News Flash – EDDC Strategic Planning Committee recommends withdrawal from GESP

After three hours [correction – FOUR hours – time flies as you watch history being made] of intense debate,  a “kick the can” down the road motion and minor amendment were defeated by 4 to votes to 9 (amendment) and 4 votes to 10 (motion).

The Committee then voted by 8 to 4 (1 abstention) to recommend to full council that EDDC notifies its neighbouring councils that it is withdrawing from the GESP whilst retaining full co-operation. The recommendation is also made that EDDC immediately commences to progress its own Local Plan.

The successful motion was proposed by Cllr. Eleanor Rylance and seconded by Cllr Paul Arnott.

PM orders Army to plan for four-way winter disaster of coronavirus, Brexit, flu and flooding

Boris Johnson has ordered the army to plan for a potential quadruple crisis this winter involving a second spike of coronavirus, a serious flu outbreak, Brexit and flooding, it has emerged.

By Jane Merrick July 22, 2020 

Army, councils and Whitehall all given August deadline for new contingency plan, as ministers try not to be caught out


The head of the Ministry of Defence’s strategy and operations revealed that Downing Street has asked for tabletop exercises, simulating a combination of emergencies, to be carried out by army chiefs, Whitehall departments and local authorities by the end of August in order to prepare for the possible winter disaster.

The revelation underscores the strenuous efforts going on behind the scenes in Whitehall and in civil resilience forums across the country to prepare the UK for a second peak of Covid-19 infections and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

The i politics newsletter cut through the noise

It is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s public comments at his Downing Street press conference last week, in which he said it was possible the country could get back to normality by Christmas.

While local authorities have been given new powers to isolate sporadic outbreaks of Covid-19 and avoid a second nationwide peak in infections, the tabletop exercises involve planning for a reemergence of the disease across the country, together with the normal winter flu season which puts a strain on the NHS, the end of the transition period for Brexit on 31 December, which could lead to food shortages and queues at ports if there is no trade deal in place, as well as serious flooding.

Devastating floods hit the UK last winter, as well as in 2015/16 and 2013/14, and six of the 10 wettest years on record have taken place in the last 20 years.

Worst case scenarios

In evidence to the House of Lords public services committee, which is conducting an inquiry into lessons to be learned from the pandemic, Lieutenant General Douglas Chalmers, the head of military strategy and operations at the MoD, said the army was working with the new Joint Biosecurity Centre and Whitehall chiefs on planning for the worst case scenarios.

He said: “The [Covid-19] crisis is still very firmly with us, and definitely as we look towards the winter now, we know about the normal flu season … we’re obviously transitioning out of the EU, and we have our normal floods etc that come on.

“So we are looking at very heavily at how we do winter preparedness and we will support, because we run tabletop [TT] exercises very routinely, we will support some of the departmental tabletop exercising… in Whitehall and local resilience forums.

“No10 has been very clear those TT exercises need to be done by the end of August in order that we can learn from them and then act on some of those elements that have been brought forward.”

Lt Gen Chalmers said he hoped that the civil servants involved in those exercises would be kept in place for the winter because it was essential to “sustain the neural network”.

‘Terrible health outcomes’

In his evidence to the committee, former head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell criticised the Government’s response to the pandemic, saying that there had been plenty of data but not enough analysis of that data.

He told peers: “I don’t think anyone can hide away from the fact that our health outcomes are terrible compared to the rest of the world. Part of the problem has been that we haven’t got the right people around the table at the right time.

“The Cabinet Office is very large compared to my day – if people think throwing people at this is the answer, then that clearly hasn’t worked.”

Lord O’Donnell said he was “really worried” that when the key decisions were made by ministers and scientists at Cobra “they only had half the story”. Ministers had a “fundamental problem” in that they “got the science but didn’t get the social science” and that the government introduced “one of the biggest changes to behaviour ever been brought about” in the lockdown without really understanding behavioural science, the crossbench peer said.

He said there was also a lack of “clear messages – if anyone knows what the clear message on masks is, please tell me”.

Lord O’Donnell added: “All those [Downing Street] press briefings with deaths in hospitals, they biased the whole thing towards hospitals, not care homes.”

Quadruple threat — The four potential crisis points

  1. Second wave of Covid-19. The worst case scenario is that infections reach epidemic levels again across the country, putting serious strain on the NHS.
  2. Serious winter flu outbreak. Each winter hospitals experience their busiest period because of flu, despite a nationwide vaccine programme. Flu kills around 8,000 people in the UK each year, but there were more serious flu seasons in the winters of 2010-11 and 2017-18.
  3. Brexit. If no trade deal with the EU is in place by New Year’s Day, there could be food shortages, panic buying and queues at ports for goods coming into the UK.
  4. Floods. Devastating floods hit the UK last winter, as well as in 2015-16 and 2013-14, and six of the 10 wettest years on record have occurred in the past 20 years. Last winter the military was brought in to help evacuate people from deluged homes and deliver food to stranded households, and at least 11 people died.

The committee also heard from Tracy Daszkiewicz, who was head of public health for Wiltshire during the Salisbury poisonings and was portrayed in the recent BBC drama on that crisis.

Ms Daszkiewicz, who is now deputy director of population health and wellbeing at Public Health England, told peers that she and her colleagues believed the novichok attack in 2018 would be the “biggest [crisis] of our career” adding: “Little did we know what 2020 had in store.”

Local Tories channel Trump in attempt to bamboozle over cuts to Devon’s NHS

A rather Trumpist email (sent to me by a concerned resident) appears to be a stock response being circulated to people contacting their conservative councillors about the service cuts being made to the NHS in Devon, as part of a government instruction to save over £400m by 2024. 

Local Tories channel Trump in attempt to bamboozle over cuts to Devon’s NHS

A rather Trumpist email (sent to me by a concerned resident) appears to be a stock response being circulated to people contacting their conservative councillors about the service cuts being made to the NHS in Devon, as part of a government instruction to save over £400m by 2024.

The annual budget is £2.6bn.

It comes after a previous attempt to make significant savings to Devon’s NHS failed, partly because the government forced a £30bn ‘efficiency savings’ programme on the NHS nationally and reduced the annual increment from around six per cent in 2010, to around one per cent during the past decade.

The email from conservative councillors to concerned residents appears to be both an attempt to confound residents and at the same time disparage me.

The situation has arisen following a meeting of Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee on 12 March, where councillors received a presentation from Philippa Slinger, chief executive of Devon Together, on the county’s NHS’s precarious financial position and what measures were being taken to reduce spending, in order to break even by 2024.

I made a proposal at the meeting to suspend this requirement during the Covid19 pandemic to make these cuts, which was met with derision by conservative councillors.  Mrs Slinger herself also claimed there were no cuts proposed.

I replied that this was semantics and that most people would regard the list below as evidence of cuts.

My proposal was seconded by Martin Shaw but received no other backers, so it was lost. Instead, a proposal from the chair to bring the subject back to a later meeting, was supported.

At the meeting, Mrs Slinger made the following points in relation to what work (cuts!) needed to be done to get Devon’s NHS back on financial track:

  • 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)

The presentation in the agenda papers also outlines the broad areas for action as the following:

  • Address the challenges of increasing demand of hospital beds
  • Transforming out of hospital care and integrating community services
  • Reducing outpatient appointments by 30 per cent
  • Consideration of creation of a major diagnostic centre in Devon
  • Travelling further for planned care, such as a hip operation
  • Widening access to online GP consultations
  • New technology monitoring equipment supporting people to live independently in their own homes
  • Support more people in their home and community and avoid urgent admissions to hospital
  • Improving cancer outcomes
  • Improving mental health services through a ring-fenced investment fund
  • Shorter waits for planned care through protected capacity (capping referrals)
  • Reducing health inequalities
  • Setting minimum requirements for community based care to reduce pressure on emergency hospital services


Here’s the email:


The CCG did not put forward any proposals to cut their budget by £400 million. The total NHS Budget in Devon is £2 billion. However, as made clear in their Committee documents, they are currently forecast to overspend that Budget by approximately £100 million a year if they take no action. What the CCG outlined to the Committee were indicative measures to try to contain that overspend and balance their books. That is totally different from cutting your budget by £400 million – THEY ARE NOT REDUCING THEIR BUDGET NOR HAVE THEY ANNOUNCED ANY PLANS TO DO SO.

 Philippa Slinger said very clearly – in plain English – at the meeting “there are not cuts.” Neither the Labour or Liberal Democrat members of the Committee supported Cllr Wright’s poorly worded and financially inaccurate and illiterate motion and if the concerns of xxxxx were true, then the Labour Party is in support of ‘£400 million of NHS cuts’ too!

 Actually the fact is, that during this pandemic the NHS and Devon County Council secured an additional 194 beds in Devon. There will be a further 120 beds in the new Nightingale Hospital, which the Government have confirmed will be used to help routine tests and scans, along with Winter Pressures this coming season and will be an enormous benefit to our NHS here in Devon. None of these improvements sound like cuts to me.


Here’s the speaker itemised webcast of the meeting. Item 7 –

Here is the relevant agenda paper. Item 7:

And here’s the additional paper. Item 7:

Here’s my blog post following the meeting:

Test and trace failing to contact thousands in England’s worst-hit areas

The government’s flagship test-and-trace system is failing to contact thousands of people in areas with the highest infection rates in England, raising further questions about the £10bn programme described by Boris Johnson as “world-beating”.

Josh Halliday

Local leaders and directors of public health are demanding more control over the tracing operation amid concerns that their ability to contain the virus is being put at risk.

Data obtained by the Guardian shows that in areas with the highest infection rates in England, the proportion of close contacts of infected people being reached is far below 80%, the level the government’s scientific advisers say is required for test and trace to be effective.

In Luton, which has the sixth highest infection rate in England, only 47% of at-risk people were contacted by test and trace. In Leicester, which remains under a partial lockdown, the rate was 65%, meaning more than 3,300 people were not reached by the programme.

Directors of public health have expressed frustration that local expertise has been sidelined under the centralised test-and-trace system, which has been handed to private firms such as Serco and Sitel.

More than 5,500 people in four areas with the highest infection rates in England were not contacted when they should have been told to self-isolate, the Guardian has learned. These included 3,340 people in Leicester, 984 in Kirklees, 759 in Rochdale and 448 in Blackburn with Darwen.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said that 80% of an infected person’s close contacts must be contacted and told to self-isolate within 48 to 72 hours for the national programme to be effective.

In Blackburn with Darwen the figure was 54%; in Leicester 65%, in Rochdale 66% and in Kirklees 77%.

Bradford council, which has the fourth-highest infection rate in England, declined to provide a figure but said “a high number of contacts” in the city were not traced by the national system.

A council spokeswoman said it was asking the government “to allow us to set up a local extension to the national test-and-trace system which would enable us to follow up uncontacted data with door-to-door visits, something which no national system can really do.”

Gerry Taylor, Luton borough council’s director of public health, said she was “very concerned” at the low rate in the Bedfordshire town. She said the centralised system was “too remote” to be able to reach all of its communities.

“Clearly 47% is too low. The bulk of the contact tracing feels somewhat distant from us and working more closely together with the national system I think would be a huge advantage,” she said.

Local leaders say they have the community links and relationships to hunt down the virus at street level, thereby plugging holes in the centralised system.

Factors including language barriers, distrust of unknown callers and missed emails could explain the low contact completion rate in the worst-affected towns, where in some cases the virus is disproportionately affecting people of south Asian heritage.

Under the current system, contact tracers attempt to reach close contacts of an infected person by text, email or up to 10 times by phone call.

Kate Hollern, the Labour MP for Blackburn, said the national test-and-trace system had failed. “People are out there spreading the virus unknowingly due to this government failure. The responsibility and resources for this should have been with local government, who have the local knowledge. It’s a complete shambles and we really need to get control of it.”

Lisa McNally, the director of public health at Sandwell Council in the West Midlands, which has the ninth highest infection rate in the country, said that last week only 40% of positive coronavirus cases in her area had been contacted by the national system. She said she asked the government for more data so those people could be traced locally but was told it was not possible.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “NHS test and trace has already helped test and isolate more than 180,000 cases – helping us control the spread of the virus, prevent a second wave and save lives. This represents 81% of close contacts identified by those who test positive.

“The service is working closely with local authorities across England to help manage local outbreaks. High quality data is critical to providing good public services and we’ve been providing increasingly detailed data to local directors of public health, helping them tackle local outbreaks and control this virus.”

10 bits of bad news that just got buried hours before the summer holiday

In the West Wing, it was nicknamed Take Out the Trash Day…..

So we’ve rummaged through Boris Johnson’s bins – metaphorically of course – to find some of the news we’re sure he wouldn’t want you to miss.

The Russia report. A pay rise for teachers. Little Prince George’s birthday photos. And, of course, coronavirus.

It’s been a busy old week in the news world – so you’d be forgiven for missing some of the other important stories that have emerged in the UK.

And it’s been made a lot busier by a simple fact – tonight is the start of MPs’ summer recess.

Call it a holiday, call it a working break, it means Parliament won’t be sitting again until September.

Every year, this day is an opportunity for the government to rush out a flurry of announcements at the last possible moment.

And every year, the government is accused of slipping out some things it hopes will be lost in the avalanche.

In the West Wing, it was nicknamed Take Out the Trash Day.

And even if it’s not a deliberate ploy, the timing means many important announcements slip below the radar.

We wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?

So we’ve rummaged through Boris Johnson’s bins – metaphorically of course – to find some of the news we’re sure he wouldn’t want you to miss.

1. Nurses face having to tighten their belts

Tory ministers announced with great fanfare this week a pay rise for 900,000 public sector workers.

But the announcement didn’t include more than a million NHS workers, including nurses and porters, as their current pay system takes them up to April 2021.

And there could be bad news when it’s their turn.

Hours after the pay rise, Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched a massive spending review to “reprioritise and deliver savings” across government.

While he claimed we won’t go back to austerity, the Chancellor warned the government will have to “exercise restraint in future” over its workers’ pay.

He added it’ll have to keep “parity” with private sector pay – which is set to stall due to coronavirus.

While spending will go up overall, Downing Street refused to rule out some individual departments having their budgets cut.

2. Tory reforms have led to ‘slum’ homes

Tory “red tape” slashing has created homes the size of Boris Johnson’s car with no windows, a damning report for the government found this week.

The scathing verdict on Tory planning reforms exposes the grim conditions forced on people in “permitted development” homes.

Tory ministers have been reforming planning rules since 2013 to extend rights to convert buildings, like office or storage units, into homes without full planning permission.

But campaigners warn the system opens the floodgates to “slums”.

The report by UCL and the University of Liverpool was commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and slipped out just before MPs’ summer recess.

It found just 22% of permitted development homes would meet national space standards – compared to 73% through planning permission.

The smallest were just 16 square metres, and ten of them had no windows at all.

A government spokesman insisted permitted development makes an “important contribution” and is “crucial” to helping recover from coronavirus.

The government said the research “shows on average there was little difference in the appearance, energy performance or access to services between schemes delivered through permitted development and those that were granted full planning permission.”

3. Our ‘generous’ offer to Hong Kong citizens still forces them to pay for the NHS

Hours before MPs left Parliament, the government unveiled full details of its landmark visa for people from Hong Kong.

And in many ways, it’s impressive. Some 300,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders can get a special visa to live and work in the UK, eventually getting citizenship, from 2021.

Overall 3million Hong Kongers could be eligible if they get a BNO passport.

Home Secretary Priti Patel boasted the offer is “very generous” to people fleeing a mounting crackdown on free speech from the Chinese state.

Unlike the rest of the UK immigration system, there will be no skills test, no minimum income requirement, and people won’t need a UK job.

But it isn’t all roses in the small print.

Hong Kongers who come to the UK will still need to pay £624 a year to use the NHS – even if they get a job and pay taxes here like everyone else.

That’s despite the Immigration Health Surcharge being scrapped for some people, such as migrants who work in the health and social care service itself.

Ms Patel confirmed the move in a written statement – which also said BNO citizens will need to “stay of good character” and pay steep visa fees.

4. Rules on building ‘eyesore’ masts will be relaxed

5G masts have become a bit of a hot potato lately – thanks in part to conspiracy theorists who falsely claim they spread coronavirus and even set them on fire.

But sometimes opposition to phone masts is a bit simpler – for example, ruining a view for residents of a local area.

The bad news for them is the government has confirmed, hours before the summer break, that it’ll relax the rules on building or extending 5G masts.

Existing masts will be allowed to be “strengthened” without prior approval to enable them to be upgraded to the 5G network.

Radio equipment will also be allowed to be stored on sites without prior approval.

The height limit on masts will also be raised and they’ll be allowed to be placed on buildings near highways. However, these new masts will still need approval before they can be built.

5. The Tories have used coronavirus for a political ‘power grab’

The Tories have been accused of using the Coronavirus crisis to mount a ‘power grab’, after installing a longtime Boris Johnson ally to the board of Transport for London.

Andrew Gilligan, Johnson’s ‘cycling tsar’ while he was London Mayor, will be appointed as a “special representative”, according to a written statement slipped out by the government this week.

He’ll be joined by Clare Moriarty, the former top civil servant at the Brexit department.

Mr Gilligan is also an advisor to Number 10 on transport.

The pair were installed on the board as a condition of the £1.6 billion ‘bailout’ of TfL, sparked by the Coronavirus crisis.

Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “From increasing the congestion charge to scrapping free travel for young people, it is pretty obvious to Londoners that the Tories have used an unprecedented crisis to mount a power grab on TfL in the hope that the Mayor gets the blame for their decisions ahead of next year’s election.”

6. Crossrail will hit London taxpayers in the pocket

Another written statement this week threatened a big financial hit to Londoners – which could also be announced months before the mayoral election.

The vast east-west Crossrail rail project was delayed and over budget before it was even hit by coronavirus.

And in an annual update on Crossrail this week, Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris made it clear who will foot the bill.

He wrote: “The further schedule delays and cost increases to this project since the last annual update are very disappointing.

“A revised funding package will now need to be developed for Crossrail that is fair to UK taxpayers, with London as the primary beneficiary bearing the cost.”

Don’t be surprised if this is raised as a political issue ahead of the May 2021 mayoral election, with Tories pointing the blame at Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

7. The Home Office has had to pay millions in legal costs

Accounts published last week show taxpayers have funded millions in legal costs when people fight the Home Office for justice.

The total bill for “special payments” in 2019/20 was £39.2m – up from £36.4m the year before.

Of that, £28.7m was spent on “adverse legal costs” in 3,394 cases. Officials spent a further £0.9m on tribunal award payments split between 6,442 cases.

And the Home Office made 272 compensation payments for wrongful detention totalling £6.9m.

Other compensation payments totalled £1.7m, while the Windrush compensation scheme involved 100 payments totalling £400,000.

The Lib Dems said the bill could have paid for an extra 900 police officers. Home Affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “Priti Patel, who is already under serious pressure, has shown herself to be incompetent and nothing more than a millstone around government’s neck. People deserve better.”

8. Number 10 just took control of all the government’s data

Downing Street has taken control of the government’s use of data – wresting it from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department.

Boris Johnson announced the move in an eye-catching written statement on the “machinery of government.”

The responsibility for government data policy will be moved to the Cabinet Office from DCMS, where it was placed by Theresa May in another ‘snuck out just before recess’ move in 2018.

It comes days after Number 10 advertised for a £135,000 data scientist to join a ‘skunkworks’ Downing Street team to be known as ’10ds’.

It’s thought to be the latest in Dominic Cummings ‘ bid to ‘revamp Whitehall’ with trendy data science.

The job ad said the unit will be a ‘pseudo start-up within No10 designed to drive forward the quantitative revolution. The current plan is to establish a data engineering team, data science team, a skunkworks and an analytical deep dive unit.’

Mr Cummings infamously pioneered the use of data-driven political campaigning in the UK in Vote Leave’s successful EU referendum campaign.

SNP MP Owen Thompson said: “Dominic Cummings should not be trusted with data use.”

9. Government’s renters protections won’t stop unfair evictions

Renters will still be at risk of unfair eviction, despite the government’s new rules for landlords.

Evictions have been banned since the start of the coronavirus crisis – but that’s due to expire in August.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had promised new rules would give more protection for renters when the eviction ban is lifted.

But today, minister Chris Pincher confirmed that the new rules will not give judges the power to prevent so-called Section 21 – or ‘no-fault’ – evictions.

Under such eviction notices, renters out of contract can be evicted with just two months’ notice without the landlord having to give a reason.

Asked by Housing Committee chairman Clive Betts whether a court would be allowed to refuse such a request under the new rules, Mr Pincher admitted they would not.

He said: “Under the 21 clause of the ’88 act, the courts do not have discretion in that particular circumstance.”

10. The government is cutting overseas aid by £2.9bn

Foreign aid spending is being reduced by £2.9 billion, Dominic Raab has announced.

The government is committed to spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid spending.

But the UK economy has shrunk dramatically due to the Coronavirus pandemic – so 0.7% of the economy is about £2.9 billion less than it used to be.

Announcing the cut, Dominic Raab said it would include “underspends, delaying activity and stopping some spend.”

But Sarah Champion, chair of the International Development Committee, said: “The announcement today raises more questions than it answers.

“The letter speaks of delaying activity and stopping some spending – what is the timescale on this? If it is with immediate effect, do the projects know or will they find out via the media as DFID staff did about the merger? Is there an overarching strategy in place? Will the evaluation of the impact of these cuts be made public? Where is the scrutiny?

“Clearly there has been no consultation, but to release this news literally as parliament rises so there can be no scrutiny by MPs is poor practice.”

Cheap, popular and it works: Ireland’s contact-tracing app success

“A government minister once compared Ireland’s health care system to Angola – a political minefield of dysfunction, bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency. The nickname stuck.

Yet this morass has just produced a shiny success: a Covid-19 contact-tracing app that is popular and appears to work.” [A more detailed description of how this was achieved here].

Since launching on 6 July, the Covid Tracker app was downloaded 1.3m times in eight days – the fastest-downloaded app per capita in Europe – and has started picking up cases of infection.

“We’ve been delighted by the take-up rate. It’s gone beyond the initial hopes,” said Colm Harte, the technical director of NearForm, the company that made the app for the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The app uses a phone’s Bluetooth signal to exchange a digital handshake with another device also running the app when users come within 2 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes. The anonymous keys are stored in a log on the phone, which health authorities may ask users to upload if they are diagnosed with Covid-19. The log can then be used to track unnamed contacts, who are alerted about possible infection.

NearForm made a similar app for Gibraltar, which launched last month, and one for Northern Ireland, due to launch within weeks. “It’s the same core platform. It’s built on the Irish solution,” said Harte.

“An Irish solution to an Irish problem” is a derisive term in Ireland for attempted fixes that are daft or quixotic. In this case, though, there seems no need for self-deprecation.

Ireland has made a tool against the pandemic not only for Ireland but for part of the UK and for a British overseas territory – while Britain flounders in its own attempt to produce an app.

The NHS Covid-19 app was meant to roll out in England in May. That slipped to June. Last month, officials ditched the app in its original form and backed an alternative designed by Apple and Google. The government said it might launch in winter.

The Irish are not crowing. Authorities originally hoped to launch the app in March, only to encounter complications. And its effectiveness remains unclear. “It still has to prove its mettle,” said Seán L’Estrange, a social scientist at University College Dublin who has studied tracing.

Even so, the take-up rate is impressive, said L’Estrange. “What that shows is the credibility of the app, the confidence in the initiative, and the enthusiasm for participating in the collective project to contain the virus.”

The €850,000 (£773,000) price tag is “dirt cheap” given that the average cost of identifying each case of infection is €42,000, said L’Estrange. “Even if it fails to produce the goods, little has been lost.”

This suggests Ireland’s health system, plagued in normal times by bloated management, turf battles and duplication, can do well in a crisis.

“The whole of the organisation attuned itself and focused on coronavirus,” said Fran Thompson, a HSE spokesperson. The pandemic allowed the HSE to shortcut the regular tender process and select NearForm in mid-March. “It probably saved six to eight weeks,” said Thompson.

NearForm employs 150 people and builds software mostly for private clients. It is based in a former council office in Tramore, a seaside town in County Waterford, but has international pedigree, with developers scattered across 21 countries. Clients include Condé Nast, Intel and Microsoft.

Following Singapore’s lead, NearForm’s developers raced to build a centralised app that used smartphones’ Bluetooth connectivity to trace people who come into close contact with infected people.

By April, they had a version but were struggling with Bluetooth. It worked with Android but Apple’s iPhone operating system sent apps to sleep when unused and Bluetooth could not activate them.

“We quickly hit the same problems as other countries,” said Harte. A centralised system also raised alarms about storing data and breaching privacy.

Then Apple and Google came together and offered an app that would support public health apps and let Android and iOS phones connect even while locked. Their decentralised version held no data in a single official database, alleviating privacy concerns.

The Irish were among the first to grasp Silicon Valley’s offer in late April. “We got in early and it was full steam ahead. It allowed us to move on,” said Harte.

Britain, meanwhile, persisted with attempts to make a customised app until last month when it made a U-turn and embraced the model preferred by Apple and Google.

NearForm claims to be the only company to have built apps with interoperability across borders and jurisdictions – Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and Gibraltar and Spain.

Using the same source code and supplier should facilitate a coherent all-Ireland response to the pandemic – a decision that raised no political problems at the Stormont assembly.

Thompson credits Ireland’s fast take-up rate to the population’s trust in government, desire to do the right thing and good user experience based on consultation and behavioural research.

Big questions hang over the app. How many people are using it correctly? Will downloads hit 2.2m to reach 60% of the target demographic? Will public transport and other settings sabotage Bluetooth’s accuracy? How many people will be notified and tested that otherwise would have been missed?

Stephen Farrell, a computer scientist at Trinity College Dublin who has studied contact-tracing technology, said the app’s impact on the pandemic may remain unclear. “I’d not be surprised if we never end up with a definitive answer to that.”

‘Yes’ to glass canopy on terrace of new Michael Caines eatery in Exmouth

A terrace on the Michael Caines restaurant at Exmouth’s new watersports centre can feature a retractable glass canopy after proposals were given the go-ahead.

East Devon Reporter 

The celebrity chef addressed East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee before members approved the transparent addition to Sideshore this morning (Wednesday, July 22).

It is aimed at boosting the eatery and ensuring the dining area can be used all-year-round.

Other minor changes to the seafront scheme will also see two parking spaces lost, but a pair of electric car charging points added.

Mr Caines told the virtual meeting: “I think it will enhance the scheme and also bring a lot of enjoyment to our guests that’ll be dining in a really modern and up-to-date  environment which will complement the work that’s ongoing and Exmouth, which is definitely on the up and a great area for people to come and visit and enjoy seasonal and also regional food at the facility.

“The benefit and the reason why we are doing it is simply to extend our ability to use that area, not just through the summer but also into the winter.

“The wind is an issue there so we have concerns with regards to tables and chairs and umbrellas for some protection for our guests.

“One of the reasons why we want to put a cover on is to extend the season into the winter, of course, but also ensure our guests can enjoy the space out there safely in that exposure because we know that there’s a lot of wind in Exmouth, a lot of sand that carries across the area, and also that, even in the summer, those conditions can be a bit blustery.

“That’s also going to allow us in this critical time where table space – we need to exert a one-metre distance between each table – so having this additional space will also help the viability at this particular point of the project to enable us to profit from as many tables as we can to pay back the rent.

He added: “We’re taking everything in hand to mitigate any access of light from the glass extension by using curtains but also the only lighting we’re having in there is low-impact festoon lighting, which will give an ambience of very, very low impact so that our guests can enjoy the facilities.”

Permission was sought for a transparent canopy – with retractable walls and roof – to cover the first-floor terrace that will form part of the under-construction Queen’s Drive venue’s restaurant.

Plans submitted before the coronavirus pandemic said the space has the capacity to seat up to 60 people.

EDDC development manager Chris Rose told councillors the visual impact would be ‘acceptable and minimal’.

After: The Exmouth watersports centre complete with retractable glass canopy on the first-floor terrace. Picture: Grenadier/PBWC Architects

After: The Exmouth watersports centre complete with retractable glass canopy on the first-floor terrace. Picture: Grenadier/PBWC Architects

Resident Anne Membury objected and told the committee in a statement the canopy would ‘cause more of an obstruction to the vista at Exmouth seafront’.

She also bemoaned the loss of parking spaces on the seafront.

Cllr Paul Hayward, EDDC portfolio holder for economy, said: “Benefits of this far outweigh any potential harm. They will be an ongoing asset to this facility.”

Cllr Bruce de Saram added:  “The use of the terrace all-year-round will be of significant benefit.”

Cllr Joe Whibley said: “This is a small change and, if the people who want to make the change think it’s going to increase the revenue generation and give something to the town over a longer part of the year, I can’t see any reason other to accept this.”

Cllr Geoff Pratt added: “The proposal for the restaurant will be a winner as far as I can see. A good location for a meal in the evening time during the winter.”

The application was granted permission by 14 votes to one abstention.

EDDC officers had recommended the scheme for approval and told members in a report: “The use of the terrace all-year-round will result in a greater level of noise and light impact, but, given the small nature of the area and distance to nearby properties, the proposal will not result in any detrimental impact that could justify refusal of planning permission, particularly given the economic benefits provided from wider use of the area.”

Bid to replace Beer Social Club with six affordable homes is approved

A community-led bid to demolish the old Beer Social Club and build six ‘affordable’ homes for ‘local people’ has been given the green light.

East Devon Reporter 
Proposals for the site in Berry Hill were unanimously approved by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) Planning Committee this afternoon (Wednesday, July 22).

The scheme will see four townhouses and a two-storey block featuring a pair of apartments erected on the steeply-sloping, ‘redundant’ hillside site.

EDDC development manager Chris Rose said the project was to provide ‘local housing for local people’.

From the planning application for home to replace Beer Social Club, in Berry Hill. Image: Beer Community Land Trust

From the planning application for home to replace Beer Social Club, in Berry Hill. Image: Beer Community Land Trust

The 100 per cent affordable housing scheme will see a trio of units made available to rent and three for shared ownership.

Rachel Collins, applicant Beer Community Land Trust’s architect, said: “Beer has around 30 per cent holiday homes which inflate the local house prices, therefore schemes like these really are essential if local people are going to remain living in the village.”

Committee member Councillor David Key said: “What an absolute wonderful opportunity for some of the youngsters to be able to get hold of something like this.”

Cllr Philip Skinner added: “I think it’s fantastic that a village of this scale is getting affordable housing at this level.”

The townhouses will be in a pairs of semi-detached units with proposals also featuring six parking spaces and communal amenity space.

Councillors voted unanimously in favour of granting the application planning permission.

Beer Social Club Berry Hill

Beer Social Club in Berry Hill. Picture: Google Maps

EDDC officers had recommended the scheme for approval and told members in a report: “The proposal would result in the loss of a building formerly used for social and community gathering purposes, however, that use ceased some time ago and there are other venues within the village which can perform a similar function.

“As such, the redevelopment of the site to provide affordable housing to help meet an identified need within the village weighs strongly in favour of the scheme.”