After 9 years in power Johnson still tries to blame Labour for anything and everything

Scrutiny – what scrutiny! How can parachuted-in Tory candidate Jupp wish to work for this ogre?

“As an exhibition in shameless buck-passing and politicising of a tragedy, it was hard to beat Boris Johnson yesterday.

On national TV, the mask slipped and the fairly disciplined and boringly repetitive candidate we have seen for the last few weeks was revealed as the Bullingdon bully he is.

By talking over, talking back, by dodging and weaving, by deploying straight out lies, Johnson tried to pin the responsibility for the early release of the London Bridge terrorist on a Labour government of nine years ago.

When asked about his own Tory Government of the last decade, that has closed courts, stripped the prison and probation service of budgets and the wherewithal to manage released felons, he squirmed that it was not his government.

It was the Johnson version of “someone else did it and ran away”.

It wasn’t statesmanlike, it wasn’t truthful, it wasn’t even dignified,considering the father of one of the victims had explicitly made a call not to use his son’s death as an excuse for flogging stiffer sentences in an election atmosphere.

It is easy to see why this cowardly Conservative lion is running from the scrutiny of the public.

He’s also running scared from Andrew Neil, though he blustered that he would submit to an interview by the Scots media prosecutor – if only the time could be found.

It is growing increasingly clear that Johnson is unfit for the office of Prime Minister.

The more people see of him, the more obvious it becomes to voters.

He is trying to sneak back into Downing Street without scrutiny and without giving account of himself.

If the polls are to be believed, voters in Scotland have already decided to reject Boris.

Hopefully voters in England will wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late.”

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/shameless-coward-boris-johnson-tries-21006507

“BBC asks private sector to subsidise local reporters scheme”

In his dreams!

NB: East Devon watch does not solicit or receive any money from anyone. It costs approximately £80 per year to maintain the site and 100% of this comes from the Owls’ own pockets.

“The BBC is asking private companies to pay the salaries of reporters who will scrutinise local councils in another sign that there is currently no commercial business model that can support much of traditional regional journalism.

While the US has a culture of wealthy philanthropists funding not-for-profit public interest journalism, the UK has been slow to adopt a similar model. The BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, is now calling on private companies and civic-minded individuals to pay the salaries of reporters who will “hold those in power to account” by covering local government and institutions such as the NHS.

His plans are part of a major expansion of the Local Democracy Reporter scheme, through which the BBC pays the salaries of about 150 journalists across the UK who share their work with commercial news outlets. Under the proposal, unveiled earlier this year, the BBC would give responsibility for the scheme to a not-for-profit charity, which would be able to seek external funding.

But Hall said the ambitious expansion would only work if companies start providing hard cash and challenged them to cough up: “I want businesses and other institutions to join with us so we can get even more reporters into communities – and give people the local journalism they deserve.”

There are already plans to allow publications aimed at minority ethnic audiences to employ reporters through the scheme, on the basis that they provide news to underserved communities. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/nov/04/bbc-asks-private-sector-to-subsidise-local-reporters-scheme?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

More flack for EDDC Leader Ingram on spending and transparency

Not looking good … now being attacked for  wanting to employ consultants to tell him what town centre problems are:

“East Devon District Council ‘lacks good detailed intelligence about its towns and their economic wellbeing’.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, admitted: “This is not a good state of affairs,” when questioned at Wednesday night’s full council meeting.

It came after Cllr Mike Allen asked questions over the decision of the portfolio holder for economy, Cllr Kevin Blakey, to commission a major study into town centres.

Cllr Allen asked for an indication of the cost proposed and in the interests of proper transparency, for the Consultancy brief envisaged be put to the next Overview Committee for discussion before any expenditure is committed. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/east-devon-lacks-good-intelligence-3474769

“Leader says in hindsight, notes should have been taken when CEO met developers”

Owl says: Well, duh! And just how long has EDDC’s CEO been in the job? Where was his “hindsight”?.

And our “Leader” is now fully au-fait with the language if the previous majority party as far as giving non-answers is concerned!

Everything changes, nothing changes …

“At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.

Notes of meetings when senior council officers meet with developers over planning issues should be made in future, councillors have been told.

It follows an instance where East Devon District Council’s chief executive allegedly told developers to appeal his own council’s refusal of planning permission for the Sidford Business Park.

Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the Richard Kimblin QC final closing arguments at a planning inquiry held this said: “After the 2016 application was refused, there was a meeting with Councillor Stuart Hughes and the CEO of the Council. The CEO advised that the way to progress was to appeal. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.”

The claims, made both in writing and verbally, were unchallenged by East Devon District Council during the inquiry, but afterwards, an East Devon District Council spokesman said that Mr Williams did not advise the appellant of anything but the applicant chose to interpret the comments he did make as encouraging an appeal, and the comments were made in a ‘situation where a degree of hyperbole and exaggeration is not unusual’.

At last Wednesday’s full council meeting, Cllr John Loudoun, asked questions around the keeping of notes from meetings that officers of the council are involved in.

He said: “Sometimes officers from this Council, beyond those directly responsible for local planning matters, meet and/or discuss with developers their planning applications. Sometimes these meetings take place to discuss applications that this Council has failed to support.

“Does the leader of the council agree with me that when such meetings and/or discussions take place, it is most imperative that they are held in ways that give residents faith that the Officers are transparent and accountable in these matters?

“Does the leader agree with me that it would be appropriate that at such meetings, or in such discussions, there should be more than one Officer present, such as a legal adviser and/or planning officer? Do you agree that any meetings or discussion with developers when they relate to planning should have a formal record kept of what was discussed and agreed, and why?”

In response, Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, said: “The circumstances surrounding any meeting will determine whether it is necessary for them to be held in any particular way. I have the upmost faith that our officers would appreciate the need to act in a way that ensures nothing untoward occurs.

“But in hindsight, it is probably a very good advice and many members and officers of the council may say in future they will.”

It was of a number of questions raised at the meeting relating to concerns about the processes of the council which followed what some councillors called the ‘shambles’ of the previous full council meeting which left councillors unclear as to what they were voting for.

Cllr Loudoun added: “At the last Full Council meeting there was lengthy debate around a motion. A Member at one point interjected and proposed ‘that the question now be put’ and the chairman put this point of order to the meeting.

“Many members did not fully appreciate the implications of voting for or against this point of order and when passed by a show of hands, there appeared to be confusion amongst some Members as to what had just been agreed. When the chairman invited the meeting to vote on the motion on the agenda paper, some Members appeared not to understand what was happening and what they were now being asked to vote on.

Once the meeting had voted on the motion some Members were confused and it was only at this point that it was fully explained what had happened and the implications of their first vote, but by this point the votes had been cast and decisions made.

“The meeting ended with some Members expressing frustration and/or confusion about what the meeting had decided. Does the Leader recognise this set of events and if he does, what would he recommend this Council does to avoid a similar set of circumstances occurring in the future?”

In response, Cllr Ingham said: “It is not for me to say what other members may or may not have understood. I understood what was happening but members are always able to ask for confirmation on what is going on and I am sure the Chairman would, in such circumstances, ensure that clarity was given on the procedures from the officers present. We have may acted at a speed that was not appropriate for new members.”

Asked by Cllr Paul Millar on the potential merits of ensuring Members can make informed decisions when asked to vote in Council meetings, Cllr Ingham said that any council or committee makes mistakes, but as the new council learns, he hopes members and officers will make fewer mistakes when acting in a hurry.

Cllr Eleanor Rylance also questioned why a significant number of meetings had been scheduled to take place during the half-term break. As well as the full council meeting, a Strategic Planning Committee, an Audit and Governance Committee, and a Scrutiny Committee meeting took place last week.

She said: “In the spirit of inclusivity, how is it that this council is wilfully disadvantaging anyone with school aged children, caring responsibilities for school aged children, or those who work in schools or other educational establishments, by organising major meetings including this one during school half term? This is entirely avoidable. Please can the council set its timetable with school dates in mind in the future?”

In response, Cllr Ingham said: “Whilst it would clearly be difficult to plan a yearly meeting cycle to accommodate school holidays, particularly bearing in mind the length of the summer holiday and the potential impact on the business of the Council, it would be helpful to consider if changes could be made in future. “

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/leader-says-hindsight-notes-should-3475242

How company debt (and greed and tax avoidance) will sink us all

“Corporate addition to high debt threatens to destabilise the world economy. Not my words – those of the International Monetary Fund.

A recent report by the IMF says that “in a material economic slowdown scenario, half as severe as the global financial crisis, corporate debt-at-risk could rise to $19 trillion —or nearly 40 percent of total corporate debt in major economies—above [2008] crisis levels.”

In other words, in an economic slowdown, many firms will be unable to cover even their interest expenses with their earnings. Countries most at risk are US, China, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

One study estimated that in 2018 UK s FTSE 100 companies alone had debt of £406bn.

Sinking in debt

Low interest rates have persuaded companies to pile-up debt in the belief that they will be able to use it to maximise shareholder returns. The key to this is tax relief on interest payments.

Ordinary folk don’t get tax relief on interest payments for mortgages or anything else because successive governments argued that such reliefs distort markets and encourage irresponsible behaviour.

However, corporations get tax relief on all interest payments. Currently for every £100 of interest payment, companies get tax relief of 19%, the prevailing rate of corporation tax, which reduces the net cost to £81. The tax subsidy enables companies to report higher profits.

Companies do not necessarily use debt to finance investment in productive assets. The UK languishes near the bottom of the major advanced economies league table for investment in productive assets and also lags in research and development expenditure.

British companies appease stock markets by paying almost the highest proportion of their earnings as dividends. BHS famously borrowed £1 billion to pay a dividend of £1.3bn. Carillion used its debt to finance executive pay and dividends. Thomas Cook had at least £1.7bn of debt but that did not stop lavish executive pay and bonuses.

Fatal effects

Corporate debt facilitates profiteering and tax avoidance. Water companies have long used ‘intragroup debt‘ to dodge taxes. Typically, they borrow money from an affiliate in a low/no tax jurisdiction. The UK-based company pays interest which qualifies for tax relief and reduces the UK tax liability.

Many a tax haven either does not levy corporation tax or exempts foreign profits from its tax regime. As a result, the affiliate receives the interest payment tax free.

It is important to note that the company is effectively paying interest to another member of the group and no cash leaves the group. The inclusion of interest payments in the paying company’s cost base can also enable it to push up charges to customers, especially if has monopoly rights on supply of goods and services.

Thames Water is an interesting example here. From 2006 to 2017, it was owned by Macquarie Bank and operated through a labyrinth of companies, with some registered in Caymans.

During the period, Thames’ debt increased from £2.4bn to £10bn, mostly from tax haven affiliates, and interest payments swelled the charges for customers. Macquarie and its investors made returns of between 15.5% and 19% a year.

For the period 2007 to 2015, the company’s accounts show that it paid £3.186bn in interest to other entities in the group alone. Tax relief on interest payments reduced UK corporate tax liability. For the years 2007-2016, Thames Water paid about £100,000 in corporation tax.

Private equity entities use debt to secure control of companies and engage in asset-stripping. A good example is the demise of Bernard Mathews, a poultry company.

In 2013, Rutland Partners acquired the company and loaded it with debt, which carried an interest rate of 20%. This debt was secured which meant that in the event of bankruptcy Rutland and its backers would be paid before unsecured creditors.

In 2016, Bernard Matthews’ directors, appointed by Rutland, decided that the business was no longer viable and sought to sell it. However, they only sold the assets of the company which realised enough to pay secured creditors, Rutland and banks.

The big losers were unsecured creditors, which included employee pension scheme, HMRC and suppliers. The purchaser of the assets told the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee that it offered to buy the whole company, including its liabilities, but the offer was declined by Rutland because by dumping liabilities it collected a higher amount.

What needs to change

There is some recognition that corporate addiction to debt poses a threat to the economy. Following recommendations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK has placed some restrictions on the tax relief for interest payments, but that is not enough.

An independent enforcer of company law is needed to ensure that companies maintain adequate capital. Companies need workers on boards to ensure that directors do not squander corporate resources on unwarranted dividends and executive pay.

The insolvency laws need to be reformed to ensure that secured creditors can’t walk away with almost all of the proceeds from the sale of assets and dump liabilities.

And finally, tax relief on debt needs to be abolished altogether.”

https://leftfootforward.org/2019/10/prem-sikka-how-companies-use-debt-to-line-their-pockets/

Indie councillor wastes no time holding EDDC Leader to account**

And some very interesting answers he gets too (and the questions of other councillors are also pertinent):

To answer questions asked by Members of the Council pursuant to Procedure Rules No. 9.2 and 9.5

** Apologies for the deletion of this post earlier today due to technical problems with the attachment.

Local Enterprise Partnership: DCC scrutiny committee in crisis?

Comment as post:

“This positive change has long been requested by East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (Colyton and Seaton). See …

On 13 October I made a comment on the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting scheduled for the 17 October. I pointed out that attendance at this essential exercise in democracy had steadily fallen through the year from eleven to just five councillors [correction, should read six] and added my opinion that this scrutiny committee has all the appearance of being in crisis.

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/10/13/local-enterprise-partnership-scrutiny-laid-bare-and-a-chance-to-see-for-the-scrutiny-not-working-for-yourself/

Sadly this view seems to have been confirmed from the October 17 meeting.

From the minutes and associated documents of this Joint Scrutiny meeting of 17 October attendance is recorded as follows, down again to a bare quorum of five:

(https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3572&x=1)

Present:
Councillor Jerry Brook Devon County Council (Chair)
Councillor Richard Hosking Devon County Council
Councillor Julian Brazil Devon County Council
Councillor Gareth Derrick Plymouth City Council
Councillor Barrie Spencer South Hams District Council

Apologies:
Councillor Ray Bloxham Devon County Council
Councillor Mike Lewis Somerset County Council
Councillor Jonny Morris Plymouth City Council

Absent:
Councillor Rod Williams Somerset County Council (Vice-Chair)
Councillor Ann Brown Somerset County Council
Councillor Simon Coles Somerset County Council
Councillor Lee Howgate Torbay Council
Councillor Karen Kennedy Torbay Council
Councillor Norman Cavill Taunton Deane Borough Council
Councillor Richard Chesterton Mid Devon District Council
Councillor Ian Dyer Sedgemoor District Council

[Only 16 councillors are listed though the Terms of Reference of the Scrutiny Committee sets the number at 17 – see Appendix 1 of the October briefing pack]

Three of these attendees: Councillors, Hoskins, Brazil and Derrick were also among the six attending the previous meeting in June. These Councillors deserve credit for taking their scrutiny responsibility seriously where the majority clearly have not. Note that not a single Councillor from Somerset attended. This is democratic deficit writ large.

As reported by Owl, the meeting did agreed that future meetings be webcast to continue to increase transparency of the Committee; and that public participation be adopted at future Committee meetings in line with Devon County Council’s public participation scheme. This is something that should have been included at the beginning but nevertheless represents progress.

In my comment I conjectured a number of reasons why members might find attendance to be a waste of their time and, mischievously, raised the rhetorical question as to whether HoTSW might be using creative administrative devises to make scrutiny difficult or seem unimportant. So it is interesting to read, from the minutes that among the topics discussed were the following:

1. the challenge of actively scrutinising the LEP when funds had already been allocated and projects begun;
2. the need for Scrutiny to have sight of policies before they are agreed and implemented by the LEP, to add value and effectiveness to the governance process;
3. the requirement of the Committee to scrutinise strategic documents and the cost effectiveness of the LEP.

These are excellent questions which would certainly have benefitted from members of the public being able to follow the details through webcasting. We now need to know the HotSW’s response.”