Parliament break cancelled – except for Tory MPs who want to go away with family!

Will Swire be off to the Maldives … or Saudi … with Parish on the Somerset farm?

“The cancellation of MPs’ two-week break to deliver Brexit on time has been branded a PR stunt after Conservatives were told they could still go away if they had “family” commitments.

On Thursday commons leader Andrea Leadsom formally ditched the half-term recess so more “progress” can be made on preparing to leave the EU.

But following a backlash from MPs who had apparently already booked holidays, chief whip Julian Smith informed Tories they are not obliged to attend the commons if they have pre-existing engagements. …”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-tory-mps-pr-stunt-commons-recess-parliament-eu-andrea-leadsom-julian-smith-a8757341.html

Meanwhile, cleaners have to stay:

“Tory MPs jet off on ski holidays while parliamentary cleaners continue to work”:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/parliamentary-cleaners-forced-scrap-holidays-13935427

Strategic Planning pitfalls? Certainly for Axminster

A reporter … reports:

“At Tuesday’s Strategic Planning Meeting at Knowle (29 /01/2019), chaired by Paul Diviani, the masterplan for increasing Housing in Axminster by a whopping 30% , was voted through almost unanimously (there was one abstention), despite serious cross-Party criticism of the plan.

As the debate ended, the considerable number of Axminster residents in the public gallery were astonished to hear the Chair’s quip, to Cllr Jill Elson, “ I felt confident that you would come out with something that would stir things up”.

Cllr Elson (shown on right of the photo, beside Cllr Philip Skinner), had argued firmly that “the problem with plans is that they change” , citing her Ward as an example.

“Exmouth ended up with two huge estates with no play space or amenities whatsoever”, she said. Cllr Mike Howe (Con) shared her concerns, saying, (the masterplan) “doesn’t give us much credence or security that we will get the right houses”. But the Deputy Leader of the Council, Philip Skinner (Con ), expressed his view that “Give and take is needed in negotiations with a developer”.

Shortly afterwards, when Cllr Geoff Jung (East Devon Alliance, EDA) observed that the plan might not suit young families, it became apparent that Cllr Skinner was not aware that the proposal to include a primary school had been dropped.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance (Lib Dem) had noticed significant typing and other errors in the masterplan document. Cllr Rob Longhurst (Independent) observed there was no mention of the words ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ in the document.. although Cllr Moulding had told the meeting that he had designed one for Axminster… and suggested this Strategic Plan Committee would like to see “if the community wants and needs” the masterplan.

Cllr Susie Bond (Independent) asked for clarity about the legal implications for the Council if the costs for the relief road “went through the roof” (So far, EDDC has agreed to borrow £7m to ensure the road, estimated cost £16.7m, can be delivered.)

Ian Hall (Con) admitted “this masterplan doesn’t sit easily with the residents of Axminster”, which Alistair Ferguson’s speech in Public Question Time, confirms. The text is reproduced below, with Mr Ferguson’s permission):

In support of the objections, other District Councillors, Cathy Gardner and Marianne Rixson (both EDA), also attended the meeting, though not on the Strategic Planning Committee themselves.

Cllr Gardner pointed out that agreeing to a massive increase in the town’s housing numbers “would not be for the right reasons”, if it was done primarily to fund a relief road. The masterplan “was being done to the people of Axminster, not for them”, she said.

And Cllr Marianne Rixson added that “delivery of affordables does not have a good record” in East Devon.

Having listened to the comments aired, Cllr Geoff Pook (Ind) cautioned the committee not to be “persuaded by the opposition”. “There are just as many people in favour”, he opined.

Finally, the fear that the time-limited government funding for the relief road would be missed, therefore putting in jeopardy the 650 homes allocated in the Local Plan, swayed the committee members to approve the masterplan, albeit with caveats based on their misgivings.

Is this how the wrong sort of housing so often gets built in the wrong place?

In Axminster’s case, how much will the masterplan impact on the historic former deer park? As Cllr Mike Howe, Chair of the Development Management Committee (DMC) told yesterday’s meeting, there’s an urgent need to know….’

Local bus use plummets in Devon as routes cut

“”Local bus journeys in Devon are at a record low – with campaigners warning the national network is now in “crisis”.

The latest figures from the Department for Transport reveal that 24.2 million journeys were made on local bus services in Devon in 2017/18. That’s nearly two million fewer journeys than the year before, and the lowest number since at least 2009/10, when the figures were first published.

The Campaign for Better Transport say that the fall in the number of passengers taking the bus is due to ongoing cuts in funding for these services, resulting in fewer services and higher fares.

Nationally, average local bus fares across England have increased by 12 per cent since 2009, after inflation.

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The statistics back up what our research has been showing for years – that buses are in crisis.

“Local bus services are vital, linking millions of us to jobs, education, shops and services, friends and family. They open up opportunities and help to fight loneliness. …

… The Local Government Association says nearly half of all bus routes in England currently receive partial or complete subsidies from councils.

With councils in England facing an overall funding gap that will reach £8 billion by 2025, the LGA said councils will struggle to maintain current subsidies for bus routes across the country unless this is
addressed in the Spending Review.

Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “Councils know how important buses are for their residents and local economies and are desperate to protect them.

“It’s nearly impossible for councils to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds worth of savings and protect other vital services like caring for the elderly and disabled, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins.

“Faced with significant funding pressures, many across the country are being forced into taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.” …

… Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “These figures are alarming, and underline the devastating impact of Tory cuts on local bus services.

“Bus networks are in a spiral of decline, cutting people off from work and education and friends and family, particularly those in rural areas or from low income backgrounds.

“For many people, buses are the only form of public transport available. And the bulk of the people that use and rely on buses are often the poor, the young, the old and the vulnerable.

“At the same time, cutting and withdrawing services is worsening congestion, air pollution and our impact on climate change.”

“The government should give local authorities the powers to franchise and municipalise buses and boost bus funding, and allow them to take back regulatory powers so that they can set the fares, routes, and timetables that will put their communities first, ahead of the interests of private profit.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/crisis-local-bus-journeys-devon-2489912

“Bus Companies Earned Billions Amid Savage Cuts To Routes, Analysis Shows”

“Bus companies in England pocketed a total of £3.3bn in profits while they presided over swingeing cuts to vital routes, figures show.

Private firms together made hundreds of millions operating busses outside London each year since the coalition government came to power in 2010, official data has revealed.

Yet a report by the Transport Commissioner found almost 17,000 bus routes have disappeared over the past five years.

HuffPost UK reported last week how tightened council budgets have made bus services that were under-used, but previously considered essential, vulnerable to cuts.

Labour – which analysed the figures – said the stats highlighted how the bus industry “puts profit before millions of passengers”. …”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/bus-companies-earned-billions-amid-savage-cuts-to-routes_uk_5c51b9f5e4b0d9f

MP tells it as it is …

Owl has a sneaky feeling it may know who she is talking about …

“Labour MP Jess Phillips takes aim at politicians considering imposing a £30,000 pay threshold for EU workers to be considered skilled, saying: ‘I have met many people who earn way more than £30,000 and have literally no discernible skills, not even one.’

The MP for Birmingham Yardley says the post-Brexit immigration proposal was ‘insulting’ to the care workers, nurses and teachers who live in her electorate. ‘I have definitely met some very rich people who earn huge amounts of money who I wouldn’t let hold my pint if I had to go and vote while in the bar,’ she says.”

See the speech here:

https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2019/jan/31/jess-phillips-on-skilled-workers-ive-met-high-earners-with-literally-no-discernible-skills

Auditors: what are they FOR?

EDDC’s auditors say they aren’t there to detect fraud:

“The former auditor of the collapsed cake chain Patisserie Valerie has argued that it is not the role of accountants to uncover fraud.

Grant Thornton is under investigation for its audits of the chain that collapsed into administration earlier this month following the discovery of a £40m black hole in its accounts. Patisserie Valerie’s former finance director has been arrested on suspicion of fraud.

David Dunckley, chief executive of Grant Thornton, which was replaced by RSM as the chain’s auditor in mid-January, told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee that there was an “expectation gap” that “needs to be fixed”.

“We’re not looking for fraud, we’re not looking at the future, we’re not giving a statement that the accounts are correct,” he said, adding that his firm audits 7,000 companies. “We are saying [the accounts are] reasonable, we are looking in the past and we are not set up to look for fraud.”

In a heated exchange with Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP and committee chair, Dunckley reiterated: “If people are colluding and there is a sophisticated fraud that may not be caught by normal audit procedures.”

He said in an ideal world it would be spotted. Reeves replied: “But in a shop that sells tea and cakes, you’d sort of think that might be spotted. It’s not a multinational complex organisation. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/30/ex-patisserie-valerie-auditor-says-not-his-role-to-uncover

and it seems, even when they DO detect major fraud, they don’t seem to feel obliged to do anything about it:

“Deloitte has been fined 2.2m ringgitt (£415,000) by Malaysian regulators for failures in its audit of a firm linked to the scandal-ridden state fund, 1MDB.

The Securities Commission Malaysia said Deloitte was reprimanded because it failed to report the irregularities detected in the Sukuk Murabahah Programme, an Islamic bond issued by Bandar Malaysia Sdn Bhd (BMSB).

Deloitte was the statutory auditor for BMSB and its holding company 1Malaysia Development Berhad Real Estate (a subsidiary of state fund 1MDB) for the financial years ending March 2015 and 2016 when the bonds were issued.

The securities regulator said Deloitte’s failure to immediately report irregularities may have a material effect on the ability of BMSB to fulfil its obligations in repaying sukuk holders any amount under the programme.

Imposing a fine of 2.2m ringgit , the regulator said it “finds the breaches committed by Deloitte serious in nature as it has failed to discharge its statutory obligations”.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/30/deloitte-fined-by-malaysia-over-breach-linked-to-1mdb