“Universal Credit staff now visit hospitals to make patients ‘prove they are unwell’ “

“Universal Credit workers have been visiting sick patients in hospital to check they are actually unwell, a damning new review into the roll-out of the welfare system has revealed.

Department for Work and Pensions chiefs were found to be interviewing people awaiting NHS treatment to ensure they were on the right money and not abusing the system.

The practice has been condemned as ‘grotesque’ by a council scrutiny panel in London, where it has emerged hospitalised Universal Credit claimants have received shock visits from the welfare state police.

In one instance, DWP officers visited a person in hospital awaiting an operation because they had missed an appointment.

The behaviour was uncovered as part of a review by Islington’s Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee, which has been tracking the full rollout of Universal Credit in Islington since June, reports the Islington Gazette. …”


“Revealed: Wife of former Vladimir Putin minister is major Tory party donor”

“The Conservative Party received hundreds of thousands from a woman with ties to the Russian president.

The Conservatives received almost £250,000 in donations last year from the wife of a former minister in Vladimir Putin’s government, new figures revealed. Lubov Chernukhin, whose ex-deputy finance minister husband Vladimir fell out with the Kremlin, is among the most generous donors to Tory coffers. She handed over £146,750 in November and December in addition to £100,000 earlier in the year.

The party also accepted £150,000 from Ann Said, whose Syrina-born husband, Wafic, is a former broker of arms deals with links to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Tory donors

The biggest gift to the Tories in the fourth quarter was £1.5 million from musical theatre producer John Gore, a regular donor to the party.

The Construction vehicle manufacturer JCB handed over £666,667, while the former Tory treasurer Michael Spencer’s IPGL donated £506,188.
The figures emerged in figures from the Electoral Commission covering the final three months of 2018.

Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “These figures reveal a party paid for by the rich and powerful, with apparent links to repressive regimes, tax avoiders and arms dealers.

“The influence of big money diminishes our democracy and reminds people that even if you have a vote, your voice will still be drowned out.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “The Conservative Party does not accept foreign donations – as they are illegal. If a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they also have the democratic right to donate to a political party.

“All donations to the Conservative Party are received in good faith, after appropriate due diligence. Donations are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Party funding

In the final quarter of 2018, the Conservatives received far more in donations than other parties, taking in almost £7.4m, more than four times the amount collected by Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party took in £1.6m in donations during the three months, including a £490,300 gift from the Unite union.

Labour’s income from donations was outstripped by the £2,131,978 it received from public funds, much of it taxpayer-funded “Short money” to help opposition parties fund their work in the Commons.

The Liberal Democrats received £950,272 in donations and £249,937 from the public purse.

The Scottish National Party received £15,240 in gifts from three donors and £197,772 from public funds.

Greens took in £73,870 in donations and £27,611 from public funds, while Plaid Cymru had one donation of £10,722 and £24,928 in public funds. The UK Independence Party received just £13,000 in donations.

Over the course of 2018 Conservatives took donations totalling more than £21m, compared with less than £7m for Labour and £2.8m for the Lib Dems.


“MP accuses former Tory official of being a ‘fraudster’ and ‘cowboy’ who exploited legal loophole to hide source of ‘dark money’ “

“The Scottish Tory vice chair Richard Cook, who helped channel £435,000 to the Democratic Unionist Party was branded a “fraudster” and “cowboy” who deliberately masked “cancerous dark money” pumped into British politics ahead of the Brexit referendum.

In a Westminster Hall debate, the SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes called for an urgent review of current laws which allowed Cook, the chair of the Glasgow-based Constitutional Research Council (CRC) to exploit a legal loophole and avoid publicly stating the source of the record donation to the DUP.

The CRC is legally defined as an unincorporated association, permitted to donate money to political parties, campaigns and individuals in elective office.

Opposite of open democracy

Although the Constitution minister, Chloe Smith, told the debate that responsibility for unincorporated associations lay with the Electoral Commission, and that data held by them was a “treasure trove of information”, Docherty-Hughes said the way the DUP donation was organised was “the exact opposite of open, properly-functioning parliamentary democracy.” He questioned whether anyone in the DUP knew the source of the cash that was largely used to fund pro-leave campaigning on the UK mainland, and whether any “requisite due diligence” was done ahead of the money being accepted.

Under previous Northern Ireland electoral laws, donations to any of the major political parties were protected. The exact origins of £435,000 could have been revealed if the government had honoured its promise last year to back-date legal changes to the time of the 2016 referendum. This did not happen.

Poster boy to cowboy

Doherty-Hughes said Cook, a Tory candidate in the 2010 general election in East Renfrewshire, who had been photographed alongside the former prime minister, David Cameron, and with the current leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson was “a poster boy for the way in which unincorporated associations have been used to funnel vast swathes of dark money into our political process.” …”


Parliamentary Independent Group “Independent group has ‘no mandate and no oversight – and nothing new’, says Swire

Er, sorry Hugo – doesn’t that apply to your party too which has no mandate, no oversight and nothing new?


And interesting that you discount them when the DUP (with fewer members) has held your party to ransom for the last two years!

The reality is that the Independent Group and Lib Dems really do have power now and that really worries you!

With Independent Claire Wright snapping at your heels you really have less clout, here and in Parliament, than you ever had.

Still, we won’t notice in East Devon since you rarely mention us or do anything for us.

Trek to new EDDC HQ in the evening if you want to be a councillor …

Just one small point. If you don’t have a car and no buses are running in the early or late evening (as happens now) how do you get to Blackout House (sic) for this meeting (or any other meeting for that matter) from Exmouth, Axminster, Seaton, Colyton or any outlying villages? Only Cranbrook and Sidmouth are served by late (after 5 pm) direct buses, and a train journey would be horrendously expensive.

Why do the people have to go to the Election Officer in the evening? Why isn’t the Election Officer going to ALL the people daytime and evening(so far Owl has heard of only one other town meeting in Ottery St Mary)? And making all those meetings accessible to disabled people?

Anyone would think people other than those in the very well represented Tory Party were being discouraged from standing …

“Representatives from East Devon District Council (EDDC) will be available on Monday (March 4) to discuss what the role involves and how residents can put themselves forward for the election.

The East Devon district is divided into 32 electoral wards, represented by 59 councillors who are elected for four years.

The next election for parish, town and district council positions will take place on Thursday, May 2.

The drop in session on Monday will be held between 4pm and 7pm at East Devon District Council’s new headquarters at Blackdown House in Honiton.

In attendance will be the returning officer, deputy returning officer and electoral services manager. They will be able to discuss the process, as well as whether a prospective candidate is eligible to stand.

Nomination packs will be available on the evening.”


Parliamentary sovereignty: how did our MPs vote? They didn’t

Yvette Cooper’s amendment to hold the prime minister to her promise of three meaningful votes passed with a majority of 482.

Q: How did our MPs vote?
A: They didn’t

They abstained.

And they both voted against other amendments to give MPs more say in the process.

So now you know.

“Tory councillors give themselves 300% pay hikes in homelessness hotspot”

“Tory councillors have awarded themselves pay rises of more than 300% in an area blighted by homelessness and food banks.

Matt Dormer, the Conservative leader of Redditch Borough Council agreed to a whopping 150% pay rise for himself.

And councillors with special responsibilities will get an extra £5,000 – a staggering 326% pay increase.

The Tories took control of the council last May and are in charge of their own pay for the first time in years.

Labour had previously frozen pay for a decade and its councillors voted against the new rises.

One said: “At the first opportunity these greedy ***** have taken money from council tax to put in their own, in some case already fat, wallets.”

Another councillor was so horrified she wheeled a trolley into the council chamber containing items destined for a food bank.

A source said: “It was a way of pointing out the absurdity of giving themselves more cash when there are people literally starving.” …


“More than a million public sector workers on less than ‘real’ Living Wage”

“Nearly 1.2 million public sector workers are paid less than the “real” Living Wage, campaigners reveal today.

Some 638,000 local government and council workers, including 389,000 directly-employed staff and 249,000 with third-party outsourcing firms, earn less than £9 an hour or £10.55 in London, according to Smith Institute data for the Living Wage Foundation.

Another 335,000 health workers, including 204,000 directly-employed staff and 131,000 with outsourcing companies, pocket less than the minimum experts say is needed for a decent stand of living.

The tally also includes 98,000 university workers, 60,000 of whom are directly employed by institutions.

The 1.2 million army of low-paid workers perform vital roles such as cleaning, catering and security at public building across the country.

Other workers earning less than the Living Wage include teaching assistants, caretakers, maintenance workers, binmen, sports centre staff and nursery nurses. …”


Taylor Wimpey making nearly as much profit as Persimmon (£811 m)

“… The strong results came a day after rival Persimmon reported a £1.09bn profit for last year, the biggest ever made by a UK housebuilder. For every home sold, Persimmon made a profit of £66,265, compared with £53,073 at Taylor Wimpey.

Housebuilders have profited hugely over the past five years from the taxpayer funded help-to buy-scheme, which allows buyers to put down a deposit of as little as 5% on a new build home, while the government lends the buyer up to 20% of the value of the property (40% in London), interest free for the first five years.

More than a third of the homes sold by Taylor Wimpey last year were through the scheme, at 36%, although this was less than the 43% in 2017. The average price of a private home sold by the company was £302,000 – up 2% – while the overall average selling price, including social housing, was flat at £264,000.

Taylor Wimpey’s profits have trebled since the beginning of help-to-buy in 2013. It defended use of the scheme, noting that 77% of sales made through it were to first-time-buyers.

Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter, said: “Taylor Wimpey joins Persimmon as the next developer making massive profits funded by taxpayer cash whilst doing very little to address the housing crisis in this country….”


Large part of Seaton now in Branscombe and Beer electoral district!

Beer and Branscombe

Previous Beer and Branscombe District wards combined with part of the previous Seaton District ward. New part is called Beer Road.

Properties moved from Seaton to the Beer Road register:

Alleyn Court
Beer Hill
Part of Beer Road (53 properties)
Part of Castle Hill (10 properties)
Durley Road
Part of Fremington Road (18 properties)
Highcliffe Close
Highcliffe Crescent
Part of Marlpit Lane (19 properties)
Previous Beer Road
Paddock Close
West Acres
Westcliffe Terrace

This means that western Seaton will actually be considered an adjunct to Beer and Branscombe and will NOT be represented by “Seaton” councillors and people on the same road will have different councillors depending on which part of the road they live on! And those councillors for western Seaton will have far more voters in Beer and Branscombe!

Madness …

“Rich getting richer while poor get poorer, official figures show – with ‘Brexit and benefits freeze to blame’ “

“The rich are getting richer while the poor get poorer, according to official statistics, dealing a heavy blow to Theresa May’s claim to be tackling “burning injustices”.

They showed the incomes of the richest fifth of households grew by 4.7 per cent last year – while the incomes of the poorest fifth of households fell by 1.6 per cent.

The respected Resolution Foundation thinktank blamed the controversial freeze on benefit levels, adding to problems caused by higher inflation following the Brexit referendum. …”


Brexit: now we have the wrong kind of wooden pallet to use for export to EU!”

Owl thought this was a early April Fool joke – it isn’t.

“The government is holding talks with distributors after realising that the UK has a dire shortage of the “right sort” of pallets to import and export goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will on Tuesday hold meetings with distribution industry representatives about how to keep household goods moving to and from supermarkets if the UK crashes out of the EU next month.

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal the overwhelming majority of wooden pallets, used to transport a vast range of consumer goods from breakfast cereal to pet food, beer and chocolate, will not meet strict EU rules designed to stop the spread of bark beetles and other pests.

If the pallets are prevented from transiting between the UK and the 27-country bloc, the millions of tonnes of goods they carry will not be able to be transported which could potentially lead to food shortages. More than 3m pallets move between the UK and EU every month.

The UK government has told distributors that all timber packaging, including pallets, destined for the EU countries after a no-deal Brexit must be heat-treated or fumigated to comply with International Standards For Phytosanitary (Regarding Plants) Measures 15 (ISPM 15). At present pallets moving between EU member states, including the UK, are exempt from the ISPM 15 standard. Industry experts said fewer than a third of the pallets used for EU-UK trade comply with the standard.

“In the event of no deal, all WPM [wood packaging material] moving between the UK and the EU must meet ISPM15 international standards by undergoing heat treatment and marking,” Defra said in an official notice last week. “All WPM may be subject to official checks either upon or after entry to the EU.” …”


Twenty minutes a day in an urban park [if you can find one] makes you happier

Owl says: with many urban parks being sold off for poor-quality, high-cost housing it seems “wellbeing” just isn’t a priority.

“… Researchers from the University of Alabama found people who visited their local parks experienced physical and mental health benefits ranging from stress reduction to recovery from mental fatigue.

“Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional wellbeing after the park visit,” said lead researcher Hon Yuen. “We did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional wellbeing. Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional wellbeing.” …”


Want to object (or support) plans for Axminster? Tough luck!

“I have now heard from 3 separate people that the EDDC Planning Website is not functioning properly and that submissions in objection to the planning applications can not be processed. I have asked EDDC Planning / IT to investigate immediately.

In the meantime, you can however submit by email to

planningeast@eastdevon.gov.uk or to


And they will be treated as legitimate comments and uploaded to the website and considered by the planning department accordingly.

Best wishes.
Cllr. Paul Hayward.

Persimmon: Cranbrook is confirmed among developments being inspected for missing fire safety barrier inspections

“Persimmon Homes is continuing to carry out fire safety barrier inspections not just in Devon but across the South West and nationally after it was found homes were missing them, it has been confirmed.

The developer has not disclosed which housing developments it is inspecting, but it is now known Cranbrook, the new town in East Devon will have 6,551 homes by 2027, as well as Hill Barton Vale in Exeter, Coverdale in Paignton and even developments in Cornwall, are among them.

The issue was exposed following a ‘ferocious’ blaze which broke out in in one of its developments, Greenacres, and the Newcourt area near Topsham. Last April a fire in Trafalgar Road off Admiral Way and Topsham Road, last April, spread into the roof spaces of two of the adjoining properties. Both homes failed subsequent fire safety barrier inspections.

In an email shared with Devon Live by a Newcourt resident, Persimmon Homes stated last month it is continuing to inspect homes. Persimmon Homes South West suggested the pass rate in Newcourt is 59 per cent, and the majority of other sites are achieving a pass rate of over 90 per cent of plots inspected. …

…However, the developer has been criticised for taking too long to carry out inspections after being made aware of the issue, as well as for sending out inspection request letters to residents in Cranbrook on unheaded paper, and confusing residents by sending out duplicated inspection letters when their homes have already been investigated.

In the email, Richard Oldroyd, regional chairman of Persimmon Homes, said: “You have asked what we are doing nationally and I can confirm that further inspections are being completed, but I am unable to provide details at this stage.

“I can confirm that as we previously advised when we met we have increased the resource on this project to ensure we are able to complete the inspections in shorter timescales.

“As you are aware we had relied upon the National House Building Council (NHBC) as part of their building control service to ensure that the cavity barriers were correctly installed. As a result of this failure in process we have instigated our own additional checking regime to provide an additional compliance inspection.”


Improving standards in public life (hint: a good few of our councillors fail the suggested tests!)

“On 30 January 2019, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its long-awaited report on local government ethical standards, reflecting evidence obtained via a consultation exercise carried out from January-May 2018.

The report makes 26 recommendations.

Below we highlight the top five that will be of interest to local authorities, in particular to monitoring officers.

Some of the recommendations could be implemented quickly without the need for primary legislation – most important of these is the recommendation concerning amendments to registrable interests.The wide-ranging report, which runs to over 100 pages, finds that while the majority of councillors and officers maintain high standards of conduct, there is clear evidence of misconduct by some – mostly bullying, harassment or other disruptive behaviour. The report also raises concerns about risks to standards under the current rules governing declaring interests, gifts and hospitality.

The report provides an excellent review of the current framework governing the behaviour of local government councillors and executives in England and then makes a number of recommendations to promote and maintain the standards expected by the public. While it identifies numerous points of best practice, it makes 26 separate recommendations for improvement.

Top five recommendations

The top five recommendations, likely to be of most interest to those in local government, are:

Updating the model code and extending it to parish councils: the report finds considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of local authority codes of conduct. It therefore recommends enhancing quality and consistency by requiring the Local Government Association to create an updated model code. In a bid to help ease the burden on principal authorities (who must investigate code breaches by parish councillors), the report also recommends requiring parish councils to adopt the code of conduct of their principal authorities or the new model code.

Presumption of official capacity: perhaps the most arresting suggestion, the report recommends combatting poor behaviour by presuming councillors to act in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements made on publicly-accessible social media. This arises from the perennial concern that the current understanding of public and private capacity is too narrow, undermining public confidence.

Extending the list of registrable interests: the report considers that current arrangements for declaring councillors’ interests are too narrow and do not meet public expectations, so it suggests refining the arrangements for declaring and managing interests, including extending the list of registrable interests to include two categories of non-pecuniary interest:

(1) relevant unpaid commercial interests such as unpaid directorships; and

(2) trusteeship or membership of organisations that seek to influence opinion or public policy. As this does not require primary legislation to be implemented, this is one recommendation which may soon be acted upon. We are particularly pleased to see written evidence submitted by members of Cornerstone Barristers was cited in relation to recommendation (iii): see more below.

A new “objective” test for when councillors must withdraw or not vote:

monitoring officers will be particularly interested in the discussion in the report about the need to update the test for when councillors are forbidden from voting or participating in discussion on matters in which they have an interest.

The report recommends the test be overhauled and that councillors be required to refrain from voting or withdraw whenever they have any interest at all – whether registered or not – that a member of the public would reasonably regard as so significant as to likely prejudice the councillor’s decision-making.

Strengthening the sanctions system:

the report considers the current sanctions insufficient and so recommends allowing local authorities to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months, with suspended councillors enjoying a right of appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for investigation and a binding decision on the matter.

Other conclusions and recommendations

The report further concludes that there is no need for a centralised body to govern and adjudicate on standards and that various benefits exist to local authorities maintaining their responsibility for implanting and applying the Seven Principles of Public Life.

A number of other recommendations are likely to be of interest, including:

Assisting local authority monitoring officers, the “lynchpin of the arrangements for upholding ethical standards” (p 81), by extending disciplinary protections and offering additional training for the statutory officers who support them.

Giving local authorities a discretionary power to establish a standards committee to advise on standards issues and decide on alleged breaches and/or sanctions for breaching the code of conduct.

Abolishing the current criminal offences in the Localism Act 2011 relating to disclosable pecuniary interests, which are said to be disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice.

Requiring local authorities to take a range of steps to prevent and manage conflicts of interest that can arise when decisions are made in more complex and potentially less transparent contexts such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and joint ventures.

Fostering an ethical culture and practice by requiring councillors to attend formal induction training by their political groups, with national parties adding the same requirement to their model group rules.

The report recognises that many of its recommendations would require primary legislation and therefore be subject to parliamentary timetabling. The remaining recommendations – in particular those relating to registrable interests (as mentioned above), statutory officers and formal training for councillors – could however be implemented relatively quickly.

The Committee intends to monitor the uptake of its suggestions in 2020.”

Robin Green, Estelle Dehon and Dr Alex Williams, all members of the Cornerstone Planning and Government teams, submitted written evidence item 281 to the committee. Their evidence was cited at p 45 of the report in relation to recommendation (iii) above, on registrable interests.

Robin and Estelle are also contributors to Cornerstone on Councillors’ Conduct (Bloombsury Professional, 2015), which identifies and explains the law following the changes implemented by the Localism Act 2011 in relation to the standards system governing the conduct of elected members in local government.”