Boris Johnson to back bid to overturn Owen Paterson lobbying inquiry

Standards in Public life should be sacrosanct – not to be cherry picked to justify sleaze – Owl

According to the Guardian, Boris Johnson will back an unprecedented bid to overthrow an independent inquiry that found the former cabinet minister Owen Paterson committed an “egregious” breach of lobbying rules.

Tory MPs will be instructed by party whips on Wednesday to avoid imposing an immediate 30-day suspension on their colleague by backing a motion that argues the initial probe by the parliamentary standards commissioner was flawed. Instead, a new committee would be set up to review the evidence.

Whether the amendments are selected will be a matter for the Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. He will announce on Wednesday afternoon which – if any – will be voted on when MPs begin a 90-minute debate on the report into Paterson released last week.

Here are the Committee on Standards in Public Life conclusions that led to their recommended sanctions.

The Committee’s conclusions and recommended sanctions

The Committee commented that it does not doubt that Mr Paterson sincerely believes that he has acted properly. Mr Paterson is clearly convinced in his own mind that there could be no conflict between his private interest and the public interest in his actions in this case. But it is this same conviction that meant that Mr Paterson failed to establish the proper boundaries between his private commercial work and his parliamentary activities, as set out in the Guide to the Rules. The Committee concluded that being able to judge the difference between one’s private, personal interest and the public interest is at the very heart of public service and a senior member of the House with many years standing should be able to make that distinction more clearly.

In accordance with normal practice, before considering sanctions the Committee noted any aggravating or mitigating factors in the case. Aggravating factors included:

  • No previous case of paid advocacy has seen so many breaches or such a clear pattern of behaviour in failing to separate private and public interests.
  • Mr Paterson’s financial remuneration from Randox and Lynn’s amounted to nearly three times his annual parliamentary salary.
  • Mr Paterson’s actions demonstrate a failure to uphold the Seven Principles of Public Life.
  • Mr Paterson has made serious, personal, and unsubstantiated allegations against the integrity of the Commissioner and her team.
  • Mr Paterson is a former Minister, and an experienced long-serving Member of the House.

The Committee also noted mitigating factors, including:

  • Mr Paterson’s wife took her own life in June 2020. The Committee consider it very possible that grief and distress caused by this event has affected the way in which Mr Paterson approached the Commissioner’s investigation thereafter.
  • In respect of the breaches relating to use of his parliamentary office, Mr Paterson had suffered a period of ill health which made him less able easily to leave the parliamentary estate.
  • Regarding the breaches of paid advocacy rules, Mr Paterson has an evident passion for and expertise in food and farming matters which, in itself, is admirable, as long as it is channelled within the rules of the House.

The Committee determined that Mr Paterson’s actions, in particular those relating to paid advocacy, constitute a serious breach of the rules.

The Committee found that Mr Paterson’s actions were an egregious case of paid advocacy, that he repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the House into disrepute.

In line with previous cases of a similar severity, the Committee recommends that Mr Paterson be suspended from the service of the House for 30 sitting days.

As the Government Deputy Chief Whip confirmed on 9 September 2021, it is the usual practice for the relevant motions to be tabled by the Government and debated as soon as possible. The Committee recorded its expectation that this should be within five sitting days of the publication of the report.

Cash-strapped councils must sell off town halls and public toilets, warns minister

How is that going to help? 

Think of it in a local context. Would  EDDC get £10 million + inflation for their new HQ!

EDDC is already the buyer of last resort for failing leisure centres.

And who will buy public toilets – maybe get them sponsored but not by South West Water!

Perhaps, in extremis, Clinton Devon Estates would take back the car parks on Woodbury Common! – Owl

Patrick Butler www.theguardian.com 

Two struggling councils have been warned they face government intervention unless they selloff publicly-owned assets, including town halls, public toilets, leisure centres and libraries, and push ahead with further cuts to services.

The threat by local government minister, Kemi Badenoch, followed publication of reviews into the two councils’ finances which concluded both ran the risk of failing to balance their budget – effectively going bankrupt – without urgent action.

Badenoch told Peterborough city council, which is run by the Conservatives in alliance with independents, and Wirral council – run by a minority Labour administration – they must set out plans within 30 days to balance the books or face possible intervention.

“Any faltering in this area would be of considerable concern and could lead to a reconsideration as to whether a different approach might be appropriate to secure the improvements that are necessary,” she wrote.

The National Audit Office said this year that at least 25 councils in England were on the edge of bankruptcy after years of cuts, and amid soaring cost pressures. The pandemic has added more issues and both Slough and Croydon councils have declared effective bankruptcy in recent months.

Peterborough – whose leader warned that “difficult choices” lay ahead – was told by Badenoch it had still not “fully grasped” the scale of its financial challenges, while in a separate letter she told Wirral it “had not fully acknowledged or perhaps even understood the severity” of its position.

Both councils have made tens of millions of pounds of cuts in recent years, despite rising demand for services, particularly in adult social care and children’s services. Both have applied to government for financial support in recent months after concerns they would not be able to balance their budgets.

The review of Peterborough’s finances said it had lost nearly £100m in government funding over the past decade. The council told reviewers services were now at “dangerously low levels” after repeated cuts in recent years and had in some cases reached a basic legal minimum service.

However, the reviews insisted both councils had scope to make further cuts to services and should embark on a sale of assets. In Peterborough’s case this should include the sale of 3,000 acres of farmland, which currently bring in rent of £400,000 a year, the council town hall, and several office blocks.

The review of Wirral’s finances concluded that it should sell off a raft of council-owned assets including golf courses, youth clubs, libraries, leisure centres, community centres, public toilets and office buildings to raise cash to balance its budget.

The review criticised Wirral council’s apparent reluctance to make cuts or sack staff, saying it had a culture of avoiding “difficult financial decisions”. It said: “Until members and officers face up to the need to have to make difficult decisions … its financial sustainability remains uncertain.”

Wayne Fitzgerald, the leader of Peterborough council, said: “The report acknowledges the very significant challenges we have faced in the past but also recognises that Peterborough’s services perform well and are low cost.”

He added: “It is clear though that I as leader, including all other members, regardless of political party, must take on board the seriousness of these reports and set about implementing some of the recommendations which will mean that very difficult choices are ahead.

“Going forward I want to invest more in services for residents and see the city continue to prosper and grow, but we will need the finances to do so.”

Paul Satoor, chief executive of Wirral council, said: “We will take time to fully digest the findings and recommendations made in these reviews.”

‘Levelling-up’ funds awarded to local councils of Tory ministers

Two councils in England represented by Tory ministers have received money under the government’s flagship “levelling-up” fund despite being among the least deprived fifth of local authorities nationwide.

Niamh McIntyre www.theguardian.com 

The health secretary Sajid Javid’s constituency of Bromsgrove got £14.5m in the first announced tranche of cash under the scheme.

Central Bedfordshire, which received £26.7m in levelling-up funding for transport improvements and a community wellbeing hub, is partly represented by Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary.

Lewes council, which is represented by the Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, received the ninth-largest per capita award despite being among the least deprived 40% of local authorities. Lewes received funding for local seafood industries and will also benefit from an East Sussex bid for a new road bridge in Seaford.

A number of areas of high deprivation received large awards, including Burnley and Stoke-on-Trent, which got £19.9m and £56m respectively.

Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North, which includes an area that missed out on funding, said: “The Tories like to talk a good game on levelling up, but this is yet more proof that it is an empty slogan and that pork barrel politics is the name of the game.

“I think it’s high time that the prime minister, chancellor and levelling-up secretary come clean and explain to the people of Billingham, and other areas that have significant levels of deprivation but missed out on much needed funding, why they feel places like Yarm and Eaglescliffe in the Tees Valley, and Bromsgrove and Central Bedfordshire further afield, are more deserving of the levelling-up cash than they are.”

The government’s levelling-up fund is designed to combat regional inequality by investing in infrastructure that “brings pride to a local area”, according to the scheme’s prospectus.

Just under half of the 65 English local authorities that will benefit from funding announced in last week’s budget are among the country’s most deprived fifth. However, Bromsgrove, Central Bedfordshire and the Isles of Scilly – which is to receive funding for a ferry service – are among the country’s least deprived.

Although more Labour councils than Conservative-controlled ones received funding in this first tranche, Tory councils did better per capita at £93 per head of population compared with £65 per head for Labour councils. Councils with no overall control received £102 per head while the two Liberal Democrat areas announced thus far, Eastbourne and Hinckley and Bosworth, are in line to receive £183 per capita.

Where funding was originally allocated to a county council or city region, the Guardian analysis split the funding across the lower-tier councils that will benefit from a scheme.

The announced funding is part of the Conservative party’s broader “levelling-up agenda”. Other announcements have already been made under the towns fund and the future high streets fund while a further pot, the £220m community renewal fund, is yet to be announced.

The first tranche of the £4.8bn levelling-up fund announced last week included cultural regeneration funding for Liverpool’s waterfront and the reopening of the Whorlton Bridge over the River Tees.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “This analysis is nonsense. The selection process for the levelling-up fund is transparent, robust and fair, and we publish the criteria on gov.uk.

“The first round of funding will help to ensure opportunity is spread more equally across the UK by empowering local leaders, improving public services and restoring pride in place.”

  • This article was amended on 2 November 2021. A Beatles-inspired attraction in Liverpool will not be funded by the levelling-up fund as an earlier version stated.

Exclusive: My letter inspired the Times story on sewage threat to the beavers, but there’s more.

Nicola Daniel has asked Owl to publish the following: 

In my email letter to the Times on Sunday which inspired Tom Ball’s article on the Otter wild beaver colony threatened by sewage (he phoned to discuss it with me). I made a further point, not picked up in the article.

South West Water’s contribution to the £15 million Lower Otter Restoration Project is to renew the original sewer pipe running along the shingle bar and under the river. This is in order that the Budleigh Salterton’s sewage holding tank under the Lime Kiln carpark can still discharge under the sea at the Otter ledge. (In 2020 this happened 60 times, 591 hours). I find this very disturbing that money is available to replace a pipe which will continue to discharge untreated excrement and not to seek to remove the excrement in an environmental friendly way. 

This excrement is just a small percentage of the sewage vented into the bay at Budleigh Salterton. The river is very contaminated and the beavers not only live in  Honiton’s sewage but overspills from all the settlements along the river. eg Newton Poppleford had 90 discharges, 442 hours in 2020. Surely SWW could sort out the sewage for a village of approximately 1,800?  This pours into the sea. 

In the last few years at least swimmers could consult a board indicating if it was safe to swim in the bay. Not anymore. It has not been repaired all during the summer.  

To my mind the only solution to this disgraceful saga is to cease all house building along the river Otter until our effluent is disposed of in a manner appropriate to the standards of a civilised society living in 2021. 

Footnote from Owl: Remember that the Pennon group, owners of South West Water which provides 83% of its profits, has aspirations to take a leading voice in how our local economy is run. It describes itself as: the leading UK infrastructure group behind the ‘Great South West’ Growth Charter. With this record of putting profits before pollution, this is scary!

Tipton St. John Primary School, Jimon Jupp asks for funding

Let’s hope he is successful for once! – Owl.

Photo of Simon JuppSimon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

The grounds of Tipton St John Primary School in East Devon have been flooded for the second time in a week. Previous flooding of the school led the Environment Agency and the Department for Education to warn of a risk to life. Earlier this year, plans to move the school to Ottery St Mary were rejected by local councillors. Will my hon. Friend please include flood risk in the criteria for the next phase of the school rebuilding programme?

Photo of Robin WalkerRobin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Minister of State (Education)

As one who represents a constituency where schools have been flooded, I am sympathetic to the issues my hon. Friend has raised. The Department is aware of the flood risk to the school, and is working with the relevant parties to find a solution. We have consulted on how to select schools for the next round of the school rebuilding programme, and we are currently considering the extent to which flood risk will be part of the selection criteria, alongside other condition and safety concerns.