Police officers mocked by beachgoers in Exmouth

Cummings’ consequences? – Owl

Molly Dowrick www.devonlive.com

Footage on social media shows two police officers, apparently sent to disperse beachgoers, being mocked in Exmouth.

A Snapchat video seen by Devon Live appears to show a group of young men shouting “Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi” and mocking police officers, a man and a woman, instead of heeding their advice near Orcombe Point.

The beach, which has been rammed with people of all ages, has been a popular spot for locals keen to soak up the sun during the past week.

The video, which has been shared on SnapChat and Twitter, has been viewed over 4,000 times, and is “proof that restrictions should have never been eased,” one social media user said.

The video comes as dozens of locals have shared photos from the beach and say people are ignoring social distancing.

One man said people have been socialising in groups of “at least 20,” while another joked “everybody and his auntie has come to Exmouth”.

While going to the beach is permitted under lockdown rules, groups of people from different households are not yet able to meet.

From Monday, June 1 small social gatherings will be allowed, with groups of up to six people permitted to meet outside and in private gardens.

But meeting up in a larger group is “not lawful,” Devon and Cornwall police say.

But another man says it’s just the “loud minority” who are breaching lockdown regulations.

It comes as Devon and Cornwall Police has admitted officers should have dispersed a social gathering in Plymouth on Bank Holiday Monday.

A spokesperson for the force confirmed two officers attended a planned live-music event at a car park and had engaged with the group.

But they did not send anyone home or enforce government guidance – which stipulates that people must not mingle in groups to minimise the spread of coronavirus.

Police say the event was “not lawful” and “in breach of current legislation” and the officers will receive “advice and training around current powers and its implementation” amid the lockdown.

What does the law say?

At a Downing Street briefing on Thursday, May 28, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an update to the lockdown restrictions – allowing people in England to meet up to six people outside and in private gardens from Monday, June 1.

Meeting in larger groups will still not be permitted.


Dominic Cummings’ actions damage public trust. Scientists write to Prime Minister

In a letter sent to No 10 on Friday, 26 senior UK academics and health administrators warn that public faith in the government is essential if the Covid-19 crisis is to be tackled effectively.

“As lockdown is eased, and amid fears of a second viral wave, it is vital for people in positions of power to follow the rules”

After the letter, Owl posts a few key paragraphs from the covering Guardian article which describe the concern of a number of scientists about the chaotic launch of the unprepared “test, trace and isolate scheme“. Scientists are also concerned that the overall infection rate, although falling, is too high to enable further easing and will overwhelm the scheme.


Text of the letter to the Prime Minister:

We are in a public health crisis unprecedented in living memory. We have written to the prime minister because we are very concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the public. There is ample evidence that effective epidemic control requires the public to trust and respect both the messages and the messengers who are advocating action. This trust has been badly damaged by the actions of Dominic Cummings, including his failure to stand down or resign in the public interest, and Boris Johnson’s subsequent unwillingness to remove him.

As lockdown is eased, public trust and high compliance is essential to reduce the risk of a second spike in infections and deaths. It is vital for all people in positions of power to follow the rules with the same discipline as the rest of the population. The public also needs to see that the necessary infrastructure and effective systems are put in place rapidly and effectively.

A national track and trace scheme is a major undertaking. This makes it even more crucial that there is complete transparency about likely time scales and the risks associated with the strategy and plan. The public mood is fragile and unlikely to cope with another over-optimistic target-based strategy that goes on to fail. We are also concerned that the needs of people primarily affected by non-Covid-19 diseases are being neglected. For example, since the pandemic hit, there has been a 70% or more reduction in cancer diagnoses and there is an estimated backlog of 100,000 undiagnosed or untreated cancer cases (growing by about 5,000 a week). Similar backlogs are evident in every non-communicable disease.

This exceptional situation also requires urgent and detailed planning and investment. We ask that the prime minister better harness the expertise in the NHS, social care, local authorities, academic institutions and the civil service to strengthen the response to Covid-19 and its knock-on effects on other health and care provision. We would be happy to assist in mobilising an effective strategic and operational response.

Professor Maggie Rae, president of the Faculty of Public Health, Professor Elio Riboli, Imperial College London, Professor David McCoy, Queen Mary University London, Professor David Hunter, University of Oxford, Professor Trish Greenhalgh, University of Oxford, Mike Gill, former regional director of Public Health, south-east England, Professor Raj Bhopal, University of Edinburgh, Professor Martin McKee, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor George Davey Smith, University of Bristol, Professor Ruth Gilbert, University College London, Professor Neil Pearce, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Helen Ward, Imperial College London, Professor Mark S Gilthorpe, University of Leeds and Alan Turing Institute, Professor Adrian Martineau, Queen Mary University London, Professor Allyson Pollock, University of Newcastle, Dr Rochelle Burgess, UCL Institute for Global Health, Professor Paolo Vineis, Imperial College London, Anne Wilson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Dr Tim Colbourn, University College London, Professor Majid Ezzati, Imperial College London, Professor Deborah Ashby, Imperial College London, Professor Sonia Saxena, Imperial College London, Professor Richard Healey, University of Portsmouth, Professor Deborah A Lawlor, Bristol Medical School, Professor Guiqing Lily Yao, University of Leicester, Dr Nisreen Alwan, Southampton University

To continue  from www.theguardian.com

……..Just days after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, unveiled the new test, trace and isolate scheme to combat Covid-19, the top health experts say the public mood is “too fragile to cope with another over-optimistic target-based strategy”, and urge transparency over timescales and risks for the national scheme.

They say people need “to see with their own eyes that the necessary infrastructure and effective systems are put in place not just rapidly, but effectively”.

They also say there is now a high risk of an uncontrolled spike in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19 over the summer.

One of the letter’s main authors, Prof David McCoy, director of the centre for public health at Queen Mary University, London, described the test, trace and isolate system – which aims to quarantine people with Covid-19 and those who have been in contact with them – as “a mess”.

“It is not a system,” he told the Observer. “It is just a fragmented collection of different programmes with nothing really holding them together. We needed to have spent much of April organising the test and trace programme and that was not done. We have wasted the time we had bought ourselves.”

Part of that failure could be blamed on Dominic Cummings, he added. “Firstly he breached the lockdown rules but also as the chief adviser to the prime minister he has to take some responsibility for the failure of the government to make a proper response to Covid.”

These experts’ concerns were also shared by other scientists who worry that daily rates of new cases are still too high to make test and tracing programmes feasible. Current infection rates suggest tracking operations will be quickly overwhelmed, they say. “The total number of cases a day is still substantial and there is evidence of decreasing compliance to restrictions and people moving farther away from their homes, increasing the chance of spread to previously unaffected areas,” said Prof Rowland Kao, at Edinburgh University…..

……Prof Devi Sridhar, also at Edinburgh University, said the current daily rate of thousands of new cases was unacceptably high. “Watching carefully what’s happening in east Asia and combining this with what we know so far about this virus, it does indeed feel like mistakes are being repeated,” she said. Daily new cases should be cut to double digits, or low hundreds at most, she said, while test, trace and isolate procedures are put in place and core infrastructure built up.

Graham Medley, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a member of the government’s Sage scientific advisory group, agreed that the UK was taking a risk over the loosening of lockdown because of its current relatively high incidence of infections. “There is less room for mistakes,” he added. “The precautionary principle suggests that if you are unsure about the risks, especially when the outcomes have a large impact, then you should err on the side of caution.”

Four other members of the Sage committee, Prof John Edmunds, Sir Jeremy Farrar, Prof Calum Semple and Prof Peter Horby, all warned on Saturday that the government was taking a serious risk by easing the lockdown while 8,000 people a day were being infected.

Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England – Sage adviser

Government advisers have voiced unease over the decision to lift England’s lockdown while thousands of people a day are still becoming infected with the coronavirus, warning that loosening restrictions could easily lead to a second wave.

Sarah Boseley www.theguardian.com 

“We cannot relax our guard by very much at all,” said John Edmunds, a professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who attends meetings of Sage, the scientific advisory group on emergencies.

There are still 8,000 new infections every day in England without counting those in hospitals and care homes, Edmunds said. “If you look at it internationally, it’s a very high level of incidence.” World Health Organization statistics suggest it is the fifth highest in the world.

“The issue is, clearly there’s a need to try and get the economy restarted and people back to their jobs and so on, and also there’s a social and a mental health need to allow people to meet with their friends and families,” he said.

“I think many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that then means that we have fewer cases occurring before we relax the measures.

“I think at the moment, with relatively high incidence and relaxing the measures and also with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here.”

The reproductive R rate is between 0.7 and 0.9, said Edmunds, who is part of several groups of mathematical modellers who combine their data to calculate the number.

Without any sort of containment, R would be between three and four, he said, meaning that each infected person would transmit the virus to three or four others.

The aim of the lockdown was to suppress it below one, at which point the number of new cases continues to shrink. But if R reaches one, and allowing more social mobility could easily allow it to rise, the number of people becoming infected each day remains the same.

That could mean 8,000 cases a day, he said. “If there’s a 1% fatality rate, that’s about 80 deaths a day. If there’s a0.5%, that’s 40 deaths a day. So that’s the number of deaths per day that we might expect to see going forward.”

It was for ministers to decide what to do, he said. That impact on health had to be set against the wider impact of the lockdown on society and the economy. “That’s clearly a political decision. It’s not a scientific decision,” he said.

Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and also a member of the Sage modelling group, Spi-M, said there was very little chance of eradicating the virus. “That was the World Health Organization’s strategy in the early stages of this pandemic. That’s a strategy they only formally abandoned a few weeks ago. And given that yesterday saw the highest number of cases reported globally ever, global eradication doesn’t look like happening any time soon,” he said.

The relationship with Covid-19 we have had for five months “might turn out to be a lifelong relationship”, he said. It is not possible to maintain physical distancing for ever and there is no vaccine yet. “A second wave really is a clear and present danger,” he said.

He was not making predictions, he said, but intensive surveillance, large-scale screening, effective contact tracing, isolation of cases, quarantine for international arrivals and some residual physical distancing “is a possible new normal”, he said.

The South West has the highest coronavirus R-rate in the UK

(See also later post on South West R value has risen to 1, say experts.)

Ministers had refused to publish a breakdown by region but Manchester Mayor Andy Burnam released them, and they have been reported by the Mirror.

This alarming headline, however, is not supported by the Covid-19 symptom tracker data   which is sowing a fall of 17% n estimated infections over the past week across the UK. It also shows current estimated symptom rates in East Devon at an all time low of 0.3%. Owl suspects that the R-rate estimates below might be lagging events. Owl has been following the Weston hospital closure which now looks to be due to the hospital itself becoming an infection hot spot.

The chart below from the symptom tracker also show that, after a long period when symptom rates held constant,  they appear to be falling again.

The South West continues to have the lowest infection rate in the UK.


Visualisation of daily Covid symptom progress shown as numbers of cases per million

The South West has the highest coronavirus R-rate in the UK

Charlotte Becquart www.cornwalllive.com

An ‘R’ number for each region in the UK has been revealed for the first time – and the South West has the highest.

The number, also known as ‘reproduction rate’, represents the coronavirus infection rate. If it goes above 1, new restrictions and tougher social distancing measures could be needed.

The South West is estimated to have the highest infection rate with 0.9. The North East and East Midlands are thought to have the next highest, followed by the North West.

However it is thought to be the highest because of a recent rise in cases in the Bristol and Weston-super-Mare areas. The South West region includes an area as far as Gloucestershire. Devon and Cornwall has had just 13 new cases of coronavirus from lab-confirmed tests in the last seven days.

It comes as Government advisers said they are worried that easing lockdown measures from Monday will come too soon and could cause a spike in the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

All regions were deemed to have infection rates “decreasing” or “likely decreasing” apart from the South West.

(Image: The Mirror)

Ministers had refused to publish a breakdown by region but Manchester Mayor Andy Burnam released them, the Mirror reports.

He tweeted: “Not a great deal of ‘room for manoeuvre’, as the Chief Scientific Adviser told the @10DowningStreet briefing.”

The data was compiled by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Officially the UK as a whole has an R of between 0.7 and 0.9 but Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance has said a slight increase could be dangerous.

Burnham said lockdown restrictions are being eased too soon, as “the R number was still quite high”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we have arrived at quite a dangerous moment.

“This is premature, this easing of the lockdown.

“Test and trace is not fully operational and it should be, in my view, before these steps are taken.”

Two members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) also spoke out about the issue, expressing concerns that easing lockdown measures from Monday could cause a spike in the spread of COVID-19.

Scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds said ministers were taking risks by following their current plans.

They expressed concern at allowing the gradual reopening of shops and schools and larger gatherings to meet in private while the number of new cases each day remains “relatively high”.


What a tangled web we weave when we practise to deceive!

From a correspondent:

This past week has uncovered so many national and local breaches, contraventions and violations in acceptable behaviour and conduct – that it is difficult to know where to start!

Firstly, most would agree that Dominic Cummings failed to adhere to lockdown rules that the majority of the nation has rigorously followed to Stay At Home – Save Lives and Protect the NHS. His excuses, lack of apologies and general demeanour in the rose garden of Number 10 showed an egotistical attitude by displaying a ‘do as I say – not as I do’ mantra, which  was further abetted by a floundering defence by the dishevelled PM at the lectern!

This lack of convincing leadership at a time when our country so desperately needs confidence is so disappointing – but, fortunately, it is balanced by the amazing stories of the bravery of our NHS staff battling Covid-19 and by ordinary people, in their communities, striving to improve a bad situation for their neighbours, friends and relatives.

Secondly, the farcical fiasco of East Devon’s Extraordinary Meeting on Thursday evening, where a Conservative councillor was heard swearing, during a YouTube video link, that was  deemed so offensive and unpleasant that ‘the plug was pulled’ on the broadcast, before all the votes were cast to elect a new Leader! This hiatus left a few councillors unable to vote before the online stream crashed – but after official ratification on Friday – thankfully Councillor Paul Arnott was democratically elected Leader with a large majority. Furthermore, to those who purport to be Independent, when it is clear to all that they are ‘batting for the other side’ – you have been rumbled!

Finally, to the deception by Property Developers, who outwardly promote an ethos of quality developmental design, profess to listen to communities (purporting to build bridges by taking on board local views) to achieve ‘the best quality community development south of Bristol and beyond’ (their promotional quote) – Practice what you Preach!

In February, the Developers for Winslade Park presented an exhibition, within a Public Consultation, on the vast, commercial and residential proposals for the local community of Clyst St Mary. Much of it was innovative, attractive and worthy of support. However, last week, the plans submitted to East Devon District Council (EDDC) for the Winslade Park proposals significantly differed from the Public Consultation.

The proposals  now include additional, large numbers of residential units on a valued local community sports field (not shown within the public exhibition proposals) in addition to residential units on an adjoining, agricultural green field, when both of these green areas are protected by the Local and Neighbourhood Plans and are outside the Built-Up Area Boundaries for this village.  14 supportable, traditional houses, on the brownfield area, have now been replaced by an unsightly three-storey block of 59 apartments (also not shown at the public exhibition) overlooking the Grade II Listed historic Manor House and existing residents’ back gardens.

Yesterday, published  documents submitted to EDDC, now show that in December 2019, numerous residential apartments were proposed on high risk flood zones but, when EDDC Planners advised caution,  these proposals were substituted by a three-storey large commercial unit. The justification for continuing with development in flood zones being that business units are a less vulnerable classification than residential! The Developers have also neglected to mention their ambition to include another large residential area on green fields (previously used for horticulture/agriculture by St Bridget’s Nurseries) with around 64 proposed dwellings also showing a new roadway connection from Winslade Park to the A3052. This formed part of their original development proposals in December 2019 but having now satiated the entire area with their current, vast development proposals  – the option to include even more development on protected green fields, at this point in time, was obviously, thought ‘a step too far’ for this East Devon rural village to tolerate!

By over-developing the commercial floorspace to provide up to 3,000 jobs, (the Developers’ estimated numbers at the exhibition); by ignoring Strategy 26B of the Local Plan to provide homes on the brownfield areas resulting in them being diverted to green open spaces; by neglecting to consider the effects on sustainability for congested highways, local educational facilities and limited services and by proposing development in high risk flood zones in a fragile area  – the consensus of local opinion is now –  Enough is Enough – for  the small East Devon village of Clyst St Mary!

It has, indeed, been a week of falsification!

Constituents bombard MPs with tens of thousands of emails over Dominic Cummings

Now for something different, or is it different – entitlement again?

Back to the Dominic Cummings saga.

The furore over Dominic Cummings’ breach of lockdown rules has prompted tens of thousands of people to flood their MPs’ inboxes in what some described as the biggest outpouring since Brexit, a Guardian analysis has found.

Jessica Murray www.theguardian.com 

As Boris Johnson tried to draw a line under the crisis involving his chief adviser, constituents across the country sent missives to their MPs, with many sharing stories of their own lockdown hardships.

A Guardian analysis covering 117 MPs found they have received a total of 31,738 emails since a joint Guardian and Daily Mirror investigation a week ago divulged that Cummings had travelled to County Durham and taken a trip to a beauty spot with his family after suffering coronavirus symptoms.

If that level of correspondence was reflected across all 650 MPs, it would suggest the revelations may have sparked as many as 180,000 items of correspondence. The numbers were either provided in response to the Guardian’s request for figures, or in statements MPs had released to constituents.

Johnson has repeatedly suggested it was time to “move on” from the Cummings row, despite about half of Tory backbenchers – more than 100 MPs – calling for his most senior aide to resign or be sacked, or criticising Cummings. Many said they were motivated by their constituents’ anger.

On Friday evening Theresa May added her voice to the Tories criticising Cummings. In a statement to constituents of her Maidenhead seat, the former prime minister said she could “well understand the [public’s] anger” towards Johnson’s senior adviser.

“I do not feel that Mr Cummings followed the spirit of the guidance,” she said.

Several Conservative MPs in marginal seats said they had received more than 1,000 emails about Cummings, in some cases dwarfing their majority. While the average number of emails each MP got was 271, the Tory MPs analysed by the Guardian received 590 each on average.

Many MPs said the emails were from people writing to them for the first time and not the common copy-and-paste messages on a campaigning issue, and for some it has been the most significant volume since the Brexit crisis in parliament.

Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, who was among the first to say Cummings’ job was no longer tenable, said: “I’ve had between 700 and 800 emails, and half of those are constituents, half of those are from other people. About 85% are critical [of him], and 15% think I’m the devil incarnate.

“Not one has been computer-generated, they are all individual observations. This is not about Brexit, or a Labour party campaign, none of this is orchestrated.”

Richard Fuller, Tory MP for North East Bedfordshire, wrote to constituents: “I have been struck by just how many emails I have received from constituents about the actions taken by Mr Cummings and the strength of sentiment.

“Most emails contained strong criticisms. The words used by constituents to express their feeling – ‘disgust’, ‘incensed’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘shameful’, ‘anger’ – convey clearly how deeply hurtful this revelation has been for them.

“Many constituents included personal stories of sacrifice and loss; a number sharing the searing pain of bereavement in this extraordinary period of isolation and confinement. I have read fully each of the emails sent to me.”

He added: “The explanation of this human dilemma has not been communicated in such a manner as to heal the hurt that has been felt. An apology is not always needed as a concession that you did something wrong but sometimes to show that you understand the pain to others that may have been caused.”

Diana Johnson, Labour MP for Hull North since 2005, said: “Other than Brexit, this is the biggest postbag I’ve had for many years. And it’s still coming in.”

Polling suggests most people were unconvinced by Cummings’ explanation of his movements, delivered in a hastily arranged press conference in the Downing Street rose garden on Monday.

A YouGov poll taken afterwards showed 71% of respondents thought he had broken the rules; the row also appears to have dented the Conservatives’ poll lead over Keir Starmer’s Labour party.

Among the Conservatives receiving more than 1,000 emails about Cummings were Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham, who has a majority of 981; Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon, whose majority is 628; and Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and and Kincardine, with a majority of 843.

Not all of the correspondence was negative, although many MPs said their mailbox was overwhelmingly weighted towards criticism of the adviser.

Stewart Wood, a Labour peer and Oxford University fellow teaching politics, said the crisis had touched a nerve akin to the MPs’ expenses revelations. “The real worry for government is when something that they do politicises people who normally wouldn’t ever write to their MP about something like this, who never really engage in politics,” he said.

“I worked for Gordon Brown for 10 years and the equivalent issue was the expenses crisis. In terms of the nerve it has touched and the kind of people who are responding, it feels a lot like [that].”

He added: “I think what’s happened is our daily lives are dominated by what’s coming out of No 10. So we’re hanging on the words of the prime minister and his top team in a way that you normally would never ever get, and that does bring politics into your life much more vividly. So people then inspect the credentials of the people doing that in a much greater way.

“The thing that makes this so poisonous for Boris Johnson and the top team is that we’re in this incredibly unusual crisis moment where everything the government does relies on our trust, because everything they do is essentially asking us to change our behaviour. And that requires faith in the integrity and the authority of the government.”

One Tory MP said they had received 400 emails, mostly against Cummings. In the Tory stronghold of the south-west, Selaine Saxby, MP for North Devon, was hit with 800 messages and Cherilyn Mackrory, of Truro and Falmouth, said she had received nearly 1,000.

Elliot Colburn, 27, the Conservative MP representing the marginal Carshalton and Wallington seat, wrote to Johnson to say he had received more emails on this issue than any other. He said “many hundreds of messages from concerned constituents” had called on Cummings to resign.

At the other end of the UK, the leader of the Scottish National party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said he had received more than 1,000 emails. “At the peak I was getting one email a minute. It’s easily more than 1,000,” he said.

Labour’s Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, said she had had 117 emails, with “so many powerful stories of sacrifice”. One of her constituents wrote to say how her mother had died alone of Covid-19 in a London hospital on 8 April and “every instinct” in her body had told to go to be with her for her final moments, but she had abided by the government’s rules.

The Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Neil Coyle, said he had received 227 emails, only one in support of Cummings. He said: “They are all unique and many are very sad as they explain their anger based on what they’ve been through – including missing relatives at the end of life.”

Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda, said he had received 20 messages a day and has had a constituent tell him he now has no intention of abiding by the lockdown rules since Cummings’ drive to Durham and later to Barnard Castle.

Paul Arnott’s Leader speech on facebook – a new inclusive, forward looking, council

For those unaware (like old and new Owl!) that EDDC was streaming the extra extraordinary meeting live on facebook, because the YouTube link was still off, the link is given below.

It is reasonably short at around 20 minutes but compelling watching not only for Cllr Tom Wright’s apology for swearing and it its impact on the democratic process but, more importantly, for Paul Arnott’s Leader’s speech (starting at around 7.20 mins in).

He does not mince his words.

In saying that this new council will work with all of its 60 members, treated as equals, he adds this caveat:

“We wish to work with everyone for the benefit of East Devon, but if your interest is working with friends and allies outside the council then I’m afraid that your time is up.”

He also criticised Chairman Cllr Hughes for cancelling the Annual Meeting thereby necessitating five meetings to do what would have been done in just the one he cancelled.

‘Changing of the guard’ in East Devon as new adminstration take control

New Leader Paul Arnott adds more detail to the direction he will set for the new administration and outlines the roles of his Cabinet members. In particular the new Cabinet will now host three critical new roles to enable the council to tackle both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis head-on.

Unfortunately the video streaming of the reconvened meeting held today is not available on YouTube. Followers will understand why.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

A ‘changing of the guard’ has occurred in East Devon with a new progressive leadership having taken control of the council.

Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the East Devon Alliance, was elected as the new leader of the council on Friday morning. It followed the resignation of the previous leader, Cllr Ben Ingham, last week.

He was elected by 32 votes to 20 over Conservative rival Cllr Andrew Moulding, with eight abstentions.

The meeting on Friday morning was reconvened after Thursday evening’s meeting was adjourned after the live stream crashed after Cllr Tom Wright was heard swearing. He apologised at the start of Friday’s meeting.

Cllr Arnott told the meeting that the new administration marks the start of a new approach to collaborative working and will bring stability and direction for the benefit of all its residents.

The Democratic Alliance group, who are the largest group on the council, formed a coalition with the seven members of the Independent Progressive group to form the administration with a total of 31 of the 60-strong council. The Democratic Alliance group is made up of councillors from the Independent East Devon Alliance, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Green Party and some independents.

Cllr Eileen Wragg, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a councillor, will be the deputy leader.

Cllr Arnott said that the new administration recognised the need for continuity during such uncertain times and three of the portfolio holders for the previous Cabinet have been reappointed.

He said that the hard work they have undertaken for the last 12 months and the knowledge and experience they bring with them will help the council smoothly transition into this fresh new approach.

He said: “It is essential that at this of all times East Devon has a stable majority leadership. It must also have a keen eye on the district’s future wellbeing when this troubling period comes to an eventual end. The electorate spoke hoping for a reformed and improved council last year and our aim is to deliver that with hard work and with pride in the wonderful place we are all fortunate to call home.

“Countrywide, the last decade or more has seen local councils put under increasing pressure financially, East Devon is no exception. The current pandemic further compounds this.

“East Devon District Council’s new administration is committed to a thorough assessment of the council’s current position in all areas, including finance, and is determined to lobby both central government and the districts MP’s to help us out of our financial shortfall so that we can continue to provide the best service to our residents, district-wide.

“We are looking forward to working with the staff as this must have been a really difficult last 18 months for them, but if you have a majority administration then gives them some secure sense of a direction for the council.

“The previous administration walked into the same practices that the conservatives had been doing for years and the business as usual approach, if I’m honest, was intellectually idle and the past [path] of least resistance, and everything I have learnt in this life is that if you take the easy option then it is often the wrong one.

“But this is the changing of the guard. It is like they tried to stop us and like going in front of the guards at Buckingham Palace and saying ‘you shall not pass’ and let a new legitimate administration come in, but we have got there in the end.”

Cllr Arnott added: “Life and economy at the moment are mothballed but it does look like getting back to some semblance of normality in the next few weeks and when that happens we can make judgements about what we can do across the district. But the first job is to lobby for funding to cover the financial gap that the district council will now suffer – will keep the pressure on and I actually believe that they will probably do that.

“The most important thing is not to panic. We have reserves saved up for a rainy day and if this is not a rainy day then I don’t know what is, and would be better to do that than anything that affects our day to day services

“We have to address how we respond to the coronavirus and the effect on the council’s finances. We are not certain yet how bad it is. The council gets a lot of revenue through car parks and when we were not charging it was creating a black hole, but now people using them and we are charging again. It will take a while to see the loss over the period of time and with a bit of luck may not be in as disastrous as a position as first thought.”

He announced that the new Cabinet will now host three critical new roles to enable the council to tackle both the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis head-on.

Cllr Jess Bailey is the new Cabinet portfolio holder for Corporate Services and Covid-19 Response & Recovery to ensure a consistent and pro-active approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, and Cllr Arnott said: “At this time of crisis, it is vital that operations across the council continue to be focussed and understood both during and after, so that as the period for recovery begins, the council emerges in the best shape and able to continue to serve East Devon effectively.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson has been appointed as the new Climate Action portfolio holder securing the council’s commitment to Climate Change, and Cllr Arnott said she will ensure that every action and strategy pursued by the council is compliant with its zero-emissions commitment and that climate is considered in the formation of all policy. Her assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Denise Bickley.

On climate change, Cllr Arnott added: “As we emerge from what has been a national crisis, you need to plan to come out with some positive outcomes and across Devon there is a will that the climate action agenda that was so strong last year remains so.

“That needs to borne in mind with the kind of homes we are building, the transport policies, the way in which we procure things, the way we preserve our old ecology, our AONBs and the relationship with the potential National Park with Dorset. All of these things are what people have had time to think about over recent months so we need to harness that enthusiasm to address the climate emergency, so there are some opportunities ahead.”

The new Democracy and Transparency portfolio holder is Cllr Paul Millar who will carry out the new administration’s commitment to overseeing the governance of the council to ensure that all 60 councillors are able to contribute fully. A full review of the constitution, member engagement, and external communications will be undertaken. Cllr Sarah Jackson will be the assistant portfolio holder.

Cllr Millar said: “I am delighted to return to the Cabinet at East Devon under this exciting new administration. In my post, the challenge is to improve the Council’s reputation with the public and improve the way we do business so the bad and thuggish behaviour evident last night is never repeated.

“On issues like the Exmouth seafront regeneration project, the principles of democracy and transparency have not been followed by East Devon District Council. There’ll be no more fait accomplis masquerading as open public consultations. The Democratic Alliance will be collaborative and true to its name and over the next three years, our strong and united team will empower the communities we represent and ensure voices that have been silent for far too long are finally heard.”

The Economy and Assets portfolio is Cllr Paul Hayward and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Geoff Pratt. Cllr Geoff Jung is the holder for the newly-named Coast, Country and Environment portfolio and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr Eleanor Rylance.

The Finance portfolio holder is Cllr Jack Rowland and his assistant portfolio holder is Cllr John Loudoun. The Strategic Development portfolio is Cllr Dan Ledger and Sustainable Homes & Communities portfolio holder is Cllr Megan Armstrong.

A further meeting of the council will be held on June 8 to elect a chairman and vice-chairman of the council, while in the week commencing June 15, another meeting will be held to deal with the appointments of committee chairs and to other outside bodies.

Cllr Arnott added that once that meeting has taken place, he aims to have a packed schedule of meetings for the rest of June and July so the council can get to work.

Councillor apologises for swearing on live stream of meeting on YouTube

Cllr Tom Wright, the Conservative councillor who represents the Budleigh and Raleigh ward on East Devon District Council, apologised unreservedly for this language when the virtual meeting resumed on Friday morning.

(Cllr Tom Wright also was the councillor who proposed Cllr Andrew Moulding as Leader. Had he done his sums he wouldn’t have been in the least surprised at the outcome – Owl)

Councillors were electing a new leader of the council at Thursday night’s meeting and 57 of the 60 votes had been cast when the live Youtube stream of the proceedings abruptly ended.

The reconvened meeting on Friday morning saw Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the Democratic Alliance, elected as the new council leader by 32 votes to 20, with eight abstentions.

But before the last three votes were counted, Cllr Wright began the meeting with an apology for his actions.

He said: “I apologise for bringing everybody here this morning and I wish to apologise unreservedly for my actions last evening. I must point out I was not directing abuse to any other councillor.

“I was expressing my personal disappointment as the result was unfolding and my microphone was on as I was semi-called to put my vote.

“I apologise to all councillors, officers and members of the public who were following the events on YouTube and for the harm it did to the democratic process and reputation of the council, not least the public’s view of the council and its councillors.

“I am also very aware of the extra work and strain this will have put on East Devon District Council staff and I apologise separately to them. I can say no more, I am truly sorry.”

Cllr Stuart Hughes, chairman of the council, added: “I would also like to sincerely apologise on behalf of East Devon District Council to members of the public who were watching yesterday and experienced this unfortunate incident.”

He began the meeting by adding: “I strongly reiterate the point for councillors to make sure all microphones are muted when you’re not speaking to avoid any background noise levels and ensure that you use appropriate language.”