Was cancelling the EDDC Annual Meeting constitutional?

This is a recent comment that Owl is upgrading into a post in its own right. It raises fundamental questions about the constitutionality and legality of cancelling the Annual Meeting.

We are in dangerous waters.

Is it allowed by the EDDC Constitution to cancel the Annual Council Meeting?

The rules for the Annual Meeting are enshrined in Part 4 of the Constitution https://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/3453999/part-4-rules-for-procedure.pdf and they state that it MUST take place in May. They also state that it is the responsibility of the CEO and not the Chairman of the Council to call meetings. Given that Council meetings need to be announced at least 5 days in advance (and assuming that the CEO will only do this on working days), that leaves only 5 working days left to call the Annual Meeting.

Or are we simply going to see the same disregard for Constitution and Democracy from the current leadership that we see from the Conservative Government?

Why did Cllr. Stuart Hughes, Chairman, EDDC cancel the May Annual Meeting?

Owl has made a number of posts recently explaining the formation of the Democratic Alliance; the new power grouping in EDDC;  and the reasons why those who formed the Independent Progressive group felt they had to leave Ben Ingham’s group.

Owl has also posted the cancellation of the EDDC Annual Meeting scheduled for 13 May, but has been unable to find out why, until now.

The comment below, from the Democratic Alliance, is appearing on various twitter feeds.

It doesn’t look to Owl that Stuart Hughes has been acting other than in the narrow interest of himself and his party – the sooner he goes, the better for democracy in East Devon. Owl has refrained from using stronger language, with difficulty.

twitter comment reads:
“Unfortunately Cllr Stuart Hughes, the Conservative chairman of East Devon District Council, has caused democratic chaos by cancelling its annual meeting just at the time when current council leader Cllr Ben Ingham’s administration has fallen apart. In a situation entirely of Cllr Ingham’s own making, 10 of the 20 members in his ruling group (including 3 of his cabinet members) have decided over recent months that he cannot be allowed to carry on as council leader, and have left. 
At this time of crisis it is imperative that democracy is protected and restored so that the public’s best interests can be safeguarded. Therefore it is critical that a proper majority administration be voted. We are three dreadful months into the pandemic crisis, but we are far from out of the woods and must have clear majority leadership both for now and as we plan for the future based on stronger foundations of collaboration and transparency. The formal coalition of the Democratic Alliance and the Progressive Independents contains more than half of all council members who share this vision and will be able to lead the district, seeking consensus with other groups too. A breath of fresh air for EDDC.
 If Councillor Hughes had not made the political decision to cancel the Annual Meeting for no good reason this would have been an unremarked routine changing of the guard. Instead, like many “disrupter” figures in world politics he has created havoc in the hope that he will be able to cling to the chair for a second year.”

Planning Applications week ending 16 May

 

Every week dozens of planning applications are submitted to the local councils, and the coronavirus pandemic has not changed that.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

While some council services have been suspended as a result of COVID-19, planning departments are still working as usual to validate and to decide upon applications.

Here is the list of applications that have been submitted and validated by East Devon, the devonlive article contains the complete list for the various local councils or planning authorities in Devon in the last week.

EAST DEVON

BMJ on The UK’s public health response to covid-19

Too little, too late, too flawed

www.bmj.com /content/369/bmj.m1932

Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health,

Bobbie Jacobson, senior associate

Kamran Abbasi, executive editor

The UK government and its advisers were confident that they were “well prepared” when covid-19 swept East Asia. The four-pronged plan of 3 March to contain, delay, research, and mitigate was supported by all UK countries and backed, they claimed, by science.1 With over 30 000 hospital and community deaths by 12 May, where did the plan go wrong?2 What was the role of public health in the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish flu of 1918? And what now needs to be done?

What is clear is that the UK’s response so far has neither been well prepared nor remotely adequate (see infographic). The weakness of the preparations was exposed in 2016 by Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation, and the necessary remedial steps were not taken.3 On 30 January, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern and governments were urged to prepare for global spread of covid-19 from East Asia.4 Detailed case studies followed showing the need for high levels of mechanical ventilation and high death rates.5,6 But the UK ignored these warnings.

Delay and dilution

By 11 March, Italy had taken firm public health action and was in full lockdown, followed closely by Spain and France. The UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) rejected lockdown, believing that the population would not accept it. SAGE, chaired by Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, reports into the Civil Contingencies Committee (popularly known as Cobra), which coordinates the governmental response to national or regional emergencies.7

One day later, the government inexplicably announced a move from the containment phase in its strategy to the delay phase.8 Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, explained it was no longer necessary to identify every new case and that all testing capacity across the UK, despite major regional variation in cases, would be “pivoted” to hospital patients. NHS 111 and Public Health England teams working on contact tracing were confused and overwhelmed. WHO’s standard containment approach of find, test, treat, and isolate, which has worked well in countries that have successfully suppressed viral spread, was abandoned; entry via ports and airports remained unrestricted.9 There was no future plan for community based case finding, testing, and contact tracing. Procurement and delivery of testing resources was ineffective, despite a readymade viral test and offers of help from university and private sector laboratories.10

On 19 March, the status of covid-19 was downgraded from level 4, the highest threat level, to level 3 by the four nations group on high consequence infectious diseases and the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens.11 This enabled the required standard of personal protective equipment to be lowered for staff in hospitals and to nurse patients in non-infectious disease settings. Meanwhile, a reckless policy of discharging older patients from hospitals to care homes without testing allowed the virus to spread and kick start a second epidemic of community infection.12

Matters worsened when Vallance initially rejected “eye catching measures” such as stopping mass gatherings or closing schools. To widespread criticism, he floated an approach to “build up some degree of herd immunity” founded on an erroneous view that the vast majority of cases would be mild, like influenza.13 When subsequent modelling estimated that 250 000 people might die in this scenario, but that physical distancing measures could limit deaths to about 20 000, a sharp reversal of policy followed.14 By the time the UK formally announced a lockdown with a huge package of economic support measures, almost two months of potential preparation and prevention time had been squandered.15 The delay in the face of emerging evidence that the Italian lockdown reduced viral transmission by about half16 looks likely to have cost many lives.

If the government failed in its duty to protect the public, it also failed to protect staff in the NHS and social care by not delivering sufficient amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) of the right specification, again deviating from WHO advice.17 By late April, only 12% of hospital doctors felt fully protected from the virus at work, as staff deaths in health and social care began to rise.18 The broken promises on testing were matched by those on PPE.

Narrow scientific view

How did a country with an international reputation for public health get it so wrong? The UK’s response to covid-19 is centrally coordinated through a series of scientific advisory groups led by Whitty and Vallance. Critical to this is the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), which models the future epidemic and feeds into SAGE. SPI-M and SAGE are dominated by modellers and epidemiologists. None of the members were experts in developing and implementing a public health response, and other relevant groups such as communicable disease experts, women, and ethnic minorities are under-represented.19

The Guardian revealed that several SAGE meetings had been attended by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief political adviser, and Ben Warner, his adviser on data science.20 The involvement of two influential political advisers makes a mockery of SAGE’s claim to provide independent scientific advice to the government. To date, we do not even know the details of that advice. Such is the furore about SAGE’s composition and operations, that David King, the UK’s former chief scientific adviser, established an alternative “Independent SAGE” with a diverse membership including from public health,18,19 which advises publicly on the UK’s response to covid-19,21

Membership of SAGE and its national committees reflects England’s marginalised public health infrastructure. Reorganisation of public health in England, largely resulting from the Health and Social Care Act 2012, led to a critical loss of senior posts and staff.22 The Health Protection Agency, regional public health teams, and regional public health observatories were abolished, and the remnants incorporated into a slimmed down Department of Health agency, Public Health England. This new agency lacks an independent voice and clear public health leadership. England’s chief medical officer is no longer seen as the leader of public health. With these reforms, England’s new public health system was born critically flawed.

By the start of the coronavirus pandemic only one of the UK’s four territories had a trained public health physician as its chief medical officer. At a local level in England, many public health responsibilities were sensibly transferred back to local authorities with the 2012 act. But since then, close to £1bn (€1.1bn; $1.2bn) has been cut from public health budgets and the position made worse by cuts to other local authority services such as environmental health.23,24

Public health approach

The UK government’s decimation of public health during years of austerity, and its impact on vulnerable groups, is for a public inquiry to investigate, although any inquiry report will be hollow without legislative change. The system failings are being exposed brutally by covid-19. For now, the focus must be on a strategy to minimise harm from ill advised relaxation of physical distancing in ways that will trigger further epidemic spikes with prospects of a vaccine or treatment still distant.

Firstly, SAGE must exclude political advisers and recruit more public health experts. Secondly, a clear population strategy based on case finding, testing, contact tracing, and isolation is required for each of the four nations to inform and justify future decisions about how the lockdown can be safely relaxed. The plans for case finding, testing, and community contact tracing must be adequately resourced, decentralised, and led by local public health teams who know their communities and the nature of the outbreaks in their localities. Public Health England and the NHS must fully support these plans. And implementation of testing, data monitoring, and reporting must be optimised from all sources: hospital, primary, and social care.

In time, findings from the first population surveillance study will help effective targeting.25 Meaningless political soundbites promising to recruit 18 000 contact tracers, test 200 000 people a day, or invest in unjustified contact tracing apps, divert focus and could lead to more deaths.26 These headline grabbing schemes should be replaced by locality led strategies rooted in communicable disease control.

An effective pandemic response requires not only speed and clarity but also a willingness to accept mistakes and a commitment to international cooperation. Sharing the science and the uncertainties that inform political decisions will help rebuild lost public trust. Politicians and their advisers cannot hide behind science to avoid responsibility for making difficult decisions in a global crisis or merely repeat that they are following the science.

Above all, the response to covid-19 is not about flattening epidemic curves, modelling, or epidemiology. It is about protecting lives and communities most obviously at risk in our unequal society. The most serious public health crisis of our times requires a strong and credible public health community at the heart of its response. A UK government that prioritises the health and wellbeing of the public will see the importance of rebuilding the disempowered and fragmented infrastructures of its public health system. Anything less is an insult to the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives in a pandemic for which the UK was forewarned but not forearmed.

Footnotes

Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests. GS is a member of Independent SAGE. KA is an honorary visiting professor in the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College, London. We have no other relevant interests to declare.

Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

This article is made freely available for use in accordance with BMJ’s website terms and conditions for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until otherwise determined by BMJ. You may use, download and print the article for any lawful, non-commercial purpose (including text and data mining) provided that all copyright notices and trade marks are retained.

https://bmj.com/coronavirus/usage

References

(See original BMJ article)

Council tax to rise as coronavirus hits town hall investments

“Families face higher tax bills and reduced public services as councils’ multibillion-pound investments in commercial property sour in the coronavirus lockdown.”

How many times in the past have we heard stories of unwise council investments? And still they do it.

It is, of course, partly a consequence of inadequate central funding, though some councils seems to be all to ready to play the role of entrepreneur. The money being risked is public money.

Andrew Ellson, Consumer Affairs Correspondent | Gareth Davies  www.thetimes.co.uk
Local authorities have borrowed £6.6 billion since 2016 to buy shopping centres and office blocks to replace revenue lost by government cuts.

One council bought a shopping centre for £40 million weeks before lockdown in which more than 90 per cent of the stores are now shut. Another council paid £6.2 million for a hotel that the tenant has said will go bust without a rent cut of up to 80 per cent.

The British Property Federation says that only two thirds of office rents and one third of retail rents were paid on time in March. It expects those figures to halve again in June.

Property groups are finding it difficult to sell retail parks at any price, and analysts predict lower office rents for years as more people work from home.

Analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that dozens of councils are reliant on income from investments to fund public services.

One in eight pounds spent by Woking council, for example, is paid for by investment and rental income. In a recent report the council said reserves were in place to cope with temporary falls in rent but admitted that if there were a permanent reduction, “service provision would need to be reviewed”.

Spelthorne council also has huge exposure to commercial property, having spent £1 billion on offices and shops in the past five years, including buying Elmsleigh shopping centre in Staines for £40 million 12 weeks ago.

Almost £10 million of Spelthorne’s annual spending on services is funded by these investments — more than by council tax, business rates and government grants.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, of Olim Property, the commercial property manager, said: “Professional investors have been warning these council amateurs for years about their wild property gambling spree. Councils have splashed billions of taxpayers’ cash but now they’d be lucky to get half their rents paid or half their money back if they sold. The Treasury must wake up and stop this scandalous waste of public money.”

Demand for local authority services has risen in the pandemic but income from council tax and other services, such as parking, has fallen. Ministers have agreed to provide £3.2 billion to meet the extra costs but this week a group of MPs told the chancellor that the funding gap was four times greater.

This week Rob Whiteman, head of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, told MPs he was “quite worried” about councils “overexposed” to property. He said that Spelthorne had “borrowed too much”.

Once interest and maintenance costs had been taken into account, Spelthorne’s £1 billion portfolio generates a return of less than 1 per cent for services. Mr Whiteman told MPs: “You don’t have to be accountant of the year to know that’s quite a lot of risk.”

Spelthorne said that it had built up a £20 million fund that would protect against the financial impact of lockdown and was confident there would be no impact on services. It admitted to collecting only 30 per cent of the rent due on Elmsleigh shopping centre but said that the purchase was a regeneration project and not to fund services.

The council said it was very confident in its approach to investing, adding: “Investment in frontline services made possible in recent years by our commercial income has enabled the council to respond more effectively to support its residents during this crisis.”

Woking council said: “It is too early to tell what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on the national and local economy and right now our focus is on supporting businesses to safeguard local jobs and services beyond the current crisis.”

The big spenders

● Warrington council Eighteen months ago, Warrington paid £26 million for Eddie Stobart’s distribution HQ. Within a year, its chief executive stood down after an accounting error overstated profits. In February, the company announced a loss of £200 million.

● Surrey Heath council In 2016, the council paid £86 million for a shopping centre in Camberley. The anchor tenant, House of Fraser, said it was closing 18 months later, forcing the council to cut the rent.

● Northumberland council In 2016, Arch development, owned by the council, paid £78 million for a shopping centre in Cramlington. Two years later Arch was dissolved amid claims of mismanagement. Ownership was transferred to a new council-owned company.

● Norwich council In November, Norwich bought the site of a Travelodge in Essex for £6.2 million. The hotel chain has asked for rent cuts to avoid administration.

● Stockport council In 2016 the council bought Merseyway shopping centre for £75 million even though it had been in receivership for seven years.

All you need to know about LINO

A correspondent reveals all you need to know about Lino:

Lino has been around for countless years and the high quality version has durability and a general lifespan of well over 40 years. However, lower graded lino is prone to wear and tear and it has often been used as a stop-gap measure until a better option can be afforded.

Nowadays, when everyone is looking to be environmentally friendly, lino seems an all natural, green, product. It is excellent at holding its original colour, which permeates entirely throughout but it is susceptible to yellowing with exposure. It comes in various colour options but care must be taken with colour choice to ensure it will stand the test of time and is exactly to your taste.

It has long been known that lino can spell potential disaster if it is not installed correctly and some find it too high maintenance because it requires regular polishing and buffing to achieve the required finish.

Although many believe that no one chooses lino anymore – a few have championed its revival but the majority are looking for a stronger product that they can trust.

(In Owl’s experience Lino also hardens and tends to crack with age.)