Jeremy Hunt is helping rich instead of helping people into work, says thinktank

Elements of a plutocratic budget:

Gone are the days where your Pension savings automatically die with you or your spouse/civil partner.”..

“Savings within most modern defined contribution Pension products fall outside of your “taxable estate” and are therefore not subject to Inheritance Tax on death.

This makes them an extremely attractive vehicle for passing on wealth to future generations under current legislation.”

Especially if you are stinking rich – Owl

Richard Partington 

Jeremy Hunt’s huge pensions giveaway for the wealthiest 1% may have no impact on increasing the number of people in work, while opening a loophole for avoidance of inheritance tax, a leading economic thinktank has warned.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the surprise measure in the chancellor’s budget “probably won’t play a big part, if any” in increasing the number of people in work.

Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, said: “It was disappointing that other over-generous aspects of pension taxation – not least complete freedom from inheritance tax – were not reined in.

“The lack of any coherent strategy here remains deeply disappointing. Don’t forget these changes are largely a rowing back on changes made just a few years ago by this government.”

In an attempt to encourage older skilled workers not to retire early, Hunt announced plans to scrap the £1m cap on tax-free pension savings. With the employers’ struggle to recruit staff holding back the economy, he argued the change would discourage NHS doctors in particular from quitting.

Labour warned the tax giveaway would benefit only the wealthiest top 1% of earners, while promising that it would reverse the chancellor’s decision to scrap the pensions lifetime allowance.

In its verdict on the budget, the IFS said it was “implausible” for the government to argue that it could not increase public sector pay on affordability grounds.

“You can’t keep cutting the pay of teachers, nurses and civil servants, both in real terms and relative to the private sector, without consequences for recruitment, retention and service delivery,” Johnson said. “Money will have to be found from somewhere.”

The IFS said there were “some elements of a sensible strategy to support growth” in the budget, including the chancellor’s focus on getting more people back to work. However, it suggested the government’s expansion of childcare support would have a “highly uncertain” impact on labour supply.

Council ‘could not have acted’ on Humphreys sex allegations

Owl gives reference to the Verita report and draws attention to key conclusions in a separate post.

East Devon District Council could not have taken any action against former Exmouth councillor John Humphreys while he was under investigation for sex offences, an independent report has concluded.

Philippa Davies 

In August 2021 Humphreys was jailed for sexually assaulting boys. He had been arrested in 2016 and continued as a district councillor until 2019 – later that year being given the title of Honorary Alderman, which was removed after his conviction.

Following speculation about who within the council had known about the allegations against him while he was a serving member, EDDC commissioned an independent report, which has now been completed.

Confidentiality issues

It concludes that, while there were rumours about the investigation, the only person who had been officially told about it was EDDC’s Monitoring Officer. He was made aware before Humphreys was arrested, but he was told by police not to share the information because this could prejudice their inquiries.

The report says this put the Monitoring Officer in an ‘unenviable position’, and adds that it is not clear why such strict confidentiality was still needed after Humphreys’ arrest.

But between his arrest and his conviction, it was up to Humphreys to disclose this information to EDDC. The report states: “There is no evidence that Humphreys directly told anyone about his arrest, pending investigation or trial. The behavioural standards set for councillors primarily rely on individuals doing the right thing in an honest and open manner. Humphreys did not do this.”

Child safeguarding

The report also looked at child safeguarding issues. It found that Humphreys did come into contact with children and young people at council premises while he was under investigation. There is no evidence that any harm occurred to any child or young person present during this time, but the report did raise concerns: “Irrespective of where the responsibility lies, one of the effects of the way this case was handled was that someone who had allegedly committed serious sexual offences held positions of responsibility until he was tried and convicted.

“None of his formal positions at EDDC, or his work in the community at large was ever subject to a risk assessment that may have identified whether any children or young people were at risk from him.”

The report’s recommendations

The report, by independent consultants Verita, puts forward several recommendations, and these will be discussed at a special meeting of the full East Devon District Council on Thursday, March 23.

They include new guidelines on the council’s safeguarding policy, and refresher training for employees and councillors alike. The report also recommends that EDDC should reform the process of appointing Honorary Aldermen.

Plymouth ‘traumatised’ and ‘in mourning’ over felled trees

Tory Plymouth Council do a Sheffield on their trees – Owl

Plymouth people say they are in “traumatised” and in mourning after the Armada Way tree felling – as it emerges a consultation showed the public was not in favour of the scheme. Plymouth City Council’s own “meaningful engagement” process resulted in an “overwhelming objection” to the proposal.

William Telford

A council document said that 68% – that’s 1,537 people – of all respondents did not support the £12.7m Armada Way upgrade plan, with 16% (365) in support and 15% (330) answering “yes” but with changes being made. And submissions from within the city boundaries again showed an overwhelming majority of respondents opposed to the scheme.

But the council said that if it took out the responses from people opposed who did not give a reason why “then the scheme has significant support.” It blames action group Straw (Save the Trees of Armada Way) for having a “significant impact” on the responses.

Straw founder Alison White told PlymouthLive: “The people of Plymouth could not have made it clearer, this is not what we wanted. The results of the survey indicate that clearly.”

Contractors moved in to cut down trees in Armada Way at about 8pm on Tuesday, March 14 – just hours after the council had signed an executive order saying the upgrade of the thoroughfare could proceed. Fencing was put up and police with dogs, and security staff, patrolled the site while contractors used chainsaws and heavy machinery to chop trees from the top and bottom.

The tree-felling was stopped at about 1am when Straw served a court injunction on the council. About 110 of 129 threatened trees had been removed by this time.

A legal battle is now ensuing with Straw starting a judicial review process. A fundraiser to pay for legal costs has already passed £5,500 in donations.

Meanwhile, when PlymouthLive visited the site we were besieged by members of the public angry at the tree felling. From small children to elderly shoppers, they stopped to say they were saddened and disappointed both by the tree removal and the way the council had handled the process. One woman simply said: “It’s heartbreaking.”

Lynne Sears and her mother Una Sears had campaigned to save the water feature before adding their voices to the tree protest. Lynne said: “I’m traumatised. The sight of this is gut-wrenching. Kids are crying, they can’t believe adults could do this.”

Una added: “It’s so sad. Just look at it. I was shocked, the council kept this (tree removal) so quiet.”

Gin Farrow-Jones, an artist from Stonehouse, even made a wood and card coffin to symbolise the death of the trees. She said: “I’m devastated, enraged and traumatised. This coffin symbolises the death of the trees,the death of democracy and the death of the voice of the people of Plymouth.”

Cllr Nick Kelly, a former Conservative now leader of the Independent Alliance Group, said he had rejected early plans for the redevelopment when he was leader of the council. He said: “What’s the point of having a £12.7m scheme so many people are against?”

Work on the regeneration for Armada Way was put on hold in November 2022 due to the row over the tree removal. Plymouth City Council carried out a“meaningful community engagement” on the plan in February and only on Friday said it was finalising reports which will be made public.

But the decision was then made on Tuesday to press ahead with the scheme, funded with £2.7m from the Transforming Cities Fund for walking and cycling – which is time restricted meaning work had to begin by a certain date – and £10m of council capital funding.

The council said that following the engagement programme the final design was changed so 169 semi-mature trees would be planted, there would be a revised tree planting schedule and a commitment to investigate wider tree planting in the city centre. It meant an additional 19 semi-mature trees would be included, with more evergreens and wider canopy trees, and an extra existing tree would be retained. .

The council explained it was planned to remove 129 trees, keep 24 existing trees and leave a further three trees which had been earmarked for removal but had been identified as having birds nesting in them. The council said that for reasons of public safety and impact on the city centre, and given the size of the tree machinery due to come onto Armada Way, it scheduled the works to be carried out at night with as few people around as possible.

“We aimed to minimise the disruption caused to the public and businesses by cordoning off parts of Armada Way,” a spokesperson said. “All but 16 of the trees due to be felled are now down. In total 110 trees were felled but an injunction served at 1am meant we had to halt the works entirely.

“The plan had been to remove all the felled trees and shave off and make safe any stumps along the main pedestrian routes once all the trees had come down before the start of the working day. Unfortunately the injunction meant we had to stop work.

“The contractors cleaned up the site and installed more fencing to ensure the felled wood is out of bounds. Other trees that remain are three which have bird nests and 24 which were due to remain under the revised plans.”

Independent investigation into the actions of EDDC following the allegations and criminal charges against John Humphreys

In January Owl produced a summary and critique of the DCC investigation into the John Humphreys case.

This case has to be seen as a monumental failure in safeguarding. Slowly we are beginning to see how comprehensively the system failed. 

Questions remain over why the police imposed such stringent confidentiality restrictions, apparently even after Humphreys was charged and what his bail conditions were.

Following a quick read of the EDDC Verita report, which can be found from page 6 onwards here owl extracts some key paragraphs from Verita’s Summary and conclusions. Enough to be going on with.

What caught Owl’s eye was Verita’s exploration with participants of what could have been done in different circumstances (see paragraphs 1.32 onwards).



1.7 On 9 March 2016 EDDC’s Monitoring Officer (MO), attended a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) meeting at Devon County Council (DCC). He became aware that Humphreys was under investigation by the police for alleged sex crimes against young people. The MO attended follow-up meetings at DCC in April 2016 and November 2016. The MO told us that he was not asked to do anything as a result of these meetings.


1.14 The MO reported that the police instructed attendees to maintain strict confidentiality at this stage, primarily to avoid prejudicing their investigation into the allegations.

1.15 The police direction about confidentiality in this case appears to have been more stringent than advice usually given by DCC and the police at LADO MAS meetings. This typically allows for information to be shared with those who “need to know in order to protect children, facilitate enquiries, manage related disciplinary or suitability processes”. As such, it is usual for organisations such as EDDC to be able to follow their own processes to mitigate safeguarding risks as they see fit.

1.16 We consider that typical DCC and police advice may, in different circumstances, have allowed the MO to share information he received at the LADO meetings with other senior officers or group leaders at EDDC. However, it is clear that the police’s need to maintain strict confidentiality overrode the DCC’s normal advice and prevented him from doing so. 


1.19 Humphreys was arrested and questioned under caution on 11 May 2016. From this point he was aware of the ongoing investigation. It is not clear why the police would seek to maintain this strict requirement of confidentiality following the LADO meeting in November 2016. 


1.30 The convention is that members will individually chose to resign for serious failings in their conduct. This requirement cannot be imposed on them and it was, in Humphreys case, clearly his choice to remain a councillor despite the fact he was under police investigation.

1.31 In our view the code of conduct and allied standards process are not effective tools to promote desired behaviours, nor to effectively address poor behaviours amongst elected members. Criminals and those flouting the rules are routinely unlikely to do the honourable thing and self-report their actions to appropriate authorities. In the existing legal and procedural framework, this is a likely outcome and an ever-present risk. Unfortunately, EDDC is not in a position to make wide-ranging changes to this regime without legislative change at a national level.

1.32 Given the restrictions on EDDC for removing, suspending or restricting the role of a councillor, we explored with participants whether any action short of such measures could have been considered in this case. We acknowledge that these were hypothetical questions.

1.33 The MO could have spoken informally to Humphreys after his arrest. This could have put the onus on Humphreys to consider his position as a councillor and may have led him to resign. The MO could have asked Humphreys not to attend EDDC events at which children and vulnerable adults would be present. This would have been a voluntary agreement, and an offer that he was highly likely to have declined – especially in light of his persistent claims of innocence. Even if Humphreys had acceded to such a request, it may have been difficult to monitor his compliance with it. However, there was a significant risk that giving such notice to Humphreys would have prejudiced the police investigation.

1.34 It was possible that the MO could have informally spoken to the Chair of Council or to group leaders, with the aim of alerting them to the fact that Humphreys was under police investigation. The MO has explained to us his overriding concern, on advice from the police, not to prejudice their investigation into Humphreys. We believe that he acted correctly and consistently in this respect.

1.35 There are limited avenues open to councillors for raising concerns about a colleague. In cases where safeguarding risks may be a concern, we would expect a councillor to know how to raise this with the Council’s safeguarding lead. In cases where inappropriate behaviour occurs, it would seem appropriate to raise this under the EDDC’s code of conduct. The Council’s MO would be the natural source of advice in such a case.

1.36 Comments from the East Devon Conservative Association suggest that they may have had more remit to impose sanctions on Humphreys than were available to EDDC. 


1.43 Because of the conclusion reached at the LADO MAS meetings that Humphreys did not, in his formal EDDC roles, work with children no immediate safeguarding mitigation plans were developed. We believe that this is a flawed conclusion for the LADO meetings to have reached. There is no evidence that anyone commissioned or conducted any form of risk assessment in respect of Humphreys’ roles as an EDDC councillor. 

1.44 The MO advised us that attendees at the LADO MAS meetings concluded that “bail conditions” would be sufficient to address any present risk posed by Humphreys.