Devon County Council local elections candidate list announced

Owl’s view is that we need a “changing of the guard” in County Hall. It’s a pity that the minority parties have not reached local agreements not to compete with one another where one party is well placed to win. For example, the Lib Dems and the Greens reached such an agreement in Exeter City but this has not been extended at County Council level. Did “central office” veto any local deals?

Owl understands that the East Devon Alliance (EDA) was prepared to work with their coalition partners. For their part the EDA is only fielding candidates in divisions in which they won or came a close second last time.

Owl generally supports independent candidates in local elections, where they are genuinely independent. But once bitten twice shy.

In East Devon, over the years, we have had two particularly outstanding independent councillors: Roger Giles and Claire Wright. Many who admired them formed the East Devon Alliance (EDA) as a vehicle to provide more “quality assured” independent candidates. Crucially EDA candidates have all signed up to a set of core principles based on the Nolan principles – see their web site.

Unfortunately, the Indy brand has been devalued by Ben Ingham. In 2019 he pulled  together an ad hoc group of “independent” candidates and campaigned as an independent in the District Council elections. Voters, looking for a change, took the opportunity presented to reduce the Tories to a minority party and Ben Ingham anointed himself leader of a coalition.

Tellingly, he refused to allow any EDA independents to join his cabinet or committees and effectively formed a coalition with the Tories. We have learned the hard way that his “independents” spanned the range of genuine Independents, quasi-Independents, and “really-not-very-independent-at-all-but-I probably-wouldn’t have-got-in-if-I-still-called-myself-Tory” independents.

Owl can spot examples of each of these in the County candidate lists.

In contrast an EDA indy is quality assured.

As for the others it is worth looking to see if they are District Councillors and, if so, what their voting record is. (A good test is how they voted in the GESP debate).

A few other observations from Owl.

Owl has previously reported that Ben Ingam, having rejoined the Conservative party, failed to be nominated as the Tory candidate for the Exmouth and Budleigh Coastal Division. Given his ambition, Owl assumed he would pop up somewhere else, but he has failed to do so.

There are quite a few “Freedom Alliance” candidates mainly elsewhere in the County but one is standing in Seaton and Colyton. Readers, like Owl, may wonder what a “Freedom Alliance” party stands for. Beware, this was formed in response to what it sees as unnecessary “governmental restrictions and curtailments on free people” during the COVID-19 pandemic. So this might pose a “UKIP” type of threat to the right wing Tory vote, making some of their seats more vulnerable.

Devon County Council local elections candidate list announced

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The full list of candidates who are standing for election to Devon County Council has been announced.

Elections will take place for all 60 seats on Devon County Council on Thursday, May 6, with voters going to the polls to elect their representatives for the next four years.

The entirety of the 60-strong council will be up for re-election, with 56 ‘single-member’ Electoral Divisions and 2 ‘two-member’ Divisions’.

The current composition of the council consists of 41 Conservatives, 7 Labour, 6 Liberal Democrats, 3 Independents, 1 Green Party, 1 East Devon Alliance and 1 North Devon Liberal.

All elected councillors will serve their usual four year term upon their election.

More than a quarter of the council will change, with 17 current councillors not standing for re-election, including the current chairman of the council Stuart Barker and cabinet member Barry Parsons, as well as the former leader of the council Brian Greenslade.

The Conservatives and Labour are the only parties who are fielding the maximum of 60 candidates, with the Liberal Democrats fielding 55.

The Green Party are fielding 45 candidates, with one from UKIP, five from Reform UK, and 20 from the Freedom Alliance, who are standing on a platform of ‘no lockdowns, no curfews’.

The East Devon Alliance have three candidates, the Trade Unionist and Social Coalition have six, while there are 28 Independent candidates.

Below is the list of candidates who are standing, with the * denoting where they are the sitting councillor who is up for re-election.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL

EAST DEVON

Axminster

Ian Hall (Conservatives) *

Paul Hayward (East Devon Alliance)

Jules Hoyles (Liberal Democrats)

Oliver Tucker (Labour)

Broadclyst (2 councillors to be elected)

Ellis Davies (Labour)

Peter Faithfull (Independent)

Henry Gent (Green Party)

Tom Hobson (Conservatives)

Mathieu Holladay (Labour)

Jamie Kemp (Liberal Democrats)

Sara Randall Johnson (Conservatives) *

Exmouth (2 councillors to be elected)

Tim Dumper (Liberal Democrats)

Josie Parkhouse (Labour)

Michael Rosser (Green Party)

Richard Scott (Conservatives) *

Jeff Trail (Conservatives) *

Joe Whibley (Independent)

Daniel Wilson (Labour)

Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton Coastal

Brian Bailey (Independent)

Christine Channon (Conservatives) *

Keith Edwards (Labour)

Brigitte Graham (UKIP)

David Hayward (Reform UK)

David Ireson (Green Party)

Penny Lewis (Liberal Democrats)

Feniton and Honiton

Jake Bonetta (Labour)

Cathy Connor (Liberal Democrats)

Phil Twiss (Conservatives) *

Otter Valley

Jess Bailey (Independent)

Steve Bloomfield (Labour)

Luke Gray (Green Party)

Charlie Hobson (Conservatives)

Jake Slee (Liberal Democrats)

Seaton and Colyton

Paul Blackmore (Freedom Alliance)

Marcus Hartnell (Conservatives)

Angela Marynicz (The Democratic Network)

Martin Shaw (East Devon Alliance) *

George Tomkins (Labour)

Martyn Wilson (Liberal Democrats)

Sidmouth

Stuart Hughes (Conservatives) *

Louise MacAllister (East Devon Alliance)

Colin Mills (Labour)

Whimple and Blackdown

Iain Chubb (Conservatives) *

Wes Healey (Green Party)

Karen Hoyles (Liberal Democrats)

Liz Pole (Labour)

EXETER

Alphington and Cowick

Yvonne Atkinson (Labour) *

Julyan Levy (Green Party)

Katherine New (Conservatives)

Rod Ruffle (Liberal Democrats)

Duryard and Pennsylvania

Bea Gare (Women’s Equality Party)

Michael Mitchell (Liberal Democrats)

Rich Parker (Green Party)

Percy Prowse (Conservatives) *

Martyn Snow (Labour)

Exwick and St Thomas

Lee Gillett (Conservatives)

Rob Hannaford (Labour) *

Jamie Lynde (Green Party)

Frankie Rufolo (For Britain Movement)

Maya Skelton (Liberal Democrats)

Heavitree and Whipton Barton

Danny Barnes (Labour)

Alfie Carlisle (Conservatives)

Debbie Frayne (For Britain Movement)

Lily James (Liberal Democrats)

Lizzie Woodman (Green Party)

Pinhoe and Mincinglake

Tracy Adams (Labour)

Paula Fernley (Green Party)

John Harvey (Conservatives)

Kate Jago (Independent)

Henry Mayall (Liberal Democrats)

St David’s and Haven Banks

Andrew Bell (Green Party)

Arden Foster-Spink (Conservatives)

Joel Hambly (Liberal Democrats)

Carol Whitton (Labour) *

St SIdwell’s and St James

Sue Aves (Labour) *

Johanna Korndorfer (Green Party)

Kevin Mitchell (Liberal Democrats)

David Moore (Conservatives)

Wearside and Topsham

Christine Campion (Liberal Democrats)

Helen Dallimore (Labour)

Andrew Leadbetter (Conservatives) *

Jon Mills (Green Party)

Wonford and St Loye’s

Marina Asvachin (Labour) *

Jack Eade (Green Party)

Peter Holland (Conservative)

Kris Mears (Liberal Democrats)

MID DEVON

Crediton

Martin Binks (Conservative)

Elin Bold (Labour)

Christopher Hurley (Freedom Alliance)

Frank Letch (Liberal Democrats)

Creedy Taw and Mid Exe

Ann Conway (Freedom Alliance)

Paul Edwards (Green Party)

Margaret Squires (Conservatives) *

Thomas Stephenson (Labour)

David Wilson (Liberal Democrats)

Cullompton and Bradninch

John Berry (Conservatives) *

Andrea Glover (Liberal Democrats)

Edward Southerden (Labour)

Hannah Watson (Green Party)

Tiverton East

Jason Chamberlain (Labour)

Matt Farrell (Liberal Democrats)

Andrew Perris (Independent)

Colin Slade (Conservatives) *

Tiverton West

Richard Chesterton (Conservatives)

Trevor Cope (Green Party)

Ana Hendy (Independent)

Peter Hill (Labour)

Willand and Uffculme

Simon Clist (Liberal Democrats)

Fiona Hutton (Labour)

Charles Kay (Freedom Alliance)

Ray Radford (Conservatives) *

Adam Rich (Green Party)

NORTH DEVON

Barnstaple North

John Agnew (Labour)

Robbie Mack (Green Party)

Rob Pet (Freedom Alliance)

Ian Roome (Liberal Democrats)

Natasha Vukic (Conservatives)

Barnstaple South

Lou Goodger (Green Party)

Philip Hawkins (Labour)

David Hoare (Conservative)

Josie Knight (Freedom Alliance)

Caroline Leaver (Liberal Democrats)

David Luggar (Independent)

Braunton Rural

Mark Cann (Labour)

Stewart Johnstone (Freedom Alliance)

Pru Maskell (Conservatives)

David Relph (Green Party)

Liz Spear (Liberal Democrats)

Chulmleigh and Landkey

Valerie Cann (Labour)

Paul Henderson (Conservatives)

Turtle Knight (Freedom Alliance)

Glyn Lane (Independent)

Philip Mason (Independent)

Victoria Nel (Liberal Democrats)

Nick Withers (Green Party)

Combe Martin Rural

Katherine Armitage (Freedom Alliance)

Oliver Bell (Labour)

Andrea Davis (Conservatives) *

Julie Hunt (Liberal Democrats)

Steven White (Green Party)

Fremington Rural

Frank Biederman (Independent) *

Stephen Jarvis (Green Party)

Finola Oneill (Labour)

Scott Paddon (Conservatives)

Paddy Sullivan (Freedom Alliance)

Helen Walker (Liberal Democrats)

Ilfracombe

Cecily Blyther (Labour)

Paul Crabb (Conservatives) *

Syed Jusef (Liberal Democrats)

Lesley Mason (Freedom Alliance)

Netti Pearson (Green Party)

South Molton

Steve Cotton (Independent)

Steven Hinchcliffe (Labour)

Gill Saunders (Green Party)

Val Schenn (Freedom Alliance)

Alex White (Liberal Democrats)

Jeremy Yabsley (Conservatives) *

SOUTH HAMS

Bickleigh and Wembury

John Hart (Conservatives) *

Christopher Oram (Liberal Democrats)

Edward Parsons (Labour)

Emma Relph (Freedom Alliance)

Win Scutt (Green Party)

Dartmouth and Marldon

Carlo Bragagnolo (Reform UK)

Lynn Gunnigle (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition)

Jonathan Hawkins (Conservatives) *

Kevin John (Labour)

Christian Parkes (Freedom Alliance)

Simon Rake (Liberal Democrats)

Ivybridge

Victor Abbott (Liberal Democrats)

Roger Croad (Conservatives) *

Simon Gedye (Freedom Alliance)

David Trigger (Labour)

Kingsbridge

Julian Brazil (Liberal Democrats) *

Peter Burgess (Freedom Alliance)

Samantha Dennis (Conservatives)

Paul Furlong (Labour)

Bettina Rixon (Green Party)

Salcombe

Jonno Barrett (Labour)

Jim Blake (Freedom Alliance)

Rufus Gilbert (Conservatives) *

Mark Lawrence (Liberal Democrats)

Lily Rixon (Green Party)

South Brent and Yealmpton

Paul Bishop (Labour)

Richard Hosking (Conservatives) *

James Sandy (Freedom Alliance)

Daniel Thomas (Liberal Democrats)

Totnes and Dartington

Jill Hannam (Labour)

Jacqi Hodgson (Green Party) *

Stephen Hopwood (Freedom Alliance)

Jame Rogers (Conservatives)

TEIGNBRIDGE

Ashburton and Buckfastleigh

Su Maddock (Labour)

John Nutley (Liberal Democrats)

Sarah Parker-Khan (Conservatives)

Andy Williamson (Green Party)

Bovey Rural

George Gribble (Conservatives) *

Eoghan Kelly (Independent)

Sally Morgan (Liberal Democrats)

Anna Presland (Green Party)

Lisa Robillard Webb (Labour)

Chudleigh and Teign Valley

Jerry Brook (Conservatives) *

Richard Keeling (Liberal Democrats)

Emily Simcock (Green Party)

Rick Webb (Labour)

Dawlish

Bruce Mattock (Trade Unionist and Social Coalition)

Noel Nickless (Conservatives)

Linda Petherick (Independent)

Jeff Pocock (Labour)

Richard Ward (Reform UK)

Martin Wrigley (Liberal Democrats)

Exminster and Haldon

Alan Connett (Liberal Democrats) *

Lucy Rockcliffe (Green Party)

Bhav Studley (Labour)

Dudley Swain (Independent)

Terry Tume (Conservatives)

Ipplepen and the Kerswells

Chris Clarance (Conservatives)

Alistair Dewhirst (Liberal Democrats) *

John Hodgson (Labour)

Graham Read (Green Party)

Jane Taylor (Independent)

Kingsteignton and Teign Estuary

Andrew McGregor (Liberal Democrats)

James Osben (Trade Unionist and Social Coalition)

Ron Peart (Conservatives) *

Christopher Robillard (Labour)

Newton Abbot North

Phil Bullivant (Conservatives)

Ryan Hall (Trade Unionist and Social Coalition)

Liam Mullone (Independent)

Lesley Robson (Labour)

Eloise Rokirilov (Liberal Democrats)

Newton Abbot South

Janet Bradford (Independent)

John Fitzsimons (Labour)

Jane Haden (Trade Unionist and Social Coalition)

Alex Hall (Conservatives)

Colin Parker (Liberal Democrats)

Doug Pratt (Green Party)

Teignmouth

Sean Brogan (Trade Unionist and Social Coalition)

David Cox (Liberal Democrats)

Jackie Jackson (Labour)

Sylvia Russell (Conservatives) *

TORRIDGE

Bideford East

Annie Brenton (Labour)

James Craigie (Independent)

Will Douglas-Mann (Green Party)

Jude Gubb (Independent)

Linda Hellyer (Conservatives) *

Stephen Potts (Liberal Democrats)

Bideford West and Hartland

Dylan Billson (Labour)

Bert Bruins (Liberal Democrats)

Keith Funnell (Green Party)

Joel Herron (Independent)

Tony Inch (Independent) *

Paul Jelf (Freedom Alliance)

Robin Julian (Independent)

Jeffrey Wilton-Love (Conservatives)

Northam

David Chalmers (Liberal Democrats)

Leonard Ford (Independent)

Simon Mathers (Green Party)

Dermot McGeough (Conservatives)

Jake McLean (Labour)

Holsworthy Rural

Claire Davey-Potts (Liberal Democrats)

Jim Lowe (Labour)

James Morrish (Conservatives)

Cathrine Simmons (Green Party)

Pete Watson (Independent)

Torrington Rural

Chris Bright (Liberal Democrats)

Ruth Funnell (Green Party)

Andrew Saywell (Conservatives) *

Siobhan Stride (Labour)

WEST DEVON

Hatherleigh and Chagford

Lynn Daniel (Green Party)

George Dexter (Liberal Democrats)

James McInnes (Conservatives) *

Matt Morton (Reform UK)

Douglas Smith (Labour)

Okehampton Rural

Terry Edwards (Labour)

Patrick Gilbert (Liberal Democrats)

Tony Leech (Independent)

Bob Rush (Reform UK)

Lois Samuel (Conservatives)

Brian Wood (Green Party)

Tavistock

Mandy Ewings (Independent)

Chris Jordan (Green Party)

Debo Sellis (Conservatives) *

Mike Sparling (Labour)

Pete Squire (Liberal Democrats)

Yelverton Rural

Judy Maciejowksa (Green Party)

Tony Marchese (Labour)

Mark Renders (Independent)

Philip Sanders (Conservatives) *

Ashley-Ross West (Liberal Democrats)

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 29 March

[Delayed as EDDC web site has been undergoing maintenance]

David Cameron and Greensill: What’s it all about?

First of all this is an example of the need for a strong and independent press. These revelations of “cronyism” would not have come to light without the joint investigations conducted by The Financial Times and The Sunday Times.

Secondl, it is still getting worse.  it has now been revealed that a senior civil servant, Bill Crothers, worked for Greensill Capital – the financial firm at the centre of the David Cameron lobbying row – while still employed in Whitehall. news.sky.com  – Owl

www.bbc.co.uk

David Cameron’s efforts to lobby ministers on behalf of the finance firm Greensill Capital are to be examined during a government review.

The investigation will be led by lawyer Nigel Boardman. In an earlier statement, the former prime minister said he had not broken any rules.

But he admitted: “I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”

What did David Cameron do?

The man behind Greensill Capital – Lex Greensill – worked as an unpaid adviser to David Cameron when he was prime minister, and developed a policy designed to ensure small firms got their bills paid faster. The scheme also benefited Mr Greensill’s company.

Mr Cameron went on to work for Greensill Capital after leaving office, and tried unsuccessfully to lobby the government to increase the firm’s access to government-backed loans.

He pressed Treasury ministers – including sending Chancellor Rishi Sunak text messages – for emergency funding for the company, in which the former prime minister had a financial interest.

David Cameron and Lex Greensill also met Health Secretary Matt Hancock for a “private drink” in 2019 to discuss a new payment scheme for NHS staff.

Mr Cameron is reported to have told friends he was set to earn as much as £60m from shares in Greensill, where he had worked since 2018.

In his statement, he said: “Their value was nowhere near the amount speculated in the press.” But he has not given any more details.

In the end, Mr Cameron’s pleas to the Treasury for emergency loans for Greensill Capital were not successful.

The firm has now gone bust, throwing the future of thousands of workers at Liberty Steel, a company backed by the finance firm, into doubt.

Did this break any rules?

Mr Cameron didn’t appear to do anything wrong, under the current rules.

They state that: “On leaving office, ministers will be prohibited from lobbying government for two years”.

Mr Cameron stood down as prime minister in July 2016 and joined Greensill in August 2018.

But former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the rules may need to be strengthened to ban former ministers from lobbying government for five years.

“Former ministers, prime ministers must never be lobbying for commercial purposes – cabinet ministers should not be entertaining such lobbying.”

Why is he still facing calls to be investigated?

Although Mr Cameron has been cleared by a watchdog of breaking lobbying registration rules, a Sunday Times investigation has shed new light on his dealings with Mr Greensill when he was prime minister, in the early days of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.

In 2012, Mr Greensill was made an unpaid adviser in Mr Cameron’s government, with a Westminster pass and access to government departments.

He used this access to promote a government-backed loan scheme he had devised.

Mr Cameron and the late Lord Heywood, the most senior civil servant at the time, were fully behind it, believing it would help to deliver on a promise to speed up payments to small firms.

But Mr Greensill also stood to make a lot of money from the scheme, even though the Sunday Times claims many in Whitehall had serious reservations about it.

How did Greensill’s scheme work?

Mr Greensill’s specialism was supply chain finance – a service for companies which don’t want to wait months for their bills to be paid.

For a small fee, the finance company pays the seller as soon as the goods are delivered, and get its money back when the bills are eventually paid by the customer.

Mr Greensill’s firm was at one point valued at $7bn (£5bn), with a fleet of four private jets.

He helped to convince the UK government to set up a supply chain finance scheme for pharmacies – paying them early for money they were owed by the NHS. In 2018, Greensill Capital won the contract to run it.

Why did Greensill Capital collapse?

Questions had been asked before about the sustainability of Greensill’s business since at least 2018.

But the final blow came last July, when one of its insurance companies withdrew cover that protected some of Greensill’s investors.

Liberty Steel, Britain’s third-largest steel producer employing 3,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales, was receiving financial backing from Greensill.

Its future is now in doubt.

Why does any of this matter?

The relationship between those at the top of government and big business has never been under more scrutiny, following questions over the way Covid contracts were awarded.

Critics argue that it is too easy for ministers and top civil servants to use their inside knowledge of Westminster to enrich themselves when they leave government. The danger is that decision-makers could have one eye on their next pay day, rather than the best interests of the country.

In 2010, Mr Cameron warned that the “the far-too-cosy relationship between politics and money” was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”.

There is also a question of access. Who gets time with ministers to push their cause?

There are thousands of lobbyists – from trade unions to environmental groups to multinational companies – why do some people appear to get favoured treatment?

What will the review look at?

The government says the review, which will report back by to PM Boris Johnson by the end of June, will examine the awarding of contracts for supply chain finance.

Downing Street says it will look at “how contracts were secured and how business representatives engaged with government”.

Mr Boardman will step down as a non-executive board member at the government’s department for business during the review.

Labour has criticised the scope of the review – and has called for a special Commons committee to investigate instead.

Tories accused of corruption and NHS privatisation by former chief scientist

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of corruption, privatising the NHS by stealth, operating a “chumocracy” and mishandling the pandemic and climate crisis, by Sir David King, a former government chief scientist.

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

“I am extremely worried about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, about the processes by which public money has been distributed to private sector companies without due process,” he told the Guardian in an interview. “It really smells of corruption.”

King contrasted the success of the vaccination programme, carried out by the NHS, with the failure of the government’s test-and-trace operation, which has been contracted out to private companies.

“The operation to roll out vaccination has been extremely successful, it was driven through entirely by our truly national health service and GP service – just amazing,” he said. “Yet we have persisted with this money for test and trace, given without competition, without due process … I am really worried about democratic processes being ignored.”

He said: “This is a so-called chumocracy, that has been a phrase used, and that is what it looks like I’m afraid: it is a chumocracy.”

Last May, King set up an independent alternative to the government’s Sage committee, which advises on the pandemic. The intention was for the unpaid members of Independent Sage to offer public advice without political influence, after it was revealed that Johnson’s then adviser Dominic Cummings had sat in on some Sage meetings.

King, a former professor of chemistry at Cambridge University, has a long history of working with governments of all stripes. He was appointed chief scientific adviser under Tony Blair in 2000, serving until 2008, and under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition was appointed chair of the Future Cities Catapult, launched in 2013. He also worked under Johnson as foreign secretary during Theresa May’s premiership.

King said: “He was my boss – he wrote me a handwritten letter to congratulate me on my climate success.”

King rejected the argument that the government had to act quickly to counter the pandemic and had been forced to ignore normal processes in doing so. “People say it’s a crisis – I say the government is using a crisis to privatise sections of the healthcare system in a way that is completely wrong,” he said. “A fraction of this money going to public services would have been far better results.”

He accused the government of acting deliberately to carry out ideological aims of privatising the NHS. “It is slipping this through in the name of a pandemic – effectively, to privatise the NHS by stealth,” he said. “I’m quite sure this has not been an accident, I’m quite sure this has been the plan, there has been clarity in this process. The audacity has been amazing.”

King, who has made the climate crisis one of his key areas of focus, is also concerned about the police and crime bill, which would give police the powers to shut down protests regarded as a nuisance.

He said: “It’s extremely worrying, as we pride ourselves in Britain on having developed a true democracy. Any democracy needs to give voice to dissent. There’s a real danger that we’re going down a pathway that leads away from democracy.”

King recently signed a letter calling on the supreme court to reconsider its pursuit of Tim Crosland, a campaigner against the third runway at Heathrow, for contempt of court. “I think he is being set up as an example to others,” said King. “It shows [the government’s] churlish attitude towards people campaigning.”

France to ban some domestic flights where train available

Does this signal the end of domestic flying, or will it be “saved” in the UK by a slow and fuel-dirty rail system connecting the regions, with all the investment concentrated on HS2? – Owl

Kim Willsher www.theguardian.com 

French MPs have voted to suspend domestic airline flights on routes that can be travelled by direct train in less than two and a half hours, as part of a series of climate and environmental measures.

After a heated debate in the Assemblée Nationale at the weekend, the ban, a watered-down version of a key recommendation from President Emmanuel Macron’s citizens’ climate convention was adopted.

It will mean the end of short internal flights from Orly airport, south of Paris, to Nantes and Bordeaux among others, though connecting flights through Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport, north of the French capital, will continue.

The climate commission set up by Macron had originally recommended the scrapping of all flights between French destinations where an alternative direct train journey of less than four hours existed.

This was reduced to two and a half hours after strong objections from certain regions and from Air France-KLM, which, like other airlines, has been badly hit by local and international Covid-19 restrictions on travel.

A year ago, the French government agreed a €7bn loan for AF-KLM on the condition that certain internal flights were dropped, but the decree will also stop low-cost airlines from operating the banned domestic routes.

The chief executive of Air France-KLM, Benjamin Smith, has said the airline is committed to reducing the number of its French domestic routes by 40% by the end of this year.

The transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told MPs: “We have chosen two and a half hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous.”

The measure, part of a climate and resilience bill, was passed despite cross-party opposition. The Socialist MP Joël Aviragnet said the measure would have a “disproportionate human cost” and warned of job losses in the airline sector. Other MPs, including from the Green party, complained that watering down the climate convention’s recommendation had made the measure meaningless.

Mathilde Panot, of the hard left La France Insoumise, said the measure had been “emptied”, while her colleague Danièle Obono said retaining the four-hour threshold would have made it possible to halt routes that “emit the most greenhouse gases”.

The French consumer association UFC-Que Choisir had called on MPs to retain the four-hour recommendation and give the new law “some substance … while also putting in place safeguards that [French national rail] SNCF will not seize the opportunity to artificially inflate its prices or degrade the quality of rail service.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing environmental and social crises. It must lead us to rethink our health policies in order to face the challenge of future health crises of infectious origin.”

It added that banning domestic flights if a direct train alternative of fewer than four hours existed it would have a “real impact” on reducing CO2 emissions and would not adversely affect travel times or prices.

“On average, the plane emits 77 times more CO2 per passenger than the train on these routes, even though the train is cheaper and the time lost is limited to 40 minutes,” it said. “Our study shows that … the government’s choice actually aims to empty the measure of its substance.”

Details of the exact routes that will be halted will be published in the official decree. Flights from Paris to Nice, which takes about six hours by train, and Toulouse, four hours by train, will continue.

France’s new law will be watched closely by other countries. Austria’s coalition conservative-green government introduced a €30 tax on airline tickets for flights of less than 217 miles (350km) last June and a ban on domestic flights that could be travelled in less than three hours by train.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands has been trying since June 2013 to ban short domestic flights. In 2019, Dutch MPs voted to ban flights between Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and Zaventem airport in Brussels, a distance of 93 miles. However, the ban was seen as breaking European commission free-movement regulations and was not implemented.

Is a party that sells police stations to criminals so very tough on crime? 

“..Let one anecdote stand in for the bigger picture. The Tories sold half the magistrates’ courts and more than a third of county courts in England and Wales between 2010 and 2020, and about 600 police stations. The same government is engaged in a screeching U-turn today and trying to deal with the tens of thousands of Covid-delayed trials by opening “Nightingale courts”, although I doubt that Florence Nightingale would have sent the lowliest British soldier in Crimea to our fetid prisons.

Bewildered detectives reported to former chief crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal that a police station in the north-west was included in the fire sale and an organised crime group bought it. The gang run it as a pizza restaurant and a front for the distribution of drugs – “extra toppings”. Afzal tells me police intelligence heard the gangsters “crowing” about getting one over on their old adversaries….” (extract)

Full article here: Nick Cohen www.theguardian.com 

Property developer plans 5,000 UK retirement homes in city centres

Is this the start of the “New Normal”? – Owl

A property developer owned by a French investment management group has announced an ambitious £2bn plan to build 5,000 retirement homes across 40 urban sites in the UK over the next decade.

Julia Kollewe www.theguardian.com 

As town and city centres are being reshaped as a result of the changes to UK high streets accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, Retirement Villages Group (RVG) said it had won planning permission for a £110m retirement community of 196 one and two-bed apartments to rent or buy in central West Byfleet in Surrey, on the site of a 1960s office block with shops and a car park, which will be knocked down.

In its first move into north-west England, the company, which was acquired by Axa Investment Managers’ property arm in 2017, has also won the go-ahead for a new £65m village of 147 retirement homes on the site of a former garden centre in Chester, 10 minutes from the town centre.

The sites are being developed in response to rising demand from people aged over 65 looking to downsize from their family homes, and keen to live close to town and city centres. Construction will start on both sites this summer and the homes are expected to be put for sale or rental off-plan towards the end of next year.

The homes will be centred around a community square, and residents will have access to a restaurant or cafe, wellness centre with gym and swimming pool, library and support and care services if needed.

Traditionally, retirement villages have been built in rural areas as “gated communities”, but a number of firms have embarked on constructing apartment blocks designed for elderly people in urban areas, taking advantage of empty retail and office sites.

Legal & General has set out plans to build 3,000 retirement homes in UK city centres in a £2bn project in coming years, in an attempt to revive ailing high streets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a surge in online shopping and exacerbated the decline of big city centre high streets. Many office workers have been instructed to work from home since the outbreak a year ago, prompting companies to draw up long-term plans for more home or hybrid working, split between home and the office.

There is a shortage of purpose-built retirement housing in the UK. A report published last year by Cass Business School, the Association of Retirement Community Operators and the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation found that just 7,000 new homes designed for older people are built each year. This, it concluded, is “insufficient to serve the 180,000, 65-plus households that will be created each year over the next decade”.

RVG was set up in 1981 to build housing-with-care and today runs 16 sites with 1,500 retirement homes in the UK. In 2017, it was acquired by Axa Investment Managers’ alternative investments and property arm.

Dozens of NHS clinical services axed weekly over state of hospitals – figures

More than 100 NHS treatments or “clinical services” were axed or postponed every week last year because of poor maintenance of hospitals and other health service buildings.

Ben Glaze www.mirror.co.uk

Labour research uncovered the “number of incidents caused by estates and infrastructure failure which resulted in clinical services being delayed, cancelled or otherwise interfered with owing to problems or failures related to the estates and infrastructure failure”.

House of Commons Library analysis of latest NHS Digital data shows 5,908 incidents in 2019/20 – up 23% from a year earlier when there were 4,810.

It means an average of 113 incidents each week, or 16 a day.

Clinical service incidents can be caused by power supply problems, equipment failures, waste management issues or problems with heating or flooding.

An NHS intensive care unit was evacuated last month amid fears its roof could collapse.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, declared a critical incident.

Labour plans to tackle Health Secretary Matt Hancock over a £9billion NHS-wide maintenance backlog when ministers answer departmental questions in the Commons on Tuesday.

Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said: “These figures reveal the true cost to patients of years of underfunding in the NHS.

“Waiting lists were already at record levels pre-Covid and have got worse in the last year and so additional delays and cancellations because the Government has failed to support basic maintenance and infrastructure costs are unacceptable.

“Patients should not be suffering longer in pain because of this.

“The Government’s record on hospitals is shameful.

“Instead of improving or maintaining basic hospital facilities they’re letting the repair bill grow and grow.”

According to NHS Providers senior policy officer Patrick Garratt, the maintenance backlog bill rose by 40% between 2018/19 and 2019/20, from £6.4bn to £9bn.

The Department of Health was approached for comment.

Owl inadvertently lost a recent comment

If you recently made a comment that wasn’t posted please accept Owl’s apologies and re-send it to Owl’s email. (Owl thinks it related to the solar farm post)

Owl gets a lot of spam and very occasionally a genuine comment gets dumped in the spam bin. This time it coincided with one of those occasions when, overnight, WordPress updates the blog admin pages to give them a completely “new look”, leaving Owl’s wings flapping and head spinning. In the learning process the comment got deleted.

Moral of the story is: never try to teach an Old Owl new tricks!

Abingdon Health: We’re going to court – Good Law Project

Another Judicial Review joins the queue.

9 April goodlawproject.org 

Last week, the High Court granted permission to advance our case against Government for its award of contracts to Abingdon Health for rapid antibody tests. The deal with Abingdon Health has been marred by controversy since the very beginning, with Government suppressing reports that raised the alarm around the effectiveness of the tests and ignoring their own legal advice on the lawfulness of the contracts.

The High Court has now agreed that we can argue our case on the following grounds:

  • there was apparent bias in the award of contracts by Government, given the role the Government’s own scientific advisor Professor Sir John Bell played in securing the deal for Abingdon Health. The Judge observed that Professor Sir John Bell was on ‘both sides of the contract’, given his role both as a key Government advisor and also as a significant figure in the UK Rapid Testing Consortium, which acted as subcontractor to Abingdon Health; 
  • Government awarded the contracts to Abingdon Health unlawfully by giving preferential treatment to Abingdon Health because it was a British company; 
  • the decision to award the contracts to Abingdon Health breached the obligations of equal treatment, transparency and proportionality because Government failed to undertake any transparent or lawful process at all in respect of the award of the contracts;
  • the contract awards led to the grant of unlawful state aid (including Government subsidies for research and components), for which no justification whatsoever has been put forward;
  • Government acted irrationally when awarding contracts to Abingdon Health. In particular, the first contract stated that the tests had to be tested and deemed fit for use by the regulator by a certain date. The date came and went without the tests being validated, yet Government pressed ahead with another contract. 

The full transcript of the judgment can be found here

Until now, Government has refused to engage meaningfully with our case. It was noted several times by the Judge that it was not possible to consider points in detail because of the lack of evidence provided by Government. But the Court’s decision last week means that Government will no longer be able to fob us off. In particular, it will be forced to disclose details of the decision-making process – and the role of Professor Sir John Bell – as part of these proceedings. 

It is perhaps not surprising then that Government is once again estimating an eye-watering bill to defend this case – around £670,000. Despite these huge costs, we will not be deterred. We have applied for a cost capping order so we can continue to push for answers.

This deal has been shrouded in mystery since the very beginning. If you are in a position to donate to the legal challenge, you can help uncover the truth: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/abingdon-health/