“Judge agrees costs capping in action over NHS accountable care organisations”

“Campaigners including scientist Professor Stephen Hawking have secured a costs order for their judicial review of the government’s planned creation of accountable care organisations (ACO) in the NHS.

In January the claimants gained permission to bring the case against Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the National Health Service Commissioning Board.

Cheema-Grubb J held that the crowd funded campaign met the statutory test for a costs capping order, being a group of responsible individuals acting in the public interest without a personal interest in the outcome.

The campaigners will challenge the lawfulness of accountable care organisations, which they argue Parliament has not given the Department of Health the power to create.

During the January hearing the court declined to cap costs and the campaigners feared they could face a £450,000 bill were they to lose.

Cheema-Grubb J said it was highly likely that some of the concerns raised in the judicial review had a high degree of public interest and accepted evidence that the case would be dropped in the absence of a cost order.

The claimants could not be criticised for being unreasonable in not proceeding in a case with open-ended potential liabilities, the judge said.

She also noted that Mr Hunt and the NHS were publicly funded through taxpayers’ money in defending the case.

Under the order, if the campaigners lose their liability for Mr Hunt’s and the NHS’s costs would be capped at £80,000 each.

If they won, the two defendants’ liability to pay their costs would be capped at £115,000.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php

New coastal communities fund open

“A further bidding round has opened for the government’s fund to promote regeneration and economic growth in coastal towns.

Successful projects in round 5 of the Coastal Communities Fund will share £40m among them. The money will be available to spend from April 2019 to March 2021.

The fund has allocated £174m to 295 projects since it began in 2012. It is for projects over £50,000 that will directly or indirectly lead to safeguarding and creating sustainable jobs.

Communities minister Jake Berry said: “Coastal communities up and down the country from Barrow-in-Furness to Brighton have been boosted by this funding which has spurred inward investment, sustainable growth, new jobs and exciting economic opportunities for local businesses.”

The fund has generated £8 for coastal area economies for every £1 invested, the minister said.

Successful projects have included a £1.95m grant to Cornwall to repair and re-launch the Grade II Listed Art Deco Jubilee Pool in Penzance as a year-round visitor attraction, a £2m allocation for Blackpool’s Lightpool project to improve its seafront Illuminations and Northumberland’s £1.8m award to turn Amble into a destination for devotees of seafood. …”
http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2018/02/coastal-communities-benefit-ps40m

Swire’s questions

Swire has put in another Parliamentary question about East Devon – this time saying wouldn’t it be a great idea if tourism could attract less VAT.

However, Owl isn’t printing it. It’s been asked before, appreciative noises made and, of course, nothing changed.

So why isn’t Owl more positive about Swire’s bid to help the East Devon economy?

Well, it’s coming up to local election time (though not in East Devon this year, the closest being Exeter) and ALL Tory MPs are (coincidentally, of course) popping up all over the country asking similarly closely-targeted questions in THEIR constituencies …..

Next question?

“Tory ministers decide not to spend £72 million set aside for affordable homes despite housing crisis The money will now be spent on building houses for sale worth up to £600,000”

“Tory ministers decided not to spend £72 million set aside to build affordable homes because it was “no longer required”, despite the housing crisis gripping Britain.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid was forced to “surrender” the cash and send it back to the treasury, as part of £817 million his department failed to spend last year.

Some 115 million people are on council waiting lists in England, almost a quarter of whom are in London.

But a government memo, explaining the department’s underspend to the Treasury, states: “Part of the funding allocation for the Affordable Housing programme has not been required in 2017/18.”

The document also notes that the £817 million figure – much of which would have been intended for social or affordable homes – will now be spent on funding the Help to Buy programme.

In 2016-17, just 41,530 affordable homes were built, the second lowest figure for a decade.

The majority of affordable homes are so-called ‘affordable rent’, where the monthly rent is set at up to 80% of private market rent.

The number of cheaper, “social rent” houses built each year has plummeted from 39,560 in 2010-11 – the year the new “affordable rent” definition was introduced – to just 5,380 last year.

Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey said: “Feeble ministers are selling families short by surrendering much-needed cash for new homes.

“If the Secretary of State can’t defend his Department’s Budget from the Treasury he should give the job to someone who can.”

A DCLG spokesperson said: “We are delivering the homes our country needs and since 2010 we have built over 357,000 new affordable properties.

“But we are determined to do more and we are investing a further £9bn, including £2bn to help councils and housing associations build social rent homes where they are most needed.”

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tory-ministers-decide-not-spend-12098770

Are EDDC Tory councillors having broadband problems?

Written Answers – Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Broadband: East Devon (26 Feb 2018)
https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2018-02-07.127464.h&s=speaker%3A11265#g127464.q0

Hugo Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what estimate his Department has made of the number of homes that have access to superfast broadband in East Devon.

Written Answers – Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Broadband: East Devon (26 Feb 2018)
https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2018-02-07.127464.h&s=speaker%3A11265#g127465.q1

Hugo Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what estimate his Department has made of the number of businesses that have access to superfast broadband in East Devon.

“east devon” : 1 Written Answer
===============================

Written Answers – Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Broadband: East Devon (26 Feb 2018)
https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2018-02-07.127464.h&s=%22east+devon%22#g127464.r0

Margot James: According to Thinkbroadband, currently 90.02% of premises in *East Devon* can access superfast broadband. This is up from 9.4% in 2012. DCMS does not hold data on broadband coverage which distinguishes between homes and businesses.

“The plan to cut MPs looks suspiciously like a power grab”

“Are we witnessing a power grab?

Six months ago, reports suggested that the Prime Minister had dropped plans to force through a cut in MPs, a cut linked with the ongoing review of constituency boundaries.

It turns out there has been a u-turn on the u-turn, with news emerging that the PM is set to reduce the number of MPs.

That’s despite the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warning that moves to cut numbers to 600 are unlikely to secure the backing of MPs.

But why the fuss?

The issue comes down to a very ill-thought plan for new constituencies – alongside some clear democratic dangers when it comes to reducing voters’ representation.

The cut in MPs actually represents a cut in backbenchers if there are no plans to cap/cut the size of the executive or ‘payroll vote’ correspondingly.

Parliament will gain more powers after Brexit yet will have less capacity to scrutinise legislation. At the same time voters lose their representatives in Europe. That places a greater burden on the Commons and a lack of capacity poses significant risks.

The democratic dangers are clear. ERS research in 2016 showed that in a smaller, 600-seat Commons, nearly one in four (23%) MPs would be on the government payroll if the parties’ proportion of MPs – and the total number of ministers and whips – stayed the same – an all-time high, and up from the 21% at present (figures as of November 2016).

The more you look at it, the more cutting backbenchers at the same as bolstering the executive looks to many like a worrying power-grab.

But there’s another factor – the unelected Lords. It’s just common sense that the cut in democratically elected representatives cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world, with around 800 members.

If the government are concerned about reducing the cost of politics, they would do well to deal with the over-sized second chamber.

Voters need real representation in the Commons to provide the essential scrutiny and capacity we need: both for now and when we gain new powers after Brexit.

But there are problems with the boundary changes regardless of the cut in MPs. For a start, the new boundaries will be based on highly incomplete as well as out of date data. For example, people who registered to vote for the EU referendum won’t be counted for the new boundaries – skewing representation.

At the same time, the government has set an arbitrary 5% maximum difference in the size of the new constituencies. That risks awkwardly splitting up communities or grafting very different towns/counties onto each other – just look at the controversial Devonwall proposals.

Finally, unregistered but eligible voters are not being considered when drawing up these constituency boundaries – even though they will still need support and representation from their MP. This disadvantages poorer constituencies – they end up with lower representation, often despite greater need.

Far from reducing political representation and weakening voters’ voices, the Prime Minister should cancel the proposed cut in MPs – and move forward with fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons.

Read the ERS’ full views on the boundary changes here:

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/fair-boundaries/ and here https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/cutting-the-number-of-mps-will-have-consequences-lets-get-this-right/

Black mud in Teignmouth – is it from Exmouth marina dredging?

The photographs/videos on the Devon Live website do seem to show very dark-coloured material in the dredger that is licensed to dump it at Sprey Point:

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/fight-continues-stop-catastrophic-effect-1269626

The Marina is owned by F C Carter & Co, who also own the Greendale Business Centre.

Privatisation: National Audit Office calls out academy schools

“The National Audit Office has issued a report questioning the Department for Education’s ability to continue converting large numbers of maintained schools to academies.
The watchdog said that the DfE was “taking longer than intended to convert a sizeable proportion of the underperforming schools it believes will benefit most from academy status”.

At January 2018 the Department had converted 6,996 maintained schools to academies. The process has cost it an estimated £745m since 2010-11, of which £81m was spent in 2016-17.

The NAO report – Converting maintained schools to academies – highlighted how a much higher proportion of secondary schools than primary schools were academies. Some 72% of secondary schools, including free schools, were academies compared with 27% of primary schools.

“This leaves local authorities with responsibility for most primary schools and specialist providers, but few secondary schools. In areas where a high proportion of secondary schools are academies, it is more difficult for local authorities to take an integrated, whole-system approach to the education of children in their area,” the NAO warned.

The watchdog also found significant geographical variation in the proportion of schools that were now academies. This varied across England, from 93% in Bromley to 6% in Lancashire, Lewisham and North Tyneside. There were 23 local authorities (15%) that had 150 or more maintained schools, while 55 local authorities (37%) had fewer than 50 maintained schools, it said.

The report also found that:

Almost two-thirds of schools rated as inadequate by Ofsted and directed to convert, with the support of a sponsor, took longer than the nine months the DfE says it should take to open as academies. The NAO estimated that, at January 2018, there were 37,000 children in maintained schools that Ofsted had rated as inadequate more than nine months before but that had not yet opened as academies.

The Department had found it difficult to find sponsors for some of the most challenged schools. “In particular, small, sometimes remote, primary schools can find it challenging to attract local sponsors and integrate into multi-academy trusts.” There were 242 sponsored academies that were more than 50 miles from their sponsor. …”

http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=34335%3Awatchdog-doubts-ability-of-dfe-to-pursue-large-numbers-of-academy-conversions&catid=54&Itemid=22

Two unitary councils for Dorset: whither Devon?

With permission now granted for Dorset to move from nine regional authorities to two unitaries, politicians across Dorset are hailing it as the way forward to cope with continued austerity and income losses.

Which begs the question: if unitisation is so good, why are we stuck with a myriad of district and city councils in Devon?

Is Dorset right or wrong? Should we be following their lead? Are we following their lead in secret?

Or is our Local Enterprise Partnership Joint Committee our de-facto unelected, unaccountable, unscrutinised unitary authority already – with heavily-weighted Somerset taking the majority of its funds?

http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/go-ahead-for-two-unitary-councils-for-dorset-1-5410515

The swamp, the sleaze … coming to a government very near you

“The vetting process by which Toby Young was appointed to the board of the new higher education regulator was flawed and rife with political interference, according to the results of an investigation by an official watchdog.

The commissioner for public appointments’ report castigates the Department for Education (DfE) and regulator the Office for Students (OfS) for failing to delve into Young’s controversial writings and social media postings, and uncovers a high degree of direct meddling by ministers and No 10 Downing Street.

The commissioner concludes that the OfS’s board appointments, including Young, showed a “clear disparity” in the treatment of different candidates, and that parts of the process “had serious shortcomings in terms of the fairness and transparency aspects” under the code governing public appointments.

The report reveals Jo Johnson, who was then the universities minister, contacted Young about applying for the post and that his nomination was later queried by Justine Greening, the education secretary at the time.

The commissioner also detailed the involvement of Downing Street special advisers in blocking nominees for the “student experience” role on the OfS board, who were blacklisted because of previous involvement with student unions and their expressed opposition to the government’s Prevent counter-extremism programme.

“The evidence presented to the commissioner indicates that the decision on whether or not to appoint one candidate in particular was heavily influenced, not by the panel but by special advisers, notably from 10 Downing Street,” the report concluded.

Emails and memos “show that there had been a desire amongst ministers and special advisers not to appoint someone with close links to student unions, such as the National Union of Students”.

Young’s appointment was announced by the DfE at midnight on New Year’s Eve, when the powerful new higher education regulator was formally launched.

Young’s inclusion on the board immediately attracted sustained public controversy, with critics highlighting Young’s Twitter account, containing salacious and crude comments about women, and Young’s writing in support of what he dubbed “progressive eugenics”. Eight days later Young announced he would withdraw.

The commissioner found that while the DfE said it conducted online vetting of the candidates, “by its own admission, it did not delve back extensively into social media so it was not aware of the tweets by Mr Young”. The report adds: “However, the social media activity of the initially preferred candidate for the student experience role was extensively examined.”

The commissioner also revealed that departmental emails referred to “No 10 Googlers” in highlighting social media comments by the student candidates. “Notably, no such exploration or research was made on other possible appointees, including Mr Young,” the report states.

“Mr Young’s reputation as a controversialist, in itself hardly a secret, should have prompted further probing to examine whether what he had said and done might conflict with his public responsibilities and standards expected on the OfS board.

“Second, the rapid disclosure of what were described as offensive tweets in the days after his appointment suggests that it was not that hard to find them, that not much delving was required,” the report added.

The OfS and its chair, Sir Michael Barber, also came in for criticism for their part in the proceedings. Barber sat on the appointments panel, alongside two DfE officials. “Regrettably, and contrary to best practice, the panel for the generic non-executive roles was all male,” the commissioner noted.

The report also details the DfE’s repeated efforts to minimise or delay requests for information about the appointment process from the commissioner’s office.

Peter Riddell, the commissioner for public appointments , said: “My investigation uncovered a number of areas where important principles in the governance code were breached or compromised in the appointments to the board of the Office for Students.

“In my experience, this episode is unrepresentative of the hundreds of public appointments that take place each year, but it is important that lessons are learned – not least so that talented people from a wide range of backgrounds are willing to put themselves forward to serve on the boards of public bodies.”

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/feb/26/no-10-advisers-meddled-in-toby-young-getting-ofs-role-finds-report