Investigation after Plymouth Conservative councillor dressed up as a woman

An investigation is set to take place after a Conservative councillor in Plymouth was suspended due to a controversial and ‘offensive’ social media post where he was dressed as a woman.

Note: there’s going to be an “investigation” – Owl

Eve Watson 

The Conservative Group has confirmed that Mark Deacon’s suspension is with immediate effect after he posted an image of himself in women’s clothes in response to a proposal for a 6pm men’s curfew by The Green Party’s Baroness Jones.

The suggestion was made in the wake of the disappearance of Sarah Everard and vigils in held in London and across the UK. A fierce debate about women’s safety at night has been sparked by the tragic death of Sarah, aged 33.

Cllr Deacon, a councillor for Southway, is pictured wearing a wig and a dress in the picture. Posted alongside the image is the message: ‘If the Green Party and some Labour Party politicians get their way and impose this ridiculous 6pm curfew on men, then I’m going to wear my dress more often.’

The Conservative Group leader Nick Kelly has now confirmed an internal investigation will take place, and shall commence “as soon as possible”.

He said: “Following a social media post Cllr Mark Deacon made on his Facebook account on Saturday, March 13 2021 which generated lots of differing views being shared about men being subject to a 6pm curfew, The Plymouth Conservative Council Group decided the most appropriate course of action was to suspend Cllr Deacon for an investigation to take place into his actions.

“This investigation will be in accordance with our Group rules and shall commence as soon as possible.

“Cllr Deacon has removed his post and has made a public apology on his Facebook page for any offence he may have caused.”

Cllr Deacon has removed the post and issued a short apology on his page for “any upset he may have caused”. PlymouthLive contacted Cllr Deacon but he said he would be making no further comment.

Also posted on Facebook, his statement reads: “I wholeheartedly apologise for the comments that I made on a post this Saturday Afternoon.

“I didn’t intend any offence that my comments might have caused to a section of the public.”

But the post received plenty of backlash on social media.

Plymouth Labour’s cabinet member for customer focus and community safety Cllr Sally Haydon said: “It’s extremely disappointing to see a senior councillor make a mockery of women’s deeply-felt worries about the issue of male violence.

“It is not befitting of the office of councillor and a member of the shadow cabinet of this council to poke fun at concerns of this nature.

I welcome his suspension and I hope Councillor Deacon will take some time to reflect on the anger his post has generated, to properly understand why it has caused such offence and offer a full apology for his actions.”

Taking to twitter, one user said: “Really unsettling to see sitting Plymouth Conservative councillor Mark Deacon mocking women’s concerns about male violence, trivialising such a serious matter in an extraordinarily offensive fashion.

“You should be ashamed of yourself @MarkDeacon4

Another person added: “@plymouthcc Really!? THIS is a PCC Councillor?! Mark Deacon, you should be ashamed of yourself. Couldn’t delete this fast enough, it seems.”

Former Labour MP candidate for Plymouth Moor View, Charlotte Holloway contacted Cllr Deacon via email urging him to remove the post and apologise.

PAC report: Home Office’s IT border projects are ‘a litany of failures’

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has issued a warning about the costs of failed UK border IT projects, blaming a lack of effective management, leadership, and oversight at the Home Office.

Dev Kundaliya

According to the PAC, delays to the new Digital Services at the Border (DSAB) programme have so far cost the taxpayer £173m – exactly the cost that the National Audit Office warned about last year.

The Committee’s report [pdf] states that the Home Office had a poor record of launching immensely expensive IT projects that fail to deliver for the taxpayer, characterising them as a ‘litany of failures’.

In a statement to the BBC, the Home Office claimed the problems were ‘historical’ and had been fixed.

Earlier this year Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s permanent secretary, agreed that £173m was a “huge” amount of money. He claimed the Home Office was doing “everything” it could to avoid that figure going up any further.

The Home Office first launched its e-Borders programme in 2003, with a plan to complete it by 2011. However, there were repeated delays, and the Department announced the new DSAB programme in 2014, as the latest attempt to achieve its objectives by March 2019.

The programme was meant to replace the legacy Warnings Index and Semaphore systems with three new systems: Border Crossing, Advance Border Control (ABC), and Advanced Freight Targeting Capability (AFTC). The aim was to provide UK border officials with better information to make decisions about people and goods entering and exiting the UK.

Since 2014, the Department has changed its priorities to support its broader ambition for a digitised immigration system in the wake of Brexit.

In 2019, the Department announced it was resetting the DSAB programme and pushing delivery back to the end of March 2022. It decided to upgrade and improve Semaphore.

Despite spending millions on border IT systems in the past 10 years, workers still have to use outdated technology to decide whether an individual can be allowed to enter the UK, according to the PAC report.

Just 300 frontline users are currently using the new Border Crossing system at seven locations. 7,000 users were supposed to be using it at 56 locations by June this year.

When completed, the DSAB project should be able to process 140 million passengers a year at UK borders, although MPs doubt that the system would be able to cope.

‘It still has no proof that systems can cope with passenger volumes that existed prior to Covid-19, let alone the 6 per cent annual growth in the volume of passengers it is allowing for above the 140 million people that arrived in the UK annually prior to Covid-19,’ said the National Audit Office’s report in December last year.

Commenting on the delays in border IT projects, Tom Fairbairn, distinguished engineer at Solace, said: “The key to overcoming the problem of legacy technologies at the border, which is certain to have a wide range of effects on the UK, is that authorities appear to be attempting a point-to-point integration.”

“While a tried and tested method for some cases, this approach won’t work here, given the fact that there are over 20 government agencies whose systems need to be integrated. They are simply too many to go for the point-to-point approach, which is best for integrating two systems. With this amount of actors, loosely coupled systems and agility are the key, and the only way to achieve that is with an event-driven approach. This will allow for information to flow between points in real-time, seamlessly and accurately, ensuring citizens get the best possible experience.”

Mike Kiersey, principal technologist at Boomi, said: “The successful digitalisation of processes at the border will be the fundamental step to successful operations and data management in the months and years to come. If the border continues to rely on outdated legacy technologies, the technical issues outlined will continue, causing massive disruption.”

“Systems modernisation can be a significant challenge, but in this instance, it is imperative that proactive steps are made. Core legacy applications across government departments need to be open via APIs to enable emerging technologies to enter into the architecture, to digitally capture information at the borders. These systems need to be able to capture, prepare and process the data within, to ensure swift processing times and avoid deadlock.”

Some good news for Exmouth at last – God of the sea summoned

A Devon based artist has created a magnificent sculpture of Neptune, god of the sea, currently on display in Exmouth. Zen Wood Design designed the sculpture, standing at 2m and 12ft, using materials including local driftwood, fir wood and docking blocks from Plymouth dock yard. 

Sam Sterrett 

Visit Radioexe site to view video

Zen Wood Design says after lockdown, they’ll bring him down to Exmouth beach for the public to look at. Writing on Facebook, they said: “Happy Friday Exmouth!!!

“Here he is! Standing at 2m and 12ft to the top of his trident, Neptune or Poseidon, it doesn’t matter. The piece is called ‘Old Gods Assemble’ this king of the sea is summoning the rest of the gang in Earths time of need.

I’ve used two reclaimed docking blocks from Plymouth dock yard and local driftwood for the head, trident and shield.”

Shadow S of S for Education to hear experiences and questions from Devon educators on Wednesday

Wednesday 17th March 7.00-8.30pm

As Children head back into the Classroom Devon Education stakeholders to Question Shadow Education Secretary 

On Wednesday 17th March, educators across Devon will have the chance to share their experiences and questions with Shadow Secretary of State for Education Kate Green MP on the quality of education in Devon.

This follows on from a successful listening event at the end of February which brought together parents, teachers and students to discuss topics such as academisation of schools, exams and the effect of COVID on students and teachers. 

Current Labour Councillors were at hand to answer questions which arose, as well as prospective candidates in the May 2021 elections. 

Cllr Su Aves from Devon County Council Children’s Scrutiny Committee who attended February’s event commented, “it is an unjust reality that students in Devon receive less funding per pupil than the national average and the pandemic has exacerbated the lack of resources in our schools and the achievement gap between students.” 

“As children went back into the classroom last week, this event with the Shadow Secretary will be a welcome opportunity for educators to discuss the state of education in Devon. We extend the invitation to any members of the public interested in working to make education better in Devon.” 

Members of the public can register for this free event here:

More Glory Days: EDDC’s “cover-up operations” as revealed by Judge led Tribunal

Remember when senior officers in EDDC were found to have been “discourteous and unhelpful”, to have provided “inaccurate statements” and admitted to “amending documents given to the Council’s own Scrutiny Committee, by no less than a Judge led Tribunal?

The context is the relocation of EDDC HQ from The Knowle, Sidmouth.

Note the ”formative” stages of this saga were taking place contemporaneously with the Graham Brown scandal which broke in the National press in March 2013.

To cut a long story short. A formal Cabinet decision to relocate was made in July 2011 in a move described as “cost neutral”. In 2012 an EDDC planning application to redevelop its site, to prepare for a sale with planning permission, failed. The Council’s own Scrutiny Committee attempted in January 2013 (unanimously) to ask EDDC to delay until more information was produced and had been examined, particularly on estimated costs and options for refurbishing existing office buildings. This was rejected by the then cabinet (see post script below).

On 17 February 2013, a member of the public, Jeremy Woodward asked under Freedom of Information for copies of the full unredacted Minutes of both Officer and Member Relocation Working Parties, and the full Relocation Manager’s formal progress reports.EDDC refused but he persisted, so did they. (Sequence of his requests can be found here). 

It ended up with EDDC appearing at two formal hearings in front of an Information Tribunal, an initial one in August 2014 and a final one in 2015. In the final decision notice of May 2015 Judge Kennedy, chairing the Information Tribunal took, in his words: the unusual and unfortunate step of commenting on the conduct of the appeal itself.

From these we learn that the Tribunal considered that EDDC, whose response was led by the Deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen, had been at times discourteous and unhelpful and indeed that statements made at earlier hearings had been inaccurate. This related to whether or not a fully legible copy of the disputed information could be produced for the Tribunal. (It eventually was).

During the Tribunal hearing the deputy Chief Executive, Richard Cohen, also made the extraordinary admission that he had not given an original version of a document to the Scrutiny Committee but an “amended” one.   

Despite the Tribunal ruling  that the Council were required to publish documentation for a ‘live project’, EDDC still refused citing that: “certain events have to occur before the sale to Pegasus can be concluded. Should those events not happen then we may well have to go back to negotiate with other parties (being those who were not successful the first time around) or go back to the open market and in either of those circumstance the Council’s position could be prejudiced by the information you seek being in the public domain.” Eventually this information was released in Jan 2017.

In 2018 PegasusLife won a planning appeal for the site.

We now know, from the information squeezed out of EDDC that this site, with planning approval, is estimated to have a “developable value” of £50M.

It would be usual for a developer to pay up to a third of this (£16.7M) for the purchase of the land. So a sale price of £7.5M reached by EDDC was not good value for the ratepayer. It’s less than half of what should have been obtained

Graham Brown resigned as a councillor in 2013 and died in 2019. Richard Cohen was made redundant a year ago.

In Owl’s view the reputational damage that was done to  the public’s view of probity amongst Tory Councillors and  EDDC senior officers by these events lingers.

There has never been any evidence of the sort of deep “soul searching” within EDDC that is necessary to “cleanse the stables” and remove the taint.

How can anyone have confidence in an organisation whose “Top Team” appears, by inaction, to condone such behaviour?

As recorded by Claire Wright, when a district Councillor, the phrase used by Mark  Williams (in his e-mail to councillors, 12.11.2014), was that the Brown investigation “hasn’t identified (anything) worth pursuing”.

“Nothing to see here” would seem to be a good summary.

PS Owl believes the spring 2013 cabinet comprised the following councillors, three or four of whom are still district or county councillors, some of whom seem to think they are qualified to cast stones; notably, a few lost their seats in 2019 (apologies to anyone left out):

Paul Diviani (Chairman/Leader); Andrew Moulding (Vice Chairman); Ray Bloxham; David Cox; Jill Elson; Graham Godbeer; Stephanie Jones; Ian Thomas; Phil Twiss