Bill to force PM to reveal Covid fines which could total £12,300

Liberal Democrats are today [Tuesday] tabling a bill to force Boris Johnson to admit to any fines he receives for lockdown breaches – and they calculate the prime minister could be forced to shell out up to £12,300.

Will Boris need “help” in paying any fines? – Owl

In a swift U-turn on Tuesday, Downing Street agreed to inform the media if the PM received a fine as a result of the Metropolitan Police inquiry into 12 social gatherings at No 10. The climbdown came 24 hours after No 10 caved in to pressure over its efforts to keep Sue Gray’s final report into the Partygate affair secret.

But it remains unclear whether the size of any fine will be revealed, and Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson said there was no commitment to publicise penalties for any other ministers, officials or members of the PM’s family.

Scotland Yard is not planning to reveal details of any fines, as this is not normal practice.

Under the Ministerial Disclosure Bill being tabled by Lib Dem home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael and seen by The Independent, any government minister issued with a fixed penalty notice would be required by law to make it public.

Because Covid FPNs can be increased for each subsequent office, Mr Carmichael calculates that Mr Johnson could face a total of £12,300 in fines if police penalise him in relation to six events which he is alleged to have attended.

These include the “bring your own booze” garden party on 20 May 2020 (£100); the celebration of Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday on 19 June (£200); the leaving do for former communications chief Lee Cain on 13 November (£800) and the alleged party to celebrate Dominic Cummings’ departure in the Johnsons’ flat that evening (£1,600).

Later events for which the Lib Dems believe the PM could incur fines are another leaving do on 17 December 2020 (£3,200) and a gathering in Downing Street on the departure of two No 10 private secretaries on 14 January 2021 (£6,400).

At present, there is no legal mechanism to force Mr Johnson to reveal fines if he chooses not to do so. His official spokesperson said he would release information voluntarily because of the “significant public interest” in him.

Mr Carmichael told The Independent that the repeated flip-flops from No 10 showed that the prime minister “holds the British public with deep disdain and is taking them for fools”.

He challenged Tory MPs to back his bill or face accusations that they are assisting Mr Johnson and his ministers in covering up their misdemeanours.

“We’ve never needed a legal mechanism to force ministers to reveal if they’d received fixed penalty notices because we’ve never had a leader as shameless as Boris Johnson,” said Mr Carmichael.

“He not only flouts the laws he asked us all to follow, but then repeatedly lies about it.

“Conservative MPs have no excuse – they know that this man is not fit for public office. They should back my Bill so Boris Johnson is forced to come clean. If Johnson is found to have broken the law and fined by the police, he will surely have no choice but to resign.”

Mr Carmichael has also written to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, calling on them to rule out the possibility of the Prime Minister using taxpayer-funded expenses to pay any potential fines which Boris Johnson receives.

MPs back tax cut for banking profits: How did Devon MPs vote?

A tax cut for banks described as ‘sickening’ by one Labour MP was passed in the Commons last night.

Paul Jones

The Finance Bill had its third reading in the House of Commons and included a provision to lower the rate of a surcharge on banking profits of more than £25 million from 8% to 3% from next year.

Coming on the eve of an expected increase in the energy price cap which could see bills rise for millions of households, the tax cut provoked anger on opposition benches, but passed by 302 votes to 226.

An amendment, which would have seen the tax cut axed, was defeated.

Labour called on the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to scrap the tax cut and instead use the estimated £1 billion it raises each year to fund support for households struggling to deal with the cost-of-living crisis, amid rising fuel prices and energy bills.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp (Con) supported the bill, as did fellow Conservative Neil Parish (Con, Tiverton and Honiton). 

Did Devon MPs vote in support of the bill?

Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter): No

Sir Geoffrey Cox (Con, Torridge and West Devon): Yes

Simon Jupp (Con, East Devon): Yes

Anthony Mangnall (Con, Totnes): Yes

Anne Marie Morris (Ind, Newton Abbot): Yes

Neil Parish (Con, Tiverton and Honiton): Yes

Selaine Saxby (Con, North Devon): Yes

Sir Gary Streeter (Con, South West Devon): No vote recorded

Mel Stride (Con, Central Devon): Yes

The cut was announced in last year’s Budget by the Chancellor.

Labour said the surcharge raised £8.3 billion since 2016, which could fund solid wall insulation for 110,000 homes, cavity wall insulation for a million homes, or 380,000 new gas condensing boilers.

And after the vote Richard Burgeon (Lab, East Leeds), said: “Sickening. I just voted to scrap a multi-billion tax cut for bankers.

“Not a single Tory MP voted to stop bankers getting even richer.

“How dare they do this when millions can’t even afford to pay their energy bills.”

Apologies but Owl may have to lie down in a darkened room for the rest of the day

Owl attempted to read the levelling up white paper

The reviewers are right: it lays out the problems in a number of academic style essays but offers no cures.

On page 96 we get to the nub of the issue:

Size the Prize 

Subject to some assumptions, it is possible to “size the prize” by unlocking places from their low-growth equilibrium. For example, consider if the performance of the bottom-performing quarter of places by productivity were to be “levelled up” to the median. The boost to productivity would be equivalent to a pay rise of around £2,300 for individuals in the poorest areas. For the UK economy as a whole, this would deliver a GVA gain of around £50bn per year. 

So we are going to invest in……………..? Owl tried following up the 192 references to “productivity” only to find generalities about improving this and improving that.

(We have been here before with our Local Enterprise Partnership, HotSW, haven’t we?)

Next Owl turned to Chapter 2 to try to learn something about plans for devolution:

Chapter 2 Systems Reform (yes this the place to look)

2.1 Introduction 

“Chapter 1 described the scale and source of the UK’s geographic disparities and the role public policy can play in counteracting them. It showed that there is no simple or singular solution to reversing spatial disparities because local economies are complex systems, shaped by cumulative and interconnected economic, social and institutional factors. Successful policy programmes need to act on the six capitals [See below] which underpin the prosperity of places to reverse these forces. 

This chapter starts by explaining why past attempts to promote spatial convergence in the UK have been unsuccessful and what lessons can be taken from that experience. In sum, decision-makers nationally and locally have typically lacked the information, incentives and institutions to act in ways which support the closure of spatial disparities in a signifcant and sustained way. 

Drawing on these lessons from the past, this chapter recommends wholesale changes to the information, incentives and institutions which underpin spatial decision-making in the UK. This transformation in the system of government, and in the governance of spatial policy, is supported by five pillars:

 a. a mission-oriented approach to setting policy;

 b. a reorientation of central government decision-making;

 c. greater empowerment of local government decision-making; 

d. a revolution in data and transparency at the subnational level; and

e. enhanced transparency and accountability of this new regime. 

These five pillars are mutually reinforcing. Each performs a necessary role in the new policy regime. But it is their combined effect that is necessary to reshape decision-making and deliver the long-term objectives of levelling up, as part of a new system of governance. That is why the focus of this chapter is the improved information, incentives and institutions underlying the new policy regime. “

By this time Owl had forgotten about the Six Capitals and had to return to the Executive Summary:

The Six Capitals 

Levelling up requires a focused, long-term plan of action and a clear framework to identify and act upon the drivers of spatial disparity. Evidence from a range of disciplines tells us these drivers can be encapsulated in six “capitals”. 

• Physical capital – infrastructure, machines and housing.

• Human capital – the skills, health and experience of the workforce. 

• Intangible capital – innovation, ideas and patents.

• Financial capital – resources supporting the financing of companies. 

• Social capital – the strength of communities, relationships and trust. 

• Institutional capital – local leadership, capacity and capability.  

County Deal

Apparently Devon will be one of the first invited to negotiate a “County Deal”.

Now where does the paper explain what such a deal might include and what the conditions might be?…………..

At this point Owl gave up, defeated.

Women face 120-mile trip to nearest menopause clinic

Prime Minister thanks Simon Jupp for raising very important campaign – but will anything happen?

Lewis Clarke

The Prime Minister has been asked to help women in East Devon facing an 120-mile round trip to get to their nearest menopause clinic.

Speaking in Parliament, on Wednesday, February 2, Simon Jupp, the Member of Parliament for East Devon, asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “My constituent Jinty Sheerin has launched a campaign for a dedicated menopause clinic in Devon.

“Women in East Devon currently face a 120-mile round trip to get to the nearest specialist menopause clinic. It is not good enough, is it?

“Will my right hon. Friend outline what steps the Government are taking to improve access to menopause services in Devon and the south-west?”

The Prime Minister responded: “I thank my hon. Friend for raising this very important campaign. We are committed to improving menopause care so that all women can have access to the support that they need to manage the symptoms.

“Menopause will be a priority in our women’s health strategy, and we are committed to establishing a UK-wide menopause taskforce.”

‘Will Exmouth police station have enough officers to fill it?’

Paul Millar

Exmouth’s need for a new police station has been a longstanding one, but its need for neighbourhood police officers is greater.

Seven years have passed since the station closed to the public, with not a whisper heard from the Conservative government, responsible for closing it.

Over the past two years since I was elected, I have written to the Police & Crime Commissioner on numerous occasions on behalf of local residents, many of whom contacted me appalled at the fact for a town of our large size, we don’t have enough officers to deal with local issues.

Commissioner Hernandez has said that she hopes the new station will improve ‘visibility’. She has suggested that her own officers may be frustrated that the station has been prioritised over new officers. I’m not surprised.

Being a good public servant requires the ability to order priorities according to the need of residents. For a town of Exmouth’s size, it is unacceptable not to have a public police reception with a ‘Lost and Found’ service and an enquiry desk. So this news is to be welcomed.

But it won’t on its own make our streets safer, and in that regard will not fully reassure the public.

What residents experiencing anti-social behaviour need are more neighbourhood police officers on the streets.

As a constituent and retired former Inspector was at pains to tell me, the new police officers announced does not go far enough to replace the frontline officers lost since the Tories came to power.

Indeed, since Commissioner Hernandez has been in post, there has been a drop in the number of police officers in frontline roles.

When Commissioner Hernandez refers to a ‘record number of police officers’, it is neither visible to my constituents, nor is it true.

Exmouth, like the rest of Devon and Cornwall, has much fewer numbers of police officers as a proportion of its population than the vast majority of other areas of England and Wales.

As such, police officers here are often under extreme pressure due to under-resourcing decided nationally, while my constituents suffer.

Demand in Exmouth is getting ever greater. Government policy on developments which so often lead to houses piled on top of each other, with no infrastructure, are also a problem as they create the ingredients for conflict.

If we are to be both tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, central government must commit to greater devolution of its almost Stalinist planning regime to local areas so as to give local people with more local knowledge greater power to design their communities with more care and sensitivity than a civil servant (the Inspector) in Whitehall.

In addition, the police require clear and and proportionate strategic direction on how they prioritise their limited resources.

Neither our police force, nor our democracy, are served by the wicked attempt by the (still) Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel to outlaw peaceful protests which just happen to be ‘noisy’.

While the House of Lords rejected it a fortnight ago, Johnson and Patel appear determined to force through and it is coming back to the House of Commons.

Peaceful protests are a basic human right. While they’re more likely seen in Exeter than in Exmouth, the protests in opposition to the appalling treatment by East Devon District Council of local Exmouth families running businesses on the seafront in Exmouth was effective in raising the important issue of the Conservative run Council’s historic lack of empathy towards ordinary people.

A new law would effectively ban the only action some local citizens have to disagree with actions they, often rightly, perceive as unacceptable.

These days, the new rainbow coalition administration in control of the council ensures that local people are beginning to be treated with more dignity and respect, but much of the old guard still remain.

A new law to ban protest would undermine this work.