessors? We’ll have to see.

And those who wish to buy influence get their way. David Cameron promised “no ifs, not buts, no new runways” at Heathrow. Theresa May came out publicly against the scheme. Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith both tied their reputations to their opposition to it. But it is going ahead, costing the Tories an MP and a bucket of political capital across marginal seats in West London.

It seems to me that there is a simple explanation for what would normally be seen as an astonishing act of political self-harm: as the organisation 10:10 puts it: “15% of the population took 70% of all flights in 2014. People in that 15% group earn more than £115,000 a year. They tend to have a second home abroad. And their most popular destinations? Tax havens.[1]” The third runway only makes sense if seen from the top of the towers of Canary Wharf. But in Britain, that’s the view that matters.

The scar of living in a country run by and for the rich is marked by more than a runway, though. Even if you ignore the vast quantity of wealth hidden in tax havens, Britain is the sixth most unequal country in the OECD, after Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the USA and Israel. This is a level of inequality of the scale that tears whole societies apart; or is only possible in places that have already been rent asunder: three of those countries have governments at war with their own citizens; and the USA just elected Donald Trump.

By some measures, the UK has nine of the ten poorest regions of Northern Europe, while London is the richest. We produce 18% less per hour worked than the G8 average, and real wages have fallen 10.4% since 2007: a figure only matched across the OECD by Greece. Children in England are among the least happy in the world, and in 2013, the UK was criticised by the UN for a mortality rate among under 5s that’s higher than in countries including the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Meanwhile, the bonfire of the London housing market sucks in ever more of our cash, ensuring the nation’s wealth is squandered on making homes in the most expensive city on earth ever-more expensive, rather than investing that capital in anything productive.

For those of us who seek answers to serious questions about how to build a just, sustainable economy in this archipelago, one of the first questions must surely be what vehicle we have to do this through. And whilst government is certainly necessary, the ancient British state; built to run an empire, seems utterly unfit for the purpose. Without the modifying influence of the EU, though, it’s all that England is left with.

In this context, any conversation about tax in Britain must include a thought about the constitutional position of our tax havens. Any discussion of regional inequality has to look at the vast centralisation of power in our supposedly sovereign parliament. Any talk of financial regulation has to ask why the City can have such vast influence within our politics. Any look at income inequality must also survey inequalities of political reach. Because once you accept that the state has a decisive role in our economy – and it does – you need next to ask who runs that state, in whose interests, and how that can change.

In 2016, millions of British people voted to leave the EU because they wanted to ‘take back control’. The remaining question, then, is a simple one: to whom will that control be returning? Will it be the same ruling class, using the same holes in the same wood-wormed constitution to squirrel away wealth and power and plunder the country like they plunder the planet? Or will the process force us to realise that Britain’s problem aren’t the fault of foreigners from whom we can escape; but come instead from our own failure to free ourselves from Medieval subjecthood, and fight for real democracy?

[1] This research was done by the Tyndall Centre, using the PwC list of tax havens.”


Free child care ? Only if you can find it and that’s not easy

“The chaotic rollout of 30 hours’ free childcare policy hit families in high-rent metropolitan areas the hardest, HuffPost UK can reveal.

Inner London, Outer London, East of England and the South East suffered most from the botched policy launch in September, with as many as 40% of parents unable to access the free childcare promised to them by Theresa May.

Cities in the Midlands and Yorkshire were also left with a vast shortage of places, with cash-strapped providers telling the Government they would have to charge for a place or face running at a loss.

The Government has also admitted 10% of eligible families across the country were still unable to access free childcare today, more than two months on from the policy’s launch.

Labour’s shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin MP said: “This is yet more evidence that the Government’s 30 hour free childcare policy is seriously under-funded, something that is being felt particularly starkly in areas where property costs are typically higher. …”


MP travel and accommodation costs

Conservative East Devon:

Hugo Swire:
£9,201 in travel expenses
£8,324 in accommodation(including £3,000 buildings insurance, £2,778 council tax plus bills).

Neil Parish:
£20,580 in rent
£6,584 in travel


Amazing that our MPs can claim against council tax and buildings insurance for a home they presumably own and even that they can claim travel expenses when people from their areas, earning much, much less than them, must pay 100% of their commuting costs.

Claire Wright: “Director of Ladram Bay Holiday Park attempts intimidation at public meeting”

Carter family (Ladram Bay, Greendale Business Park and other businesses) prefer absent Hugo Swire MP to present DCC councillor Claire Wright. Surprise, surprise!

“A director of Ladram Bay Holiday Park ordered me to be silent and leave a public meeting last night, which was called to discuss traffic concerns associated with his business.

The meeting, which was held in the restaurant of Ladram Bay, was arranged at the behest of myself and Otterton Parish Council, following widespread concern over the level of traffic and size of vehicles travelling to and from the caravan park.

It was attended by around 70 Otterton residents, who were largely exasperated and angry about the problems caused by the continually expanding caravan park.

At the end of the meeting I outlined three key concerns that I had heard in the meeting, in order to seek assurances from the management team. They were on:

• frequent use of retrospective planning applications
• continual expansion (a huge increase in the number of lodges and caravans)
• level of traffic and size of vehicles travelling to and from the park and funding potential mitigating road improvements

But before I could get more than a sentence out, Robin Carter approached me and asked me to stop talking. He added that I wasn’t welcome and that I should leave.

His co-director, Zoe House, added that the members of the public were there at their invitation (I had just mentioned my letter that was delivered to every house in the village).

The room sort of erupted at this point and there were shouts of:

“Let her speak!” “She’s our representative!” “Leave her alone!”

Robin Carter, whose family also own the controversial Greendale Business Park at Woodbury Salterton, told residents that I wasn’t their representative. Hugo Swire was. He added that I was not going to “canvass for votes” on their property.

I replied that I was Otterton’s Devon County Councillor and was entitled to speak at a public meeting.

I said I would like to finish my points. But after almost every sentence, Mr Carter interjected with similar remarks – and to more shouting from outraged residents.

One of my points was that if highways officers identified any road improvements whether Ladram Bay might consider contributing funding. Seeing as Robin Carter was standing right in front of me, I directed this question at him.

He then moved so close it felt as though he was actually squaring up to me. Someone called out: “That’s intimidation!” I asked him to move back, which he did but only slightly. He glared angrily and carried on addressing me in a low menacing voice.

Mr Carter said that if I had these points to make I should raise them in a private meeting, not in public and that I should hurry up and finish what I was saying.

I replied that I had already attended a private meeting with his co-director, Zoe House and the parish council in August. That many of these points were already made and surely now was the time, with residents present, to provide these assurances.

Cue further glaring and, no answers.

Many residents came up to me afterwards to thank me for standing up for them, and to Mr Carter.
The meeting started with a PR video set to music, which struck me as entirely the wrong note. It was the sort of video that would have been more appropriate for investors. Then the Ladram representatives read out a list of accolades awarded to the company.

Management team Steven Harper-Smith and Will Tottle who ran the presentation and fielded questions seemed out of their depth at times and as a new member of staff, Mr Harper-Smith was unaware of the continual retrospective planning applications.

People complained they couldn’t hear. It wasn’t helped by the loud thumping music coming from downstairs, which I asked to be turned down. It wasn’t.

Some of the management team’s points, such as the new £10 fee (increased from £5) for parking on site, which they claimed reduced congestion in the village and was “not a money making scheme” was met with understandable derision. How can this improve traffic and parking in the village?!

They said that their letters to visitors included a line about driving carefully through the village. That this was “a journey” and the start of a positive relationship with the parish council.

A traffic survey carried out in August by a group associated with the parish council found that around 35 per cent of traffic travelling through Otterton is generated by Ladram Bay. Another survey is imminent.

The incredible claim by the management team that traffic hadn’t increased much over the years and that all roads were busier, was met with loud and understandable frustration. The park has expanded massively over the years, with hundreds of pitches – and the traffic has increased with it!

I should add here that on my visits to Otterton I have observed a genuine and real problem with the level of traffic on the road and the absolutely enormous caravans and lodges that make their way through the village and residents tell me, knock walls down, erode banks and damage trees and hedges.

There was acknowledgement of this damage and a promise to repair it. How further damage is prevented is another issue, when the road is simply too narrow for the size of the loads.

Someone asked for a commitment for a maximum number of lodges so the village could have peace of mind on further development. This was supported by clapping.

The management team did not commit to this.

Someone else suggested that the lodges should be brought in by barge instead.

One resident said the number of cars increasing in the village was not related to Ladram Bay. It was due to people having more cars. It was clear that this view was not shared by the vast majority of residents.

Someone else described the traffic situation as “horrendous.”

Then the thorny subject of planning was raised. Ladram Bay is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and in a coastal preservation zone. The landscape is highly protected under a number of strong policies. Yet planning consent keeps being given for expansion. And many of these planning applications are submitted after the building has taken place.

One resident spoke on this in a very informed way about this. He asked why the dog walking area was now a car park and said there was no point in objecting to the planning application as the trees had already been removed. The team were vague on this but the new general manager did say that in future what they did would comply with planning consent.

Parish council chairman, John Fudge told the meeting that the parish council had objected to the application but it was approved by East Devon District Council’s planning committee.

This started a bit of a debate in the room and how people are not notified about planning applications. And why there is one rule for them and another for Ladram Bay.

An attendee asked the Ladram Bay owners to liaise with the village and said that the park should “have the decency to talk to the village” over planning applications and it was no surprise that there was “distrust and a complete lack of confidence” in the business by residents.

A resident of Ladram Road said she had been hit twice by vehicles and there needed to be speed deterrents. The management team agreed.

A resident of Fore Street said that she takes her life in her hands every time she leaves her house and that traffic is travelling too fast.

Someone replied that community speedwatch found few cars travelling over 30mph but that was too fast anyway. That the village needed a 20mph zone.

(This is something I have been investigating and will continue to do so).

John Fudge, parish council chairman spoke at the end of the meeting to thank people for coming. He said the parish council would work with Ladram Bay to improve the situation. He said he believed there was a genuine desire on the part of the caravan park to improve things.

Directors, Robin Carter and Zoe House remained silent throughout the meeting. Until I spoke at the end.

What do I think of Robin Carter’s behaviour? I think it was aggressive and an (unsuccessful) attempt at intimidation. It was totally inappropriate and completely unnecessary. I am a key representative of Otterton people and I am entitled to attend and speak at a public meeting.

A thriving business on the edge of Otterton is a positive thing. Otterton Mill is also a successful local business. Yet I haven’t heard a single complaint about Otterton Mill. All the complaints I have heard have been about the attitude of the senior management team at Ladram Bay, their lack of consideration and the effect that their continual expansion plans have on the village.

I am hoping that this will be the start of a more positive and considerate relationship between residents and Ladram Bay. Local people deserve better.”