Swire’s questions

Swire has put in another Parliamentary question about East Devon – this time saying wouldn’t it be a great idea if tourism could attract less VAT.

However, Owl isn’t printing it. It’s been asked before, appreciative noises made and, of course, nothing changed.

So why isn’t Owl more positive about Swire’s bid to help the East Devon economy?

Well, it’s coming up to local election time (though not in East Devon this year, the closest being Exeter) and ALL Tory MPs are (coincidentally, of course) popping up all over the country asking similarly closely-targeted questions in THEIR constituencies …..

Next question?

“Party’s over for City jollies” but alas not for local government schmoozing

A short article in today’s Sunday Times Business section notes that new EU rules now forbid fund managers and analysts from accepting hospitality beyond a minimal level – it has to benefit “ordinary” customers and if over a reasonable limit it is considered “an inducement”. It goes on to say that most firms have set £100-150 a head as the maximum in London.

Fortunately, our local Tory councillors can rest easy as it does not apply to local government, so they can still take their Exeter Chiefs rugby tickets and their meals with developers and the like – which never seem to cost more than £25 a head when declared (where are they going – Nando’s or perhaps Frankie and Benny’s? And DEFINITELY t-total!).

Source: Sunday Times Business supplement (pay wall)

A new EDDC Leader and Deputy Leader … a marriage made in …?

Who best illustrates trust and respect in East Devon?  Claire Wright?  Martin Shaw?  Cathy Gardner?  No, according to our Tory Council it’s (drumroll) – Ian Thomas and Philip Skinner!!!  Thomas ousting Paul Diviani as Tory Leader and Skinner as his deputy side-kick!

Oh,oh …. Mr Thomas a somewhat unknown quantity having kept himself firmly under the radar. Skinner, however, has enjoyed some limelight.

Skinner was a member of the maligned East Devon Business Forum, chaired by disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown.  Though his affiliation at the Forum wandered between companies and council…

AND let’s not forget his controversial chairmanship of the Exmouth Regeneration Board which has made him few friends outside the charmed EDDC Tory circle ….

But most of all, who can forget “Christmas Card-Gate”  – when then Leader of EDDC, Sarah Randall-Johnson, stripped him of his role of Rural Champion after this debacle:

“CONSERVATIVE councillor has been stripped of his role as rural champion after off-the-cuff remarks in a Christmas card offended the leader of a Devon authority.

Philip Skinner, who represents Talaton, near Ottery St Mary, sent the card to Sara Randall Johnson, leader of East Devon District Council and headed it “My greatest adversary”. Mr Skinner heaped praise on her at the expense of other members, boasting: “The rest I can demolish in my sleep, but you are in a class of your own.”

Mr Skinner signed off with two footnotes, the last of which stated: “If only things had turned out different, we’d have made one hell of a team.”


Unfortunately, we are not told what the first footnote was.”

Here is the announcement of the new Tory duo – oddly from a Dorset online website rather than from East Devon Tory sources:

“UPLYME’S district councillor Ian Thomas has been elected leader of the Conservative group at East Devon District Council.

Councillor Thomas, who lives in Ware, has served as a district councillor for the Trinity ward, which includes Uplyme and Rousdon, since 2009.

He is portfolio holder for finance at East Devon and is a director of the Exeter Science Park Company.

Councillor Thomas was elected new leader of the Conservative group at its annual general meeting this week, taking over from Paul Diviani, who has held the post since 2011.

Councillor Diviani will remain leader of East Devon District Council until its annual meeting on May 16th, when Councillor Thomas will take the reins.

Philip Skinner, portfolio holder for economy, who has represented the Tale Vale since 1999, secured the post of deputy of the Conservative group.

Councillor Skinner is a former chairman of the Tiverton and Honiton Conservative Association.

Commenting on their election, Councillor Thomas said: “It’s a great privilege to take over the leadership of our group from Paul, after his distinguished time at the helm.

“Our focus will continue on ensuring high quality affordable homes, an economy which works for all and delivering the services our residents and businesses value.

“We are uniquely fortunate to work within the framework of a natural environment second to none, supported by a range of leisure facilities and arts and culture events essential to the health, safety, prosperity and happiness of all we represent”.

“Whilst our new team has taken on leadership of the East Devon Conservative Group immediately, Paul will remain in post, as leader of East Devon District Council, until the annual council meeting on May 16.”

“Paul, Philip and I will take advantage of this time to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibilities to our new team, so the complex task of running a busy and ambitious district council continues, without missing a beat.”

Councillor Skinner added: “East Devon needs the energy, ideas and focus of our Conservative group to grow and prosper in challenging times.

“Our job is to continue our excellent performance, to extend the trust of our electorate, and return a larger Conservative majority in the 2019 district council elections so that East Devon continues to prosper for all.”

Councillor Diviani commented: “I’m very pleased to be able to pass the leaders baton of this fantastic council to such a talented and experienced team. the

“Ian and Philip have already demonstrated a strong ability to work together and, through their Conservative principles of trust and respect, to engage their colleagues in setting policy and fighting to get the very best for our wonderful district, to the benefit of our residents, businesses and visitors.”


“Sleaze watchdog to look at tighter curbs for councillors”

” … The inquiry comes after a government adviser warned that the Coalition “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when it abolished the controversial Standards Board for England that enforced a nationwide code of conduct for councillors.

Dr Jane Martin, the member of the Committee leading the inquiry says she “regularly receives correspondence” from the public expressing concern about councillors’ behaviour. …

There are concerns that council standards committees can only “censure” politicians, rather than suspend them in the most serious cases. …”

Source: Sunday Telegraph

Owl says: once again, too little too late:

See and hear our own disgraced Tory ex-councillor Graham Brown (ex-chief of the equally disgraced council-run East Devon Business Forum) explaining that “if I can’t get planning, nobody will” but that he won’t work for peanuts:


and the chapter on East Devon in Anna Minton’s Spinwatch report “Scaring the living daylights out of people – the local lobby and the failure of democracy”:


Our local health services: our last line of defence

From the Save Our Hospital Services Facebook site:

:… these guys are our last line of defence. They need to work harder at not being manipulated.

Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, County Hall, 25 January 2018

“I take my Scrutiny duty very seriously,” declared Cllr Brian Greenslade (Barnstaple North) at the Devon County Council Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting at County Hall on 25 January. Save our Hospital Services (SOHS) members from North Devon who attended this and many other such meetings know this to be only too true.

Indeed, were it not for Cllr Greenslade and his meticulous colleague, Cllr Claire Wright (Otter Valley) it is doubtful how much scrutiny by the Scrutiny Committee there would be at all. One thing is certain: given the scale, speed and scope of the changes now being pushed through in health and social care services in Devon, real information, real questions and real answers have never been so vital. It is literally a matter of life and death.

At a previous Scrutiny meeting, the Chair, Cllr Sara Randall Johnson, in clear cahoots with Cllr Rufus Gilbert, manipulated proceedings. The two managed to prevent Cllr Wright putting a motion she had already tabled, thus shutting down a debate that may have saved in-patient services at some community hospitals.

This so outraged some councillors and members of the public that their chorus of complaints and the consequent internal investigation prompted the county’s lawyers to lecture councillors as to their legal obligations to scrutinise. The investigation and warning came too late for the community hospitals, but could better behaviour be expected from now on?

Indeed, it could. But then, on 25 January, the Chair of the Standards Committee was sitting in. This time Cllr Wright was allowed to say quite a lot, pose many more questions, and state much more of the obvious in defence of our health and social care services.

However, far too many of our County Councillors still appear unwilling to spend time and effort educating themselves as to the issues, facts and figures, whilst being only too willing to swallow propaganda and projections put out by overpaid health bosses bent on making severe cuts to our NHS services.

No one, even councillors who have barely raised a whisper in opposition, is in any doubt as to the real motive for all these health service changes: cuts and cutbacks designed to save £557 million over the next five years. The aim is to ration, restrict and remove elements of care and treatment for however many people it takes to save that amount of money. Cost comes first, clinical need a poor second.

Dr Sonja Manton was again allowed to speak at great length. She is NHS Devon’s lead cost-cutter, qualified by means of a doctorate in Systems Dynamics, not qualified in Medicine or any form of clinical care. Which sort of gives the game away –as does her most obvious skill, talking for a very long time without saying anything at all.

When questioned by Councillor Wright, she appeared, as ever, not to have the required data or evidence to hand. Cue the now customary promise to look it up and pass it on. The pattern that follows has been obvious for more than 15 months now. The Scrutiny Committee ends up waiting a long time for what they have asked for – if they get it at all — making real scrutiny in public for the public impossible. The lack of real information, the failure to meet requests, the failure to resolve contradictions in presentations cause real difficulties for our County Councillors meeting after meeting – not least again on 25 January.

It has been reported that Devon’s Clinical Commissioning Groups are bent on steamrollering ‘Accountable Care Organisations’ into position from 1 April. To prove that the joke is on us for what is, after all, April Fool’s Day, they have given the Scrutiny Committee no information about them at all. This is particularly scandalous and frightening. As Brian Greenslade stated: “I want to know where we are…..we need to understand where we’ve got to and what this may mean.”

One faint beacon of light is the announcement, on the same day as the Scrutiny meeting was held, that NHS England will hold 12 week consultations on the implementation of ACOs https://www.england.nhs.uk/…/consultation-aco-contracts/ which puts a very slight delay in place. But the website does not elaborate on how much time after closure of consultation implementation could happen. The Consultation could well be the outcome of an exchange between Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health Select Committee, and Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, as well as an attempt to water down the possible impact of a Judicial Review, which is being filed by a group of Health Care professionals, to challenge the government’s attempt to circumvent Parliament and democratic scrutiny and allow ACOs to operate

ACOs are financially constrained, business-based American-style systems of healthcare purchasing and provision, which will pave the way for further privatisation and still more rationing and restriction of provision. Councillor Martin Shaw from Seaton had done a lot of research on ACOs and put his findings online. But, incredibly, he had to force the whole issue onto the Committee’s Agenda just to secure the very limited discussion that took place.

Until this announcement it was the case that ACOs (unless the Judicial Review has effect) were to be imposed without any debate, discussion or statute. So an ACO could be and, in many cases, will be, a private business, primarily accountable to shareholders and managers rather than patients and the public. And even now we don’t know how ‘public’ the consultation will be. As Jan Goffey, Mayor of Okehampton, declared, “Sick people should never be regarded as a profit-making opportunity.”

Eventually even the Chair, Sara Randall Johnson said, “We need more information.” We have heard her, and others, say this before. Is this a way of avoiding doing anything? Or is it something more cynical: a way of helping to destroy our NHS, but giving themselves the excuse that they just did not know?

If so, it will only be because they failed to find out – or scrutinise.”

Tories auction off access to PM and ministers at their annual ball

Readers may recall the tasteless joke made by Hugo Swire about the unemployed at the £10|15,000 per table Tory fundraising ball attended by porn barons, sex shop owners, former jailbirds and assorted other rich riff-raff in 2015:

“Joke of the night
Auctioneer Hugo Swire, a Tory MP, inviting bids for the flight, said: ‘For an extra £1,000 we will throw in a case of wine. For an extra £5,000, we will throw in Greece as well.”


as reported here:


Readers will be pleased to know that this annual event continues to be a highlight of the posh-toff Tory donor calendar. The dinner was held, appropriately enough, in the Natural History Museum, home to many other dinosaurs, though perhaps not as rich as the living ones!

Reports include:

A Tory donors paying £55,000 in an auction to spend a day with Theresa May.

Other auction lots included a dinner at a restaurant hosted by Stanley Johnson and the Made in Chelsea star Georgia Toffolo – who appeared together on the ITV reality show I’m a Celebrity – which went for £15,000.

Another auction lot was a chance to “walk in the footsteps of Churchill” by having dinner with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, in the Churchill war rooms, which reportedly went for £30,000.

A bidder is understood to have paid £12,500 for a home-cooked dinner with the environment secretary, Michael Gove, and his wife, Sarah Vine, at their west London home.

Dinner in Edinburgh with Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, attracted bids of more than £15,000, while lunch with Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, proved somewhat less alluring, with bids around the £2,000 mark.

Departing guests were reportedly greeted by a flashmob of taxi drivers honking horns in protest at May’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month in which she said Uber had got things wrong but should not be shut down.

As reported in


Sidmouth: Swire fancies flats and car parking at Port Royal – or getting Prince Charles in!

He says Prince Charles’s architects would be “non-political” But in the absence of the Prince he says:

“My view of the Ham is that we could do multi-storey car parking there. It could be wrapped in retail or starter flats. There’s terrible parking pressure there already. You could have more people living in that part of the town.

“I think it would be a missed opportunity to just do something with the Drill Hall and not the rest of it. It requires an ambitious approach.”

And that’s not political? Pull the other one!

What do you bet Diviani comes to the same conclusion – by coincidence, of course!