“Companies pocket millions from kid’s uneaten free school meals campaigners claim”

“Private companies are pocketing millions of pounds from children’s uneaten free school meals, campaigners reveal today.

Firms which have deals to provide school catering are benefiting from a loophole which allows them to pocket any unspent cash left on pre-loaded cards, according to Citizens UK.

It believes contractors are trousering millions from the arrangement – and called for a crackdown by education chiefs.

The group’s activists calculate some £70million a year lies dormant in youngsters’ free school meal accounts.

Some of the funds are recouped by cash-strapped schools and town halls, and pumped back into the system.

But where catering has been contracted out, the money helps to swell private firms’ coffers, the group claimed.

One year eight pupil said it was “wrong” for companies “to be taking our money without telling us”.

They added: “It’s practically stealing. Imagine all the other things you could afford to buy with all the money that’s being taken away from us.” …”


Indies … a diverse political background

Now the dust has settled on voting Owl has had chance to think what a rum lot the new Independents are …

A Tory councillor, who became EDA leader and then left to become an Independent Group councillor … Ben Ingham

A Tory who became an Independent but can’t say why … Ian Thomas

An Independent who was in the last Tory Cabinet and presumably still held in high regard by same Tories … Geoff Pook

An Independent married to a Tory … Kim Bloxham

An EDA councillor who became an Independent Group Councillor …Geoff Jung

Interesting times!

“Government issues new statutory guidance for authorities in England on scrutiny”

Bet MINORITY party Tories will be MUCH more keen on this than they were when in power!

“The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has issued new statutory guidance for local and combined authorities in England on scrutiny of their decision-making.

It said councils were being “encouraged to embrace scrutiny of their spending decisions to achieve value for money, improve services and address the public’s concerns”.

The guidance, which can be viewed here


stresses the role of scrutiny committees in holding authorities to account over local decision-making. It outlines what effective scrutiny looks like and the positives it can bring to local authorities.

Key points highlighted by the Ministry include:

councils should adopt a position of sharing any information asked for by their scrutiny committee, and if information cannot be shared in public they should consider sharing it in a closed session;

scrutiny committees should be constructive ‘critical friends’ with a vital role of amplifying the voices and concerns of the public when councils take important decisions;

local authorities should also consider whether contracts with companies delivering services should include a requirement to supply information to scrutiny committees.

Rishi Sunak, Minister for Local Government, said: “Scrutiny committees form an integral part of the work of councils in delivering services by acting on behalf of residents to hold councillors and staff to account for the important decisions they make.

“That is why I have set out new guidance to ensure authorities and residents can reap the benefits of effective scrutiny, by instilling a culture that welcomes challenge.”

The Centre for Public Scrutiny assisted the Ministry in developing the guidance. Its chief executive, Jacqui McKinlay, said: “We welcome government’s timely revision of its statutory guidance on scrutiny, and particularly its focus on leadership buy-in, culture and behaviours that are so central to ensuring that effective overview and scrutiny can operate, and make an impact, at local level.

“We look forward to working closely with our colleagues at the Local Government Association and individual councils to use the new guidance as an excellent opportunity to reflect and review their current approach to scrutiny.”


Diviani blames Tory “vendetta” for de-selection in Yarty …

This communication from ex-Leader and now also ex-councillor Paul Diviani really deserves a far wider audience than former Yarty voters:

“Dear All

As there is not a lot of substance to report other than repetition and the ghastly shenanigans afoot nationally, regionally and within the Conservative Party, I feel I should draw a line under my 20 years representing Yarty.

I have appreciated the many friendships I have made in that time and will always have your best interests in mind.

For the sake of clarity, I was deselected by the Conservative Executive as a result of a personal vendetta from standing in Yarty and had to find another ward away from Tiverton and Honiton with a disastrous personal result.

Wishing you all the best for the future and if I can help in any way (without interfering!) I am at the end of a call.”

No, Paul, everything really is fine in Yarty, the voters have spoken, so its time to hang up your Tory council boots … no-one appreciates old Grandpa insisting he’s the only one who knows how things should be done! And those disastrous results would almost certainly have been just as bad in Yarty.

Though, for the sake of even more clarity, Owl thinks you might name a few names before you hang them up!

And it certainly shows that there is definitely “something VERY nasty in the woodpile” if the current and ex-Leader complain about the party that served them so well until recently.

Owl is STILL waiting for Ian Thomas to explain exactly which of the national Tory policies he disagreed with (since he is on record as saying all was fine among East Devon Tories when it so obviously wasn’t).

“For England’s new councillors, the reality of life in our boroughs will hit hard”

“Optimism will be short-lived among the 1,560-plus new councillors – Liberal Democrats, independents, Greens – elected last week in the cities and shires of England, where countless councils changed hands.

These newcomers may have worthy ambitions to transform their councils. But reality kicked in on Tuesday. Entering town halls for briefings, one issue became clear: there’s barely any money left to fund even adult and children’s care, which swallows the majority of cash – let alone keep the rapidly shrinking library service running, the leisure and swimming pool afloat, parks and highways maintained.

Countless warnings from respected organisations, notably the government’s own spending watchdog, have gone unheeded by the government. Last year, the National Audit Office cautioned that council financing is unsustainable and that 10% of the larger councils could have exhausted their reserves – which prop up social care – within three years.

It gets worse. The Commons public accounts committee said recently that the government is in denial about a crisis in which councils are overspending alarmingly on social care, while some are courting “greater risks” through property speculation. …

How did we land in this mess? Look no further than George Osborne, the former chancellor, whose parting gift was a wheeze to make English councils almost self-sufficient by slashing central government grants while handing back control of most business rates. Until Osborne’s intervention, rates had been collected centrally, then redistributed relatively equitably, since 1993.

In 2016, the government initiated a “fair funding review” to work out how Osborne’s reforms might be implemented – and it’s turning out to be anything but fair. Why? Because ministers are taking little account of need and deprivation in poorer areas, with a £7.8bn funding gap emerging overall in council finances. Up to now, these areas have been compensated to take account of low tax bases because they have few expensive houses which deliver higher council tax receipts. Furthermore, business rates from run-down high streets generate a pittance in poorer areas compared with thriving city centres in London and elsewhere. No matter: for this lot, inequity is compounding denial.

Something has to give in a system where almost 60% of council spending now goes on adult and children’s social care – although, overall, social care spending is still falling. Everyone in Whitehall and town halls knows that the social care system is in freefall. A review of how it should be funded – locally, or nationally – is promised. So why introduce a new funding system for local government while its largest single service is awaiting a review?

True, some councils – sometimes smaller districts, with no social care responsibility – are plugging gaps in their finances by morphing into de facto property developers, borrowing heavily to buy shopping and office centres to deliver an annual income. In 2017-18 alone, councils spent £4bn on commercial property, in spite of NAO warnings that finances could be “strained” in the event of a downturn.

But radical action is needed. Rob Whiteman, head of the public sector accountants body Cipfa, argues that authorities should have the power to set council tax rates locally, based on up-to-date property values. His call should not go unheeded.”


If party politics undid EDDC Tories what could undo Independents.

Self-interest and ego – title before right person for the job
Power games – valuing being top-dog over best person for job
Infighting – not sorting out best person for job, letting personalities rule
Really being a closet Tory – and ensuring they are your first oriority
Dishonesty to voters, unaccountability
Lack of transparency – scrutiny, scrutiny, scrutiny and then more scrutiny
Being developer or officer-led – letting Sir Humphrey sabotage policies

But it isn’t going to happen is it Independents?

“A303 and A358 plans to go ahead despite national press reports”

“Plans to dual two key routes through the West Country remain on course despite reports in the national press that they may be scrapped.

Highways England, which is responsible for England’s motorways and major A-roads, has put forward schemes for a new tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge, the dualling of the A303 between Podimore and Sparkford, and the dualling of the A358 between Taunton and Ilminster.

National press reports on April 24 indicated that 11 schemes currently being considered by the body could be paused “indefinitely”, following concerns that they would not provide value for money. …”


“Rising knife crime linked to council cuts, study suggests”

“Councils with large cuts to youth services were more likely to also have seen an increase in knife crime in the area’s police force, research suggests.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime (APPG) studied budgets for youth services from 2014/15 to 2017/18. It also analysed knife crime data.
It said the four areas worst-hit by youth spending cuts also saw some of the biggest knife crime rises.

But comparison is not like for like as council and policing areas differ.
MP Sarah Jones, who chairs the APPG which is made up of MPs and peers, said youth services cannot just be “nice to have”.

She added: “We cannot hope to turn around the knife crime epidemic if we don’t invest in our young people. …”