Briefings Postponed until ……..

“Today was supposed to be the day No. 10 Press Secretary Allegra Stratton held her first televised briefing, but alas that’s been postponed to the end of the pandemic — with many Tory insiders now doubting they’ll ever happen. The Sunday Times reported the new Downing Street media suite refurbished for the briefings cost the taxpayer £2 million. What’s it made out of, gold?”

Just another £2,000,000 to add to the bill – Owl

(Politico newsletter)

Covid-19: Hundreds of rule breaches in Devon and Cornwall

Background to earlier story on Police clarification of Covid rules

www.bbc.co.uk

A deputy chief constable has said “people are beginning to flout” lockdown rules, following hundreds of coronavirus breaches over the weekend.

“People are beginning to get fed up with it and I can understand that, but we have to be firm,” said Devon and Cornwall Police’s Paul Netherton.

A control room supervisor tweeted that he had dealt with more than 250 coronavirus rule breaches on Saturday.

Government guidance says unless it is necessary you must not leave your home.

“People know what the rules are by now” but “they’re beginning to think how can I get away with the rules rather than abide by them,” said Mr Netherton.

He said police officers do not want to be seen as “draconian”, but they are going out to tell people that by mixing, the disease is continuing to spread.

“So in Devon and Cornwall, we are stopping people” and “having to make a really difficult judgement about what is reasonable and what is not”.

“But the key message remains, stay at home.”

Just an hour into his shift, control room supervisor with Devon and Cornwall Police Glenn Shuttleworth said there had been “41 Covid breaches” attended by police..

Unless you have a reasonable excuse for doing so, you are not able to leave your home for holidays or overnight stays – this includes staying in second homes or caravans, if they are not your primary residence, according to government guidance.

People are only allowed to leave their homes for exercise, once per day and are advised to not travel outside their local area.

On Friday, Devon and Cornwall’s chief constable Shaun Sawyer said: “We can’t enforce” lockdown rules without help from the public.

Somerset Council writing to Prime Minister to ‘set the record straight’ after claims by MP

A Somerset MP has accused the county council of using central government grants to “balance its books” rather than support residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Planetradio.co.uk By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporting partnership

Ian Liddell-Grainger, who represents the Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency, used parliamentary privilege on Wednesday (January 6) to accuse Somerset County Council of financial irregularities.

The Conservative MP (who has held the seat since 2001) described senior council officials as “cowboys” and urged prime minister Boris Johnson to personally intervene in the matter.

The council has strongly denied Mr Liddell-Grainger’s claims and said it would be writing to the prime minister directly to “set the record straight.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger made his comments directly to Mr Johnson during a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon (January 6).

He said: “We in the Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency accept that the lockdown was vital and we appreciate the extra help for businesses, but will my right honourable friend consider urgently the way in which government help for local authorities is being paid?

“Somerset County Council has been given huge grants but has then diverted much of the money to balance its books, which is not what it was for.

“These cowboys want to become a new unitary authority. It is a con trick to use that cash, which was meant to fight covid.

“The Prime Minister is Somerset born and bred. I urge him to put a stop to this, so that the money goes to the people who need it most—the people of Somerset.”

Mr Liddell-Grainger has been a consistent critic of the county council’s One Somerset proposals, which would see both it and the four district councils dissolved and replaced with a single unitary authority.

The government is currently considering this proposal, along with the rival Stronger Somerset proposals for two unitaries, to which Mr Liddell-Grainger has lent his support.

Mr Johnson responded: “My honourable friend is absolutely right to highlight what is going on in Somerset.

“The county obviously has a duty to use covid grants for that purpose and not for any other. I thank him for drawing attention to what is going on.”

Somerset County Council has received a total of £31.9M of covid funding from the government in four tranches, the most recent being £2.8M in October 2020.

Leah Green, the council’s finance manager, told the cabinet in mid-December that these funds were being allocated to essential services to cover additional expenditure the council had accrued during the pandemic.

She said in her written report: “The four tranche of funding will initially be added to the corporate contingency and then allocated to services to cover their additional costs.

“The government is also covering some of the council’s losses of income and it is estimated that a total of £3.7M can be claimed back though this scheme.”

The council has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and said it would be writing to Mr Johnson directly to assure him that all grants were being used appropriately.

A spokesman said: “We will be writing directly to the prime minister to set the record straight, but we can confirm that all covid grants received from the government have been used as they were intended – to help residents, communities and businesses in Somerset.”

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is expected to give its verdict on the separate unitary proposals for Somerset in the spring, including a ruling on the prospect of delaying the local elections in May.

District Council Leader issues “Stay Local” warning while on holiday in Maldives

Issued by the Leader of the ruling Independent Group.

No – it’s not Paul Arnott, or any other Devon Councillor!

Read on. – Owl

The Northern Echo Staff www.thenorthernecho.co.uk

A COUNCIL leader has come under fire after issuing a ‘stay local’ warning to constituents, while on holiday thousands of miles away in the Maldives.

Angie Dale, leader of Richmondshire District Council, was quoted in a press release sent out on Friday urging people to ‘heed the stay local message’ amid surging Covid cases in the area.

But it has now emerged at the time Mrs Dale and her family were enjoying the crystal waters of the Indian ocean from a beach on the Maldivian island of Kudahuvadhoo.

It is understood the politician has not broken any rules and left for the holiday before the national lockdown came into place, and when North Yorkshire was in Tier 2.

The joint press release was issued by Mrs Dale’s Richmondshire District Council, neighbouring Craven District Council and North Yorkshire police on Friday.

Each was quoted under the headline: ‘People urged to Stay Home and Stay Local – don’t travel to exercise.’

Mrs Dale, leader of the ruling independent group, said: “The number of Covid cases is rising dramatically every day and we are told we haven’t reached the peak yet, so it is vitally important that people heed the stay local message.

“Our beautiful Dales will still be here to visit when this pandemic is over – please do not make unnecessary journeys now and exercise close to your home.”

Tonight, opposition members of Richmondshire District Council said it was “disappointing” and “hypocritical” of Cllr Dale to issue the statement whilst abroad.

Councillor Leslie Rowe, leader of The Green Party and Independent group on the authority, said: “It seems to me to be the height of hypocrisy to be issuing that press release when in the Maldives, having flown from Manchester which I believe meant moving from a Tier 3 to Tier 4 area in itself.

“I don’t know who would go on holiday to the Maldives at this time of such severe Covid crisis, there are so many people catching it at the moment.

“As the leader of a district council she should be setting an example for the rest of us.

“I personally would not dream of going on holiday at a time of national crisis.”

Councillor Yvonne Peacock, Conservative Group leader on the authority, said: “It is disappointing to learn she is away.

“The case numbers in Richmondshire, and the upper Dales, have gone up.

“Residents are concerned, there is a lot of fear, businesses are closed because of lockdown.

“It hasn’t been a good time and to hear the leader of Richmondshire District Council is not even in the country does not look good and does not bode well for her.”

Exmouth temporary attractions to stay for another year

The temporary attractions on the site of the former fun park in Exmouth are set to remain in place this summer – with more set to be provided on land which was used as a car park.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

East Devon District Council’s cabinet on Wednesday night agreed unanimously that the temporary uses for 2021 at the Queen’s Drive site should remain the same as previous years.

And they also agreed that the temporary car park built in 2019 for around 50 new car parking spaces to be provided on a plot of land off Queen’s Drive that previously was partially used for the Railway Carriage Café should not remain as a car park.

The land had previously been allocated for leisure uses before temporary planning permission for its use as a car park had been granted, and with that having run out, the cabinet unanimously agreed to not proceed with keeping it as a car park.

Clearer signage to other car parks on Exmouth seafront will instead be provided, and officers will research and report back on alternative options for use of the temporary car park land.

The report of the recommendations from the Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group over uses for the Queen’s Drive Space for 2021 said that the temporary uses for 2021 should remain the same as previous years, but with suggestions for temporary uses included pop-up events, beach volleyball, bungee jumping and extending the Dinosaur Play Park.

Other changes could see seating replaced by picnic benches which could be re-used elsewhere, that the attractions should be aimed at children over 10 years old, teenagers and young adults, and that the temporary car park should be removed.

The food and beverage offering could remain the same with a preference for supporting local traders and play equipment will be kept in good order, but the arrangement of events to be put on hold pending clarity on the situation with the Covid-19 pandemic.

While phase 1 of the overall Queen’s Drive project – the realignment of the road and the car park – has been completed, and phase 2 – the new watersports centre – is on the verge of completion and should be fully open early in 2021, the final phase of the regeneration remains as unclear as ever.

Planning permission for the redevelopment of a 3.6-hectare swathe of Queen’s Drive has been granted, and has been implemented, the council say, with the realignment of the road, but the attractions currently on the Queen’s Drive space – the replacement for the former Fun Park – only have planning permission to stay on the site until March 2022, with no further extension allowed under planning law likely.

The next meeting of the Exmouth Queen’s Drive Delivery Group takes place on Monday, January 25, and it is hoped that further details around the long term vision for the site may come forward then.

Police answer all of your questions about lockdown

“If people do leave their homes, they should ‘stay local. This is defined as staying ‘in the village, town, or part of the city where you live’.

Despite that clarification, more than one third of Devon and Cornwall Police’s incidents yesterday [Saturday] revolved around Covid-19 lockdown breaches – many of which were linked to holiday homes.”

Howard Lloyd www.devonlive.com

Despite England now being in its third coronavirus lockdown  – there is still confusion over the rules.

The UK Government has explained on its website when people are allowed to leave their homes and for what reasons.

It states you should not leave your home if it can be avoided unless it is for reasons such as shopping for basic necessities, going to work and exercising once a day.

Meeting a support bubble, seeking medical assistance or attending education are other reasons which are also permitted.

If people do leave their homes, they should ‘stay local. This is defined as staying ‘in the village, town, or part of the city where you live’.

Despite that clarification, more than one third of Devon and Cornwall Police’s incidents yesterday revolved around Covid-19 lockdown breaches – many of which were linked to holiday homes.

The police have issued another warning this morning to people thinking of taking their exercise on Dartmoor today.

In an effort to tidy up any remaining confusion over the rules, Devon and Cornwall Police have released a question-and-answer session of the issues they are most commonly asked.

Below is a selection of them taken directly from their website.

I am separated from the mother/father of my child who has custody. Am I able to visit my child?

Contact between parents and a child where the child does not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents is allowed.

Any existing visitation arrangements that are in place can continue.

Am I still allowed to get help from friends or family for childcare?

Those with caring responsibilities for children within their household are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare for children aged 13 or under. You should not swap bubbles and not use the collection or pick up of children as a reason to socialise with someone helping with childcare.

Can I have visitors in my garden?

No, unless they are part of your support bubble. You must not leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with, including in private gardens. You can exercise in a public outdoor space on your own, with your household or support bubble, or with one other person from another household. You should continue to maintain social distance from anyone from other households.

I live alone, am I allowed to meet others who don’t live with me?

Yes, single adult households (including single parents with children under the age of 18 as of 12 June 2020) are able to form a ‘support bubble’ or ‘linked household’ with one other household. Those in the support bubble can act as if they live in the same household, meaning they can spend time inside each other’s homes, including staying overnight, and do not need to stay two metres apart.

Support bubbles must be exclusive and you cannot switch households, meaning you cannot form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble. If anyone in the bubble develops symptoms, all members of the bubble will need to follow the isolation guidance.

The other criteria for forming a support bubble includes households with:

  • Only one adult carer, including if there are additional adults in the household that have a disability and require continuous care.
  • A child aged 1 year or younger (as of 02 December 2020), regardless of how many other adults are in the household.
  • A child aged 5 years or younger (as of 02 December 2020) with a disability that requires continuous care, regardless of how many other adults are in the household.

Can I visit a family member or friend in a care home?

Visits to care homes can take place with measures to protect residents, such as substantial screens, visiting pods and window visits. Close-contact indoor visits are not allowed. No visits will be permitted in the event of an outbreak.

More information about visiting care homes during COVID-19 can be found on gov.uk.

What is a support bubble?

Support bubbles or ‘linked households’ can be formed by linking with one household with another. One of the households must meet the following criteria:

  • Only one adult, including where children are under the age of 18 as of 12 June 2020.
  • Only one adult carer, including if there are additional adults in the household that have a disability and require continuous care.
  • A child aged 1 year or younger (as of 02 December 2020), regardless of how many other adults are in the household.
  • A child aged 5 years or younger (as of 02 December 2020) with a disability that requires continuous care, regardless of how many other adults are in the household.

Those in the support bubble can act as if they live in the same household, meaning they can spend time inside each other’s homes, including staying overnight, and do not need to stay two metres apart.

Support bubbles must be exclusive and you cannot switch households, meaning you cannot form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble. If anyone in the bubble develops symptoms, all members of the bubble will need to follow the isolation guidance.

Read more on the gov.uk website.

What is a childcare bubble?

Childcare bubbles or ‘linked childcare households’ are formed between one household linking with one other household to provide informal childcare to a child or children aged 13 years or under. They can provide the childcare in either or both of the homes from the two households. These bubbles should only be used for childcare and not socialisation. If anyone develops symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, all members must follow isolation guidance.

Read more on the gov.uk website.

Can I stand and chat to other parents or guardians when I’m picking up or dropping off my child at school?

If you are a keyworker or your child is considered vulnerable, they can continue going to schools and colleges. All other students will learn remotely until February half term.

If you do need to go on a school run, it should not be considered a social activity and you should make sure you are following the rules whilst dropping your child off at school. Whilst you may need to queue or wait at the school, this should be at a distance and not be used for socialisation. Please consider wearing a face covering, particularly if you are not able to keep two metres distance from other families.

Schools will have their own measures in place to manage the risks associated with pick up and drop off times at school, such as marked out and distanced waiting zones, staggered start or finish times, or limits on the number of people allowed at the school at any one time. Please follow these to protect yourself, your family and others.

Can I go shopping with a member of my household or support bubble, or do I have to go by myself?

Ask yourself whether it’s essential that more than one of you goes shopping. Sometimes it will be, for example if there is no one else available to look after a child.

It’s important that we all reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, so if you can go alone that will help cut down potential chances of contact with others. When you are outside of the home, make sure you try to stay two metres (six feet) apart from anyone outside of your household or support bubble.

The law requires people to wear face coverings in some enclosed places, including shops, transport hubs, banks and post offices. Staff working in retail are also required to wear face coverings.

Do I have to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets?

Yes, if you are able to do so. The law in England requires people to wear face coverings in some enclosed places. This means that unless individuals have exemptions, a shop can refuse entry and can call the police if people refuse to comply. People who are exempt from wearing a face covering include, but are not limited to, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities. Retail staff are also required to wear face coverings.

You can read more about face coverings on gov.uk.

What happens if I don’t wear a face covering in a shop?

Unless you are exempt, you must wear a face covering when entering a shop. If someone without an exemption refuses to wear a face covering, the shop has the option to refuse them entry. If the Police are called they may direct that a face covering is worn or to leave the shop, they may also remove an individual from the shop if necessary. We hope this will not be necessary but if the police are called we will endeavour to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules. Enforcing these regulations will always be a last resort.

We expect that the public will follow these regulations to help everyone keep the spread of the virus under control.

Am I able to get takeaway food from a pub or restaurant?

Hospitality venues such as pubs, restaurants and cafes must close for eat in services. However, they can continue to offer food and non-alcoholic drinks by takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect and drive-through. All food and drink, including alcohol, can be provided by deliver services.

Can I go to work?

The Government’s position is that everyone who can work from home should do so. You should travel to work, including to provide voluntary or charitable services, where you cannot reasonably work from home and your workplace is open.

Workplaces should follow COVID-secure guidelines. At all times, workers should follow any measures put in place by their employers.

You should not go into work if you are showing symptoms, or if you or any of your household are self-isolating.

Am I allowed to leave home to exercise?

You are allowed to leave home to exercise with your household, support bubble or one person from another household. You should continue to maintain social distance from anyone you don’t live with.

We would advise you to stay local and walk or cycle if you can to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on frontline services and the NHS.

How far am I allowed to travel to exercise?

Leaving your home to exercise is one of the reasonable excuses. While there is no specified limit in the regulations, you are asked to remain local and walk or cycle if you can. This is to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on frontline services and the NHS.

How often and how long can you do your exercise for?

You should minimise time spent outside your home and stay in your local area when you go outside for exercise. There is no legal limit on how long you can exercise outside for. However, it is recommended that you limit this to once a day. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.

Am I allowed to stop and sit for a few minutes while I’m exercising?

You can exercise in public outdoor spaces with the people you live with, your support bubble or with one person from another household, but this should not be for socialising.

However, if you’re out for exercise and need to pause for a moment to catch your breath then this would be fine. You should then either continue with your exercise or make your way home if you are finished.

Can I go for a drive as long as I don’t exit the car?

You should not leave home without reasonable excuse, so we ask that you only drive when it’s absolutely necessary. The NHS is already under extreme pressure and having fewer cars on the road will reduce the chances of serious road traffic collisions.

Do you want us to report groups of people we see?

If you are concerned that you have seen a gathering which contravenes the regulations, we would encourage you to report it using the national COVID-19 reporting form.

Are you going to stop tourists visiting?

Under the current lockdown regulations you cannot leave your home for holidays or overnight stays unless you have a permitted reasonable excuse, such as for work. This means holidays and stays in second homes are not allowed.

We are working with our partners to ensure we have one clear, consistent message for the public – do not travel to Devon and Cornwall at this time. Please stay at home and do not undertake travel that isn’t essential. We understand that people may have second homes in the area but we urge you not to travel to them.

Our primary approach remains engagement, explanation and encouragement. As a last resort police officers will use their discretion around issuing fines but this is not an approach that we would take lightly.

Do I have to use a face covering on public transport?

Unless you are exempt, you must wear a face covering when on public transport.

Will we see roll out of checkpoints?

Some forces, such as ours, cover areas of high footfall due to our beauty spots and outdoor public spaces. We may on occasion stop vehicles to enquire where they are going and why. The rules are to protect lives and save the NHS.

But these are not roadblocks – each force is dealing with a very different area that needs policing. In some parts of the country, people mostly move around by car – so of course some officers will need to stop vehicles to engage with people.

The Guardian view on the NHS: careless cuts cost lives

The strain on the NHS is unprecedented. Within a few weeks, hospitals across the country expect to be overwhelmed, meaning that they will be unable to deliver the standard of care to which people are entitled.

Editorial www.theguardian.com

The number of Covid patients in UK hospitals, 32,294, is the highest ever and climbing. Staff absences are at crisis levels, due to illness and the need to self-isolate. Morale is at breaking point (and in some cases, broken). The UK is on course to exceed 100,000 Covid-related deaths by the end of the month, or soon after.

The pandemic and the winter are the causes, at a basic level. The second wave of Covid-19 arrived with its more infectious variant at what is always the busiest time of year for the health service. But poor leadership by an inadequate, overcentralised government with an ideological bias against the public sector has made a difficult situation far worse. The number of excess deaths in the UK is among the highest in the world, with the current death rate above that in Germany, France and the European Union as a whole.

Weak and tardy decision-making around restrictions, the prime minister’s strong preference for individual freedom over social protection, and the failure of the outsourced test-and-trace system have piled pressure on to frontline workers in hospitals, schools, nurseries and supermarkets. That ministers were focused on Brexit, rather than health, over the crucial Christmas period, was a gross misjudgment. On Sunday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, warned that restrictions may have to be further tightened, in recognition of the fact that with the R number estimated to be as high as 1.4, the virus is still spreading to a dangerous extent.

But responsibility, and blame, for the parlous situation in which the UK now finds itself extends beyond the current cabinet. Conservative governments (and their coalition with the Liberal Democrats) have been shortchanging the NHS and care system for 11 years, at the same time as widening the inequalities that are among the causes of poor health, including Covid. Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who now chairs the health select committee, admitted in 2019 that social care cuts went “too far”. Last year, he wrote in this newspaper that the pandemic has removed “any possible excuse” for the delay in resolving the crisis once and for all.

The immediate priority is to reduce current pressures. This means clear communication by the authorities and compliance with regulations by the public. Tasked with delivering the vaccine programme as well as care for patients, the NHS faces enormous demands. Doing what we can to support this effort (including by volunteering), and countering noxious misinformation, is essential. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said last year that the NHS would have “whatever it needs”. In the short term, that means renewing last year’s deal with the private sector, and funding care homes to open up spare capacity if possible.

Looking after those who are suffering, and trying to prevent further harm, is the first task. On vaccinations, thankfully, the UK has made a strong start. But attention must soon turn to a new settlement. Spending on health and social care in the UK is lower than in many comparable countries; so are the numbers of doctors, nurses and hospital beds. It is good that so many British people value the NHS; indeed, it is a cornerstone of progressive politics. But a resilient health system cannot be run on goodwill. What it needs, particularly in a country with an ageing population, is sustained and strategic investment.

Councils face making deep cuts to services to fill shortfall of up to £2.2bn caused by Covid crisis

Councils across England are facing having to make unprecedented cuts to services in the coming years, after coronavirus left them with multimillion-pound black holes in their funding.

www.independent.co.uk 

The cost to local authorities of the pandemic has been revealed as £1.1bn to £2.2bn, prompting leaders to describe their financial situations as the worst they have ever seen.

Early intervention and prevention projects for vulnerable families, as well as recycling schemes, are among the cutbacks most likely to be in the firing line as local authorities seek to claw back cash to avoid meltdown.

And council taxpayers will be asked to stump up more, with bills increasing by as much as 5 per cent, just as household incomes have been squeezed by job losses and instability.

Already struggling after years of austerity, local authority finances have been badly hit as income from car parking and leisure facilities have fallen off a cliff, at the same time as councils faced unplanned bills for costs such as PPE, helping support care homes and launching test and trace systems.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils would be forced to absorb £1.1bn in 2020-21 – and warned that given the continued impact of the pandemic, the figure could grow to £2.2bn.  

Cheshire East Council, which is down by £13m this year thanks to the pandemic, is among many local authorities consulting residents on where to make cuts.

Next year’s budget would be the most challenging it has ever had to set, said deputy leader Craig Browne and warned of having to make “some very tough choices” with no area of responsibility exempt. 

Sam Corcoran, the Labour leader of the Council, said despite several government grants, the council had not been fully recompensed for the pandemic costs, and told The Independent the axe could fall on household waste recycling centres.

Cutting family early prevention services, such as Sure Start centres, would save money now but store up trouble and costs for later, he said.

“We’ve been in austerity for a number of years and it gets harder after the easy things have been cut. Residents have to face either cuts to services or increases in council tax, or both.”

John Clarke, the Labour leader of Gedling Borough Council in Nottinghamshire, told The Independent that cuts might have to be made to the support given to police and the police and crime commissioner, as well as anti-knife crime schemes.

Other services such as maintenance of parks and open spaces could be threatened, as well as eco-friendly initiatives such as educating people on recycling and installing solar panels on council buildings.

Mr Clarke could not rule out redundancies among managers at the council, where the senior team has already been restructured through some natural job shrinkages.

Last month, Croydon Council in south London declared “effective bankruptcy” and imposed emergency spending limits.

In a survey by the County Councils Network, eight in 10 councils said they would have to make “damaging” cuts to services. Social care could be among the areas to suffer, the group said, unless the government stepped in.

A spokesperson for the LGA said: “It is not a pretty picture. Councils have worked closely with government throughout the pandemic to protect our local communities and save lives.”

As well as a drop in income from parking and leisure, local authorities are having to deal with more people defaulting on council tax and business rates because of the lockdowns. The government is giving local authorities up to 75 per cent of that lost revenue.

Overall, ministers say local government has been given £7bn to cover Covid costs, which is being paid in four tranches. 

They say councils have also been given extra spending power – but it takes the form of increasing council tax precepts for social care by 3 per cent, on top of a base rate rise of 2 per cent, totalling up to 5 per cent.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned households across the UK may face an average £70 rise in council tax next year.  

The spending review also provided councils with £300m of new grant funding for social care.

David Williams, leader of Hertfordshire County Council and chairman of the County Councils Network, said: “If you had told me a year ago we’d spend about £130m we hadn’t budgeted for, I’d have thought you were having a laugh. But I’ve been astounded at the amount of support we’ve had from central government. For councils that deliver social care, the government has dealt with them pretty fairly.”

He said he would be reluctant to cut services for vulnerable families, and would look for central government funding initially.

But others say the support is not enough.

Leeds City Council, which has a £119m deficit, earlier this month announced a potential 914 staff redundancies, as well as council tax rises.

Newcastle City Council has revealed it has to save a further £40m over the next two years by raising fees and charges and not filling vacancies, and will raise council tax by 5 per cent.

Leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes said: “Coronavirus has cost councils across the country over £11bn this year alone. The government have so far refunded less than half of that. They have done nothing to fundamentally change the fact that councils will be forced to make severe cuts in 2021 to balance their books.”

City councillors are considering £8.4m of cuts to adult social care spending and £3.8m of cuts to children’s social care.

Leicestershire County Council said it had an £18m gap in funding, after Westminster grants, because of the Covid crisis.  

Extra costs and loss of income have increased costs by £90m this year, it said, despite furloughing some staff.  

Byron Rhodes, cabinet member for finance, said the council was stopping non-essential recruitment and spending, and stepping up spending controls.

“Government support has been significant but not enough. Without funding reform or a major efficiency initiative, more savings will be required including service reductions.”

And Brighton and Hove council revealed it had a £20m funding gap, the “biggest black hole the council has seen for a very long time”, deputy leader Hannah Clare said.

Paul Hodgkinson, leader of the Lib Dems on Gloucestershire County Council, said he feared roads and road safety measures could be the biggest victim of any cuts in his rural area.

“Our roads have a high accident rate, sadly some fatal, with a lot of single carriageways, which tend to be worse than motorways for accidents, and I would fear measures to make them safer could be in jeopardy.”

The borough council in Crawley, the town identified has having been the hardest hit by the pandemic because it is largely dependent on Gatwick Airport, this month decided to close two children’s playgrounds and close five “superloos” among other measures.

In its budget consultation, Kent County Council said it was potentially facing a financial challenge “bigger than anything we have seen over the last 10 years”.

Leader Roger Gough said the concern was less for the immediate future than for the medium and long term. “We had an in-year budget this year, which we’ve never felt the need to do before.

“We were very concerned about children’s social care. After lockdown, cases coming in were more complex because they’d been left for longer.

“Local government tends to be a lower priority for government than the NHS and defence, so it’s likely council tax as a whole will increase – we’ll look at that very carefully. A 5 per cent increase will be a cause for concern and distress for many people already in financial distress.”

The LGA spokesperson said early communication with councils was key, and initially, the sharing of testing data with councils was poor.

“Lessons must be learnt from the past months, particularly around the importance of tapping into and using local expertise.  

“We are calling on the government to address in full the financial challenges facing councils as a result of Covid-19, including all lost income and local tax losses.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Councils have played a critical role during the pandemic, and we are ensuring they have the resources needed to deliver effective services for their communities. 

 “We’ve given councils an unprecedented £7.2bn package of support. This includes £4.6bn in un-ringfenced funding, recognising that councils are best placed to decide how to meet the major Covid-19 service pressures in their local area. 

“Next year we’re giving councils access to an additional £2.2bn to deliver services including social care and £3bn of additional support for Covid-19 pressures. This takes the total support committed to councils in England to tackle the impacts of Covid-19 to over £10bn.”

Covid seemed like a crisis far away from Cornwall. Not now

First we thought Covid would come in July, when restrictions were lifted and tourists and second home owners escaped the confines of their cities and headed down the M5 for fresh air at the coast. Then we thought it would come in September, when tourists and second home owners headed back up the motorway, leaving the virus behind them.

Rachel Stevenson www.theguardian.com 

But coronavirus rates have remained persistently low in Cornwall since the beginning of the pandemic and for many of us, including myself and my family, the crisis has seemed far removed from our corner of the world.

Well, Covid is in Cornwall now. Confirmed cases have tripled in just the past week and public health officials are warning the virus is almost “out of control” here. At the beginning of December, Cornwall was one of only two places in the country enjoying the freedoms of tier 1 with just 18 cases per 100,000 people. Now there are more than 300 cases per 100,000 people and the rate is still rising.

“Cases were low compared with the rest of the country for some time, but now it is quite different,” Rachel Wigglesworth, director of public health in Cornwall, said last week. “The message now is that it is very serious and the virus is very nearly out of control in Cornwall.”

Feeling extremely fortunate to live here, we have at times been a little smug during the course of the pandemic. My husband had a kidney transplant 10 years ago and so needs to shield, as the drugs that stop his body rejecting the kidney make him highly vulnerable to the virus. Thank God we’re not in London, we’ve said countless times while watching the news. As friends and family in other areas of the UK sent messages of despair about lockdown life with children and nowhere to go, I would sheepishly send photos of my kids larking about on the beach.

I don’t blame people for travelling here when the restrictions allowed it – I would probably have done the same. But tourism is a divisive issue in Cornwall at the best of times. Having a deadly virus on the loose was always going to fuel age-old Cornish jokes about destroying the Tamar Bridge and sealing Cornwall off from the rest of the country.

While outsiders are being squarely blamed in many social media postings, public health officials here say there is very little evidence to suggest they are behind the spike in cases. Community and household transmission between friends, family and colleagues over the festive season are the main source, with the new variant making transmission easier. “We are only now seeing the impact of Christmas gatherings and things are clearly going to get worse,” Wigglesworth said.

Did people in Cornwall let their guard down? Did, perhaps, a little bit of complacency creep in after so many months of low rates? Of course most of us have stuck rigidly to the rules, but I’ll admit there were times when I may have been too relaxed. Back in the relatively carefree days of early December, I went out for dinner with a few friends. We were within the tier 1 guidelines, but looking at it now, the restaurant was pretty busy. I’m racked with guilt at how reckless that now seems.

What worries so many people here is that while Cornwall is well served with ice-cream kiosks and surf shops, it isn’t so well served with healthcare facilities. There is only one major hospital and there are only 15 intensive care beds in the county, although this can be increased. The hospital is already preparing for a surge in admissions, having seen the number of Covid inpatients more than double since the end of December.

Covid was probably always going to get to Cornwall, especially given how easily the new variant spreads. We may still have our beaches and fresh air, but we are now like many other parts of the country, anxiously waiting to see how our health services cope over the coming weeks.

The stunning Devon village fighting to save its identity – More on Kilmington neighbourhood plan

The village of Kilmington is remarkable in that it is situated in not just one, but two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – the East Devon AONB and the Blackdown Hills AONB – and is bisected by one of Devon’s main roads, the A35.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

There is a strong sense of community and social cohesion within the village, with the vast majority of 830 residents in the parish very satisfied with living here, citing the friendliness of the people as major factor.

Crime is almost non-existent and residents tend to ‘self-police’ anti-social behaviour, speeding and other minor disruption.

The small physical size of the village, the network of its roads, footpaths and green spaces means that neighbours of all ages frequently meet, has created a caring community with significant social action organising many regular social gatherings to the benefit of the health and wellbeing of its residents.

Kilmington from the air

Kilmington from the air

But there is the danger that the village could become a “retirement community”. Currently, this is not the case and is decidedly not what the residents’ wish, however most residents recognise a need for a small amount of new housing in line with growth over recent decades to keep the village alive.

And so the Kilmington Neighbourhood Plan, which is now out for consultation, has been developed in order to give local people the chance decide what new housing was needed and where it should go and so any change in the parish should make a real and positive difference to the lives of local people and the future of our community.

Cllr Ben Trott, chairman of Kilmington Parish Council, in the foreword to the plan, said: “The Parish Council wanted the people of Kilmington to have a say in all aspects of the future of our village but most importantly it wanted local people to decide what new housing was needed and where it should go.

“The Plan also sets objectives on key themes such as moving around, housing, employment, green space and community facilities. It builds on current and planned activity and says what the Parish Council and its partners will work towards.

“Research in our community confirms that residents want to retain the heritage, community culture and identity of Kilmington and therefore any change in the parish should make a real and positive difference to the lives of local people and the future of our community.

“The Parish Council is committed to developing and strengthening the contacts and groups that have evolved as a result of the Neighbourhood Planning process. It believes that by working together to implement the Plan it will make Kilmington an even better place to live, work and enjoy.”

(Image: Derek Harper/Geograph)

In a vision statement, the draft Neighbourhood Plan states: “We recognise that Kilmington village and its surrounding Parish is a special place to live, lying within two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. While recognising the need for evolution and development within the Parish, the community wishes the Parish to retain its unique and intimate character.

“We aim to maintain these qualities, whilst enhancing the rural and built environment by allowing limited incremental development to meet the needs of local people until 2031, in a way that will not compromise future generations and will encourage the maintenance of a sustainable and balanced rural community.”

When residents were asked, ‘what do you like most about living in Kilmington?’ the replies were very similar, the plan document says.

The majority liked Kilmington’s friendly community spirit. Community cohesion is critical to the quality of life of local people, adding: “We believe social cohesion within Kilmington has grown and been retained because the rate of population growth has been incremental and gradual. Any large increase in village population over a short period of time may breakdown this close spirit to the detriment of the community.

“The population size of Kilmington village provides a feeling of belonging as social interaction is high. The small physical size of the village, the network of its roads, footpaths and green spaces means that neighbours of all ages frequently meet. This has created a caring community with significant social action organising many regular social gatherings to the benefit of the health and wellbeing of its residents.

“Villagers take care of the lonely and elderly individually and through two churches, many social clubs and the strong Royal British Legion membership. Crime is almost non-existent and residents tend to ‘self-police’ anti-social behaviour, speeding and other minor disruption.

“Cohesive communities are communities which are better able to tackle common problems, to provide mutual support and to work together for a positive future.

“Kilmington residents care strongly about their village – they appreciate that change will occur, but they want a common-sense approach to maintaining the environment that drew them to Kilmington and helps to give them a lifestyle they value.”

St Giles Church, Kilmington

St Giles Church, Kilmington (Image: Roger Cornfoot/Geograph)

Kilmington has a range of facilities and amenities including a parish church, a Baptist church (The Beacon), village hall, cricket pavilion on the playing field (which doubles as a meeting place), village primary school, 2 pubs, a filling station with a shop, motel and café attached, and a large farm shop, and there is also a small wildlife park, while a mobile library calls into the village once a month and a post office once a week.

Residents were asked in the neighbourhood plan questionnaire if they wanted new housing, and the majority wanted no new housing (164 said no: 30 yes).

However, in further questions most residents recognise a need for a small amount of new housing in line with growth over recent decades (2 or 3 on average each year) to keep the village alive.

The plan says that the critical issue therefore seems to be the rate of growth and most respondents have suggested slow incremental growth so that Kilmington does not lose its sense of community, outgrow the existing village amenities, or cause further traffic pressure.

Any significant increase which cannot be accommodated through mitigation by provision of additional services, infrastructure or capacity could significantly overstretch existing resources which are currently running at capacity, the plan says.

It adds: “The population of Kilmington is similar to that of East Devon, which is older than the national average, a trend that is likely to be exacerbated in the future. There is the danger that the village could become a “retirement community”.

“Currently, this is not the case and is decidedly not what the residents wish. The provision of low cost housing to attract or retain young families therefore remains a priority, as does the retention of a thriving school, preschool and other youth leisure activities.”

In order to meet the needs of housing for the local community and be in a position of control over where development occurs, two potential sites which could be developed for new housing have been identified.

Land allocated for housing in George Lane in Kilmington

Land allocated for housing in George Lane in Kilmington

Land allocated for housing in Whitford Road in Kilmington

Land allocated for housing in Whitford Road in Kilmington

Land off George Lane and adjacent to Dares Field is allocated for around 14 dwellings over the ten years 2021 -2031, while land off Whitford Road (north of The Beacon) is allocated for the development of 6-10 smaller bungalows depending on design and layout, over the ten years 2021 -2031, with developments on the sites expected to) deliver a mix of dwelling types and sizes which meet demonstrable up-to-date local needs to help maintain a balanced and thriving local community to accommodate the needs of younger generations and families and to respond to the needs of the elderly by providing housing to enable downsizing and also fully accessible housing to the needs of the elderly through design.

The plan also says that existing community facilities and amenities will be protected for such use and their loss will not normally be supported.

Particularly locally valued community facilities and amenities are the Primary School, a Village Hall, two Churches, two Pubs, a Recreation Field which includes a cricket oval, a tennis court, a children’s play park with equipment and a multi-use pavilion.

Proposals which result in the loss (redevelopment or change of use) of locally valued community facilities and amenities will only be supported where there is no reasonable prospect of viable continued use of the existing building or facility which will benefit the local community and they demonstrate a need for their proposed change and they do not have an adverse impact on the special character of the area’s natural and built environments.

Consultation on the plan also revealed that the volume of traffic passing through the Parish and the speed of much of this traffic was raised as one of the two major concerns to residents, as the extremely busy A35 trunk road, running east-west, cuts the parish in two and acts as something of a barrier between the two halves of the parish to its north and south.

(Image: Robin Webster/Geograph)

A recent Highways England Average Annual Daily Traffic Flow Survey recorded over 13,600 vehicles, of which 2,040 were classified as Heavy Goods Vehicles, passing along this road each day, with traffic flow is significantly greater during daylight hours, particularly during commuter times and the tourist holiday months.

The plan says: “The high frequency of these vehicles passing by, within a speed limit of 50 miles an hour, makes it very difficult for vehicles emerging from the village side roads to find a suitable gap to enter the A35 carriageway safely. As there is no pedestrian crossing facility it is also dangerous and difficult for pedestrians and cyclists to cross and as the majority of Kilmington’s population live to the south and therefore many villagers regularly have to make the dangerous crossing. Children and elderly residents have to be accompanied.

“The latest Highways England accident reports available show that for period 2010 to 2016 there were 24 slight, 6 serious and 1 fatal accident reported. Many more ‘non serious’ accidents and near misses go unreported. All of these discourage others, particularly the elderly from driving on, walking alongside and crossing the A35 road.

“Village residents made different suggestions in the neighbourhood plan questionnaire to improve the safety on the A35 including improvements to sign visibility, installing an assisted crossing point, reducing the speed limit on the A35 to 40 mph (or even 30 mph) and introducing traffic calming and half-way crossing island.

“We propose that the A35 corridor is considered a ‘planning entity’ in its own right, mixing commercial, residential (impact) and environmental components to benefit those travelling through the parish as well as residents. While the road itself is the responsibility of the Devon County Council (Highways), how it interacts more widely with the parish can be influenced by planning policies and decisions.”

A number of community actions have been identified through local consultation and the development of the plan’s Objective, and while they may be outside the remit of the planning system (and therefore the Neighbourhood Plan) to influence or deliver, the actions would typically fall to the Parish Council or the community, or partners such as local authorities or statutory agencies to lead.

Gammons Hill, Kilmington

Gammons Hill, Kilmington

They also provide an indication, in some cases, of what local infrastructure in Kilmington is seen as a priority

They include:

  • Improve safety by pursuing and supporting measures to reduce the speed of traffic through the village on the A35
  • Improve pedestrian and cycle access to facilities by pursuing and supporting the installation of a pedestrian crossing across the A35 close to Kilmington Cross.
  • Improve safety by pursuing and supporting the installation of a ‘Village Gateway’ on the A35 at the western entry to the village, to encourage vehicles to reduce their speed.
  • Pursue a 20mph speed limit in place of the existing 30mph limit or at least within the BUAB to reduce the speed of traffic passing through the centre of the village.
  • Pursue a weight restriction within the BUAB to reduce the number of heavy goods vehicles entering, unless they are delivering/collecting or gaining access to land and/or premises.
  • Investigate creating a Community Land Trust to maintain self-build housing in the long-term to provide a solution to the local housing need
  • The possible registration of Assets of Community Value: New Inn; School; Recreation Ground; Village Hall and St Giles Church
  • Changing the public bus route via Shute Road & The Hill to provide access to the east bound public bus to Axminster without the necessity to cross the A35
  • Creating an attractive ‘green corridor’ along the A35 through the village
  • Developing a hedge and tree green buffer between the A35 and the village
  • Creating a new footpath routed through the centre of the village from The Hill residential area to the centre of the village amenities around Whitford Road (see housing allocations and transport section)
  • Establishing a community orchard

The draft Neighbourhood Plan for Kilmington is now out for consultation until February 28, 2021, after which the parish council will decide whether or not to amend the Plan in response to each representation before the Plan is submitted to East Devon District Council for further consultation and on to independent examination.

A feedback form can be downloaded from the parish council website, and copies are in the phone box library on Jubilee Green. You can also email feedback forms to: np@kilmingtonvillage.com or post to The Clerk to the Parish Council, Tower View Fruit Farm, Offwell, EX14 9RW.