Government “slow” to share data with first local lockdown authority

Mayor for Leicester: “We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.

The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.”

Leicester council chiefs ‘surprised’ by plan to put city in local lockdown

Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor | Kat Lay, Health Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk 

Plans for Leicester to be the first area to go into local lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases were a shock to the city’s council chiefs.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, said his team had been “taken by surprise” by the idea, because that “certainly wasn’t the terms in which we’ve been talking”.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, confirmed the plan, as reported in The Sunday Times, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning.

Government sources said that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been examining the legislation required for the shutdown after it was revealed that there have been 658 coronavirus cases in the Leicester area in the fortnight to June 16.

A source close to Hancock said he is “quite worried” and is considering “all options” for how to respond to the spike in cases, including imposing a localised lockdown.

Sir Peter said that the Department of Health and Social Care had been slow to share the figures on which they were basing their decision, with hospital admissions and the number of fatalities going down “exactly in proportion to the decline elsewhere in the country”.

“We don’t know if there is anything there at all,” he said. The DHSC shared more data on test results from the city with the council on Thursday, he said, but this did not include information on people’s ethnicity or place of work, which would help target interventions.

The process has been “incredibly frustrating”, he added. “Almost every day last week, we had to argue for them to keep on doing testing here.

“They were talking about pulling out one of the [mobile] testing stations.

“We’ve been diverted by an enormous amount of time spent just persuading them to do what I would have thought was the obvious, which was to up the level of testing in the city, not withdraw it.”

Asked by Mr Marr whether the reports on lockdown plans for Leicester were accurate, Ms Patel said: “Well, that is correct.”

She added: “There will be support going into Leicester and in fact the health secretary was in touch with many of us over the weekend explaining some of the measures, the support on testing, resources that will go into the local authority as well.”

Yesterday Samworth Brothers, which runs one of the UK’s largest sandwich production operations, confirmed that a “handful” of staff at its Leicester factory had contracted the virus, and there have been reports of large gatherings outside takeaway restaurants.

There are also concerns that the virus has been spreading throughout the city’s large Asian community, who are more likely to live in multigenerational households.

It is understood that the government has the power to take action under the 1984 Public Health Act. However, it is unlikely that action will be taken before the middle of this week.

“So far local action has been taken to lock down individual hospitals and GP surgeries where there has been an outbreak but this situation is more serious than that, although no decision has yet been taken,” a government source said.

Separately, an expert in infectious diseases has said there were questions over how a localised lockdown would work. Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Defining the specific area will be one of the largest problems. Local authority boundaries can run down the middle of the street with one side in one local authority and the opposite another.

“Urban sprawl has allowed towns and cities to expand resulting in these areas often joining other areas who identify differently and do not see themselves as part of the expanding town or city.

“Locking down at the regional level would be seen as unfair or worse as Leicester City has really very little to do with rural Lincolnshire. People do not identify with their regional boundaries and many would not actually know where they are.

“If Leicester is locked down, how much of the surrounding area do you include. A quick view at the satellite picture demonstrates this problem. Much of the surrounding area probably does not identify as part of Leicester City itself.”

Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “Unfortunately the fact that the government is having to contemplate specific measures to control the spread of the virus in Leicester is now unavoidable in order to protect the rest of the country.”

A spokesman for the DHSC said: “We are supporting the council and local partners in Leicester to help prevent further transmission of the virus. We have deployed four mobile testing sites and made thousands of home testing kits available, to ensure anyone in the area who needs a test can get one.

“NHS Test and Trace will contact anyone testing positive to help them identify their recent contacts, and advise who may have been near to someone with the virus to stay at home to prevent the spread.

“We urge the people of Leicester to continue to practise social distancing, wash their hands regularly, get tested immediately if they have symptoms and follow the advice they receive if contacted by NHS Test and Trace. This advice is there to protect communities and save lives.”

Britain Spent So Much On Two Giant Aircraft Carriers, It Can’t Afford Planes Or Escorts

A US view of the consequences of MoD’s attempts to “punch above our weight”, drawing on a recent National Audit Office report. The decision to acquire these two Aircraft Carriers goes back decades and is a classic example of how taxpayers can get locked in to major projects that then become too big to cancel. HS2 and Hinkley Point C also spring to mind.  It’s only “our” money! – Owl

“But there’s a problem. Having blown billions of dollars building the ships, the U.K. government no longer can afford the aircraft, escorts and support ships that help the flattops deploy, protect them and give them striking power.”

  David Axe www.forbes.com 

The United Kingdom is spending nearly $8 billion building two new large, conventionally-fueled aircraft carriers and equipping them with F-35B Lightning II stealth jump jets.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to deploy for the first time in 2021, ending a seven-year carrier gap that began in 2014 when the Royal Navy decommissioned the last of its three, Cold War-vintage light carriers.

The U.K. military by then had already sold off the carriers’ Harrier jump jets.

Queen Elizabeth and her sister Prince of Wales are impressive vessels. More than 930 feet long and displacing around 70,000 tons, they are bigger and more modern than every other flattop in the world except the U.S. Navy’s 11 nuclear-powered supercarriers.

The carriers in theory are the steely core of a revitalized and reorganized Royal Navy. “Carrier strike provides the ability to launch fixed-wing aircraft from a ship to undertake a rang-e of military tasks,” the U.K. National Audit Office explained in a June report. “It is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces.”

But there’s a problem. Having blown billions of dollars building the ships, the U.K. government no longer can afford the aircraft, escorts and support ships that help the flattops deploy, protect them and give them striking power.

Nor can the government afford to modify Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales to support amphibious landings, one of the early justifications for cutting existing ships—such as the assault ship HMS Ocean—in order to free up money for the carriers.

The new British carrier force is hollow. And at least one analyst believes the Brits would have been better off without.

The shortfalls are myriad, according to the NAO. The carriers’ air wings at a minimum should include a dozen F-35Bs plus a dozen Merlin helicopters, some of which would carry the Lockheed Martin LMT -made Crowsnest early-warning radar in order to provide sensor coverage over the carrier group.

Guess what. “The new Crowsnest system is 18 months late, which will affect carrier strike’s capabilities in its first two years,” according to the NAO. “The [Ministry of Defense] did not oversee its contract with Lockheed Martin effectively and, despite earlier problems on the project, neither was aware of the sub-contractor’s lack of progress until it was too late to meet the target delivery date.”

“It subsequently concluded that the sub-contractor working on the project, Thales, failed to meet its contractual commitments to develop the equipment and had not provided sufficient information on the project’s progress. The [ministry] and its industry partners have since implemented a recovery plan and enhanced monitoring arrangements. However, further delays mean that it does not expect to have full airborne radar capability until May 2023.”

Meanwhile, the ministry also has been slow to buy F-35s. “From 2015, its intention has been to buy 138 Lightning II jets, which will sustain carrier strike operations to the 2060s. The [ministry] initially ordered 48 jets but has not yet committed to buying any more. In response to wider financial pressures, it will also receive seven of the 48 jets in 2025, a year later than planned.”

A single Queen Elizabeth-class flattop could carry as many as 24 F-35s. But a total force of 48 F-35s probably wouldn’t allow for a 24-plane air wing after taking into account training and maintenance needs. As a rule, usually no more than third of a particular fighter fleet can deploy at any given time.

Equally vexing, the Royal Navy has laid up all but one of its solid support ships, which sail along with front-line vessels in order to keep them stocked with food, parts and weapons. The defense ministry “has long been aware that this will restrict the operational freedom of carrier strike but has not yet developed a solution,” the NAO warned.

“In November 2019, the [ministry] stopped the competition to build three new support ships due to concerns about value for money. It believes this will delay the introduction of new ships by between 18 and 36 months, making it uncertain the first new ship will be operational before the existing support ship leaves service in 2028.”

The list of shortfalls continues. A British carrier group at a minimum should include one frigate for anti-submarine protection plus a destroyer for air-defense. But the Royal Navy operates just 13 aging Type 23 frigates and six Type 45 destroyers. The former are slated to leave the fleet starting in 2023. Their replacement, the new Type 26, won’t start joining the fleet until 2027.

The navy expects to buy just eight Type 26s. At least five new Type 31 frigates will replace the balance of the Type 23 force, but the Type 31s lack major anti-submarine systems. All that is to say that, from the mid-2020s on, the carriers could be vulnerable to submarines.

Don’t expect some sudden cash windfall to save the Royal Navy from its carrier problems. If anything, the budgetary problems could get worse. The defense ministry already is cutting back on its investment in Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.

The government had planned to spend $75 million modifying one of the new flattops with extra accommodations in order for the ship to double as an amphibious assault ship. But according to the NAO, the ministry in March 2020 quietly dropped the amphibious requirement.

The bitter irony for the navy is that it sacrificed the assault ship Ocean back in 2018 in order to free up money and manpower for the carriers and eventually claw back the lost amphibious capability by way of modifications to at least one of the newer ships.

Now it appears the fleet gave up Ocean for nothing.

So are the new flattops worth it? As costs rise and budgets shrink, the carriers gobble up a growing proportion of the Royal Navy’s resources while at the same time falling far short of their operational potential owing to cuts at the margins of their capabilities.

“Given that what the Royal Navy has become in return for its two carriers, and given how at present this investment has delivered a part-time carrier force with a small number of available fast jets, significant spares shortages, reduced escort fleet numbers and a lack of longer-term support ships or escort elements,” one commentator wrote, “then perhaps the answer to the question ‘was it all worth it’ is ‘no, it was not worth the pain for the gain’—at least not in the short term.”

 

Revealed: Developers PM backed when London mayor give almost £1m to Tories

Property developers connected to major construction projects approved by Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London have donated almost £1m to the Conservative party over the past year, the Guardian can reveal.

Analysis of public records shows a significant cash injection from property tycoons linked to developments, including blocks of luxury flats with no affordable housing, which were signed off by Johnson and his deputy, Sir Edward Lister, who oversaw planning.

Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Daily Express, is among the donors, along with the billionaire Reuben family and the Mayfair-based property firm Delancey owned by Eton-educated Jamie Ritblat.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, but the fallout over a decision by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, to approve Desmond’s controversial £1bn development in east London has attracted scrutiny of the relationship between wealthy property developers and senior Tories.

Details of the donations have emerged as both Johnson and Lister, now a senior Downing Street adviser who is reportedly in the running for a peerage, face questions about their ties to Desmond amid “cash for favours” allegations.

Downing Street has refused to disclose Johnson’s contact with Desmond since becoming prime minister after it emerged the tycoon had donated £12,000 to the Tories, two weeks after Jenrick approved his proposed development. Jenrick has since reversed his decision after conceding it was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”. Desmond has said the donation was too small to be significant.

A spokesperson for the Conservatives insisted all donations were transparently declared and complied fully with the law. A Downing Street spokesman said all planning decisions by Johnson and Lister “were made with due process and a fair hearing in line with public law principles” and “any of suggestion of improper conduct is untrue”. “Party political matters are never a material consideration in planning,” he said.

City Hall originally approved Desmond’s proposed development on the Isle of Dogs in May 2016 after Johnson took control of the application, which Tower Hamlets council had rejected. Applications for the other developments connected to the latest crop of Tory donors were not formally taken over by the mayor, but proposals were referred to City Hall by local planning authorities for his approval.

In April 2016, for example, Lister signed off on the redevelopment of Millbank Tower in Westminster, backed by David and Simon Reuben. The brothers, who made much of their fortune trading metals before building a property empire, are the second richest family in the UK with an estimated £16bn fortune, according to the Sunday Times.

In November 2019, shortly before the general election, the Conservatives received £200,000 from a company co-owned by the brothers, European Land & Property, latest Electoral Commission data shows. The company was behind a separate development in Paddington, a 34-storey tower offering “the height of luxury living” that Lister progressed in 2011.

David Reuben’s son Jamie Reuben who is involved with the brothers’ business affairs, donated around £580,000 to the Tories between October 2019 and March 2020.

A spokesman for the Reuben family said the brothers did not discuss either application with Johnson or Lister. The family’s donations “were made long after planning decisions had been made and were completely unrelated to them”, he said.

The Electoral Commission data also shows Ritblat’s Delancey donated £100,000 to the Tories in December. Ritblat is the son of another high-profile property magnate, Sir John Ritblat.

Delancey held several meetings with Johnson’s City Hall over a range of developments. The firm and its partners, Qatari Diar, bought the former Olympic athletes’ village in Stratford in 2011 as part of a reported £500m deal that Johnson championed. Lister signed off on Delancey’s plans for the former Olympic media centre in 2014.

Internal emails obtained by the Guardian through a freedom of information request show Delancey met Lister a number of times to discuss their projects, including the Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

In September 2013, two days after a dinner with Delancey, Lister set up a meeting between officials and senior executives at the firm to provide it with reassurance about the tube station at the site, the emails show.

“I have agreed a meeting in two weeks’ time to try and push them to make the commitment!” Lister wrote. “This will be good news if we can pull it off.”

Three months later, Delancey and its investment partners completed a deal to acquire the shopping centre. The scheme, which has received significant opposition from local businesses and residents, was eventually signed off by the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, in 2018.

A lawyer for Delancey said there was “no connection whatsoever” between any decision taken by City Hall and the company’s recent donation. He said there was nothing improper about any of the company’s interactions with the Greater London Authority.

He insisted discussions with planners were in line with normal practice for any developer considering a major regeneration project. Irrespective of the political affiliations of the mayor “it is incumbent upon Delancey to deal with and have a working relationship with whoever is in office”, he said.

Asked whether Ritblat had spoken to Lister since he entered Downing Street, the lawyer said: “Jamie Ritblat has spoken to Sir Edward a number of times during lockdown. He was asked to provide Sir Edward with some practical insight into the issues facing the real estate market in light of government lockdown because of the current pandemic.”

Other developments Johnson gave the green light to include 22 Bishopsgate, a skyscraper in the City of London developed by a property business co-owned by Sir Stuart Lipton. Lipton donated £8,500 to the Tories in January. A spokesman for Lipton said the donation was “made entirely in a personal capacity and had nothing to do with his wider business interests”.

Separately, the data also shows a return to political giving by Nick Candy, one of the wealthy Candy brothers, who contributed £100,000 to Tory coffers in March 2020. The Candy brothers have worked together in London’s high-end property market for decades.

A spokeswoman for Nick Candy said, however, that contrary to reports in 2013 he was not involved in a proposed luxury development near the Tower of London that Johnson had signed off in May 2013. She said SQ Guernsey, the company which bought the site for £34m, was a subsidiary of CPC Group which is 100% owned by Christian Candy, and that “any suggestion that Nick Candy has anything to do with the Sugar Quay project, despite previous media reports, is false”.

She also said: “It is entirely false to state Nick Candy’s donation to the Conservative party in March 2020 was in any way connected to City Hall’s planning approval for Sugar Quay over seven years ago, or that it was connected to any other development project that was granted planning permission while Mr Johnson was mayor of London.”

Intended cuts of £400million to Devon’s healthcare budget

“Service improvements and service changes.” Just look at the list!

Owl thinks readers of East Devon Watch might be interested in this communication from Torrington which contrasts the action taken by East Devon County Councillors Martin Shaw and Claire Wright with theirs. Then calls for action.

At the meeting of the Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care scrutiny committee that took place on 12th March, there was a proposal put forward by the CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) to cut £400million from Devon’s health budget over the next 4 years, up until 2024. This follows cuts of £557 million that have been made in the previous 5 years which saw amongst other things the loss of 71% of Devon’s community hospital beds, and many acute beds, maternity, A&E services and staff.

In a presentation on 12th March from the Sustainability and Transformation Plan’s chief executive, Philippa Slinger,**

It was stated that to make the £400 million funding cuts, there were plans for the following:

  • A reduction in agency staff
  • More efficiency relating to the number of surgical procedures
  • Reducing hospital lengths of stay
  • Fewer admissions
  • Reducing overnight stays after surgery
  • Capping referrals
  • Trying to source less expensive pharmaceuticals
  • Reducing the cost of procurement, such as replacement hips
  • Reducing the number of outpatient appointments by between 60 and 70 per cent
  • Doing less work in the independent sector
  • Reducing overseas recruitment
  • Improving staff retention
  • E-consultations in primary care (GP surgeries)

There are also plans to reduce the number of hospital beds further.

Apparently, these cuts are now euphemistically being called “service improvements and service changes.”!

At this meeting Cllr. Claire Wright Independent councillor from Ottery St. Mary put forward a proposal to suspend the requirement for Devon’s NHS to make hundreds of millions of savings, until after the end of the Covid-19 outbreak.*

The motion was defeated by the Conservative majority on this scrutiny committee, at a time when Britain was, and is, going through the worst pandemic since the Black Death.

These cuts have not been reversed and are still pending, with every possibility there will be efforts to extend the scale of these cuts, in a coming recession, resulting in even further healthcare deprivation for the population of Devon.

 

An SOHS (Barnstaple) zoom meeting was held on Wednesday 24th June with the cuts as the key discussion topic. A follow up meeting is being held on Wednesday 1st June with the sole topic ‘Action to stop the cuts’. In my own town of Torrington STITCH*** supporters across our town are angry and perplexed that our own county councillor on the scrutiny committee Cllr. Andrew Saywell did not support Cllr. Wrights proposal, and was therefore not effectively representing the people of Torrington’s future health interests on this issue. We are putting pressure on him to do everything possible to challenge and oppose any healthcare cuts, and that he will report progress on this issue and his representation and voting, to Torrington Council and in the local  monthly newssheet the ‘Torrington Crier’. He has recently written ( 24th June), “Rest assured I will rigorously oppose any cuts to local services by the CCG should they announce any.” Which is great, except he doesn’t regard  £400million reduction as cuts. The usual Tory duplicity , smoke and mirrors.

Can you spread the word of the cuts to your contacts, and hopefully we can all get together in future on an SOHS zoom meeting to develop a cross-Devon campaign of coordinated action.

Yours in the forthcoming struggle,

From: john wardman <johnwardman@hotmail.com>

(STITCH) Save The Irreplaceable Torrington Community Hospital

*https://claire-wright.org/more-deep-cuts-loom-as-devons-nhs-must-save-over-400m-by-2024/

**You can view Ms Slinger’s presentation and watch the debate from this link. It’s agenda item 7. https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/455423