Delaying pollution controls will only lead to harm 

Government about to announce abandoning the principle of a legal target for river health, and postponing a deadline for agricultural run-off reduction by three years (from 2037 to 2040). 

On sewage discharge: “investment in the infrastructure that makes such discharges unnecessary is the answer, and rules must be toughened to force the industry’s mostly foreign owners to take the necessary steps”.

As Owl reported in the past few days, South West Water is making a major investment in the Budleigh area, not to increase sewage treatment capacity, but to renew the sewer overflow into the sea at the Otter Head.

Why are Budleigh residents getting hammered daily?

Campers please don’t all flush at once.

Delaying pollution controls will only lead to harm


England’s rivers are in a shocking, filthy state, with every single one failing the last set of quality tests carried out in 2019 under EU rules. This is bad for biodiversity, above all the fish, mammals such as otters, and other species that live in rivers. And it is bad for people, to whom the depletion of nature poses an increasingly grave global threat. There could be no good time for the UK government to announce that it is abandoning the principle of a legal target for river health, and postponing a deadline for agricultural run-off reduction by three years (from 2037 to 2040). It is difficult to imagine a worse moment for such an announcement than the final week of a crucial UN biodiversity conference (Cop15) in Montreal.

Yet this is the decision that is expected to be made by the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, in the next few days. And while some farmers may welcome the further license to pollute waterways that they are likely to be granted, others, along with civil society groups and naturalists, will oppose what amounts to environmental negligence. The Conservatives’ atrocious record in office over the past 12 years with regard to water has recently come under sharpened scrutiny. Any further weakening of regulation can only strengthen the sense that a vital natural resource has been catastrophically mismanaged – while the companies that control it have been enabled to enrich themselves, and their investors.

Sewage dumped by water companies is the main cause of pollution off England’s coasts – including popular beaches and protected areas. Investment in the infrastructure that makes such discharges unnecessary is the answer, and rules must be toughened to force the industry’s mostly foreign owners to take the necessary steps. Ofwat, which regulates the private water companies, is a key player here. Its record of inaction led the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Tim Farron, to describe it as a “powerless accomplice”. But ministers are also to blame for the cuts to Environment Agency budgets that led to fewer and weaker water quality checks.

Agriculture, and particularly animal waste known as slurry, is the main source of inland water pollution. It affects nearly two-thirds of rivers, while the water sector supplying homes affects half. This problem requires a different solution, involving changes to land management and use. Challenging though this may be, putting it off will only make matters worse, especially since droughts and other extreme weather are expected to exacerbate the difficulties. The message from scientists is that the environmental crisis could not be more urgent, and wealthy countries like the UK should lead the way with policies geared towards sustainability.

The government has already missed its own target date for the new regulations, which was at the end of October. It remains to be seen what – if anything – the recently created post-Brexit watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, is going to do about this. But the overall situation is clear. Having promised that Brexit would usher in a new era of environmental regulation tailored for the UK, ministers are failing dismally to live up to their own prospectus.

Partygate: ministers accused of writing ‘blank cheque’ for Boris Johnson legal bills

Ministers have been accused of writing a “blank cheque” for Boris Johnson’s legal bills, as it emerged taxpayer-funded support was being extended to help defend him against claims he misled parliament over Partygate.

Aubrey Allegretti 

With just days left until a contract expires with the law firm Peters and Peters, which Johnson and the government have relied on to disparage an investigation by the privileges committee, the Guardian has learned the Cabinet Office intends to renew it.

The extension could be for up to six months given the investigation’s slow progress and was likely to be signed off without a new tender process, sources said.

Peters and Peters was given the four-month contract, worth nearly £130,000, in August. David Pannick, an advocate and king’s counsel, was instructed on the firm’s behalf.

The life peer has since sought to discredit the investigation by claiming MPs on the cross-party committee had adopted a “fundamentally flawed approach” and that their interpretation of whether any misleading was deliberate would have a “chilling effect” on future statements by ministers.

Johnson himself has protested his innocence, and is said to believe it is unclear what the committee is investigating.

The Peters and Peters contract expires on 16 December, but sources confirmed it would be extended to help Johnson and the government while the privileges committee inquiry continued.

They said procurement rules meant that because the same service was being requested, the government would not need to re-tender the contract.

The Cabinet Office declined to say whether more money would be spent on the extended contract, or if the legal advice would continue to be provided within the existing budget.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said Rishi Sunak had “serious questions to answer” about whether more taxpayer cash would be spent defending Johnson during a cost of living crisis.

“Families up and down the country who are struggling to make ends meet will rightly be outraged at this sickening waste of their money,” she told the Guardian.

Rayner said despite Sunak’s pledge to restore integrity and accountability to government, he was “already failing to stop the rot in Downing Street” and pointed out that the government had still not appointed an ethics adviser.

Oral evidence sessions, which were meant to begin by the end of November, were now not likely to begin until mid-January.

Johnson himself would be called to give evidence, and was said to have requested he be accompanied at the hearing by a legal team – something a source close to him denied.

Because the privileges committee is in control of the timetable for witness sessions, requests for follow-up evidence and the writing of its final report, the contract extension could be for up to six months.

While delays to the inquiry were caused by the death of the queen and wrangling over the addition of a new member to the committee, the government was also accused of delaying things by refusing to hand over, or heavily redacting, key documents.

Chris Bryant, a Labour MP and chair of the standards committee, suggested Johnson could afford to pay his own legal bills and highlighted the money the former prime minister has made since leaving office, including a speech for which he charged £276,130.

“The government seems to have issued a blank cheque to Boris Johnson at a time when public finances are meant to be tight,” Bryant said. “Frankly, Boris Johnson can afford his own legal representation.”

Ministers have previously said public money is being used to defend Johnson, even though he is no longer a member of the government, because the inquiry “has potential implications for all future statements by ministers of the crown in current and future administrations”.

Not content with bankrupting the country, Tory MPs are now being declared bankrupt themselves.

Adam Afriyie says he will not quit as Conservative MP after bankruptcy order

“Not content with bankrupting the country, Tory MPs are now being declared bankrupt themselves.” (Labour spokesperson)

Jessica Elgot 

The Conservative MP Adam Afriyie has said he will not quit as an MP after being made bankrupt by a court ruling, which found he owed about £1.7m.

Afriyie was pursued by creditors including HMRC for £1m in unpaid tax and Barclays Bank. He asked for more time to sell the family home in order to pay his debts. But the judge ruled Afriyie had had long enough to make arrangements and ordered bankruptcy.

Under parliamentary rules, sitting MPs who are declared bankrupt do not have to step aside unless a more severe bankruptcy restrictions order is made against them, which can be imposed if the bankrupt refuses to cooperate with the process or is suspected of hiding assets.

In a statement, the Windsor MP said he would stand down at the next election but not trigger a byelection. “This has been ongoing for many years following business failures some time ago. I am ultimately responsible for some of the bank borrowing through personal guarantee. I’ve been trying to sell our home and downsize for some time, but it’s a tough market,” he said.

“It is a stressful time and it’ll be tough for a while, but I’m far from the only person in a difficult position, and I will continue to do my best to support my constituents until the next general election when I’ll be standing down.”

The order was made against Afriyie at an online hearing in the insolvency and companies court on Tuesday by Judge Nicholas Briggs.

Labour sources said they were likely to make the case that it is untenable for a sitting MP to owe so much to HMRC.

A party spokesperson said: “Not content with bankrupting the country, Tory MPs are now being declared bankrupt themselves.”

The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Daisy Cooper, said: “Adam Afriyie should do the decent thing and stand down. The drama about his tax affairs has been going on for too long and local people deserve a hardworking MP focussed on the job. In the middle of a health and cost of living crisis, this is no time for an absent MP.”

The judge was told Afriyie owed about £1m to HMRC and about £700,000 to Barclays and concluded he would not allow more time for Afriyie to sell the property.

“It seems to me there is no evidence of there being any reasonable prospects of paying debts in full,” he said.

Barrister Fiona Whiteside, who represented Barclays, said the bank had “lost patience”, and added: “We have seen no credible evidence that the property will be sold any time soon.”

Afriyie, who has said he will stand down at the next election, was previously a successful entrepreneur after setting up the IT firm Connect Support Services and then co-founding the political information provider DeHavilland. Shortly after he was first elected in 2005, that business, of which he owned 72%, was sold to the publishing giant Emap with his share worth £13m.

He paid £4m for a house in his Windsor constituency in 2008, according to Land Registry records. Connect Support Services went into insolvency in 2017 and it was reported at the time that it had racked up £1.7m of debts with HMRC, which is the lead creditor in Afriyie’s forthcoming bankruptcy case.

Afriyie announced his intention to stand down at the next election over the summer, during the Conservative leadership election. He said: “With Brexit concluded and the fourth leadership election under way, I feel that now it the right time for a new MP to represent our constituency and continue to protect and promote our beautiful area in the years ahead.

“There is no greater honour than to serve your country and your constituents, and I will diligently continue to perform my duties until the next election.”

MRP Poll Gives Labour a 314 seat Majority. Tories reduced to 69

The poll shows that the Conservative Party would be likely wiped out in much of the north of England, with the model suggesting that the party would not hold a single seat north of Lincolnshire, while also losing all of the seats in London, and conceding many seats in the South West to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Tories reduced to 69 seats, Jupp loses his! – Owl

[For explanation of MRP – see footnote.]

This latest MRP model reflects the position now, of two parties experiencing widely differing electoral fortunes.

  • MRP Voting Intention: Labour 48% (+3); Conservative 28% (-5); Lib Dem 11% (+1); Reform UK 4% (+1); Green 3% (-1); change from Savanta MRP poll in September
  • MRP seat forecast: Labour 482 (+280); Con 69 (-296); SNP 55 (+7); LD 21 (+10); Plaid Cymru 4 (=); Green 1 (=); Labour majority of 314; change from GE 2019 results
  • Model suggests the Conservatives would lose all seats in the north of England, including Rishi Sunak’s Richmond constituency 

Labour would return to the House of Commons with a 314 seat majority if an election were tomorrow, according to the latest MRP nowcast from Savanta.

The poll, Savanta’s first MRP since Labour conference and conducted in conjunction with Electoral Calculus, gives Labour a 20pt voting intention lead which, when converted to seats would more than double the number of MPs they currently have in Westminster.

The poll shows that the Conservative Party would be likely wiped out in much of the north of England, with the model suggesting that the party would not hold a single seat north of Lincolnshire, while also losing all of the seats in London, and conceding many seats in the South West to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP gain an extra seven seats according to the model, leaving them with all bar four of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies, while the Liberal Democrats would increase their parliamentary representation to their highest level since 2010, including gaining Dominic Raab’s Esher and Walton seat.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, says,

“Last time we published an MRP model, I spoke of both the potential and precarious nature of the 56-seat majority and 12pt lead the poll gave the Labour Party during their conference. Even the most optimistic Labour supporter would not have foreseen what was to come, such was the subsequent Conservative collapse, and therefore this latest MRP model reflects the position now, of two parties experiencing widely differing electoral fortunes.”

“But we must still express caution. Many seats going to Labour in this model, including a few that could be deemed ‘Red Wall’, still indicate a 40% or higher chance of remaining Conservative, and while that would have little impact on the overall election result, it does show that if Rishi Sunak can keep narrowing that Labour lead, point-by-point, the actual results come 2024 could look very different to this nowcast model.”

Commenting on the findings, Martin Baxter, Founder and CEO of Electoral Calculus, says,

“This is an interesting poll, because it is the first MRP we have done since the Conservatives slid so far behind Labour, and therefore we have very little to compare it with. MRP results are different to applying uniform national swing (UNS) to the 2019 General Election baseline. The UNS prediction would give the Conservatives about 24 more seats than this model.”

“Previous elections suggests that MRP is usually more accurate than UNS predictions, but we are in uncharted electoral waters and uncertainty is higher than usual.”

Savanta interviewed 6,237 GB adults aged 18+ online from 2-5 December 2022. Data were compiled in a multi-regression and poststratification (MRP) model by Electoral Calculus. Savanta is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

MRP stands for “multi-level regression and post-stratification”, it is a statistical technique. Usually, pollsters conduct research on a sample of people and try to ensure that their sample is representative of the whole population.

In MRP, you carry out a large nationwide poll, but it isn’t so important that the sample is representative of the whole population. You record lots of other data about the people who respond and use that to devise a mathematical model of how various groups of people are likely to vote.

Then you can make granular predictions by assuming that people in a certain demographic bracket in one area – university-educated single men in their 30s, say – have similar preferences to people in the same bracket in another area. The validity or otherwise of these assumptions is key. (Abridged from New Scientist 

The ‘desperate’ need for more affordable homes in East Devon

“There’s a huge need for more affordable housing across the district. The current waiting list has over 4700 individuals and families on it. To put that into context, EDDC only has around 4300 properties and this is decreasing year on year due to the Right to Buy (RTB). We have had 70 requests for RTB so far this year.”

[Councils are prohibited from keeping all of the money from Right to Buy (RTB) sales. The rules over retaining and spending receipts are complex and frequently revised.

In addition RTB homes have to be sold at a discount.This discount was increased substantially in 2012. Since this increase the Local Government Association (LGA) has calculated that in total £6bn has been given out in discounts.

The net effect is that local authorities have only been able to replace around a third of homes sold since 2012, which in turn means that they are struggling to provide housing for homeless and vulnerable families. – Owl. Source: ]

Unusually, the Exmouth Journal does not identify the author of the “opinion” article below.

Owl has discovered that it is Cllr. Dan Ledger: portfolio holder “Sustainable Homes and Communities”, chair of Housing Task and Finish Forum and of the Poverty Working Panel.

The ‘desperate’ need for more affordable homes in East Devon 

So what are the plans for increasing affordable home numbers across the district? 

The vast majority of the district’s affordable homes come through planning obligations on developers. For East Devon, the local plan stipulates that 25% of all major application homes should be affordable. Most of these homes end up in the ownership of housing associations where the tenures are split depending on localised housing needs. This delivers between 150-350 new affordable homes each year. It’s great for areas seeing large growth but where little housing is planned there aren’t enough affordable homes coming through. 

One of my first major acts at EDDC, when I joined in 2019, was putting forward a motion to rescope our dormant housing company. A task and finish forum (a small working group of councillors) was set up, working alongside officers, on how we could ensure EDDC started developing social homes again. We met with other local authorities, found out what had worked, and what hadn’t, and looked at an array of delivery models. From the TAFF, we have created a new council service called the Housing Task Force. 

The aim is to deliver truly affordable, secure and sustainable homes for the residents of East Devon who need them most. As part of this year’s budget, £500k was allocated to staff and initially fund the set up of a housing task force for two years. The sites will be a mixture of open market acquisitions and the redevelopment of under-utilised areas of council-owned assets. I am glad to announce we have several sites that are currently going through viability testing to build a pipeline of new social homes.

The first site of 25 units will be delivered late next year in Honiton, subject to planning. These new homes will be fully developed by outside contractor ZEDPods. ZEDpods produce modular buildings that are zero carbon, come with air source heating and solar panels as standard and have 70-year warranties on a lot of the home’s components. The homes will not only be highly energy efficient and reduce fuel poverty for our residents, but they will also reduce overall maintenance costs over time. This will allow further money to be put into improving our housing stock or increasing the number of homes we have under Council ownership. 

If you wish to see what the new homes could look like ZEDPods will be installing a temporary unit in the car park at Blackdown House, our Honiton Council Offices, early in the new year. 

The added stock will allow for strategic decisions to be made with our existing housing stock. We can look to dispose of or redevelop some of our homes that would struggle with retrofitting measures to make them more energy efficient. The government has set a requirement of all homes being D or higher by 2025 or they will be unable to be relet, this is why I’m so glad the Task Force has come around when it has. 

It won’t happen overnight but we will introduce a comprehensive renewed asset maintenance plan which will lead to better homes for our residents. We will increase affordable housing numbers, improve our existing stock, reduce the Council’s ongoing maintenance costs, reduce residents’ utility costs and start to tackle the issue of residents who have grown up in the area not being able to continue to live here due to unaffordable housing costs. 

The plan is there, we just need to deliver it now. I’m looking forward to the journey ahead. “