Somerset MP says Taunton is like a war-torn Syrian city!

Does a constituency REALLY get the MP it deserves? Well ….

“One is an English county town with an eighth-century castle, pleasant high street and national park right on its doorstep. The other is a Syrian city left in almost complete ruins after eight years of brutal civil war.

But these distinctions appear to have failed to register with the MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, who chose to liken Taunton to Aleppo during a House of Commons debate on Thursday.

Ian Liddell-Grainger, whose own constituency neighbours the town, was attempting to draw attention to its boarded-up shops during a discussion about the high street.

The Tory said: “Exeter city has just brought out an excellent report looking 20 years ahead for the security and the growth of their city centre. Across the border, my county town Taunton is more like Aleppo than anything else.”

It is understood Mr Liddell-Grainger has never visited Syria’s second city but a quick perusal of pictures could have shown him it bears very little resemblance to the ancient Somerset town. …”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/taunton-aleppo-conservative-mp-ian-liddellgrainger-somerset-deane-council-a8758211.html

Volunteers wanted for Brexit crisis centre

“Government officials are preparing to deal with “putrefying stockpiles” of rubbish in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to documents leaked to the Guardian.

If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March without a deal, export licences for millions of tonnes of waste will become invalid overnight. The Environment Agency (EA) officials said leaking stockpiles could cause pollution.

The EA is also concerned that if farmers cannot export beef and lamb a backlog of livestock on farms could cause liquid manure stores to overflow. A senior MP said the problems could cause a public health and environmental pollution emergency. An EA source said: “It could all get very ugly, very quickly.”

The emails leaked to the Guardian were sent to EA staff, asking for 42 volunteers to staff crisis management centres that would deal with incidents. On Tuesday, the chief executive of the civil service revealed plans to move up to 5,000 staff into an emergency command and control centre in the event of no deal.

An EA email sent on Thursday, labelled “importance: high”, said crisis centres could go live on 18 February and run from 7am to 8pm, seven days a week, with plans to operate 24/7 if needed. To explain the potential tasks, the email gave two examples.

“If there is a no-deal scenario, the current export of waste may cease for a period. This could result in stockpiled waste which causes licence breaches,” the email said. “Odours will obviously be an issue as the stockpiled waste putrefies and there may be runoff of leachates, causing secondary pollution.

The email warned the situation could become a high-profile issue: “It will quickly escalate into a political one because the operators will state that they have no means to move the waste.”

The second example related to animal slurry: “Problems may arise in exporting livestock to the EU. In that situation, farmers may be overstocked and unable to export lamb/beef etc. That means that they may have problems with slurry storage capacity and insufficient land spreading capability.”

“The examples seem like real possibilities,” said the EA source. “There’s a serious amount of panic going on.” One of the emails told EA staff: “We are interested in any volunteers across [the environment and business division] no matter what their level of experience is, their grade, location or incident knowledge.”

Mary Creagh MP, chair of parliament’s environmental audit committee, said: “The UK’s waste and recycling system is already fragile but these shocking emails show it will grind to a halt if customs checks and WTO tariffs prevent the export of millions of tonnes of waste.”

“No deal would be a green light to criminal fraudsters and create a public health and environmental pollution emergency,” she said. “EA officials should not carry the can for the failings of government to get a deal through and this shows how hollow the prime minister’s promises were about protecting the environment if we leave the EU.”

An EA spokesman said: “As with the whole of government and the rest of the public sector, we are preparing responsibly for all scenarios as we exit the EU.”

As well as recycling waste, the UK ships about 3m tonnes of rubbish a year to the EU to be burned in incinerators that generate electricity. Most of this is household rubbish, which is sometimes shredded and has metal removed before being sent abroad. If waste is stockpiled after a no-deal Brexit, industry experts say the populous south-east of England would be worst affected. The UK’s lack of incinerator capacity and shrinking number of landfill sites drives the exports.

The government issued a technical notice in December stating that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, import/export licences issued by the UK would no longer be valid for shipments of waste to the 27 remaining EU countries from the day the UK leaves. The notice added: “There is currently no process set out in the EU waste shipment regulations on how notified shipments … should be re-approved. Defra is contacting other EU countries to discuss arrangements.”

Stuart Hayward-Higham, who leads Brexit planning for Suez, one of the UK’s largest waste management firms, said the EA’s planning was sensible: “It is them just putting things in place in case they need them.” ….”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/01/revealed-plan-to-deal-with-putrefying-stockpiles-of-rubbish-after-no-deal-brexit

“Local authorities forced to cut council tax support sees surge in unpaid tax bills” (well, duh!)

“Around 90% of English councils have been forced cut council tax support for working age claimants, meaning many low-income households have fallen behind with their council tax bills, according to new research.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has highlighted the impact of the government’s decision to abolish the centralised council tax support (CTS) for low-income households in 2013, which has seen an extra 1.3 million working-age households sent a council tax bill.

Nearly five million households received localised tax support in 2017-18, costing local authorities a total of £4.1bn – and 2.4 million working-age people received support, with an average benefit of £770 per year.
But the IFS has estimated that councils have failed to collect one-quarter of the extra council tax that low-income households have been billed as a result of the funding cuts.

This explosion of unpaid council tax is around 10 times higher than the 2.5% of council tax uncollected by local authorities under the old CTS system.

CTS schemes have also continued to become less generous since they have suffered funding cuts and were brought under local council control – and the report reveals that low-income households in poor parts of England are more likely to have been affected than those in affluent areas.

Director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, Mark Franks, said: “The fact that local authorities are unable to collect around one quarter of the additional council tax they have asked for indicates that support schemes are not working as effectively as they could.

“This important research should help in reviewing the design of council tax support schemes and the benchmarks they are based on.”

The report stated that giving people an entirely new bill is what seems so problematic with this type of tax collection.

Thomas Pope, one of the authors of the report and an IFS researcher, commented: “Many low-income households do not pay this new bill, almost regardless of its size. From their point of view, these changes have clearly increased problems with council tax arrears.

“From councils’ point of view, they are likely to receive significantly more council tax if they increase bills for those already paying some council tax than if they try to raise the same extra money from those who currently have no bill to pay.”

http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/local-authorities-forced-to-cut-council-tax-support-sees-surge-in-unpaid-tax-bills

Nuclear options?

“Nuclear power plants divide opinion. But on one thing everyone agrees: it’s nice if they’re welded together properly.

EDF still can’t convince France’s nuclear regulator that it can do it at Flamanville: the €10.9 billion nuke that’s years late and oodles over budget.

Still, not to worry. It’s only the prototype for Hinkley Point C.”

Source:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk
Business Commentary – Alistair Osbourne

Yes, all is well.

We know this because our Local Enterprise Partnership is still pumping oodles of Devon’s money into it – and coincidentally into their own pockets too!

So what does it matter if we don’t get it? The multi-billion pound “investment” will have helped a handful of people along the way and we will have had an invaluable (literally) experience!

“Sidmouth sea defences could cost double the £9m expected”

NOT unexpected to Owl! At the moment, decisions on whether to fund are done on a “cost per dwelling saved” and that factors in the value of the dwelling. As costs rise (and possibly house prices level out ot fall) and austerity continues, the less likely DEFRA is to fund projects.

“The current estimated cost of the project is around £9milion over its entire lifespan – around £5.7million is expected to be funded by central government, leaving a funding gap of around £3.3million.

At a recent steering group committee, additional offshore breakwaters were discussed and it was explained again that although the breakwaters may present a more robust solution technically, they would come at almost double the cost.

The cost has been re-examined recently by consultants Royal HaskoningDHV and they have confirmed that the previous costings as part of the Beach Management Plan were correct.

Royal HaskoningDHV also presented some of the more detailed outline design drawings they are now working on, which have been developed with the use of 3D models to help ensure that costs for the volumes of rock and shingle are estimated accurately.

Additional surveys are being carried out along the seafront to help inform the outline design of the splash wall.

The proposals also include improving maintenance access onto East Beach for future recycling and replenishment.

Royal HaskoningDHV’s thorough tests and methodical approach has resulted in a proposal to recharge the beach with a 10 metre flat section at the top, and a suggested increase in the height of the splash wall of up to 0.5 metres from its existing level, with sections of lower height where the beach is less exposed. …”

https://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/sidmouth-sea-defences-could-cost-double-1-5875210

Councils investing in commercial property and regeneration feel the chill

Owl wonders how EDDC is getting on with Grenadier in Exmouth …..

“Uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on the UK property market has hit two major council investment projects.

Essex County Council this week formally removed £6m from the budget for its £50m property investment fund after pausing further purchases due to worries over Brexit.

Meanwhile, Brighton & Hove City Council has been forced to delay the signing of a development agreement on a regeneration scheme in which it is planning to invest £8m.

The problems emerged in a week that communities secretary James Brokenshire announced allocations for councils under a new £56m fund to help them prepare for Brexit.

In a report to councillors, Margaret Lee, executive director for corporate and customer services, recommended the £6m reduction in Essex’s property investment fund, saying: “Due to the uncertainties caused by Brexit and the potential impact on the property market, the scheme has been paused with no further purchases planned.”

The pause in investment was originally agreed by Essex councillors in November, after advice from its adviser Hymans Robertson not to expand its commercial property programme “due to the current market conditions including the unknown impact of Brexit”.

However, the council has now decided to remove £6m from the investment programme budget as part of a package of measures that will help the authority reach a forecast underspend of £29.6m in its 2018/19 capital spending programme.

Before the programme was halted, £44m of the fund had been spent on property, which the council says is already yielding £1m for council services.

Essex is set to review whether to restart commercial property investment through the fund during the summer.

Meanwhile, in Brighton, councillors have been forced to delay a deadline they set for housebuilder Crest Nicholson to sign the development agreement on the King Alfred leisure centre and housing regeneration scheme.

Originally, councillors had proposed to walk away from discussions with the developer unless it signed the deal by 31 January.

However, it extended the deadline until 30 March – the day after the UK’s date for leaving the European Union (EU), following a last minute plea from Crest.

In a letter to the council, it cited “challenging economic uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the impact this could yet have on the construction industry workforce and wider confidence and stability of the property market”.

It added that “as soon as we have greater certainty over the nature and form of the Brexit arrangement which we all hope and expect will be achieved shortly, and assuming this does give reasonable certainty over the future trading relations with Europe, then we will enter into the development agreement and commit the team and resources required to promote the scheme, develop the design and seek planning in accordance with the conditions and programme”.

In 2016, the council committed £8m to the project, which comprises a sports centre, swimming pool, underground parking and 565 homes in blocks of up to 18 storeys high.”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/brexit-fears-hit-council-property-investments-as-contingency-funds-confirmed/

Bankrupt Tory council gets special treatment and audit bill balloons

Owl wonders how it would have been treated if it had not been a Tory council …

Its audit bill has ballooned:

“In its final audit report released this week, auditor KPMG said delays have been caused by the slow and patchy provision of information by the council and departures of key staff at the authority.

The extra work caused by the delays would more than quadruple its original fee of £71,250, it said.

The report said: “We stated during the audit committee on 26 November 2018 that this had now risen, at that date, to approximately £300,000 in total (i.e. including original scale fee).”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/delays-cause-northampton-audit-bill-to-balloon/

and

It is being allowed to raise an extra 2% on council tax without the (legal) need to hold a referendum:

“The council had already proposed raising council tax by 2.99%, the maximum amount it could do before holding a local vote.

The final settlement stated: “For 2019-20, the relevant basic amount of council tax of Northamptonshire County Council is excessive if the authority’s relevant basic amount of council tax for 2019-20 is 5% or more than 5% greater than its relevant basic amount of council tax for 2018-19”. …

When classified as “excessive”, a local authority must hold a referendum on its proposed tax hike.

In November, in a bending of the rules by the government, Northamptonshire was given permission to use £70m of capital receipts to help balance its budget.

The final statement otherwise largely confirmed what was contained in the earlier provisional settlement in December, with core spending power rising by 2.8% in cash terms from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20.

In real terms this is almost a freeze.”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/northamptonshire-thrown-a-lifeline-again/