latest news: One in eight care home residents still awaiting Covid-19 tests despite Government pledge

Another Government pledge broken – Owl

Telegraph Live  Coronavirus latest news: One in eight care home residents still awaiting Covid-19 tests despite Government pledge

Around one in eight care home residents are yet to be tested for coronavirus, a survey of more than 300 care homes has found, despite a Government pledge to test every resident by “early June”.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, announced universal testing for care homes on May 15, saying “every resident and every member of staff in our elderly care homes in England” would be tested “between now and early June”.

This new data, from the National Care Forum (NCF), which represents 120 of the UK’s social care charities, suggests the Government has missed this target.

Respondents to the NCF survey said 2,318 care home staff (9 per cent of the total) and 1,706 (12 per cent) residents in England are still awaiting Covid-19 tests.

This is despite all homes with residents over 65 having been offered testing, and could be due to struggles to access tests and staff absences.

The members NCF surveyed employ 24,681 staff and support 14,213 residents in 332 care homes.

The results, covering from early May to June 25, show about 445 staff (3 per cent) and 767 residents (8 per cent) tested positive. Of these, 53 per cent of staff (239) and 30 per cent of residents (233) were asymptomatic.

The NCF said this is a “vital indication of the need for routine and repeat testing in care homes to manage the risk of transmission”.


The PM’s Speech does not make a convincing case for much needed change

“In his speech the prime minister chose to avoid the big questions of the age, preferring to dwell on the mundane. Rather than slaying one of the giants on the road to a post-coronavirus society – dealing with growing wealth inequality; a climate emergency; how to bring a fractured United Kingdom back together – Mr Johnson focused on the pygmy of planning rules that “prevent” housebuilding. Housing is a pressing issue, but red tape is a brake on property developer profits, not on the speed at which homes are put up.”

In 2017, the historian Walter Scheidel proposed that the “four horsemen” – warfare, revolution, state collapse and pandemics – had been the great levellers in history, reshaping societies by flattening economic inequalities. His thesis was not new, but his work meticulously argued that such events were necessary conditions for disruptive transformations. Revolutions are not inevitable. A short, sharp shock may change society in the short term, but leave it largely intact.

Underlying Boris Johnson’s speech on Tuesday is an acknowledgement that the coronavirus pandemic is potentially a Scheidelian shock that could take society in a completely different direction to the one he wants to drive it to. The more prolonged and severe the crisis becomes, the stronger the urge for equality and the larger the transformation needed. This perhaps explains why Mr Johnson made a speech now about “Britain after Covid” and why he said he wanted life to return to normal next year. He is hoping perhaps that the long-established patterns of reform rather than revolution would reassert themselves and he could muddle along. The danger for Mr Johnson is that coronavirus defines his government and forces him to deal with the yawning gaps in society that will be thrown into sharper relief the longer the Covid-19 crisis continues.

In his speech the prime minister chose to avoid the big questions of the age, preferring to dwell on the mundane. Rather than slaying one of the giants on the road to a post-coronavirus society – dealing with growing wealth inequality; a climate emergency; how to bring a fractured United Kingdom back together – Mr Johnson focused on the pygmy of planning rules that “prevent” housebuilding. Housing is a pressing issue, but red tape is a brake on property developer profits, not on the speed at which homes are put up.

In its current guise, conservatism is more than just a front for corporate interests. Mr Johnson rose to power because conservatism was divided by a conflict between party factions. He won an internal battle to define what the new order in conservatism will look like. But the prime minister has not won the battle of what the new intellectual order will look like. What is undeniable is that the state is growing. The economy has required infusions of government money to keep it afloat. The pandemic has meant frontline public services cannot be easily starved of cash. The state has shown a mighty capacity to insure people against economic risk and is underwriting billions in loans to companies. All this before the economy has to absorb the shock of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Johnson’s speech reveals that it’s not yet clear whether he can sustain a new ruling bloc in electoral terms, given the impact of the crisis on the economy. Mr Johnson wants to secure the “red wall” seats he won in December with fiscal expansion. But he risks alienating the Tory pro-business base that craves tax cuts and his libertarian supporters who resist the social restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

A more activist state can produce a fairer settlement. There’s a tendency to underestimate the public’s tack towards collectivism but, equally, an inclination to overestimate the ease with which the state can shift direction. Gavin Kelly, who worked in Downing Street under Gordon Brown, has warned perceptively not to “underestimate the power of continuity”. A paradigm shift can happen when dominant beliefs no longer explain the way the world is working. But for this to occur, the case for change has to be made and won.

Data reveals coronavirus hotspots in Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale

Know the difference between “Pillar-one” and “Pillar -two” testing?

[Only the pillar-one testing is used in PHE’s online coronavirus dashboard, meaning that the majority of cases in the worst-hit areas are being left off this data.]

Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale can be revealed as the places with the highest levels of new Covid-19 infections after Leicester, as fears grow of further local outbreaks and the UK heads towards Saturday’s lifting of more lockdown restrictions.

The official data, which has not been previously published on Public Health England’s online dashboard, comes amid complaints from local health officials and medics that a lack of detailed testing about local outbreaks is causing delays in attempts to curtail them.

It also raises fresh questions about the disproportionate impact of the virus on ethnic minorities, with seven out of 10 of the worst affected areas being in Yorkshire and Lancashire, including some of the most ethnically diverse parts of the country.

Leicester was locked down on Monday after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the seven-day infection rate was 135 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the country. Figures from Public Health England now show that rate was even higher in the east Midlands city – just over 140 – in the week ending the previous Sunday, 21 June.

Bradford’s rate for that week was 69.4 per 100,000 people, Barnsley’s 54.7 and Rochdale’s 53.6, according to the official figures, which gather together both tests primarily in NHS settings and of healthcare workers and tests carried out in people’s homes and in the community.

The two strands are known as pillar-one and pillar-two testing.

In all of the top four cases it is the level of infection revealed in the pillar-two community testing that has driven up the numbers, accounting for between 71% and 94% of all infections.

However, only the pillar-one testing is used in PHE’s online coronavirus dashboard, meaning that the majority of cases in the worst-hit areas are being left off this data. This data did not show that as far back as the week beginning 1 June, PHE knew Leicester was among the two worst affected areas in England.

The Leicester MP Liz Kendall said it took “far too long to get even very basic postcode data, which is what we need to identify where the problem is; whether it is in schools, whether it is in certain factories and workplaces. You really do need that detail.”

About half of Leicester’s population is made up of ethnic minority groups and the latest figures will increase questioning of how Covid-19 is affecting those communities. So far across England 18.1% of the positive tests for the virus were among black, Asian and minority ethnic people, with the largest part of that – almost 10% – among people of Asian background, according to Public Health England. The ethnic minority population of England was 15.1% in 2016, according to official estimates.

Of the other 10 worst affected areas, Bedford, Oldham, Blackburn and Kirklees all have ethnic minority populations of between 20% and 30%, above the average for England. Rotherham, Tameside and Barnsley, which are also in the top 10 , all have higher than average white British populations.

Lord Woolley, the chair of the government’s race disparity unit’s advisory group, said on Wednesday Covid 19 “has had a devastating impact” on ethnic minorities and “has laid bare those elements in our society that are deeply racialised: that if you are black, Asian and ethnic minority you are two or three times more likely to be unemployed, 50% more likely to be on a zero-hours contract”.

Local public health officials and medics have complained that the government has not supplied sufficiently detailed information on local infections, the lack of which they say hampers attempts to quash new outbreaks.

Councils have been promised postcode-level data for weeks from Public Health England and the newly created Joint Biosecurity Centre. But some public health directors are concerned the centre has not been sharing data about potential clusters of infections with councils, which could enforce school or workplace closures that could suppress an outbreak at an early stage.

“If the only data you’re getting is ‘in this population of 90,000 people there are 40 positives’ it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. If Leicester had got the data sooner they could have had a fighting chance of managing it,” said one public health director, who asked not to be named.

The British Medical Association also implored the government to ensure local leaders were given timely information about cases in their area to help contain the spread of the virus.Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the BMA Council, said on Wednesday: “The prime minister has talked about a ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to tackle local outbreaks, but this is no use if the people leading the response on the ground – be they public health teams or local leaders – are not given the most accurate up-to-date data possible. This is crucial to allow swift action and to protect lives and the health service, and something that is not happening right now. This is all the more important given that the ‘world-leading’ test and trace app is not in place, meaning local leaders and teams armed with up-to-date information will be vital in containing spread of outbreaks.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has said it has been “working closely with our local partners, providing them with the resources and tools so that they can take swift action to deal with any new local spikes in infection”.

In total, there are 47 English local authorities where there are more than 10 cases per 100,000. In a further sign that the disease has shifted away from the capital, not one of these 47 areas was in London.

Redrow leaves London as virus sends buyers in pursuit of country life

“Searches for homes with gardens had risen by 84 per cent for renters and 42 per cent for buyers in May compared with the same month last year. Almost a third of buyers said they wanted to live in a rural area.”

Trouble is that too often experience here is with people who buy houses in gardens, find them time consuming to look after then spot a development opportunity – character of area lost! – Owl

Louisa Clarence-Smith, Property Correspondent 
One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders has announced plans to quit London because the coronavirus outbreak has led to buyers seeking larger homes and access to parks or the countryside.

Redrow, which built 6,443 homes last year, said that it would focus on the regions and its heritage product, traditional houses outside the capital.

John Tutte, executive chairman of Redrow, said: “This change in priorities as a result of people’s lockdown experience has certainly put more emphasis on our heritage product. It tends to be on average bigger than our competitors, with quite a lot of internal space and access to green space.”

The London market accounts for about 15 per cent of turnover. Redrow will complete the development of around six sites where it is already active. It has warned of impairment costs from its decision to scale back further investment. “Our ambition is to reduce our capital investment in London and divert it into achieving higher growth in the regions,” Mr Tutte said.

“It’s almost been death by a thousand cuts in London, which started with stamp duty going up and overseas investors withdrawing from the market.”

Margins have fallen in London as a result of pressure on prices with no reduction in costs and a two-tier planning system involving local authorities and the Greater London Authority that tended to slow things down a lot, he said.

Nearly a third of UK adults, 15.9 million people, have had mental or physical health problems due to the condition of, or lack of space in, their home during lockdown, according to YouGov.

Rightmove said searches for homes with gardens had risen by 84 per cent for renters and 42 per cent for buyers in May compared with the same month last year. Almost a third of buyers said they wanted to live in a rural area.

Anthony Codling, founder of Twindig, a property platform, said developing greenfield sites outside London was less risky in the current market.

“On a greenfield site you can split it into four or five phases. Whereas if you have planning to do a 20-storey apartment block, you can’t build half of it.”

The Nightingale is welcome but doesn’t replace the need for our Community Hospitals.

From a Correspondent:

“It is welcome that the new Nightingale hospital will be used to test the backlog of worried sick cancer patients, but Matt Hancock has already stated it will also be used to relieve the winter pressures on the Royal Devon  and Exeter acute Hospital. Why on earth are they not reopening the beds in our excellent community hospitals, which are bedded in the communities they serve? As well as step down care they had a great reputation for end of life care close to home, where this was not suitable at home. As people near the end of life there should be a sensitive conversation about where they would prefer to die. Most would not choose  to die in an industrialised barracks. Ottery St. Mary hospital had an excellent reputation for end of life care. Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon had his photograph taken in front of Ottery Hospital which was used in his election publicity, yet in parliament last week in an exchange with Matt Contact  concerning the Exeter Nightingale Hospital he just smiled in agreement and made no case for our Community Hospitals.

I have an elderly relative with cancer who  is nearing the end of his life. He lives very close to Ottery Hospital. His wife, who does not drive, is also very elderly and has a catalogue of chronic health problems, would be unable to visit him in Exeter. Keeping the beds closed in our East Devon  towns  amounts to political dogma, while Matt Hancock presides over the ownership of  NHS Property Services.”

US buys up world stock of key Covid-19 drug remdesivir

Owl has always been sceptical of the “special relationship” this is a good example of what to expect – “America First”!

[BBC report this morning suggested that the cost of a course of treatment and production of Remdesivir were respectively c. £2000 and c. £10.]

Sarah Boseley 

The US has bought up virtually all the stocks for the next three months of one of the two drugs proven to work against Covid-19, leaving none for the UK, Europe or most of the rest of the world.

Experts and campaigners are alarmed both by the US unilateral action on remdesivir and the wider implications, for instance in the event of a vaccine becoming available. The Trump administration has already shown that it is prepared to outbid and outmanoeuvre all other countries to secure the medical supplies it needs for the US.

“They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” said Dr Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University.

Remdesivir, the first drug approved by licensing authorities in the US to treat Covid-19, is made by Gilead and has been shown to help people recover faster from the disease. The first 140,000 doses, supplied to drug trials around the world, have been used up. The Trump administration has now bought more than 500,000 doses, which is all of Gilead’s production for July and 90% of August and September.

“President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for Covid-19,” said the US health and human services secretary, Alex Azar. “To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it. The Trump administration is doing everything in our power to learn more about life-saving therapeutics for Covid-19 and secure access to these options for the American people.”

The drug, which was invented for Ebola but failed to work, is under patent to Gilead, which means no other company in wealthy countries can make it. The cost is around $3,200 per treatment of six doses, according to the US government statement.

The deal was announced as it became clear that the pandemic in the US is spiralling out of control. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading public health expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Senate the US was sliding backwards.

“We are going in the wrong direction,” said Fauci. Last week the US saw a new daily record of 40,000 new coronavirus cases in one day. “I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around,” he said. He could not provide an estimated death toll, but said: “It is going to be very disturbing, I guarantee you that.”

The US has recorded more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19. Some states lifted restrictions only to have to clamp down again. On Monday, the governor of Arizona ordered bars, cinemas, gyms and water parks to shut down for a month, weeks after they reopened. Texas, Florida and California, all seeing rises in cases, have also reimposed restrictions.

Buying up the world’s supply of remdesivir is not just a reaction to the increasing spread and death toll. The US has taken an “America first” attitude throughout the global pandemic.

In May, French manufacturer Sanofi said the US would get first access to its Covid vaccine if it works. Its CEO, Paul Hudson, was quoted as saying: “The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk,” and, he added, the US expected that “if we’ve helped you manufacture the doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first”. Later it backtracked under pressure from the French government.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau warned there could be unintended negative consequences if the US continued to outbid its allies. “We know it is in both of our interests to work collaboratively and cooperatively to keep our citizens safe,” he said. The Trump administration has also invoked the Defense Production Act to block some medical goods made in the US from being sent abroad.

Nothing looks likely to prevent the US cornering the market in remdesivir, however. “This is the first major approved drug, and where is the mechanism for access?” said Dr Hill. “Once again we’re at the back of the queue.”

The drug has been watched eagerly for the last five months, said Hill, yet there was no mechanism to ensure a supply outside the US. “Imagine this was a vaccine,” he said. “That would be a firestorm. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come.”

Remdesivir would get people out of hospital more quickly, reducing the burden on the NHS, and might improve survival, said Hill, although that has not yet been shown in trials, as it has with the other successful treatment, the steroid dexamethasone. There has been no attempt to buy up the world’s stocks of dexamethasone because there is no need – the drug is 60 years old, cheap and easily available everywhere.

Hill said there was a way for the UK to secure supplies of this and other drugs during the pandemic, through what is known as a compulsory licence, which overrides the intellectual property rights of the company. That would allow the UK government to buy from generic companies in Bangladesh or India, where Gilead’s patent is not recognised.

The UK has always upheld patents, backing the argument of pharma companies that they need their 20-year monopoly to recoup the money they put into research and development. But other countries have shown an interest in compulsory licensing. “It is a question of what countries are prepared to do if this becomes a problem,” said Hill.

Some Leicester factories stayed open and forced staff to come in, report warns

Some garment factories in Leicester stayed open as normal throughout the coronavirus crisis and ordered workers to continue to report for duty even when they were sick, a report from a campaign group has claimed.

The findings from Labour Behind the Label includes allegations that workers were forced to work despite high levels of infection in factories and allegations of “furlough fraud”.

Denis Campbell

After Leicester became the first city in the UK to have a second lockdown imposed on Monday night, experts and community organisers said that the city’s notorious garment manufacturing sector appeared to have played a key part in the disease’s resurgence.

And on Tuesday, testimony compiled by Labour Behind the Label set out what the report’s authors claimed was a “shameful” disregard for worker safety by the factories and the major UK brands operating in Leicester.

One unnamed worker quoted in the report said he had told his employer he was unwell but was told to come in to work anyway – even after testing positive. He was told not to tell any other workers about the result, the report said. In one factory with 80 staff, around 15 had Covid-19 at the same time, another worker told the authors.

Workers in a number of factories told the group that there had been no physical distancing measures in place and that their employers had closed only for a few days, if at all.

The report came as it emerged that Public Health England had found evidence that young men between 20 and 40 who work in the city’s garment factories and food processing plants were major vectors of transmission.

It is understood that the body became so concerned about the surge in cases in Leicester that they sent a team of officials to the city at the weekend to investigate. Analysis of data collected by local health bodies shows that many of those infected recently have been young men aged 20 to 40, often from an Asian background, many of them working in textiles and food.

Leicester’s garment factories have been the subject of concern for years. A report by the parliamentary environmental audit committee last year found that wage exploitation was flourishing in the city and across the sector more broadly. MPs behind the report heard it was an “open secret” that many of the 1,000 or so factories and workshops in the city were paying below the minimum wage.

The mostly immigrant workers, many of whom have limited English, are paid as little as £3 an hour in some cases. A failure to communicate lockdown rules to those communities has also been viewed as playing a part in the resurgence of the virus in Leicester.

Mick Cheema, whose Basic Premier brand has often been highlighted as an ethical clothing manufacturer in the city, said he was aware of “manufacturers who have been operating without a risk assessment in place for covid”.

He added: “Social distancing within those workplaces is not normal. Some have carried on operating as they did before the crisis.”

Priya Thamotheram, head of the Highfields community centre, who has campaigned about factory working conditions for years, said he had no “personal knowledge” of what was happening in factories because he had not been able to go inside. “But what I hear from those who pass by those factories is that workers are going in, and things are continuing apace in those settings,” he told the Guardian.

The Labour Behind the Label report also highlighted “furlough fraud”, including workers being asked to hide payslips so that management could claim more public money and being told to come to work if they wished to be paid furlough money.

Dominique Muller, the author of the Labour Behind the Label report, said substantial new orders for clothing during lockdown were behind the factories staying open, and accused major brands including Boohoo of failing to do enough to monitor conditions at the factories. The report said Boohoo accounted for at least 75% of clothing production in Leicester and called on the company to identify its suppliers so that their practices could be scrutinised.

“Allegations of abuse at many Leicester companies have been reported for years now,” Muller said. “So far, the local and central government have failed to take any meaningful action. Instead they have seemed to focus on immigration raids, which have made vulnerable workers more fearful of speaking out.”

Boohoo said in a statement that it had “fundamentally changed the way that we operate” since coronavirus and that “every decision we have made has had the safety and wellbeing of our people at heart”. It said it was confident that those in its supply chain were operating safely and that it provided free PPE and sanitiser as well as remaining in close contact.

Emphasising its strict code of conduct, it said: “None of our suppliers have been affected at this time and we are pleased that our in-house compliance team have been able to resume their work. Our third-party auditors are also out visiting sites this week.”

As well as problems with factory conditions, others have suggested that the outbreak gained pace among workers in food processing sites around the city and spread quickly in part because of overcrowded housing.

A number of factories in the St Saviours Road area, where much of Leicester’s manufacturing output is based and which is among the worst affected areas of the city, were open on Tuesday. Proprietors and managers complained that they had not been given clear guidance on how they should operate by the council.

Many windows were boarded up or blocked from within, making it difficult to see how many workers were inside. One textile factory manager, who refused to give his name, strongly denied that there had been any misconduct during the lockdown period: “These are untrue claims by people who are never here to tell the good news about Leicester. Everybody here has been very careful.”

HMRC and the Treasury ‘interfered’ with independent review

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Treasury “directly interfered” with an independent review of tax policy that has been linked with a number of suicides, say a group of 233 MPs and peers.

In September 2019, Sajid Javid – who was Chancellor at the time – commissioned Sir Amyas Morse to lead an independent review into the disguised remuneration Loan Charge.

It came after HMRC attempted to claw back tax avoided through so-called disguised remuneration schemes, used by some locum doctors and nurses to make up the shortfall in the wages caused by the loss of self-employed status, through its Loan Charge policy, which has been linked with at least seven suicides.

HMRC has repeatedly denied claims the Loan Charge acts retrospectively, thus undermining the Rule of Law and tax certainty.

The Morse Review made a number of recommendations, but did not call for the Loan Charge policy to be scrapped, as many critics have called for.

Now, the Loan Charge APPG, one of the largest All-Party Parliamentray Groups, has said that Freedom of Information (FoI) responses “show that the Morse Review was not independent and HMRC and the Treasury interfered from start to finish”.

HMRC and the Treasury have been contacted for a response to the allegation.

In a statement, the Loan Charge APPG said: ” The evidence is some 376 pages of internal emails (link1link2) and 670 pages of the attachments to those emails (link3link4) that clearly shows direct interference in the review by HMRC and the Treasury as well as an inappropriately close relationship between the review team, made up of HMRC and Treasury staff and the two Governmental bodies whose policy the Morse Review was scrutinising.

“In one extraordinary exchange, the Review Team member of staff who is a senior Treasury official agrees to buy beers for the Chancellor’s press secretary.

“In this exchange, when offering to help deal with incoming press enquiries directed at the review, about the report, the Chancellor’s own press secretary was asked to find someone to help with this and tells the Loan Charge Review “Cool. Yes we can help. You owe us beers”.

“The reply from the supposedly independent Review Secretariat is “Great really appreciate it. And happy to line up the beers”.

“The Morse Review has been presented by the Government as independent. It was titled as the ‘Independent Loan Charge Review’ and has been used recently by the Government to justify making no further changes to the Loan Charge beyond those which the review recommended, despite there being thousands of people still facing huge bills for tax that has never been legally proven to be due from them and despite the ongoing risk of suicides, as well as bankruptcies.

“However, internal documentation revealed in a two Freedom of Information requests exposes a clear attempt by HMRC and the Treasury, including senior HMRC management, to direct the review from the outset.

“The Treasury sought to influence the choice of ‘independent experts’ used to advise the review and HMRC sought to change the report before publication.

“It had already been exposed that one of the experts appointed later admitted that she did not have any detailed understanding about self-employed schemes and therefore they were unable to comment on those schemes; an extraordinary admission for someone whose advice was being relied on.

“The Treasury queried whether any expert who had appeared before a Select Committee should be appointed as “it means they are slightly compromised”.

“The Loan Charge APPG make clear they are making no criticism of Sir Amyas Morse, nor for his delivery of this report in what was an unreasonably short timeframe considering the scale of the evidence and with a team made up entirely of HMRC and Treasury staff.

“Instead, the APPG make clear that it is the interference by HMRC and the Treasury that has rendered the already flawed report conclusions as unsound.

“Overall, the information revealed by the emails clearly shows that the review fails basic tests of what would constitute an independent review into a Government policy.”

The APPG also detailed key points from its findings based on evidence contained in emails disclosed through FoI requests.

The key points are as follows:

  • HMRC and the Treasury sought to influence the review from before the start of the review until the date that the final report was issued.
  • The Review secretariat team had an improperly close working relationship with HMRC and Treasury staff.
  • There was clear cooperation and collaboration between the Treasury/HMRC and the Review over dealing with the press. In at least one case, lines were provided for the review team/Sir Amyas to use. Extraordinarily, the Review secretariat discussed responses to press approaches with the Chancellor’s press secretary. They also received and used suggestions from the Treasury as to how to respond to the press.
  • The Treasury sought to influence the choice of experts appointed to advise the review, suggesting that those who have spoken before Select Committees should be avoided. Notably, experts appearing before Select Committees who have been critical of the Loan Charge and of HMRC. This can be seen to be an attempt to steer the review away from any experts who were known to be critical.
  • The Review secretariat team afforded HMRC and the Treasury privileged early access to the report’s conclusions. This early access was not extended to other interested parties who were not given any opportunity to raise concerns on its factual accuracy.

Previously, the Loan Charge APPG published a report that said the Treasury-commissioned Morse Review came to a flawed and unjustified conclusion.

The Morse Review claimed that the “law was clear” from 2010 when the APPG says that this is not the case, according to tax experts.

“The flawed conclusion now makes more sense considering the clear lack of genuine independence and the fact that HMRC interfered with which experts should be appointed to advise the review,” the APPG said.

“This appears to have prevented those experts who have been critical of the Loan Charge from being involved.

“On Wednesday, the Government is facing a challenge from many MPs, including members of the Loan Charge APPG, who have tabled amendments to go further than the flawed Morse Review.

“New Clause 31, tabled by a cross party group of MPs including APPG member David Davis and APPG officers and members seeks to remove the Loan Charge for everyone before 2016 apart from those who deliberately evaded tax.”

Sir Ed Davey, co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG and acting co-leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The information exposed by Freedom of Information responses clearly shows that the review commissioned by the Government and presented as independent was, in reality, nothing of the sort.

“There was a clear attempt by HMRC and the Treasury to interfere and to direct it from start to finish. We make clear we make no criticism of Sir Amyas Morse, but his review was set up in such a way so as to make an independent review impossible.

“There was clear and inappropriate interference from the two Governmental bodies which were being reviewed. The flawed conclusion of the review must be rejected and Parliament must seek to resolve the Loan Charge Scandal properly.”

Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG, added: “We now know that the Chancellor’s own press secretary was involved in dealing with press enquiries to the review and that there was an inappropriately close relationship between the review Secretariat team, made up of Treasury and HMRC staff, and the Treasury and HMRC, whose policy the review was scrutinising.

“This shatters any illusion of genuine independence and the fact is that this review fails even basic tests of how an independent review should operate. Now it is clear that the conclusion of the Morse Review cannot be relied on, it is up to MPs to do the right thing and to remove the retrospective Loan Charge for everyone other than those for whom HMRC can prove they were deliberate tax evaders”.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning, another co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG, said: “Colleagues from across the House of Commons have consistently expressed their opposition against retrospective legislation, but the now discredited Morse Review recommends that retrospection back to 2010 should remain.

“This recommendation is flawed and it doesn’t address the basic injustice of this clearly retrospective legislation. So we hope that finally Ministers will agree that the retrospective nature of the Loan Charge is wrong and accept the amendment to the Finance Bill to tackle this and allow thousands of people to have the chance to defend themselves in the normal way they are entitled to within our legal system”.

What is a disguised remuneration scheme

Sometime known as Employment Benefit Trusts, these schemes typically see wages paid into an offshore tax haven, then transferred to the contractor as a ‘loan’ that will never be repaid.

HM Treasury says: “The disguised remuneration Loan Charge was introduced to tackle contrived schemes where a person’s income is paid as a loan which does not have to be repaid.

“Disguised remuneration loan schemes were used by tens of thousands of people, and concerns have been raised about the use of the Loan Charge as a way of drawing a line under these schemes. The government is clear that disguised remuneration schemes do not work and that their use is unfair to the 99.8 per cent of taxpayers who do not use them.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said: “Everyone should pay their fair share of tax. These disguised remuneration schemes are highly contrived attempts to avoid tax, but it is right to consider if the Loan Charge is the appropriate way of tackling them.”

Now for Plan “C” – Devon’s Nightingale Hospital will NOT treat coronavirus patients

Was this a local decision or a national one? – Just asking out of interest, Owl.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced Exeter’s new NHS Nightingale Hospital is to be the first to be converted into a cancer testing centre as of Monday.

Last week, he confirmed it could be used to help other Devon hospitals tackle winter pressures later this year after initially being built to treat Covid-19 patients.

Anita Merritt

Health bosses then confirmed it would remain on standby as a ‘flexible’ hospital. Now it will be used to cope with a huge backlog of potential cancer patients.

On Twitter today, Mr Hancock said: “We will be converting Nightingale hospitals into cancer testing centres, starting with@NightingaleExt on Monday.”

Inside Exeter’s new Nightingale Hospital (Image: NHS)

It has taken six weeks to transform Exeter’s for Homebase store into a hospital.

Building work will finish on the site in Moor Lane, Sowton, at midnight tonight. More than 400 construction workers were on site yesterday.

It will accept its first patients as of July 6.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today that the Exeter Nightingale site will start screening multiple patients a day starting from Monday.

He claimed there would be a ‘radical’ change to diagnostic methods in the coming months to cope with the growing number of people waiting for tests to find out if they have cancer.

It will be open seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm.

Sir Simon told MPs that a number of private sector hospitals could be transformed into coronavirus-free cancer clinics in the coming months to clear the backlog.

He said: “It’s worth remembering that four fifths of the patients who are on a waiting list are typically waiting for a test or an outpatient appointment, rather than waiting to be admitted to hospital for an operation.

“And given the pressures on hospitals and diagnostic teams are over the March, April, May period, there has been a big a big reduction in the flow of patients through those diagnostic services.

‘We’ve got to do something different. We’ve got to expand diagnostic capacity. We’ve also got to do it in new ways.”

He suggested the Nightingale in Exeter and other dedicated diagnostic and endoscopy suites will be able to see much more patients than standard cancer clinics and said staff will use new types of testing to speed the processes up.

Sir Simon added: “The first of those is going to be the Exeter Nightingale which we are going to partly repurpose for non-Covid CT scanning that will begin next Monday and run eight until eight and seven days a week.

Health commissioners and providers have not yet disclosed how much it is costing to build and then maintain the running of the 116-bed hospital.

Philippa Slinger, the NHS CEO responsible for developing Nightingale Exeter, said on Twitter on Monday: “Had a full “rummage” through @NightingaleExt today [June 29] as build due to complete tomorrow [June 30]at midnight.

“Over 400 on site today all managed through @BAMConstructUK.”

The opening of the hospital will be later than originally confirmed.

The NHS said it would be open by the middle or end of June instead of late May as originally stated when it was proposed to build the hospital at Westpoint.

Earlier this month it was revealed that 10,000 square meters of plasterboard has been installed at the site, along with 8,000 meters of metal stud wall, and 80 kilometers of electrical cable – the same distance from Exmouth to Plymouth.

To prepare the site, 4,000 tonnes of earth has been removed which is equivalent weight of 220 double decker buses.

The Robert Jenrick scandal isn’t unique – British politics is awash with donor cash 

“Last summer I called up a former Conservative minister to talk about the role of political donations in British politics for my new book. He was surprisingly frank. “A little bit of money,” he told me, “goes a long way.”

Peter Geoghegan investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics

Just how far a little money goes in British politics has seldom been more apparent than in recent weeks.

Political donations are at the heart of the scandal surrounding Robert Jenrick. The housing minister has admitted “apparent bias” in reversing a planning decision against Tory donor Richard Desmond’s proposed Westferry Printworks housing development in east London, overruling local officials and saving the property developer an estimated £45m. Desmond subsequently gave £12,000 to the Conservatives; a Tory spokeswoman said government policy was “in no way influenced by party donations”.

Jenrick’s unlawful intervention came a few months after he had sat beside Desmond at a £900-a-head Conservative fundraiser at the Savoy hotel. On Radio 4’s Today programme last week, Jenrick’s cabinet colleague, the business minister Nadhim Zahawi, suggested that if voters wanted to raise planning issues with their MPs they too could pay to attend Tory functions.

Plenty of property developers seem to have taken Zahawi’s advice. Analysis by openDemocracy last week showed that the Tories received more than £11m from donors connected to property and construction since Boris Johnson came to power – a significant increase on Theresa May’s tenure.

The Conservatives’ donors are not confined to property. The long-delayed Russia report into Kremlin interference in British politics is widely expected to highlight the Conservatives’ reliance on donors with close ties to Moscow. The wife of a former deputy finance minister in Vladimir Putin’s government recently paid £45,000 for a game of tennis with Johnson.

This kind of “cash for access” speaks to an even greater problem: the reliance of British politicians – particularly Tories – on big-money donors, with all the potential for conflicts of interest that goes with it.

There has never been so much private money in British politics. Britain’s 50 richest donors gave a record-breaking £35.5m to parties in 2019. The Conservatives alone raised nearly £40m in the runup to December’s general election.

British political parties depend on fundraising to survive, whether from the manufacturers and financiers who championed Ted Heath’s Conservative leadership in the early 1970s or the City of London millionaires who bankrolled Margaret Thatcher a decade later. Financial transparency has come a long way from the 1980s, when the late Lord McAlpine reputedly turned up in the City with a large sack asking for bundles of cash to fill Tory party confers. Nowadays all donations have be reported to the Electoral Commission.

But there are still plenty of loopholes. Donations of less than £7,500 are not published. That might not sound like much – especially compared with eye-watering sums spent in the United States – but it can be enough to get the ear of a politician.

There are other gaps. For £50,000 a year, donors get to meet the prime minister and leading ministers at the quarterly Leader’s Group dinners. These informal, off-the-record discussions are often the perfect opportunity for “a quiet word” about donors’ pet projects and interests.

David Cameron had agreed to release lists of Leader’s Group meetings after it emerged that the then prime minister was hosting private parties for funders at the Downing Street flat. But the Tories stopped publishing this information a few years ago, and when I checked recently all previous releases had been scrubbed from the party’s website.

There seems little chance of transparency improving on Boris Johnson’s watch. Desmond told the Sunday Times that Johnson committed to changing gambling rules to help his businesses after lobbying the prime minister at a Downing Street event last year. No 10 has refused to say how often the pair had met. Last year, the standards committee chastised Johnson’s “over-casual attitude” towards disclosing his own financial interests.

The Conservatives’ dependence on big money is not unique. The Liberal Democrats received £8m from Lord Sainsbury ahead of the party’s unsuccessful 2019 general election campaign. Labour relies mainly on trade union funding but has seen a notable uptick in private donations since Keir Starmer became leader. The Brexit party received more than £10m from a single donor, the Thai-based investor Christopher Harborne. This includes almost half a million pounds since Christmas despite Nigel Farage’s party barely even maintaining a Facebook page.

Does it matter that parties are so dependent on private money? Well, as the Jenrick affair shows, there can be more than a whiff of impropriety when political donors appear to receive preferential treatment.

A fifth of leading Conservative donors have received honours in recent years. JCB – owned by one of the Tories’ biggest backers, Lord Bamford – was recently given a £600m government-backed Covid corporate finance loan. Earlier this month, the JCB chief executive, Graeme Macdonald, said: “Although not a public company, we are eligible for CCF because of our contribution to the UK economy. We don’t expect to utilise it in the short term but it gives us an insurance policy if there is further disruption from a second spike or other impact around the world.”

While such donations may help party finances, they also serve to fuel declining trust in politics.

Many in the public rightly feel that politics is a rich man’s game. One way to counter that is to reduce the power of money in politics. Currently there is no cap on individual donations, but if the maximum donation was set at, say, £10,000 a year, political parties would be forced to rely on a far wider and more inclusive donor base. That, of course, would leave many parties with an income shortfall – a possible solution here could be for the state to step in and match-fund small donations. Another option is to make the cost of party membership tax-deductible.

However, there is little sign of such creative thinking. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recently announced a long overdue review of British electoral regulation – but the committee’s remit doesn’t include party funding.

Like Saint Augustine, British politicians often say they are all for probity. Just not yet. Until they are, a little bit of money will continue to go a very long way.

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