Another correspondent on: just how “thin skinned” is Mark Williams when dealing with members of the public?

This correspondent writes:

This long in the tooth Budleigh Salterton resident remembers being horrified when I read a letter in the Exmouth Journal in November 2009 at the time of the Longboat saga. This included a paragraph referring to a letter received recently by the author from Mr. Williams:

Mr Williams wrote “I am mindful that in the 9 years I have been employed by the Council I have seen/read considerable correspondence from you (whether it be to the Council or the local press).  You will perhaps forgive me for commenting that I cannot recall a single occasion when you have said anything positive about the Council or its planning process and as a result I have read your comments with this background in mind. It might be that I am mistaken in my recollection but I believe it is important that I inform you of this perspective.” Big Brother is watching!  

I think a letter published the following week from a former senior civil servant summed up what was thought by many at the time:

“Having spent 40 years of my career in public service, most of the time in Whitehall where Ministers and officials receive their share of critical letters from the electorate, in my experience we would never have dreamt of replying to a member of the public in such a way, indeed it would not have been allowed.  Our creed was, accurate always, robust as necessary, but never, never rude or insulting.  Mr Williams should be formally disciplined for his behaviour. 

Public servants either elected or serving officers must always remember that it is the electorate who put them there, and in the case of officials, who pay their salaries.  To forget this is a road I never want to go down – as [name redacted] says, Big Brother – not for me, thank you.”

A Correspondent expresses surprise over Mark William’s “thin skin”

From a correspondent:

I have read the post regarding Councillor Miller’s email exchange with Mark Williams, EDDC CEO-and I have several observations.

I am surprised that, after all these years in the job he has such a thin skin.

I can see nothing in the exchange [see page 3] which merits a Standards Committee hearing.  Whether I agree or not with Councillor Miller is immaterial – I can see nothing more than a passionate and frustrated young and new councillor attempting to get that passion and frustration over to the CEO.

If councillors cannot communicate in a robust way with the CEO and if “sweeter” ways do not work – what should they do? 

The CEO of any organisation worth his or her salt doesn’t run to the HR department and request that the person communicating with him or her should be “nice” – he or she opens a dialogue with them to find common ground and solutions -giving them the benefit of experience and (hopefully) wisdom.

Freedom speech is something our current government is massively pushing when it allows or supports disparate and perhaps inflammatory views expressed in public – this exchange was not in public till the CEO put it out there.

Finally, if our CEO is handling matters badly – what can we or the council do?  I am aware of no procedure to deal with such events.

Can you really see a situation where a Monitoring Officer will force the boss to rehabilitate!

Fears over ‘weakening’ of UK green watchdog

Campaigners fear that the legal body designed to protect the environment on behalf of citizens is being undermined by the UK government.

By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst 

Ministers promised that after Brexit, laws on air, water and waste would be policed by an independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP).

Previously, these laws were enforced by European courts, which prosecuted EU governments that breached green rules.

Ministers promised the OEP would be similarly independent.

But they now want to grant themselves powers to “advise” the new body.

These plans were revealed in a tabled amendment to the Environment Bill.

Critics fear ministers may counsel the OEP against taking the government to court if it breaches laws.

Ruth Chambers from the umbrella group Greener UK told BBC News: “This provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the government to direct the watchdog away from awkward or inconvenient cases.

“It completely undermines claims that it will be independent.

“This is a clear and simple weakening of environmental protection. Our nature, air and water quality is being put at further risk. We urge ministers to reconsider.”

The government insists it’s committed to ensuring the independence of the OEP.

It says the body should gain greatest benefit by focusing its prosecutions on the most serious cases.

Power to scrutinise

A spokesperson told BBC News: “The Environment Secretary will not be able to intervene in decision-making about specific or individual cases.

“The Bill will also ensure the new body will have the power to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against public authorities where necessary.

But Greener UK’s concerns are echoed by Dr Stephanie Wray from the environmental consultancy RSK.

She told BBC News: “The government says the OEP should focus resources on the most serious cases. But this assumes that it is only big, high-profile cases that seriously affect the environment.

“In fact, small-scale chipping away at biodiversity, or myriad small breaches of air pollution limits, all add up.

“This would allow the government to potentially override the independence of the OEP by directing it towards or away from particular cases to suit political motives.

“Areas where the government was not meeting its targets, like waste, the circular economy, or the water framework directive, might be areas the OEP could be directed not to focus on.”

MPs are determined to ensure the legal framework for the new body is water-tight.

Two chairs of Parliamentary committees, Neil Parish (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Philip Dunne (Environmental Audit Committee), have asked ministers for guarantees about its independence, governance and budget.

Past parallels

The government has already insisted that it will appoint the leadership of the OEP.

Nervous environmentalists remember the history of the Environment Agency, which was set up under statute to be independent.

“The Labour government said it wanted the agency to be a strong independent voice championing the environment,” said Becky Willis, professor in practice at the Lancaster Environment Centre.

“But subsequent governments got fed up of being criticised – so they basically silenced the agency over a period of time, and chairmen and women were told not to criticise ministers openly.”

The agency is now hugged so tight to government that its press enquiries are handled by the government itself.

Tom Burke, a former government adviser and the chair of think-tank E3G, told BBC News: “People would be right to be highly suspicious. Ministers made a promise on the independence of the OEP they knew they wouldn’t keep. Now they’re taking it back by stealth.

“The acid test will be whether the OEP gets its own website independent of government – if not, it will be compromised.”

The MPs have set a deadline of 6 November for a response from the Environment Secretary.

Indian child poverty charity offers free school meals in England

A charity that feeds millions of poor children in India has joined the drive to end holiday hunger in England and distributed its first meals from a new kitchen in Watford.

Robert Booth

Hot vegetarian dishes cooked for less than £2 each using a model developed to feed the hungry in cities such as Mumbai and Ahmedabad were dispatched to a school in north London on Tuesday amid growing pressure on the government to reverse its decision not to fund free school meals this half-term.

Trays of hot cauliflower cheese and mixed vegetable pasta cooked by chefs working for the Akshaya Patra charity, which produces 1.8m meals for schools daily in India, were collected by Kate Bass, the headteacher of Mora primary school in Cricklewood, from a purpose-built kitchen designed to cook 9,000 meals a day.

“Desperate measures for desperate times,” she said as she loaded her car boot with cartons of food. “Even families that were managing before aren’t managing now.”

The charity is planning to set up similar kitchens in Leicester and east London and expects to keep delivering free meals to schools in the Christmas holidays.

“It might seem strange to some that this model is imported from India,” said Bhawani Singh Shekhawat, the chief executive of Akshaya Patra. “But we are bringing a tested model from a country that has dealt with this problem with speed and at scale.”

The charity also aims to sell meals to schools for less than £2 a portion – with half paid by the state and half by its donors.

Recipients at Mora primary included Atika El Mir, a mother of two, who said money was tight because her husband has had less work because of Covid. “Everything is hard times now,” she said. “This is a good idea. It is so kind.”

“It’s difficult to feed the kids at the moment,” added Dennis Perez, a design technician picking up the hot food on a scooter with his three young children. “I work full-time, but after rent and bills … The council can’t give me anything because I work more than 16 hours. That’s why I grabbed this opportunity.”

Campaigners said the expansion of an operation developed to end child food poverty in India in the UK was a sign of how serious the problem had become.

“One can scarcely believe the new methods communities are having to deploy to protect children from hunger and this is another example,” said Andrew Forsey, the national director of Feeding Britain, which is lobbying the government for a permanent increase in universal credit payments and to establish universal holiday activities and a food programme.

Lyla Rees, an eight-year-old pupil, came to the handout with her mother, a school governor. “I wouldn’t want my friends to go hungry over half-term,” she said.

The Akshaya Patra kitchen uses steam cookery to keep levels of fat low. The project’s backers have watched with concern at the contents of some of the lunches being put together by volunteers this week, featuring crisps and sugary drinks.

“It solves the hunger problem, but not the nutritional problem,” said Shekhawat. “It creates problems like juvenile diabetes and coronaries.”

Sonal Sachdev Patel, the chief executive of the GMSP Foundation, the donor which funded the £500,000 kitchen, said: “The way this country has responded is utterly amazing, but [many small operations] isn’t the solution.

“Hunger in the UK has been a problem for much longer than this. The solution is to bring in the technology and innovation that India is already using. They have a nutrition problem, we have a nutrition problem, but they are doing this already.”

A Biden win would save Britain’s Tories from themselves

A Biden win will not upend the Johnson platform but it takes some wind from the nativist sails. It would reset the western policy consensus, whereas a Trump win would pull Britain further towards an Orbanite world view. (One need only study the party grouping the Tories occupy in the Council of Europe to grasp the odious far-right company they already keep abroad).

Robert Shrimsley 

If there is one thing for which the UK can thank Donald Trump it is for the reminder that relationships between nations are transactional. Personal chemistry is useful but a president is always driven by his own analysis of national interest.

As Boris Johnson contemplates the possibility of a Joe Biden win and an unfriendly face in the Oval Office, the prime minister has reason for trepidation. The Democrat sees him as a British Trump, and Brexit as a foolish endeavour. This view has been entrenched by the threat to breach the EU withdrawal agreement, a move that displays a Trumpian disregard for international deals and kicks against the Good Friday Agreement, to which Mr Biden is deeply attached.

The hand-wringing can be overdone. While the UK may not be heading home with the Oscar for “best European friend”, there would be gains in a Biden win in the tilt back to traditional alliances, a commitment to multilateral bodies (on which countries outside major power blocs rely) and support for action on climate change. The UK’s chairmanship of the COP26 talks would be a chance to smooth relations with a Biden White House. In any case, the UK has found ways to remind even frosty presidents of its value before. The relationship’s foundation lies less in leadership bromances than in deep defence, economic and diplomatic ties.

And there is one more reason the Conservatives may have to be thankful for a Biden victory. It will help save Britain’s ruling party from itself.

A Trump win would have the effect of validating and encouraging some of the worst instincts of Mr Johnson’s party, proving to them that cultural conflict works, that erratic international tactics deliver and that history is on their side.

Swamp notes

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Mr Johnson does admire aspects of the Trump playbook. He has spoken approvingly of Mr Trump’s unconventional negotiating tactics, and respects his readiness to smash the Beltway consensus. But he is not Mr Trump. He takes the conventional view on the climate crisis and, for all the mistakes, has cleaved close to the scientific consensus during the pandemic.

While not immune to wedge tactics, Mr Johnson has largely rebuffed those in his party, and inside Downing Street, who urge a full-on culture war. He has not yet surrendered to the nativist politics of those who revel in attacks on diversity, under the cover of speaking up for the white working class.

While there is a clear overlap, it is too simplistic to lump all Brexiters into this trend. Vote Leave leaders now inside Downing Street saw the Brexit party’s Nigel Farage as a toxic figure. But other Tories are exploiting fear of him to push a shared agenda. Thus, when Mr Farage stirred up anger over migrants crossing illegally from France it provoked a knee-jerk response. Home secretary Priti Patel will not let herself be outflanked on crime or immigration, and her brand of angry conservatism has traction with the activist base.

This highlights the precarious balance in Mr Johnson’s policies. He has inverted the Cameron agenda and fashioned a new platform around more active state intervention and more conservative social positions: these push back a little on what his voters see as progressive over-reach. Played carefully, this is also where the centre of British politics is located now.

The risk for him is twofold. The first is that, for all his clever positioning, this proves to be an incompetent government that lets down its supporters. As the disenchantment grows, so does the lure of nativism to mask failure. A Trump defeat will remind Mr Johnson of the limits of that strategy and reinforce mainstream Tories.

The second risk comes from tipping into prejudice and dehumanisation. Brexit has uncorked forces Mr Johnson will struggle to contain even if he wants to. This is how an attempt to respond to concerns over immigration became the Windrush scandal or a plan to ship asylum seekers off to the south Atlantic. There is a line between challenging a liberal consensus and dog-whistle politics. Tories have been punished before for being on its wrong side.

A Biden win will not upend the Johnson platform but it takes some wind from the nativist sails. It would reset the western policy consensus, whereas a Trump win would pull Britain further towards an Orbanite world view. (One need only study the party grouping the Tories occupy in the Council of Europe to grasp the odious far-right company they already keep abroad).

In the battle against the nativists, the value that Tories attach to the Atlantic alliance means a Biden win places a thumb on the scales on the side of the party’s better angels.

If not now, when will you respond to a national planning review?

We need you to use the next few days to make sure you respond to the Government’s Planning White Paper consultation. The deadline is 11.45pm on October 29th. Numbers counts, Numbers matter.  To help stimulate your own thinking, you can read some of the draft responses that we have been sent so far: 

We will publish a full list of all civic societies that respond on this page as we are informed. Do let us know if you are submitting a response by emailing us at

Even if you do not feel as though you can respond to every question, that’s fine, but we need every civic society to make a representation about the following three points:

  •  We welcome the opportunity for earlier and more meaningful engagement, but not at the expense of reducing the right for communities to make representations at a later stage.
  • We welcome aspirations for best in class engagement, but this means following through with meaningful time and a meaningful role.
  • We welcome the implementation of digital for consultation, but we cannot replace or remove physical consultation

If you do not respond to this consultation, yet to Government takes forward its reforms, can you really challenge them in the future?

  • If you need support in responding, do let us know via

Exmouth councillor ordered to apologise for ‘personal and derogatory’ emails

Owl sees from reading the Standards Hearing Sub Committee’s full report (link below) that this case dates back to the dying days of Ben Ingham’s “independent” regime and Cllr. Paul Millar’s evident frustration leading up to his decision to “cross the floor”.

Owl also notes:

 “The Sub Committee expressed concern about the investigation process in relation to this complaint and that it would be appropriate to use a fresh investigator.

The Sub Committee also suggested that the wording of paragraph 5(h) in relation to bullying should be reviewed.”

This matter is now closed. 

But Owl is aware that many members of the public, over many years, have felt that professional standards have not been upheld by officers and elected members. They feel their attempts at making formal complaints have been brushed aside and there is no effective appeal.

This is a top-down matter of corporate culture and Owl hopes that this is now changing.

Regional Editor

An Exmouth councillor who was alleged to have ‘ridiculed, harassed and insulted’ a top council boss, has been ordered to apologise and undertake training.

Independent Councillor Paul Millar was accused of bullying and not treating others with courtesy and respect, breaking East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) code of conduct.

Following a complaints hearing, Cllr Millar was ordered to undertake further training and to write a letter of apology for not treating treating others with courtesy and respect. The committee found him not guilty of bullying.

The complaints hearing was held in private and the agenda papers have been withheld from publication until now.

The complaint, that went before EDDC’s Standards Hearing Sub Committee, claimed Cllr Millar sent emails to the authority’s chief executive, in an unacceptable manner.

The committee felt the language used was of a ‘personal and derogatory nature’ which showed a failure to treat the chief executive with courtesy and respect, but they did not feel Cllr Millar had bullied anyone.

The committee concluded that Cllr Millar had breached the code of conduct by conducting himself in a manner or behaved in such a way to give a reasonable person the impression that he had brought his office into disrepute.

In mitigation, a statement from Cllr Millar said he had been frustrated by the political situation and felt powerless to influence the council’s actions.

He explained the difficulty he had experienced as an independent councillor and that he felt unsupported.

He also felt that the actions of the chief executive were unwarranted and that this had caused him to react as he did.

The committee noted that Cllr Millar, who represents Exmouth Halsdon, did not accept all of the ‘undisputed findings of fact’, as fact.

It was also noted that Cllr Millar had not co-operated with the investigating officer’s investigation but had co-operated and engaged with the hearing.

In considering the disputed facts, the committee took into account relevant material evidence and representations from involved parties.

To read the committee’s full report, and the emails involved in the complaint, CLICK HERE.