“24,000 homeless families ‘sent miles from local area’ “

“The number of homeless families forced to move away from their communities is at its highest for 20 years, as councils struggle to find accommodation for the growing numbers of people in need.

According to official government figures, there were 23,640 families in temporary accommodation outside their local area in the second quarter of this year, the highest level in 20 years and more than double that recorded over the same period just five years ago.

The new data has emerged amid rising anger over homelessness, with recent research showing that deaths among homeless people in England and Wales have increased by 24% in five years. Deaths have risen every year since 2013, from 475 in 2014 to 597 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Several factors are being blamed for the rise in homeless families being relocated. A freeze on benefits and a cap on payments have led to a rise in demand for temporary accommodation. Meanwhile, the stock of council-owned housing has been run down and rents are rising, making affordable private rented accommodation harder to find.

Melanie Onn, the shadow housing minister who uncovered the figures, said they revealed the “human cost of the housing crisis”.

“Eight years of Tory failure on housing means that more and more families are being forced to move away from their communities, schools and jobs,” she said. Labour blamed cuts to housing benefit and an 80% fall in the number of homes for social rent being built.

Greg Beales, director of campaigns at Shelter, said his charity had witnessed the damage caused “when homeless families are forced to uproot their lives and move miles away to temporary accommodation in another area, abandoning jobs, schools and support networks. To put an end to the devastating cycle of homelessness, the government needs to commit to a bold new vision for social housing.

“Only then will families have a fighting chance of a safe and secure home in their local area.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the number of families being asked to relocate had become unacceptable: “As local councils struggle to find housing for people, the only option for many is to rent privately, but with renting costs now sky high and housing benefit falling short of rents, this is not a viable option for most,” he said.

“As a result many have no option but to leave any semblance of community and support behind, often moving to areas where they have no connections, leaving them trapped in a cycle of desperation.

“The government’s decision to start reinvesting in social housing is welcome, but it doesn’t go far enough. ” …


“Yvette Cooper: It’s time to boost Brit towns and not lock cash funds in cities”

“… Research done for the Labour Towns group of MPs and councillors found that overall job growth in towns since the last recession has only been half the rate of growth in cities.

The economic divide between cities and towns is growing and the Tory Government is making it worse. …

Austerity has hit towns and smaller cities hard, so it isn’t just retailers who have been leaving.

Often the libraries, police stations, council offices, magistrates courts, swimming pools, community centres, A&E or the maternity services have been closed, forcing people to travel to nearby cities instead. Lottery and arts funding is higher in cities too.

Manufacturing jobs in towns are being squeezed while new service or creative opportunities are concentrated in cities.

Meanwhile most of the transport money goes to London or other major hubs. Buses have been cut.

… It’s time to support Britain’s towns. Instead of making everyone travel to cities for public services, we need more in towns.

Instead of rolling out new broadband or 5G infrastructure in cities first, why not start in nearby towns? Instead of always using all the transport money on overruns for big city projects like HS2 or Crossrail, why not start by improving local trains and buses?

The Government seems to think if you only support cities, everything will just trickle down and out to the towns, but it hasn’t worked. Let’s have a fair deal to boost our towns and cities together. … “


“Grenfell warning over creation of ‘a new generation of slums’ “

“The lessons of the Grenfell Tower fire risk being ignored because developers can convert office blocks into homes without full local authority checks, a former housing minister has warned.

Nick Raynsford said that “a new generation of slums” was being created in Britain because developers did not have to submit a planning application when converting old commercial properties into flats. The policy leaves councils with limited power to ensure that the buildings adhere to national standards.

Mr Raynsford said that “permitted development” rules were designed to minimise bureaucracy when making “modest adaptations” to existing properties, but developers were using them to create thousands of new homes in old commercial buildings.

“The council doesn’t have the power [to force developers] to comply with minimum standards on space, lighting, children’s play facilities, or fire safety,” said Mr Raynsford, who was a housing minister under Tony Blair.

A studio in Newbury House, a former office block in Ilford, east London, was planned with 13 sq m of space. The minimum standard is 37 sq m. Windowless flats have been marketed in a former office block in Brixton, south London, illuminated only by light wells that channel light from flats above.

More than 100,000 homes have been built under permitted development since 2013, accounting for up to 40 per cent of new homes in some areas. The Local Government Association found that 92 per cent of councils were “moderately or very concerned” about the quality of these homes, with 59 per cent worried about safety.

Many standards, including on space, are not compulsory and only apply to plans that go via the planning system.

Julia Park, of Levitt Bernstein architects, said such developments “tend to be occupied by vulnerable people” and were often used as temporary housing.

Mr Raynsford said: “There should be early engagement by planning authorities with the fire and rescue authority when an application for a high-rise residential development is submitted. That runs counter to the whole ‘permitted development’ approach, where obligations on developers are minimal and the council does not have the resources to explore the implications, to ensure fire engines can access the site, for example.”

The government is consulting on whether to extend the rules.

Mr Raynsford referred to evidence emerging from the Grenfell inquiry, after the fire in June last year in which 72 people died. “It seems to be extraordinary that one arm of government is pushing in a direction that’s very different to the conclusions emerging from the public inquiry in which failings, in terms of preparations for coping with serious problems, have been highlighted,” he said.

Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association said the conditions in some developments were “Dickensian”, and added: “It is some of the most appalling slum housing this country has seen in the post-war era.”

Kit Malthouse, the housing minister, said: “All developments, including offices converted into homes, remain subject to strict fire safety rules.”

It is understood the government will look at permitted development when considering recommendations made by Dame Judith Hackitt’s Grenfell report. …”

Source: Times, pay wall

That Knowle table … sold for £50?

Oh, er – been kicking off on Facebook page!

22 foot mahogany table with 8 foot extension (not sure if included in 22 foot or makes it 30 foot, but probably the latter). Rumour is it was “valued” and was sold for a winning bid of £50 (fifty pounds).

Most councils have a policy on this. Anyone seen East Devon”s?

“Ex-Persimmon chief fails to set up charity after anger over £75m bonus”

Owl says: a charity for the homeless would seem appropriate …!

“Jeff Fairburn, the former chief executive of the housebuilder Persimmon, has failed to set up a charity almost a year after pledging to do so in an attempt to assuage public and political anger at his “obscene” £75m bonus.

Fairburn has not registered a charity with the Charity Commission or made any inquiries about how to set one up, 10 months after he said he would donate a “substantial proportion” of his bonus to a charitable trust. Fairburn declined to comment.

He was ousted last month after the company said his mammoth pay deal had become a “distraction”. …”


Plundering of Knowle assets by councillors? Best value?

It appears that councillors and officers have been given first dibs of Knowle assets, in advance of the move to Honiton and one of them has rather jumped the gun on claiming his prize.

Is this best value or equitable, Owl ponders? As does at least one independent councillor.

Note: Neither of these emails were marked private and/or confidential when acquired by Owl.

From a well-known Conservative councillor:

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

Dear Members and SMT,

Subject: Re; Large Table In Members Area

You will all be aware there has been an auction of council furniture, chattels etc of which I bid for a few bits and pieces.

I bid on behalf of my partner for the very large table in the members area along with the 20 green chairs that we all sit around.

I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say).

The relevance of my informing yourselves is that the rightful date of removal is end of January/ beginning of February when we finally ‘pull out of the Knowle.

I would apologise for the short notice but we have 22 family members to Christmas dinner and would like to pick the table up tomorrow as it appears it is the last day of our offices being open, which of course would mean I couldn’t collect it on Monday, 24th, as we will be closed.

We do have one or two meetings between the New Year and our final pull out but I feel it only right to ask members if indeed anybody felt offended if it was collected tomorrow on our last day.

I will fully respect any position any member may feel regarding it being removed earlier and would kindly request your thoughts.

If indeed it were removed earlier I have spoken to Simon Allchurch who feels we could put a few of the red tables on wheels in the place of the table and there is an array of chairs to use for members in the interim so it doesn’t look bare.

I must again apologise for the short notice but with the closing date being the 19th and all that goes with it at this time of year I would like to think you may grant me a little latitude (or not).

Best wishes and a Happy Xmas to one and all.”

And here is the response from an Independent councillor

“I feel I must reiterate my comment from when this started. Who authorised the ‘private sale’ of Council property to staff and members? Why are we not duty-bound to seek the best price at public auction? No-one answered my questions.

Will we ever know the proceeds of this internal sale for the public record?”

I strongly suspect that members of the public would be shocked to know that councillors have been able to buy items in this way. It is somehow appropriate that 22 family members will sit down to feast at this table, assuming the removal goes ahead.”

Disabled woman who paid rent on time for 12 years “evicted before Christmas … for highlighting the damp

What happened to us?

It is two weeks before Christmas and boxes are strewn across the living room of an apartment in Weybridge, an affluent town in the chancellor Philip Hammond’s leafy Surrey constituency.

Despite the time of year, this is not a festive gift-wrapping session. Instead, the packages contain the possessions of a 63-year-old woman, moving out of her home at a far from ideal time of year.

Wendy (not her real name) has little choice, however. She is being evicted by her landlord – a Malaysia-based investor and owner of numerous UK properties – who is throwing out his tenant despite her never having missed a rent payment.

“I am literally being sick,” Wendy said in the run-up to her move. “I am absolutely desperate and housing associations will not help; it is a nightmare.”

This tale of a Christmas eviction may seem Dickensian but it is current, commonplace and seemingly frequently tolerated by local authorities. In many cases – including Wendy’s – it is also perfectly legal.

Legal no-fault evictions – called “section 21” in the jargon – have existed since 1988. They are controversial and there is now a parliamentary move to change the law – partly because of the type of antics highlighted by campaigners such as the Labour MP Karen Buck, who told a Westminster Hall debate on section 21 earlier this month how an unidentified landlord had bragged on social media about timing his evictions at this time of year. The post read: “If a tenant has annoyed me I wait to pull the trigger in mid-November to screw up their Christmas.”

Wendy’s rent was paid in full during her 12-year tenancy, despite longstanding problems at the property, which she says included seven years of a leaking roof. She suspects that she was the victim of a “revenge eviction” – a punishment for her commencing legal proceedings because of conditions in the flat.

The complaint letter sent by Wendy’s lawyer to the landlord’s estate agent, Winkworth, in March of this year, stated: “You were notified [about conditions] verbally by our client on a number of occasions … The defects at the property are causing an exacerbation of our client’s health issues. Our client is disabled and the damp is causing our client to suffer significantly.”

Ten weeks later and Wendy, who describes herself as “slightly disabled [with] crippled fingers”, received a section 21 notice from her landlord Bazmore Enterprise, a UK-registered company owned by Bujang Bin Ahmad Zaidi.

When asked by the Guardian to explain the decision, Kim Karpeta, a director of Winkworth’s Weybridge franchise, said: “If she hadn’t got lawyers involved and tried to beat the landlord up with a stick, she’d have probably been fine.”

Karpeta later said he “used the wrong choice of words and … did not present the situation in the correct light”. Bazmore’s lawyers added that Karpeta was not authorised to comment on its behalf and denied the eviction was retaliatory.

Before Wendy left her home the leaking roof had been fixed but the smell of damp would hit you as soon as you entered the two-bedroom flat.

A dark mould clung to some ceilings and around the kitchen window, which remained moist to the touch. There was a coldness to the walls, stained by dripping water, while the ceiling lights would flicker on and off seemingly at a whim.

The property appeared, by most modern standards, a miserable place to live – an assessment pretty well agreed by all parties. However, each side has differing versions about why problems went unsolved – and why Wendy was evicted just before Christmas.

Bazmore and Winkworth said Wendy was an awkward tenant, who did not always allow workmen access to the property to make repairs. They also claimed that other tenants in the block had complained about her.

Wendy argued that despite years of complaints to the current and a previous landlord, Bazmore’s eviction proceedings only commenced after she started her legal claim in March.

If that was the trigger, she would hardly be alone. Nearly half of all tenants who make a formal complaint about their housing suffer a “revenge eviction” by private landlords, according to research by Citizens Advice. Rules protecting tenants from revenge evictions exist but they do not always work and did not apply in Wendy’s case.

So who can tenants complain to?

The obvious answer might be the local authority, although many are under financial pressure and the IFS, an economics thinktank, calculates that council housing budgets were down 53% in real terms from 2009-10 to 2017-18.

Also, Wendy resides in a borough with a statistically weak enforcement record.

Elmbridge was one of 53 councils in England and Wales that did not make a single prosecution under the Housing Act during 2015, 2016 or 2017, according to responses to freedom of information requests made as part of an earlier joint investigation into rogue landlords this autumn by the Guardian and ITV News.

Furthermore, Elmbridge failed to impose a single civil penalty on a landlord during 2017-18.

Dan Wilson Craw, a director of the private renters’ campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Relying on cash-strapped councils to give tenants protection from retaliatory eviction is too fiddly. We need a stronger fundamental right over our homes – and that starts with abolishing section 21.”

Elmbridge did serve an improvement notice on Wendy’s property in 2015, which supposedly compelled the then landlord – and future landlords – to act.

Russell Moffatt, a former enforcement officer with the London borough of Newham in east London and now co-founder of the property licensing software firm Metastreet, inspected Wendy’s property in November, at the request of the Guardian and ITV News.

He said: “Councils, I’m sure, want to do more, [but] they are hard-stretched at the moment. An improvement notice was served. Could it have been enforced and more done? Yes it could have.

“Breaches of an improvement notice are a criminal offence if the work is not properly carried out … It could have been done but wasn’t done here”.

A spokeswoman for Elmbridge said: “We did follow up on the improvement notice, in terms of reminding the then landlord of their responsibilities and strongly encouraging them to act … All things considered, we were broadly satisfied with the progress that was made.”

She added that the council preferred dealing with landlords using “an approach built on advice and guidance, backed up by the threat of enforcement action”.

A spokeswoman for Winkworth said: “We acted in good faith throughout [the] tenancy. At all times, correct landlord and tenant procedures, as prescribed by the industry codes of practice and relevant legislation, have been adhered to.”

Bazmore’s law firm said: “Our clients deny that they have failed in their obligations towards [Wendy] in respect of the property.”


Claim mortgages being refused in developments with gypsy and traveller sites

Will this affect Cranbrook?

“The Council of Mortgage Lenders are REFUSING to grant mortgages to prospective house buyers if a new housing development includes gypsy and traveller pitches, it has been claimed.

The shock allegation was made at Tuesday’s Teignbridge District Council planning meeting when councillors were discussing creating additional pitches at a site in Teigngrace.

The pitches were due to be delivered as part of the strategic allocations at South West Exeter where nearly 2,000 new homes are to be built.

But Rosalyn Eastman, Business Manager for Strategic Place, said that gypsy and traveller pitches were required to be delivered off-site as the Council of Mortgage Lenders had told them they won’t provide mortgages to homes which have gypsy and travellers pitches within their allocation boundary. …”


“Academies failing poorer students, research shows” (and there are many more poorer students)

“Two-thirds of academy school groups performed below the national average for disadvantaged pupils, according to research released today.

A five-year study by the Sutton Trust educational charity analysed 58 ‘academy chains’ – partnerships between a group of academies – and found in 38 of these disadvantaged pupils performed below the national average for all state schools.

In 12 of the 58 chains analysed, poorer pupils performed above the national average but this good practice had not been shared with other academy chains, the report found. It defined disadvantaged pupils as those entitled to the ‘pupil premium’ – a funding package from central government.

Becky Francis, director of the UCL-Institute of Education and co-author of the report, said it was “perplexing that the government has done so little to explore the methods of these successful chains and to distil learning to support others”.

“Our five year analysis of sponsor academies’ provision for disadvantaged pupils shows that while a few chains are demonstrating transformational results for these pupils, more are struggling,” she said.

Francis said that the government should capitalise on the successes of various schooling organisations including local authorities and multi-academy trusts.

The report found that long-standing academy chains achieve better exam results, with newer chains frequently performing poorly.

Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “Two-thirds of academy chains perform below the national average for all state schools on key measures of attainment for disadvantaged young people. Improving their educational achievement was the original reason why academies were set up. In this regard they have not succeeded.

“We at the Sutton Trust are recommending the sharing of good practice of the best academy chains with the rest. More generally schools should make increased use of the body of what works evidence.”

Lampl noted struggling schools are having difficulty attracting and retaining good teachers.

The charity’s report said there is “little to suggest” that regional schools commissioners – who are responsible for approving new academies and intervening in underperforming ones – are bringing about improvements.

RSCs must act “more decisively” with chains that do not deliver improvement on time, the trust said.

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “This research reinforces the compelling need for the government to give councils the powers to improve struggling schools.

“Councils have a strong track record in school improvement, with 91% of council-maintained schools now good or outstanding while evidence shows councils are better at turning around failing schools than those converted to a sponsor-led academy.”

The Department for Education has been approached for comment.

An annual report released last month showed that academies in England recorded a £6.1bn deficit in August 2017.

Previously the National Audit Office called on the government to ensure that academies could be trusted to manage large amounts of public money.”


NHS – inequality between regions

“The government must show more urgency in addressing regional health funding imbalances, MPs have warned.

The Public Accounts Committee has also expressed concern about the Department of Health and Social Care’s lack of planning for staffing and medical equipment after Brexit, in a report out today.

The MPs noted there was “significant regional variation” in funding of NHS providers and clinical commissioning groups. DHSC’s 2017-18 annual report and accounts suggest an improvement in finances when taken as a whole but this “masks the underlying deficits at local level”, the PAC report said.

MPs said the department was performing a “balancing act” by offsetting NHS providers’ deficits with a surplus from NHS England’s finances. In 2017-18, 101 of 234 NHS providers were in deficit, although this was mitigated by NHS England’s surplus, the report said. Although, 75 of the 207 CCGs reporting an overspend in the same year.

PAC chair, Meg Hillier, said the number of CCGs overspending was “concerning”.

She added: “The Department of Health and Social Care must show far more urgency in getting to grips with regional funding imbalances and demonstrate it understand the effects these have at the frontline.”

The report was also critical of DHSC’s planning for Brexit, especially around staffing and medical equipment.

It said there is a “lack of a clear plan” for recruiting staff post-Brexit and added: “We are not reassured by the department’s assertion that it has not seen a large exodus of staff since the referendum and that the number of people from the EU working in the NHS has increased.”

Health bodies recently warned that the NHS workforce shortfall could jump from 100,000 at present to almost 250,000 by 2030 without effective planning.

Despite the NHS procuring 56% of medical consumables (gloves, dressings, syringes) from, or via, the EU, DHSC is not putting specific contingency measures in place to stockpile this type of equipment, the PAC revealed.

Hillier said: “The department’s lack of clear Brexit planning could threaten the supply of medical equipment. Staff shortages could deepen. The potential consequences for patients are serious.

“These and other uncertainties are amplified by the continued absence of the government’s promised 10-year plan for the NHS, its promised plans for social care, and its promised plans for immigration.” A DHSC source has confirmed to PF the social care green paper and NHS 10-year plan are now likely to be published in the new year, rather than by the end of this year, as originally intended.

Regional variances in staff vacancies could also be overlooked, the PAC noted. The NHS examines vacancy rates at a national level – rather than a local level – which “hides underlying disparities in specific specialisms and local areas and does not allow them to fully understand the impact of staff shortages,” the report said.

The report also expressed concern that the NHS staff pay rise announced earlier this year would not be distributed fairly. By funding pay awards through the National Tariff the PAC is concerned that NHS Providers in more affluent areas will receive “disproportionately higher share of funding” because the tariff accounts for the cost of operating in different geographical locations.

DHSC has been contacted for comment.”


More rural bad news: “Bus travel: Fewer passengers as funding falls”

Buses are the most common mode of public transport, accounting for 60% of all trips.

But on the buses, passenger numbers are falling.

There were 9% fewer journeys on local bus services in Britain in the first three months of this financial year than in the same period a decade ago.

The Campaign for Better Transport says this is partly down to cuts to the amount local authorities England and Wales are spending on buses.

In the past seven years, council spending on buses has fallen by 45%, according to figures released to the campaign group under the Freedom of Information law.

Outside London, buses are largely run by private companies, which make their money from passenger fares. Then, local councils pay subsidies to plug the gaps, often in rural areas where running a route is more expensive or less lucrative for companies.

Areas where running a bus service is the least lucrative for private operators will rely most on council subsidy – and so be most effected by the cuts.

In 2017-18, there were 11 councils in England that spent nothing at all on running bus services.

This has meant 3,000 routes being reduced or scrapped since 2010-11.

There are significant differences in fares, too.

Between September 2017 and September 2018 in London, fares rose by 0.4% – in the capital, buses are still public and regulated.

In other metropolitan areas in England where fares are left to the free market, there was an average 2.4% increase, while in non-metropolitan areas fares rose by 7.9%.

But if bus cuts and fare rises leave some people unable to get around, don’t councils have a duty to do something about it?

In fact, councils have very few specific obligations around buses, making them an easy target for councils as the cuts bite.

There are specific things they legally have to do, for example provide transport for children otherwise unable to get to school.

They also have to make sure there are concessionary fares for older and disabled people. Although this is partly funded by central government, the grant has been falling, leaving councils to make up the difference.

But other than that, they are not obliged to fund buses and ensure everyone has access to them.

What do councils have to do?

It’s possible a council could be challenged in the courts under equality legislation if it could be shown to be disproportionately restricting certain groups of people.

But legal guidance suggests it would be difficult to challenge a council if it could show it had assessed the needs of a local area and the impact of removing a bus service, particularly on elderly and disabled people.

If after this assessment, councils decide they need to make cuts because of a lack of funds, this would be likely to be legal.

But councils can’t let bus cuts leave a community that needs transport with no transport service at all.

And in some areas, councils have used community transport services – often minibuses driven by volunteers – to fill the gaps.

There could be other reasons for the fall in passenger numbers, though.

For the past couple of years, passenger numbers have also been falling in London, despite its relative protection from cuts.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has suggested this could be driven by fewer people going out, as Netflix and Deliveroo make staying at home easier and more tempting.”


Auditing watchdog to be axed – not fit for purpose

“The watchdog which oversees Britain’s tainted auditors will be scrapped after it was branded a ‘ramshackle house’ in a report.

The Financial Reporting Council will be shut down and replaced with a new organisation under different leadership, after former civil servant Sir John Kingman uncovered a litany of problems.

Kingman’s findings – in a study commissioned by the Business Secretary Greg Clark – are a vindication for campaigners who have spent years warning the FRC is not up to the job.

Kingman, an ex-Treasury mandarin who is chairman of Legal & General, said the FRC lacks transparency, is too dependent on the goodwill of big auditors for funding and has been damaged by constant leaks of information.

In his report he calls for:

■ A new regulator with a beefed-up regime to take action against failing bean counters and much shorter investigations to minimise delay;

■ Blanket bans on accountants who join the watchdog from overseeing their former employers;

■ A requirement for auditors to report any serious financial problems at companies they oversee;

■ Powers for the regulator to boot out a firm’s auditor if they have concerns it is not doing a proper job.

The FRC has been slammed for repeatedly letting auditors off the hook over accounting scandals, from Tesco to failed bank HBOS.

It came in for criticism earlier this year after the collapse of outsourcer Carillion was missed by accountants.

Kingman said: ‘What this spotlight has revealed is an institution constructed in a different era – a rather ramshackle house, cobbled together with all sorts of extensions over time. The house is – just – serviceable, up to a point, but it leaks and creaks, sometimes badly.

‘The inhabitants of the house have sought to patch and mend. But in the end, the house is built on weak foundations. It is time to build a new house.’ “


2 inquiries into big auditing companies: “cosy club” and “not resiliant”

“The origins of the shake-up now facing the accountancy industry can be traced back to the collapse of Carillion at the start of this year.

Concerns about auditing in Britain had been quietly growing among politicians for some time, but they came to the fore after the demise of the government contractor.

An inquiry by MPs called the audit market a “cosy club” and criticised the Financial Reporting Council as “feeble and timid”. Nearly 12 months later, two inquiries have concluded that regulation of the sector and competition between firms must be improved.

Competition and Markets Authority study

The competition regulator announced in October that it would investigate the audit sector to examine concerns that it was “not working well for the economy or investors”. It said that this would include looking at whether the sector was competitive and resilient enough to maintain high standards.

Since then the Big Four have lobbied hard against a wholesale break-up of their firms. They were supported by their smaller rivals Grant Thornton and BDO, despite the fact that the measure would not belimposed on them.

The CMA has stopped short of recommending a break-up of the firms, proposing a ringfencing of audit activities instead, but it has not dropped the threat entirely. Will Hayter, the CMA director responsible for the audit market study, said: “The possibility of a full split of the Big Four should not be underplayed.” The CMA said that it would be “protracted and complex” and that an effective ringfence of audit was a more practical and quicker solution, but it has not ruled it out. …”

Source: Times, pay wall

“NHS commissioning ‘needs period of stability to transform’ “

Owl says: You cannot make it up – body set up to transform the NHS needs time to transform itself before issuing its transformation policies to transform anything else!

“NHS commissioning needs a prolonged period of organisational stability after almost three decades of change, according to the UK’s spending watchdog.

Continued organisational restructuring causes major upheaval and commissioning in the health services needs stability to transform, the National Audit Office urged in a report released today.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “We have seen almost three decades of change to NHS commissioning.

“It would be a huge waste if in five years’ time NHS commissioning is undergoing yet another cycle of reorganisation resulting in significant upheaval.”

He added: “The current restructuring of Clinical Commissioning Groups must deliver balanced and effective organisations that can support the long-term aims of the NHS and deliver a much-needed prolonged period of stability.”

A period of stability would allow commissioning groups to focus on transforming and integrating health and care services rather than on reorganising themselves, the report said.

Since CCGs replaced primary care trusts in April 2013, there have been eight formal mergers, reducing their numbers from 211 to 195 in April this year. Further mergers are expected.

The report also highlighted an increasing number of NHS commissioning bodies in England were exceeding their planned expenditure.

A total of 75 of 207 (36%) CCGs went over their budgets in 2017-18, the NAO noted. The total overspend across the groups was £213m.

This compared to 57 CCGs over spending on their budgets in 2016-2017 and 56 in 2015-2016.

“Many CCGs are struggling to operate within their planned expenditure limits despite remaining within their separate running cost allowance,” the report warned.

Increased pressures, the uncertain futures of CCGs and a lack of access to training and development were cited as reasons for the continuing issue of commissioning bodies being unable to attract and retain high-quality leaders.

Even though “both NHS England and the CCGs stressed [to the NAO] the importance of high-quality leadership”.

The watchdog also warned with further mergers there was “a risk that working across greater areas will make it more difficult for CCGs to design local health services that are responsive to patients’ needs”.

The total net expenditure of CCGs in England in 2017-18 was £81.2bn with net running costs at £1.1bn. Staff costs made up 57% (£693 million) of CCGs’ running costs, the NAO noted.

A 10-year long-term plan for the NHS and how it will spend an extra £20.5m a year was expected to be released by the end of this year.

A source from the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed to PF it is now “likely” this plan will be release next year.

Responding to the report, chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier said: “We should be concerned that increasing numbers [of CCGs] are overspending against their budgets.

“Like previous changes to NHS commissioning, CCGs are going through more change and the NHS is crying out for stability.”

She added: “It is vital that further restructuring supports the 10-year plan and isn’t an unnecessary distraction to addressing the real challenges in the health service.”


Exmouth campaign to retain current Post Office

Message from an Exmouth campaigner. If you agree, councillors (town, district, county) will need to be contacted.

“I am trying to encourage local community organisations to campaign against the proposed franchising of the Post Office in Exmouth which currently is based in the WH Smith Store to be run from February 2019 by WH Smith. I think this could be very bad for the community and the future of the Post Office as a government organisation for a number of reasons.

1. WH Smith is not a public organisation with a remit to provide a public service. The legal duty of its directors is to maximise shareholder value. Therefore the cost of running a well resourced post office could be in direct opposition to the aims of WH Smith which is to maximise its profits and maintain a viable commercial enterprise.

2. The value added service which the current Post Office staff provide is not directly quantifiable in monetary terms. The Exmouth Post Office provides an invaluable resource to elderly and vulnerable people. It is a safe place for people with dementia; the staff know their customers, many of whom have been using the Post Office for many years so the staff can look after their customers in a range of ways, from safeguarding their financial arrangements to alerting other services if they have concerns over the health and/or welfare of their customers. Recently a customer on a motability scooter was persuaded to wait in the store until the ambulance service was able to help him as staff were rightly concerned that he was on the verge of a heart attack.

3. The current staffing levels will not be guaranteed once WH Smith takes over the running of the Post Office; indeed it has been suggested that there could be as few as two members of staff on duty at any time running the Post Office. This will lead to longer queues which is a real trial for elderly or disabled people.

4. Existing staff have received several months of training to do their job. The CWU contrasts this with the poor training of a few days provided for staff where post offices have been franchised so that mistakes are far more likely to occur. Furthermore with limited staff, the level of personal customer service which is so key to community wellbeing will be lost.

5. Post Office staff who decide to stay may be TUPED over to WH Smith, but a few months down the line, if WH Smith puts forward a business case for reducing pension benefits or other work benefits which are not offered to its other staff, then the TUPED staff will lose those benefits. New staff will not enjoy the same level of benefits as staff formerly in the employ of the Post Office.

6. The Post Office is making a healthy profit up from £13 million to £35 million in 2017/18. It also received £370m in network subsidy from the government. Furthermore, customer numbers have increased at the Post Office with the number of bank branch closures. The continued uncertainty over the stability of the banking sector has made the Post Office an attractive savings option, so it is well placed to continue as a thriving public institution serving communities where private organisations have abandoned their customers.

7. This is not a private commercial organisation which needs to focus primarily on profitability and it should be true to its public service remit. Franchising reduces costs but it is also privatisation by the back door; vital public services suffered a damaging effect when they have had privatised services forced on them. The schools are a prime example of what can happen to public services when the private sector takes them over. Schools have been closed after gaining academy status and being transferred to private hands. This publicly funded asset is lost to the public sector and children lose their school when the academy trust runs into financial difficulties. The Post Office once franchised to WH Smith will be at the mercy of the market place not protected by public funding.

8. WH Smith has had mixed trading fortunes in recent years. It is currently increasing sales but not profits. It has closed 30 stores in the last year and opened 24 new ones but these have been based in travel hubs – bus and rail stations and airports – and hospitals. WH Smith is under no legal obligation to keep stores which it considers insufficiently profitable. The post office services could be lost if this happens in Exmouth.
I think the Post Office has been economical with the truth in its ‘information leaflet’ about the transfer of business to WH Smith. It has not provided the opportunity for the public to comment on whether they want this change or not, just feedback on accessibility issues. This is in no way a consultation; it is a purely commercial decision made by an organisation which should focus on communities not profits.

I hope you will be able to raise these issues on your website.”

Swire, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and Business Forum

Swire is Deputy Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.

Sounds good in every sense, doesn’t it?

He reveals he paid £2,083 every month until further notice for 10 hrs per month. £208 per hour – not half bad!

So what is this organisation? It describes itself as:

“CWEIC is responsible for organising the Commonwealth Business Forum alongside the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting on alternative years.

Our day to day activity focuses primarily upon serving the interests of our members. We run a number of different scale and format events each year, providing Members with networking opportunities, access to leading Commonwealth figures from the worlds of government and business, and the chance to shape the Commonwealth’s business policies and agenda. …”

Oh Lord, not another Business Forum! It is actually a business, describing itself as:

“Management consultancy activities other than financial management”

And, as Owl has reported, somewhat controversial:

Good fun going to
and inputting Swire – lots of interesting stuff, particularly this one:


And it plans to take advantage of Brexit as you would expect:

It partners with a controversial American company to make money from the Commonwealth:

Tangled webs, tangled webs …