Boris Johnson claimed No 10 drinks party was for official who didn’t leave until month later

Boris Johnson has been urged to correct his Partygate inquiry testimony after he was found to have claimed a No 10 party marked the exit of the top civil servant who did not resign until a month later.

Adam Forrest (Extract)

The former Tory prime minister claimed the notorious “bring your own booze” garden party on 20 May 2020 had been aimed at motivating staff because cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill had quit.

But Mr Sedwill did not resign until 29 June 2020 – more than a month later – revealing he would step down from his top Downing Street role in September.

Claiming the drinks gathering was purely a work event, an angry Mr Johnson told MPs: “People who say we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about.

“People who say that that event was a purely social gathering are quite wrong,” the ex-PM said of the garden event – at which Mr Johnson and were seen with staff drinking bottles of wine.

The former PM added: “My purpose there was to thank staff, was to motivate them in what had been a very difficult time – and what was also a very difficult day in which the cabinet secretary had just resigned.”

But Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings said the “bring your own booze” garden party “had nothing to do with assuring staff after cabinet secretary resignation”.

Mr Cummings said MPs on the cross-party privileges committee would have to write to Mr Johnson “confirming that a resignation in June could not possibly have been his justification for holding an event in May”……

Breaking: Last night’s council meeting to discuss Verita report on Humphreys pulled 

At the eleventh hour!

Despite this, BBC Spotlight featured the story, giving for once, a good summary of the case, pointing out that Humphreys continued as a councillor with access to children, after his arrest in 2016,  until 2019 . He was  then given the honorary title and status of Alderman. A title that is given to councillors who have given “great service”. Although one member of staff knew of the arrest, confidentiality meant that the EDDC safeguarding officer and others were kept in the dark.

The reason given for postponement is that “new evidence” has come to light at the last minute. 

An individual has come forward with  information that, if accurate, could materially affect the conclusions of the report.

The investigation has had to be reopened.

Paul Arnott was interviewed. He expressed disappointment that despite a conviction having been achieved in 2021, we still haven’t got to the bottom of the matter. He explained, the council has tried very hard in the interests of the victims and safeguarding young people and others in East Devon to get a proper  investigation. Yet here we are, he said, at the eleventh hour and the meeting is cancelled.

Paul Arnott waits to find out what this information is.

In the light of this week’s devastating report into the Met Police and the interrogation of a past Prime Minister at the Parliamentary Privilege committee for misleading parliament, candour in public service ought to be the order of the day.

To avoid speculation EDDC needs to explain urgently what is going on. – Owl

Boris Johnson attempted to gaslight us all – but simply fell apart under scrutiny

Never had an emperor worn fewer clothes

For just a moment, you could almost feel sorry for him. Boris Johnson sat in front of the Commons Privileges Committee for hour after gruelling hour this afternoon. And bit by bit, question by question, he simply fell apart.

Ian Dunt

There were sporadic outbursts of rage and entitlement. “This is just complete nonsense,” he barked at the MPs at one point. “Complete nonsense.” There were looks of startled outrage as the carefully constructed defences he had created were slowly and methodically demolished. But most of all there was just this strange, angry little man-child left utterly exposed.

Behind him, there was an array of silk the likes of which we rarely get to see. Somewhere around £222,000 worth of taxpayer-funded barrister sat with him, including Lord Pannick, whose usual rate is £5,000 an hour. His expressions were a masterclass in legal aloofness. For whole sections he sat with a smile on his lips, as if he’d just been introduced to a charming new jazz album.

But towards the end, even Pannick started to give way. By the time the session ended, he was balanced on the very edge of his chair, the smile gone. In front of him, his client was flailing around, all at sea, his every utterance more preposterous and improbable than the last.

Throughout the week, Johnson’s allies in the press have been stressing that he was preparing to unleash stunning new evidence that would show up the Committee inquiry for the farce which it really was. “Boris Johnson’s ‘bombshell’ that will ‘exonerate him from Partygate’,” The Telegraph said. “Bullish Boris up for the fight,” the Mail shouted.

Over the course of the afternoon, it slowly became clear what this bombshell was: nothing at all.

Johnson’s account of the parties in Downing Street during the Covid restrictions was tenuous and absurd. He insisted that all the events were essential for work purposes because he had to maintain staff morale. He claimed they were not parties, even though they involved no work, lots of socialising, plentiful alcohol and sometimes ended early in the morning. He mangled himself into impossibly contorted positions stressing the exceptions on guidance on social distancing.

It was gaslighting on a national scale. Everyone could remember what the rules were. They could remember how strenuously those rules were explained to them, because it was Johnson who did it, night after night from his Covid press conference lectern. And they could see, quite clearly, that none of these events met those requirements.

The inquiry is about whether Johnson misled the Commons, either purposefully or recklessly. It’s about whether he said things which were wrong, how quickly he corrected them, and what he did to ascertain whether they were true. And that was where he came completely unstuck.

On 1 December 2021, he told the Commons: “All guidance was followed completely in No 10.” A few days later, he said: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that all guidance was followed completely.”

One of the key priorities of the Committee was to find out the basis upon which he said that. Of all the MPs questioning him, it was Alberto Costa, an innocuous, mild-mannered Conservative with no great record in rebellions or Parliamentary speeches, who did the most damage. He was like a quiet sorrowful assassin, seemingly deeply saddened by what he was doing, but proceeding regardless, each question more dangerous and forensic than the last. And under that questioning, the former prime minister wilted.

Did Johnson seek assurances about the legality of the gatherings from any of the Government lawyers available to him, or from the Attorney General, or from anyone in government legal services? No, he answered. Did he seek assurances from anyone in the senior civil service, the permanent secretaries or heads of department who might have some understanding of the rules and guidance? Also no.

So who did he seek guidance from? And that was where Johnson’s supposed bombshell came in. It was from his two directors of communication: James Slack and Jack Doyle. It wasn’t really guidance at all, in any meaningful sense. It was just the lines-to-take, the statements put out by the press team to handle media responses.

Not only that, but even these figures didn’t seem convinced by the idea that the guidance had been followed. “I’m struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules,” Doyle said in a conversation with a No 10 official on 25 January last year.

“Some might see your reliance on the repeated assurances you received as a deflection mechanism to prevent having to answer questions about your knowledge of these gatherings,” Costa said, the knife now firmly embedded in Johnson’s chest. “Would that not be a fair assessment?” Johnson sputtered and raged.

Harriet Harman, chair of the committee, then zeroed in on the former prime minister. “I was in the House when these assurances were given,” she said. “We took them to be serious assurances. Would you not expect us to be a bit dismayed to hear it was not from senior civil servants, it was from political appointees? That they themselves had doubts about it? That it only covered one gathering and it didn’t cover the other three? And also you were there at the time, so it’s a bit hard to understand what the nature of an assurance is when you were there and saw it with your own eyes?”

Johnson tried desperately to intervene. His lawyers perched ever further on the edge of their seats, furrowing their brows. But it was clear that the fight was over. Never had an emperor worn fewer clothes than those upon him this afternoon.

Storm in a Beach Hut? Read on – Owl

Beach hut owners fury over rental charges plan

Furious beach hut owners in East Devon no longer have the option of monthly rental charges spread out across the year due to ‘unannounced’ changes being imposed by East Devon District Council. It is claimed that without any prior warning, the council has sent out invoices last week stating the yearly costs of beach hut rentals must be paid in four consecutive months starting from next month.

Anita Merritt

For one beach hut owner, it has left her unsure if she will continue to rent the hut that has been in her family for many years in Beer. Claire Branfield is now faced with four monthly payments of nearly £300 a month from April to July, instead of paying under £100 a month, with just a couple of weeks notice.

It is a double blow for beach huts owners who have also seen their rents increase by three per cent. EDDC says it has been brought on to create the same payment rules for both new and current beach hut owners and to stop tenants cancelling tenancies part way through the season without having paid the full amount.

Claire, who was born in Beer and lives in Budleigh Salterton, said: “Last year I paid £97 in 12 monthly instalments which is a lot but now it has trebled to £295 for four months. When I complained to the council the person I spoke to was very apologetic and said letters should have gone out to warn us.

“I am aware that EDDC is intent on making the maximum return from their assets, but it is the slipshod and careless way they go about it which has infuriated me. I received just an invoice, no covering letter, and the lack of prior notice shows supreme disregard for ratepayers’ finances which are already under great pressure. As it happens, I can afford to find the money by July, but many people can’t.

“This could be the final straw for me. My beach hut is up all year round but I am beginning to think seriously for the first time of giving it up.”

Beach hut owners have also condemned EDDC for wasting taxpayers money in postage costs and the environmental impact by each year sending out business rate notifications which are said to always issue an invoice for 0.00p.

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “EDDC have introduced a revised payment structure for beach huts to standardise payments for all tenants. We now offer two options: payment in full for the season ahead, or for those wanting to spread the cost, four affordable direct debit payments.

“This change has generally been well received, as many who started tenancies within the last two to three years had been required to pay upfront and have welcomed the opportunity to pay in instalments. Although tenants have been put onto four monthly instalments as default, a number have opted to pay in full.

“Previously, tenants were able to pay by various instalments which made administration inefficient and inconsistent. EDDC was exposed to tenants cancelling tenancies part way through the season without having paid the full amount.

“EDDC has over 3,000 people on our waiting lists. It’s important we avoid cancelled direct debit arrangements and a loss of income, and protect those who commit to a full season.

“£0.00p bills were sent to tenants with explanatory notes to advise them that small business rate relief has been applied, so there is nothing to pay. If they pay business rates on another property they need to let us know.”

Tory MPs call for Labour to take over Plymouth council

Is this an example of “taking back control”?

Is the writing on the wall for Tories in Plymouth? – Owl

Plymouth’s Tory MPs have called on Labour to take over the city council amid chaos following Richard Bingley’s resignation. Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter said Labour supremo Tudor Evans should now form an administration until the local elections in May.

William Telford

In a joint statement the Tory stalwarts said: “We have long wished for local politics to be a little more stable for the people of Plymouth. Labour is now the largest party. We call on Tudor Evans to accept the responsibility that comes with that democratic mandate and form an interim council until the May elections to ensure that stability and continuity is preserved.”

Cllr Bingley resigned almost a year to the day he took charge, following criticism after he signalled the start of a £12.7m Armada Way upgrade which involved wholesale tree felling. A public outcry ensued and a legal challenge from the action group Straw (Save the Trees of Armada Way) prevented further lumberjacking with court battles imminent.

Mr Mercer and Mr Streeter, MPs for Moor View and South West Devon respectively, thanked Cllr Bingley for his hard work and integrity. In their joint statement they said: “We would like to thank Richard for all of his tireless work to promote Plymouth over the last year. Being in politics locally is tough, and he has remained true to his commitments to Plymouth, and to the local community.”

Cllr Bingley is stepping down as leader of the authority and Conservative Group from Monday, March 27, the date of the next full council meeting. He had come under mounting criticism after signing an executive decision to press ahead with the Armada Way redevelopment, which resulted in 110 trees being chopped down at night. Cllr Bingley insisted this was the right thing to do and that it would result in a “wonderful tree-lined zone whereby businesses and cafes and people feel safe”.

Cllr Bingley took over from Cllr Nick Kelly, who then left the Conservative group, in March 2022. During his year in charge Cllr Bingley had to deal with the resignation of several other high-profile Tory councillors and ended up leading a minority administration.

He said that in his year in charge his team took 165 Executive Decisions which, he said, “emphasised our belief in economic development, job creation and being compassionate community councillors.” He said he was proud of several achievements including finishing the Forder Valley transport scheme and establishing the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport.

Plymouth City Council’s Labour Group leader Tudor Evans has called Cllr Bingley’s resignation “yet another chapter in the ongoing chaos, backstabbing and infighting” among the Conservative group and the Independent Alliance. He said Labour would publish an “exciting vision” for greening the city centre, which the party would “look forward to getting started on should we take control of the council in May.”

Rishi Sunak made £1.9m last year as PM releases long-awaited tax returns

One of us? – Owl

Rishi Sunak has published his long-awaited personal tax returns – revealing his mammoth income from a US-based investment fund outside of his salary at Westminster.

Adam Forrest

The prime minister has raked in more than £4.7m over the past three years, the summary of his tax returns published for 2019-2020 to 2021-22 have revealed.

He made more than £1.9m last year alone – including £1.6m in capital gains and more than £300,000 in earnings and investment income.

And the PM paid more than £1m in UK tax over the three-year period, including £432,000 last year.

Mr Sunak’s financial affairs have come under intense scrutiny ever since The Independent first revealed his wife Akshata Murty held “non-dom” tax status to avoid UK tax on foreign income.

She later renounced the non-dom status. But it subsequently emerged that Mr Sunak had held a US green card and filed tax returns in America while he was chancellor.

Details of the couple’s fortune, believed to total around £730m, are also politically sensitive following warnings last week that Britons face a lost decade in living standards.

A statement from Mr Sunak’s accountants on Wednesday showed that his huge investment income and capital gains relate to a single US-based investment fund.

This is the investment listed as a “blind management arrangement” on the list of ministers’ interests. Mr Sunak is subject to UK tax on the investment income and gains received from the American fund.

Tax expert Dan Neidle said Mr Sunak had done nothing wrong – but noted how little capital gains are taxed compared with income, saying Mr Sunak paid only 20 per cent tax on the £1.6m made from it last year.

Mr Neidle – who probed ex-chancellor Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs – said “there is one interesting point: most of the £400,000 tax bill comes from the blind fund which doesn’t pay cash to him. So how does he pay the tax bill, given it’s so much more than he earns?”

Fellow tax expert Richard Murphy tweeted: “What do Sunak’s tax returns tell us? It is that a wealthy person with income beyond their immediate needs can always re-categorise large parts of that income as capital gains to reduce their tax rate on that part to 20 per cent, which is an insult to all who have to work for a living.”

The tax returns coincided with the highly anticipated grilling of Mr Sunak’s predecessor Boris Johnson by MPs over whether he misled the Commons with his denials about Partygate.

It was also on the same day as the Commons voted on Mr Sunak’s new post-Brexit deal. Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Wonder why he’s chosen today?”

The ministerial code requires all ministers, including the prime minister, to provide information about their tax affairs for review by the Cabinet Office and the independent adviser on ministerial interests.

However, they are not required to make this public. Mr Sunak had promised that he would become the first prime minister since 2016 to publish his tax returns in full this year.

David Cameron did publish his returns after coming under immense pressure, as did Boris Johnson while London mayor. George Osborne did the same as chancellor.

Theresa May did publish four years’ worth of returns during her campaign for the Tory leadership.

Mr Sunak initially made the pledge last summer during his unsuccessful Conservative leadership campaign against Liz Truss.

He repeatedly promised to do so in recent months, and faced continued pressure to release the documents when it emerged Mr Zahawi settled an estimated £4.7m bill with HMRC while he was chancellor.

The Independent first revealed in July that HMRC officials were examining the tax affairs of the senior Tory figure after an inquiry was launched by the National Crime Agency in 2020.

‘Why I’m standing as a Lib Dem in the local elections’ – Paul Arnott

For Owl’s comment see this post.

Spring has sprung and, as happens every four years in East Devon, the month after Easter will see innocent citizens subjected to campaigning from hopeful candidates in parish, town and district elections.

Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council 

Next week we enter the ‘pre-election period’. This means that any readers who rush to read this column, or to tear it out to line a litter tray, will be disappointed. In the interests of balance, I must sign out until after the elections.

Indeed, it is always possible that I am neither re-elected a councillor here in Coly Valley, nor that anyone will want me to be Leader after May. This may be less au revoir and more Goodnight Vienna. However, after about 130 articles in recent years, or 85,000 words – all unpaid I should add, the length of a novel – this is the end of Book One.

Some have moaned about the articles, but I have done my best to share East Devon matters without too much of a po face. Which leaves me about 400 words to put the argument for voting for my group of councillors in May.

To begin at the beginning, in 2019 only 19 of the 60 councillors elected were Tory. Somewhat weirdly, the new Leader in 2019 (then an ‘Independent’, now the deputy Tory Leader!) and the outgoing Leader (the Tory Leader before the election, then an ‘Independent’!) formed a business-as-usual Cabinet with the support of the 19 Tories. As tends to happen in these situations, that Cabinet collapsed less than a year later, and the rest of us who’d watched on quietly formed a new one.

So, for the last three years East Devon has been run by an incredibly friendly administration of Independents, LibDems and Greens. It’s been a down the centre, progressive council, of the type the whole country seems to want but the daft electoral system seems never to come up with. It was called the ‘Democratic Alliance’.

Straight out of the blocks we dealt with two Tory legacies – the officer-dominated Greater Exeter Strategic Plan with its huge democratic deficiencies – and the bonkers way in which a single officer was given a £20 million fighting fund to initiate questionable investments across the country to bolster EDDC finances. These schemes were notorious – and we stopped them instantly.

We then dealt with other Tory legacy issues such as their neglect of both public toilets and car parks policy. We reset the whole framework for discussions around seaside towns, work still in progress, including major sea defence projects. To drive the local economy forward we invented new Tourism and Culture strategies in which hundreds of businesses and organisations are now engaged. During and after Covid 19 we ran local funding strategies for thousands – from businesses to those in poverty – and hit sixes around the ground in Environmental policy too.

As for the bottom line, we are the ONLY district council in Devon to balance its books this year without a major dip into reserves, something no Devon Tory council has managed. That is a huge tribute to our careful and outstanding work with council officers. In 2023 we have the foundations to be the best run local democracy in the country.

The historic election of Richard Foord as MP last summer proves that Tory East Devon is sinking into the sunset. Having publicly supported Richard during that election, I must be consistent now and will stand as a Lib Dem this May too. I believe the district wants a non-Tory administration for many years to come and for me this is the best way I can help to secure that.

Four former Independent East Devon Alliance senior councillors to stand as Lib Dems

For Owl’s comment see this post.

The leader of East Devon District Coubcil and three other Cabinet members – all previously elected as members of the Independent East Devon Alliance – will stand as Liberal Democrat candidates in the elections on May 4. 

Leader of the council Cllr Paul Arnott (Coly Valley); Cabinet member for Tourism, Sport, Leisure and Culture, Cllr Nick Hookway (Exmouth Littleham); Cabinet member for Coast, Country and the Environment, Cllr Geoff Jung (Woodbury & Lympstone); and Cabinet member for Climate Action, Councillor Marianne Rixson (Sidmouth Sidford), have announced they will all stand as Liberal Democrats in the upcoming idstirct council election.

They were previously elected as members of the Independent East Devon Alliance and later joined the council’s Democratic Alliance with other party members.

In a joint statement, they said they believed that a Democratic Alliance would provide a “sustainable future” and standing as Lib Dems was a way to help guarantee this.

They commented: “For the last three years, we have been proud to be part of the Democratic Alliance leading the council as Independent, Lib Dem and Green councillors.

“Under this administration, East Devon is the only district council in Devon to balance its books without major borrowing from reserves. 

“Together, we led the district through Covid-19, supporting thousands of individuals and businesses. We kept our leisure centres open. We made huge strides in environmental protection, from new projects to sea defences, and created new economic strategies around tourism and culture.

“We have invested sustainably in the economic powerhouse in the west end of the district, which will lead to more than a thousand new jobs. We dealt with toilet and car park legacy issues which were ignored by the Tories for more than a decade.

“We believe that this Democratic Alliance of the last three years is the sustainable future for East Devon. The historic election victory of Richard Foord MP last summer was a watershed moment.

“In order to grow a progressive, centrist East Devon – with Homes, the Environment and Economic Growth at its heart – we believe that by standing as Lib Dems we can help guarantee this for the future.”

Nub News will be offering all local candidates in the East Devon District Council the opportunity to make a statement before the election.

May Elections: will the Democratic Alliance survive or will the tectonic plates shift again?

“We effectively have in East Devon an almost proportional representation situation with those who are prepared to work together doing so, and those who put politics first (Tories and pseudo-Independent Tories) refusing to do what is best for the district.”

The East Devon Alliance (EDA) emerged in 2013 from the widespread protests at the arrogant way the long standing Tory regime in EDDC were driving through a build, build, build agenda, with a disregard for accountability and scrutiny and  their lack of respect in listening to members of the public. 

Its purpose was to provide genuine Independents with a mutual support umbrella to seek election.

Under electoral law it was obliged to register as a political party in 2015 when it won 10 of the 59 seats in the 2015 and became a significant opposition political grouping.

In the 2019 election two thirds of councillors were non-Tories of various shades. Under “independent” Ben Ingham an administration was formed with the support of the remaining 19 Tories. Ingham specifically excluded the EDA. Unsurprisingly, his cabinet fell apart within a year as, one by one, independents who had given this form of “change” a go realised their error and removed their support.

At this point long standing LibDem Councillor Eileen Wragg suggested a formal arrangement between the two major groupings of the LibDems and EDA, forming the “Democratic Alliance”. This has resulted in a three year broad coalition in EDDC between an even wider grouping including other Independents, Greens and Labour. Their achievements in just these three years are listed in separate posts mentioned below.

We now learn (see separate posts) that a number of EDA councillors will join the LibDems to fight this year’s election, seeing this the best way to ensure the “Democratic Alliance” continues, others will continue as EDA candidates.

Owl’s hope is that ALL non-Tories will work together, as they have done so far, because we have to do better at a local level than those who are at a national level are currently doing – putting party before prinicples.  

We deserve better and we effectively currently have in East Devon an almost proportional representation situation with those who are prepared to work together doing so and those who put politics first (Tories and pseudo-Independent Tories) refusing to do  what is best for the district.

We have to do politics better – localism should trump tribalism.

Be under no illusion. Under the leadership of Phil Skinner, with his deputy Ben Ingham, the local Tories have not reflected on why they lost so heavily in 2019.

If the Tories are returned to power this May we will return to their rotten old ways of governance. 

South West Water wants to be “really open” with its customers

“It’s absolutely critical that we tell our side of the story”

Yeah right, so what have you been doing since privatisation in 1989? – Owl 

South West Water website to update on sewage spills

BBC News 

South West Water is launching a new interactive map to update people on water quality at beaches.

It follows criticism over how often the water company discharges sewage into the sea via storm overflow pipes.

Member of parliament for East Devon Simon Jupp said South West Water still needed to “clean up their act”.

SWW said WaterFit Live would be a “one-stop shop” for all information about its network and the company wanted to be “really open” with its customers.

Laura Flowerdew, chief customer officer for South West Water, said: “We’re really excited to be launching the website to give better information to customers and to be really open and transparent about how our waste water network operates.

“The site will give information on how our network is impacting bathing water across our designated bathing waters in the region and, importantly, it also shows what we’re doing to improve the performance of our network by investing across all out bathing waters over the coming years.”

‘Still more to do’

Ms Flowerdew added that the company’s performance was “really improving”.

She said SWW had reduced its use of storm overflows by 50% over the bathing season in 2022, adding there was “still more to do”.

She said: “We know customers really care about bathing waters across the region and we also really care about the environment so it’s absolutely critical that we tell our side of the story and we show what we’re doing to reduce the use of storm overflows.”

Daniel Green, from Bude, is a regular user of the town’s tidal sea pool.

He said: “We love spending time down here all year round and having a nice clean environment on the coastline and in the sea pool is really important.

“Discharging waste into the local area just isn’t acceptable really.”

Mr Jupp said real improvement would only come when SWW was able to share its real-time data from storm overflows, expected later this year.

He said: “What’s being launched now is a good step forward because it clarifies all the data and also looks back at historical data from the last three years as well but it’s not enough.

“I want to see South West Water launching their real-time information which will really help the public decide what they want to do, as quickly as possible.”

Mr Jupp said people in the South West paid the “highest water bills in the country”.

He added: “We have a one-star rated water company which was fined £13m as a result of the government’s new laws.

“South West Water need to clean up their act and our water.”

Izzy Ross, campaigns manager for Surfers Against Sewage, said the charity wanted to applaud water companies being more transparent about sewage discharge but she said it did not solve the problem.

Ms Ross said: “We need to actually see a reduction and eventually an end to sewage discharges from these sewage overflow pipes.”

Honiton to welcome pioneering boat-builders making UK-first electric vessel

A pioneering boat-building firm making the UK’s first fully-electric work vessel is moving to Honiton – creating 30 jobs.

East Devon Reporter

Coastal Workboats Limited (CWL) will construct a state-of-the-art new HQ and ‘advanced manufacturing site’at the Heathpark Industrial Estate.

The site is due to be finished in 2024 and will use solar and ground source heating.

CWL will use the HQ to manufacture components for the country’s first fully-electric workboat and charging station.

The move has been supported by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Economic Development team.

Councillor Paul Hayward, EDDC portfolio holder for economy and assets, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Coastal Workboats Limited, a company which has led the way in developing new clean and sustainable ways of powering vessels.

“This is exactly the sort of investment which the district needs to help us grow our green economy and help us reach net-zero.”

An EDDC spokesperson added: “CWL’s new HQ is scheduled for completion in 2024, and will be state-of-the-art in respect of energy use and generation.

“The building will use solar and ground source heating and will have facilities to charge electric vehicles.

“The investment has been backed by £6million from the Government’s Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition fund.

“The scheme is designed to help maritime industries eliminate carbon emissions and increase efficiency.

“Electric boats already exist, but so far they have only been used for leisure. CWL’s project will be the first to demonstrate their commercial potential.

“CWL’s successful funding application will support a £9million project which will deliver the UK’s first demonstration of a fully-electric workboat and charging station.

“The purpose-built Electric Landing Utility Vessel (E-LUV) will be demonstrated for four weeks in the Shetland Isles in a workboat capacity, running inter-island routes.

“Most workboats are operated in areas with low or low grid power to support the recharging of vessels.”

First-Time Buyer Scheme Branded A ‘Flop’ With Just 35 Homes Completed

A flagship Tory scheme to help first-time buyers has been described as a “flop” after just 35 homes were delivered.

Sophia Sleigh 

The First Homes programme promised to help thousands of key workers onto the property ladder by offering homes at a discount of at least 30% compared to the market price.

A trial was launched in Bolsover, Derbyshire, in June 2021, with a ministerial visit by then housing secretary Robert Jenrick.

It all formed part of Boris Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda and aimed to help first-time buyers stay in their local area.

The scheme featured in the Conservative Party’s winning 2019 election manifesto and was part of Johnson’s ambition to build one million new affordable homes during this parliament.

The government promised that further sites would launch across the country in “coming weeks”, adding: “A further 1,500 will enter the market from the autumn, with at least 10,000 homes a year being delivered in the years ahead and more if there is demand.”

However, figures unearthed by Labour MP Mike Amesbury show the government has delivered just 35 home since the scheme launched.

How Many First Homes Have Been Completed?

In the financial year 2021-22 at total of 35 First Homes were completed in England, according to government figures.

12 were completed in Bolsover, 10 in Cannock Chase, 10 in County Durham and three in South Cambridgeshire.

The former shadow housing minister branded it a “flop” and accused the government of “all spin and no substance”.

He told HuffPost UK: “Millions of people across the country are desperate to get on the housing ladder yet for many, market prices are simply unaffordable.

“Here was a glimmer of hope, with promises made and expectations raised. But yet again we find a government that is all spin and no substance.

“How many were completed in 2021-22? Just 35. And not a single one in my constituency or the wider North West region where I’m based.

“This is a scandalous state of affairs. It’s government by press release, government by soundbite. When you examine the evidence, there’s just no delivery.”

The then housing secretary Jenrick said at the launch: “Thanks to First Homes, we will offer more homes to local people and families, providing a route for first-time buyers to stay in their local areas rather than being forced out due to rising prices.”

Government sources stressed that they were still in the first stage of the scheme which runs until September and after then will ramp up the scheme to 10,000 a year.

A Department for Levelling Up spokesperson said: “First Homes gives first-time buyers discounts of up to 30% – making homeownership a reality for many.

“These figures only cover the very early stages of the pilot scheme and we have always been clear it will take time to ramp up and have never suggested delivery will be at 10,000 at this stage.

“We continue to support people onto the property ladder through a range of schemes including Right to Buy, Shared Ownership and through the mortgage guarantee scheme.”

Government consults on new infrastructure levy plans

Owl not holding their breath on this one either.

Remember: in the heyday of the “Build, build, build”, developer friendly business forum oriented Tory administration, EDDC lost track of S106 monies.  Vote the wrong way in May and that’s where we will return.

Under the proposals, the amount developers will have to pay will be calculated once a project is complete, instead of at the stage when planning permission is given. This is designed to make sure that councils benefit from increases in land value, which can be significant for large developments that take years to complete. 

The infrastructure levy, which will replace section 106 contributions for most developments, will prevent developers from negotiating down the amount they contribute to the community when they bring forward new projects, the government says.

Councils will also be given powers to set rates themselves.

Secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities Michael Gove said: “Central to our levelling up mission is ensuring local communities can take back control. The infrastructure levy will do just that – giving local leaders the tools to bring forward more affordable housing and the transport links, schools and GP surgeries their communities need.”

He added: “It will also speed up delivery and put an end to lengthy negotiations with developers seeking to shirk their responsibility to provide for local people.”

A small number of councils will implement the levy initially, testing how it operates in practice, before being rolled out more widely, to make sure the new approach works.

The consultation runs until 9th June 2023 and can be found here.

Solicitor Gary Sector, a partner in Addleshaw Goddard’s planning & infrastructure consenting team, said: “This announcement is no surprise really. For years the government has been talking about shaking up the levy on developers. It makes sense that Michael Gove was going to be the one to finally do it.

“Since the controversial community infrastructure levy (CIL) was brought in 13 years ago to sit alongside 106 planning obligations, there have been a number of false dawns on further major structural reform in this area.

“Undoubtedly this is a complex system to navigate. The consultation suggests the government is serious about securing a simpler calculation of contributions paid on the completion of a development, replacing current s106 and CIL calculations which are front-loaded to when planning permission is granted.

“Whether the planning system really needs another big-bang moment it debateable at a time when the government is so focused on growth. Changes to the planning system are often unpredictable and there’s nothing to say that this change won’t slow things down in the short-term.

“The consultation raises a number of pressing  questions, not least around how charges secured at the time of completion of developments secure the timely delivery of infrastructure requirements.  The government can expect a lot of lively debate from developers and local authorities during the 12-week consultation period.

“Make no mistake, change here is not going to be instant. The government makes clear any significant reforms will be implemented slowly, with a 10 year ‘test and learn’ period.  So in the short term this is perhaps more about creating the illusion of significant reform, whilst on a practical level doing very little in a few local authority areas – at least initially.”

Watchdog to block shareholder payouts if UK water companies miss targets

A new set of dentures for Ofwat? Owl not holding their breath.

The UK water regulator is to use new powers to block companies from shareholder payouts if they fail to hit performance and environmental targets.

Mark Sweney 

Ofwat, which in December heavily criticised some of the country’s biggest suppliers over the size of dividend payments relative to their financial performance, said the new rules would also mean water companies would “maintain a higher level of overall financial health”.

“When deciding on dividend payments to investors, water companies need to take stock of their performance for customers, the environment, and the company’s overall financial health,” said David Black, the Ofwat chief executive.

“Too often, this has not been the case. That is why we’re implementing changes that will allow us to better hold companies to account and take enforcement action when they get it wrong.”

The report was published after the Guardian revealed that the nine main water and sewerage companies had paid out £65.9bn in dividends in the last three decades. They have also taken on debts of £54bn since privatisation.

Ofwat, which is taking a tough stance with water companies after criticism that for years the firms have not been properly regulated, said its new rules would improve the attractiveness of investment in the sector as well as “protect customers and the health of our waterways”.

In December, Ofwat released a report that found poor performance was “the norm” at many water companies, in particular naming Northumbrian Water, Southern Water, South West Water, Thames Water, Welsh Water and Yorkshire Water.

The regulator is modifying water company licences to ensure they have a strong credit rating, with the power to stop them paying dividends if their financial health is at risk.

In addition, licences will be changed to require companies to also take into account “service delivery for customers and the environment” when deciding whether to pay dividends.

“We hope the introduction of these new powers will focus minds around company board tables on the importance of responsible decision making and openness with customers and other stakeholders. And if that isn’t the case, we will act.”

Last month, the government accepted a Liberal Democrat amendment to the UK infrastructure bank bill that would mean taxpayer money would be able to fund water companies only if they produce a costed and timed plan for ending sewage spills into waterways.

Commenting on Ofwat’s new powers, the water minister, Rebecca Pow, said: “It is wrong for water companies to be responsible for environmental damage and poor performance but not face the penalties.

“It has been happening too often and it needs to stop. These new powers, made possible through our Environment Act, will enable Ofwat to clamp down on excessive cash payouts and make sure companies put customers first.”

Levelling-up  “absolutely wrong” says Devon opposition leader

A bureaucratic “Beauty Contest” of glossy brochures, costly in time, effort and cash for participants – Owl  

A senior Devon councillor has criticised the government’s levelling-up bidding process, calling it “absolutely the wrong way to go about it.”

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter 

Liberal Democrat Julian Brazil, opposition leader at Devon County Council who also sits on South Hams District Council, was speaking after a number of Devon bids to the fund’s second round were rejected at the start of the year.

These included a bid by Teignbridge District Council for government cash to create a new cycle route between Newton Abbot and Torquay, a new relief road for Cullompton in Mid Devon, and an East Devon bid for the Axe Valley.

A number of applications were successful though, with a total of £45 million going towards an extension to Dinan Way in Exmouth and town centre transport improvements, a new railway station at Okehampton and a Clean Maritime Innovation Centre in Appledore.

The levelling-up fund awarded £1.7 billion to projects in October 2021 and another £2.1 billion in January. So far, more than £300 million of this has been handed out to projects in the south west.

However, speaking to Devoncast from Radio Exe, Cllr Brazil said of the process: “I do find the way that the government hands out this money, with all the strings attached, is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

“If you want to give levelling-up money to communities, give it to local authorities and let them decide how they want to spend it. But I think this [process] of making areas compete against each other is timely, costly and I don’t think, in the end, will necessarily produce the best results.”

He also criticised the “over-centralised” spread of power in the country: “Westminster has the money and it will decide, and I just think that’s disappointing. I’d much prefer to see that funding devolved down to the regions or to Devon itself and [let] Devon County decide.

“Much closer to the people. Much more democratically accountable.”

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for levelling-up, housing and communities, Lisa Nandy, has also criticised the bidding process and the “Hunger Games-style beauty contest for levelling-up funds.”

But Councillor Philip Skinner, leader of the Conservative group on East Devon District Council, defended the process, telling Devoncast: “We’ve been securing money in this way for a long time now, and in actual fact it’s really a good public process. It’s not hidden from view from anybody.”

He hailed the £15.7 million of cash given to Exmouth from the fund and said: “It is very unfortunate when other authorities – Teignbridge and the like – put bids in and you don’t win, but you don’t always get things on the first round.”

Cllr Skinner added: “Local authorities really need to work up schemes to get them put forward to government, so if you can imagine it’s almost like putting a business plan forward to a bank. And this is almost the same sort of process.

“So, what the government is saying is ‘we’re not just going to dole out money to you for you to prop up what may be things that are not actually going to deliver for the money that’s come from central government,’ and it’s making local authorities really focus and concentrate. And I think it’s a good thing.”

There is expected to be a third round of the fund within the next year, in which unsuccessful councils are likely to be able to bid again.

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 6 March

UK wages failing to keep up with costs – Resolution Foundation

UK wages have failed to keep up with rising costs, so millions of Britons have effectively had a pay cut

By BBC Panorama

Fifteen years of wage stagnation has left British workers £11,000 worse off per year, according to research shared exclusively with BBC Panorama.

The figures come from the Resolution Foundation think tank, which focuses on low-to-middle income households.

It also found typical UK household incomes have fallen further behind those in Germany. In 2008, the gap was over £500 a year, now it is £4,000.

The Treasury says the UK economy is more resilient than many predicted.

In his Budget speech last week, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt acknowledged there is still enormous pressure on people’s finances.

In recent months, wages have failed to keep up with rising costs, meaning that millions of Britons have, in effect, had a pay cut.

But experts have told Panorama that problems with incomes go much further back.

The Resolution Foundation calculated that had wages continued to grow as they were before the financial crash of 2008, the average worker would make £11,000 more per year than they do now, taking rising prices into account.

And Ipsos polling of more than 6,000 adults suggested that two-thirds of them think the economy is going to get worse in the coming year.

Lower wages than our neighbours

At the Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said that inflation, which measures how prices change over time, “destroys the value of hard-earned pay”.

The government argues that problems with living standards are the result of rising prices, which have been driven up by the war in Ukraine and the legacy of Covid.

But the roots of the cost-of-living crisis go deeper.

In fact, what are known as “real wages” haven’t seen sustained growth for 15 years.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, says that the wage stagnation of the past decade and a half is “almost completely unprecedented”.

“Nobody who’s alive and working in the British economy today has ever seen anything like this.

“This is definitely not what normal looks like. This is what failure looks like,” he added.

Xiaowei Xu, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, describes this as an “absolutely massive difference in living standards” that ends nearly 60 years of consistent growth.

The online polling of 6,189 adults conducted by Ipsos in February suggests that one in four people are struggling on their current income, and nearly half are worried about their financial situation.

British wage stagnation has also meant the UK is not keeping up with its neighbours – as the comparison between typical household incomes in the UK and Germany by the Resolution Foundation shows.

The productivity problem

So what’s behind this stall in wage growth? Economists say the key to increasing wages is productivity – a measure of workers’ output.

“Productivity is how much you produce with a unit of labour or with a machine,” says Dr Mohamed El-Erian, a former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund and president at Queens’ College Cambridge.

“The more you can produce, the more you get rewarded for it.”

The UK has lower productivity than countries such as France and Germany, and the gap is getting bigger.

Since the financial crash of 2008, many countries have struggled to increase productivity. But the UK has struggled more than most.

It averages growth of 0.4% a year, well below the average of developed nations. One reason for that is the make-up of the UK economy.

Services, like finance, retail, hospitality and leisure, make up 80% of our economy. It is traditionally harder to increase productivity in these areas.

But that’s not the only factor. Our slow productivity growth is partly down to decades of low investment.

A failure to invest

One commonly-accepted way to increase productivity is by increasing investment.

New technology, machinery, buildings and skills are all ways to boost the amount that workers can achieve.

Panorama visited Callestick Farm in Cornwall which recently invested more than £1m in order to make more ice cream – part of a new deal with Marks and Spencer.

New equipment, including a spiral freezer that chills ice cream much more quickly, has tripled the amount they make every day. More ice cream per day means more ice cream for sale.

It’s a productivity boost that can lead, in the long term, to more cash for pay rises. It shows the difference that investment can make, whether in new equipment, infrastructure or training.

But the UK has historically failed to invest as much as it could.

On average, capital investment has only been worth 16% of the total value of the economy in the years since 1997.

That’s the lowest proportion of any developed country in that period.

Prof Diane Coyle of Cambridge University told Panorama: “A lack of investment over decades has held back the economy, and made the UK less resilient than comparable countries to shocks like Brexit, Covid and the invasion of Ukraine.”

What effect has Brexit had?

Since 2020, the government has increased its own investment, but business investment hasn’t kept up. A big part of that story is what has happened since the Brexit referendum.

The Office for Budget Responsibility, the government’s independent watchdog, says that since the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, business investment in the UK has “stalled”.

They say that while shocks, including the pandemic and energy price rises, have hurt investment everywhere, UK investment “has continued to underperform relative to other G7 countries”.

Since 2016, as well as Covid and the war in Ukraine, there have been five prime ministers, years of uncertainty over Brexit, and the financial turmoil of Liz Truss’s leadership.

“Any economist would tell you the number one thing you can do to incentivise business investment, and therefore drive growth, is to have stability and certainty and strong institutions,” says Tim Pitt, a former senior adviser to Conservative chancellors Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond.

“We seem to have gone out of our way over the past few years to undermine some of those things.”

The government says Brexit is a long-term plan. When he became prime minister, Rishi Sunak spoke of “building an economy that embraces the opportunities of Brexit”.

That is a question for the future, but right now business investment in the UK is low compared to other developed economies.

That’s been true for years, and it’s been exacerbated in the short term by Brexit.

At the Budget last week, the chancellor didn’t deny the UK has problems that need addressing.

When Panorama put its findings to the government, a Treasury spokesman said the government was increasing incentives for investment and pointed to low unemployment – and its plan to increase growth – as signs the country was on the right track.

But what remains to be seen is if the plan can match the scale of the problem.

Additional reporting by Sachin Croker and Lora Jones

Devolution deal for Devon, Plymouth and Torbay moves a step closer

A landmark devolution deal for the greater Devon region, which transfers new money and powers into the hands of local Leaders across Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, has moved a step closer today with the backing of the Government’s Levelling Up Minister Dehenna Davison.

What then happens to the unaccountable, unelected: “Heart of the South West” LEP and “The great South West”? – Owl

Joseph Bulmer

Outline approval has been given for a Devon-wide devolution deal which could bring greater local control and allow partners to tap into additional resources to help tackle key local priorities such as affordable housing, better public transport and connectivity, and providing for the skills the local economy needs.

Importantly, the deal would not require a change to the established democratic structures across the area or the need for an elected Mayor as in other devolution deals across the country.

Instead, the new powers would be devolved to a partnership of existing local councils who would deliver on a joint programme working alongside a wide range of other local stakeholders.

Local partners across Devon have now been invited to work together to prepare a Final Business Case to present to Government for final approval later in the year.

Any final deal would require local consent with the full agreement of all the constituent councils as well as Parliamentary approval.

Welcoming the opportunity and Government’s backing for a local deal without the need for an elected mayor, councillor John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council and Chair of the local Devolution Partnership said: “This could be an important first step towards getting more local control to deliver on the big issues affecting local people and help us get access to much needed new investment.

“At its heart, it is all about building a better future for our children and young people, creating more opportunities for all, and backing local people and businesses to succeed.

“We have a strong local partnership and a devolution deal would bring new local powers and fresh resources to help us work together to tackle the big local priorities such as affordable housing, better public transport and providing for the skills our economy needs.

“We have been talking with the Government about this for some time and now it’s time to deliver.”

Cllr Steve Darling, Leader of Torbay Council, said: “This is a welcome opportunity to work with partners across Devon and with Government to build on the foundations we are already putting in place around our electronics, photonics, tourism and fishing industries. We hope that this will accelerate our plans to ensure our residents have the skills, housing and infrastructure to benefit from a brighter, thriving place.

“The partnership administration in Torbay has sought, over the past four years, to empower its community more and we anticipate that this deal will now empower communities across Devon with powers that have previously been ceded to central government. We have an ambitious agenda for making Torbay the premier resort in the UK and are keen to work with partners across the area to drive the regeneration and growing aspirations of our local communities.

“Whilst we are at the early stage of these negotiations, we expect that a Devolution Deal will enable us to tackle the challenges that Torbay faces including our housing crisis, climate change and the need for better paid jobs for local people.”

Cllr Phil Bialyk, Leader of Exeter City Council and Chair of the Devon Districts Forum, said: “We’ve been speaking to the Government about the need for a devolution deal which maintains the current structure of local councils while providing access to much-needed new funding for Devon.

“This has been a real partnership approach, and it is great that the Government appears to understand that by working together locally with key stakeholders we can achieve great things for all of our residents throughout the county.”