Breaking: Simon Jupp, running out of ideas, sinks into nauseating hypocrisy again

In his latest weekly column (see tomorrow’s Journal) Simon Jupp repeats his criticism (made last March and repeated in September) of EDDC putting up car parking charges.

No mention of the fact that Devon County Council has also put up its car parking charges, nor of the whopping increases in taxation his Government has just imposed.

Aren’t there are more significant “price hikes” that “must be reversed”?

Or is this all you can think of?

Simon, you must be running out of ideas – Owl

Weekly column: EDDC’s damaging parking price hikes must be reversed

The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yet despite a damning East Devon District Council report into their daft decision to double the price of parking, ruling councillors plan to rubber stamp prices staying at £2 an hour next peak season.

EDDC is led by the East Devon Alliance Party alongside the Liberal Democrats, Greens and one Independent. Ruling councillors from this dysfunctional coalition insisted the parking price hikes were necessary to bring in extra revenue to council coffers.

Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce warned about the impact of the parking price hikes after nearly 2,000 people signed petitions against the plans. Arrogantly, the petitions were ignored by the council. The Chamber also ran a business survey which paints a bleak picture. 80% of businesses surveyed said that the car parking charges had affected their business or may have. 70% said their trade was lower than anticipated. One visitor commented, “Wouldn’t visit East Devon again. We are shocked at the increase in parking charges.”

I have spoken to businesses in Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth. They are annoyed the parking price hikes were pushed through without consultation, ignoring government advice.

EDDC have the evidence that doubling the price of parking in 2022 has been nothing short of disastrous. During peak season, more drivers used the car parks in 2021 than 2022. That’s despite national Covid restrictions continuing into July 2021.

Their justification for these high charges continuing from April 2023 is “income supports the delivery of other services… and will also help the council achieve its ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.”

The council did introduce a residents parking pass, presumably because they realised they’ve priced local people on low incomes out of our town centres. I won’t applaud them for trying to mitigate their own policy whilst also forgetting that our local economy relies on tourism.

Ruling councillors need to read their damning report, wake up to their spectacular own goal and reverse their decision. Let’s finally see some common sense from councillors running the council.

This column first appeared in the Exmouth Journal on Wednesday 30th November 2022 and in the Sidmouth Herald later in the week.

From cutting taxes and growing our economy to “Robust Pragmatism”

Have you ever wanted to use meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about?

Simply click on the button below this paragraph and a random piece of business jargon will appear in the box. If you need more than one buzzphrase, just click the button again and again.

Devon & Cornwall, ‘Unacceptable’ 999 and 101 call waiting times soar

Increased waiting times for 999 and 101 across Devon and Cornwall have been slammed after it emerged callers were holding for an average of 25 seconds to have an emergency call answered.

Has Alison Hernandez been spending too much time on selfies (including canvassing for 113 votes in Newton Poppleford)? – Owl

Philip Churm

The figures were discussed at the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel, where it was revealed there had been a sharp increase in people using the force’s contact centre, with over 900,000 trying to get in touch, by phone or online in the 12 months to September 2022. In the year to July 2022 there were 82,322 more 999 calls alone received than in the 12 months to June 2019 – an increase of over 35 per cent.

Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez insisted she had urged temporary chief constable, Jim Colwell, to cut 999 waiting times to under 10 seconds by December. But the meeting heard that there had been some ‘serious issues’ which had affected performance in the control room.

Panel member and Conservative councillor for Woolwell, Nicky Hopwood, was first to quiz the commissioner on the call times. “When you’re dialling 999, to wait eight seconds, which was what the previous score was in 2021 – it’s now gone up [by] 18 seconds – it’s really not good enough for the public and I don’t think is acceptable,” said Cllr Hopwood.

“And I think you’ve agreed in the past that it’s not acceptable. When do you get to the point where you think, actually, you know what, we cannot sort this out – we need outside help because it’s absolutely unacceptable to be up 18 seconds?”

Ms Hernandez admitted there were problems. “There are some really serious issues that are affecting performance in that control room,” she said.

“Over the years, they have brought in multiple people from outside to help, which I have supported them in. And they do not seem to have been able to stabilise, let alone reduce the performance in that control room.”

Cllr Hopwood insisted her comments were not to find fault with call centre staff. “This is not a criticism of those who answer the phone,” she said. “And I think that’s really important to recognise that those answering the phone probably go above and beyond in their jobs.”

But there was further criticism of the 101 service. Figures showed so-called ‘priority 2’ calls, which include things like anti-social behaviour or callers requesting updates about ongoing investigations, had average wait times in the 12 months to September 2022 of 38 minutes, six seconds.

Independent councillor for Fremington in North Devon, Frank Biederman, was critical of the police for not being able to show how many people may have given up on a 101 call to then phone 999.

“I find it unbelievable we don’t know how many people are abandoning a 101 call to then ring a 999 call, because I suspect an awful lot of those 999 calls are people who have got really frustrated,” he said, also questioning the call centre’s criteria for an emergency call.

“Somebody tried to get my daughter into their car. She escaped – ran off,” he explained. “We rang 999. We were told, ‘Well, she’s not in danger. Not a 999 call.’ Well, no. But somebody else’s daughter is in danger.

“And then last week a resident’s telling me they rang 999 because they intercepted an intruder in the house. Again [they were] told it’s not a 999 call – there’s no immediate danger.”

The commissioner replied to Cllr Biederman, insisting she was taking the matter seriously and was pressing hard for improvements. She said: “All the tweaking, all the investing, all the messing – that fundamentally is a leadership and management challenge within the force.

“I have every confidence, Cllr Biederman, in both the temporary chief constable who has gripped this, who I have asked formally to answer 999 calls within 10 seconds, by December this year.

“They’ve told me informally and formally many times that the reason the performance in 101 dips is because they’re answering the 999 calls. And that doesn’t seem to be the case with the performance that it’s showing me today, because 101 would be way worse. And 999 would still be being answered.”

Ms Hernandez said she was also asking for a triage system to be used to assess the urgency of each call. Later in the meeting the commissioner also announced she was launching a survey to find out which police stations in Devon and Cornwall people want to be re-opened.

Six enquiry desks are already opening this financial year and Ms Hernandez hopes to open more. The public are being asked to choose three preferred locations from a list of 44 police stations in the Devon and Cornwall Police area.

GP appointment league tables ‘name and shame’ UK practices

GP ‘league tables’ that give patients access to data on UK surgeries that offer the fewest appointments will boost ‘transparency’, say officials.

The data, published on the NHS Digital website on Thursday, could ‘name and shame’ practices, with the UK Government saying it would provide patients with ‘more informed choice’. The tables will set out the number of appointments each England practice offers and the timeframes waited by patients.

You can see your practice’s performance using the online gadget here.

Matt Davies

But GPs hit out, with concerns the scheme will compare sites without ‘accounting for different patient characteristics’. For example, a seaside town possessing an elderly population may have surgeries with fewer appointments than those in the city centres treating younger people.

Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary, said: “We promised to prioritise patients and improve access, and that is exactly what we have done – and this is just the start. I am determined to make it easier for people to get an appointment with their GP practice when they need one, and this will allow patients to make a more informed choice about the care they receive.”

Thursday marked the first day patients could determine the effectiveness of surgeries using the data, although the idea was announced last year. Leading medics have also raised concerns that more GPs had left the profession than entering it following the publication of Health Education England (HEE) figures detailing the number of doctors starting specialist training to become GPs.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, the chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “We have serious concerns about how the publication of practice-level data will be used to compare practices against each other, as with general, you’re rarely comparing like with like. What works in one may not in another – so they will tailor their services to their patient population.

“We worry this data will be used to create arbitrary ‘league tables’ that don’t account for different patient demographics and ways of working. Those that appear at the bottom will face undue criticism at a time when the profession is already demoralised and working under intense pressures.”

Hawthorne said the published data is ‘experimental’, so it is unclear ‘how comprehensive or useful’ it is. The HEE said 4,032 trainee GPs had joined placements, meeting government targets for GP speciality trainee recruitment.

But the RCGP said up to 19,000 GPs could leave the profession in the next five years due to the ‘intensity of workload pressures’. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s appointment letter to Barclay dropped the Conservative manifesto target of recruiting 6,000 GPs in England by 2024.

Earlier this year, Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, said they would be ‘unlikely to meet the commitment’ due to early retirements among GPs. But the DHSC said it was ‘set to reach its target of 26,000 additional members of primary care staff’.

Reporting by Ella Pickover, PA

Dowden paid £8,398 fee by firm of Kwarteng mini-budget party host

The cabinet minister Oliver Dowden received more than £8,000 in fees for “policy advice” to the company of a hedge fund manager who hosted a champagne reception for the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on the day of the disastrous mini-budget.

Rowena Mason 

Dowden, a close ally of Rishi Sunak, was briefly employed by Caxton Associates, the hedge fund of Andrew Law, after resigning as Conservative party chairman earlier this year.

Law, a substantial party donor, hosted the reception for Conservative backers and business leaders at his home on the evening of Kwarteng’s mini-budget, which triggered market turmoil.

It was later reported by the Times that Law’s hedge fund had been shorting the pound and would probably have profited from the fall in its value triggered by the mini-budget. Law is also a substantial party donor, having given more than £3m to the Conservatives over almost two decades.

There is no suggestion that Kwarteng provided any hedge funds or Tory donors with any insider information, or that any of the hedge funds were trading on the basis of information that was not public.

A spokesman for the Conservative party said at the time it was “not unusual for politicians to attend political fundraisers” and that “absolutely no information was given to anyone in attendance that was not already in the public domain”.

Dowden provided “policy advice” to Caxton Associates in October while he was still a Conservative MP, despite having been in the cabinet until June.

He gained permission for the job from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, making £8,398 for 12 hours of work between 24 September and 24 October when he resigned to join Sunak’s government as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, working from the Cabinet Office.

In its advice letter approving the job, Acoba said: “You sought the committee’s advice on taking up a paid, part-time appointment with Caxton. You stated Caxton is a global macro hedge fund founded in 1983.

“The website states its aim is to deliver ‘ … consistent absolute returns for its investors irrespective of the market environment’. It states it uses: ‘Rigorous analysis, disciplined risk management, and a relentless pursuit of excellence underpin Caxton’s reputation as a market leader.’

“You informed the committee you will be a policy adviser to provide advice and analysis on international and UK policy developments. You said this role does not involve contact with government and that your proposed contract will include a specific clause making clear that ‘ … for the avoidance of doubt, Caxton is not retaining you as an adviser for the purpose or intent of influencing or affecting, in any manner, any current or proposed legislation or any government official or action’.”

Dowden also took on a £5,000-a-month job for a firm called Pierce Protocols trading as Heni, an “international art services business”.

Dowden’s work for the hedge fund and art business come after MPs’ second jobs have come under scrutiny in the last year.

Under Boris Johnson, the government suggested it might set a limit on hours and/or pay from second jobs held by MPs. The former prime minister had pledged to clamp down on MPs’ second jobs after the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal and a furore over Geoffrey Cox being paid nearly £6m as a lawyer since joining parliament, voting by proxy on days he was undertaking paid work.

However, it later dropped the proposals claiming a ceiling on earnings would be impractical.

Other former ministers to have taken second jobs in the last year include Gavin Williamson, a former education secretary who took on a £50,000-a-year job for RTC Education, a higher education firm offering higher national diplomas, which is linked to two Tory donors Selva Pankaj and Maurizio Bragagni.

Williamson quit the RTC Education job on joining Sunak’s government as minister of state without portfolio. Two weeks later he resigned from the government in relation to bullying allegations, which he denies.

The Cabinet Office and Law have been approached for comment.

Lack of investment could leave 600,000 English properties at risk of flooding

In England more than 600,000 properties face flooding in the future without investment in drainage, a report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has found.

Helena Horton 

At the moment, 325,000 English properties have a 60% risk of flooding in the next decade, according to calculations by the NIC, due to a lack of investment in infrastructure.

The report calls for stricter controls on building in flood-prone areas, as well as a £2bn investment in drainage over 30 years to bring our systems up to standard and stop lives being ruined by flooding.

A combination of more extreme weather due to climate breakdown and increasing pressure on drains due to new developments is likely to push 230,000 more homes into the high risk category for flooding by 2055. If more impermeable surfaces are built across England, such as when people pave over their gardens, this could move another 65,000 properties into a high risk area.

The report advises that the government should legislate to stop new developments connecting to existing drains, to encourage uptake of sustainable systems.

Prof Jim Hall, the national infrastructure commissioner, said: “It’s clear that faced with more intense rainfall and increased urbanisation, we need to start taking this type of flooding far more seriously.

“The solution is clear: reducing the amount of water flowing into drains, whilst also improving the capacity of those drains. That means stopping urban creep from increasing the amount of storm water that drainage systems have to cope with and giving nature more opportunities to hold on to excess water, as well as targeted investment to ensure sewers can cope with growing pressures.

“While sustained investment is needed, the estimated additional costs are relatively modest. At least as important is a more joined-up approach to owning and acting on the problem.”

The report also calls for an expanded role for the environment watchdogs Ofwat and the Environment Agency to oversee joint local plans for high risk areas. It adds that Ofwat, the water regulator, should ensure that water and sewerage companies play their part by enabling efficient investment in both above and below ground drainage infrastructure

It adds that nature-based solutions will be critical to tackling flooding in the future including the use of roof gardens, rain gardens, green gulleys and flood storage ponds.

Its modelling suggests that its recommended levels of investment in new infrastructure could move 250,000 properties out of the high risk category and boost protection levels for thousands more properties. Action on new developments could prevent a further 95,000 properties from facing a high risk of surface water flooding in their area.

The NIC has said there should be better public knowledge around flood risk areas, so members of the public know whether they are at risk.

Tory housing rebels, top-down housebuilding targets and Levelling Up

Last week Theresa Villiers tabled an amendment to the flagship “Levelling Up Bill” that would ban councils from taking housebuilding targets into account when deciding on planning applications, including the infamous “five year land supply” rule.

She got so much support that the imminent vote was postponed, leaving the government in disarray.

Over the weekend there has been a backlash from the “build, build, build” wing of the Tory party.

Summarised by the Sunday Times as: a “wicked” quest to “enshrine nimbyism as the governing principle of British society” and by the Daily Mail as follows:

Tory housing rebel claims leafy constituencies are ‘under siege’ from developments that ruin the ‘quality of life’ for affluent locals – after ministers pull vote on changes to planning laws that would make it easier to build homes amid backbench anger 

  • Theresa Villiers told Sky News: ‘Our constituencies are under siege’
  • Wants to ban councils from using housebuilding targets in planning decisions 
  • Would make it easier for councils to ban building on greenfield land
  • Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid said politicians ‘owe it’ to young people to fix housing 
  • Warned that lack of housing is UK’s ‘most significant barrier to social progress’

Below is the text of her amendment with a list of Tory MPs supporting her including Selaine Saxby (North Devon) and Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot).

[PPSs wouldn’t dare get involved is such controversial stuff – Owl]

Nimbyism in perspective

“If you live and work in a city, imagining the opponents of new development to be a bigoted shower and endlessly shouting “nimby” at them is easy. But take a closer look at what is actually happening across the country, and you might come to a more nuanced opinion.”

Guardian Columnist, John Harris, lives in Frome.

In May 2022 ”Independents for Frome (IFF)”, sometimes described as an example of “flatpack democracy”, won all 17 seats on the Town Council in preparation for Unitary Somerset.

Yesterday he articulated the problem top down development targets pose to rural communities rather well. 

The Tories are tearing themselves apart over housing – but this is another crisis of their own making 

John Harris

In the corner of Somerset where I have lived for nearly 15 years, life in late-Tory England grinds on. Our MP is David Warburton, the formerly Conservative backbencher who was recently found to have broken the parliamentary code of conduct amid allegations of sexual harassment and drug use, which he denies. He has not been seen for eight months. Our new unitary county council faces a financial black hole of £38m before it has even come into being, so cuts are being readied. The town’s GP service is completely overstretched, bus services are a constant worry, trains to Bristol and Bath run at inexplicable times of the day, and the roads are regularly jammed with traffic. Use of the local food bank is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, a lot of local angst is now focused on an ever-increasing number of new housing developments: a huge local story that reflects one of the ever-growing number of internal Tory conflicts eating away at Rishi Sunak’s government.

The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised that the government would trigger the building of 300,000 new homes a year, which inevitably entailed a sizeable loosening of the planning system. But proposals for drastically changing the rules and introducing new liberalised “development zones” were dropped after revolts led by Tory MPs, largely from the south of England.

Now, scenting even more weakness at the top, Conservative rebels led by the former minister Theresa Villiers want to amend the new levelling up and regeneration bill to – among other changes – make Whitehall housing targets advisory rather than mandatory, get rid of the planning system’s inbuilt presumption in favour of development, and allow councils to ban building on the green belt. The result has been an almighty row, and panic at the top.

Conservatives being Conservatives, none of the controversy gets near the most urgent housing issue of all: the dire lack of homes for social rent, and the pitiful numbers built every year. But that hardly diminishes the passions of the combatants. Today the minister-turned-senior backbencher Sajid Javid warned in the Sunday Times that Villiers and her comrades wanted to “tear down the existing planning system”, and lead their party into “a colossal failure of political leadership”.

A Tory-aligned columnist in the same newspaper recently described the rebels’ moves as a “wicked” quest to “enshrine nimbyism as the governing principle of British society”. Given that their ranks include such panto villains as Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood, most bystanders on the political left would presumably be inclined to agree.

But this issue is complex and confounding, and two somewhat contradictory things could both be true. Yes, the anti-development Tories’ motives might be cynical and self-serving. But at the same time, some of the widespread unease that they are seizing on is real and understandable. If you live and work in a city, imagining the opponents of new development to be a bigoted shower and endlessly shouting “nimby” at them is easy. But take a closer look at what is actually happening across the country, and you might come to a more nuanced opinion.

For a start, objecting to concreting over huge chunks of countryside and obliterating natural habitats is surely not an inherently evil cause. The fact that most new housing tends to lock in dependency on the car only compounds many people’s unease about what new developments mean for their environment.

The complex and opaque machinations of landowners and private developers only increase a sense of them being distant interests with very little sense of what people in places hold dear. Because profit is usually the deciding consideration, far too many new-build projects are cheaply constructed, lack community amenities and are out of step with an ageing population and increasing numbers of people who live alone. And one massive tension now sits at the heart of local arguments about housing: the plain fact that, after 12 years of cuts, new development threatens to deepen the problems of places whose services and infrastructure are now in a state of decay.

Damian Green, the former minister and MP for Ashford in Kent, is one of the Tory rebels. “Much of the opposition to particular developments,” he recently wrote, “is based on the proposition that there are not enough school places, or medical services, or even water, to cope with a rising population in a locality.” This is undoubtedly true. And in that sense, whether they realise it or not, Green and his allies are really decrying their own party’s time in power, and failures that made any sensible conversation about new housing all but impossible, for one obvious reason: if a country doesn’t maintain the stuff that keeps it running, then any viable future becomes impossible.

Back, then, to where I live. Frome – population 28,000 – has a dysfunctional housing market characterised by often impossible prices and rising rents. Most of the new developments now scattered over the local area have done very little to ease these problems (the price of new-build four-bed houses regularly scrapes £500,000), and have worsened the tension between an expanding town ever more dominated by cars and an increasingly threadbare social fabric.

Last Thursday I went to a packed-out meeting organised by our town council to discuss plans for a huge “garden community” of 1,700 homes – housing about 7,000 people – to be built on fields beyond the edge of town that many people see as the area’s green lung. On the face of it, these plans are better than the norm, promising a new primary school, a “community hub”, properties for social rent, playing fields and more.

But, as people repeatedly pointed out in their speeches and questions, these visions are the work of a so-called promoter – a company that works with landowners to get initial planning permission for their land, and thereby hugely increase its value, in return for a share of the profits once it’s sold to the highest-bidding developer. In other words, the people we heard laying out their seemingly benign plans are not the people who will actually do the building, and square lofty promises with real-world economics (in a town eight miles away, “viability” has meant the probable affordable share of a big housing project going from 30% to around 10%).

As well as fears of yet more traffic and air pollution, one objection came up time and again: how “a whole new town” would cause the wider public realm to buckle under the strain. To quote one eloquent statement of opposition, “Services and infrastructure are already overstretched. Who will fund what is needed? Not the promoter or landowners, and not the local authority, given the present economic outlook.” Here, once again, is a very familiar picture of Britain as a Babel-like mess, in which far too little is ever integrated or joined up. Councils are so starved of money that they can’t function. The fact that housing is inseparable from transport, health, care and all the rest is repeatedly forgotten. And amid the chaos, Conservative politicians turn on each other, as their endless failures become clearer and clearer.