MP calls for mayor and devolution deal to be separated

A Cornish MP says that proposals to have a directly elected mayor for Cornwall should be separated from the Duchy’s latest bid for more powers and funding from the Government. George Eustice has tabled an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill which he hopes will highlight Cornwall’s unique position in relation to devolution.

[Cornwall is seeking a level 3 devolution deal, which currently requires an elected mayor, where Devon and its constituent unitary authorities are seeking a level 2 deal. No easy summary of the difference. – Owl]

Richard Whitehouse

The Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced in his recent autumn statement that Cornwall was one of the areas which would have a directly elected mayor as part of its latest devolution deal. The Government has said that in order to get the top level three deal Cornwall Council would have to change its governance system to have a directly elected mayor.

However, a campaign has been launched to try and secure a referendum so that people in Cornwall have a chance to vote on whether there should be a mayor. Under the current proposals the decision on having a mayor will be taken by the 87 Cornwall councillors.

Whilst supporters of the change claim it will bring additional funding and powers to Cornwall and give the Duchy a stronger voice, critics say that it will be a costly endeavour which will only duplicate what is already in place and increase bureaucracy.

Mr Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, has tabled two amendments to the Levelling Up Bill which is currently going through Parliament. The first seeks to ensure that when making any decisions on devolution the Government takes into account the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCPNM) which recognises the Cornish as a national minority.

The second amendment seeks to change the rules so that local authorities can secure a level three devolution deal without the need for a directly elected mayor. Both amendments have been supported by St Ives MP Derek Thomas.

Mr Eustice said that he considered that whilst there might be a case for having a change in governance he did not think that a devolution deal should be dependent on it. He said: “I am quite agnostic about a mayor. I know there are good arguments for one with the idea that you would have a single, strong voice for Cornwall and being directly elected would give more accountability.

“On the other hand there is something about Cornwall that having just one person having that power is uncomfortable – one for all rather than one and all – which goes against our sensibilities.

“Whether we should have a mayor, and the merits of having a mayor, is an issue of governance, it is a separate question to the one about securing devolution. If having a mayor is the right then then we should have one, but by not having a mayor should not mean we do not get a devolution deal.”

Mr Eustice said that ten years ago the FCPNM had been “pushed quite hard” by MPs including Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson and was accepted by then Prime Minister David Cameron.

He said: “What the amendment says is that when considering the devolution deal the Government must have regard for what it means for the national minority. What that does is Cornwall is the only place in the whole of England that has a recognised national minority which makes Cornwall, legally, a special case.”

A motion on whether there should be a referendum held asking Cornwall residents if they want a mayor is set to go to a meeting of full council on Tuesday. In response to that motion the council has indicated that the proposed devolution deal could bring £390million into Cornwall – although there are no details about the timescale of the funding or what it would be for.

Mr Eustice wrote in a comment piece in the Western Morning News at the weekend that he was not in favour of a referendum which he said could be “quite painful and divisive”. He did praise council leader Linda Taylor for stating that councillors will be given a free vote when the time comes to decide what to do.

He said: “Each one of them will be able to listen carefully to residents in their own ward, hear arguments on both sides and then make up their own mind. That’s how it should be on a big issue like this and other parties in Cornwall should do the same. A development such as this would be an important constitutional change and we need there to be a free and open discussion about the merits of both courses of action.”

Water chiefs blame UK government for failure to stop sewage pollution

Water company bosses have blamed UK government inaction for a lack of progress in stopping sewage pollution, newly revealed letters show.

A plague on both your houses! – Owl

Helena Horton 

According to data from the Environment Agency, sewage has been dumped into the seas and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times over the course of 2020 and 2021 – the equivalent of almost 6m hours.

During his short stint as environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena demanded that every water company boss write to him with plans to reduce storm overflows, where human waste is pumped into rivers and on to beaches.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not publicly release these letters until months later, when obliged to under the Freedom of Information Act.

In the letters, the water company chief executives made scathing comments about the lack of action from government on the sewage scandal. They complained that the government had failed to bring in new laws as a reason for sewage discharges.

The water companies complained about two pieces of legislation in particular: regulations for drainage systems on new developments passed in 2010 but not yet enforced in England (Wales enforced the measure in 2018), and a ban on wet wipes which are not biodegradable proposed in a private member’s bill by the Labour MP Fleur Anderson but ignored by the Conservative government.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “It is a bleak day for the government when even the water companies are blaming their inaction for the sewage crisis.

“No wonder the environment department sat on these letters for so long, they are highly embarrassing. They prove successive conservative ministers have buried their heads in the sand while Britain’s coastlines have been polluted with foul sewage.

“These are the same water company executives who paid themselves insulting bonuses worth millions of pounds, all while destroying rivers and lakes. The government needs to get their act together. Years of Conservative chaos has delayed tackling this crisis. This is an environmental scandal which is sadly here to stay.”

The CEO of Anglian Water, Peter Simpson, said the government had not acted to make sure homes were built sustainably, with the sewage system taken into account. “If water companies were made statutory consultees on planning developments, not just local plans, and if schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act were enacted, then our role in ensuring sustainable growth would be greatly enhanced.”

In addition, Simpson called for a ban on the sale of non-biodegradable wet wipes: “We also believe the time has come to enforce a complete ban on the sale of wet wipes that do not adhere to Fine to Flush standards. The sector has worked closely with manufacturers and retailers on the development of this standard, but adoption is not happening quickly enough.”

The CEO of Thames Water, Sarah Bentley, called for regulations on drainage in new developments. “The biggest single driver of discharge of untreated sewage into the environment is excess rainfall coming through our sewage treatment works, overwhelming them. By choosing to enact schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 government can significantly reduce the rate of surface water discharging to our network, meaning more available capacity for new connections for new development and a lower risk of spills from combined sewer overflows.”

Water companies have come under fire for paying their CEOs generous bonuses yet failing to stop the sewage scandal. Last week, it was revealed that companies have been releasing sewage on to beaches and in rivers even when it is not exceptional weather.

‘I’m a Tory, get me out of here’: MPs ponder life after parliament

Sir Gary Streeter is the first Devon MP to head for the exit. Tory MPs have until 5 December to declare whether they wish to stand down at the next election.

Sir Gary was elected as MP for Plymouth Sutton in 1992 and stayed in his seat until 1997, when he became the South West Devon MP.

How many will follow him?-Owl

Jessica Elgot

Matt Hancock has just a few days left on I’m a Celebrity before he returns from the safety of the Australian jungle back to the more poisonous environment of the Palace of Westminster.

But this week, more Conservative MPs are pondering ways to get out of there – as a deadline approaches to give notice that they intend to stand at the next election.

MPs are already predicting as many as 50 colleagues may decide not to stand in 2024, having looked at the state of the polls. Some are toying with whether to stay till the end of the parliament or jump sooner – others holding out hope for a final reshuffle to get a chance at ministerial office.

Conservative MPs have been given a deadline of 5 December to declare whether they plan to stand down at the next election. The date coincides with the final decision on boundaries for the next election, so that Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) can start to look at the full electoral picture with new constituencies.

Chloe Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, and Will Wragg, the chair of the public administration select committee, have said they will stand down. On Friday Sir Gary Streeter announced he would not contest the next general election after 25 years in the Commons, followed shortly afterwards by Dehenna Davison, the levelling-up minister and MP for the “red wall” seat of Bishop Auckland.

Smith is 40, Wragg is 34 and Davison is 29, all with a significant amount of their professional lives still to come, but they have still decided they want out. The strains of the past five years of turmoil have been great for so many MPs – changes of prime minister, Brexit, the pandemic and party infighting. And all are on course to lose their seats on the current polling trajectory.

But some Tories predict that MPs such as Davison, Smith and Wragg are likely to be younger outliers and that there will be a major generational shift in the party, with numerous veteran MPs opting to stand down.

“A third of us were new to parliament at the last election, but there’s a lot of Tory MPs who have been here 15 or 20 years and feel they’ve done their time,” one said. “Some of those are in their 60s and 70s. If they go, they’ll get a good pension and be able to do the odd bit of work here and there.”

MPs who are still ambitious but feel their seats are on shaky territory are beginning to reach out to recruitment consultants, headhunters and former firms to try to get a sense of the post-electoral employment picture.

One long-serving Conservative backbencher said they had few illusions about their fate – or any plans for what might happen if, as expected, they lost their seat. “My constituency tends to change with the government, so it doesn’t look that great for me at the moment,” they said.

“But it’s not like I’m alone. Some colleagues are looking at other things they can do, but quite a lot are just keeping their heads down and getting on with their jobs. Everyone realises that the best we can probably expect in the election is damage limitation.”

Another MP said that they expected a number of colleagues to depart now they realised there was no longer a prospect of serving in government. “There are colleagues who have been passed over for ministerial jobs for years and now it’s getting to the point where they won’t serve – in which case, why stay?” one minister put it bluntly.

Others are concerned about Keir Starmer cracking down on MPs having second, often lucrative, jobs in addition to their parliamentary work. “You need to bear in mind that if we stay on and end up in opposition, the Labour government is likely to get really tough on second jobs,” one said.

Some have even discussed whether they should stand down early – even if that meant the party facing difficult byelections – thinking they would be more employable now.

“After the 1997 election nobody wanted to employ a former Tory MP,” one said. “It will be the same this time round, so people are thinking about getting out early while they still have some currency.”

Many have convinced themselves that life on the outside would be easier. “Even if the job was not that high-profile or interesting, I could earn three times as much and still spend all weekend at home with my kids,” one minister said.

More MPs are expected to announce departures before the deadline, but a number of Conservative MPs say they are likely to delay their decisions until later, to give themselves more time to decide.

Rishi Sunak could yet conduct another reshuffle, and one MP said they were waiting to see whether there was anything on offer for them for what they called “my last two years in parliament” before expecting to lose their seat.

“Rishi keeps dangling a reshuffle over our heads and of course that’s something that would be more attractive in the outside world, but if you say you’re going now, you won’t be getting a ministerial job.”

One said they had all but decided to go at the next election though had told CCHQ they were staying. “Under Liz [Truss] I would have gone like a shot, but I think Rishi’s got a chance of holding maybe 50 more seats than she would have done,” one senior backbencher said.

Others already have a new life back in government having thought their ministerial careers were now over – and might reconsider their future.

“I think there are some including Dom [Raab] and Michael [Gove] who might have decided to look for new careers after 2024, but now they are back in the tent that decision is not going to come any time soon,” the backbencher said.

Labour advisers report an avalanche of attention from recruitment consultants and lobbying firms, desperate to hire those with an inside view of the party.

“The phone just hasn’t stopped, it’s doing my head in. Even worse is people emerging out of the woodwork trying to get commissions and jobs,” one senior Starmer adviser said. Conservatives are likely to find the opposite is true.

A correspondent remembers 2017, including the part played by Sarah Randall Johnson

In a recent post detailing the latest meltdown in the NHS emergency service, Owl asked:

Do you remember 2017, the year the local Tories ruthlessly started stripping out our Community Hospitals? 

To which a correspondent has written:

I do indeed remember those times.

I attended a few meetings at DCC HQ and heard the pleas to retain our cottage hospitals, solid arguments from Claire Wright and Martin Shaw .

I remember the promises of alternative provision but later experienced a 100 year old former Royal Marine and ex POW friend being told no such alternative care was available despite him fully meeting the criteria.

He blocked a few beds but was also sent home on occasions, one of which saw him laid in a hospital-provided bed but from which he could not move by himself. He was expected, in light of the shortage of the promised alternative, to be left alone in that bed and flat all night, some 12 plus hours.

In the end, friends, (there was no capable family), stayed for several nights until alternative private arrangements could be made.

I should have liked Sarah Randall Johnson, the Tory party through and through chair of the Health Security Committee, to have seen what the consequences of the policy she was promoting caused.

Those who have read any of Swire’s wife’s diaries will know that he got involved ‘saving’ Ottery’ just to piss Claire Wright off (see Martin Shaw’s blog). That’s Tories and health care for you.

Having been the subject of 999 calls for a priority ambulance I can assure you it is not a pleasant experience waiting and wondering if they will turn up in time-obviously and thankfully they have so far, but dozens will share the concerns and as long as we have the same politicians running things, our hard working ambulance service will (hopefully), be carrying the politicians.

They, and we, deserve better. Sarah Randall Johnson appears still to be chair of the County Health Scrutiny Committee. I for one would like to see her long gone.