Farmer Neil Parish might want to slap Michael Gove’s wrist!

“It’s beginning to dawn on many UK farmers that the British government might not be quite so clued up as they had been led to believe. Not only do they now doubt that the current levels of subsidies they receive will continue post-Brexit, they also worry that their needs for seasonal workers to pick vegetables and soft fruit have not been fully understood.

The latest cause for alarm has been a video produced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to promote its vision for post-Brexit agriculture.

It’s all very nostalgically rustic, with fields of barley rippling in the wind and glorious sunsets. A vision of mellow fruitfulness. Except for one thing. Some sections of it were filmed overseas.

As the magazine Farmers’ Weekly has observed, the scene in which Defra promise that farmers can expect less red tape was actually footage of an inspector visiting a Slovenian cattle shed, while the section on British farmers being rewarded for improving air and water quality was filmed on a German farm. To complete the hat-trick of errors, the part where Defra promise kick-backs for farmers who try to prevent climate change was accompanied by a framer planting a Bonsai tree.

We pay these people.”

Benefits help Claire Wright style!

Compare and contrast the way EDDC (previous post) and Claire Wright approach people with benefits problems. And the way Hugo Swire and Neil Parish do – nothing.

“Two officers from the Citizens Advice Bureau were able to help the majority of people with their challenges at the benefits drop-in meeting I held last month, at the Institute in Ottery St Mary.

Hilary Nelson, chief executive of East Devon Citizen’s Advice Bureau was on hand to support people, with her colleague, Sheran at the meeting, which took place on Tuesday 21 August.

Around a dozen people attended and listened to each other’s stories, which centred around difficulties with claiming a range of benefits, resulting in a great deal of stress.

Residents came from the Ottery area and beyond. Difficulties reported included with working tax credit overpayments and the impact of being financially penalised so as to be unable to pay bills and rent. Others reported being told they were fit to work, even though a doctor had submitted a report to state otherwise. Others wanted more information about the carers allowance.

Also at the meeting was student, Molly Dack, who is working with a benefits advocacy project to provide free legal advice free in Bristol. Molly is interested in supporting East Devon Citizen’s Advice Bureau in providing a similar project in Devon.

This sounded like a brilliant idea and received a warm welcome from Hilary Nelson. We had a discussion after the meeting and I advised on sources of funding that might help with setting up such a valuable service.

All the residents who came along were offered appointments with CAB officers, who said they would work to try and obtain the benefits they are entitled to, or assist with the appeals process.
Citizens Advice Bureau officers sit with clients, listen to their stories and represent them with government bodies. It is an invaluable service, more needed now than ever before, due to massive funding cuts by government.

Having represented local people on these issues, I can testify what a massively complicated bureaucratic system is in place. And because of austerity budget cuts there does not appear to enough staff in the call centre to cope with the level of demand.

Many of the problems reported at the meeting also related to process being inefficient and poor, such as a complaints manager not diverting her phone while on holiday, and people having to submit their details many times, or staff being irritable or repeatedly getting the information wrong.

Some cases had been going on for months without resolution. It’s exhausting, dispiriting and stressful when this happens. Even I found it stressful when I couldn’t get through for hour after hour and it wasn’t me who couldn’t pay my rent or bills!
Ms Nelson then updated everyone on the introduction of Universal Credit, which came into force in East Devon in July for new claimants. It merges six benefits into one and has resulted in a cut in Working Tax Credit. It has received a lot of very negative national press coverage, with the National Audit Office (NAO) essentially condemning it.

A report published by the NAO in June stated: “We think the larger claims for universal credit, such as boosted employment, are unlikely to be demonstrable at any point in future. Nor for that matter will value for money.”

The NAO report painted a damning picture of a system that despite more than £1bn in investment, eight years in development and a much hyped digital-only approach to transforming welfare, is still in many respects unwieldy, inefficient and reliant on basic, manual processes.

The very controversial six week delay for the first payment can now be resolved by claimants asking for an advance. Although this is treated as a loan and must be paid back.

Since the meeting’s publicity in the local press, I have been contacted by Lee Tozer, Devon and Cornwall Area Manager for Job Centre Plus.

He has been very helpful and I have since met with him and talked through some of the key issues. I also visited Honiton’s Job Centre (the only centre left in East Devon now as every other office has been closed due to austerity cuts) where I was greeted by its manager, Sadie Steadman. I chatted to her and with her staff about their roles and how they are trying to get more people back into work, as per the government’s directive.

I also spoke with an East Devon District Council officer, who is stationed at Honiton Job Centre five days a week to help claimants with housing benefit and Universal Credit issues.

I found the staff to be enthusiastic and compassionate. I sat in on an interview with someone who was as keen as mustard to get a job and was over the moon to have been offered one. That was nice.

I very definitely have reservations about the sanctions process. There is a difference between someone playing the system and not bothering to turn up for appointments and someone who genuinely is having problems or genuinely cannot work or arrive for an appointment, although staff assured me that they made every effort to contact someone before sanctioning them.

But there is bound to be a gap here in some cases, between the views of people who don’t believe they are fit for work (such as those people with a terminal illness or with cancer) and assessors who have assessed them as fit for work. From talking to the local staff they seemed to be running a tight and fair ship. However, the stuff coming out of the national press on the suffering caused by benefit sanctions is truly appalling.

As well as the fantastic support from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Job Centre Plus also provides a dedicated helpline for people who are having difficulties.

Please contact me direct if you need access to this number. Otherwise you can contact Job Centre direct or simply drop by. No prior appointment needed.
I will keep a close eye on this issue….”

Neil Parish and Brexit – here’s how you can find out his view on farming post-Brexit – and his take on the Irish border!

While local non-Tory oiks are not allowed into Parish’s talk about Brexit next week (see post below – even non-member spouses will be thrown out of the meeting) we CAN find out what he thinks about post-Brexit farming, thanks to the fact that he WILL talk to lawyers about it! Presumably, all lawyers are paid-up party members!

And he DOES have a view on the thorny question of the Irish border problem:

“The Irish border is important because pigs and lambs go either way. The border issue needs to be right, if it is difficult as neither side will want to be blamed but this might ultimately help us get a deal.”

Neil Parish will only talk to party members about Brexit – not even non-member spouses allowed! And questions in advance only

“Date Thursday, 13th September 2018
Time 1900

(by kind permission of the Persey family)

ROGER PERSEY, past President of Tiverton & Honiton Conservative Association, to host and moderate the evening.

Please take this opportunity to make your voice heard via our MP.

Timetable & format

7:00pm Arrival and take your seats

7:15pm Questions from members – submitted in advance to arrive by email or post by 5:30pm on 11th September

8:15pm Final questions and finish followed by cheese & wine provided by Neil Parish M.P.

8:45pm Close

This event is only open to current Conservative Party members of the Tiverton & Honiton Conservative Association. This means that spouses, partners or others arriving with a member must themselves be current members – otherwise with regret they will be refused admittance.

RSVP,with details of any companions, by 5:30pm on 11th of September”

“Standards watchdog head Sir Kevin Barron resigns over cover-up fears” – there really one law for MPs and one for the rest of us …

Owl says: what did you expect from this government?

“The head of the Commons standards watchdog has resigned and accused parliament of “sacrificing transparency” by banning the identification of MPs who are under investigation.

Sir Kevin Barron announced yesterday that he would step down next month after eight years of chairing the standards and privileges committee. “I am proud of the changes made to the code of conduct over the years, including the recent introduction of a new system of investigation into bullying and sexual harassment,” he said. But he took a swipe at his fellow MPs, adding: “It is a shame that some of those changes had to come with the sacrifice of transparency.”

In July members voted in favour of plans to keep secret the details of all MPs under investigation. The change was part of reforms being pushed through in response to reports of sexual harassment and bullying at Westminster.

Sir Kevin fiercely opposed the motion, describing it at the time as a “step backwards in transparency”. Lay members of the committee said that the move was “a detrimental step in continuing to build the credibility of the reputation of the House”. Less than two hours after the vote passed, the parliamentary standards commissioner had removed the list of current inquiries from its website.

Since 2010 details of MPs under inquiry, as well as rulings, have automatically been published. The new rules mean that the commissioner will no longer automatically publish verdicts.

Sir Kevin said: “I feel that now is an ideal time for me to move on and focus on other projects.” He commended the work of the lay members of the committee.

Jeremy Corbyn was reported to the standards commissioner last month for allegedly failing to declare his contentious trip to Tunisia or reveal who paid for it. If the commissioner were to rule that he broke Commons rules on declaring an overseas trip, he would have to apologise to MPs. Under the new system, however, the public would not automatically know of the details of the investigation. A spokesperson for Mr Corbyn has said: “The cost of the trip did not meet the declaration threshold.”

Source: The Times (paywall)

“MPs demand MORE expenses to pay staff complaining that Brexit has added to their workload”

“MPs are demanding more expenses as they complain that Brexit has added to their workload, it emerged today.

Politicians have been urging the parliamentary watchdog to increase allowances for staffing their offices, which can already be more than £160,000 a year.

The calls surfaced in a survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).

Under current rules, MPs can claim £150,900 a year for staffing costs, rising to £161,550 in London, although they can apply for an increase.

The figure has risen from £109,000 eight years ago.

Contingency funding is available on a ‘case by case’ basis where members have specific need for more support.

However, in its report on its annual feedback survey published this summer, Ipsa said some had said they still did not have enough money.

‘There were also requests to further increase MPs’ staffing budgets due to their increasing workloads, some of which is the result of Brexit,’ the report stated.

What expenses can MPs claim?
Renting accommodation in London: £22,760
Office costs for London MPs: £26,850
Office costs for non-London MPs: £24,150
Staff for London MPs: £161,550
Staff for non-London MPs: £150,900

Ipsa said that it had received 93 response to the survey – nine from MPs, 33 from MP proxies who manage their business costs, and 51 from other staff members working for MPs.

It did not say how many had raised the issue of staffing costs.

The watchdog has not ruled out granting the requests.

The body has made clear it will ‘take into account any relevant consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union’ when considering updating the rules on MPs’ expenses.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said Ipsa should be wary of acceding to demands for a rise.

He told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Brexit sounds like a rather convenient argument for increasing funding, Ipsa should be very cautious about raising budgets.’

MPs were barred from employing family members after the election last year – although those who were already on the payroll have been allowed to stay on.

Claire Wright sets up support group for people struggling with Dept of Work and Pensions

What sort of support group might Swire or Parish set up? “Help the Maldives Travel Fund” (Swire) or maybe “Rich farmers who might get slightly poorer” (Parish)? Or possibly: “We both started out as Remainers and are now Brexiteers who have no idea what is going on but desperately trying to look like we know what we are doing” support group?

“Hi, I have set up a support group for people who are struggling with the Department of Work and Pensions, such as those on working tax credits or who are trying to claim PIP or carers allowance, for example.

The first meeting is on Tuesday 21 August at 7pm, in the Institute, Yonder Street, Ottery.

The meeting is primarily for people living in my council ward, however, I won’t turn anyone away.

Please help get the message out there by liking and sharing this post. Many thanks:

Claire Wright
Devon County Councillor
Otter Valley Ward”