Christmas Lights Switch On

The Christmas lights in South Molton are being switched this evening at 6:15 by Simon Bates. The big switch-on will be followed by a spectacular fireworks display at 6:55 in the Central Park.

There will also be craft stalls in the Pannier Market along with a blow-up pub (!), a pop-up Indian takeaway,  a hog roast etc.

BCC Radio Devon will be broadcasting the event live from 5:00 to 7:00.

Andrew Coates, the town clerk, was interviewed on Radio Devon earlier today and the clip can be heard here:




Blowing in the Wind

Walking the dog around South Molton the other day I spotted a BT Openreach contractor working on the new super fast broadband cabinet in Poltimore Road.

It transpires he was blowing fibre through the duct from the cabinet to the node where it meets the other fibre optic cables.

I later saw another engineer working in a manhole at the junction of Station Road and East Street. This engineer had just connected up the other end of the fibre that I’d earlier seen being blown from the cabinet in Poltimore Road. He was now working on the fibre that had been blown from the cabinet in Hugh Squire Avenue.

‘Blowing’ is a technique invented by BT that uses compressed air to literally blow the fibre along the duct.  Before then, all cable, including fibre, was typically pulled through the duct.

Blowing, rather than pulling, means that longer lengths of cable can be installed, a winch rope doesn’t need to used, bends and undulations in the duct are less of an issue, and equipment is only needed at one end of the route. So its quicker, easier and cheaper.

What it all means is that within a week or two another large swathe of South Molton will be able to get superfast broadband.



Tampon Tax

Tampons have 5% VAT applied to them.

There’s 20% VAT on toilet paper, toothpaste, prescription glasses and painkillers (aspirin, paracetamol etc.).

So tampons are actually taxed at a much lower rate than other, more essential, items.

Mind you, I suppose if you run out of toilet paper you could always use the Sun or Daily Mail which are zero rated! Or, if you’re more upmarket the Times, Telegraph or Financial Times.

PS Anybody remember Izal?

Stark Contrast

“I grew up in South London. If someone was rude to you, you were rude back to them. I didn’t go to Eton and get all that smarmy charming education”.  (Clip can be heard here.)

This was Ken Livingstone talking about the comments he’d made earlier in the day about the Shadow Minister for the Armed Forces Kevan Jones (the son of a miner, educated in a comprehensive school and Newcastle Polytechnic) .

I feel that Livingstone’s parents would be deeply upset if they thought that their son hadn’t learn the old fashioned working class virtues of decency and respect.


Moving and Noble

On the World at One today the final piece was this message from Antoine Leiris, whose wife was murdered by ISIS terrorists in Paris last Friday night:

“On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you won’t have my hatred.

I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know – you are dead souls. If this God for which you kill indiscriminately made us in his own image, every bullet in the body of my wife will have been a wound in his heart.

So no, I don’t give you the gift of hating you. You are asking for it but responding to hatred with anger would be giving in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

You want me to be afraid, to view my fellow countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my freedom for security. You have lost.

I saw her this morning. Finally, after many nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.

Of course I’m devastated with grief, I admit this small victory, but it will be short-lived. I know she will accompany us every day and that we will find ourselves in this paradise of free souls to which you’ll never have access.

We are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.

I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”

The audio clip can be found here. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard.

Pupil Power

Well done the Dragonflies class from Wetherington Community Primary School in Launceston!

The pupils were so concerned about speeding cars outside their school that they wrote letters to their local MP, Scott Mann.

As a direct result of this, he presented a private members bill to parliament this afternoon.

The bill is intended to give town and parish councils the ability to hold a referendum on whether speed limits on roads in their area should be altered.

The bill passed its first reading this afternoon and the second reading will be held on Friday 5 February.

Whilst Scott Mann is very much to be congratulated on introducing this bill, I don’t believe it goes far enough.

I really think that, subject to certain conditions, parish and town councils should have the ability to impose speed limits on their local roads without having to hold a referendum . I also believe that they should have the same strong powers to regulate on-street parking (i.e. yellow lines).

I hope that our local MP, Peter Heaton-Jones, will wholeheartedly support this bill –  the Speed Limits on Roads (Devolved Powers) Bill – and will be contacting him to persuade him to do so.  I shall also ask South Molton Town Council to do the same.

For those of a pedantic disposition the bill was a Ten Minute Rule Motion and its full title is:

“A Bill to amend Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, and the Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996, to make provision about the powers and duties of parish and town councils in relation to applying for speed limit orders; to provide for the conduct of local referendums to determine whether such applications should be made; and for connected purposes.”

I haven’t (yet) been able to find a full copy of the bill but when I do I’ll have a closer look at it.




Lies, Damned Lies and Politicians

Osborne keeps on saying that the bill for tax credits has risen from £1.1 billion pounds in 1999 to £30bn today.

Of course he’s right . . . in a very, very narrow sense.

Apparently that £1.1bn relates to just three months in 1999, and just one type of tax credit.

Since then all sorts of other benefits have been absorbed into the tax credit system and as a proportion of government spending the cost of benefits for working age people and for children has apparently stayed pretty stable.

Plug for a Local Business

I’ve put this video here partly because I wanted to see whether I could, but also because this is the time of year when heating systems start to be used in earnest and I wanted to extol the virtues of local company The Works from North Molton (and Barnstaple).

A couple of years ago Sebastien and Christopher installed our heating and hot water system which are all powered by an air source heat pump which they also installed.

Christopher took this YouTube video of underfloor heating being installed in our new kitchen:

They’re a multi-talented company,  and didn’t just install our heating and air-source heat pump, but also our electrics, and cables for our alarm, telephone, aerials and network.

There’s a very small prize for the first person who can explain why their logo is a frog dressed in a kilt wearing a tam o’shanter. (Sebastien, Christopher and their families are ineligible to enter!)

PS And yes, I do consider North Molton to be local.  After all, North Molton addresses do say North Molton, South Molton, EX36 xxx.

Murky finances

Devon County Council has outsourced most of its education support services to Babcock LDP.

The six directors of the parent company of the latter, a conglomerate called Babcock International Group, earned £12.6 million between them in 2014/15.

The highest paid director received £4.16 million. The average remuneration was £2.1 million. Pity the lowest paid director who only received £1 million – albeit for only eight months of work.

There’s nothing in that company’s report and account which states how many of their employees had a remuneration of more than £100,000. They’re not obliged to disclose this in their report and accounts, and, of course, they aren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act. So they’re not obliged to disclose such details at all.

Bear in mind that this is a company that, by its own admission, draws 80% of its customers from the public sector. So taxpayers ultimately pay these people. Not only that, they also fund the dividends that these companies pay to their shareholders.

The county council has outsourced most of its highways work to South West Highways whose accounts are far more opaque than those of Babcock. Total emoluments for the directors in their last annual accounts was stated as being £172 thousand of which £43 thousand related to pension contributions.

They had eight directors, but only one director benefitted from those pension contributions. I think it’s fair to say that there was only one executive director and that he/she received more than £100 thousand in emoluments.

South West Highways is jointly owned by Colas Ltd and Eurovia Ltd.

The former’s highest paid director received total emoluments of £315 thousand whereas the highest paid director of the latter received £410 thousand.

Colas Ltd. are ultimately owned by the French group Bouygues and Eurovia’s ultimate owner is the French group Vinci SA.

I have no idea what their directors, let alone highest paid employees, ‘earn’.

So, Taxpayers Alliance, please turn your somewhat myopic vision elsewhere. Let’s have a very good look at what all these private companies that benefit from the government’s (or rather taxpayer’s) largesse pay their directors and employees.

In particular why don’t you turn your beady, albeit extremely blinkered, eyes on PFI, and those many private companies that are making immense profits from this particular piece of financial engineering. All to the detriment of the taxpayers and the biggest con of all.





Squaring the Circle

Cameron doesn’t appear to have a clue about local authorities and the services they need to provide.

This is aptly demonstrated by his recent well publicised letter to the (Conservative) leader of Oxfordshire County Council.  The letter can be seen here.

In that letter Cameron said that he was “Disappointed” with planned cuts to frontline services including children’s centres, elderly day centres, libraries and museums. (Does this sound familiar?)

He also said that the council should sell off its surplus assets.

The implication was that money from the sale of such assets should be used to run services.

The problem with that, is that it would be illegal!

Money from the sale of capital assets can only be used on capital expenditure. So, for example, a council could sell off playing fields (or car parks) for residential development and use that money to build a youth resource centre. But the council couldn’t use the proceeds of such sales for the day-to-day running of such a centre.  (Again does that sound familiar?)

Another issue with selling off assets is that it’s usually for short-term gain. Over the medium to long term it can actually result in reduced revenue, revenue that can be used to fund services.

Cameron also seems to have forgotten that whilst the grant that councils receive from central government has decreased enormously over the past decade, the number of new responsibilities has increased. For example, in April 2013 many public health functions were transferred from the NHS to local authorities. In October of this year public health commissioning responsibilities for children aged 0-5 were also transferred to local government.

So we see an increase in statutory responsibilities coupled with a decline in grants from central government, alongside an inability to raise council tax by more than 1.99% without holding an (expensive) referendum.

Is it surprising that local authorities are getting rid of services that they don’t have a statutory duty to provide and cutting back on those that they do have a statutory duty to provide?

Have you never wondered why there are now very few public toilets? Or why parking in council car parks can be so expensive?  Or why the grass verges are no longer trimmed? Traffic signs are so filthy? Roads are so badly maintained? Bus services are being cut? The list goes on and on.

These are, of course, individually, relatively small things, but taken together they markedly affect the quality of life. And they are things that people care about and notice.

Still, you get what you vote for, and Cameron, of all people, really ought to know that!