Someone is trying to hack Claire Wright’s website (again) after Tory “Worst week ever?” blog

Who is (still) trying to hack into my website?

Claire claire-wright.org

While I was experiencing email problems yesterday morning he [web-site host?] had a call from the data centre who look after his server.

They informed him that one website (mine) was being “bombarded” and that they would have to suspend it or it would bring down all 733 websites.

Apparently the attacker was simulating thousands of hits to my website in order to take it offline. It worked. For a while.

My email and website were down until yesterday evening when both were restored.

The hacker used what is called a ‘virtual private network’ which means that the IP address is untraceable.

I never get spam on my website, but I had a spam comment (IP address California) on latest controversial blog demanding answers from Mr Jupp. [See below – Owl]

This came through last night when my website was restored.

But the hacker(s) have not given up. They have been at work this morning repeatedly attempting to gain access via my username and password.

My website host tells me that he has had a server for 15 years. It has been hacked just four times and two of those have been attempts on my website – the last one in the run up to the 2019 election.

Heavy duty security has now been installed.

Is this the worst week ever of the Conservative government’s rule? Our MP should explain himself

In the blizzard of appalling decisions voted through this week by Conservative MPs, it’s hard to know which was worse.

The Tories’ approach appears to be parcel it up for one or two days, presumably in order to bamboozle the media and make the rest of us feel as though it is hopeless to oppose, keep up to date with, or get chance to ask our Conservative MPs to oppose the next atrocity they’re about to commit.

Our MPs are there to act on our behalf and represent our views. I cannot imagine for a second that the residents of East Devon would support these decisions/actions.

I have written to Mr Jupp asking for an explanation.

– Voting down an amendment which could prevent the UK doing post Brexit trade deals with countries that commit genocide and other human rights abuses

– Voting down protective post Brexit trade deal amendments to ensure our NHS remains free at the point of delivery, protections on selling patient data and the ability to control drug prices (see Independent article below).

– Voting down a motion to extend the £20 a week Universal Credit increase, which is supposed to help prevent destitution and hunger

– Voting down clauses that ensure parliament gets to scrutinise the detail of post Brexit trade deals

– Voting down an amendment which would prevent the government from lowering our animal welfare/food standards in a post Brexit deal

– Voting through new boundary rules that favour the conservatives, alongside per party election expenditure of £33m

– In the news there is the threat of a bonfire of workers rights, post Brexit

– And this is all during the week that the covid death toll has reached the worst in the world.

– And in Brexit news the fishing industry looks as though it is about to go off a cliff, musicians

PS. Also revealed, the new BBC Chairman, Richard Sharp, a former of boss of the Chancellor, has donated over £400,000 to the Conservative Party.

PPS. And the new Chair of the College of Policing, Nick Herbert, a Tory Peer, turns out to be a former Countryside Alliance Chair.

Have I missed anything? Please do add anything I have overlooked…

English councils battling financial ruin

Whatever happened to: devolution for England; localism; and “levelling up”? – Owl

By Jennifer Scott www.bbc.co.uk

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, warnings have been clear about the threat to local councils and their ability to provide services.

BBC analysis in 2020 showed nine out of 10 major local authorities in England did not have enough cash to cover their spending plans this year, and coronavirus could lead to them going £1.7bn over budget.

Now, a committee of MPs has criticised the Treasury for its “worryingly laissez faire attitude” to the state of local government finances, warning of a “significant risk” that Town Hall debts could drag down the “whole of government”.

The department says it provided “a significant funding uplift for councils” at last year’s Spending Review, on top of additional funding “to ensure they can continue to deliver essential local services as we tackle the impacts of the pandemic”.

And the government has confirmed local authorities will be able to raise council tax by 5% to help – something Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called “absurd”.

But the reality is stark – coronavirus pressures have hit councils hard and, as the Public Accounts Committee says in its report, they have been taking on “extremely risky levels of debt in recent years” investing in commercial ventures “in an effort to shore up dwindling finances”.

Here is a snapshot of the financial state of local councils from some of the BBC’s local political editors.

It should give you an idea of the kind of dilemmas facing local leaders across the UK, as they battle to balance the books.

Energy saps Nottingham budget

Tony Roe – political editor for BBC East Midlands

Every council has spent the past decade working with less money from government grants.

And in the past year, they’ve had to deal with Covid costs too, with Labour-run Nottingham far from alone in saying they haven’t had the full cost reimbursed yet from Whitehall.

Local authorities have been told they can put 5% on council tax bills this year – including 3% for adult social care – but mindful of elections this May, cost cutting comes into play.

For Nottingham, there is also the impact of local investment threatening the books – namely the collapse of its Robin Hood Energy company, projected to have lost the council £38m.

It led to a government review into the council’s finances, which was critical of its involvement in too many of its own commercial companies, and it has left Nottingham with a “very significant” gap in its budget and depleted reserves.

A panel of experts were appointed to help the council improve its finances and they were working towards having a recovery plan in place by the end of this month.

So now the Council will be putting up bills by 5%, as well as cutting costs, which means axing 272 jobs, reducing services and charging more for other things they provide.

The cost of providing social care takes a big chunk of any budget – in Nottingham’s case it’s 40% – so they are looking at ways to “review and redesign” how they provide that too.

Airport shares ground Manchester’s finances

Kevin Fitzpatrick – politics reporter for BBC Radio Manchester

Some councils look further afield than property investments.

Manchester Airport was built by the city council and it has owned a large chunk of it ever since.

In the past 20 years the Manchester Airport Group has significantly expanded, buying Stansted and East Midlands airports, and in 2011, creating Airport City, one of the governments low tax Enterprise Zones.

It’s been an incredibly fruitful investment, paying out large dividends to its shareholders – that was until Covid grounded planes and saw passenger numbers dramatically cut.

Manchester City Council holds the largest stake with 35.5%, while the region’s nine other councils share a further 29% between them.

The yearly dividend has increasingly been factored into their financial plans – for example, in 2018 they received more than £110m between them, with nearly £60m going to the City Council – but there won’t be a pay out this time.

Their airport investment has reaped rewards for decades, but the impact of the virus has had on air travel will be felt in council budgets here for years to come.

Bath rents rinse cashflow

Pete Simson – political reporter for BBC Bristol

Under normal circumstances – a portfolio of over 1,000 properties worth around half a billion pounds – is a nice little earner for Bath and North East Somerset Council (BANES).

However, this pandemic has been a punch in the gut for those councils like BANES – run by the Liberal Democrats – which rely heavily on income from rent and other activities to balance the books.

A wholesale review of its estate was announced in December, after losing millions in rent payments from its commercial properties.

Meanwhile, its other normal banker – income from tourism – has also been decimated over the past 12 months.

Residents can expect a 5% council tax increase from April, which alone isn’t enough to cover an £11.6m shortfall next year.

For that, they’ll need to dip into their reserves, and hope for better days to come.

Emergency budget not quite enough for Luton

Andy Holmes – political reporter for BBC Three Counties Radio

Manchester is not the only one with their hopes for funds focused on the skies.

Labour-run Luton Borough Council in Bedfordshire has an Emergency Budget it agreed in July to thank for the fact that its 2021/22 finances aren’t as bad as was perhaps feared.

Luton was one of the first councils to agree to the emergency measure during the pandemic as it faced a financial shortfall of £49m and, at the time, claimed the moved prevented the threat of bankruptcy.

As the major share holder in Luton airport, the council lost millions when the pandemic grounded flights last year.

And the emergency plan meant 365 jobs were put at risk, along with cuts to key services, with an agreement later in the year to charge residents for green waste collection.

However, when it comes to the 2021/22 budget, they now need to find a comparatively small sum of £1.2m of savings.

They are planning on raising Council Tax by the maximum of 4.99% – any more and the council would need to hold a referendum to approve it.

But Luton Council is still lobbying the government to try and get extra funds to cope with the pandemic, arguing the situation with the airport makes it a special case.”

Museums under threat on the Wirral

Claire Hamilton – political reporter for BBC Radio Merseyside

The Labour-run Wirral Council is faced with a £40m funding gap.

The cost of the response to the pandemic is being blamed for the shortfall, plus loss of income from business rates and parking charges.

And, even after borrowing around £25m, it’ll still need to save £16m to balance the books.

So, how is the council planning to find the money to help its budget for the next financial year?

Despite welcoming visitors for just under 100 years, Birkenhead’s neo-classical Williamson Art Gallery and Museum could close, as the end of the museums service could save the authority £327,500 per year.

But it is not the only service at risk.

The council’s asking the public for feedback on a long list of options, from axing school crossing patrols, to closing swimming pools and golf courses.

These are emotive issues, which might be seen as a bit of political sabre rattling from a Labour-run council.

But this year, Wirral Council moved to a committee system of governance – so all parties are involved in decision making, and all will need to take responsibility for the cuts to come.

Social care still threatens Birmingham’s bolstered budget

Kathryn Stanczyszyn – political reporter for BBC Radio West Midlands

Things are a little brighter in the heart of the West Midlands.

At the moment it looks like there won’t be any significant cuts by the Labour-run Birmingham City Council this year – at least none that impact directly on public services.

The local authority has also been able to increase its reserves with the latest pot of coronavirus money of over £30m.

But it warns that spend – especially on adult social care – is still very high and likely to eat into that as pressure on services continues to increase.

And it says that’s not just a pandemic consequence, it’s a trend.

The largest council in the UK has been scrutinised in recent years over its finances, but appears to have kept to its revenue and capital budget last year.

Now the biggest change on the cards is a restructure of the senior levels of officers – planned to cost £500,000 extra year in wages – as it seeks to attract expertise.

The timing may raise questions from some, but the interim chief executive described it as a moment to future-proof – saying the council must seize opportunities to “leverage growth” in the coming years.

Covid: ‘More deadly’ UK variant claim played down by scientists

Scientists say signs a new coronavirus variant is more deadly than the earlier version should not be a “game changer” in the UK’s response to the pandemic.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk

Boris Johnson has said there is “some evidence” the variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.

But the co-author of the study the PM was referring to said the variant’s deadliness remained an “open question”.

Another adviser said he was surprised Mr Johnson had shared the findings when the data was “not particularly strong”.

A third top medic said it was “too early” to be “absolutely clear”.

At a Downing Street coronavirus news conference on Friday, the prime minister said: “In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first identified in London and the South East – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

Speaking alongside the PM, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there was “a lot of uncertainty around these numbers” but that early evidence suggested the variant could be about 30% more deadly.

For example, Sir Patrick said if 1,000 men in their 60s were infected with the old variant, roughly 10 of them would be expected to die – but this rises to about 13 with the new variant.

The announcement followed a briefing by scientists on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that the variant was associated with an increased risk of death.

But one of the briefing’s co-authors, Prof Graham Medley, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The question about whether it is more dangerous in terms of mortality I think is still open.”

“In terms of making the situation worse it is not a game changer. It is a very bad thing that is slightly worse,” added Prof Medley, who is a professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Another 1,348 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were reported in the UK on Saturday, in addition to 33,552 new infections, according to the government’s coronavirus dashboard.

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by James Gallagher, health and science correspondent

There is huge uncertainty in the evidence on how lethal the variant is.

The scientific experts that reviewed the data used a precise phrase saying it was a “realistic possibility” the new variant is more deadly.

That means there’s a roughly 50-50 chance it will turn out to be true.

With time, and sadly more deaths, the picture will become clearer.

While people debate the uncertainties though, we already know this variant has the ability to kill more people than the old ones.

A virus that spreads faster (this one is 30-70% faster) will infect more people, more quickly, putting a greater strain on hospitals and leading to a sharper spike in deaths.

It is why viruses becoming more transmissible can be a bigger problem than ones becoming more deadly.

Nervtag’s chairman Prof Peter Horby defended the government’s “transparency” in making the announcement.

“Scientists are looking at the possibility that there is increased severity… and after a week of looking at the data we came to the conclusion that it was a realistic possibility,” he said.

“We need to be transparent about that. If we were not telling people about this we would be accused of covering it up.”

media captionSir Patrick Vallance: “There is evidence that there’s an increased risk for those who have the new variant”

But Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage subgroup the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), agreed it was too early to draw “strong conclusions” as the suggested increased mortality rates were based on “a relatively small amount of data”.

He told BBC Breakfast he was “actually quite surprised” Mr Johnson had made the early findings public rather than monitoring the data “for a week or two more”.

“I just worry that where we report things pre-emptively where the data are not really particularly strong,” Dr Tildesley added.

Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle also said it was not “absolutely clear” the new variant was more deadly than the original.

“There is some evidence, but it is very early evidence. It is small numbers of cases and it is far too early to say,” she told the Today programme.

How fast should we make new-build homes greener?

This is one of the issues raised in EDDC’s new local plan consultation document and is discussed in this timely press article.

First, here is the relevant consultation question – see here to download the full consultation document.

Buyers of brand-new homes face £20,000 bill to make them greener

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

Householders buying brand new homes in the next four years are likely to find an unpleasant surprise awaiting them in the future: homes built today will have to be retrofitted with energy efficiency measures and low-carbon technology, at an average cost of more than £20,000.

The extra costs will amount to more than £20bn for the whole of the UK, if the government’s targets of building 300,000 new homes a year are met. Critics say the costs could have been avoided if ministers had agreed to bring in low-carbon standards sooner.

The government this week set out proposals to change building regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but declined to bring forward its proposed future homes standard from the scheduled 2025 commencement date, disappointing advocates of greener homes.

Building a new house with high energy efficiency standards and a heat pump instead of a gas boiler costs about £4,800 more than building to current standards. However, building to current standards and then retrofitting the house with the same would cost an average of £26,300, or about £21,500 more than installing the technology in the first place, according to an analysis by the Labour party of data from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

John Gummer (Lord Deben), chair of the CCC, has warned repeatedly that at least 1m homes built in recent years will need to be refurbished at large expense, as they were built to inferior standards of efficiency.

All UK homes will need to be brought up to high standards of efficiency and equipped with low-carbon heating in place of gas boilers if the government is to meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The 2025 commencement date for the government’s future homes standard is a decade after the zero carbon homes standard, which the last Labour government had scheduled to come in from 2015. The government scrapped that, after some of the construction industry lobbied against the standard, arguing it adds to the cost of a new home.

Proponents of green building say the cost of equipping a new home to a low-carbon standard is small compared with the overall cost of a house or flat, and homes equipped to the higher standard cost less to run.

Labour called on the government to take swifter action, and said the 10-year delay to a requirement to build homes to a low-carbon standard would cost £45bn in total upgrade costs in the future.

Thangam Debbonaire, shadow housing secretary, said: “The Tories’ short-term approach to the climate is hitting families and the economy. Their irresponsible decision to scrap the zero carbon homes policy will have wasted £45bn by the time the Tories have scrambled to catch up with Labour’s policy.”

Labour has also estimated that scrapping the warm front home insulation scheme in 2013 cost households £3.7bn in additional energy bills, and produced an extra 14.6m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2017.

Debonnaire added: “Families will spend years in homes [that] are colder and more expensive to heat. Every year of delay is costing billions of pounds and pumping millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. The government needs to wake up to the importance of warmer, more efficient and sustainable homes.”

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said: “Saving money and combating the climate crisis should merrily go hand in hand but the government seems to think otherwise. We would have already been building low-carbon homes if it weren’t for the Conservative government scrapping the standards and capitulating to the lobbying of the profit-hungry high-volume house-builders. Delaying the future homes standards will lead to money being wasted while homes continue to run on planet-wrecking gas heating.”

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UK Green Building Council, said: “After a long wait, the government’s response to the future homes standard consultation brings much-needed clarity to our industry. We are pleased to see confirmation that the future homes standard will mean new homes will have carbon dioxide emissions 75%-80% lower than those built to current building regulations – though it’s regrettable that the standard won’t be implemented till 2025, despite it being widely trailed that it would be brought forward to 2023.”

Housebuilders have said they are in favour of higher standards, but warned of a potential shortage of workers. Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “Small- to medium-sized house builders must be at the heart of plans to improve the sustainability, quality and design of our homes, but they need greater support to build homes and tackle climate change. Bringing forward the future homes standard must be balanced with addressing the construction skills shortage, so that local builders can employ quality local tradespeople on site. One in three small to medium house builders said a lack of skilled workers would be a significant constraint on their activity over the next three years.”

The government has said bringing in the future homes standard from 2025 will mean new homes built from that date will produce between 75% and 80% less carbon dioxide than homes built to current specifications, and that these homes would be “zero carbon ready”, to become fully zero carbon at a future date without further retrofitting work. Before 2025, building regulations will be strengthened so that homes built or renovated in the interim will need to meet higher standards than those now in place.

A government spokesperson said: “We are improving the quality of housing across the country by ensuring new homes adhere to strict energy efficiency standards, which will help us meet our target of net zero emissions by 2050. Retrofitting homes can have a positive impact on both jobs and the climate, which is why we are investing £2bn in the green homes grant scheme. This will help with the costs of energy efficiency upgrades in 600,000 English homes, so households can cut their bills and emissions.”