Councillors issue words of support following shock resignation from Honiton Council

Trouble and strife continues to dog Honiton Council

Hannah Corfield

Yesterday evening (April 27), Honiton residents were saddened by the announcement that Duncan Sheridan-Shaw was resigning from his elected position on the town council.

In an emotional letter, Duncan stated that the ‘swathe of negativity and harassment faced’ was too much ‘for any decent human soul to deal with’ and that he ‘could not continue’ under the restraints of the current leadership.

He added reassurance that he still ‘believed wholeheartedly’ that great things are possible in a ‘loving and accepting community’ and that he would continue his involvement within the community as a citizen.

Nub News contacted members of Honiton Town Council for their response on his decision to stand down.

Town Mayor, John Zarczynski commented: “I’m very disappointed. Very disappointed. But I am not at all surprised.

“All I will say is this; I thank him and wish him well for the future.”

Deputy Town Clerk, Heloise Marlow said: “I wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hope that we can again work together at some point in the future.”

Former Town Mayor, Henry Brown also got in touch: ”Duncan can be proud of his service to our community.

“He worked hard to promote local organisations as is evidenced by a short conversation with people in the town.

“I’m confident that in time, when the council is renewed, he will return and make Mayor.”

Cllr Tony McCollum added: “It’s a sad day for Honiton, as they have lost a great ambassador for the town.

“Honiton Chamber of Commerce would like to him to stay on within his capacity as Tesco Community Manager.

“He is also involved as a trustee for The Random Kitchen, when it becomes a registered charity.

“We won’t lose him completely, however it is sad to see him leave the council.”

Cllr Caroline Kolek commented: “The resignation of our deputy mayor sadly came as no surprise.

“This council continues to be bogged down with fighting people rather than being proactive in supporting the community.

“There are some councillors who continually want to look back and make allegations, frame past actions, votes or correspondence as spurious or circumstantial evidence to portray others in a poor light.

“I still believe the best thing for this town is for the whole council to resign and face a full democratic election.

“In the meantime I wish Duncan well. He will make an excellent mayor, which will happen one day I am sure.”

Cllr Michelle Pollington responded directly to Duncan’s letter: “I am greatly saddened by your decision, but I cannot say I am surprised.

“You are a fantastic ambassador for the town, and I hope to have the opportunity to work with you on town projects in the future.

“Thank you for the hard work that you have put in as a Councillor and as Deputy Mayor.

“The Town Council have lost a valuable member.

“Thank you, also, for the hard work that you are putting in during this crisis for the people of the town.”

Cllr Jason Hannay expressed his regret: “I really feel for Duncan, he is by far one of the treasures of this town.

“‘Duty first and self second’, something he says time and time again.

“He really has lived up to this!

“I completely understand and it does come as no surprise that he has felt the need to resign.

“A constant barrage of private messages to him, open emails with continuous finger pointing by councillors too.

“It is unfortunate that once again this town is going to see history repeat itself.

“It is sad that another great councillor feels they have to resign.

“Understandably so and no surprise to most, but the worst thing is this town has lost an amazing individual who would have been great for our community, and an outstanding mayor fit for purpose to serve this great town!”


South Korean study shows ‘alarming’ spread of Covid-19 in open plan office

Was it wise for EDDC to have left the Knowle? What are they going to do about Blackdown House?

By Nicola Smith, Asia correspondent 28 April 2020

Scientists have tracked the aggressive pace at which the coronavirus can sweep through an open plan office based on data from a call centre outbreak in South Korea. 

The research by the Korean Centres for Disease Control focusses on a cluster that emerged in early March in a 19-storey building in a bustling district of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Commercial offices are located on the 1st to 11th floors with residential apartments from the 13th to 19th. 

Of 1,143 people tested for Covid-19 in the building, 97 had confirmed cases, and of these, 94 were working in an 11th-floor call centre with 216 employees, indicating an “attack rate” of 43.5 percent,” researchers said in the study published in the CDC’s journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

“This outbreak shows alarmingly that [the virus] can be exceptionally contagious in crowded office settings such as a call centre,” researchers concluded. 

“The magnitude of the outbreak illustrates how a high-density work environment can become a high-risk site for the spread of Covid-19 and potentially a source of further transmission.”

However, on a more positive note, despite considerable contact between workers on different floors in the elevators and the lobby, the spread of Covid-19 “was limited almost exclusively to the 11th floor, which indicates that the duration of interaction was likely the main facilitator,” they added.

Researchers also discovered that the number of asymptomatic patients – 4.1% – was lower than an earlier study in Beijing, which indicated a rate of 5%. 

“Our data might represent the likely proportion of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections in the community setting,” it said. 

The call centre cluster was contained through mass testing of the entire building, strict quarantines for positive and suspected cases and extensive contact-tracing.

A total of 16,628 text messages were sent to people who had stayed more than five minutes near the building during the outbreak. The message recipients were tracked using cell phone location data and urged to avoid contact with others and to take a Covid-19 test. 

Experts say South Korea has managed to avoid lockdowns or business bans through its aggressive “trace, test, treat” plan.


Data shows jobs in Devon are ‘most at risk’ throughout UK

Jobs in East Devon are in the top “twenty areas most at risk” in the UK, Exeter is in the twenty least at risk.

Has EDDC been putting quantity before quality in job creation? Remember the EDDC local plan is based on a “jobs-led policy on” growth scenario aimed at creating 950 job/year in order to justify the final 17,100 minimum housing target for the 18 year period of the Plan adopted in 2016.

Chloe Parkman

Jobs in Devon are among some of the most at risk from the coronavirus pandemic, a study has suggested.

Fresh analysis from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has emerged showing that up to 35% of jobs in Britain are at risk due to COVID-19.

The analysis, based on the latest furloughing data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), shows that five areas within Devon fall into the top 20 areas most at risk.

The chart below shows the areas in Devon most at risk, from the highest to lowest.

Local Authority Total number of jobs at risk Percentage of jobs at risk Region
West Devon 5,226 32% South West
South Hams 11,436 31% South West
East Devon 14,716 31% South West
Torbay 13, 856 30% South West
Torridge 5,676 30% South West

The RSA states that “the area with the highest proportion of jobs in the knowledge economy are least at risk.”

Interestingly, the city of Exeter featured in the ’20 least at risk’, with the number of jobs least at risk being 18,895 and 23% of jobs least at risk.

The full top ’20 most at risk’ chart can be seen below.

Local authority Total number of jobs at risk Percent of jobs at risk Region
Richmondshire 5,965 35% Yorkshire and the Humber
Eden 7,989 34% North West
East Lindsey 14,509 34% East Midlands
South Lakeland 17,424 33% North West
Derbyshire Dales 10,350 33% East Midlands
Scarborough 14,458 33% Yorkshire and the Humber
West Devon 5,226 32% South West
Ryedale 7,699 32% Yorkshire and the Humber
Argyll and Bute 10,074 32% Scotland
Cornwall 66,878 31% South West
Pembrokeshire 13,313 31% Wales
Cotswold 13,526 31% South West
South Hams 11,436 31% South West
North Norfolk 10,063 31% East of England
East Devon 14,716 31% South West
Isle of Wight 15,423 31% South East
Conwy 12,907 31% Wales
Staffordshire Moorlands 8,733 30% West Midlands
Torbay 13,856 30% South West
Torridge 5,676 30% South West

For further information on the RSA analysis click here.


UK to halt several ventilator projects after fall in demand

Good news and bad news – the good news is that clinicians do not believe they need to use as much invasive intubation ventilation. The bad news is for the Devon firms involved in “The Ventilator Challenge” 

Rob Davies 

Several teams that have spent weeks building medical ventilators for the NHS will be told to stop work after the need for the machines proved far smaller than expected.

In mid-March Boris Johnson asked British industry to help increase the number of ventilators available to the NHS from about 8,000 to 30,000, a target later revised down to 18,000.

Stocks have increased to 10,900 and now the number of firms working on new ventilators is to be wound down because many of the devices already available remain unused. Clinicians have credited lockdown measures and the increased use of less invasive treatment techniques for lowering demand.

Two sources familiar with government procurement and the medical equipment regulatory process told the Guardian that the reduced need had rendered several projects surplus to requirements.

The Cabinet Office was expected to inform the teams working on them by letter and telephone as soon as Monday evening, days after Dyson was told its CoVent prototype was not needed.

One of the projects likely to be stood down is OxVent, a collaboration between the medical equipment company Smith & Nephew and Oxford University.

A well-placed source said the government was also likely to abandon the Helix, a device made by Barnstaple-based Diamedica with the help of the contract manufacturer Plexus.

“I expect them to be told tonight,” said the source, adding that more simple devices were being cancelled first. “It was good to have some fallback devices but we didn’t need eight or nine of them.”

The source said both teams had “done an amazing job”, and said more projects could be dropped before the end of the week.

A second source said multiple ventilator projects were about to be stood down, without saying which ones.

The Guardian has approached OxVent and Diamedica for comment. The Cabinet Office said: “The Ventilator Challenge is continuing and any changes will be announced in due course.”

The government initially laid out a three-pronged strategy to increase the number of ventilators to 30,000 by ramping up production of existing designs, importing thousands more machines, and commissioning firms to make new ones.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, then said in early April that the government now believed 18,000 might be needed.

So far 127 have been sourced from established UK suppliers, 877 from abroad and 264 from the Ventilator Challenge UK consortium, and 1,156 have been commandeered from the private sector.

Official figures released last week showed that the number of people occupying critical care beds had fallen by 13% in the previous week, from 3,360 to 2,910, far fewer than initially feared.

Clinicians put this down to two main factors, the first of which was the lockdown. “The effort that was taken to stress the importance of protecting people in vulnerable groups will have had an impact on the number of people that were presented,” said Dr Daniele Bryden, the vice-dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine.

The other factor was a growing recognition that it was often preferable to avoid intubation – where a tube is inserted into the trachea to provide oxygen – and to use less invasive methods to deliver oxygen early on in treatment.

Dr Martin Allen, a consultant respiratory physician and board member of the British Thoracic Society, said: “In Wuhan, when they tried other ventilation strategies they failed. Everyone needed to go on to invasive ventilation, so there was a concern that spread throughout the rest of the world.

“When the epidemic hit in northern Italy, provision of invasive ventilation was overwhelmed, so they needed to find other strategies. They found that using Cpap [continuous positive airway pressure devices] and other non-invasive methods stopped about half of the people going to intensive care. It has made a big difference to demand for intensive care beds.”

He said it still made sense for the NHS to have more ventilators than currently required, in case of a second wave of Covid-19.


The government’s secret science group (SAGE) has a shocking lack of expertise 

“So at a moment when the UK had fewer than 10 deaths from Covid-19 and less than 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the government, informed by Sage, decided to stop all community testing and tracing. The public health community were perplexed. It is difficult to think of other severe viral epidemics managed in this way, apart from influenza, which differs from coronvirus in important ways.

Six weeks later, the approach favoured by the WHO – testing, tracing and isolating the virus – is ostensibly back on the agenda. Matt Hancock has pledged that the UK will deliver 100,000 tests a day by the end of this week, with the army, Deloitte, Serco and Boots setting up test centres across the country…… Yet the government is bypassing the local authority public health teams and GPs who are at the forefront of routine screening and testing in the NHS and local communities. Its strategy still appears to be about flattening the curve, rather than finding every case of coronavirus.”

Anthony Costello is professor of global health and sustainable development at University College London and a former director of maternal and child health at the WHO

The success of any advisory group of scientists surely depends on a culture of openness, independence and diversity of opinion. Unfortunately this culture of openness has been conspicuous by its absence when it comes to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies. It’s only through the persistence of Guardian journalists that we can now identify 23 participants in Sage. Of these, 13 are paid government employees, working as ministerial, health or civil service advisers. As such, the presence of their bosses, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, to say nothing of the prime ministers’s most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, might well influence their ability to speak freely.

Beyond that, what does the membership of this committee actually tell us? We’ve learned from the list of attendees at a crucial Sage meeting on 23 March, leaked to the Guardian, that the group includes seven clinical academics, three microbiologists, seven modellers, two behavioural scientists with backgrounds in disasters and terrorism, one geneticist, one civil servant and two political advisers, one of which is the most powerful prime ministerial lieutenant in recent memory.

The makeup of Sage reflects an oddly skewed and overwhelmingly medical view of science. Indeed, there are many other perspectives that could bring value to a pandemic crisis team. Did Sage consult public health epidemiologists at the frontline of the response to coronavirus in China or Hong Kong, such as Prof Gabriel Leung? Did the group get input from infectious experts at the World Health Organization, such as the epidemiologist Mike Ryan, who leads the team responsible for containing of Covid-19 across the world?

The group includes no molecular virologists who could explain detailed pathogenic differences between Covid-19 and influenza, not one intensive care expert or nursing leader, and no immunologist to examine whether this virus produces lasting and protective immunity. There are no social scientists who could work on community engagement, nor a logistician, who would have expertise in planning for the delivery of supplies and resources during a pandemic. A balanced scientific advisory group would at the minimum include experts working at the frontline of the pandemic, such as those in public health, primary care and intensive care.

As to other measures of diversity, the gender balance of Sage is predictably skewed, with 16 men to seven women and only one ethnic minority person. Given that coronavirus has been shown to disproportionately affect people from black and ethnic minority communities, the comparative lack of black and ethnic minority experts seems a troubling omission.

In the absence of meeting minutes, we may never know whether, despite these deficiencies, a culture of openness exists within Sage. The lack of a paper trail also makes two of the group’s most important decisions particularly difficult to understand. At its first meeting on 28 January, Sage didn’t ask its mathematical modellers to model a community testing programme. Community testing and contact tracing reportedly wasn’t included as a possible strategy in the original modelling because not enough tests were available. The UK had been among the first countries to develop a Covid-19 test in mid-January, approved by the WHO, and has an exceptional national research infrastructure. Yet our national capacity to respond to a pandemic challenge appears to have been ignored. The basic principles of public health, and the daily mantra of the WHO – to find the virus, test, trace and isolate, to promote social distancing, and to do it all at speed – appear to have been effectively disregarded.

Whatever was discussed by Sage during February led to an alternative strategy, laid out by Boris Johnson, Vallance and Whitty at the beginning of March: to move from containing the virus to delaying its spread, allowing it to move through the population so that we eventually acquire “herd immunity” at a delayed speed.

So at a moment when the UK had fewer than 10 deaths from Covid-19 and less than 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the government, informed by Sage, decided to stop all community testing and tracing. The public health community were perplexed. It is difficult to think of other severe viral epidemics managed in this way, apart from influenza, which differs from coronvirus in important ways.

Six weeks later, the approach favoured by the WHO – testing, tracing and isolating the virus – is ostensibly back on the agenda. Matt Hancock has pledged that the UK will deliver 100,000 tests a day by the end of this week, with the army, Deloitte, Serco and Boots setting up test centres across the country. Health workers and their families can sign up for tests immediately. All hospital patients will be tested. Yet the government is bypassing the local authority public health teams and GPs who are at the forefront of routine screening and testing in the NHS and local communities. Its strategy still appears to be about flattening the curve, rather than finding every case of coronavirus.

Without testing, tracing those who have come into contact with infected people and isolating these clusters, the virus will flare up again. Future lockdowns will be necessary, and economic recovery extremely difficult. In a month’s time, we could be heading towards 60,000 deaths or more. It’s impossible to tell whether things would have played out differently had Sage included people from public health and primary care backgrounds. But had its membership and details of its decisions been revealed earlier, there would have been a chance for the wider scientific community to offer constructive criticism, maybe in time to save thousands of lives.


A damaging ideology has weakened our ability to defeat the virus

Damaging ideas within the Conservative party have weakened our ability to defeat the virus


The coronavirus pandemic struck the United Kingdom when its National Health Service was on its knees suffering from staff shortages and the longest waiting times ever recorded. A decade of austerity had taken a terrible toll. Yet public satisfaction in the NHS went up. This surprising gap between the NHS failures and the public’s belief in the health system seems to have been driven by the support from across the political spectrum for more funding. This probably, say researchers, started to impact on public perceptions, most notably on their optimism for the future.

It would be a mistake to think the spread of Covid-19 can be checked by hope alone. The last 10 years have undermined the ability of the government to respond effectively and efficiently. As the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty told the Guardian, the “most damaging aspects of ‘austerity’ cannot and will not be undone” and represent “the fatal weakening of the community’s capacity to cope”.

Even today ideology plays a bigger part in the government’s response than many insiders care to admit. A more proactive mindset might have seen the state mobilise an effort to track down those in need of a coronavirus test and offer it to them. Instead voluntarism remains the creed of the current government which opted for an online booking system for tests that was predictably overwhelmed within hours.

In the coming weeks there will be an argument about whether the shutdown is more deadly than the virus. The case for lifting the current restrictions can be rooted within Conservative thought which privileges individual autonomy and the promotion of individual responsibility. Calls for these to be dogmatically pursued run in the face of evidence that the old and the poor are more vulnerable to the disease. A virus as communicable as Sars-Cov-2 means that the health of the richest is dependent on the health of the poorest. It does not make sense for at-risk working-age adults to return to jobs in which there are numerous social contacts. Having emptied Covid hospital wards, would this not just risk filling them up again?

Whitehall also has to find a way of ensuring press releases are realised on the ground in the country. Before the Conservative state-shrinking began in 2010, there had been government offices of the regions which could operate between ministerial departments and the various bodies, often very local, that are charged with implementing policy. These overlapped with regional health bodies and could deliver policy around the country. It is an open question as to what coordinating body will do that today.

Another aspect of Conservatism is, as Samuel Johnson opined, that “order cannot be had but by subordination”. The government has had to be pushed into saying it will be transparent about its scientific advice. It has a track record in adopting tactics to choke off critical voices. Tory ministers neutered the Health Protection Agency and brought the often loud scientists and doctors who led it to heel 10 years ago. Its successor is Public Health England, which is accountable to the health secretary, and led by a career NHS manager. Lost is an opportunity for an independent voice to speak influentially about important health matters.

Ministers are about to make a series of political choices that they will undoubtedly present as a natural response to be instituted so life can rebound. These choices may be informed by science. But they will be guided by a particular political morality, which will not be as evidence based or as rational as science.


Delays to UK’s full-fibre broadband rollout ‘could cost £30bn’ 

Delays to the government’s plan to roll out superfast broadband across the country could see the UK lose almost £30bn in economic benefits, according to research published today. [Monday 27 April 2020]

James Warrington 

Telecoms analysts warned a 12-month delay to the 2025 target would mean the UK misses out on a £9.7bn boost to the economy, while a two-year setback would cost £28.7bn.

Read more: Ofcom plans to ‘supercharge’ rollout of full-fibre broadband

The government has outlined a £5bn plan to deliver gigabit-capable broadband — which is up to 40 times faster than standard superfast connections — to all parts of the country by the middle of the decade.

However, industry experts have warned that the rollout could be hampered by regulatory barriers and a lack of commercial incentives to build the network in remote rural areas.

These issues have been compounded by the coronavirus lockdown, though Openreach — which is leading the UK rollout — has said it is on track to hit its target of reaching 4m homes by the end of March 2021.

The report, compiled by Assembly Research, called on the government to provide funding for the rollout in non-commercial locations to ensure rural areas were not left behind.

It also urged policymakers to support the entry and expansion of alternative network operators such as Cityfibre, Fibrenation and Gigaclear.

The analysts called for deployment costs to be kept as low as possible by addressing remaining barriers that both increase costs and cause delays.

“Access to reliable, future-proof digital infrastructure for all isn’t a luxury, but now accepted as a necessity whether it’s used for work, education or play,” said Matthew Howett, principal analyst and founder of Assembly Research.

“Increasing investment in key digital infrastructure will provide the bounce-back and economic recovery the UK will desperately need in the months and years ahead.”

The report, commissioned by Chinese tech giant Huawei, said that while the UK had made significant progress in both mobile and fixed-connection coverage, it continued to lag behind other countries for full-fibre broadband.

However, if the barriers are overcome, the rollout could deliver an economic boost of up to £50bn in the next five years, it added.

Read more: Vodafone expands full-fibre network with Openreach deal

“Achieving the government’s ambitions for broadband will need a massive effort, significant investment from the private sector, and a faster build rate than virtually any other country has achieved,” said Catherine Colloms, director of corporate affairs and brand for Openreach.

“There has already been some progress on removing barriers, but action is needed to improve access rights for apartment blocks, make street works simpler and remove business rates on full fibre. Network builders need the right conditions to invest and the right policies to encourage a fast, efficient build.”


IT firm Cosmic “funded” by EDDC

“Funded by East Devon District Council, Cosmic are providing a range of training and consultancy services to support businesses in our region.” This is a quote from an article posted on the “Grow Exeter” website in January last year. 

Think Greater Exeter Strategic Plan – Owl

Grow Newsdesk 

Free Training Support for East Devon Businesses 

Funded by East Devon District Council, Cosmic are providing a range of training and consultancy services to support businesses in our region.

Whilst Business Information Point (BIP) will be supporting new start-ups in the District, Cosmic will be providing workshops and 1-to-1 consultancy to established businesses in East Devon.

We are providing 4 innovative and thought provoking workshops designed to boost business productivity through the development of new business practices, the adoption of technology and new ways of working. There will be two chances to attend each workshop in the series – but places are limited – so book early! 

For the attendees of the workshop, there will also be the highly valuable offer of additional 1-to-1 business consultancy. Up to 6 hours of mentoring, advice and guidance on how to introduce these new business tools and practices into your organisation. All of this is provided to you for free if your business is based in  East Devon district. – Owl emphasis

The Workshops: 

  1. Moving to the Cloud: an introduction to some of the tools and processes that can help your business operations. We will look at cloud software services, mobile and flexible working practices. All designed to enhance your efficiency and daily productivity.
  2. Digital Marketing Made Easy: Useful guides, tips and tricks to enhance and improve your digital marketing. We will take a look at tools and techniques help you to promote your business, share your good news stories and reach new customers
  3. Digital Tricks to improve your working day: Explore the top tips to help you manage your day-to-day business activities. This Includes introductions to digital resources that can help you to keep track of your To Do list, communicate better with customers and suppliers, and plan ahead for future challenges
  4. Managing your business in a digital world: Learn how you can improve your project management and task delivery skills, in order to help your small business to grow and succeed. We will explore some of the new tools and techniques that you can adopt to help you run and manage your business


Cosmic is a Digital Consultancy and social enterprise based in Devon. The team of 36 people work across the South West, tackling the issue of Digital Exclusion in communities and business across the region.

They provide training, consultancy, website design and IT technical support to businesses, charities, communities, local authorities and individuals. For over 23 years Cosmic have been inspiring people to achieve success in the digital world.


Firm advised by ex-foreign secretary funding Russian fraudster’s legal case

A firm advised by a former Conservative foreign secretary and a former chief prosecutor is funding a large-scale legal action in the English courts by a convicted Russian fraudster once banned from Britain.

David Pegg 

The firm, 17 Arm, which is advised by Malcolm Rifkind, Ken Macdonald and other establishment figures, is financing the legal claim by Alexander Tugushev against a Russian billionaire in an expensive and lengthy court battle.

Tugushev was jailed for six years for fraud in Russia in 2007 after he was convicted of receiving an illicit payment while holding a government post. He disputes the conviction.

In the legal action in London, he alleges that his former business partner has cheated him out of his share of a substantial fishing empire. He is suing to recover the share, which he values at $350m. 17 Arm would be paid a slice of that sum – running to millions of pounds – if he wins.

The case throws a spotlight on a relatively novel and risky area of legal practice known as litigation funding. In such actions, a commercial firm backed by private investors pays the upfront cost of barristers and solicitors to fight a case for an individual who has a legal claim. If the individual wins, the commercial firm is rewarded with a cut of money won in court. If the individual loses, the firm gets nothing.

This winner-takes-all approach is funding a significant number of lawsuits in Britain. But critics such as the former justice minister Lord Faulks say it can mean that, for example, litigation is started to make a profit rather than to redress grievances.

In a statement, 17 Arm said: “Litigation funding is a common mechanism which empowers aggrieved people, who couldn’t otherwise afford to bring litigation, to fight their cases and win justice.”

Lord Clanwilliam, 17 Arm’s chairman, declined to respond when asked how much it would win if Tugushev were victorious in his legal claim. “We pride ourselves on discretion and do not discuss the specifics of our work,” he said.

The Eton-educated businessman described 17 Arm, which was set up three years ago, as being involved in litigation finance management as well as recovering and returning assets to their owners through investigative and legal means. It is based in Dubai and Jersey.

Its advisory board consists of Rifkind, a former foreign and defence secretary, Lord Macdonald, who was the director of public prosecutions between 2003 and 2008, Pauline Neville-Jones, a former security minister and chair of the joint intelligence committee, and another peer, Lord St John of Bletso.

The board gives advice on potential legal claims to see if, for example, they have a reasonable claim of winning.

Asked if the advisory board was giving credibility to a legal claim advanced by a convicted fraudster, the firm and its advisers said: “We believe in the right of every individual to have their case heard in a court of law.”

The firm added: “A disputed conviction in a jurisdiction notorious for corrupt and unfair trials is no bar to bringing an arguable and admissible case in London, where a just outcome can be expected. The English high court agreed that this case was properly brought here – and its ruling was so patently correct that the court of appeal has refused the defendants’ permission to appeal against it.”

The dispute, initiated by Tugushev in London’s civil courts two years ago, has yet to reach a full trial, although there have been preliminary hearings and other skirmishes.

A judge at one hearing described it as a “bitter battle” between two Russians that had generated a “depressingly vast amount” of legal paperwork. More than £5m has already been spent on teams of barristers and solicitors for both sides.

The legal fight is centred on Norebo Group, an international fishing business worth an estimated $1.5bn (£1.2bn). Based in Russia, it catches 400,000 tons of fish a year and sells to customers including Birds Eye, McDonald’s and Tesco.

Tugushev claims two former partners have dishonestly conspired to deny that he owns a third of the firm he helped set up in 1998.

Tugushev has told the English court that he was jailed after he and others were accused of receiving $3m for awarding a fishing quota while he was deputy chairman of an official Russian committee. He said the allegation was politically motivated and untrue.

He said that in 2013 he applied to travel to England to attend meetings at Norebo’s office in Maidenhead, Berkshire, but was refused “on the ground of my conviction”. 17 Arm said he held a UK visa and currently lived in London.

Vitaly Orlov, the Russian billionaire, and two other businessmen deny his claims, alleging that Tugushev is resorting to extortion.


UK coronavirus response utterly hypocritical, says UN poverty expert

The United Nations’ poverty expert Philip Alston has attacked the UK government’s coronavirus response as “utterly hypocritical” after successive administrations implemented policies of austerity and public-sector cuts.

Robert Booth

The UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, who in 2018 issued a blistering attack on Conservative welfare policy, also said that globally “the most vulnerable have been short-changed or excluded” by official responses to the disease, which had claimed over 203,670 lives by Sunday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“The policies of many states reflect a social Darwinism philosophy that prioritises the economic interests of the wealthiest while doing little for those who are hard at work providing essential services or unable to support themselves,” Alston said, warning that the pandemic could push more than half a billion additional people into poverty globally.

“Governments have shut down entire countries without making even minimal efforts to ensure people can get by,” he said. “Many in poverty live day to day, with no savings or surplus food. And of course, homeless people cannot simply stay home.”

He highlighted how the most vulnerable populations had been neglected, which “forces them to continue working in unsafe conditions, putting everyone’s health at risk.” And he warned that, while some nations were seeing curves flattening, the virus was “poised to wreak havoc in poorer countries”.

“As for the UK,” Alston told the Guardian, “my thoughts of course hark back to the sense of how utterly hypocritical it is now to abandon ‘austerity’ with such alacrity, after all the harm and misery caused to individuals and the fatal weakening of the community’s capacity to cope and respond over the past 10 years.

“And of course, many of the worst and most damaging aspects of ‘austerity’ cannot and will not be undone. The damage caused to community cohesion and to the social infrastructure are likely to prove permanent.”

His comments are likely to anger ministers in the UK, who have said their strategy is to put their “arms around every single worker” while adopting an “everyone in” policy to tackle the risk to rough sleepers. They have sanctioned huge cash injections into wages and businesses to prevent economic collapse, and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced £14bn for the NHS and local authorities fighting the virus.

But other parts of the social fabric have been stretched. Food banks, which give out at least 1.6m parcels a year, have lacked supplies while care homes, where thousands are dying from Covid-19, have struggled for essentials including PPE and to maintain staffing levels. There have been real-terms cuts in public funding of social care in the UK, according to the King’s Fund thinktank, with a £700m reduction between 2011 and 2018.

“This pandemic has exposed the bankruptcy of social support systems in many countries.” Alston said. “While some governments have embraced far-ranging measures previously dismissed as unrealistic, most programmes have been short-term, stop-gap measures that merely buy time rather than address the immense challenges that will continue well into the future. Now is the time for deep structural reforms that will protect populations as a whole and will build resilience in the face of an uncertain future.”

A government spokesperson said: “We have a strong record on supporting hardworking people across the country as well as our most vulnerable, reaching record employment over the last ten years and with both income inequality and absolute poverty lower than in 2010.

“These are unprecedented times and it’s right that we do everything we can to support people through this difficult period, including increasing Universal Credit by up to £1,040 over a year.”


Free training for East Devon’s businesses to help them through the Covid-19 crisis

East Devon District Council is working with a company called Cosmic, specialising in digital skills for businesses, to provide the training. (Well not just “a” company – Owl)

Philippa Davies

Businesses in East Devon are being offered free webinars and online workshops to help them survive the coronavirus lockdown.

East Devon District Council is working with a company called Cosmic, specialising in digital skills for businesses, to provide the training.

Cosmic are based next to the council’s premises, Blackdown House, in the East Devon Business Centre.

[Owl is struggling to recall the extent of EDDC’s involvement with the start-up of this Social Enterprise Partnership, but believes the purpose was to encourage the use of IT in East Devon. Mark Williams, EDDC Chief Executive, was a Cosmic director until 2011. Another example of EDDC’s close relationship with business is, of course, the ill -starred Business Forum ].

The sessions will be hosted online via video conferencing, with the first taking place on the morning of Tuesday, May 5.

It is aimed at small businesses and self-employed traders, and will focus on quick and simple ways to sell online, new ways to generate income overnight, and how to keep in touch with existing customers and retain their business during lockdown.

A follow-up workshop on Wednesday, May 13, will explore ways to maximise business opportunities in a remote environment, along with guidance on managing staff remotely and remaining productive and focused.

Future workshops will look at using social media, digital marketing, and useful software and other tools.

Visit the booking page at eventbrite for more information, and to register to take part.