Tory councillor pocketed £86k of taxpayer cash to send one email a week for nearly five years

A Tory councillor received more than £86,000 of taxpayer cash to send just one email a week for nearly five years.

By Redrow Homes www.thelondoneconomic.com 

Councillor Margaret George has not carried out a single surgery in four-and-a-half years of sitting on North Ayrshire Council and has been absent from community-focused meetings expected from elected members.

The financial advisor, who represents Irvine South, has not formally logged a single piece of casework since she was elected in 2017, the Irvine Times reported.

According to records from North Ayrshire Council’s customer relationship management system, Cllr George has logged zero cases between May 1, 2017 and August 16, 2021 in the time she has been an elected member.

She defended her work ethic and claimed she “met people in the street” and made phone calls which would not be formally logged.

In comparison, Tory colleague Todd Ferguson has logged 289 cases with the software designed to track interactions between councillor and the local authority service provision.

A case is logged when councillors contact the council to request to access a service, however, non-service interactions are not taken into consideration.

However, Cllr George has sent just 427 emails between May 1, 2017, and September 6, 2021 – averaging one email a week for four and a half years.

According to a Freedom of Information request submitted to North Ayrshire Council, the Conservative and Unionist members sent 26,786 emails in this time, with the top performer sending 9,886 emails, 30 emails a week, in a similar time period.

In addition to a £18,604 annual salary, councillors receive a salary and access to expenses as remuneration for their role in public office.

Over the last five years, councillors’ salaries have increased from £14,654.61 to £18,604.

In total, it is understood Cllr George has been paid around £86,000 in salary and claimed £213.15 in expenses during her time with the council.

Fellow Irvine South elected members from SNP and Labour have blasted the apparent lack of work by Cllr George and urged her to re-consider her position.

SNP councillor Christina Larsen, said: “I am not in the habit of criticising councillors, even if they are from another party, however, I have had constituents remark on Cllr George’s absence since she was elected in 2017.

“These remarks have not only been in regards to her lack of holding any constituency surgeries, but also her lack of engagement in constituency casework and her absence at the Irvine Locality Partnership.

Breathtaking laziness

“I don’t think she has properly represented her constituents and I think she should think about her position and whether or not she should stand for office in the elections next year.”

Labour councillor Robert Foster added: “To serve the people of North Ayrshire as a councillor is a real privilege, to spend almost five years in that role and not help a single constituent is breathtaking laziness.

“The contempt that the Tories have for working people is clear for all to see, I would have asked for Margaret George to resign but a by-election would only cost the taxpayer even more money.

“For Margaret George to sit in the house and pocket a wage every month for doing absolutely nothing is disgraceful.

“I hope the people of Irvine send a clear message to the Tories at the council election next May and kick them out.”

The Conservative group for North Ayrshire released a statement on behalf of Cllr George.

Cllr George said: “A lot of the case work that we do it’s not necessarily logged on the council’s Laggan system as, for example, in my case I do a lot of that by phone and by direct email to heads of service so it’s not always logged.

“So one cannot imply from zero case work from the council that there has been no case work.

“In terms of emails, I would’ve expected a councillor to have used the email system more frequently but also as in my case it is possible that many of the contacts were done either through community councils, or by telephone, or by meeting people in the street.”

In response, David Rocks, chairman for the Conservatives in North Ayrshire, added: “We are currently going through the selection process for candidates for next year.

“We are looking to assess and vet the best team to go forward to the elections.”

Tory Council’s ‘culture of complacency’ in managing ‘reinvigoration’ project.

Grandiose reinvigoration/regeneration Tory project goes wrong. Does this ring any bells in East Devon, in Seaton or Exmouth say? – Owl

Marble Arch Mound: call to review ‘culture of complacency’ at council

Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com 

Councillors have called for an independent review of a “culture of complacency” at a flagship Tory-run council that ran up a £3m overspend on a much-derided new visitor attraction in London’s West End labelled “Teletubby hill”.

An internal Westminster council report, discussed at a council scrutiny meeting on Wednesday evening, admitted the Marble Arch Mound had been badly mismanaged by officials – with unacceptable errors of judgment caused by the desire to rush it through at speed.

There were “devastating” failures in the management of the project, the report concluded, including corner-cutting and cover-ups by officials desperate to keep massive overspends and design problems hidden from councillors, and a lack of overall “grip and oversight”.

Labour’s opposition group said the report did not go far enough in scrutinising the role of senior elected council leaders, who it said missed several opportunities to challenge and track the progress of the controversial scheme, which it said showed a culture of complacency in the council and a lack of political leadership.

“It’s evidence of a Conservative administration on Westminster council that has been in power for far too long. They have become arrogant, out of touch and incompetent and it’s time for a change,” said the Labour group leader, Adam Hug.

The mound – a 25-metre high artificial hill built on the corner of Oxford Street and Hyde Park with views across the city – became a laughing stock soon after opening in July. The Daily Telegraph referred to it as a “rather silly hillock” while the New York Times called it “a pile of scaffolding”.

Within weeks, a project intended to help reinvigorate the area’s battered retail and hospitality economy had also become a political disaster: the then deputy leader, Melvyn Caplan, resigned after it emerged the original £3m cost had spiralled to £6m, and it came under fire from residents and political opponents.

Hug said oral evidence heard at the scrutiny meeting showed Westminster’s political leaders had failed in their responsibility to ask key questions and challenge “optimistic assumptions” about the scheme over a period of several months, despite insisting on big cost reductions early on.

The council said the review found no evidence the problems associated with the mound “have occurred or are occurring” elsewhere in the council.

Westminster managed projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year, it said, and had an “excellent record of delivering to a high standard and within the agreed budget”.

The leader of the council, Rachael Robathan, and Caplan – who remains a councillor – were formally requested to give evidence to the meeting, but neither attended and questions were fielded by council officers. The council has previously rejected calls for an independent investigation.

Hug said: “We continue to believe the council should undertake an independent review of the failings of the council’s political culture and leadership as evidenced by the mistakes made with the £6m Marble Arch Mound.”

The mound was originally intended to recoup £2m of its costs through the sale of visitor tickets priced between £4 and £8, but access was made free in August. The attraction remains open until 9 January next year.

PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS 

From a correspondent concerned about the Burrington Estates’ development proposals for Winslade Park:

When deciding on the best ways of using land and buildings in our communities, undoubtedly, development planners hold significant power in their hands. However, in recent years, local people feel they have become the losers – whilst property speculators have reaped huge profits from many, valued neighbourhoods. 

Are those who actually live in our communities being restricted in their say over its future shape? Locally-led, quality design is vital for new developments to avoid the loss of distinctive characteristics and the destruction of environments from over-development. Should Local and Neighbourhood Plans be ignored and dismissed in favour of developers’ offers of unproven, economic benefits? 

Those within East Devon District Council (EDDC) who recommend and make decisions on development planning must realise the huge impact their resolutions have on other people’s lives. Large-scale development planning results in significant, major transformations to East Devon neighbourhoods; it does not merely involve viewing architectural drawings, plans and imagery via a virtual zoom meeting in disconnected home kitchens, lounges or offices and then by alphabetical roll call voting in favour, against or abstaining – the reality is that these all-important decisions will influence and transform entire communities and the future lives of the numerous residents who have made their homes in them. 

This was reflected recently by the following emotive sentiments (published on the EDDC planning portal), which were made by residents whose existing homes will adjoin Burrington Estates’ proposed development of 39 houses and 40 four-storey flats on two sites at Winslade Park in Clyst St Mary.  

Objections – Zone A – 39 homes 

‘Our family have had the privilege of living in Winslade Park Avenue since 1977. Four generations of our family have been lucky enough to live in this wonderful village and actively participate and engage with all aspects of life within it. . . . We are very disappointed by the proposals in which the bungalows that were proposed are now much higher and comprising of one and a half storeys. These properties are not in keeping with the bungalows and houses of Winslade Park Avenue that border them. They have large chimneys and the properties overlook and encroach on the neighbouring properties that will lead to a loss of privacy. I am also concerned that the public consultation was arranged in a way that the residents could not fully participate in. If the proposals go through in their current format the reality is we will be looking to sell our property and move from a village we love and a community we have always been part of.’ 

It is still difficult for this local community to accept the loss of this valued, green field that was specifically protected against development in the East Devon Local and the Bishops Clyst Neighbourhood Plans. 

The fear is that the Applicants will prioritise and move forward immediately with the housing elements but the promised local jobs, social and environmental benefits for the community of Clyst St Mary will be pushed into the background……Although 39 homes in Zone A are considered low-density; when they are considered with the 40 four-storey flats in Zone D and proposals for around 2,000 jobs, then the entire proposals are viewed as an overdevelopment in this village location.’ 

‘My property backs onto the location of the proposed application . . . The impact on my amenity and loss of privacy to the main living areas of my property (Main bedroom, Lounge, kitchen, patio area and garden) is unacceptable.  

 Objections – Zone D – 40 four-storey flats 

‘The new development proposes 40 apartments of 4 storeys in height which will dominate our 2 storey house with a loss to our privacy and will change the character of our quiet estate. ….. When the deciduous trees shed their leaves the development will be seen in its entirety and occupants will be able to look over our gardens and homes in Clyst Valley Road. We are concerned about levels of air pollution from traffic and the effects this will have on ourselves and our children’s healththe development will add another 80 or so vehicles in this locality. 

We oppose the proposed development which is out of proportion to existing properties and the character of the historical village of Clyst St Mary and the Winslade Park estate’.  

‘The density of housing on this confined spot seems very high; 80 -100 people packed into this relatively small area, with their cars and associated traffic, is bound to have a detrimental effect in terms of pollution and noise on the houses closest to them. Clyst St Mary is a small village. .. . We are not a town. The designs of the blocks are unattractive and appear to be full of windows, which will make existing residents feel uncomfortably exposed to a loss of privacy.  

 I was particularly alarmed by the comment that the removal/lopping of some trees “may not significantly affect the amenity value of the site”. It would most certainly affect the amenity value of my existing site if this screen is diminished, and given the prominence currently given to preserving trees, this should be a red flag.’ 

‘We must build back better in future and not create ‘eyesores’ that will scar and stigmatise small communities. The Zone D apartment blocks have no architectural integrity….displaying overwhelmingly mediocre, low-quality, volume homebuilding. 

Zone D car parking proposals fail to consider the harm to the lives and amenities that existing local residents in Clyst Valley Road enjoy in their homes and gardens and is unneighbourly and inappropriate.’ 

These are selected contributions from genuine householders in this community who trust that their elected representatives will be attentive to their voices and not just pay lip service to residents’ aims and objectives; they request support and representation on key issues that significantly affect their lives and valued homes and ultimately they expect protection of their physical and mental wellbeing.  

For instance, to date there appears no proposals or provision for safe pedestrian access at the bottom of Winslade Park Avenue? Therefore, potentially 2,000 Winslade Park new business employees, families from 79 new homes (including children) and all existing residents will be required to walk on a heavily-trafficked narrow road, around blind bends with no pavements or adequate lighting to access the village amenities of the school, shop, post office, village hall, garage and pub or alternatively walk to the facilities at Winslade Manor. 

The two Reserved Matters housing applications are silent on this subject, ignoring the lack of crucial, highway upgrades that are imperative in this area; to date no comments or plans have been published by Devon Highways, when most would consider this to be a pivotal decision – a focal point affecting public safety? Do decision-makers intend getting substantial contributions from developers to widen the road to allow for pedestrian pavements – or will their decision be to completely block all vehicular access for existing Winslade Park householders merely to allow the 79 new-builds to progress in a village with no local housing need? 

Surely, this is of paramount importance to alleviate future serious injuries or fatalities that will, undoubtedly, occur in this area without the implementation of significant, enhanced highway safety measures? Are priorities getting skewed in favour of economic gains rather than the safety of real people?  Could decision-makers potentially recommend and approve sizeable commercial and housing developments, without significant highway safety improvements in this area that could risk life and limb? 

Consequently, when making planning decisions on large-scale developments that will have huge repercussions for so many people, the community urges planners to appreciate and acknowledge the viewpoints and perspectives of those who have made their homes in this East Devon village by opting to support people before profits

Morning Simon: Here is today’s news

Raw sewage released into the sea around Devon (With spotlight on Budleigh Salterton )

When you toed the line and voted down the Lord’s amendment you were condoning regulation that most of us know is ineffective. You have described subsequent criticisms as: “ludicrous and misleading accusations”. Are you sure that the u-turn proposals now being considered by the government will actually work?

A little thought for you to ponder Simon: why are South West Water renewing the main overflow discharge in association with  the Otter Regeneration Project?

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

Heavy rain has led to raw sewage being discharged into the sea near a Devon river where £15million is being spent to restore the natural environment.

An online map published by Surfers Against Sewage reports a storm overflow incident at Budleigh Salterton, near the mouth of the River Otter.

It says there are three discharge pipes in the area, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site.

One sewer overflow discharges directly onto the beach, another is 400m east and another discharges 1.3km away into the sea.

The estuary and cliffs form a nationally important site for biodiversity and the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The discharge of raw sewage into rivers and seas hit the headlines after the government rejected a plan from the House of Lords to end storm overflows.

The government voted down an amendment to the Environment Bill, then did a U-turn after an outcry and announced it will tighten the law to put a legal duty on water firms to reduce the harm from storm overflows.

Water companies are allowed to discharge a mixture of rainwater and sewage in extreme weather to stop the mostly Victorian sewerage system backing up.

There 400,000 sewage discharges last year, with 42,000 by South West Water, which operates in Devon and Cornwall. Concerns have been raised by the poor quality of river water, but the company says bathing waters have improved.

Environment groups including Surfers Against Sewage are campaigning for an end to the discharges, which they say risk the health of water users.

But government supporters say it is already taking action and the investment needed of at least £150billion would increase bills.

The Surfers Against Sewage map also showed storm overflows of raw sewage in the last 48 hours in south Devon at Exmouth, Dawlish, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Meadfoot and Abbey Sands at Torquay, Preston and Goodrington at Paignton, and in North Devon at Combe Martin, Wollacombe, Croyde and Westward Ho!

South West Water says it is “absolutely committed to improving river quality and protecting bathing waters in our region.” It said so far this year there has been a 60 per cent reduction in pollution incidents and 97 per cent of bathing waters are rated good or excellent, compared to 28.6 per cent in 1991.

The River Otter estuary is at the eastern end of the beach, and a £15million EU-backed project started in the summer to restore a floodplain on land previously reclaimed from the sea.

Downpours have caused flooding alongside the river and construction vehicles being used in the project were caught by the rising waters last week, which closed South Farm Road and halted work.

A statement from the Lower Otter Restoration Project said: “As soon as the floodwater started to subside our contractors moved the equipment and vehicles.

“Most machines could be restarted and driven out of the floodwaters when water levels allowed. South Farm Road is now open and has been swept clear for residents and access to South Farm businesses as usual.

“Environment Agency pollution staff closely monitored the site clear up to ensure that the river has not been adversely affected following the flooding. We are pleased to confirm that no material pollutant release was identified.

“We are working with our contractor to learn from the event and understand why the construction plant was not moved ahead of the flooding. We are already making improvements to ensure this does not happen again at LORP or any of our other sites.”