Police watchdog head Michael Lockwood resigns amid investigation

The head of the police watchdog has been forced to resign after becoming the subject of a police investigation, Home Secretary Suella Braverman says.

“Leaky Sue” might benefit from a bit of self reflection – Owl

www.bbc.co.uk

Independent Office for Police Conduct director general Michael Lockwood said on Friday that he was resigning for “personal and domestic reasons”.

But on Saturday the home secretary said she had taken action after learning of the probe into a historical allegation.

Mr Lockwood was asked to either resign or be suspended, Ms Braverman said.

She said she had accepted the resignation, which came into immediate effect. No further information about the nature of the allegation was given.

Home Office staff are now working with the IOPC to “put in place temporary arrangements for the organisation’s leadership”, Ms Braverman added.

The home secretary said in a statement: “I took immediate action upon being made aware that Mr Lockwood was the subject of a police investigation… and instructed my officials to ask him to resign or face immediate suspension from his role.”

Mr Lockwood was the first person appointed to lead the IOPC when it replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2018.

It handles the most serious complaints against police in England and Wales.

In his statement on Friday, Mr Lockwood said he was resigning with “great sadness”, adding that it had been an “enormous privilege” to serve as the organisation’s first director general.

He was previously chief executive of the London Borough of Harrow, north-west London.

After the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, Mr Lockwood was asked by a government task force to lead the recovery and remediation work and liaise with the bereaved families and survivors, according to the IOPC website.

A qualified accountant, he has also worked in central government at the National Audit Office, and for the Local Government Association as executive director for local government finance and policy.

‘Historic’ deal for more power and cash for Cornwall called ‘weak’

“The deal looks to be worth £12m per year, which is a tiny percentage of Cornwall Council’s budget – about 1%.” (Labour Leader)

“A drop in the ocean when you consider that the council faces a shortfall of £63m in its budget for the next year.” (Acting Leader LibDems)

“It’s astonishing that this deal is being signed by one person, Linda Taylor, without even holding a debate and a vote of her cabinet let alone Cornwall Council. This is the same Linda Taylor that has said she wants to be mayor and she will know the job will pay double what she gets now. This whole thing has a nasty whiff about it. It’s a shabby stitch-up by one political party that knows they are losing power.” (Independent councillor Tim Dwelly).

Campaigning to become Mayor of a rural area the size of Cornwall will need the logistic backing that only a National Party or a millionaire can offer. Doesn’t look very “fair” or “democratic” to Owl, more like a “plutocracy”. 

Richard Whitehouse www.cornwalllive.com

Cornwall Council has signed a new devolution deal with the Government which would guarantee £360million of funding and new powers over the next 30 years. Cornwall MP Steve Double said that the publication of the Cornwall deal was the “start of a new era”.

At Spaceport Cornwall Levelling Up Minister Dehanna Davison signed the document alongside Cornwall Council’s Conservative leader Linda Taylor with both describing it as an “historic” day. The deal is subject to public consultation, full agreement from Cornwall Council and Parliamentary approval.

Under the deal Cornwall Council would be given responsibility for the adult education budget as well as getting additional powers over planning, housing and transport. The deal includes an additional £8.7m for housing and funding for the Cornish culture and language.

The proposed deal has been overshadowed by the requirement for Cornwall Council to change its governance arrangements to secure the deal which will mean Cornwall having a directly-elected mayor for the first time. There has been a vigorous debate about whether there should be a public referendum on whether Cornwall wants to have a mayor elected by the people – instead of a council leader chosen by councillors.

Explaining the need for a mayor Ms Davison said: “We set out in the Levelling Up white paper a framework for devolution and different levels that people could opt into and we always said that in order to access the biggest groups of powers and funding we would like to have that directly accountable leadership so we in central government can go spend the money on what they are doing and that is why we really believe in the mayoral model.

“But we have never imposed that on any local area, it has always been for areas to opt into that and Cornwall were very keen to do so and I am really, really pleased that they decided to. You would have heard what Steve the local MP was talking about, having a seat at the table in these big national negotiations Cornwall will be there with their mayor and attracting international investment. People all over the world know what a mayor is as a figurehead for a local area and a spokesperson for that local area and that is going to be really important.

“But also being on the start of a devolution journey with a mayor in place, if you look at other areas across the country with elected mayors – I’m talking about Teesside, West Midlands, and Greater Manchester – they started with a particular deal and since then there has been so much more progress, so much more powers given, so much more funding given so I think this is the start of a really, really incredible and positive journey.”

The headline figure on the deal is the £360m over 30 years which provides £12m a year for Cornwall. But Ms Davison said that it was not just about the funding: “It is absolutely not, this is the start and the start of a long-term agreement between Government and Cornwall to make sure we are focusing on what is right for Cornwall and they have the powers and funding they need to attract investment, grow local jobs, bring benefits for the local area and that investment fund is additional money, money that wasn’t available otherwise so that is a good thing, but having it guaranteed across 30 years is really important because what that allows us, the mayor, the leader, to do is borrow against it and put in place really major investments at the outset.

“A guaranteed 30 years of funding coming in they are able to invest in vital infrastructure improvements, they can invest in job growth and opportunities, so it is so much more than that, but also having a seat at the table, looking at further, deeper devolution as we move along, there will be other opportunities, this is not the end it is very much the start.”

The Cornwall Devolution Deal which was signed at Spaceport Cornwall today (Image: Richard Whitehouse/LDRS)

The Cornwall Devolution Deal which was signed at Spaceport Cornwall today [Looks a bit “foxed” to Owl]

Cornwall Council is set to launch its consultation on the deal next week and the minister said that people should get involved: “This is an opportunity for local people to feed in and give their views but I would certainly hope that now that they can see the detail of what is in the deal that they would see it as an optimistic thing. Of course it is up to Cornwall Council, Linda and her team to go out and sell this as well as local MPs and us in Government but also that is why the consultation is important. I am an optimist, I am very much an optimist, and I feel in my bones that when people see these details and recognise what it could mean for them and their communities they will absolutely be behind this.

“There are real tangible things here for local people and it is our job to go out and sell that. That consultation is going to be really important and we would encourage as many people as possible take part.”

St Austell and Newquay MP Steve Double attended the event at Cornwall Airport Newquay and said the deal was about much more than just extra funding and he believed the introduction of a Mayor for Cornwall was actually more important.

“It is far more than that (funding), clearly the money is welcome but we need to see this as the start of the journey. It is not the finished picture. It gives us the opportunity to reset our relationship with government to have a new era, to have a seat at the top table along with the other mayors across the country. And then that gives us a basis for future negotiations to attract more investment, more powers, devolve more powers to Cornwall.

“It will give us a much stronger voice nationally and to really start to address some of those deep-seated issues and those powers are there in the deal around housing and dealing with some of our challenges around transport, adult education, these are really important things for Cornwall’s future and to have that clear, democratically-elected political leadership that really can represent Cornwall at the top table is really important, that is what this deal is about. Money is important and welcome but it is really about giving us a stronger voice.”

On the split opinions about a mayor Mr Double claimed it would not add another level of bureaucracy and would give people more of a say: “I think in terms of Cornwall it is primarily an administrative change. We are simply saying that instead of 87 councillors picking who should be the leader of Cornwall Council the people of Cornwall will get to elect who leads Cornwall Council, we are basically swapping the leader of Cornwall Council for a directly-elected mayor and that means that the people of Cornwall will have a far greater say over who leads the council.”

And he added it would help Cornwall on a wider scale: “I also think it is about having that far greater profile and voice nationally and internationally. We mustn’t underestimate the international significance. Governments around the world and businesses around the world are used to dealing with mayors, they understand that they have that clear political leadership and mandate and therefore it gives us a great opportunity to promote Cornwall internationally and attract investment and help with our economic growth here in Cornwall. So I think for those reasons that is why I believe it is the right thing to do. I know a lot of people have got caught up in it and lots of speculation that it means another layer of bureaucracy it really won’t, it isn’t another layer of government, it is about replacing the leader of Cornwall Council chosen by councillors with the leader of Cornwall Council chosen by the people of Cornwall.”

But what if, in the consultation, the people of Cornwall reject this deal and proposal for a mayor? Mr Double said: “The council will have to listen to that, that is the whole point of the consultation. But now we have got the deal and people can see for themselves, I would simply say to everyone in Cornwall, let’s approach this with an open mind, most decent, honest, sensible people in Cornwall I think will take the opportunity to look at exactly what is on offer, not the speculation and all that has been going on up until this point. We have now got it in black and white, take a look and I struggle to see what’s not to like about this. More money, more powers, the opportunity to continue to protect and enhance our unique Cornish identity and culture, which is really important to a lot of people here, and the opportunity to make the most of the opportunities ahead of us.”

Mrs Taylor said: “This is a big deal for the whole of Cornwall and provides the certainty required to tackle the challenges we face. This gives us the opportunity to secure more decision-making powers as well as bringing in millions of pounds of extra investment which will allow us to shape the future of Cornwall for the benefit of residents for many years to come.

“The proposed deal provides clarity in uncertain times and would allow us to make future plans with confidence, enabling us to deliver on our priorities to create a carbon neutral Cornwall where everyone can start well, live well and age well.

“The government has made it clear that the proposed deal is conditional on making our governance change. I am appealing to one and all to carefully consider this huge opportunity for Cornwall to receive more funding, powers and influence – and have your say on the deal that will help shape Cornwall’s future when the consultation begins next week.”

However, opposition councillors have not been impressed, many of them highlighting that they had not been given details of the deal before they were released to the media. Cllr Taylor said the information had been sent out by the Government and she did not want councillors to hear about it in that way but all councillors would be sent a copy of the deal and have a briefing on it.

Labour group leader Jayne Kirkham said: “On the face of it (because most councillors have not yet seen it) the deal looks mainly to be worth £12m per year, which is a tiny percentage of Cornwall Council’s budget – about 1%. It cannot possibly deal with all the issues that Cornwall faces.

“It also seems that the cost of the mayoral election and paying for the mayor themselves could have to come out of that figure, which may not be able to be spent on services like social care. The whole deal is conditional upon Cornwall accepting a mayor and there do not seem to be any significant powers passported down from Westminster as part of this deal.

“It’s also disappointing that the deal is being ‘signed’ today by a junior government minister and the leader of Cornwall Council before Cornwall Council and the people of Cornwall have even seen it. The Conservatives are taking Cornwall for granted.

“The next Labour government is committed to pushing forwards with genuine devolution that will be much deeper and broader than that being offered by the Conservatives. We also wouldn’t force a mayor or governance structure on Cornwall.

We have a plan for green growth – investment in renewables, clean power, insulating 19 million homes, skills and jobs. All of that could benefit Cornwall so much and bring real investment and decent, well-paid jobs down here.”

Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole called on people to take part in the consultation and call for “real devolution” for Cornwall. He said: “From the press release it is clear to me that this so-called devolution deal is not devolution at all. It does not include far reaching powers being transferred from Westminster to Cornwall like what has happened elsewhere in Wales and Scotland that helped create the Welsh Parliament and Scottish Parliament.

“As someone who has campaigned for meaningful devolution for his entire adult life I am desperately disappointed that this is the best that we can do. I would call on everyone to call for proper devolution.”

He added: “We feel very much outside of this, it is a Conservative council coming up with something with a Conservative Government. People should make their views heard and I would say that people need to look at the devolution deal as well as the mayoral part of it. Cornwall is a unique place, it is a Celtic nation like Wales and Scotland and we should be coming together asking for proper devolution like they have got.”

Colin Martin, acting leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “The content of the deal looks extremely weak. It touches on many areas of concern to residents in Cornwall, but the new powers and funding on offer fall far short of what is needed to tackle the enormous challenges we face.

“For example, on housing, we want the power to require planning permission before a home can be converted to holiday accommodation. There are 21,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing in Cornwall, and 25,000 houses being used as second homes or holiday lets. But all the deal offers is a promise to ‘work closely with Government to address these issues’. That’s exactly what was promised would happen if we elected six Conservative MPs to represent us, and again in 2021 we were told the same if we elected Conservatives to run the council, yet the situation has only got worse.

“The promise of £360m sounds great… until you realise it’s spread over thirty years. The annual figure of just £12m is a drop in the ocean when you consider that the council faces a shortfall of £63m in its budget for the next year.

“Devolution without adequate powers and money is simply a recipe for passing the buck. The new mayor will end up being a lightning rod to divert criticism for Conservative failure away from our Conservative Government.”

Independent councillor Tim Dwelly said: “It’s astonishing that this deal is being signed by one person, Linda Taylor, without even holding a debate and a vote of her cabinet let alone Cornwall Council. This is the same Linda Taylor that has said she wants to be mayor and she will know the job will pay double what she gets now. This whole thing has a nasty whiff about it. It’s a shabby stitch-up by one political party that knows they are losing power.

“And everyone can see it’s no big deal. There isn’t going to be any extra money at all for council services. Not even £1. The Cornish people must be given a vote on whether they want an all-powerful mayor running everything. It’s time for a referendum. Without one this whole thing will be seen as the worst possible case of London ordering Cornwall to do what it’s told.”

Winchester College: An urgent appeal

DEAR parents and alumni,

www.thedailymash.co.uk 1st December 2022

The socialist Keir Starmer has put pressure on the prime minister to withdraw the charitable status enjoyed by us here at Winchester College, the £46,000 per year fee-paying school attended by Mr Sunak himself. 

For the sake of humanity, this cannot be allowed to happen.

As winter draws in, we at Winchester are forced to send an unseemly plea for money to stave off the destitution that would surely follow if Starmer’s cruel, jealous measures were brought into place.

So what difference can you make?

Just £5 would get you a derisive chortle from our staff. £5? You might as well give us five pence, you ridiculous peasant.

£5,000 would go some way toward helping our rifle club, which is crying out for a new annex. And if the proletarian mob were ever to start a revolution, I’m sure we’d all be grateful for those shooting skills.

£10,000 would help provide glass protection for our extensive art collection in case class war anarchists from Just Stop Oil attempt to destroy civilised society by throwing paint at them.

£20,000 would be enough to provide a lifetime’s supply of enamel paint for our rowing boats and a straw boater for every pupil. These may not appear strictly necessary, but not wearing one would be terribly bad form.

So help Winchester maintain the facilities that have enabled us to produce tomorrow’s Conservative MPs. MPs with the talent and unwarranted self-confidence to line their own pockets and tank the economy faster than anyone thought possible. Please give generously.

Soaring rents making life ‘unaffordable’ for private UK tenants, research shows

Soaring rents have in effect made life unaffordable for private tenants across swathes of the UK, according to research undertaken for the Guardian.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

The analysis shows that asking rents on new listings are up by almost a third since 2019, and some people are facing increases of up to 60%. Prices in 48 council areas are now classed by the Office for National Statistics as unaffordable when compared with average wages.

It comes amid warnings of a rising wave of evictions, allegations of “price gouging” by some landlords, and fears that the rental crisis is fast becoming a homelessness emergency.

Tenants in London and Manchester are planning protests this weekend to demand that the government freezes rents as an emergency measure.

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, is facing growing calls to finally ban no-fault evictions, used by landlords seeking to raise rents, which the government has been pledging to do so since April 2019. Ministers also face demands to pay more in housing benefit to cover rising costs.

The London Renters Union said its members had reported average rent increases of almost £3,400 a year (21%), which it described as “rent gouging”, with consumer price inflation at 9.6%.

One union member said he and his partner were forced out when a landlord demanded £8,000 more a year, and he was now working two jobs to pay the extra £200 a month in rent for their new home. Another said they were sofa surfing after being evicted after an unaffordable rent increase.

“It’s a pretty bleak situation to be in when you have 20 years of work behind you and nothing to show for it,” one renter in her 30s told the Guardian. She is awaiting bailiffs after refusing to pay a 60% rent rise in an east London property with a leaking roof, taps and rot.

Sarah, 56, a part-time carer in Manchester facing a choice of a 16% rent rise or eviction, said: “Gove isn’t moving on anything. It’s not good enough. There are people living in damp and disrepair. There is a huge crisis developing.”

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a rent freeze in September, describing the pressure on household budgets as a “humanitarian emergency”. The UK government has resisted rent control, saying last month it would lead to “disinvestment in the sector”.

In Manchester, Bath, Nottingham, Cardiff, Brighton and Exeter, average asking rents now stand at more than 30% of a couple’s median income, the level at which the ONS considers rent “affordable”, Guardian analysis found.

One in five households in England rent their home, and costs have increased rapidly in recent months as the Bank of England has increased interest rates. In June, across the UK, average advertised rents were 5% higher than 12 months earlier, but by October they were up by 12% from 12 months previously, according to figures supplied to the Guardian by the property data company TwentiCi.

The sharp rent rises appear to have been triggered by some landlords passing on rising interest rates, and others following their example, creating a rent ratchet. While there are 4.4m renting households, there are only 2m buy-to-let mortgages, suggesting around half are owned outright. Renters told the Guardian how they had been served eviction notices on properties in considerable disrepair, only for them to be let out at several hundred pounds a month higher rent.

“Almost a million private renters are at risk of being kicked out of their home this winter, and more will follow,” said Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, which ran a survey suggesting 504,000 private renters had received or been threatened with an eviction notice in the last month, up 80% on the same period last year, and that 482,000 were behind on their rent. “Every day our emergency helpline advisers are taking gut-wrenching calls – from the mum who’s skipping meals to pay the rent, to the family terrified they will be spending Christmas in a grotty homeless hostel.”

The housing and homelessness minister, Felicity Buchan, said last month that the renters reform bill, which would ban no-fault evictions, would be introduced “during this parliament”, which means tenants may remain unprotected until late 2024.

After the lifting of the pandemic eviction ban, no-fault eviction court hearings have tripled in the last year, with accelerated proceedings where no hearing is needed rising to 6,619 in the three months to the end of September – above the equivalent pre-pandemic rate. From April to June, English councils had to help nearly 6,000 households either made homeless or threatened with homelessness after receiving a no-fault eviction, almost double that of a year earlier.

In October, the median rent listed by estate agents across the UK stood at £1,150, up 12% from the £1,025 recorded in October 2021, and up 28% from the £895 average asking price recorded in 2019, according to TwentyCi. The analysis is based on live asking price data on about 200,000 properties a month on property portals and estate agent sites.

There was a 48% increase in asking rents in Westminster in the year to October, the largest increase in the country, while the properties available to rent fell by 18%. House hunters saw rents increase by 37% in Arun, West Sussex, by 35% in Windsor and Maidenhead, and by 34% in Elmbridge, Surrey.

Chris Norris, the policy director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said dwindling supply was to blame for rising rents. He criticised Gove for previously saying he wanted to “shrink the private sector”, and said the NLA was urging him to reverse course, unfreeze housing benefit and accelerate housebuilding.

“According to Zoopla, the demand for private rented housing is up 142% so far this year compared to the five-year average,” Norris said. “In stark contrast, the supply of such housing has fallen by 46%. The end result is that more and more tenants are finding it difficult to access a dwindling supply of homes, resulting in higher rents.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities cited the energy price guarantee, which lasts until April 2023, as evidence of the help being provided for renters.

“Councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their heads, and we’re giving them £316m this year to help prevent evictions and provide temporary accommodation,” the spokesperson said. “Ensuring a fair deal for renters remains a priority for the government. That’s why we will deliver on our commitment to abolish section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions.”

Council debate on mayor leaves people scratching their heads

Conservatives seem to be in “attack dog” mode, regardless – Owl 

As the dust settled on a fractious and chaotic meeting of Cornwall Council this week the disputes and arguments over proposals for a Mayor for Cornwall continued outside the council chamber. As councillors were leaving New County Hall the leading Conservative group issued a press release about the day’s events, which appeared totally at odds with what had actually happened.

Richard Whitehouse www.cornwalllive.com

“Opposition councillors on Cornwall Council vote against giving County Hall a vote on having a referendum or not on future mayor plans for Cornwall” it claimed. Wait a minute, hadn’t Independent councillor Tim Dwelly tabled a motion which called for councillors to have a vote on whether to have a referendum? I looked back at the papers just to make sure I wasn’t going mad.

There it was in black and white: “Cornwall Council should hold a vote to decide if a referendum of all voters be held to determine whether Cornwall is in future governed by a mayor. This vote of full council shall be held after consideration of any public consultation exercise undertaken by this council.”

So, what were the Conservatives claiming exactly? In their press release council leader Linda Taylor was quoted: “I was really surprised to see our opposition apparently united in opposing plans that will, following the shortly forthcoming consultation to the people of Cornwall, see a vote at County Hall on whether future plans for a mayor should go to a referendum or not.”

Eh? But that was exactly what the motion from Cllr Dwelly was asking for, a motion that the Conservative group said they couldn’t support.

Having sat through the fractured and confused debate which gripped councillors in the chamber (and very few others) some might wonder whether some Conservative councillors had actually read the original motion.

Later I spotted on Twitter that some Conservative councillors kept up this attack line, trying to make out that they were on the side of the people and that the Independent councillors were somehow opposed to a referendum. This despite the fact that it was an Independent councillor, seconded by a Conservative councillor no less, who had called for the council to be able to have a vote on whether there should be a referendum on the mayoral issue but not until a public consultation is complete.

Confused? It would appear that political spin is the name of the game on this matter but the problem with that is that it is the people of Cornwall who are left in the middle of a cyclone with no idea which way is forward. The public consultation on the proposed devolution deal will be published next week – Cllr Taylor said there would be no time for councillors to approve this before it goes to the people.

Crucially the majority of councillors are yet to see what is included in the devolution deal all we have been told is that it is “ambitious” and would bring £390million to Cornwall. However, there are claims that that is over 30 years – so £13m a year – and there will be limits on what that can be spent on.

When the consultation goes live next week there will be a lot of people looking very closely at the questions included and how they are worded. If you ask most people would they like an extra £390m for Cornwall they are likely to tick any box stating yes.

There has always been talk from councillors of all political persuasions about their enthusiasm for openness and transparency – all should be clear that it is vital that on this issue there is true clarity about what the people of Cornwall will get if they accept the deal and the mayor that comes with it.

t.

Down the drain: how billions of pounds are sucked out of England’s water system

The untreated sewage that overflowed into England’s rivers and beaches this summer came only a few months after the companies responsible paid £1bn to their shareholders. The payment, for the financial year to March 2022, was less than average. Dividends from England’s big water and sewage companies are usually twice that – £2bn a year.

Anna Leach, Ellen Wishart, Sandra Laville and Carmen Aguilar García www.theguardian.com 

The amount of sewage leaving the system was unusual, but the amount of money leaving the system is not.

In the 30 years since England’s water was privatised by Margaret Thatcher, water companies have set up a system in which billions of pounds leave the network in an average year.

It’s money that could have gone towards building a more resilient water system, say academics. Among them, Dieter Helm, an Oxford professor of economic policy specialising in utilities, went as far as saying in 2021 that England’s water system was “a scandal of financial engineering”.

So where is the money going?

Note: yearly averages across the big nine English water and sewage companies, at March 2022 prices. See data note below for more details.

The water company debt mountain

England’s nine big water and sewage companies had zero debt in 1989 when they were sold off to the private sector. Now they have £54bn. The number is even higher when you include the six smaller water-only companies.

It’s normal for companies to take out debt to fund things like investment.

But it is actually customers that have been footing the bill for investment, researchers say.

“Investments have been entirely financed from customer payments, almost every year,” argues David Hall, visiting professor at Greenwich University and leading commenter on England’s water industry, in a 2021 analysis.

In Hall’s argument, that means the loans have been used for something else. He claims: “The companies have nevertheless borrowed large amounts of money, building up a large pile of debt and large annual bill for interest. This debt has not been taken on to finance investment, but to finance the payment of dividends.”

Approximately 20% of our water bills each year pay dividends and interest payments, the Competition & Markets authority found.

Water company debt has gone from zero in 1989 to £54bn in 2022

In the same time frame, £66bn has been paid out in dividends. Again, including dividend payments from England’s smaller water-only companies would result in a higher figure.

Water companies made several statements to the Guardian about their dividend policies and levels of debt.

Several companies say that dividends are important to shareholders and allowed by the regulatory system. Some highlight that less is spent on dividends than investment.

Several emphasise that external shareholders haven’t received dividends this year, though it is evident from financial statements that all the big nine regulated water companies except for Southern paid out dividends in the year ending March 2022, though these may have gone to “internal” shareholders such as parent companies. Once these payments leave the water company under the title of “dividends” it can be hard to track where they go, but we do know the money is no longer on the balance sheet of the water company.

Companies also say that they have spent significant sums of money on investment since privatisation. Using Ofwat figures we can see that the big nine have spent a total of £158bn on capital expenditure (investment) between 1991 and 2022. On debt levels, companies maintain that they have responsibly raised debt and worked to ensure financial stability, with some taking action to reduce inter-company loans and overall debt levels.

Full responses from the water companies can be found here.

Is a public system better? How England compares with Scotland

A look at the Scottish system shows that bills are slightly lower, and investment is slightly higher, for each household in Scotland.

A household in Scotland pays 7% less for its water and sewage services than one in England or Wales. The annual average bill for an English or Welsh household is £419 in the year 2022-23 compared with £391 in Scotland, data from Water UK and Scottish Water shows.

It is hard to make a direct comparison because there are many differences between the two systems, such as the type of the territory – Scotland is more mountainous and has more remote areas – and the length of the mains and the total volume of water produced. Scotland has a population of 5 million to England’s 57 million.

But we can see that the Scottish system has invested more in maintaining and upgrading its water infrastructure in the last decade than companies operating the system in England and Wales.

In the year to March 2021, Scottish capital expenditure was 7% higher, spending £243 per household compared to £228 per household in England and Wales, analysis from Ofwat and Scottish Water data shows. The financial situation of Scottish Water is different to England’s water companies as it is a public body, but it had £3.9bn in debt in March 2022.

Pipes in Scotland leaked 9% more water. On average, 10.5 litres of water per mile of pipe were lost in Scotland every minute during the year to March 2022 compared with 9.7 in English and Welsh pipes per minute.

A Water UK report published this year shows that all companies have reduced leakage from 2004 to 2020, with Scotland registering the biggest reduction.

A Water UK spokesperson said that “leakage is a top priority for the industry” and that leakage has reduced 10% in the last few years.

‘The purpose has been to profit-maximise’

Reflecting on how England’s water system has fared since privatisation, Helm writes:

“The sad reality of 30 years of privatisation has been high gearing [a measure of debt], high profits and dividends, and investment well below what could have been achieved.”

The flaw is in the set-up of the system he argues – because this is what the businesses that own the water companies do.

“The purpose of private water companies has indeed been to profit‑maximise. It would be odd to expect the infrastructure and private equity funds to have decided to forgo an open goal.”

About the data

  • Operating expenditure and capital expenditure from nine English water and sewage companies taken from Ofwat. Average derived from 1991-2022.
  • Dividend expenditure by nine English waters companies taken from Karol Yearwood 2018 (1991-2018), David Hall 2022 (2019-2021) and Guardian research (2022). Average derived from 1991-2022.
  • Interest payments by nine English waters companies taken from Karol Yearwood 2018 paper (1991-2018). Average derived from 1991-2018.
  • Net debt position of companies taken from 2022 company annual reports.
  • Companies included: Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water, South West Water, Southern Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Wessex Water, Yorkshire Water. NB: Welsh Water is excluded from these calculations – it became a not-for-profit in 2001
  • All historic prices adjusted for inflation to March 2022 values.

‘Alternative supply’ sought as Devon residents still without water

Dartmouth residents have been without water since early this morning (December 1). South West Water are still exploring an ‘alternative supply’ following the major outage, which is ongoing at time of writing (9.15pm).

Toby Codd www.devonlive.com

The outage was first reported at 5am and the latest Twitter update from the water supplier was at 4.17pm. They said: “We are still investigating the cause for supply issues, we aim to have an update in the next few hours.

“We are also looking into the possibility of providing an alternative supply of water, We will keep you updated. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

By 7pm, the water had not been restored with residents beginning to ask questions on social media. One person asked South West Water when the issue was likely to be resolved, with the supplier replying that they did ‘not have an update on any information’.

The South West Water reply read: “Good evening Lauren, unfortunately we do not have an update on any information. We are still trying to locate where the issue is. As soon as we have an update we will advise you.”

Another reply to a different resident at 7.33pm said: “Good evening Philippa, the reason you have had no communication is because there has been nothing to communicate. We have been investigating since 5 AM and have not been able to locate where the issue is. We will keep you as updated and informed as possible.”

At 8.28pm, South West Water told a customer that a water collection point had been set up at the Stoke Fleming Village Hall. It said customers would be notified when the collection point was put in place.

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes and South Devon, said that he will be speaking with the water supplier to get an update on the disruption at 8.22pm. He added that ‘residents have already had to wait far too long without water.”

He tweeted: “I will be speaking to @SouthWestWater shortly to get an update on the water disruption to Dartmouth and the surrounding areas. Residents have already had to wait far too long with out water.

“I will post further information as and when I receive it.”

New plans to turn council HQ into retirement village

[Including a reduction in the number of affordable units – Surprise, surprise – Owl]

Revised plans for the controversial redevelopment of the former East Devon District Council offices in Sidmouth have been unveiled. Plans have previously been given the go-ahead to turn the premises at the Knowle into a purpose-built care home, retirement living apartments and affordable housing.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

It was all the way back in 2018 the scheme for an assisted living development was granted on appeal. Property developer LifeStory though ‘reviewed the consented development’ before selling the site to McCarthy Stone.

They have now come back with fresh plans for the site. McCarthy Stone and Porthaven are holding a virtual exhibition to display their revised proposals, which respond to the concerns raised by the community as part of the original planning consent, and that the proposals have incorporated feedback received from the first consultation held in Summer 2022.

The updated proposals for the site’s redevelopment look to provide a purpose-built care home, Extra Care and age-restricted Retirement Living accommodation as well as policy compliant affordable housing. The consultation will provide the community with the opportunity to view and comment on McCarthy Stone’s proposals for the site, ahead of a planning application being submitted in the coming months.

Shane Paull, Divisional Managing Director at McCarthy Stone Southern, said: “As part of our commitment to community engagement, we have now launched a second consultation, to ensure that the local community are afforded with another opportunity to view and comment upon the updated proposals for the site.

“The virtual exhibition provides us with another important opportunity to understand feedback on our proposals, and for us to demonstrate how the updated plans have responded to concerns raised by the community as part of the original planning consent, and from the Summer 2022 consultation.”

Latest artist impressions of plans to redevelop the Knowle in Sidmouth

Changes to the masterplan include:

· Additional parking has been included within the centre of the site, that will be naturally screened by new tree planting.

· The provision of four houses on the north-western part of the Plateau

· The number of affordable apartments has been reduced from 21 to 17. This has also enabled the affordable apartment block to be relocated from the northeast part of the Plateau to the north-west, that is stepped away from neighbouring properties

· The reduction in the level of Retirement Living PLUS apartments, from 59 to 53

· Additional tree planting to provide an extension to the Arboretum, that provides a green corridor stepping down to the south part of the Plateau site.

· The provision of two houses along the southern grass verge of the Plateau.

Latest artist impressions of plans to redevelop the Knowle in Sidmouth

The plans now include:

· In northern part of the site that currently comprises of a car park, to be developed by Porthaven, to provide a 68-bedroom care home

· A high-quality Retirement Living and Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) development to be developed by McCarthy Stone on The Plateau part of the site, featuring up to 27 one-and two-bedroom Retirement Living apartments as well as up to 53 one- and two- bedroom Retirement Living PLUS (Extra Care) apartments for private sale, part-rent part-buy and rental options

· The Plateau part of the site to also include up to 17 one-and two-bedroom affordable open market housing apartments, as well as four houses, in compliance with local authority guidance

· Tailored shared facilities within both the Retirement Living developments, including a communal lounge with a kitchenette and a hotel-style guest suite as well as an onsite bistro restaurant within the Retirement Living PLUS development.

· Principal vehicle access from Station Road, with secondary access from Knowle Drive for the use of emergency and refuse vehicles only.

· Sufficient levels of car parking onsite, including disabled and electric vehicle charging bays, in accordance with East Devon District Council’s standards, as well as an overflow parking area to the southwest of The Plateau part of the site, that will be accessed from Station Road.

The plans are available to view and comment on until December 14 at www.mccarthystoneconsultation.co.uk/sidmouth The principle of the site’s redevelopment has also been established within East Devon District Council’s Local Plan for the period up to 2031, adopted in January 2016.

Highland Council chief Donna Manson leaving for Devon post of DCC CEO

Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson is leaving to take up the same role at Devon County Council.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk

Donna Manson

Donna Manson joined Highland Council in 2018

She was service director for children and young people at Scottish Borders Council, before taking up the top job at Highland in 2018.

Ms Manson is due to leave Highland Council in February.

Convener Bill Lobban said she had led the council through difficult and challenging times, including the Covid pandemic.

Forty potential ministerial code breaches never investigated, report reveals

Why no ethics adviser? – Owl

Forty potential breaches of the ministerial code have never been referred for investigation by the ethics adviser, according to new data.

Jessica Elgot www.theguardian.com 

It comes as a parliamentary committee warned historic breaches of the code may never be investigated or resolved, including the conduct of the home secretary or Islamophobia claims against a former chief whip.

Rishi Sunak has launched a hunt for a new adviser on ministerial interests but the Guardian reported last week several candidates have turned down the role. Sunak is not offering candidates any enhanced powers – which means advisers would not be able to launch their own investigations.

The ethics adviser, when appointed, would probably face calls to renew or open at least two complex investigations – including concluding one into alleged Islamophobic comments made by the then-chief whip Mark Spencer to MP Nusrat Ghani.

There will also probably be pressure to open an investigation into the home secretary, Suella Braverman, who was sacked for a potential security breach by Liz Truss though reinstated by Sunak.

The pressure group Transparency International has been among those calling for the role to have significantly enhanced powers since it was vacated by Christopher Geidt five months ago under Boris Johnson.

In analysis of media reports, the group found 40 potential breaches of the ministerial code have not been investigated over the past five years. Those included:

All the ministers have claimed donations and meetings were recorded accurately, but Transparency International said each one represents a potential breach that should be investigated where a perceived conflict of interest may arise.

The group has also called for appointments to the role to be made with a competitive process and for the position to be defined in law – rather than both being at the whim of the PM.

Daniel Bruce, the chief executive of Transparency International UK, said: “This is further evidence the conventions-based system that is supposed to uphold standards in high-office is simply not fit for purpose. The extent of potential misconduct at the heart of government may be a shock to many, but equally concerning should be the lack of transparency over why these cases were never investigated independently.”

Sir Alex Allan, a former independent adviser, resigned after Boris Johnson refused to take action after an investigation into bullying by the then-home secretary Priti Patel.

Truss, during her short tenure as prime minister, expressed no interest in appointing a successor to Geidt. No transparency data on ministers’ interests has been published since May, despite multiple changes of government including three prime ministers.

While Sunak searches for Geidt’s successor, a separate independent investigation has been launched into the conduct of the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, by the senior employment barrister Adam Tolley KC, who is examining three bullying complaints.

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that this government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level and have committed to appointing an independent adviser on ministerial interests. This process is ongoing.”