Tory Activists Told To ‘Openly Lie’ And ‘Weaponise Fake News’ In Party Newsletter

The Tories stand accused of a secret policy to “openly lie” after a local party newsletter urges would-be politicians to ape Donald Trump and “weaponise fake news”. 

Will East Devon Tories be singing from the same hymn sheet? Saying the first thing that comes into their head is “the tell”. – Owl

Rachel Wearmouth 

In a document circulated to activists, Wellingborough Conservatives urge campaigners to “say the first thing that comes into your head” as “you can live that down later”.

Labour has accused the party of having a policy to “openly lie” to the public. 

In a section calling for grassroots campaigners of Boris Johnson’s party to “learn” from Trump, the document says the president successfully managed to “weaponise fake news”. 

“Trump has learnt that a ‘lie can go round the whole world before the truth can get its boots on’,” it says. 

“If you make enough dubious claims, fast enough, honest speakers are overwhelmed. If someone tweets ten dubious claims per day and it takes you a week to disprove each one, then you are doomed. 

“Trump uses this tactic to dominate the news and to crowd out legitimate politicians.” 

The local party then instructs campaigners to “say the first thing that comes into your head”.

It says: “It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.

“You then have a few seconds (possibly minutes) to reword it, say that you mis-spoke, were mis-heard, or whatever.

“You may get a bad headline saying that you spoke something silly, but you can live that down. Meanwhile your opponent is knocked off the news-feed.

“It runs counter to everything that traditional politicians are taught – viz. never say anything that is not 100% accurate. The problem is that 100% right, two weeks late equals defeat.

“Sometimes, it is better to give the WRONG answer at the RIGHT time, than the RIGHT answer at the WRONG time.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to Tory Party chair Amanda Milling, called for an urgent investigation. 

Her letter calls for Milling to take disciplinary action, and says: “The public rightly expect honesty and integrity from political parties, elected politicians, candidates and local party activists. 

“A Conservative Party newsletter that encourages members and politicians to openly lie raises serious questions that demand urgent answers.” 

Labour leader Keir Starmer also raised the document with prime minister Boris Johnson in the Commons on Wednesday. 

Holding aloft the newsletter, he told MPs: “It gives a lot of advice to wannabe politicians.

“It says this: ‘Say the first thing that comes into your head – it’ll probably be nonsense, you may get a bad headline, but if you make enough dubious claims fast enough, you can get away with it’.

“And it includes, the December edition, the advice: ‘Sometimes it’s better to give the wrong answer at the right time, rather than right answer at the wrong time.’ So my final question to the Prime Minister is this: is he the inspiration for the newsletter or is he the author?”

Johnson did not address the document directly, but replied: “I think what the people of this country would love to hear from (Starmer) in this season of goodwill is any kind of point of view at all on some of the key issues.”

Devon disease expert offers reassurance over new Covid strain

Devon’s disease expert has assured people not to worry about the new strain of coronavirus that has been identified in England because it is common and ‘nothing out of the ordinary’.

Anita Merritt

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University’s communicable disease and public health expert, says that new variants of a virus are common and are produced normally as a virus replicates.

He added that it is unlikely the new variant will alter the effectiveness of the new vaccine, and that vaccines can be easily adjusted if necessary.

Any previous immunity to coronavirus should still remain, according to Dr Bharat, and that reports of faster spread of the virus are more likely a case of the new predominant strain being picked up more, and should not be read as the virus spreading faster.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University's communicable disease and public health expert

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University’s communicable disease and public health expert (Image: Dr Bharat Pankhania)

Yesterday it was reported how a new variant of coronavirus has been found which is growing faster in some parts of England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at least 60 different local authorities had recorded Covid infections caused by the new variant.

He said the World Health Organization had been notified and UK scientists were doing detailed studies.

He said there was “nothing to suggest” it caused worse disease or that vaccines would no longer work.

In an interview with Sky News, Dr Bharat said: “The best way to describe it for everyone is imagine a large giant oak tree and the we have a little branch that takes off from that oak tree, and then that branch becomes the main trunk and the main artery of that tree.

“Often this happens with viruses whereby there are different variants, or different branches, and then one branch becomes the predominant one; the common one for Africa, the common one for Europe, the common one for the United States etc.

“So this is nothing new or out of the ordinary.”

When commenting on how the new strain will impact on immunity, he said: “I don’t think is going to nullify your immunity if you have had an infection and got better. I also don’t think it will nullify our vaccines which have just been developed.

“What is happening though is it is a predominant strain. It’s a bit like earlier on in the summer, the predominant strain is what came from Spain and it affected a lot of people, again in the South East.

“This again is a similar version of a strain spreading very fast in the London area.”

He added that the vaccine people are being offered will still be effective, and that it can me modified if later necessary.

Dr Bharat said: “I am very confident that we won’t have to refashion our vaccines because what we are looking at is a large spike of protein and there is no information that this spike protein changes dramatically over months or years.

“If it was to become non-infectious we are home and dry. So if the spike protein isn’t really changing with just minor variations then I expect our immune system not to be fooled by a new version of it, and therefore all immunity should last with new immunity.

“If that isn’t the case it still doesn’t matter because we can refashion the vaccines very quickly to make spike proteins are pertaining to the new strain.

“Don’t worry about this. These things are common and they do happen.”

Assurance were also given following reports that the new strain might be associated with a faster spread of the virus.

He said: “I think we need to have more data and more information. I don’t think it is faster spread; it is more a case of the predominant strain. In other words we are finding more of it because that is the strain that wishes to circulate in our population and our population has been interacting a lot with Christmas shopping and the easing of restrictions.”

It has also been reported how positive case numbers are increasing in over 60s, which Dr Bharat says he has also noted.

He said: “I have been observing this for the South East of our country and my observations and concerns over the past three weeks are the upward trend in the older age group .

“Now that is really concerning because older people are the ones who go on to develop severe illness. They are the ones who get admitted to hospital and ICU and some of them do die.

“I expect more older people to die which is disappointing and upsetting in equal measures.”

Government revising plans for its ‘mutant’ housing algorithm

The Government has revised plans for its controversial “mutant” planning algorithm, which will now prioritise building in urban areas most in need of development.

Hot off the press – Owl

By Amy Jones, Political Correspondent 16 December 2020 • 6:00am 

The original proposals were heavily criticised by dozens of Conservative backbenchers, including the former prime minister Theresa May, amid fears that it would lead to a surge of house building in their greenbelt constituencies.

An updated formula will be weighted to focus on developing family homes in 20 of England’s largest cities and making the most of vacant buildings and underused land.

The decision follows a consultation launched in the summer that sought views from planners, councils and the wider public.

It is understood that the views of MPs were sought by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, after many aired their concerns in the Commons. An updated formula will now be rolled out to local councils to enable the delivery of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

However, the Government could still face opposition on its own benches, as Tory MPs expressed concern that the White Paper would still have “serious implications” for local democracy.

Mr Jenrick said: “This Government wants to build more homes as a matter of social justice, for inter-generational fairness and to create jobs for working people. We are reforming our planning system to ensure it is simpler and more certain without compromising standards of design, quality and environmental protection.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and magnified patterns that already existed, creating a generational opportunity for the repurposing of offices and retail as housing and for urban renewal.

“We want this to be an opportunity for a new trajectory for our major cities – one which helps to forge a new country beyond Covid – which is more beautiful, healthier, more prosperous, more neighbourly and where more people have the security and dignity of a home of their own.”

He also confirmed that a new Urban Centre Recovery Task Force has been set up to help promote the “development and regeneration of our great town and city centres”, with a focus on revitalising the high street.

The Task Force includes Peter Freeman, who is responsible for the redevelopment of King’s Cross and new Chair of Homes England.

The Government also intends to revise the so-called “80/20 rule” which guides how much funding is available to local areas to help build homes to ensure funding is not just concentrated in London and the South East.

It comes after analysis by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, revealed that the previous proposed system would lead to sharp increases in house building in areas with high Conservative support.

In Chichester, West Sussex, the annual target would have risen from 425 to 1,120; in Reigate, Surrey it would have gone up from 460 to 1,091; and in Tonbridge in Kent it would have increased from 425 to 1,440.

Several Tory MPs argued that the algorithm would have “concreted over” the south rather than “level up” the north, while complaining that it favours building in rural areas rather than cities and towns. 

Bob Seely, the Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, who led backbench calls to amend the planning proposals, hailed the change as “good news”.

He said: “I am sure MPs will want to look at the re-jigged plans in detail, but this is an initial victory for those who care about their communities.

“It’s very good news that more homes are planned for northern cities, many of which have suffered population declines in the past 50 years, especially as locations such as my constituency of the Isle of Wight have increased our populations significantly and at, frankly, an unsustainable rate.

“I hope this is the beginning of a renaissance in building back better and supporting our vital levelling up agenda.”

Dominic Cummings Got A Pay Rise Of At Least £40,000 From No.10 This Year

Dominic Cummings received a pay rise of around £40,000 for his role as Boris Johnson’s top adviser, official figures show.

Arj Singh 

The prime minister’s top aide is currently paid between £140,000 and £144,999, as he prepares to officially leave his job on December 18 after walking out of No.10 last month.

It is an increase on his £95,000 to £99,999 salary which was published in last December’s figures on special adviser (spad).

The pay rise came in a year when Cummings sparked outrage for appearing to break coronavirus rules by travelling to Durham during the middle of the spring lockdown and then visiting Barnard Castle with his wife and son to test his “eyesight”.

One Whitehall source said Cummings’ 40% wage rise was a “disgrace” when other special advisers who, like the PM’s top aide, stayed in the same pay band got just a 1% increase.

“It’s a disgrace,” they said.

“He always said he was gonna find a way to reward spads who were doing a good job.

“All he did was secure a massive pay hike for himself.

“He must have thought he was doing a great job. Others might think otherwise.” 

A Tory source said: “Remember his whole not in it for the money thing? £140,000 a year, a million pound house and a £50,000 car (a Land Rover Discovery Sport) is hardly sack cloth. Is it?”

Another source described the pay rise as a “shocking indictment” as Cummings presided over the introduction of performance related pay for teachers as Michael Gove’s special adviser at the Department for Education.

“It’s one rule for us, one rule for everyone else,” they said.

Labour MP Karl Turner pointed out that Cummings got a pay rise in the same year that millions of key workers were hit with a public sector pay freeze.

Cummings was in the same pay band as Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain when both decided to quit No.10 last month.

A footnote in this year’s list of spad salaries said: “Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings are in the process of leaving their government posts and are not included in the above list. 

“They are, however, included in the December FTE numbers. Both individuals were in PB4 (pay band 4) and pay band £140,000-£144,999.” 

Meanwhile, it emerged in further official documents that Johnson overruled Civil Service advice, in order to continue fighting a legal action brought by an ex-Treasury spad over her summary sacking at the hands of Cummings.

HuffPost UK understands that a written ministerial direction issued by the prime minister to the Civil Service relates to the case of Sonia Khan, who was escorted out of No.10 by police after being fired by Cummings.

Khan eventually won a payout of tens of thousands of pounds in a settlement over her dismissal, having rejected an earlier offer.

Following that rejection, Civil Service chief executive Sir John Manzoni wrote to Johnson on March 3 to urge him to abandon fighting a legal case brought by Khan due to the high cost of defending the case to the taxpayer.

Manzoni wrote: “Given the ongoing expenditure of defending the case and the potential costs that a court may award, it is my advice, taking account of legal and financial analysis that a further negotiation (on a settlement) should be carried out to seek to avoid litigation.”

But replying a day later, the PM instructed Manzoni that “no further offer should be made to attempt settlement in advance of any potential litigation”.

“I understand your concerns as expressed concerning the value for money of contesting the claim without further attempts at settlement, however as you have correctly stated I am able to take into account wider considerations than value for money.

“The legal position is clear that the prime minister can withdraw consent for the appointment of any special adviser.

“That is the reason for the termination of employment and I am content for a reasons letter to be issued to the individual setting that out.

“I do not believe that individuals should receive more compensation than they are entitled to under their contract and therefore I believe that this claim should be tested in litigation.”

Eventually, Johnson relented and agreed a settlement for Khan, who was an adviser to ex-chancellor Sajid Javid.

Post-Brexit key worker shortage ‘may hamper UK economic recovery’

The economic recovery from the Covid-driven recession will be hampered by a post-Brexit shortage of key workers including nursing assistants, senior care workers and dental nurses, the UK government’s migration advisers have warned.

Jamie Grierson 

In its annual report, the Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) said many of the roles with the highest vacancies in the UK, such as veterinary nurses and welders, require a significant level of training, which could cause a delay in filling jobs and “hinder future economic recovery”.

The migration experts warned the gap was unlikely to be filled by the government’s flagship post-Brexit skilled worker route due to the ongoing economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and a renewed focus on domestic workers.

The Mac chair, Prof Brian Bell, said: “This is a time of great change for the UK immigration system, with the contribution that migrants can make becoming the focus rather than where they were born. Such major changes are never easy, but there is no denying the significant impact of the ongoing pandemic.

“There will be continued economic disruption, with significantly higher unemployment predicted in the coming months. It is considerably more costly to recruit a worker from overseas and it seems less likely that foreign workers will want to move at this time.

“It is more important than ever that we monitor migration and keep the system under constant review.”

The Mac’s report said there would be limited use of the new skilled worker route, at least in the first half of 2021. Job vacancies have fallen substantially, and most forecasts predict significantly higher unemployment in the coming months, the advisers said.

Firms that are still recruiting are likely to receive more applications from the domestic workforce than has been the case in recent years when the labour market has been tight, the committee said.

In addition, the report said the immigration system was deliberately designed to make it considerably more costly to recruit a worker from overseas than to recruit from the domestic workforce, while at the same time it seems less likely that foreign workers will want to move countries until the pandemic is under clear control.

The end of free movement, at 11pm on 31 December, will mean that all non-Irish EU citizens arriving in the UK after the end of 2020 will be subject to the same immigration rules as those from outside the EU.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “People from around the world are already applying through our new points-based immigration, which welcomes people to the UK based on the skills they can provide, not where their passport comes from.

“This new fairer, firmer, skills-led system ensures employers can recruit the skilled workers they need, whilst also encouraging employers to train and invest in the UK’s workforce.”

Former Plymouth free school lays off 46 staff

A former free school which was taken over after a damning Ofsted report is cutting nearly 50 posts amid “financial difficulties”.

By Jonathan Morris 

Staff numbers at Millbay Academy in Plymouth are to be cut from 163 to 117 from January, the combined secondary and primary school confirmed.

Academy trust Reach South said the move followed a “significant” drop in applications after the Ofsted report.

The National Education Union (NEU) called the move “short-sighted”.

The trust said in a statement: “Applications to the school dropped significantly following an inspection by Ofsted in 2019.”

It added: “Historical overstaffing and less children attending the school means that the school no longer can afford the 163 employees that it currently has.”

The trust said there had been 23 applications for voluntary redundancy.

It said a new “team structure” was specifically aimed at addressing the areas of improvement highlighted in the Ofsted report.

The academy, with its striking red facade, started life in September 2013 as a free school called the Plymouth School of Creative Arts.

In January 2019 it was rated inadequate in nearly every category and in In December 2019 Ofsted criticised the school for “not taking effective action” towards the removal of special measures.

In July 2020 it became known as Millbay Academy, after it officially joined the Reach South Academy Trust in March.

Millbay Academy has not yet had its first Ofsted inspection.

The NEU said coronavirus had created “significant challenges” for teaching with staff unwell and isolating.

Added to that was “increasing evidence of teachers preparing to leave the profession”.

“Therefore for Reach South to be reducing staff at this time we argue is particularly short-sighted and has long term implications for provision,” it said.

Covid exposed massive inequality. Britain cannot return to ‘normal’

The author of this article is Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology at University College London, director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity and past president of the World Medical Association

In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. The official number of casualties as a result of the storm is 64. But take into account the longer-term consequences – devastated infrastructure, overwhelmed hospitals – and the death toll rises to the thousands. When we look closely at these figures, we see something else too: two months afterwards, mortality had risen sharply for the lowest socioeconomic group, somewhat for the middle group, and least for the highest group. A huge external shock had thrust the underlying inequalities in society into sharp relief.

So it has been with Covid-19. Inequalities in health, and in the social conditions that lead to ill health, have been revealed and amplified by the pandemic and the response to it. Now, with vaccines coming onstream, there is talk of Britain getting back to “normal”. But the “normal” that existed in February 2020 is not acceptable. The Covid-19 pandemic must be taken as an opportunity to build a fairer society.

A new report that my colleagues and I at UCL have published today uses evidence to suggest how we go about doing this.

In February 2020, just one month before the UK entered a national lockdown, we published a review of what had happened to Britain’s health and health inequalities in the 10 years since 2010. The picture was bleak: stalling life expectancy and rising inequalities between socioeconomic groups and regions. Most remarkable was the bucking of a long-term trend of health improving year on year: a woman living in the most deprived area in north-east England, or other areas outside London, had less chance of living a long and healthy life in 2019 than she would have had 10 years ago. We made a series of recommendations, addressing the social determinants of health, for how things could and should improve.

Then, Covid-19 changed the world dramatically. But in England the changes have been entirely consistent with its state before the pandemic hit. England’s comparatively poor management of the pandemic was of a piece with its health improvement falling behind that of other rich countries in the previous decade.

There are four possible explanations: the quality of governance and political culture, which did not prioritise the conditions for good health; continuing increases in economic and social inequalities, including a rise in poverty among families with children; a policy of austerity and consequent cuts to funding of public services that were sharply regressive; and a poor state of the nation’s health.

Addressing all four of these is at the heart of what needs to be done to bring about change.

A striking feature of the pandemic is the way the risk of fatal Covid-19 is distributed unevenly across the country: the more deprived the area, the higher the mortality rate. This looks rather similar to the picture for all causes of death. Another is the high mortality rate of members of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups. Much of this excess risk can be attributed to living in more deprived areas, working in high-risk occupations, living in overcrowded conditions and, in the case of Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups, a greater prevalence of relevant pre-existing conditions.

Structural racism means that some ethnic groups are more likely to be exposed to adverse social and economic conditions, in addition to the everyday experiences of discrimination – causing a “robbery of resilience”, as Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, put it. The spreading of the Black Lives Matter protests to the UK has raised the visibility of these issues.

Building a fairer society will entail addressing this fundamental cause of social injustice, in addition to the social and economic inequalities that are so pervasive. We also must accept the growing recognition, worldwide, that economic growth is a limited measure of society’s success. We would do well to learn from the example of the New Zealand Treasury, which in 2019 put wellbeing at the heart of the government’s mission.

Our new report is called Build Back Fairer. One objection to our proposals is about money. Reversing the cuts to children’s centres, to per-student funding in schools, to local government, to adult social care, to the health service, will take public spending. So too will paying care workers a living wage and having more generous safety nets that do not consign families to dire poverty. At a time of huge national debt, can the country afford it?

Britain has tried the austerity experiment. It did not work, if health and wellbeing are the markers of success. Phrases such as “maxing out the nation’s credit card” are neither helpful nor based on sound economics. At a time of zero interest rates, with a tax rate that is at the low end among European countries, and with control of its own currency, a nation can borrow and it can tax for the purpose of building a fairer society – it can even print money (quantitative easing).

We should not be asking if we can afford for our children’s wellbeing to rank better than 27th out of 38 rich countries, or to pay for free school meals during holidays so that eligible children do not go to bed hungry. Social justice requires it.

The problems we lay out are not unique to England. In the US, for example, the widening economic inequalities and the high mortality associated with race and ethnicity are also much in evidence. It was estimated that, from March to September 2020, the wealth of the 643 billionaires in the US increased by 29%, a staggering $845bn (£630bn). Over the same period the hourly pay of the bottom 80% of the workforce declined by 4%. Inequalities in Britain may be less dramatic, but it’s clear that our own level of inequality is not compatible with a fair and healthy society.

To emerge from this pandemic in a healthier state, we need commitment at two levels. First, to social justice and putting equity of health and wellbeing at the heart of all policymaking. Cutting spending in a regressive way – the poorer the area, the steeper the cutis unfair and is likely to make health inequalities worse.

The pandemic has shown that when the health of the public is severely threatened, other considerations become secondary. Enduring social and economic inequalities mean that the health of the public was threatened before the pandemic and during it, and will be after it. Just as we needed better management of the nation’s health during the pandemic, we also need national attention to health inequalities and their causes.

The second level is to take the specific actions to create healthier lives for all throughout life: from reducing levels of child poverty to 10%, to ensuring wages (or benefits for those who cannot work) are sufficient to lead a healthy life, to creating the conditions for older people to lead meaningful lives.

The evidence is clear. There is so much that can be done to improve the quality of people’s lives. Inequality in health is a solvable problem. It is in all our interests to build back fairer.

Saving the Grey Long Eared Bat – East Devon AONB Winter Update

Owl reads this from the East Devon AONB winter update and asks: where were you when the Long Eared Bats of East Budleigh needed you? Their predicament was well publicised.

Owl thinks it appropriate to nominate East Devon AONB for a “White Feather” award.

Go to this post (amongst many) to find out why.

The Grey long eared bat needs our help. With as few as 1000 bats, located in 8 main maternity roosts spread across the south of England, we need to act now to prevent their extinction in the UK.

We’ve committed to doing the best we can for this rare mammal locally, by choosing the Grey long eared bat as one of our ‘special species’ for recovery action, part of our commitment to nature.

Links with East Devon

Two of the surviving maternity roosts are located in East Devon and form a vital link between the colonies in the south of England and the two colonies in south Devon. But there’s a risk of losing this link, and colonies becoming isolated, as foraging and commuting routes are fragmented by landscape changes resulting from changing agricultural practices.

For the last 3 years, Bat Conservation Trust have, as part of the Back from the Brink HLF project, helped improve foraging habitats around the known roosts in East Devon.

Next steps

Now we have entered into our own partnership with Bat Conservation Trust to continue this vital work, focusing on improving connectivity to the known roosts in Dorset – enhancing foraging and commuting routes to the east of the AONB and into the neighbouring county. The risk with colonies becoming increasingly isolated is that there is no mixing of genetic materials between colonies, which is vital for the long term survival of the species.

Together, we made a bid to the government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund for £69K to support our collaborative ‘Return of the true Night Rider’ project and help us involve local communities, individuals and groups in conservation action.

Exciting news

We are thrilled to announce that our bid was successful and we’re hugely excited about what it will enable us to achieve through the Return of the true Night Rider project, at a time when the need for urgent action to tackle the decline in biodiversity has never been greater.

The project will seek to enhance the floral interest of 18 ha of grassland, this will support a greater diversity of insects which will support the bats, as well as other animals, and will also improve the amount of carbon stored in the soil.

We will engage with 50 landowners and farmers to tell them more about how to manage their land for the bats.

We have also set ourselves a challenging target of talking to 500 local people about the bats, the challenges that they face and the importance of floristically rich grassland.

Target parishes are: Musbury, Colyton, Colyford, Shute, Kilmington, Combpyne and Rousdon, Uplyme, part of Axminster, Hemyock, Lyme Regis, Charmouth, Wootton Fitzpaine and Catherston Leweston. This means exciting cross border working with the Dorset AONB .

We will start delivery in December and the project will run to March 2022.

#GreenRecoveryChallengeFund #TogetherForOurPlanet

Regions to carry scars of pandemic

Four of England’s regions will still bear the scars of coronavirus in three years’ time, remaining economically smaller than their pre-pandemic levels, according to a forecast by EY.

Philip Aldrick 

The Big Four accountant warned of a “lopsided recovery”, with London and the South East rebounding faster than the regions that the government wants to help with its levelling-up agenda.

The projections should be a call to arms to deliver “investment in skills, transport, digital and social infrastructure” where it is needed most, EY said.

In 2023, the economies of Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East, the West Midlands and the South West will all be smaller than they were in 2019. Any recovery will be mainly in the cities, with towns set to lag behind. Owl’s emphasis.

City economies in six non-London regions are expected to grow between 2019 and 2023 but only three town economies will be larger. Only London and the South East will see employment above 2019 levels by 2023.

Rohan Malik, managing partner at EY UK and Ireland, said: “The economy faces a lopsided recovery which risks setting back the levelling-up agenda unless concerted action is taken.

“Manufacturing, arts and leisure, and hospitality — vital parts of the economies in towns, the Midlands and the North — have been most affected during the pandemic or are likely to take longer to recover.”

London, the South East and the North West have borne the least economic pain this year, shrinking 10.4 per cent, 11.4 per cent and 11.8 per cent, respectively. Other regions have contracted by more than 12 per cent.