Another summer, another sleazy Tory fundraising ball for toffs

“Millionaire Tory donors blew tens of thousands of pounds to secure luxury dinners with ministers, ­private hunting trips and a ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley during a ­lavish fundraiser.

Guests paid up to £1,500 a head for the annual Summer Party, held on Monday at London’s exclusive Hurlingham Club and hosted by PM Theresa May.

As her Cabinet teetered on the edge of implosion over Brexit, desperate ministers had to rattle the Tory donation tin.

Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson were seen “working the room”, getting rich supporters to part with their cash. …

And items up for auction included:

A ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley
Dinner cooked by Michael Gove, in his kitchen
University Challenge with David Lidington
Wine tasting with Brandon Lewis and Matthew Jukes
Own a David Cameron lectern
Dinner with Stephen Hammond
A museum tour with Boris Johnson
Regency weekend for 4 in Cheltenham
Night in Central Mayfair
Villa for 10 in Phuket
Week in Provence for 12
Namibia cheetah experience
Pheasant shooting in Leicester and quail hunting in Texas

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tories-auction-ride-jacob-rees-12848491

“PARK AND THRIVE Councils urged to slash parking fees to £1 in a bid to rescue failing town centres”

“GREEDY councils were last night urged to slash high street parking rates to a token £1 to stop town centres turning into “ghost towns”.

A retail veteran said town halls should introduce the nominal charge for the first two hours of parking in a radical 25-point plan to revive the retail sector.

The charging regime could be backed by Government legislation.

Bill Grimsey – ex boss of Wickes and Iceland – also demanded the “broken” business rate regime be scrapped altogether as he blamed the eye-watering tax for the biggest wave of shop job losses since the credit crisis.

He called for business rates to be replaced by a 2 per cent sales tax that would cover “bricks and mortar” chains such as Tesco as well as online giants such as Amazon.

And he called for Theresa May to create a new Town Centre Commission to develop a 20-year strategy.

He said: “The first six months of 2018 have seen the highest rate of retail closures, administrations for more than a decade and there is no sign of a slowdown.

“Our cities, towns and communities are facing their greatest challenge in history, which is how to remain relevant, and economically and socially viable in the 21st century.”

Speaking at the Local Government Association today, the retail veteran will say the days of shops ‘anchoring’ high streets were now gone as shopping habits change.

And he called on Government to change planning laws to bring in more housing and offices.

Libraries and public spaces should be at the heart of each community, Mr Grimsey said. He added that the vacancy rate – or proportion of empty shops – in towns such as Morecambe was now 30 per cent.

Councils trousered a whopping £820 million-worth of profit from parking and fines in 2016-2017.

The Local Government Association claims the so-called parking charge surplus is spent on “essential transport projects”. But a report in April ranked Britain’s roads 27th worst in the world – below Chile, Cyprus and Oman.

Under Mr Grimsey’s plans, councils would charge a nominal £1 for the first two hours of parking in town centres – while introducing 30 minutes free parking in high streets.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/6689229/council-bid-slash-parking-fees-town-centres/

EDDC’s recent external auditor facing fourth inquiry; regulator “feeble and timid”

“The accounting watchdog has launched an investigation into KPMG’s audit of Conviviality, the collapsed drinks and off-licence supplier.

It is the latest regulatory scrutiny into the Big Four firm, which is also under investigation over its audits of Carillion, Rolls-Royce and BNY Mellon.

The Financial Reporting Council has accused KPMG of an “unacceptable deterioration” in the quality of its audits and put its audits under special supervision. Last month it fined the firm £3.2 million for misconduct in its audits for Quindell, the insurance technology company. Pressure is increasing on KPMG and its competitors PWC, Deloitte and EY. Carillion and BHS shone a spotlight on the firms’ roles as both auditors and consultants to companies.

Conviviality, owner of the Bargain Booze and Wine Rack chains, collapsed into administration in April. It had been valued at more than £500 million in March but fell from grace after admitting that it had made an error in its forecasting and had found a £30 million tax bill due by the end of the month. It had 4,000 employees and 760 stores. Almost 2,000 jobs were saved when C&C acquired the wholesale business from the administrator. Bestway bought the retail business. The FRC is looking at financial statements for Conviviality in the year to the end of April 2017.

A spokesman for KPMG said: “We believe we conducted our audit appropriately. As reported by the company, it experienced margin weakness at the start of 2018 and also a significant payment to HMRC which had not been included within its short-term cash-flow projections, creating a short-term funding requirement.”

The FRC said that it would also investigate a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales over the preparation and approval of Conviviality’s financial statements but did not name the individual.

This investigation comes as the FRC, the ICAEW, and the industry-backed Audit Quality Forum prepare to launch a government-backed review that will consider the effectiveness of the existing model for auditing. They are looking for an independent business leader to lead the review.

Bill Michael, who took over as head of KPMG UK in September, supports a review. “The profession needs to be re-evaluated, otherwise we run the risk of eroding trust,” he told The Times . “We can’t have a profession that isn’t trusted. It has consequences for society and the capital markets. You only need one bad apple to lose trust in the system.”

KPMG UK employs 15,000 partners and staff, 3,600 of whom work in its audit practice. Its tax consulting, deal advisory, management and risk consulting practices have grown in recent years and now employ about 7,500 staff.

The FRC is the subject of a parliament-led review which is expected to overhaul how the FRC works and shake up the accountancy profession. MPs looking at Carillion’s collapse accused regulators of being “feeble and timid”.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

“A market-led school system has put finances before the needs of pupils’ “

The economic and regulatory incentives facing state schools in England are increasingly in tension with an inclusive, broad and balanced education for pupils.

Since 2010 the government has used the language of a “self-improving school-led system” to characterise its reforms, arguing that these are “moving control to the frontline”. Our research shows that this is a partial and idealised account: while some higher-performing schools are benefiting, the system as a whole is becoming more fragmented and less equitable.

Schools have been strongly encouraged (and sometimes forced) to become academies, which are independent of local government, on the premise that they will be freed from red tape.

Yet schools and academies have faced greater regulation through national accountability, which has become more punitive. One bad Ofsted report and a school can be removed from its local governing body and handed to a multi-academy trust (MAT) – after which the school ceases to exist as a legal entity.

Fear of such a takeover and the wider consequences of being downgraded by Ofsted has led many schools to focus relentlessly on national test outcomes, to constrain teacher judgment and to narrow their curriculum. These pressures have combined with a chaotic process of centralisation. Attempting to manage thousands of academies directly from Whitehall, the government has created new regional commissioner roles, but their work can be in tension with both Ofsted and local authorities. This has left schools with minimal support as they navigate an endless churn of new policies.

Schools have also faced stronger incentives to compete for students and the funding that is linked to them. New “providers” have been encouraged to run academies and free schools on the premise they will pressure existing schools to improve. Yet school leaders can feel obliged to put the market position of their school above all else, even if this means making decisions that contradict their professional values.

We found that the school system has become more socially stratified since 2010, with schools judged by Ofsted to be “outstanding” admitting fewer children eligible for free school meals, while schools judged “requires improvement” or “inadequate” have higher concentrations of these children than previously……”

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jun/30/market-led-education-system-puts-finances-before-pupils

Massive extension of Exmouth approved despite “ifs, buts and maybes” and 5% affordable housing

Controversial plans that would see 350 new homes built on the edge of Exmouth have been narrowly approved, despite it being called a wish list full of ifs, buts and maybes. …

East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee on Tuesday gave a reluctant thumbs-up to the scheme, despite serious concerns raised about the access to the site on Dinan Way and the ‘disgusting’ number of affordable homes that would be provided and objections from Exmouth and Lympstone councils, local ward councillors, Devon County Council and residents.

Outlining the application, planning officer, Chris Rose said that the site was allocated in the Local Plan. He said that it had been tested that the site was not viable if 25 per cent affordable housing was provided but instead only five per cent, 18 houses, had been offered. …

Mike Deaton, Principal Planning Officer for Devon County Council said that they were objecting to the application, partly as the junction of Hulham Road and Exeter Road already exceeds capacity and the new development will therefore compound an existing problem, particularly as the use of Wotton Lane, Summer Lane and Featherbed Lane is unsustainable.

… He said that the solution was an extension of Dinan Way to connect Hulham Road with the A376, but that as there was no guarantee of where the funding could come from, it made it difficult to support the application without the infrastructure being in place.

He also said that the county council’s first priority around education needs would be to expand Exmouth Community College which is already at capacity ahead of the new primary school as part of the development site.

Cllr Paul Carter though said he didn’t see many positives of the application and said that the whole thing needs to be better.

He added: “This is somewhat of a pig’s ear. We have taken so much time to get to this stage and still so much is undecided. I am just flabbergasted that there is only five per cent of affordable housing and has the feel of ‘we will make do’.”

Cllr Maddy Chapman said that Exmouth doesn’t need a new primary school, and added: “I very much doubt that the good ladies of Exmouth will want to breed a second family to fill it.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/yes-plans-350-new-homes-1743813

“Cuncils bid for multi-million pot of cash for more affordable homes” – shouldn’t developers be bidding to build unaffordable homes?

Owl thinks DEVELOPERS should be bidding to build unaffordable homes!

“Councils in Devon have welcomed a multi-billion pound boost to social housing across England as part of the drive to build the homes communities need.

Secretary of State for Communities, The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, made the announcement on Tuesday that around 23,000 new affordable homes will be delivered through a £1.67 billion government investment deal.

This will include at least 12,500 social rent homes in high cost areas in a move to support families struggling to pay their rent. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/councils-bid-multi-million-pot-1742452

“Council cuts are putting the vulnerable at risk, Tory peer says”

“LGA chief says austerity could damage local authorities ‘beyond recognition’

Local authorities have reached the point where relentless financial cutbacks are putting the wellbeing of vulnerable adults and children at risk, the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

The Tory peer Lord Porter said that after eight years of austerity during which £16bn has been stripped from municipal budgets in England, councils risked being “damaged beyond recognition” and communities depleted of vital services.

An £8bn black hole in council budgets would open up by 2023 unless ministers stepped in to close the gap between spiralling demand for adult and children’s social care services and shrinking town hall incomes, he said.

“We’ve reached a point where councils will no longer be able to support our residents as they expect, including our most vulnerable,” Porter added.

As well as problems coping with demand for services for elderly and disabled adults, the LGA says councils are struggling with an explosion in the number of children in care, and a rising bill for 80,000 homeless families placed in temporary housing.

An LGA briefing on the prospects for local government states: “The failure to properly fund these services puts the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable residents at risk, and this cannot go on.”

Porter’s intervention, ahead of the LGA annual conference, which opens in Birmingham on Tuesday, reflects councils’ increasing concern about the precariousness of local authority finances, and frustration that ministers are ignoring the escalating crisis in social care.

While the NHS last month received a five-year £20bn cash injection, the government’s plans to overhaul the funding of adult social care services, originally due in a green paper before the summer, were delayed until the autumn. Council bosses have warned that in many areas these services are on the verge of collapse.

The fragility of many individual councils’ finances has increased speculation that more local authorities could follow Northamptonshire county council into bankruptcy. In May, Tory-controlled Somerset called for an overhaul of council funding after it was warned by auditors it could go bust.

Council leaders are also worried about the political consequences of having to sacrifice popular local services such as libraries, Sure Start centres, parks and leisure centres to divert funds into core services such as social care.

Bus services in ‘crisis’ as councils cut funding, campaigners warn
Porter said: “Councils now spend less on early intervention, support for the voluntary sector has been reduced, rural bus services have been scaled back, libraries have been closed and other services have also taken a hit. More and more councils are struggling to balance their books and others are considering whether they have the funding to even deliver their statutory requirements.

“If the government allows the funding gap facing councils and local services to reach almost £8bn by the middle of the next decade, then our councils and local services will be damaged beyond recognition.”

The LGA is calling for councils’ funding problems to be addressed through a government spending review expected in spring 2019, which is likely to set out public services funding plans over the four years to 2023.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “We recognise the pressures councils are facing, so we are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future. Over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7bn to help them meet the needs of their residents. On top of this, we are giving them the power to retain more of the income they get from business rates so they can use it to drive further growth in their area.”

Labour’s Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “This new analysis is a damning verdict on eight years of Tory austerity. Our public services are straining at the seams, whilst the government continues to cut funding.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/03/council-cuts-are-putting-the-vulnerable-at-risk-tory-peer-says