Tag Archives: planning

Cummings council tax: a form letter for your local authority

Where he belongs: but Dominic Cummings (and his family) seem able to get away with anything because of his connection with Boris Johnson.

The family of Dominic Cummings has been allowed to avoid paying historical council tax on several properties built on their land without planning permission, it has been revealed.

What a great opportunity for the rest of us!

It seems clear that every other council taxpayer in the UK should write to their local authority’s council tax department, demanding appropriately similar treatment. The text could run something like this:

To whom it may concern,

I read with pleasure that a family in Durham has received an effective Council Tax rebate of £30,000. What a boost for them in these Covid-19-blighted times – and on properties without planning permission, too!

write to request delivery of my own council tax rebate. While I accept that this may be adjusted down according to the council tax band in which my dwelling falls, I expect I must be due a considerable amount more than the family in Durham – because my dwelling does have planning permission.

It has occurred to me that the rebate may not be applied to my area, but only to families in Durham – but that would make no sense, would it? Why would one area receive preferential treatment? We’re all in this together, after all – or at least, that’s what we’re told!

I look forward to your reply by return of post, stating the amount of rebate to which I am due for my property, along with notification of the transfer to my bank.

Alternatively, you’d better be able to explain why a wealthy family of lawbreakers is being rewarded, rather than punished, for breaking planning laws and hiding the fact for 18 years, when the rest of us have to pay.

With regards,

(And so on.)

The injustice is clear – just think about Melanie Woolcock, the single mother who defaulted on her council tax because she wasn’t well enough to work and the Tory benefit system paid so little that she could not afford to pay the amount outstanding and buy food.

She was arrested for non-payment of £4,742 in council tax – less than one-sixth of what Cummings’s family is said to have owed – and forced to serve an 81-day prison sentence.

Between her and the Cummings family, who do you think deserves leniency?

It’s not even up for question, is it? Yet in Boris Johnson’s Britain, his adviser’s rich family walk free while the sick woman went to jail for the crime of being poor.

This latest scandal has sparked a wave of outrage – and a few alternative proposals:

Source: Dominic Cummings allowed to avoid backdated council tax on second home | Politics | The Guardian

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Has Boris Johnson’s ‘mutant’ algorithm migrated from education to planning?

Robert ‘bent as a nine-bob note’ Jenrick: perhaps he’s using the algorithm so he can blame a machine when the backlash happens.

This will fuel rumours that the Tories have been using the same algorithm to boost the rich and harm the poor for many years (and only got caught when they applied it to ‘A’ level and GCSE results).

Only a matter of days after the Johnson administration was forced to u-turn away from the school exam results achieved by using this algorithm – that boosted the rich and harmed the poor – we’re being told that Robert Jenrick will be using an algorithm in his new planning process.

The same one?

Jenrick’s idea is to use an algorithm to produce targets for development in every area of England.

But The Times is reporting that “Lichfields, the planning consultancy, has said the plan will achieve the opposite of ‘levelling up’.”

To This Writer, that indicates that this algorithm will pile the most pressure on areas inhabited by the poor, while the rich get to maintain their views, their access to Green Belt land and all the other advantages the planning system can provide.

Jenrick is already tarred with plenty of evidence that he’s as bent as a nine-bob note. This will only increase calls for his removal from government.

Source: Robert Jenrick backs housing algorithm as Tory MPs fear threat to suburbs | News | The Sunday Times

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Is Robert Jenrick safe from the sack because Boris Johnson is implicated in Westferry corruption scandal?

Jenrick and Johnson: both have personal connections with property developer Richard Desmond, so why have they been interfering in the determination of his planning applications?

Here’s an interesting kink on the Westferry planning scandal:

Let’s assume there’s something in what John Stevens – and Henry Mance – are saying and that Richard Desmond, the man behind the Westferry development plan, had a considerable amount of contact with Boris Johnson. That would create cause for concern, and we would certainly be justified in wanting to know the nature of any communications.

Now consider this:

A key player in the controversial Westferry Printworks development can be revealed as an investment firm owned by a super-rich Tory donor and crony of Boris Johnson.

The “development manager” is a company which has donated £200,000 to the Tories.

[The planning application] was made by a company owned by Mr Desmond but the developer was London and Regional Properties, a firm behind £9billion of building projects owned by [Ian] Livingstone and brother Richard. It is unclear if LRP is still involved, but Westferry Printworks is listed as a development on its website.

The company donated nearly £202,000 to the Tories between 2005 and 2012.

It is run by [Mr] Livingstone, who the Prime Minister appointed to the board of his Mayor’s Fund for London.

Mr Johnson approved the original plans for the East London site during his final days as Mayor of the capital.

So now this “cash for favours” row has a strong connection with Boris Johnson and Downing Street.

Also suspicious is the Tories’ apparent desperation to distance themselves from any interest in Mr Desmond and his firm – for example, by banning the BBC from using photographs of Mr Desmond and Robert Jenrick together at a Conservative Party fundraising event:

The Conservatives have banned the BBC from publishing pictures of Robert Jenrick and Richard Desmond at a party fundraising dinner.

The pictures are owned by Conservative Party, with the BBC saying it was prevented from publishing them. A spokeswoman for the corporation told Yahoo News UK on Thursday: “We didn’t use them for legal reasons.”

The same article states that Johnson is standing by his minister:

Downing Street said on Thursday that the prime minister still has “full confidence” in Jenrick, adding Johnson had spoken to the embattled minister in recent days and “considers the matter closed”.

Isn’t that what a prime minister would say if he was unable to fire his underling – for example, because the flunky was only doing what the PM had told him to do?

I ask merely rhetorically.

Meanwhile, it seems Jenrick is now embroiled in another “cash for favours” row:

Labour has called on… Robert Jenrick, to explain a ministerial meeting with a “family friend” who had a financial interest in the future of a rival mining project that Jenrick was overseeing.

The Guardian revealed this week that Jenrick met the Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer while the then exchequer secretary to the Treasury was considering a request for financial support from Sirius Minerals for a mining project that would have rivalled Ofer’s own firm Cleveland Potash.

A spokesperson for Jenrick said on Friday that Ofer was a “family friend” and that the minister had notified officials, who advised him to step back from the decision on Sirius.

But the spokesperson did not say when Jenrick recused himself and the Guardian understands he retained oversight of Sirius’s request for support for at least six months after the meeting.

Put this together with the amount of money that property giants give to the Conservatives…

The Tories have received more than £11m from property developers since Boris Johnson became prime minister, an investigation has found.

Concerns have been raised about the apparent increased influence property developers have over the Conservative government. Their contributions make up nearly a quarter of the £47.5m in donations received by the party from last July to March, up from 7.9 per cent of the total two years ago.

The latest analysis by the OpenDemocracy website found that the Conservatives’ top 10 property donors have given more than £5.7m to the party since Mr Johnson took the helm in July – up from around £1.5million for the equivalent top 10 in the final 12 months of Theresa May’s premiership, a three-fold increase. In total, around 120 individuals and companies from the sector have donated since July last year.

… and there is certainly enough evidence to ask questions.

Of course, there can be no implication of wrongdoing by Conservative donors whose contributions are made only through support for Tory policies; who have no personal connection with Conservative ministers.

But when there is a connection, as with Idan Ofer and Jenrick, and with Richard Desmond and both Jenrick and Johnson, it is not only right to ask questions – an investigation is positively demanded.

The Westferry matter goes a step beyond even this – because wrongdoing is known to have happened, and because the person who is refusing to take action against the minister responsible for the transgression himself has a connection with the developer – and the development itself.

I mean, who can blame us for questioning Jenrick when it seems he won planning permission for an extension to his Westminster home, against planning officers’ recommentations, from councillors who were his fellow Conservatives?

Conservative councillors on Westminster council gave planning permission for an enlargement of Jenrick’s townhouse despite officers recommending the application be refused because it would harm the appearance of the building and the conservation area.

Planning officers were recommending refusal of this third application but Steve Summers a Tory councillor and a neighbour of Jenrick made an official request that a planning committee take the decision and not officers.

In November 2014 the three Conservative members of the planning committee — Richard Beddoe, Robert Rigby and Paul Church — voted to overturn the officers recommendation and approve the scheme. Ruth Bush, the single Labour member of the committee voted against the application.

In March 2018 Robert Davis who was chair of planning at Westminster council for 17 years resigned after the Guardian revealed he had received hospitality and gifts hundreds of times including from property developers.

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Planning corruption: it seems Jenrick isn’t the only Tory accused of breaking the rules

Robert Jenrick: while he was presenting press conferences about Covid-19, he has also been mired in an apparent corruption scandal.

The evidence is mounting against planning minister Robert Jenrick in the scandal over the Westferry development – and interest in the controversy has revealed further potential corruption.

It seems Robert Jenrick was induced to overturn the refusal of the Westferry planning application after property developer Richard Desmond showed him a promotional video for the £1bn development. Here’s The Guardian:

“What I did was I showed him the video,” Desmond told the Sunday Times, adding that Jenrick had watched it for “three or four minutes”, and adding: “It’s quite long, so he got the gist.”

Jenrick subsequently overturned a decision by a local council and the government’s planning inspectorate in order to approve a 500-apartment, 44-storey development at Westferry Printworks, a former printing plan in east London.

Viewing the video would appear to constitute lobbying by Desmond, potentially giving rise to a conflict of interest.

Labour will use the opportunity of a three-hour opposition day debate on Wednesday to discuss the controversy.

That’s today – June 24.

Meanwhile, according to The Mirror

A Tory former planning minister is reportedly under investigation for failing to declare an interest in a hotel development in his constituency.

Sir Bob Neill wrote a letter to his local council in December 2018, urging them to approve the redevelopment of The Royal Bell – a neglected hotel in his Bromley Constituency.

But he failed to mention in his letter that he was on the payroll of the Substantia Group – the firm handling the planning application for the hotel.

Sir Bob has been paid £50,000 by the firm for “strategic consultancy advice” since 2016, according to the register of members’ interests.

But his links to the firm were not explicitly outlined in the letter.

Shadow Housing Minister Mike Amesbury said: “It beggars belief that a former planning minister would not be aware of the obvious conflict of interest in this case.”

And the Telegraph today reported Sir Bob had intervened in another planning application being handled by the same firm – again without mentioning his paid position.

MPs voted in 2018 for investigations by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to remain secret. Some might suggest that this was an offence against justice, which must be seen to be done.

But it has been reported the Commissioner has launched an investigation into Sir Bob’s involvement in the project after receiving a complaint.

Source: Jenrick under growing pressure after fresh Desmond revelation | Politics | The Guardian

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Teen climate activist shames the world – but the Tories are trying to expand fracking across the UK

Frack site: The well in Lancashire contributes to global warming and climate change.

Climate change “negotiators” got a hard lesson in their own shortcomings – from a minor.

Greta Thunberg is only 15, but she packed more maturity into her three-minute speech than we’ve seen in decades of mealy-mouthed “negotiations” between representatives of national and international economic interests.

The Swedish activist shamed her elders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP24, where representatives eventually managed to reach a weak agreement over how to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. But everybody there knew they weren’t doing nearly enough to achieve that goal, which is why Ms Thunberg’s words had such bite.

Here’s her speech:

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” she told an audience entirely composed of her elders (but clearly not her betters). “Even that burden you leave to us children.

“Our civilisation is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.

“It is the sufferings of the many that pay for the luxuries of the few… We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground.”

She also said: “You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.”

Now consider the current court case in the UK over plans by our Conservative government to expand fracking.

If ever there was an example of the many suffering to support the luxuries of the few – the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money – it is the fracking industry in the United Kingdom.

The current case highlights new planning guidance by the government which makes it easier to establish fracking sites. The document orders local authorities to facilitate the establishment of such sites, and proposes the removal of the need for new wells to get planning permission.

The government did not carry out any assessment of the impact its plans would have on the environment, and the guidance was imposed on the country without any public consultation.

It seems clear that James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, qualifies as one of the people Ms Thunberg describes as “not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

So do former prime minister David Cameron and his successor Theresa May. At a time when sustainable energy has never been cheaper or easier to supply, one is led to ask why they continue to kowtow to fossil fuel corporates like Cuadrilla bosses Roy Franklin and Francis Egan.

Fracking at Cuadrilla’s only UK site, in Lancashire, was halted again on December 11 after yet another earth tremor was caused by the process. This one measured 1.5 on the Richter scale, causing a woman who lives 1.6 miles from the site to say she heard a loud “bang” and her house shook. A Cuadrilla spokesperson said the effect would have been “like dropping a melon”.

We may conclude from this that the spokesperson is “not mature enough to tell it like it is” either.

But what is to be done in the face of such monumental selfishness, such wilful ignorance, such naked greed?

I’d like to think change is coming, whether the government figures and corporates named above like it or not – but I don’t think it will, unless somebody does something shocking.

I think someone would have to grab Messrs Cameron, Brokenshire, Egan and Franklin, along with Mrs May, drag them to the fracking well in Lancashire, and throw them down it – and then fill it in on top of them.

That’s what it would take to get these people to look up from counting their money and pay attention – the threat of extreme sanction.

But I can’t advocate such extreme measures – and the system is skewed in favour of the privileged. So what’s to be done?

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Sink, Britain, Sink! – the cost of privatising water management

– This is a song by a local musician, here in Mid Wales, written during the last serious flooding. I make no apologies for opportunistically linking to it as it says a few choice words about the situation and the government.

“And the rains came down, and the floods came up” – The Wise Man and the Foolish Man (Southern Folk Song).

Some of you may have noticed we’ve had a few spots of wet weather recently. This is nothing new to our island nation.

The trouble is, having fallen on us all, the water hasn’t had the decency to clear off and drain away. Instead, it has built up and up and caused a huge amount of flood damage to land and houses that were not built in a safe place, as in the song lyric quoted above, but in flood plains.

This is a result of bad planning – by water and sewerage companies that have failed to implement successful drainage schemes or to divert floodwater from rivers in order to prevent overflow, and by planning authorities that have allowed housing to be built in the wrong place.

What were they thinking?

My guess is that the water companies were thinking about the money, and planning authorities wanted to ease overcrowding.

We live in a country where management of the water supply went into private hands several decades ago. When that happened, it became impossible to have any kind of integrated plan to deal with the supply of water, droughts, floods and storage. Water supply became a commodity to be bought and sold by rich people according to the golden rules of capitalism: Invest the minimum; charge the maximum.

So reservoirs have been sold off to foreign water companies, meaning we have no adequate response to droughts. None have been built, meaning we have no adequate response to floods. Concerns about river flooding have been neglected. There has not been the investment in extraction and storage of floodwater that repeated incidents over the last few years have demanded.

The government is reducing its budget for handling these issues. Not only that, but it is delaying implementation of a new policy on drainage.

This would be regulated by local authorities, who have responsibility for planning approvals. Some might say these authorities should have had a little more forethought before granting applications to build on flood plains, or for adaptations to existing properties that have prevented water from draining into the soil and sent it down drains instead, to overload the sewer system.

Some of these are matters of necessity: Planning officers may have gone to the limit of what is allowed, in order to allow housing developments that relieve the burden of overcrowding; in other matters, they may have been unable to apply any legal restrictions on applications.

In short, there is no joined-up thinking.

There will be no joined-up thinking in the future, either – unless the situation is changed radically.

Meanwhile, the cost racked up by the damage is huge – in ruined farmland, in ruined homes and possessions, and blighted lives. And what about the risk of disease that floodwater brings with it? The NHS in England is ill-equipped to deal with any outbreaks, being seriously weakened by the government-sponsored incursions of private, cheap-and-simple health firms.

Something has to give beneath the weight of all this floodwater. Change is vital – from commercial competition to co-operation and co-ordination.

Privatisation of water has failed. It’s time to bring it back under public control.

Is anyone opposed?

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Why listen to naysayers when Labour has so many reasons to be cheerful?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn - but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn – but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

Vox Political reblogged a post on the Skwawkbox blog yesterday, identifying a commonplace tactic used by members and supporters of the Coalition government.

It works like this: You make an assertion in the media that will harm your opponents, even though you have no evidence to back it up. You argue your case vehemently, refusing to accept any alternatives to what you are saying. And when the evidence comes in and it’s against you, you say it is a stitch-up and continue claiming both the moral and factual victory.

This is what the Conservative Party has been doing, loudly and continually. Look at its record on the NHS and on social security reforms and you’ll see that this assertion is supported by fact. Now, more factual evidence has arrived to undermine other Tory claims.

In spite of this, the Labour Party presents the appearance of an organisation torn by inner disagreement, after several high-profile figures broke ranks to criticise the leadership for failing to go on the attack during the summer, when the Conservative-led Coalition was vulnerable on any number of levels.

The BBC ran a story in which Labour’s Tessa Jowell warned that public criticism of Labour leader Ed Miliband by party colleagues creates an “unappealing sense of toxic disunity”.

We’ll come back to the BBC shortly, but for now it is enough to say the story quoted an article by Dame Tessa in the Observer, claiming that “disloyalty” of this kind risked handing the next election to the Tories.

She wrote: “There is… nothing constructive in publicly delivering ‘helpful advice’ that could be much better delivered quietly in private,” but for all we know, Mr Miliband’s critics had already done this, only for him to turn a deaf ear.

She is wrong, of course. Those people spoke up because they believed that their leader has been ignoring the mountain of evidence piling up against the Coalition – evidence that he could use to pummel David Cameron and Nick Clegg into the dust long before the next election; that Mr Miliband is unaccountably trying to avoid criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, in an attempt to court the right-wing readership of those papers; and that he would get more respect from those people – and win back disenchanted Labour voters – if he acknowledged and supported the evidence against the Coalition’s policies and set out opposing plans that mapped out a different course for the UK, one that might actually have a chance of success.

There are so many ways to strike against the web of so-called ‘myths’ (in fact outright lies) spread by the Conservatives since they came into office with the Liberal Democrats that it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with the report by the international doctors’ organisation Medecins Du Monde (Doctors of the World), stating very clearly that the claim, by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that health tourism is rife in the UK, is nonsense.

In a policy briefing, the organisation stated: “Seven years of data… shows that service users had, on average, been living in the UK for three years before they tried to access healthcare. Only 1.6 per cent of people using the service had left their country of origin for personal health reasons.”

Concentrating on one particular illness, “Research carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust and George House Trust found that people living with HIV using their services had been resident in England for between 12-18 months before testing positive for HIV. If access to HIV drugs had been their motivation for coming to England, they would have been unlikely to wait so long to become eligible for life-saving treatments.”

Therefore, “Research by Doctors of the World’s European network indicates no correlation between accessibility of healthcare to migrants and migration patterns.”

The government has made health tourism a major part of its anti-immigration campaign, claiming that it costs the taxpayer a fortune, but even this was rubbished by the professionals: “Current estimates vary greatly, although last year the NHS estimates it spent £33 million treating foreign nationals and wrote off £12 million of this sum. This represents about 0.01 per cent of the £107 billion NHS budget. These sums are considerably less than the net contribution made to the UK by migrants of 1.02 per cent of GDP, or £16.3 billion, according to the OECD.”

Just 0.01 per cent of the NHS budget is lost treating foreign nationals who do not pay – even less than the 0.7 per cent of the social security budget that is lost to fraud, according to DWP figures. But the government talks up these comparatively tiny amounts as though they will topple us all into bankruptcy (impossible).

One might almost believe there was an intention to distract us from something else. Remember, the Conservatives are well-practised at ‘bait-and-switch’ fraud, as mentioned in an earlier article. Perhaps they don’t want us examining their lackadaisical attempts at pretending to counter corporate tax avoidance that costs up to £120 billion per year? Or maybe they don’t want us thinking about what could have been done to restore respectability to our bankers after the financial crisis they caused.

Meanwhile, Tory claims that the Bedroom Tax – I said the BEDROOM TAX – would cut the Housing Benefit bill by £480 million have been destroyed after Labour MP Karen Buck retrieved figures from the House of Commons library, showing that the cost will in fact increase by £1.5 billion this year – and still further over the next three years.

The Mirror reported that this is because more than 40,000 more people have claimed HB since this time last year, with the biggest pressure coming from working people who need help with housing costs because their wages no longer cover them, especially since private landlords have increased rents by an inflation-busting three per cent over the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, councils have been forced to rehouse victims of the Bedroom Tax from cheaper social housing into more expensive private rented properties, creating more unwanted extra costs.

It was previously reported that larger social housing is going empty because people do not want to move in and then fall foul of the Bedroom Tax. I can’t currently find the reference for that, but if anyone can help out, please send in a comment with the link.

The SPeye blog has filed an alternative take on Housing Benefit, which claims that the current amount paid by the taxpayer on HB, at £23.77 billion, is £5.77 billion more than George Osborne predicted in 2010 when he said his changes to HB meant it would be “controlled and reduced” from £20 billion in that financial year to £18 billion by 2014-15.

This blog is highly critical of Labour’s reasoning, as reported in the Mirror story, but then comes up with an even greater loss to the taxpayer, caused by the Conservatives’ changes.

Back to the NHS now, where the Coalition government has spent £1.4 billion on redundancy payoffs, rather than care, since it came to power. This can be added to more than £3 billion that was spent on the pointless and unnecessary top-down reorganisation that David Cameron promised, prior to the 2010 election, would not take place.

The government has claimed that the redundancies will save £1.5 billion per year, which will be reinvested in patient care – but this will only bring annual spending back up to just above where it was when Labour left office, as it was revealed at the end of 2012 that annual spending on the NHS has dropped by nearly £1 billion. The government has stated that spending will have increased by £12.7 billion by 2014-15 which, in financial terms, is next year.

The Coalition lied when it said changes to the planning system would protect the Green Belt. This land, “intended to provide countryside access for urban dwellers and ensure conservation of nature, as well as maintaining agriculture and forestry” according to a BBC website article, is being eroded away with the help of new rules introduced by the Coalition, with planning applications on Green Belt land in England almost doubling from 81,000 homes in 2012 to 150,000 this year.

The government said protection was being maintained but the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the Green Belt was under threat. Who do you believe?

The announcement that the UK economy grew by 0.7 per cent, rather than 0.6, has been greeted rapturously by the Coalition, whose representatives have claimed that it shows the economy has moved “from rescue to recovery”. This is, of course, utterly ludicrous. There is no way an improvement of this kind – after years of economic flatlining thanks to Coalition policies – can be claimed as either evidence of a sustained recovery or evidence that Coalition policies are responsible for the improvement. The weakness of the upturn suggests the change brought on by conditions that would have arisen, whether the Coalition had tinkered with the economy or not.

Thankfully Michael Meacher has returned, after a brief holiday from blogging, to give us chapter and verse. “Today’s announcement by the ONS that its initial 0.6 per cent growth estimate for the second quarter of this year has now been upgraded to 0.7 per cent is insignificant when put into perspective against the recoveries of the five other UK recessions in the previous 100 years,” he writes.

“This time the economy still remains 3.3 per cent below its pre-crash level in 2008, while at the same stage of cycle (ie five years on from the crash) it was nearly FIVE per cent above the pre-crash level in the early 1980s, SIX per cent above pre-crash in the 1920s, SIX per cent above pre-crash again in the early 1930s, SEVEN per cent above pre-crash in the early 1970s, and nearly 10 PER CENT above pre-crash in the 1990s.” (Caps and italics mine)

“Come on, at this stage 0.7 per cent is to be apologised for – both historically and in comparison with other other economies emerging from recession this time round – Britain still three per cent down, but France one per cent down, Germany two per cent up, the US four per cent up and Canada six per cent up.”

The above stories emerged over the past couple of days. Look back over the rest of August and we have:

  • The revelation that the upcoming Lobbying Bill will do nothing to prevent professional lobbyists from influencing Parliament unduly, but will attack your right to campaign politically in “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech”.
  • The revelation that a ‘top ten’ list of benefit fraudsters, reported by right-wing newspapers, does not exist.
  • Information that the government may be corruptly supporting fracking because several of its members have stakes in fracking firms.
  • Home Office vans stirring up racism in London.
  • Conservative plans to abolish the human rights of everybody in the UK, in order to inflict a dangerous and exploitative regime on working people that will amount to slavery.
  • The revelation that recent attacks on the NHS for causing needless deaths have been blown out of proportion in order to make public opinion more receptive to further privatisation.
  • The revelation that the DWP is spending £1.3 million on extra staff who have been calculating the government’s flagship benefits cap – perhaps its only popular policy – because the computer system needed to do the job has not yet been built. Ministers had no intention of admitting this and the information only became public after it was discovered by somebody else.
  • And then there’s the fact that the fundamental claim of the Coalition government – that the financial crisis of five years ago happened because Labour overspent massively and mishandled the economy – was absolute and total groundless fabrication. Labour in fact handled the economy responsibly, even when the financial crisis hit.

That has to total more than 10 ways in which Labour could undermine the Coalition. All Mr Miliband has to do is open his mouth and tell people about them in ways that will be reported by the media.

And on that subject: If and when he does, and it is reported by the BBC, we can all be certain that right-wing commentators will claim that this is because the BBC is full of pinko left-wingers who support Labour. Let’s put that myth to rest as well.

A lecturer at Cardiff University has checked the facts and found that the BBC has a broadly right-wing bias. The study showed that the government of the day generally gets more airtime than anyone else (natural considering it is making policy and actually carrying out the business of government) but in reporting of immigration, the EU and religion, in 2007 Gordon Brown’s appearances on the BBC outnumbered David Cameron’s by less than two to one, while in 2012, Cameron’s outnumbered Ed Miliband’s by around four to one. The same ratios occurred for other prominent members of each party. When reporting of all topics is taken into account, Conservative politicians were featured more than 50 per cent more often than those from Labour in both 2007 AND 2012.

Going into the autumn Parliamentary session, Ed Miliband has a strong hand to play – if he has the stomach for it. And if any of the media try to suppress his arguments, he can just point to the evidence of right-wing bias and tell them they need to clean up their act just as much as the Coalition.

Underhanded and doubletalking, Cameron is pushing us into totalitarianism

‘The leader knows best.’ Denis Skinner’s sarcasm pulls the wool away from our eyes; despite invoking the fight against Hitler, David Cameron becomes more like him every day.

It’s funny how Tories like to say the Labour Party would have us all doing as “Comrade (at the moment) Ed” tells us – and then gets back to whittling away our democratic rights, sometimes by huge chunks at a time.

Today the BBC is reporting that our right to challenge government policies is to be limited. Planning is the area that is singled out for closer examination but my reading of this is that any branch of government may use this stick to beat the plebs.

Opponents will have less time than the current three months to apply for judicial review of policies they oppose, will face higher fees (so that means most of us won’t have a chance), and will have our chances of appealing against a decision halved from four to two.

Cameron is trying to tell us this is to prevent time-wasting and boost the economy, but gave himself away when he said “We urgently need to get a grip on this” – he means he wants to tighten his grip on democracy and choke it hard.

The Beeb tells us Downing Street figures showed that more than 11,000 applications for judicial review were made in 2011, compared with 160 in 1975. Around one in six applications was granted. One-sixth of 11,000 is 1,833, which implies – to me – that more than 11 times as many judicial reviews are successful now as in 1975. That’s good for democracy. The people get to have their say.

Cameron wants to stop this.

Is this really the action of the Party of Freedom and of Choice?

Of course not.

It is appalling that he has chosen to compare the present day with the fight against Hitler – when he himself is behaving more like the German dictator every day.

He was expected to tell the Confederation of British Industry today (Monday) that “Whitehall underwent a revolution” in wartime. “We need the same spirit. We need to forget about crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ – and we need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

But we are not living in wartime, no matter how much he might like to push that on us. We aren’t even living in hard times, when you consider how he has handed more than £30 billion in tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, while talking about economic crisis to justify victimising the poor, the sick and disabled.

The changes he cites were reversed after the war ended. And his mention of Hitler is Tory doubletalk. He’s hoping that, by using the fight against one of history’s vilest dictators as his comparison, we won’t realise he’s attacking democracy, not increasing it.

What a miserable little underhanded goblin he is.

The reaction on Twitter is negative, of course. “Be wary of any government which wants to remove the legal means of you challenging its decisions and abuses of power. Worrying,” tweeted David Green (aka Jack of Kent).

Tom Doran agreed: “It’s a strange kind of small-government philosophy that makes it harder, not easier, to appeal government decisions.”

And Denis Skinner, who provided the picture for this article, tweeted sarcastically: “Whitehall “circumvented”, crackdown on “time wasting” legal challenges to planning decisions. The leader knows best.”

We can all see that, even if he does know what’s best, he’s ignoring it in favour of his obsession with shrinking the state. Fewer appeals means smaller government. The trouble – for us – is that the nation as a whole will suffer from hastily-made, ill-judged decisions based on a drive for short-term profit. It’s practically written into his CBI speech.

Cameron is not a prime minister for the nation – he’s a puppet for big business. We’ve seen that most prominently in his all-out attack on the National Health Service in England, which is now just a big sack of blood on which the corporate vampires are happily sucking.

Other cutbacks are hacking British society into a bloody mess as well. As state services withdraw, my understanding is that the people are expected to take up the slack. That’s Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ in action. But ordinary people don’t know how those state services work – they were never taught it at school and they can’t be expected to absorb it by osmosis.

So services are lost, entropy sets in and chaos increases. I predict an increase in frustration and stress, leading to a rise in lawlessness. The police – another target for cuts – will not be able to cope. What will Cameron do then? Martial law?

And so the march to totalitarianism gains pace.

‘New’ government plans – we really have heard it all before

You can’t make an old idea new just by saying it is.

David Cameron and George Osborne should have borne that in mind before they announced the ‘new’ policies with which they plan to relaunch (yet again) the Coalition government this week.

The plan appears to be threefold, with the government aiming to underwrite up to £10bn of new housing developments, and a further £40bn of private sector building projects which need finance – using money to be repaid on the government’s low interest rates, and it will also legislate to speed up planning conditions and encourage development on Green Belt land, if certain conditions are met.

New? Hardly.

The Labour Party has spent the last two years complaining bitterly at the government’s lack of interest in house building. It has been calling for construction of affordable homes, to be funded by a bank bonus tax.

Labour has also complained that major building projects have been falling backwards, due to a lack of investment.

It is also well-accepted that George Osborne’s plan to encourage building on Green Belt land is a renewal of a previous attempt.

But let’s go back a little further than recent history. I know I’ve already established that the new Tory plan is a modification of moves that Labour has been demanding for years, but there’s a better example that is decades old.

After World War Two, when the UK was in the deepest debt it had ever faced, the Labour government of the time decided that fiscal austerity was a move in entirely the wrong direction. Instead it invested in projects to rebuild the country and reinvigorate its industry. Barring the incursion into much-loved Green Belt land, this is exactly what Cameron and Osborne are planning now. But on a smaller scale.

So there it is. Not only are these ‘new’ policies unoriginal, they weren’t even Tory policies to start with (apart from the plan to kick us all in the teeth by relaxing planning regulations to prevent objections and build on the Green Belt – in other words, the nasty bits).

Somehow I doubt they’ll give credit where it’s due.

Zones of growth – thoughts on how to improve Mid Wales’ economy

Many of you may be aware of the proposal to create ‘Growth Zones’ in Powys – at Brecon, Llandrindod Wells and Newtown – roughly equivalent to the new Enterprise Zones created by the government elsewhere in the UK. My opinion is that these are a good idea. The Welsh Government has put out a call for evidence on the proposal and information can be found on its website here.

Unfortunately, the deadline for entries is June 1. I’m writing this on May 28 so, if you want to make a submission, you need to act fast!

What follows is my own submission. I want people to see what I’ve put forward because I think it might help them in shaping their own thoughts. I’m not saying it’s perfect because I hope others will have different or better ideas; I’m putting it up in the hope that it will stimulate your imagination, and the Welsh Government will get better submissions as a result.

I would also appreciate your comments and suggestions – just use the form at the bottom.

Here’s my submission:

All three possible locations must be able to compete with the Enterprise Zones that have already been announced, therefore the features common to all of those should be included here. These include: Government support to ensure super-fast broadband, achieved through guaranteeing the most supportive environment and, if necessary, public funding; low levels of regulation and planning controls; a 100 per cent business rate discount over a five year period for businesses that move into a Growth Zone during the course of this Parliament (although I recommend a graded scheme to reintroduce business rates thereafter, alongside a graded penalty scheme for businesses that choose to move away once the discount is removed); all business rates growth within the zone for a period of at least 25 years will be retained and shared by the local authority to support its economic priorities; and Government and local authority help to develop radically simplified planning approaches.

I believe funding should be provided for an office that would help film makers (cinema or television) find locations within Powys. Llandrindod Wells would be the best location (as it is in the centre of the county). Powys has breathtaking natural beauty that has gone unused by film makers, simply because nobody knows about it. A film locations office would bring income to landowners whose land would be used, and to residents who could be hired as ‘extras’ during filming.

Material I have read on Enterprise Zones has categorised them in certain ways, stating what tax breaks, planning controls and broadband levels might be possible, along with a line called ‘Sector Focus’, declaring what businesses should be encouraged into the zone. I would recommend:

Tax break: Save businesses money in foregone business rates.

Planning: Simplified regime permitted the change of use of existing buildings.

Broadband: Explore delivery of superfast broadband with suppliers.

This leaves the ‘Sector Focus’. I would like to propose several possibilities as follows, based on my knowledge of local industry and the possibilities that could be accommodated here in Powys:

Sector focus: Green technologies; Advanced technologies; Movable skills (small businesses that could benefit from working in a rural setting); sustainable agriculture (farming techniques that are beneficial to the environment); creative industries; energy sector (carbon-free/green).