Flybe sale in jeopardy due to lockdown and possible loss of licence

The administrator of Flybe has warned that a sale of the failed airline is at risk from the potential loss of its operating licence and the crisis in the industry.

Alex Ralph  www.thetimes.co.uk 

EY, appointed in March after Europe’s biggest regional carrier collapsed, has received about 20 non-binding offers, including for the majority of the remaining business, according to the joint administrators’ proposals. However, EY said that global travel restrictions meant that the timeframe to complete any sale was challenging and, coupled with the uncertainty over the future of the airline industry, had resulted in “capital constraints, eroding valuations and diminished bidder appetite”.

If a sale of all or part of Flybe’s business cannot be completed, EY will try to sell its assets.

The disposal is also threatened by the Civil Aviation Authority, the regulator, agreeing that Flybe’s operating licence should be revoked. The CAA, EY said, had argued that the sale’s progress “did not support a realistic prospect of a transaction”. EY disagreed and had 14 days from April 16 to appeal to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary.

The administrator said: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is unlikely that a business sale, including the transfer of existing employees, will be possible if the operating licence is revoked since it prevents the sale of the airport slots, which would be central to any bid for the business.”

A spokesman for the CAA said the secretary of state would now “decide whether to uphold, reverse or vary” the CAA’s decision, which it issued last month.

Flybe operated just over half of domestic flights outside London. It carried eight million passengers last year, flying between 71 airports in the UK and mainland Europe, including Southampton, Exeter and Aberdeen.

It was acquired last year by Connect Airways, a consortium made up of Virgin Atlantic, part-owned by Sir Richard Branson, Cyrus Capital, the Mayfair-based hedge fund, and Stobart Group, owner of Southend airport.

EY said that indications from secured creditors were that the outstanding secured debt was £135.6 million, but that was under review. Claims from unsecured creditors, mainly about 900,000 customers, are in the region of £317 million. They are expected to receive less than 1p in the pound.

 

‘We have had zero information’: GPs in the dark over Covid-19 tests

The results of hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests carried out at privately run drive-through centres in England have not yet been shared with GPs or local authorities, who complain they have “no idea” where local disease clusters are.

Juliette Garside www.theguardian.com 

GPs told the Guardian they had been “totally left out of the conversation” after the government said it was still “working on a technical solution” to get Covid-19 test results into individual GP records in England, having promised to do so weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, apologised to local health leaders who have not yet received any detailed data from “pillar two” tests conducted by the private firm Deloitte over the past month. These now form the majority of tests being carried out each day, either at drive-through testing centres or via the post.

During a conference call on Wednesday with directors of public health at local authorities across England, the government’s national coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme, Prof John Newton, also apologised for not yet sharing the detailed data. He said there had been “data quality issues”.

Newton admitted that the Deloitte tests did not yet ask people for their ethnicity or whether they worked in health or social care – an oversight described by one director of public health on the call as “really disappointing”. People of colour and healthcare workers and those working in care homes are known to have much higher incidences of the disease.

When the government began its pillar two testing scheme in late March it promised GPs that results would be linked to the medical records of patients in England.

But Nick Mann, a GP at the Well Street surgery in Hackney, London, is one of many doctors to complain this has not happened. “As a GP I’m absolutely fuming, not only with the way it’s been mishandled but with the unreliable information we are getting,” he said. “This government has developed a completely parallel system in order to bypass the NHS, and it’s failing.”

Helen Salisbury, a GP at the Observatory Practice in Oxford, has 100 suspected cases on her list and only five with a confirmed positive test. “We have had absolutely zero information. The only way I know if a patient of mine has tested positive for Covid is if they have been ill enough to be admitted to hospital. It feels like we’ve been completely left out of the conversation, whereas most of the Covid out there is being handled by GPs,” she said.

Those responsible for coordinating the coronavirus response at local authority level in England also say they have not yet received any detailed data from the Deloitte tests.

Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen council in Lancashire, said: “The Deloitte screening programme has now been running for a number of weeks and we have seen no data from that. So I have no idea whether 10, 100 or 1,000 Blackburn with Darwen residents have tested positive.

“I certainly hope they sort that out very very quickly because it is critical information for us in developing the strategy for case finding and contract tracing once the lockdown is lifted..”

Colin Cox, director of public health in Cumbria, said he had received only headline figures from the Deloitte testing centre in Penrith, and no postcode-level data to identify any local clusters.

“We’ll certainly need that level of detail once we get back to a process of contact tracing (though lots of that will be a national process not a local one). Before then, there wouldn’t be a clear policy response to knowing that. But certainly the fragmentation of the testing system has been a challenge,” he said.

Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield, said: “If we really want to get to grips with who has tested positive and chasing down their contacts, we need this detailed data fairly rapidly, particularly when the lockdown restrictions are relaxed.”

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We would expect GPs to receive a timely copy of a patient’s results, particularly if they are positive, so that we can provide appropriate clinical advice for patients – not just about Covid-19, but having a full picture of a patient’s health, including their medical history, will help us to deliver holistic care to them for other conditions and illnesses.”

This week health ministers in Scotland complained that they had been barred from seeing thousands of coronavirus results from rapid testing sites for weeks because of data restrictions imposed by the UK government.

The Department for Health and Social Care said data from the pillar two testing programme was shared daily with Public Health England, National Services Scotland and the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, and would soonbe shared hourly.

“We are working on a solution for local authorities to access data to support local and regional decision-making,” a spokesman said. “We are actively planning to get Covid-19 test results into individual GP records in England. NHS Digital are leading on this, and it involves working closely with the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association.

“This needs to be carefully done to minimise any clinical safety risks and ensure it is done accurately. We are making good progress on the technical solution for this work but it will take some time. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their own processes relating to healthcare records.”

Deloitte has been approached for comment.

 

Revealed: the secret report that gave ministers warning of care home coronavirus crisis

A secret government report that said the UK was not prepared for a pandemic and forewarned of the Covid-19 crisis in care homes is being published by the Guardian.

David Conn  www.theguardian.com 

The report is based on the findings of a government simulation of an influenza pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus. It concluded starkly that Britain was not adequately prepared for a flu-like pandemic’s “extreme demands”.

The 2017 report is likely to raise questions over whether ministers ever implemented key recommendations pertaining to the care home sector.

It contained 26 key recommendations, including boosting the capacity of care homes and the numbers of staff available to work in them. It also warned of the challenge facing homes asked to take in patients from hospitals.

Asked recently about the report on Exercise Cygnus, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said he had been assured by officials at the Department of Health that “everything that was recommended was done”.

However, Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, which represents the largest independent care home providers, said concerns raised by the exercise about the social care system’s ability to handle patients discharged from hospitals and the need for the largest private care providers to increase capacity were not raised by government agencies with his members.

“It beggars belief,” Green told the Guardian. “This is a report that made some really clear recommendations that haven’t been implemented. If they had put in place a response to every one, we would have been in a much better place at the start of this pandemic.”

Covid-19 has swept through the UK’s care homes, killing 6,686 people up to 1 May in England and Wales, in some cases claiming dozens of lives in a single facility. Operators have been beset by shortages of essential personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect staff and limit the spread of the virus among residents who are by definition the most vulnerable to the disease.

With a third of all Covid-19 deaths so far being recorded in care homes, Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday: “There is an epidemic going on in care homes, which is something I bitterly regret.”

The government has kept the Exercise Cygnus report secret since it was first circulated in Whitehall three years ago, and has resisted growing calls for more transparency, which culminated in the announcement of a legal case to force ministers to release the findings. However a copy was leaked to the Guardian, which is publishing the document in the public interest.

The report, marked “Official – Sensitive”, is being published in full, although names and email addresses of government officials have been redacted.

Public Health England ran the Cygnus exercise in October 2016, coordinating more than 950 people, from Department of Health ministers to teams of local emergency planners and prison officers, to test the UK’s response to a new global pandemic, envisaged to be influenza.

The exercise included four dummy meetings of Cobra, the government’s emergency response system, over three days, as ministers and officials were tasked with imagining the UK was facing the peak of infections.

A report on Exercise Cygnus was produced in July 2017 and sent to all major government departments, NHS England, and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It stated as its “key learning” that “the UK’s preparedness and response, in terms of its plans, policies and capability, is currently not sufficient to cope with the extreme demands of a severe pandemic that will have a nationwide impact across all sectors”.

The report recommended that a comprehensive “pandemic concept of operations” be created and that NHS England should conduct further work to prepare “surge capacity” in the health service.

It explicitly recommended that the social care system needed to be able to expand if it were to cope with a “worst-case scenario pandemic”, and that money should be ringfenced to provide extra capacity and support to the NHS.

It also said the Department of Health should consider bringing back “recently retired nurses and care workers to deal with the extra strain on the system”. Such staff could be involved in “vital tasks”, it said, including “opening up more distribution points for personal protective equipment (PPE) and working on essential communications to the public”.

Concerns were raised about the ability of the social care system to “provide the level of support needed if the NHS implemented its proposed reverse triage plans, which would entail the movement of patients from hospitals into social care facilities”.

During the coronavirus crisis, care homes have been asked to take recovering Covid-19 patients, leading to concerns that they may spread the infection if not properly isolated and treated, which is not always possible in care settings.

When Hancock was asked about Exercise Cygnus on 28 April, on LBC radio, he replied: “I asked my officials to go back when this first came up in the press a few weeks ago and check that everything that was recommended was done and that’s the assurance that I got.”

However, senior figures in the care sector are raising questions about whether the recommendations pertaining to the care sector have been implemented in full.

Vic Rayner, the chief executive of the National Care Forum, said: “The sort of plan you might anticipate coming from these recommendations has not been evident in terms of a national or local government approach. They might have done this planning behind the scenes, but they haven’t involved the care providers.”

The report states that the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, whose members commission care services, should be involved in developing a way to assess surge capacity in social care during a pandemic. However, the Guardian understands the association was not asked to do so.

Care England’s Green said the recommendations for expanding capacity and staff levels were not discussed with providers following the 2017 report.

“Nobody has ever had that conversation with us,” he said. “Care England has been talking about providing extra capacity for years. We have been telling them that we have capacity and people don’t need to be in hospital. But we have got nowhere.”

In response to a freedom of information request by the Guardian last month, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) refused to publish the report on Exercise Cygnus, claiming that it would “prohibitively impact the ability of ministers to meet with officials and external stakeholders to discuss ongoing policy development”.

The report on at least one similar previous exercise, Winter Willow, has been published without controversy. Last month solicitors at Leigh Day announced that an NHS doctor had instructed them to pursue legal action against the DHSC to try to force the release of the report.

Moosa Qureshi, whose case is being crowdfunded, argued there was an “exceptionally strong public interest in the publication of the report given the lessons and recommendations are directly relevant to the system and procedures that have been developed”.

A government spokesperson said that lessons from Exercise Cygnus had been learned and continued to be considered.

“The UK is one of the most prepared countries in the world and, as the public would expect, we regularly test our plans. What we learned from previous exercises helped us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global crisis,” the spokesperson said. “We have followed a science-led action plan designed at all times to save lives and support our NHS.

“Our planning helped prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and means we are now moving past the peak of the virus.”

 

Cornwall tourism: 8 in 10 businesses could go bust unless lockdown lifted by July – expert

As might be expected, an example of pressure from the tourism industry to open up the economy.

Owl’s view is that tourism is the “icing on the cake” and shouldn’t be seen as the bedrock of a successful and sustainable local economy, though it suits “a few” very well. (This 2017 post is also relevant)

This probably accounts for the recent analysis that 31% of jobs in East Devon were at risk.

Laura O’Callaghan  www.express.co.uk 

Cornwall: Coronavirus’ impact on tourism revealed by expert

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, said if the nationwide lockdown is not lifted by summer many employers in the county will have reached the point of no return. During and around the Easter holidays the population of Cornwall usually jumps by about a third due to tourism.

But this year has played host to an unprecedented period with hotels, caravan parks, restaurants and pubs forced to close and a local campaign urging visitors to stay away over fears they could spread coronavirus.

The loss of custom has meant the local industry is down about £300 million.

And Mr Bell predicts Cornwall tourism industry could be setback more than £1 billion if premises are not allowed to reopen for the peak months.

He told Sky News: “For the worst-case scenario, which we hope will never happen, if this went through to August we would be talking about £1.2 billion worth of loss.

“According to our research it would be the end of 80 percent of the businesses.”

Mr Bell described how many businesses in one of England’s most popular tourism destinations have found themselves at “their lowest cash point”.

He said many owners in Cornwall have been inching closer to their overdraft limit and have been hit with a double whammy.

While the money is not coming in due to their business being ordered to close, customers who have paid in full or a deposit are seeking refunds.

Coronavirus: Expert discusses ‘worrying’ impact on tourism

Mr Bell added: “Many businesses are at their lowest cash point – they’ve gone through their winter eking out the cash.”

“It’s actually worse than that – many businesses are close to their overdraft limit and of course now not only is no money coming in, you’ve got customers wanting their money back.

“Many businesses invested heavily during the winter.”

Mr Bell told predicts the loss of businesses could be reduced to five percent if the lockdown was lifted by May or June at the latest.

“Two-thirds of income is made in spring and summer,” he added.

Locals in the south-west county have been pushing the #ComeBackLater campaign urging non-residents to stay away until the COVID-19 outbreak is under control.

There has been anger towards Britons with second homes in the picturesque county who have retreated from cities at the risk of spreading the virus to locals.

On Monday, Cornwall Council issued a statement encouraging holidaymakers to postpone their trips instead of cancelling.

Council leader Rob Nolan said: “We are hearing that many people who have booked accommodation directly with holiday businesses have agreed that, rather than cancel their intended visit which was due to have taken place during the lockdown period, they will change dates or keep the booking open until the current lockdown is lifted.”

“These voluntary arrangements show that many customers are keen to have a holiday in Cornwall to look forward to once the current restrictions are lifted.

“By being flexible they have in-turn helped those businesses who are affected due to the financial impact of the current situation.

“Holiday accommodation businesses value their customers so will be working with them to give them the best possible service, but things may take a bit longer than usual to sort out because of the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves in.”

Last Thursday the Government extended the coronavirus lockdown for “at least” three weeks.

 

Cash aid for East Devon community food providers

East Devon District Council has made £46,000 available to projects supporting residents who are in food poverty during the Coronavirus situation.

Chris Carson  www.midweekherald.co.uk

The council has already granted: £1,800 to Honiton’s TRIP Community Transport Association to help them deliver hot food and other meals to vulnerable people in the local community.

£1,000 to Axminster Food Bank for supplies such as nappies, household items and cleaning products that they desperately need, which will then be given out to local people in need.

£1,800 to Honiton’s 55+ Centre to support them in providing meals for vulnerable people in Honiton.

£1,000 to Nourish, Axminster, to help pay for the costs of the packaging and delivering meals to vulnerable people.

£1,500 to The Random Kitchen, who are making meals and delivering them to vulnerable people in and around the Honiton area.

Grants of between £500 and £2,500 are available.

Projects that could be eligible for the funding include:

A food bank where stocks of items are running low and they need an immediate donation to enable them to restock.

New equipment/resources that allow groups to have the capacity for the increased number of people needing their food related service.

A service providing hot meals delivered to the homes of vulnerable people, children or adults, who might otherwise not have a hot meal.

Costs related to collecting food donations and delivering food to those in need.

Training of staff and volunteers working on food related projects. It can be used to fund eligible capital – so for physical things like equipment – and revenue costs (so for things like training, petrol costs.

Applications are accepted from constituted and not-for-private-profit voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector groups and organisations, town and parish councils, charities, or a combination of such groups working together.

The group applying must have a bank account. Non-constituted groups without their own, separate bank account may apply but they will need to do so with the support of an accountable constituted organisation acting on their behalf.

EDDC leader Cllr Ben Ingham said: “I’m really pleased that we’re able to help projects and activities that are making such a big difference to vulnerable people in our communities.

“This is a way of us saying thank you to community groups, town and parish councils and other organisations for all their hard work.

“These are the first two of hopefully many grants to come.”

To find out more about the fund and apply, visit East Devon District Council’s coronavirus community food fund section of its website at http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk

 

East Devon and Exeter recycling centres to reopen ‘for essential use only’

Recycling centres in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton and Exeter will reopen ‘for essential use only’ from Monday, May 11.

East Devon Reporter eastdevonnews.co.uk 

The facilities – among 19 across Devon shut since March 24 – will be subject to a ‘one-in, one-out’ policy and two-metre social distancing rules.

County council bosses say staff will be unable to help with unloading rubbish and are predicting ‘significant delays and queues’.

Vans, trailers and pick-up trucks will initially be barred.

The Government has defined ‘essential use’ as items that ‘cannot be stored without causing a risk of injury, health or harm to the resident or other members of their household’.

Residents are being urged to follow Whitehall guidance and only travel to recycling centres if waste ‘presents a hazard and cannot be legally and responsibly disposed of in other ways’.

The East Devon and Exeter tips will operate their ‘usual opening hours’.

They include Knowle Hill Recycling Centre, off Salterton Road, Exmouth, Sidmouth Recycling Centre, at the Bowd, and Sutton Barton Recycling Centre in Widworthy, Honiton.

Exeter’s Exton Road Recycling Centre and Pinbrook Road Recycling Centre, in Pinhoe, will also reopen.

Devon County Council (DCC) says the move is part of a ‘phased’ reopening and is subject to any further government announcements.

A spokesperson added: “To protect the public and staff, a series of health protection measures will be in force at each centre, including a one-in, one-out policy and the two-metre social distancing guidelines.

“Unfortunately, this means for the time being site staff will not be able to assist with unloading waste.

“These measures are likely to cause significant delays and queues and residents are advised to postpone their visit where possible.”

DCC also says that:

  • Residents displaying coronavirus symptoms are asked not to visit the recycling centres;
  • Only cars without trailers, with a maximum of two adults per vehicle, will be permitted on site;
  • To keep unloading times to a minimum, trailers, vans, pick-ups and commercial vehicles will not be granted access for the time-being;
  • Payments on-site must be by credit/debit card only.

Councillor Andrea Davis, DCC cabinet member for infrastructure, development and waste, said: “We understand that storing some waste for long periods may not be safe and that is why, following government guidance, we are reopening our recycling centres for essential use only.

“The safety of the public and staff is our top priority and lengthy waiting times should be expected due to the new restrictions in place.

“We ask you to avoid queuing on the public highway and if it is very busy to come back later.

“In the first instance, we ask that if people cannot store waste at home, they should use the regular kerbside collections for disposal.

“If, however, the waste is presenting a hazard and there is no other legal way of disposing of it, then they can bring it to our recycling centres.

“We are working to restore normal service as soon as it is safe to do so and we appreciate your patience at this time.”

 

More on the frustrations over the Sidmouth Beach Management Plan

Owl was gently taken to task by a reader, Stephen Pemberton, for the way the flippant reference to “King Canute” in the recent post on storm damage to Sidmouth could be misconstrued. 

It was intended to reflect Owl’s experiences of the enormous power nature can release in storms and Owl’s experiences of how a number of Devon seaside towns have struggled over the years to save their beaches. Readers will probably most easily relate to the way the storm of early February 2014 cut the rail line at Dawlish. 

It wasn’t intended to downplay the need to protect Sidmouth where the storm and rising sea level threat isn’t confined to the beach but is a very real and present threat to the Town itself.

Stephen had a letter published in the Sidmouth Herald 24 April. This set out the EDDC position in relation to the Beach Management Plan (BMP) and reflects his evident frustration with decades of ineffective action. He has agreed to let Owl post it below. 

Before doing that, Owl has received other comments, which agree on some main points Stepehn made in correspondence. These help set the scene, especially for those who are not Sidmouth residents:

  • The rock revetment (rock armour) in front of the Esplanade, installed c.1992, has worked well.   The vibration of Sidmouth houses stopped overnight when it was installed and the Town has not suffered any vibration since.  The cost was £750,000 and it will probably be good for another hundred years. 
  • The two offshore breakwaters constructed c 1994 have also been very successful in creating a high “design level” beach, and, as a bonus, a sandy foreshore. The problem is that a third island, recommended by the consultants, was rejected at the time. EDDC have always refused subsequently to consider this option, despite the fact that it is cheaper than the current preferred option, and might, by reference to the experience gained from the existing breakwaters, avoid or reduce the need for subsequent replenishment of beach material (also known as beach recharging) by maintaining a high beach level. 
  • There is deep controversy over action/inaction at Pennington Point to the east. Here cliff erosion appears to have accelerated over predictions made only four years ago. EDDC currently refuse to carry out emergency works to protect the town from flooding via the “backdoor” river frontage.  EDDC’s solution of using a very large groyne is also considered controversial because it is more expensive than a revetment option that consultants have publicly stated would be more effective (and would be cheaper). The aim is to reduce undercutting of the cliffs by wave action. 
  • The BMP also involves the construction of a “splash wall “ varying in height from 1m to 1.3m. Vandalism of an armoured glass trial panel has set back this element of the plan. 
  • One of the central difficulties on costs concerns assumptions made on the frequency of the need for recycling beach material and for its replenishment. A sticking point with EDDC is always going to be the cost of replenishing a beach that is ultimately going to be washed away by the natural process of the eastward longshore drift. In fact EDDC haven’t maintained the design level for the beach since 1992. 
  • There is still a £1M shortfall in funding for the preferred option. If the funding cannot be raised by December 2020, the council will have to review the project aims and possible management scheme options. There is also the question of ongoing costs.

(Owl’s view is that strategic costs of this sort should really be funded by central government).

Letter published in the Sidmouth Herald   24 April 2020 

Urgent and Emergency Works Pennington Point and East Beach:

Following recent communications over the need for action, and urgent and emergency Works at Pennington Point and along East Beach thank you to all those who replied.

The cliffs though, continue to collapse almost daily. It is the case, it would seem, that some appear to follow the EDDC position unquestionably; giving reasons to legitimate preventing action; some unthinkingly saying that all cliffs will naturally erode, without ‘seeing’ the consequences. 

EDDC is responsible for action and for urgent and emergency works. The EDDC CEO, Strategic Lead for Housing, Health and Environment, Leader of the Council, Service Lead, StreetScene, (copied to Simon Jupp, MP and George Eustace, MP), accept no responsibility for any undue outcome. 

They say: EDDC are not responsible. EDDC have permissive powers to carry out works at its discretion. EDDC are the Risk Management Authority acting as the Coastal Protection Authority. Coastal protection authorities and the Environment Agency have permissive powers to protect against coastal flooding and to carry out erosion defence works. However this is not a legal obligation. This means East Devon District Council has the “power to” carry out coastal protection works but is not duty bound to do so and will not be liable for the failure to exercise these powers. Contractors are on-site willing and able to carry out the Works. 

The EDDC position raises concerns about the effective progress made of the BMP and other measures this past number of decades. EDDC and Sidmouth Town Council Councillors and Officers and MP’s need to be aware of the EDDC position, and of the responsibility and accountability they have in the prevention of Flooding to Sidmouth. 

Stephen Pemberton, SIDMOUTH,