Clinton Devon Estates: Director with too many fingers in too many public body pies?

Owl has been pondering the potential for conflicts of interest between some of Clinton Devon Estates’ (CDEs’) more environmentally sensitive development plans and the activities of its Estates Director, John Varley.

On the CDE website, at the time of going to press, Estates’ Director, John Varley is described as follows:

“John’s current non-executive positions include Board Member of the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE).”

Clearly he is a very influential man.

Owl remembers him being appointed to the Environment Agency Board in 2012 (£21,002 per annum). [This coincided with CDE’s their first planning to extend their cow sheds in the Otter flood plain at the bottom of Colaton Raleigh – something we will return to]. Owl finds John is still on EA’s Board.

But he seems to be a bit confused about his role with Natural England. Owl doesn’t see his name listed as a current Natural England Board member. So Owl has had to call in the Ferrets.

They report that John Varley, whilst on the Environment Agency Board, was also welcomed onto board of Natural England on 29 April 2015 (remuneration £10K-£15K). They also have discovered that he was reported as being “sad to depart before the end of his term” at the meeting of 22 March 2017.

They also note that he has popped up again as chair of the review which will consider all aspects of Network Rail’s approach to vegetation management 12 July 2018.

There is no suggestion whatsoever that John Varley has ever failed to declare an interest. Indeed, the Ferrets find that, quite properly, he had to leave the room during discussion of the agenda item on the reintroduction of beavers on the River Otter at the Natural England Board in September 2015.

What worries Owl is the conflicts, real or imagined, this might pose to the local staff of the Environment Agency and Natural England as they comment on CDE planning applications “without fear or favour”. Owl is also concerned about how it looks in the daylight.

In the old fashioned world Owl was brought up in any potential conflict would have been avoided. Those in a position to wield influence would do the “honourable” thing of either resigning or at least ensuring any applications they could be associated with were made in exemplary fashion.

Owl is not convinced that CDE’s recent planning applications could be described in this way. For example, consider the controversial 2012 applications to extend the cow sheds at Otter Farm, Church Road, Colaton Raleigh (application 12/0400 superseded by 12/2660).

One aspect of the controversy concerns whether or not either of these applications should have had a flood risk assessment. The fact is that Otter Farm is in flood zone 3, but it was claimed that the adjacent cow shed site, literally only yards away, would only lie in Zone 1 (1 in a 1,000 years risk). This was confirmed by EA on 6 February 2013:

“We have had a look at this one and feel, due to the nature of the development that a Flood risk Assessment would not be necessary. Of course we would still expect the applicant to demonstrate a commitment to SUDs in the design of their surface management for the site.”
[SUD – Sustainable drainage system]

However, this was queried by many on the basis of local knowledge including the Parish council, which, in February 2013, asked “for a better assessment in view of recent flooding incidents in the area”. The details were spelled out rather more graphically by one resident who expressed concern that “recently slurry was allowed to escape into the river (Otter) and into Railway Cottages”.

EA wrote again later in February: “Regarding the above, we have been advised that the site is over 1ha, if the new access road is included. If this is the case we are happy to review the application if accompanied by a Flood Risk Assessment”.

Eventually a detailed Environmental Management and Waste Management plan was submitted in April along with a Sustainable Drainage System Design of 66 pages. In May the Environment Agency recorded its thanks to: “you and your colleagues for meeting on site with [ ] to consider measures that could reduce flooding risks for the nearby Railway Cottage.”

Owl now flies forward to a more recent, even more controversial, case that of CDE’s application 17/3022 to extend the Blackhill Engineering works on Woodbury Common, submitted in December 2017.

It is clear from NE’s first comments that the Visual and Environmental Impact Assessments accompanying the application were still not up to scratch. NE’s comments 6 February 2018 read: “As it stands, we have significant concerns regarding the potential impacts of these proposals. We will provide more detailed advice once we have reviewed the additional information.”

EDDC: “Relocation cost, No Deal Brexit, electric charging points and climate change motions rejected from being discussed”

Owl says: remember, the Chief executive, Mark Williams, is supposed to be a NEUTRAL civil servant and yet ALL of the refused motions are from ALL the minority groups ONLY……!

“Motions to support recycling, to call for a new property ombudsman to streamline complaints against shoddy builders, and for East Devon to get its fair share of the police precept rise will be discussed at next Wednesday’s full council meeting.

But motions over the full relocation costs of the move from Sidmouth to Honiton, to put electric charging points in all car parks, what to prioritise in a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and on climate change will not be discussed.

Various motions that councillors had put forward for debate at East Devon District Council’s full council meeting on Wednesday, February, were rejected by the council’s chief executive, as either the agenda already provides the opportunity for debate or the wording of the motions were inaccurate.

RELOCATION

Cllr Cathy Gardner had proposed a motion calling for the council to commit to publish an annual ‘summary of accounts’ for the relocation project until break-even is reached as relocation from Sidmouth to Honiton was proposed and predicated on the basis that the project would breakeven within 20 years and deliver cost-savings to the council tax payers of East Devon.

Cllr Gardner said: “Whilst some of this information is already available we feel it is vital for the ongoing costs to be published to show confidence that this project will breakeven. A majority of Councillors voted for relocation on the basis that money would be saved on energy bills. We are left unsure of whether breakeven will ever be proven.”

But an EDDC spokesman said: “The rejected motion contained inaccuracies and omissions that had the potential to mislead councillors and it was also premature. It is however proposed to bring a report to the next meeting of the Cabinet that will summarise the position reached with regard to the sale of the Knowle and the relocation. Cllr Gardner can raise the matters she is concerned about as part of the debate into that report.”

The motion would have called for the accounts to include

energy costs for the Knowle for the past 20 years (for comparison);

energy costs for both Blackdown House and Exmouth Town Hall per year;
the capital receipt for the sale of the Knowle;

a Red Book valuation of Blackdown House as of 1 March 2019;

the full costs for the relocation project since its inception, including: project management; removal, furnishing and equipment;

staff retraining and travel expenses;

new-build costs for Blackdown House; refurbishment costs for Exmouth Town Hall; and any other associated costs.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

Cllr Matthew Booth’s motion had called for the council to recognise that Climate Change and Global Warming are the key issues of our time, to acknowledge the strong concerns of young people in particular the recent walk out of school children and for the council to commit to introducing a policy of carbon measurement and reduction within all aspects of its own activity.

He said: “I personally do not care how we begin to do this, or who does it, but that we act now not wait for some planned strategy in the future.”

An EDDC spokesman said that the issue of climate change emergency is acknowledged to be of critical importance but that it would be appropriate to wait to see what Devon County Council decides. They added: “Currently, however, the County Council is considering its position and will shortly debate the matter. As we are in a two tier area it is appropriate for the District Council to assess the position taken by the upper tier authority and then respond accordingly. The public would expect us to work in partnership with the County Council rather than unilaterally.”

ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING

Cllr Eleanor Rylance had submitted a motion calling for the council to plan for and implement over the next five years a full rolling renovation programme of its car parks estates to fit and bring into operation electrical charging points at every space for domestic cars, and cycle parks with charging points for all types of cycle and that there should be mandatory EV charging points for the parking spaces of every new-built house in East Devon.

She added: “This council should approach the future of electrically-powered domestic vehicles with enthusiasm and proactivity, play a positive role in helping develop the use of electrical and should make this infrastructure, that will be a necessity within the next ten years, available in advance of full electrification of domestic vehicles in 2042.

But an EDDC spokesman said: ““The agenda already provides an opportunity for this issue to be raised so this motion was inappropriate.”

BREXIT

Cllr Rylance had also submitted a motion that said in the event of a No Deal Brexit or a version of Brexit that causes significant disruption, the council should approach this event as a situation of emergency in respect of its most vulnerable residents, dedicating any available human, material and financial resources required to palliate any negative outcomes for these groups, but the motion was rejected.

Talking about all the motions, a council spokesman said: “The council agenda for February contains the most important annual decision, namely the setting of the budget and the approval of the Council Tax for the forthcoming year. The process leading to this meeting has included several meetings where members were encouraged to raise all items of future relevance so these could be assessed as part of our service planning process and for assessment as part of the budget.

“It is unfortunate that some members did not take these opportunities and have chosen instead to submit their proposed motions.

“It is also noted that the wording of the motions was not checked in advance with relevant officers who would have been able to give timely advice as to their wording.”

But motions on the police precept, protection for new home owners and supporting recycling will be discussed.

POLICING

Cllr Tom Wright’s motion says: “In view of the £24 per band D property increase in policing precept, this council urges the Chief Constable to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources. East Devon residents are the biggest contributors to the police budget in Devon, other than Plymouth. It is only fair that we should get a fair share of the larger cake.”

NEW HOMES

Cllr Douglas Hull’s motion says: “The Government has stated that it would therefore be introducing as a priority a new property ombudsman to streamline complaints against shoddy builders. As a council that not only provides an excellent and highly regarded building control service but also has seen significant levels of new building in its district, we call on the government to fulfil its pledge to provide this much needed remedy for homeowners as a matter of the highest priority.”

RECYCLING

Cllr Peter Burrows’ motion says: “This Council continues to support the fine work done by the EDDC Recycling team in achieving the best results in Devon and to support and encourage local Organisations and voluntary groups who are involved in trying to reduce the amount of single use plastics used in their communities & beaches by making resources and expertise available, where appropriate. The order of priority should be – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. To actively help promote such activities through the Councils social media platforms.”

The full council meeting will be held at East Devon District Council’s new Honiton Heathpark HQ on February 27 at 6pm.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/relocation-cost-no-deal-brexit-2557565

“Knowlegate”: Del-Boy and the Trotters spring to mind – but just the fools (no horses that we know of)

“East Devon District Council’s senior management team have been rebuked by scrutiny councillors after failing to consider the public perception over the sell-off of assets from their former Knowle HQ.

The council this week completed its move from its former Sidmouth home at the Knowle, to Exmouth town hall and the new Honiton Heathpark HQ, and as part of the move, they had to find homes for various items that are unsuitable for its new building.

But a furore erupted just before Christmas when it was first revealed that council staff and members, but not the general public, were given the chance to bid on various items, and then when an email was leaked claiming a councillor managed to buy a large mahogany dining table and 20 chairs for £50 at the internal staff auction, instead of allowing it to be publicly auctioned for the best possible price.

A council spokesman had said that this leaked information was totally incorrect with the bid being for £400 and only including some of the chairs, and that the bid was withdrawn when Exmouth Town Council, who initially declined the offer of the table originally, changed their view just before Christmas and are now expected to take ownership of the table.

Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of East Devon District Council, had previously said in a statement: “Our council relocation team has been working with professional auctioneers, Sidmouth Town Museum, charities and clearance specialists, to value and dispose of a wide range of items from our old East Devon District Council offices at The Knowle in Sidmouth.

“As part of this process, we offered our staff and elected members the chance to bid for items that may be of sentimental interest or practical use, but are of negligible commercial value.

“The value of items to be disposed were identified based on the view of experienced professionals. They included the large table from the Members area, which attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50.

“All proceeds from this sale and those raised from other sales will go to the Chairman’s Civic Fund, to be donated to nominated charities.”

East Devon District Council’s scrutiny committee considered the disposal of the contents of the Knowle at their meeting last Thursday.

Richard Cohen, the Deputy Chief Executive, produced a report that outlined the process of disposal of items from the Knowle prior to handover to PegasusLife for demolition.

He said: “As part of that process and prior to the handover of the old office buildings to the developer, the council needs to clear the buildings. In total there are just over 2,600 separate items in the Knowle.

“The vast majority of these are office furniture: desks, chairs, cabinets etc of varying ages, condition and size. There are also a number of particular items of varying antiquity and value: these involve both furnishings and fixture and fittings. From a perspective of bulk disposal the estimated total weight of all these items is 45 metric tonnes.”

He outlined that Sidmouth Museum and Sidmouth Town Council were both interested in re-home various items, multiple local auction houses were invited in to look over items but that the majority of items were not of interest to them, and that for remaining items an opportunity was offered for council staff and members to bid for items whether for practical or aesthetic reasons.

He said: “These were items that had been attributed little or no sale value by the various professional auctioneers and ranged from standard office furniture items to cupboards, upholstered furnishings, tables, curtains for example. This element of the disposal process involves around seventy separate items and is likely to raise of the order of £2,000 for the Chairman’s chosen charities.”

Mr Cohen added that groups such as Action East Devon, Green Furniture Aid and Hospicare who are all either networked with voluntary groups or can sell furniture via charity outlets were asked whether they had an interest in some of the for the more generic items such desks, chairs and tables, but the response has been largely muted.

Town and parish councils will also be contacted asking them whether they have an interest in any items with the requirement that they transport said items away themselves, he added.

But councillors said that contrary to what Mr Cohen said, a full list of the items for disposal had not been circulated to them.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Roger Giles said: “There has not been a list that we have seen so could someone produce a list that will be circulated very soon.” He also asked wat do town and parish councils know about the process, as the answer he had heard from them is nothing.

Cllr Cathy Gardner added: “Why was the full explanation of the process not circulated to members before we were given the chance to bid for items? The reason there was a furore around the subject as the offer of sale of items internally was offered in isolation and the lack of communication meant there was a lack of understanding of the wider process that this sat.”

Her recommendation, which the scrutiny committee backed unanimously, was that they remind the senior management team of the council to always consider the public perception of actions taken, particularly when it is involves public assets, and the disposal of public assets.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/council-management-team-rebuked-over-2545040

Hat-Gate: disgraced Seaton ex-Mayor Peter Burrows scandal update

“Calls have been made for the former mayor of Seaton to immediately resign as a town and district councillor after he called for residents to avoid a local business on what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre Twitter account.

At Monday night’s full council meeting, Seaton town council unanimously voted for a motion calling for the immediate resignation of Cllr Peter Burrows as a Seaton town councillor and as an East Devon District Councillor, where he represents the Seaton ward.

Cllr Burrows had stepped down as Mayor at a town council meeting on January 7 as he brought the office into disrepute when he called for residents to avoid a local business on what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre Twitter account, but continued in his role as a councillor.

The Tweet, posted by Cllr Burrows, had said: ‘Here in Seaton, Devon, we have a local business who badmouths the Mayor. Please Avoid’.

It had followed a public argument about fox hunting on the Facebook page ‘Seaton Views’, to which Cllr Burrows took exception to being called a ‘very naughty word’.

The business that Cllr Burrows had then called on residents to avoid on Twitter, The Hat, was not involved in any way in the argument, other than the individual involved in the argument occasionally frequenting the pub.

Gary Millar, proprietor of The Hat, had not been involved in the altercation and was therefore an entirely innocent party.

Cllr Burrows did not attend the meeting and has not responded to requests from the Local Democracy Reporting Service for comment.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Mr Millar said that it was inexplicable of Mr Burrows to make a direct attack on him using his title of mayor, and it was a grossly stupid response from any public official and it still not clear why he chose to attach The Hat.

He added: “I have yet to receive a proper apology from Mr. Burrows. His statement of resignation last week did not make it clear that I was not the person who insulted him, then he justified his actions, and finally boorishly he ended with him giving himself a pat on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, any apology at this time now sounds hollow.”

Mr Millar added: “On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, Mr. Burrows had a very public argument about fox hunting with a private individual on the Facebook page ‘Seaton Views’. This escalated to a robust exchange of views between the two protagonists and Mr Burrows, who is surely used to the rough and tumble of political debate, took exception to being called a very naughty word.

“His inexplicable reaction was to use his title of Seaton Mayor to make a direct attack on me, accusing me of being disparaging to the mayor, and to tell thousands of subscribers to a Twitter page called @SeatonTIC, to avoid my business. On the face of it this was the official Seaton Tourist Information Centre page. This is a grossly stupid response from any public official in any circumstances. You could not make it up.

“It is not at all clear why Mr Burrows chose The Hat as opposed to the many other local businesses that his detractor frequents. Surely, as a public official involved in my various applications, he would have known who I was?”

Mr Millar said that he does not use social media for anything other than professional reasons, and said that although both @SeatonTIC and Seaton Views are ostensibly neutral and exist for the benefit of the people of and visitors to Seaton, it is disturbing that they are administered by a public official without a clear declaration of interest.

He added: “For example, Mr Burrows selectively deleted his unsavoury exchange on Seaton Views and blocked his detractor from the site. Yet he also closed the @SeatonTIC page entirely, not at the request from the Council as reported, but unilaterally overnight on January 1 after legal action was threatened against the then unknown poster.

“This had two effects. First, we are unable to see how many people viewed his tweet to assess the damage caused. Secondly, imagine the impression given to thousands of potential holidaymakers following what they would reasonably have considered the formal Seaton Tourist Information Twitter page. A strange tweet from the town Mayor attacking a local small business, followed by an unexplained blackout. This cannot be good for either my business or the image of the town as a whole.

“I would argue that these actions were not a selfless act by Mr. Burrows, or in the interests of myself or Seaton, but a means of covering tracks.”

Mr Millar said that he views both the local and district councils legally culpable for his actions, regardless of these being rogue or not, and expects them both the local and district council to do their legal duty and mitigate any damage against him.

He added: “This includes a full and open investigation of Mr Burrows’ conduct in office, including on social media, and disciplinary or legal action wherever possible. This motion of no confidence, and the complaint to the East Devon Monitoring Officer is a positive response by the Seaton Town Council.”

Mr Millar, who opened The Hat last year, added: “Despite undoubted damage to my business, the support of my regulars, and other public support helps me believe that moving to Seaton to open up a new and innovative business was the right decision. My sincere thanks to you all and I hope to continue to serve you real ales, ciders and other fine beverages in a friendly environment for many years to come.”

A motion debated at the meeting, which was unanimously agreed, said: “This Council condemns the actions of Cllr Burrows, as behaviour not befitting someone holding public office, and calls for his immediate resignation as a Seaton Town Councillor and EDDC District Councillor.

“In a personal capacity he posted defamatory statements about a local business on social media, but used an account purported to be an official account and referring to himself in the capacity of Mayor. Cllr Burrows has admitted his actions were unacceptable and that the target of his comments was an entirely innocent party. He has shown he lacks the integrity to remain a Councillor and to represent the people of Seaton and East Devon.”

At the previous meeting, Cllr Burrows had unreservedly apologised for his remarks that he made after what he said were ‘disgusting personal comments’ that had been made against him and said that he deeply regretted writing the Tweet.

A town council spokesman had previously said: “Seaton town council wishes to make it clear that despite using the term “Mayor” and using what purported to be a Tourist Information Centre account, Cllr Burrows was not authorised to use his title for personal matters, nor was he authorised to represent the TIC.

“He was acting in a purely private capacity and the Council dissociates itself from his actions.”

The council has reported Cllr Burrows to the Monitoring Officer at East Devon District Council for breaching the code of conduct.

An East Devon District Council spokesman said they were unable to comment.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/former-mayor-should-resign-immediately-2470917

“Outgoing NHS digital chief wrote ‘puff piece’ for future employer in ‘jaw-droppingly inappropriate’ behaviour”

“NHS England’s outgoing chief digital officer has been criticised for “jaw-droppingly inappropriate” behaviour after she announced her departure for a health technology start-up she had praised in a “puff piece” article without disclosing she was joining its payroll.

Juliet Bauer is currently serving out her notice period after announcing she was departing from NHS England last week, and faced criticism for leaving the NHS to join a health tech firm— days after the long-term plan called for a major NHS expansion in the sector.

Bauer, one of the top officials who worked on the NHS Long-Term Plan, is accused of a conflict of interest after she wrote a high-profile article in The Times newspaper praising Kry, a video appointment app, without disclosing she had been hired by the company.

In the article last week, and under her NHS title, Bauer wrote that data provided by “Europe’s biggest video GP consultation provider” showed “high levels of patient and GP satisfaction.”

She said that from April she would taking up a new job at “one of the largest and most trusted digital healthcare providers in Europe,” but did not specify that she would be joining Kry, leading to NHS England distancing themselves from the article.

Speaking to the Financial Times (FT), Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee (PAC), labelled the article a “puff piece advert for the new employer,” and said she was “shocked at the lack of judgement.”
“This revolving door of senior officials going into businesses they have worked with has long been an issue but this is brazen,” Hillier added, arguing that the move was “jaw-droppingly inappropriate.”

As reported in the FT, the chief clinical information officer for health and care Simon Eccles defended his former colleague and said she was a “fantastic” during her time at the NHS, but acknowledged that the article had been inappropriate.

He said: “I think muddling that (view) with any individual commercial provider, which that piece did, was a mistake.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘I now work for a company who’s trying to do this and I think that this company will do great things’ once you’ve left us, but that’s not what happened.”

Bauer announced her departure days after the long-term plan she helped to develop was published, but Eccles emphasised that she could not have had any undue influence over the tech-focused NHS Long-Term Plan.”

http://www.nationalhealthexecutive.com/Robot-News/outgoing-nhs-digital-chief-wrote-puff-piece-for-future-employer-in-jaw-droppingly-inappropriate-behaviour

“David Davis Reveals £3,000-An-HOUR Job With Firm Led By No-Deal Brexit Champion”

“David Davis has landed a £3,000-an-hour job with JCB, the multi-national construction giant led by a billionaire who has championed a no-deal Brexit.

Theresa May’s former Brexit Secretary disclosed his lucrative role as ‘external advisor’ for Lord Anthony Bamford’s firm in the official MP register of interests on Thursday.

It was revealed the Tory MP will make £60,000-a-year in 2019 and 2020 working just 20-hours-a-year for the firm. …”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/david-davis-lands-ps3000-an-hour-job-with-firm-led-by-no-deal-brexit-champion_uk_5c48aa5ee4b025aa26bf5e22

The Knowle “Flog It” scandal rumbles on

Recent Freedom of Information request:

“Dear East Devon District Council,

The following is a request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Recently an email from a Conservative counsellor was released into the public domain regarding the purchase of a “very large table in the members room” as a result of “an auction of council furniture, chattels, etc” to the benefit of members and EDDC staff.

The email went on to state “I have been told that I have been successful in my bid so the table along with the 8’ extension is heading back to Exmouth to sit in (address of councillor), Exmouth in its rightful Town (some may say)” and then stated arrangements for its removal date in order that it could be used for the Councillor’s Christmas dinner for 22 family members.

Subsequently on 21st December 2018, the Leader of the Council made a statement about the disposal of a range of items, including this table. He said the large table “attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50”.

I would like to know:

If one valuer’s estimate was £50, what were the other estimates?

What are the names of the valuers who gave estimates for the table?

Does EDDC audit not require a range and record of estimates for the disposal of council assets, as well as a record of disposals?

EDDC, like other councils, should have a written policy and procedure for the disposal of assets such as used equipment, furniture and other plant, What is that policy and procedure?

Who was the Councillor that successfully bid for “the very large table in the members room”?

How much did the Councillor pay?

Was the ornate clock on the mantel piece (as shown on the cover of the Residents Magazine, December 2018) part of this disposal process?

If so, what was the valuation given?

What price was paid?

Who bought this clock?

The Leader of the Council referred to proceeds of this sale and other sales going to the Chairman’s Civic Fund.

How much money was raised from this sale of “items of sentimental interest or practical use”?

What are the “other sales” Councillor Thomas refers to?

How much money was raised from each of these “other sales”?

What is the total now of the Chairman’s Civic Fund?

Information about the Chairman’s Civic Fund is not easily accessible on the EDDC website; a word search on the site produces “no result”. Where can details of this fund and its administration be found?

Yours faithfully,”

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/auction_of_council_furniture_cha