Sidmouth beach protections ‘not fit for purpose’, says chamber president

Plans to protect the town’s seafront ‘do not look fit for purpose’ following a report showing Sidmouth’s clifftop homes could be swallowed by the sea within 20 years.

Those are the words of Richard Eley, Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce’s president.

Beth Sharp sidmouth.nub.news 

Sidmouth Nub News previously reported on Plymouth University’s study that warned of a ‘worst case scenario’ for Sidmouth’s eroding cliff.

Furthermore, residents have been reminded that the study did not take into account any actions to reduce erosion, like the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan (BMP).

The preferred option for the Sidmouth BMP would see a new groyne installed on East Beach, 200 metres east of the River Sid, and the splash wall raised to up to a metre along the promenade.

The £9million project would also incorporate importing shingle on both East and Sidmouth beach.

Mr Eley has however claimed there were ‘major problems with the preferred option’.

He added: “The chamber has long argued that the groyne is only likely to be partially successful.”

Mr Eley said the recharge/recycle provision was not funded by the scheme, and was going to be very costly.

He added: “Furthermore, it is highly unreliable: East Devon District Council (EDDC) expect to recharge once every ten years, which seems very infrequent.

“There is a good chance that the newly introduced shingle will soon disappear in the next big storm, and the beach will be vulnerable for years before another recharge is undertaken.

“During that time, erosion will continue at the current rate.”

Mr Eley said the groyne would be located 200 metres along East Beach and was designed to protect the residential housing west of that point, between the groyne and Pennington Point.

He added: “EDDC has previously assumed that houses east of the groyne are so far back from the cliffs that they are not under threat.

“The Plymouth study utterly destroys that thinking.

“The groyne, even if it works as well or better than expected, is not going to do anything to help anyone living to the east, in Laskeys Lane or Alma Lane.

“Even worse, the groyne is very likely to produce an effect known as ‘terminal erosion’…

“In this case, it means that the groyne will accelerate erosion to the east thus increasing the threat to Laskeys Lane and Alma Lane residents.

“So the current Preferred Option, developed before the Plymouth study, does not look ‘fit for purpose’, and surely needs to be reviewed in the light of the report.

“The chamber has consistently criticised the Preferred Option, because we think it is inadequate and ill-judged. This was before the Plymouth study ramped up those concerns.”

Mr Eley said they had argued for a rock revetment rather than a groyne.

A revetment has always been preferred by consultants, residents and EDDC, but has been criticised by Natural England.

Mr Eley called for Natural England to be invited to reconsider it in the light of the Plymouth report.

He added a rock revetment was cheaper than a groyne, more effective and reliable at reducing erosion, it did not require much (if any) recharge or recycle.

My Eley said it was also safer and did not cause terminal erosion.

He added: “It is impossible to ignore the impact of the Plymouth study, so a rethink by EDDC is inevitable.

“We will lobby hard for a revetment to be reconsidered, not least because of the negative impact that a groyne will bring to the residents of Laskeys Lane and Alma Lane.

“This is a very important issue for Sidmouth and we are collectively getting into quite a mess. The whole thing needs to be properly reconsidered without preconceptions.

“This doesn’t mean throwing away all the work that has been done, but it does mean responding to changing circumstances and parameters.

“We cannot just ignore this new Plymouth report.”

Read our previous story on the Plymouth study Sidmouth’s crumbling seafront could claim clifftop homes ‘within 20 years’ here.

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 www.bbc.co.uk 

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 www.theguardian.com

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 www.ft.com 

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

In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here

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. 

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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

www.civicvoice.org.uk 

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

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 info@civicvoice.org.uk.

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 info@civicvoice.org.uk.

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 exmouth.nub.news

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.

The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s Albatross, the Ocean Bowling Alley

Large public sector projects soon acquire an unstoppable momentum. When things go wrong it’s the taxpayer who foots the bill. 

From one of Owl’s researchers

As an unimpassioned outsider, this longstanding EDDC council tax payer, has watched with interest the history of the Ocean, Exmouth. I had thought the saga was finished and hopefully regenerating Exmouth. I now find in 2020 that I have had to help pay £2.7 million for the building, plus a lot more along the way.

The EDDC elected conservative councillors in the early 2000s had a growth agenda which included regeneration in Exmouth and Seaton of which most of the electorate were unaware. Planning officers appear to have been recruited to carry this out.  To a casual observer the evidence shows this tactic worked. The now 18 year’s long bowling alley saga is an example of this. I apologise for the length but it is a saga and I am sure I have missed out so much so please contact Owl to correct or add.

How did it all start?

June 1993

Tate Britain opened in June 1993 in St. Ives and was the regeneration of the town. Consequently seaside towns jumped on the bandwagon but with very mixed results. The Turner Gallery in Margate may be a successful gallery but economic data issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show the area around Turner Contemporary is still one of the 1% most deprived in the country. The Living Coasts in Torquay, the regeneration hope for the Riviera town, closed this year.

EDDC owned a site which had been undeveloped for years on Exmouth seafront with 2 retail units. It was the site of Exmouth’s open air swimming pool which opened in 1932 on the seafront and was identified in The Exmouth Waterfront Study for leisure-related activity to complement existing seafront activities.

2001

EDDC, under the Conservative leadership of Councillor Sarah Randall Johnson (who spent more than £175,000 of EDDC money fighting the Boundary Committee and the plans for unitary Devon) and Councillor Ray Franklin (EDDC planning and regeneration supremo for 15 years) invited tenders for the development of the site as a leisure activity.  The land was subject to continuing tenancies and covenants that restricted the use of leisure activities imposed by the freeholder of the land, Clinton Devon Estates (CDE). And it is a pity that when mentioning these covenants in the negotiations, EDDC did not specify the height restriction of 30 feet. This would have saved the council who paid £50,000 to release this covenant ten years later in 2010.

November 2002

The tender was won by FWS Carter and Sons who submitted planning application 02/P2572, the first of 16 revised plans. The planning portal does not contain all the planning documents, only those which were approved, therefore the original application cannot be seen. A revised scheme was submitted in August 2003 for a bowling alley, 6 retail units, 2 cafés and restaurants and children’s play area. This was passed, although there had been a failure previously of a bowling alley in the town. The height had increased from the initial plans to 38 feet. The modern contemporary design was considered by the planning officials not to compromise the adjacent conservation area.

Approved plan 2003

2005

Nothing has happened on the ground at the Esplanade but a lot has happened in EDDC.  Karime Hassan was appointed Corporate Director and set up the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point and also established regeneration programmes for Exmouth and Seaton. The influential East Devon Business Forum was created in 2005 and FWS Carter and sons and CDE were members. Kate Little was Planning Chief whose mission included “dragging Budleigh Salterton into the 21th century with contemporary architecture” and, in retrospect, it looks like all of East Devon.

March 2005

On the Esplanade there is now a new developer, Mark Quinn of Harlequinns Bowling and Leisure Ltd, who owned a bowling alley in Bude. It is said that the design was not what he originally wished as planning officers kept saying they wanted a larger more “Iconic building”. There was a new planning application, 05/0901. This was approved with the same footprint and height as the 2003 scheme and with only modest alteration to the physical appearance. The retail units were reduced to 4 with the specification that no further reduction should take place as amalgamation of units with bigger floor area would draw retail activities from the town.

How many shops are there now- one -and what size and what does it sell? 

March 2007

Another planning application was passed – 07/0743- and a new architect, J. Staszewski of Strode Treglow appointed. If any councillors and planning officers wanted an iconic building which would regenerate Exmouth they had one now. A slightly increased size building; a roof with broken waves and even its own timber- clad look-out tower, topped with a wind turbine. At a roof line of 44 feet this definitely exceeded CDE’s 30 foot maximum. The retail units were reduced to three to create 2 additional bowling alleys.

2008

Hooray, the building commences. Oh dear, the building stops! It has been built too tall and not to plan!

October 2009

The building just sat there. Mr Staszewski and Mr Quinn said they had “run into some problems” which had caused a delay in the construction process. Mr. Quinn, later, said he had been forced to halt work for around 18 months while legal wrangles were ironed out when structural difficulties arose early on in the development.

January 2010

Another planning application passed, 09/2564, to regularise the building work carried out and seek permission for a further increase in height so that the building can be finished. The residents are not happy but the councillors just want to see it finished.

The planning officer’s report to the Development Management Committee defended the size of the part of the building already erected by saying that when the glazing and cladding is inserted this will break up the bulk.

May 2011

Planning application 11/1157 passed with minor changes: the addition of a new roof over the previous open terrace area and a further increase in the height of the building; the universally hated wind turbines removed; 2 additional retails units approved because they were deemed too small to harm the town centre.

Approved plan 2011

January 2012

Local caterer Aby Farmanieh pulled out of catering deal as a completion date hadn’t been confirmed.

November 2012

EDDC issued legal notice to Harlequin Leisure in an attempt to speed up the development, which has so far taken five years. It threatened Mark Quinn to either complete the project or hand the building back to the local authority if it was not completed within two months.

The company says that “everything is fine”, and a large team are on site working hard to get the bowling alley ready to open in the new year.

December 2012

At last it OPENS. Bowling alley manager Isaac Robb, one of the UK’s top chefs, and his wife Grainne, who have taken on the new attraction, were serving food on Boxing Day.

July 2013

The Robbs leave the business.

June 2015

EDDC engineer a take-over of the lease of Exmouth sea front facility by LED Leisure Management. Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure” Some disagreed when they looked at the generous guarantor terms provided for LED (tenant) and Harlequinns (landlord) by EDDC.  Should LED become in default the amounts involved are eg. £200,000 a year for the fifth year of the term.

February 2016

New application, 16/0409 passed. This goes back to a single mini-market retail unit which planning officials now say would not generate a level of activity to harm the town.

July 2018

Ocean goes on the market for £2,700,000

March 2020

EDDC buys the building for £2.7 million. Full council only informed in October 2020. I find this extraordinary that £2.7 million can be spent without the full council’s knowledge.

October 2020

LED estimates a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions over the leisure centres it operates in the East Devon area. It has asked for funds ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m from EDDC. As a charitable trust it is unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme whereas leisure facilities operated by Local Authorities can do so. (This has happened after I started researching this piece.)

CONCLUSION

Having looked at so many planning documents and all the planning officers’ decision reports to councillors all I can say is that, once started, this project HAD to go ahead at the expense of the neighbouring residents, the seafront historical environment and even the town centre. All this could go ahead using ambiguous planning policies. As long as comments are taken into account, other considerations can be given greater weight. Take the 2001 approval for a retail area with 6 units; small units which would sell seaside goods which would not compete with the town centre – reduced to 4; increased to 5; this space is  now 2 bowling lanes, an amusement arcade (the Hon. Mark Rolle of CDE would turn in his grave) and a Budgens mini- market selling groceries. The planners in their reports can argue, quite legitimately, first one way then another.

Has it regenerated Exmouth? Even pre-Covid Exmouth town centre still looked sad. Seaton? Has Tesco regenerated the town or just its own profits?

This grandiose scheme opened up the way for the Elizabeth Hall/ Premier Inn, M & S on the estuary, the re-alignment of Queen’s Road, the Watersports Area and goodness know what next.

[One of Owl’s correspondents has recently queried whether EDDC needed to purchase the Ocean, musing on what the outcome on the building’s ownership might have been under insolvency.]

Devon’s blind loyalty to the Tory Party results in diddly-squat (again)

For those who missed it in yesterday’s post about Cllr Martin Shaw’s latest press release about free school meals, contained this interesting snippet of information::

“Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis said yesterday that the Government had given councils £63m to support families, but Cllr Hart tells me that Devon has been given the smallest amount of new Covid funding of any County Council and some Devon districts including East Devon have been given only the minimum amount.” 

‘We were expecting a lot more money’, he [John Hart] says. ‘Our finances are already under pressure for the rest of this year with even more pressure for next year. Therefore with demands on funds I do not think it would be right to consider funding this scheme.’

This may explain why, during the hastily organised visit of the PM to Exeter College on 29th September, Boris Johnson made no “headline” announcement about future local funding for Devon. Not even a re-announcement of an existing commitment. 

The PM was at the college’s vocational training centre to announce plans to allow adults without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications to get a free, fully-funded courses from next April. He then scuttled off.

Significantly, most of the local media were excluded and Simon Jupp was chosen from all the local MPs to keep the prime minister at a safe distance [was this because he was the most junior? – Owl]. This allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit.                                                                                                                                       

We also have the revelation from Sasha Swire’s  diary that Hugo was so in with Dave [Cameron] he was the first one Dave called to get drunk with after his defeat. So pally, yet Hugo couldn’t get him to do anything for East Devon. 

 

Extra support to ensure vulnerable children do not go hungry

Devon County Council has answered pleas to try and ensure the neediest children and families do not go hungry.

It comes [after] a petition has been started by East Devon councillor Joe Whibley to Devon County Council calling for the council to provide free school meal vouchers, for those pupils in receipt of term – time free school meals, throughout the school holidays.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Labour’s plea for the free school meals scheme to be extended over the holidays to stop children going hungry was rejected last week by the Government.

But since then, several councils, including Plymouth City Council, have announced schemes to help during the October half-term.

Eligible families in Plymouth will receive an additional payment over the half-term period to enable them to buy a meal for their children.

And on Monday (October 26), the County Council said it will continue to work with district councils to ensure hardship support is available to vulnerable children and families across the county this winter and pledged extra funding to ensure no child goes hungry.

It follows pleas from Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, as well as a petition, that called for the council to help provide free school meals during the holidays.

Cllr John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council, said: “We have already allocated £1.7 million this year through a shared hardship fund to ensure that the most needy children and families in Devon do not go hungry.

“I have also instructed that the county council holds a further £100,000 in reserve for additional hardship funding this winter.

“Devon is one of the largest local authorities in the country and, at the start of this crisis, we recognised that there would need to be very local solutions, so we’ve worked in close cooperation with our eight district councils as Team Devon throughout the pandemic.

“Devon County Council shared £1 million of its funding between the districts alongside a further £700,000 from the Government. This is currently supporting grants to people and families suffering hardship across Devon.

“Around £600,000 of this is still available and I would urge anyone who needs help providing food for their children to apply for this extra assistance through their district council’s helpline.

“The individual district councils have used the cash in different ways to best help their local communities. For example some have funded the voluntary sector and others have issued vouchers or provided food directly using their helplines as a point of contact.”

Over the weekend, Government Ministers have referred to the £63 million that was allocated to local councils and suggested this was for free school meals, but Cllr Hart said: “This money was distributed in June and was intended to ensure that no one – children or adults – who was badly affected by the pandemic should go hungry. That money has already been spent in Devon in supporting the most vulnerable.

“In addition we have provided support to a range of community organisations to help fund support, wellbeing and food in recent months and we will continue to work with organisations around food sustainability and food insecurity.

“With key partners we have developed comprehensive plans to provide further emergency response for the most vulnerable should parts of Devon experience lockdown or further restrictions.

“I am now writing to the Government to outline that due to our financial position we are limited in our ability to provide this support beyond the spring.

“We therefore urgently call on the Government to properly fund support for all vulnerable people in Devon affected by the financial impacts of the pandemic.

“Meanwhile, I want to pay tribute to the local communities, shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants across Devon that are doing their bit in their locality to provide food for children over this half-term.

“Their efforts can only enhance the work that the county council is continuing to do in partnership with the districts and others.”

Devon’s Liberal Democrats had called for the County Council to reverse its “mean minded” refusal to provide free school meals during the holidays.

The impact of the lockdown and COVID-19 on many families across the county is not of their making and money is increasingly tight, especially for those affected by reduced hours, lost jobs, or furlough arrangements, said Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Alan Connett.

He added that the issue of holiday hunger was highlighted at County Hall back in the summer of 2018 and since then nothing has changed with no action taken except put a link on the county website to highlight where families might get help – but that link does not work today.

Cllr Connett said: “At a time when Marcus Rashford can be honoured by the Queen for his campaign to tackle hunger in children and more councils across the country are now saying they will help, the best Devon can do is ‘signpost’ to foodbanks, pubs and cafes providing free meals.

“No child should go hungry in Devon, this is another holiday when that is likely to happen in Devon. It’s mean minded.”

Independent councillor Martin Shaw had asked the Leader of Devon County Council to provide school meals for children in need of them during the half-term holiday.

The response given, Cllr Shaw said, was that the demands on funds were too tight to consider funding the scheme.

Cllr Shaw added: “The cost of providing this support at half term and Christmas would not be huge, in the big scheme of things, but there are children in every area of Devon who really need this support.

“Since the Government are not providing free school meals for Devon children who need them this half-term, Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley has set up a scheme to provide them, with the aim of operating at Christmas too. A crowdfunding page has been set up, which is on course to raise £1,000 and I am urging every resident who can afford it to donate.

“I have given the scheme £1,500 from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget, as I can think of few things more important than ensuring that all children are properly fed during the current crisis.”

It comes a petition has been started by East Devon councillor Joe Whibley to Devon County Council calling for the council to provide free school meal vouchers, for those pupils in receipt of term – time free school meals, throughout the school holidays.

Cllr Whibley said: “The Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meal vouchers to children in need throughout the school holidays was unsuccessful in parliament yet several local councils have decided to take on that cost and responsibility, as have local businesses and charities.

“This petition seeks to urge Devon County Council to do the same thing, and look to cover its costs by lobbying central government to cover the subsequent onward costs.

“No child deserves to go hungry, and we must ensure we do all we can to help local children get fed regularly, term time or not.”

If 6,000 people sign the petition, then under the constitution of the council, it will automatically trigger a debate at the next scheduled full council meeting.

The petition runs until November 24, so if the signatures were reached, then December 3’s full council meeting would see it debated.

UK Government rejects demands to sack Dido Harding as NHS Test and Trace chief

THE UK Government is refusing to sack Dido Harding despite mounting pressure from Tory and opposition critics.

Angus Cochrane www.thenational.scot

The NHS Test and Trace chief is under fire amid accusations the system is failing to stem the spread of coronavirus in England.

The system hit a record low last week with just 59.6% of the contacts of people who tested positive being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted that Harding was doing “a very good job” after one senior Conservative MP called for her to be replaced by a military commander.

However, Labour warned her position was “untenable” as it emerged ministers were considering cutting the time people have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has the disease because of concerns over public compliance.

At the same time it was reported that Boris Johnson has become “disillusioned” with the data he is receiving from Test and Trace after some of the figures he was given turned out to be inaccurate.

During a round of broadcast interviews, Lewis rejected calls for Harding – a Conservative peer and former TalkTalk chief executive – to be dismissed, although he acknowledged that the service needed to improve.

“What Dido has done is put together and drive forward a team that has come on so much in the last few months,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

“We want to see it improve, we want to see it grow and get better and better. That’s how we fight this virus. But actually I think Dido and the team have done a very good job to get to where we are.”

However, in a scathing attack, senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said there was a “vacuum of leadership” at the top of the organisation and that public consent and co-operation was “breaking down”.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said Harding should be given a “well-earned break” so she and others could “reflect on the lessons learned so far” and that a senior military figure should be appointed in her place.

“There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery,” he wrote.

“The immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace, which is destroying cooperation and compliance.

“Government harnessed the military to regain control in the foot and mouth crisis; the Prime Minister should follow that example today, by installing a single leader, a three or four star military commander with a reputation for handling complexity under stress.”

Appearing on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Jenkin, who chairs the Liaison Committee of senior MPs which questions the Prime Minister twice a year, insisted his comments about Harding had been meant “kindly” and that she was a “tremendous asset”.

However, he added: “The Test and Trace capability clearly needs to move up several gears and it’s what leadership does, not who leadership is that really matters. It is the sense that there is a lack of an overall strategy which I think is at the heart of the problem.”

For Labour, shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said Lady Harding’s position had become “untenable”.

“The Tories are in-fighting because even they can see just how catastrophic the test, trace and isolate system has been,” she told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

BHS collapse: ‘I was in charge of millions, then I had nothing’

BHS’s collapse and the subsequent demise of firms such as Carillion and Thomas Cook have had a common thread in that the outside accountants hired to check their finances have been criticised.

By Howard Mustoe www.bbc.co.uk 

When then fashion buyer Santosh Kumari was called into the canteen at the offices of BHS more than four years ago to be told she and her colleagues would lose their jobs, the announcement followed plenty of warning signs.

For months before, Santosh says that stock had to be marked down as suppliers hounded the company for payments, later turning down orders because their banks feared that the retailer wouldn’t pay up.

“It was really bizarre because we were all looking for jobs,” she says. “My assistants and I were talking about jobs, where normally you don’t talk to your line manager about going for another job elsewhere.”

When the end came, the business was so bereft of resources that she and other staff were told they would not receive redundancy pay beyond the statutory minimum.

“One day I was flying around the world and in charge of millions of pounds in my department, and the next minute, I have nothing and I’m worried about paying my mortgage.”

BHS’s collapse and the subsequent demise of firms such as Carillion and Thomas Cook have had a common thread in that the outside accountants hired to check their finances have been criticised.

BHS’s auditors, PwC, were fined a record £6.5m after signing off accounts the industry watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), called “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading” in its report into the aftermath of the collapse.

According to the FRC’s most recent analysis, a third of UK audits are substandard.

Parliament has been scrutinising the audit industry for some time.

In 2011, a report from the House of Lords said: “The audit of large firms, in the UK and internationally, is dominated by an oligopoly with all the dangers that go with that.”

It recommended companies should tender for audit work every five years, and it said that “complacency of bank auditors was a significant contributory factor” to the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Since 2018, three government-commissioned reports have been published about audit reform.

The Kingman review has suggested replacing the current regulator with a stronger one, the Brydon review said auditors should try harder to detect fraud, while one conducted by the competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, said auditing and consultancy needed to be separate businesses.

Despite all these failings and recommendations, no laws have passed to tighten the rules.

The government insists it knows that reform is needed and has said it “will respond with comprehensive proposals for reform and will then bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

But over the summer the government was criticised by parliament for dragging its feet.

A different approach is suggested by Prem Sikka, a recent entrant into the House of Lords as a Labour peer and a professor in accounting.

“I don’t think it can really be fixed,” he says. “As long as accountancy firms are paid by the companies they audit, and they also then throw in a bit of a consultancy, there is a conflict of interest. Nobody’s going to bite the hand that feeds them.”

He says that the best solution would be to have a state body audit the largest companies, just as HMRC oversees the auditing of tax collection.

“I think it matters, because we rely upon auditors to make corporations publicly accountable. And that matters, not only to investors in the stock market, but also to employees, about the safety of their pension schemes and to creditors.”

He says the public should have access to basic facts about audits such as the size of the audit team, its contract, hourly rates and how long is spent on the work.

While no rules have been changed, not everyone has failed to act.

In the wake of its $1.9bn settlement with US authorities in 2012 over anti money-laundering concerns, global banking giant HSBC hired more internal auditors and compliance workers and set up more rigorous systems.

Part of its plan included hiring consultants with the goal of encouraging a more inquisitive culture at the bank. Employees at the bank were encouraged to ask questions about where money was being made and how.

One of those hired to do the training was Ian Hynes, a former police officer and investigator and now chief executive of training firm Intersol Global, which has trained internal auditors in the art of conducting an effective investigation.

He says while HSBC’s decision to train bankers to do this seems perfectly natural and should be replicated by other businesses, it is hardly the norm among big companies.

“Where we delivered training, a very common theme in the feedback was that they were disappointed that they did not receive the training at the outset of their careers, whatever that career was, whether it was audit or compliance,” he says.

It’s even less the norm among the largest auditors, he says, who have shunned his investigative training.

“It’s been hard work,” he says. “We’ve had little reaction, if any.”

A questioning mindset could have stopped many a scandal, he says.

Auditing “should be seen as an asset that’s valuable, that adds value to the business that helps secure, protect reputations, lives, careers, save the entities’ money”.

His business as a trainer in these skills “has been termed the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and it frustrates the life out of me that we ended up getting commissioned when the damage is being done.”

Ms Kumari and some former BHS colleagues sued the defunct company’s estate and won after a court found it had broken the law in not providing sufficient consultation over job losses.

“The speed of BHS’s collapse into administration and the announcement of redundancies shortly thereafter left many employees suddenly and unexpectedly out of work,” said her lawyer Carl Moran of SDM Legal.

Ms Kumari, like many others looking for work in the wake of corporate failure, says the blame of the collapse of BHS should lie with its bosses. But she wonders what auditors knew – or could have asked – about the company’s books before the end.

Nice day’s work (if you can get it)

Lords claim £300,000 to take part in Zoom debates from home

LORDS claimed hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ cash to take part in Zoom debates, a Sun probe has found.

Andy Jehring www.thesun.co.uk 

Peers were paid £300,000 over 15 days of virtual proceedings from their own homes in the April and May lockdown.

A handful of Lords did attend the chamber, but most claims were for remote working.

Lords received £1,254 in car expenses and £350 for public transport, despite the Government urging people to work from home where possible.

Records show Labour’s Lord Foulkes claimed £9 for stamps, despite racking up £2,900 in allowances over both months.

Lord Kilclooney of Northern Ireland — worth around £23million — charged the taxpayer £205 for air travel and £50 for petrol.

And former deputy PM Lord Prescott claimed £71 for postage, but did not attend.

Stay-at-home MPs caused fury earlier this month by going ahead with a £3,500 pay rise.

John O’Connell, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers who are feeling the pinch will be furious at the idea that well-heeled Lords are cashing in on the crisis.

“These allowances are meant to cover the costs of working in Westminster, not to offer peers huge hand-outs at home.”

Government housing formula “does not make sense” say planning groups

Government attempts to reimpose failed Soviet tractor style top-down planning targets on us, using the mutant algorithm, still under fire.

Deadline for responses to the “Planning for the future” White Paper is 23.45 on Thursday 29 October.

www.dezeen.com

Planning reform propose revised algorithm for housing targets

The government’s revised housing formula

The UK government’s proposal to use a mathematical formula to determine where to build 300,000 new homes a year has been criticised by campaigners.

The formula would be used to set a target number of homes to build for each area in England, with the aim of building more housing in less affordable places to increase stock and reduce overall prices.

It represents a change in the existing method of calculating housebuilding targets.

Planning groups voiced concern that using the revised formula, which has been widely described as an algorithm, would mean building more homes in expensive areas in the south while leaving the north underdeveloped.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) said the formula “does not make sense” and would “risk destroying large areas of countryside”. Local Government Association (LGA) agreed that “algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge”.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) added “governing by algorithm doesn’t work”, warning “untested changes to local planning could lead to the worst of all possible worlds”.

Government wants to update existing formula

Earlier this year the UK government held a consultation on its white paper Planning for the Future, which detailed wide-ranging changes that could be made to the planning system to reach a target of 300,000 new homes built every year.

The government currently uses a formula based on predictions of how much growth there will be to determine the number of new homes each of the 343 local authorities is set as a target to build.

Its proposed update to this formula – the consultation document does not use the word algorithm – is one of the changes currently under consultation. It would incorporate affordability of existing homes into the calculations for the first time.

“High house prices indicate a relative imbalance between the supply and demand for new homes, making homes less affordable,” said the consultation paper.

“The affordability of homes is the best evidence that supply is not keeping up with demand.”

Planning groups reject consultation plans

Campaign groups have rejected the formula revisions after running test figures, warning that it could cause uneven distribution of housing targets.

“The new formula would be particularly challenging for places such as London and the south-east where they would be required to build 161 per cent more homes, while the north would actually be required to build 28 per cent fewer homes,” said RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth.

“This simply does not make sense and could risk destroying large areas of countryside in the south, while leaving urban brownfield sites in the north unused,” he added.

LGA said that the new calculation was too prescriptive.

“Under these plans, some parts of the country will have to ramp up housebuilding with existing targets doubled. Others, mainly cities in the north, will be told they need to build less,” said LGA spokesperson David Renard.

“Algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best,” added Renard, who is the leader of Swindon council.

“Governing by algorithm doesn’t work”

Using the new formula would force councils in the south to overdevelop the countryside and leave brownfield sites further north undeveloped, argued CPRE.

“It’s clear that governing by algorithm doesn’t work,” said CPRE chief executive Crispin Truman.

“To begin delivering the homes we need at the pace we need them, the government should abandon centralised housing targets and ensure planning remains locally-led with local authorities and communities,” he added.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson heralded the proposed planning system changes as “unlike anything we have seen since the second world war”.

Other potential changes include granting automatic planning permission for developments on land earmarked for growth.

A key factor in England’s housing crisis stems is the gap between the population and available affordable homes. However, a 2019 report from the Centre for Policy Studies highlighted that, on a net basis, every new house built from 2005 to 2015 went to a buy-to-let landlord anyway.

Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley launches scheme to provide school meals for children in holidays

Press release from Cllr: Marin Shaw

From various posts on https://seatonmatters.org/

I’ve asked the Leader of Devon County Council, Cllr John Hart, to provide school meals for children in need of them during the half-term holiday. 

Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis said yesterday that the Government had given councils £63m to support families, but Cllr Hart tells me that Devon has been given the smallest amount of new Covid funding of any County Council and some Devon districts including East Devon have been given only the minimum amount. 

‘We were expecting a lot more money’, he says. ‘Our finances are already under pressure for the rest of this year with even more pressure for next year. Therefore with demands on funds I do not think it would be right to consider funding this scheme.’

I’ve replied urging him to reconsider. The cost of providing this support at half term and Christmas would not be huge, in the big scheme of things, but there are children in every area of Devon who really need this support.

Since the Government and the County Council are not providing free school meals for Devon children who need them this half-term, Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley has set up a scheme to provide them, with the aim of operating at Christmas too. A crowdfunding page has been set up, which is on course to raise £1,000 and I am urging every resident who can afford it to donate.

I have given the scheme £1,500 from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget, as I can think of few things more important than ensuring that all children are properly fed during the current crisis.

Martin Shaw

Independent East Devon Alliance County Councillor for Seaton & Colyton

Is this why the Devon CCG “knocked on Owl’s door” in April?

On the 30th April Owl received a series of e-mails from a spokesperson for the Devon CCG demanding that a change be made to the headline in an earlier post concerning reports of NHS hospital running short of PPE: 

“The Sunday Times headline which you have copy-and-pasted [on Sunday 26 April] is incorrect in that it states hospitals have ‘no gowns’. This is not true. Unless you can evidence your headline, which is not supported by the copy-and-pasted story, please amend it. You may or may not have noticed that later editions of the Sunday Times used a re-written story and headline.”

However, it was obviously a close run thing, as Owl found the post of the precautionary advertisement [20 April] for: boiler suits, lab coats, painting suits, chemical suits and disposable (or washable) overall with full length sleeves, on the Torquay Chamber of Commerce website, quoting the Devon CCG contact.

This level of surveillance and reaction intrigued Owl at the time.

Perhaps the post Owl made yesterday entitled Revealed: How elderley paid price of protecting NHS from Covid-19, also from the Sunday Times, gives a possible explanation:

The NHS withdrew into itself as the waves of cases hit the hospitals. It suspended the publication of critical care capacity figures, which meant nobody outside the corridors of power would be able to tell whether hospitals were being overrun, and issued a general ban on information to the media without sign off from central command.

Pressure was also exerted on NHS staff to prevent public disclosure of problems on the wards. Some trusts were alleged to have trawled staff social media accounts and given dressings-down to medics who mentioned PPE shortages or staff deaths. One surgeon working at a hospital in west London said: “There was an active drive by certain trusts to tell doctors to shut up about it because they didn’t want the bad publicity.”

Westcountry MP’s face backlash over free school meals

From today’s Western Morning News:

Conservative MPs in the Westcountry have faced a backlash after voting not to extend free school meals over the half-term holiday.

A Labour motion, inspired by England footballer Marcus Rashford, to provide free school meals during the school holidays until Easter 2021 was voted down last week by 322 votes to 261. Anne Marie Morris, MP for Newton Abbot, was one of only five to defy her party and stood alone among Westcountry Tories supporting the motion.

Following the vote a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants have offered to help struggling families by donating free meals to children in need over half-term and pressure has been mounting on Boris Johnson to do a U-turn.

More than 2,000 paediatricians have signed a letter urging the Prime Minister to extend free meals, saying childhood hunger should “transcend politics”.

Now, a number of Westcountry Conservative MPs have been challenged over their stance.

A petition has been set up calling for North Devon MP Selaine Saxby to resign after comments made following the vote, which she argues were taken out of context. Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay, has been told by three cafes and pubs he is not welcome, and has justified voting against the Labour motion saying the issue needs to be tackled through the welfare system, with the Government already providing extra funding. And Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer has hit back after coming under fire on social media, but admitted the issue had been ‘poorly handled’ by Government.

Hospitality businesses showing they ‘stand with Rashford, not the 322’ include the Castle Beach Cafe where owner Fiona Crump is making free lunch bags during half term this week for any child who would normally get a free school lunch.

Other cafes who have agreed to supply free food to children who might otherwise miss out during the holidays include the Pavilion Street Kitchen and the Count House Cafe, both in Cornwall, and Swiss Cottage Care in Ilfracombe and the Gingerbread House cafe in Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

Marcus Rashford, who himself relied on free school meals while growing up, said he was “blown away” by the offers of support, and has been retweeting businesses offering free meals. “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know,” the Manchester United footballer tweeted.

A number of councils in England have said they will offer free school meals for children.

Plymouth City Council has set up a support scheme for families of children entitled to free school meals during this October half-term. The scheme, for around 9,000 children, will see families receiving £11 – equivalent to £2.20 per day – into their nominated bank account.

Cornwall Council leader Cllr Julian German and Cllr Sally Hawken, portfolio holder for children, have applauded Cornwall’s businesses and community groups for rallying to offer free meals to those in need as part of the campaign to end child food poverty, including the Castle Beach Cafe, Ann’s Pasties in Helston and Rosie’s Kitchen in Bude.

Cornwall Council figures show that 13,000 children are currently accessing the free school meals scheme. Since 2018 Cornwall Council has a run a summer programme called ‘Filling the Holiday Gap’, which provides small grants to community groups and volunteer organisations to offer activities and food for children and young people in the greatest need.

Cllr Hawken said: “This year the Council will be providing a scheme to support all those receiving Free School Meals for the Christmas holidays.”

North Devon Tory MP Says She Hopes Businesses Who Feed Hungry Kids Won’t Seek Government Support

A Tory MP has said she “very much” hopes businesses offering to feed hungry children for free “will not be seeking any further government support”, as the row over free school meals continues. 

When do we rename the Tories the “Nasty Party” or is this just irony? – Owl

Sarah Turnnidge www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

In a now-deleted Facebook post Selaine Saxby, who represents North Devon, wrote: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown they are able to give away food for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

Saxby is one of more than 300 Tories who voted against extending free school meals to the UK’s poorest children through the half term and Christmas holidays on Wednesday. 

Another Tory MP in a show of utter contempt for her constituents @SelaineSaxby actually having a go at businesses going out of their way to feed hungry kids

Lower than low this https://t.co/qVtcjixy2Y

— Liam Thorp (@LiamThorpECHO) October 24, 2020

After facing intense criticism online for her comment Saxby insisted her words had been taken “out of context”, but did not explain the context they should have been read in. 

She added: “The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views – I of course deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”

Statement follows below: pic.twitter.com/7RPKTV9GPG

— Selaine Saxby MP (@SelaineSaxby) October 24, 2020

Leaders in North Devon – where the hospitality industry has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic – have responded furiously to Saxby’s comments, with the North Devon Liberal Democrats’s spokesperson telling Devon Live: “I am stunned at what I have read from Saxby.

“Not only has she tried to justify the fact that she has voted in a way that could see children go hungry, but she’s also attacked the hospitality industry in North Devon who have taken one of the biggest beatings during this pandemic, but still step forward to support children.” 

The North Devon MP’s Facebook post began to circulate just ours after fellow Tory MP Ben Bradley, suggested free school meal vouchers for the children in his constituency “effectively” went to crack dens and brothels.

Bradley, who represents Mansfield, claimed on Friday evening that one of the kids in his constituency “lives in a crack den” while another “in a brothel” and that extending free school meals would not reach these children. 

When one Twitter user responded suggested a ”£20 cash direct to a crack den and brothel” could be “the way forward”, the MP said: “Thats what FSM vouchers in the summer effectively did.”

The conversation has since been deleted from Twitter, but not before it was screenshotted and met with huge backlash on social media. Like Saxby, Bradley has also claimed his comments were taken out of context. 

Saxby and Bradley are amongst 112 MPs who signed letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer claiming that Angela Rayner’s “scum” comment had provoked “widespread abuse” towards Tories. 

We’ve written to @Keir_Starmer after @AngelaRayner’s comment resulted in widespread abuse towards our MPs, staff and families.

Will Sir Keir take action against Labour MPs and party members who perpetrate abuse, and apologise for Rayner’s record of unparliamentary behaviour? pic.twitter.com/E0q7quLaAb

— Amanda Milling (@amandamilling) October 23, 2020

The letters calls for the opposition leader to “publicly apologise for Angela Rayner’s record of unparliamentary behaviour”, complaining that the deputy leader’s use of the word “scum” (for which she has since publicly apologised) had led to it trending on Twitter and sparking abusive phone calls. 

But critics of the government have accused the Tories of trying to shift the blame for public anger onto Labour, instead of addressing the widespread unpopularity of their vote against a motion to extend free school meals. 

Starves the nation’s kids.

Nation gets angry.

Blames Labour. https://t.co/2fGcKd7bZx

— Femi (@Femi_Sorry) October 24, 2020

If I understand this correctly your saying widespread outrage across the country has nothing to do with Conservative MP’s wanting to let kids go hungry during the holidays & everything to do with one Conservative MP having been called a name in Parliament https://t.co/MwSBXdb6yQ

— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) October 24, 2020

The reason Conservative MPs are on the receiving end of legitimate public anger is because people are reacting to how they voted & what they said, not because one MP used one word. This attempt to shift the blame is tawdry & desperate. You have no claim to the moral high ground. https://t.co/hIADt0HNNY

— Alex von Tunzelmann (@alexvtunzelmann) October 24, 2020