Month: May 2021

RD&E gave no information in response to FoI request about patients who caught Covid in hospital

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Hospitals have been accused of “unnecessary secrecy” for refusing to disclose how many of their patients died after catching Covid on their wards.

The Patients Association, doctors’ leaders and the campaign group Transparency International have criticised the 42 NHS acute trusts in England that did not comply fully with freedom of information request for hospital-acquired Covid infections and deaths. 26 trusts, including the RD&E, did not give any information at all.

The Guardian revealed on Monday that up to 8,700 patients lost their lives after probably or definitely becoming infected during the pandemic while in hospital for surgery or other treatment. That was based on responses from 81 of the 126 trusts from which it sought figures. Clearly with figures from all trusts, the total is likely to have exceeded 10,000.

The British Medical Association, the main doctors’ trade union, said the 42 trusts that did not reveal how many such deaths had occurred in their hospitals were denying the bereaved crucial information.

“No one should come into hospital with one condition, only to be made incredibly ill with, or even die from, a dangerous infectious disease,” Dr Rob Harwood, chair of the BMA’s hospital consultants committee, said.

Analysis of DCC results shows the challenge facing the opposition in East Devon

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Analysis of the 6th May election results shows the challenge facing the opposition in future elections in East Devon. The bottom line, reported here before, is that the Tories got 83.3 per cent of the seats for 43.8 per cent of the vote. The non-Conservative parties and Independents between them got 16.7 per cent of the seats for 56.2 per cent of the vote.

These figures make an overwhelming case for (1) proportional representation and (2), so long as we’ve got the First Past The Post system, a Progressive Alliance, if the opposition is to win under the existing system.

Indeed a serious worry emerges. The Tory share of the vote which gave them this majority of seats, 43.8, was 7.6 per cent higher than their vote in the EDDC elections of 2019 – when they lost control of the council for the first time (see bottom line of the table). The Tory vote in 2019 was exceptionally low (the result of the pre-Brexit confusion), meaning that even with split opposition votes, they lost a lot of seats.

If the Tories consolidate their return to their normal 40-45 per cent range in 2021, the current progressive majority at EDDC will lose ground unless more serious steps are taken towards a Progressive Alliance strategy.

ConLabIndInd EDALib DemGreenOtherturnout %
EXMOUTH & BUDLEIGH230747846074750314638.7
FENITON & HONITON2094149132134.1
OTTER VALLEY128113432248020443.5
SEATON & COLYTON2321306217616017942.5
Total votes2338276436592604649474436325
Average vote per candidate19486371648201549588781
Per cent43.814.312.411.
Average % per division43.814.332.74110.1121.7
Per cent EDDC 201936.26.31415.315.33.41.1

The opposition could have sharply reduced the Tory majority in the Devon County Council elections, with a Progressive Alliance

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My analysis on West Country Bylines shows how the undemocratic First Past The Post system gave the Tories 39 seats out of 60, when they deserved only 26 based on their share of the vote (42 per cent). For the fourth successive election, the majority of Devon voters showed that they are NOT Tory, but the electoral system gave the Tories a very comfortable win.

In 11 seats, listed in the article, the split in the opposition vote let the Tories win. With a Progressive Alliance, opposition parties or Independents could have taken many of these seats from the Tories, producing a narrow opposition majority or in the worst case, a sharply reduced Tory majority.

As the table below shows, all sectors of the opposition, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and Independents, were underrepresented compared to their shares of the vote.

  (2017 resultsin brackets)distributionadvantage
Conservatives10869242.4 (44.4)39 (42)2613
Liberal Democrats4539517.7 (21.7)9 (7)11-2
Labour4064015.9 (15.2)7 (7)10-3
Green Party2850111.0 (5.4)2 (1)7-5
Independents2743610.8 (9.8)3 (3)6-3
Other parties31841.2 (1.5)0 (0)00

Overall results of the 2021 Devon County Council elections

Report shows it IS worth objecting: ‘The value of the site is clearly demonstrated by the strength of feeling expressed by the numerous objectors.’

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Some detail from the officer report on the field planning application:

Coastal Preservation Area

‘The site lies in the CPA as defined in the LP . Strategy 44 states:

Land around the coast and estuaries of East Devon, as identified on the Proposals Map, is designated as a Coastal Preservation Area. Development or any change of use will not be allowed if it would damage the undeveloped/open status of the designated area or where visually connected to any adjoining areas. The coastal Preservation Area is defined on the basis of visual openness and views to and from the sea.

‘The Planning Statement (para 6.2.5) disagrees with not just one but both Planning Inspectors decisions on the adjoining site. It downplays the quality of the character of the site, being poor quality agricultural land and surrounded by existing residential development. The Planning Statement is considered to be completely wrong in this respect and the value of the character of the site is clearly demonstrated by the strength of feeling expressed by the numerous objectors. The Council does not in any way disagree with the appeal decisions and there is no basis to do so.

‘The agent suggests that as a fall-back position a 2 metre high fence could be erected along the site boundary (set back from the highway) under permitted development rights and that this would in itself obscure the views over the site from the highway. To that end the applicant has recently obtained a Certificate of Lawfulness for such a development (21/1086/CPL).

‘To be a proper fall-back position regard must be had to whether such a development is likely to ever be implemented, otherwise it is not a meaningful comparison. The proposed fence serves no obvious purpose and the site appears to be fenced already along this boundary with a post and wire fence which affords views across it. Erecting a fence as proposed is not impossible but were planning permission refused, it is not considered likely that a 2m high closed boarded fence would subsequently be erected being that it serves no additional purpose and would be expensive to erect.

‘Furthermore, the erection of a fence is likely to require the retention of some form of access to the land, through which views would still be possible. Although the applicant has suggested a low level house could be used so that it remains below the height of the 2m fence and is therefore not visible, if a dwelling were erected on site, views of it would still be possible through the access point and other domestic items would

‘The issue of a potential fall-back position is premised on the basis of a misunderstanding of Strategy 44 by the applicant. Development is not allowed in the CPA if it would damage the undeveloped/open status of the designated area. There is no requirement in the policy that this test relies on it being publicly visible. And even if it were held to be so, the second part of the Strategy clearly states that the CPA is defined on the basis of visual openness and views to and from the sea. Fence along the roadside will do nothing to obscure views of the site from the sea. There are also views of the site from the Coastal Footpath leading from Seaton Hole to Beer which can clearly be seen running along the clifftops in the photograph below. Again, a fence along the road will have no bearing on these views as compared to a dwelling.’

Beer Road field: planning application refused

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EDDC planners have now refused the application to build a house in this field, which offers important views to the sea for residents and walkers on the SW Coastal Path. The delegated report gives three reasons:

  1. The site is in the countryside, outside the Built Up Area Boundary.
  2. The development would conflict with the Coastal Protection policy.
  3. Without further surveys, it conflicts with policies to protect the habitat of protected bat species from Beer Caves.

Planners also state that the owners’ proposed 2-metre fence would not enable them to get round the Coastal Protection policy (which they have misunderstood).

Beer Road field decision coming soon – proposed fence could harm their prospects on appeal

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The controversial planning application to build a house in the field at the top of Beer Road (20/1775/OUT) is likely to be decided soon, Planning tell me.

I have been reflecting further on the owners’ outrageous additional proposal, to erect a 2-metre-high fence along the Beer Road frontage and block the view, about which many people have expressed concern.

As reported here before, they have obtained a certificate that they can lawfully do this as ‘permitted development’.

However it seems to me that the impact of carrying this out could be to make planners – and, if they refuse, appeal inspectors – even more likely to reject their case. It is not at all clear what they would hope to gain by implementing this proposal.

As a first step, the West Seaton and Seaton Hole Association should now write to the owners to ask them not to go ahead with this, as should the Coastal Path Association. We should exhaust these steps before residents chain themselves to the fence! (Let me have your thoughts by email.)

Spotlight on Burrows’ role in Hartnell’s win, after new tweet from ‘TIC’ account which he was asked to delete

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East Devon Watch has an interesting new report on a tweet sent out from the same account which former Liberal Democrat councillor Peter Burrows used when, in a case of mistaken identity, he attacked the owner of The Hat micropub two years ago.

The account is the same, with the handle @SeatonTIC – referring to the Seaton Tourist Information Centre – although it has now been renamed ‘Seaton Information Point’.

Burrows, then town Mayor, had to resign after that incident. The Town Council asked him to stop using this account – he had never been authorised to open a Twitter account on behalf of the TIC or to use its name.

I think East Devon Watch is right to say that after this tweet, Burrows has questions to answer about his role in the election, in particular the Lib Dems’ mysterious change of heart about stepping down their candidate.

The Lib Dems too might now want to explain that decision, which also led to their original candidate being removed.

The new Lib Dem candidate took 160 votes, while Marcus Hartnell won the election by 145. There is of course no reason to think that Marcus was involved in any of this.

Jack Rowland reports on seafront, hospital, & current EDDC administration, to Seaton’s annual town meeting

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Seaton’s Annual Town Meeting will be held outdoors, in the car park at Marshlands, at 7 pm on Thursday. I have sent my report on my last year as County Councillor for inclusion with the papers.

Jack Rowland’s district report is not currently available on the website, but I have been sent a copy and reprint it below:

EDDC Councillor report for Seaton Town Council Annual Town meeting on 13 May 2021

Report produced by Jack Rowland on 9 May 2021

Seaton specific subjects that I am involved with 

Seafront Enhancement Scheme

In order to resuscitate the scheme where the stumbling block has always been the necessary funding I have been working with EDDC Cabinet colleagues, EDDC Officers and the local MP’s.

This work is in connection with making a bid under the Central Government Levelling Up where the prospectus was issued in late March. Any bids require the written support of the relevant MP at the time of submission and the first bid target date is 18 June. We have agreed tactically that the first bid will be submitted from Exmouth with the support of the MP, Simon Jupp. An Axe Valley bid that will incorporate the Seaton scheme will be submitted in the second round of bids that will open later this year and will require the support of MP Neil Parish who has verbally indicated that he would support the bid.

However, for such a bid to have any chance of success it really needs to have an approved planning application to underpin the bid and demonstrate that the project is “shovel ready”. In view of my opinion and the information given I urge Seaton Town Council to put an item on a Council agenda as soon as possible to consider resubmitting the planning application to mirror the expired approval.

Seaton Hospital 

In my role as Chair of Seaton Area Health Matters (SAHM) and an EDDC Cabinet member I continue to fight to secure the future of the hospital. I am still having discussions with NHS Property Services who are legally the owners of the site.

Many readers will recall that a business plan was submitted by SAHM in June 2019 where SAHM, via the setting up of a CIC, would purchase the hospital via EDDC taking out a Public Works Loan and the CIC becoming the legal owners and being responsible for making the loan repayments to EDDC to enable them to meet the PWL obligation. For SAHM to have the funds to meet the repayments involved having the existing NHS services as an anchor tenant plus concluding the negotiations with a third party dementia care service that had progressed at the time as another anchor tenant. The remaining space would then be available for use by community based health and wellbeing related activities. 

Unfortunately, the EDDC Cabinet of the time, in January 2020, did not vote in favour of the recommendation to take out the PWL. However, as I am now a Cabinet member I am revisiting this possibility, hence my ongoing conversations with NHS Property Services at the moment.    

District wide subjects

Business support

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the associated lock downs and restrictions over the past year EDDC, by the end of this month, will have paid out £80m in various support grants where the Government has supplied the funds, but relied on Local Government to set up the systems and administer the payments. Some of the grants have been of a discretionary nature, albeit still within rules governing the types of business etc, and I have been a member of the grant panel in view of my finance portfolio responsibilities.

EDDC Partnership Administration

The current administration, since last June, is formed of a partnership of Councillors:

  • 12 East Devon Alliance (EDA) 
  • 7 Liberal Democrats
  • 7 Independents 
  • 2 Greens

 A total of 28 Cllrs from the total of 60. The remaining 32 is made up of 21 Conservatives, 10 Independents and 1 vacancy.

Since last June the administration have achieved the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • Despite the financial challenges produced as a result of Covid 19 that affected both income and expenditure a balanced budget was produced for 2021/22 although challenges lie ahead for future budget years.
  • Withdrew from the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) and started work on a new Local Plan that has undergone public consultation.
  • Supported Leisure East Devon (LED) financially to the tune of £1.3m to the end of the 2020/21 financial year. Of the £1.3m EDDC has received £299k from Central Government support, but of this £90k can be used to offset the £1.3m and the remaining £209k has to be used towards the re-opening costs for April to June this year where EDDC will be filling the expected gap above that amount. A LED Monitoring Forum has been set up to meet monthly and a strategic review of LED services looking at future provision is also underway.
  • The climate emergency has resulted in a strategy and action plan to meet the carbon neutral targets.
  • A poverty action plan is also nearing completion where the issues confronting the district have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Exploring the options to be able to build more council housing in the district despite the current constraints that exist due to the right to buy existing stock and how the proceeds can be used.   

Jack Rowland

EDDC Councillor – Seaton Ward

Portfolio Holder – Finance

Politics is not a game: we need PR, but we also need a PA (Progressive Alliance) to get it

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My last two posts have provoked lively comment on social media. My Green former County Council colleague, Jacqi Hodgson, has welcomed my arguments, pointing out that in South Devon, a progressive alliance between Greens and Lib Dems helped her to keep Totnes and the Lib Dems to take South Brent from the Tories.

Jacqi points out that ‘politics is not a game’, it affects people’s life chances. Every Tory victory cements the corrupt, authoritarian, reactionary Johnson regime and makes things more difficult for people who are struggling.

Labour reaction

Predictably, Labour reaction has been more critical. Some have taken personally my comment that their strategy of putting up candidates everywhere – regardless of how finely balanced the situation is between the Tory and another progressive candidate – is ‘moronic’.

They have been upset that I described the 18-year-old Labour candidate for Axminster, Oliver Tucker, as ‘no-hope candidate’. However the fact that Ollie got 498 votes, compared to 1672 for the Tories and 1439 for EDA’s Paul Hayward, shows that he really was a no-hope candidate. Coming a poor third may be an improvement on coming a miserable fourth, but it is nowhere near to winning.

I know about this from personal experience. In 1987 I was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Beverley in East Yorkshire. I increased the Labour vote from 6,000 to almost 10,000, compared to 19,000 for the Lib Dems and 27,000 for the Tories. It felt like a success – but the Tories won, and went on winning, election after election. The reality was that only the Lib Dems were likely ever to beat them in that seat, and might have had a chance had Labour not stood. In retrospect, it doesn’t feel like my finest hour.

Moving towards PR

The Twitter discussions have confirmed that many in Labour are slowly following the rest of the non-Tory parties towards Proportional Representation for the House of Commons (and, I hope, English local elections). One of my Twitter friends says we must take ‘baby steps’ to nudge the party forward. Well, if that is all that is possible, yes. But some might say that the party’s current crisis needs rather more than ‘baby steps’.

‘Paper’ and not-so-paper candidates

One baby step that some Labour members are taking is to disavow the strategy of ‘paper candidates’ which helped to lose me Seaton and Colyton. That is progress. But they’re blaming it exclusively on the national party: ‘We’re just obeying orders’. They haven’t said that they’ll actually stop such candidates being nominated in future. They could do.

And as Ollie’s case shows, the problem isn’t just paper candidates. When no-hope candidates actually campaign, they’re even more likely to queer things for the other progressive candidates. One of the Labour candidates in Exmouth, who has been particularly abusive on Twitter, boasts of doubling the Labour vote – while he and his co-candidate came 5th and 6th in their division, behind not only the Tories but also the Independent and Lib Dem!

A multi-party environment means we need a Progressive Alliance

I’m not saying that Labour should never stand in places like Axminster or Exmouth. I am saying that Labour should recognise that they’re part of a multiparty centre-left, which includes the Greens, Lib Dems and progressive Independents like EDA.

I am saying that Labour should recognise that in the First Past The Post system – which Labour never reformed, despite its manifesto, between 1997 and 2010 – Labour should accept that the only way the centre-left can win widely, given the multiparty environment, is by a Progressive Alliance.

One candidate to challenge each Tory, in winnable seats

That means parties and groupings talking to each other. Ironically, Labour may have been only 5th & 6th in Exmouth because the Independents (3rd) and Lib Dems (4th) did recognise that neither could win if they put up two candidates each.

Let’s work towards a single progressive, anti-Tory candidate in each seat in future County elections (and two candidates in two-member divisions) – except in divisions which are, by general consent, either safe for the opposition OR hopelessly safe for the Tories.

If we’d had that last Thursday, we’d have had several fewer Tory councillors. I’m told that John Hart smirked when the news of my defeat came through in County Hall. I’m sure he can’t believe his luck that he got 84 per cent of the East Devon seats for 43 per cent of the East Devon votes.

A national Progressive Alliance is needed to get PR

And remember – we can only get PR if we get a progressive government. There is currently little chance of that happening through Labour alone. Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens must come together and develop a positive dynamic of cooperation, as a prelude to systematic arrangements for the next General Election. Tactical voting by itself is not enough – we have seen that time and again. The parties must themselves unite to prepare the defeat of Johnson.

How Labour and the Lib Dems helped the Conservatives prevail in Seaton & Colyton, and across East Devon

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After the sorrow comes the anger. In Thursday’s Seaton & Colyton election, I lost by 145 votes. Labour polled 306 and the Lib Dems 160. If either, and certainly if both, had stood down I could well have beaten the Conservative, Marcus Hartnell. I needed only one-third of their combined vote to prevail.

Both parties knew the seat was highly marginal. Both assured me privately they hoped I won. Both had ‘paper’ candidates. They did not campaign. Both knew, however, that with their candidates on the ballot, some voters would back them and inevitably take votes away from me.

However both parties thought that the opportunity to get a miserable share of the vote – by any measure, both 5.9 per cent and 3.1 per cent of the electorate are pathetic performances – was more important than getting a progressive, anti-Conservative councillor elected, someone they knew – based on my track record over the last 4 years – would vote with their parties most of the time.

Elsewhere in East Devon

Exactly the same thing happened in Axminster, where Independent EDA candidate Paul Hayward would also have won if half the Labour vote, or one-third the combined Labour/Lib Dem vote, had gone to him.

In Sidmouth, the Lib Dems were more enlightened, and did not stand against the Independent EDA candidate Louise MacAllister. Yet the Labour vote alone, 209, was still more than Stuart Hughes’ 170 majority. The opportunity to remove a Conservative cabinet member was lost.

It was not only Independent EDA candidates who lost the chance to beat the Conservatives. In the two-seat Exmouth division, where the two Conservatives got 7412 votes between them, the five opposition candidates shared 8164. It does not take much imagination to see that if there had been two, instead of five, there would have been a chance of edging out one or both of the Tories.

In Exmouth, the Independents (EDA did not stand), Lib Dems and Greens did at least recognise the situation by fielding only one candidate each, even if they failed to agree a common two candidates. Labour ploughed on regardless, and was rewarded with its two candidates coming in well behind the Independent and Lib Dem.

Labour’s moronic and arrogant approach

Labour’s approach is the worst of all these parties. Despite never having won either a district or county seat in East Devon, it continues with a ‘strategy’ – if you can call it that – of standing in every seat, regardless of how it benefits the Conservatives.

In this election, this resulted in miserable failure almost everywhere. The local party says that the national party forces them to stand – but if they didn’t submit their nomination papers, these sabotage, no-hope candidates would not exist. Still, local party officers carry on persuading 18-year-olds to put up in order to ‘get experience’, knowing it may hand seats to the Tories.

The exception to this story was Feniton & Honiton. There, because Independents and Greens did not stand, Labour got an unusually good 1491 votes, against the Tories’ 2094. If the Lib Dems hadn’t stood, they might have got closer. Surely there is a lesson here for the party – target one or two seats where you can reasonably hope to do well, and stop playing the Tories’ game everywhere else?

The Greens had a better strategy

In contrast, the Greens came near to such a strategy, deciding not to challenge myself, Paul Hayward and Louise MacAllister since we were poised to win in our finely balanced divisions. They clearly concentrated their resources on Broadclyst, and it seems only right that have been rewarded with their first seat in East Devon, where Henry Gent topped the poll and took a seat from the Tories. Congratulations!

The sorry tale of the Lib Dems – and an inside story of my Seaton & Colyton defeat

I have left the Lib Dems until last. This is in a way the saddest story. Unlike Labour, they acknowledge the need for cooperation. At EDDC, they are working well with the East Devon Alliance, Greens and progressive Independents to provide a historic first non-Conservative administration. In the case of Sidmouth, they did recognise that it was logical to help the Independent EDA challenger to Stuart Hughes, by not standing a candidate.

However in Seaton & Colyton, and Axminster, a different Lib Dem constituency party (Tiverton & Honiton) persevered with no-hope candidates. I can now reveal that this was despite the fact that the original Lib Dem candidate for Seaton contacted me to offer a deal where she would stand down in return for a joint public statement. This was not her private initiative – it followed discussions in the constituency party and she said that John Timperley, their 2019 General Election candidate, would contact me to discuss the detail.

She may have jumped the gun, because I never heard from Timperley, the party in its wisdom decided not to proceed, and a new candidate, Martyn Wilson, ended up on the ballot paper. I met him when he was leafleting. He too said he hoped I would win. I don’t know if his 160 votes, by themselves, would have been enough to tip the balance to me. But a Lib Dem withdrawal and a joint declaration might have had an effect larger than the numbers, benefiting both sides.

This cannot be allowed to happen again

Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and the East Devon Alliance have a common interest in ensuring that complacent Conservative domination of East Devon, and Devon as a whole, comes to an end. This election was a historic opportunity to make real steps towards this. If Tories had been deprived of Seaton, Axminster, Sidmouth and even one of the Exmouth seats, along with Otter Valley, won by an Independent, and one in Broadclyst, 6 out of 12 East Devon county seats would have been in opposition hands.

Instead, as it was in 2017, it is 10-2 for the Tories. This does not reflect the way people voted. 29564 votes were cast for the combined opposition, compared to only 22265 for the Conservatives. We could have had results which more or less reflected that situation. Instead we are all grossly underrepresented.

Making first-past-the-post work for the opposition

Many of us recognise that the electoral system is flawed. But it is what we have, and we won’t get change until we remove the Tory government using the existing system. In the United States, where they also have the 18th-century system, the progressive forces – from socialists to greens and centrist liberals – unite in a single party. They have got rid of Trump. They have a progressive reforming administration both at federal and many state and local levels.

We’re not looking at a single party. There are strengths in each of the party traditions as well as in the Independent approach. But we MUST, each of us, look at the contribution we can make to a united electoral alternative in Devon.

I am proud that in this election, the EDA only supported Independent candidates in the 3 divisions where we were close last time, and knew we could win. We could have stood paper candidates elsewhere to boost our brand, but resisted the temptation, knowing it would only harm the national parties where they had better chances of winning. Next time round, this must be our common approach. Or Tory rule could continue more or less indefinitely … .