Staying local: will be different in different areas – Kit Malthouse MP

Boris Johnson’s 7 mile cycle ride to the Olympic Park on Sunday has provoked much comment on just what is meant by “staying local”. His ride came after two women were stopped and initially fined for travelling five miles to take a walk (with two takeaway coffees, judged to be a picnic) in Derbyshire. (These charges have since been dropped).

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, policing minister Kit Malthouse MP wanted to clear things up. He insisted people must not “stretch the rules” but went on to say that whether seven miles was local “depends on where you are.”

“Seven miles will be local in different areas;’ he added. [Too true, see below – Owl]

Obvious parallels have been drawn with Dominic Cumming’s trip to Barnard Castle and another example of those in authority stretching the rules made for others to follow.

Not all take this view apparently. Linking to a story about the incident from the Guardian, former Lib Dem leader Vince Cable called the report “unbelievably petty” and went as far as to ask what the publication “had against cycling” . [Owl stripped Vince of his “sainthood” for being the architect of “Local Enterprise Partnerships”, despite the fact that in 2014 he admitted: “I’m not sure we’ve got it right…”]

However, for Marina Hyde it is not far enough:

“It’s much too close. Ideally, I would like him to be one ocean, two deserts and seven miles (of solid lead) away from any seat of power.”

Finally, Owl rehearses the “staying local” argument as it applies to residents of Newton Poppleford.

Readers may recall they have been assigned by the Clinical Commissioning Group to the Ottery St Mary practice. As the crow flies the two are only about 3½ miles apart (but you wouldn’t want to walk the busy narrow lanes, let alone take a child in a pushchair).

There is no direct bus route, patients have to travel into Exeter and out again, a distance of around 23 miles, standard return adult plus child is £23.50, with a round trip time of 2hrs 30 mins plus connection time (pre-Covid,  2019 schedules and prices). There is a surgery in Sidmouth on a direct route with journey time of 5 mins but it is closed to Newton Popp. residents. 

Devon taking the lead on climate change

(John Hart takes a lead – Wow! – Owl)

John Hart

Not many of us will look back on 2020 with any affection. But I want to look forward.

I’m an optimist and, as far as Covid-19 is concerned, we can have some hope with the roll-out of the vaccination programme.

But this week I want to consider another vital subject where I can report on some very positive progress in our county.

Before the pandemic, global warming was dominating the news agenda. And in Devon, work on reducing our carbon emissions has been proceeding apace – despite the coronavirus.

I am very proud that Devon County Council has been taking a lead on the issue.

We declared our intention to be net-zero carbon by 2030 and pledged £250,000 to help establish the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group.

This is made up of the chief officers of more than 25 public, private and voluntary sector organisations in Devon and is tasked with delivering Devon’s Carbon Plan, our roadmap to carbon neutrality.

I am taking this extremely seriously and I have asked the county council’s chief executive, Phil Norrey, to chair the group.

Now in case you are thinking this is just another talking shop, I can assure you it isn’t.

If we are to tackle global warming then all of us need to change our behaviour – personally, in our communities and in the organisations and companies of which we are a part.

And if people are going to change then they need to feel part of the process. So a major consultation’s been launched this month to enable everyone in Devon to have their say on what needs to be done.

Our interim Carbon Plan has been produced by a task force chaired by Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, an environmental social scientist from Exeter University and a lead author for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The task force held hearings and received nearly 900 suggestions from local people and organisations on the actions we should take.

They’ve based much of the plan on this feedback and now we want your views and your ideas for how we can cut our carbon emissions.

You can read the plan and respond to a consultation questionnaire at the Devon Climate Emergency website on or you can obtain a paper copy from your local library from January 6, by emailing or by phone on 0345 155 1015.

Devon’s last major consultation on our libraries drew 20,000 responses and we’re hoping for something similar or even more this time.

Climate change affects us all and if we feel committed to the actions needed to combat it and have made our contribution to defining them, then we’re more likely to make the effort and, potentially, to take the pain.

Already progress is being made. The county council’s own carbon footprint has fallen by almost half in the last eight years.

Within two years our streetlights will all be LED, cutting carbon emissions by three-quarters. That’s 15,000 tonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to taking 8,000 cars off the road.

We will further reduce emissions by improving the energy efficiency of county council buildings.

We’ve installed solar panels at County Hall and we’ll repeat that on other buildings and we’ll buy renewable energy direct from new solar power projects in Devon.

We’re planning to make at least half of our vehicle fleet electric in the next few years and we’re working to ensure our supply chain is carbon neutral by 2030.

None of that is enough but, with your help, we can inspire individuals, communities, companies and organisations across Devon to do even more.

Hospital patients to be sent to hotels to free up beds for critical Covid patients

Looks like Plan B (already adopted in Derriford) – Owl

Thousands of hospital patients are to be discharged early to hotels or their own homes to free up beds for Covid-19 sufferers needing life-or-death care, the Guardian has learned.

Denis Campbell 

Hospital chiefs in England intend to start discharging patients early on a scale never seen before, as an emergency measure to create “extra emergency contingency capacity” and stop parts of the NHS collapsing, senior sources said.

Documents seen by the Guardian also revealed that the NHS is asking care homes to start accepting Covid patients directly from hospitals and without a recent negative test, as long as they have been in isolation for 14 days and have shown no new symptoms.

Under the “home and hotel” plan, patients discharged early into a hotel will receive help from voluntary organisations such as St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross, armed forces medical personnel and any available NHS staff.

The London Hotel Group (LHG) has started taking Covid-positive patients who are homeless from King’s College hospital in south London and is looking after them in its Best Western-branded hotel in nearby Croydon. It is in talks with 20 other NHS trusts and says it could provide 5,000 beds.

Families will be expected to play a key role in monitoring and caring for loved ones who are sent home days or weeks before they would otherwise have left hospital, with support from health professionals where possible.

The plans come amid growing concern that hospitals will soon be overwhelmed and that the crisis may not peak for several weeks. More than 35,000 Covid patients are in UK hospitals, with that number rising by 6,213 in the last week alone.

NHS leaders fear that the new Covid variant, which has driven up infection rates in London and south-east and east England, is leaving many hospitals struggling to cope, and will soon do the same in the south-west and north-west.

Record levels of sickness absence in the health service and its central role in the government’s mass vaccination drive led NHS sources to warn that few staff will have time to deliver significant care at private homes or hotels once patients are discharged.

But they said patients will not be asked to leave hospital early if they are still medically at risk, so they should need mainly light-touch care. “This is for patients who don’t need to be in a hospital bed but still need to be in a protected environment,” said one official.

NHS England, as well as bosses of hospitals under the most extreme pressure, are having detailed discussions about implementing the “home and hotel” option for what a senior NHS source said would involve “thousands” of patients. It is part of their efforts to create “extra emergency contingency capacity” once other options, such as doubling or tripling critical care capacity and using the emergency Nightingale field hospitals, have been exhausted, sources said.

LHG said its hotels could provide beds for at least 5,000 patients facing early discharge, including 1,500 in London. LHG’s chief executive, Meher Nawab, said: “We will be looking to roll this solution out across our hotels to provide hospitals with a lifeline at this critical time.”

An LHG spokesperson added: “The patient group the NHS is seeking to accommodate at this stage are recovered or recovering from Covid and who are medically fit for discharge, and thus do not require specialist medical supervision or specialist care, but can’t yet return home. This frees up NHS bedspace and capacity and is relatively easy for hotels to accommodate.”

But the plan has generated controversy, with patient groups voicing unease about its impact. Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients Association, said: “This is a dire situation, in which the NHS often has no good options available. Discharging patients early from hospital is likely to be one of few options open to the NHS to manage the scale of the current need.

“However, early discharge can often cause problems that result in harm to the patient and the need to re-admit them. Care by volunteers in hotels is not an adequate substitute for proper hospital care. But at a time when hospitals are overwhelmed by critically ill patients and striving to prevent loss of life on a large scale, clearly they will be making desperate choices.”

Dr Charlotte Augst, chief executive of the umbrella group of health charities National Voices, said: “We have questions about where the health and care staff to look after those people will come from and how any deterioration would be dealt with given the very long waits for 111 or 999 services.

“In our view this proposal is indicative of the unpalatable decisions NHS leaders are now forced to make due to the immense pressures placed on the system by this latest lockdown coming yet again too late to protect the NHS’s ability to provide universal high quality services for all.”

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who now chairs the Commons health select committee, warned on Tuesday that the NHS is facing a “triple whammy” of pressures that could leave it dangerously exposed this winter and mean the greatest pressure may not arrive until February.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said that trusts would expand capacity but “will also work closely with community services and social care partners to maximise the discharge of medically fit patients”.

Meanwhile, the NHS is asking care homes to start accepting Covid patients directly from hospitals and without a recent Covid test, the Guardian has learned.

The policy had been to send Covid patients to designated “hot” care homes where infection spread could be limited and to prevent a repeat of last spring’s epidemic in care homes, which was partly fuelled by hospital discharges. But a target to set up 500 such homes has been missed, leaving only 2,533 beds available.

An NHS document sent to some care providers says: “We are now advising that for some within this group, it will be appropriate for them to move directly to a care home from hospital … because we now know they do not pose an infection risk to other residents in a care home.”

If clinicians assess a patient has no new Covid symptoms or exposure and has completed their isolation period, they can be discharged straight to a care home without a further Covid test in the 48 hours before discharge, it adds.

The plan sparked concern among care operators who want assurances that anyone coming out of hospital 14 days after a positive test cannot still pass the virus on.

“We have said we need to see strong clinical evidence,” said Nadra Ahmed, executive chairman of the National Care Association, which represents independent care operators. “We need to have absolute confidence if someone is coming out of hospital having been Covid-positive that they are no longer infectious.”

Prof Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents private care providers, said: “The key is, it is for the care homes to decide and hospitals should not put undue pressure on care homes.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

‘What am I supposed to make with this!’ Parents on schools’ meagre food parcels

Another example of how the private sector delivers a public service – Owl

The government and the catering companies it has hired have come under fire after photographs of free school meal parcels were circulated online.

Molly Blackall 

The food packages sent to children who qualify for free school meals and are remote learning because of the national lockdown were not considered to contain enough high quality food. The Department for Education said it was looking into the issue, and that “parcels should be nutritious and contain a varied range of food”.

Four families who are eligible for food parcels shared their response.

‘It makes things so difficult’

Mother of three, Karen Phillips, 33, has been forced to spend her rent money on her children’s lunches after receiving a “disgraceful” food parcel from her school last week.

The parcel, intended to last her 12-year-old daughter all week, didn’t contain any carbohydrates except two potatoes, alongside one onion, two peppers, a satsuma, single tomato and carrot, and two eggs wrapped in cling film. The parcel also included one small tub of soup powder, the same sized tub of tuna mayo, and a small bag of grated cheese.

The food parcel given to Karen Phillips last Tuesday.

The food parcel given to Karen Phillips last Tuesday. Photograph: Karen Phillips/Guardian Community

“I phoned the school straight away and said, ‘what am I supposed to make with this?’ They said they had complained to their suppliers, and were going to start doing food vouchers instead, but they haven’t told us when they’ll be getting them. There were no instructions about what I could make with the food, and the school had no idea,” said Phillips, who lives in Berkshire as a full-time parent.

“I’d like to know how the catering company are getting away with it,” she added.

Her two children at primary school have not yet been offered anything.

“I told the teacher that I was going to use my rent money to pay for her daughters’ school dinners but the teacher said she couldn’t help,” she said. “It makes things so difficult. With homeschooling children as well, you don’t need the added stress of wondering if you can feed your kids.”

‘Where does the money go if this is what they’re giving people?’

The food parcel given to Sarah yesterday, including two packs of bagels with best before labels of 3 April 2020 and 31 August 2020.

The food parcel given to Sarah included two packs of bagels with best before labels of 3 April 2020 and 31 August 2020. Photograph: Sarah/Guardian Community

Sarah, a 36-year-old single mother in Birmingham, said she thought her parcel was “a bit of an insult” when it was delivered from her daughter’s secondary school this week. The package didn’t contain any fresh food except two potatoes. It also included bagels which, while they were frozen, were nine months out of date.

With the parcels supposedly costing £15 (for one child) from the government, Sarah said she could not understand where the extra money had gone.

“I know it’s free, and it does help, but they’re getting government funding to do this,” she said. “Where does the money go if this is what they’re giving people? It’s a bit disappointing.”

‘It’s totally shocking’

For her three children in high school, Caroline McMullen, 42, received “a small loaf of bread, apple juice, one apple each, a bag with a handful of pasta each, three small bags of raisins, cheese slices, a tub of butter and three tins of beans”, which was supposed to last for 10 days. Other than three apples, there wasn’t any fresh fruit or vegetables included.

“I’ve seen parents giving negative reviews of their parcels on Twitter, but I think, at least you’ve got a tomato. I didn’t get a single one,” said McMullen, who lives in Blackpool.

“Because of Covid, I’m trying to force as much fruit and veg down the kids’ mouths as possible, to keep their immune systems up. To give them pasta and raisins, it’s disgusting.”

McMullen said the food would not go far enough to keep her children fed for the 10-day period.

“It’s totally shocking,” she said. “I have a 14-year-old lad that eats me out of house and home. How do I tell him he’s only got an apple? It’s not even a bag of pasta, it’s a handful in a bag.”

She is also concerned that the school is not able to deliver the parcels. After the school confirmed another case of coronavirus on Tuesday morning, she said she was worried about having to travel into the school to collect food.

“What’s the point in keeping the kids off school if I have to go in? I feel like I have to choose between letting them starve or risk getting infection,” she said.

‘When you’re given food you can’t eat, it’s a waste’

Other parents were concerned that the limited supplies and lack of choice in the parcels would mean that children with dietary requirements could not benefit.

In Reading, one of Sharon’s* three children has Prader-Willi syndrome, a medical condition that means his diet is heavily restricted.

“It’s totally pointless me accepting the food parcel of potatoes and Soreen snacks, pasta and beans, when he is unable to eat any of it due to his dietary requirements,” she said.

Sharon is yet to receive her parcel but has emailed her son’s school to see if they can adapt it for her son’s needs. For families like hers, Sharon said, the voucher system was much more effective, as well as being better value for money.

“At least with the voucher I am able to buy food he is actually allowed to eat,” she said. “When you’re given food you can’t eat, it’s a waste. It should be more of a blanket policy. The vouchers are much easier, they allow you to utilise the scheme for your family.”

* Name has been changed

And from Roadside Mum BBC news

A food parcel received by Twitter user Roadside Mumimage: Roadside Mum

“Public funds were charged £30. I’d have bought this for £5.22,” said Twitter user Roadside Mum of the parcel she received

EU-funded estuary flooding begins in Spring

Work on a landscape-scale project to address the impact of climate change by returning a Devon estuary and flood plain to a more natural condition is set to begin in the Spring.

Daniel Clark

East Devon District Council’s planning committee last Wednesday approved a pioneering project to help a river valley on England’s Jurassic Coast adapt to climate change and create an internationally important wildlife reserve.

The EU-funded Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP) will reconnect the River Otter to its historic floodplain and return the lower Otter Valley to a more natural condition; creating more than 50 hecatres of intertidal mudflats, saltmarsh and other valuable estuarine habitats.

The success of the £15 million project rested on it being given the thumbs up by East Devon District Council, and planning approval means work on the project can start this spring and be completed by early 2023.

The Otter Estuary

The Otter Estuary (Image: REKORD Media)

Although much loved, the Lower Otter Valley has been heavily modified by human hand in the last 200 years with the construction of an embankment, a road, a rubbish tip, an aqueduct and an old railway line.

These structures are difficult and expensive to maintain and restrict natural processes including the movement of water and reduces habitat quality and diversity, and since the creation of an embankment in the early 19th Century, the River Otter has been disconnected from much of its natural flood plain.

The creation of new habitats and restoration of the site will be achieved by breaching the embankment. This will allow a much greater extent of the original floodplain to flood at high tide and drain at low tide producing important intertidal habitat, mudflats and saltmarsh for wading birds. There will also be areas of reedbed and grazing marsh.

Once established, the new site will become a wildlife reserve of international importance within five years, fulfilling the aspirations of all partners involved.

The Lower Otter valley is the subject of plans from the Environment Agency

The Lower Otter valley is the subject of plans from the Environment Agency

The LORP is a partnership between the Environment Agency, local landowner Clinton Devon Estates, and the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust that currently manages the estuary. It also has the support of Natural England, RSPB and Devon Wildlife Trust.

Mark Rice, Environment Manager for the Environment Agency, said: “Climate change is affecting the way we manage our coasts and estuaries and we must adapt to that change.

“The Lower Otter Restoration Project is an example of how we can do that. We aim to deliver long term benefits for people and wildlife by working in partnership and through more sustainable management of the Otter Estuary.”

Dr Sam Bridgewater, head of wildlife and conservation at Clinton Devon Estates, said: “The Estate is proud to be associated with this project. Coastal communities must adapt as sea levels rise and storm events become more frequent.

“It is our belief the Lower Otter Restoration Project will provide a more sustainable and certain future for the threatened Otter valley. It will also deliver very significant benefits to people and wildlife.

“The granting of planning approval is a major step forward in helping us deliver this vision.

“We have worked very closely with a wide range of stakeholders who have helped us reach this milestone and we are grateful for their input over the years.”

Cllr Geoff Jung, East Devon’s cabinet member for coast, country and environment, said: “I am delighted that East Devon’s planning committee unanimously voted to allow the Lower Otter Restoration Project to go ahead.

“This council is totally committed to issues related to climate change, from purchasing electric vehicles, a national leader in recycling and waste, and working with partners and landowners to manage our valuable natural coast and countryside from the dangers of our changing climate and sea level-rises.

“We recognise that there will be some disruption, whilst the work is being carried out, but the alternative risk of allowing the embankments to fail was too greater a risk. The proposal will return the Lower Otter to a more natural sustainable state, which will provide extra wildlife habitat that is being lost both here in East Devon and elsewhere.

“We would like to thank the team at Clinton Devon Estates and the Environment Agency for their shared commitment to this exciting and pioneering project.”

The Lower Otter Estuary in Budleigh Salterton.

The Lower Otter Estuary in Budleigh Salterton. (Image: PACCo)

Budleigh and Raleigh ward members Cllr Alan Dent, Cllr Paul Jarvis and Cllr Tom Wright added: “We are all very pleased planning permission for this application has been granted. Not only will it have very important environmental gains but it will also secure the future of Budleigh Salterton Cricket Club and access along South Farm Road which is vital for those South Farm businesses.”

When the application went before councillors last week, they were told it would see the Big and Little Marsh floodplains around Budleigh Salterton restored, with breaches created in the Little Bank, the Big Bank and the River Otter Embankment to allow water to flow through.

The aim is to avoid the significant risk that a major flood or extreme tidal event could lead to catastrophic failure of the existing embankments, with unpredictable environmental and social impacts, given that in recent years, part of the South West Coast Path that runs along the embankments have been closed to the public for significant periods due to erosion caused by such events.

The committee heard that if nothing was done, then changes to the environment would likely occur, but would be unmanaged and unpredictable, and backed the officer recommendation to approve the scheme.

As part of the plans to restore the historic floodplain of the River Otter, breaches in existing embankments would be created to allow water from both the River Otter and the Estuary to inundate the site, creating intertidal saltmarsh and mudflats.

In addition, South Farm Road will be realigned and raised at a point just to the south of the existing road, and a small car park created at its western end and a new road bridge will be required, and a new footbridge to the South. Existing footpaths will be realigned and the landfill site capped and planted with grassland and woodland.

The spit to the south will be allowed to evolve naturally, necessitating the removal of the southern part of the loop path known as Donkeys Turn.

The cricket club will be moved from its current location to land off of East Budleigh Road, permission for which has already been granted under a separate planning application. Floods have left part of their current Ottermouth home under water on three occasions in the last 10 years, with a plan to relocate to Janie’s Field on the outskirts of the town having been agreed.

A cautionary tale of relaxing infection controls

Cornwall also has paid a price for it’s short stay in Tier 1 – Owl

Military helicopters could be used within days to airlift coronavirus patients from the Isle of Wight, the island’s medical director has said, after an “astronomical” rise in infections fuelled by mixing and visitors over Christmas.

Josh Halliday 

A 71-fold increase in cases means the Isle of Wight has the 13th highest infection rate in the UK this week, from having one of the lowest in early December.

The county of 141,606 people recorded 1,871 new cases in the first 10 days of January – 43% of its total since the pandemic began. Hospital admissions and deaths are rising sharply.

Stephen Parker, the medical director of the Isle of Wight NHS trust, said he was planning “unthinkable options”, including evacuating Covid-19 patients to the mainland as the island’s small hospital treated a four-fold increase in people with the disease since Christmas Day.

He told the Guardian that a Chinook helicopter, more commonly seen in war zones, had carried out a test landing on a playing field near the island’s St Mary’s hospital in anticipation that military aid might be needed before the end of January.

“These are unprecedented times for the NHS and they are unprecedented times for the island,” he said. “I think it really is important to realise that we are one of the smallest hospitals in the country; we are challenged about moving patients and we could be overwhelmed.”

The Isle of Wight had considered itself a Covid success story before December, managing to keep the virus mostly at bay. It spearheaded a trial of the government’s contact-tracing app. “Where the Isle of Wight leads, the rest of Britain will follow,” declared Matt Hancock, the health secretary, at the time.

That all changed last month. The lifting of the national lockdown in December left the island one of only three places in England in the lowest level of restrictions.

It meant islanders could meet in groups of up to six, hotels were open and pubs were allowed to serve alcohol without food. Yet Portsmouth, only a 45-minute ferry trip away, and one of the first places to see significant transmission of the highly-contagious new Covid variant, was in the strictest tier 4 restrictions, alongside London.

The rapid rise in the infection rate – from 16 cases per 100,000 people in the first week of December to 1,130 per 100,000 this week – has prompted fury among some islanders who blame an influx of visitors from mainland England, including second homeowners, in the run-up to Christmas.

One resident told the County Press he saw “coaches of people piling into local hotels and evening lights ablaze in the many second homes” on the island, whose elderly population – more than one in three residents are 60 or over – are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Twenty-two Isle of Wight residents died of Covid-19 in the first 10 days of January – 19% of its total since the crisis began and on course to top the 39 fatalities in May, its deadliest month so far. The number of Covid patients in the island’s only hospital has nearly quadrupled since Christmas day, up to nearly 70 people, or about one in four of all beds.

David Stewart, the Conservative leader of Isle of Wight council, said he believed “there are some people over here who shouldn’t be here” and that some islanders had visited the mainland before Christmas. He told the Guardian he would meet police forces and ferry companies this week to discuss what more could be done to identify those flouting the rules.

Parker said the Isle of Wight was paying the price for being in tier 1 before Christmas. He said: “Quite clearly, we’ve obviously had a massive increase in transmission between individuals and that’s a reflection of individual behaviours. It’s not up to me to make political comments as to why that has occurred but if we think that every interaction has to be essential, I would challenge people who either travel to the island to their second home and I would also challenge people on the island who possibly have been to the mainland ‘to do their Christmas shopping’.

“I would certainly challenge people who actually continued to have a relatively normal social life when we were in tier 1. I think tier 1 gave people false reassurance. And my personal view is that we are now paying the price for that.”

The island’s Conservative MP, Bob Seely, said there was “no basis in fact” for the claim that that second-home owners had brought the new strain to the island, pointing out that many key workers travel to and from mainland England every day.

Seely apologised in June for attending a barbecue, alongside the Brexit party chairman and political journalists, at a time when there was strict guidance against groups mixing from different households or people visiting and entering another person’s home or garden. Seely said he was unaware others would be present when he arrived for a meeting, and that social distancing had been followed at all times.

Parker praised St Mary’s medics for doing a “fantastic job” while under strain, with staff absences two to three times higher than usual, but said there was “anxiety that sometimes stretches to fear” about the next fortnight. “If the NHS is going to be overwhelmed, it is going to be the next two to four weeks. And that’s why it is so scary having gone from what was a relatively stable position in the autumn.”