Is Owl a “digital criminal” as well as “vile and libellous”?

In the past, Hugo Swire has called citizen bloggers and activists (including Owl, East Devon Alliance and Claire Wright particularly) “a vile swamp”:

and called the same people “vile and libellous”:

and he has banned people he doesn’t like from his Twitter feed:

Now he has enthusiastically supported a parliamentary investigation of “hate crimes” towards MPs: Though it rather seems, from the examples above, that Swire conflates “hate crime” with criticism of him of any kind.

Does he have citizen journalists in mind in his statement below – or possibly only those he personally disapproves of?

His statement in Parliament:

May I add my congratulations to Lord Bew on presiding over a typically balanced and well researched piece of work? When some time ago I asked my right hon. Friend’s then ministerial colleague, my hon. Friend Sarah Newton, what the figures for successful hate crime prosecutions were, she said that she did not have the figures to hand at the time. Although I very much welcome the tone of my right hon. Friend’s statement about looking again at the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance and about more funding for local police forces to investigate digital crimes in particular, will she reassure me that both the CPS and police forces nationally and locally will take this more seriously and that we will see some successful prosecutions to warn off others who would follow in their wake?”

Question: is being called vile, libellous and a swamp dweller by Swire hateful and, if so, could it be classed as a digital crime?

Fortunately, Owl feels that the cut and thrust of political debate means that one must be prepared to take such terms on the chin and will not be contacting the police to complain.

Though, it does remind Owl of that rather difficult time when Claire Wright was reported to police by Councillor Phil Twiss when she said MPs should be culled and he took it to mean something nasty such as shooting at seagulls rather than a term used MANY times by his own party in general (and the then PM David Cameron in particular as Owl pointed out), to mean a simple reduction in numbers! It hit the national headlines at the time!

We must NEVER perpetuate hate crimes but we MUST retain free speech – its loss is the first aim of despots.

Final Consultation for the East Devon Villages Plan – your input urgently needed, particularly on business park expansion

The revised policies will provide further controls on Hill Barton and Greendale Business Parks.

On a recent Planning Enforcement Appeal, the Planning Inspector`s conclusion was he disagreed with the appellant’s (FWS Carter and Sons owners of Greendale Business Park) contention that the Local Plan is silent on the matter of employment provision/future development at the major existing employment sites of both Greendale and Hill Barton Business Parks. He stated that ‘although there may be no specific policies for the business parks Strategy 7 and Policy E7, it is perfectly clear that the Plan seeks to apply a “restrictive policy approach” to accommodating further development’.

At a Strategic Planning Meeting last week it was agreed to submit the “Villages Plan” to a further 7 week consultation period which has been through the various consultations and Planning Inspectorates hearings.
East Devon District Council have yesterday(Monday 18th December) submitted the Villages Plan for consultation on the Local Plan Inspectors “Main Modifications” that she had included following her hearings held at Sidmouth in November.

The Village Plan is an extension to the already approved East Devon Local Plan which gives further detail on the 15 larger Villages in the district with new BUAB (Built up Area Boundaries) proposals which will provide some extra development for the next 15 years.

Also included are the two Industrial areas at Greendale Business Park and Hill Barton Business Park which will have an “Employment Area” drawn around them as they are both contrary to the East Devon Local Plan as they are considered to be in the open countryside where development should not be allowed.

The Planning Inspector has proposed two new Policies VP04 and VP05 covering the Business Parks. Reading the other Inspector’s report for the Enforcement Appeal who stated that there were no specific policies for the business parks, these new proposed policies will provide the clarity and guidance required to prevent these Business Parks expanding further into the countryside or closer to local communities.

History of the Village Plan

Following the hearings in 2015 with the Planning Inspectorate it was agreed to remove all villages’ growth targets from the Local Plan and create a subsidiary plan for the Villages. It was also agreed to include further clarity for Hill Barton and Greendale Business Park with this new Village Plan.

The original Village Plan was drawn up by planning officers from the District Council, agreed by the EDDC Strategic Planning Committee and at a meeting of the Full Council to go out for a 6-week public consultation from 22 March to 10 May 2017.

Following the consultations, changes were made to the Plan by the EDDC Planning Officers and the Strategic Planning Committee and then agreed by Full Council and submitted it to the Government Planning Inspectorate. This required another Public Consultation of 6 weeks when all interested parties were invited again to submit comments direct to the inspector followed by an Inspectors Hearing for 2 days in Nov 2017.

This procedure follows the agreed guidance of Democratic Principles, giving the Local Electorate plus the relevant Parish Councils, the ability to scrutinise and to submit comments to enable the District Council and finally the Inspector to ensure the Village Plan Document is both legally compliant and has followed fully the democratic principles.

Policy VP04 relating to Greendale Business Park.

Policy VP04 – Greendale Business Park Inset maps are included in this plan that show the extent of authorised uses at the Greendale Business Park for information purposes only. Development of Greendale Business Park as indicated on the inset map will be considered in accordance with the relevant policies of the development plan, in particular Strategy 7 of the East Devon Local Plan (Development in the Countryside)

Policy VP05 relating to Hill Barton Business Park.

Policy VP05 – Hill Barton Business Park Inset maps are included in this plan that show the extent of authorised uses at the Hill Barton Business Park for information purposes only. Development of Hill Barton Business Park as indicated on the inset map will be considered in accordance with the relevant policies of the development plan, in particular Strategy 7 of the East Devon Local Plan (Development in the Countryside)

These new Policies which the Inspector specifically required to be added to the proposed plan are to make it legally complaint and to link in to the already approved East Devon Local Plan.

It is a key principle to the Local Plan that these Business Parks are not to be extended from their present boundaries as they are in the open countryside.

District Councillor Geoff Jung (Raleigh Ward)

“This is another significant step forward by the Local Planning Authority to provide further support to the local plan strategy for Greendale and Hill Barton Business Parks.”

“The Business Parks provide employment for many local people, but the sites are in the open countryside located some distance from where people live. The Government and Local Authority strategy is to provide employment in locations close to where people live.”

“Further development will be provided within these business parks but expansion beyond their present approved boundaries will be against local planning strategies and policies.”

“If the Village Plan is adopted as proposed this will provide the clarity that local people have been asking for, for years”

“As well as being inappropriate development within the countryside, there are significant highway issues relating to these Business Parks with the HGV traffic on the A3052 Sidmouth Road from the M5 to the Halfway Inn being heavily used and the Sandy Gate roundabout and the Clyst St Mary Roundabout at already at full capacity.”

“It is thanks to local residents, various associations and action groups, and concerned Parish Councils, within the wider area who have worked with tenacity and persistence to get to this final hurdle”

An Urgent Request for Residents to Respond

What is required now is for local people to write or email to the Local Authority in support of 17.3 changes and additions, plus the new Policy VP04 for Greendale Business Park and 18.1-18.2 changes and additions, plus the new Policy VP05 for Hill Barton.

To agree with the Inspectors proposals in full recognising the current employment boundary of Greendale and Hill Barton, this would protect the “open countryside”

The schedule of main modification, the updated SA/SEA, an amended version of the Villages Plan that incorporates the proposed changes and further information about the consultation may be viewed on the Council web site at: Villages plan examination – East Devon

If you wish to comment on the proposed schedule of main modifications or the updated SA/SEA, please email

by no later than

2nd February 2018.

All responses received will be forwarded to the Inspector for her consideration prior to issuing her report, which will be in the Spring of 2018.

If you want further information please contact the planning policy team on 01395 571533.

The Officer to contact is Linda Renshaw (Mrs) Senior Planning Officer East Devon District Council Tel. 01395 571683 Working days Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.


DUP funding to stay secret

Owl says: What a surprise! Remind me – isn’t the DUP a fundamentalist “Christian” party? Oooohhhh … wait for the fire and brimstone – not.

“Labour has criticised an attempt by the government to allow the DUP to conceal details of past political donations, including during the EU referendum, despite a 2014 law that extended party transparency rules to Northern Ireland.

The government has announced it will bring into force new transparency rules for Northern Ireland’s political parties to allow the Electoral Commission to publish details of donations over £7,500.

The provision for the new rules, which will bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK, was first introduced in legislation in 2014, with the wide understanding it would be applied from that year.

However, the Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, said he intended the act to be applied from 1 July 2017, which would mean donations during the EU referendum in 2016 are not made public.

Campaigners have raised questions over the DUP’s spending on the EU referendum in June 2016 – including a £435,000 donation from a group called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), chaired by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party.

The source of the cash was revealed by the DUP after a series of articles published by OpenDemocracy, though details of the CRC’s source of income are still opaque. …”

Every major (and some minor) party fined for election and/or referendum expense overspends or illegal payments

Owl says: with maximum fines being so low why should parties bother what they spend?

“Britain’s Electoral Commission said on Tuesday it has fined the Liberal Democrats party 18,000 pounds ($24,069) for breaching campaign finance rules in the 2016 European Union referendum.

The party was fined 17,000 pounds for failing to provide acceptable invoices or receipts and 1,000 pounds because some payments were reported in aggregate rather than as individual payments, the commission said in a statement.

“The reporting requirements for parties and campaigners at referendums and elections are clear, that’s why it is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats didn’t follow them correctly,” said Bob Posner, the Electoral Commission’s director of political finance.”

Sidmouth Port Royal: an independent view

“In July, ‘Three Rs’ campaigners unveiled their alternative vision to ‘retain, refurbish, re-use’ the site’s existing buildings.

They wanted to challenge suggestions that the ‘only apparent option’ for the development of eastern town was to construct a multi-use building with 30 homes that could stand up to five storeys high.

Campaigners argue the existing buildings should be retained, the whole area should be refurbished as needed and sites such as the Drill Hall and the old boat park should be re-used.

In a bid to keep the public informed, they have created four information sheets ahead of the publication of a final report on Port Royal.

Councillor Cathy Gardner, [Independent East Devon Alliance] who is one of those leading the Three Rs campaign, said: “We think it is important people have more background information for the proposals for the Port Royal area, particularly while we are waiting for the final report from the scoping study – we are expecting that in January.

“We have tried to be as factual as we can. People ask a lot of questions and sometimes there are misunderstandings, and we just want to help clarify it for everybody.”

The information sheets explain the challenges East Devon District Council (EDDC) faces in redeveloping the site and the importance of the authority deciding on what happens, and argue it is essential to retain the Drill Hall.

The guides also look at what the Ham is and its conveyance, the role played by Sidmouth Town Council, what the Local Plan has to do with Port Royal, and where Devon County Council comes in.

As well as this, the information sheets will address how the car parks could be refurbished.

Cllr Gardner said the campaigners could also cover other topics so asked residents who were unsure on anything or think something should be clarified to let them know.

The information sheets have also been pinned up on a notice boards around Sidmouth and are available online at

Alternatively, email for an electronic copy.”

Fat cats … lots of them … getting fatter

Several of Britain’s best-known companies, including Burberry, Sky and Sports Direct, are included on a list ordered by the prime minister of firms rewarding bosses with “fat cat pay” and representing the “unacceptable face of capitalism”.

More than a fifth of Britain’s FTSE listed-firms are included on the “name and shame” register of companies that Theresa May said risk damaging “the social fabric of our country” by paying bosses too much money.

May ordered the creation of the world’s first public register of companies that ignored shareholder concerns and awarded “pay rises to bosses that far outstrip the company’s performance” in August. She said calling out the firms would help tackle the “abuses and excess in the boardroom” and restore public confidence in big business.

The public register was published on Tuesday by the Investment Association, a trade body of investment firms that manage the pensions of million of Britons.

The register lists every company in the FTSE All-Share Index which has suffered at least a 20% shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives pay, re-election of directors or other resolution at their shareholder meetings.

Companies on the register include fashion label Burberry, broadcaster Sky, retailer Sports Direct and Sir Martin Sorrell’s advertising company WPP.

Others on the list include banking giant HSBC, supermarket Morrisons, BT, estate agent Foxtons, the AA and Mothercare.

Chris Cummings, chief executive of the Investment Association, said the register “reveals the true scale of investor concern” and shows how many shareholders are “flexing their muscles by exercising their votes”.

Cummings said the fact that 22% of companies in the FTSE All-Share are included on the list shows that “a significant number of companies need to seriously start listening to shareholders views and acting on them”. …”

“£3bn NHS spend due to unfilled vacancies”

“Figures obtained under Freedom of Information rules have shown that the NHS is spending £3bn a year on agency staff to fill staffing gaps caused by 100,000 unfilled vacancies.

The highest vacancy rate, of 12.2%, was for nurses, leaving hospitals and care homes short on qualified staff and reliant on less experienced healthcare assistants.

Janet Davies from the Royal College of Nursing said: “Hospital wards and care homes alike increasingly rely on unregistered healthcare assistants, especially at night. The Government must no longer allow nursing on the cheap – patients, particularly vulnerable and older individuals, can pay the highest price.”

Source” The Independent, Page: 3 Independent i, Page: 5

“Should we tax housebuilders more heavily than other companies?”

Owl says:

Would it happen? Could it happen? In your dreams!

Housebuilders are amongst the biggest donors to the Tory party and David Cameron let them write their own rules within days of becoming PM. Theresa May has talked about fairness in housing but has done NOTHING.

“Much of housebuilders’ success is the result of state policy.

I’ve never been a fan of windfall taxes, but I am feeling a bit more of one this week.

We have written in the magazine frequently about how much we hate the government’s Help to Buy scheme because of the way it exacerbates the original problem – high house prices. It’s a bad fiscal policy piled on a bad monetary policy.

More recently, we have raged about the effect of this on the housebuilders: for years they have been making verging on obscene amounts of money out of exploiting the scheme. They have also been paying much of that money out to their executives, thanks to badly constructed compensation schemes.

You can try and explain or justify this as much as you like but the truth is that one of the worst effects of Help to Buy has been a whopping transfer of wealth from the taxpayer to the top men at house building firms. There is evidence aplenty of this .

Look to the news this weekend that the chairman of one of the UK’s biggest building firms, Persimmon, has resigned over his role in creating one of the most repulsive bonus schemes of all time, one which is set to pay its top three executives £200m and another 137 managers around another £600m. None of these people started the business. None of them risked their own capital.

Half of Persimmon sales are backed by Help to Buy. When Help to Buy was launched, Persimmon’s market capitalisation was £2.5bn; now it is over £8bn.

There’s a lot to say here about bonus structures and executive pay (see many blogposts past). But there is something else to say about companies whose success is the result of state policy. If the government has been the main driver behind a firm’s profits, is the Treasury perhaps entitled to more than the standard rate of tax on those profits?

Or, to look at it from another direction, does the firm in question have a higher level of social obligation than other companies – in this case, perhaps, to be obliged to build more social housing than usual – or, given the dismal quality of UK new-build housing, to just build better housing than usual?”

An A and E consultant speaks … and begs for our help

“Dear Journalists,

As an A&E consultant I am writing to ask for your help.

Up and down the country our A&E departments are in meltdown, our staff are at breaking point and we need your help.

Patients are being left in corridors because there are no ward beds for them to go to, staff are leaving shifts demoralised and exhausted and most importantly our patients are not getting the care they deserve.

We need the public to know about this, not to scaremonger, but for the truth to be out there – as the only way to get politicans to change – is by voters knowing the reality and prioritising the NHS at the ballot box.

But without the public understanding what is going on, we will continue to have this crisis year after year after year. This is where we need your help. We need you to report the reality and not peddle the propaganda from our politicians.

The crisis is much worse than what you report. We all talk about the 4 hour target and that we get around 90%. But that includes all the patients who don’t need admission. But for the ones who need admission, the % who get admitted within 4 hours is so so so much lower than that. And for those patients, it is crucial for their well being, that they get admitted within four hours.

Why are you not asking for these figures? That would help reveal the truth.

Then you report 12 hour breaches. But in England (but not the rest of the UK) the clock starts ticking when a specialist senior has seen them. So they can be in A&E for 18 hours and not be a 12 hour breach.

Why are you not asking for the figures of patients who stay in A&E for more than 12 hours? That would help reveal the truth

And what about asking how many patients are spending time in corridors?

Because if you did reveal these figures – you would soon see the real extent of the crisis. And it is a crisis. One which will lead to a breaking point soon unless something changes.

The fault does not lie with the patients. Yes a few inappropriately attend – but they are not the problem; they can be quickly turned around and discharged.

The fault is not with the staff. They are working tirelessly and doing an amazing job despite the conditions they are working in.

The fault does not lie wth managers and hospital executives. They are working relentlessly to make things work as well as they can.

And despite what the governmnet peddle it certainly is not the fault of the GPs. Although there is falling numbers of GP surgeries, they are doing an amazing job at reducing the number of A&E attendances. Most importantly, the fault does not lie with the ‘system’ of the NHS – a model of care which utilities its resources to maximal effect.

The fault lies with the government.

Years of failed austerity depriving NHS and councils of vital monies and investment is taking its toll. A&Es are struggling because of the frail elderly who need a ward bed but cant get one.

They can’t get one because there are not enough beds within our hospitals (we have one of the smallest numbers of bed per capita in the whole of Europe) and because those that need to get out of hospital can’t because of a lack of social care.

In addition some money which has been spent on the NHS had been wasted on pointless reorganisations designed to start the process of NHS privatisation.

Please start reporting that. Please start reporting the truth. Please start reporting how close we are to melt down and please help get the public worked up about what is going on.

Because sadly our government don’t seem that bothered. They and their friends can afford private health care and therefore don’t rely on it. Even worse many would be happy to see our NHS privatised.

But for everyone else we need the NHS. The staff will battle on (and it is a battle at the moment). We will continue to do everything we can. We will continue to adapt, modernise and reform. We will continue to provide the most amazing possible care despite the conditions. But there is only so much our staff can take. And if we lose our staff we lose the NHS.

Journalists -we need your help. Please help.

And if you are not a journalist reading this, please share (publicly), or tweet it or send onto your friends in the hope that journalists will pick this up and start reporting the truth.

Rob Galloway A&E Consultant

Rank and file Tories fear for the end of their party

This appears to be a legitimate Conservative party group whichis highly critical of attempt to de-democratise their party. The views are their ownand are shown verbatim:

From the blog of:

(COPOV: Conservative, One Person One Vote)

“Friday, December 15, 2017
Last Chance to save the Conservative Party

Changes to the Conservative Party Constitution
How to give more power to the hierarchy

At a meeting of the National Convention held on 25th November in Birmingham the following changes to the Conservative Party Constitution were discussed and passed to be formally proposed at the next National Convention meeting on 16th March 2018. About 100 members turned up on 25th November for this meeting out of the 1,000 members of the Convention. For only the second time in the last fifteen years ordinary Party members were excluded from the Convention even as observers.

If these rule changes go through you may as well bring down the final curtain on the Conservative Party and on it will the written:

The Tory Party. The End

1) “Constituency Associations” are abolished.

In future we will just have “Associations” which will consist of one or more Constituency Associations.

This is a sad day. For 150 years the Constituency Association has been the building block of the Conservative Party. No longer. This is the management of decline.

2) The Annual Meeting of the National Convention to be abolished.
Voting for Officers of the Convention will now be done “online”. Officers will give reports “online”

This means that there will be no hustings meeting at which the candidates will speak. It also means that there cannot be questions to the candidates. In the early days of the Convention a motion was passed calling for hustings at which the candidates were questioned. The motion was passed overwhelmingly. The Officers ignored it. Now there is no chance. Also no opportunity to question the Officers on their reports. This is North Korean style democracy.

Why don’t they just abolish the National Convention and have an Annual General Meeting to which every member is invited and at which the Party Chairman is elected by the members?

3) Selection of Candidates to be centrally controlled.


15.1 The selection of all candidates, including Parliamentary, Police Commissioners, Elected Mayors and local government candidates shall follow a process in accordance with rules and guidance published from time to time by the Committee on Candidates of the Board of the Party (as established under Schedule 6 of the Party Constitution)

All further articles up to and including 15.2.5 to be removed

The entire section of the Constitution which spells out the way in which candidates are to be selected has been deleted. All selection will now be determined by the Committee on Candidates which will also determine the procedures for selecting candidates. So a small group of appointed people unaccountable to the membership will now determine all candidates. This small group of unaccountable people will effectively decide who shall become a Conservative Member of Parliament and from them who will be in Government. What happened to democracy? This is disgraceful. It shows complete contempt for the people. What have we come to?

By adopting this proposal the last vestiges of any rights for Party members has been eliminated. Now they have no rights at all!

4) Conservative Policy Forum
Under the existing Constitution:

65 The Board shall appoint a Director of the Conservative Policy Forum whose responsibilities shall include the formation of a structure to co-ordinate the activities of the Political Deputy Chairmen of the Area Management Executives and Constituency Associations.

This is to be replaced by:

65 The Board shall appoint a Director of the Conservative Policy Forum on the recommendation of the Chairman of the National Convention, whose responsibilities shall include co-ordinating the policy-related activities of the Associations and Area Management Executives.

Why should the Chairman of the National Convention recommend the Director of the Conservative Policy Forum – to increase his power or a nice bit of cronyism?

66.3 Three representatives elected by the Political Deputy Chairmen of the Area Management Executives in accordance with the provisions of Schedule 5 .
This provision of the Constitution was never adhered to so instead of enforcing it what did they do? Delete it! So now, every member of the Council of the Conservative Policy Forum is appointed. Jobs for the boys!

5) Area Councils
The Constitution states:

4 Any member of an Association within an Area may stand for election within that Area to the Area Management Executive provided they are proposed and seconded by members of an Area Council in the Area in which they are standing for election.

5 The election shall take place at the meeting of the Area Council. The election shall be by secret ballot. The Returning Officer shall be a member of the professional staff of the Party, nominated for the purpose by the Board.

The only problem is that there is no requirement for members to be told when the date of the meeting of the Area Council is or indeed who are members of it, so they have become self perpetuating oligarchies.

6) National Convention
The existing Constitution states that:

5 Any nominee for any such office or post referred to in Paragraph 2.2 herein shall have been a Member of the National Convention for not less than two years.

This is now replaced by:

5 Any nominee for any such office or post referred to in Paragraph 2.2 herein shall have been a Member of the National Convention for not less than the two years preceding the date of close of nominations.

So you cannot stand for office until you are in the third year as a member and are currently a member The effect of this is that none of the officers will have any long term historical knowledge of the workings of the Convention

6 Any nominee for the office of President shall have been an elected member of the Board for one year.

This is changed to:

6 Any nominee for the office of President shall have been an elected member of the Board for one year preceding the date of close of nominations.
Same comment as above

It is time for the Conservative Members of Parliament to stop being so supine and get off sitting on their hands and oppose these changes. If they don’t, then at the next General Election the only activists left in their constituencies will be themselves!
Posted by John Strafford at 9:32 AM”

CPRE seminar 19/01/2018 10 am: New Housing and The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan – special guest: Hugo Swire

Friday 19th January 2018.
The Gipsy Hill Hotel,
Gipsy Hill Lane,
Pinhoe, Exeter

Guest speakers:
Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire MP;
George Marshall, Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.

How many new homes are planned for your community and where?

Please join us for this important opportunity to find out more about the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan for Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge and the plans for new housing.

All welcome.

Places must be reserved – to book a place please contact us on
01392 966737
or email:

East Devon mentioned in corruption and bribery article in Sunday Times

See post below for the history of the mention of East Devon.

“Bricks, bribery and mortar — the flaw built into our planning rules

This newspaper’s exposure of a corruption scandal in London is just the tip of the iceberg, says Rohan Silva. Outmoded development laws allow crime to thrive.

Exactly seven years ago today, on December 17, 2010, a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire outside a government building in Tunisia, kicking off the Arab Spring that turned the geopolitics of the region on its head.

In the aftermath of the turmoil, the influential economist Hernando De Soto interviewed Bouazizi’s family — and the families of the dozens of other people who killed themselves in similar ways in countries from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.

De Soto wanted to find out why these young men and women had committed violent acts of self-immolation — and he concluded that every case had the same root cause: “Desperation over property.”

According to De Soto, the absence of enforceable property rights in Tunisia — and across the Arab world — meant people were at constant risk of their property being confiscated by the government, and made it almost impossible to escape poverty and build a better life for their families.

Here in the UK, we tend to think property rights are a developing-world issue — with our long history of land registration and ownership, it’s easy to assume everything is hunky-dory.

If only. Last weekend this newspaper published a damning exposé of corruption in east London, with a £2m bribe sought from a developer in exchange for the promise of permission to build a skyscraper, Alpha Square.

Off the back of this exemplary journalism, the National Crime Agency is investigating the incident. Hopefully the bent politicians and officials will be brought to justice.

But the depressing truth is that corruption is endemic in Britain’s bureaucratic planning system. In every corner of the country, you can find stories of bribery, with local councillors and officials rigging the planning process for their own gain.

Doncaster, Enfield, Greater Manchester, EAST DEVON — these are just a handful of the local authorities where corrupt practices have been discovered in planning departments. In other words, the corruption is systemic and it’s caused by the inadequacy of Britain’s property rights.

To understand why, we need to look back to 1947, when post-war socialist planning was all the rage, industries were being nationalised and the state was steadily gaining control of the “commanding heights” of the economy.

That year, the Town and Country Planning Act was introduced, giving the government the power to determine the direction of property development. This piece of legislation is the basis of today’s planning system — and it took land development rights away from property owners and gave them to the planning authorities. It was another form of nationalisation, in other words.

Ever since, when you buy a piece of land in the UK you receive its property title, but you have absolutely no idea what you’re allowed to build on it — that’s up to planning officials in the local council.

Given that the value of a property can increase by tens — or even hundreds — of millions of pounds depending on what the planners decide, the incentive for corruption among low-paid officials and councillors is overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the lack of clear property rights doesn’t only lead to corruption. It also slows down every aspect of the development process, creating a boon for expensive planning consultants and lawyers.

All this bureaucracy helps explain why too few houses have been built over many decades, with monumental social and economic consequences.

As Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs has pointed out, our outmoded planning system has artificially inflated property prices in the UK by as much as 41%, adding more than £3,000 to the average family’s annual rent or mortgage payments.

What’s more, our post-war planning system stifles innovation. Developers have to play it safe, putting forward generic projects designed to get through the bureaucracy, rather than delivering what consumers want.

As the architect Lord Rogers has asked, why should bureaucrats get to decide on aesthetics? It’s a recipe for the kind of soulless grey buildings you now find in every British city.

Corrupt practices. Market failure. Lack of innovation. These are just some of the consequences of our broken planning system — the last vestige of socialist command-and-control we have left in the UK. (Until Jeremy Corbyn gets elected, anyway.)

It doesn’t have to be like this. In US cities, when you buy a piece of land, it comes with property rights that tell you what you’re allowed to build on it and how much extra space you can add.

This is known as “by-right” planning permission — because you don’t need a bureaucratic process to tell you what you can do. You apply for planning permission only if you want to build more than you’re entitled to.

Now is the time to bring this approach to this country and clamp down on corruption. By strengthening the UK’s framework of property rights and dismantling the failed post-war planning system, we can cut red tape and stamp out bribery.

Thanks to this newspaper’s exposure of corrupt practices, change is surely coming. You might even call it a British Spring.

Rohan Silva”

Source: Sunday Times, paywall

The disgraced ex-EDDC Tory Councillor Graham Brown “If I can’t get planning, nobody will” scandal refuses to die

Remember the disgraced ex-Councilor Graham Brown scandal?

Well, it refuses to die.

The Sunday Times today (page 29, main paper) mentions it in passing in an article entitled “Bricks, Bribery and Planning – the flaw built into our planning rules” (full text to follow shortly).

“But the depressing truth is that corruption is endemic in Britain’s bureaucratic planning system. In every corner of the country, you can fund stories of bribery, with local councillors and officials rigging the planning system for their own gain.

Doncaster, Enfield, Greater Manchester, EAST DEVON – these are just a handful of local authorities where corrupt practices have been discovered in planning departments. In other words, the corruption is systemic and it’s caused by the inadequacy of Britain’s property rights”. …”

Brown, at various times, headed up the East Devon Business Forum, was also highly influential in the early stages of the Local Development Plan (which wasted two years or more mostly visiting big development sites owned by prominent businessmen and which had to be abandoned and re-started under the later chairmanship of Councillor Philip Skinner).

Brown held many other posts throughout his long career as an EDDC councillor, mostly related to planning, while running his local planning consultancy business – a fact of which other Tory majority party councillors and officers were very well aware, but did not perceive as not being a conflict of interest – until the Daily Telegraph sting.

His only censure was to be kicked out of his local Tory party – local police refused to be involved with an inquiry due to insufficient evidence. Were local planners and councillors – or even the Daily Telegraph or Anna Minton – asked for evidence? We have no idea.

Brown features (as does East Devon generally – a whole chapter) in the Anna Minton expose “ Scaring the Living Daylights Out of People: The Local Lobby and the Failure of Democracy” (Section 3: The Local Mafia: Conflicts of Interest in East Devon”) :

Click to access scaring-the-living-daylights-final.pdf

As a final insult to injury, after his departure from EDDC he attempted to get the agricultural tie lifted from the farmhouse in which he lived (which would have greatly increased its value by up to 40%) until a local investigation (led by East Devon Alliance) uncovered the fact that he had been receiving EU farming subsidies to the tune of at least £850,000 throughout the period he said he was no longer farming:

Postcode lottery social care – the reality

A comment on the article posted directly below this one:

“Let’s get this absolutely clear….. : the Tories have cut £4.6bn from Adult Social Care since 2010.

The piece fails to mention that poorer local authorities don’t have the benefit of the so-called precept either – council tax income is considerably lower.

But the real issue beyond the cuts is that the marketisation of social care is a complete and utter failure.

There’s a massive recruitment crisis and services have been decimated – there’s over 4 million family carers quietly labouring away out of sight many with little support. Having money actually makes little difference in some areas…. there’s minimal respite or domiciliary care services available.

It’s going to get a lot worse when the Accountable Care Organisations are foisted on the NHS. The Dementia Tax was an open door to the insurance industry and the ACOs will open the NHS to more privatisation.

This needs shouting from the rooftops. It’s not an intergenerational issue – that’s a smokescreen – it’s inbuilt into an ideology that relies on shifting public money into private hands. Castrating local authorities is part of the deal.”
(most popular comment)

“Social care postcode gap widens for older people”: EDDC tries to claw back its mistakes too late

Last week, desperate Tories put a much-too-little! much-too-late motion to East Devon District Council:

“To ask the Leader of East Devon District Council to request Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Parliamentary Health Select Committee, to investigate the effects on Rural Communities of the STP actions and to test if Rural Proofing Policies have been correctly applied to these decisions in order to protect these communities”

As Owl noted at the time, this is somewhat rich, as their Leader, Paul Diviani, voted at Devon County Council AGAINST sending the document to the Secretary of State for Health (where this could have been highlighted in the covering submission) against the instructions of his EDDC Tory Councillors and never having consulted other Devon Tory councils he was supposed to represent. He was ably assisted in this by former EDDC Chairman Sarah Randall Johnson, who as Chair of the DCC committee, railroaded their choice of action by effectively silencing any opposition (EDW passim)

This led to the accelerated closure of community beds in Honiton and Seaton, following on from earlier closures in Axminster and Ottery St Mary.

A subsequent vote of “No Confidence” in Diviani at EDDC (brought by non-Tory councillors) was defeated by the very Tory councillors he had defied!

Now we read that “Social care postcode gap widens for older people” and that social care is breaking down in deprived areas – many of which are inevitably rural.

… The knock-on effects for the NHS see elderly patients end up in hospital unnecessarily after accidents at home, while they cannot be discharged unless they have adequate community care in place. Among men, 30% in the poorest third of households needed help with an activity of daily living (ADL), compared with 14% in the highest income group. Among women, the need for such help was 30% among the poorest third and 20% in the highest third.

There is a growing army of unpaid helpers, such as family and friends, propping up the system. Around two-thirds of adults aged 65 and over, who had received help for daily activities in the past month, had only received this from unpaid helpers, the figures revealed.

Spending on adult social care by local authorities fell from £18.4bn in 2009-10 to just under £17bn in 2015-16, according to the respected King’s Fund. It represents a real-terms cut of 8%. It estimates there will be an estimated social care funding gap of £2.1bn by 2019-20.

While an extra £2bn was provided for social care over two years, a huge gap remains after the latest budget failed to address the issue. Theresa May was forced to abandon plans to ask the elderly to help pay for social care through the value of their homes, after it was blamed for contributing to her disastrous election result. The government has promised to bring forward some new proposals by the summer, but many Tory MPs and Conservative-run councils are desperate for faster action.

Ministers have dropped plans to put a cap on care costs by 2020 – a measure proposed by Sir Andrew Dilnot’s review of social care and backed by David Cameron when he was prime minister.

Izzi Seccombe, the Tory chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Social care need is greater in more deprived areas and this, in turn, places those councils under significant financial pressures. Allowing councils to increase council tax to pay for social care, while helpful in some areas, is of limited use in poorer areas because their weaker tax base means they are less able to raise funds.

“In more deprived areas there is also likely to be a higher number of people who rely on councils to pay for their care. This, in turn, puts even more pressure on the local authority.

“If we are to bridge the inequality gap in social care, we need long-term sustainable funding for the sector. It was hugely disappointing that the chancellor found money for the NHS but nothing for adult social care in the autumn budget. We estimate adult social care faces an annual funding gap of £2.3bn by 2020.”

Simon Bottery, from the King’s Fund, said: “We know that need will be higher in the most deprived areas – people get ill earlier and have higher levels of disability, and carry that through into social care need.

“We also know that the councils that have the greater need to spend are, on average, raising less money through the precept [earmarked for funding social care].”

Accountable Care Organisations: angels or devils?

Owl says: if you believe that Accountable Care Organisations are a good thing you will believe anything. Back-door privatisation a la USA and a ruthless way of enforcing rationing and post code lotteries rather than proper funding.

“Accountable care organisations have many strengths but should be openly debated before being implemented.

The war over the future of the NHS is being fought on multiple fronts. Campaigners, the Labour party, the government, NHS England and even Stephen Hawking are locked in combat over the structure, funding, transparency, accountability and legality of the current wave of reforms, along with the never-ending fight about privatisation – real or imagined.

The famous physicist has joined campaigners in a high court bid to block the introduction of accountable care organisations to oversee local services without primary legislation, arguing they could lead to privatisation, rationing and charging.

Meanwhile, the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, has tabled a Commons early day motion after the government announced plans to amend regulations to support the operation of accountable care organisations. Ashworth argues that they are a profound change to the NHS that should be debated in parliament.

Accountable care – a term imported from the US, where it plays a key role in Obamacare – can take many forms, but it typically involves an alliance of providers with a fixed budget collaborating to manage the health needs of their local population. NHS England wants to see sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) evolving into accountable care systems in which integrated care supports good physical and mental health.

In June, NHS England announced that eight areas would be leading the accountable care drive. Greater Manchester is also adopting this approach, and many others are starting to use the accountable care language.

Accountable care has the potential to address many of the criticisms the most vociferous supporters of the NHS have made for many years. It goes a long way to replace competition with collaboration, and the NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said it could mark the end of the infamous purchaser/provider split, which weighs down the health service with costly and often pointless bureaucracy.

Locally led, integrated systems are essential if we are going to shift the NHS from a 1970s-style hospital service to one that provides a community-based health and wellbeing service. Pooling budgets across the local area is not a ruse to disguise cuts. It is the most effective way to manage public money, irrespective of the level of funding.

The court case confuses the issue of how the NHS is organised with its funding and the role of the private sector. These are three different issues.

But the legal basis for accountable care is shaky. Faced with the wreckage left by Andrew Lansley’s infamous 2012 reforms, NHS England introduced STPs because trying to plan services through more than 200 clinical commissioning groups was never going to work.

As demand climbed, funding flatlined in the aftermath of the 2008 crash and managing long-term conditions became the dominant challenge; it was imperative to move from competition to collaboration and set a long-term goal of population health management. That is where accountable care comes in.

STPs and accountable care are operating under legislation meant for clinical commissioning groups – so collaborative systems typically serving 1.2 million people in which local government and all parts of the NHS have a say are underpinned by a legal framework for GP-managed competition overseeing populations of 250,000.

This is such a precarious legal balancing act that the 2017 Conservative manifesto promised to tidy up the legislation and regulations. But introducing an NHS bill now would be political harakiri for Theresa May, and most health service staff would prefer legal ambiguity to yet another round of organisational upheaval that would inevitably follow legislation.

So the choice is to either continue to find legal bodges to allow the NHS to collaborate and plan or – if the high court challenge succeeds – to return to the Lansley dream-turned-nightmare of full-blooded competition.

But although the thinking behind the legal challenge is muddled, that campaign and Labour’s early day motion highlight the major problem: a profound change in the management and leadership of the NHS is being introduced without informed public and parliamentary discussion.

The new approach has many strengths, but introducing it under the radar only serves to feed anxieties and misconceptions about the objective. NHS England needs to get the discussion about accountable care out in the open.”

Size DOES matter! Failing company kept on by government – because it is too big to fail!

“The government kept funding training company Learndirect despite it being judged ’inadequate’ because of fears over the loss of such a large provider.

That was the conclusion of a National Audit Office probe, released yesterday, into why Learndirect continued to receive substantial public money even after regulator Ofsted criticised its effectiveness.

The NAO’s report said that although the normal policy of the Education and Skills Funding Agency was to withdraw funding from providers rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, it “believed that the size of Learndirect Ltd made it an unusual case, to which special considerations should apply”.

It continued: “Specifically, ESFA concluded that continuing to fund Learndirect Ltd for the 2017-18 academic year would best meet the interests of learners, allowing the company to wind down and let learners complete their courses with minimal disruption.”

The NAO said it conducted the investigation because “Parliament and the media have questioned whether Learndirect Ltd’s performance was subject to proper scrutiny, and whether correct and timely decisions were made about its continued funding”.

Learndirect grew to be by far the largest provider of skills training, with some 70,000 people on its books.

In 2016-17, it received £121m worth of central government contracts.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said the report showed: “The government backed itself into a corner by letting itself become dependent on Learndirect.

“At a time when many further education providers are struggling with funding restraint, it is disgraceful that the Department [of Education] should be continuing to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on an inadequate provider.

“I am concerned that it took Ofsted so long to investigate. It knew Learndirect was a risk from as early as Spring 2015, but the inspection took two years to arrive.”

The NAO said Ofsted inspected Learndirect in early 2017 and in March that year issued a ‘notice of serious breach’ of apprenticeships standards.

It said Ofsted identified factors contributing to its ‘inadequate’ rating including poor management of subcontractors’ performance and weak oversight of learners’ progress.

Ofsted also covered the Learndirect affair in its annual report this week.

This noted: “The case of Learndirect limited has shown that no provider is too big to fail.

“This raises a question for us and for government about failure in market regulation and whether incentives drive the right behaviour.”

It said the episode raised questions about when providers of any kind “grow too big, too fast”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our priority throughout has been the protection of learners and ensuring that they do not lose out – a point that has been acknowledged by the NAO.”

Ofsted, at the launch of its annual report, went on to warn that the new apprenticeship levy was “raising a very substantial amount of money to fund training, [which] carries the risk of attracting operators that are not committed to high-quality learning, as we saw, for example, with Train to Gain”.Learndirect has been approached for comment.”


“Remember when David Davis ran out on the first round of Brexit negotiations after less than an hour? Now we know a bit about what he was doing instead.

The Brexit Secretary had declared it was “time to get down to business” ahead of the talks – but then skipped the majority of the discussions.

He turned up in Brussels at 8am on July 17, spent 15 minutes having a “friendly chat” with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and another 45 minutes in a meeting with their respective officials.

After being photographed without any papers and a quick press conference, he was on the Eurostar back to London.

A Government spokesperson told the media at the time that Davis had planned to leave early but denied that the decision was connected to a vote in Parliament.

So what did he get up to upon his return to London? Something more useful than dealing with the nitty gritty of Brexit negotiations?

Transparency documents published by DExEU last night offer us an interesting insight.

They show that on July 18 – while talks were still ongoing in Brussels – Davis had dinner with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. …

The Brexit Secretary only reappeared in Brussels when talks finished on July 20 for a press conference which didn’t go well.

Davis was criticised by Barnier over a “lack of clarity” in the Government’s position over the divorce bill.

That’s unsurprising given the extraordinary but real possibility that he may well have spent more time speaking to Dacre than Barnier about Brexit that week.

And it might also explain why, 18 months after the referendum, he’s only just made “sufficient progress” in negotiations.

Proud of yourself, Davis?”