Bookings close for “Closed Hustings”

But wait! 

Is that a photo of the “Lawrence Tower” (or Haldon Belvedere) that Owl sees in the ad for this event?

It only holds around 50 people, isn’t in Exeter and anyone attending would have to climb a spiral staircase.

Furthermore,  it was built by Sir Robert Palk, 1st Baronet of Haldon House in the parish of Kenn, who was an officer of the British East India Company and who served as Governor of the Madras Presidency.

What message is this sending? – Owl

Majority of voters want immediate general election after Tory leadership contest, poll shows

A majority of voters believe a general election should be called immediately after the Tory leadership election, regardless of whether Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak succeeds Boris Johnson in No 10, a poll for The Independent reveals.

Ashley Cowburn 

It comes as around 160,000-plus members of the Conservative Party – equivalent to 0.34 per cent of the voting public – will begin casting their ballots next week to elect the next Tory leader and Britain’s next prime minister.

Highlighting the appetite among the public for a snap election, the poll by Savanta shows that 56 per cent support the proposal that whoever wins the leadership contest “should call a general election immediately”.

Just over a third of all respondents disagreed, with the figure being higher among Tory voters, at 59 per cent. But strikingly, 34 per cent of those who cast their ballot for the Conservatives in 2019 believe the new leader should go to the polls.

Sir Keir Starmer has already challenged whoever succeeds the outgoing prime minister on 5 September to call a snap election, insisting that the Labour Party is “ready” to govern after 12 years on the opposition benches.

During the televised debates, both Mr Sunak and Ms Truss dismissed calls for an early vote, and instead tried to focus on what they would do as an immediate response to spiralling inflation and an economy in crisis.

However, their comments echo assurances given by both Mr Johnson and Theresa May on taking office that they would not hold a snap general election – assurances they later reneged on.

Chris Hopkins, associate director at Savanta ComRes, said: “Despite it becoming fairly commonplace in recent years for prime ministers to come and go without the backing of the public at an election, the view that the next leader of the Conservative Party should call an immediate election and seek a mandate from the British public is held by a majority of the public.”

The survey also found that Ms Truss, who has remained loyal to the outgoing prime minister and made cutting taxes a centrepiece of her leadership bid, is the clear favourite among 2019 Tory voters, with 45 per saying they would prefer her to Mr Sunak as prime minister.

Just under a third (31 per cent) opted for Mr Sunak, while 24 per cent of those polled said they did not know. Polling of Tory members, who will ultimately decide the winner of the contest, has also highlighted a significant lead for the foreign secretary in recent weeks.

However, among all voters surveyed by Savanta, the former chancellor enjoyed a three-point lead over Ms Truss – 33 per cent versus 30 per cent. A significant proportion (37 per cent) opted for “don’t know”.

In recent days Mr Sunak’s campaign has struggled to gain momentum, while Ms Truss has won the highly sought-after endorsement of the defence secretary Ben Wallace – a popular figure among the Tory grassroots – and the former leadership contender Tom Tugendhat, who appeared alongside her on the campaign trail on Saturday.

As a Tory peer leads a grassroots campaign to include Mr Johnson on the leadership ballot – despite party rules forbidding this – the poll also shows that 45 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters would prefer the current prime minister to either Ms Truss or Mr Sunak.

In this scenario, Ms Truss comes in second place, with 23 per cent preferring her for the next prime minister. Mr Sunak – only slightly ahead among the general public on this metric – trails behind among Tory voters, sitting in third place, with 18 per cent.

Highlighting the support among Tory voters for the outgoing prime minister, Mr Hopkins said: “The fact that Sunak was so instrumental in bringing the prime minister down may not have worked in his favour among Conservative voters, having put himself in the running for leader.”

He added: “Of course, that race is now down to the final two, where Liz Truss is narrowing the gap to Rishi Sunak among the country at large, having enjoyed the backing of a plurality of Conservative voters and, if notoriously difficult membership polling is accurate, the backing of Conservative members for a few weeks now.”

Honiton: New retirement flats on old cattle market site will create jobs in the town

Retirement flats are to be built on the site of the old cattle market in Honiton, with the creation of more than 100 jobs.

Becca Gliddon

Churchill Retirement Living on Wednesday (July 27) announced it had been granted permission to build 57 apartments on the former cattle market site, in Silver Street, Honiton, after a successful planning appeal.

The retirement living developer said the new homes will plough £440,000 a year back into the local economy and support more than 112 jobs both during and after construction.

Although a date has yet to be announced for the work to begin, construction will start ‘as soon as possible’, said the developer.

Stuart Goodwill, managing director of Churchill’s planning consultancy, said: “After a long appeal process, this is a very positive result and we will now look forward to starting work as soon as possible on this new development which will create a vibrant new community in the heart of Honiton.

“Retirement housing is the most effective form of residential development for generating local economic growth, supporting local jobs, and increasing high street spend.

“The new apartments will also help improve the health and wellbeing of those who live there, and meet the housing needs of many older people in Honiton and the surrounding area.”

The new development will be made up of secure and self-contained accommodation in landscaped grounds, a communal owners’ lounge, guest suite, lodge manager, and a 24-hour emergency call alarm service

Churchill Retirement Living said the successful appeal supersedes a previous appeal decision in August 2021, which was quashed by order of the High Court following a Judicial Review.

In his decision notice, the Government’s Planning Inspector Jonathan Bore noted that there was no convincing evidence of harm to the farming sector or any likelihood that the site’s former use as a cattle market would resume.

He concluded that “the proposed housing scheme represents a much more appropriate development for this brownfield site adjacent to a town centre than a reoccupation by the last previous use, or re-use or redevelopment for business purposes.”

Devon’s covid hospitalisations drop sharply

The number of people with covid in Devon’s hospitals has fallen sharply over the past fortnight, but one leading health boss is warning of a “challenging winter.”

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

As of Tuesday 26 July, 166 patients were in hospital in the county with the virus, down from a recent peak of 334 on 11 July. Two pepole are in mechanically ventilated beds.

For most people, covid is no longer the reason they are admitted in the first place. Two-thirds test positive once in hospital.

However, while Devon’s director of public health says it is “really good to see hospitalisations down,” he warned there is “still some caution required, particularly as we enter the autumn and winter period.”

Speaking to a Team Devon meeting of local leaders on Thursday [28 July], Steve Brown urged eligible people to come forward and have flu and covid booster jabs when the time comes.

He believes the covid booster jab will be launched in the first week of September. Everyone aged 50 and over, care home residents, frontline health care staff and the clinically vulnerable will be eligible.

“In terms of covid, we do know historically that [in the] winter period we can see a higher rate, so that vaccination programme for covid-19 is going to be really, really important,” Mr Brown said.

He added the Southern Hemisphere – where it is currently winter – is seeing “quite high numbers” of flu in adults and children. “So, the flu vaccination is going to be equally important.”

The meeting was also told the current cost-of-living crisis, with energy bills set to rise sharply again in the autumn, could cause further pressure during what Mr Brown predicts to be a “challenging winter ahead.”

He warned: “We’re going to have vulnerable people who are going to potentially be at risk from living in cold environments, as well as covid, as well as the flu.”

Sunak and Truss told: “Westcountry needs proper levelling-up support”

Business Leaders send message to candidates ahead of Monday’s “closed hustings” in Exeter (second after Leeds) according to Western Morning News.

Tim Jones (who seems to have been a local business leader for ever) said “the current devolution discussions are a fig leaf”.

[Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have given a full-throated commitment to “levelling up” the North during the BBC hustings

Ms Truss said she was “completely committed” to the levelling up agenda and pledged “urgent action” if she won the race to Number 10. While Mr Sunak gave “an unequivocal massive yes” to the policy.]

Expect dollops of “magic sauce” and  “catchup ketchup” – Owl

Businesses are sending a strong message to the two candidates vying to be the next Prime Minister, urging whoever wins the battle not to forget the South West and to tackle the major issues facing its cities, towns and rural areas.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss are due in Exeter on Monday as they try to persuade Tory party members to vote for them in the race to Number 10.

And business leaders are using their visit to highlight the challenges facing the Westcountry and to place the region as prominently in their thinking as the North of England, which is also scrapping for “levelling up” support.

Among the issues spotlighted by South West experts are the housing crisis, transport links, business taxes, and support for key industries such as green and blue technology, agriculture and tourism and hospitality.

Stuart Elford, chief executive of Devon and Plymouth Chamber and chair of British Chambers of Commerce South West, said: “Businesses have faced a tough time over the last few years dealing with Brexit, Covid and exponential rises in costs. Here in the South West we have specific challenges in terms of infrastructure, both physical and digital, as well as the tight labour market exacerbated by the high cost of housing in key areas and the lack of employment land.”

He is calling on whoever becomes the new Prime Minister to do four main things:

  • Economy – help firms manage cost pressures by reducing their tax burden
  • People – reform the training and immigration systems to help firms find the people they need
  • Trade – ensure firms have the support they need to take advantage of global business opportunities
  • Net Zero – incentivise firms to build a green economy and support them through the transition.

Mr Elford said: “The South West has huge potential in the blue/green economy and we ask that the new Prime Minister recognises us as a natural blue/green powerhouse and gives us the resources to maximise our potential. With the right investment we can drive our own levelling up and deliver huge benefits to the regional and national economy while tackling the inequalities in education, employment and health.”

Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, stressed the region has unique challenges which can only be tackled at a local level. He said: “The current devolution discussions are a fig leaf which will result in retaining strategic policy making in Whitehall. So, what commitment can be made for radical devolution including local tax raising powers – including local institutions/pension funds being able to invest?”

He said SWBC also wants to know what the candidates see as a replacement of previous EU funding for underprivileged areas and asked: “What does levelling up really mean for the South West? The current Shared Prosperity Fund, spread over three years, is not enough to implement a single small road improvement scheme.”

Mr Jones said the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport is “an attractive proposition” which is appealing to investors and to international partners. He added: “Extending this concept to other sectors such as food and drink or marine in local enterprise zones could ignite strong regional growth.”

He said bureaucracy still impacts on many business initiatives and said: “Regional productivity would rise if there was a genuine bonfire of red tape.”

He concluded: “Each region has its own unique proposition. For the South West, food and drink and tourism are high priorities. Emerging is the power of natural capital – the South West will be a national leader in four or five years. A national ‘hot spots’ map with promotion and marketing by the Government internationally would help to replace markets in near Europe lost as a result of Brexit.”.

The next Prime Minister must also tackle the supply crisis in the private rented sector in the South West if home ownership ambitions are to become a reality, according to the National Residential Landlords Association, as new survey data shows that the supply of homes to rent in the region is likely to keep falling over the next year.

Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, also put housing high on the priority list, particularly the “second homes crisis”. He wants the successful Tory leadership candidate to look at South West transport links and the region’s “struggling” farmers – and level up too. “The far South West does not get its fair share from the Government,” he said.

Bankrupt Slough could raise council tax by 20% and be forced to sell off assets

A bankrupt local authority could have to raise council tax by 20% a year and will be forced to sell off thousands of homes and other assets under “unprecedented” plans imposed on it after it ran up catastrophic debts amid overspending running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

Patrick Butler 

The scale of the financial and management chaos at Labour-run Slough council is revealed in a stark report by a team of government commissioners sent in to run the authority after it declared effective bankruptcy a year ago.

It calls on ministers to give special powers to commissioners to effectively rebuild “the basics of local government” in an authority it says lacks top-level leadership, faces a major staffing crisis and struggles to deliver what it calls “extremely fragile” services.

The council has been told to offload hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of assets to fund its recovery programme, including its stock of about 6,700 council houses, and a number of development sites earmarked for housebuilding.

But the report warns council leaders that even a fire sale of assets – everything the authority owns except roads and parks is said to be “on the table” – may not be sufficient and that it may need financial support from government for up to eight more years.

The parlous state of Slough’s finances mean local residents face potential council tax increases of between 12% and 20% in each of the next three years, the report says. Annual council tax increases are normally limited to a maximum of 5%.

Although Slough initially reported a £100m “black hole” in its budgets at the time of its Section 114 bankruptcy notification in July 2021, this ballooned to £480m as auditors went through the books. It also owes £680m borrowed in recent years to finance a series of property developments.

Formally responding to the report, local government minister Paul Scully said the “unprecedented” scale of the financial challenge in Slough meant “radical solutions may be required to ensure best value and sustainable service delivery for the residents of Slough”.

The commissioner’s report describes a council reeling from years of disastrous investment decisions and leadership failures and which now struggles to deliver even basic services as it grapples to recruit and retain staff.

“Even in the best of times, managing such a small unitary authority would be very challenging, requiring the highest-quality political and officer leadership and a degree of luck, hoping nothing much would go wrong. Regrettably, this has not been the case over recent years,” the report says.

The report attributes a series of financial failures in recent years to incompetence and deliberate missteps on the part of officers, including overambitious borrowing, the draining of reserves, and misuse of capital receipts. “What is surprising is that no councillor seemed to notice,” the report says.

It reveals senior executives at the council spent £2.8m on consultants with little local government experience to guide a management restructuring that was supposed to deliver £4m of savings. The ill-fated plan, launched at the height of lockdown, instead ran up costs of £1m and left the council shorn of key staff.

The scheme was “totally unfit for purpose and resulted in the speedy destruction of officer capacity and competence with many remaining individuals now in posts they had no experience in and whole teams being made redundant which were essential to delivery of statutory services”, the report says.

The commissioners’ report says many of the posts that were eliminated under the plan are now having to be re-created. There is just one permanent senior director in place at the council, which is highly dependent on agency staff, not least in children’s services, which has been under special measures for eight years.

The former Slough chief executive Josie Wragg was sacked by the commissioners in March for “gross negligence and reckless behaviour.”

James Swindlehurst, the leader of Slough council, said: “The mistakes which brought us to this position are laid out clearly, but what is also clearer as we move forward is what we need to do to help put things right. We have always accepted the seriousness of our situation and the difficult decisions we have to make in the coming years.”

Honiton Town Councillor Jake Bonetta nominated for prestigious award

Cllr Jake Bonetta has been named a finalist in the Young Councillor of the Year award for the National Association of Local Councils’ (NALC) Star Council Awards 2022. 

The 19-year-old student represents St. Michael’s Ward. He has been a councillor for just over a year. As well as being a Honiton Town Councillor, Cllr Bonetta is also a District Councillor at East Devon District Council. In November 2021 he established the charity Foodsave.

The awards celebrate the positive impact that young councillors, clerks and local councils have on the community and are the only awards in England that acknowledge the work of the local (parish and town) council sector.

In response to his nomination, Cllr Bonetta said: “”I’m honoured and humbled to be a finalist for this prestigious award, and I want to thank everyone who has supported me in my role over the last 13 months.

“This truly represents a marked shift in attitudes at our Town Council, and I am so proud to be a part of our hardworking and inclusive team.”

The finalists were decided by leading experts within the local government sector, including representatives from organisations such as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Local Government Association, the County Councils Network, the District Councils’ Network, and the Society of Local Council Clerks.

The winners will be announced later this year at an online awards ceremony. You can find out more information here.

Labour soars to 13-point lead in polls as Tories scrap over Boris Johnson’s successor

Labour have soared to a 13-point lead in the polls as Conservatives scrap over their future leadership, according to the latest exclusive survey by Savanta for The Independent.

Andrew Woodcock

The advantage recorded by Labour in the poll comes close to its best performance since Sir Keir Starmer became leader in 2019, and would put him on course for a comfortable overall majority in the House of Commons if repeated at the next general election.

It comes with the government reeling under the impact of the cost of living crisis, with energy bills forecast to soar to as much as £500 a month for some voters and the UK braced for a summer of strikes as workers demand pay rises to match expected inflation of 11 per cent.

Alarmingly for Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, the candidates to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader, the prime minister’s resignation seems to have accelerated the Tory plunge in the polls rather than arrested it.

Compared to a similar poll by Savanta a month ago, Tories shed five points, tumbling from 34 to 29 per cent, while Labour gained a point to move up from 41 to 42.

The previous poll was taken on the weekend of 25/26 June in the wake of the Partygate fines and just days ahead of the resignation of deputy chief whip Christopher Pincher in the sexual harassment scandal which was the final straw for Tory MPs who wanted Mr Johnson out.

This week’s results appear to reflect voters turning away from the party amid the vicious infighting of the battle to replace the PM.

And they suggest that events surrounding Mr Johnson’s removal have undermined support among the voters who backed Tories to a landslide victory under his leadership less than three years ago.

The proportion of 2019 Conservative voters who said they would back the party again in the next election plummeted from 80 to 70 per cent in the space of a month, as one in eight of their supporters abandoned them.

Of that group, one-fifth said they would switch to Labour, one-fifth to Lib Dems and two-fifths to Reform UK, the successors to the Brexit Party.

According to the Electoral Calculus prediction website, the figures recorded by Savanta could result in an overall Labour majority of around 70 seats, with Tories losing around 180 MPs to finish with a tally below 200 for the first time since 2005.

Among seats which could fall are Mr Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where the PM has a 7,210 majority over Labour, and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab’s Esher and Walton, which is one of the blue- wall constituencies under assault from Liberal Democrats.

Red-wall seats in the north and Midlands which would return to Labour after falling to Tories in 2019, on an even swing, could include Workington, Bolsover, Redcar and Bishop Auckland, as well as two seats each in Blackpool. Bolton, Bury and Leeds.

And other prominent Tories who could risk losing their seats could include Grant Shapps, Steve Baker, Anne Marie Trevelyan and even Jacob Rees-Mogg in North East Somerset.

The Lib Dems put on two points compared to last month to reach 12 per cent in the new poll.

Savanta questioned 2,272 British adults on 23-24 July and the results relate to those who said they were likely to vote in the next general election.

New cultural strategy launched for East Devon

The new strategy aims to strengthen, promote and grow arts and culture in East Devon, offering high quality creative opportunities, accessible to people of all ages, in all communities.

Dan Wilkins

Over the last four months, people, places, organisations and activities have been mapped revealing what is already happening across East Devon and how it is currently funded.

The public were consulted by East Devon District Council (EDDC) widely, through interviews, workshops and a public survey which received nearly 500 responses.

Around 98 per cent of survey respondents thought it was important that East Devon had a strong cultural offer and 61 per cent confirmed that a lack of local provision was a big barrier to taking part in culture in East Devon.

There are eight core themes to the strategy. Key themes include strengthening and supporting community-led culture organisations to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing in East Devon’s towns and villages, protecting and enhancing the environment, growing cultural tourism alongside the new Tourism Strategy, as well as supporting new places of culture to ensure East Devon residents, especially children and young people, can experience high quality culture in their local areas.

Cllr Nick Hookway, portfolio holder for culture and tourism, said: “The Culture Strategy has identified the extraordinary range of cultural activities that take place across East Devon.

“Such activities not only help to define our district, they also help it to cope with the challenges of living in the 21st Century.  

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has helped to inform and shape this strategy.

“I am delighted that we have an ambitious and practical framework for culture and look forward to working with many local residents and organisations to shape an exciting, creative future for East Devon.”

The Council’s priority is now to start implementing the strategy by putting in place partnerships and resources to achieve these cultural ambitions.

This includes the appointment of a Cultural Producer, who will be a linchpin for coordination, communications, advocacy and fundraising .

They will also lead the ACED (Arts and Culture East Devon) network which will be a vital engine for driving the strategy and all the opportunities it can bring.

Read the full East Devon Cultural Strategy. It is also available to view at

‘Funding black hole’: councils grapple with ‘catastrophic’ debt for SEN children

Local authorities in England are grappling with a £2.4bn “funding black hole” for special educational needs, according to new analysis, with councils warning the impact on young people could be “catastrophic”.

Rachel Hall 

Rising demand has resulted in councils’ SEN deficits growing six-fold since 2018, according to analysis by the County Councils Network (CCN) and the Society of County Treasurers. A third more children have become eligible for extra funding support over the past three years and the number now stands at 473,000 children.

The CCN is warning that the government’s planned SEN reforms later this year – which will try to reduce the “postcode lottery” in services and make the system less adversarial – will not be enough to plug the deficit that could rise to £3.6bn without action.

Keith Glazier, a councillor and spokesperson for children’s services at CCN, said many council leaders viewed the debts as “unmanageable”.

Glazier said: “Over the last five years, councils have not shirked from taking hard decisions on SEN support in order to try to make services financially sustainable, but we are swimming against the tide. Rising demand each year has meant our deficits have increased six-fold since 2018.”

The CCN is calling for the government to write off the deficit to avoid councils being forced to make “catastrophic financial decisions” or face possible insolvency once the government lifts its current temporary ringfencing of SEN deficits, potentially in a year’s time. This would give local authorities time for the reforms to be implemented, enabling them to start on “a blank slate”, Glazier added.

The reason for the deficit is that more children became eligible for education, health and care plans after legislative changes in 2014, at the same time as support for SEN pupils in mainstream schools has fallen and specialist schools have closed, hitting rural councils especially hard, said the CCN.

In its response to the government consultation on planned reforms to the SEN system, the CCN said the proposals could help with the pressures councils are facing due to increased demand, but these would not be “an overnight fix” and would not erase the deficits that have built up over the last five years.

The government’s reforms package includes £1.4bn for councils to pay for new SEN school places and improve existing provision, and £70m for broader reforms aimed at standardising support across the UK. It also includes funding for councils to help decrease their deficits, but CCN said this programme only covers 55 out of 151 councils and should be expanded further.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Councils are responsible for providing the right support for children in their areas but we know there is variation in how the system works, which is why proposals in our special educational needs and disability (Send) and alternative provision green paper will create a fairer, more inclusive system that also drives value for money.

“We are putting unprecedented investment into the high needs budget, meaning it will be worth £9.7bn by 2023-24, as well as creating tens of thousands of new school places for children with Send, or who require alternative provision over the next three years. We are also providing new guidance and research to help councils target their funding effectively so that young people in their area are supported.”

Humphreys: What are the Tories hiding?

The complicity of silence – Owl

Eileen Wragg writes in the Exmouth Journal

During the last year there have been serious concerns arising from the conviction and sentencing of former Exmouth Mayor and EDDC Councillor John Humphreys for sexual assaults on two young boys. Among the concerns was the fact that he was allowed to continue holding his position as an Exmouth Town and East Devon District Councillor, despite having been arrested in 2015, even campaigning in the 2019 General Election, being photographed at Exmouth Community College with one of the parliamentary candidates and others.

Disturbingly, following a question from Devon County Councillor Jess Bailey at a Full County Council meeting recently, it was revealed that the National Society for the Protection of Children (NSPCC) had informed DCC of the investigation in 2014, yet he was allowed to stay in office, continue to stand for election, and unbelievably was nominated to be an EDDC Honorary Alderman in December 2019! A statement has recently been made by DCC admitting that action should have been taken.

I was made aware that Humphreys was being investigated for these crimes about five years ago, but with no evidence, I was unable to disclose that information. If I, as a Member of the opposition at the time at EDDC was aware, it is inconceivable that Members of the Conservative party had not been informed. Last week’s Full Council meeting at EDDC was presented with a Notice of Motion calling on MP Simon Jupp, who had according to a Conservative Councillor, stayed in a property owned by Humphreys for around two months in 2019, to ask for the questions asked to be investigated by the Conservative party and to give reassurance to the Council. Incredibly, the Conservative Councillors abstained from the requested recorded vote, and from voting on the Notice of Motion. Several, in fact, left the meeting before the vote was taken. It has been reported that a meeting had been called at Blackdown House prior to the meeting, and that they had been whipped into abstaining from the vote.

This raises grave concerns that there was something that they didn’t want known. My view, expressed during Full Council, was that political purposes were put ahead of the safeguarding of children. Devon County Council should be hanging its head in shame along with those who refused to vote last week. Humphreys is serving a twenty one year sentence, one of his victims is serving a life sentence. A recording of last week’s Council meeting can be viewed via EDDC’s website.

[The discussion on Humphreys starts at around 1Hr and 12 mins into the recording of the Full Council Meeting of 20 July which can be found here. Or watch below]

Growing anger over cuts to Ottery bus services

An online petition has been launched on and the town council is considering taking up the matter with Stagecoach. 

Philippa Davies

From Sunday, July 31, a new 44 service will be covering Exeter – Cranbrook – Ottery St Mary – Honiton – Axminster.  There will be a two-hourly service from Axminster and a combination of one to two services in the hour from Honiton.   

There is particular concern that the last bus from Exeter to Ottery will be at 18.40 and there will no longer be a service from Ottery to Honiton at 21.51. 

An online petition has been launched by a local resident who says: “The new timetables will be a nightmare for anyone wishing to go out to Exeter for an evening or for those that need to use the buses to get home from work.” 

Ottery’s mayor, Cllr Vicky Johns, said: “As a Councillor and resident of Ottery I am dismayed that Stagecoach have reduced their service to our town and the outlying villages.  

“We have residents who rely on the public transport to get them to their work places and home again, to get them to their places of education and home again and to generally get them around safely.  

“As a country we have declared a climate emergency and whereas most areas are increasing their public transport ours is decreasing, where does this make sense? I would hope that Stagecoach would look again at their new timetable and take into account what their customers actually require.” 

Ottery Town Council will be discussing the issue at their next meeting on Monday, August 1. 

The MP for East Devon Simon Jupp said he is seeking a meeting with Stagecoach over the cuts. He said: “The reduction of bus services in Ottery St Mary and East Devon comes as a bitter blow. We should be encouraging people back on to public transport, yet have a council who have doubled the price of parking across our district. It’s time for some joined-up thinking and that is why I am sitting down with Stagecoach bosses to express local feedback about where the timetable cuts go too far.”

The Herald reported on the reduced bus service earlier this month, when the county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, raised her concerns. She is calling for Devon County Council to press Stagecoach to reinstate the existing service. 

Stagecoach says the changes are aimed at ‘providing a sustainable bus network now so that we can grow services over the long term’. 

The company says it needs to concentrate resources on the services where demand is greatest, to make sure vital journeys and connections are maintained, and that it will work with national and local government to attract more people to use its bus services. 

Get to know your next Prime Minister

Exclusive: Exeter hosting Tory leadership hustings on Monday

Very exclusive: Only “qualifying” Tory “True Blue Badge Holder” may attend either in person or online!

Exclusive, maybe secret: At the moment, the venue has not been made public.

[However, previous hustings during elections have been staged at Exeter Cathedral.

Other possible venues include the Corn Exchange, Exeter University and Sandy Park’s Conference Centre.]

Alternatively, East Devon Watch readers may prefer to watch the “Real Deal” here.

I will continue to demand better for our communities – Richard Foord

“We have an impotent zombie government with a Prime Minister who’s already checked out of the job, at a time when people are calling for help. This simply isn’t good enough.”

Richard Foord MP

When I was elected just over a month ago, I had little idea just how much UK politics was about to change. In just over four weeks we’ve seen the ungracious downfall of a Prime Minister, and an increasingly scrappy contest to replace him. Yet there is also much continuity.

During my first weeks in Parliament, I’ve been stunned by how many of the long-standing traditions remain. Aside from the maze of winding corridors and the customs that date back centuries, the character of politics as carried on within the Houses of Parliament feels quite removed for our present challenges.

Everything is prefaced with formality and niceties, everyone is referred to by titles and constituency names, and the Government has almost total control over what the House of Commons can discuss.

It’s clear that we do need change. We need to ground our politics in the present and the future, and focus on working collaboratively to get things done. I will bang the drum for our part of Devon, but I will try to engage constructively to deliver for local communities.

What is also clear is that whoever is our next Prime Minister is going to have a big job on their hands. We are facing a climate emergency, war in Ukraine, and a cost-of-living crisis. The cost of the weekly shop and filling up the car are skyrocketing, leaving many unsure how they’re going to pay their bills.

Yet at this critical time we’ve seen Conservative Ministers focus on tearing each other apart in the quest to become the next party leader, rather than tackling these huge problems. To a new MP like me, it’s been astonishing to see senior Cabinet ministers tearing apart the same policies they supported just weeks ago.

Take taxes for example. The Conservatives have voted to increase taxes on hard working people 15 times – yet now they line up to decry those taxes and suggest they really didn’t want to increase them at all.

If they cared so much at the time, they would have taken a stand and resigned from Government. But, once again, we see career ambitions taking precedence over their promises.

At the recent Tiverton and Honiton by-election, voters sent a clear message that we’re fed up with being taken for granted. But it seems that the Conservative Government in London hasn’t got the message.

We have an impotent zombie government with a Prime Minister who’s already checked out of the job, at a time when people are calling for help. This simply isn’t good enough.

Liberal Democrats want to see real action to support those struggling – including a cut to VAT to put £600 back in your pocket, and a cap on the cost of heating oil to keep off-grid energy prices down.

These are measures the Government could bring in right now that would deliver real help, but instead the Conservative Party is spending weeks talking only to itself. I will continue to demand better for our communities and fight to make your voice heard in Westminster.

IMF: UK set for slowest growth of G7 countries in 2023

“We got the big calls right” – Owl

The UK is set for the slowest growth of the G7 richest economies next year, the International Monetary Fund has warned. 

It is predicting UK growth will fall to just 0.5% in 2023, much lower than its forecast in April of 1.2%.

The global economy has shrunk for the first time since 2020, the IMF said, hit by the Ukraine war and Covid-19.

With growth stalling in the UK, US, China and Europe, the world “may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession”, it said.

“We know that people are feeling the impact of rising prices, caused by global economic factors, triggered by the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine,” a HM Treasury spokesperson said in a statement, adding that help for households included £400 off energy bills plus personal tax cuts worth up to £330 a year.

The IMF has cut its 2022 global growth forecast to just 3.2% and warned the slowdown risks being even more severe.

It said fast-rising prices were to blame for much of the slowdown, with households and businesses squeezed by a combination of higher prices and higher borrowing costs as policymakers raise interest rates to try to counter inflation.

“The global economy, still reeling from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is facing an increasingly gloomy and uncertain outlook,” economist Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas wrote in a blog outlining the international lending body’s latest economic forecast.

“The outlook has darkened significantly” since April, the last time the IMF issued forecasts, he added.

The global economy contracted in the three months to July, which was the first decline since the pandemic hit, the IMF said.

The probability of a recession in the G7 economies – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and UK – now stands at roughly 15% – nearly four times higher than usual.

While UK growth is expected to remain relatively strong this year, Mr Gourinchas said unusually high inflation – faster than in Europe or the US – is expected to take a toll in 2023.

“If you were to look at both years together, it’s actually not very far from where the other advanced economies are,” he told the BBC. “The one thing that worries me more about the UK economy is that their inflation numbers seem to be quite high. There is a fairly high pass through from high gas prices to broader prices in the economy.

“That would signal even further monetary policy tightening by the Bank of England and that would also weigh down on growth going forward.”

The IMF now expects inflation to reach 6.6% in advanced economies and 9.5% in emerging market and developing economies – nearly a full percentage point higher than it expected in April.

“Inflation at current levels represents a clear risk for current and future macroeconomic stability and bringing it back to central bank targets should be the top priority for policymakers,” Mr Gourinchas said.

“Tighter monetary policy will inevitably have real economic costs, but delaying it will only exacerbate the hardship.”

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Analysis box by Dharshini David, global trade correspondent

The fallout from the war in Ukraine is being felt in pockets across the world. Soaring food and fuel prices and higher interest rates means the IMF sees more gloomy prospects for all major economies – but it’s the UK that, Russia apart, remains bottom of the pile for 2023.

Brexit may not have helped but it’s our reliance on fossil fuels – they make up 75% of our energy mix, compared to just over half of the EU’s – that’s made us particularly vulnerable to this shock. Those prices are determined on international markets but affect us all. This report comes on the day that, with the energy price cap set to top £3,000 in October, a committee of MPs warns that further government help for households may be needed.

But the IMF is among those economists who’ve noted that the UK faces more fundamental issues than the current crisis, with living standards having dropped behind many competitors over the last 15 years, something many attribute to a lack of investment in skills, equipment and infrastructure. Officials from the IMF have previously told me that one way to remedy that would be to raise, not lower taxes, to fund more investment.

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The US saw the steepest downgrade of any country for 2022. The IMF cut its growth forecast for the world’s largest economy to 2.3% this year, from 3.7% previously, and to just 1% in 2023.

Meanwhile growth in China is expected to fall to 3.3% this year, the slowest rate in nearly four decades, as the country wrestles with new Covid lockdowns and a property crisis.

Questions about the reliability of Europe’s natural gas supplies from Russia, as well as political unrest generated by high food and fuel prices, are among the risks the global economy is facing in the months ahead, the IMF said.

“We can be reasonably hopeful that China might be rebound,” Mr Gourinchas said, adding that he was “much more concerned about both the inflation path and the tightening of monetary policy leading to a slowdown going ahead”.

It warned that in a “plausible” scenario, in which only some of those risks materialise, like a shutdown of Russian gas flows to Europe, global economic growth could fall to 2% next year – a pace the world has fallen below just five times since 1970.


Strip Tory members of power to pick prime minister, demands senior MP

Conservative party members should be stripped of their power to pick Britain’s next prime minister, a senior MP has said, citing concerns about the increasingly hostile public attacks by the campaigns of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on their rival.

Aubrey Allegretti 

Charles Walker, a former longstanding vice-chair of the 1922 Committee, which oversees the rules for internal party no-confidence votes and leadership elections, said the contest “should have got nowhere near” the 180,000 Tory grassroots activists who will decide Boris Johnson’s replacement in just over a month.

He suggested that letting the party faithful pick a new prime minister was an idea “well past its sell-by date” and added it was inevitable that the current rules would lead to “shrill and accusative” blue-on-blue attacks by the candidates.

“It’s a view shared by many of my colleagues privately who wouldn’t dare say it publicly,” Walker said. “MPs should be left to pick party leaders because we know the strength and weaknesses of the candidate far better than the membership because we serve and work with them every day in Westminster.”

Walker’s intervention came as some senior Tory figures warned of the potentially lasting damage that Sunak and Truss’s attempts to land blows on each other could do to the party and government. One MP described the slanging match by their supporters as “beyond the pale”.

Norman Fowler, the former Lord Speaker and a cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, said the BBC showdown between Truss and Sunak had been “a bad night for the Conservatives” and substantially benefited Labour. “They’ve got enough clips from that programme to last them through to the next election,” he said.

Sunak “had authority and a better financial package, but his bedside manner is, frankly appalling”, said Fowler, who criticised the former chancellor for having repeatedly “hectored and interrupted” his opponent.

Fowler said the foreign secretary came across as “much more pleasant”, but added her economic plans “sounded a bit dodgy” and she had harked back to “project fear”.

Malcolm Rifkind, another Thatcher-era cabinet minister, said the debate had “descended into trivia”, with attacks on Sunak for his expensive suits and shoes. But he said both candidates’ offers to serve in each other’s governments were an important demonstration of unity, and that any residual bitterness by the losing camp would be wiped away at a general election.

Several Tory observers who have not backed a candidate accused Truss’s supporters in particular of unpleasant briefings and acting like “rottweilers”.

But the foreign secretary’s allies suggested Sunak had spent the Monday night debate “mansplaining” with “shouty, private school behaviour”. Simon Clarke, who is backing her, said his former boss at the Treasury had been “pretty aggressive”.

Sunak and Truss were pitted head-to-head in TalkTV’s debate on Tuesday evening, and will face each other for the final time next Thursday. While they will tour the UK during a dozen hustings hosted by the Conservative party, they are not expected to be pitted against each other but grilled separately by an interviewer and party members.

Giles Kenningham, a former director of communications in No 10 under David Cameron, said that given repeated polls put Truss ahead among Tory members’, Sunak had failed to “find a way to move the dial”.

“Truss has shown to be quite a steady performer, so he can’t just rely on her to mess up,” Kenningham said, adding that Sunak would have to “take more risks”, given members will start receiving ballots on 1 August.

Despite the Conservatives having not led in an opinion poll since December 2021, Kenningham said the party’s position was still recoverable and that Labour should have expected to be significantly further ahead.

But Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said the leadership race was “giving us a wealth of material”.

“We are obviously using some now and we’ll have plans for more later as the contest progresses and as we gear up for the next general election, whenever that might be,” she told HuffPost UK.

“I’ll be able to say to people on the doorstep ‘you don’t have to take my word for it any more folks, just listen to them’. The trashing of their own record, I think that you’d expect us to take advantage of that, which we will be doing so fulsomely.”

Hundreds of health jobs advertised in Devon

There are more than 700 health jobs needing to be filled across Devon as the NHS faces what MPs say is its worst ever staffing crisis. A search on the NHS jobs website on Monday found 713 vacancies within 30 miles of Newton Abbot, as an MP warned that a million more workers are needed in the health sector – half of those in the NHS and the rest for social care.

Edward Oldfield

There are openings in the NHS and care sector in Devon for doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and support staff in hospitals, GP surgeries and the ambulance service. The website showed 340 health jobs within 10 miles of Plymouth, 170 in the Exeter area, 177 in Torbay, and 27 in North Devon.

Jobs posted on Monday include a training administrator at the Exeter HQ of South Western Ambulance Service earning up to £21,777. A maternity staffing coordinator is needed at Torbay Hospital in Torquay on the same salary. The hospital is also recruiting bank delivery drivers paying up to £19,918 pro rata.

Front line health care jobs being advertised include bank healthcare support workers at Torbay Hospital at £11.42 an hour. Devon Partnership NHS Trust in Exeter is looking for an adult mental health staff nurse at a salary of up to £31,534. Practice Plus Group is recruiting a healthcare assistant and nurses at Channings Wood Prison near Newton Abbot.

The website shows there are vacancies for 136 nurses and midwives within 30 miles of Exeter, which includes Torbay and Taunton. The list showed more than 40 doctor jobs paying a salary of more than £100,000, for example a GP at Channings Wood Prison advertised at up to £120,000 depending on experience.

At the other end of the pay scale, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust is looking for an improvement administrator apprentice at £8,092, and a health records modern apprentice paid £9,405 a year.

At Dawlish, a job as a phlebotomist, taking blood, is advertised at £9.53 an hour, and a healthcare assistant starts at £9.67 an hour. Admin staff at GP surgeries at Paignton and Exeter are advertised at £10 an hour. Practice Plus Group is recruiting NHS 111 advisers at Exeter at an hour rate from £10.19 to £13.11.

Persistent understaffing in the NHS is creating a serious risk to patient safety, MPs have said in a damning report. The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said health and social care services in England face “the greatest workforce crisis in their history” and the Government has no credible strategy to make the situation better.

In a new report from the committee, research by the Nuffield Trust shows the NHS in England is short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives. It said maternity services are “under unsustainable pressure”, while the number of full-time equivalent GPs also fell by more than 700 over three years to March 2022.

Projections suggest an extra 475,000 jobs will be needed in health and an extra 490,000 jobs in social care by the early part of the next decade. The report said: “In the face of this, the Government has shown a marked reluctance to act decisively. The workforce plan promised in the spring has not yet been published and will be a ‘framework’ with no numbers, which we are told could potentially follow in yet another report later this year.”

MPs said that while some progress has been made towards a target of recruiting 50,000 nurses, the Government is set to miss its target to recruit 6,000 more GPs, as promised in the Conservative Party manifesto. “The persistent understaffing of the NHS now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety both for routine and emergency care. It also costs more as patients present later with more serious illness. But most depressing for many on the frontline is the absence of any credible strategy to address it.”

MPs said the Government’s “refusal” to make workforce planning data public “means that the basic question which every health and care worker is asking: are we training enough staff to meet patient need? will remain unanswered”.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is chair of the committee, said successive governments had failed to ensure that the NHS recruits enough doctors and nurses and the issue needs to be addressed urgently. He told GB News: “The fundamental problem that we lay bare in this report is our failure as a country to train enough doctors and nurses over many years and that is because government after government has said it doesn’t matter if we don’t quite train enough doctors because we can always import them from overseas.

“The fact is that Covid was a global pandemic. Everyone’s got their Covid backlog. There’s a shortage of two million doctors and 50 million nurses worldwide. It is just time we took a decision as a country that we have the biggest health system in the world with the NHS, we’re going to train the numbers we actually need.”

He said that the NHS and the social care system have a shortage of one million workers, split between the NHS and social care, and health workers needed to be paid more.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are growing the health and social care workforce, with over 4,000 more doctors, and 9,600 more nurses compared to last year, and over 1,400 more doctors in general practice compared to March 2019.

“As we continue to deliver on our commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses by 2024, we are also running a £95 million recruitment drive for maternity services and providing £500 million to develop our valued social care workforce, including through training opportunities and new career pathways.

“We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the Covid backlogs.”

Huge solar farm approved for farmland near Clyst Hydon

A new solar farm capable of powering almost 15,000 homes is set to be built in East Devon.

Paul Jones

Lightrock Power’s plan for the 49MW energy plant at Clyst Hydon, known as Paytherden Solar Farm – was approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee at a meeting on Tuesday morning (July 26).

The scheme, on more than 170 acres of land adjacent to Peradon Farm, had been recommended for approval by planning officers.

More than 550 people commented on the application, with more than 200 supporting the scheme, submitted by LDA Design on behalf of Lightrock Power.

Reasons for opposing the plans included the loss of farmland and potential flooding.

The Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) was among those who objected to the plans.

However, the RSPB is backing the scheme, pledging to work with developer Lightrock on measures that would ‘deliver benefits for a wide range of species and will certainly be of higher ecological value than what is currently there’.

Councillors voted 10 votes in favour to two votes against to approve the plans.

After the meeting Chris Sowerbutts, co-founder of Lightrock, said: “This decision will help us to tackle climate change by decarbonising how we generate electricity.

“The decisions we must take to tackle the climate crisis aren’t always easy so we’re grateful to members of the planning committee, council officers and everyone who has engaged in this project.

“We now look forward to continuing to work with the local community, East Devon District Council and other stakeholders to move forward with our plans.”

The solar farm would sit on land near Clyst Hydon – Credit: Lightrock/Google

The solar farm will significantly benefit the environment, he said, helping barn owls to thrive and nest on site, establish otter holts and habitat, improve the banks of the River Clyst for wildlife including water voles, and improve other existing ecological corridors for reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals including brown hares and hedgehogs.

“We face an ecological crisis as well as a climate crisis so it’s so important solar farms like Paytherden benefit local wildlife as well as generating renewable energy,” Mr Sowerbutts added.

To find out more about the plans, visit


UK health department played ‘fast and loose’ when awarding Covid contracts to Randox

Ministers and government officials played “fast and loose” when awarding £777m in Covid contracts to a healthcare firm that employed the Conservative MP Owen Paterson as a lobbyist, the head of parliament’s spending watchdog has said.

Rob Evans 

In a damning report, the House of Commons public accounts committee (PAC) concluded that the government made a series of failures, making it impossible to know if the contracts had been awarded properly to Randox.

The Department of Health and Social Care did little to deal with potential conflicts of interests despite “clear concerns” about Randox’s political connections, the cross-party committee of MPs found.

It added that officials were aware Paterson had been in direct contact with Matt Hancock, who was then the health secretary, while promoting Randox.

The MPs found that Randox made “substantial” profits after it was given the contracts to carry out Covid testing during the pandemic.

The firm’s profits in the year to June 2021 were “more than 100 times greater” than the previous year, according to the PAC, which questioned whether they were excessive.

In its latest accounts, Randox reported a profit of £177m for the year to 30 June 2021. The MPs said this compared with a profit of £1.2m that Randox reported for the 18 months up to 30 June 2020.

A Randox spokesperson accused the PAC report of being “deeply flawed and wrong in assumptions it makes and the conclusions it draws”, and added the firm had issued a legal complaint.

He said: “At no stage, either during its deliberations or in its preparation of this report, did the PAC make any contact whatsoever with Randox. Consequently many elements of its report relating to Randox are false, based as they are on wrong and unchecked assumptions about the company.”

A spokesperson for the company has previously said Randox contracts were awarded in full compliance with government procedures and protocols in place at a time of the emerging pandemic.

The PAC also concluded that the health department did not keep proper records of why it gave the contracts to Randox, nor of what happened when ministers met the company. The department was approached for comment.

The publication of the report comes after Randox and Paterson were accused of cronyism in parliamentary debates. Randox paid Paterson, then MP for North Shropshire, £100,000 a year.

The former cabinet minister was forced to resign from parliament last November after he wrongly used his parliamentary position to lobby for his clients, including Randox. Evidence of his lobbying had originally been uncovered by the Guardian.

The Liberal Democrats won the subsequent byelection, and the lobbying saga – including attempts by Boris Johnson to force his MPs to change the rules to protect Paterson – contributed to fury within the party and among voters, which ultimately led to the prime minister’s downfall this month.

Between 2010 and 2018, Randox donated £160,000 to the Conservative party. During the pandemic, Paterson directly lobbied Hancock on behalf of Randox. After Paterson’s lobbying, Hancock chased his officials, saying he was “very worried” about how his department was treating Randox and other firms.

The PAC concluded that the department’s “woeful [and] poor record-keeping means that we cannot be sure that all these contracts were awarded properly. Even allowing for the exceptional circumstances at the start of the pandemic, basic civil service practices to document contract decision-making were not followed.”

It said that the health department neglected to scrutinise obvious conflicts of interest when it awarded the contracts, even though officials knew of Paterson’s contacts with Hancock.

Between January and October 2020, Paterson and Hancock exchanged messages eight times over private email or WhatsApp while the MP promoted Randox. Hancock has said he did nothing wrong.

The MPs said officials were also aware that Hancock had received hospitality from Randox in 2019 when he stayed overnight at a country estate owned by the head of the firm. Hancock said he did not need to publicly declare this hospitality.

The health department was also criticised for failing to meet the basic rule to publicly declare meetings between ministers and outside firms. Only four out of the eight meetings between Randox and health ministers were made public as they should have been. Records of what was said at only two of these meetings were kept.

At the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020, the health department gave the first contract, worth £133m, to Randox without allowing any other firms to bid. The government had suspended normal rules for awarding contracts as the pandemic was deemed to be an emergency.

The PAC said the award of this contract did not receive “the scrutiny we would expect from the department’s senior civil servants. The role of the department’s ministers in approving the contract was also confused and unclear.”

The MPs added: “Randox struggled to deliver the expected level of testing capacity against its first contract, which did not set out any performance measures. Yet the department still awarded Randox a contract extension worth £328m seven months later, again without competition.”

Meg Hillier, the PAC’s chair, said: “We repeatedly hear the reference to the crisis we were facing as a nation. But acting fast doesn’t mean acting fast and loose.”

She added that “much of the business was won without any competing tenders from companies who may have had better capacity to deliver”, pointing out that Randox had also been given money to pay for equipment to conduct the testing.

A spokesperson for Hancock said: “Randox was the UK’s largest testing provider. Not to work with them during this unprecedented global pandemic would have been a dereliction of duty.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said:“There is no evidence that the government’s contracts with Randox were awarded improperly, as has been concluded by the National Audit Office.

“To suggest otherwise is misleading. By building the largest testing industry in UK history from scratch and at pace, we were able to break chains of transmission and save tens of thousands of lives. Contracts with Randox and other suppliers made a significant contribution to our national response to Covid.”