“Freemasons are blocking reform, says Police Federation leader”

Remember how Owl was taken to task for saying planners took more notice of Freemasons than town councillors …


Well …

“Reform in policing is being blocked by members of the Freemasons, and their influence in the service is thwarting the progress of women and people from black and minority ethnic communities, the leader of rank-and-file officers has said.

Steve White, who steps down on Monday after three years as chair of the Police Federation, told the Guardian he was concerned about the continued influence of Freemasons.

White took charge with the government threatening to take over the federation if it did not reform after a string of scandals and controversies.

The Freemasons is one of the world’s oldest secular societies, made up of people, predominantly men, concerned with moral and spiritual values. Their critics say they are secretive and serve the interests of their members over the interests of the public. The Masons deny this, saying they uphold values in keeping with public service and high morals.

White told the Guardian: “What people do in their private lives is a matter for them. When it becomes an issue is when it affects their work. There have been occasions when colleagues of mine have suspected that Freemasons have been an obstacle to reform.

“We need to make sure that people are making decisions for the right reasons and there is a need for future continuing cultural reform in the Fed, which should be reflective of the makeup of policing.”

One previous Metropolitan police commissioner, the late Sir Kenneth Newman, opposed the presence of Masons in the police.

White would not name names, but did not deny that some key figures in local Police Federation branches were Masons.

White said: “It’s about trust and confidence. There are people who feel that being a Freemason and a police officer is not necessarily a good idea. I find it odd that there are pockets of the organisation where a significant number of representatives are Freemasons.”

The Masons deny any clash or reason police officers should not be members of their organisation.

Mike Baker, spokesman for the United Grand Lodge, said: “Why would there be a clash? It’s the same as saying there would be a clash between anyone in a membership organisation and in a public service.

“We are parallel organisations, we fit into these organisations and have high moral principles and values.”

Baker said Freemasonry was open to all, the only requirement being “faith in a supreme being”. He said there were a number of police officers who were Masons and police lodges, such as the Manor of St James, set up for Scotland Yard officers, and Sine Favore, set up in 2010 by Police Federation members. One of those was the Met officer John Tully, who went on to be chair of the federation and, after retirement from policing, is an administrator at the United Grand Lodge of England.

Masons in the police have been accused of covering up for fellow members and favouring them for promotion over more talented, non-Mason officers.

White said: “Some female representatives were concerned about Freemason influence in the Fed. The culture is something that can either discourage or encourage people from the ethnic minorities or women from being part of an organisation.”

The federation has passed new rules on how it runs itself, aimed at ending the fact that its key senior officials are all white, and predominantly male.

White said he hoped the new rules would lead to an end to old white men dominating the federation: “The new regulations will mean Freemasons leading to an old boys’ network will be much less likely in the future. …”


How one local newspaper changed government policy

“The well-documented squeeze on local journalism, including cuts to staff numbers, pressure from social media and low pay is bound to affect the nature and quality of local news.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy is one shocking example of this. In November 2016 two residents blogged about the possibility of “a serious fire in a tower block”. Why wasn’t this warning picked up locally? The Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle, which had covered residents’ concerns, closed in 2014 and content migrated online to Get West London. Although the Kensington and Chelsea News reopened as part of another group, its sole reporter couldn’t afford to live in the borough and remotely covered the patch from his home in Dorset.

In the case of the vice-chancellor pay story [broken by local newspaper The Bath Chronicle], while to some it looked like a David v Goliath tale of a local rag taking on a giant local employer, the biggest challenge was possibly my newspaper’s business model. To attract advertising, reporters must strive for web hits – it’s a daily pressure in our newsrooms. Like all in Trinity Mirror, the Bath Chronicle is “audience-driven”, meaning that if a story is not getting enough clicks there’s no justification for continuing to cover it.

Even though it was clear there was an audience for scrutiny of the university’s upper echelons, the risk of reader fatigue was always there. I had to ensure that every story took a new and engaging angle and use a different picture wherever possible. I also used social media and tweeted each article directly to 40-odd interested people for them to share or comment.

Last year the BBC announced it had set aside £8m to fund 150 “local democracy reporters”, who will work for qualifying regional publishers and will cover council meetings and public services. It’s a clear attempt to strengthen local reporting, and hold politicians and services to account. The investment should mean that more important stories are covered and may ease pressure on local newspapers as they struggle to pursue leads that need long-term attention. If we don’t hold powerful institutions across the country to account, who will?”


Judicial review of changes to NHS given go-ahead – with capped costs – but final £12,000 needed urgently

FROM: Crowdjustice
Press Release
Website for donations:


“Update on Our NHS – comprehensive healthcare for all – STAGE 2

We have some very good news!

On Thursday 21st December our lawyers, Leigh Day, contacted us to tell us that a judge had considered our papers and those of NHS England and we now have permission for our JUDICIAL REVIEW to go ahead, at some time after 16th February 2018!

This is fantastic news as it means our papers and those of NHSE have been examined and the judge has recognised our legal arguments as a case that is important for public interest.

This is a real Christmas present.

And… despite NHS England stating that we should not be considered for a Capped Costs Order (the amount we have to pay the courts if we lose) the Judge has also agreed to a Capped Costs Order of £25,000.

Although this is more than than the £15,000 we had hoped for, the fact remains that the judge has agreed to it, which shows that he considers it is in the public interest for our case to be heard. It is a very positive gift for all of us. Capped Costs are not granted freely.

So the 999 Call Team have made the ONLY decision possible

We all voted unanimously that this was an opportunity we could NOT afford to turn down. We have notified Leigh Day we are going ahead and will campaign hard to raise the extra £12,000 to meet the £25,000 CCO and extra court procedure costs.

What this means is that we are going to have to open a new Round 3 of CrowdJustice fundraising to raise the extra money. We will be launching towards New Year’s Day as people begin to think of new opportunities, new adventures and new HOPE. Because that is what our Judicial Review offers all of us.

WE HOPE you can help us launch and promote it.

Today, just as we enter Christmas, you could forward and share this email with 3 or more of your friends – adding any personal message to help explain that Round 3 of our Healthcare For All Judicial Review fundraising is about to launch.

You could send them to visit our website page: 999 Judicial Review

You could highlight the fact that this case is not about one group or one region – it affects all of us, everyone up and down the country. Our JR is a real opportunity to bring into the open NHS England’s contentious contract for a new form of local NHS and social care organisation that is based on a business model used by the USA’s Medicare/Medicaid system. A system which only provides a limited range of healthcare for people who are too poor to pay for private health insurance.

Exposing this new NHS England contract to a review of its lawfulness is a vital step in protecting the NHS as a source of comprehensive healthcare for all who need it.

Thank you for all your support so far and we wish you and your loved ones a happy festive week ahead.

Please be on standby for the launch of Round 3. We need all of us now.”

Thanks from all the 999 Call for the NHS Team”

“Tories drop two flagship housing policies from key strategy document”

“Two of the Conservatives’ flagship housing policies have been dropped from a key government document, raising questions about the future of the plans.

The new “single departmental plan” published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) does not include a single reference to Starter Homes, which form a central plank of the Government’s commitment to increase home ownership, or of the planned extension of Right to Buy.

…In the latest version, five specific pledges to boost home ownership, including delivering Starter Homes and the extension of Right to Buy, have been downgraded to a single-line promise to “increase home ownership through schemes including Help to Buy”.

… Furthermore, a specific commitment to “increasing home ownership” has been absorbed into the broader aim of fixing “the broken housing market”.

… Ministers had promised to build 200,000 of them by 2020 but The Independent revealed last month that not a single Starter Home has yet been built. This led to officials admitting the policy remained an “ambition” – but have now removed all mention of it from DCLG’s housing objectives.

The previous iteration of the departmental plan included a clear commitment to the policy. It said: “We are delivering a major boost to affordable home ownership with Starter Homes and extending Right to Buy to housing association tenants.”

It reiterated a pledge to build 200,000 Starter Homes, including 30,000 on brownfield land – former industrial sites earmarked for development.

Labour said the omissions in the new document showed the Government had “given up” on helping first-time buyers.

John Healey, the party’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “With home ownership at a 30-year low and the number of younger homeowners in free fall, the Government has now given up on first-time buyers.

“We need much more affordable housing for younger people looking to buy their first home but ministers have erased new housing for first-time buyers from the Communities Department’s official objectives. …”


“Damian Green to receive £17,000 pay-off after being sacked for ‘lying’ about pornography on his computer”

What can you add to that headline? Except – can you imagine what May and her MPs would say if this was a politician from another party?


American dental charity offers help to poor in UK

Over the past 30 years Stan Brock has set up hundreds of massive temporary clinics across America, bringing dentists and eye doctors to the country’s poorest people.

Now this former cowboy hopes to bring his army of volunteer medics to a new region he believes is in urgent need: Britain.

Mr Brock contacted The Times after an investigation found that millions of Britons had no local dentist willing to take on new NHS patients. There are 24 local authorities in which every dentist is taking on only private patients, with stories of people resorting to pulling their own teeth out, drugged up on alcohol and over-the-counter painkillers.

His charity, Remote Area Medical (RAM), has put on nearly 900 such events, mostly in the US. The Times visited a clinic in Baltimore where 1,234 patients were seen in two days. A giant convention centre was filled with 100 dental chairs, supplied by RAM. Some 1,842 bad teeth were removed. Another 433 patients had eye examinations and 398 of them were given free prescription glasses.

At another recent event in rural Virginia 2,416 patients were seen in two days. The majority had no insurance cover to pay for dental work and nowhere else to go.

Mr Brock said: “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to equate the healthcare situation in Britain to that here in the United States. Healthcare for millions of Americans is accessible but not affordable. This dilemma reaches deep into the middle class when it comes to dentistry and vision care.”

In 2015-16 in Britain, tooth decay was the most common reason for hospital admission for children aged five to nine.

Mr Brock is confident that he has a corporate donor willing to transport his organisation’s medical equipment to Britain from the US. He believes he can round up scores of American and Canadian dentists and doctors who would be willing to pay their own travel expenses and work without payment.

But he faces regulatory hurdles. If bringing in American volunteers proves too complicated he is ready to try to attract doctors from across the EU.

For Mr Brock the project would be a homecoming. He was born in Preston, Lancashire. In 1953, aged 17, he travelled to what is now Guyana in South America and for 15 years lived as a vaquero, or cowboy, with the Wapishana Indians. One day his horse threw him and his colleagues brought unwelcome news. “They told me I was 26 days away from the nearest doctor.”

Mr Brock, a spry 81, was struck by the inaccessibility of healthcare across much of the planet. In 1985 he founded RAM, a non-profit organisation that now has seven donated aircraft and a fleet of trucks. Aided by some 140,000 volunteers, it has provided millions of eye exams, dental treatments, mammograms, cervical smears and chest x-rays to poor Americans. He still ferries supplies, piloting a donated Douglas C-47. He takes no salary and sleeps on the floor of RAM’s headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee. “As a loyal British subject it’s time for me to help out my home country,” he said.”

The Times (pay wall)

“We do not have ordinary people’ in North East Somerset says Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg”

So THAT’S why they are building Hinkley C there!

“Conservative MP and unlikely heart-throb, Jacob Rees-Mogg says there are no “ordinary people” in his North East Somerset constituency.

Instead the 48-year-old claims the area is filled only with “exceptional, brilliant and talented individuals of the highest and finest calibre”.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s comment was made in the House of Commons during a discussion about whether to publish an easy-to-understand version of a document about retained EU legislation.

The North East Somerset MP said he agreed with the amendment, but was then challenged by neighbouring Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, Wera Hobhouse, who asked him if he ever “tried to put any legislation in front of an ordinary person” and asked them whether it was easy to understand.

Mr Rees-Mogg appeared to take offense to the use of the term “ordinary people” and delivered as terse riposte to Ms Hobhouse, which he also posted a video of on Instagram.

“In North East Somerset, we do not have ordinary people,” he said.

“We have only exceptional, brilliant and talented individuals of the highest and finest calibre.

I have a serious point to make in that: we, as politicians, should never use the term ‘ordinary people’, implying that we are some priestly caste who understand the mysteries of legislation, whereas ordinary people do not. …”


EDDC spends half a million pounds on temporary staff in last year

A Freedom of Information request has elicited the following information:

“What the total spend on Temporary/Interim staff has been in the last twelve months?

£517,550 – December 2016 – Nov 2017”


Toys ‘R Us alleged tax avoidance could fully fund Devon’s NHS cuts!

Devon has to find £560 million if it wants to avoid savage cuts to its NHS.

Owl has found the money! Now all it has to do is find a way of getting it back from the BRITISH Virgin Islands (note: does that mean they belong to Branson!) to Devon!

“Toys R Us was last night accused of funnelling £584million into an offshore tax haven as it teetered on the brink of collapse – putting 3,200 jobs at risk.

The ailing retailer, which could go into administration today, has been criticised for the write-off of a mystery £584.5million loan to a company in the British Virgin Islands, a territory commonly used by firms for tax avoidance purposes.

Tax experts have called for an investigation into the accounts, accusing Toys R Us of secrecy and tax dodging. …”


“Hinkley Point: the ‘dreadful deal’ behind the world’s most expensive power plant”

This is a VERY long article, but well worth reading.

Our LEP is throwing all OUR eggs into this disgraceful basket, decorated with white elephants by French and Chinese companies. But, at least those members of the LEP with nuclear, construction industry and recruitment and training of those servicing our nuclear warheads will be happy!

Just a flavour of the article:

“… But the irony of Hinkley Point C is that by the time it eventually starts working, it may have become obsolete. Nuclear power is facing existential problems around the world, as the cost of renewable energies fall and their popularity grows. “The maths doesn’t work,” says Tom Burke, former environmental policy adviser to BP and visiting professor at both Imperial and University Colleges. “Nuclear simply doesn’t make sense any more.”

The story of Hinkley Point C is that of a chain of decisions, taken by dozens of people over almost four decades, which might have made sense in isolation, but today result in an almost unfathomable scramble of policies and ambitions. Promises have been made and broken, policies have been adopted then dropped then adopted again. The one thing that has been consistent is the projected cost, which has rocketed ever upwards. But if so many people have come to believe that Hinkley Point C is fundamentally flawed, the question remains: how did we get to this point, where billions of pounds have been sunk into a project that seems less and less appealing with every year that passes? …”

…”Andrew Stirling believes that there was a crucial, largely unspoken, reason for the government’s rediscovered passion for nuclear: without a civil nuclear industry, a nation cannot sustain military nuclear capabilities. In other words, no new nuclear power plants would spell the end of Trident. “The only countries in the world that are currently looking at large-scale civil power newbuild programmes are countries that have nuclear submarines, or have an expressed aim of acquiring them,” Stirling told me.

Building nuclear submarines is a ferociously complicated business. It requires the kind of institutional memory and technical expertise that can easily disappear without practice. This, in theory, is where the civil nuclear industry comes in. If new nuclear power plants are being built, then the skills and capacity required by the military will be maintained. “It looks to be the case that the government is knowingly engineering an environment in which electricity consumers cross-subsidise this branch of military security,” Stirling told me. …”

“… Given its commitment to building Hinkley Point C, the government had no choice but to make EDF an offer that was too good to resist. It offered to guarantee EDF a fixed price for each unit of energy produced at Hinkley for its first 35 years of operation. In 2012, the guaranteed price – known as the “strike price” – was set at £92.50 per megawatt hour (Mwh), which would then rise with inflation. (One Mwh is roughly equivalent to the electricity used by around 330 homes in one hour.)

This means that if the wholesale price of electricity across the country falls below £92.50, EDF will receive an extra payment from the consumer as a “top-up” to fill the gap. This will be added to electricity bills around the country – even if you aren’t receiving electricity from Hinkley Point C, you will still be making a payment to EDF. The current wholesale price is around £40 per Mwh. If there had been no inflation since 2012, the consumer would be paying an EDF tax of around £52.50 per Mwh produced at Hinkley. However, because it is linked to inflation, the strike price has already risen since 2012. (The price will be reduced by £3 if EDF develops another new reactor in Sizewell in Suffolk, as it is planning to do.) …”


The price of Tory policies: tax and VAT rises and privatising NHS says IMF

Interesting that the IMF says that another £20 billion of spending cuts will be needed. That’s roughly how much Hunt wants to cut spending on the NHS.

The long game of 100% privatising the NHS – bringing with it rationing, post code lotteries and American-style health care approaches, appears to be nearing its conclusion.

As regards harmonising VAT at its higher rate – currently 20% – this would mean a 15% VAT increase on heating costs, all food and drink, charitable fundraising, equipment for disabled people, water, materials to insulate homes, boilers, children’s clothes …. the full list is here:


“Taxes will have to rise if the government is to balance the books by the middle of the next decade and the NHS may have to be privatised, the International Monetary Fund has warned.

Property taxes, the removal of preferential VAT rates for goods such as pasties, and higher national insurance contributions by the self-employed need to be considered if Britain is to have any chance of eliminating its budget deficit by 2025 because spending cuts have gone about as far as they can, the global economic watchdog said in its annual review of the UK.

Weak productivity and the increasing care demands of an ageing population will make deficit reduction harder. Public services such as the NHS may have to be scaled back or privatised, it added.

The warnings are a reminder of the persistent problem of Britain’s public finances almost a decade after the financial crisis caused borrowing to soar. National debt is 87 per cent of GDP and spending on public services exceeds revenue from taxes by more than 2 per cent of GDP.

“Continued deficit reduction is critical to create further room to respond to future shocks,” Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said. “There is not much space for additional spending cuts and the revenue side of the equation has to be looked at.”

Britain is already forecast to be paying 34.3 per cent of GDP in tax by 2022, more than at any time since the 1950s, but economists estimate that at least £20 billion of extra austerity will be needed to hit the government’s target of balancing the books.

Ms Lagarde said population changes were adding to the problem. “Population ageing is expected to lead to material increases in spending on healthcare, pensions and long-term care, while productivity growth has been slow. And a slowly growing economy means fewer resources will be available to meet increased spending,” she said.

The public spending burden will soon make Britain face some hard choices, the IMF added. “The UK may face difficult decisions about the desired size of its public sector, as well as the mode of delivery and financing of public services. Brexit-related effects may exacerbate the challenge.”

To address the problem, Britain needs to boost productivity. Ms Lagarde welcomed the chancellor’s £31 billion fund for infrastructure investment and focus on technical qualifications because “the UK underinvests in infrastructure and falls short in human capital development”. But she said that more needed to be done “such as easing planning restrictions and reforming property taxes to boost housing supply”.

As well as introducing a land tax, the government should harmonise VAT for goods that get preferential rates and better “align the tax treatment of employees and the self-employed”. Both proposals have proved a poisoned chalice for chancellors. George Osborne tried to harmonise VAT rates for hot food in his “omnishambles budget” and Philip Hammond had to backtrack this year on raising national insurance for the self-employed. The IMF also recommended “reducing the tax code’s bias towards debt” and scrapping the triple lock on state pensions.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said: “The IMF has played the role of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to remind the chancellor that seven years of Tory failure is undermining our economy.”

Obscene Persimmon bonuses – add nearly £41,000 to cost of each house

Guardian Letters:

What do management bonuses mean to the average customer? Persimmon’s CEO will receive a bonus of £110m. Senior staff bonuses will exceed £500m. Persimmon builds approximately 15,000 houses a year. Arguably, therefore, the CEO’s bonus adds at least £7,333 to the price of a house and the senior staff bonuses add £33,333. It is unlikely that the customer would think it money well spent.”
Martin Jeffree


“Surely the housebuilding company Persimmon can now afford to run its own help-to-buy scheme.”
David Simpson

“Theresa May Says Just Because Children Are Homeless It Does Not Mean They Live On The Street”

Theresa May has defended the government’s record on homelessness by arguing that just because there are thousands of homeless children it does not necessarily mean they have to sleep on the streets.

Labour MP Rosena Allin-Khan said 2,500 children would wake up homeless in Wandsworth, south London, on Christmas Day. “When will this austerity driven government say enough is enough and put an and end to this tragedy?” she said during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. …

… This morning the Commons Public Accounts Committee accused the government of being “unacceptably complacent” after an investigation revealed as many as 9,100 people are sleeping rough on the streets of the UK every night.

More than 78,000 households, including over 120,000 children, are classed as homeless and housed in often substandard temporary accommodation.

According to evidence gathered by the cross-party committee, the average rough sleeper dies before the age of 50, and children in long-term temporary accommodation miss far more schooling than their peers.

Homelessness has been steadily rising since 2010, with the number of households in temporary accommodation skyrocketing by more than 60%.

Since March 2011, the number of people who sleep rough has risen by 134%. …”


Exmouth sees drop in second home sales

“The number of second homes in Exmouth has fallen by almost three per cent since 2015. But, the town still has the second highest number in East Devon.

An FOI request, submitted by the Journal, revealed that on average, for every 38 properties in the town, there was one second home.

The statistics revealed there were 16,987 households in Exmouth and of these 422 were second homes, meaning they made up around 2.6 per cent of the total number of properties.

Over the last three years, the number of second homes across the district has slowly been decreasing. Across East Devon there are 69,333 households, with 2,339 being used as second homes. This has fallen by 2.8 per cent since 2015.

In Exmouth, the drop was slightly more, with a three per cent decrease from 459 to 442. Estate agents have suggested this is down to the increase on stamp duty when purchasing a second house. Mike Dibble, a director Bradleys Estate Agents, said anybody who bought a second home now paid an extra three per cent in stamp duty. He added: “For example, if you are a first-time buyer and purchase a home for £250,000, the stamp duty would be £2,500.
“But, if you are buying a second home or a buy-to-let then you would pay an extra £7,500, paying a total of £10,000 in stamp duty”.

Mr Dibble added the estate agents sold ‘nowhere near’ as many second homes as they used to.

The town with the most second homes was Sidmouth, which by April of this year, had a total of 471. The town has half the number of households compared to Exmouth and statistically, of Sidmouth’s 7,885 properties, six per cent are second homes.

The third highest was Seaton where around 5.4 per cent of the total number of properties are second homes – for every 19 properties in Seaton there is around one second home.

An East Devon District Council spokeswoman said: “There are a large number of second homes in East Devon for which the owners pay council tax in the same way as do all other home owners in the district.”

Journal 14 December 2017

The original article:

“London Mayor refuses permission for major scheme over loss of affordable homes”

Well, what do you know, developers don’t have to get their own way – at least in London!

“The Mayor of London has refused permission for an estate regeneration project in Barnet which he said would result in the net loss of 257 affordable homes.

Sadiq Khan described the scheme as “a classic example of how not to do estate regeneration”.

His decision related to a scheme to redevelop the Grahame Park estate in Colindale. This included plans to demolish 692 homes currently available at social rent and replace them with 435.

The planning application was approved by Barnet Council last month.
The Mayor said he had told the council it must replace the lost affordable homes.

The application was also deemed unacceptable because it failed to provide a minimum of £840,000 to deliver additional bus capacity and suitable alternatives to private car use.

Khan said: “I fully support improving social housing on this estate and across the capital, but this scheme falls far short of what I expect of London boroughs.

“As I have made clear in my new London Plan, estate regeneration projects must replace homes which are based on social rent levels on a like-for-like basis. Londoners so urgently need more high-quality housing, not less, which makes this scheme completely unacceptable in its current form.

“I have asked Barnet Council to work constructively with the applicant on alternative plans with greater density, which do not result in the net loss of affordable homes. Given its recent record in this area, I hope the council recognises the need to replace what would be lost at Grahame Park.”
A Barnet Council spokesperson said: “We are clearly disappointed by this decision. We will now be reviewing this with our development partner to agree the next steps.”


Interesting petition in Cornwall demands resignation of Chief Planning Officer!

Almost 5,000 signatures already!

“Cornwall is being destroyed. Since Mr Mason took office, Cornwall’s natural and built environment has experienced continued and accelerating degradation. Our precious, unique landscape and cultural heritage is disappearing through the continual facilitation of ugly and inappropriate hyper-development. Shockingly, this development has even failed to address local housing needs, as it is clearly not designed to meet that objective, being cynically marketed up-country. Nor has it benefited our persistently weak economy. Apart from the obvious damage to Cornwall’s landscape integrity, increasingly angry and upset residents are afflicted by soaring levels of traffic congestion and air pollution. Flooding risks have increased, and surgeries, schools and Treliske hospital are all failing to cope with the huge population growth created by the facilitation of rapid in-migration.

The Council’s short-sighted, mass-urbanisation culture, which has become utterly out of control under Mr Mason’s tenure, fails to recognise that Cornwall’s rural nature is one of its most important and highly valued assets. Planning blight, seemingly encouraged by the Chief Officer, is often, and increasingly, imposed against the wishes of parishes and residents. Why Mr. Mason and the Council should want to turn Cornwall into a replica of ugly, depressing and blighted parts of the UK cannot by answered by sane and rational argument. Soon, everything that gives Cornwall its charm and distinctiveness will be obliterated for ever. Mr Mason’s idea of planning is one of the reasons the Council is viewed with contempt by so many people.

Cornwall and its people deserve better – much better. Mr Mason has conspicuously failed to demonstrate any intent to try and protect us from the predatory, hyper-development agenda of national developers, as the unsustainable Local Plan target of 52,500 new houses demonstrates. It is time he went and is replaced by someone who has Cornwall’s best interests at heart.”


“Second-home owners face 500% tax rise in the Yorkshire Dales”

“Second-home owners in the Yorkshire Dales could see council tax on their properties rise five-fold after a landmark vote.

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have backed an initiative designed to “halt and then reverse” the decline in numbers of young people in the region.

The move follows concern from residents that the number of second homes has contributed to younger people leaving the area, schools closing and a loss of services, thus creating “hollowed out communities”.

There are about 1,500 second homes in the Dales, representing more than 10 per cent of the total housing stock. Last night members of the park authority voted by 12 votes to nine in favour of working with local councils to develop a specific proposal on second homes.

A figure of at least five times the present rate of council tax has been mooted for second-home owners, equating to an annual tax bill of £8,500 for a band D property. The proposals would not apply to holiday lets.

The national park’s constituent local authorities will consider the proposals in the new year. If they all back the scheme a fully developed proposition to attract more young people and families will be put to central government.

Carl Lis, chairman of the park authority, said that the verdict “demonstrates that we are not prepared to sit idly by and watch Dales communities slow decline”.

He said that while unemployment in the national park “barely exists”, employers “cannot afford to pay the sort of wages you need to buy a home in the Dales” because their prices have been so inflated by the second-homes market.

“A lot of effort is going in to getting new affordable homes built, but it is being cancelled out by the number of homes going into second-home ownership. Any initiative to attract and retain families in the park which did not at least try to address the negative impacts of second homes would be like ignoring the elephant in the room.”

He added that he recognised that the proposals were controversial and that second-home owners did help to contribute to the local economy, but said that permanent residents would contribute much more.

Richard Foster, a member of the park authority and leader of Craven district council, went public with the second-homes proposal last month. He said: “I hope we might have pricked the social consciences of those who leave their properties in the Dales empty for most of the year, but our central concern is not about them, it is about the viability of local communities.”

Yvonne Peacock, another member of the park authority, said: “A few years ago there were 70 children on the roll of the school in Bainbridge where I live — now the number is 25. There are simply too many second homes.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Council tax: up to £100 year increase (for fewer services) and Devon to retain 100% business rates

“Local authorities are to be allowed to raise council tax by up to 5.99% next year, after a further relaxation of the government-imposed cap to address shortfalls in funding for social care.

Families across the UK could see their bills rise by up to £100 a year as a result of the announcement, which will also see councils increasing the charge without holding local referendums.

The move, which has been widely criticised and called “woefully inadequate” by leaders in the social care sector, could see the average band D council tax bill rising to £1,653.30. …. “


In a separate announcement, the DGLC announced that a pilot project will see 10 areas retain their full business rate contributions:

“Communities secretary Sajid Javid has today announced a shake-up of the formula for distributing funding to local authorities.

He has also set out plans to allow councils to retain 75% of their business rates and a 1% increase in council tax raising powers, revealing the local government settlement in the House of Commons.

Javid confirmed plans to end the revenue support grant and allow councils to retain 100% of local business rates by 2020 would be put on hold, over concerns that some councils could be left out of pocket.

Instead, he said there needed to be an “updated and more responsive distribution methodology”, and that councils would be allowed to retain 75% of business rates by 2020/21.

He said: “I am today publishing a formal consultation on a review of relative needs and resources. “I aim to implement a new system based on its findings in 2020/21.”

In addition, he announced 10 further councils would be taking part in a pilot to retain 100% of their business rates. …”

Foreign doctors [and nurses] – we need them more than they need us

And before anyone whinges about time-wasters going to A and E remember Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been one of them:


“Doctors who trained abroad account for almost half of all those working in parts of the UK as the profession faces “crunch point” and more young doctors take time out due to stress.

The General Medical Council’s annual report said that many regions and specialities relied on foreign-trained doctors, who could leave the UK. It added that there were too few doctors to treat rising numbers of patients, and doctors were being “pushed beyond their limits”.

The State of Medical Education and Practice showed that 54 per cent of junior doctors took a break after finishing foundation training, a rise from 30 per cent in 2012. “Goodwill and commitment to always go the extra mile” kept the NHS running, it said. “This level of sacrifice is neither right nor sustainable.”

The number of doctors on the medical register has grown by 2 per cent since 2012. Over the same period in England there has been a 27 per cent increase in patients going to A&E, and the GMC said that an ageing population was putting pressure on services.

While the number of UK graduates on the medical register rose by more than 10,700 between 2012 and this year, the rise was offset by a fall of 6,000 in foreign-trained doctors.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said: “We have reached a crucial moment — a crunch point — in the development of the workforce. The decisions that we make over the next five years will determine whether it can meet these demands.”

A fifth of doctors in training said they felt short of sleep while working. In 2014, when 43 per cent of new doctors took a break from training, 22 per cent took a one-year break and 8 per cent took a two-year break. Others may never return. More than half of those taking a break said that it was because of burnout, and most wanted a better work-life balance.

The GMC said that reducing the pressure on doctors and improving the culture and making jobs and training more flexible would be vital to recruiting and retaining doctors.

In the east of England 43 per cent of doctors were trained overseas. In the West Midlands the figure is 41 per cent, and 38 per cent in the East Midlands. More than half, 55 per cent, of specialists in obstetrics and gynaecology trained overseas.

About 14 per cent of doctors in the UK trained in south Asia, but their numbers have dropped by 7 per cent since 2012. The number of doctors from Africa, Australia, New Zealand and North America also fell.

The Department of Health said: “The NHS has a record number of doctors — 14,900 more since May 2010 — and we are committed to supporting them by expanding the number of training places by 25 per cent.” The department was working to improve retention, it added.


The health service turned to Britain’s former colonies in South Asia during labour shortages in the 1960s and again in the 2000s when there were too few homegrown recruits.

Today, too, it leans heavily on overseas doctors. A third of doctors in the NHS trained outside the United Kingdom. The reliance has raised concerns that the NHS may be fuelling a “brain drain” in poorer countries where doctors are desperately needed, although others argue that training in the UK can improve those doctors’ skills.

It comes down to the simple fact that the UK does not train enough doctors to meet the demands of its population.

Historically, NHS workforce planning has suffered because it needs to happen over a much longer period than the average lifespan of a government. Last week Health Education England set out the first NHS staffing plan in 25 years, admitting that 190,000 extra frontline staff would be needed.

Source: The Times (pay wall)

“Tenants lose out after landlord pressure halves UK home insulation cap”

“Tenants face missing out on energy bill savings after the government caved in to landlords’ demands by lowering a cap on the costs they face to upgrade Britain’s draughtiest homes.

Landlords must improve the energy efficiency of F- and G-rated homes from next April under new regulations designed to protect vulnerable tenants and cut carbon emissions.

But on Tuesday the government said the costs of the upgrade would be capped at £2,500, half what officials had originally told buy-to-let landlords to expect. The total energy bill savings is put at £337m.

The government’s own assessment warned that the lower cap means only 139,200 households in England and Wales will benefit from better insulation by April 2020. That is 121,000 fewer than if the cap was at £5,000.

Campaigners and industry groups said the change left ministers’ ambitions of tackling fuel poverty in tatters.

“This could leave a gaping hole in the government’s plans to meet its own fuel poverty targets,” said Richard Twinn, policy adviser at the UK Green Building Council.

The Association for Conservation of Energy said the government had “missed a big opportunity” to improve the efficiency of thousands of homes.

Officials said the lower cap was necessary to protect owners by ensuring “that landlords of F and G rated private rented properties are not faced with an excessive cost burden”.

The government also said the changes were necessary because landlords’ access to finance for energy-saving measures had become harder since the policy was first proposed.

One green energy charity accused Theresa May of putting landlords’ interests ahead of tenants. Max Wakefield, a campaigner at 10:10 Climate Action, said: “The prime minister claims to be prioritising controlling domestic energy costs, but in reality policy is being designed to suit landlords. …”

“Hundreds of thousands of renters will now be left wondering when, if ever, they can expect to live in a decent home.”

But the National Landlords Association was not happy either, calling the proposal a “complete farce”. It said there was a risk landlords who still could not afford the upgrades would leave properties empty and unimproved. …”