DUP funding to stay secret

Owl says: What a surprise! Remind me – isn’t the DUP a fundamentalist “Christian” party? Oooohhhh … wait for the fire and brimstone – not.

“Labour has criticised an attempt by the government to allow the DUP to conceal details of past political donations, including during the EU referendum, despite a 2014 law that extended party transparency rules to Northern Ireland.

The government has announced it will bring into force new transparency rules for Northern Ireland’s political parties to allow the Electoral Commission to publish details of donations over £7,500.

The provision for the new rules, which will bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK, was first introduced in legislation in 2014, with the wide understanding it would be applied from that year.

However, the Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, said he intended the act to be applied from 1 July 2017, which would mean donations during the EU referendum in 2016 are not made public.

Campaigners have raised questions over the DUP’s spending on the EU referendum in June 2016 – including a £435,000 donation from a group called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), chaired by Richard Cook, a former vice-chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party.

The source of the cash was revealed by the DUP after a series of articles published by OpenDemocracy, though details of the CRC’s source of income are still opaque. …”


“Philip Hammond causes storm with remarks about disabled workers”

Disability charity Scope and others call for chancellor to withdraw his comments implying disabled people are to blame for sluggish economy.

“Disability charity Scope called on Philip Hammond to withdraw his “totally unacceptable and derogatory comments” after he said Britain’s sluggish productivity could partly be blamed on more disabled people in the workforce.

In Wednesday’s treasury select committee, the chancellor was asked about low economic productivity levels, which he had reported during the autumn Budget last month.

At first, he responded saying that high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, “will be felt for many many years to come”.

He then added: “It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”


Wrong Minister at wrong station, even though he stayed at a hotel directly opposite the right station in Exeter!

“They (the Government) sent the Roads Minister to talk to us about grand new plans for our rail network.

The press call was for 9am on Platform 6 at Exeter St David’s station.

Jesse Norman took the train to Exeter on Tuesday. He stayed in the Premier Inn, and strolled across to the station where he was due to meet Devon County Council leader John Hart and the media.

There was only one problem: Mr Norman went to Exeter Central, instead of to Exeter St David’s.

In the end he jumped into a cab to the right station, shaving a few minutes off an already tight interview schedule. …”


What do you have to do to get sacked if you are a Tory these days?

“As a prime minister drained of authority struggles to hold her party together, ambitious ministers feel increasingly able to cock a snook with impunity.

This week’s rows over Boris Johnson’s dangerous handling of a disagreement with Iran, and Priti Patel’s freelance policymaking in the Middle East may seem a coincidence.

But the conduct of the foreign secretary is bound together with that of the international development secretary.

Both Mr Johnson and Ms Patel are able to play fast and loose because normal collective cabinet disciplines no longer apply. The prime minister is afraid to reprimand or sack. In this government it is everyone for themselves. …”

and yet there are people who will continue to vote for them.

It says as much about their voters as it does about their Ministers and MPs.

And so many of their voters in East Devon – where we had our own mini-scandal when Diviani voted against his own district councillors at county council over closure of community hospitals.

Did Tory district councillors sack him? No, they rallied round him and agreed to keep him not just as a councillor but as their Leader.

Such is political life today. Thank you Tory voters – for worse than nothing.

Powerful Tory committee blocked Cameron attempt to protect Commons staff alleges Evening Standard

“In the Evening Standard today Joe Murphy and Kate Proctor says the backbench Conservative 1922 committee opposed a bid by David Cameron to introduce a binding code of conduct for Tory MPs that would have strengthened the protections available to staff suffering harassment. Murphy and Proctor say:

The powerful 1922 committee of backbenchers mobilised against an attempt made by David Cameron to create a binding code of conduct that would have included a right for staff members to seek arbitration.

Mr Cameron attempted to persuade the speaker and other party leaders to support the measures following a sex scandal but his move met resistance from MPs, said sources.

The former prime minister then attempted to get his own MPs to sign up voluntarily.

But this was blocked by the 1922 committee, which saw the plan as a whips’ plot to impose “central control” on backbenchers.

The story is on the front of the Standard under the headline – Revealed: How backbenchers blocked bid to shield staff from sex pests.”


Could harassment scandal topple Government? Robert Peston thinks it might

Robert Peston:

“The growing fear among Tory MPs is that the sexual-harassment scandal is evolving into the equivalent of the MPs’ expenses debacle – and that it could bring down the government.

It’s all the fault of that bloomin’ list of MPs and their alleged misdemeanours that was compiled by Tory aides and was published by the Guido website overnight, with names blacked at.

The blacking out is not preventing reputational damage to a pair of cabinet ministers and several other senior members of the government.

Their names are being openly touted in Westminster – and it won’t be long till they are outed on social media, and on offshore websites.”

“Chancellor Philip Hammond faces backbench rebellion over £6billion tax loophole for foreign ‘non-dom’ property owners”

“Philip Hammond is facing a backbench rebellion over a £6billion tax loophole for foreign non-dom property owners.

They must pay tax on residential property sales but the government is not including profits made on commercial buildings.

It means that foreign owners can declare their flats and houses in Britain are for commercial use before they sell them- meaning they don’t have to pay a levy, reports The Sun.

The omission has created a loophole worth approximately £6billion that is set to spark a Commons showdown, according to campaigners.

Mr Hammond is now facing a rebellion from a cross-party coalition of Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs when the Finance Bill is put to a vote on Tuesday.

Labour MP Stella Creasy said: ‘Why should British businesses have to pay this tax but foreign ones get away with it? …”


“More than £10 billion” spent on “sticking plaster solutions” to public service cuts

“More than £10bn of taxpayers’ money is being wasted because the government continues to ignore emerging warning signs on key public services, allowing pressures to build—and then diverting emergency cash to the frontline when a crisis emerges.

This wasteful cycle is highlighted in new analysis from the Institute for Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), published on 19 October. Worryingly, Performance Tracker, our data-driven analysis of nine public services – across health, education, law and order, neighbourhood services and immigration – finds that this emergency cash isn’t being used to solve the underlying issues in these services, but is simply keeping them going in their current state. …”


“Government accused of “sidelining” parliament by boycotting key votes”

“MPs will hold an emergency debate tomorrow in a bid to stop the Tories “sidelining” Parliament by boycotting key votes.

Theresa May was accused of “running scared” of democracy when she ordered her MPs to skip Labour bids to freeze tuition fees and give nurses a fair pay rise last month. Her majority of just 13 led to fears she would lose the non-binding votes in an embarrassing defeat. So instead she boycotted the ‘Opposition Day’ motions, meaning they passed but were not officially a defeat for the government.

Tonight Commons Speaker John Bercow granted an emergency debate on the tactic after a request by the Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael. Mr Carmichael said it had “long been the practice of governments” to respect Opposition Day debates, adding: “The government is seeking to treat this House as talking shop.”

He said the government having to prop itself up with the hard-right DUP was historic, adding: “It’s a moment for us to assert the will of Parliament, not to see it sidelined.”

The debate will last three hours and begin late tomorrow morning.”


Lies, damned lies and a minority government on fire (lack of) safety

“… Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, pledged in July that any lack of financial resources would not prevent necessary works going ahead.

The housing minister, Alok Sharma, has declined Nottingham city council’s request for help to install sprinklers inside flats and communal areas in 13 towers at a cost of £6.2m. Sharma told the council: “The fire safety measures you outline are additional rather than essential.”
He has told the London borough of Croydon, which wants to spend £10m on retrofitting sprinklers to 25 tall residential blocks: “It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that people are safe.”

Wandsworth wants to spend up to £30m on sprinklers in 100 towers but has been told: “Support will not include general improvement and enhancements to buildings.”

All the councils said they had been advised to carry out works by their local fire brigades.

The tension over who should foot the fire safety bill follows a pledge in July by the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, that any lack of financial resources would not prevent necessary works going ahead. However, the government appears determined not to fund or allow additional borrowing for any improvements that go beyond essential safety works. The necessity of sprinklers is proving a key faultline.

Dany Cotton, commissioner of the LFB, has said retrofitting sprinklers in tower blocks “can’t be optional, it can’t be a nice-to-have”. Since 2007 they have been compulsory in new-build high-rises over 30 metres tall in England, but those building regulations do not apply to older blocks.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) argues that an appropriate level of fire safety can be achieved without the need to retrofit sprinklers, and fitting them is a matter for landlords to consider for themselves.

A recent study of 677 fires where sprinklers were activated found they controlled or extinguished the fire in 99% of cases.

The nationwide bill for replacing flammable cladding and retrofitting sprinklers is already likely to run into hundreds of millions of pounds. Southwark has previously estimated that the bill for installing sprinklers in its towers could be as high as £100m, and it is currently finalising its bid for funding. The council leader, Peter John, has told Javid: “Fire safety is a national issue and the financial burden for these works must not fall on already stretched councils.”

Birmingham city council, the UK’s largest council landlord, is yet to submit a request for retrofitting sprinklers in up to 213 blocks.

So far, 31 town halls have asked for government help to make high-rise flats safe. The DCLG said it was in detailed discussions with six, and others had been invited to provide further information about how the work they wished to undertake was essential.

In Salford, the city council has borrowed £25m to fund works to remove potentially flammable cladding from nine towers, and leaders have accused the government of “failing to live up to its responsibility”.

“Like many other councils, Salford is lobbying the government to recognise the huge financial cost of this national issue and provide funding to us and other local authorities to deal with it,” said the deputy city mayor, John Merry.

Pressed on funding at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, Theresa May said: “We have said we would work with local authorities on any adaptations and changes they needed to make to ensure the safety of those tower blocks.”

But asked about funding sprinklers, she said: “There’s a number of issues that can improve the safety of tower blocks. It is not just one answer.”

Adam Hug, leader of the Labour opposition at Westminster city council, said he had seen correspondence with the government detailing the council’s request for financial aid or better flexibility on borrowing.

“Both were being asked for,” he said. “They were told: only in exceptional circumstances. Yet again it will be council tenants and people who desperately need new homes who are left to pay the price of this Tory government washing their hands of their responsibilities.” …”