FOI exposes multiple bullying complaints at Honiton Town Council

More on the intriguing, and less than transparent, Parish Pump Politics of Honiton as information is eventually disclosed.  – Owl

Hannah Corfield 

A recent Freedom Of Information (FOI) request sent to East Devon District Council Monitoring Officer has revealed numerous complaints made about Honiton Town Council, a significant proportion of which cite bullying.

This year alone, of the eight complaints that were ‘formally progressed’ five ‘cited bullying’.

This evidence of bullying allegations made against Honiton Town Council contradicts previous statements made by leader of the council, John Zarczynski.

On multiple occasions Honiton Nub News has asked Cllr Zarczynski whether he is aware of any claims of bullying at town council, to which he has responded: “There is no bullying and I challenge anyone to bring me evidence that supports such claims.”

When asked about the FOI findings, he said: “I have never been made aware of any accusations of bullying. If anybody did make a complaint of bullying I would have acted on it straight away.”

However, according to the Information and Complaints Officer at East Devon District Council, Sara Harvey: “We have received 38 Code Complaints in total from 2017 – 2020.

“The numbers in relation to Code Complaints that were progressed are below:

2017 – 17 Complaints received of which 3 cited bullying
2018 – 2 Complaints received of which 1 cited bullying
2019 – 1 Complaint received but did not cite bullying
2020 – 8 Complaints received of which 5 cited bullying

“This does not include contacts that were received that were not formally progressed.”

The person behind the request for information is former town councillor, having resigned back in 2015, Luke Harvey-Ingram. He told Honiton Nub News: “I had a feeling that the Mayor was not being completely honest with regards to claims of bullying at Honiton Town Council (HTC) and I thought the only way to know the truth was to obtain the records using an FOI request.

“There seemed little point sending it directly to HTC, as it would have likely resulted in more legal expenditure, so I decided to go directly to East Devon District Council Monitoring Officer.

“They could not have been more helpful and really went above and beyond to provide the relevant information categorised for each year.

“All we want is for Honiton to be governed properly. Many of the items on the list of ‘projects in progress’ published recently have been in the pipeline for years.

“I don’t want to focus on the negative. A movement currently taking place within the town, Honiton Forward, seems to be a positive step in the right direction.

“The people involved are genuine and passionate about what’s best for the town and its residents.

“They have a plan to achieve the change we need to see and are proactive.”


No news, no shared space, no voice – the Tories are creating a cookie-cutter Britain

“Here, perhaps, is our hyper-individualised future, to be accompanied by a national soundtrack beamed out of the capital: no sense of place, no dependable local news, no spaces to gather – nowhere, indeed, to organise the kind of collective self-help that has recently been revealed as many communities’ last line of defence. In what looks set to be an age of disruption and disaster, we could not start from a worse place.”

John Harris 

Last week, as the government announced the reshaping of its dysfunctional test-and-trace operation, one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic was once again made plain. First, reports said that the current centralised, privatised call-centre operation was to be cut back; by Sunday, the chosen term was “wound down”. Expecting any clarity from the people in charge is clearly a mug’s game, but what looks definite is that getting flashpoints of infection under control is now to be fundamentally overseen by local councils. Reluctantly, it seems, ministers are starting to acknowledge that the anti-Covid effort – which is still too top-down – will only work effectively if it is rooted in communities.

The fact that whole swathes of basic administration are best handled at the local level is a banal insight that has eluded British governments for decades, and so it has proved again. For all that we are encouraged to think of the pandemic as a national issue, all outbreaks are essentially local – and like extreme weather events, they demand effective on-the-ground action and communication, and the kind of strong institutions that affirm people’s sense of place and solidarity. After a decade of cuts to local services, Covid-19 has cruelly highlighted the importance – and lack – of both. It has crystallised a question that goes beyond matters of politics and government into some of the most basic ways that places function: if the coronavirus has proved that doing things from the grassroots up is so crucial, why are so many aspects of our everyday lives being pushed in the opposite direction?

Last year, I wrote about drastic changes to local commercial radio, and the broadcasting giant Global getting rid of around 60 local breakfast and drivetime programmes, remodelling local news bulletins, and closing studios in places such as Chelmsford, Kendal, Lancaster, Norwich and Swindon. Now, the radio company Bauer is folding almost 50 local stations into a national radio network branded Greatest Hits that will carry programmes made in London. To meet the demands of licences, a smattering of non-national programming will continue, but will be regionally produced rather than falling to individual local stations. In the midst of an ongoing emergency that demands as many information outlets as possible – not least to advise about local lockdowns and what they entail – the gap between these moves and the most basic notions of social responsibility is obvious.

And this is only one small part of the story. A month ago, the BBC confirmed that it was cutting 450 jobs from its regional news operations. Weekly current affairs programmes will no longer be made in Nottingham, Salford, Tunbridge Wells, Southampton and Plymouth. Meanwhile, the demise of local newspapers continues apace. Reach, the UK’s largest publisher of local and regional news, is shedding hundreds of jobs. Last week, it announced the end of the Lichfield Mercury and the Sutton Coldfield Observer; in Wales, another company is shutting the weekly Glamorgan Gem, which publishes different editions across six communities. More than 245 British papers have closed in the last 15 years; in the US, the scale of extinction exceeds 1,800 titles.

There is an urgent conversation to be had about the demise of print publishing, and how to bring local journalism to new audiences: the recent arrival of dozens of local news websites – in places from Falmouth to Crewe – which trade under the brand of Nub News is encouraging, but there is still far too much scorched earth. Again, the pandemic throws everything into sharp relief. If social media is awash with misinformation – much of it local chatter – and national politicians have now decisively moved into the realm of Trumpian mendacity, then whatever guarantors of fact people can access are precious. Clearly, the demise of local media makes the search for truth even more difficult.

What is often missed in accounts of these changes is the way they dovetail with the process of austerity. First, crucial foundations of anywhere’s sense of place come under attack: librariesyouth clubscommunity centres. When local media closes, the capacity to present those changes to people and hold those responsible to account shrinks, often to nothing – something seen recently in the serious claims that nearly half of the UK’s leisure centres are in danger of closure, and the fact that such a jaw-dropping prospect seems to have barely sunk in. Something comparable applies to the newly accelerated decline of high streets, and our mounting jobs crisis. Even if big things happen, they increasingly appear as dull and unarguable as the weather.

Here and elsewhere, the 21st-century human condition is perhaps reducible to living far too quietly and fatalistically – something that came to mind when the government announced its proposed free-for-all on new housebuilding. Visit the new residential developments that now ring so many towns and cities, and you will see our increasingly rootless, anonymous, nondescript way of life frozen in bricks and mortar. The houses are sometimes nice enough, but these confounding tangles of avenues and crescents have little sign of any shared amenities aside from tiny play areas and the odd retail development. Quaint street-names, usually chosen to create the impression of a heritage that never existed, only further the sense of somehow being nowhere.

Now, as the decline of local journalism means that building proposals get far too little attention, the government wants to sideline the role of councils in the planning system. The promise is of a rapid building boom that will use design templates redolent of “Bath, Belgravia and Bournville” to deliver housing “that is beautiful and builds on local heritage and character”. But anyone who has watched what has happened to British housing will know what is surely coming: more and more Unplaces, in which community and collective purpose are beyond people’s grasp because the physical means to create and sustain them simply do not exist.

Ministers are set to get rid of section 106 agreements, the arcane-sounding provisions – named after part of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act – that often compel builders to include affordable housing in their developments, but also to make contributions to parks and public spaces, local education and community centres. Whatever small sense of shared experience and inclusion in the wider community that exists in new-build developments is frequently dependent on these things. But along with the community infrastructure levy, section 106 deals are to be replaced by a nationally determined charge for developers that is already the focus of alarm and scepticism. Given that their whole thrust is to speed up housebuilding and free developers from supposed red tape, it is not hard to see where these moves point: to places made up of cookie-cutter housing, and very little else.

Here, perhaps, is our hyper-individualised future, to be accompanied by a national soundtrack beamed out of the capital: no sense of place, no dependable local news, no spaces to gather – nowhere, indeed, to organise the kind of collective self-help that has recently been revealed as many communities’ last line of defence. In what looks set to be an age of disruption and disaster, we could not start from a worse place.

  • John Harris is a Guardian columnist

Halton, Cheshire, tops the COVID Symptom Study Watch List this week /post/incidence-update-13-aug

Halton in Cheshire has moved to the top slot of the COVID Symptom Study Watch List this week, making it the one region to watch.

COVID Symptom Study Watch List

The COVID Symptom Study app’s Watch List has this week seen a number of new entrants, including the first area in Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, Thurrock in Essex, and more regions in the North of England, St Helens, Middlesbrough, Blackpool and Lancashire. Meanwhile, Blackburn with Darwen has fallen from the top spot to sixth in the table while Halton in Cheshire has moved to the top slot, making it the one to watch.

The aim of the COVID Symptom Study app Watch List is to highlight key areas of concern so that attention can be focused on those areas. When an area of concern is highlighted, increased testing should take place there to help confirm if the situation needs further action such as a localised lockdown.

COVID Symptom Study Watch List for 13th August 2020


Data update

According to the latest COVID Symptom Study app figures, there are currently 1,434 daily new cases of COVID in the UK on average over the two weeks up to 08 August 2020 (excluding care homes). The latest figures were based on the data from 10,988 swab tests done between 26 July to 08 August. A full regional breakdown can be found here.

The latest prevalence figures estimate that 24,131 people currently have symptomatic COVID in the UK. The prevalence data again highlights that the amount of symptomatic COVID nationally has remained stable. The numbers are still higher in the North of England but the numbers have slightly decreased since last week. This figure does not include long-term COVID sufferers.

The COVID Symptom Study app’s prevalence estimate is lower, but still within the confidence bounds of the most recent and smaller ONS Infection survey last week with an estimated 28,300 people (95% credible interval: 18,900 to 40,800) in England during the one week period from the 27 July to 2 August 2020.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments: 

“It’s encouraging to see that the numbers are coming down slightly across the UK and that the isolated outbreaks in the North of England appear to be well contained so far. This is further confirmation that we aren’t at the beginning of a second wave and rather, still trying to end the first. The figures also suggest that the outbreaks we are seeing in other countries such as Belgium, France and Spain aren’t having an effect here in the UK yet.

On top of this, the hot weather which caused concern by making many flock to crowded beaches and parks doesn’t seem to be having the predicted negative impact. Overall, we are pleasantly surprised by the figures this week which are back down to the early July levels and hope that the good news continues.”

Tories accused of quietly watering down law on farm antibiotics after Brexit

Tory ministers have been accused of quietly watering down farming laws after Brexit in a move that could make it easier to get a US trade deal.

Friends of the Earth raised the alarm over a change to how limits on antibiotics in farm animals will work after the transition period ends in December.

The EU sets ‘Maximum Residue Limits’, which control how much of a medicine, pesticide or other product is allowed to be present in an animal’s carcass.

Currently these EU limits are written into UK law.

But a little-noticed Brexit law, passed last year, said that in future the UK will set these limits behind closed doors – not in the letter of the law.

While the UK government has pledged it will keep all existing EU MRLs, it’s understood in future the UK will “set appropriate MRLs” of its own choosing.

Friends of the Earth warned the change could give “a blank slate to set new, weaker standards and water down our environmental protections”.

The current list includes an antibiotic called monensin, used in cows in the US but limited to 10 microgrammes per kilogram in beef fat here.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) insisted the limit on it will remain.

But Kierra Box of Friends of the Earth said: “Ministers keep saying that the UK standards we have now will remain, but this shows that promise just doesn’t wash.

“In fact, government have already deleted swathes of rules and restrictions, and are slipping through plans to set these ‘administratively’ in the future, which we know really means ‘behind closed doors’.

“Nobody who is across the detail of these plans has any faith that environmental standards are not at risk of being further weakened during trade negotiations with the US, Australia and wherever else we need to go, cap in hand.

“The simple fact is you can’t weaken protections that are already gone.”

Tory grandee and former Environment Secretary Lord Deben, formerly John Gummer, told the Mail there “does seem to an alteration of the current law.”

“The policy seems to be moving from complete prohibition to future decision-making by Ministers,” he said. “This is an extremely important issue for people’s health.”

Defra said the scientific method for establishing MRLs has not changed but accepted the UK could diverge from the EU in future.

An official said: “The legislative changes we have made will ensure that the UK can set appropriate MRLs and ensure that products for food-producing species can be made available on the UK market.

“Existing MRLs determined while we were in the EU will be retained.”

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We are absolutely committed to maintaining the stringent controls on the medicines that can be used for all animals, including food-producing ones, following the end of the Transition Period.

“This means the ban on Monensin as a growth promoter and other controlled substances will remain in place, helping to protect the health of people, animals and the environment.”

Ministers criticised over plan to scrap Public Health England

Senior doctors, hospital bosses and public health experts have accused ministers of scapegoating Public Health England for their own failings over Covid-19 by planning to axe the agency.

Denis Campbell

The government’s decision to scrap PHE and merge it into a new body charged with preventing future outbreaks of infectious diseases produced a chorus of criticism on Sunday.

Ministers are frustrated with PHE over the testing of samples of suspected coronavirus, tracing of contacts of those who have become infected, and the way it counts Covid-related deaths.

However, a succession of senior health figures have claimed the move, made while parliament is not sitting, is an attempt by Boris Johnson’s administration to shift the blame for its own failings during the pandemic.

They claimed that ministers were exaggerating PHE’s errors and importance in order to distract attention from the fact that they and not the agency made key mistakes in the early weeks of fighting a pandemic that has so far claimed more than 65,000 lives.

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, the president of the Royal Society of Medicine and a former adviser to the government, said: “PHE employs some of the best, brightest and most hardworking clinicians and experts we have. There are simply not enough of them, which can partly be explained by the steady reduction in funding over the last seven years.

“Perhaps we do need a more joined-up structure, but we should not scapegoat PHE for the failures in the system in which they are but one cog.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the hospital body NHS Providers, defended PHE and pointed out that the government’s underfunding of the agency, and the 25% cut since 2015 to the wider public health budget in England, had limited the UK’s ability to respond effectively to Covid-19.

He pointed out that PHE is an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), unlike other health bodies such as NHS England and the Care Quality Commission. He said: “This gives ministers direct control of its activities. So whilst it might be convenient to seek to blame PHE’s leadership team, it is important that the government reflects on its responsibilities as well.”

Pointing the finger at the health secretary, Matt Hancock, and other ministers, Hopson added: “The government’s strategy in the early stages of the pandemic in key areas of PHE’s responsibility such as testing was flawed and confusing. Ministers, not PHE officials, were driving that strategy, directing the response and allocating resources accordingly.”

A senior figure at PHE, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian: “It is just not right nor fair to pin all blame like this. We wouldn’t claim to have got everything right – who can? – but we don’t operate unilaterally from the chief medical officer or ministers. The issue that needs resolving is investment – [a] proper budget, [and] significant investment in public health labs/science.”

The Sunday Telegraph, which revealed the plan, said ministers intend to merge PHE with NHS Test and Trace, which is run by the private firm Serco, to form a new body called the National Institute for Health Protection.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s ruling council, questioned the government’s wisdom: “We must absolutely not allow PHE and its staff to shoulder the blame for wider failings and government decisions. With more than 1,000 new UK cases of Covid-19 being recorded for the fifth day in a row, we must seriously question whether now is the right time for undertaking such a seemingly major restructure and detract from the very immediate need to respond to the pandemic.”

The businesswoman and former Talk Talk boss Baroness Harding, the head of NHS test and trace and of the regulator NHS Improvement, whose husband is the Conservative MP John Penrose, is tipped to run the new institute.

Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University, responded to that speculation, saying: “There are reports suggesting former telecoms executive Dido Harding will be given the role of overseeing the new institute, which makes about as much sense as [chief medical officer] Chris Whitty being appointed the Vodafone head of branding and corporate image.”

Prof John Ashton, a former regional director of public health, said: “You don’t do this in the middle of a crisis, and certainly not put Dido in charge when she has been such a disaster with test and trace.” NHS Test and Trace has been criticised for contributing to the recent increase in cases of coronavirus by tracing too few people who have tested positive and tracking down too few of their contacts, so that those involved can be told to isolate.

PHE’s potential abolition has been an open secret in Whitehall for months. Boris Johnson had the agency in mind when he referred in June to how parts of government had been “sluggish” in their response when the pandemic struck in March.

A spokesperson for the DHSC did not rebut the report that PHE will be scrapped. They simply said: “Public Health England has played an integral role in our national response to this unprecedented global pandemic.

“We have always been clear that we must learn the right lessons from this crisis to ensure that we are in the strongest possible position, both as we continue to deal with Covid-19 and to respond to any future public health threat.”

Flybe investors plan legal fight over 1p deal

Francesca Washtell

Former Flybe shareholders preparing legal action over claims they were misled about airline’s performance before it was sold in cut-price deal

  • Several dozen retail investors want a judge to decide if former directors put out inaccurate statements 
  • The shareholders’ investments were wiped out after they received just 1p per share when it was sold in early 2019 

Former Flybe shareholders are preparing legal action over claims they were misled about the airline’s performance before it was sold in a cut-price deal last year.

Several dozen retail investors want a judge to decide if former directors put out inaccurate statements and overstated how well the company was doing.

The shareholders’ investments were wiped out after they received just 1p per share when it was sold in early 2019 to a group called Connect Airways, which was led by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin.

The budget airline’s stock had been trading at 16.4p per share, valuing it at £36m, the day before the rescue deal was announced.

But the 1p offer was 94 per cent lower than this and left the amount owed to shareholders at just £2.2m, even though the airline raised another £2.8m by selling assets.

Flybe had put itself up for sale in late 2018 after running into financial difficulties.

Connect bought Flybe, but the airline eventually went bust this year after the coronavirus crisis hit bookings and the Government refused to hand it a £100m bailout loan.

The former shareholders want to claim compensation and have hired a UK law firm to put together a case to see if they can take ex-directors including then-chairman Simon Laffin and chief executive Christine Ourmieres-Widener to court.

One investor, who did not wish to be named, lost £350,000 because of the rock-bottom sale price.

The investor said: ‘First, the impact this has had on me as an individual is irreversible. Life changing measures have had to be made including having to sell assets etc to survive. Mentally this has also been very challenging.’

Another investor said: ‘The use of language, often repeated by the board, to stimulate investment, maximise shareholder value and provide for a stable and positive future for the business, was influential in my decision to invest.’

A spokesman for the law firm said: ‘We are exploring the merits of a potential claim by shareholders against the former directors of Flybe for their alleged misconduct and mishandling of the company’s affairs. We are analysing the prospects of recovery and whether the board has insurance.

‘We will be considering the robustness of the sale process and seeking answers as to how confidential information surrounding terms of the takeover was leaked to the media, which resulted in Flybe having little to no opportunity to mitigate its position.

‘The directors could be potentially accountable for any failure to provide accurate and true statements and failing to act in the best interests of the company and shareholders.’

Laffin and Ourmieres-Widener declined to comment.