Archive | January, 2013

Meanwhile, in South Somerset, deja-vu …..

28 Jan

Today,  Save our Sidmouth has some wonderful magazines from East Coker in South Somerset, detailing their terrific attempts to stop massive development around them on a scale hard to imagine – reminiscent of similar activity in several areas of East Devon,  see the post entitled ‘A Problem Shared’ on the SOS blog.

Of course, we share our Chief Executive with South Somerset (though here we have a Conservative majority and there they have a Lib Dem majority).  Interesting then, to see that we share other problems, too.

HERE are a couple of excerpts from the Minutes of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee at South Somerset District Council, held in October last year (items in reverse order as they appear on that agend and our highlighting):

77.  Outside Bodies
The Democratic Services Officer reported that the group were collating their final report. Due to the Scrutiny work programme and council budget setting, a report was unlikely to be made to Scrutiny Committee until February or March.

So, there are problems with “outside bodies” at South Somerset, too and the committee isn’t getting the information it wants about them quickly enough.  What a coincidence.

73. Shared Working – Update Report

The Chief Executive introduced his report as shown in the agenda. During a lively discussion members raised several comments including:

The necessity for several senior high level officers at Area East Committee meetings

Quantity of projects in the pipeline.

Shared working with East Devon hadn’t progressed as had originally been envisaged.

Relationship with Somerset County Council could be better; were there opportunities to be better joined geographically through sharing of office space?

In response to comments made the Chief Executive noted that: Comments about officer attendance were acknowledged and would be looked into. With regard to East Devon, both councils had their respective financial pressures, and the situation was now more about assessing what could be gone without rather than what could be shared. Sharing was still an option to make something more affordable and options would be worked upon when opportunities arose. The Leader was aware of the opportunities and benefits of working on the same sites as other service providers.
The Chairman thanked the Chief Executive for the update on shared working.

So, South Somerset had hoped that “joint bodies” were going to lead to economies of scale and and better relationships whereas they seem to have no economies of scale and worse relationships with  “joint bodies”  instead.  What a coincidence.

At least they do have a half share of our Chief Executive!

Big firms to get hotline to ministerial ‘buddies’ – one of whom is our MP

28 Jan

The heads of the UK’s 50 top companies have been given a hotline to individual government ministers to help the companies thrive in the UK.  Sidmouth MP Hugo Swire is being “buddied” with Proctor and Gamble, which, on its website says of itself:

P&G is the world’s largest and most profitable consumer products company, with nearly $84 billion in sales and 25 billion-dollar brands. To deliver growth among the best in our industry, we’re strengthening our core business, renewing our focus on discontinuous innovation, and implementing a $10 billion productivity program.

Leaving aside the fact that Proctor and Gamble is NOT simply a top UK business but is actually an American multinational conglomerate perfectly able to look after itself, I wonder too what Mr Swire thinks of this little nugget regarding the company where it has finally agreed to reduce carcinogens in detergents!

Wonder if he gets free samples!

Bodies: jointed, unjointed, disjointed, jointless …..

28 Jan

Put the words “district council joint body” in Google and you will come up with page after page of local authorities working with other local authorities, statutory bodies and public bodies – no example that we can find of a local authority working as a “joint body” with a group of businessmen, developers and landowners promoting their own agenda(s).

So, let’s see what the EDDC rule book (its Constitution HERE) has to say:

Article 10 of EDDC’s constitution covers “joint working” (not joint bodies) and has this to say:

10.01 Arrangements to Promote Well Being

The Council, or the Cabinet, in order to promote the economic, social or environmental well being of its area (and subject to the matter in question being included in the Council‘s community strategy) may:

(a) enter into arrangements or agreements with any person or body;

(b) co-operate with, or facilitate or co-ordinate the activities of, any person or body; and

(c) exercise on behalf of that person or body any functions of that person or body.

So, basically EDDC can work with anyone or any group!  Great, that helps a lot.

Is there, in fact,any legal agreement between EDDC and EDBF for a “joint body” and, if so, what does that actually MEAN?  If there is, then the TAFF should certainly have sight of it as it will show precisely what is covered and how it is covered and who this joint body is accountable to.

Fudge

What’s this got to do with it?  Fudge!

Is the relationship between EDDC and EDBF that of a “joint body”?

28 Jan

No.

East Devon District Council is claiming that its relationship with the East Devon Business Forum is that of a joint body.  So what is a joint body?

According to the article on Local Government Organisation in Wikipedia, if a joint body is legally required to exist, it is known as a joint-board. However, local authorities sometimes create joint bodies voluntarily and these are known as joint-committees.  These turn out to be  arrangements between councils and other public entities such as police, fire and health authorities NOT between a local authority and a groups of businessmen, developers and landowners.

There is therefore no such thing as an official relationship between a local authority and such a group of businessmen.  The relationship is NOT that of a joint body.

What the Chief Executive seems to be saying is that he would LIKE it to be seen as a joint body, because joint bodies are in practice almost totally unaccountable to the public.  Recall that a recent joint body in this part of the world – the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority – got into a lot of hot water (HERE)  when it voted itself an increase in the allowances of its members of 25% whilst firefighters are enduring a pay freeze that has so far lasted more than four years.

Is it really true that Overview and Scrutiny can’t discuss planning matters?

27 Jan

No, no, no and no again –  it isn’t true.   What it appears they CANNOT do is review planning applications that have been discussed by the Planning Committee and this is possibly what the Chief Executive has cited in his “legal advice” (though so far he has refused to name his specific source for this legal advice).  BUT an Overview and Scrutiny Committee (or its Task and Finish Forums) can discuss planning policy and planning strategy and there is even a further clause in the paragraph possibly cited by the Chief Executive that says that, in certain circumstances an Overview and Scrutiny Committee CAN discuss matters which would normally be excluded from its remit.

Firstly, can Overview and Scrutiny Committees discuss planning policy?  Yes, for example:

Nuneaton and Bedworth HERE has a “Planning and Environment  Overview and Scrutiny Panel”

Derby HERE has a “Planning, Housing and Leisure and Overview Scrutiny Board”

Wandsworth HERE has a Strategic Planning and Transportation Overview and Scrutiny Committee”

Windsor and Maidenhead HERE has aPlanning and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Panel”

Staffordshire Moorlands HERE has a Service Delivery Overview and Scrutiny Panel which discusses, amongst other things: Overview and scrutiny of the portfolio(s) covering regeneration, environment, culture, leisure and planning development and property.

One can only assume (because, as mentioned above. the Chief Executive has so far failed to reveal the specific source) that he has given his “legal advice” based on the Local Government Act 2000 which says that an O and S Committee indeed cannot be an alternative way to make complaints against a council and it will not investigate a complaint on behalf of an individual EXCEPT in certain circumstances.  Oddly, most councils neglect to publish the second part of this advice (EDDC included).

Here are both parts:

Firstly the part which is published by many councils:

Local government matter” in relation to a member [bringing something for overview and scrutiny] means a matter which relates to the discharge of any function of the authority and affects all or part of the ward for which the member is elected or any person who lives or works in that ward but excludes:

(a) a local crime and disorder matter as defined above;

(b) any matter relating to a planning decision*;
(c) any matter relating to a licensing decision*;

(d) any matter relating to an individual or entity where that person has a statutory right to a review or right of appeal (other than a right to complain to the Ombudsman);*
(e) any matter which is vexatious, discriminatory or not reasonable to be included in the agenda or discussed at an overview and scrutiny meeting; or

(f) any matter specified in an order made by the Secretary of State.

Here is the second part, which continues immediately after (f) above, which most councils neglect to put in their documentation to which the asterisks above refer:

* A matter will not be excluded, even though it falls within (b), (c) or (d) above, if it consists of an allegation that a function for which the authority is responsible has not been discharged at all or that its discharge has failed or is failing on a systematic basis. 

One definition of systematic failures:  failures due to flaws in system. Systems subjected to the same conditions fail consistently

This is indeed the allegation put before the Task and Finish Forum investigating EDBF.

What “legal advice” does the Chief Executive have about this section?

What price Knowle alternatives?

26 Jan

How much to retrofit the newer (energy rating C) office building at Knowle HQ?  (Future staff cuts are predicted)

How much to reconvert the older building, a former hotel, into 30 or so apartments?

Any offers?

Bad news for Flybe

26 Jan

Bad news here that Flybe is in difficulties and cutting jobs, many of them in Exeter.  They say that many of the jobs are senior, managerial and engineering and that the people being made redundant may leave the aviation industry completely.

The redundancies are the most dreadful news for those involved and for their families.  The East Devon area will be particularly hard hit as many of the people losing their jobs will live in our area and Exeter Airport is situated within the district.

It seems like something that the Economic Development Manager (Mr Harrison, who spends a great deal of his time servicing the East Devon Business Forum as its administrative person) might get his teeth into – attempting to locate these highly-skilled people within other businesses in the area or perhaps offering them assistance with retraining advice or skills upgrading or self-employment opportunities.  Indeed, the East Devon Business Forum might consider a special meeting to discuss this, as it is a major crisis in our local economy.

Economic Development is, after all, not just about planning applications and housing development but helping people to redeploy their skills and remain employed.

So what has happened to the postponed Task and Finish Forum on the relationship between EDDC and the East Devon Business Forum?

26 Jan

Answer, much as usual in EDDC these days – we don’t know.

Still, that gives the members of the TAFF plenty of time to research the validity of the Chief Executive’s “legal advice” that, basically, they are not allowed to discuss any of the things they were set up to discuss.  And it gives them time to get a REAL agenda published instead of the whitewash that transpired last time.  He can’t hide behind the Local Government Act, that’s for sure.  True, it says that an Overview and Scrutiny Committee should not in normal circumstances discuss individual planning applications, but the very same Act goes on to say in the very same section that, in certain circumstances (which appear to apply to this TAFF) then indeed they CAN and SHOULD be discussed.  But, of course, the Chief Executive knows that.

Whatever date,  there will be a photoshoot for objectors attending the meeting which will feature local people dressed in (?white) overalls (cheap disposable ones available from hardware stores) and buckets marked “whitewash” and “hogwash”.  Feel free to indulge your dressing up tendencies on the day!

EDDC only has to give a few days’ notice of its meetings, so we will keep an eye out for it and let you know as soon as possible – no doubt there will be the minimum amount of time they are allowed.

1st February deadline for those objections to Knowle development

26 Jan

Time is running out if you have not yet made your objection to the Knowle development.  All objection must be received by EDDC by 1 February 2012.  There is lots of help on this site and the Save our Sidmouth site if you need any tips on what to put.

Even a short objection counts as an objection so please, if you feel that EDDC is driving blindly into the future let them know.

It will be rushed to a committee for decision on 1 March 2013  at 2pm  – though perhaps 1 April 2013 would be a better choice!

 

And now it appears that East Devon Business Forum sets the business rates for the whole of East Devon too!

24 Jan

Well, that’s how it seems in this week’s The Knowledge newsletter for councillors HERE

where it says that the Business Rates Consultation Meeting scheduled for 28 January 2013 has been cancelled because “Not required –
discussed by ED Business Forum in December”.  Notice the words in the e-magazine:  BY the EDBF, not WITHBY.

Unfortunately, we will never know what EDBF decided about business rates on behalf of all business owners in the whole of East Devon because there appear to be no minutes of any EDBF meetings either on the EDDC website (no minutes since October 2012) or the EDBF website, where no minutes of meetings have ever been produced.

And interestingly, the same applies to every year since 2004.  Business rates discussion every year, no minutes, no written record of what is discussed, by whom and who decides what.

If I were the owner of an East Devon business and not a member of EDBF (perhaps because I had less than 5 employees, the minimum you can have for EDBF unless you are the Honiton Development Trust which has no businesses and no employees) I would be VERY, VERY angry and wanting to ask a few questions of the Task and Finish Forum/

Now, I wonder what “legal advice” the Chief Executive would give about THAT!