“Cash-strapped primary school forced to turn off lights for a day each week”

“A school is forced to turn off lights one day a week because of Tory cuts.

Campaigners said the head made the decision to provide cash elsewhere in the budget.

Other schools are closing at lunchtime on Fridays to save money while some heads are working shifts at other schools to raise funds.

There are also reports of heads cleaning toilets as well as acting as caretakers while support staff face the axe.

Sue McMahon, of West Yorkshire group Calderdale Against School Cuts, said the shocking accounts were from a survey of schools which showed senior staff in “an intolerable position”.

She added: “We recently told of a caretaker working with­out the lights on. It is the same with the primary school with no lights.” The school is not being named for fear of driving away parents. …”


“Property developers who deliberately demolished a house containing protected bats have been fined £18,000”

Owl says: Good news for East Budleigh, fighting to keep a barn which harbours rare bats which Clinton Devon Estates want to pull down. But then again, a fine of a few thousand pounds will just mean them recouping the cost in even higher property prices! BUT take nore of the last sentence!

“Jenna Kara, 29, and Tina Kara, 34, directors of Landrose Developments Ltd, started tearing down the bungalow in Stanmore, north-west London, in 2016.
The company pleaded guilty at Willesden Magistrates’ Court to damaging or destroying the breeding site.

District Judge Denis Brennan said the punishment for ignoring environmental law would “always outweigh” gain.

The court heard the developers had pressed ahead with the demolition despite an expert reporting the site was home to soprano pipistrelle bats – a protected species in the UK and Europe.

Surveys at the site also indicated the presence of common pipistrelle bats, which are another protected species.

Passing sentence, District Judge Brennan said: “In my judgment, the act of demolition was clearly deliberate and flew in the face of advice and knowledge of the existence of the bat roost.

“The most obvious effect is local but it also has national implications because these bats are an endangered species by the very fact of being protected.” …

The offence is contrary to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 and means the company will be barred from bidding to do certain projects.


“Amount of NHS land in England earmarked for sale soars, figures show”

Ministers have been accused of “selling off the NHS family silver” after figures revealed that the amount of health service land being earmarked for sale to private developers is soaring.

The NHS is seeking buyers for 718 different plots of land or buildings it owns across England, prompting fears that underfunding has forced cash-strapped NHS trusts to dispose of vital assets.

The total of 718 sites represents a 72% rise on the 418 plots the NHS deemed as surplus to requirements two years ago.

Nurses priced out of housing developments on former NHS sites

The number of sites on the market that NHS bosses say are currently being used for clinical or medical purposes is also rising fast, from 117 last year to 140 – almost one in five of the total.

Seven of the top 10 sites with the highest value fall into that category. They include a part of Heatherwood hospital in Ascot, Berkshire – which is used by patients from Theresa May’s nearby Maidenhead constituency – valued at £35m, and part of the site of Birmingham’s City hospital (£18.8m).

Labour said the figures, contained in the NHS’s annual register of land for sale, showed that hospitals were being forced into a “firesale of assets” after years of being starved of resources while the government had restricted annual budget rises to 1% since 2010.

“Hospitals are struggling to cope with cutbacks from the Tories. The answer should be a serious long-term government-funded investment plan and not selling off the NHS’s family silver,” said Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary.

Last year a government-commissioned report by Sir Robert Naylor, a former University College London hospital chief executive, said the NHS could raise £6bn from taking a more “commercial approach” to disposing of land.

Ministers approve of the growing selloffs, which they say will help generate receipts that NHS trusts can then use to redevelop their facilities and build homes for staff.

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, voiced unease. It said the selloffs were short-sighted and could leave hospitals with too little space to expand in future.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the BMA council, said: “These figure show a staggering increase in sale of NHS land in the last two years. This begs serious questions as to the reason for this surge. Was this land actually surplus or are these sales being used to plug financial deficits in hospital trusts as a result of a decade of underfunding?

“It is vital to safeguard the sale of NHS land and estate from perverse short-term financial incentives, and which may result in a reduction in estate and facilities that is insufficient to meet the future needs of patients. These figures demand scrutiny. Selling land shouldn’t be a way for the health service to make up for austerity-era cuts – especially if it could come at the expense of patient care.”

The total amount of land involved in the NHS asset sale has grown from 545.7 hectares (1,348 acres) in 2015-16 to 1,332 hectares in 2016-17 and 1,749.4 hectares last year, according to research undertaken by the House of Commons library for Ashworth.

The Department of Health and Social Care defended the rise in sales. A spokesperson said: “As part of the long-term plan for the NHS we are committed to making taxpayers’ money go further, including getting the best use out of the land and buildings the NHS owns.

“We are helping trusts dispose of surplus land or buildings so that money is saved and spent instead on improving patient care, whilst freeing up space for much needed new homes, including for NHS staff.”


“Government accused of promoting inequality by stealth”

“More generous tax relief means the government is providing more in-work cash support to Britain’s richest households than poor families are receiving, according to a left-leaning thinktank.

A study by the Fabian Society said nearly half the savings made in welfare payments in recent years had gone on increases in the tax-free personal allowance, rather than being used for deficit reduction.

The thinktank accused the government of increasing inequality by stealth and called for a five-year freeze on tax-free allowances to “rescue social security”.

The Fabian Society added that the first priority for any money saved from freezing tax allowances should probably be using it to make universal credit more generous, but said consideration should also be given to a basic income – a payment given unconditionally to all citizens.

Both the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and his predecessor, George Osborne, raised tax allowances while keeping a tight rein on benefits.

The result of this approach, according to the thinktank, is that on average, households in the fourth and fifth income quintiles (the top 40%) receive more in tax relief than households in the poorest fifth get in means-tested benefits.

The Fabian Society study showed the cost of tax allowances had increased by 43% from £95bn to £136bn from 2012-13 to 2017-18. Over the same period, social security payments to working-age adults and children fell from £95bn to £94bn. As a share of national income, tax allowances rose from 5.6% to 6.4%, while payments to working-age adults and children fell from 5.5% to 4.4%. …”


Gigaclear rural broadband project – paused probably for many months

From the blog of DCC Independent Councillor Claire Wright:

“There has been a delay now for sometime in Devon on the implementation of fibre to the home broadband. This means individual connections from the fibre cables in the road to each house.

A huge operation that was started by BT and in the past two years or so, operated by Gigaclear under the management of Connecting Devon and Somerset (Devon and Somerset County Councils).

Unfortunately, the timetable has slipped last autumn, partly due to the collapse of Carillion (Gigaclear were partners with a Carillion subsidiary engineering company) and partly due to the enormity of the Devon operation and road layouts.

One of the problems has been traditional Devon banks which have apparently been a challenge as the company usually digs up grass verges to install cables. Devon banks are also (quite rightly) protected under planning policy.

Connecting Devon and Somerset have had to apply for a funding extension from the government to allow for the extension of this work. This has been agreed in principle but won’t be endorsed nor the money received until the next comprehensive spending review later this year.

So without the firm confirmation contract extension funding and other logistical issues, there is still a delay of an unknown number of months.

This is deeply disappointing indeed and incredibly frustrating for communities such as Aylesbeare which doesn’t even have superfast broadband so residents are putting up with speeds of less than one megabit. I’m also aware that there are people living on the edges of communities who also have poor broadband service.

For residents and communities frustrated at the lack of connectivity there are other options, such as a voucher scheme to offset the cost of roof aerials for individual properties. For a bigger scheme involving whole communities, telecommunications companies can quote for a village service.

There are no easy solutions at the moment unfortunately and this is deeply frustrating for me and for many people in my ward.

Please email me if you have any questions at claire@claire-wright.org

I will update you when I know more.”


“Growth”: 40% of jobs in East Devon could be lost to automation

Owl says: many people are only one robot away from Universal Credit …

“You could soon be replaced by a robot as data reveals two out of every five jobs in East Devon could be lost to automation.

The data, measured in 2017 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that 42,000 jobs in the area could be partially or totally replaced by machines over the coming years.

This equates to 44 per cent of occupations and of them, 9% of them are at high risk meaning they have a more than 70% chance of being replaced by machines.

The threat was medium for a further 60 per cent of jobs as the chances of automation are between 30 and 70 per cent.

East Devon was less vulnerable to the impact of automation in 2017 than six years earlier when 49 per cent of jobs were at risk of being replaced by machines.

The ONS analysed the jobs of 20 million people across England in 2017 and found that 7.4 per cent were at high risk of being replaced.

70 per cent of the roles at high risk of automation are currently held by women.

People aged 20 to 24 years old are most likely to be at risk of having their job replaced and low-skilled occupations, like waiting or shelf stacking, face the highest risk.

Jobs requiring higher qualifications, such as medical practitioners and higher education teachers, are less susceptible to computerisation.

An ONS spokesperson said: “The exact reasons for the decrease in the proportion of roles at risk of automation are unclear but it is possible that automation of some jobs has already happened.

“Additionally, while the overall number of jobs has increased, the majority of these are in occupations that are at low or medium risk suggesting that the labour market may be changing to jobs that require more complex and less routine skills.”

Felicity Burch, the CBI’s director of innovation and digital, said technology is predominantly putting jobs held by women and low-skilled occupations at risk.

She said: “The picture is complicated, as ONS’s own analysis shows that some of the roles most at risk of automation saw a boost in recent years.

“Furthermore, we know that the more businesses invest in new technology, the more likely they are to create new roles.”


27 days to local elections – today’s picture

(photo: Camping and Caravan Club)

This is Ladram Bay Holiday Park – owned by the high-profile Carter family who also own Greendale Business Park (more on that in a later post).

The photograph was taken in 2015 since which it has grown more. Residents of Otterton are tearing their hair out at the heavy vehicle traffic using its roads to move large caravans and mobile homes on and off the site. DCC independent councillor Claire Wright has tried to help but one EDDC Tory councillor (Tom Wright) nearly sabotaged her latest attempt:


and planning policies for the destination are in tatters:


Auditors should not be consultants [ *particularly to the council they audit!]

* after the big disgraced Tory councillor Graham Brown debacle, EDDC’s internal auditors (South West Audit Partnership) were given a consultancy contract to investigate his influence on planning decisions while running his own planning consultancy in East Devon. The report was wishy-washy to say the least, as reported by EDW here:


“Audit firms should be banned from carrying out consultancy services, according to a report of MPs.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee this week released a report into the future of audit, launched after recent accounting scandals at firms including Carillion and Patisserie Valerie.

Among a raft of conclusions, it said that audit firms currently face conflict of interests if they also carry out advisory services, leading to lower quality auditing.

Committee chair Rachel Reeves said: “For the big firms, audits seem too often to be the route to milking the cash-cow of consultancy business.

“The client relationship, and the conflicts of interest which abound, undermine the professional scepticism needed to deliver reliable, high-quality audits.

“Splitting audit from non-audit business would be a big step to boosting the culture of challenge needed to deliver high-quality audits.”

The report said that non-audit profits currently subsidise the pay of audit partners within firms.

“We do not think that this is a healthy state of affairs,” it said.

“Audit partners must not be or feel indebted to non-audit partners.

“That frame of mind can only lead to audit partners being mindful of the interests of the non-audit practice, when we expect them to serve the interests of the firm, its shareholders and the wider public.”