“Campaign to keep Brighton General Hospital land public”

“CAMPAIGNERS fighting to keep Brighton General Hospital land in public ownership are calling for more people to get involved.

About 100 people heard NHS campaigners, councillors and two MPs at a public meeting speak about the using the site for low-cost social housing.

Plans to redevelop the former Victorian workhouse at the top of Elm Grove are under discussion.

A new community health hub is proposed for the current ambulance station site, with a GP surgery and pharmacy, along with existing services for mental health, podiatry and early parenting. Health chiefs have said the cost of the project could be funded by selling the rest of the site for housing.

When Brighton and Hove City Council’s health and wellbeing board was given a briefing in November last year, one suggestion was the site be used to build homes for health workers.

An online petition, calling for meaningful public consultation about the future of the site, as well as asking for community beds and homes for social rent has more than 1,300 signatures.

Green councillor David Gibson said the site was a public asset in a city with “horrendous” housing problems. He added the Greens and Labour councillors and activists from the Brighton Housing Coalition, Sussex Defend The NHS and the Save Whitehawk Hill group had come together to shift the agenda to social housing.

Cllr Gibson said: “Privatisation and inequality have gone together. This country has become one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

“You get better outcomes if you narrow inequality. If you want to narrow inequality, you need public provision, public support and public services which are decent.”

He said the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw would be meeting the board of the Brighton General landowner, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, to discuss options.

The campaign is pushing for the site to be taken into council ownership.

Carolyn Pickering, of Sussex Defend The NHS, reminded the audience the NHS freed people from the fear of choosing which child to spend their savings on if one became ill. She said: “The land is still part of the NHS. The NHS belongs to us and the land belongs to us so they should not be allowed to sell it.”

Council leader Nancy Platts said: “We will be inviting all interested parties into meetings about the Brighton General site and this includes the Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust as well as those campaigning about the future use of the site.”

https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/17673627.campaign-to-keep-brighton-general-hospital-land-public/

“Revealed: one in five peers advise private business while serving in parliament”

Owl says: only 1 in 5!

“One in five members of the House of Lords are working as consultants or advisers to private businesses at the same time as serving in parliament, the Guardian can reveal.

An analysis of the Register of Lords’ Interests shows 169 peers reported working as advisers earlier this year, with more than a dozen registering that they were also paid by foreign governments on top of the expenses they are entitled to as peers.

The consultancies range from a former Conservative MP advising the company of a Romanian businessman facing extradition, through to a former chief of defence staff who advises the government of Bahrain.

The worlds of finance, energy, mining and defence are extensively represented among peers’ clients. Unlike MPs, peers are considered part-time public servants, which allows them to pursue other business. Peers are permitted to work as advisers for private interests, as long as they are properly declared.

The findings include:

A leading Labour peer, Lord Levy, has apologised after admitting failing to register three private interests connecting him to a billionaire Russian businessman.

Fifteen peers are working for or advising foreign governments, including a former coalition government cabinet minister and a former chief of defence staff.

Thirty-eight peers indicated they provide public affairs or strategic advice, an area of particular sensitivity because such work can easily stray into lobbying.

Eighty-three peers have declared an interest in finance or banking, with HSBC, Santander and Royal Bank of Scotland among those to have provided paid roles as directors or paid advisers to peers.

Twenty-seven have declared an interest in energy firms, with the same number reporting an interest in companies working in the defence or security sectors.
…”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/31/revealed-one-in-five-peers-advise-private-business-while-serving-in-parliament?

Sign up to help REALLY scrutinise EDDC (or any other council’s) spending last financial year

“Today Bureau Local launches an exciting pilot project for a new kind of collaboration – and we need your help!

During a set period each year the public has the right to inspect the accounts and related documents of every local authority in the UK. The power is supposed to make local government, and other public bodies, more accountable. In reality, most people are unaware of their rights and fewer still are making use of them.

This is where you come in!

We are looking for people to take part in a trial crowdsourced local democracy project, where network members sign up to make use of this law to scrutinise the finances of their local authority throughout June (in England, times vary in other parts of the UK).

We hope you will help us find more information about the property consultants advising local councils on their investments. But you will also be able to use the guide we have created to look at and get copies of other documents that interest you too.

We hope the information we obtain will lead to local and national stories. But we also plan to submit our findings to the government, as we have done previously during our ongoing investigation into council finances, and to take what we learn from this pilot and hopefully turn it into a yearly event.

Read our guide to this project

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RhOWI7FT82xC9Cdgi4an1KZ5rfT78S93NVy69FqVPBQ/mobilebasic

and the law it is based on. Then you can sign up using this spreadsheet:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Xbbq3rgu1MfF11ckbVa37pJdFN43V5hCbx6EV_8YnIs/htmlview

Once you have done that let our reporter

garethdavies@tbij.com

know and he will add you to the newly created channel on our Slack.

Also, if you would like to take part in this project or would like to know more, we will be holding an open newsroom in the #newsroom channel of our Slack between 1pm and 2pm on Thursday 6 June.”

https://mailchi.mp/tbij/our-latest-story-is-out-we-announce-a-local-democracy-project-and-a-new-open-newsroom-series-last-chance-to-be-our-new-community-organiser?

Otter and Axe estuaries added to Marine Conservation Zones

“The Axe and Otter estuaries are amongst 12 new Marine Conservation Zones created in the south west of England.

The expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ was announced by Environment Secretary Michael Gove today (Friday May 31).

Among the species and habitats given greater protection by the designation are fan mussels, native oysters, tentacled lagoon-worms and the deep sea bed. …”

https://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/government-moves-to-protect-east-devon-marine-life-1-6081523

Tory hopeful talks about the effects of WTO rules with no deal

Hugo’s pick Raab is for crashing out under WTO rules. Here’s Tory hopeful Rory Stewart on what that means in practice.

Mmmm … cheaper milk from the US and cheaper beef from Argentias … cheaper cars from Japan … sounds good until you realise we have to export milk, beef and cars into the EU with massive tariffs!

https://m.facebook.com/watch/?v=336022023737403&_rdr

“Slums Croydon: ” Political pygmies” and their rabbit hutch flats

This is legal:

Offices to homes permitted development has led to some of the tiniest micro-flats being built in Croydon.

“PDR, as it is known, has managed to strip local authorities of their planning powers, but left them to deal with the costs and consequences arising from such developments. The government is considering extending PDR, allowing shops to be converted into flats or for extensions to be built without requiring any planning permission.

In Croydon, where the local authority used legislation to block any further office-to-resi conversions in the town centre after 2014, senior councillor Sean Fitzsimons has called such flats, “the slums of the future”.

But that was not before planning permission had already been given for the lucrative conversion of offices to at least 2,700 flats in the borough, and where some of the “micro-flats” are being marketed to Chinese investors, with one-bed apartments fetching £280,000.”

‘Political pygmies’ to blame for Croydon’s ‘slums of the future’

“An influential figure in British architecture has hit out at office-to-flat conversions – of which there have been thousands in Croydon – describing them as “ghastly little f**k-hutches”, and all thanks to policy which is being ruined by “political pygmies”.

“Copley has also discovered that 1,837 London PDR flats are smaller than the legal minimum standards, and that 240 were less than half this lowest threshold.

In a statement issued from Copley’s City Hall office they said, “Some of the worst examples are seen in Croydon where 80 per cent of properties identified failed to meet minimum space standards, including one development where the smallest flat was just 10 square metres.”

That flat is in Urban House on Cavendish Road in West Croydon.”

Slums of the Future: Croydon has capital’s smallest micro-flat

“Calls for compensation after regulator error causes £24.1 billion hike in everyday bills”

Owl cannot believe this was accidental.

“Regulators have allowed water, energy, broadband and telephone networks to overcharge customers by £24.1 billion over the past fifteen years, according to stark new figures from Citizens Advice.

The news comes after research found an initial investigation that unearthed £7.5bn of overcharging for connection to key services was just ‘the tip of the iceberg’.

In 2017 Citizens Advice found Ofgem made errors in setting price controls for energy networks, resulting in energy customers being overcharged £7.5 billion over an 8-year period. After the charity highlighted these concerns, three energy network companies returned a total of £287m to consumers.

But now the charity has found the same errors have been made by Ofgem over a much longer period and by regulators in other markets including water, broadband and phone networks.

This research shows misjudgements by the regulators Ofgem, Ofwat and Ofcom on key decisions have meant customers have been paying far too much for the pipes and wires that connect their homes to essential services over the last 15 years.

These sectors include companies that face little, or no, competition to drive down the price they can charge their customers. Instead, regulators tell the network companies how much they can charge by setting a price control. Customers then pay the charges for these networks as part of their water, energy, broadband and phone bills.

These overpayments partly occurred because regulators made forecasting errors. They predicted that costs, such as debt, would be higher than they became. Regulators also over-estimated how risky these businesses were for investors.

Citizens Advice is now calling for both widespread compensation and a fundamental change in the way these calculations are made.

Instead of forecasting costs, regulators should use available market data to calculate costs and adjust their estimates of investment risk, it argues. This would avoid consumers paying too much in future.

While several energy and water companies have taken steps to return some money to customers, Citizens Advice is calling for all firms to provide a voluntary rebate to their customers. If they don’t, the government should step in.

“Regulator error has meant customers have been charged too much by energy, broadband and phone networks for far too long,” says Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“At a time when so many people are struggling to pay their essential bills, regulators need to do more to protect customers from unfair prices. They have started to take steps in the right direction but it is vital they continue to learn from their past mistakes when finalising their next price controls.

“Companies need to play their part in putting this multi-billion pound blunder right. They must compensate customers where they have been paying over the odds. If they don’t government needs to intervene.”

In a statement responding to the research, the energy regulator Ofgem said: “Ofgem remains determined to drive the best deal possible for consumers. Overall, energy network regulation has delivered for consumers, with £100 billion invested, power cuts halved, record customer satisfaction and reduced costs.

“While we do not agree with Citizens Advice’s estimate of excess profits, we welcome their report and recommendations. We will continue to work closely with them and wider stakeholders to apply lessons learnt from previous price controls for the next price control period (RIIO2).”

Last week Ofgem confirmed its methodology for calculating their next set of price controls, including a lower return on equity of 4.3 per cent and a lower allowed return on debt. This would lead to customers’ bills being reduced by £6 billion over five years from 2021, calculations it says Citizens Advice supports.

Meanwhile, households were warned they could be hit with average annual energy bill rise of almost £210, or 20 per cent, as 60 fixed dual fuel energy tariffs come to an end this week according to switching service weflip, charities have called for immediate action to better support energy customers in vulnerable circumstances.

An independent report published this week says urgent action is required by all energy companies, regulators and government as well as price comparison websites – with support from consumer groups and charities – to better identify customers in vulnerable circumstances and improve the help and support given to them.

Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, who served as a member of the Commission for Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances, which produced the report, said the charity is increasingly hearing from people struggling to meet everyday household costs.

“This report puts the energy industry firmly under the spotlight. Significant work is needed to improve support for energy customers in vulnerable circumstances. As the report notes, there is good practice out there, but this support is inconsistent and varies greatly across the sector.

“Training frontline staff to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances is a crucial first step, while actions such as committing to not use High Court Enforcement Officers, can also make a big difference for the most vulnerable.

“There is also an important role for the third sector to play alongside suppliers through greater partnership working. This could be through signposting to debt or energy saving advice, and helping people access financial help and other essential costs.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/money/spend-save/regulator-error-24-billion-energy-broadband-telephone-connection-costs-a8937546.html

“The dream of free buses still lives on”

Guardian letters:

“David Walker’s recollection of South Yorkshire’s publicly subsidised public transport system (Letters, 30 May) is only part of the story.

The aim of the cheap fares was to make the bus service totally free of fares by 1984 – a hop-on, hop-off service funded through a precept on the rates and savings made from not having to collect fares.

The South Yorkshire Freedom Riders are pressing the Sheffield city region mayor Dan Jarvis, the Labour and Green parties, locally and nationally, to give serious consideration to a publicly owned and run universal basic service with a zero-fare expanded bus service. For most people it will mean a minimum of a £30 uplift in disposable income as well as removing cars from our roads and reducing levels of pollution.

Motorists are facing higher costs to force them into buses. Let’s give them a viable alternative. Let’s give everyone access to towns, villages, friends, the countryside and work. Let’s give them a free-to-use bus service as was intended by a visionary authority in 1974.

Mike Smith
South Yorkshire Freedom Riders, Barnsley”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/may/30/the-dream-of-free-buses-still-lives-on?

“Peer who never spoke in Lords last year claims £50,000 expenses””

“A Labour peer claimed almost £50,000 in attendance and travel expenses covering every single day the House of Lords was sitting last year, despite never speaking or asking any written questions, a Guardian investigation reveals.

The former trade union general secretary David Brookman was among dozens of other lords and baronesses who never took part in a single debate, while almost a third of the 800 peers barely participated in parliamentary business over a 12-month period despite costing almost £3.2m in allowances.

The details have emerged from a new analysis of public data that will raise fresh questions about the size and effectiveness of the Lords, and the funds that can be claimed by those who fail to regularly contribute.

The findings show:

Eighty-eight peers – about one in nine – never spoke, held a government post or participated in a committee at all.

Forty-six peers did not register a single vote, including on Brexit, sit on a committee or hold a post. One peer claimed £25,000 without voting, while another claimed £41,000 but only voted once.

More than 270 peers claimed more than £40,000 in allowances, with two claiming more than £70,000.

The former Lords speaker Frances D’Souza, a long-term advocate of reform, said the findings corroborated “what everyone suspects is going on”, and that a minority of peers risked discrediting the hard work of their colleagues.

“There’s clearly a need to reduce numbers,” Lady D’Souza said, adding that the research “clearly shows there are people who are attending the House of Lords who are not contributing, and therefore they are simply redundant”.

The Guardian’s analysis covers the attendance, participation and allowances claims of 785 lords serving for a full year between 2017 and 2018. They comprise 244 Conservatives, 196 Labour and 97 Liberal Democrats, as well as 248 crossbench peers and various others.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/30/labour-peer-never-spoke-house-of-lords-claims-50000-expenses?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other