South west England full to capacity, say police 

The south west of England is “full to capacity” leading to “unprecedented demand” for 999 services in Devon and Cornwall, police have warned.

The force received 2,301 emergency calls at the weekend, a 26.5% increase on the same period in 2019.

Anti-social behaviour accounted for many of the calls, with a 67% increase year on year.

Devon and Cornwall Police has asked people to “respect our region”.

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Colwell said the weekend’s events, spurred on by the hot weather, had resulted in an “unprecedented demand”, forcing officers to attend a “plethora of different incidents”.

It included 31 reports of environmental anti-social behaviour (ASB), including disposable barbeques and other waste being left behind by people.

Officers said a further 102 reports of ASB were “often drink-related”, and recorded another 191 reports of people being a “nuisance”.

‘Unacceptably high’

In August alone, the force said it had taken 9,622 calls, equating to about 962 per day and “significantly up” on the average 718.

Residents in Cornwall previously said they were “too scared” to go shopping due to the number of visitors, with respondents in one Devon town adding they were “exhausted and overwhelmed” by the levels of disregard shown by incomers.

ACC Colwell described the figures as “unacceptably high” and called on tourists to “think” before they travel to the region.

“Book your accommodation before you travel, drive safely on our roads, respect our coasts and drink responsibly,” he said.

“If you are visiting the many outstanding areas of natural beauty we have, take your rubbish away and play your part in making Devon and Cornwall a safe place for our residents and tourists alike.”

How the Tories squandered an opportunity to provide affordable housing in Exmouth

Owl’s attention has been drawn to some particularly interesting letters concerning local planning matters in this week’s edition of the Exmouth Journal:  GESP and Goodmore’s Farm. The previous post dealt with GESP, this post gives Cllr Paul Millar’s view on Goodmores Farm.

Goodmores Farm: more affordable housing needed

Exmouth needs more social and affordable housing; that is my number one priority for the people of this town.

Our statistics show that there are thousands of Exmouth residents languishing in the private rented sector paying eyewateringly-high rents, and thousands more on the waiting list for social and affordable housing.

We also have many in temporary accommodation having been made homeless by family circumstances and/or an eviction from a private tenancy made before lockdown. With little space for Exmouth to expand, the Goodmore’s Farm site will be one of the last major housing developments in our town.

This site represents the perfect opportunity to deliver the homes our local people need: a mixture of starter homes for first-time buyers, many of whom are living with parents saving for a mortgage and genuinely affordable homes; and secure tenancies for local people without savings.

However, the developer does not consider the building of at least 25 per cent affordable homes to be viable.

Had the Conservative county council not insisted on a new primary school on the site, we wouldn’t be in this situation with the affordable housing.

Despite hundreds of written objections, the scheme is set to go ahead.

There is no way the East Devon District Council planning committee can responsibly vote against it because they know the Planning Inspector would overrule them and that costs the council money. The principle of the school was unwisely, in my view, agreed by the committee in 2018.

Even if there is a need for a new primary school, which has not been demonstrated, the location is far ft-om ideal, with the busy Dinan Way known for its high levels of traffic.

A planning officer told me that the only possible way this development could, at this late stage, include more affordable homes is if Devon County Council spoke with the developer and dropped the school, in exchange for some playing pitches, for example, which would be far less expensive and far more beneficial.

So I urge Exmouth residents to contact the county council cabinet member for schools and your two Exmouth county councillors Richard Scott and Jeff Trail, with your objections.

This will show strength of feeling in the town, against the building of 317 homes, only 16 of which local people with a housing need could possibly access in terms of affordability.

Cllr Paul Millar Democracy and Transparency Portfolio Holder, East Devon District Council Ward Member for Exmouth Halsdon

Local correspondence on GESP conducted in the Exmouth Journal

Owl’s attention has been drawn to some particularly interesting letters concerning local planning matters in this week’s edition of the Exmouth Journal:  GESP and Goodmore’s Farm. This post concentrates on GESP.

Under the page banner:

“Haven’t we had our fair share?”

From Nicola Daniel, Budleigh Salterton:

I thank the editor of the Journal for a comprehensive summary of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) in last week’s Journal (August 5) following my letter of the previous week.

I also thank Councillor Skinner for his comprehensive outline of his views on GESP.

After all, he is probably the East Devon District Council councillor who has recently been a key player and has the most knowledge of the plan as he has attended many GESP meetings on behalf of EDDC. My worry is that there has been no transparency and community involvement from the start of this plan.

The first consultation was a fait accompli as there was an assumption that GESP would decide on the high level strategic planning policy for the area – major developments – and local plans would deal with smaller scale developments.

It then asked for landowners to submit land in excess of 500 houses. No surprise that the sites poured in.

There were no options then for any alternatives and there are no options now in the latest consultation.

Surely there are better ways to incorporate housing into neighbourhoods than very large developments?

But residents were never asked. We know that we need housing but not as in the GESP way. He is obviously happy that East Devon will take the lion’s share of the housing needs of Exeter and its environs.

Built on grade 1 agricultural land, haven’t we had Skypark and Cranbrook with an estimated final total of 20,000 people, the second largest town in East Devon and one of the largest in Devon?

Haven’t we in East Devon taken our fair share already?

And what about the many of us who spent hours writing and consulting on the 17 made EDDC Neighbourhood Plans and those still struggling?

Have we wasted our time? Well yes, ‘Neighbourhood Plans are able to support the strategic development needs set out in the Local Plan and GESP’.

Followed by

CIIr Eileen Wragg, Exmouth Town Ward

Concerns raised over GESP

Clearly, Cllr Phillip Skinner is feeling rattled to have responded to my column of July 29, (Opinion. August 5) and in what I felt was such an insulting and undignified manner.

His views are not shared by the majority administration at East Devon District Council, who share my concerns, and the concerns of members of Mid Devon District Council (MDDC).

Skinner states that he is appalled by my lack of knowledge, and that the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) would be far from overriding our own Local Plan. Firstly, we were told by a senior planning officer that the GESP would carry more weight than our own Local Plan.

This is endorsed by a report by MDDC recently which states its concern regarding their emerging Local Plan: “After it is adopted, GESP will then supersede it, and that strategic site allocations and housing supply targets will have been determined for us by GESP.” Perhaps Cllr Skinner should acquaint himself with these facts, in addition to the landowners who have come forward.

Undeniably, there are people who are in dire need of housing, and who will probably never be homeowners, and who will have to rely on landlords, who would undoubtedly purchase many of the proposed properties.

Regarding Cllr Skinner’s invitation to discuss the GESP with him, I visited him, at his request, at one of his homes earlier this year, and, having listened at great length to his plans for future development for East Devon, I have decided not to enter into further discussion with him, so will decline his invitation to do so, as I would not like to compromise my position as chair of EDDC’s planning committee.

I will continue to stick to my commitment in representing my constituents and doing what I was elected to do, which is what I believe to be in the best interests of the residents of Exmouth and East Devon.

Backstory: Owl has pieced together the origins of this correspondence.

It starts with Eileen Wragg writing an “Opinion” article entitled “Aim of pulling out of GESP is to save our countryside” in 29  July edition of the Journal (already posted by owl). This seems to have prompted a first letter from Nicola Daniel printed the following week under the banner headline:

We will benefit from this decision

I am very disappointed and indeed. surprised, that the Journal of July 29, has only one reference to what is a historic decision for Exmouth and its surroundings.

The decision by East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) politically balanced strategic planning committee to recommend to the main council to pull out of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) will affect us all to our great benefit.

EDDC was asked to consult the public on a document which would thrust a great proportion of the 53,260 planned homes to be built in Exeter and Its environs in East Devon.

The only place that this scheme was mentioned was on the opinion page by Eileen Wragg. a Liberal Democrat politician. The front page was devoted to a 34-home small scale development in

Although this may be highly controversial, very small fry in comparison.

Nicola Daniel

Underneath was printed: Editor’s note. Further details about the possible implications, if the full council at EDDC adopt the recommendation of strategic planning committee, can be seen on page 24 [of the Journal]

This was followed by the Philip Skinner letter Eileen Wragg, above, was responding to.

Proposals form basis for debate

Writing as the East Devon District Council (EDDC) Conservative Group lead on Strategic Planning. I am responding to an article published in last week’s Journal quoting Cllr Eileen Wragg, for who I have a lot of respect; well that was until I read the opinion article quoting ClIr Wragg regarding the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP).

I am appalled at Cllr Wragg’s lack of knowledge regarding the GESP process, given she has been a district councillor for more years than me and I’ve been one for over 21 years!

I feel the article needs a balancing view as detailed in the following point by point commentary.

1. Landowners put forward land for consideration for future development as part of a process led by the district council in a ‘call for sites.

This is well before anybody can even starts to assemble a long term strategic plan. (in the case of the GESP to 2040).

As representatives of local authorities, we all need to understand who would be prepared to engage in the process.

Far from it being a fait accompli as stated by Cllr Wragg. It is simply the basis of discussion and debate, which goes out to consultation to the private sector the general public and any other interested parties to ‘have their say’.

The current leadership of EDDC appears to oppose this process.

2. far from GESP overriding Local Plans, it looks to very much engage with the district Local Plan moving forward and takes consideration of the plan to enhance and deliver a strong combined plan, engaging with the other neighbouring authorities, including the ability to deliver infrastructure funding.

3. ‘Who would it be built for anyway’? I’m lost by this comment from Cllr Wragg.

I would suggest probably for the many people who are in dire need of housing.

I would have thought Cllr Wragg would have understood this, as we have a housing issue across the district, which if left as it is will grow, leading to further deprivation and poverty, hence the key wording ‘strategic planning’.

We have a duty to provide homes and opportunity for our people; that’s our job!

4. EDDC has not pulled out of GESP. At this stage it Is a recommendation from the strategic planning committee to the EDDC full council meeting on August 20. Full council will make the final decision.

I am not able to cover all the points in this letter due to the complexities of the GESP, but would be more than happy to engage with Cllr Wragg in a formal discussion on a one-to-one basis, either through your paper or any other media channel as it is vital to ensure a balanced and accurate view is presented for residents to be clear on what is being proposed in their name, but not in their best interest.

Cllr Philip Skinner, EDDC Conservative Group lead on Strategic Planning.

More local news coverage on GESP disintegration

The story by Daniel Clark (posted on EDW here) is now running in the Exmouth Journal:

and as the Editorial in the Crediton Courier

England’s contact-tracing saga is at the heart of the government’s failures

How councils were sidelined in favour of outsourcing firms as virus slipped out of control

The saga of the attempts to set up an English test-and-trace system is perhaps the central story of the government’s Covid-19 failure.

At the heart of the tale is a prime minister who promised NHS test and trace would be a “world beating” operation. Next to him sits Matt Hancock, the health secretary whose record is now indelibly associated with the smartphone app that was meant to be integral to controlling the virus, but has yet to materialise. Other key actors include Serco, the multinational outsourcing company that has previously been contracted to run everything from prisons to air traffic control – and, at a cost of £108m, was recently put in charge of recruiting and training thousands of call centre workers to establish contact with infected people and ensure that anyone they had been close to went into self-isolation.

Over the five months since lockdown began, one other set of voices has been central to the drama: local authorities, whose 140-odd directors of public health are expert in disease control and contact tracing, and whose councillors, officials and staff are forensically familiar with the areas they serve, even after a decade of crushing austerity. During the outbreak’s initial phase – roughly, from February to the end of May – many of these people complained of being cut out of decision-making about the pandemic, and deprived of resources and the all-important data that would allow them to get on top of local outbreaks.

According to Sir Chris Ham, a lifelong NHS insider and the former chief executive of the health charity the Kings Fund, the basic insight either ignored or misunderstood by the government was plain. “Contact tracing has to be led locally by people who work in the communities that are affected and understand them,” he says.

“They’re part-detectives, part-anthropologists: they work with leaders in faith groups, in community organisations, and public services, to understand why there are more cases in a particular area, and how to work with everyone to contain and reduce the challenges. You can’t do that sitting in a remote call centre.”

But now, with the reopening of schools in England less than a month away, everything is to change. From 24 August, nationally-recruited call-centre staff will be “ringfenced” into individual teams that will be linked to specific councils, and the national test-and-trace effort will take a new “integrated” and “localised” approach. This shift follows the arrival of local measures aimed at controlling Covid-19 flare-ups in Leicester and Greater Manchester – and the trailblazing creation of dedicated local test-and-trace operations in Blackburn, Lancashire, Calderdale in West Yorkshire, and Liverpool.

Last week, figures were published showing that whereas call-centre or online workers managed to trace 56% of people’s contacts, the figure was 98% among local health protection teams. The imbalance between the two approaches was perhaps most clearly demonstrated by stories of call-centre workers making handfuls of calls per month, while council staff were worked off their feet.

For those of us who have been following this story, disentangling the confounding mess that was hastily built to administer testing and tracing has been an onerous task. If the tale has a single point of origin, it was the abandonment of initial efforts on 12 March, and the outbreak therefore being allowed to slip free of any meaningful monitoring or official control. When the government then resolved to begin mass testing, its network of regional testing centres was outsourced to yet another private company, Deloitte.

Serco was joined at the heart of the national contact-tracing system by the US “customer services” giant Sitel. Local directors of public health, meanwhile, complained that they were unsure of their relationship with these players, and had woefully insufficient access to detailed data which – in theory at least – was being harvested by the government’s testing machine: information showing people’s age, address, and ethnic origin, all vital to local control of the pandemic.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said that people on the ground had ended up being “like local detectives being asked to solve crimes without being given the names of any of the victims or suspects.” Even when Leicester became the first area of the UK to impose a local lockdown, the city council initially bemoaned its lack of access to crucial infection data.

Belatedly, however, the basic orientation of the test-and-trace system had begun to change. In mid-May, NHS test and trace had announced the recruitment as a “national lead on tracing” of Tom Riordan, a highly-respected figure in local government, seconded from his job as the chief executive of Leeds City council. Insiders say that as he worked with Dido Harding, the Tory peer and former CEO of the mobile phone company TalkTalk who is now the executive chair of the test-and-trace operation, its workings at least began to tilt in a more localised direction. Insiders now talk about a “reverse takeover”, whereby the very councils that were initially cut out of the national test-and-trace system have been belatedly pushed to its forefront.

Nonetheless, change has taken months to materialise. On 1 July, it was announced that councils were to be offered the postcode-level infection data that they had been frantically requesting for months. Two weeks later, the government said that councils would be granted powers to close sites and premises hit by coronavirus outbreaks – and on 6 August, their access to information about local Covid-19 levels was enhanced to “near real-time data”.

If these things suggest palpable improvement, big questions remain. Concerns continue to be expressed about the numbers of test-and-trace workers councils are able to call on. Even if the national test-and-trace operation is now set to shed 6,000 workers, what will the continuing role of outsourcing companies be, and how much will it cost?

There is also a low rumble of concern about base politics. With signs of a second wave and the looming arrival of autumn, councils’ expertise will be essential for any meaningful control of the virus. But if England’s woeful experience of Covid-19 takes another turn for the worse, putting them at the core of how the disease is dealt with may also allow Boris Johnson and his colleagues to slip free of blame – something that must have at least flitted across the collective mind of this most calculating of governments.

A Covid jobs crisis is on the way. If you have shares in Rishi Sunak, sell them now 

“Over the crises of the past 40 years, the political class has always offered a better tomorrow. Thatcher responded to industrial decline with a services revolution and a credit boom. Tony Blair promised a knowledge economy. Cameron urged us on in the global race. For all his bombast and bluster, Boris Johnson can’t point to any sunlit upland just ahead. This time, there’s just a dead end.”

Aditya Chakrabortty

For a hint of what the near future of this country holds, talk to Emily Pringle. At the end of June, she advertised a job with her home-fragrance firm, Notes of Northumberland. Based in pretty Alnwick, with lovely colleagues – 16 hours a week, working mainly in the shop. Pringle might ordinarily expect 40-odd CVs. This time, she was deluged: within a fortnight, almost 600 people applied.

Many lived more than 30 miles away, in Newcastle. Most were vastly overqualified, and a good number had PhDs. All were now fighting for part-time work in retail. “It made me sad,” Pringle tells me. “That’s not why they spent so long studying. But it says a lot about the state of the jobs market.”

Look around and these stories are unfolding all over Covid UK. A Manchester restaurant wants a receptionist: over the next 24 hours, almost 1,000 people write in. A south London pub seeks two bar staff: 500 candidates step forward.

Shocking numbers, for now. But by Christmas such vignettes will be piled higher than the snow because, if the official projections are correct, the UK faces a jobs crisis the likes of which it hasn’t confronted for two generations. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that this winter unemployment will rocket to levels last seen in the early 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, with nearly one in eight workers unemployed. Thought you’d been hurt badly by the banking crash of 2008? Just wait.

Here is the ultimate implication of the OBR’s analysis: if you are under 50, chances are you will never have been in a labour market as tough as the one that lies just ahead. The face of the 1980s recession was The Full Monty: male, middle-aged and on the scrapheap, alongside his heavy industrial employer. The face of the 2020 depression is more likely to be young, female and just let go from a restaurant – but in the early surge it will include a lot of people, from every walk of life.

Once the summer lull is over, an earthquake will shake Britain. Its early tremors can be felt already, as unemployment rises, yet few in the political classes have paused to consider the havoc it will wreak, let alone what might seriously be done about it. If anything, the government is helping to bring on the jobless crisis. This week, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has begun cutting the subsidy he gives employers to keep workers on the payroll. That scheme has helped protect 9.5 million jobs and its gradual withdrawal will immediately mean more P45s being handed out. Not that you’ll hear much about it: Sunak prefers doing photo-ops to publicise his scheme to give voters half-price Happy Meals.

The government that had to be shamed into finding £120m to feed hungry kids over the school holidays happily chucks four times that – half a billion pounds – on a 13-day gimmick. Priorities, eh? Yet Sunak’s reward is ever more newspaper profiles. Last Saturday the Times magazine embellished its portrait of the chancellor with a Photoshopped halo.

Any pundits with stocks in the chancellor should cash them in now, because from this sunlit peak his standing can only fall. After doing many of the right things in March to save jobs, Sunak has done precious little since. The result will be to waste much of the £200bn he has spent to keep businesses and workers afloat.

The Treasury fully shuts its job retention scheme entirely at the end of October. Firms will be offered a small bonus to hold on to staff, but many will make redundancies. At that point, temporarily-idled employees who have been drawing 80% of their wages will crash through a trapdoor into the harsh world of unemployment benefits.

David Cameron’s government spent much of the past decade deliberately shredding the social safety net. “This is not an easy life any more, chum,” boasted welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith in 2012. He and his chums helped ensure the UK went into the current crisis with one of the meanest employment safety nets in the industrialised world. And while Sunak has raised some benefits, they remain abysmally low.

What awaits those unlucky millions who go from being “strivers”, as George Osborne called them, to “skivers”? A massive shock. Early surveys by the Resolution Foundation show that of those starting to claim universal credit since the lockdown, one in three are already falling behind on bills. Later this month, landlords will be allowed to evict tenants who can’t pay their rent, and mortgage lenders will again be able to repossess homes.

Imagine what this adds up to: a graduate a couple of years out of university loses her job, then her rented flat then, if lucky, ends up back at her parents’ with a mountain of debt. To keep up on the mortgage, a family goes from shopping at Sainsbury’s to queueing at the food bank. And the part-time lecturer with a PhD has no option but to try for that job selling scented candles.

Across the country, people who believed they’d done the right things and thought they were secure will find they don’t get the right outcome. People who trusted a government, a state, to look after them will learn differently. Those parts of the country that last December went blue may not flip back to Labour – they may instead switch to Nigel Farage, who has been busking hard over this pandemic. And as economist Paul Gregg observes, when the dust clears, those who will ultimately be hit the hardest will be the young, those from deprived areas, and especially minority ethnic people.

In her just-completed book, Abusing Power, journalist Kate Belgrave documents the toll the welfare state takes on those who need it most. She records how Paul, battling in his filthy caravan to keep himself presentable, is told by a housing officer, “You’re too well-dressed to be homeless”, while jobcentre staff interrogate Marsha, who has mental health problems, about her childhood abuse. The government suspended much of this bullying early in the pandemic, but soon enough it will restart.

The welfare system has been reconfigured to punish Other People, not to help People Like Us. It is not fit for an era of mass unemployment. But neither is much else about polarised, privatised Britain during this pandemic. An economy addicted to consumerism looks useless at this point – when the last thing anyone wants is cafes, hotels and consumer services. The low-paid precarious jobs fostered by Tory ministers over the past decade will be among the first to go in this depression.

Over the crises of the past 40 years, the political class has always offered a better tomorrow. Thatcher responded to industrial decline with a services revolution and a credit boom. Tony Blair promised a knowledge economy. Cameron urged us on in the global race. For all his bombast and bluster, Boris Johnson can’t point to any sunlit upland just ahead. This time, there’s just a dead end.

• Aditya Chakrabortty is a Guardian columnist

UK government urged to justify £108m contact-tracing deal with Serco

The government has been urged to demonstrate there was no favouritism at play in awarding Serco a contact-tracing contract worth £108m, as a leaked memo revealed the outsourcing firm was enlisted to help with the Covid-19 response as early as January.

Serco is facing growing calls to be axed from any future involvement in contact-tracing services amid concerns over the performance of private firms contracted to trace people who have mixed with infected individuals.

An email leaked to Justin Madders, the shadow health minister, showed the company was approached by Public Health England in January over preparations to tackle the pandemic, prompting questions over whether it was “cherry picked” by the government and given the inside track.

The £108m contract was directly awarded to Serco by the Crown Commercial Service on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care (DoHSC) in May. It was not put out to open tender but selected via an existing framework of suppliers.

It comes after the government announced on Monday that NHS test and trace was cutting 6,000 contact-tracer jobs and allocating roles to regional teams to work with councils, after criticism that the centrally run system was failing to tackle local outbreaks.

Along with outsourcing firm Sitel, Serco has been contracted by the government to oversee “non-complex” contact-tracing cases in England, where call centre workers contact individuals who have spent time with an infected person. The firm has been forced to defend its performance, however, after figures showed just over half of people from the same household as an infected person were being contacted. Concerns have been raised by contact tracers that they have made just a handful of calls and feel untrained.

With Serco’s £108m three-month contract up for renewal on 23 August, the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, and the shadow Cabinet Office minister, Rachel Reeves, jointly wrote this week to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, urging him not to hand Serco any more money to run contact tracing. They are calling on the government not to extend the contract, which could be worth up to £410m.

On Tuesday Madders released an email that he said was sent to Serco contact tracers in early June on behalf of the firm’s customer services director, Garry Robinson, which suggested the company had been contacted by health officials in January asking for help.

In the email, Robinson conceded it had been a slow start but stated there would be a “steady increase in the workload” in the coming weeks. In a section titled “journey so far”, he detailed the company’s early involvement in the pandemic response, writing: “I received a call from Public Health England officials on 22 January, explaining there was a virus in China, which was causing them concern, and they asked if I could stand up a small team in case they required urgent support. Since then, I have been responsible for a number of support lines across various government departments offering support to citizens of the UK concerned about their health, the financial impact CV-19 has had on them, their children’s education and the impact on their companies.”

Madders told the Guardian: “That email went out to contact tracers in early June and suggests Serco was cherry picked very early on by the government to get involved in the pandemic response. It looks like they’ve had the inside track from the start. It begs the question, why was Serco asked as early as January to get involved in the government’s response to the pandemic?

“It’s clear that adequate procurement processes were not followed when Serco was later awarded a £108m government contract to oversee contact tracing. Like with some PPE contracts, this seems to be creating a bit of stench. It’s up to the government to demonstrate there was no favouritism at play here.”

Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, an organisation that campaigns for public ownership of public services, urged the government to give the money it could spend on renewing private contact-tracing contracts to local authorities. “Local teams have the tools and the local knowledge they need to do this vital work before any second wave this winter. Now they need the money,” she said.

A Serco spokesperson said: “Serco was appointed to the test-and-trace programme under the Crown Commercial Service’s contact centre services framework. We gained our place on the framework through fair and open competition. Serco has played an important part in helping to reach hundreds of thousands of people who might otherwise have passed on the virus. Our team of call handlers has been 93% successful in persuading people to isolate where we are able to have conversations.”

A government spokesperson said: “As a result of public and private sector organisations working together at pace, we were able to protect our NHS and strengthen our response to this unprecedented global pandemic. Contracts have been awarded completely in line with procurement regulations for exceptional circumstances, where being able to procure at speed has been critical in the national response to Covid-19.”