Boris Johnson: Taxpayers’ bill for Partygate defence set to soar as MPs make ‘site visit’ to No 10

Boris Johnson’s legal defence fees for the upcoming Partygate, covered by the taxpayer, are expected to soar again as the government prepares to extend the contract.

Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk

The taxpayer is already set to contribute more than £222,000 in legal fees for the former PM as he faces a grilling over whether he lied to parliament on Covid parties.

But the government contract with legal firm is to be renewed again before expiring 28 February, upping the bill by another five-figure sum, according to The Guardian.

It comes as it emerged investigating MPs on the privilege committee made a “site visit” to No 10 to see where rule-breaking parties were held during the pandemic.

The committee led by senior Labour MP Harriet Harman wanted to get a sense of the layout in the building to better understand how the gatherings happened, ITV reported.

MPs have not yet set a date for the public hearings for the Partygate, which is trying to establish whether Mr Johnson misled the Commons about what he knew of illicit gatherings.

But the televised sessions are expected to begin sometime in March. Mr Johnson denies misleading MPs – recently telling his staunch ally Nadine Dorries that anyone who suspects he deliberately covered up lockdown parties was “out of their mind”.

The decision to give so much taxpayers’ money to cover Mr Johnson’s legal fees for the is being looked into by officials at the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO has not yet decided to launch a formal investigation, but a letter last month revealed one of the spending watchdog’s top officials will speak to the Cabinet Office about the matter.

Solicitors firm Peters and Peters was awarded a contract worth £129,700 in August to provide Mr Johnson with advice during the investigation. An extension of the contract, costing another £90,000, was approved in December.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said voters “will be justly outraged at the prospect of having to foot the bill yet again for Boris Johnson’s Partygate defence fund”, adding: “Rishi Sunak is showing once again that he’s too weak to put a stop to it.”

Mr Johnson has been accused of “treachery” after intervening on the Northern Ireland Protocol row and other issues, with ex-Tory Chancellor George Osborne claiming the ex-PM wants to “bring down” Mr Sunak and return to No 10.

The former Tory leader will “100 per cent” condemn any agreement reached in the coming days if he feels it means closer alignment with the EU, allies have said. Mr Johnson has made known that dropping the unilateral protocol bill would be a “great mistake”.

He is one of 57 Tory MPs who has signed a letter urging Mr Sunak to boost nuclear energy capacity. He and the group want to see two more large-scale projects before the next general election.

Topsham Gap to get smaller as more housing plans approved

Up to 30 new homes will be built on the outskirts of Topsham, despite concerns about road safety. Heritage Developments’ outline application for a green field site along Newcourt Road was approved by Exeter City Council’s planning committee on Monday, which will see the Topsham Gap get even smaller.

Ollie Heptinstall www.devonlive.com 

35 per cent of the properties will be classed as ‘affordable,’ while the meeting was told the homes will be ‘net zero.’ This includes triple glazing throughout, air source heat pumps, solar panels and electric car charging points.

Located between the M5 and the Avocet railway line, Newcourt Road is currently the location of a number of new developments and recently-granted planning applications, leading local resident Ben Fitzpatrick to raise concerns about safety.

“Newcourt Road is a narrow, single track, country-style lane, with extremely restricted blind corners,” he said. “Worse than this – [there are] no footways along the majority of it, including at the worst end.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said the road was “dangerous” and “clogged at peak times.” He criticised the use of 2018 traffic data – before the recent housing developments were built – to help to assess road safety.

Councillors were told another survey had been carried out by an objector, showing significantly higher levels of traffic along the road, less than a week before the meeting. It came with a request to defer the application.

However, an officer for Devon County Council, which concluded it was “satisfied that safe and suitable access can be achieved to the site,” said the 2018 traffic survey was “perfectly applicable” given it had “taken into account future developments.”

Applicant David Lovell, from Heritage Developments, questioned the veracity of the objector’s survey, adding: “After allowing for this development and all other existing planning permissions, traffic movements on Newcourt Road will still be less than half the maximum threshold set out in national guidance.”

But he committed to adding pavements around the front of the site “to futureproof Newcourt Road for any future further developments.”

Mr Lovell also reminded councillors that the properties will be net zero homes and said he had no problem with including a play park in the development’s open space.

Council leader Phil Bialyk (Labour, Exwick) suggested the principle of housing at the location was broadly accepted, but called on the county council to “step up” and put in a “proper traffic management plan” as a condition for outline planning approval. However, he was told this was outside of the committee’s powers.

Councillor Rob Hannaford (Labour, St Thomas) said he would raise the issue of road safety at a future meeting of the Exeter highways and traffic orders committee (HATOC), on which he also sits.

Backing the scheme, Cllr Hannaford concluded: “We have a housing shortage. We need more housing across the board. These are family homes and there’s good provision of affordable and social housing.”

The application was approved by 11 votes to three. A final stage ‘reserved matters’ application containing the finer details will be brought back to the committee at a later date.

Let them eat turnips – today’s headlines

Therese Coffey Roasted For Saying ‘Cherish’ Turnips, Forget Tomatoes

Graeme Demianyk www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Twitter has been digging for jokes after the environment secretary suggested eating turnips could help avoid the UK’s fruit and vegetable shortages.

Supermarkets have been rationing fresh produce after bad weather in north Africa and southern Europe has disrupted the UK’s supply chain (some, however, are insisting Brexit is to blame too).

Speaking to MPs in the commons, Therese Coffey, the minister in charge of food supplies, insisted that ongoing shortages will be a temporary issue that should be resolved in two to four weeks.

The Tory MP added the UK should “cherish the specialisms” it has and a “lot of people would be eating turnips right now” under a seasonal food model – rather than thinking about lettuce, tomatoes and similar fresh food.

It quickly prompted a pile-on …(see www.huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Mirror

Daily Star

.

Not for Twiss’ Eyes – Mid Devon urgently needs to find over half a million pounds to balance the books…

….after rejecting a new business plan for their controversial development company.

“Conservative councillors seem hell bent on investing more taxpayers’ money on this vanity project.” LibDem spokesperson

Mid Devon is another council facing problems from controversial property development.

[Mid Devon District Council – No overall control since 1999, Conservative led for a decade until 2019, subsequent “Indy” Leader Bob Deed until ousted this week].

The council appears simultaneously to have reject two sources of revenue: raising car parking charges and a new business plan for their controversial development company –  3 Rivers Development Ltd (3RDL). Council members have also ousted their Leader, Bob Deed.  

3RDL is another of those controversial investment schemes see: “A cautionary tale from Mid Devon – Council dabbles in investment”. Here are some selected quotes from this 2020 post.

Following an explanation from Deputy Chief Executive, Andrew Jarratt on the origins and aims of the 3Rivers project, Leader of the Council, Bob Deed was reported as saying:

“It was time to “lift the veil” on the “considerable mystery around the performance of 3RDL and the oversight of the company by the responsible officers at the Council.”

He said: “You have heard in Mr Jarrett’s response that 3RDL has already returned significant sums to the Council over the past two years and delivered its only completed scheme to date on time at its level of profit.

“This is opaque speak in that, not one penny has been returned to the Council by 3RDL over the past two years, every penny of interest due from 3RDL to the Council has had to be lent by the Council to 3RDL and remains outstanding within its total loan figure due to the Council.”

LibDems said in February:

“Conservative councillors seem hell bent on investing more taxpayers’ money on this vanity project. The Liberal Democrats believe external expertise needs to be brought in to review the company and to find a solution that does not leave the local council taxpayers ‘picking up the tab’.

 Mid Devon budget chaos as parking charge hike refused and 3Rivers plan rejected

Ollie Heptinstall www.devonlive.com

Mid Devon urgently needs to find more than half a million pounds for its new budget after councillors rejected two sources of income.

At a lengthy and eventful full district council meeting on Wednesday [22 February], a new business plan for the authority’s controversial housing development company, 3Rivers, was rejected.

The expected interest generated from loans to the company – whose future is now in serious doubt – is therefore missing from the budget, meaning the council is £500,000 short, according to deputy chief executive Andrew Jarrett.

It is also short of an additional £120,000 of revenue after members paused planned hikes to car parking charges, following a public outcry. Some charges, including annual allocated permits, were planned to more than double.

As a result of the decisions and the financial implications, councillors decided not to vote on the proposed 2023/24 budget. Some also didn’t want to because the budget papers had been submitted without five working days’ notice.

An emergency meeting will now be scheduled, in which savings or cuts totalling around £620,000 will need to be agreed. Councils must legally set balanced budgets by Saturday 11 March.

However, councillors did vote to put up council tax by 2.99 per cent – something that has to be agreed by the end of this month so that bills can go to residents in time. The rise is equivalent to an extra £6.56 per year for a band D property, taking their annual contributions to Mid Devon up to £225.40.

Together with other increases to Devon County Council, fire, police, and town and parish councils, band D households will be paying out £2,295.32 next year – an increase of £109.73. Councillors now quickly need to finalise what taxpayers will be paying for in Mid Devon over the year ahead.

Turmoil in Indy/Tory Mid Devon Council as Indy Leader ousted by Tories but their nominee then fails to get majority

Difficult to sort the “good-uns” from the “bad-uns” in this complicated story of an “Indy”/Tory administration falling apart, with serious consequences explained in a companion post as they grapple with legacy problems.

Reminds Owl of the infamous Ingham (LINO) regime in East Devon [Leader in name only].

See, for example, this 2020 extract from the LibDems Mid Devon Council Leader ‘acting like the Sun King!’

Liberal Democrat Councillor Alex White commented, “As Liberal Democrats we are very proud to have forged a consensus with Independent and Green Councillors that in the last two years has made the Council more responsive to the needs of the local community. We unwisely thought Bob Deed, who had quit the Tory Group, shared our principles, but it looks like he has reverted to type.”

Deed, who has been heavily involved in promoting the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan, replaced the four Liberal Democrat Councillors with his former Conservative colleagues in a move seen to be aimed at reversing the Council Cabinet decision to oppose GESP.

Mid Devon District Council has a new leader

Ollie Heptinstall www.devonlive.com

Mid Devon District Council has a new council leader. It follows the resignation of the previous leader following a tumultuous meeting on Wednesday night.

Ahead of the meeting, Cllr Bob Deed, the Independent leader of the council, had been facing calls to resign. A motion had been put forward by Tory group leader – and Cllr Deed’s former deputy – Cllr Clive Eginton – calling for his resignation.

Mid Devon’s political leadership has been in turmoil after the Conservative members of Cllr Deed’s Independent-Tory cabinet left in a dispute over the authority’s controversial 3Rivers property development company. Cllr Deed said he was going to appoint the necessary replacement cabinet members ahead of the meeting, but soon after it began news broke that he had resigned.

The Conservatives tried to get Cllr Eginton appointed as the new council leader, but this failed to receive a majority of votes. A subsequent vote to appoint Independent councillor Barry Warren, who represents the Lower Culm ward, and who is a prominent voice on the council’s scrutiny and planning committees, was then passed successfully.

The former police officer is only likely to serve as leader until May’s council elections, telling colleagues after his appointment: “I am purely here as a caretaker until the next election.”

But it is likely to be a busy two-and-a-half months. Mid Devon still needs to agree a balanced budget for 2023/24 in the coming days and Cllr Warren will need to quickly appoint a new cabinet.

“There will just be some urgent matters to deal with,” he said. “But if somebody is expecting myself or my cabinet to come up with some earth-shattering new initiative or something, there won’t be. It’ll be very much trying to keep going what’s already going and tweaking what needs doing. Until I’ve talked to various officers, I haven’t got a clue where we start.”

Sewage: Waste Disposal – Jupp ask questions. Does he get answers?

Simon Jupp straining to get answers.

But the answers to his questions are “unilluminating”, in fact one might call them rather bog standard. – Owl

www.theyworkforyou.com

Photo of Simon Jupp Simon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps her Department is taking to ensure that the reporting of storm overflows in real time will be (a) consistent, (b) transparent, (c) accessible and (d) readily understood by the public.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Environment Act places new monitoring duties on the water industry to significantly improve transparency. It requires companies to make discharge data available in near real time to the public and to monitor water quality upstream and downstream of their assets.