Developer donation from new homes built in Honiton boosts annual farming event

New homes built in East Devon have helped boost the farming community through a developer donation to Honiton Agricultural Show.

Becca Gliddon

Taylor Wimpey, who is building new homes in the town, has given a cash gift to the agricultural show and pledged to sponsor Honiton Band when it performs at the 2023 event.

Marcelle Connor, Honiton and District Agricultural Association secretary, said: “We can’t thank Taylor Wimpey enough for their support.

“The housebuilder’s contribution to this year’s event helped us host live music and make the event that bit more special for all of our guests.”

The developer said its donation was made as part of its ‘ongoing commitment’ to working with the local community.

Richard Plant, Taylor Wimpey Exeter spokesman, said: “We were delighted to be able to support this year’s Honiton Agricultural Show by sponsoring the Honiton Band so that they could perform throughout the event.

“This has grown to be one of the largest one-day agricultural shows in the country and it’s been a pleasure to support such a special local event.”

Traditionally, the annual agricultural show, set out on a140-acre site, is held on the first Thursday in August.

The show showcases the best of the region’s farming, produce, crafts and rural skills.

The agricultural show is an annual event.

This is what voters really think of Rishi Sunak

The bad news for Rishi Sunak is that voters do not think he is a fresh start, just the latest version of Tory chaos. He can hardly blame them.

Andrew Grice 

Focus groups conducted by Labour show the public think Sunak had to make Suella Braverman home secretary to appease parts of his party with whom he disagrees. Sunak is seen as a rich man who, in a typical comment, “doesn’t get what it’s like for us”. Two out of three people want a general election now, in line with The Independent’s petition, according to Labour’s private polling.

The good news for Sunak: there is another side to the public opinion coin. Research for the centrist Tory think tank Onward shows that a majority of the 2019 Tory voters the party has lost are “don’t knows” rather than people who now back Labour or other parties. The Tories have lost four times as many voters than Labour has gained. If the Tories could win back the “don’t knows”, they would be within touching distance of Keir Starmer’s party.

Onward argues that the key is to revert to economic interventionism and social conservatism of the 2019 Tory manifesto. Indeed, Sunak is talking up the manifesto, in the hope of uniting his fractious MPs and repelling the growing calls for an election by insisting the Tories still have a mandate.

Sunak’s most immediate headache is the economy. Treasury sources tell me its latest predictions for the economy could leave Jeremy Hunt with a £50bn black hole to fill in his autumn statement on 17 November. However, I suspect they are painting it blacker than it is, in the hope the spending cuts and tax rises don’t look quite so bad on the day.

Whatever the real picture, Sunak and Hunt desperately need every ounce of growth they can muster to reduce government debt. Sunak is a 2016 Brexiteer, but a pragmatic – rather than ideological – one. Hunt was a Remainer who fully accepts the Brexit decision, but does not have Liz Truss’s zeal of the convert. So they know there is one thing they could do to boost growth: confront the elephant in the room by revisiting Boris Johnson’s threadbare Brexit deal.

While ministers point to global economic problems, the frictions and barriers of the Brexit deal are a unique drag anchor on UK trade, competitiveness, prices and the business investment needed to secure growth. Trade in goods with the EU has become cumbersome, costly and bureaucratic, while regulatory barriers hinder much of the trade in services.

The public’s reaction to changing Johnson’s deal might be less hostile than Sunak imagines. Onward found that Brexit was the second most cited issue by the Tories’ lost voters when asked where the government had most gone wrong, after political scandals.

Polling for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change found that six out of 10 people believe Brexit has worsened the UK economy, including over a third of Leave voters. A majority of people, including Leavers, overwhelmingly support a better-functioning relationship with the EU, with 77 per cent backing closer trade and border arrangements.

Pro-Europeans in both the Tory and Labour ranks are setting Sunak a test. They accept this generation of politicians is not going to reverse Brexit, but say the prime minister must now make it work. They say there are many measures, short of rejoining the single market or customs union, which would help British companies and stop more of them moving to the continent.

In a speech at Oxford University on Thursday night, Peter Mandelson argued that Sunak’s “biggest test” is whether he can “put the nation’s need to work with the EU to solve problems before his party’s desire to seek confrontation with Europe at every turn”. The former business secretary and EU trade commissioner said: “He [Sunak] is not going to be able to confront the challenges facing Britain without first taking on those who won’t face up to the reality of our post-Brexit economic and trade choices and the importance of building a stable relationship with the EU.”

Although Starmer is often accused of ignoring the Brexit elephant to avoid handing the Tories ammunition, Mandelson suggested that might be changing, given the Labour leader’s strong belief in a partnership between government and business. “Labour is not going to reopen the original Brexit decision,” he said, “but nor should it be held hostage to its terms because we know that Britain needs to exploit trade opportunities in Europe more fully if we are to start growing again.”

Sunak would probably agree, in private. The question is whether he has the courage and political space to confront the hardline Brexiteers in his party. His decision to reappoint Braverman, the darling of the European Research Group, suggests not. But he has a golden opportunity: the “Singapore-on-Thames” version of a low tax, low regulation Brexit Britain has been discredited by Truss’s disastrous premiership.

For his party’s sake (to deliver growth) and the country’s (given the dire state of the public finances), Sunak cannot afford to be a prisoner of the right. He will need to bite the Brexit bullet.

Councils forced to buy 40,000 mirrors to put in polling stations as a result of voter ID laws

The Government is making councils buy 40,000 mirrors to put inside polling stations in order to comply with its own laws requiring voters to show ID, i can reveal.

Hugo Gye 

The new laws will make it obligatory for everyone who wishes to vote to show their face to a member of staff at the polling station so it can be checked against their passport, driving licence or another firm of identification.

A provision in the legislation designed to protect the sensibilities of people who cover their face for religious reasons states that each station must have an area set aside with a “privacy screen” and mirror, where voters can show their face in private and then assemble their headwear.

It has now emerged that this will involve the purchase of a new mirror for every one of the 40,000 polling stations in the UK ahead of the local elections scheduled for next May.

Minister Andrew Stephenson said in a response to a written parliamentary question: “We estimate that one mirror will need to be purchased for each polling station and assume that there are 40,000 polling stations based on the 2019 elections.”

The requirement was criticised by Labour and electoral campaigners. MP Luke Pollard, who obtained the response, said: “At a time when families are struggling to access public services, making councils buy 40,000 mirrors is a howling waste of public money. This Government cannot be trusted to look after taxpayers’ money.”

Darren Hughes, of the Electoral Reform Society, added: “This is yet another result of the Government’s warped priorities when it comes to our elections. Instead of encouraging more people to vote, they’re putting up barriers instead. Now, ministers find themselves faced with finding solutions to the problems their own ID policy has created for voters.

“It’s vital people’s needs are addressed when attending a polling station, but it’s not just the lack of mirrors and privacy booths that will deter voters but the unnecessary requirement to show photo ID instead.”

Ministers have previously estimated that the cost to taxpayers of buying new equipment to comply with the law will be a total of around £2m.

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are implementing voter identification in a way that works for all voters, including those with protected characteristics. Money for any new equipment will be provided by central government.”

UK councils slashing services to meet £3.2bn budget shortfall

Libraries and children’s centres are closing and home pick-ups for young disabled people being cancelled as councils try to meet a £3.2bn budget shortfall next year.

Rowena Mason 

With inflation and energy prices eating into budgets, local authorities across the UK are facing a record black hole that is unlikely to be plugged by central governmentas the Treasury is seeking to squeeze spending to make up for a £30-50bn shortfall in the public finances.

The trade union Unison collected data from 391 councils, compiled through freedom of information requests and financial statements, and found that almost nine in 10 have a predicted budget gap in the 2023/24 financial year.

Unison said its data shows the biggest budget shortfall of £80m next year is being faced by Birmingham city council, which lists Liz Truss’s mini-budget as one of the contributing factors in its worsening finances.

In the last few days, the numbers have worsened in several major council areas. Edinburgh council reported this week it is also facing a £80m black hole, up from £70m last month, with the Labour local leader warning of “probably the worst cuts I’ve seen in my time in this council”.

Kent county council said it was increasing its projected overspend to £70m, up from £50m just three months ago, with its Conservative council leader telling colleagues: “We’ve never been looking at a projected set of pressures on this scale; no one should doubt the gravity of the situation.” It said not a single department would be immune from cuts.

In Lancashire, the council said this week that its project shortfall has almost trebled, from £30.5m to £87m – even bigger than Birmingham. It is looking at cost-cutting measures on everything from cutting the grass less often to spending less on children’s home placements.

Unison’s investigation found that waste collections, leisure centres, nurseries and other vital services are already being cut in some local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales as they prepare for a tough year ahead. The data suggested the cumulative funding gap is to worsen to more than £5.28bn in 2024/25.

Some of the current and impending cuts include:

– Wirral Council shutting nine libraries by the end of this month, with two being handed to community and church groups

– Gateshead Council looking at closing two leisures centres deemed “unaffordable” as it grapples with a £6.5m shortfall

– Leeds city council cancelling Bonfire Night events in six locations next month to save £200,000 of non-essential spending at a time of budget pressures

– Hillingdon council, covering Boris Johnson’s constituency, planning to close all three of its nurseries, which provide more than 100 childcare places across the borough

– Hampshire County Council planning to scrap a transport scheme that take thousands of disabled children to school to save £1m. Home pick-ups would be replaced with drop-off points

– Norfolk county council planning to reduce access to recycling centres by closing them on Wednesdays, with its Tory council leader warning he had never dealt with funding reductions on this scale, to plug a £60m gap

The Local Government Association has warned Jeremy Hunt in a letter that the £3bn-plus shortfall facing councils will lead to cuts, particularly as inflation has worsened since the last local government finance settlement was announced. “Without immediate additional funding, councils will face increasingly stark decisions about which services to stop providing as rising costs hit budgets. This means not just isolated closures of individual facilities but significant cuts to services people rely on, including those to the most vulnerable in our society,” it said.

On Thursday, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) also said its councils were facing pressures “on a scale never seen”, with “painful cuts” to come.

Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which represents 600,000 local government workers, said: “Cash-strapped councils are having to resort to ever more desperate measures after years of austerity just to keep services going. Now the government looks set to make their predicament infinitely worse with emergency cuts to spending after the mini-budget fiasco.

“Local communities cannot be the ones to pay the price for the government’s grotesque mismanagement of the economy. The new prime minister and chancellor ​must sort the crisis in local government funding, and give councils the cash they need to save services.”

Asked about the £80m shortfall at Birmingham, which is the biggest local authority, council leader Ian Ward said: “Like councils across the country, we are currently working up budget proposals for 2023/24 and everything possible will be done to safeguard the vital services that people across Birmingham rely on.

“As the Local Government Association has made clear, soaring inflation, energy prices and ‘National Living Wage’ pressures are putting council services at risk, while the cost of living crisis, made worse by the Tories crashing our economy, means increased demand for support and services.

“This is a perfect storm for local government and without government action, councils will have no choice but to significantly cut local services. So, if the government is truly committed to levelling up, then the chancellor’s autumn statement on 17 November must not signal a return to austerity.”

A government spokesperson said further details of spending will be set out in the autumn statement in November.

“We recognise councils may be concerned about their budgets in the face of the difficult economic times we are in and we continue to work very closely with them to understand the impact inflation may have,” the spokesperson said.

“This year alone we have made an additional £3.7bn available to ensure councils have the resources they need to deliver vital public services.”

Number of affordable rental homes for those on housing benefit drops by a third in five months

Five of the nine regions (the East, East Midlands, South West, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber), had fewer than one in 10 affordable one-bed properties.

Adele Robinson

The gap between housing benefit and the actual cost of private rent has risen by 40% in just five months, Sky News has learned.

Figures from the homeless charity Crisis and Zoopla show that affordable homes in England, for those on housing allowance, have declined by more than a third.

It means only 8% of private rental properties, on average, are now affordable to those on housing benefit.

Around 1.7 million households in England currently rely on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to pay their private rent.

The statistics, which were given exclusively to Sky News, show that for a one-bedroom property households now face gaps, or shortfalls, of over £950 a year on average.

People living in two and three bedroom homes are having to find more than £1,500 and £2,300 (respectively) a year extra on top of their housing benefit.

Crisis chief executive Matt Downie said: “This isn’t a sort of prediction of things getting worse, it already is worse.

“We know that rough sleeping is going up. We know the councils have nowhere to put people.

“And unless, in the November financial statement, the government increases housing benefit in line with inflation, just like they’re talking about for other benefits, this is this is going to be catastrophic.”

Housing benefit levels have been frozen since early 2020 and are based on rents from 2018-2019.

Since then private rental rates have been rising at the fastest rate on record.

Mr Downie describes it as a “false economy”.

He added: “Once somebody becomes homeless, they cost far more to the state and they have to be put in temporary accommodation or helped in other ways.”

The new figures show the poorest households in England are being almost completely priced out of the rental market.

Nicole Hamilton, 27, is living with her two-year-old son Logan in emergency accommodation in London after fleeing domestic violence. She has been staying in a one room flat for months because she’s been unable to find an affordable rental.

The single mother works full time as a project manager but still needs housing allowance to pay rent.

That allowance, however, does not cover the local rents for a two bedroom property in the area where her son attends a childcare setting, and where her family live.

On the morning Sky News visited Nicole she had called the police out at 4.30am because somebody who looked like they were “on drugs” had been hammering on her front door trying to gain access while her son slept.

“I think it’s a bit unsafe,” she said, “I don’t really like it… the thing that is stressful at the moment is they don’t know how long I’m going to be here.”

“(Estate agents) also hear that I’m a single mum I’m on benefits, even though I work full time …and my income is good, but because I use benefits as part of the system to help pay my rent nobody is interested.”

The private rental market has become saturated due to an increasing supply and demand issue.

Rising mortgage rates, changes in tax and legislation have pushed more landlords out.

Renters are also signing up for longer lets which means less stock available.

Inflation and the cost of living have meant that the widening gap between private rent and housing allowance is predicted to get worse.

Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, also called for the freeze on housing allowance to be lifted, as well as greater support for authorities.

“Councils need more resources in terms of being able to fund homelessness services and to recruit the necessary housing officers to provide that support.

“So local authorities are very short of resources these days because of the increased demand.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities released a statement saying: “Our Renters Reform Bill will deliver a fairer deal for renters, empowering them to challenge unjustified rent increases.

“During the pandemic we increased Local Housing Allowance significantly, benefiting over one million households by an average of over £600 a year. This is alongside our Energy Price Guarantee which will save households on average £700 this winter with an extra £1,200 of cost-of-living support for the most vulnerable.”

London saw the most drastic fall in affordable properties, almost halving since April.

The North East, which Zoopla says is the region with the highest proportion of one-bed properties available, has just a quarter of affordable one-beds.

London is second worst with 13%.

According to Crisis, five of the nine regions (the East, East Midlands, South West, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber), had fewer than one in 10 affordable one-bed properties.