“£40k spent hiding how rarely northern powerhouse minister visited north”

“The government has spent two years and £40,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to hide how little the northern powerhouse minister visited the north of England in his role, in what one prominent northern figure called “a blatant disregard for the principles of democratic accountability”. …

The Information Commissioner’s Office then undertook an investigation, during the course of which it found that the department adopted “what appears to have been a strategy of wilful procrastination in order to obstruct a request for information”.

The DCLG appealed against the decision to the first-tier tribunal of information rights, where in early 2018 Judge Hazel Oliver ruled that the department must hand over Wharton’s diary.

From start to finish, the process took 26 months. …

Hidden in 111 pages of internal DCLG emails relating to the FoI request is a document headlined “Official – Sensitive” dating from March 2016 which includes official advice stating “there is a strong likelihood of a decision to withhold the requested information … being overturned”.

Legal experts are unimpressed. “It sounds like a classic: they knew they were likely to lose and still wasted time and money on it, and come out looking even worse,” said Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia.

Manchester-based data protection consultant Tim Turner said: “Departments have shown time and again that they’re very secretive about who ministers meet and what they do, and spending £40,000 to hide it doesn’t seem close to the spirit of open government.”

The information that the government tried to suppress for two years shows that Wharton rarely left London as part of his role as the north’s representative in government.

Of the 693 lines of entries in Wharton’s ministerial diary, just under half contain identifiable addresses or office rooms in the “Location” column. Ninety percent of them are based in London. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/sep/27/government-hid-details-of-northern-powerhouse-minister-james-wharton-visits-to-the-north

“First-time buyers: average salary requirement rises 18% in UK cities”

Remember when we were told that Help to Buy was for first-time buyers? We were sold a pup – it was for many-time developers!

“The average salary required by a first-time buyer to purchase a home in the UK’s biggest cities has risen by 18% in the past three years, above the rate of earnings growth – making it harder for young people to get on the housing ladder.

London house prices post first annual fall since 2009

In the latest sign that homeownership was becoming an increasingly distant prospect for young adults in the UK, figures from the research company Hometrack showed only three out of 20 major cities had become more affordable since 2015.

The biggest drop in affordability in the past three years was in Bristol and Manchester, where rapid growth in house prices had pushed up the average wage needed by a first-time buyer by almost a quarter.

In Bristol, a first-time buyer now needed to earn £58,826 per year to afford the average property, compared with £47,283 three years ago; while Manchester has seen the salary requirement jump by more than £6,500 to £34,770.

It has also become harder for first-time buyers to purchase a property in cities that include Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham, with home values rising by more than the rate of growth in earnings over the past three years. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/sep/27/first-time-buyers-average-salary-requirement-rises-in-uk-cities