Torbay leader wants to be MP

The Lib Dem leader of Torbay Council is to challenge the area’s Conservative MP at the next general election.

Paul Nero

Cllr Steve Darling currently heads the Liberal Democrat/Independent coalition that runs the council. He’s been a councillor in Torquay for 28 years and worked for former Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders as a caseworker for 18 years.

Despite three decades in politics, the Lib Dem chairperson in the area claims he is not a career politician.

Mr Darling wants to oust former immigration minister Kevin Foster, who was a member of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s governments.

Mr Foster took the seat from the Lib Dems in 2015. But with most polls suggesting that the Tories are facing electoral wipeout, the Lib Dems are likely to think they would have a good chance of taking back Torbay.

It will be a challenge. Mr Foster has grown his majority considerably since being elected. In 2015, he took the seat with a 40 per cent majority, increased that in the 2017 general election, which was generally a bad one for the Tories under Theresa May, and then put on more votes in 2019 under Boris Johnson’s leadership.

With the announcement that Steve Darling is to stand, it makes the fourth candidate for the party in four elections.

Announcing his candidacy, Mr Darling said: “We must demand better for Torbay from the government. The lack of support in this cost-of-living crisis has shown that Conservative MPs are taking us for granted. Torbay needs a strong voice in parliament and I will be that voice.”

“When speaking to residents across the Bay they tell me they are tired of the lies, scandals and dishonesty associated with the Conservative Party. The Liberal Democrats will tax fairly those who have gained the most while others have struggled, and will invest in our coastal communities, create sustainable jobs, protect pensions, our NHS and social care, and take climate change seriously.”   

Chair of Torbay Liberal Democrats Pam Bagnall said: “Steve is not a career politician, he knows and understands our area and wants to work for the people of the Bay. As we have learnt in the past, if we want a strong caring voice in Parliament we have to unite behind the Liberal Democrats in Torbay because votes for Labour, Greens and others only split the vote and let the Tories win.”

Before the general election, which must be held before January 2025, Torbay will have local election this May.

Work to reinforce cliffs with concrete to enable development suspended

Whipsiderry development stalls as Duchy of Cornwall suspends licence

Work to reinforce cliffs [with concrete] to enable a luxury housing development to be built has been put on hold after intervention by the Duchy of Cornwall.

By Johnny O’Shea

Work at the site has been put on hold after the Duchy of Cornwall suspended a licence allowing access to the beach

Protesters have been demonstrating against work at Whipsiderry beach, near Newquay, due to concerns over damage to the environment and wildlife habitat.

Now the Duchy has suspended a licence allowing access to part of the beach it owns.

Developer Living Quarter Properties has been approached for comment.

It has permission to build seven luxury homes on cliffs above the beach, but work necessary to backfill caves with concrete cannot legally take place while the licence is suspended.

Planning consent for the development had previously been granted by Cornwall Council.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) granted a licence for cliff reinforcement work, while the duchy – a private estate that funds both the charitable and private activities of the Duke of Cornwall, Prince William – granted access to the beach.

Seabirds called fulmars nest at the cliffs each year, and under the terms of the MMO licence, reinforcement works had to be completed by the end of March, due to nesting season.

A demonstration was held on 18 February, and protesters have retained a presence on the beach since, disrupting progress.

A second demonstration last week attracted about 200 protesters, organisers said.

Hundreds of people gathered on Thursday to protest against works to shore up the cliffs ahead of development

Developers used a crane to get a digger on to the beach, and security guards were hired to keep people away from areas being worked on.

On Sunday, organisers wrote to the Duchy, asking it to use its “power and position of authority to stop the destruction at Whipsiderry Beach”.

A Duchy spokesperson said: “The Duchy granted access on the basis that these works be carried out in a safe manner, and that all necessary consents were in place, including observing bird-nesting restrictions.

“The Duchy has therefore suspended the licence in order for discussions between the developer and the relevant statutory authorities to take place and for those authorities to determine if and how the consented work can take place in a safe and compliant manner.”

Devon council boss doesn’t want to take his full pay rise

He thinks it would be unfair on others.

Could this public spirited public servant leading from the front, be our very own Chief Weazel?

Errrrr – not this time. – Owl

Philip Churm 

The boss of a Devon council won’t take his full salary increase because he thinks it is unfair on other staff. Nonetheless, the chief executive of South Hams District Council and West Devon Borough Council Andy Bates, could still get a £7,500 rise – or six per cent – of his £125,000 salary.

As the most senior official on the two councils, he says he doesn’t want to take a bigger percentage pay rise than the lowest paid worker. Mr Bates was speaking at a South Hams executive meeting on Thursday [2 March] to discuss pay and employee retention.

An independent report by the Local Government Association to senior councillors recommended all council staff should receive pay increases of not less than six per cent. But Mr Bates insisted: “Actually for those staff in the lower bands, typically they will be receiving a pay increase of between nine and 12 per cent.”

He explained how the recommendations in the report would “result in a seven per cent increase for directors and, indeed, myself.”

But Mr Bates, whose salary is currently £125,150 insisted he did not wish to receive a higher percentage increase than workers in lower bands.

“In the event that the executive chooses to agree this – and indeed councillors choose to agree this – it’s my intention that I should cap an increase to six per cent. I think it’s appropriate you shouldn’t be paying your senior team more than you’re paying your staff.”

Lib Dem councillor for Stokenham, Julian Brazil welcomed the comments by Mr Bates but said he hoped the decision wouldn’t lead to much bigger pay rises in future.

“I do not believe that senior management, however wonderful they are, should be paid disproportionately more than people out there at the coalface delivering the services that our people want us to do.”

The chief executive’s salary can only be decided by full council on the recommendation of the leader after taking appropriate advice. The Local Government Chronicle’s (LGC) salary tracker, published earlier this month, showed between February 2020 and January 2022, the average salary for a new chief executive was £154,764.

Majority of English councils plan more cuts at same time as maximum tax rises

More than half of local authorities in England plan to cut more services while also raising council tax by the maximum possible amount, as they turn to increasingly “desperate” measures to remain financially solvent, a survey has revealed.

Patrick Butler 

Nine out of 10 councils are raising council tax from April. This alone will not balance their budgets, meaning most are also proposing to cut spending (52%), increase fees for services such as parking and waste (93%), spend their “rainy day” financial reserves (67%) and sell off assets such as land and buildings.

At least 12 councils are on the edge of “effective bankruptcy”, the survey warns, as they struggle to meet their official obligation to balance their budget while trying to maintain legal minimum levels of core service provision, from adult social care to roads repair, libraries and homelessness.

“This is an unsustainable situation. Eventually, there will be no more cuts that councils can make without endangering their essential services. Our evidence suggests that for just under 10% of councils, this is the situation they find themselves in now,” said the survey by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), a membership body and thinktank.

Just under a quarter of councils plan to take the axe to arts and culture services such as theatres and museums, while a fifth will cut back on parks and leisure services such as swimming pools. More than a quarter say they will have to reduce support for local businesses.

The precarious state of local government finances and the “desperate measures” taken by councils to address it, with most asking ratepayers to pay more even as they reduce services, is laid bare by the survey. It finds dismal levels of confidence among council leaders in a funding system many consider no longer fit for purpose.

“Citizens across the country are failed in three ways: their bills rise, their services are cut and the councils they rely on edge ever closer to financial ruin,” said Jonathan Carr-West, the chief executive of the LGIU.

Although local authority finances have been in trouble for years as a consequence of austerity cuts, 2023 is proving “an unusually difficult year”, the survey finds, as councils come under extra pressure from rampant inflation and increased demand from residents hit by the cost of living crisis.

In the last three years, three councils – Croydon, Slough, and Thurrock – have declared effective bankruptcy, while Woking has warned it faces a potential financial predicament “worse than bankruptcy”. All four borrowed hundreds of millions to invest in commercial deals to try to offset funding cuts.

The LGIU survey reveals that despite increased scrutiny of the potential risks of pumping huge sums into income generation schemes, 52% of councils say they are increasing their commercial investments. More than a quarter of respondents planto sell assets to raise cash.

“Putting councils in a situation where they are increasingly reliant on commercial activity to balance their budgets will inevitably leave them more exposed to financial risks, another factor which diminishes their sustainability,” the report said.

The survey, carried out last month, analyses 138 responses from what amounts to a regionally and politically representative group of councils in England.

James Jamieson, the chair of the Local Government Association, said: “Many councils are still grappling with significant challenges when setting their budgets and trying to protect services from cutbacks due to the deep underlying and existing pressures they face.”

The Department for Housing, Levelling Up and Communities was approached for comment.