Councils ‘plunging headfirst in black hole of debt’ as extra funding not enough

Councils across Devon have warned the £33m extra from Government still isn’t close enough to plug their funding gaps with ‘a huge black hole of debt emerging and we are plunging headfirst into it’.

Owl notes that Ben Ingham has very little to say compared to the Leaders or Chief Executives of the other District Councils. Has he run out of steam?

Daniel Clark 

More than £36m was provided to councils in March by Central Government, and with £33m more awarded in the second tranche of finance handed out.

The additional support will mean councils can continue to provide essential services, such as adult social care and children’s services, while also providing support to people impacted by the coronavirus.

But with income streams for councils having been decimated and increased expenditure as a result of the pandemic, the additional cash will only partly cover the shortfall and only gives them breathing space, rather than any security.

Devon’s district councils were unanimous in stating that the first round of finance was not enough and that the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures were leaving them facing significant and catastrophic financial pressures unless additional funds were provided by Government.

And while they have welcomed the extra funds in the second round of funding, council chiefs have warned ‘it doesn’t solve the problem’.


First round Second round Total
Devon £ 22,516,153.00 £ 14,195,595.00 £ 36,711,748.00
East Devon £ 46,976.00 £ 1,467,105.00 £ 1,514,081.00
Exeter £ 72,737.00 £ 1,306,278.00 £ 1,379,015.00
Mid Devon £ 38,976.00 £ 825,286.00 £ 864,262.00
North Devon £ 52,672.00 £ 965,336.00 £ 1,018,008.00
Plymouth £ 8,464,484.00 £ 7,236,310.00 £ 15,700,794.00
South Hams £ 33,962.00 £ 866,545.00 £ 900,507.00
Teignbridge £ 59,771.00 £ 1,342,148.00 £ 1,401,919.00
Torbay £ 5,371,954.00 £ 3,764,926.00 £ 9,136,880.00
Torridge £ 41,925.00 £ 685,208.00 £ 727,133.00
West Devon £ 29,023.00 £ 555,735.00 £ 584,758.00
TOTAL £ 36,728,633.00 £ 33,210,472.00  

£ 69,939,105.00


Cllr Gordon Hook, leader of Teignbridge District Council, said: “Our income streams have simply dried up. Our leisure centres have had to be closed because of social distancing, so absolutely no money coming in. Our car parking income has dropped from an average of £95,000 a week to £2,500 a week. A huge black hole of debt is emerging and we are plunging headfirst into it.”

Teignbridge District Council’s Managing Director Phil Shears added: “We very much welcome this second round of emergency funding to support councils, which is an acknowledgement by the government of the vital support we are providing in responding to this emergency, as well as the immense and immediate pressure district councils are under. Our latest settlement of £1,342,148 combined with the initial grant of £59,771 takes our cumulative sum to just over £1.4m.

“This latest funding package is welcome and gives us just short of another couple of months’ breathing space, but it will not allow us to recoup the significant financial loss of income as a direct result of the lockdown.

“Devon’s district councils will continue to work together to press the government for an assurance about how it will help district councils with this financial plight – as has been promised. The sooner we know the details of this, the sooner we can start to plan for the future with a degree of financial confidence.”

Chief Executive of Mid Devon District Council, Stephen Walford, added: “We are grateful that the Ministry seems to have more clearly recognised the pressures on districts in the short-term. However, this takes the total funding announced nationally to £3.2bn, when the current estimates of the total cost to councils are around £10bn.

“This latest funding package is welcome and gives councils some time to breathe, but it doesn’t solve the problem and we will continue to press for a comprehensive undertaking from government on how funds will be made available to fully support councils – as has been promised. The sooner we know the details of this, the sooner we can start to plan for the future with a degree of financial confidence.”

North Devon Council’s chief executive Ken Miles said that the £1m that they have received will only last around a month and isn’t enough to keep the council afloat in the longer term.

He said: “Although North Devon Council welcomes this funding from the government, it’s a cautious welcome. In reality, it will last us around a month as current projections show that we could have up to a £3 million budget shortfall over the first three months of the pandemic. This is due to increasing costs from supporting our local community, particularly our most vulnerable residents and a reduction in income from things like car parks and planning fees.

“We’re pleased the government has recognised the importance of district councils by offering a bigger slice of this second round of funding, but we need them to recognise that it isn’t enough to keep us afloat in the longer term and that further funding will be needed.”

In the South Hams, Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council, said she welcomed the £866,545 from the second tranche of the COVID-19 funding, but it was only about a sixth of what was needed.

She said: “This will assist the Council to partly meet its projected loss of income streams such as car parking income and planning income, but it will only be part of the solution. Just the loss of income from car parking, some business unit rentals, harbour fees, and the Dartmouth Ferry income will be very significant. The Council’s estimate is that we could see a reduction in income and increased expenditure totalling over £6 million in 2020/21.

“While the funding is much appreciated, it is less than one sixth of what we estimate we might need. The allocation of funding to Councils has been made partly based on population and as a rural Council we are always going to miss out on this basis. We will continue to lobby the Government so that we receive the appropriate level of funding to be able to plan confidently for the future.”

Cllr Neil Jory, Leader of West Devon Borough Council, said he was disappointed with the level of funding they received which was one of the lowest of any council, getting just £555,735.

“While this is most welcomed, we are disappointed that we are one of the few District Councils whose allocation of the funding is less than £1 million,” Cllr Jory said. “The funding has been allocated partly based on population and in a sparsely populated area such as West Devon, we are always going to lose out on funding based on our population. We will continue to lobby our MPs going forward for a more sustainable funding package.

“The amount received will only partly cover our income shortfalls and increased costs which are projected to be £2.6 million for 2020/21. Therefore we hope there will be future funding packages for Councils to fully compensate us for our loss of funding streams. The Council is working quickly to deliver lifelines to local businesses and has now paid out £12.6 million of Government grant funding to 1,070 businesses.”

Cllr Ken James, Leader of Torridge District Council said while they were grateful that the latest grant package from Government has increased the financial support to Torridge from £42,000 to £685,000, it was less than a third of what they needed to balance the books.

He said: “While the sums may seem large, the Councils current financial situation has been impacted both by a fall in income and increased costs in ensuring services are maintained and enhanced elsewhere for the vulnerable. Our current estimate is a shortfall of around £2.5 Million for the 2020/21 financial year which is likely to grow should the crisis persist.

“To put this into further context the shortfall estimated to date equates to around £38 for every resident in Torridge. The package from government announced so far is around £11 per resident or 29 per cent of this figure, less than a third of the money we already need to balance the books.

Therefore while we very much welcome the funding provided we sincerely hope that it will be part of an ongoing package of support as this will certainly be needed by all Councils up and down the Country and not just here in Torridge.”

East Devon District Council’s Leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, added: “While the grant is very welcome it is one piece of the jigsaw in adapting the council to the much changed financial circumstances and we are assessing the matter and will be debating how we respond to these changed circumstances.”

Posting on Twitter, Karime Hassan, Chief Executive and Growth Director of Exeter City Council, added that the amount Exeter has received was roughly the amount of income the council has lost to date because of the lockdown.

The first round of funding saw the majority of the cash handed to the top tier authorities, with £35m of the £36.7m handed to Devon, Torbay and Plymouth councils, but the second tranche has seen the eight district council handed a larger slice totalling nearly £8m.

Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Councils are playing a central role in our national fight against coronavirus and the Government continues to back them at this challenging time.

10 Downing Street handout photo of Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick answering questions from the media via a video link during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19).

“That’s why I announced an extra £3.2billion of support for councils to help them to continue their extraordinary efforts.

“Today I’m setting out how the latest £1.6billion of this will be allocated to councils in the fairest way possible, recognising the latest and best assessment of the pressures they face.

“We are backing local district councils and a clear majority will receive at least £1million in additional funding.”

The announcement builds on other government measures, including allowing councils to defer the payment of business rates to central government and providing them with a combined £850million in up-front social care grants that will help with their cashflow so they can continue to deliver vital services.


Surge in care home deaths blamed on PPE mistakes

This is the short “analysis” section taken from the Times article with the above heading. 

The point Owl wants to highlight is the comment that Public Health England believes the flow of people in and out of care homes is the main cause of outbreaks. 

The risk of this happening is a point Owl repeatedly made in the context of Abbeyfield’s insistence on closing the Shandford Care Home in Budleigh during the height of the epidemic.

Owl also knows of a number of cases where frail patients were moved out of hospital into care homes with no testing in order to free up hospital beds. 


Before this virus hit the decades-long neglect of social care was becoming a bigger political issue, with Boris Johnson pressured to make good on his promise to find a lasting funding solution. That ended when the virus put attention back on the NHS but the failure to create a functional care system has proven deadly.

Now that rising care home deaths have focused minds again the question is how to save lives. In a fragmented system of financially precarious private providers, poorly integrated into the health service, it was always going to be hard to issue consistent guidance and protective kit. Places designed for the elderly and frail were always going to be vulnerable.

Public Health England has said that many care home patients died before they could be tested.

It is welcome that tests are being expanded to any resident. Mobile units to descend on homes suffering outbreaks are promised to help bring them under control. But after making big promises, the government now has to deliver.

It believes the flow of people in and out of homes is the main cause of outbreaks. Stricter isolation may help but has issues: those with dementia could deteriorate if cut off. Good PPE for essential visitors seems a better bet and a website for social care to buy kit bought by the NHS is needed quickly.

Gown shortages still plague NHS staff

NHS staff continue to face an acute shortage of protective gowns, according to internal documents that reveal the government is still struggling to secure the safety of frontline workers.

Nikou Asgari in London

“Stocks of fluid-repellent gowns and coveralls remain pressured,” said a presentation by NHS Supply Chain, the body which sources medical kit, that was seen by the FT. 

Another slide in the presentation, held on April 29, quoted Keith Willett, director of acute care for NHS England, who acknowledged that the stock of gowns “is better than last week but we are not out of the woods yet”.

The slides underline the strain the pandemic has placed on supplies of personal protective equipment for health and social care workers, at least 108 of whom have died because of the virus, according to figures revealed by foreign secretary Dominic Raab at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.

“Gowns remain the main item we are carefully monitoring and trying to bring in deliveries sooner to ensure supplies are maintained,” Mr Willett said in the presentation. 

The NHS has been struggling to source gowns since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Most of its protective products are imported from Asia and the UK does not have large-scale textile manufacturers producing PPE domestically.

Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, on Wednesday said the city was down to just a few days’ supply of gowns, with hospitals helping others that had run out. “It is touch and go . . . and that is not a situation we want to be in,” he said.

The government has been criticised for failing to take up offers from companies that are able to make PPE.

Christopher Nieper, chief executive of women’s fashion company David Nieper, said he first contacted the government more than a month ago offering to make reusable gowns for frontline workers.

“We’ve gotten nowhere at all, absolutely nowhere,” he said, despite having spoken in early April to advisers from Deloitte, which is in charge of gown procurement on behalf of the government.

“I proposed the exact gown, exact fabric but they’re not interested in a reusable product, only interested in disposables,” he said, adding that Deloitte’s head of gown procurement “didn’t know how much fabric was required to make one garment”.

Hospital workers in London in a protest calling on the government to provide PPE across the NHS, care sector and other vital public services © Matt Dunham/AP

Mr Nieper’s 300 sewing machinists have instead been churning out thousands of reusable gowns for hospitals in Leicester, Nottingham and Buckinghamshire, among others. 

During Wednesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Raab said three flights had brought gowns from Turkey over the past month. Earlier in the day, he said a shipment of 140,000 gowns had arrived recently from Myanmar.


One in six south west care homes have Covid 

Data has shortcomings, but is best we have

Coronavirus outbreaks have been confirmed or suspected at one in six care homes across Devon and Cornwall.

Latest Public Health England figures show that 117 suspected or confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19 at care homes across the region have been reported. Care homes are only included in the dataset once, and if they have reported more than one outbreak, only the first is included in this dataset.

This data contains no indication of whether the reported outbreaks are still active, and each weekly total refers to reports in the period Tuesday to the following Monday.

No information about deaths in care homes is provided in the dataset, although ONS information published on Tuesday showed that 68 deaths had occurred in care homes up until April 17.

The PHE data shows that up until Monday, April 27, outbreaks of coronavirus had been recorded in 117 of the 739 care homes in Devon and Cornwall, with the highest percentage being in West Devon, in 28 per cent of its homes, with the lowest in Mid Devon, at just 9.4 per cent. No cases have been confirmed in the Isles of Scilly.

There have been 12 outbreaks in Torbay (14 per cent), with a further 10 in Teignbridge (13.7 per cent), seven in East Devon and West Devon (9.6 per cent and 28 per cent), six in Exeter and North Devon (17.1 per cent and 18.8 per cent), four in the South Hams (13.8 per cent), and three in Mid Devon and Torridge (9.1 per cent and 9.4 per cent). Of the 117 outbreaks, 29 were reported to Public Health England since last Tuesday, including three of the four so far in the South Hams. No outbreaks were reported in Exeter.

[For tabulation of data see here]

NHS staff coronavirus inquests told not to look at PPE shortages

Inquests into coronavirus deaths among NHS workers should avoid examining systemic failures in provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), coroners have been told, in a move described by Labour as “very worrying”.

Robert Booth 

The chief coroner for England and Wales, Mark Lucraft QC, has issued guidance that “an inquest would not be a satisfactory means of deciding whether adequate general policies and arrangements were in place for provision of PPE to healthcare workers”.

Lucraft said that “if there were reason to suspect that some human failure contributed to the person being infected with the virus”, an inquest may be required. The coroner “may need to consider whether any failures of precautions in a particular workplace caused the deceased to contract the virus and so contributed to death”.

But he added: “An inquest is not the right forum for addressing concerns about high-level government or public policy.”

Labour warned the advice could limit the scope of investigations into the impact of PPE shortages on frontline staff who have died from Covid-19, including 82 NHS workers and 16 social care staff, according to government figures, though these are believed to be an underestimate.

“I am very worried that an impression is being given that coroners will never investigate whether a failure to provide PPE led to the death of a key worker,” said Lord Falconer, the shadow attorney general. “This guidance may have an unduly restricting effect on the width of inquests arising out of Covid-19-related deaths.”

Doctors and nurses’ unions have repeatedly warned that their members do not feel safe at work because of a lack of PPE. Three weeks before he died, a Reading doctor, Peter Tun, warned Royal Berkshire hospital that unless it supplied vital protective kit “it will be too little and too late”.

A coroner has been in touch with his family but it remains unclear whether there will be an inquest. The hospital has begun a serious incident investigation into the death, the Guardian has learned.

Rinesh Parmar, the chair of the Doctors Association UK, said: “The provision of PPE is so vital to the safety of health workers that to suggest coroners do not consider its supply in detail misses a big part of the picture. Only comprehensive inquests into the deaths of every NHS and care worker will give the bereaved the ability to ask questions and have the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths fully explained.”

Explaining his newly issued advice, Lucraft cited a court ruling that found it was right for an inquest to consider whether a soldier had died because a flak jacket had been pierced by a sniper’s bullet, but not to consider whether more effective flak jackets could and should have been supplied by the Ministry of Defence.

However, coroners have in the past ruled on the provision of protective equipment. When the Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker investigated the death of Steve Roberts, a tank commander who died in Iraq when he was not supplied with enhanced body armour, he concluded that the lack of appropriate basic equipment was “unforgivable and inexcusable and represents a breach of trust that those soldiers have in the government”.

A spokesman for the chief coroner at the Judicial Office said the guidance was “an expression of the law as it currently stands” and “to provide consistency for coroners”.

About half of doctors working in high-risk areas told a British Medical Association survey this month there were shortages or no supply at all of long-sleeved disposable gowns and disposable goggles, while 56% said the same for full-face visors. Supplies of PPE to care workers remain patchy and a promised government supply system, known as Clipper, is yet to get properly up and running.

With no public inquiry into the coronavirus crisis yet established, inquests remain the only official forum to investigate deaths. Daniel Machover, one of the UK’s leading inquest lawyers, said the guidance could be subject to judicial review by lawyers acting for bereaved families.

“This points to the need for a public inquiry,” he said. “As you widen out the issue from one death to several deaths you get into a situation where an inquest format is not suitable and you want to be dealing with systemic issues.”

Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, a charity which advises on investigations into state-related deaths, said: “Bereaved families legitimately ask whether failures in the provision of safety equipment played a part in the deaths of their loved ones.

“It follows that coroners should, where appropriate, examine this question. In the absence of a public inquiry inquests will play a vital role in identifying systemic failings in the protection of frontline workers. This scrutiny is key to learning lessons and holding people to account in order to prevent future deaths.”


Big offices are now a thing of the past, says Barclays boss

Another question mark over the future utility of Blackdown House?

Lucy White

Big offices are now a thing of the past, says Barclays boss in sign lender may give up most of its Canary Wharf HQ

Published: 29 April 2020

The boss of Barclays has said having thousands of workers in one building ‘may be a thing of the past’ as he signalled a shift in the way the banking industry operates.

In a sign that the lender may give up most of its towering Canary Wharf HQ, chief executive Jes Staley said the coronavirus would have a lasting impact on where staff work.

Around 70,000 of the 80,000 employees are working from home with just a handful of the 7,000 who usually work in Canary Wharf, London, coming in to the office. 

Barclays boss Jes Staley (pictured with wife Debora) said the coronavirus would have a lasting impact on where staff work

Others are in branches, operating with social distancing measures, while a few are going in to call centres.

Staley said: ‘You’re going to find we use much more significantly our branches as alternate sites for investment bankers and call centre workers and people in the corporate bank. Putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.

‘We will find ways to operate with more distancing.’………..


Urgent Call for evidence – Committees – UK Parliament. Closing date today

(Though later submissions will be accepted) 

The Inquiry: 

The Committee has been concerned to hear that people with protected characteristics are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and the Government’s response, including the emergency Coronavirus Bill.  We are particularly interested to hear about what impact these measures have had, and will continue to have, and whether the Government’s aim to support workers and people more widely have considered all relevant equality impacts.  The Committee is calling for written submissions about:

Your experiences. We want to know:

  1. How people have been affected by the illness or the response to it
  2. If there have been specific impacts on people due to them having a protected characteristic
  3. Whether there may be unforeseen consequences to measures brought in to ease the burden on frontline staff, for example relaxing the measures under the Mental Health Act and Care Act)

Reviewing the measures

The Government has said current measures will be reviewed in three weeks’ time, and measures in the Coronavirus Bill be voted on again in 6 months’ time.

  1. What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in three weeks’ time;
  2. What needs to change or improve, which could be acted on in 6 months’ time.

You can comment from a personal, organisational or expert opinion, or a mixture.

We would like to hear from you by 30 April 2020. If you cannot get it to us before then, please don’t worry, as it will still be useful to us if you submit it later. The sooner you can get it to us, the more likely the Committee can use it to press the Government to reconsider the current measures at the three-week review

We know that some impacts will be immediate, and others will be felt further in the future. We will look to follow-up this work in 12 months’ time to build a more complete picture of how people with protected characteristics have been affected.  

Your submission

If your submission is accepted by the Committee, it will usually be published online. It will then be available permanently for anyone to view. It can’t be changed or removed.

If you have included your name or any personal information in your submission, that will be published too. Please consider how much personal information you want or need to share. Your contact details will never be published.

Decisions about publishing evidence anonymously, or about accepting but not publishing evidence, are made by the Committee. If you want to ask the Committee to keep your evidence anonymous (we’ll publish your evidence but not your name or personal details) or confidential (the Committee will read your evidence but it won’t be published) then please tick the box on the form. This lets the Committee know what you would like but the final decision will be taken by the Committee.

We can’t publish submissions that mention ongoing legal cases – contact us if you are not sure what this means for you.

Please feel welcome to discuss any questions with the Committee staff on; 020 7219 6123


We understand that the issues raised in this inquiry may be potentially distressing or sensitive.

Committees of the House of Commons are not able to take up individual cases but if you would like political support or advice you may wish to contact your local Member of Parliament.

If you would like support or advice you may wish to contact a support service through their website or helpline such as:

Samaritans– 116 123

Equality Advisory & Support Service 0808 800 0082

Citizens Advice 03444 111 444

Money Advice Service 0800 138 7777

Age UK– 0800 678 1602

Disability Rights UK

Maternity Action

Mind  – 0300 123 3393

Scope – 0808 800 3333

Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline – 0300 330 0630

You may also find the following list of additional resources and helplines useful: Fawcett Society resources page


“Clinical Commissioning Group demands change to earlier headline”

Owl has received an email from a spokesperson from the Devon Clinical Commissioning Group which says:

“The Sunday Times headline which you have copy-and-pasted [on Sunday 26 April] is incorrect in that it states hospitals have ‘no gowns’. This is not true. Unless you can evidence your headline, which is not supported by the copy-and-pasted story, please amend it. You may or may not have noticed that later editions of the Sunday Times used a re-written story and headline.”

Owl was one of many news outlets that carried this story and is pleased to see that the CCG reads our blog.

Owl has found the post of the precautionary advertisement [20 April] for: boiler suits, lab coats, painting suits, chemical suits and disposable (or washable) overall with full length sleeves, on the Torquay Chamber of Commerce website, quoting the Devon CCG contact.

Happily, as Owl posted yesterday, the situation in Devon has improved: “Stocks of protective gowns for frontline NHS workers in Devon have improved since an appeal went out for urgent supplies…. it is understood the appeal was a precautionary step at a time when there was heightened concern over a potential shortage of gowns in the middle of April, which has now eased.

None of the items listed in the advertisement have been issued to NHS staff.”



Stock of gowns for healthcare staff improving says Devon NHS

Stocks of protective gowns for frontline NHS workers in Devon have improved since an appeal went out for urgent supplies.

Edward Oldfield 

An advertisement on behalf of the Devon NHS posted on Monday last week called for boiler suits, lab coats, painting coats, chemical suits or any type of disposable or washable overall with full-length sleeves.

But it is understood the appeal was a precautionary step at a time when there was heightened concern over a potential shortage of gowns in the middle of April, which has now eased.

None of the items listed in the advertisement have been issued to NHS staff.

Deputy chief nurse Vanessa Crossey QN, on behalf of the NHS in Devon, said: “Stocks of gowns have now significantly improved and some precautionary measures, designed to complement the national supply chain, were not needed.

“Devon’s position is no different to other areas, and health and care partners have put in place effective stock monitoring procedures and mutual aid systems to increase our resilience.”

The advertisement appeared on a procurement website on Monday, April 20, posted by Torbay Council on behalf of Devon NHS.

Torbay MP Kevin Foster said he has had regular briefings from local council and NHS leaders and was unaware of any urgent shortage of PPE supplies.

The MP said if there was an immediate problem he had offered to escalate the issue with the Department for Health to ensure enough supplies were available.

Any additional personal protective equipment sourced locally by the NHS is risk-assessed by experts.

Supplies of items of PPE equipment for the NHS and social care have been fluctuating due to increased demand.

More than 100 businesses and organisations in Devon have shared their own PPE kit with the NHS in recent weeks.

Volunteers are also working with the NHS in Devon to make extra items including scrubs, laundry bags, head bands and protective visors.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are working around the clock to ensure PPE is delivered as quickly as possible to those on the frontline during this global pandemic for as long as it is required.

“We have delivered over 1 billion items since the outbreak began, including to care homes, and there is a 24 hour NHS-run helpline where NHS and social care workers can call to report shortages in supply.”

A BBC investigation found the Government failed to buy some protective equipment to prepare for a pandemic. It reported there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the Government’s pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

Some NHS staff told the Panorama programme broadcast on Monday night they were being put at risk because of the shortage of personal protective equipment.

The Government told the BBC it had taken the right steps and was doing everything it could to increase stocks.