The NEW owl has arrived …


2 February 2020





East Devon could NEVER remain Owl-less …

As one departed another has taken its place …

The new Owl has arrived!

Talons sharpened, eyes trained …

A new light now shining into the darkest corners of East Devon

Contact us at

In the link below EDDC announces the launch on Monday 30 March 2020 of the East Devon District Council Coronavirus Community Support Hub and explains what  it will seek to do.

It also brings you up to date with a comprehensive range of local services appropriate to the Coronavirus  emergency.

It is too long to post but is a useful reference.

“Muddled, overstated, eye-wateringly expensive”: PAC damning on Test & Trace

The government’s flagship test-and-trace system has failed to achieve “its main objective” to cut infection levels and help Britain return to normal despite being handed an “eye-watering” £37bn in taxpayers’ cash, the Commons spending watchdog has warned.

Owl thinks that “Operation Moonshot” – remember that, the much hyped same day mass testing? – was subsumed into NHS test and trace in October 2020.

Andrew Gregory 

NHS test and trace was set up in May last year as the UK emerged from the first lockdown. It was led by Dido Harding, a Conservative peer and businesswoman who previously worked for Tesco and TalkTalk. She was appointed by the then health secretary, Matt Hancock, who praised her “brilliant” work on the pandemic.

In a damning report, the public accounts committee concluded that NHS test and trace “has not achieved its main objective to help break chains of Covid-19 transmission and enable people to return towards a more normal way of life” despite receiving about 20% of the NHS’s entire annual budget – £37 bn – over two years.

Instead, the report said, since the end of October 2020 “the country has had two more national lockdowns and case numbers have risen dramatically”. At the time of its launch, Boris Johnson claimed NHS test and trace would be “world-beating”. However, the 26-page report found that its aims had been “overstated or not achieved”.

The timing of the report’s conclusions is hugely embarrassing for the government as it continues to resist introducing measures to stem the rise in Covid cases. NHS test and trace is a key pillar of its “plan A” approach to autumn and winter, which ministers say is sufficient to avoid a crisis.

Even now, uptake of NHS test and trace is still “variable” as some vulnerable people are much less likely to take a test than others, the report says. Urgent improvements are needed in public outreach, with more than 60% of people who experience Covid-19 symptoms reporting that they have not been tested, and certain groups, such as older people, men, and some ethnic minorities, less likely to engage with the service.

The programme is also “still not flexible enough to meet changing demand and risks wasting public money”, the report adds. MPs on the cross-party committee warned that NHS test and trace desperately needs a “proper long-term strategy”.

The report also criticised the handling of the cash awarded to NHS test and trace. It said the programme has still not managed to cut the number of expensive contractors paid an average of £1,100 a day. Some have been paid rates of more than £6,000 a day.

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The national test-and-trace programme was allocated eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money in the midst of a global health and economic crisis. It set out bold ambitions but has failed to achieve them despite the vast sums thrown at it.

“Only 14% of 691m lateral flow tests sent out had results reported, and who knows how many took the necessary action based on the results they got, or how many were never used. The continued reliance on the over-priced consultants who ‘delivered’ this state of affairs will by itself cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.”

Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said the MPs’ report exposed “a great many shortcomings in the NHS test and trace service”.

“Harding previously boasted that the operation was [the] size of Tesco, without conceding that the supermarket chain actually works,” he said. “Greater attention seems to have been paid to headline-grabbing initiatives to build up the system than to ensuring it actually did its job.”

He added: “Failure to cut infections could mean that we suffered more sickness and death, and longer time spent living under restrictions than would otherwise have been the case.”

Michael Hopkins, professor of innovation management at the University of Sussex business school, warned that the report “comes at a crucial time, with Covid cases and scepticism of NHS test and trace both rising”.

A government spokesperson said: “We have rightly drawn on the extensive expertise of a number of public and private sector partners who have been invaluable in helping us tackle the virus.

“We have built a testing network from scratch that can process millions of tests a day – more than any European country – providing a free LFD (lateral flow device) or PCR test to anybody who needs one.

“The new UK Health Security Agency will consolidate the knowledge that now exists across our health system to help us tackle future pandemics and threats.”

Almost £2bn slashed from ‘levelling up’ funding in poor areas despite PM’s pledge

Almost £2bn has been slashed from promised development spending in poorer areas of the UK, despite Boris Johnson’s vow to “level up” the country. 

The government had pledged to match lost EU funding – to “tackle inequality and deprivation” – which would have required at least £4.5bn over the next three years.

But Rishi Sunak’s Budget reveals just £2.6bn has been allocated and reallocates the fund to improving “functional numeracy skills”, to boost job prospects.

The move will provoke fury in many ‘Red Wall’ areas of England and in Scotland and Wales – which were big recipients of EU structural funds before Brexit cut off the flow.

The Conservative party manifesto at the 2019 general election promised to “at a minimum match” the lost funds in each nation of the UK.

Rebecca Evans, the Welsh Government’s finance minister, protested at “clear gaps in funding where the UK government should be investing in Wales”.

“Arrangements for replacing EU structural funds remain unclear, but what we do know is it falls well short of the £375m we were receiving – these are funds that support skills, businesses and decarbonisation.”

Alexander Rose, a public funding lawyer and secondee at the European Commission, tweeted that the announcement “breaks the promise” that the EU funds would be replaced.

“Furthermore, the new fund is heavily centralised with no guarantees the funding on offer will go to the areas which need it most,” he warned.

The long-promised UK Shared Prosperity Fund was already mired in controversy, after being delayed until next year – already costing poorer areas around £1.5bn.

The government promised to match the pre-Brexit grants, to build local economies by attracting businesses and jobs, and said they would flow from next April.

But the spending review document, for the three years from 2022 until 2025, states it will be “worth over £2.6bn”, over that period.

It says funding will only “rise to £1.5bn a year by 2024-25” and says the pot must no pay for “a new UK-wide programme to equip hundreds of thousands of adults with functional numeracy skills”.

Mr Sunak did not mention the disguised cut in his Budget speech, in which he argued the government was “levelling up communities, restoring the pride people feel in the places they call home”.

“For too long, far too long, the location of your birth has determined too much of your future,” the chancellor said, announcing a separate £1.7bn for better infrastructure in more than 100 areas.

Economic experts have also warned that ministers are ignoring where “need is greatest” in the allocation of the limited funds available.

It came after The Independent revealed that seats held by 7 Cabinet ministers are likely winners from the prosperity fund, despite previously being judged as not needing the grants.

The constituencies of Mr Sunak, the foreign secretary Liz Truss, and Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are on a list of “priority places”.

Rishi Sunak “blanked” Simon Jupp in his budget speech

A sharp-eyed correspondent noticed an article posted on the Times “Red Box” column on Tuesday authored by Simon Jupp and Andrew Bowie, MP for Aberdeen.

Both the correspondent and Owl thought it looked suspisciously like a “planted” story.

These two MPs were arguing for the Chancellor to cut air passenger duty on domestic flights as “a bold step towards supporting connectivity across all parts of the Union, as well as boosting our domestic aviation industry which has been at the forefront of the economic impact of coronavirus.”

With COP 26 about to start, arguing for cuts in air passenger duty (when aviation kerosene used by the commercial aviation sector is already exempt from tax) would not seem to be a clever way to support regional aviation. This is an industry that has to be rethought; it can’t just be reset to the “BP” (Before Pandemic) era. 

“Cheap domestic flights might seem a good deal when you buy them, but they are a climate disaster, generating seven times more harmful greenhouse emissions than the equivalent train journey. Making the train cheaper will boost passenger numbers and help reduce emissions from aviation, but any cut to air passenger duty – coupled with a rise in rail fares in January – will send the wrong message about how the government wants people to travel and mean more people choosing to fly.” Paul Tuohy, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive.

Nevertheless, the Chancellor obliged by rebalancing the duty, reducing it on domestic flights and increasing it on long flights. 

Obviously Rishi Sunak was expected to name check Aberdeen and Exeter in his speech, illustrating the range of UK domestic flights. Except that Exeter/Devon/Newquay/The South West (and Simon Jupp) must be so beyond his metropolitan radar he forgot to mention it/them.

What he actually said was:

“But today I can announce that flights between airports in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will…

…from April 2023, be subject to a new lower rate of Air Passenger Duty.

This will help cut the cost of living, with 9 million passengers seeing their duty cut by half.

It will bring people together across the UK.

And because they tend to have a greater proportion of domestic passengers…

…it is a boost to regional airports like Aberdeen, Belfast, Inverness and Southampton”

With Exmouth failing to get the Dinan Way grant from the “Leveling up” fund, and Simon having to deny he supported continuing with the tame water quality policy that results, for example, in sewage spewing into the Otter from Honiton, on average, every two or three days, it’s been a mixed week. [Owl repeats “a ludicrous and misleading accusation”.]

Owl believes Simon Jupp has serious questions to answer with regard to his green credentials.

Exmouth misses out on multi-million-pound Dinan Way bid, Simon Jupp MP ‘deeply disappointed’

First Axminster was led up the garden path of disappointment and broken “promises”, now it’s Exmouth’s turn. In Owl’s opinion, Westminster isn’t going to take any  notice of Devon until it returns to its radical roots.

A discussion of the timeline of Simon Jupp’s pre-election regeneration promise can be found in this March post.

Will Goddard 

Simon Jupp MP said that he is ‘deeply disappointed’ that the multi-million pound bid to extend Dinan Way and improve the area around Exmouth railway station has been unsuccessful in the first round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

The bid was submitted earlier this year by Devon County Council and East Devon District Council.

It comes despite Exmouth being described as ‘exactly the kind of place that these funds were designed to support’ by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick in Parliament in July, and the Dinan Way extension being Devon County Council’s priority application.

The extension would have seen Dinan Way connected with the A376 to reduce traffic, and has had planning permission since 2017.

East Devon MP Simon Jupp said: “Whilst it is disappointing that our councils’ bid did not succeed in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund, I hope local leaders will continue to work together with me and the government ahead of future opportunities.

“I will be seeking an explanation as to why the bid was unsuccessful which I hope will help further applications, if the council decide to reapply. I have called for a meeting of local council leaders once feedback is received from the government on the councils’ bid.

“I have campaigned hard in Parliament for East Devon, securing on-going support for Exeter Airport and many local businesses. I will continue to work with local councils to back bids for investment.”

Carry on camping

Simon Jupp appears to continue to champion the hospitality sector, in this case a very marginal one. What about the impacts on the AONB where these sites are?

In terms of “levelling up” looks to Owl like “for the few not the many”.

Photo of Simon JuppSimon Jupp Conservative, East Devon

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, whether he plans to extend the 56 day rule for temporary campsites into 2022.

Photo of Christopher PincherChristopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Nationally set permitted development rights allow for temporary use of land. To support businesses during the COVID-19 restrictions we introduced a new right which increased the length of time during which land can be temporarily used for other purposes, and for moveable structures to be set up on the land. The time was increased from the existing allowances of 28 days generally, and 14 days for particular uses such as motorsports, to 56 days and 28 days respectively.

The right allowing for additional days is due to end on 31 December 2021. This decision was taken on balance, considering the wide nature of the right to allow for the use of land for any purpose and the impacts that this can have on communities.

Covid Plan B ‘could cost up to £18bn’ according to leak

Boris Johnson has been told that a five-month move to his “Plan B” to control the spread of coronavirus could cost the economy up to £18 billion, leaked Government documents show.

One of the main lessons learned so far in the pandemic is that delay in taking action costs both money and lives. So you can’t really use cost as an excuse for delay, or can you? – Owl

Rachel Hains

The Prime Minister has so far resisted pressure from health leaders to implement his back-up measures to slow the spread of Covid-19 and ease the pressure on the NHS this autumn and winter.

Papers drawn up by the Cabinet Office’s coronavirus task force and the Treasury detail the potential cost of mandatory mask wearing and vaccine passports, along with the return of work from home guidance.

Obtained by the Politico news website, the internal Treasury impact assessment suggests the measures lasting throughout winter until the end of March would cost the economy between £11 billion and £18 billion.

However, the Government insisted there is “no planned five-month timeline” as it disputed the assumptions in the document and maintained there is currently no need for Plan B.

While scientists believe working from home will have the greatest effect on transmission, the leaked documents suggested mandatory vaccine certification at large venues would have a “moderate” impact.

The assessment said the move for venues such as nightclubs and music venues could reduce transmission at large events by 40-45% and in the wider community by between 1% and 5%.

A Government spokesman said: “We knew the coming months would be challenging, which is why we set out our autumn and winter plan last month.

“Plan B ensures we are ready, should we need to act, to avoid an unsustainable rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

“The presumptions put forward here are untrue, and do not reflect Government policy. The data does not currently show that Plan B is necessary – and there is no planned five-month timeline.”

Meanwhile, a separate impact assessment raised concerns over possible knock-on effects of the introduction of mandatory vaccine passports.

The Telegraph reported that the document from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport warned the move could encourage people to instead go to poorly ventilated pubs and therefore be “counter-intuitive and potentially counter-productive”.

It also suggested that the turnover of venues hit by the move could drop between £345 million and £2 billion.

Greg Parmley, the chief executive of the Live music industry body, said the leak shows the move to mandatory use of passports “would be a mistake”.

“These passports would cost the live music industry billions of pounds while aspects of the rollout would be impractical and potentially dangerous,” he said.

Downing Street has defended its Plan B measures with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying it is not a timeline that is “Government policy and is not something we’re planning to”.

He said Plan B would only be bought in when “pressure on the NHS is unsustainable”, which he said “is not the case currently”.

“If it were to become the case, the Plan B measures would allow venues to remain open and remain trading,” he added.

“We are confident the Plan B measures taken as a package will help curb Covid cases while also striking that important balance of allowing parts of the economy to remain open that will otherwise face severe restrictions or even closure.”

Eat-Out-To-Help-Out ‘triggered surge of Covid cases’

A damning new paper has claimed the Government’s ‘Eat-Out-To-Help-Out’ scheme triggered thousands of extra Covid cases.

It is well known that crowded and poorly ventilated places are ideal breeding grounds for virus propagation.

Responsible politicians should have been far more aware of this when devising help for the hospitality sector. 

‘Eat-Out-To-Help-Out’ is one example. Other trigger events come to mind: Cheltenham Festival March 10-13 2020, recognised as the first superspreading event; and Boardmasters 10-14 August 2021, credited by many with seeding infection levels in Cornwall to all time highs which have yet to abate.

In this context Owl has always thought Simon Jupp’s “pub crawl” an ill advised idea and an immature response to the plight of the hospitality sector. A very high proportion of Simon’s constituents feel vulnerable to Covid and its emerging variants. The hospitality sector might be helped more by arguing for the Government to take a more responsible, less “Gung-Ho”, attitude to Covid so that the general population felt more secure to venture out. – Owl

Rachel Sloper 

The £850 million subsidised meals initiative was intended to help the hard-hit hospitality sector gets back on its feet following last year’s first Covid-19 lockdown.

But a new Economic Journal report indicates that the scheme actually “accelerated” a second wave of Covid cases by increasing community transmission of the virus.

The findings suggest Eat-Out-To-Help-Out (EOHO) may have been responsible for around 11 per cent of all new detected Covid-19 clusters in the UK emerging during August and early September last year.

The scheme directly subsidised the cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks by up to 50 per cent across participating restaurants nationwide for meals served on all Mondays to Wednesdays from August 3 to August 31 last year.

The discount was capped at a maximum of £10 per person, but there was no limit on how often people could benefit.

Figures suggest that the government subsidised 160 million meals at a cost to the taxpayer of £849 million. Restaurant visits increased drastically on Mondays to Wednesdays, which usually see less trade. Official government statistics suggest that more than 59,000 businesses have registered for the scheme.

Researchers found that the programme did have a “notable” temporary impact on restaurant visits when comparing year-on-year changes from the booking service OpenTable. During days that the scheme was available, restaurant visits increased between 10 and 200 per cent.

But the data also suggests that the scheme may have shifted restaurant visits from the weekend to weekdays on which the discount was available and that the increased number of restaurant visits was temporary.

Study co-author Professor Thiemo Fetzer, of Warwick University, said: “Areas with higher participation in the Eat-Out-To-Help-Out scheme saw both a notable increase in new Covid-19 infection clusters within a week of the scheme starting, and a deceleration in infections within two weeks of the programme ending.

“Areas that had notable rainfall during the prime lunch and dinner hours on days the scheme was active, making customers less likely to visit restaurants and take advantage of the subsidised meals, had a lower infection rate.

“The empirical estimates suggest that the subsidised restaurant meal scheme may be responsible for around 11 per cent of all new detected Covid-19 clusters emerging during August and into early September in the United Kingdom.”

He continued: “The figures suggest that the EOHO scheme may have caused between 4,798 and 6,643 symptomatic infections or 7,759 and 21,824 overall infections, including asymptomatic cases directly.

“This estimate is unlikely to capture the full pandemic impact of the EOHO scheme as this will spread well beyond calendar weeks 32 to 36. The estimates are unlikely to capture the full chain of onward infections.”

Prof Fetzer added: “The most prominent point of divergence between the UK’s fiscal response and that of other countries was a large-scale demand-inducing measure targeted at the restaurant sector.

“A total of £850 million was spent to subsidise the cost of eating out by up to 50 per cent in the month of August. This came at a time when epidemiological studies suggested that restaurant dining may be a particularly risky setting.

“This paper shows that the Eat-Out-To-Help-Out scheme, hailed as a boon for the ailing sector, causally increased Covid-19 community transmission.

“By subsidising an economic activity associated with negative health externalities, the estimates suggest that the scheme may have been responsible for between eight per cent and 17 per cent of all newly detected COVID-19 infections – and likely many more non-detected asymptomatic infections – in late summer.

“This highlights the fact that fiscal responses aimed to cushion the economic fallout from Covid-19 have to pay particular attention to epidemiological risks as, otherwise, they may significantly worsen the pandemic progression and undermine any short-term economic benefits.”

Floods hell sparks call to relocate school

Renewed and urgent calls have been made to help fund the relocation of a primary school on a ‘risk to life’ floodplain after more flooding last week.

Daniel Clark

The Environment Agency has been deeply concerned about the welfare of children attending the school since 2015 where it stated in a report that there is a ‘risk to life’ of the children attending the school because of the flood risk, and they maintain this position.

Tipton St John Primary School, which has about 90 pupils, has suffered from repeated flooding with children being evacuated and the school being shut.

Last week’s heavy rainfall once again hit the site and led to flooding, with pictures showing the water still boot-level high even hours after the water levels had peaked during the night.

Cllr Jess Bailey, who represents the Otter Valley on Devon County Council, has once again called on the Government to help fund the relocation of the school

Cllr Jess Bailey at the flooded Tipton St John Primary School

Cllr Jess Bailey at the flooded Tipton St John Primary School

The preferred option had been to try and relocate the school within the village, but after a £3.5m bid to the Government was rejected, and due to the flood risk, a rebuild on the current site was not viable, a move to Ottery St Mary was considered the only realistic option.

Plans to relocate the school to Ottery St Mary, as part of a 150 home housing scheme, had been put forward, but in January 2021 the plans were rejected by East Devon councillors due to the housing element by 11 votes to two.

Cllr Bailey said: “It is vital that the government funds the relocation of Tipton St John school within the village of Tipton St John. This intolerable situation has been dragging on for years and the government needs to do the right thing. There is an established ‘risk to life’ from flooding, which is a matter of huge concern. The government must act now.

“It is ridiculous that the government has previously not taken into account flood risk when deciding which schools to fund. This has meant Tipton St John primary school has missed out and was not one of the 100 selected schools. This must change for the next funding rounds”

“It is not a matter of ‘if’ it is a matter of ‘when and how bad” the next flooding incident will be at Tipton St John School,. I am very fearful of what this could mean for teachers and pupils as there is a clearly established ‘risk to life.”

She said that last week she was concerned about possible flooding at Tipton St John School, and when she arrived at 8am on Thursday morning, she was shocked to see just how much water was on the site – and this was hours after the water levels had peaked during the night.

Cllr Bailey added: “I have written to the relevant government minister Baroness Barran, to highlight the issue of flooding at the school. This situation cannot continue and I am urging the government to fund the relocation of the school within the village.

“I have emphasised the importance of flood risk being a key criteria for funding for new school buildings, particularly when there is an established ‘risk to life’, which is the case at Tipton St John.”

Her letter added: “The site is within flood zone 3 and has experienced flooding events on multiple occasions in recent years.

“Strenuous efforts have been made by the Diocese, Devon County Council and the School Governors to relocate the school for over a decade now. This significant and unresolved flood risk issue needs to be addressed as a priority through the School Rebuilding Programme.

“Flood risk which is dangerous and poses a risk to life – as it is the case at Tipton St John – must be a key factor in assessing priorities. Not only does the flood risk at Tipton St John represent a threat to life, but also could cause long term closure of the school with significant educational disruption to pupils.

“And what is more, the flood risk is set to worsen significantly in coming years due to climate change making this an even more pressing issue.

“I do really feel that the government must fund the relocation of Tipton St John School within Tipton St John. This dangerous situation which represents a threat to life cannot be allowed to continue and the government must provide vital funding.”

Devon County Council has previously argued that as many of the pupils already come from Ottery St Mary, it made more sense for the school to be built there than in Tipton St John.

Flooding at Tipton St John Primary School overnight on Wednesday, October 20/Thursday, OCtober 21

Flooding at Tipton St John Primary School overnight on Wednesday, October 20/Thursday, OCtober 21

Councillors had been recommended to approve the scheme for a 210 space primary school and up to 150 new homes on land opposite Barrack Farm in Exeter Road, Ottery St Mary, when they met in January.

But the committee rejected the plans on the grounds of the countryside location of the housing scheme which is in an area not allocated for residential development and outside the built up area boundary of the town, the harmful visual impact, and that it didn’t provide the 50 per cent affordable housing required in policy.

Can we “build, build, build” without fixing sewage discharges?

Correspondence from “The Lorax”

Dear Owl,

I note that Simon Jupp MP: “is a proud Devonian who wants to preserve where we live. I want to tackle the raw sewage issue and I voted for a plan to help get us there.”

I also note that a “Budleigh Correspondent” writes that: “Not only in Budleigh do we get the pollution from the river (farm discharges plus all the sewage discharges from upstream of the Otter) and the two brook outlets.

We had 90 discharges from Newton Poppleford turning up in our bay in 2020! 137 from Honiton!

No wonder our water quality prediction display has not worked all year.” (Advising people in real time against bathing when it rains allows Budleigh to claim an extra bathing water quality “Star”).

How does Simon propose to tackle this problem? Does the beautiful bay in Budleigh Salterton have to wait for his long-term solution? According to Luke Pollard, Shadow Environment Secretary, not one English river is in a healthy condition, there has been zero improvement since 2016. Light touch measures aren’t working.

If Simon is concerned about cost, there is a much quicker and “cost free” answer. Stop all new house building in Honiton and Newton Poppleford and indeed all the way up the Otter catchment until South West Water stops discharging their sewage from these settlements.