Is EDDC liaising with the “Dorset” National Park Team?

Natural England has been tasked by the government to assess the creation of a new National Park based on combining the East Devon and Dorset AONBs.

As with the formative stages of the creation of the Jurassic Park World Heritage Site, all the running is coming from Dorset. Unless EDDC starts to engage with the process, guess who will be left behind again.

For example, the latest Dorset National Park Teams newsletter outlines proposals for a simplified and streamlined approach to planning in the proposed Dorset National Park

A New Approach to Planning

Dorset offers the unique opportunity of a National Park wholly within the boundaries of the Dorset Council area. There is an opportunity to develop a unique, streamlined and cost effective new style National Park.

 ➤ The Dorset Council could have the leading role on the National Park Authority (NPA) Board and in NPA policy development and implementation.

 ➤ It could develop and implement a Local Plan for the whole Dorset Council area including the National Park. NPA staff could be Dorset Council employees, with a single planning team covering all of rural Dorset. 

➤ NPA resources, including central government grant, would benefit Dorset Council, local communities and businesses, help to meet the costs of planning and other functions, and thus release funds for other local priorities. 

➤ A National Park Advisory Board could include relevant Dorset organisations (e.g. the Jurassic Coast Trust, Dorset Local Nature Partnership) and help promote coordination and synergy. NPA funds would support such local organisations (and thus also supplement or release Dorset Council funds). 

➤ Offer a wider range of recreational opportunities than is available in any existing or proposed National Park.

The former Dorset County Council concluded that “the proposal for a National Park could potentially support the Council’s corporate outcomes in relation to a healthy and prosperous Dorset.” 

The Dorset National Park team accepted an invitation from Natural England in the summer to be involved in the further assessment of the Dorset proposal now it has been short-listed for further evaluation. The team looks forward to renewing these discussions with Natural England. 

Dorset has an opportunity to take forward unique proposals for a National Park which would bring economic, financial and environmental benefits for all.

No compulsory police checks for East Devon councillors

Dubious legality of Tories’ proposal

The Conservative Group at East Devon District Council (EDDC) has failed to get through a new Disclosure and Barring (DBS) policy following the conviction of one their former members for sex crimes against children.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Tory John Humphreys was Exmouth’s mayor

Following the jailing in August of John Humphreys, who as well as serving on the district council was a former mayor of Exmouth, the Conservative group at EDDC called for mandatory criminal record checks for councillors and anyone who stands for election to the council in future. 

Now a less ambitious proposal from the Conservative group, asking the council to lobby the government to change the law around DBS to allow councils to carry out such checks, has failed.

Former councillor and alderman John Humphreys, 59, is serving a 21-year prison sentence after being found guilty at Exeter Crown Court of sexually assaulting two boys between 1990 and 2001. He was a prominent councillor whilst the Conservatives controlled East Devon, which since 2019 has been run by a coalition of independents, Lib Dems and Greens.

As it stands, district councils do not have the legal power to ask all councillors to go through enhanced DBS checks – something EDDC Conservatives want changed.

The law already prevents anyone who has been sentenced to three months or more in prison in the five years before the election from standing to be a councillor.

But East Devon Conservatives wanted to go further, and submitted a motion to EDDC’s audit and governance committee asking for the council to lobby the government to introduce mandatory enhanced DBS checks for all district councillors and officers.

The proposal failed after other councillors argued such a law would not create the necessary safeguards. They said it would be insufficient to prevent a similar case to that of John Humphreys in future and that even enhanced DBS checks do not create the protections needed.

Putting forward the motion, Councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Honiton St. Michael’s) said a new law requiring all councillors to undergo enhanced DBS checks would mean the public would have “suitably appropriate people representing them and their interests.” 

Cllr Twiss’ proposal also asked for EDDC to pay for the costs of lobbying the government on the issue. It also said EDDC should pay for safeguarding training for all councillors and foot the bill for all DBS checks. The motion didn’t receive enough votes to pass.

Right now EDDC councillors only have to go through DBS checks if they are around vulnerable people or children. A recent report from officers found the law allows the council only to ask councillors to undergo basic DBS checks. 

At present EDDC councillors can voluntarily undergo basic checks, but have to pay the £23 bill personally. If EDDC were to pay all 60 councillors to undergo the check it would cost council taxpayers £1,380.

Basic DBS checks only provide very limited information relating to ‘unspent’ convictions, which generally means very recent ones or those that carry only light sentences. 

Standard checks show spent and unspent convictions as well as police cautions. Enhanced checks detail all convictions and cautions, but also extra information from police. These can only be requested if they are relevant to the role, such as a school governor.

Speaking at the committee, Cllr Steve Gazzard (Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh) said he had no problem “in principle” with Twiss’ proposal but it would not reveal things done by a councillor right after a check.

He told the committee: “My only concern is that an enhanced DBS check is only as good as the time you apply for it.

“I don’t think it’s the panacea that some people think. It’s not going to solve all problems.”

Councillor Paul Hayward (Democratic Alliance Group, Yarty) added: “Effectively they’re an MOT certificate. Your car can fall apart the day afterwards but you have an MOT certificate.”

Cllr Nick Hookway (Democratic Alliance Group, Exmouth Littleham) agreed, and said that the most important thing was that the council’s safeguarding measures are “known by all and operated by all.”

Cllr Hooway’s put forward an alternative motion to request that the council’s safeguarding training includes training on the operation of the safeguarding policy. The motion was passed by the governance and audit committee.

As it stands it is not legal to force councillors who do not have access to vulnerable people or children to have enhanced DBS checks. 

However, before the vote on Cllr Twiss’ motion, councillor Andrew Moulding (Conservative, Axminster) said the council should “seriously consider enhanced DBS checks for all councillors and those intending to be a councillor.”

He added: “I am suggesting quite strongly that this council should consider seriously that members of the council should have enhanced DBS checks in order to satisfy our public and constituents that we are suitable people to take that office.”

It was not clear if Cllr Moulding was stating that enhanced DBS checks should be required even if that was not lawful as it stands.

However, Cllr Twiss argued: “Nobody on this council is forcing anyone to take a DBS check, that wouldn’t be legal – nobody is suggesting that.”

He said that his motion was a chance to “get ahead of the curve” before the UK government updates the law.

A private member’s bill, introduced by Tory MP Sir Paul Beresford, could result in tighter rules. The proposed law, still at an early stage, would prevent people involved in some types of sexual offences from taking such a role.

But even if this law had been in place when John Humphreys was a councillor it is unlikely that the DBS checks would have found any wrongdoing unless they had been updated regularly.

As a governor at an Exmouth primary school, it is very likely that former Cllr Humpreys would have undergone criminal records checks. His crimes only became public many years later, after the council had honoured him with the title of ‘alderman’ – an honour withdrawn by EDDC following Mr Humphreys’ conviction.

Boris Johnson’s controversial care plans face resistance in Lords

Owl wonders whether Simon Jupp saw this coming? 

We have been here before quite recently haven’t we?

Boris Johnson’s controversial social care bill will “undoubtedly” be amended in the House of Lords, as peers urge MPs to think again about the “Robin Hood in reverse” cap on care costs, The Independent has been told.

Peers said that the Upper House will be “emboldened” in revising the prime minister’s plans both by the size of the Conservative rebellion in Monday’s vote and by the fact that crucial details of the cap’s operation were released only days before the legislation cleared the Commons, giving MPs almost no time for scrutiny.

And a former Tory deputy leader said Mr Johnson should prepare for defeat in the Lords on the bill, which completed its passage through the Commons on Tuesday.

Conservative peer Ros Altmann said there were concerns over how the cap – which threatens to force pensioners with assets of £106,000 or less to sell their homes to pay for care while protecting the property of wealthier individuals – fits in with the prime minister’s professed aim of “levelling up” the country.

Both Baroness Altmann and Tory former health secretary Andrew Lansley are understood to be considering amendments which could force MPs to reconsider the last-minute change announced last week, under which local authority contributions will not be included towards the proposed £86,000 lifetime maximum for spending on care.

Former pensions minister Lady Altmann told The Independent: “Undoubtedly there will be amendments. I am hoping that the government might address some of the problems that have arisen from this bill, particularly relating to the way it may be very good for the well-off, but not at all for middle and working-class families across the country. If we are committed to levelling up, I’m not sure this fits in.

“These changes have happened far too fast, given their importance. The fact that it was rushed out days before MPs were asked to vote will only make peers more ready to ask the Commons to reconsider.”

Professor of palliative medicine Ilora Finlay, who sits in the Lords as a crossbencher, said there was “disquiet” among peers not only about the cap, but also about the failure of the legislation to deal with long-standing problems about the integration of health and social care and the status of care workers.

“Health and social care are treated as separate because they have different budgets, but it is the same person that requires health care and social care if something goes wrong,” Lady Finlay told The Independent.

“There are financial silos and service commissioning silos and the result is that patients find themselves in hospital and can’t be discharged to social care because the facilities are not there and that causes backlogs.

“Government after government has kicked this into the long grass. At least this government is trying to do something. What we need to do is see whether there is something here in the bill that we can build on. I would expect the Lords to do what they do well, which is to scrutinise every line of the bill and debate what needs to be debated to improve it.”

Lady Finlay said there were potential problems with the detail of Mr Johnson’s proposed care costs cap, which effectively treated people differently depending on the increase in the value of their homes since they bought them decades previously.

“If you bought a home in the north of England 40 years ago, it will have increased in value by far less than if you had bought it in Surrey, and that will affect the outcome under the design of this cap,” she said. “There is a risk of widening disparities, which is a potential problem.”

The Health and Care Bill is unlikely to receive its first reading in the Lords much before Christmas, with any crunch votes not expected until February, giving peers a long time to build coalitions behind amendments.

Labour’s leader in the Lords, Angela Smith, said she expected opposition parties to seek cross-party co-operation, building on the widespread concern among Tory peers about the cap plans.

“One of the things that emboldens the House of Lords to act is where there is a sense that public opinion feels the Commons has got it wrong,” she told The Independent. “People have had very little time to find out about this, but I think over the coming months we will see pennies dropping across the country. If Tory MPs are being contacted by their constituents about concerns, they will be in touch with Tory peers and that will help shape thinking.

“There are clearly already tensions because of the scale of the rebellion, and because of the government’s history of U-turns, Tories can’t be confident that the government isn’t going to change its mind under pressure. That will also shape thinking.

“People are already talking formally and informally about how changes could be made. There are a lot of people in the Lords with a background and expertise in social care or experience of social care. They can now give the government the opportunity to do the right thing.”

Former Tory deputy leader Peter Lilley said Mr Johnson must expect to see his plans defeated in the Lords.

Speaking to Times Radio’s John Pienaar, Lord Lilley said: “The government normally does get defeated in the Lords. This is what nobody realises, the rare occasions we win a vote the chief whip sends us an email rejoicing in this rare fact. So it’s normal for the government to be defeated. It will probably be defeated on this, and send it back to the House of Commons.”