PM told he is ‘toast’ as refugee scheme ‘pouring goodwill down drain’

Meanwhile Tory MPs “party through the cost of living emergency” by attending a “champagne bash” on Tuesday night.

One rule for them, another rule for us. – Owl

Andy Gregory 

Boris Johnson has been told he is “pretty much toast” if handed a Partygate fine, as the prime minister endured a grilling from senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee.

At PMQs hours earlier, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the Tories of “partying through the cost of living emergency” by attending a “champagne bash” on Tuesday night, days before an energy price hike hits millions of families.

The bereaved families of Covid victims chanted “shame on you” as Conservative MPs entered the dinner party at the Park Plaza hotel, which came as the Metropolitan Police confirmed an initial 20 Partygate fines, prompting renewed calls for Boris Johnson to resign.

Meanwhile, Michael Gove’s Homes for Ukraine scheme has faced scathing criticism. The Home Office has said just 2,700 visas have been granted to people hoping to come to the UK under the initiative – despite applications reaching 28,300.

Robina Qureshi, director of refugee homelessness charity Positive Action in Housing, said the “goodwill of British people is being poured down the drain.”

“We are disgusted and ashamed,” she said.

Exmouth traders’ dismay over ‘massive hike’ in grassed outdoor seating rents

Interesting to read this in the light of Owl’s earlier post: “Local Tories sink into Nauseating Hypocrisy”. 

In their latest leaflet, endorsed by Simon Jupp, Tory attack dogs write: “Conservative councillors are…… questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another.” (Obviously only applies where it suits!)

It is also interesting to note that Simon Jupp fails to mention that from Friday the VAT on the hospitality sector will rise from 12.5% to 20%.

East Devon deserves better, Simon. – Owl

Will Goddard 

An example of outdoor seating on a grassed area of the Strand in 2021 (The Grapevine Brewhouse)

An example of outdoor seating on a grassed area of the Strand in 2021 (The Grapevine Brewhouse)

Several Exmouth businesses have objected to rises in rental costs for using grassed areas on the Strand in Exmouth.

The charge paid to East Devon District Council for using the areas for outdoor seating was £100 last year, the businesses said. Now, it’s into the thousands.

For example, Franklins Cafe and Bar said it would now have to pay £1,700 (£4,080 pro rata), and Spoken £6,000 (£14,400 pro rata) for the grassed areas.

These charges are unrelated to the outdoor seating on the paved areas of the Strand, which cost £100 per year from Devon County Council.

Oliver Bainbridge, owner of The Grapevine Brewhouse near the Strand, said: “Our rent last year was £100. This year, it’s going to be £4,500, which is obviously a massive hike of 45 times the previous year.

“We are very aware this is public land and we need to pay for this. We don’t want this for free, what we want is a sensible and measured approach.”

‘East Devon deserves better’ – Simon Jupp MP

The businesses are being supported by East Devon MP Simon Jupp.

He said: “Charging businesses in the Strand several thousand pounds to put out a few tables and chairs is unacceptable.

“The government relaxed the rules around alfresco dining to help cafes, bars and restaurants after a difficult two years.

“I have called on East Devon District Council to rethink their rip-off rent increases which won’t help struggling businesses.

“After doubling the price of parking and announcing plans to close public toilets, local businesses need all the help they can get. East Devon deserves better.”

Response from district council

East Devon District Council has said that the issue is about whether or not it’s appropriate for the council ‘to subsidise local businesses that adjoin the Strand in Exmouth’.

Using an outside agency, the council has also said that negotiations with traders for the Queen’s Drive Space on Exmouth seafront have been ‘very successful’ – and it can see ‘no reason’ why it can’t be the same for traders on the Strand.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “This matter is the subject of a commercial negotiation that began last week.

“At its core is the issue of whether it is appropriate for the council to subsidise local businesses that adjoin the Strand in Exmouth.

“This happened during the COVID lockdown period when stringent social distancing arrangements were in place but as we know we are all now learning to live with COVID.

“Our request is that the traders interested in a space now engage with the council’s agents and we look forward to saying more in the very near future.

“We recently completed very successful negotiations through the same agency for pitches at Queen’s Drive Space on Exmouth seafront and can see no reason why the Strand traders would not wish to engage in the same process.”

Local Tories sink into nauseating hypocrisy

East Devon Tories, with personal endorsements from Neil Parish and Simon Jupp, have really sunk to new depths in their latest newsletter. (Owl received a copy from an outraged correspondent).

Amongst the tendentious attacks on the performance of EDDC’s Democratic Alliance Coalition, is this  mendacious little gem paraded as Example No4.

Does this stand a moment’s scrutiny?- The facts checked

Leisure East Devon Ltd was established as a not-for-profit Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) on 1 January 2006 with the specific purpose of managing the EDDC leisure activities previously operated through the Council’s Leisure & Lifestyles Team on a 30 year lease at a peppercorn rent, with EDDC paying an annual service charge. In other words Leisure East Devon was set up by EDDC’s Conservative councillors as an outsourcing operation.

[The name was changed in 2014 to “LED” when all IPSs were converted into regulated Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies. (Before that, unlike charities, IPSs were unregulated). This change also reflected the fact that LED had also taken over management of South Somerset District Council leisure facilities.]

The original ambition appears to have been to generate £1.6m working capital (on annual turnover of approx £5m) and gradually reduce EDDC support. This has never been achieved and EDDC has had to provide LED with annual grants, as required to balance the books. In 2012, for example, this grant amounted to £1.1m and in 2017 EDDC budgeted for £893,720. Over the years EDDC has also paid one-off sums for refurbishment. In other words Conservative controlled EDDC has always subsidised LED and it can hardly be described as “freestanding”.

In June 2015, The Tory EDDC engineered a take-over of the lease of Exmouth seafront “Ocean” facility by LED. Conservative Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure” Some disagreed when they looked at the generous guarantor terms provided for LED (tenant) and Harlequins (landlord) by EDDC. In other words EDDC Conservatives were quite content to subsidise one business over another and intervene heavily in the local leisure market.

In March 2020, although the Conservatives lost control in 2019, EDDC, under the Ben Ingham regime, completed the acquisition of the Ocean Blue leisure complex on Exmouth seafront for £2.7m using the council’s Commercial Investment Fund. (Ben Ingham, despite claiming to be “Independent”, continued with Conservative policies). The East Devon Watch post: “The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s Albatross, the Ocean Bowling Alley.” chronicles the events from 1993 to 2020. This purchase is the inevitable result of the Conservative led strategic interventions in the “regeneration” of Exmouth Seafront over this period which has turned out to be a commercial failure. In other words it is Conservative intervention in the local leisure market over more than two decades that has been a signal failure.

In June 2020 Democratic Alliance Coalition inherited this mess

In October 2020 LED estimated a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions over the leisure centres it operates in the East Devon area. It asked for funds ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m from EDDC. As a charitable trust it is unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme whereas leisure facilities operated directly by Local Authorities can do so. Note that this is a Conservative imposed double whammy.

Yet in March 2022 Conservatives have the cheek to proclaim:

“EDDC owned leisure facilities have taken a huge financial hit during the Covid pandemic with the Council subsidising the activities of LED, a standalone company. Conservative councillors are concerned about these costs and are questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another. This money could have been spent on keeping our public toilets open and prevent car parking increases.”

 Owl’s question to Conservatives:

When did you first have qualms about using taxpayers money to subsidise the “standalone” LED you created, especially in its relationship with the Harlequins “Ocean Blue” centre in Exmouth? 

Have you sanctioned Councillor Andrew Moulding for his playing off one business against another in 2015?

Why did Conservative councillors intervene so heavily in the local leisure market, with little or no consultation, for over two decades?

And has Simon Jupp MP fought really hard to get the 75% covid rebate paid to LED? East Devon deserves better  (to coin one of his very own phrases). 

Owls’ advice: Take anything said by a Conservative with a great big pinch of salt. Like Boris Johnson, it won’t stand much scrutiny.

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