More on Weston Hospital Closure

The town’s mayor, Mark Canniford, last week criticised the “total disregard” for the town’s residents from day-trippers who packed on to the beach.

A general hospital in Somerset has temporarily stopped accepting new patients in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19 on site.

Weston general hospital in Weston-super-Mare stopped taking admissions, including into its A&E department, from 8am on Monday “to maintain patient and staff safety”.

The decision was a “clinically led” one that had been taken at a time when the hospital had a high number of patients with coronavirus, according to a statement.

The hospital provides clinical services to residents in north Somerset – a population of about 212,000 people.

The hospital had experienced a “spike” in infections and was being closed to new patients so a deep clean could take place, according to John Penrose, the MP for Weston-super-Mare, who tweeted that he had spoken to local health chiefs.

While the cause of the increase was unclear, doctors have been concerned about a mini-resurgence in localised areas. Social media users who replied to Penrose suggested an influx of visitors to the area since the easing of lockdown rules was to blame, mentioning queues outside chip shops and day-trippers on Weston-super-Mare’s promenade.

The town’s mayor, Mark Canniford, last week criticised the “total disregard” for the town’s residents from day-trippers who packed on to the beach.

The general hospital is not the first to be overwhelmed during the coronavirus crisis. In March, Northwick Park in north-west London was forced to declare a “critical incident” after running out of critical care beds. It asked nearby hospitals to look after patients as it could not cope with the Covid-19 patients it was receiving.

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS foundation trust said the measure at Weston general was precautionary and the situation would be kept under review.

The trust said there were arrangements in place for new patients to access treatment and care “in other appropriate healthcare settings in the area should they need it”.

Dr William Oldfield, a medical director at the trust, said: “As with any hospital, the number of patients with Covid-19 will frequently change as people are admitted and discharged. We currently have a high number of patients with Covid-19 in Weston general hospital.

“While the vast majority will have come into the hospital with Covid-19, as an extra precaution we have taken the proactive step to temporarily stop accepting new patients to maintain patient and staff safety.

“This is a clinically led decision and we are being supported by our system partners to ensure that new patients receive the care and treatment they need in the appropriate setting, and we are continuing to provide high-quality care to existing patients who are being treated in the hospital.

“We have a robust coronavirus testing programme in place for patients and staff to identify cases quickly, with appropriate measures taken by clinical teams as required. We will keep the situation under constant review.”

The public are being directed to alternatives including out-of-hours GP services, pharmacies, NHS 111 and smaller NHS units dealing with minor injuries.

Covid-19 changes in estimated symptom rates since Boris eased travel

In view of the flare of Covid admissions to Weston Hospital, North Somerset reported in an earlier post, Owl is publishing Covid-19 Tracker App estimates of community symptoms rates for four rather different coastal districts in Devon, including East Devon. This table shows the estimated rates on 13 May, the day Boris Johnson unexpectedly said people could travel unlimited distances to their favourite beauty spots, and today. Owl doesn’t really know how statistically significant these changes are. North Somerset is showing 1% at the moment. Since 13 May, Torridge to the West of North Devon, briefly flared to 1.1%. 

Need to keep an eye on these.

           13 May               25 May       
North Devon             0.3%             0.7%
South Hams             0.6%             0.5%
Torbay             0.5%             0.3%
East Devon             0.5%             0.7%

Covid-19 Symptom Tracker App estimated symptom rates

Instant reaction to Dominic Cumming’s – “no regrets”

Analysis by Sky News political correspondent Tamara Cohen:

Extraordinary. Unprecedented. 

An unelected adviser to the prime minister taking a solo press conference for 70 minutes, about his own conduct – in the Number 10 rose garden – is not a spectacle Westminster has seen before or is likely to again.

And after 72 hours which has rocked Boris Johnson’s government, as the prime minister and cabinet have swung behind Dominic Cummings in face of growing anger, how did he do?

Well, the key thing to say is there was no apology. 

Mr Cummings confirmed he had travelled 260 miles to Durham after his wife Mary fell ill – and isolated there, in defiance of what most people took to be an instruction to stay at home.

He claimed he did not tell the prime minister about it – and that is the only aspect of this for which he expressed some regret.

Sympathy yes, for others in the same or worse situations who were unaware of the legal clause he uses to defend his conduct on the grounds of his “extreme circumstances” – including feeling as if his London home could be a target.

But for the public anger, he entirely blamed the media reporting of his actions.

And there is the bizarre business about his half-hour drive to Barnard Castle from Durham in order to “test his eyesight” ahead of a drive back to London. That will be picked over for some time.

What has stuck in the craw for many of his critics, including Tory MPs, is Mr Cummings’ perceived arrogance – refusing to give any explanation of his actions until this point other than to claim media reports were inaccurate. 

Having confirmed that plenty of it was accurate, and made clear that he has at no point offered to resign or indeed considered it, won’t endear him on that front.

All in all – Mr Cummings certainly didn’t duck scrutiny, he took dozens of questions, and for a man often caricatured by his enemies, he appeared human and at times nervous.

He said he understood the “intense hardship and sacrifice” of others as a result of the lockdown he helped create, and asked people to understand him. Many won’t, especially as sorry seemed to be the hardest word.

Somerset hospital overwhelmed by coronavirus cases closes doors to new patients

A SOMERSET hospital is currently not accepting any new patients after being overwhelmed by a high number of coronavirus cases.

Weston General Hospital imposed the ban – which includes the A&E department – at 8am today (Monday).

A statement from the trust that runs the hospital said the “precautionary measure” had been introduced to “maintain the safety of staff and patients”.

It added that the step was “clinically-led” and that arrangements are in place for new patients to continue to have access to treatment and care in other appropriate healthcare settings in the area if needed.

Dr William Oldfield, medical director at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As with any hospital, the number of patients with COVID-19 will frequently change as people are admitted and discharged.

“We currently have a high number of patients with COVID-19 in Weston General Hospital.

“Whilst the vast majority will have come into the hospital with COVID-19, as an extra precaution we have taken the proactive step to temporarily stop accepting new patients to maintain patient and staff safety.

“This is a clinically-led decision and we are being supported by our system partners to ensure that new patients receive the care and treatment they need in the appropriate setting, and we are continuing to provide high quality care to existing patients who are being treated in the hospital.

“We have a robust coronavirus testing programme in place for patients and staff to identify cases quickly, with appropriate measures taken by clinical teams as required.

“We will keep the situation under constant review.”

Sidmouth to get social distancing markers and a one-way pavements

To maintain social distancing in Sidmouth town centre, painted social distancing markers, a one-way pavement system and the possible closure of narrow streets is to be introduced.

With the breakdown in obeying social distancing rules, thanks to Dominic Cummings’ and Boris Johnson’s casual attitude, this is sensible. Owl is hearing that the elderly inhabitants of East Devon’s seaside towns in the past few days have felt frightened to go out during the day.

Anita Merritt

The new safeguards to help contain the spread of coronavirus could also include creating temporary paths to increase space.

High Street, Fore Street, and up to The Esplanade, New Street, Church Street and the Three- Cornered Plot are expected to be included in the one-way system.

It will see pedestrians travel in a loop to avoid passing each other.

Markings painted onto pavements using stencils will accurately show a two-metre distance, while others will urge pedestrians to ‘keep your distance’ and remind the public of the one-way system.

It is expected the one-way route will start at the top of the High Street, take in Fore Street, up to The Esplanade.

Paint used for the pavement stencils showing the one-way system and correct social distance spacing will be non-permanent and fade over time.

Pedestrians would be encouraged to keep to the one-way track and to cross the road onto the pavement opposite to make any return journey.

Other protection measures already in place include an extra path cut into grass at Long Park to allow for social distancing.

Councillor Stuart Hughes and small team of Devon County Council Highways and Sidmouth Town Council maintenance workers could begin the stencil painting as early as Wednesday next week.

The plan is for the town to be ready for when businesses are allowed to reopen.

Cllr Hughes told East Devon News: “If you are going down the town, you come up the other way straight back up to the top of town.

“If you go into Tesco, you have got a one-way system.

“If you miss something in one of the aisles, you have to go around the shop again. It’s not going to be a as bad as that because it doesn’t stop you crossing the road. You can do that. You go down one way and come back up the other side.

“If it works elsewhere, why can’t it work in Sidmouth? You always get some people that won’t take any notice. If the majority of people stick by it, it’s going to make Sidmouth a safer place to visit.

“It’s worked in other places in Europe. I see no reason why it can’t work here in Sidmouth to enhance the shopping experience and make it safe for the population, the residents of Sidmouth and visitors.”

Luton council draws up emergency cuts to avoid bankruptcy

Luton borough council is drawing up drastic cuts to services to avoid bankruptcy after after a coronavirus-related collapse in passenger numbers at Luton airport blew an estimated £49m hole in its budget.

Exeter airport and related businesses hmmmm? – Owl

Patrick Butler 
The council described the impact of the projected drop in revenue from the airport as a “nightmare scenario”. As the owner of the airport, it was receiving a £20m annual dividend, which has helped it maintain local services despite £130m of funding cuts since 2010.

It has been forced to plan a July emergency budget that will cut £22m, or 16% of its annual spending. “The airport has held back the tide of austerity in Luton, but coronavirus has broken those defences,” said Andy Malcolm, the council’s cabinet member for finance. “We are now going to feel the full force of austerity in council services.”

Local authority leaders called for a long-term stability plan for councils after figures suggested that continuing income losses from coronavirus-related shortfalls in council tax, business rates and commercial investments would run into several billions over the next few months.

Estimates based on the latest monthly government survey of councils’ financial projections suggest that local authorities remain on course for a £9bn-£10bn net shortfall this year, as the extra costs of meeting Covid-19 pressures in areas such as social care and homelessness continue to mount.

But there is growing concern that even if cost pressures start to reduce as the lockdown eases, many councils will face long-term structural deficits as record job losses and a faltering economy reduce income from local taxes, rates and business investments.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have already either defaulted on council tax payments or will seek council tax support after losing their jobs. Business rates income is precarious, and some council investments in local infrastructure affected by Covid restrictions, such as sports stadiums and conference centres, look shaky.

“The government has got to understand that much of that income is not coming back overnight and in some cases, not at all,” said Sir Stephen Houghton, leader of Barnsley borough council and chair of the Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Authorities (Sigoma), a network that includes many of England’s biggest cities.

He added: “The government has got to decide: is it going to provide money to the places that need it or not? There’s a real possibility that some councils could fall over as a result of this. We need assurances that we are not going to have to go through austerity all over again.”

Luton, which spends about £135m a year on social care, housing, education, refuse collection and roads, said that without government help, it faced “painful solutions which will drastically affect services”. The proportion of its income from commercial revenue is the second highest in the country after the City of London.

The growth of the international airport in recent years – it directly provides 13,000 jobs locally – has helped socially deprived Luton grow economically. But just 14,000 passengers passed though the airport in April compared with 1,535,000 over the same period last year, and there is little sign of a quick recovery.

The National Audit Office warned in February – a month before the UK went into lockdown – that an unprecedented spending spree on commercial property, funded by cheap Treasury loans and aimed at offsetting central government cuts, had left many local authorities “potentially badly exposed in the event of an economic recession or a property crash”. The Treasury last week indicated that the loans were no longer available.

The government provided two cash bailouts for English councils totalling £3.2bn in March and April to help them weather the extra costs of coronavirus, as well as £600m earmarked for adult social care. But local authorities say in some councils this money will run out in early June, and a longer-term approach is needed.

A spokesperson for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said it was working with councils to understand the costs they are facing. “By providing councils with over £3.2bn in the fairest way possible, we’re working with them to tackle the immediate pressures they have told us they are facing.”


One Rule For Us and One Rule For Them!!

From a correspondent – these comments reflect a deep frustration about the state of governance from top to bottom.

One Rule For Us and One Rule For Them!!

At this unprecedented time, when the Coronavirus has affected the majority of people’s lives around the world, many listened, on Sunday, to Boris Johnson, unconvincingly, trying to defend his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, for breaking lockdown rules by travelling 260 miles from London to Durham.

The whole nation has being caged in their homes for, what has seemed, an intolerable amount of weeks to follow the Government’s rules to Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Saves Lives – so a large number will have concluded that there are those who follow the rules – to avoid lawlessness and anarchy in our societies – and there are those who do not – by continuously flouting explicit regulations and principles that govern our conduct and procedures!

Serious rule breakers who violate the laws and rules in our societies are controlled by the threat of injunctions, penalties and fines and in the most serious cases – imprisonment – but it has become apparent that many in the upper echelons of officialdom do not think that the rules apply to them! This model is then imitated by others in every walk of life by continuing the philosophy of ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’, with egocentric attitudes displaying ‘rules are made to be broken’ outlooks.

It is now time to ‘get off this soapbox’, cease preaching to the converted and continue with an objection to East Devon District Council Planners about the Developers, Burrington Estates. Not only are they ignoring national and local planning rules, by proposing building on green fields and high risk flood zones at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary, in their latest planning application (20/1001/MOUT) – but they are significantly altering their development plans after a Public Consultation exhibition to now substantially increase green field development. In addition to this they are now proposing more than trebling residential numbers (on the previously developed brownfield areas) from 14 traditional homes (shown at the Public Consultation) to now be replaced by a block of 59 towering three-storey apartments, overlooking the historic Grade II Listed Manor House on one elevation and existing homes in Clyst St Mary on the other!

Hmmm . . . obviously the rules don’t apply to them!!



How one council borrowed £1 BILLION from other councils with little public scrutiny…

Owl has received this exhaustive and fascinating investigation into council funding.

Interested viewers will probably want to follow up the list of links. Especially the link at the bottom of this post to the post code searcher (though that appears at the very bottom of the linked web page – gives interesting results)

Council borrowed £1 billion from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine

Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.

Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.

Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities. In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.

What neither Clark nor the council will disclose is which local authorities he borrowed from or what companies he invested in. To do so, they say, would harm Thurrock’s commercial interests and put off potential lenders.

However, an investigation by The Bureau has discovered the council has poured at least £74m, and possibly hundreds of millions more, into a single company, whose financial model raises serious questions over how likely it is that the public money would be recovered in full if the business failed. This revelation comes at a time when many councils’ finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

👉 Read our investigation, here (  and the additional work of our national partner, the Financial Times, here (  and help us share the piece, here (
👉 Take part in the investigation by accessing our reporting recipe, here (  and joining our #LocalPower channel in Slack (
👇 Find out if your council lent money to Thurrock by accessing our postcode searcher in the story, below

Lockdown broadband speed leaves home workers ‘frustrated’


The publicly-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) has been rolling out broadband since 2010 but has faced years of delays and black spots remain.

Problems with slow broadband in parts of the west of England have left people unable to work from home during the coronavirus lockdown.

An architect in Somerset said his firm had a “team of two halves” with some colleagues’ ability to work being hampered.

Another couple have had to go into the office and take their children with them as they could not do their jobs or schoolwork using the internet at home.

The publicly-funded Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) has been rolling out broadband since 2010 but has faced years of delays and black spots remain.

It said it was working hard to resolve poor broadband speeds in the area.

‘There’s nothing left’

The Blackdown Hills Parish Network has called for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to intervene.

The network covers people living in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the Somerset and Devon border.

Lizzie Ginbey and her husband live in the Blackdown Hills and run a graphic design and marketing firm, Teapot Creative, in Hambridge.

Because of the quality of broadband at home they have had to work in the office every day at a time when people doing similar jobs elsewhere in the country may have been working from home in line with government guidance.

Lizzie and her husband Barry Tottle have been taking their three children to work with them for home-schooling. The eldest is sometimes left home alone all day but the younger two have been in the office with them every day.

“We have got fibre but it’s such a long route to our house, about four miles, by the time it gets to us there’s nothing left,” Mrs Ginbey said.

“We wanted to redirect it over a field, which is 200m – but there is no-one to connect it up.

“Being graphic designers, our file sizes are absolutely enormous and with home broadband it’s just not sufficient to be able to cope.

“It’s not ideal, we’d love to be home working. It’s very lonely in here, and very odd without the other people.

“It means the children are having to come with us because I have three children who need my help and they need internet access as well.”

Meanwhile, Jill and Jonathan Barker, who run Middlewick Cottages, paid £10,000 for a fibre line to be installed after guests at their holiday accommodation complained about slow internet access.

They now face a £600 monthly bill but the business has had to close during lockdown.

Mrs Barker said: “It was one of those things that we always got marked down on our review scores because the internet was so bad.

“People expected to have high speed internet and that became increasingly obvious as time went on and we had to do something.”

‘You have to adapt’

Normally they would be fully-booked all year round with corporate or wellness retreats, Mrs Barker said.

She said she hoped their provider would offer rebates or discounts for services they were not using.

“It is frustrating, it is one of the many bills you pay for when you have a complex or hotel.

“You don’t expect to get it back but you have to adapt and get through each day.”

In the meantime she has been trying to make up for the lost income by expanding her farm shop which she said had turned into a “little trading post” for the community of Glastonbury, attracting people who did not want to go to supermarkets.

Ian Firth, director of planning and architecture firm Bondstones, had superfast broadband installed two years ago.

But he said the fact people were now accessing it from home was causing further problems.

“The key issue is that the one person in the loop who has the poorest broadband brings the whole system down,” he said.

“Some of us can work incredibly effectively and others can’t, so as a result you work as the lowest common denominator much of the time.”

His colleague, architect Adam Kent, who lives in Minehead, said his connection sometimes stopped altogether.

“It’s all about connecting to our server on the internet cloud and downloading files, that’s where it grinds to a halt,” he said.

“It slows up my computer to download or upload information, that’s where I’ve really struggled.”

The DCMS said the government was investing £40m in Devon and Somerset’s rural broadband.

“While Connecting Devon and Somerset has already brought superfast broadband to more than 300,000 homes and businesses in the region, we recognise there is more to do,” a spokesperson said.

“We continue to work closely with the project to remove the barriers to rollout and welcome the steps being taken to procure a new provider.

“This will help get better connectivity to the underserved parts of the region as quickly as possible.”