Productivity, high tech, software development? Look to Cornwall not Devon or Somerset

BBC Spotlight tonight: Cornwall – thanks to its attractive lifestyle and very fast broadband throughout the county from an EU project – is cornering the market in high-tech and software and gaming industries.

Devon – with its special, expensively – developed campuses and industrial areas and its “growth point” – is losing out.

Productivity match: Cornwall 1 – Devon 0


“Councils are selling off land: vast swathes of it. It’s estimated that 10 million hectares of public land have been sold in the past four decades, and sales are accelerating. In Gloucestershire, where I live, the council has sold £100 million of land since April 2011 and recently announced plans to sell up to £53 million more.

Who’s buying it all? There has been little press coverage of this fire sale of land, and councils are cagey about reporting it. To find out more, I wrote code to compare a mid-2017 version of the Land Registry’s Corporate & Commercial Ownership data, which lists what UK corporate bodies own, with the latest Overseas Companies Ownership data, which lists what overseas companies own. If titles move from the first dataset to the second, that indicates they’ve been sold to an overseas company.

I found that since summer 2017, local authorities, government bodies and universities have sold public land worth more than £100 million to companies in Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man, British Virgin Islands, Malta and Cayman Islands. This is despite David Cameron promising to end property sales to “anonymous shell companies” in May 2016.

These countries are tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions. Private Eye, Global Witness and Transparency International have exposed for years how offshore companies hide the true identity of the buyers, allowing ‘dirty money’ to be laundered through the UK. Yet still the sales go on.

There’s no suggestion that the sales below are being used for money laundering, or even good old-fashioned corruption – the few I can identify look like UK development groups using offshore vehicles. But the problem is, we just don’t know who the buyers are – that’s the point of offshore. And most likely, nor do the public bodies doing the selling!

The government recently announced plans for a register of beneficial owners of offshore companies that own UK property. But campaigners say this is too little, too late: unless draft legislation goes to Parliament soon, the register won’t be in place till 2021.

In the meantime, and despite Theresa May also promising a ‘crackdown’ on companies’ use of offshore tax havens (£), public bodies are still merrily selling off public land – plenty of it to anonymous companies in these “sunny places for shady people”. …

The councils selling land worth millions to offshore companies

[For specific examples see the remainder of the article]

“Services best delivered locally, says study”

Owl sees a problem: these groups need GUARANTEED funding for minimum 5-10 years. Chances of that happening? Zero. Hand-to-mouth funding can be worse than none at all – offering false hopes.

“Commissioning local community organisations to deliver services boosts local economies, says a study.

The pilot study found that together 10 local community organisations enabled approximately 1,400 jobs and £120m of gross value to be added to the local economy.

Commissioned by Locality and conducted by NEF Consulting, the study calculated the impact of each organisation’s value chain.

The findings are part of Locality’s Keep it Local campaign, calling for local commissioning of public services, and are revealed in the charity’s Powerful Communities, Strong Economies report.

The report, published at a time when large national organisations delivering government contracts are struggling, sets out the benefits of local commissioning of public services.

It shows that not only do local organisations have the skills and capacity to deliver public services, there are huge benefits to the local economy when they do.

It sets out how local authorities can ensure the billions of pounds they spend each year on services has maximum community and economic benefit.

The Halifax Opportunities Trust (HOT) is one of the organisations included in the study.

NEF Consulting found that by hosting a range of services and enterprises, they contributed approximately 300 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs and £14m of gross value added (GVA) to the local area.

Locality also calculated the economic impact of their contract for the Jubilee Children’s Centre on the local Calderdale Council area.

It found every £1 of income generated by HOT at Jubilee Children’s Centre created £2.43 for the local economy.

HOT chief executive Alison Haskins said: “Halifax Opportunities Trust was established 17 years ago by local people to support regeneration and tackle poverty.

“Since then, we’ve grown to be an important local employer and purchaser.

“We realise that the way we operate as a community business is just as important as the activities and programmes we run to support businesses, employment, learning, families and social connections.”

Ms Haskins said HOT cared passionately about Halifax and about Calderdale.

“We will be here for the long term, not just for the length of a contract and will continue to contribute to local economic resilience and social value.”

Locality chief executive Tony Armstrong said: “Commissioners must heed the warning of the collapse of Carillion, and the profit warning at Capita.

“It’s time to halt the trend of outsourcing at scale to multi-national companies.

“Mega-contracts delivered by large national providers fails to meet people’s needs and wastes money.

“Organisations rooted in their local communities have deep knowledge and understanding of the area, strong existing relationships and the expertise to support people with complex needs.

“But their contribution goes much further – with huge impact on local jobs and the local economy.

“There is one sensible way forward for commissioning pubic services – keep it local.”

Locality is launching a set of free resources and toolkits to equip councillors, local authority commissioners and community organisations with practical advice to enable them to realise the local commissioning of services.

The three toolkits reflect the fact that council leaders, commissioners and community organisations need to work together to realise the benefits of local commissioning.”

More information about the events and toolkits to download can be found here.

Cameron developer pal wants to build 28 luxury homes and use S106 to fund renovation of his derelict manor house “for the public”

David Cameron‘s multimillionaire friend has insisted the money earned from building 28 luxury homes will benefit the public by helping to restore his Grade II-listed manor house in the countryside.

Nicholas Johnston has claimed that despite owning two massive country estates, he doesn’t have the funds to restore his 4,000-acre Great Tew estate in the Cotswold Hills, Oxfordshire.

So the Old Etonian announced he plans to refurbish his manor with profits earned from a proposed £56million ‘world-class car museum’ that includes upmarket holiday lodges, as he says the restoration will be a public service.

The action has angered locals as it is common practice for big-time property tycoons to use a portion of the development funds to bankroll local parks, donate to schools or other initiatives for the community.

Mr Johnston told the [local] paper: ‘It is a very expensive thing to save. There isn’t the revenue from estate activities to allow the restoration of Tew Park.’

He added that if the Oxfordshire council rejects his plans, the hefty cost could fall back on the public, due to the council’s responsibility to protect listed structures, saying: ‘If I don’t have the money to do it … ultimately that falls back on the public purse.’

Mr Johnston is partnering with American billionaire Peter Mullin to build a ‘world-class car museum’ that has 28 holiday homes on site near an WWII airfield.

Mr Mullin is a vintage car enthusiast and owns a Bugatti Atlantic – there are only two in world.

The development on the estate would include a demonstration track and a suite for corporate events, as Mr Johnston claims that only owners who put their luxury cars up for sale will be able to buy a home there.

Kieran Hedigan, project director for the car museum, shot down claims the development was elitist and that Mr Johnston had ulterior motives.

In another fight over the Great Tew estate, involving rights of way access, a judge blasted Mr Johnston and said he would say ‘whatever he thought was most likely to advance his case, without regard to the truth’.

The Great Tew estate has been owned by the Johnston family since the 1960s.

Mr Johnston purchased the entire seaside village of Bantham in Devon for more than £11.5million in 2014 because he felt a sense of ‘freedom and an independence’ there.

He fought off a rival bid from the National Trust to buy the estate – which features a golf course, shop, beach and about 20 homes – and hopes his children will one day take it on as a lifelong project.

Housing: pay much more for much less!

“British living rooms are nearly a third smaller than they were in the 1970s, a new study has found.
Homes built in the UK after 2010 have an average sitting room size of 184 sq ft (17.1 sq m) compared to 268 sq ft (24.9 sq m) around 40 years ago.
Houses also have less bedrooms today than they did in the past, with an average of just under three.

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“Academy trust has failed Devon’s most vulnerable pupils”

Owl says: Academies: they were supposed to be BETTER than local authority schools because they were free from the financial constraints and poorer management of local authorities they would raise standards (while making pots of money for the private companies running them!!! Right!

Transpose to the NHS and hospitals and you can see where this is leading …

“A multi-academy trust in Devon which was commissioned to support children who are unable to attend mainstream school is being replaced due to serious failings.

Devon’s alternative education provision (AP) has been running as a sponsored academy by SchoolsCompany who this week have apologised to parents for its financial mismanagement and not providing a high quality of education.

The SchoolsCompany currently run three AP academies in Devon – Central Devon Academy in Exeter, North Devon Academy in Barnstaple, and South and West Devon Academy in Dartington.

AP includes pupil referral units and education for children with medical needs or who are in care.

As a result of its failings, it has closed Tavistock Youth Café, a community-based model of education provision for children who are out of school.

The decision was based on concerns over the quality of education being provided, and health and safety.

At the beginning of the year North Devon Academy pupil referral unit was placed into special measures after a damning Ofsted report deemed it to be “inadequate” across the board.

In October 2017, a monitoring Ofsted inspection report following a visit to Central Devon Academy concluded safeguarding is not effective.

The academy was formed in March 2015, replacing the Devon County Council Pupil Referral Unit.

South and West Devon Academy in Dartington was last inspected in July 2014 and was rated good. At that time it was seeking to become a sponsored academy.

SchoolsCompany has already come under scrutiny this year following revelations of financial mismanagement of its other academy in Kent.

In February it apologised to its pupils and parents after admitting “unacceptable failures of financial management”.

The educational consultancy, school management and training company describes itself as being dedicated to improving services for children, but has now had to issue another apology this week.

A spokesperson for SchoolsCompany said: “The academies in Devon have fallen short of the high standards that young people should expect and there have been shortcomings in the trust’s overall financial management.

“We would like to apologise to our students and their parents. Young people deserve the very best education.”

At the beginning of the year the trust’s chief executive Elias Achilleos was suspended and replaced by an interim, Angela Barry.

In Devon, a short-term service level agreement has been made for Plymouth-based ACE Schools Multi Academy Trust to step in and have identified actions to address the current shortcomings.

It has not been confirmed who will take over as new sponsors of Devon’s AP.

A spokesperson for SchoolsCompany continued: “We agree with the respective Regional Schools Commissioners that new academy trusts should be identified as prospective sponsors to take over the trust’s four schools in Devon and Kent.

“These strong trusts will provide the expertise and stability needed to run the academies successfully. No decisions have been taken as to who these new sponsors will be.”

Concerns have raised by the impact the trust’s failings are having on Devon’s most vulnerable pupils.

An education worker, who asked not to be named said: “Huge amounts of Devon County Council funding have gone into the contract, along with central government funding via the Education and Schools Funding Agency.

“In the meantime all sorts of injustices are being meted out to the most vulnerable young people in the county and closure of provision in some localities.

“SchoolsCompany were already a failed company before Devon took them on. Their reputation in Kent, for example, is associated with the failure of a number of schools in an academy group.

“The very sad thing is Devon was one of the first counties to commission the education provision for its most vulnerable children in this sponsored academy way. That’s the greatest tragedy.

““The county took a massive risk but they were also under a lot of pressure from the Department for Education to make their local authority education provision over to sponsored academies.”

A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “The three academies are overseen by the Regional Schools Commissioner on behalf of the Government and are not Devon County Council schools.

“However, these academies serve vulnerable Devon children and we have been having continuing discussions with the RSC and the provider about improving the quality of education and care for these pupils.

“The Plymouth-based ACE academy trust is now working with SchoolsCompany and we are regularly meeting with them to monitor the situation and to ensure the needs of these vulnerable pupils are met.”