‘Greening’ rules scrapped to remove red tape for farmers

Farmers have been told they no longer need to comply with “greening” rules for EU subsidies from next year, allowing them to focus on the transition to Britain’s post-Brexit environmental payment scheme.

Chris Hill www.edp24.co.uk

Defra has announced the move to “reduce administrative burdens for farmers” as they begin the move towards the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which is due to replace the EU’s system of land-based “direct payment” subsidies.

The EU scheme required farmers to carry out green practices such as leaving land fallow, creating field margins, or planting nitrogen-fixing crops such as peas and beans – or risk losing a percentage of their payments.

But Defra says these requirements have “historically delivered little for the environment”, so they are being removed from 2021 under plans to cut red tape and simplify the current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) during its seven-year phase-out.

It says the replacement ELMS scheme, expected to be rolled out in late 2024, will deliver better environmental outcomes by rewarding farmers for delivering “public goods”, such as tree or hedge planting, river management to mitigate flooding, and creating or restoring habitats for wildlife.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “The so-called greening requirements have added little to our environmental efforts. We believe that farmers will benefit from this reduced bureaucratic burden next year as we begin the move towards our new Environmental Land Management Scheme which will deliver greater benefits for the environment.

“We will be setting out more detail in the autumn on how we will ensure a smooth transition for our farmers, as they move towards our new, fairer agricultural system, which will reward them for the hard work that they do to protect our environment.”

The move was welcomed by farming leaders in East Anglia. Gary Ford, regional director for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “This is welcome news for farmers in East Anglia. We’ve been seeking clarification on this for many months, as arable farmers need to know what rules apply before finalising their harvest 2021 cropping plans.

“The removal of greening will significantly reduce the red-tape burden facing farmers claiming BPS but it’s important to stress that farmers will continue to care for the environment. Many of the elements under greening are protected by other legislation anyway.

“Our focus now will be on helping to develop the new Environmental Land Management Scheme, including through pilot initiatives in the Brecks and the Broads, to ensure it delivers for farmers, the public and the environment.”

Defra said the changes will not affect the overall payment received by each farmer as the “greening” money will instead be added to farmers’ BPS entitlements during the transition. Farmers will also continue to be able to apply to Countryside Stewardship schemes until the future scheme is rolled out.

Ministers are reacting to events in the Covid-19 crisis rather than shaping them

“The persistence of the coronavirus can take advantage of human instinct. It lingers such that the public believes that things are getting better, long after they are going wrong.”

Guardian editorial  www.theguardian.com

Another day, another sadly predictable U-turn from the government of Boris Johnson. A few weeks ago ministers were encouraging the public to go abroad for their holidays. They did so without a comprehensive airport testing regime for passengers, unlike in many parts of the world. As restrictions have been lifted across Europe, countries have reported rises in Covid-19 cases. People returning from Spain, which has seen a spike in infections, now face mandatory quarantine. The farce means that the transport secretary will be one of those self-isolating.

Britain continues to record a higher number of coronavirus cases and deaths than Spain, which had one of the most stringent lockdowns in Europe. Madrid has every right to be frustrated. It is unclear why passengers from the relatively unaffected Canaries and Balearics are treated the same as those returning from Covid-19 hotspots in Catalonia.

This raises serious questions about what advice – and information – people ought to be given so that they can make informed judgments about travelling abroad. Spain was on the safe list last Friday, only to be taken off it on Saturday. Changes to quarantine rules need clear messaging, with as much notice as possible. Passengers returning from holiday who find themselves put into quarantine have every right to be angry, because they had little warning.

Individuals will find it hard to insure themselves in such circumstances. There is a compelling case for help from the state to cover for loss of work, as well as increased employment protections. Statutory sick pay is set at too low a level. There must be a better response than telling people to go on to universal credit if their employer refuses to pay them while they self-isolate.

The new normal needs a new politics. Mr Johnson ought to be lowering the level of uncertainty for the public, not raising it. Rather than governing by U-turn, ministers must prepare better for possible developments. The persistence of the coronavirus can take advantage of human instinct. It lingers such that the public believes that things are getting better, long after they are going wrong.

Mr Johnson’s error has been to follow public opinion in a pandemic rather than lead it. He had to be dragged to make face masks mandatory, and to implement passenger quarantine. Ministers shut down the community test-and-trace system at the start of the crisis and have created a new privatised one that is less effective than the NHS operation it replaced. Countries such as Israel and Japan, which had successfully controlled the spread of the virus, are now struggling to contain new outbreaks. These have been traced to super-spreader settings such as nightclubs as well as a lack of mask use and social distancing. England and Wales should look at the Independent Sage group’s “Zero Covid” approach [also reported by Owl] that Scotland and Northern Ireland have committed to. Otherwise the odds are increasing that renewed lockdowns, damaging to society and the economy, will be imposed.

Cut in stamp duty has only really benefited London, says Zoopla

The government’s stamp duty cut to reboot Britain’s virus-stricken property market has benefited London most and had little impact elsewhere so far, according to Zoopla.

In a reflection of the disproportionate benefit for wealthier buyers, the property website said that agreed house sales in the capital jumped by 27% in the first two weeks of the stamp duty holiday.

Richard Partington www.theguardian.com 

The tax, which is paid by homebuyers, was temporarily removed on properties up to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland by Rishi Sunak as the centrepiece of his summer financial statement this month.

Designed to boost housing transactions and demand for goods and services related to moving home – such as estate agents, solicitors, removals and the building trade – the tax holiday is set to last until 31 March 2021, at a cost to the exchequer of £3.8bn.

In its monthly assessment of house prices and property sales, Zoopla said the change had less of an impact on regional housing markets than in London. “This boost to transaction volumes has not been replicated in other regions, where average property prices are lower and less responsive to stamp duty amends,” the property website said.

“While stamp duty relief will support demand in higher value markets [on property priced up to £500,00] across southern England, it is unlikely to sustain demand indefinitely into 2021,” it added.

Figures published this month by the property website Rightmove indicated that Conservative-voting areas in the outer orbit of London would probably benefit most from the stamp duty cut.

Economists said at the time of the summer statement that cutting stamp duty could push up house prices, eroding the gains from the cut for buyers. According to the Resolution Foundation, an average homebuyer in the north-east of England will see no benefit from the change, while a typical London buyer will save more than £14,000.

The thinktank said the average first-time buyer already paid no stamp duty – because of an existing stamp duty relief for first-time buyers – except in London, and so those new to the property ladder would not benefit either.

The chancellor has said he used the cut to revitalise the housing market at a time when property prices are falling for the first time in eight years owing to the pandemic.

Answering questions this month from MPs on the Commons Treasury committee, he said: “We thought that people buying, moving, selling and then renovating would be good for jobs and economic activity. That is why we acted in the way that we did.”

Zoopla said that since the start of 2020, sales agreed were still 20% below the same period in 2019 – the equivalent of 124,000 lost sales worth £27bn in total since March.

By the end of the year, Zoopla said the lag was expected to have made a marginal recovery, with total transaction volumes for the year as a whole likely to come in about 15% below 2019.

Is this the explanation of the imposition of “wack-a-mole” quarantine on travellers from Spain?

Are the Government and its Covid advisers learning from experience at last? – Owl

“It has emerged that the Cabinet’s coronavirus committee decided to reimpose quarantine on all arrivals from Spain after being told 10 Britons had this month tested positive for coronavirus after returning from the country….

Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, warned the six ministers on the committee that unless quarantine was reimposed the numbers could rise significantly and “made it clear that doing nothing was not an option”, according to one Whitehall source….”

Quarantine to be cut to 10 days for people arriving from Spain

By Charles Hymas, Home Affairs Editor and Gordon Rayner, Political Editor www.telegraph.co.uk 

Quarantine for people arriving from Spain and other countries with high levels of Covid-19 will be cut to 10 days under plans being finalised by ministers, The Telegraph has learnt.

The Government hopes to announce this week a new policy of testing arrivals from high-risk countries eight days after they land. If they test negative they will be allowed to come out of self-isolation two days later, reducing the mandatory quarantine period by four days.

The move will cut almost an entire working week off the self-isolation requirement, and ministers hope it will help salvage the summer holiday season for some of those already booked on flights abroad.

It has emerged that the Cabinet’s coronavirus committee decided to reimpose quarantine on all arrivals from Spain after being told 10 Britons had this month tested positive for coronavirus after returning from the country.

Although positive tests are still running at more than 700 per day in the UK, the ministers were told that the imported cases were “statistically significant” and decided they could not risk millions of people going to Spain over the coming weeks.

The Government is now considering telling everyone who has come into the UK from Spain since July 23, including returning holidaymakers, to take a coronavirus test.

It came as ministers ignored pleas from Spain and the travel industry to exempt Spain’s islands, including the Canaries and the Balearics, from the quarantine measures because of their lower rates of infection. Instead the Foreign Office changed its travel advice on Monday night to say that “all but essential” travel to the islands should be avoided.

Previously they had been treated differently from mainland Spain.

The move was expected to lead to the cancellation of flights and force large numbers of people to postpone or cancel their holidays.

Following the announcement, Jet2 suspended Spanish flights and told customers not to go to the airport on Tuesday.

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has told colleagues he had booked a holiday to Ibiza at the end of this week but will now have to cancel.

Meanwhile Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who arrived in Spain on holiday hours before he helped take the decision to reimpose quarantine, will cut short his family break and return to the UK on Tuesday. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, believes quarantine can be shortened using mass testing because of growing confidence in the tests used in the UK.

Coronavirus takes five to seven days to incubate, meaning those who have the disease can be asymptomatic during that period. If people test negative eight days after they have landed, the chances of them having the virus are tiny, ministers now believe.

Under Mr Hancock’s plan, they will be told to remain in isolation for another two days as a fail-safe, as well as allowing time for their test results to come back, and if no symptoms arise they will be able to end quarantine. It means that someone returning from holiday on a Saturday would be able to return to work on Wednesday week, rather than having to lose a full two working weeks.

The move is likely to be seen as an attempt to defuse the controversy over the Government’s decision to reimpose the Spanish quarantine, throwing into chaos the holidays of up to 1.8 million either in the country or about to go.

Employment lawyers have warned that tourists returning from Spain might be forced to take unpaid leave as a result of having to quarantine. They are not eligible for sick pay.

Danielle Parsons, of the law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “Those returning from Spain who have suddenly discovered they have to quarantine are in a very weak legal position as their bosses don’t have to give them time off if they are unable to work from home.”

An estimated 600,000 British holidaymakers are already in Spain and face quarantine on their return. It is unclear how quickly the new quarantine regime could be introduced or whether any of them will benefit.

Baroness Harding, the chairman of the UK’s test and trace programme, said that “over time … I would like to believe that we’ll be able to shorten” the quarantine period.

A government spokesman said the 10-day quarantine period was under discussion but that no final decision had yet been made. The decision to reimpose quarantine on all UK arrivals from Spain, effective from 11pm last Saturday, was taken after the Cabinet’s coronavirus operations committee, chaired by Michael Gove, was told about Britons importing the virus from Spain.

Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, warned the six ministers on the committee that unless quarantine was reimposed the numbers could rise significantly and “made it clear that doing nothing was not an option”, according to one Whitehall source.

It is believed to be the first time that tourists returning from a country deemed “safe” by the Government have brought the virus back into the country. Despite pleas from the Spanish authorities and the travel industry to keep open “air bridges” with Spanish islands, the Foreign Office changed its travel advice late on Monday to add the islands to the list of countries to which Britons are advised not to fly.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We have considered the overall situation … including the impact of the requirement to self-isolate on return to the UK, and concluded that we should advise British nationals against all non-essential travel to the whole of Spain.”

Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s prime minister, said the British Government got it wrong with its quarantine order and advice against travelling to any part of Spain. He said the two nations were “friends” and talks would continue between them as part of efforts to persuade the UK to change its mind.

The number of eagle-eyes on the watch for lies and skulduggery across the region increases

Birds of a feather will flock together was the title chosen by a recent eagle-eyed correspondent commenting in the context of GESP.

The reference to eagle-eyed birds is continued by another correspondent, Michael Temple, who introduces us to a new online publication West Country Bylines:

West Country Bylines (WCB hereafter) is, like Owl, an eagle-eyed bird ever on the watch for lies and skullduggery both across the region and nationally. Like Owl, too, it is its own bird, free of political influence from the Big Birds of Prey. It has a particular predilection for factual truth and loves to get its claws into all forms of crookedness, humbug and mismanagement. Fed by flocks of small local birds from all over the West Country, it is a natural companion for Owl and like-minded birds elsewhere in the country.

First issue can be found here   Issue Number 1 – 23 July 2020 – West Country Bylines

Mike is the author of the article Thrown to the wolves. Covid-19 in care homes: a tragedy and a scandal

This also caught Owl’s eye in the first edition by Dumbledrone:

Order! Order! End of term reports for Devon’s MPs 

“….Neil Parish of Tiverton and Honiton continues to make his heaviest contributions in the areas of agriculture and food, and took up the role of chair of the environment, food and rural affairs committee. He spoke in both the trade and agriculture bill debates against a US trade deal threatening our food and welfare standards, citing the importance of a level playing field for our farmers and food producers, and has called for constituents’ voices to be heard in trade debates.

As a farmer, he knows this subject well and understands the threat that his party’s brave new world brings to his industry. All credit to Parish for using his expertise to push back on elements in this bill and show willingness to work cross-party to ensure better legislation. But are his personal interests or those of his constituents the major lever behind these small acts of rebellion? He sadly wasn’t concerned about protecting the interests of the NHS in the 20 July vote. Parish, along with Simon Jupp (East Devon), seemed more exercised by the need to retain BBC regional politics’ coverage. That said, Parish is one to watch next term!

…East Devon’s Simon Jupp has shown his party loyalty by speaking in favour of Robert Jenrick’s intervention in the Westferry planning decision and roundly supporting the decision to fold the department for International Trade and Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He has advocated strongly for the tourism industry in his constituency and, as a former journalist, has campaigned against cuts to BBC local politics’ coverage. Despite this flicker of resistance, he doesn’t seem ripe turf for rebellion.”

Will we soon have our own West Country “Parliament “? [of Owls]


Eat your heart out “cheap” Sidmouth – St Ives is top “class” in the posh staycation stakes

Cornwall is home to most expensive seaside resort in whole UK

Thousands of tourists visit St Ives every year – and it seems they are forking out a pretty penny to do so.

The coastal town, known for its surf and art scene, has been found to be the most most expensive seaside resort in the UK after coming in second on the same survey last year – losing out to Sidmouth in Devon.

The survey by Cheaprooms.co.uk compared prices across 30 popular coastal destinations and also saw another three Cornwall towns make the top ten.

With an average rate of £124 per night, St Ives leads the rankings, with Sidmouth in Devon and Falmouth in Cornwall coming in at second and third, with average rates of £84 and £78, respectively.

At the cheaper end of the scale, with an average rate of only £35 per night, the famous resort of Blackpool in the English county of Lancashire ranks as the most affordable UK destination.

Other inexpensive places to stay include the Welsh resort city of Swansea (£46) and Eastbourne (£47) on England’s southeast coast.

As for how Covid-19 has impacted hotel prices, across the board rates have dropped by about 10% on average compared to last year.

A handful of destinations have seen rates plummet significantly lower, such as in Brighton (-25%), Sidmouth (-36%) and Oban (-43%). However, prices in a number of destinations have remained fairly stable, and have even increased in some, such as in Shanklin (+9%) and Lytham St Annes (+22%).

The following table compares 30 seaside resorts in the UK. The prices shown reflect the average daily rate for each destination’s cheapest available double room in a hotel or guest house rated at least 3 stars, for the period spanning 1-31 August 2020.

See the full list here:

  1. St. Ives £124
  2. Sidmouth £84
  3. Falmouth £78
  4. Bude £77
  5. Portrush £76
  6. Lytham St Annes £75
  7. Poole £73
  8. Tenby £72
  9. Whitby £71
  10. Newquay £68
  11. Southend-on-Sea £68
  12. Shanklin £67
  13. Weymouth £67
  14. Ilfracombe £66
  15. Lowestoft £65
  16. Southport £61
  17. Oban £60
  18. Weston-super-Mare £59
  19. Brighton £58
  20. Llandudno £58
  21. Folkestone £56
  22. Ayr £55
  23. Paignton £54
  24. Scarborough £54
  25. Bournemouth £52
  26. Skegness £51
  27. Torquay £51
  28. Eastbourne £47
  29. Swansea £46
  30. Blackpool £35

While St Ives and Falmouth may be among the most expensive seaside resorts in the country, parts of St Ives are also home to the most amount of children living in poverty in Cornwall, with a part of Falmouth coming in third.

Face mask rules are too complicated. Here’s how to keep it simple.

…there is only the one person you might meet, who has to do their job, who would prefer you to wear a mask. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t wearing one. It doesn’t matter if there’s only one of him or her in your entire day, or what the science says, or whether you have read the metastudies. If one person on a till, who has to serve 150 people a day, would prefer you to be masked, that satisfies the basic demands of courtesy, and everything else is noise….

Zoe Williams  a Guardian columnist www.theguardian.com 

Masks became mandatory in a range of public places in England on Friday, after a long hiatus during which government ministers couldn’t agree on what to do about them. The list of places is explicable but not intuitive: you should wear a mask in shops and supermarkets, and also in takeaways and coffee shops, but not if you are sitting at a table to eat or drink.

A friend runs a bar that also sells records, and explains patiently when people go in that if they’re having a beer, they don’t have to mask up; if they’re buying a record, they do. If they’re drinking a beer while browsing for records, they can remain face-naked until they buy a record, then they have to put a mask on, unless they want another beer. I can easily imagine people going there deliberately to make some kind of mask statement, but then my friend will sell more beer, so what’s the harm?

The sanction is a £100 fine, and nobody wants to police it: not the police, not supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and Asda have already refused. Certainly, without an enforcement army, it’s hard to see how many £100 fines the government will collect, but beyond that, worriers are underestimating the force of a dirty look.

The bigger threat to the success of Project Mask are the inevitable bids to turn it into a badge of political identity, whether by the libertarian right (“masks destroy the economy!”) or the statist left (“wear a mask to signify your belief that the government is failing”). There is no politics here; there is only the one person you might meet, who has to do their job, who would prefer you to wear a mask. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t wearing one. It doesn’t matter if there’s only one of him or her in your entire day, or what the science says, or whether you have read the metastudies. If one person on a till, who has to serve 150 people a day, would prefer you to be masked, that satisfies the basic demands of courtesy, and everything else is noise.