Atkins Auctions set for relocation to Axminster Carpets factory

An Axminster auction house could be set to relocate to a vacant part of the Axminster Carpets factory.

Atkins Auctions has submitted a planning application to change the use of an existing unit, in Gamberlake, to an auction house.

If given the go-ahead, Atkins Auctions would relocate from its current premises in Lyme Street.

According to the planning statement, the auction house would operate once a month on a Friday and will otherwise be utilised as storage space for upcoming auctions.

The existing forecourt would be used for car parking.

The planning statement said: “Atkins require a new auction room facility as their existing premises within the centre of the town are now too small for their ongoing operations and the facilities are no longer fit for purpose.

“This application seeks to ensure that the company remain in the local community, where they are well established.”

East Devon District Council will make the final decision on the planning application..

New Fiver Fest planned for Axminster

Totally Locally Axminster is set to launch a new ‘Fiver Fest’ initiative in the drive to win support for the town’s hard pressed independent traders.

Chris Carson

Axminster is one of dozens of towns across the country joining the latest high profile national campaign, which will run from 10 to 24 October.

The local organising team is hoping for a string of good value offers to drive home the key message that if every adult spent £5 a week locally that they would otherwise have spent online or with national stores it would pump £1.8m a year into the Axminster economy.

Organsier Barrie Hedges, of the Archway Bookshop, said: “Many Axminster businesses were fighting to keep their heads above the water before coronavirus came along, so the imperative to support those who have come out the other side is a strong one.

“It needs only a small change in individual spending habits to bring about a big shift in fortunes for the town you care about.”

There was gloom in the town when the owners of the department store which previously operated Trinity House announced its closure last November. But the building was bought by Axminster Property and is undergoing a swift transition, with eight of its nine potential shop and business units now taken or under discussion.

The Lou La Belle boutique, which opened in the first restored unit in June, has quickly become a success, and The Crafty Hobbit gift and crafts shop is due to open next door in October..

Meanwhile, the popular Waffle Community House has announced its plans to take over the whole of the first floor with a much extended operation towards the end of the year.

Jane Rockett, of Axminster Printing, is one of the business people with confidence in the future of the town centre.

She said: “The massive turnaround that is underway with the restoration of Trinity House has brought a new sense of anticipation to Axminster.

“We now need to turn that into a greater belief in the town as a whole – and with it a bigger shopper footfall.”

Jane and brother Keith Rockett are prime examples of the spirit that exists amongst Axminster’s independent traders.

They kept their printing and stationery business going single handed through the early stages of the lockdown when there was no choice but to furlough staff and made home deliveries to those unable to collect.

The new Fiver Fest is open to any independent business in Axminster or the immediate area that sells to the public.

Each business will be provided free-of-charge with point-of-sale posters to promote their chosen fiver offers.

Traders are being asked to sign up by 18 September and can do so by emailing


Britain can’t level up without better buses

Buses are a lifeline for millions of people in our cities and city regions. Before Covid-19, buses transported more people than any other form of public transport and when our cities come back to life, buses will again be the main mode of transport for many citizens.

Nick Forbes 

We in local government know that buses can be the difference in whether someone can take a job enrol on to a college course or degree programme, or access the public services that they rely on. And we know too that unless we do something about air quality in our cities, the public health impacts of carbon emissions will get worse and worse.

Last year in England, bus passengers took three times as many journeys as railway users. According to public transport watchdog Transport Focus, more than half of passengers say that a bus is the only means of transport available to them. But the buses they catch are ageing, environmentally damaging and expensive. Bus journeys in our core cities often cost more per mile than bus journeys in London, where the network is controlled by the elected mayor, not the private sector.

When it comes to government support for big infrastructure projects, some things fall into the “sexy” category: aircraft carriers, high speed railways, new runways. But we must not forget the need to get young people to college, key workers to work and shoppers to the high street, particularly as we transition from lockdown. That is why now is the time to get serious about bus infrastructure — from policy, to pricing, to the quality of service. Central government has never had a proper strategy for making life better for bus passengers outside London. We need root-and-branch reform.

Buses are the arteries of the local economies on which the government is basing its levelling up agenda. Ensuring that opportunity is open to all means providing links between people and places. And it is on this basis that the core cities want to put political allegiances aside to capitalise on the government’s stated intention of a national bus strategy for England. Our cities, connected to the towns and villages surrounding us, will be the engines of prosperity.

Although bus usage is higher than other forms of public transport, the number of local journeys has declined in many cities. Deregulation as far back as 1986 created a policy environment that prioritised the provider over the service user, meaning less profitable routes cannot be subsidised by more profitable ones.

If bus use fails to recover after this crisis our towns and cities will be less green, less connected and less prosperous. We want to fix this, but without the say-so from central government, which means reforming the deregulation of buses at the national level, our hands are tied.

In Newcastle we need to increase the price difference between car and bus journeys, to make the greener option more appealing. Some cities have already made these changes: in London a bus journey costs £1.50, but in Newcastle it can cost £3.60 or more. We need the powers to address this at a local level, rather than being handcuffed to regional or national strategies.

Even with Covid-19 restrictions, encouraging people to use the bus removes cars from the road. We can address air quality issues only if we can shift people away from cars and on to buses. A National Bus Strategy could help to accelerate our carbon emission reductions, reducing the health problems associated with highly-polluting vehicles. It could also boost productivity by reducing congestion, and provide access to education for people wanting to retrain.

Connecting people to cities is one way the UK can unleash its potential. That can start with buses. As the leader of Newcastle city council, I invite the prime minister — a self-confessed fan of buses — to Tyne and Wear to take a ride on the bus with me. He can hear directly from citizens about the need for a revolution to address the discrepancies in cost between core cities and London, and allow us to connect people with opportunities to work, study and play.

As the government’s emergency subsidies for the bus industry are scaled down, let’s take this opportunity to transform this life-enhancing, neglected policy area, once and for all.

Cllr Nick Forbes is the leader of Newcastle city council and an executive member of Core Cities UK


Good riddance to the fantasy of a privatised railway

Let’s stop pretending that the railways were ever really privatised. When they were broken up into two main parts, the infrastructure and the operating companies, in the mid 1990s the idea was that they would be at the cutting edge of capitalism, subject to market forces and the discipline of the private sector.

Christian Wolmar , Thunderer

In fact, within a few years Railtrack, the infrastructure company, failed as a result of the Hatfield accident and poor investment decisions, and had to be taken back in-house by the government. Now the train operators, which are being subsidised to the tune of £700 million a month, have been killed off by a combination of Covid-19 and misplaced government-inspired messaging about the potential risks faced by passengers.

Good riddance: the only surprise is that this structure lasted over 20 years. A service which is essential to the economy and therefore must be kept running whatever the circumstances cannot ever be properly privatised. The risk, ultimately, stays in the public sector.

Let’s stop pretending, too, that the railways can ever pay for themselves. They are like the roads and the buses, a social service, vital for our nation’s cohesion and economy. This new reality should inform the future structure of the industry. The separation of the infrastructure from operations created a massive bureaucracy and a fantastic workload for lawyers but did nothing for passengers. They were faced with an incomprehensible fares system which could not be sorted out because the operators would never agree to a change that could cost them revenue.

Now the government has an opportunity to sort out the mess. It controls the lot. The disparate parts need to be brought together so that the railway is no longer a mass of squabbling companies playing at capitalism. Passenger numbers are barely a quarter of what they were a year ago. This is disastrous from an economic point of view but unless the government wants to embark on an unpopular swathe of closures then the Treasury will simply have to cough up the money and support a simpler and cheaper system of fares.

The new railway needs to market itself differently, as a pleasant way to travel with seats and free wifi, at a price that people can afford. In the short term that will be costly, but that is the only way of attracting people back on to the rails.

Johnson backtracks on meeting group for Covid-19 bereaved

Boris Johnson has declined to meet members of a campaign group representing families bereaved by coronavirus, despite appearing to promise to do so on live TV last week.

Jessica Elgot 

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, which says it represents 1,600 bereaved families, is campaigning for a rapid public inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic and is taking legal action to force one, sending pre-action letters to the government.

Challenged live on Sky News last week about repeated requests from the group for a face-to-face meeting, the prime minister said he was “not aware” of their letters, but “of course” he would meet them.

The Guardian has seen a letter from the prime minister that now declines to meet the group’s representatives, saying it was “regrettably not possible”.

In the letter, signed by the prime minister, Johnson said he was “acutely conscious that a letter will be of little comfort against the grief and heartbreak that families have suffered”.

He said he would “of course meet members of the public and key workers who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19” but said he could not offer condolences in person after every request to meet.

Johnson said he would announce an independent inquiry “at the appropriate time” but said all correspondence had to go through the government legal department because of the legal challenge mounted by the group.

The group’s founder, Jo Goodman, whose father, Stuart, died from Covid-19, said the prime minister had ignored five letters and had now done “a U-turn followed by a U-turn” by agreeing and then refusing a meeting.

She said the bereaved families understood that the prime minister could not meet every bereaved person, but said her group was one of the largest in the country.

“We think it’s critical the PM hears the experiences of families bereaved by Covid-19, many of whom can shed light on serious systemic and policy failings that contributed to the death of their loved ones: from deaths in care homes to inadequate protective equipment,” she said.

The group has called for an immediate public inquiry with a quick-reporting first phase, similar to the Lord Justice Taylor review set up after the Hillsborough disaster, where the first phase reported back in 11 weeks to allow fast changes to be rolled out in other football stadiums.

“If the prime minister had replied to our first letter back in June, a rapid review could be reporting right now: giving crucial lessons on how to save lives as the virus spikes again, as we’re seeing in locations in Europe and across the country,” Goodman said.

Johnson has committed in principle to an independent inquiry but has said now was not the “right moment to devote huge amounts of official time to an inquiry”.

Though there have been no further details about the inquiry, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has advertised for an adviser to help prepare for the inquiry.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has responded to Bereaved Families for Justice to express his sincere condolences to all families who have sadly lost loved ones to this terrible disease.

“He remains committed to meeting with members of the public and families of key workers who have been bereaved as a result of Covid-19. The prime minister is resolute in his determination to beat this virus and prevent further families from suffering such dreadful loss.”


Ministers fear Chris Whitty could resign over Boris Johnson’s plans to get workers back in office

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty is on resignation watch after disagreeing with the government over its drive to send workers back to the office.

Jonathon Read 

The Telegraph reports that ministers are worried that if they push too hard the message for workers to return to towns and city centres it will result in Whitty resigning because of safety fears.

The government fears further damage to trust in their coronavirus response if Whitty was to resign, having previously said he believes social distancing will be needed for a considerable period of time.

He explained in July: “There are some things which we started right at the beginning, which absolutely have to continue for a prolonged period of time, washing hands, isolation, household isolation.

“And then we’ve added to that things like contact tracing, most recently face coverings.

“And these are issues of, and issues around distancing, which have been varied but the reality is distancing remains an important part of this mix and how it’s interpreted in different governments has evolved.

Chris Whitty says ‘under-investment’ in public health hampered coronavirus response

England’s chief medical officer has defended the actions taken over the coronavirus pandemic, blaming under-investment in public health for issues with the government response.

“But it has not gone away. So, all of those need to continue for a long period of time.”

A top health and safety expert earlier accused Johnson’s government of ‘bullying’ workers back into the office, pointing out there is no evidence it is safe to do so.

It comes as the prime minister headed up the first cabinet meeting since the summer recess, with the environment secretary revealing yesterday he has no idea when civil servants will return to departments, including his own.

“We don’t have a target other than to make sure that it is safe for people to return to work, and that does require, for instance, fewer work stations.”

A Department of Health source denied that Whitty could resign, calling the reports a “complete invention”.

“Chris is not threatening to resign, and hasn’t threatened to resign,” they added.

In June it was reported that Whitty and the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance refused to do a press conference with the prime minister after Dominic Cummings tried to explain his reasons for travelling to Durham during lockdown.


England test-and-trace system in global ‘top tranche’, says Hancock

Matt Hancock has insisted that England’s system of tracing and testing suspected coronavirus carriers is in the “top tranche” internationally, despite widespread criticism of its performance.

Denis Campbell 

He made the claim during his first appearance in the House of Commons after a summer of confusion, testing mishaps and government U-turns in its policy on Covid-19.

Since its creation in May, NHS test and trace has often failed to reach the 80% of confirmed cases and their contacts that public health experts say is needed for the system to be effective, which is itself vital to help reduce the risk of a second lockdown.

The health secretary was asked by the Conservative MP Jack Lopresti how his assessment of the performance of NHS test and trace compared with the equivalent programme in other countries and what lessons the system in England was learning from its counterparts, including in Germany and South Korea.

Hancock replied: “Well, of course, we learn the lessons and I talk to my international counterparts, including in Germany and South Korea. Actually, compared to international systems … we are now absolutely in the top tranche and we’re constantly looking all around the world to how we can improve the operation of test and trace.”

However, opposition MPs said that its performance was much less impressive than Hancock claimed. Dr Philippa Whitford, the Scottish National party’s health spokeswoman, stressed that the test-and-trace system in Scotland, which is run by local councils and Public Health Scotland, is getting hold of more than 99% of contacts and asking them to get tested and self-isolate.

She asked Hancock if the Department of Health and Social Care has included any targets for how many contacts should be traced in its contracts with Serco and Sitel, the private firms that are providing the call handlers for England’s test-and-trace system. The minister did not answer.

Justin Madders, a Labour shadow health minister, accused Hancock of wasting public money on private companies that had so far not performed well enough. “In some areas private companies involved in test and trace have been reaching less than half of the contacts they’re supposed to, not the 80% that [Hancock] claims.

“So you don’t need an algorithm to work out that their performance, when compared to local public health teams, is where test and trace is failing. So why then is it that this government is rewarding private sector failure by extending these contracts?” Madders added.

Hancock defended NHS test and trace, which is run by Dido Harding, the Conservative peer who has also been put in charge of the new body that is replacing Public Health England. Last week it reached 84.3% of contacts and asked them to isolate in cases where contact details were given, he said.

“Since its launch we’ve reached over 300,000 people who may have been unwittingly carrying the virus and transmitting it, to ensure that they keep themselves safe and keep their communities safe,” he said.

A new advertising campaign is being launched soon to remind people of what they can do to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, including washing their hands, covering their face, staying 2-metres apart from those nearby and getting tested if they are displaying any symptoms, he said.