Category Archives: Planning

Will the small print exclude some EU citizens living & working in Britain?

An EU citizen working in this country thinks it will.

She emailed a downbeat response to the announcement made by Theresa May to European leaders that no EU citizens living lawfully in Britain when it exits in March 2019 would be asked to leave. She added that EU citizens already in the UK – and those who arrive lawfully during a subsequent “grace period”, expected to be up to two years – will be given the opportunity to build up five years’ worth of residence.

Our reader explained that it’s all in the small print: the way the UK interprets “lawfully” means quite a few in reality won’t qualify.

One category is that of students without “comprehensive” private health care cover (‘comprehensive’ never defined!). Others will be wrong-footed as the number of qualifying years change; those based in the UK who travelled abroad in the course of their work for more than 100 plus days find that year doesn’t count… Our reader adds:

“Those who’ll be unlikely to qualify for May’s offer could also include the retired French widow living off her pension (arrived in the UK as teacher in the 70s), as she’s not ‘economically self-sufficient’ … It is inhumane to leave her (& others in her situation) in limbo (she was interviewed last year after Brexit referendum and I doubt May’s offer has helped her to sleep better!) 😦

Matthew Weaver reports that EU leaders have described the UK’s opening offer to protect EU citizens’ rights as vague and inadequate, suggesting the British government needs to go further. 

Donald Tusk, president of the European council, said the offer was “below our expectations” and would worsen the rights of the EU citizens.

Anne-Laure Donskoy, a founding member of the 3million – which aims to protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – agreed, saying “It is like a teaser this statement, it gives you general direction of travel potentially, but there are things in the statement that need to be unpicked.”

Our reader sends a link to an article by another 3million founding member who believes that Theresa May’s ‘outline deal’ falls woefully short of the comprehensive, reciprocal offer by the EU that includes lifetime guarantees of all existing rights for EU citizens in the UK (‘migrants’) and British citizens living in the EU (‘ex-pats’) whose rights are equally at risk.

She adds a link to these right-minded EU proposals which were published early in June: Essential Principles on Citizens’ Rights. They aim to protect the rights of EU27 citizens, UK nationals and their family members who, at the date of entry into force of the Withdrawal Agreement, “enjoyed rights relating to free movement under Union law, as well as rights which are in the process of being obtained and the rights the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date [for example pension rights]”.

The Guardian reports that the full details of Theresa May’s offer to EU citizens will be published on Monday.

 

 

 

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A new kind of politics would place able loyalists above able opportunists

On the blue leaning Labour List website, Cllr Luke Akehurst refers to ‘entryists’: “We should continue to be intolerant of any sectarian antics from Momentum . . . We must fight to keep Labour as a broad church democratic socialist party with many traditions within it”.

Clive Efford, who leads the 75-plus Tribune group of Labour MPs relaunched last year, was one of several former critics who have heralded Corbyn’s performance in the campaign. He spoke out on the same site, calling for the existing shadow cabinet to be rewarded by keeping their jobs after Corbyn’s health spokesman, Jon Ashworth, urged the leader to “strengthen the squad”.

The shadow team were appointed in the aftermath of the summer “coup” last year, and several of the group, including Barry Gardiner, Angela Rayner, Andrew Gwynne, Emily Thornberry, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey proved to be effective shadow ministers. Efford said this work should now be recognised: “Jeremy has got a shadow cabinet that remained loyal and allowed him to perform extremely well during the general election.”

“We questioned whether voters would be prepared to get behind Jeremy at a general election. The opinion polls suggested we were right about that. But it has to be said that Jeremy is a brilliant campaigner and did extraordinarily well. People have had a good look at him and found that they can get behind him. They see him as a credible leader.”

 

 

 

 

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Incinerators 6: FOI reveals the surprising truth about the Javelin Park incinerator contract

News of the long campaign against the proposed Javelin Park incinerator was read by many visitors to this site in 2013 and 2015.

This year, campaigners obtained a copy of the contract, after using freedom of Information rules, and the monitoring officer at Gloucestershire County Council has now been asked to investigate whether the leader and his deputy exaggerated the cost of backing out of a plan to commission a £500m waste incinerator.

A resident of the county was contacted and replied that she had read about the discovery in the Gloucester Citizen, which republished an account from Gloucestershire Live, but neither account may now be found online. A search reveals no mainstream media reference to the subject.

Public Sector Blogs drew on an account by Tim Davies, co-founder of Open Data Services Co-operative, co-director of Practical Participation, affiliate at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society:

“The claim made to council on 18th Feb 2015 that it could cost £60m – £100m to cancel the contract appears to be based on calculations from officers, and/or Ernst and Young which have not been published by the authority (perhaps another EIR or FOIA request will be needed here…). The Tribunal ruling refers in Paragraph 27 to a document from Ernst and Young presented to Cabinet in November 2015. However campaigners reading the unredacted contract cannot find the substantiation for the cancellation costs being so high before the facility is operational. It appears breakage before the plant is in operation could cost substantially less than the break-points once it is up and running – and possibly even lower than the £30m the Council has subsequently committed from reserves to cover shortfalls in the project”.

Community R4C, a community-led project promoting a circular economy in Gloucestershire, which published local media accounts of the recent discovery here, has now gone to the council’s external auditor, Grant Thornton. With the help of the Environmental Law Foundation, a case has been put together which, it believes, shows the Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) contract is not value-for-money. It has also approached the Competition and Markets Authority, claiming that Gloucestershire’s contract breaks competition law.

A contributor to Private Eye magazine reports that environmental law expert Raymond Purdy, a senior fellow at Oxford University, has complained about the way Gloucestershire council leader Mark Hawthorne and deputy Ray Theodoulou presented financial details to a crucial meeting. As Tim Davies noted above, it was claimed that to opt out of the contract already signed with UBB would potentially cost £100m.

ELF elaborates: “The contract, originally signed in 2013 and then renegotiated in 2015, for the £500 million incinerator was awarded to Urbaser Balfour Beatty although details on pricing and information on termination were only made public following an Information Tribunal ruling in March this year (2017). In light of this information, and after seeking assistance from Counsel through ELF member, Duncan Sinclair of 39 Essex Chambers, R4C lodged a complaint with the CMA on 21st March that the Javelin Park contract breaches the Competition Act 1998. R4C believe that the exclusive contract is anti-competitive and prevents technological innovation, imposing a huge financial burden for years to come. They state that:

  • the price paid by GCC for waste disposal for a minimum amount is 10 times the next tranche, thereby creating ‘de facto’ exclusivity and foreclosing the market for waste treatment (including eliminating incentives to recycle/move higher up the waste hierarchy);
  • there are excessive termination costs thereby enforcing the ‘lock-in’; and
  • the 25-year contract prevents newer, cheaper and more efficient/environmentally friendly alternatives developing to the detriment of consumers in terms of not only price but also their interest in the environment (both local and more broadly).

If the complaint is upheld there would be serious consequences for Gloucestershire County Council and the residents they are elected to represent.

 

 

 

 

Did the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier play SimCity?

Having seen the beneficial effect of this computer game on a six-year old, a teacher advocates placing it on the national curriculum.

In every different edition of SimCity, the player is given the task of founding and developing a city from a patch of green land, defining what buildings are constructed via development zones – residential zones for Sims to live in; commercial zones for Sims to shop and have offices within; industrial zones to provide work through factories, laboratories and farms – as well as ensuring their citizens are kept happy through establishing various services and amenities, all while keeping a stable budget.

People report problems and the mayor addresses them – his objective: to keep as many people happy as possible.

SimCity 3000: (the environment and localisation now come into the equation); by allowing certain structures to be built within the city, the player could receive a substantial amount of funds from them. The four business deal structures are the maximum security prison, casino, toxic waste conversion plant, and the Gigamall (a large shopping center). Business deal structures however have serious negative effects on a city. The toxic waste dump lowers both the land value and residential desirability in the area surrounding it and produces massive pollution. The prison dramatically decreases land value. The casino increases citywide crime and the Gigamall weakens demand for local commerce.

Too late now – but if the young Michael Fallon, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Brasier had been educated by the SimCity ’game’ (now used in urban planning offices!), Michael might well have grown up less willing to play real-life war-games, Jeremy could be ensuring good care for all the sick and frail and Theresa might be putting into practice her rhetorical concern for the less fortunate in our society.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharma and the Agri-Brigade: bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers

In England, many organisations ostensibly concerned with the prosperity of farmers hold endless conferences. Analyst Devinder Sharma notes that, in India, agricultural universities, research institutes, public sector units, and other organisations also frequently gather to talk about ways to improve farmers’ income.

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He comments sardonically that while the number of seminars/conferences on doubling the farmers’ income have doubled in the past few months, farmers increasingly sink into a cycle of deprivation.

As he points out, in both countries those who talk of allowing markets to provide higher farm incomes are the ones who get assured salary packets every month – we add that in England some are even paid from a levy on farmers.

The British farming press is now pointing out that large numbers of the UK’s 86,000+ family farmers are facing a threat from the government’s new universal credit (UC). If administered as currently designed, it will have a devastating impact on many of the UK’s most economically vulnerable family farms.

Universal credit will be ‘rolled out’ regionally by the DWP to cover the whole of UK by 2022 – calculated on monthly rather than annual income and it will assume that farmers have a “minimum income floor” which assumes that all applicants earn a wage equivalent to the national minimum wage of about £230 a week which is not the case. Private Eye (The Agri Brigade column) comments:

“None of this is remotely appropriate for farmers, and it shows the folly of trying to introduce a single universal form of income support for all.

On many family farms, where one or two people may work up to 250 acres, there is often no income for up to 10 or even 1 I months in a typical trading year. The sale of a crop of lambs, cattle or grain (or receipt of an EU subsidy) means revenue is raised in just one or two months of the year so the DWP’s assumption of a “basic income floor” each month doesn’t apply. There are also fears that receipts by claimants that rake their income above the basic floor in some months will disrupt entitlement to UC in subsequent months. (And farming losses in some months cannot be offset against a profit in others)”

Shades of the I, Daniel Blake experience:

When the UC administered by the DWP comes into force, skilled hard-working farmers will have to visit unfamiliar Job Centres to register for the benefit. ln addition. They will have to undergo face-to-face interviews over their eligibility for UC and be allocated a work coach to advise them on how to improve their access to better paid employment. Given the difficulties it seems certain many family farms currently claiming tax credits (administered by HMRC) will not apply for universal credit despite their poverty.

An unworkable system

Farming UK reports that a spokesman for the Ulster Farmers Union said: “UC makes it impossible to use prospective incomes or losses, which is often what farmers depend on. The fact that farming is seasonal where there will be long periods of time when a farmer will make a loss in expectation of more profitable times at some other stage during the year. In addition, having to do monthly real-time accounts is an extra burden upon farmers, in an already hard-pressed industry, and to hire someone to prepare these accounts would be an extra expense”.

As the title has it:bureaucrats and white collar workers lacking all essential survival skills, undermine food producers”.

 

 

 

Is the HS2 project the most blatant example of UK/USA’s revolving door/vested interest ridden politics?

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“A gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials” – and industry?

Many are shocked by the hugely damaging environmental and social impacts of demolition of properties in London and homes, farms and businesses and along the proposed HS” route.

Added to this reaction is horror at news of the emerging and all-too familiar reports of conflicts of interest – a polite expression for what is a form of apparently legal corruption.

A skeletal chronological summary of news about the nominated leadership of the HS2 project and some contract awards follows, based on reports in the Financial Times, 2015-2017.

Background 2015

The Institute of Directors suggested that it would be cheaper to knock down Birmingham and build a new city 20 minutes closer to the capital, while the Institute of Economic Affairs cast doubt on HS2’s regeneration benefits, pointing out that HS1 failed to regenerate Kent, with the average employment rate in the south east of Britain 5% lower than before the high speed service was introduced.

Portugal, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium have all cancelled planned or existing high-speed rail projects and some argue that Britain should follow suit. Martin Blaiklock, a consultant on infrastructure and energy project finance, said that extra capacity could be built more cheaply by adding to existing railways. “[HS2] is very high-risk,” he says. “It is a gravy train for consultants, involving banks, lawyers and government officials.”

Conflict of interest emerges in 2015-16 in favour of an American multinational 

revolving-door-peopleIt was reported that Roy Hill, managing director of the US-headquartered engineering company CH2M, has been seconded to HS2 acting chief executive on a temporary basis from November, after Simon Kirby, the former chief executive, elected to leave for Rolls-Royce. Mr Hill worked at HS2’s offices in Canary Wharf for CH2M between 2012 and 2014 after the company won the role of development partner carrying out preparatory work, in a contract worth about £70m.

CH2M entrenched?

In Gill Plimmer’s FT article yesterday, readers were reminded that Mark Thurston, an executive at CH2M, has now been appointed chief executive of HS2 Ltd, replacing the aforementioned Roy Hill.  He will take over in March.

David Higgins, HS2’s chairman, said he recognised the need to avoid any conflict of interest and that Mr Thurston would consequently cut all links with his previous employer. “They will be treated in the same way as any other supplier – no more or less favourably than that,” Mr Higgins said of CH2M.

CH2M has already been paid around £500m for working on the line as development partner and then the delivery partner on Phase 1 of the high-speed railway project, from London to Birmingham. Phase 2 covers Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.

Mace, a large consultancy and construction company, which worked on the London 2012 Olympics and plans for Hinkley Point C, has written to HS2 Ltd, set up by government in 2009, announcing that it intends to challenge the decision to award CH2M, the US engineer, a contract to design the second phase of the London to Manchester line. “As a British-owned company, we were naturally disappointed with HS2’s decision and are looking closely at our options,” Mace said.

 gravy-train

Ms Plimmer states that Mace is threatening to sue the state-owned company behind Britain’s planned £56bn high-speed railway line over alleged conflicts of interest..

She quotes a source close to the legal process who said it was “extremely likely” that Mace would file a claim in the High Court this week. “Mace is concerned over conflicts of interest. It is looking for an injustice to be corrected,” the source said. “CH2M has been awarded half a billion pounds worth of contracts even though nothing has been built yet.” CH2M declined to comment.

Legal action could delay the project, which is expected to get Royal Assent this week, paving the way for construction to start this year. Final amendments to the HS2 bill are being debated on Monday in the House of Commons.

Tony Berkeley, the Labour peer and a former engineer who worked on the Channel tunnel, said the situation “smells”. “There must be other companies in the UK who are capable of doing it. Is HS2 actually competent to do the procurement or are they just relying on CH2M to do the whole thing and procure themselves?”

 

 

 

 

Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?

theresa-may-conf

Martin Wolf (FT) reminds readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.

He continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.

The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility

david-willettsHowever, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)

Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.

Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT): 

As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.

Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.

Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give

The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.

Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.

Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young

Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:

“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.

A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.

aegon-pensions

The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).

A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.

Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:

“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.

But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.

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In other words: a roused public might rock

the corporate/political boat.

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Three churches’ reflections on fracking, a caveat, and one clearcut decision

As yet no reference has been found in these reflections to the numerous studies about the adverse health impacts of this technology. Setting aside alarming accounts on campaigning sites, we reproduce the cover of just one of several reports published by America’s Environmental Health Perspectives (ISSN-L 0091-6765), a monthly peer-reviewed journal of research and news published with support from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

ehp-cover-frackimg

ConclusionsIn this large cohort, we observed an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of CHDs (congenital heart defects) and possibly NTDs (neural tube defects, a common condition being spina bifida). Greater specificity in exposure estimates is needed to further explore these associations.

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In 2016, a Methodist Conference motion requested the Methodist Council to give consideration to the issue of fracking and the following briefing is to be considered by the Methodist Council in January 2017: Fracking – Proposed response to Notice of Motion 2016/207. Its list of church reports/resources is published at the end of this article.

Following a 2013 statement, the Church of England issued a December 2016 briefing paper, commissioned by the Mission and Public Affairs Council, and the Environment Working Group:

“Clearly all carbon based fuels contribute to global warming and are less than ideal in terms of climate change. However, it should also be recognised that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely. Fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that may reduce the impact of more polluting fuels are just some of the factors which need to be taken into account in any debate alongside the concern we all have about the impact of fossil fuels upon climate change . . .

“The case for and against fracking depends first on conclusions about the role of shale gas in a transitional energy policy. Shale gas is a potentially useful element in achieving a transition to a much lower carbon economy . . . “

fracking-plant-14

Quakers are calling for an outright ban on new and intensive forms of fossil fuel extraction, including fracking for shale gas and oil, and underground coal gasification. Meeting in London this week, they said, “The UK needs to be investing in efficient and renewable energy, and reducing demand, not in additional fossil fuels. Fracked gas is not the low-carbon solution some suggest that it is and is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. It is destructive of the environment, land and communities.”

On Saturday, 6th May, many will climb Lancashire’s Pendle Hill – at the centre of an area licensed for fracking – to protest against the effects of fracking, both locally and around the world. It is a significant place for Quakers; in 1652 George Fox climbed the hill and had a vision of creating a great movement of people. Weeks later, at Firbank Fell in Cumbria, he preached to one thousand for three hours”. Meeting for Sufferings, Quakers’ representative body, said:

“At this time we are particularly concerned about the expansion of fracking for shale gas. The UK needs to be investing in efficient and renewable energy, and reducing demand, not in additional fossil fuels. Fracked gas is not the low-carbon solution some suggest that it is and is incompatible with tackling the climate crisis. It is destructive of the environment, land and communities”. 

Anne van Staveren, Media Relations Officer, Quakers in Britain,020 7663 1048

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Reports/resources from Churches: http://www.methodist.org.uk/fracking

 

 

 

Closer to home: spotlight on combined authorities and elected mayors – democratise!

A reader brought to our attention the recent article on transport by Richard Hatcher. Before we focus on this, we set it in the context of his reflections on combined authorities for thoughtful people in the seven CAs already established and a further seven proposed – read in detail here

Why government – and employers – want a directly-elected mayor

A directly-elected mayor is a presidential form of local government, accountable only in direct elections every four years with no right of removal.  It means the government can deal with a single leader and one not tied to local political parties as a council leader is – an arrangement that suits the private sector too. Directly-elected mayors offer the possibility of a Tory mayor, or at least an independent, being elected in Labour-dominated urban areas. And they are ideally suited to the media’s fondness for reducing politics to personalities.

Democratise the Combined Authorities: London has an elected Assembly – why not the West Midlands?

 

batc

 

Richard Hatcher points out on BATC’s website that there is a precedent, the scrutiny arrangements in London: “There ongoing public accountability of the directly elected mayor and the Greater London Authority is ensured by a directly elected London Assembly.  The London Assembly has 25 elected members. They are not just existing councillors drafted onto a Scrutiny Committee, they are elected by citizens who vote for them specifically because they are going to fight for their interests. And they aren’t just reactive to policy, they act as champions for Londoners proactively investigating concerns through not just one but 15 issue-based committees and raising their findings and their policy demands with the Mayor and with the government itself”.

The Constitution of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) does not exclude the option of an elected Assembly, Hatcher asks “If it’s right for London why isn’t it right for the West Midlands?”. Three principles are laid down and seven positive steps – read on here.

Scrutiny?

His article written earlier this month describes the WMCA Scrutiny Committee as being ‘seriously incapable’ of carrying out that responsibility: “The Scrutiny Committee only has 12 councillor members. It is scheduled to have only four meetings during the year, for two hours each.  It is inconceivable that the Committee can engage with the huge range of activities of the WMCA, select issues to scrutinise and carry out a serious process of scrutiny in that time. (Each set of documentation for the monthly CA Board meetings typically amounts to a hundred pages or more, let alone those from the other dozen or more committees.)”

Be aware of conflicts of interest

The Scrutiny Committee allocates 3 places to representatives of the 3 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), the employer-led bodies representing business interests. Hatcher comments: “This is an extraordinary decision which seems unique among Combined Authorities”. For example, there are no LEP representatives on the Greater Manchester CA Scrutiny Committee. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report into devolution and Combined Authorities, published in June 2016 said:

“It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public.

LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities”.

So far two of the three LEP places have been taken up by named representatives. One is Sarah Windrum, founder and CEO of Warwickshire technology company The Emerald Group, on behalf of the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP. The other is Black Country LEP Board Member Paul Brown, Director of Government Services for Ernst & Young, a global accountancy company.

Ernst and Young serves as auditor and tax adviser to Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the businesses which have come under the most fire for avoiding taxes. As its website says, it is closely involved in the formulation and delivery of policy “across a wide range of central Government departments”.  Given the controlling role of government in the WMCA, Hatcher thinks it inevitable that Paul Brown, as Director of Government Services, would be exercising scrutiny on behalf of the CA over policies which his employer, Ernst and Young, would have been involved in formulating and delivering.

Other members of the Black Country LEP have a direct interest in investment in land for construction. The Chair of the BC LEP is Simon Eastwood, Managing Director of Carillion Developments, Carillion Plc. Carillion plc is a British multinational facilities management and construction services company with its headquarters in Wolverhampton. It is one of the largest construction companies operating in the UK. Among its projects in the West Midlands is the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in Birmingham city centre. Read on here.

Hatcher concludes: “In the absence of an elected Assembly, the Scrutiny Committee is the only instrument of public accountability of the WMCA. Its credibility depends on there being no suspicion in the public mind that there are actual or potential conflicts of interest. For that reason we believe there should be no representatives of LEPs on the Scrutiny Committee”.

 

 

 

Housing minister: executive homes built in the countryside are profitable but don’t keep villages alive

Alice Thomson reports that more than 1,300 villages have disappeared in the first decade of this century, according to figures recently released by the Office for National Statistics: “Their greens, meadows, churches, war memorials and pubs have been subsumed into towns and cities, their identities eroded”. This land was used predominantly for more concrete jungle of warehouses, car parks, offices and supermarkets.

saltaireShe reminds us that the Victorians campaigned to save their countryside, backed by artists, poets, architects, writers, businessmen like George Cadbury and Titus Salt (Saltaire, left).

By the 1920s twentytwo organisations were lobbying parliament over our landscape and together they formed what is now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which championed green belts. Alice calls for us to devote as much of our imagination to preserving our villages and countryside as did those Victorian artists, poets, architects, writers and businessmen, commenting: “If organisations such as the CPRE hadn’t been set up and we had followed the relaxed planning laws of the US, London could now look like Los Angeles and would reach Brighton”.

Urban councils receive 40% more funding than those in rural areas, but seaside, market and country towns need to be rejuvenated, with more bus routes, better broadband and more sensitive, innovative building projects.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework, councils must have a “local plan” limiting housing developments to land specifically allocated for it. But 40% of councils haven’t completed their plans, mostly because of legal objections from developers and, despite the increasing population, fewer houses were built in the last decade than in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s. Ms Thomson and many others agree that urban housebuilding should predominantly once more be on brownfield sites. High streets and out-of-town shopping centres can be turned back into housing as we increasingly buy goods online.

One commentator added: “Villages need affordable rented housing, once called council housing, to give people a stable home life where children can go to the local school and use local services. Executive homes built in the countryside are very profitable but don’t enhance a stable community. Let’s build in villages and keep them alive. It used to be like that until council houses were sold off”.

Alice continues: After Brexit there is a chance to redefine our relationship with the countryside.