Second-home owners in Gwynedd face 150% council tax premium

Second-home owners in north Wales face a possible 150% premium on council tax bills next year with the extra £3m raised set to be used to ease the area’s spiralling homelessness crisis.

The level of surcharging is creeping up and the number of second homes in East Devon has now reached one in 23 properties. – Owl

Steven Morris www.theguardian.com 

Gwynedd council’s housing lead said it was “immoral” for people to have more than one home while other people had nowhere to live and blamed the UK and Welsh governments.

Councillor Craig ab Iago, the cabinet member for housing, said: “It is immoral that there are people with second homes when there are people who don’t have a house at all.”

He accepted that the Labour-controlled Welsh government had started to bring in measures to tackle the second-homes crisis, but said: “It isn’t enough in my opinion. We’ve been asking for help for decades and it’s only now happening.” He also blamed the UK government for creating an economic climate in which the less well-off were left “fighting over scraps”.

The council’s Plaid Cymru-controlled cabinet unanimously backed the idea of raising council tax premiums on second homes to 150% from April at a meeting in Caernarfon on Tuesday. It will ask the full council to give final approval at its meeting next week.

Cabinet members were told that there had been a 47% increase in the number of homeless people in Gwynedd over the last two years – while almost one in 10 properties in the area was a second home.

Since the financial year 2021/22, second-home owners in Gwynedd have been paying 100% council tax premiums. So, for example, a £1,000 bill for a permanent resident would turn into £2,000 for a second-home owner.

The devolved Welsh government has changed the law to allow councils to impose up to 300% premiums as part of a raft of measures designed to tackle the second-homes problem. The cabinet did not think the 300% could be justified but said the rate would be reviewed annually.

Councillor Beca Brown said: “It does stick in the throat that people have more than one house when there are so many people without anywhere to live. I welcome the idea of directing the money that could be raised from the premium towards this crisis.

“There’s hidden homelessness, people who are sleeping on sofas, people who can’t move away from home and are living in parents’ attic rooms. Each of us are just two or three problems away from being homeless. It isn’t just something that happens to someone else. It could happen to anybody.”

The leader of the council, Dyfrig Siencyn, said other places across the UK, from Pembrokeshire to North Yorkshire and Cornwall, were facing similar issues. He also flagged up the problem of Airbnbs. “It’s easy to buy a house, easy to let it. They are the people we need to target.”

So far the debate has focused on second homes in Gwynedd leading to an increase in the price of houses and flats to a level beyond the means of local residents hoping to buy. One major problem this has created is pressure on the Welsh language as speakers are priced out of heartland areas.

But this is in turn is leading to pressure on the rental market because local people who cannot afford to buy are renting – meaning that more people are being pushed into temporary accommodation such as hotels and B&Bs.

MPs allowed to spend thousands on Christmas parties paid for by taxpayer

Boost for the Hospitality Trade – isn’t this what Simon Jupp has been asking for? Anyone had an invite from him yet? – Owl

Rishi Sunak has warned MPs that they will have to justify to their constituents any expenses they claim to cover the cost of staff Christmas parties.

New guidance from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has informed MPs that, for the first time, bills for food, drink and festive decorations can all be claimed,

Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk 

But the move – which allows MPs to claim potentially thousands of pounds in party costs – sparked a backlash among MPs, who described it as “bonkers” and “irresponsible”.

Ipsa issued the new guidance in response to frequently asked questions about how MPs and their staff can celebrate during the festive season.

The watchdog confirmed that “MPs can claim the costs of food and refreshments for an office festive” in their offices – but warned “no claims are allowed for alcohol”.

MPs were told that any claims “should represent value for money, especially in the current economic climate”, as millions feel the strain of a cost of living crisis.

But the prime minister’s official spokesperson said Mr Sunak would not be making any such claim, and suggested MPs should bear the probable reaction of voters before doing so.

The spokesperson told a Westminster media briefing: “Questions on these sorts of arrangements are for Ipsa, they’re independent of both parliament and government, they set the allowances.

“But the prime minister certainly doesn’t intend to use this and his view is that MPs will want to justify all spending to their constituents.”

MPs will be allowed to charge the costs from a festive gathering in their constituency, but were told it must be “within a parliamentary context” rather than “purely a social event”.

They can even claim the cost of celebratory Christmas cards – but were warned “they should not be sent to large groups or all constituents as there is a risk this may not represent value for money and could be considered self-promotional”.

There is no cap on the Christmas party spending, but the budget for annual office costs is limited to £31,620 for MPs in London seats and £28,570 for those outside the capital.

Among the MPs attacking the rules, former Tory minister David Davis said the expenses watchdog had “missed the mood of the age” by allowing politicians to charge for Christmas parties.

“I’m quite surprised. But I think it’s bonkers, frankly,” he told Talk TV. “It has missed the mood of the age if that’s what they’re saying.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips – in a post on Twitter retweeted by Tory foreign secretary James Cleverly – said Ipsa had been “irresponsible”.

“Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it,” she said. “The guidance wasn’t made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it’s really irresponsible to issue this guidance.”

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols added: “Sometimes I think Ipsa comes out with stuff like this because they don’t think MPs get enough abuse, so they just throw some petrol on the fire for the craic.”

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds suggested the expenses watchdog had been a “little bit naive” putting out such guidance. “Ipsa need to be a bit more savvy in terms of how they present what they’re doing on this,” he told Times Radio.

Campaigners also reacted with alarm at the rules. “MPs already get a plum deal without taxpayer-funded office jollies,” John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance told the Daily Mail.

Ipsa revealed that the total bill for MPs’ costs increased to £138.6m in 2020-21, up from £132.4m from the previous year.

The biggest rise in the past two years has come from staffing costs, with a rise in casework during the Covid period.

Ipsa chief executive Ian Todd said: “We know that it has been a challenging year for MPs and they have seen another rise in casework.”

Recent analysis by The Independent found that MPs charged taxpayers almost £200,000 for energy bills and other utilities at their second homes over the past year.

In the past three years, MPs have claimed just over £692,000 to cover these utility costs – with £538,000 alone going on heating bills.

Tory Rebels Sink Housebuilding Targets In Blow To Rishi Sunak

A rebellion of more than 40 Tory MPs has reportedly delayed Rishi Sunak’s plan for a housebuilding target.

Where does Simon Jupp stand on this with his hands tied by PPS shackles?

Watch this space on “Soviet Style” planning targets – Owl

Graeme Demianyk www.huffingtonpost.co.uk 

The prime minister was due to face the first major test of his leadership next Monday when MPs were set to vote on the flagship levelling up bill.

But Conservative backbenchers – including former cabinet ministers – have signed an amendment to the bill that would ban councils from taking housing targets into account when deciding on planning applications.

The government on Tuesday night appeared to pull the vote, blaming the congested parliamentary timetable, according to the Telegraph and i newspapers.

But Labour accused Sunak of “running scared of your own backbenchers”.

The rebels had been warned they will “make the recession worse” by scrapping the housebuilding targets.

The amendment is one of several proposed by former environment secretary Theresa Villiers that would bring wholesale changes to the planning system, including making it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land and providing more incentives to develop brownfield sites.

Villiers’ proposals have been criticised by some, including 2019 Tory manifesto co-author Robert Colville, who said they would “enshrine ‘nimbyism’ as the governing principle of British society”.

Colvile earlier tweeted: “Up to 46 signatories now on the Destroy the Planning System and Make the Recession Worse Amendment 2022.”

But her supporters have insisted that they do not want to stop housebuilding, only give communities more say over where homes are built.

Support for the amendment scrapping housing targets has increased over the past week, rising from nine MPs on November 15 to at least 46 on Tuesday, including prominent figures such as former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former cabinet ministers John Redwood, Chris Grayling, Damian Green, Wendy Morton and Priti Patel.

The Telegraph put the number of signatories at 50 on Tuesday night.

This would be enough to leave the government reliant on Labour votes to defeat the amendment.

Other amendments proposed by Villiers would see tighter restrictions on homes being converted into holiday lets, more financial penalties for failing to build once planning permission was granted, and allowing councils to take a developer’s character into account when deciding on a planning application.

Downing Street said Sunak was still committed to the government’s target of building 300,000 homes a year.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We want to work constructively to ensure we build more of the homes in the right places. That’s something that the department and the secretary of state are very focused on.

He added that the housing secretary, Michael Gove, would continue to discuss how the 300,000-home target was delivered.

Labour’s shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said: “This is a complete shambles. The government cannot govern, the levelling up agenda is collapsing and the housing market is broken. Pulling flagship legislation because you’re running scared of your own backbenchers is no way to govern.

“There is a case for reviewing how housing targets are calculated and how they can be challenged when disputed, but it is completely irresponsible to propose scrapping them without a viable alternative in the middle of a housing crisis.”

Local Plan consultation for Whimple

Historic Devon cyder village under threat

Communication received from “Protect our Whimple & Rockbeare Group”

EAST DEVON LOCAL PLAN CONSULTATION FOR WHIMPLE

Have your say on the future of the village on Nov 29th!

Whimple, Devon, 22nd November 2022 – East Devon District Council is holding a Public Consultation event at the Whimple Victory Hall on Tuesday 29th November between 4:30pm and 8:30pm to inform villagers of the plans for the Draft East Devon Local Plan and to gain feedback from residents. It is a chance to put your views and suggestions forward.

The village of Whimple is on the edge of the expanding new town of Cranbrook, as part of the growth plans laid down in the previous decade. Now, East Devon District Council is on the hunt for more development land. They have created a Draft Local Plan which contains far reaching development proposals that affect East Devon, especially surrounding the City of Exeter. It includes the possibility of large-scale developments bolted onto Whimple, against the will of the people and the principles of localism.

Please come along to the consultation event to understand more about the plans for Whimple and the surrounding area, and to let your District Council know how you feel about the proposals.

Breaking news – Rishi Sunak has been forced to back down on housing targets – see separate post

Budleigh residents offer “verbal abuse” queuing on the street to get their pills

The “old dears” of Budleigh are up in arms.

Not knowing whether either of the two Lloyds pharmacies are open, then sometimes having to queue on the street in the cold to be served.

You wait weeks to get an appointment, then you wait sometimes for days to get any prescribed medication dispensed!

The dispensing of prescriptions in the town has descended into near farce, as has Simon Jupp’s reaction, see below. 

Residents in Budleigh struggling with ‘poor’ pharmacy service

Residents in Budleigh Salterton are struggling to collect prescribed medications due to staff shortages at the two Lloyds pharmacies in Budleigh High Street.

Adam Manning www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

For the past year, both the Lloyds Pharmacy have been opening with restricted hours. There are occasions when one or other pharmacy is open but sometimes customers have to queue outside the shop.

Sue Lake, chairman of the local Patients Participation Group, (PPG) said: “We have been pressing Lloyds, the NHS and other stakeholders for the past twelve months because the PPG is concerned about patients and whether or not Lloyds are meeting the terms of their two dispensing licenses.

“The PPG continues to be involved in continuing NHS discussions but the current situation of having to queue outside the shop to wait to be served on the pavement is just not appropriate, especially, with the onset of winter.”

 A spokesman for Lloyds Pharmacy said: “Verbal abuse from customers is cited as a contributing factor to three managers leaving over two months. The pharmacies have not been able to be open every day because there is a national shortage of locum pharmacists and also, they have not been able to recruit and train retail staff.”

Many residents of Budleigh and surrounding villages are moving their prescriptions to pharmacies in Exmouth, some offer a delivery service. However, the PPG believe that the best option would be for our town to have two pharmacies which are trusted and reliable to provide a much-needed dispensing service.

Chris Kitson, member of the PPG, told the Journal: “The lack of reliable trading hours are very worrying to residents who make a journey to Town to collect their medication only to find the shops closed or that their medications are not available as the staff have not had time to unpack the deliveries from the Lloyds central warehouse near Bristol. This unacceptable level of service is also placing our Medical Centre under additional strain as they have to deal with patient requests to try and help them obtain their medications.”

“The PPG fail to see why Lloyds insist upon running two pharmacies in the town, surely it would make sense to run one business effectively rather than two very poor There is little evidence of resource management or support to the clearly over stretched staff. The strain their staff are under is unfair as they are in the front line trying to achieve the impossible.”

Residents who wish to complain about the service email customer services@lloydspharmacy.co.uk or england.contactus@nhs.net starting the email with I wish to complain.

Simon Jupp’s reaction (to be contrasted with Richard Foord’s on unacceptable GP appointment waiting times)

Here is how Simon Jupp reacted a couple of weeks ago in his weekly press release:

First he outlines the problem

I have received quite a few emails recently about local pharmacies being closed at short notice or with long queues outside stores.

The problem has been particularly acute in Budleigh Salterton. I recently met with LloydsPharmacy, who run branches in the town and across East Devon.

He expresses shock at the issues raised, but they are not the ones that immediately spring to mind

I will be honest that the issues raised in the meeting really shocked me. Verbal abuse from customers has been cited as a contributing factor to three managers leaving a store in Budleigh over two months. Sadly, stores haven’t been able to open every day because there’s a national shortage of qualified staff and locum pharmacists and dispensers are not always available to make up the shortfall.

Pharmacies can’t dispense medicines without a pharmacist on site. Recruitment remains a struggle despite the offer of generous hourly rates and bonuses. The government has added pharmacists to the shortage occupation list to help recruitment from elsewhere. Training can take up to five years, depending on the role.

He recognises frustration with the “service” then passes the buck

I recognise that many of us will be frustrated when we don’t get the service we expect. But there’s no excuse to verbally abuse staff who are just doing their jobs. LloydsPharmacy assure me they are working hard to recruit new staff and will keep me updated with their progress.

Lastly, he indulges in a classic Tory diversionary and gratuitous attack on EDDC 

I have also received emails from residents concerned about the continued closure of Exmouth Town Hall and Blackdown House in Honiton. East Devon District Council closed both offices at the start of the pandemic with no firm plans announced to reopen them. It prompted several political groups to work cross-party on an open letter to the council calling for both offices to reopen. Funnily enough, I hear the leader was informed of the letter on Thursday and wasn’t best pleased, as you might possibly be able to tell from his column this week. It prompted a press release on Friday announcing that Exmouth Town Hall will reopen in December.

The time has come to also reopen their offices at Honiton for face-to-face support for visitors who turn up and may need help. It’s what council tax payers expect.

Bottom line: he fails to address the issue – another example of the broken NHS – Owl

Devon being ‘let down’ over GP appointment waiting times

Richard Foord MP comments on GP appointment waiting times.

To be contrasted with Simon Jupp MP’s approach to the additional problem the “old dears” in Budleigh are complaining of, their long wait in getting their medication dispensed. Not knowing if either of the two pharmacies are open, then sometimes having to queue in the cold outside. – Owl 

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

A Devon MP has said people are being let down after revealing the ‘alarming number’ of patients waiting more than two weeks to see a GP. More than 140,000 patients across Devon waited more than two weeks to see a GP in September, new research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

This made up 20.2 per cent of all GP appointments, up from the 13.6 per cent of patients who waited more than two weeks to see their doctor in January. Across the country, over 5 million people waited more than two weeks for a GP appointment in September, making up 17.9 per cent of all GP visits.

Richard Foord MP has said the “alarming figures” show that patients in Tiverton & Honiton are being let down. It comes as Liberal Democrats have set out plans for patients to have a right to see their GP within a week, or within 24 hours if in urgent need.

The policy would enshrine this right in the NHS Constitution, putting a duty on the government and health service to make sure it happens. It would be achieved by increasing the number of GPs, fixing pension rules to prevent so many doctors retiring early, and increasing the number of nurses and pharmacists fully qualified to prescribe day to day medicines. The proposals were announced by Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey on a visit to Axminster Medical Practice this month.

Mr Foord said: “These alarming figures show our local health services are being run into the ground under this Conservative government. Behind these statistics are people across our part of Devon waiting for an appointment with worrying symptoms, with many are being seen too late. Visiting Axminster Medical Practice, I saw first-hand just how hard staff are working to support local people. The whole team are working flat out and their focus on same-day appointments is making a difference. However, it’s clear they’re overstretched.

“That’s why I am proud that Liberal Democrats have put forward a credible plan to ease the pressure on GP services and ensure everyone is seen within one week. It would serve to save our local health services and finally give people across our communities the fair deal they deserve. The government’s promises become ring hollow. The sad truth is they’re disinterested in improving our NHS and refuse to take action to pull it back from the brink. People here in Devon will pay the price if this government continues to take us for granted and sit on their hands”.