Latest success for the Chumocracy

Owl wonders if this counts as a “win” in terms of productivity as well: big boost to wealth output (GDP) for little effort?

Government paid firm linked to Tory peer £122m for PPE bought for £46m

David Conn (Extract)

PPE the government bought for £122m from a company linked to the Tory peer Michelle Mone was purchased from the Chinese manufacturer for just £46m.

The extraordinary profits apparently made by PPE Medpro and its partners in the supply chain are revealed in documents leaked to the Guardian, including contracts and an inspection report for sterile surgical gowns supplied by the firm.

Despite being bought at the start of the pandemic and delivered in 2020, the 25m gowns were never used by the NHS after government officials rejected them following an inspection……

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 14 March

Sunak’s spring statement fell flat because work no longer lifts people out of poverty

A Tory MP was branded was also “callous” for suggesting poverty-hit people are “sitting on benefits” and should “get any job”, as Britain braces for the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s.

Katherine Fletcher was accused of an “insult” on struggling families after Rishi Sunak’s mini-Budget last week failed to offer the poorest help for the looming cost-of-living crisis despite soaring energy bills and food prices.

The Chancellor refused to reinstate the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and, despite inflation set to average 8% this year, uprated benefits by a measly 3%, meaning low-income families will in fact be hit hardest.

Sunak’s spring statement fell flat because work no longer lifts people out of poverty

Richard Partington 

Where did it all go wrong for Rishi Sunak? The most popular chancellor in four decades now pilloried for a spring statement which failed to meet the challenge of the worst hit to living standards since the Suez crisis.

Attacked for promising tax cuts while stealthily driving up the tax burden to the highest level since Clement Attlee was prime minister in the late 1940s, criticised for putting Instagram moments ahead of the serious task at hand, here was an out-of-touch ivory tower politician who would allow living costs to rise faster than pensions and benefits. It was the mini-budget to please no one.

In an earlier time the story would have been very different. Conservative chancellors promising tax cuts would normally enjoy support from their own party. Prioritising the public finances over benefit handouts should be a surefire winner for any would-be Tory leadership contender.

In the arid desert of support for Sunak, it was noticeable that George Osborne was among the few politicians willing to offer him praise, gushing that the Conservatives had been given back a “long-term economic plan” based on controlling spending, reducing the deficit and cutting taxes.

The trouble is the times have changed. Now is not the moment for an Osborne reboot of “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”. In case the chancellor hadn’t noticed, the economic weather has turned – with more than a million people expected to be pushed into absolute poverty.

A decade of austerity cuts to public services has swung public opinion behind more state intervention, not less, with the response to Covid highlighting how much can be done during extreme shocks to the economy.

That Sunak’s spring statement fell so badly flat highlights three things: how much has changed since Osborne was chancellor, how badly Sunak has judged the cost of living crisis and how poorly equipped the neoliberal toolbox is to deal with the big challenges facing the British economy.

A decade earlier the Conservatives had been on a branding exercise to claim the mantle of the workers’ party, taking aim at benefit scroungers to boost employment and discourage a life on handouts.

Sunak’s approach is in that vein – promoting work as the best engine to lift people out of poverty. Having cut benefits by £20 per week last October despite all the warnings, he was hardly going to turn back now.

However, there are serious problems with this approach when hard work isn’t making life any easier while living costs soar, and after a decade of economic mismanagement from the party of government.

The Resolution Foundation estimates average pay levels are on course to be just £18 per week higher in 2027 than they were in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. The upwards path for wages achieved in the years before the financial crisis has stalled in the decade since.

Far from levelling up or building back better, typical household incomes are forecast to fall by 2% between Boris Johnson’s election landslide in 2019 and 2025, making his the worst parliament on record for living standards.

The Tory advert for the world of work could hardly be worse. Failure to take action on workers’ rights has led to the scandal of 800 seafarers being fired without notice at P&O Ferries. Precariousness of employment and low pay are endemic.

Refusing to boost benefits ignores that millions of the lowest-paid workers are forced to rely on them.

Official figures show as many as 40% out of the 5.6 million universal credit claimants are in work. While the government is raising the minimum wage by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour this April, benefit cuts made last autumn and tax rises this spring mean many on low-pay will still be worse off.

Most people living in poverty are either in work or live in a working household, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. As many as one in eight workers are now in poverty – about 4 million people. That is a rise of about 1.5 million from the late 1990s when one in 11 people in poverty had a job.

While research suggests poverty rates fall sharply when people move into work, it’s clear that even sustained employment does not eliminate a life below the breadline in 21st century Britain. An action plan to improve the outcomes of the economy for workers is needed.

This requires a twin-track approach. Firstly, additional help for the poorest with surging energy bills and the rising cost of a weekly shop. It took Boris Johnson less than 24 hours from the spring statement to admit this might be necessary.

Secondly, longer term measures to get the economy moving and provide access to well-paid, secure employment. This should start with an employment bill to ban exploitative “fire and rehire” practices of the type used by bosses at P&O, as well as ending zero-hours contracts.

A decade ago, the public did not believe Labour when the party insisted the best way to cut the deficit was to boost the economy with a Keynesian burst of public investment. Today, the shoe is firmly on the other foot. The Tory argument that the state must step aside and let businesses and workers find their own way through the latest economic shocks falls entirely flat.

Area of Sidmouth beach cordoned off after cliff fall – Sunday

Coastguards have cordoned off a section of Sidmouth beach following a rock fall.

Anita Merritt

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) were alerted by police to assist following reports of the latest collapse of the cliffs this morning, March 27.

An MCA spokesperson said: “Our team from Beer Coastguard Rescue Team went and cordoned off the area to keep people safe.”

It was also confirmed that the local council had been informed and was going to put up fencing. Last summer there were five massive falls in one morning along the cliffs between Sidmouth and Salcombe Mouth.

The area is infamous for dangerous cliff falls and signage at along the edge and on the beach advise visitors to keep well away from the area. In three weeks at the end of May and into June last summer, there were four separate cliff falls prompting safety warnings from the local coastguard.

Behind tourist trap Seaton is a sad reality..

….locals are struggling to afford to stay in this seaside gem as house prices are soaring.

It’s late March and the picturesque seaside town of Seaton is already filling up with visitors as locals businesses begin to prepare for a busy summer. Daytrippers, retired couples and local workers make up for most of the people who I came across on my trip to this sunny spot.

Chloe Parkman 

As a first time visitor to this seaside holiday destination, I was anticipating to find a lot fish and chips shops, ice-cream parlours and tourist stores, and for the most part that was true. However, when walking along the seafront I noticed that there were a couple of empty business units, which were yet open for trade in this prime location.

After speaking with Kinmarie Skinner-Parkes, owner of Beanos, I soon found out that one of the businesses had closed after 54 years of trade, and was due to reopen with a new captain at the helm. Kinmare also told me that, despite all of the positives to this beautiful town, there was a sad reality beneath the surface; locals are struggling to afford to stay in this seaside gem as house prices are soaring.

According to Right Move, properties in Seaton had an overall average price of £299,713 over the last year. The majority of sales in Seaton during the last year were detached properties, selling for an average price of £405,815. Flats sold for an average of £167,903, with semi-detached properties fetching £266,977.

Overall, sold prices in Seaton over the last year were 3% down on the previous year and 8% up on the 2019 peak of £278,174.

A house price increase seems to be common theme across many Devon seaside resorts. And so, I decided to speak with Seaton locals to find out what it is really like to call this town home.

Kinmarie Skinner-Parkes, owner of Beanos

Kinmarie: “I moved to Seaton in 2009, I’m from Beer. I love it here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I think the only thing is that the house prices have gone up so much that the younger families have had to move out of the area.

“It’s definitely linked to second home owners, in my opinion. There are some real prime locations, like there was a penthouse up for sale for nearly £1million.

“I don’t think any of the locals will be able to afford to buy these houses. Young families won’t be able to afford it so they will need to move out of the town.

“I know quite a few who have had to leave due to the prices. It’s these sort of places where people want to come and retire.

“My family member lives in Plymouth, and they are desperate to come back, but the rental prices are between £650 and £900 per month. You need a good job.

“There used to be a problem with drugs here, but that is phasing out now. I think those people know they are being watched and probably do it in their homes now.

“It’s not a place where you walk around and feel unsafe, not at all. This winter it’s been quite good, really business wise. We have stayed open as much as we can, we are governed by the weather here as we have no indoor area. But we were open and busy in January as it was sunny. Lots of people were coming out and about having a walk.

“One of the businesses next door to us has just gone and it was open for around 54-years. I think the new people are going to reopen it and keep it as it is. But I don’t think the town is lacking businesses as such, there are lots in the town. There are hardly any empty shops really.”

Hospiscare volunteer, Patricia

Patricia said: “I am a resident and I have been here for six years. I love living in Seaton and wouldn’t want to move anywhere else. It does get busy in the summer when people come down, we have all the beach huts here and the fun run on Saturday’s.

“I have worked here since I moved here and there are always people here keeping us going. There are lots of things going on here, I mean we have the tramway.

“Seaton is not a wealthy area, Sidmouth is more wealthy. You have young people and retired people here. We had a young lady here who was homeless, so homeless people are here.

“We have a foodbank here too who help those in need. I don’t think locals can afford to stay here really. There is a house around the corner from me which sold within a day of hitting the market – over the asking price.

“People want to move down here. With the pandemic, they are able to work from home. So I think a lot of people can move here. Renting is horrendous.

“My family members live in Berkshire and they are in council properties as the prices are going up and up and up.

“I don’t think there are that many second homes, but obviously people come down for holidays.”

Elderly couple who have lived in Seaton for 25-years say ‘the infrastructure is not good because the shops are not that full’

An elderly couple, who have lived in the town for 25-years and have been married for over 60-years, say the town is lacking things.

The couple, who wish to remain anonymous said: “The town is lacking things. But all of the towns are in the same boat, Sidmouth is exactly the same, they are all heading that way. And of course, the infrastructure is not all that good because the shops are not that full.

“Everything is getting dearer. The only thing we have in Seaton is the tramway which brings people in. Oh, and the supermarket. The supermarket here is the largest around and because of that people come to it.

“We’ve been together 64 years. We were kids together where we lived together before.

“A lot of houses have been built around the supermarket here which has brought the population up but it hasn’t done much for the infrastructure.

“This is certainly not a rich area, all we know from our point of view is the rates of housing are very high. They say that it’s because the town has got a lot of churches. That usually sets the price of these things.

“This is an expensive area we feel. I wouldn’t say the people here are well off though.

“We have lost a lot of shops here in the town, there are things you can’t get. We had Boots here but that’s gone. It’s been a downward trade here.

“There isn’t a lot of crime in the area, but you do get drugs and things here. From a crime point of you it does happen but not really. We lived in London so we have always been aware, always locking our doors and all that. But we love it here.”

Linda Doughty owner of Coastal Crafts Collective

Linda said: “We have had the business for five years and I know the town reasonably well. I think Seaton is lovely, it’s really friendly. I think it’s an amazing coastline and there is an awful lot to do here.

“It gets busy in the summer but it doesn’t get ridiculously busy. I think a lot of people come here as it is nicely busy as opposed to being ridiculously busy.

“My understanding is that actually the proportion of second homes here is a lot less, for example in the Lyme Regis or Sidmouth area.

“One of the reasons is that this is a popular retirement area, I think that’s because it’s flatter than perhaps Sidmouth. And although prices have gone up, it is much more reasonable than Sidmouth or Lyme Regis.

“I would say that although it is a retirement community there are a lot of young people here. It’s a real mixed community which is really nice.

“I am not aware of much crime in the area and I feel safe here. I am certainly not concerned about walking around in the dark or by myself.

“I think the town is back on the up business. I invested in the town five years ago because I absolutely believe the town is on the up. The thing I love about Seaton is that there are a lot of independent and small businesses, rather than a load of chains. It’s a very creative and artistic area.

“I think that gives it a lot more soul and community.”

Visitor – Mrs K Jones

Mrs K. Jones said: “We live in Worcester but we love it down here. We looked to buy a property down here five or six years ago.

“But, it was very difficult because we were living on the east coast and we are of an age where things are difficult to buy a property.

“The prices around here have gone up, the house prices.

“Where we are staying it looks as though people are buying properties. It looks to me like people are buying them and not renting them out, which could mean many people may not be able to come down anymore.

“I think there are a lot of second homes here, and I think over the last two-years people are buying more and coming down. But,I don’t think there is poverty in Seaton, not really.

“I agree that a lot of businesses have closed here. We have been coming down before Tesco opened here. I think Tesco is a good addition but the smaller shops have closed, they are mostly tourist shops now.

“We love it here and will continue to come down as much as we can. But it is a shame that where we are staying, it looks as though they are going to be second homes.”

Awkward moment minister shown how just much school funding has changed under Tories

The education minister was just shown how just much school funding has changed under Tories and it made for awkward viewing.

Kate Plummer

Nadhim Zahawi appeared on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show today and was presented with a stark graph showing the change in funding per-pupil between state and private schools since the Conservative came to power in 2010.

The gap between state school spending and private school fees in England has more than doubled in a decade.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found average private school fees were £6,500 (92 per cent) higher than state funding in 2020-21.

In 2009-10, the gap was just £3,100, or about 39 per cent.

With this in mind, Ridge said: “If you are a parent looking at this, what do you think you would conclude about how the Conservatives prioritise state school pupils?”

Zahawi said that there was a financial crisis in 2008 and we had to “tighten our belts” to “try and get the economy back on its feet”. He then said the pandemic triggered huge spending to “protect jobs” and businesses and that he had secured £7bn of extra funding by 2024/5.

But Ridge wasn’t satisfied with his response. “It’s effectively restoring per-pupil funding to 2010 levels. You’ve got a lost decade haven’t you, effectively of growth in funding for comprehensive schools and state school pupils?

“We had to get through the financial crisis,” Zahawi said.

“On the backs of state school pupil funding,” Ridge replied.

Twitter link here: Susanna Reid (@Susanna Reid) 1648370369

It comes after it was announced that all schools in England will have to open for at least 32.5 hours a week.

The length of the school day is currently decided by the headteacher with the governing body in England but the government think increasing the average school day by around 20 minutes will help students. Zahawi is also due to set out the government’s wider plans for schools in England this week in a white paper.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the show Zahawi defended his predecessor Gavin Williamson receiving a knighthood and said closing schools during the coronavirus pandemic was a “mistake”.

Education cuts in context of Conservative cuts to local authorities – Owl

Central government grants – including retained business rates – were cut 37% in real-terms between 2009/10 and 2019/20, from £41.0bn to £26.0bn in 2019/20 prices.