“Save Exmouth Seafront campaigners challenge ‘arrogant’ Queen’s Drive plans”

Is Grenadier’s funding perhaps contingent on EDDC moving the road? A big gamble for EDDC …

“Save Exmouth Seafront campaigners have expressed concerns after East Devon District Council pushed through plans to realign the Queen’s Drive road and car park.

Seafront campaigners have hit out at ‘arrogant’ plans to fast track the redirection of Exmouth’s Queens Drive to make way for a new watersports centre.

Save Exmouth Seafront (SES) said it ‘views with grave concern’ the decision by East Devon District Council (EDDC) to proceed with diverting Queen’s Drive behind the proposed Watersports centre, because the decision was ‘taken at very short notice’.

The campaign group’s concerns are in response East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) cabinet approval for work to begin on phase one of the regeneration, despite no ‘legal commitment’ from Grenadier Estates for ‘phase two’.

Nick Hookway, SES chairman, said: “This decision by the EDDC cabinet, taken at very short notice and voted through before residents had a chance to speak, shows yet again the arrogance of this council and the contempt with which residents’ views and concerns are considered.

“This decision raises a whole range of questions.”

He said the campaign group wants to know why the new road is being moved behind the before the developer has fully signed up to the project, and questions why EDDC was funding it.

The group asked what would happen if Grenadier Estates did not go ahead with the watersports centre and whether there was a contingency plan, fearing residents face a future with a derelict seafront site.

EDDC said it was ‘making sure’ it was on track to deliver what residents want.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “The council is not prepared to allow further delays on the delivery of a new road and car park, which will pave the way for the much awaited water sports centre and a vision for the wider Queen’s Drive site.”

She added: “We also appreciate that there are a number of long term detractors who have their concerns about how the new seafront is taking shape, so we want to provide reassurance that we are constantly keeping under review the programme of development and maintaining progress while keeping Exmouth people informed on what we are doing.”

She said the council was ‘fully committed’ to the ongoing consultation with the public about changes to the seafront.”


“Berkeley Group [housing developer] bosses were accused of engaging in years of bribery”

Owl says: cannot recall using the category “Sleaze” so often as in the last few weeks.

“Bosses at the housebuilding firm Berkeley Group were accused of engaging in years of bribery with a partner at a major estate agent, according to papers filed in a pair of lawsuits brought against Berkeley by a former finance director in 2014 and 2015.

The claim was among numerous “whistleblowing” allegations by Nicolas Simpkin, 49, who served on the board of the £2.7bn turnover company from 2009 until he was fired in 2014.

Berkeley ​paid £9.5m ​to Simpkin​ in an out-of-court ​settlement​, according to the company’s annual report published in August. It also stated that the allegations had been withdrawn as part of the deal. On Wednesday, Berkeley said the settlement had been reached after it had “thoroughly” investigated the allegations and found them to be “unfounded”.

After an acrimonious dismissal in September 2014, Simpkin filed an unfair dismissal case the following December and then a 2015 breach of contract case in the high court.

According to court documents in the second case, Simpkin had made a series of whistleblowing allegations in his 2014 case, all of which were denied by Berkeley. The company argued that Simpkin had failed to raise and act on his claims. As the cases were settled, none of the allegations were ever tested and they remain unproven.

High court papers obtained by the Guardian and the investigative website Finance Uncovered show that Simpkin accused Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgley, who earned £174m from the company over the previous decade, of being “consistently engaged in bribing one of the partners in a major estate agency with whom Berkeley Group regularly dealt in relation to land acquisitions” between 2005 and 2010.

The documents further ​detail how Simpkin claimed that “this bribery included” Pidgley “making expensive gifts” to the estate agency partner; extending a Berkeley loan to the same partner, which the housebuilder’s “managing director [Rob Perrins] later … instructed the then financial controller to write off”; and allowing Berkeley to carry out work at the estate agency partner’s property “without the partner being properly charged”.

According to the court papers Simpkin said he had been “staggered” when he was told in 2011 that the loan had been written off four years earlier.

While Simpkin withdrew his legal cases as part of the out-of-court settlement, the ​substance of the allegations remains in court filings because Berkeley Group used a 113-page high court defence document to dismiss its former director’s claims.

In those papers, Berkeley said the facts underpinning many of his allegations were wrong, as it also denied his claims that between 2005 and 2014:

• Pidgley benefitted from “around” £660,000 of Berkeley Group’s money that had been “intended to be used on fitting out” one of the chairman’s luxury London flats “on the pretence the flat was to be used as a show home”.

• Berkeley’s staff were “pressurised to make false claims to recover VAT in relation to [Pidgley’s] property”.

• There had been “inappropriate payments by the Berkeley Group” to Pidgley’s son.

• Perrins had “deliberately and unlawfully provided quantities of non-public and price sensitive information to a shareholder in May 2014”.

In its annual report published in August, Berkeley Group said: “During the period the company settled the proceedings brought by Mr Nicolas Simpkin, its former finance director, in the employment tribunal and high court. Under the settlement Berkeley made a payment of £4.95m to Mr Simpkin and a further payment of £4.55m towards his legal fees and disbursements.”

Simpkin, who was earning a base salary of £330,000 a year but who had pocketed a £1.2m package in the previous 12 months, was sacked in September 2014.

The court filings show that Berkeley’s board claimed he had been performing poorly in his role and had lost the confidence of senior colleagues.

If Simpkin had succeeded in his legal claims he would have been entitled to his share in a bonus scheme set up for Berkeley executives, which would have been worth many millions of pounds to him.

As well as denying all the whistleblowing claims, Berkeley said Simpkin had failed to raise any of the allegations with the group solicitor, the board or independent directors of the company.

The company added that if any of the allegations were true, Simpkin should and could have taken action, adding he would have been complicit in any criminal activity if his claims were accurate.

A Berkeley spokeswoman said the settlement dated back 18 months, adding: “There was a thorough and extensive investigation by a QC and a senior lawyer from a major law firm which concluded these allegations were unfounded, following which Mr Simpkin withdrew his allegations and settled all his claims.”

Simpkin said: “The counter-allegations made by Berkeley against me in the high court documents are unfounded, untested, plainly vexatious and risible … Following the payment of damages the court proceedings were withdrawn.

“I am bound by confidentiality terms which prevent me from making any comment on the other issues you raise.”


“Poor families could take in lodger to beat benefit cap – minister”

“Families living in poverty because of the benefit cap could consider taking in a lodger to make ends meet, a minister has suggested, prompting a scathing response from the MP questioning him about the system.

Justin Tomlinson, the junior work and pensions minister, told MPs that other ways families could cope with the impact of the cap would be to move, or to seek to renegotiate their rent so it was cheaper.

Answering questions from the work and pensions committee, Tomlinson also said there was no specific government analysis taking place about the impact on people of the cap, introduced under David Cameron’s government, and reduced in 2016.

The absolute maximum amount of benefits a couple can receive, whatever their circumstances, is £20,000 a year, rising to £23,000 in London.

While the government argues it incentivises people to work and prevents the unfairness of people on benefits receiving more than the average wage, critics say it is pushing many families into extreme poverty and debt.

Questioning Tomlinson and the DWP’s head of working-age benefits, Pete Searle, the Labour MP Ruth George asked what analysis was being done into this effect. Stephen said that as part of a wider evaluation of “other outcomes” of the policy, officials were looking into how people “respond to the cap”.

George said: “Responding to the cap – does that include things like having to switch the heating off and be freezing cold at night? Does that include things like not being able to feed their children to a nutritionally decent standard?”

Almost two-thirds of people affected by the cap were not entering work, George, the MP for High Peak, said.

Tomlinson responded: “Of those, some will have made other changes, including in their housing costs, whether that is either moving or renegotiating what their rental housing costs are. Or they could, for example, take in a lodger. So there’s other circumstances than work.”

George responded with incredulity: “These are large families, they’ve often got three children in one bedroom. How are they going to take in a lodger?”

Tomlinson said this was an argument in favour of the government’s bedroom tax: “If there’s three children in one bedroom then you should start joining us in supporting releasing more family homes through or spare room subsidy changes.”

While some tenants in social housing are allowed to take in lodgers, for those in private accommodation it usually needs the landlord’s permission, and any income would need to be declared.

Explaining the reasons for the benefit cap to the committee, Tomlinson said it had three objectives: saving money; the “fairness test” over comparisons with working incomes; and incentivising work.

This had worked for many families, he said. “For those people where it has made a difference, it has significantly improved their life chances, for not just them but for their children.”

But George pointed out that of those affected by the cap, 81% are not subject to “work conditionality” – meaning circumstances such as very young children dictate they are not automatically expected to seek work.

Later in the session, the committee chair, Frank Field, asked if there were any plans to raise the cap, given rising rents and other costs.

Tomlinson replied: “There isn’t any work at the moment that I’m aware of that’s looking to change that cap.” Searle added that it was reviewed at least once every parliament.”


“Bet365 founder paid herself an ‘obscene’ £265m in 2017” (£726,000 per DAY)

“Denise Coates, the multibillionaire founder and boss of the gambling firm Bet365, paid herself £265m last year in a record-breaking pay deal for the chief executive of a British company.

The huge pay package, which equates to nearly £726,000 a day, dwarfs the previous UK record set by Coates when she collected £217m a year earlier.

Coates was paid a base salary of £220,004,000 in the year to March 2018, accounts filed at Companies House on Wednesday reveal. On top of this, she collected dividend payments of £45m from her more than 50% shareholding in the Stoke-based company. Bet365 made a £660m profit last year from a record £52.6bn of bets.

Her pay is more than 9,500 times the average UK salary, 1,300 times that collected by the prime minister and more than double that paid to the entire Stoke City football team, which Bet365 owns and which was relegated from the Premier League last season.

Luke Hildyard, a director of the High Pay Centre, said: “Why does someone who is already a billionaire need to take such an obscene amount of money out of their company? It is difficult to find a reason beyond pure greed.

“A payment of this size would be impossible to justify for someone whose business was in unquestionably life-enhancing products or services. It is doubly offensive when awarded to a betting company CEO at a time when problem gambling is spiralling out of control.”

Mike Dixon, the chief executive of the addiction charity Addaction, said: “It’s astonishing that a CEO of one gambling company is paid 26 times more than the entire industry’s contribution to treatment. We know problem gambling affects more than 2 million people. We need a proper levy on gambling industry profits so more people can get help and support.” …