Beach warning after more rusty pipework and other hazards appear

Beach-goers and swimmers have been warned after the sea exposed rusty old pipework and other dangerous hazards.

[At least it’s not a bomb – Owl]

Chloe Parkman 

Exmouth RNLI says the pipework could pose a significant risk to people using the East Devon beach.

In a statement on Twitter, a spokesperson for Exmouth Lifeboat said: ”Sea conditions have exposed some old structures that are a significant risk to water users off Exmouth and could cause serious injury/incapacity especially during high tides.

“The hazards are located about 80 yards west of Exmouth RNLI Lifeboat Station.

”Please avoid this area.”

Last month, Devon Live reported on a similar incident in which the weather and sea conditions exposed old pipework on the beach.

Following last month’s pipe exposure, Exmouth RNLI said the pipes could cause ‘serious injury’, especially during high tides.

They urged people to avoid the area.

Calls for district council leadership to ‘consider positions’ in heated dispute over staff bullying claims

No bullying is acceptable. It is a pity it has reared its head again in EDDC, hopefully it will now be dealt with by the new administration. Many will recall the attacks Claire Wright suffered and many others will remember being humiliated when making public statements to planning and council meetings with no right of reply. – Owl

Francesca Evans 

Leading members of East Devon District Council were asked to consider their positions this week, during a passionate discussion on claims made by council staff that they were “bullied at work”.

The three-hour debate followed a staff survey carried out in January and February of this year, which raised claims that new councillors and the new political leadership at East Devon was “seriously mistreating officers” and “unnecessarily micro-managing and causing extra workload”.

There were also concerns over increased staff absence due to depression, stress and anxiety during the latter months of the Covid-19 pandemic, and that six per cent of respondents said they were “sometimes bullied at work”.

The leader of the council, Cllr Paul Arnott, who represents Colyton, said he was “certain my Cabinet are innocent of any bullying”.

In a report on the survey results, East Devon’s chief executive Mark Williams said he had already written to councillors highlighting his concern about an “oppressive and menacing” online work environment that some officers had experienced from “certain councillors”.

He said the issues facing the council were “very serious”.

Giving the background to the survey, Mr Williams stated in his report that EDDC had traditionally been an organisation where staff morale had been high.

In January 2020 the council received Platinum Investors In People status, which was the highest level achievable, and a previous staff survey carried out in June 2020 said there was an “optimistic feeling” within the council at the end of the first lockdown.

The latest staff survey in January/February 2021 comes after a new political leadership took over EDDC.

Independents took control of the council following the election in May 2019, after 45 years of Conservative rule.

But the Independent Group, led by Cllr Ben Ingham, were then overthrown by a new Democratic Alliance in May 2020, led by Cllr Paul Arnott and made up of councillors from the East Devon Alliance, Liberal Democrats, Green Party and some independents.

Mr Williams – who himself admitted to feeling bullied at work during this week’s Scrutiny Committee meeting – made several references in his report to “new councillors/new political leadership” and “change in political culture”.

Speaking at this week’s meeting, Independent councillor Geoff Pook (Beer & Branscombe) said “the most upsetting and serious claims” from staff did stem from last year’s change in administration and he posed several questions to Cllr Arnott.

“Does the leader accept the outcome of the report and that 18 of our staff state that the new political leadership are seriously mistreating our officers, which is very stressful? This includes seven members who say they feel bullied, intimidated and are being harassed.

“Does the leader agree that this is totally unacceptable?

“Does the leader agree that, as leader, he is totally responsible for the deplorable actions of his administration?

“Does the leader agree that those responsible must consider their positions and, as leader, he should address this? And does the leader agree he holds ultimate responsibility for the actions and behaviour of his team and should perhaps consider his own position?”

‘No proof where problems are coming from’

In response, Cllr Arnott said he would offer a “blanket no” to all of Cllr Pook’s questions regarding the political leadership, adding that the phrasing ‘new councillors/new political leadership’ used in the report was “unfortunate”, as new councillors came from all political parties.

“There is no proof or indication from where problems are coming,” he added.

Cllr Arnott continued: “This has been one of the most challenging times for local government in our history and I could not be more proud of our staff and officers, which I have said repeatedly and publicly.”

He added that the leadership had taken concerns over the mental health of staff “extremely seriously”.

Cllr Arnott said that there had been issues within the council prior to the new administration, using his own experiences in Exmouth as an example.

“Exmouth has been toxic beyond belief for many years before my time,” he said.

“I came in and raised it through this very committee and we then set up the Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group, which I have chaired with patience and courtesy and removed the poison from that.

“I have protected officers and I have I think created a peace there where there was not a peace before, and involved the public. I would be astonished if any officers had any criticism of that whatsoever; it was a model of sorting out what had been previous problem.”

He continued: “There is another side to this coin and we need to understand the members’ perspective as well and I hope Scrutiny comes forward with a set of policies and engagements, and I would be very pleased to present my own evidence and those of my Cabinet.

“I am certain that they are innocent of any of these allegations of bullying, which are not identified in this report as being anything to do with councillors.”

New councillors are ‘across all political groups’

Independent East Devon Alliance councillor John Loudoun (Sidmouth Rural) also raised concerns over the use of the phrase ‘new councillors/new political leadership’ in the report, describing it as a “broad phrase” which conflates two sets of members.

He pointed out that 24 new councillors across all political groups joined the council after the May 2019 elections.

“We should all look at what we’re doing, the implications of what we’re doing and how we need to change. I hope each group leader will be honest, look at their group and say ‘can we do things better?’” he said.

Former council leader Ben Ingham (Woodbury & Lympstone), a former Independent who has joined the Conservative party since losing his position to Cllr Arnott, also called for the new leadership to consider their positions.

He said the feeling of optimism shown in the June 2020 survey had gone and had been replaced with stress and depression, with many staff continuing to work from home despite suffering from mental health issues.

“What an appalling situation for us to be in – six months of vindictive disorientation and poor leadership,” he commented.

“Bullying in the workplace is against the law. The Cabinet and leadership of this council have a lot to answer for and should consider their positions.”

Conservative councillor Ian Hall (Axminster) asked chief executive Mark Williams whether he felt bullying was still ongoing and whether he had ever felt personally bullied.

Mr Williams replied yes to both questions.

Cllr Hall went on to apologise if he had ever added to an officer’s workload during the pandemic, adding that if he was implicated in any harassment or bullying he would “stand aside because we cannot tolerate that sort of behaviour”.

Fellow Axminster councillor Andrew Moulding, who is leader of the Conservative group at East Devon, added: “The officers of this council have been exemplary over many years and are now being undermined by the current administration. This cannot continue and we must find a way of addressing the issue.”

What happens now?

After three hours of debate, the committee eventually agreed on four proposals put forward by Independent East Devon Alliance councillor Val Ranger (Newton Poppleford & Harpford). These were as follows:

1) To note the report and thank the chief executive.

2) To ask the chief executive to undertake a follow-up staff survey at a suitable future point.

3) Request the chief executive to discuss this survey data with the staff representatives and to feed back to portfolio holder for Council and Corporate Co-ordination the outcome and actions resulting from that engagement to form an action plan.

4) Recommend to the chief executive, members of the SMT and portfolio holder for Council and Co-ordination discuss this survey data and any other relevant information to identify what actions are necessary to address the four key points identified within the report:

– Workload, staff shortages, vacancies and management support for staff

– Home working and staff isolation

– Member conduct with staff

– Staff community cations

5) Ask the chief executive to update this committee in light of completion of the above four recommendations.

Cllr Ranger had initially proposed the phrase ‘member engagement’ be used instead of ‘member conduct’ under her fourth recommendation, but Mr Williams expressed concerns that this would come across as “tone deaf” to staff members who had been “exceptionally brave” in their responses to the survey, so it was agreed to change this.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr Williams warned councillors: “It doesn’t take a lot of time for a council to appear on the Secretary of State’s watch list as a council of interest.

“Traditionally it’s been councils that have got themselves into financial trouble but actually, if you look at the criteria the Secretary of State applies, financial trouble is one of them, dysfunctional relationships, poor corporate governance, and those types of matters particularly affecting the three statutory officers, is an area where the Secretary of State does show an interest.”

Planning applications validate by EDDC for week beginning 22 February

£1bn to ‘level up’ towns … but Tories already cut £2.4bn

It was supposed to redraw the economic map of Britain. But funding announced by Rishi Sunak last week for 45 struggling towns across England is worth less than half the amount cut from their local budgets under the Conservatives, according to an Observer analysis.

Richard Partington 

Using the budget to restart the government’s levelling-up agenda after dealing with the Covid pandemic, the chancellor announced £1bn of funding from the flagship “towns fund” for communities including Castleford, Rochdale and Wolverhampton.

However, analysis of local authority finances by the Observer reveals the 45 towns are located in council areas that have suffered budget cuts worth in excess of £2.4bn since the Tories came to power in 2010.

The assessment, based on figures from the Centre for Progressive Policy, show some of the councils have experienced deeper cuts in total service expenditure than most in the decade before the pandemic, with towns in northern England bearing the brunt.

According to the figures, Rochdale – which is set to receive £23.6m from the towns fund – spent almost £100m less, after taking account of inflation, in 2019-20 on local services than in 2009-10. Meanwhile neighbouring Bolton – due to get £22.9m from the pot – has suffered cuts worth £74m.

It comes after Sunak was accused last week of “pork barrel politics” given that 39 of the 45 towns are represented by Conservative MPs. His Richmond constituency also emerged among areas in the highest priority tier for support from the government’s levelling-up fund, a separate programme, while less prosperous neighbouring areas had been left out.

Council spending on services has still fallen dramatically in these places. Matthew Brown, the Labour leader of Preston city council, said the £20m the city is due to receive from the towns fund was helpful, but insufficient to patch up the fallout from years of cuts directed from Westminster.

“It’s been difficult to respond to Covid when your services are cut to the bone,” he said, adding that Preston’s budget has been cut by a third since 2010, forcing it to sell public assets and cut spending on community projects.

“Obviously it is welcome because places like Preston have been disinvested in for decades, so yes £20m for our city centre is welcome. But in the context of years of austerity and the neoliberal economics we’ve had for decades, I think we need a lot more than this,” he said.

The figures analysed by the Observer assess cuts to council service budgets – the funds for day-to-day spending on areas such as adult social care, road maintenance and bin collections. This differs from the aim of the towns fund, which provides a one-off boost for infrastructure investment.

The government said more was being spent on local areas than the towns fund alone, including £51bn for councils in 2021-22, £2.3bn more than this year, while all councils could bid for the £4.8bn levelling-up fund.

A spokesman for the communities department said the analysis was flawed and it had committed more than £35bn since the start of the pandemic to support councils. “It ignores all the other funding provided to councils and the fact that councils are responsible for managing their own spending,” he added.

However, experts said the stark contrast between the towns fund and budget cuts since 2010 was important to make. Paul Swinney, director of policy at the Centre for Cities thinktank, said: “The background of 10 years of local authority cuts is what people feel on a day-to-day basis.

“We’ve seen a budget where there has been a sprinkling of gimmickry almost. It’s a contradiction, saying, ‘look we’re coming giving sweets here’, but at the same time it’s these areas where services have deteriorated, and there will be more to come. It doesn’t point to a levelling-up agenda.”

Zoe Billingham, head of policy at the Centre for Progressive Policy, said funding for physical infrastructure was welcome, but service spending was important to address more fundamental weaknesses. “To level up left-behind places we need to see investment in social infrastructure: in social care, libraries, skills and youth services. This will be essential for an inclusive economic recovery.”

“So far, we have seen little evidence to suggest the levelling-up agenda is on the right track,” she said.

Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, said the towns fund was a “drop in the ocean” compared with a decade of austerity.

“Funding vanity projects like rebuilding Newark’s medieval gatehouse doesn’t fix major inequalities between our regions, revive local economies or restore crucial services like social care,” he said.

Why and how is Rishi Sunak bringing austerity back to public services?

“There’s absolutely no way in which anyone can say that’s austerity – we’re spending more money on public services than we were.”

That’s what the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asserted last November. 

But in the wake of this week’s Budget, a host of respected public finance analysts are arguing that austerity does indeed seem to be returning to the public realm thanks to the decisions of the chancellor.

He didn’t mention it in his Budget speech, but Mr Sunak’s plans on Wednesday included a roughly £4bn-a-year cut in the day-to-day spending budgets available to Whitehall departments starting in 2022-23 relative to previous plans.

This is the money, technically known as “current spending”, that civil servants and ministers use for employing staff, running general operations and delivering routine services, ranging from social care to policing, to the British people .

This followed a £10bn a year reduction in those budgets in last year’s spending review.

The implication of all this is that, by 2023/24, these budgets will be some £16bn lower than they were projected to be before the pandemic struck.

Given total day-to-day departmental spending totals of £377bn in that year (up from £321bn in 2019-20), £16bn might not sound a particularly large sum.

But with large “protected” spending departments such as health, defence, and education having already received significant multi-year budget increases from the government, any cuts to the overall spending envelope would be felt disproportionately by unprotected departments such as justice, the Home office and local government.

The Treasury delivered a spending review – which sets spending limits for individual Whitehall departments – last year, covering the 2021-22 financial year.

There will need to be another spending review this autumn covering at least 2022-23 and possibly the following two fiscal years as well.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the Treasury’s independent spending watchdog, pointed out this week that the reduction in the overall spending envelope pencilled in by the chancellor this week implies that after health, education, defence and overseas aid have had their promised increases, all the other unprotected departments are now facing a 1 per cent real terms cut in the upcoming spending review.

In other words, for these public services, austerity will be back.

Moreover, it was these unprotected departments that suffered the biggest cuts in public spending during the years in which George Osborne was chancellor after 2010.

Departments such as local government, work and pensions, and transport saw their day-to-day budgets more than cut in half in real terms.

While protected departments’ budgets are set to be 10 per cent higher in real terms by the middle of this decade, the budgets of non-protected departments are apparently destined to remain almost a quarter lower on their levels in 2010.

“For those public services it will feel very much like George Osborne is still the chancellor,” says the Resolution Foundation in its post-Budget report.

The Treasury has offered a technical justification for its latest £4bn cut, claiming that it reflects lower expected inflation, and implying that departments won’t need as much cash to deliver the same level of service.

But analysts say those inflation forecasts have been badly distorted by the pandemic and that there’s no evidence departments will need any less money to meet the demands on them.

“This isn’t just a mechanical change and presenting it as such means the chancellor isn’t really levelling with people about the choices the government is making to repair the public finances,” says Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Analysts see the £4bn-a-year cut as a means of ensuring that the government’s overall day-to-day budget is back in balance by 2024/25 on current forecasts and that the national debt is falling as a share of the economy.

In other words, to signal fiscal responsibility (by his own definition) four years into the future, the chancellor is willing to cut some important public services starting next year.

But what analysts find most alarming about that choice is the context.

The pandemic revealed a health service with zero spare capacity and a public health system grossly unprepared in areas like PPE stockpiling.

And, as the OBR notes, the government has itself said there will be an ongoing need for vaccination infrastructure when the crisis is over.

The crisis has also ripped a hole in the education of millions of children and exposed the lethal inadequacy of our social care system.

And yet the chancellor set aside no more money for the health or education sectors this week. Nor was there any more money for local government, which largely funds social care.

All these sectors are likely to need more money as a result of the pandemic, rather than less.

“The chancellor’s medium-term spending plans simply look implausibly low,” says Mr Johnson of the IFS.

And the OBR calls the need for more money for public services “one of the most significant risks to the medium-term fiscal outlook”, implying that the chancellor might, in the end, just have to spend more on public services than his current plans.

If this is right, a return to austerity could prove not only undesirable but undeliverable too.

And there’s another lesson of the past decade of austerity: ministers can point all they like to rising overall public services spending, but when supply fails to meet rising public demand, the result is not pretty.

Cornwall’s priority relegated in “Shared Prosperity Fund” – they’re not happy.

Context – Cornwall  is one of the most economically deprived areas in Northern Europe. Between 2014 and 2020, Cornwall received over €1,000 (£800) per person from the EU Structural and Investment Fund – similar to that received by Romania and Bulgaria. – Owl

From Western Morning News Saturday:

A Cornwall councillor has called for the Government to explain its decision to not make Cornwall a priority for its levelling up funding.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak released details during his budget statement yesterday of which areas in England and Wales are considered to be a priority for levelling up funds.

However there was surprise in Cornwall when it was revealed that the county is not in the top priority category, but in the second.

That puts it behind 123 other local authority areas in the country, including Mr Sunak’s own constituency area of Richmondshire, North Yorkshire.

The Levelling Up fund is a pot of £4.8billion which has been designed to help provide investment for areas where it will make the biggest difference, which the Government’s guidance states includes “deprived towns and coastal communities”.

The decision to not make Cornwall a priority area for funding comes despite it being classed as one of the poorest regions in Europe, which made it eligible for European Union funding.

Tim Dwelly, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for economic development, said: “It appears that our fears that Cornwall is not going to get targeted special help from the Government have been realised.

“Before the budget we already knew that we were unlikely to get anywhere near the £100 million a year that Cornwall previously received from structural EU fundings but now we see that Cornwall has been relegated from the priority zone in favour of the red wall areas in the north.

“This is totally unacceptable, anyone with understanding of poverty in the UK has to include Cornwall in the top priority list. We will be urgently asking for an explanation on this.

“How can the Government prioritise areas in most need when the poorest region of the country, Cornwall, is not included? It is simply inexplicable.

“We want to know as a matter of urgency what evidence that the Government has that Cornwall is less in need than the areas that have chosen for priority one which include the Chancellor’s own relatively wealthy constituency.”

Some areas in the South West have been placed in the priority one category, including the Isles of Scilly and Torbay.

Cornwall is in priority two alongside the likes of Plymouth, Mid Devon, West Devon and Bath and North East Somerset.

Cllr Dwelly added: “Sadly for Cornwall the message from Government seems to be that we have been chosen for what feels like levelling down. The key principle for us has been that we wanted Cornwall to be recognised as needing help because of our low pay – that is what it is in human terms, too many people in Cornwall are low paid.”

The Cabinet member said that he was also concerned that with the Shared Prosperity Fund, which was said to be the way that Cornwall would get funding to replace that lost due to the end of EU funding because of Brexit, the Government has indicated that Cornwall will have to bid for funding against other parts of the country.

Cllr Dwelly said: “By indicating that we have to compete with all the other parts of the UK, no matter how well off they are, the government seems to be abandoning the Prime Minister’s pledge to continue to provide the special funding we received from the EU that was based on our low pay and poverty.”

More Concerns over Tory donors, Robert Jenrick and planning decisions

The final decision on whether to allow 1,000 new homes to be built at Sandleford Park could be made by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, despite concerns of a conflict of interest as the owner of Bloor Homes – the developer which has submitted the appeal – has donated more than £1.3m to the Conservative Party.

Dan Cooper 

Plans for a major development at Sandleford Park – situated just off Monks Lane in Newbury– have been in the pipeline for more than a decade.

The first planning application was submitted by Bloor Homes in December 2015 but refused by West Berkshire Council in November 2017.

Bloor has since submitted a further four applications, but these have also been rejected by the council and the developer has now decided to appeal.

The appeal was due to be decided by a Planning Inspector, but the Secretary of State has exercised his powers to ensure that the decision is made by his ministerial team instead.

The reason given was that “proposals for residential development of over 150 units would significantly impact on the Government’s objective to secure a better balance between housing demand and supply”.

However, there are concerns Mr Jenrick’s team could be presented with a conflict of interest as the owner of Bloor Homes, John Bloor, made a £962,000 donation to the Conservatives in the lead up to the 2019 General Election.

He also made a donation of £400,000 before the 2017 General Election through his company, JS Bloor.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said Mr Jenrick may not have the final say and it could be “made by one of his ministerial team on his behalf and in his name instead”. They also insisted Mr Jenrick had not personally asked for the application to be called in.

West Berkshire Council executive member for planning Hilary Cole admitted she was “very surprised” to hear that the application would be decided by Mr Jenrick’s ministerial team.

“I was certainly surprised when I found out, but he is entitled to do so,” she said. “We have to go with it, we don’t get any say on the matter.

“The developer is entitled and within their right to appeal the refusal and we will see what will come of it.”

The founder of Say No to Sandleford – a campaign group which was set up to fight the proposals to build new houses at the site – said the situation may present “an awkward conflict of interest”.

Peter Norman added: “The trouble is any development called in by the Secretary of State will always be mired with suspicions as to the motivation behind it.

“Developers are major contributors to the Tory Party coffers and we have seen the Secretary of State get into trouble with past decisions because of this.”

In April 2020, Mr Jenrick faced calls to resign after official documents revealed he approved a £1bn property development in order to save the Tory donor’s company behind the scheme paying tens of millions of pounds.

Correspondence released by Mr Jenrick’s department revealed the minister was “insistent” the 1,500-home Westferry Printworks project be approved the next day to ensure tycoon Richard Desmond’s company avoided paying between £30m and £50m in council infrastructure levies.

The Newbury Weekly News asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) the following questions:

– Can Mr Jenrick reassure local residents he will remain completely impartial and won’t be influenced in any way by the applicant’s links to the Conservative Party?

– Does he see how this could be seen by some to be a potential conflict of interest?

– Will Mr Jenrick be required to declare an interest or declare that the owner of the company that wants to build the homes has donated money to the party he represents?

A spokesman for the MHCLG responded: “Planning decisions are made in line with propriety guidance to ensure transparency and fairness.

“The decision to recover this application was made by officials without ministerial involvement, and one of the planning ministers at the department will decide on the application in due course.”

In a letter to the council from the MCHLG it says: “Although the appeal was to be decided by an inspector, the Secretary of State considers that he should determine it himself.

“This means that instead of writing a decision, the inspector will prepare a report and recommendation which will be forwarded to the Secretary of State.

“This direction is being served on the inspector, the appellant (or their representative) and the local planning authority.”

Flybe’s return hanging in the balance

Flybe’s return to the skies is hanging in the balance amid the resignation of a “big swinging” hedge fund manager that was plotting the airline’s revival.

By Oliver Gill 6 March 2021

Lucien Farrell of Cyrus Capital, whose friends include Ben Elliot, the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall and co-chairman of the Conservative Party, has stepped down as a director of the company Thyme Opco, according to official filings.

Thyme Opco acquired Flybe from administrators EY in October to “restore essential regional connectivity in the UK, and contribute to the recovery of a vital part of the country’s economy”.

Mr Farrell’s decision to stand down last Monday followed a crunch hearing on the previous Friday, February 26, between regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), EY and law firm Freshfields.

The administrators argued that take-off and landing slots worth tens of millions of pounds each should be handed over to Thyme Opco.

An application by Thyme Opco for an operating licence was also lodged at the hearing.

Industry insiders said that the CAA had adjourned the part of the hearing relating to the transfer of the slots having been unable to come to a final decision.

But the operating licence application is expected to be granted in the next two weeks, the sources added.

Mr Farrell’s decision to acquire the Flybe brand, intellectual property, stock and equipment sparked speculation within aviation industry circles over his motives for restarting the perennially loss-making airline.

“Slots. That is all they are doing. Trying to find a way to reclaim and sell them,” one analyst claimed at the time.

Flybe collapsed a year ago with the loss of 2,000 jobs. Cyrus Capital previously owned the carrier alongside Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic and what was called Stobart Group, the owner of Southend Airport.

The three investors were unable to convince the Government to plug a £100m hole in Flybe’s finances and were unwilling to invest more of their own capital with the spectre of coronavirus looming.

Flybe had up to 12 pairs of take off and landing slots at Heathrow airport. In the past, the sought-after slots have traded for high prices. Air New Zealand sold one slot pair at Heathrow for $27m (£20m) in March 2020, for instance.

The ownership of the slots has been complicated by the pandemic.

When airlines collapse, the administrators would sell them to another airline. If the administrators were unable to sell them, strict rules dictate that they would be handed back to a central slots coordinator.

However, the rules have been suspended during the crisis leaving the ownership of Flybe’s slots in limbo.

Mr Farrell’s resignation leaves Thyme Opco and associated companies with just one director, Jon Peachey, the chief executive of Virgin Group’s American operations between 2008 and 2013.

Mr Farrell, 46, often targets companies facing bankruptcy. One executive once described him as a “big swinging, high-rolling kind of guy. He has got a sort of free wheelin’ style that some investors value.”

One year on – the Inside story on the shock collapse of Flybe

A year ago, late on a cold and windy night in March, Flybe pilots around the country peered nervously at their mobile phones, their eyes locked on the plane-tracking app Flightradar24.

Gradually, they watched as the last few Flybe aircraft touched down for the night.

Then they braced themselves for the worst.

Just hours earlier, explosive rumours had started circulating that the airline was on the brink of going bust. Reports of planes being denied access to runways, passengers not boarding aircraft, and pilots unable to fill up with fuel became rife.

Knowing that an announcement by the company’s senior management would only be forthcoming once all planes were on the tarmac, employees waited nervously to discover the company’s fate.

When it came, the news was devastating. The 40-year-old airline, a mainstay of Devon business and a vital cog in the UK’s transport network, would enter administration in a matter of hours.

It saw more than 3,500 people lose their jobs – 1,000 of whom were based in Exeter – and has left a gaping hole in UK air travel that has only been partially filled since.

In an exclusive for DevonLive, two people with front row seats of the airline’s crash – one a senior manager, the other a pilot – discuss what really went wrong for a company that was once the pride of Exeter.

[Don’t forget that Cllr Sarah Randall-Johnson was General Manager for PR and Public Affairs for Flybe at the time Cllr Paul Diviani took over as Leader of EDDC from her in 2011 – Owl]

Flybe’s total passengers over time since 1985 (Image: PA)

Given this history what went wrong? How could they lurch so turbulently between profit and loss?

Click the link below to read these two insider accounts. 

Howard Lloyd