New homes: extra small and privacy only in the toilet

“New homes are 20% smaller than they were in the 70s, a study has found.

Families today squash into houses just 65sqm big, quarter of the size of a tennis court.

But while homes may be shrinking, their prices are expanding. In 1971, the average cost was £5,632, with wages being around £2,000 a year.

Now, buying a house sets us back on average £228,400 and pay is £27,000.

The study by the Royal Institute of British Architects of new pads on sale in 20 cities found kitchens are around 25% smaller than in the 70s, while bedrooms and ­bathrooms have 20% less space.

Riba president Ben Derbyshire said: “This becomes a critical problem for families. In a two bed, four person home there is no space to be on your own except in the ­lavatory.”

Homes in London are the most cramped, with Glasgow second on the list.

But the Home Builders ­Federation insisted smaller houses are making it easier for first time buyers to get a property.”

Cranbrook: plans to vastly extend town to be published soon

Just a coincidence that this is announced just after Exeter City Council refuses the first of four large retail development applications close by …..

“Expansion plans for Cranbrook are set to be revealed by the end of the year, revealing proposals to increase the number of households to nearly 8,000 over the next 15 years.

The first houses in the new town were built in 2012 and there are currently 1,700 households living there.

Alongside the residential part of the development, further details are expected for the town centre, to be built on land next to the Cranberry Farm pub.

The proposals include 13 retail units, a town hall with a library and auditorium, a health and well-being centre and a leisure centre.

The Local Plan anticipates Cranbrook will have 7,850 new homes by 2031, equating to a population of about 20,000 people.”

EDDC’s former auditors in hot water again

“Under-fire accounting giant KPMG was on Monday slapped with a £3 million fine by the industry watchdog for a “breach of ethical standards” over its audit of fashion brand Ted Baker.

The Financial Reporting Council said the firm, which admitted it was in the wrong, should not have provided expert witness services to Ted Baker in a court case while it was also handling its books in 2013 and 2014.

“This was in breach of the ethical standards and led to the loss of KPMG’s independence in respect of the audits,” the FRC said. “In addition, there was a self-interest threat arising from the fact that the fees for the expert engagement significantly exceeded the audit fees.”

The firm’s fine was reduced to £2.1 million for settling the case early, although the auditor was also landed with a £112,000 bill for costs.

Its senior auditor, Michael Barradell was fined £80,000, cut to £46,800 after he settled.

KPMG said: “Where there are lessons to be learned, we will learn them.” It added that since last year it no longer offers any expert witness work for any company it audits and stressed that the actual scrutiny of Ted Baker’s books has not been called into question. …”

Source: Evening Standard Business

Exeter Science Park gets new tenants: travellers

“A group of travellers has arrived on land owned by Devon County Council [and East Devon Growth Point] at the Exeter Science Park.

Five caravans have been at the site, on the outskirts of the city, since Friday afternoon.

Eyewitnesses said that they also saw a small pony and dogs.

Bankrupt Northamptonshire Country Council: more sleazy payments uncovered

“Councillors spent public money on a hospitality box and hiring a plane as the authority headed towards financial crisis, an investigation has found.
Payments were made by a company owned by Northamptonshire County Council whose directors were councillors.

NEA Properties, which bought the box at Premiership rugby side Northampton Saints, was dissolved a month before the council banned spending.

The BBC has contacted the councillors concerned for a response.

An independent audit report found that NEA Properties’ “expenditure incurred was consistent with the authority and purpose of the company and its directors”.

The company was incorporated in 1983 under the name Northamptonshire Enterprise Agency to promote the county and managed a number of units at the University of Northampton campus.

Conservative councillors Bill Parker and Andre Gonzales De Savage had served as directors in the company since 2010 and 2007 respectively.

It sold its properties in September 2014 and £700,000 was transferred back to the council, but £180,000 was spent on other items.

More than £4,000 was used on a B17 vintage aircraft and first aiders for a memorial event at Grafton Underwood in May 2015.

NEA Properties also spent £2,700 on a heritage dinner with string quartet.
The report also revealed the company spent more than £250 on “cheese, biscuits, etc” for a stately home event.

Concerns about finances at the council – which has been issued with two Section 114 notices, banning new spending – were made as early as 2013, according to former leader Heather Smith.

Worries over NEA Properties were first raised by a whistleblower, former UKIP councillor Michael Brown, in January 2017.

An audit was then commissioned and found the payments were made with “minimal” governance and documentation.

It found no evidence of improper spending or management by the company “but in the absence of various records only limited assurance can be provided”.

The audit was also told £80,000 spent on Northampton Saints went on the redevelopment of a new stand at the Franklin’s Gardens ground, but the club denied this was what was purchased.

A club spokesman said it could “confirm the county council had a box as part of a marketing package which they purchased”.

Financial adviser Mr Brown said the lack of a detailed audit trail was a “unbelievable in this day and age”.

He added: “As a public organisation they were keeping secret the accounts of a limited company it owns under the small companies exception. “This should not happen as it leaves itself open to abuse of public funds.”

A spokesman for the council said the report found that although limited assurances were provided about the company, “the organisational impact was minor”.

He added: “The report also found that expenditure and financial transactions were transparent.

“However, the committee did draw up a number of recommendations and work on addressing these will be done as soon as possible.”

“MPs demand MORE expenses to pay staff complaining that Brexit has added to their workload”

“MPs are demanding more expenses as they complain that Brexit has added to their workload, it emerged today.

Politicians have been urging the parliamentary watchdog to increase allowances for staffing their offices, which can already be more than £160,000 a year.

The calls surfaced in a survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

Under current rules, MPs can claim £150,900 a year for staffing costs, rising to £161,550 in London, although they can apply for an increase.

The figure has risen from £109,000 eight years ago.

Contingency funding is available on a ‘case by case’ basis where members have specific need for more support.

However, in its report on its annual feedback survey published this summer, Ipsa said some had said they still did not have enough money.

‘There were also requests to further increase MPs’ staffing budgets due to their increasing workloads, some of which is the result of Brexit,’ the report stated.

What expenses can MPs claim?
Renting accommodation in London: £22,760
Office costs for London MPs: £26,850
Office costs for non-London MPs: £24,150
Staff for London MPs: £161,550
Staff for non-London MPs: £150,900

Ipsa said that it had received 93 response to the survey – nine from MPs, 33 from MP proxies who manage their business costs, and 51 from other staff members working for MPs.

It did not say how many had raised the issue of staffing costs.

The watchdog has not ruled out granting the requests.

The body has made clear it will ‘take into account any relevant consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union’ when considering updating the rules on MPs’ expenses.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said Ipsa should be wary of acceding to demands for a rise.

He told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Brexit sounds like a rather convenient argument for increasing funding, Ipsa should be very cautious about raising budgets.’

MPs were barred from employing family members after the election last year – although those who were already on the payroll have been allowed to stay on.

” ‘No-frills’ lifestyle out of reach of parents on minimum wage – study”

“Couples raising two children while working full-time on the minimum wage are falling £49 a week short of being able to provide their family with a basic, no-frills lifestyle, research has found.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) called for an increase in the government’s “national living wage” to allow families to have an acceptable standard of living.

Its Cost of a Child report, published on Monday, showed an 11% weekly shortfall for a couple raising two children at the point they are aged three and seven.

Worse, however, was the deficit for lone parents, who every week fall 20% short of being able to provide a level of living for their children defined as acceptable by public opinion.

Universal credit flaws leaving families in debt, campaign group says
The charity blamed rising prices, freezes on benefits and tax credit, the bedroom tax and the rollout of universal credit for hitting “family budgets hard”.

The chief executive, Alison Garnham, said: “There is strong public support for the government topping up the wages of low-paid parents, and investing in children is the best long-term investment we can make.

“By using the forthcoming budget to unfreeze benefits and restore work allowances, the government can take steps towards making work really pay.”

Gains from increased minimum wages were offset by a freeze in tax credit support, the research showed.

The findings did, however, show an improvement on last year when the family with an 11% shortfall would have found themselves with a 13% deficit. …”

” One in every 11 houses is a second home in South Hams”

With a knock-on effect across Devon on those locals desperate for local housing.

“One in every 11 residential properties in part of Devon is an unoccupied second home, new analysis has revealed.

Official government figures show that 3,896 dwellings in the South Hams area were classed as “second homes” for council tax purposes as of October 2017.

This means that while they are unoccupied for most of the time, they are fully furnished and so aren’t officially considered “empty homes”, even though no one permanently lives there. …”

Labour councillor cautioned for voting twice in election

“Faisal Rana, a Labour councillor in Rochdale, has been cautioned by the police after admitting voting twice in May’s elections for the location council.

Cllr Rana has properties in two different wards and joined the electoral register at both addresses. The wards are in different Parliamentary constituencies but both within Rochdale council. Faisal Rana cast votes in both wards at the Rochdale council elections earlier this year.

It is legal to be registered in more than one place, such as students who can register both at home and at university if they have gone away for university. But it is illegal to vote more than once for the same body. One of those example students could, for example, vote in both places at council elections if they are for different local councils. They could only vote once in a general election.

Faisal Rana said:

I have accepted a police caution for an electoral offence, which relates to me casting separate votes for two different wards in two different Constituencies (Spotland and Falinge, and Norden Ward) in the local elections earlier this year.

I legally registered my votes by providing my genuine national insurance number, date of birth and addresses and when I received these through the post I thought it would have been OK and that is why they issued me two ballots for two constituencies.

I did not realise this was an offence and misinterpreted the rule that says it is possible to vote in two different electoral areas.

Cllr Rana had held the assistant finance portfolio in the ruling Labour group. He is now reported to have “stepped away” from the role.”