Archive | January, 2014

Astounding figures re Knowle relocation

31 Jan
EDDC Chief Executive Mark Williams’ recently issued a note/circular to staff which stated:
‘  From responses to the staff engagement survey, we were able to gain the following in terms of staff preference for a location other than Knowle:
 
– 57% Honiton
 
– 42% Clyst House
 
– 29% Cranbrook
 
– 21% Skypark  ’
 
 
Which makes a voter turnout of 149%!
SINful question : Any stats on percentage of staff who’d prefer to stay at Knowle?

Local Plan hearing documents updated yesterday 30 January 2014

31 Jan

Those who are preparing their submissions to the Local Plan hearings are advised that the documentation was updated yesterday.

For the most up-to-date information go to:

http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/progofficer

Noxious noticeboard?

31 Jan

The well-used Save our Sidmouth town centre notice board had its permission refused, on the grounds that it is ‘untidy’ and ‘dangerous’.   An appeal is now in place.

Deadline for representations is 5th March. Details here: PI noticeboard appeal

Flybe expand in Birmingham

31 Jan

W(h)ither Exeter?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-25976965

Council watchdog shows its teeth, over ballooning costs of the Knowle move

31 Jan

 Members of EDDC’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) last night gave a resounding vote of no confidence in what a senior Conservative councillor has termed the Council leadership’s “creative accounting”,  over their proposed relocation of the District HQ. The debate preceding the vote had shown Councillors of different political persuasions, and the public, uniting in their call for more precise information about EDDC’s calculations.

A question from Richard Thurlow, Chair of Save our Sidmouth, pointed out that the sum allocated to planning the move was now over £800,000, with £350,000 already spent. There had been no public accountability. “We must be able to see how much has been wasted” he said, particularly on the abortive first  planning application to develop the Knowle site.

Deputy CEO Richard Cohen, who leads the relocation team, resisted the demand for public scrutiny of the finances. There is a difference he said, between “what is of interest to the public, and what is in the public interest”.

Many members of the Committee were not on Mr Cohen’s wavelength. Cllr Roger Giles (Independent) asked how the figures had been arrived at, and referred to what Cllr Peter Halse (Con),  at the last OSC meeting, had termed EDDC’s  “creative accounting” concerning the relocation. In response, Richard Cohen admitted that he had not asked the Head of Finance for  “a full breakdown” of the costs.

Cllr Graham Troman (Conservative) said he was strongly opposed to the decision to devastate the economy of Sidmouth by relocation without clear and published accounts. “We need to know the asset values of the Knowle and Manstone Avenue so we can make an informed decision,” he argued.

Cllr Mike Allen (Conservative) said he had no confidence in the “lemming method of management” which threatened to drive the Council over a financial cliff. “We have come to the point of raiding our assets at Honiton to pay for this move……why are we willing to sacrifice so much?”  (At this point Council Leader Paul Diviani left the room!)

Cllr Allen added that the costs of merely planning the relocation were approaching the estimate of what it would cost to repair the Knowle. “It’s time we took a second look”, he said.

Cllr Claire Wright (Independent) agreed that “finances are getting out of control” at a time of “huge financial hardship.” She added that the Council’s documents used to justify the relocation were “heavy on persuasion, light on (financial) detail”. She said EDDC faced a severe PR problem because the public did not trust consultants’ reports commissioned by the Council which claimed that the modernisation of the Knowle would be prohibitively expensive.She proposed a motion (seconded by Roger Giles) that an independent survey of the Council offices be commissioned to clarify the situation.

Cllr Derek Button (Lib Dem) added his support: “We are racing ahead on a project that may not be necessary……..Now is not the time for a massive spending of public funds.”

Deputy Leader Cllr Andrew Moulding (Conservative) tried to calm fears with the leadership’s mantra that Knowle was “not fit for purpose” – a claim echoed loyally (as usual) by Sidmouth Rural councillor Chris Wale), but no evidence was forthcoming.

Then ,by eight votes to four abstentions, the OSC voted in favour of Claire Wright’s motion for an independent survey of the Knowle offices, with an amendment by Mike Allen that the consultants’ report on the costs of Knowle refurbishment should be “republished”.

Those voting for the proposal were: Mike Allen (Con); Peter Bowden (Con) although he had argued against the proposal!); Derek Button (LibDem); Roger Giles (Ind – seconder); Brenda Taylor (LibDem); Graham Troman (Con); Eileen Wragg (LibDem); Claire Wright (Ind – proposer). Total 8, with 4 abstentions (and probably 2 non-abstention abstainers).

Included in those not supporting the motion were: Conservatives John O`Leary, and, most astonishingly perhaps, two Sidmouth Councillors Frances Newth  and Chris Wale .

The Committee then also unanimously supported a motion proposed by Cllr Tim Wood (Conservative) –whose chairmanship of the meeting was exemplary- that it should receive from the leadership a detailed breakdown of the planning costs surrounding the relocation project.

 

 

LATEST: Newton Poppleford – Councillor Salter – Crown Prosecution Service to take no action

31 Jan

Now all we need is to get the disgraced ex-councillor Graham Brown issue sorted.

If only it could have been done as quickly – but, of course, EDDC slowed down the process enormously by reporting this to the wrong agency.

Neutrality/politics?

31 Jan
There is a big stink going on in Carmarthenshire at the moment where the Welsh Audit Office has issued a damning report of how its council works and says some acts have been unlawful.  For more information see the posting “Unlawful, arrogant beyond belief and out of control” on this blog

It contains much interesting information including this paragraph:

No other Welsh council chief executive maintains such a high public profile. No other Welsh chief executive has built for himself a media platform which includes both the council’s own paper and also two leading local weeklies. No other Welsh chief executive has so frequently crossed the line which separates neutral public servants from the politicians.

A lesson for all Chief Executives: neutrality not politics is what they are paid for.  They do the neutrality, the councillors do the politics.

Knowle relocation….an informed decision?

30 Jan

At this evening’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Sidmouth Cllr Graham Troman (Con) was one of the many who spoke out strongly against accepting the planned Knowle move without full knowledge of the financial calculations. He pointed out that “We need to have the asset values of the Knowle and Manstone (current in-town employment site proposed for change to affordable housing), before I can make an informed decision”.

For more on tonight’s meeting, go to :http://saveoursidmouth.com/2014/01/30/the-lemming-method-of-management-for-knowle-relocation/

Ethics and Trust and The Committee for Standards in Public Life

30 Jan

The Committee for Standards in Public Life said two important projects in 2014/15 would be to:

  • Review how ethics can be included across public sector organisations in internal processes such as induction and professional development and enable staff to exercise appropriate ethical judgement in resolving problems faced. The committee said it would be collaborating with other sectors “to identify what works, capture best practice and make recommendations to help public sector organisations promote and support ethical decision making and a culture of high ethical standards”. It intends to publish a final review in July.
  • Conduct further work on international comparators on trust. With evidence of declining trust in public institutions in the UK, the committee plans to do some further work on international comparators “to ascertain if declining trust is a national trend or part of a broader change in attitudes of citizens across western democracies”. A seminar will be held in March exploring the role high ethical standards can play in establishing and maintaining trust.

Lord (Paul) Bew, chairman of the committee, said: “The seven ‘Nolan’ principles of public life are now widely known and disseminated. What is needed now is not, generally, new sets of rules, codes, guides and regulators but greater embedding of ethical standards into the culture of public sector organisations. Our recent responses to consultations such as whistleblowing and police standards reflect this, as does our work programme for 2014.”

http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17105:standards-watchdog-to-review-risks-from-new-models-of-service-delivery&catid=59&Itemid=27

Dear Mr Swire

29 Jan

Many of the East Devon constituents of MP Hugo Swire  are incensed that he voted for the so-called ‘gagging law which Parliament passed on Wednesday of this week.  One of them is  Robert Crick, who writes:

‘Your readers may be interested in my correspondence with our MP the Right Honourable Hugo Swire about the Lobbying Bill that has just been passed into law.
Having received instant automatic email acknowledgements from his office, I wrote in some detail on 2 September 2013:
Dear Mr Swire, Thanks for your messages. I recognise how busy you are and how your role on the front bench constrains your freedom to act independently. But I want to take this opportunity to clarify that there are two separate issues that I believe need your urgent attention.
The first is the growing scandal about Lobbying in East Devon District where the Sidmouth Herald reports that an unnamed officer has cancelled the scrutiny meeting scheduled for tonight and has again vetoed for investigation the topic which was agreed by the Councillors (our elected representatives) a year ago. This scrutiny group was set up following widespread outrage in early 2012 at secretive and potentially corrupt practices by the local lobbying group, the EDBF. Nearly four thousand East Devon residents took to the streets about this in November 2012, the Daily Telegraph splashed an exposé in March 2013, there were massive votes of no confidence in local Conservative Party candidates in the May elections, and still there is secrecy and a suppression of democratic accountability at the higher levels of local government. This must be a concern for our MP, if only because the May 2015 General Election is approaching.
The other issue is a widespread fear that the poor drafting of the Bill intended to rein in such lobbyists, which is before Parliament tomorrow 3rd Sept, means that non-commercial campaigning groups such as Amnesty, Sustrans, CPRE, the BMA, RSPB etc. even including our own Sid Vale Association, will potentially be gagged for a full twelve months before any general election. I am sure this is not what you would have intended but, if it goes through as worded and has such an effect, there will be further outrage across the political spectrum from your constituents.
I trust you will report back to the community on your contribution to tomorrow’s debate at the earliest opportunity.
I do not know whether Mr Swire has reported back to his constituents on this matter but he did me the courtesy of writing a personal letter explaining why he had no choice but to support the government. So I wrote as follows on 9 September 2013:
Dear Mr Sw

ire,
I am disappointed to note that you have not acknowledged the serious points I raised in my previous communications. I have had expressions of support and concern from a very wide range of people in the constituency,including members of the local Conservative Association,about both aspects of this issue. I know you have an important role in Government but you are also our representative,and we need to know you are listening.
I sincerely hope that you will consider the dangers to democracy in the apparent limitations on campaigning by third parties during election years in what seems like a hastily and badly drafted Bill. It is coming up for a second reading tomorrow. Please make clear that it is not your intention nor the intention of  Parliament to prevent any group,other than established parties of professional politicians,from promoting opinions from May 2014 for twelve months. It sounds like a prescription for Putin’s Russia rather than our open democracy. Please refer the Bill back for redrafting.
I also trust that you will send some sort of reassurance to your East Devon constituents that the suppression of our elected representatives’ enquiries into potential lobbying scandals in East Devon District Council has your attention and that you will take action on this as soon as you can find the time in your busy schedule. The level of secrecy seems quite unjustified and is financially costly to council tax payers,and politically costly to your party.
A few weeks later Mr Swire wrote to reassure me that he did not believe the Bill would damage our democratic processes. He also explained why he could not intervene in the East Devon District Council’s apparent lobbying cover-up.
 
I wrote to him on 9 October:
 
Dear Mr Swire,
I commend the government for seeking to “take the big money out of politics.” I am sure this is no easy task but it is worthwhile. You will be aware that there is continuing suspicion around this issue; and there has been some legal opinion that the effect of the Bill may be contrary to the Government’s declared intentions. I fear it is possible that judges in the future may interpret the law perversely but I feel we must trust our legislators to make the law as watertight as possible in defence of our liberties. Thank you very much for allaying my concern with your reassuring words.
I trust you will be checking the details of the wording and potential future interpretations as the revised Bill goes into its third reading.
Thank you also for your ongoing attention to concerns about EDDC. Much of the criticism may have been self-defeating in its stridency and personal animus, but I am persuaded that there is a serious case to answer.
The problem has been well summed up, with some objectivity, in one of the responses to the revised Plan that have just been sent to the Planning Inspector:
‘The panel rejected two independent commissioned reports from Roger Tym and Atkins (on housing and employment requirements) in favour of a report by the East Devon Business Forum (which represents mainly large developers). This recommended much higher levels of growth.
 
‘When challenged at a Scrutiny Committee meeting, the Chief Executive described the Business Forum as “a kind of joint body” with the Council and ruled that the committee had no power to examine the very thing it was set up to do, i.e. scrutinise the general influence of the Forum on planning.’
But the Planning Inspector has no power to consider the process by which the Plan was developed, only the viability of the final proposals. So the problem will remain unaddressed.

 

Your constituents

  understood that the only route available to get the Council to investigate this alleged scandal was the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which set up a Task and Finish Forum in September 2012. But in September 2013, the fourth meeting of this investigative forum was postponed sine die. Previous meetings, at one of which the key witnesses had been instructed not to attend, without any notice being given to the Chair, had been 

 inconclusive.

 
Investigative journalists provided a non-democratic route for opening up one aspect of these concerns but this has simply led to a police enquiry following the resignation of one Councillor, whom I cannot believe to have been the sole source of deviations from due process, nor can he be responsible for the continuing secrecy on key decisions.
Leading Conservative District Councillors have spoken off the record about their concerns and have urged me and others to pursue questions which they have found it difficult to take up in the council chamber for a range of reasons indicated in the above narrative. They are men of integrity who have said, in terms, that local citizens have a responsibility to continue pushing to find out how certain proposals found their way into the Local Development Plan.
It seems that you are our last resource in finding a democratic route to getting an enquiry into these widespread misgivings about the District Council’s ability to investigate the transparency of its decision-making processes.
I would be grateful for your advice on what steps would be appropriate for concerned and responsible citizens in your constituency.
Mr Swire’s office responded with yet another instant automatic email acknowledgement but no further word or action. Four months later, I ask your readers whether they are confident that our democracy is in safe hands. What is to be done?’