Is this really how a manslaughter case should be reported?

Is it really necessary for a journalist to say that the CEO of Clinton Devon Estates “used a Land Rover to drive across country and through a river to reach the scene of the accident in which Kevin Dorman died”? Or that he has an OBE? Or to use the subjective headline that he was “choked with emotion”?

How is this relevant to the charge?

https://www.devonlive.com/director-choked-emotion-tells-manslaughter-2489109

Local authorities should be able to suspend councillors for up to six months says watchdog

Talk about reinventing the wheel! Before the system was changed local authorities were able to suspend councillors for the rest of the full council term, however long that might be or could ban them from office for years.

THIS government changed the rules now it wants to change them back – albeit
in a very, very lily-livered, watered-down way.

This lack if ability to censure councillors in any meaningful way is highlighted by the ongoing scandal of the disgraced ex-Mayor in Seaton, Councillor Peter Burrows. The rest of the council unanimously voted to urge his resignation from town and district posts but he has so far ignored all requests for him to go:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/25/hat-gate-disgraced-seaton-ex-mayor-peter-burrows-scandal-update/

but it is unlikely the EDDC Monitoring Officer will conclude an investigation into his case before local elections on 2 May 2017, leaving voters in the dark as to any action to be taken.

“Local authorities should be given the power to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months, the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) has recommended.

In a report, Local Government Ethical Standards, the CSPL said: “The current sanctions available to local authorities are insufficient. Party discipline, whilst it has an important role to play in maintaining high standards, lacks the necessary independence and transparency to play the central role in a standards system.

“The current lack of robust sanctions damages public confidence in the standards system and leaves local authorities with no means of enforcing lower level sanctions, nor of addressing serious or repeated misconduct.”

The Committee said councillors, including parish councillors, who are suspended should be given the right to appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, who should be given the power to investigate allegations of code breaches on appeal. The decision of the Ombudsman would then be binding.

The CSPL meanwhile described the Monitoring Officer as “the lynchpin” of the current standards arrangements, but accepted that the role was “challenging and broad”, with a number of practical tensions and the potential for conflicts of interest. Local authorities should put in place arrangements to manage any potential conflicts, it said.

However, the Committee concluded that the role was not unique in its tensions and could be made coherent and manageable with the support of other statutory officers.

It called for employment protections for statutory officers to be extended, and for statutory officers to be supported through training on local authority governance.

Other key findings and recommendations in the report include:

There is considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of codes of conduct. This created confusion among members of the public, and among councillors who represent more than one tier of local government.

Many codes of conduct failed to address adequately important areas of behaviour such as social media use and bullying and harassment.

An updated model code of conduct should therefore be available to local authorities in order to enhance the consistency and quality of local authority codes.

The updated model code should be voluntary and able to be adapted by local authorities. The scope of the code of conduct should also be widened, with a rebuttable presumption that a councillor’s public behaviour, including comments made on publicly accessible social media, was in their official capacity.

The current arrangements for declaring and managing interests are “unclear, too narrow and do not meet the expectations of councillors or the public”.

The current requirements for registering interests should be updated to include categories of non-pecuniary interests. The current rules on declaring and managing interests should be repealed and replaced with an objective test, in line with the devolved standards bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The current criminal offences relating to disclosable pecuniary interests are “disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice, and should be abolished”.

Local authorities should maintain a standards committee. This committee may advise on standards issues, decide on alleged breaches and sanctions, or a combination of these. Independent members of decision-making standards committees should be able to vote.

The safeguard provided by the Independent Person should be strengthened and clarified: a local authority should only be able to suspend a councillor where the Independent Person agrees both that there has been a breach and that suspension is a proportionate sanction. Independent Persons should have fixed terms and legal protections. The view of the Independent Person in relation to a decision on which they are consulted should be published in any formal decision notice.

Parish councils should be required to adopt the code of their principal authority (or the new model code), and a principal authority’s decision on sanctions for a parish councillor should be binding.

Monitoring officers should be provided with adequate training, corporate support and resources to undertake their role in providing support on standards issues to parish councils, including in undertaking investigations and recommending sanctions. Clerks should also hold an appropriate qualification to support them to uphold governance within their parish council.

At a time of rapid change in local government, decision-making in local councils was getting more complex, with increased commercial activity and partnership working. “This complexity risks putting governance under strain.

Local authorities setting up separate bodies risk a governance ‘illusion’, and should take steps to prevent and manage potential conflicts of interest, particularly if councillors sit on these bodies. They should also ensure that these bodies are transparent and accountable to the council and to the public.”

An ethical culture required leadership. Given the multi-faceted nature of local government, leadership was needed from a range of individuals and groups: an authority’s standards committee, the chief executive, political group leaders, and the chair of the council.

Political groups have an important role to play in maintaining an ethical culture. “They should be seen as a semi-formal institution sitting between direct advice from officers and formal processes by the council, rather than a parallel system to the local authority’s standards processes. Political groups should set clear expectations of behaviour by their members, and senior officers should maintain effective relationships with political groups, working with them informally to resolve standards issues where appropriate.”

An ethical culture starts with tone. “Whilst there will always be robust disagreement in a political arena, the tone of engagement should be civil and constructive.” Expected standards of behaviour should be embedded through effective induction and ongoing training.

Political groups should require their members to attend code of conduct training provided by a local authority, and this should also be written into national party model group rules. “Maintaining an ethical culture day-to-day relies on an impartial, objective monitoring officer who has the confidence of all councillors and who is professionally supported by the chief executive.”

An ethical culture will be an open culture. “Local authorities should welcome and foster opportunities for scrutiny, and see it as a way to improve decision making. They should not rely unduly on commercial confidentiality provisions, or circumvent open decision-making processes. Whilst local press can play an important role in scrutinising local government, openness must be facilitated by authorities’ own processes and practices.”

In a letter to the Prime Minister, contained in the introduction to the report, Lord Evans of Weardale, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “It is clear that the vast majority of councillors and officers want to maintain the highest standards of conduct in their own authority. We have, however, identified some specific areas of concern. A minority of councillors engage in bullying or harassment, or other highly disruptive behaviour, and a small number of parish councils give rise to a disproportionate number of complaints about poor behaviour.

“We have also identified a number of risks in the sector: the current rules around conflicts of interest, gifts, and hospitality are inadequate; and the increased complexity of local government decision-making is putting governance under strain.”

The CSPL chair added: “The challenge is to maintain a system which serves the best instincts of councillors, whilst addressing unacceptable behaviour by a minority, and guarding against potential corporate standards risks.
“It is clear from the evidence we have received that the benefits of devolved arrangements should be retained, but that more robust safeguards are needed to strengthen a locally determined system. We are also clear that all local authorities need to develop and maintain an organisational culture which is supportive of high ethical standards. A system which is solely punitive is not desirable or effective; but in an environment with limited external regulation, councils need the appropriate mechanisms in place to address problems when they arise.”

Lord Evans said the Committee’s recommendations would enable councillors to be held to account effectively and would enhance the fairness and transparency of the standards process.

A number of the CSPL’s recommendations involve legislative change which it believed the government should implement. The Committee has also identified ‘best practice’ for local authorities, “which represents a benchmark for ethical practice which we expect that any authority can and should implement”. …

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Are the wheels falling off the East Devon growth wagon?

This is necessarily a somewhat technical summary of why Owl thinks EDDC has got its recent past and future jobs and housing numbers terribly wrong, and attempts to pinpoint why this is. If the assumptions below are correct East Devon cannot hope to match new jobs to housing number increases and hence to aspirational growth figures.

It has huge implications for the district – not least Cranbrook and Axminster, where huge housing growth does not appear to correlate with very modest job growth.

CURRENT STATISTICAL TREND 258 JOBS/YEAR
EDDC’s 2015 aspiration 950 jobs/year
EDDC’s “Jobs-led policy on scenario” 549 jobs/year
Ash Futures (Experian) “Upper end” 309 jobs/year
Ash Futures “more likely” scenario 200-234 jobs/year

Evidence from the first set of job growth statistics published by EDDC since the adoption of the local Plan are running at less than half the number used to justify the housing development target. This is only one quarter of EDDC’s aspiration to create one job per new household or 950/year.

A “Jobs-led Policy On” aggressive growth strategy lies at the heart of EDDC’s Local Plan for 2013 to 2031.

Consultants were employed to create a number of scenarios forecasting growth in jobs. They ranged from 162-191 jobs/year for forecasts based on past trends to a top estimate for above average “jobs led” growth of 309 jobs/year. This top estimate would justify a housing target of 13,050 for the period.

One of these consultants, Ash Futures, gave cogent arguments as to why this figure, in their opinion, lay at the upper end of likely growth and proposed a more modest, more realistic, set of growth assumptions generating 200-234 jobs/year. This more likely scenario was never converted from a jobs forecast to a housing assessment but it would have been just a bit higher than the 10,512 figure based on past trends. All these forecasts took account of demographic changes, migration into the region and economic growth.

Ignoring this, EDDC decided to add a further 240 jobs/year to the upper end 309 figure in a new “policy on” scenario to provide a total forecast of 549 jobs/year. (Something to do with Cranbrook but the details of this and whether there is any double counting remains a mystery). This 549 job/year figure was ultimately used to justify the final 17,100 minimum housing target for the 18 year period of the Plan adopted in 2016.

The plan requires a minimum average build of 950 houses/year. EDDC’s aspiration is to combine this with the creation of one job for every house built. But this demonstrates a complete failure to understand demographics and household formation. The need for houses and the need for jobs is not a simple equation of one with the other.

Papers attached to EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee for 29 January 2019 (see footnote) contain data for East Devon employment covering 2009 to 2016. The explanatory text says: “It is recognised that it is an aspiration of Members [surely not every Councillor?] to deliver one job for each new home across the district but since the adopted Local Plan does not set out to deliver this it is not considered appropriate to formally monitor the relationship between the delivery of homes and the delivery of jobs.”

Here’s why – the real evidence, from the data, is of jobs growing at an annual rate of only 258 jobs/year.

This figure confirms the more modest forecasts presented by Ash Futures and, inconveniently for EDDC, is less than half of that used to justify the “Jobs-led Policy On” housing targets. It is only a quarter of the one job per house aspiration of “Members”.

Where does the 258 job/year trend come from? It is the gradient of the best fit linear regression trend line to the data given the Strategic Planning Committee and shown in the graph below. The full data source is referenced in the footnote.

This is a relatively small sample; and the extent of the fluctuations in the recorded number of jobs from year to year can be seen in the graph. For the technically minded the correlation coefficient of the trend line is 0.6, which is quite a strong one.

All the job number quoted above are for “full time equivalent” jobs (FTE).

Owl has been fortunate to find from the same official source as used by EDDC a set of estimates of the total number of jobs in East Devon which extends the time series to 2017. The significance of this is that the total number of jobs in East Devon fell between 2016 and 2017 and so we can expect the same to happen with FTEs. As a result Owl feels even more confident that the trend line shown above, despite the sample size, reflects what is actually happening.

The Local Plan has been in preparation since 2002 and EDDC has been following a growth policy for many years. So, although 2013 marks the formal start of the Local Plan, there is no statistical evidence to consider 2013 a “turning point” for job growth, though it does look to be an outlier.

With EDDC’s plan to build houses running ahead of creating the jobs needed for a sustainable community, just who are we building all these houses for?

Isn’t it time to cool the building programme, not ramp it up as Owl fears is being planned in the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan?

One of the key architects to all this is Councillor Paul Diviani. When asked at a recent council meeting why East Devon is taking all this development replied: “Because we have got the land, and we are good at it”.

Footnote: The combined minutes, agenda and reports of the Strategic Planning Committee with the job data for 2009 to 2016 on page 116 can be found here:
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2744658/290119strategicplanningcombinedagenda_opt.pdf

“85 Million Fewer Bus Journeys Last Year Amid ‘Devastating’ Cuts”

“”Cutting and withdrawing services is worsening congestion, air pollution and our impact on climate change.”

“The number of passenger journeys made by bus in England fell by 85 million last year, amid “devastating” cuts on local services.

Passenger journeys declined by 3.2% outside London, continuing a decade-long trend, while bus use in the capital fell by 0.7%, according to the latest figures from the Department for Transport.

Out of 88 local authorities in England outside London, 70 saw a fall in bus use since 2009/10.

Labour said the new figures underlined the impact of Conservative policies, and underlined “the devastating impact of Tory cuts on local bus services”.

Andy McDonald, shadow transport secretary, said: “These figures underline the People are being denied opportunities in work and education and are cut off from friends and family, particularly those in rural areas or from low income backgrounds.”

These figures underline the devastating impact of Tory cuts on local bus servicesAndy McDonald, Shadow Transport Secretary
MacDonald added: “At the same time, cutting and withdrawing services is worsening congestion, air pollution and our impact on climate change.

“A Labour government will act in the interest of the many by putting investment back into bus services, protecting pensioners’ bus passes and introducing a new free pass for under 25s.” …”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/85-million-fewer-bus-journeys-made-by-passengers-last-year-amid-devastating-cuts_uk_5c518a4ce4b0f43e410cceaa

“Housing developer backtracks on promised Yeovil road improvements despite signing contract to honour work”

Remember what Owl said only yesterday after the news that Persimmon and Crown Estates demanded 200 extra houses (from 650 to 850) in Axminster to be able to afford to build a new road?

“A housing developer is trying to get out of making improvements to Yeovil’s roads, claiming they are no longer required.

Barratt Homes has been constructing the Wyndham Park development on Lyde Road at the north-eastern edge of the town, for which outline planning permission was granted in 2008.

As part of a legal agreement with Somerset County Council and South Somerset District Council, the developer promised to make improvements to the junction of Lyde Road and Mudford Road, as well as the junction of Combe Street Lane, Mudford Road and Stone Lane.

However the developer, that recorded a pre-tax profit of £835.5 million in 2018, has now applied for these conditions to be removed, claiming these junctions are “under capacity” and therefore the improvements will no longer be necessary.

Planning manager Andrew Cattermole wrote to the district council on December 12, laying out the company’s reasons for not undertaking the work.

He said: “The implementation of these elements has not been completed to date and it is considered, having discussed this with Somerset County Council, that neither of these works are required.

“The existing junctions are under capacity, meet the required safety performance and no junction improvements are required.”

The Lyde Road/ Mudford Road improvements were due to be undertaken before the 400th home on the Wyndham Park site had been occupied.

The Combe Street Lane project, meanwhile, was required to be completed before the 500th dwelling was finished and occupied.

A traffic assessment carried out for Barratt Homes concluded that “the additional demand created during the completion of development can be accommodated on the existing high way network”.

A spokesman for Somerset County Council said: “We have discussed this matter informally with Barratt Homes and advised that we would not object to modifying the S106 conditions and removing the junctions if they provided sufficient evidence that they were no longer required.

“Now the application has been submitted, we will review the evidence and provide a formal response.

“This will then be considered by South Somerset District Council as the local planning authority, which will make a final decision.”

A spokesman for the district council added: “This application was received on December 13 and we are awaiting the key views of Somerset County Council as the highways authority on this matter.

“It would be inappropriate to make further comment until these views have been received and our officers have completed their reports.”

The district council is expected to make a decision on this matter by February 7.”

https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/housing-developer-backtracks-promised-yeovil-2483395

“Amid Brexit vote chaos, the government quietly finalises council cuts”

“In what’s becoming a bleak pattern, the government chose today – Theresa May’s second attempt to pass her Brexit deal – to finalise its next round of cuts to councils.

Ministers outlined the provisional local government finance settlement for 2019-20 last December. But they chose today to announce its final plans for short-term local government funding – in a written statement, the subtlest form of government announcement, by the Communities and Local Government Secretary James Brokenshire.

After eight years of austerity, cash-strapped councils have been waiting for the government to use its final settlement this month to provide the resources they desperately need for funding public services in 2019-20. But the new settlement – sneaked out while Westminster is distracted by Brexit – doesn’t deliver what councils need.

As first announced in the Budget, the government is releasing extra chunks of funding for social care and potholes, as well as more money for high streets. The government calculates that its settlement adds up to a rise in core spending power for councils from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20: a 2.8 per cent cash increase. (It has also reiterated the £56.5m across 2018-19 and 2019-20 to help councils prepare for Brexit, which we can’t really count as extra funding as it’s to fill a Brexit-shaped hole.)

Firstly, this money isn’t enough – councils still face a funding gap of more than £3bn this year, according to the Local Government Association. The pressure to set legal budgets, with an average 49 per cent drop in real terms spending power since 2010 and rising social care demands, means councils need substantially more than a 2.8 per cent raise. Labour’s shadow local government secretary Andrew Gwynne has called the plan a “shoddy deal”, and warns it “means more cuts to our councils”.

Secondly, the funding announced is simply a short-term one-off. There’s no new system for funding social care – with the long promised green paper on adult social care repeatedly pushed back. Decisions on other structural concerns – business rates retention and a fair funding formula for local government – have been put off, with consultations being published instead.

Councils are desperate for a long-term, sustainable funding settlement. As the head of the National Audit Office, Amyas Morse, said last March: “Current funding for local authorities is characterised by one-off and short-term fixes, many of which come with centrally driven conditions.”

“It does not solve medium term financial pressures so tough decisions will still need to be taken and our members will have little choice but to raise council tax to meet demand-led pressures in services,” warned Paul Carter, chair of the County Councils Network.

Plans for 2020 and beyond are yet to be determined, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which concludes that “current plans imply further cuts for unprotected services after 2019-20”.

This means councils will continue to operate in a financial void, unable to fund public services properly, while waiting for something to change in the promised Spending Review later this year.”

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2019/01/amid-brexit-vote-chaos-government-quietly-finalises-council-cuts

EDDC agrees Axminster masterplan with 200 extra houses (now 850)

Persimmon and Crown Estates say they won’t be able to afford to build a relief road unless they build 850 houses rather than the original 650.

So EDDC majority rolled over to have their tummies tickled … and agreed.

Do try to remember this if the developers say they got their sums wrong and will need to build hundreds more …. or no road at all.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-devon-46947635