Chancellor quizzed by MPs over hospitality sector concerns

Westcountry MPs have pressed Chancellor Rishi Sunak to recognise the continuing problems of the hospitality sector as furlough comes to an end and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to be felt in the economy.

[Simon Jupp and Neil Parish seem to have kept their heads down – Owl]

Philip Bowern 

Central Devon MP and chairman of the Treasury Select Committee Mel Stride asked the Chancellor in a Commons question whether further targeted support was likely to be forthcoming for businesses after the end of October when furlough draws to a close.

Mr Stride said: “(Rishi Sunak) has done a tremendous amount to support jobs in our country.

“But, would he agree with me that there will be many thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of jobs, which are going to be viable after COVID is dealt with but will not make it unless they are provided with further targeted support after the end of October?”

Mr Sunak told Mr Stride: “He is right that businesses do need support which is why many of the interventions we have put in place last through to next year – for example the business rates holidays and indeed our support for the economy and jobs through initiatives like our stamp duty cut to catalyse the housing market.

“Throughout this crisis I’ve not hesitated to act in creative and effective ways to support jobs and employment and will continue to do so.”

Meanwhile, St Austell and Newquay MP Steve Double won a pledge from the Treasury that it would keep under review the idea of running a winter version of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme.

Mr Double said: “August has been incredibly busy in Cornwall but we do face a big challenge as we head into winter for the hospitality sector.

“So could I ask (Rishi Sunak) if he would consider a similar sort of scheme to be run at some point during the winter to help as many businesses as possible survive the winter and be here for next summer?”

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman replied: “I would say that there is this wider package… of course the Treasury keeps all these measures under review… but it is a pretty formidable combination of VAT reduction, business rates relief and of course billions in tax deferrals and loans.”


If Hugo Swire was so “in” with “Dave” why did Hugo never get anything done for East Devon?

We learn from “Sasha’s Secret Diaries” that Hugo was so in with Dave he was the first one Dave called to get drunk with after his defeat.  So pally, yet Hugo couldn’t get him to do anything for East Devon. (Toilet seats too small to bother with?) – Owl

Cameron drowned Brexit sorrows with ‘endless bottles of wine’, book claims 

David Cameron drowned his sorrows after losing the Brexit referendum with a “lethal” negroni cocktail followed by wine, whisky and a “fat” Cuban cigar during a dinner with friends, a new book claims.

The chastened prime minister bolted from Downing Street to his home in Dean, Oxfordshire, on the day of his defeat, and asked the then Conservative MP Sir Hugo Swire and his wife, Sasha, to come along with “plenty of booze”.

The claims are published in The Times, which is serialising Lady Swire’s tell-all new book, Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power.

A previous extract claimed that during a long coastal walk Mr Cameron asked Lady Swire to walk behind him, because “that scent you are wearing … makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one”.

The latest tranche of diary entries includes 27 June 2016, days after the EU referendum. According to the book, Sir Hugo and Lady Swire arrived at the Cameron home, laden down with alcohol and top-end Cohiba cigars, to discover Samantha Cameron “devastated” by the result.

Lady Swire writes: “When Dave arrives, he makes a lethal negroni before we progress to endless bottles of wine, whisky and brandy.

“Over dinner, he is incandescent with anger, which is almost wholly directed against Michael [Gove].

“As for Boris [Johnson], he says that this whole episode was to do with his leadership ambitions and that he despised his lack of ideology, which is a tad ironic.

“David tells us that even when he switched sides, Boris was telling him via texts that Brexit ‘would be crushed like the toad beneath the harrow’ and that he (David) would survive.”

Mr Cameron’s rage at Mr Gove over his Brexit betrayal was also clear in his own memoir, in which the former PM called his tormentor a “foam-flecked Faragist”. He continued: “One quality shone through: disloyalty. Disloyalty to me and, later, disloyalty to Boris.”

The Independent has contacted Mr Cameron’s office for comment.

[Owl reminds readers that we have already seen Mrs Gove’s (Sarah Vine) Hissy Fit reply to the Diaries]


‘It’s like family’:Swedish housing experiment designed to cure loneliness

Erik Ahlsten is unequivocal. “This is the best accommodation I’ve ever had” His friend and neighbour Manfred Bacharach is equally enthusiastic. “I really like this way of living,” he says. “It’s very much my cup of tea.”

Derek Robertson 

The two are referring to their new home, Sällbo, a radical experiment in multigenerational living in Helsingborg, a small port city in southern Sweden. Its name is a portmanteau of the Swedish words for companionship (sällskap) and living (bo), and neatly encapsulates the project’s goals – to combat loneliness and promote social cohesion by giving residents incentives, and the spaces, for productive interaction.

Sällbo, which opened last November, consists of 51 apartments spread over four floors of a refurbished retirement home. More than half of the 72 residents are over 70s, like Ahlsten and Bacharach; the rest are aged 18-25. All were selected after an extensive interview process to ensure a mix of personalities, backgrounds, religions, and values, and all had to sign a contract promising to spend at least two hours a week socialising with their neighbours.

“A new way to live,” proclaims Sällbo’s website boldly, adding that it’s where “generations and cultures meet, with social life in the centre”. The project is administered by Helsingsborgshem, a not-for-profit housing company funded by the city council, and stems from an idea they had in 2016 amid concern about loneliness among older groups. Swedes are fiercely independent – young people start living alone earlier than anywhere in Europe – a trait that continues into old age; thanks to public policy and a wide range of municipal services many elderly people opt to remain in their own homes.

Yet a sense of isolation poses a real “danger to health”, according to the Karolinska Institute, and remains prevalent among retirees. “Our research showed that elderly people were feeling isolated from society, and were very lonely in their everyday life,” says Dragana Curovic, the project manager at Sällbo. “They were only mixing with others of the same age.”

At the same time, the 2015 refugee crisis meant organisations like Helsingsborgshem were under pressure to house growing numbers of people who were struggling to integrate with – and win acceptance from – Swedish society. So a plan was hatched to mix the two, with younger Swedish people acting “as a bridge”. “They are closer in age to the refugees, but closer in terms of culture and language to the older people,” says Curovic. “We hoped they would bring them together.”

Although less than a year old, and despite the complications of a pandemic, the arrangement seems to be working for young and old. One resident, a 92-year-old former teacher, has been giving English lessons. Ahlsten and Bacharach have been cooking communal dinners, doing repairs and odd jobs, and driving people around; Bacharach taught one resident, an Afghan refugee, how to drive. In return, the younger residents help with modern technology and social media, and how to find information online.

“It’s a real community,” says Ahlsten, “and the mix of people works very well.” Bacharach agrees. “It’s great doing things together and enjoying other people’s company,” he says. Since moving in, he’s joined the gardening group, the Sunday night movie club, and learned to play Canasta. There are sign-up sheets in the communal areas and dedicated Facebook groups for all the various activities; just as importantly, there’s plenty of space.

There’s a gym, yoga room, a library (stocked with the residents’ own books), and a large communal kitchen on every floor. The arts-and-crafts studio is stuffed with paints, wool, and other creative paraphernalia, while the residents themselves turned one space into a workshop, complete with tools and equipment (one of the pensioners, a former sea captain, has reinvented himself as a silversmith). Even the main lounge on the ground floor is a multifunctional space, with hi-fi equipment, table football, and a piano, donated by one of the residents so that “everyone can experience its joy”; she’s hoping to give lessons.

Rents vary from 4,620 to 5,850 Swedish krona (£409 to £518) per month, which is commensurate with similar-sized rent-controlled apartments in the city (private, one-bedroom rentals in the centre cost between 7,000 and 10,000 Swedish krona).

Ali Soroush, 21, an Afghan refugee, and Isabel Tomak-Eriksson, a native Swede, are one of the few couples. Soroush arrived in 2015 and is one of the refugees Helsingsborgshem had in mind when conceiving of Sällbo. He says it reminds him of his own culture, with people – particularly different generations – living and socialising together, and helping each other out. “The whole building is like a family,” he says.

Of course, intergenerational living carries the risk of some tensions breaking out but, so far, they have been minimal. Helsingsborgshem appointed a full-time “host”, to act as a facilitator and moderator – to “feel the atmosphere and deflate tension” says Curovic – but they’ve had precious little do. Indeed, mutual respect and understanding has flourished; there’s been neither excessive partying, nor any pedantic carping.

“You can always just close your door and relax or sleep,” says Ahlsten. And while Tomak-Eriksson notes the responsibility everyone feels as a Sällbo resident, she says it’s far from boring. “Pre-corona, there were parties all the time. Every weekend it was someone’s birthday or some celebration, and there were always people around – everyone had lots of visitors.”

This planned “togetherness” has also stood the residents in good stead during the pandemic – the threat of the disease has curtailed many of Sällbo’s social aspects, particularly among the elderly. There have been no cases yet, but no one is taking any chances; some are self-quarantining, and those who do continue to meet up do so in smaller groups, and in bigger areas.

“Corona has changed everything, but I’ve been busy,” says Ahlsten, who’s been running errands and doing shopping for those reluctant to venture out into public. Likewise Soroush and Tomak-Eriksson; “We’ve been offering our help to those who need it,” she says. “All the young people have.” And while being vigilant, and following guidelines around distancing and hand hygiene, others are more sanguine. “Not challenging, just boring,” says Bacharach on being asked how he’s coped. “We’re just waiting for it to be over.”

Even before the pandemic, Sällbo had attracted attention both within Sweden and internationally. Three municipalities are working on directly implementing the concept, and many more considering similar ideas. A delegation from Canada visited in February, while others from Italy, Germany, and South Korea have been in touch regarding study missions.

With loneliness on the rise and considered a genuine health risk – Sweden’s largest daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter asked earlier this year if it was “a new epidemic” – projects such as Sällbo are seen increasingly as a holistic solution to isolation, over-reliance on public services, and the trend, even among older people, for increasingly unhealthy internet use (wifi is free in communal areas, but tenants have to pay extra to get online in their apartments).

“We hope that people see that youngsters from other countries are not to be feared, and that you can have totally normal relationships between youngsters, elderly and other people,” says Curovic of Sällbo’s ultimate goal. “We want that to spread to society in general, and increase the willingness to integrate. And it’s starting to happen.”

Soroush has seen this change first hand. “In my old apartment building, even after one and half years I didn’t know any of my neighbours,” he says. “But here, from day one, you know everyone. It feels like home.”


Town council continues objection to 59-bedroom extra care apartments in Exmouth

Town councillors have continued their objection to plans for a four-storey retirement apartment block in Exmouth.

Daniel Wilkins 

McCarthy and Stone has lodged an application to build a 59-bedroom extra care accommodation complex on the site next to Tesco in Salterton Road.

If given the go ahead, an office block would also be built on the site which has been earmarked for employment uses in the Exmouth Neighbourhood Plan.

At its virtual meeting on Monday (September 14), the town council’s planning committee voted to continue its previous objection to the plans, saying amendments to the site layout and elevation have not addressed its concerns.

In September 2019, McCarthy and Stone lost an appeal after East Devon District Council refused an application for a 59-bedroom extra care apartment complex.

Town councillors said that 12 months on, not enough has changed and the application would be ‘harmful to the interests of Exmouth’ and is contrary to the town’s neighbourhood plan.

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


Honiton Town Council down to seven members after yet another resignation

(Last one out please switch off the lights – Owl)

Hannah Corfield

Resignations have become a bit of a theme recently at Honiton Town Council, with nine members quitting in 2020 alone.

Michelle Pollington announced yesterday that she would no longer be carrying out her role as councillor for the town, having been co-opted on back in June of last year.

Just seven members now remain on the Council, with one unable to participate due to ill health.

There are five vacancies in each of the two Honiton wards – St Paul’s and St Michael’s. The Monitoring Officer at East Devon District Council has received the required number of written requests, meaning that at least nine of these positions will go to an election due to take place in May 2021.

Michelle told Honiton Nub News: “There is such a small cohort of councillors left that it’s got to a stage where it’s not really functioning as a town council should.

“My intention when I joined was to be part of boosting the reputation of the Council and being part of positive change for the town, but during my time nothing has changed.

“There is a lot of negativity and preoccupation with historic disputes, which gives a bad perception of the town to those looking in.

“We need a fresh start and to move forward.”

The news of former Cllr Pollington’s resignation was announced at the full council meeting held yesterday evening – please see Honiton Nub News Facebook page for a recorded video.

In response, Mayor John Zarczynski commented: “I am sorry to see her go, but it didn’t come as a surprise. I fully expected her to follow when former Cllr Kolek resigned.

“Her short term – because as you know former Cllr Pollington was co-opted – was very much interrupted by the lockdown and I’m sure had it not been for the coronavirus she would have contributed a lot more to the Council.

“I do wish her luck in the future. Whether she will stand in the May elections, we’ll have to wait and see.”


Opinion: It’s time Boris Johnson admitted he’s to blame for Britain’s disastrous coronavirus response

Boris Johnson knows he’s to blame for Britain’s disastrous coronavirus response – it’s time he admitted it. 

Covid-19 has so far killed some 60,000 people in Britain. Many should still be alive. Our record is among the worst in the world. Boris Johnson may not be criminally culpable for this national catastrophe, but he is undeniably responsible for the decisions that led to it.

He must know that himself. Why else would he be trying so hard to dodge the blame?

The fate of Public Health England says it all. PHE is accountable to ministers. If they didn’t like its approach, they could have imposed another. They could have given it more money and staff, hollowed out as it was by years of cuts. They could have changed its mandate.

Instead they make it the villain in an alternative reality drama whose heroes – themselves – would be leading us to the Promised Land if only they were not undermined at every turn by obstructive public servants and institutions bent on sabotage. “Following the science” means “blame the boffins”. Anonymous fingers have pointed by turns at civil servants; doctors, nurses and carers; NHS England; local authorities; previous governments; young people; and even Matt Hancock.

With this comes the full repertoire of Trumpian techniques to draw attention away from the government’s mistakes. Statistics manipulated, goalposts moved, dead cats slammed down, fights picked, culture wars unleashed, hapless officials thrown under buses and, yes, lies told, all to sustain the illusion that we are fortunate indeed to be so wisely and decisively led.

But despite early warnings, the prime minister came slowly to the helm. Through March, he flirted with a lethal strategy of herd immunity, abandoned test, trace and isolate (TTI), ruled out quarantine for arrivals from Covid-19 hotspots, and delayed the lockdown: all to the alarm of most independent public health professionals. 

More followed. Abandonment of care homes, and the entire care sector, behind claims about a “protective ring”. Failure to get a grip on shortages of protective clothing amid denials that these were costing lives. When TTI resumed, instead of it being entrusted to experienced local public health teams, it was outsourced to Serco, Sitel, Deloitte and G4S, under a false NHS flag and the leadership of an unqualified and commercially unexceptional, but politically reliable, former telecoms boss. Predictably this has yet to deliver the service we need.

Compounding this has been an approach to communication guaranteed to erode trust and confidence. From the prime minister down, those speaking for the government have been reactive, not proactive, evasive not candid, patronising not sympathetic. They have said one thing one day and another the next. They have offered no plan, only slogans. Averse to listening and consultation, they won’t trust those who must implement their often last-minute pronouncements.

They have shown no empathy with the victims of this pandemic and those most at risk. And when push came to shove with the Cummings Northern Tour, it was “do as we say, not as we do”.

The pandemic has stretched everyone. But the key choices have been political. A prime minister who insists on slavish obedience from his cabinet and total control from No 10 can’t complain when the buck stops with him.

Each blunder was warned against. Each could have been mitigated if not avoided by applying basic public health principles. From South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand to Germany and Ireland, leaders who have combined these principles with honesty and humility have invariably done better.

The public inquiry will, it must be hoped, work forensically through all this. But the prime minister has already kicked it so far ahead as to ensure it can neither confront him in real time with the consequences of his decisions nor help us learn urgent lessons. Meanwhile worse now awaits us as the nights draw in after an eerie summer, perhaps from the virus itself, certainly from its social and economic effects.

We urgently need an autumn reset. We need a government, and a prime minister, running our country not fighting campaigns or chasing headlines. We need them to talk to us with honesty and grace, to win back our trust and to bring us together behind a credible plan.

Scotland rightly aims, with its “zero Covid” strategy, to eliminate community transmission of the virus. That should be the plan in England too. It should have been all along. Only when the daily fear of contagion has gone will people find the confidence to bring our country fully back to life.

The prime minister’s hero, Winston Churchill, wrote: “The use of recriminating about the past is to enforce more effective action at the present.” Boris Johnson must urgently apply this to his own performance. He needs, in short, to take responsibility.

The British people are the real heroes in this drama. They know the prime minister’s job is thankless and he too nearly died. Even now, after all they have endured, they will forgive and move forward if only he can find the courage to own the choices he makes and the consequences for everyone else.

Otherwise, at a price, we will eventually find a way past those consequences. But they will hang like an albatross for evermore around Boris Johnson’s neck.  

John Ashton has been a senior civil servant and diplomat, and latterly a full-time carer. His cousin John Ashton is a former president of the Faculty of Public Health and a regional medical officer. The latter’s book, Blinded by Corona, will be published by Gibson Square on 1 October


Sasha’s Diaries – Tutting at the decor while Britain burns: that’s life in the Cameron chumocracy! 

“The paperback of Cameron’s memoirs is out this week….

[They] …… are not a great fit for the Personal Growth section of any bookshop – then again, nor is the other opus in which Dave plays a significant role this week. The former prime minister appears extensively in Sasha Swire’s diaries, serialised at length in the Times. Sasha is married to the former MP and minister Hugo Swire, a Cameron-era Tory so obscure I’m amazed even his own wife has heard of him.”

Marina Hyde 

What ho, David Cameron! I note the artisan politician has surfaced briefly from his money trench to offer a wan opinion on the government’s plan to break international law. Such is the Cameron Paradox – most of the time I’m thinking: “Where’s David Cameron?! This is all his mess!” But when he materialises, I pivot immediately to: “Oh YOU’VE turned up, have you? Well we ARE honoured…”

On Johnson’s mooted lawbreaking, Cameron helpfully says we’re “in a vital negotiation with the EU to get a deal … and that’s why I have perhaps held back from saying more up to now”. Is it? I doubt it’s why at all. The paperback of Cameron’s memoirs is out this week, so there’s now something in it for him to belatedly join all the other living Tory leaders who’ve expressed much stronger views.

Those memoirs are not a great fit for the Personal Growth section of any bookshop – then again, nor is the other opus in which Dave plays a significant role this week. The former prime minister appears extensively in Sasha Swire’s diaries, serialised at length in the Times. Sasha is married to the former MP and minister Hugo Swire, a Cameron-era Tory so obscure I’m amazed even his own wife has heard of him.

She is, however, the right diarist for the period in question: clique-obsessed, throbbing with misplaced entitlement and declining to learn from any of the events she witnesses. Just as Dave’s innate overconfidence failed to spot that his way of doing business was going to end in cataclysm, so Sasha seems surprised that people are calling her indiscriminate indiscretion “social suicide”.

No one emerges with credit. Swire seems to regard herself as easily as grand as a Mitford, which isn’t the case, while Cameron is the sort of locally sourced wanker who not only knows that lemon juice will spoil mozzarella, but says it out loud at someone else’s house. “At one point, on the coastal path,” Sasha relates of some Cornish holiday hike, “he asks me not to walk in front of him. ‘Why?’ I ask. ‘Because that scent you are wearing is affecting my pheromones. It makes me want to grab you and push you into the bushes and give you one.’”

If there are any remaining Cameroons out there, they may well regard this as evidence of Dave’s wit and virility. From this end of the telescope, though, all I can make out is a load of rugby-shirted not-quite-theres making dreary vanilla innuendo with one another. The episode takes place shortly after the fall of Tripoli, prompting Cameron to opine: “A great day on the beach … and I’ve just won a war.” Yup, well: SPOILER ALERT.

Everyone seems permanently on the verge of some class-related nervous breakdown. Sasha’s first instinct on visiting George Osborne at the grace-and-favour Dorneywood is to strip it for decorative errors made by the previous tenant, Pauline Prescott, while Michael Gove’s wife – the Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine – is cast as a sort of below-stairs Madge Allsop to glamorous SamCam. I see Vine has taken it well, with just the 1,200 words of seething in Monday’s Mail, in which Swire is lambasted for being “amazingly confident in her own opinions”. An opinion columnist takes against the opinionated: very good. Of course, we do have to remember that Vine had frightfully strong views about Ed Miliband’s kitchen, so perhaps all the looking down on people was catching.

The clique are forever noticing the wrong tiles or mild social neediness, but not the freight train coming towards them. If only they’d spent as much time worrying about, say, the country, as they did on all the not-very-niceties. Cameron learned nothing from the divisively bitter and close-run Scottish independence referendum – indeed, he doesn’t seem to have even noticed it was divisive and embittering. Then again, in Swire’s diaries, the mistake of the EU referendum for Cameron would be classed as less significant than using the wrong word for loo or omitting to void oneself in diamonds.

Thereafter, all is not well in the £25,000 shepherd’s hut, where Cameron finds his memoirs a huge Farrow & Ball-ache. “He seems bored by the process,” writes Sasha, “and so is speaking into a microphone, which converts it into text.” Six months later the microphone has farted out a book, and Cameron is raking in so much cash he “has no interest in taking on a big public job like Nato”. Their loss, of course. “As for all the dosh, he says every time he looks for a loophole to stash it away, he realises that George and he closed it, and laughs.”

Cameron was so incapable of seeing life beyond his chumocracy that he made the sensational category mistake of judging the referendum a loyalty test, as opposed to issue-driven. When it all goes tits up, he is “incandescent with anger, which is almost wholly directed against Michael [Gove]”. He can forgive Boris Johnson his narcissistic ambition, but not Gove his principles. Ah well. As Swire non-reflected last weekend: “I just think, fuck it. People come into your life and they go out of it.” Well quite. People, jobs, houses, money, countries – nice not to have to worry too much about any of them.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist.