Unemployed in Glasgow? Tory MP says “Go work on a farm and meet gorgeous EU women”

“A Conservative MP has said young people should “get on their bikes” and take farming jobs where they can work with “loads of gorgeous EU women”.

Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, told a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Manchester that British youngsters needed to show the same motivation as low-skilled workers from elsewhere in Europe.

“I was struggling to think why wouldn’t a youngster from Glasgow without a job come down to the south to work for a farm for the summer with loads of gorgeous EU women working there?” he said.

“What’s not to like? Get on your bike and find a job.”


Gove, Brexit and pig’s ears!

“In a bizarre speech at the Tory party conference the Tory Environment Secretary and militant Brexiteer Michael Gove proved what an absolute pig’s ear the Tories are making of Brexit. …

… Scrabbling around for literally anything to put a positive spin on the ongoing Tory Brexit farce for his speech Michael Gove grasped at the unlikely subject of pigs’ ears.

Here’s what he actually said (remember that these are the actual words of an actual government minister as you read them):

“There are some cuts of the animal that are hugely popular with the British consumer, others a little less. But some of those cuts are hugely popular elsewhere, say, for example, pigs’ ears are a delicacy in China.” … “one of the reasons why [Britain] has not been as successful as we might have been at selling pigs’ ears to China is that EU rules dictate that pigs, like all livestock, have ear tags.”

He went on to say that because Brexit Britain could have its own traceability methods outside the EU without ear tags, “we can have pigs’ ears that don’t need to be pierced”.

That the idea that after well over a year of the Tories cobbling together their shambolic, ever-fluctuating Brexit plan, increased pigs’ ear sales to China is one of the best highlights of Brexit that a government minister and leading Brexiteer could imagine just goes to show what an absolute pigs’ ear they’re making of the whole thing. …

… Aside from the fact that Gove is clearly off his rocker to think that such a niche benefit to a niche market is remotely sufficient to counteract the chaos of Brexit, there’s also the fact that he didn’t even pick up on the fact that any journalist worth their salt would obviously use his mention of pigs’ ears to create a “Tories making a pig’s ear of Brexit” angle.

Before David Cameron appointed Gove to ideologically vandalise the state education sector by giving away thousands of publicly owned schools, for free, to unaccountable private sector pseudo-charities (many operated by major Tory party donors), he reportedly worked as a journalist.

That this former journalist didn’t even pick up on the damning “making a pig’s ear” angle before he started spouting such nonsense is a perfect illustration of the absolutely pathetic calibre of people Theresa May has surrounded herself to implement her anti-democratic hard-right vision of Brexit.

It’s not that Brexit is impossible (I’ve always maintained that under the right circumstances, and with a coherent plan of action it would have been worth consideration), but giving the green light to a bunch of staggeringly incompetent and ideologically deranged charlatans like Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, the disgraced Liam Fox and bumbling David Davis to simply make it all up as they go along was always going to end up with them making a total pig’s ear of the whole thing wasn’t it?.”


The Red Tape Initiative – West Dorset MP and pal of Swire’s new, er, initiative

Does anyone else find this declaration of interest by Oliver Letwin, West Dorset MP, oldxEtonian pal of Swire and Cameron, champion of privatisation of anything and everything, but particularly the NHS, somewhat worrying?

Remember Letwin has been the centre of several controversies and foot in mouth incidents as well as authoring, with John Redwood (1988) “Britain’s Biggest Enterprise – ideas for radical reform of the NHS”.


He is now, as of April 2017, the founder and Chairman of the Red Tape Initiative, which he describes in his Parliamentary Declaration of interest:



“From 19 April 2017, Chair (unpaid) of the Management Board of the Red Tape Initiative; a cross-party think tank established to identify regulatory changes that can be made by political consensus speedily after Brexit. (Registered 19 April 2017)”


which is made up of:

“Leading Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians [who] have agreed to join the Advisory Board, alongside other distinguished people entirely independent from any political party.

The CBI, BCC, IOD and FSB are working with the RTI to construct groups of experts from a range of industries – as well as representatives of environmental and other NGOs – who can help us identify changes that could quickly be made in specific areas of EU regulation, with immediate benefits for jobs and businesses in the UK and with no adverse effects on our ecology or our society. We will be consulting relevant trade unions – via the TUC – on the proposals that emerge, in order to ensure that they are acceptable to employees as well as employers.”

Unfortunately, there is no list of the Management Board or of people, other than Letwin, who make up this group, other than someone called Nick Tyrone, whose blog can be found here:


who had had a couple of relatively short tenures as leader of think tanks Radix and CentreForum, and who seems to work from a Centre in Westminster Kingsway College according to the postcode on the RTI website, but we do know its first three priorities:

The first three areas that the RTI will address are:

1) the construction of housing

2) the construction of infrastructure

3) training and apprenticeships”

Ah – developers and zero-hours employers? Oh, Owl is SO excited!

Pete’s pool in Exeter, Paul’s folly in Honiton?

Exeter City Council Leader Pete Edwards is known for having a dream of what has been dubbed “Pete’s Pool” on the site of the current Exeter Bus Station, despite warnings that Brexit could send it pear-shaped. And now, indeed, the pear has been shaped as both the Princesshay extension AND the pool plans have, at least for now, bitten the dust, with Brexit price rises cited as part of the problem.

Is there a lesson here for “Paul’s Folly” – the new EDDC HQ which could cost us anything from £3 million – £10 million (depending on whether EDDC can sell its current HQ to luxury-retirement home developer PegasusLife?

Exeter’s hoped-for city centre development has been hit by a “double whammy” after a deal to build the new leisure centre and bus station collapsed, the city council leader has revealed.

It emerged on Monday morning that the Crown Estate had cancelled its plans to extend Princesshay shopping centre, citing “market conditions”.

This consigned to the rubbish bin an ambitious plan for a huge public space and amphitheatre across Paris Street into the old bus station and up to the back of Sidwell Street.

Following this, Exeter City Council revealed that a contract with the firm lined up to build the state-of-the-art swimming pool and bus station, believed to be Sir Robert McAlpine, had not been signed.

The authority has now walked away from the deal and plans to re-tender for both projects, adding a year to the completion date, now set at 2020.

Asked if the two were connected, council leader Pete Edwards said the building firm may have been banking on securing the contract to construct the Princesshay extension. …

… Economic uncertainty around Brexit has been blamed for rising prices and the falling value of the pound may have made the leisure centre even more expensive.

Cllr Edwards believes the exchange rate is making material from mainland Europe more expensive but has vowed to complete the project, dubbed by critics “Pete’s Pool”, “before he dies”.

“It is a double whammy and a disaster for the city,” he added. …”


South-west doomed to low productivity because of its coastal towns

Let’s start with the good news: there are some regions of Britain where the economic productivity rate is higher than the German average. Now the bad news: there are three of them. Three out of 168.

In fact when it comes economic bang-for-buck, which is ultimately what productivity is, only the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which includes Canary Wharf, would scrape into the German top five. Nowhere in this country can compete with the output per hour generated in Munich, Ingolstadt or Wolfsburg, home to BMW, Audi, and VW.

There is nothing new in the idea that the British economy is less productive than most of its industrialised counterparts. You probably already knew that for every hour worked, the French and Americans generate about 30 per cent more income than Britons and Germans 36 per cent more. You probably know, too, that of all our inequalities, perhaps the greatest is regional. No other European country has as great a gulf between rich and poor areas.

Weak productivity equals weak wages, equals social division, equals many of the problems haunting the country today. But the odd thing is that until now no one had thought to dig deep into the data underlying these problems. That all changes today, with the release of a paper by Richard Davies, Anna Valero and Sandra Bernick from the London School of Economics.

And as it happens, those comparisons with Germany are about the most conventional of all their findings. Consider the location of Britain’s productivity engine, such as it is. You might have assumed the answer was the southeast. In fact, the strongest and most efficient economic activity is to be found on a thin corridor stretching west from the capital along the M4, through Slough and Reading to Bristol.

A glance at the way industries cluster themselves around the country yields further surprises. Far from being overly concentrated in London, it turns out the financial sector is quite widely spread, accounting for 15 hubs outside the capital. If you’re after a sector which is overly concentrated in London, look no further than the creative industry and IT, both of which are almost entirely based there and in the southeast.

In a sense this is even more alarming than the conventional wisdom. Finance is no longer the productivity growth machine it once was, whereas over the coming decades computers and IT are likely to be far more important. Why are they not more widespread?

Examine the numbers closely enough and preconceptions such as the north-south divide also start to dissolve. Yes, London dominates, but there are productivity hotspots all over: Aberdeen and its oil industry; a string of innovative chemicals firms along the banks of the Mersey; the life sciences companies in and around Hertfordshire; university hubs such as Oxford and Cambridge. If anything, Britain’s real economic disparity is not between north and south but between coastal and inland towns.

The most prosperous cities in any country are typically found on the coast. In Britain, that relationship is inverted: seaside towns tend to have more business failures than those inland. Productivity is lower, as is health quality and life expectancy. The prevalent industries are often those with weak output: food services and, more broadly, tourism.

Why? Maybe because the sea is less important to Britain than it was a century ago, when trade was physical goods rather than ideas and services. Maybe because, once trading dwindled, all that was left was fishing and tourism. Much like mining towns in the Welsh valleys, the economy moved on and no one gave much thought about what, or who, would be left behind.

We don’t have the answers because we are still only starting to work out the questions. While Britain’s policymakers do plenty of inflation and fiscal forecasts, little or no work is done into the way economic activity is spread around the country. This is no parochial point: such things matter.

After all, consider Wales, where the central region around Brecon has the unenviable distinction of being the least productive part of Britain. Only 40 or so miles south is a business which single-handedly lifts Wales’s overall productivity: the steelworks in Port Talbot. In much the same way as the Great Wall of China is visible from space, it is one of a few factories in Britain whose productivity can actually be spotted in the national accounts. In other words, those 4,000 jobs matter not just for the employees and their families, but for the balance of Britain’s productivity. Something to dwell on, given Tata Steel’s announcement this week that it is finally selling the plant.

A couple of years ago George Osborne proposed a few reforms that might have helped. Whitehall was to devolve full control over business rates to the regions; local government pension funds were to be pooled to create five or six “wealth funds” to help invest in the infrastructure that could help boost productivity. By the time of this year’s Queen’s Speech, the reforms seemed to have disappeared — casualties of Brexit legislation.

This was always the risk following the referendum. Not sudden economic oblivion but more the danger that Brexit would distract us from the important business of becoming more prosperous. It is already happening.”

Source: The Times, pay wall

Council’s £1 million overspend investigated; our council’s multimillion overspend on new HQ not investigated!

OUR council has already spent nearly that much on its satellite HQ in Exmouth. The Honiton HQ was supposed to be cost neutral with the proceeds of the £7 Knowle sale to PegasusLife but latest estimates (some while ago and not adjusted for post-Brexit soaring costs) was around £10 million.

How come SWAP could do this in Herefordshire but not in East Devon. Or why KPMG – its new auditors – are not doing it now?

A special investigation into how the costs of establishing a joint customer services hub in a refurbished building soared from £950,000 to more than £1.9m has found evidence that officers “knowingly disregarded council process and procedures”.

The investigation into the Blueschool House refurbishment was carried out by the South West Audit Partnership for Herefordshire Council. The local authority has been working with the Department of Work and Pensions on the project. Have we ever seen the (updated) business case for the new HQ?

The business case for the hub was approved by the council’s Director of Resources on 13 May 2016 and the key decision taken on 2 June 2016 was approved by the Cabinet Member Contracts and Assets.

The SWAP report said: “Overall the council’s normal governance processes have not been followed by key officers involved in the Blueschool House refurbishment.

The key decision did follow the correct governance process however the business case to support the key decision lacked clarity over what works would be included in the £950K agreed financial envelope.

“It would appear that key staff including senior officers at Director level were aware of the council processes and procedures but these have not been applied during this project and there is evidence that officers have knowingly disregarded council process and procedure.”

The investigation found that although there were early indications from the framework provider that the project could not be delivered within the financial envelope even with value engineering, key officers failed to report this to Cabinet.

The report also said:

The rationale for the selection of the contractor could not be demonstrated as there were no records to support this. The property services team had responded to client requests without providing robust challenge, and had not followed the council procedure rules in relation to procurement.

The relationship between the property services team and contractors appeared to be informal for a capital project of this value and throughout the project there was little evidence that value for money could be demonstrated.

In line with the capital guidance, major projects should be overseen by a project board. The Accommodation Programme Board had oversight of the overall accommodation strategy until November 2016 however, there was no project board for the Blueschool House refurbishment project.

The timescale of the project was identified as a major risk in the business case as the project was subject to a time constraint pressure due to the DWP serving notice on their current property. This was a key factor in ensuring the project was progressed and had contributed to the overall poor governance.

The SWAP report said it was “for management to consider and determine whether any further action such as disciplinary action, should be taken against individual officers as it is clear there has been disregard for processes and procedures which has resulted in a significant overspend on the project”.

The report was due to be considered by the council’s audit and governance committee at a meeting this week (20 September).”


LEPs need to be BIGGER say conference speakers!

“Brexit means a new model of devolution is needed because different areas of the UK have varying capacities to cope with leaving the EU, a CIPFA North East event has heard.

The regions’ capacity to deal with Brexit could be made more difficult as decision making is centered around Whitehall, Anna Round, senior research fellow on the North East from the IPPR think-tank, told the event in Newcastle yesterday.

“I think the capacity for regions to shape their future outside the EU is immensely important,” she said, at the event hosted by CIPFA and the Brexit Advisory Commission.

“There is a challenge there about how devolution will progress, how it is distributed meaningfully between Whitehall and regions.

“I think the current model of devolution is not going to do that, that needs to change.”

Round noted recent studies showed the “extraordinary” levels of economic disparity in the UK between London and the rest of the country. This was the most profound imbalance of this kind in the EU, she said.

She stated this was historically made worse by the “huge political imbalance in a hugely centralised country”.

The research fellow suggested looking again at the scale of the areas covered by devolution deals and moving to a more federalised system.

She suggested the devolution areas should be larger to give them more ‘clout’.

Round spoke on the day it was revealed two councils – Barnsley and Doncaster councils have pulled out of a South Yorkshire devolution deal because they said it was too small to be effective.

The leaders of the councils argued a Yorkshire-wide devolution deal would be better. A Communities and Local Government spokesperson said the department would not consider this.

David Bell, from the university of Stirling, speaking at the Newcastle event yesterday agreed with Round’s assessment of the regional disparity in the UK.

Although, he believed a federal structure was possible he said that the wider geographical areas in England did not currently have a common sense of identity, such as states in the US.

“It isn’t clear how to you from here [current system] to there [federal system],” he said.

Anthony Zito, professor of European policy for Newcastle University, also shared the view that the UK capacity of the regions to cope with Brexit needed to be each taken into account to make a success of leaving the EU.

Zito said he was not sure how the national and local governments in the UK would cope with the profound change that would result from Brexit.

This was because of the loss of benefits EU membership provided, he believed. “The UK’s ability to protect its environment, to enhance its trade, all those things which the European Union, I would argue, helped [provide].”

Zito asked how the UK will replace, for example, the skills and knowledge currently brought into the country through freedom of movement.

He also said “Brexit is taking knowledge and people with expertise away from other pressing problems” facing the wider public sector.

CIPFA and the Brexit Advisory Commission hosted the breakfast session to explore the risks and opportunities of Brexit for public services in the North East.”