Never mind the quality, feel the width

The following anonymous comment was received today:

“Democracy is a wonderful thing and Pratt won fair and square. But seeing as you pride yourself on ‘keeping a close eye on our district’, how did you possibly miss that the last councillor failed to show up to any meetings?”

(Councillors must attend one official meeting such as a Cabinet meeting per six months (this does not include think tanks, informal meetings, etc )

Owl responds:

Quality not quantity, dear boy (or girl). One of EDDC’s most assiduous councillors – turning up at anything and everything and with fingers in many, many pies such as the Local Development Framework and the notorious East Devon Business Forum was long-time Conservative councillor Graham Brown and look how that panned out:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9920971/If-I-cant-get-planning-nobody-will-says-Devon-councillor-and-planning-consultant.html

Senior police officer alleges he was told by Foreign Office to stop money laundering investigation

“The former senior police officer in charge of investigating corruption has revealed that he was ordered to halt an inquiry into Russian money laundering.

Jon Benton, who headed up the National Crime Agency’s international corruption unit, said a more senior official linked to the Foreign Office told him to drop his inquiry.

Mr Benton’s claim is deeply embarrassing for the Government which insists it is clamping down on Vladimir Putin’s cronies who have stashed their wealth in the UK. Mr Benton, a detective superintendent, headed up the international corruption unit (ICU) when it was set up in 2015. He retired last year. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/22/national-crime-agency-ordered-stop-investigating-russian-money/

“Housing crisis drives more than 1m private tenants deeper into poverty”

“More than a million vulnerable people on low incomes are being driven deeper into poverty after being shunted into the private rental sector due to an acute shortage of social accommodation.

A report commissioned by the Nationwide Foundation, an independent charity, says that the shortfall in social housing has been met by a doubling in size of the private rented sector in the past 25 years.

But this has forced more households, many on benefits with dependent children or a disabled family member, to pay significantly more for unsuitable housing.

The shake-up of the benefits system – which has led to sanctions being imposed on people claiming universal credit who fail to attend meetings with job advisers or decline to participate in employment schemes – has had a dramatic effect on the attitudes of private landlords.

“Because of sanctions you’re more likely to fall into arrears and to be asked to leave because you are in arrears,” said the author of the report, Dr Julie Rugg, of the University of York’s centre for housing policy. She has spent 20 years studying the benefits system and its relationship with the housing sector.

“The welfare system change has created vulnerability,” Rugg said. “It didn’t used to be the case 10 years ago but it is now. People know the benefits system is tightening up but they might not realise that if you’re at the bottom end and receiving benefits then your situation can be pretty precarious indeed.”

Rugg’s report found that more than a third (38%) of the private rented sector now comprises low-income households who are classed as vulnerable.

And almost nine out of 10 of these – equivalent to 1.4 million households – are living either in poverty or in poor or overcrowded conditions.

The shortage of social housing stock means private landlords can charge more than housing associations, often for inferior accommodation.

“Generally speaking, people are paying an extra £25 a week because they are living in the private rented sector,” Rugg said. “It might not sound a lot but if your benefit income is £75 a week, £25 is quite a big chunk of money.

“We know from talking to people on benefits that after paying their tax and utilities and rent they might be looking at £30 a week to live on. If they are paying an extra £25 a week as a result of living in the private rented sector then that’s actually creating a level of destitution that’s quite frightening.”

Last week Theresa May announced £2bn to build new “affordable” homes in England. Under the plan, housing associations, councils and other organisations will be able to bid for the money to spend on new projects, starting from 2022.

But Leigh Pearce, chief executive of the Nationwide Foundation, said that the government needed to examine the role of the private rented sector, too.

“We need a fundamental rethink about who private renting is for and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it is fit for purpose, to ensure that everyone in this country has a home they can thrive in.

“This includes addressing the really important question about what is expected of the private rented sector, including who it can and should provide homes for, and how it sits alongside other housing tenures.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/22/housing-crisis-drives-million-deeper-into-poverty-social-housing-universal-credit

“DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Investigations into deaths double in two years”

“The number of secret reviews carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into deaths linked to benefit claims appears to have doubled in the last two years, according to figures the information watchdog has forced the government to release.

The figures relate to the number of internal process reviews (IPRs), investigations conducted by the department into deaths and other serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

They show that, from April 2016 to June 2018, DWP panels carried out 50 IPRs, including 33 involving the death of a benefit claimant, or roughly 1.27 death-related IPRs a month.

DWP figures previously obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) show that, between October 2014 and January 2016, there were nine IPRs involving a death, or about 0.6 a month.

These figures are only approximate, because the information about IPRs (previously known as peer reviews) provided by DWP through freedom of information responses does not provide precise dates for when each of them took place.

But they do appear to show a clear and significant increase since early 2016 in the number of IPRs carried out following deaths linked by DWP to its own activity.

They also appear to show a return to the kind of frequency of reviews related to deaths of claimants that were seen between February 2012 and October 2014, when there were 49 such reviews at a rate of about 1.5 a month, at a time when research and repeated personal testimonies showed the coalition’s social security cuts and reforms were causing severe harm and distress to claimants.

The new figures also show that 19 of the deaths in the last two years involved a claimant viewed as “vulnerable”, while six of the IPRs (and four deaths) related to a claimant of the government’s new and much-criticised universal credit (see separate story).

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said ministers “always get up at the despatch box and say they are continually improving the system. This proves that to be false.

“Universal credit should be scrapped, sanctions should be scrapped and the government should call off the dogs, because it is leading to people’s deaths.”

McArdle said that if there was a tragedy involving the deaths of 33 people in a train crash there would be an independent inquiry into what went wrong.

But because these deaths were happening in the social security system, he said, no such public inquiry would take place.

He added: “It just shows a callous disregard for the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.”

A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether the figures showed that DWP’s treatment of vulnerable and other benefit claimants had not improved significantly since 2012 and had worsened in the last two years.

She also declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had already been four IPRs following the death of a universal credit claimant, even though only a small number of people are currently claiming UC. … “

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwps-secret-benefit-deaths-reviews-investigations-into-deaths-double-in-two-years/

Cranbrook (and elsewhere) – do you want independent councillors at East Devon District Council?

For the first time next year in May 2019 , Cranbrook will be electing three district councillors to serve on East Devon District council. This happens only once every four years.

Elected councillors serve on committees such as planning, housing and scrutiny.

Councillors are paid for their time (from at least £4360 per year plus expenses):
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2513061/members-allowances-2017-18.pdf

You may feel that you have a natural affinity for the ruling block on the council – Conservatives or the other party represented at EDDC, Lib Dems. Conservatives currently hold 36 of the 58 seats, Lib Dems hold 6 seats.

But what if you feel that party politics (following the orders of your national party at such a local level) is not for you?

The next biggest group after Conservatives is independent councillors. They currently hold 16 seats. There is also an Independent East Devon Alliance councillor (Martin Shaw – Seaton and Colyton) at Devon County Council but their elections do not take place until 2022.

Some Independent councillors at East Devon (10 of them) belong to the East Devon Alliance.

How come independent councillors can be in an alliance?

Well, on all matters EDA are always totally independent and free to vote however they wish – there is no Whip as there is for a political party (though, by an anomaly of the electoral system, EDA has no alternative but to register as a political party for elections because the electoral system has not moved with the times!).

EDA councillors do though share common values – a committment to accountability, scrutiny and transparency in all council business and fight hard for these values for which they find it useful to be a group supportive of each other, while maintaining their independence. They also help each other in practical ways – canvassing, leaflet distribution, advice, etc.

If you think you would like to be a councillor, check out:
https://www.gov.uk/government/get-involved/take-part/become-a-councillor

If, after reading it, you like the idea of being an Independent East Devon Alliance councillor, contact the group at:

http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/admin/contact-us/

or visit their Facebook page.

(East Devon Watch is supportive of East Devon Alliance but independent in its own views)

Farmer Neil Parish might want to slap Michael Gove’s wrist!

“It’s beginning to dawn on many UK farmers that the British government might not be quite so clued up as they had been led to believe. Not only do they now doubt that the current levels of subsidies they receive will continue post-Brexit, they also worry that their needs for seasonal workers to pick vegetables and soft fruit have not been fully understood.

The latest cause for alarm has been a video produced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to promote its vision for post-Brexit agriculture.

It’s all very nostalgically rustic, with fields of barley rippling in the wind and glorious sunsets. A vision of mellow fruitfulness. Except for one thing. Some sections of it were filmed overseas.

As the magazine Farmers’ Weekly has observed, the scene in which Defra promise that farmers can expect less red tape was actually footage of an inspector visiting a Slovenian cattle shed, while the section on British farmers being rewarded for improving air and water quality was filmed on a German farm. To complete the hat-trick of errors, the part where Defra promise kick-backs for farmers who try to prevent climate change was accompanied by a framer planting a Bonsai tree.

We pay these people.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/21/theresa-may-memorabilia-why-not-now-may-be-her-time