While Kent County Council publishes alarming report on Brexit threat, the complacent Tory majority on Devon County Council blocks discussion of my urgent motion on the crisis

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Kent County Council, which has a huge Tory majority, yesterday published an alarming report on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit for its county. At Devon County Council however, the Conservatives ganged up to prevent my urgent motion (below) 680x333-MEANINGFULLondonCoach-edit-1.jpgbeing discussed. Despite impassioned and reasoned speeches from Devon for Europe supporters in the public session, Tory councillors voted to block a debate, meaning that the motion will not come back to the Council until February – by which time it will be too late. They also voted not to record votes on the procedural motion, so that no one would know for certain that they had voted to prevent debate. I had support from Labour, Lib Dem, Independent and Green councillors. Devon, of course, has no serious plans for no-deal, and at the last Council, showed that it didn’t even understand how it might arise.

While welcoming the Devon councils’ support for Flybe, this County Council expresses its alarm that Brexit has contributed to the airline’s crisis and that it has been followed by the announcement of the closure of the Schaeffler factory in Plymouth. 
 
In view of (a) this accelerating harm to Devon’s economy, which also threatens our agricultural, health, university and small business sectors and living standards, and (b) polling evidence which suggests that a majority of Devon voters and Devon districts now oppose Brexit, Council calls on the Government to organise a referendum in which voters are offered the choice of accepting the deal which the Government has negotiated or remaining in the European Union.

Devon Tories in denial about role of Brexit in Flybe crisis

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At yesterday’s County Council, Cllr Rufus Gilbert, Cabinet member for Economy and Skills, reported on the Council’s efforts to support Flybe’s operations at Exeter Airport after the company was forced to put itself up for sale (Virgin has shown interest but nothing has yet been agreed). I think that DCC and other local councils have done what they should in the crisis, including an offer to explore additional projects for the company’s Training Academy.

However the fact remains that the last two-and-a-half years of Brexit uncertainty and the plummeting pound it has caused have helped undermine the airline. As Sky’s City editor reported, ‘Sources said a combination of Brexit-related uncertainty‎, the weaker pound and soaring fuel costs had led Flybe’s directors to conclude that a takeover was likely to be required to preserve its future.’

I asked Cllr Gilbert if he agreed that it was shocking that the Government’s policies had led to this threat to Devon’s air services and our regional airport. But he was having none of it. “Brexit had nothing to do with it’, was all he could say.

@HugoSwire lends himself to a meaningless and doomed manoeuvre to try to save the day for Theresa May

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From Politico this morning: ‘Last night three Tory MPs (Hugo Swire, Richard Graham and Bob Neill) laid down an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Act giving parliament a greater role in decision-making around the Northern Irish backstop. The amendment looks suspiciously like it could have had a government hand in it. Nikki da Costa, a former director of legislative affairs at No. 10, agrees.

However this is not a real choice. Parliament can only choose whether to extend the transition period after 2020 (in which case the backstop will not be needed, as UK will still be in the EU to all intents and purposes) or to move on to a new agreement including the backstop (as the withdrawal agreement suggests). Swire is lending himself to a thin manoeuvre to try to sway a few more Tories to May’s side, and the signs are it won’t take many people in.

Parliament is taking back control, but without Neil Parish and Hugo Swire (they backed Theresa May’s crumbling administration as it went down to defeat)

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Our MP Neil Parish, together with Hugo Swire, supported Theresa May’s crumbling administration in trying to defeat the crucial amendment which will allow Parliament control of the Brexit situation after May’s deal is (as seems almost certain) voted down. This amendment makes a ‘No Deal’ disaster less likely, but both MPs opposed it all the same. They also opposed the motion to indict the Government for its contempt of Parliament over its failure to disclose its legal advice. Parliament is ‘taking back control’, but without Parish and Swire.

I don’t support the Government’s extra funding for grammar schools, including Colyton – especially while non-selective local schools are under acute funding pressure

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Colyton Parish Council has asked me for my views on the report that Colyton Grammar School is one of 16 grammar schools which will share £50 million money to expand, and I’ve replied as follows:

Colyton Grammar School is an excellent school and as County Councillor for Seaton and Colyton, I support its case for improved funding for its ongoing activities, as I do for all local schools. However I do not support the Government’s £50 million extra funding to expand grammar schools and I am disappointed that Colyton Grammar School put itself forward for this controversial scheme. Additional capital funding should benefit the education of all children, rather than being used to expand a small number of selective schools. It is not right that Colyton Grammar School should benefit from millions of additional funding purely because it is a selective school, when under-pressure local schools which are open to all children receive no funding boost. I also share residents’ concerns that expansion of the school would exacerbate the traffic problems which bussing pupils to and from the school already cause in Colyford, and to which no solutions have yet been found.

Independent group leader to raise questions over County Council’s ‘staggering’ £2 million spend in last 5 years on settlement agreements with confidentiality clauses (‘gagging orders’)

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The Exmouth Journal has exposed this through a Freedom of Information Request.

My colleague Frank Biederman, leader of the Independent Group at DCC, said the figure was ‘staggering, especially when you consider the cuts to front line services, that impact on our most vulnerable residents’. He will be raising questions about the agreements at the next full council meeting, ‘to understand better why this is happening, as a public body, we clearly should not have anything to hide’.

Shouldn’t we be looking again at community hospital beds, to support care-at-home model? Devon Conservatives squash recommendations of review chaired by Claire Wright

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Claire Wright writes: A recommendation urging no further community hospital bed closures in Devon has been voted down by Conservative councillors on Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee.

The recommendation, which was debated on Thursday (22 November) was part of a set of measures set out in a scrutiny spotlight review aimed at supporting the care at home service (or rapid response) to be more effective.

Highlighted in particular as a challenging area were services for end of life care, which have been put under considerable pressure, especially since the loss of community hospital beds. … read on at Claire’s blog