In November I wrote a blog castigating Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, for his introduction of “rip off ” rates for safe savers – many of them pensioners – who have National Savings accounts.
As I said at the time; ” Effectively Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is making sure that millions of savers and those who have a flutter on the Premium Bonds subsidise the government’s multi billion pay outs by losing money every year they invest.”
Now thanks to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee – which took up the issue of the low rates -and also poor customer service, record levels of complaints and long waits hanging on their phone lines – his whole dastardly plot has been exposed.
Mel Stride, Conservative chair of the committee, decided to write to Ian Ackerley, Chief Executive of National Savings and Investments, demanding an explanation.
Today the committee has published his reply with a tough comment from Mr Stride about what happened.
” damage may have been done to NS&I’s reputation”
He said: “An exodus of savers from NS&I when it cut interest rates in November was foreseeable and so it is disappointing that the average time to answer a customer’s call was 19 minutes that month.
“I would like to thank Mr Ackerley for his frank response, but the damage that may have been done to NS&I’s reputation over the last few months is worrying.
“NS&I has a big role to play in helping the Government fund the costs of the coronavirus recovery scheme and it will need to work hard to win back customers.”
But what is really interesting is Mr Ackerley’s explanation of how these changes in interest rates came about.
Ministers took decision not to cut interest rates
After Rishi Sunak became chancellor and pandemic took hold he decided to deliberately to attract savers to get the government out of a spending hole.
As National Savings says:
“In March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, HM Treasury asked NS&I to provide proposals for how NS&I could quickly provide additional funding beyond the £6 billion target to support the Government’s increased borrowing requirement. …A proposal was made to Ministers to reverse the decision to implement interest rate reductions to NS&I’s variable rate products that were announced in February (before the Covid-19 pandemic had taken hold) and which were due to come into effect on 1 May 2020. “
“Ministers made the decision to proceed with this plan and on 1 May, only interest rate reductions on NS&I’s fixed term products came into effect. Variable rate product interest rates were left unchanged.”
By September it had been too successful. ” There was unexpectedly more cash in the savings market and much of this money came to NS&I – £38.3 billion in net inflows from March to September 2020 – this was a greater level of Net Financing than in the previous three years combined.”
Plan to drive savers away
So a decision was then made deliberately to drive savers away by introducing rock bottom rates because he no longer needed it.
National Savings said: “Based on previous patterns, we expected that a proportion of customers would withdraw their money. However, as many were newer customers who had come to NS&I when we were offering ‘best buy’ rates, the scale of the outflows and the timing of customers cashing in their holdings happened earlier than expected. “A combination of factors has impacted our customer service operations which has been stressful for some customers and staff. We did not intend for this to happen but we do not believe that the situation could have been predicted.”
What happened was a rise in complaints, people waiting nearly 20 minutes on the phone to contact them and general disatisfaction with the service.
What is not said though is that the government will not want people to continue saving when the pandemic is over. They will need to spend to revive the economy. What better way to empty savings accounts than to make them so unattractive that people lose money keeping cash there.
So the real story is that this government is deliberately manipulating punters to suit its own interests -putting money away when they can’t spend it during the pandemic – and forcing them to spend it when the pandemic is over. They must take the average saver to be a fool.
Today the House of Lords published an extremely worrying report into the prospect for millions of elderly people being able to enjoy a healthy old age.
I had not realised that Theresa May’s government had committed in 2017 to the Ageing Society Grand Challenge – a promise by 2035 that everybody in the country should be able to enjoy an extra five years good health in retirement. I have a feeling like the notice of the first raising of the pension age it has had little publicity.
Readers of my blog who have followed the BackTo60 campaign to get 3.8 million women born in the 1950s full restitution for their lost pensions will greet this aim with a hollow laugh – given there is growing anecdotal evidence that many women in their early 60s are already falling ill while working before they can even claim their pension. I wrote a blog about the figures in 2018 – see here.
But what this report confirms is not only that life expectancy has flatlined since 2011 but prospects for a healthy retirement has got worse particularly for the poor. The report reveals that the chances for a man to get an extra five years healthy retirement will take not 14 years as promised by the challenge but an incredible 75 years. They will be long dead by 2096.
For a woman it is actually worse – chances of having an extra five years healthy retirement is receding and getting worse by the day.
Figures in the report confirm what the Office for National Statistics has disclosed that Britain is slipping down the league table of advanced countries for those living longer – with men, who on average die earlier than women, have a higher increase in longevity than women. See my blog on this here.
Growing equality gap between rich and poor areas
But what is deeply disturbing is the huge gap between those in wealthy and deprived areas.
The report says: “In England in the period 2016–18, the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was 9.5 years for males and 7.5 years for females. The differences in healthy life expectancy are 18.9 years for males and 19.4 years for females.”
The report notes: “the health situation is somewhat similar to other countries that have experienced political, social and economic disruption and widening social and economic inequalities.” The report also noted that “in some of the key social determinants, inequalities are widening in England”.
The largest killer of men is heart disease and for women it is Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia. Heart disease deaths are falling while dementia is on the rise which explains the changes in longevity.
In a 2016 analysis of 20 countries, females in the UK had the lowest rate of improvement in life expectancy, followed by those in the USA. For males, the UK had the second-lowest rate of improvement, after the USA.
The report concludes:” Inequalities in healthy life expectancy are stark, with people in the least deprived groups living more than 18 years longer in good health than those in the most deprived groups.”
This also hit ethnic minorities very badly as evidence given by Professor Chris Whitty , the chief medical officer to peers. He told them: “People from ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty in older age; 29% of Asian or Asian British people and 33% of Black or Black British people over the age of 65 live in poverty, compared with 14% of White people.”
Will it get better or worse?
So what is to be done and will it get worse ? For a start it will get worse because of Covid19 as the report was mainly written before the pandemic took hold and it is known that Covid killed disproportionately larger numbers of the elderly saving the DWP over £600m a year in pension payouts. In a postscript to the report the peers from science and technology committee say both short term and long term effects are an unknown.
On the positive side new technologies and robotics and new drug trials to treat diseases promise to make life better for the elderly provided they can access them.
Peers warn that unless growing inequality is tackled by the government – these benefits could widen the gap between rich and poor as wealthier pensioners would be able to benefit while the poor would be left behind.
The report also exposes the lack of a government strategy at the top to tackle this.
Peers say: “The Government is not on track to achieve the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission to ensure five years of extra healthy life by 2035 while reducing inequalities, and does not appear to be monitoring progress towards the mission. It is hard to see how the target could be met without significant changes to the way it is managed.”
For those who criticise the House of Lords as an irrelevant institution – this report shows the House working at its best – it is a very thorough, well researched report – drawing attention to an overlooked issue and warning the government that it needs urgently to act to take this seriously. Whether it will, given the complacency of some ministers, is another matter.
MPs condemn multiple failures on planned broadband provision
John Howkins is well known in the creative industry as an innovator, author and an international speaker. His books – particularly relevant in the present pandemic – highlight a new way to look at work based at home. His latest book ” Invisible Work” concentrates on how people in work can adapt to the new age of artificial intelligence rather than be made redundant by it.
His world centres on publishing, TV, film, digital media and streaming – all the new technologies brought to us by the huge growth of the new digital age.
It is therefore a supreme irony that his opportunity to engage in this age of isolation has been wrecked by a Conservative government breaking its manifesto promise to bring broadband to everyone. The failed manifesto pledge – only a year after it was made – is highlighted today in a new report from the all party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.
For Mr Howkins’ problem is that he lives in rural Norfolk near Attleborough in the Parliamentary constituency of Mid Norfolk represented by Tory MP George Freeman – a tech enthusiast who has written pamphlets on how technology can save the NHS. But as yet has done nothing to help his constituents get the broadband they need.
Mr Howkins like millions of others living rural Britain has no proper broadband that can download videos in seconds or easily stream Netflix or the BBC I Player. And today MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee tell you why.
On November 20 last year Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, unceremoniously dumped the promise to all voters to get fast broadband by 2025 – and substituted a promise for 85 per cent coverage – dumping most rural parts of the UK ( and many Tory voters) in the process. Cynics might suggest the Tories only made this pledge because Jeremy Corbyn, for Labour, had promised a universal free broadband service – saying it should be a basic utility in the 21st century like water or electricity.
Ministry admits target unachievable
The MPs report concludes that not only in ministers’ words ““clear that Government’s 2019 election pledge to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband connectivity by 2025 was unachievable” but that even this lower target will be missed.
There is supposed to be £5 billion of our money put aside to bring this about but the report reveals that the Department for Culture ,Media and Sport, has yet to allocate 75 percent of this money one year into government for the contracts to do this.
It also warns : PAC is “increasingly concerned that those in rural areas may have to pay more, and may reach gigabit broadband speeds late” and is not convinced that “if and when rural users finally do get gigabit broadband, they will enjoy the same choice of service provider and the same protections as their urban counterparts”.
The scoreboard of failures by the ministry is appalling Mps found:
failure to make meaningful progress to tackle the barriers faced by operators in maximising gigabit connectivity by 2025,
failure to demonstrate it has learnt lessons from the superfast programme for the detailed design of the gigabit programme,
failure to demonstrate how its centralised procurement model will retain the people, skills and knowledge in local authorities that were critical to success in the superfast programme,
failure to give any reassurance that local authorities will get additional funding to retain their expert resources at a time when local government finances are under severe pressure from the pandemic,
failure to make any meaningful progress in delivering the policy and legislative changes deemed essential by industry to achieve rapid roll-out,
failure “yet again” to prioritise consumers in rural areas
Well done culture secretary Oliver Dowden ( NOT )!
Meg Hillier MP, Labour Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With the grim announcement that the country and economy will be locked down for months, the Government’s promises on digital connectivity are more important than ever. But due to a litany of planning and implementation failures at DCMS, those promises are slipping farther and farther out of reach – even worse news for the “rural excluded” who face years trying to recover with substandard internet connectivity.
“For the foreseeable future, ever more of our lives is moving online, whether we like it or not. Government cannot allow digital inequality to continue to compound and exacerbate the economic inequality that has been so harshly exposed in the Covid19 pandemic. It needs to be clear about timelines in each area so that businesses and individuals can plan for their digital future.”
As for Mr Howkins, his submission to MPs said: ” My current supplier is BT. I have an upload speed of a maximum of 0.3MB and a download speed of 3.0 MB. BT engineers have visited three times in the past few months and have been unable to improve on these speeds. Several neighbours are in the same position.
“It is therefore difficult to carry on business at present. Our ability to receive even a moderately sized data file is limited. It is impossible to upload a video file of any significant size. Interactive usage (banking) often fails. This week, I led presentations in China and Chile. My own internet link was worse than anyone else’s”
… “The suppliers celebrate their gigabit services but do nothing for those, like me, who would be delighted to have a much lower rate, say 10MB down and 2-3 up.
” It is a regulatory failure in the UK that broadband providers are evaluated according to national averages rather than the meeting of local need. So they benefit much more by providing 1GB to a one location, even if it is seldom used, than by providing an increase of 10MB to 10 locations. And providing 1GB to one location is treated as the equivalent to providing 10MB to 100 locations.”
” The pandemic has shown up the extent of the government’s failure. Although offices will re-open to some extent, the numbers working from home will increase.
I find it extraordinary in 2020 that the UK does not have universal service for broadband as it has for other utilities. Yes, broadband is a utility. “
He told me that he had been reduced to finding a friend who had better connections to do a lot of his work. His only alternative would be to use a local library which had restricted opening times.
He must be one among millions who have this problem and the UK is far behind other European countries.
” I’d be happy if we could reach the standards available in Romania”, he said.
Happy New Year. Since this blog was launched at the very end of 2009 it has had over 2.8 million hits and over 2 million visitors – a remarkable achievement – even if I say it myself – for a single handed effort.
The number of blogs on my site also topped over 1000 – 1072 – to be exact. Last year my blog got 511,721 hits – that is fewer than the 1,041,000 the previous year – but still the second highest figure since it started.
I am extremely grateful that so many people are interested enough to read my news and views on current issues and also to the women following the BackTo60 campaign who have had a dispiriting year after losing their Court of Appeal case for compensation for raising their state pension age from 60 to 66. They are also having to wait for a very long time to find out whether the Supreme Court will hear their cases – far too long in my opinion. If it goes to the Supreme Court I shall be reporting it.
Like last year the majority of most read stories were about that campaign. The most read story of all last year was the revelation – from a reader using a Freedom of Information request – that 4.6 million men over 60 had their national insurance contributions paid by the state if they did not register for the dole to keep the unemployment figures down. This had over 64,000 hits and when the Department for Work and Pensions revised this figure to a staggering 9.8 million that had another 34,600 hits – bringing interest in both stories to nearly 100,000.
Coverage of BackTo60’s Court of Appeal hearing was the second highest at 58,860 – which is a pretty high figure for a court case.
Also an old story on how the government has saved paying out £271 billion to the National Insurance Fund which could have paid for higher pensions and also stopped the need to raise the pension age for women had another 22,000 hits. Originally written in the summer of 2018 this enduring blog has now had 311,000 hits altogether.
Outside other highly read blogs on the pensions campaign the most read blog was one on how Boris Johnson and other Cabinet Ministers were moving towards an elective dictatorship by devolving power to themselves rather than Parliament under new Brexit laws. That had 35,554 hits.
This year there has been a subtle change in coverage on my blog of stories I write for Byline Times. Last year I tended to provide a short summary of the story on my blog. This year most of my Byline Times stories appear by themselves and are not automatically repeated on my blog. They get even wider coverage on Byline Times so those who want to see them and follow me on Twitter do get tweets telling them about the story. Or you could take out a subscription to Byline Times and get a monthly print newspaper.
Ending discrimination against women
There will be new developments next year. I will be blogging about the People’s Tribunal run by John Cooper, QC, the human rights lawyer, to end all forms of discrimination against women. This is a movement which wants to get the UK Parliament to put into domestic law the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women. The UK ratified it under Margaret Thatcher but nothing has been done since.
It comes as Elizabeth Truss, the equalities minister, appears to want to reverse progress what she calls “identity politics” so I foresee fresh battles over this issue. And I am curious to see how the Equality and Human Rights Commission is going to handle this.
I shall also be taking up some individual cases of injustice. The recent blog on the plight of Epsom and St Helier University Health Trust’s only woman cardiologist just one example – where a health trust is pursuing an individual and where they are whistleblowing issues.
I shall continue to keep an eye on political issues -particularly as incompetence, the chumocracy and corruption are on the rise in the UK and plan to write about it on Byline Times and this blog.
I have started again reporting on child sexual abuse again and plan more articles.
2021 promises to be a challenging year – the first post Brexit year- and I feel more than ready to meet it.
The most potent slogan of the Vote Leave campaign was the promise that Brexit meant that the country could ” take back control” and Parliament would be sovereign and we will be governed by our own laws.
Today Parliament abdicated its role to take back control of scrutinising the Brexit deal by kowtowing to a manipulative government which left little time to examine the Treaty before it had to come into effect.
A huge bill which will change Britain’s relationship with our nearest neighbours, end the freedom of British people to work and study in Europe, and introduce a raft of bureaucratic red tape to do business with Europe while avoiding tariffs and quotas, will be debated in just half a day. The bill will have no clause by clause examination because there will be no time in the Commons to do this. It will be just rubber stamped. And MPs will have just four minutes – later reduced to three – each to comment.
Similarly the House of Lords will not have time to scrutinise the bill either and though 145 peers have said they want to comment the new bill – they have precisely three minutes each to do so. The House of Lords Constitution Committee will scrutinise the detail of the bill after it has become law – even though the government does not want this to happen. The government in its explanatory memorandum says the bill is not suitable for pre legislation scrutiny. But Baroness Taylor, who chairs the Lords Constitution Committee, points out that the means the government uses to implement the treaty are subject to scrutiny – and she indicated that many of the Commission powers had been transferred to ministers not Parliament.
By midnight tonight the Royal Assent will be given. As the Hansard Society says: “Parliament’s role around the end of the Brexit transition and conclusion of the EU future relationship treaty is a constitutional failure to properly scrutinise the executive and the law.”
It rightly says the proceedings amount to a farce. Compare it with the European Parliament – which Brexiteers say amount to bureaucratic dictators. They declined to rush through a debate approving the deal until they could properly consider it. Instead they rely on a temporary agreement to allow trade to continue and will set aside much more time to debate it than the UK Parliament. They have two months to do this.
The reason why this is important is if there are defects in the legislation that will show up later and end up discrediting the issue even for Brexiteers. Much better to get the legislation right – and Parliamentary scrutiny is the best way to do this. Particularly as the deal runs to 1200 pages and you have to check the bill with the Treaty and refer to other legislation. We have now thrown away that chance.
In a way this is a microcosm of the way Boris Johnson and his Cabinet colleagues want to govern this country. They do not want scrutiny and want “to take back control” for themselves and not for Parliament or the people. They want to use Parliament and the people for their own agenda. Today was a bad day for Parliament and democracy.
We are now getting used to Boris Johnson’s blustering empty slogans on current problems – whether it’s Covid 19 or Brexit. What I hadn’t realised until today it is obviously standard Cabinet speak for this government – as Liz Truss, the international trade secretary and women and equalities minister, has just done the same.
Her much trailed speech at the Centre for Policy Studies was full of crowd pleasing right wing jibes bashing the Left and talking of so called unrepresentative groups campaigning for black and ethnic minorities, gays and women but getting nowhere.
But when it came to what she wanted to offer it was pretty thin gruel. She is moving the Equalities Hub from London to the North and asking the Social Mobility Commission to research the geographical disparities across the country. Wow!
motherhood and apple pie
And some of the speech read – forgive me for being sexist – like ” motherhood and apple pie”.
“Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face, delivering quality housing, cutting commute times, improving public transport, ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors, and improving our schools so every child has the same chances in life,” she opined.
Politicians have been spouting these platitudes for decades. No one is going to stand on a platform of let’s build a new generation of slums, slash public transport and cut school budgets – even if the result of some policies -under Tory governments- has been to do this.
The truth is we already know what has happened to the North and the South West without any more research. I know having looked at life expectancy figures that people in posh Kensington live much longer than those in Blackpool. I have been to Sunderland and Skelmersdale and seen the narrow life chances of people who live there. And by the way if the Tories are so worried about the North- why did both places miss out on Robert Jenrick’s largesse in his town fund scheme- in favour of Cheadle and Southport ( both Tory marginal seats unlike the former two).
It is what she going to do about this that matters. Her solution seems to be that rugged individualism will solve the lot and miraculously lift the masses out of years of deprivation. Yet to have a big impact it has to be a big partnership involving local councils, communities and diverse interest groups. She seems to suggest that one compartmentalises equality -looking at social and economic class – and ignoring whether they are black, gay, women or white working class males. In a bizarre sort of way her analysis is almost Marxist – though she would be a million miles away from his solution.
She also doesn’t seem to know that she already possesses the power to do this under the Equality Act.
One reaction from Nell Andrew, GMB National Equality and Inclusion Officer ( no doubt one of those Lefties she doesn’t like) was:
“If Liz Truss is serious in her ‘new fight for fairness’, she could start by enacting Section 1 of the Equality Act that was passed in Parliament 10 years ago and which successive Tory administrations have refused to act on. This would force public institutions to adopt effective polices to reduce the inequalities that result from class or socio-economic barriers.
“A drastic move away from recognising peoples lived experience, ignoring qualitive evidence, is a dangerous use of smoke and mirrors to attack equality and human rights legislation.
“All major equality and employment laws came about because of workers and communities organising around issues like racism, sexism and homophobia; fighting for more equal rights for everyone. “
Dr Meghan Campbell, Deputy-Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, and an expert on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,(CEDAW) put it this way:
“Today’s statement appears to fracture equality between identity characteristics (race, gender etc) and socio-economic equality. The water-tight division between different types of equality is both misleading and highly strained. There are complex interactions between race, gender, disability, migration status, geography, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and poverty. Historically marginalised groups have higher rates of poverty and political and social exclusion. “
“While there are some encouraging aspects focusing in on geographic equality and poverty, but these should not be pitted against race or gender equality as equality is not a zero-sum game.
” Poverty cannot be fully addressed without transforming the institutions and norms that perpetuate poverty against women and people of colour. The statement seems to be moving back to a very individualised vision of equality that ignores how larger structures, norms and institutions can trap people into disadvantage. “
So I am not impressed. If I am very cynical just a week ago she as equalities minister got advance warning that the UN CEDAW committee in Geneva has decided to seek the UK’s response on discrimination in relation to women as the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the Back To 60 pension discrimination case. I wonder if this among other matters prompted her rushed public response.
Peers accepted last week a highly critical report from the House of Lords Conduct Committee, chaired by Lord Mance, a former Supreme Court judge, that the peer was guilty of ” bullying” and” harassment” of a security guard and of ” homophobic ” attacks on two gay MPs.
The peer believes he is the subject of persecution by Stonewall because he opposes same sex marriage and even accused Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, as biased against him because she supported Out4Marriage a charity that supports gay marriage. She has made it clear that this did not influence her judgement one jot.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass , a former Ulster Unionist MP who sat as an Independent, had a row with a security guard, Christian Bombolo, when he forgot his security pass and demanded to be let into Parliament without one. The exchange became so toxic that an MP who witnessed the incident, Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston, intervened only to be attacked by the peer using homophobic language.
The second incident happened at a meeting of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group which was chaired by Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton. The dinner meeting broke up before Lord Maginnis could ask his question and he blamed Luke Pollard for this.
The report says: “Later in the evening Lord Maginnis sent an email to James Gray MP (the Chair of the APPG), copied to a number of other parliamentarians and to my office, with the subject heading “Discrimination by Homos”.
“Mr Gray replied saying the Mr Gray replied describing Lord Maginnis’s conduct at the meeting and the content of his email as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
He requested that Lord Maginnis withdraw his remarks and apologise, without which he would not be welcome at any future APPG events.
Lord Maginnis replied that Mr Pollard was “obviously part of the ongoing campaign against me because of MY views on the matter relating to the Cameron initiative [same-sex marriage]” and that he was “getting somewhat irked by being discriminated against so, as for any apology, forget it!”
But Lord Maginnis attended the next meeting which led to another complaint being lodged by Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, who was also a member of the group.
“Unapologetically homophobic and aggressive “
The report says: “Before the meeting began, he saw Lord Maginnis in conversation with James Gray MP. He later understood that Mr Gray had told Lord Maginnis he could not attend the event due to his previous conduct towards Luke Pollard. “According to Mr Perkins, Lord Maginnis “quickly responded aggressively refusing to leave and implying that the Chair would have to physically remove him”. He overheard Lord Maginnis saying “I am not going to be bullied by queers.” Mr Perkins said that Lord Maginnis’s “entire tone was unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”.
“It made me feel that it was not a safe environment for—I mean, particularly for people who were gay, but I think there is a sense to which we are all conditioned and harassed by the sense that we’re not all free to be at an event like that. So both the sort of the tone of the remarks and the content of them, I think, was upsetting.”
Maginnis refused to accept finding
Lord Maginnis refused to accept he had done anything wrong but said part of his behaviour was because he was a type 2 diabetic with arthritis and often in pain and had difficulty with his hearing.
This is yet another peer who seems to think that bullying and harassment and his case homophobic views are quite acceptable. While I am sure that most peers do know how to behave, it looks as though a small minority are still clinging on to outdated views and remarkably aggressive behaviour.
As Luke Pollard says in the report that he was “shocked and surprised that this type of behaviour would happen within Westminster”. “While he did not consider Lord Maginnis’s behaviour during the dinner to be acceptable, it was his remarks in the later email chain he had found most offensive. He said those emails made him feel like a “victim of abuse”.
A quirky tale of campaigning pensioners exposing dodgy council dealings in a quaint old English seaside resort
This is a story of two extraordinary 85 year old campaigning pensioners. For 40 years have fought their local council over a dodgy land deal in a quaint Dorset seaside town and so far literally hit a brick wall.
It is happening in the unlikely place of Lyme Regis. The family holiday town, home to numerous bed and breakfasts, and with its iconic Cobb on the marina immortalised by the famous English novelist ,John Fowles in The French Lieutenants Woman ( later as a film with Meryl Streep) is not seen as a hotbed of intrigue.
But behind the public image of Olde English teashops lies a dark story that involves questionable dealings, dubious planning applications. illegal blocking of a public eight of way, secret deals over cream teas, fake entries put into Land Registry records, information hidden by local worthies, and threats to people who tried to find out what was going on.
The characters would not be out of place in a novel or could appear in a West Country version of Last of the Summer Wine. One, Stan Williams, is deputy mayor of Lyme Regis, now 85, and one of the longest serving councillors. The other, Nigel Marsh ,also 85, is probably regarded by officialdom as a local busy body questioning local decisions. Yet the two have combined to try and solve a land deal that has been festering for 40 years and still the town council won’t come clean.
The Cliff House mudslide that made 14 people homeless
The catalyst for the scandal took place almost 60 years ago. According to a book in the Lyme Regis museum the local council gave permission to property developer Edward Keen to build 20 bungalows and flats on unstable land prone to mudslides above Marine Parade. He excavated 50,000 tonnes of soil.
The book says: ” On..12th February 1962, only a few days after the excavation was completed, movement was noticed, with cracking and heaving in some nearby houses. Movements continued through the evening and by 9 pm the whole slope failed. Cliff House, which was standing empty, moved 3.2m nearer the sea and was back-tilted and ruined. Sunnydene Guest House caved in, and three other houses were left at crazy angles. Other houses were extensively damaged and 14 people made homeless. Above Cliff House a large back-scar appeared at the top of the slip plane or shear, cutting Stile Lane.”
Even after this the town clerk, Harry Williams was reported in the Daily Sketch as saying, … that the development project will eventually completely stabilise … the site…and, as far as the Borough Council knew, work could continue to excavate soil from the site.” This bloody mindedness was to be repeated by successor town clerks.
The developer aborted the plan and council put in a compulsory purchase order for the land in 1964 and have created a pleasant public gardens on the site of the now demolished Cliff House.
What was saved was the gardeners cottage called Cliff Cottage which was jacked up and restored. As the Lyme Regis book says: “Cliff Cottage, which still stands …was miraculously jacked up back to true from a drunken angle, leaning into the landslip scar, using dozens of hydraulic car jacks and quickly concreted in after use.”
The Cadbury chocolate dynasty connection
The property had been owned by Celia Jeannette Cadbury who married into the famous Cadbury chocolate dynasty. Her husband George ran an electrical engineering business in West Bromwich. She lived in Kidderminster which suggests the property was a holiday home.
She sold the property to Kathleen Dorothy Tompkins in 1955. A splendid deed of conveyence exists in Dorchester Archives with a map of the land.
In 1980 the rebuilt property changes ownership to Marilyn Bolton, then a formidable local councillor. There is no record of the price paid in the Land Registry entry and the property transaction appears to have taken place without a plan of the land. The solicitors were a respected local firm Kitson and Trotman who are also the council’s solicitors.
It is then that a series of events happened. First an old garage next to the cottage was replaced with a tearoom and then an extended high class restaurant was built with a terrace overlooking the new public gardens. The restaurant is now managed by celebrity chef, Mark Hix – see my previous blog here.
My own investigations of what happened next revealed that this new development was carried out illegally with the council’s connivance who then tried to cover it up what had happened until it couldn’t any more – including a false declaration to the Land Registry and the illegal removal of a right of way.
Merry Bolton, now an ex councillor in her 70s, told me of a meeting with a former town clerk, Mr Robin Munday.
cream tea deal
Over a cream tea with him in 1985 she said: ” We looked at the land next to the cottage and agreed that the boundary should be a line of trees. At the time the land was a mess after the upheaval so it wasn’t clear where it was.”
His successor Mike Lewis duly registered the boundary with the land registry allowing her to encroach on the council land covered by the compulsory purchase order. He was later challenged by both Nigel Marsh and councillor Stan Williams and promised to change it but never did.
It was her two planning applications in 2006 to turn the tea room into an extended restaurant that caused the biggest stir. The tea room already obstructed a public footpath called Stiles Lane which is illegal but the new planning application encroached on to the council land. At the same time she never applied to either divert or extinguish the public right of way.
Plans for restuarant showing the encroachment on council land and the old right of way
Dorset council have confirmed to me that is the case. The told me:
“We can confirm that Footpath W2/12 from Pound Street to Marine Parade in Lyme Regis is obstructed by a number of buildings and landscaping works carried out over many years to re-profile the area following landslips and the creation of Langmoor Gardens.
“The Highway Authority has powers to enforce an obstruction of the public’s right of free passage over a public highway, but there is an alternative route, which is safer and more commodious for the public. Therefore, this is a considered to be a low priority for already stretched public funds.
“When planning permission was granted to extend the building that is currently obstructing the footpath, this did not give permission to obstruct the footpath. The applicant was advised to apply to divert the footpath by legal order and that this order must be confirmed before work commenced. We do not believe that West Dorset District Council received such an application.”
In 2009 after the restaurant had been extended the row led to the appointment by the council of a distinguished boundary demarcation expert David Powell. His report, which I have seen, came down firmly that the former councillor had encroached on council land. He suggested calling in the lawyers to sort it out.
But neither the council nor Ms Bolton agreed. She wrote to Mike Lewis on 2 November 2009 ” We are anxious as the Town Council to avoid expensive and pointless litigation, which will make both the experts and the lawyers rich, but leave the parties to the dispute the poorer”.
What followed was a rewriting of the council’s entry to the land registry to create a retrospective lease on the council land to the restaurant. But absolutely nothing was done to change the title deed of Cliff Cottage which included the council land.
In 2017 the current town clerk John Wright put in an application to do this on Marilyn Bolton’s cottage but he never proceeded.
Instead he has followed his predecessors and tried to hush matters up. This included a letter to Nigel Marsh banning him from speaking to any Lyme Regis councillor or official. I am told this is not the first time he has done this which must be legally unenforceable.
Since then he has declined to reply to my questions after telling me had no intention of doing anything about the footpath which he sees as a Dorset Council matter. The council’s lawyers have pleaded ” client confidentiality ” to any queries though they have refuted one allegation that they were working hand in hand with the ex-councillor and the council at the same time – which would lead to a complaint to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
As for the two indefatigable pensioners. Stan Williams says: ” As a kid I used to walk up that footpath to go to school every day. I don’t wish to see the restaurant run by Mark Hix demolished as a result but I do think the council and Marilyn Bolton should come clean about what happened particularly as she has benefitted financially from the deal.”
Nigel Marsh also does not want the celebrity chef caught up in this shenanigans but is determined to get a solution and not be stopped by a brick wall.
While the headlines concentrate on soaring youth unemployment the biggest rise in jobless totals are among the over 50s.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics analysed by the group, Rest Less, a jobs and community site for the over 50s. reveal unemployment has soared among this group by a staggering 33% year on year – the biggest percentage increase of all age groups and significantly more than the national average increase of 24%.The figures below tell the story.
Other figures shows that those furloughed over 50 who will later lose their jobs will be 80 per cent women. See this research here. And for the group I have championed through BackTo60 – the women born in the 1950s – who are now waiting up to six years to get their pension – the prospect of getting a job even if they wanted one will be worse.
But this is not just a tale about statistics. It is about human beings whose lives are being made more of a misery during this nasty Covid- 19 period.
One of those is Amanda Speedie, a resourceful and articulate 61 year old, who lives in Cornwall over the border from Plymouth. She was one of the women who did not find out until 2011 that she couldn’t retire at 60. She has since been dismayed by the failure of the judges decision on the BackTo60 court case. She had also tried using a local WASPI template to see if she could claim from the Ombudsman but that got nowhere.
She told me: ” When the decision was made it passed me by I was too busy bringing up a family, didn’t read newspapers ands rarely looked at TV news. If they had written to me I would at least have known”.
She is now divorced but well qualified-having worked in a variety of roles from estate agency to medical secretary to customer service and admin roles. She worked at one stage as a shift supervisor of the River Tamar toll plaza.
No full time job since 2012
She hasn’t had a full time job since 2012. She survives on two small private pensions – worth £40 a week – and by taking on some gardening work for which she earns £45 a week. She occasionally takes on sewing repair and alterations which might bring her in an extra £10 or £20 a week. She doesn’t qualify for any of the government payments.
Her real passion is to become a writer .Amanda studied for a BA in English with Media Studies and graduated with the MA in Professional Writing in 2007.
She has however some very strong views about what women in their 60s should do and that does not include work.
” Many women are single, they can’t get jobs and even if they can haven’t the energy to do full time work ( I did a full time job for five weeks and came home exhausted every night and had to give it up) They suffer health issues and lose their energy after the menopause. Older people also face discrimination from employers who are not keen to employ them.”
She has written twice to Rushi Sunak, the Chancellor, suggesting that he introduced an allowance equal to the pension for women in their 60s. She has had no reply.
” Women could then do things they might want to do like volunteering or looking after their grandchildren or take a part time job if they wanted.”
What is alarming is that generation born in 1960s are hitting the same problems. Rest Less had another case of a women in her 50s.
Claire Cassell is 54 from Willenhall near Birmingham. She lives with her husband. For nearly three years, Claire was working as a receptionist for a legal firm.
She was furloughed at the beginning of lockdown and didn’t hear anything from her employer until May when she was notified that they were hoping to get back to work soon.
By July she hadn’t heard anything more and texted her boss to find out if they were going back to work. He simply replied ‘No’.
At the end of August, she received an email telling her her role was at risk of redundancy. She was made redundant on 1 September. She is entitled to Job Seeker’s Allowance until March but as her husband works, she cannot claim Universal Credit. Since then, Claire has applied for 200 jobs and has had two disastrous Zoom interviews. She says she has a lot to give an employer and has 12 years of work still in front of her.
What this suggests is life is going to get much harder for the middle aged – who might have to face a decade or more of impoverished lives – before they get their pension. The government’s solution is to raise the age before you can get a state pension to 67 and then 68, and some pressure groups like Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies would like it to be 75 asap – knowing he as an ex minister and his wife will retire on a huge state pension provided by Parliament and Whitehall.