“The Guardian view on public services: the state has abandoned its responsibilities”

“Austerity was sold to the British public as the only way to shore up our feeble national finances. Cutting public spending, voters were told, might make the UK a bit meaner. But if there was a social price to pay for this less generous approach to public spending, it would be easily outweighed by the benefits of making the UK into a leaner and more prosperous place.

It didn’t work. Eight years on, the economy remains anaemic and, while unemployment is low, under-employment and low pay are widespread. Meanwhile, the true costs of many of the cuts are only now being fully revealed. Unemployment support and the other payments that make up the UK’s system of social security were the number one target for reductions in spending, with legal aid and grants to local councils not far behind. Figures produced last year by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that the Department for Work and Pensions will have had a real-terms cut in its budget of almost 50% between 2010-11 and 2019-20. And local government leaders warn that they face a financial black hole, with county councils citing a £3.2bn funding gap over the next two years.

With the upcoming conference season sure to be dominated by Brexit, the question is when, if and how the reckoning that is urgently required with regard to these decisions is going to take place. Universal credit, the flagship welfare reform of the coalition and brainchild of former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, is a disaster. This week the Resolution Foundation thinktank issued a stark warning that unless the timetable for migrating claimants to the new system is relaxed, the whole thing could collapse. Following a highly critical National Audit Office report highlighting official intransigence as well as flaws in delivery and design, the question must now be asked whether this hugely expensive project should be abandoned altogether.

Meanwhile, mounting chaos in the justice system is finally attracting public attention. Last month the government stripped the private contractor G4S of responsibility for Birmingham prison, admitting that officers there had effectively lost control. This followed an announcement that the partial privatisation of probation services has failed and will be reversed. This week MPs debated a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act amid rising concerns over the impact of legal aid cuts, including the phenomenon of “advice deserts” in parts of the country where services have virtually ceased to exist. A growing sense of crisis in the courts themselves is ably documented in the new eponymous book by the Secret Barrister.

Now council leaders are warning that children’s services face a tipping point, with 90 children entering care every day but repeated appeals for additional funding from the Treasury rejected. Only a safeguarding catastrophe will propel these most vulnerable members of society to news headlines. Mostly these distressed, frightened and neglected young people are hidden from sight.

Universal credit is due to be rolled out to more than a million tax credit claimants. Its failure carries a significant political risk. But mostly the political calculation appears to have been that people will not notice as spending on jails, support services for vulnerable families and legal aid is whittled away. Or that if they do notice, perhaps they won’t much care. Often, those whose tribulations go unnoticed are the same people: so the children who grow up in foster care because their parents couldn’t manage face a statistically far higher chance of ending up in the criminal justice system, or suffering poor health leading to reliance on benefits.

Current and former ministers as well as the MPs who voted through legislation must be held accountable for a litany of failures that amounts to an abandonment of their responsibilities to some of the most vulnerable people in the UK. Some ameliorative measures have already been taken, for example in adjustments to the legal aid rules. Politicians can be mistaken. Now is the time for them to change.


EDDC has done no Brexit planning

Response to Freedom of Information request:

“Brexit impact assessments

Date submitted: 3 August 2018

Summary of request

1. Please provide any Brexit impact assessments conducted by your council, or other forms of Brexit planning. If you haven’t undertaken any Brexit impact assessments please provide other forms of Brexit planning, as well as any notes for context.

2. Please provide any emails relating to Brexit planning/the impact of Brexit.
Summary of response

1. Please provide any Brexit impact assessments conducted by your council, or other forms of Brexit planning. If you haven’t undertaken any Brexit impact assessments please provide other forms of Brexit planning, as well as any notes for context – EDDC have not carried out any Brexit impact assessments or any other forms of planning. For further information please refer your enquiry to the Brexit Resilience Group ran by Phil Norrey at Devon County Council:

Frances Williams
Executive PA to the Chief Executive & Head of Organisational Development
Devon County Council
County Hall
Topsham Road
Tel: 01392 383201 or Frances.williams@devon.gov.uk

2. Please provide any emails relating to Brexit planning/the impact of Brexit – None

Date responded: 14 August 2018”

“Every town centre should have free parking to encourage Brits to return to the high street, new report says”

“ALL town centres should have free parking in a dramatic intervention to help save the high street, a major report says today.

In a five-point strategy the Federation of Small Businesses also calls for urgent measures to halt thousands of ATM and bank branch closures that are crippling local firms and driving people away from town centres….”


South West Water – the great consumer con

“South West Water’s half-baked plan won’t cool nationalisation fever

Guardian: Nils Pratley Tuesday 4 Sept

Utilities company’s plan to give customers free shares equates to only £25 per household.

One can guess at how the thinking went in the boardroom at Pennon, owner of South West Water. The Labour party is threatening to nationalise the water industry, so let’s try to defuse some tension by giving customers free shares. We’ll call it “a new deal” and talk about “empowering” people.
Up to a point, one can understand the idea to do something eye-catching. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has yet to explain how he would pay for his plans, or which of the many versions of public ownership he prefers (two big oversights), but he has definitely tapped into resentment with the current privatised model in England and Wales. Water companies know they are seen as greedy and unaccountable. It is why, as they unveiled their business plans for the next five-year regulatory period, many announced various “partnership” ideas that were nods to the nationalisation debate.

Pennon’s plan, however, looks half-baked. It apparently polled strongly, but one wonders if the researchers described a worked example. The company plans to offer customers a shareholding, or “shadow” shareholding, worth £20m, which sounds vaguely impressive until you realise it equates to £25 per household for the 800,000 households in the south-west. At Pennon’s current share price of 755p that means three-and-a-bit shares each, which would be hideously fiddly to administer.

As for the claim that customers will “be able to receive a share of the company profits as shareholders do”, punters should know that Pennon’s shares currently yield 5%. So the starting dividend income on a £25 holding would be about £1.25 a year, not always enough for half a pint of beer in a Cornish hostelry. Such tiny sums probably wouldn’t convert many waverers to the joys of privatisation. Pennon tends to be more open than most of its breed, but this looks like a gimmick that could easily backfire.

Rivals kept things simpler. Thames, whose financial engineering, pollution and leaks have done most to excite nationalisation fever, said its private owners would have to accept lower dividends while an extra £2bn is spent on infrastructure. Severn Trent said it would give 1% of profits to a “community fund”. Both approaches ignored soaraway boardroom pay, another source of complaint, but at least they are easier to understand than token shareholdings.”


“Gove wasting his time” – “Wild Woodbury” responds to Blackhill Quarry incursion further into AONB

Press release:

“Michael Gove is Wasting his time!

Conservative Councillors Undermine Government Environmental plans

The Woodbury Common “Area 12” development in East Devon is a classic example of members of the conservative party undermining the leadership and the will of the electorate. The proposed development of factories within an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty caused a local outcry. There were 198 objections to the plans and 4 people supported the application. When the development was put to the planning committee the council chamber was packed with objectors. The plans were passed with 6 people voting in favour and 5 against. The 6 supporters were all Tory Councillors who were not only out of step with the wishes of the electorate but also showed a total disregard for Michael Gove’s 25-year Environmental Plan.

Michael Gove is wasting his time! He is being undermined by his own Party and would be more effective working for an organisation with real environmental integrity such as The Wildlife Trust. He may be the most progressive and forward thinking Conservative Secretary for the Environment that we have had in decades. He recently stated “Outside the EU we are going to make sure that our environment is enhanced and protected. We believe in a greener Britain.”

If he hasn’t been a closet environmentalist all his life he has learned very quickly. He has listened to the much maligned “so called experts” and taken their ideas onboard. He isn’t afraid of speaking out either. When Donald Trump pulled the USA out of the Paris International Climate agreement most of the government were shuffling around looking at their shoes and scared to speak out in case they caused any offence. Michael however came out and condemned the move in his first speech after being returned to the cabinet. People have said that the new Tory “Green” policies that he is putting forward are just “vote bait” and that the conservatives are desperate to grab votes from the younger generation.

It is true that the younger generation in general tend to be greener than the traditional Tory voter, but they are also quite canny. It is not enough these days for a party to Talk the Talk, they will have to be seen to Walk the Walk if they are to get the youth vote. If the Tories don’t make good on their promises the next generation of voters will be even more disaffected about politics than the current ones. Plans for environmental initiatives like the bottle deposit scheme, banning single use plastics, and a switch to electric cars are very welcome, but until the legislation necessary to get them working is in place they are just a good idea and nothing more. Michael may have good intentions but after a year in the job the harsh reality is that he has changed very little.

Michaels downfall will not come because of criticism from environmental groups as most of the conservationists I talk to agree with his proposals. He is in step with most current thinking on environmental protection and is happy to express his own ideas. The document “A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment” contains enough positive ideology to satisfy most environmental campaigners. The document is elegantly designed, and its contents has been carefully thought out. It covers a huge range of subjects: sustainable land use, enhancing the beauty of landscapes, ways of reducing pollution and waste, fishing policy that ensures seas return to health and fish stocks are replenished, climate change, and new forests. The document even covers wildlife crime, poaching and illegal wildlife trade beyond our borders.

The problem that Michael has is that the document is a vision and not legislation. It is a collection of really good ideas, but it is not law. When there is a conflict between potential industrial development and the environment the ideals will get thrown into the river like toxic waste. If there is a chance for a profit to be made Tory councils will always find ways to get around even the most stringent protections. The “Green Future” is not seen as a moral compass for development it is just viewed as a bit of a nuisance.”