NIMBY MPs get their way in Milton Keynes

“Plans for a major expansion of one of Britain’s best known “new towns” were dropped from the Budget at the eleventh hour after heated objections from a government whip and a defence minister, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Iain Stewart and Mark Lancaster, the Tory MPs for Milton Keynes, opposed proposals for some 100,000 new homes on the outskirts of the town, over fears that an influx of residents could clog up its roads and overburden the local hospital. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/11/03/milton-keynes-major-expansion-dropped-budget-eleventh-hour/

MPs who accepted hospitality from the betting industry

A reduction from £100 per bet to £2 per bet, agreed by the government, has been postponed and the Minister for Sport has resigned saying vested interests were allowed to influence the decision. The current high rate is reckoned to lead to many suicides. It is thought the decision has been postponed to raise revenue for the government to assist with post-Brexit issues.

Sixteen MPs have declared hospitality received from the betting industry. Nine were Labour MPs, six Conservative and one SNP:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46076119

Open spaces: to little and so very, very late

The Mail on Sunday today has launched a petition stop parks being sold off.

If only they had created it BEFORE the massive sell-off, instead of after.

But then Tory donor developers – who bought the parks – wouldn’t have liked it.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6273471/Petition-launched-rescue-open-spaces-sold-cash-strapped-councils.html

“Failure to halt rip-off drug deals costs the NHS £200m”

Owl says: Follow the (MPs involved in the pharmaceutical industry and Tory donors) money …

“The NHS is still overpaying for price-hiked drugs by hundreds of millions of pounds a year because the government has failed to use powers brought in to combat profiteering, The Times can reveal.

A Times investigation in 2016 exposed how several manufacturers had taken advantage of a loophole in NHS pricing rules to significantly increase the price of dozens of commonly prescribed drugs by up to 12,500 per cent. The government passed legislation in April last year to end the practice by giving the health secretary powers to impose a lower price for these generic drugs if taxpayers were being ripped off.

However, the government has failed to use these, with a Times analysis revealing that the NHS is continuing to spend more than £200 million a year on the extra costs created by the hikes.

Just 19 of the 70 drugs identified by this newspaper two years ago have undergone significant price reductions, amounting to about £150 million a year in savings to the NHS. The total extra cost of the price hikes across all 70 medicines was £370 million a year in 2016, meaning that at least £200 million is still being overspent annually. The figures are approximate because prescription data is not yet available for the second half of 2018.

The government has referred a number of cases to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has opened at least nine investigations. These cases have been stalled after Pfizer and another drug company won an appeal against a record fine for increasing the price of an epilepsy treatment. The CMA is seeking permission to appeal against that verdict.

One company previously exposed by The Times, Atnahs, increased the price of seven medicines for which it was the sole UK manufacturer by up to 2,600 per cent. These included 50mg capsules of doxepin, an antidepressant, which rose from £5.71 and now costs £154 a packet. Atnahs was able to increase prices by dropping the brand name of the products, which were all out of patent, and relaunching them under generic names. Branded generics are subject to a profit cap but the NHS does not limit the price of unbranded generics. More than two years later, all seven medicines are at the same inflated prices.

Another firm, Concordia International, increased the cost of eye drops from £2.09 to £29.06 and has kept them at this level since 2016. An antidepressant which increased from £9.57 to £353.06 after being acquired by the company has risen further still in the past two years and now costs £386.53.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said that the overall spend on generic medicines went down compared to last year.”

A spokesman for Atnahs said the company’s pricing was “competitively benchmarked” and that it would adhere to any government guidance. Concordia International said it believed the generics system was working well and “the government may not see a need to use these prices controls”.

Case study

Melanie Woodcock, 47, credits the thyroid medication liothyronine with giving her a life. She used to take an alternative that left her “feeling sluggish, constant headaches, dizziness, nausea feeling all day, it even affected my vision, just a constant brain fog”.

“I wasn’t going out anywhere, I wasn’t living a life, I wasn’t going on holiday, I wasn’t doing anything because I didn’t have the energy,” she said.

When she first took liothyronine, a synthetic hormone known as T3, she said it “changed my whole outlook on life”. “I could think clearly I’d got a memory, my vision was better, I lost the achy joints,” she said. “No more living on Neurofen because I had headaches all the time and joint pain.”

Now doctors have stopped prescribing the drug after the price rose from 16p to £9.22 per tablet. The medicine only had one supplier for many years, but even though two companies have recently begun supplying it, the cost to the NHS has barely fallen.

Liothyronine is cheaply available in many European countries and after her prescription was stopped in July 2018, Ms Woodcock, a mother-of-two who lives in Banbury, Oxfordshire, turned to a “website that is aimed at bodybuilders for bulking up” which sells the drug at £31 a packet.

She said when she tried to go back to the alternative treatment, levothyroxine, she was hospitalised with violent illness and a headache so powerful she was unable to see.

Even the liothyronine she buys online has not solved the problem. “It’s not the same [as the NHS-prescribed version], I still feel sluggish, I still have a lack of energy. I’ve had to take several days off work.”

Ms Woodcock, who works in the security industry, said she couldn’t understand “how the government have allowed this to happen”.

Concordia International, which was previously the sole supplier of the medicine, said a high price was justified in order to guarantee a steady supply beause it was a niche product and difficult to manufacture.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

893 gifts or hospitality from developers in 6 years did not influence councillor’s decisions says Monitoring Officer [insert hollow laugh here]

On average accepted gifts or hospitality 3 times a week, every week for 6 years! But he resigned anyway ….. deja vu, deja vu says Owl!

“The Deputy Leader of Westminster Council has resigned following an internal investigation into his conduct.

Deputy Leader Robert Davis announced today he is to resign “with immediate effect” after 36 years of service.

Mr Davis’s resignation comes after he reportedly accepted hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years. These gifts frequently came from property developers who were seeking planning permission, according to the Guardian.

In a statement, Mr Davis said: “I am very proud of my 36 years’ service in local government during which I made a major contribution to the wellbeing of the City and its people.

“Earlier this year there was some press coverage concerning the hospitality I received during the course of my duties. To avoid this becoming an issue in this year’s elections, I agreed to refer myself to the Monitoring Officer, and stand aside as Deputy Leader while an investigation was carried out.”

Mr Davis, who chaired the Conservative borough’s planning committee for 17 years, continued: “My approach to declarations has always been to be honest, open and transparent. I have nothing to hide.

“I registered all my hospitality and it was posted by officers on the Council’s website. I have been making such declarations since 2007 when the requirement was first introduced.

“I also declared any relevant interests at the beginning of every planning committee I chaired during this time. I have acted with the utmost transparency and probity at all times and have only ever taken decisions on the basis of what I thought was best for Westminster.

“An inquiry has been completed by the Council. They have confirmed that none of the declarations I made or hospitality I received influenced decisions I took as a councillor and that nothing I did was unlawful.”

He said his actions “created a perception that was negative to the Council.

“While I dispute this, I wish to draw a line under the matter. It is now time for me to move on to the next stage in my life, and for the next generation of councillors to lead Westminster.”

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/westminster-council-deputy-leader-resigns-after-hospitality-inquiry-a3958681.html

“Home builders’ lobbyist pushed council leader to ‘sort’ and speed planning”

Is this any different to having a (Tory) COUNCILLOR in charge of planning running his own planning consultancy AND chairing an influential business forum? And if this expose came about from a Freedom of I formation request about events in Wandsworth in 2011 and 2013 …..

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

“A lobbyist for some of the UK’s biggest property developers used a direct communication channel to the leader of a flagship Conservative council to help push through planning applications for luxury apartment developments.

Peter Bingle used his longstanding relationship with Ravi Govindia, the leader of the London borough of Wandsworth, in attempts to circumvent council officials he believed were being obstructive to his clients, including over the size of payments due to public projects.

Bingle’s access has been revealed in a cache of emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that show him asking Govindia, a former flatmate, to smooth the passage of planning applications for hundreds of luxury homes between 2011 and 2013. Govindia responded in some cases by promising to chase officials and fix meetings.

Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m

Bingle is a former Conservative councillor at Wandsworth and was chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, once one of the country’s biggest lobbying firms. He set up Terrapin Communications, whose clients have included Ballymore and Bellway, the housebuilders, and Royal Mail when it was selling off its land for housing.

When Royal Mail complained about the junior rank of the planning officer assigned to its application and having to repeat details of its plans to officials, Bingle emailed Govindia: “This wouldn’t have happened under the old regime. Your help would be appreciated in sorting things out.”

Bingle later forwarded the Royal Mail’s plan for its presentation to the Wandsworth planning committee to Govindia asking “What’s your advice?” Govindia replied two minutes later: “Will call as soon as I finish this meeting”.

Nearly 100 London councillors have links to property industry

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the correspondence provides a rare window on the methods developers use to apply pressure to politicians behind the scenes to speed up high-stakes planning decisions and to reduce infrastructure payments. An investigation last week revealed how Berkeley Homes, one of London’s largest developers of luxury homes, routinely told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In April, the Guardian revealed planning lobbyists regularly entertained Robert Davis, Westminster city council’s former planning committee chairman. Davis received hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years, frequently from developers and their agents, including Bingle. He has since resigned as deputy leader.

The emails relate to when Bingle was working as a lobbyist for the Royal Mail, which had submitted plans for a 1,800-home development on its site close to Battersea Power Station. In one email to Govindia he lambasted the council’s handling of a negotiation about how much his client should pay to the public purse as “chaotic and shambolic”. He told Govindia it “does nothing for Wandsworth’s reputation in the property world … Something has gone seriously wrong.”

The planning application was eventually approved. Royal Mail last year sold part of the site to US investors for £101m.

Bingle chased Govindia for updates on progress of another 252-home application at Battersea for another client, complaining about “non-committal” planning officials. He applauded the leader when a separate application for 104 private flats in Putney by Berkeley Homes was approved, signing off an email: “Many thanks for a great result.” It had no social housing.

Bingle has denied exerting any undue influence and Govindia said he made no apology for delivering more homes for Wandsworth.

Public records show Bingle has entertained at least 31 councillors in different London boroughs in recent years, taking some out for lunch or dinner more than a dozen times. When Govindia, who was among those he entertained, was awarded a CBE in 2017 Bingle said: “Never has an award for services to local government been more deserved.”

Govindia did not sit on Wandsworth’s planning committee, but Bingle repeatedly urged him to help, often simply forwarding on complaints from property developers.

In January 2012, Royal Mail was concerned about what the council wanted in terms of payments for schools and education. Bingle forwarded an email about that directly to Govindia saying “Ravi, Views?”

Govindia replied later that day: “I will chase the education chaps”.

By March, the development consultant on the scheme asked Bingle to “prod Ravi that we need to get on with this”. Bingle forwarded the email to Govinidia saying “I thought it simplest just to forward this to you”.

When Bingle sent an email asking: “Leader, Can we get a meeting with you in the diary for next week? This scheme is now stuck,” Govinida replied: “I have asked for an update from planners next week.”

Asked about the relationship Bingle said: “The fact that this information came from a freedom of information request shows that it was always available for scrutiny in the public domain. And rightly so. Having been a long-standing friend of Ravi I know it is impossible for anybody to have undue influence over him. Since his earliest days on Wandsworth as a backbench councillor he has always resolutely defended his own viewpoint even if it meant voting against the Conservative group.”

Govinidia said: “It is first and foremost the job of any council leader to press those on all sides to deliver improvements to their borough and improve the lives of their residents. To do the job effectively you need to listen to all voices and make sure that when problems or snags arise that you are on top of them and that you can secure solutions to drive forward and deliver these improvements. I make no apology whatsoever for fulfilling my role as a council leader to deliver more homes, more jobs and more opportunities for our residents.”

He said the Royal Mail development will deliver 318 new affordable homes, a higher number than the developers were originally offering.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/13/home-builders-lobbyist-pushed-council-leader-to-sort-and-speed-planning

Those MP dodgy links – this time vaping

“MPs who backed calls for looser laws around vaping are attacked over their links to the industry.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

In a controversial report, they said bans on vaping in public places – such as in hospitals and restaurants or on buses – should be considered.

The report, by the Commons science and technology committee, also said that ministers should carry out a review to make it easier to get the devices on the prescription.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

It emerged yesterday that the committee’s chairman, Norman Lamb, spoke at an industry forum held by the UK Vaping Industry Association. The forum focused on how to boost the market for e-cigarettes.

He was also photographed next to John Dunne, the association’s director, at the launch of another report and told the audience: ‘I was horrified when the EU went down the route of health regulation [of vaping products]… I thought it was a complete own goal.’

Professor Simon Capewell, of Liverpool University, said: ‘The committee has concentrated solely on ‘experts’ who are e-cig champions.’

Mr Lamb said yesterday that it was unfair to say the committee has a pro-vaping bias.

‘I reject this assertion,’ he said. ‘The committee carefully considered evidence from more than 90 organisations including a range of academics, NHS professionals, NICE [the clinical guidelines watchdog], and government departments to inform the report.

‘It is my responsibility as chair of this committee to speak to a range of organisations and individuals about our work.’ “

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6072919/MPs-backed-calls-looser-laws-vaping-attacked-links-industry.html