UK Can’t Close Its Border Because It’s An Island ‘Unlike Australia’, Says Grant Shapps

“Knowledge is when you learn something new every day”. How silly of Owl not to realise such an obvious explanation.

Owl is much wiser now. Hopefully Grant Shapps will come up with more pearls very soon.

Ned Simons

The UK cannot “close” its border like Australia has because the UK is an island and Australia is a continent, Grant Shapps has said.

Boris Johnson has been under pressure to explain why the government has not introduced stricter measures at the border to prevent new variants of coronavirus being imported from abroad.

The government has announced arrivals from a “red list” of 30 covid hotspots will have to quarantine in government-run hotels.

But the policy is not yet in force and no date has been given for when it will be enacted.

Labour has attacked the decision to only target a limited number of countries as “half-baked” as it leaves “gaping holes” at the border.

And according to The Times, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned the prime minister that “geographically targeted” travel bans “cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants”.

Quizzed on Wednesday over why the government was not introducing tougher border controls, Shapps told the Commons transport committee: “The idea that the UK could completely button down its hatches and remain buttoned down for a year is mistaken.

“But also the evidence that that is the only thing that you need to do, or even the primary thing you need to do, is also pretty shaky.”

He said: “People say: ‘Why don’t we just close down and then we’ll be safe?’.

“But, of course, we wouldn’t be safe, because we are an island nation, unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent.

“That means that we need to get medicines in, we need to get food in, we need to get our raw materials in, sometimes we have to move people around, scientists and others.

“If we weren’t doing these things then we simply wouldn’t be combating this crisis.

“In fact, specifically we wouldn’t have had things like the medicines that we’ve needed or indeed the vaccinations, some of which are manufactured in Europe, only 20 miles away at its closest point.”

Although Australia is sometimes called an “island continent,” most geographers consider islands and continents to be separate things and therefore Australia is widely referred to as a continent.

Whatever it is, it confirmed its first case on January 25 and its borders were closed to non-residents on March 20.

From March 27 people returning home to Australia had to quarantine for two weeks in government run hotels.

New Zealand, also an island nation, confirmed its first case of Covid on February 28 and closed its borders to all non-residents on March 19.

Residents returning home were required to self-isolate. On April 10 the rules were tightened with the isolation having to take place in government run hotels.

Ministers running out of excuses on environment, MPs warn

Time is running out for the government to turn its “aspirational words” on repairing Britain’s natural environment into action, MPs have warned. 

In a scathing report released on Wednesday the influential public accounts committee said ministers were running out of excuses for delays on issues like air quality, water, and wildlife loss.

The MPs noted that the government had first promised to improve the natural environment “within a generation” in 2011 and that progress had been “painfully slow” in the ensuing decade.

They warned that a 25-year plan set out by ministers in 2018 did not contain a coherent set of long-term objectives and that the environment department Defra was simply being shrugged off by the rest of the government.

“Improving the natural environment is a huge task and there are structural issues within government that still need to be resolved to improve the chances of success,” the MPs say.

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has policy responsibility for most of the plan and relies on other departments to play their part; yet the Department has not shown that it has the clout to lead the rest of government.”

MPs also criticised the Treasury for its “piecemeal approach to funding measures to improve the natural environment” and said Rishi Sunak’s department simply did “not yet understand the total costs required”.

And they sounded the alarm on the government’s new post-Brexit watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, which they warned might not be “sufficiently independent from government”.

Meg Hillier, chair of the cross party committee, said: “These ‘generations’ will soon be coming of age with no sign of the critical improvements to air and water quality Government has promised them, much less a serious plan to halt environmental destruction.

“Our national environmental response is left to one Department, and months from hosting an international conference on climate change, the government struggles to determine the environmental impact of its own latest spending round. Government must move on from aspirational words and start taking the hard decisions across a wide range of policy areas required to deliver real results – time is running out.”

Prospect, the civil service trade union, said the report showed there had been a “worrying gap between the government’s rhetoric on environmental protection and the reality”.

Its general secretary Garry Graham said the union had been warning that the government’s environmental agencies “lack sufficient funding to do their jobs”.

“The recent announcement that public sector pay will once again be frozen, having never recovered from ten years of pay restraint, could be the final straw for many skilled workers. Decades of institutional knowledge and skills are being lost across the country,” he added.

“With COP26 on the horizon the government must set an example to the world by demonstrating that investing in nature means investing in the people who protect it.”

More cops planned for Devon & Cornwall

Commissioner ups spending on people by £3 million

You can always tell when an election looms –  expect the “filling of potholes” and “papering over the cracks” generally accompanied by fanfares. Owl

Radio Exe News 

Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner has set out her plans for the next financial year beginning in April, a month before elections which will decide whether she stays in the job.

Alison Hernandez says her proposals will marry a traditional neighbourhood policing approach with significant investment in modern technology.

The draft budget contains funding for 40 additional neighbourhood officers, building on a programme of recruitment that has already seen 317 officers added to force strength since the Commissioner’s term began in 2014 and bringing officer numbers to a 10-year high.

In addition 22 staff would be added to force contact centres to improve 101 response times, 29 investigators would be recruited to bring more criminals to justice and eight staff would be hired to speed up professional standards investigations.

The commissioner also wants to boost efforts to collaborate with other emergency services to provide more uniformed presence in towns and villages and expand the role of volunteer special constables, who received payments for the first time as part of the force’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The investment in people would represent an additional £3 million on the annual budget of policing Devon and Cornwall. It would be supported by an investment of £1.1 million to bring police technology up to date, ensuring that officers and staff had speedy access to high-quality secure data and enabling the creation of a new drone team to help search for vulnerable missing people and gather intelligence.

The proposed investment comes after consecutive annual surveys by the commissioner’s office showed significant support for additional investment in prevention, neighbourhood policing and police technology. The investment in more people for the non-emergency 101 contact centre comes after scrutiny work by the commissioner’s office found that average call handling times into 101 had increased because of growing call complexity and volume.

The Commissioner said recruiting more officers had been a priority for her since she came to office, but there was an opportunity in the next financial year to also invest in technology to ensure they were supported by high quality data.

“The national uplift in officer numbers, in addition to the proposed increases for next year, will bring budgeted police officer numbers to 3,422, their highest level for a decade,” she said.

“The cost of funding the 40 additional officers will be met later in the financial year, as they are recruited, giving the force an opportunity to invest in a new suite of technology to bring extra efficiency to its activities.

“One of the most fundamental purposes of policing is the prevention of crime, and of the 4,130 people to take part in my recent surveys 94% wanted investment in crime prevention, 88% in visible policing and 86% in community-based crime prevention.

“I believe this investment in people, both to be present in our streets and to be on the end of a phone or email when there is a call for help, will stop more crime before it happens and make our communities even safer than they are at present.”

The proposed additional expenditure would mean an increase to the police precept – the element of the council tax bill that helps fund policing – equating to £14.92 extra for a Band D household.

“Good quality policing that is fit for the future requires real investment,” Commissioner Hernandez said. “I do not propose these increases lightly but in the knowledge that they will result in a real policing presence that I know our communities remain supportive of.”

The scrutiny of the 101 non-emergency contact service recommends a series of steps to be taken by the Chief Constable to reduce waiting times. This includes considering the potential reintroduction of a triage service at periods of long waiting times, a return to a 10-minute waiting time service standard, the speeding up of technology investments which will most help callers and an increase in staffing to help improve waiting times.  

The Commissioner said: “The work carried out by our scrutiny panel, which included members of the public, elected members and Victim Support, has looked in particular at how the new 101 system introduced in the second half of 2019 was working for the public. There are a number of key challenges affecting the service, including the continued growth in volume of contacts and the complexity of those contacts, but improvements need to be made.”

The Commissioner’s proposals will be presented to the next meeting of the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel at 10.30am on Friday, February 5.

The meeting is hosted by Plymouth City Council. Full budget proposals and the commissioner’s 101 scrutiny report can be found online on the council’s website

Covid cases across region hits lowest total for nearly two months

Devon and Cornwall has seen the lowest number of positive Covid-19 cases confirmed in one 24-hour reporting period for seven weeks.

Katie Timms

Across the region, a further 116 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed, down 218 from last Tuesday’s figure of 334 cases.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly saw 36 new cases in the figures released by the Government as of Tuesday, February 2. It has now seen a total of 12,564 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Devon saw 80 new cases across the county, keeping its spot as the area with the lowest infection rate across England.

In the Devon County Council local authority area, there were eight cases in East Devon, seven in Exeter, eight in Mid Devon, three in North Devon, three in South Hams, and 11 in Teignbridge.

Torridge and West Devon both saw no new cases recorded.

Plymouth saw a further 25 new cases and now there has been 8,248 positive Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.

Torbay had a further 15 new cases reported, bringing the area’s total Covid-19 cases to 3,574 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The seven-day rolling average for coronavirus infection rates shows that areas in the Devon County Council area (excluding Torbay and Plymouth) is currently the lowest in England.

The figures, which are based on specimens taken between January 22 and 87, shows that Devon’s figures currently stand at 86 cases per 100,000 people.

Devon also has some of the lowest case rates across the country at a lower tier authority level, with Torridge, North Devon and Exeter placed second, third and fourth respectively.

While there has been a significant drop in cases, the latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) statistics, released every Tuesday, showed there had been a rise in weekly deaths registered across both counties.

Deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate were at the highest they have been since the beginning of the pandemic.

The figures from the ONS which relate to the week of January 16 to January 22, but registered up to January 30, show that 128 of the 366 deaths registered in the two counties had Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate.

The figure of 128 deaths is the highest weekly total in Devon and Cornwall since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, and the 65 deaths in care homes is the highest weekly total.

A further 10 deaths from week 2 (Jan 9-15) and one from week 1 (Jan 2-Jan 8) have also been added into the data.

Of the 128 deaths registered in week 3 (Jan 16-Jan 22), there were 46 deaths of people from Cornwall, 17 from Teignbridge, 15 in Plymouth, 14 in East Devon, 13 in Exeter, 9 in Torbay, 7 in South Hams, 3 in Mid Devon, and 2 in Torridge and West Devon. No deaths in North Devon.

In total, 65 of the deaths occurred in care homes, 57 in hospitals, with five at home, and one in a hospice.

In Plymouth, there were nine deaths in hospital, five in care homes, and one at home and in Torbay, there were two hospital deaths, seven care home deaths and one at home.

In Cornwall, there were 24 hospital deaths, 21 care home deaths and one in a hospice.

Meanwhile, in East Devon, there were seven deaths in hospital, six deaths care home deaths, and one at home.

In Exeter, there were six deaths in hospital, five deaths in care homes and two at home.

In Mid Devon, there were two deaths in hospital and one in a care home.

In the South Hams, there were seven deaths in care homes.

In Teignbridge, there were four deaths in hospital and 13 in care homes.

In Torridge there was one hospital death and one at home.

In West Devon, there were two hospital deaths.

A further 10 deaths from week 2(Jan 9-15) have been backdated into the figures this week, with four deaths in Cornwall, three in Exeter and one in East Devon, South Hams and West Devon, and one death from week 1 (Jan 2-8) in Torbay.

Previous weeks have seen 76, 54, 32, 46, 48, 52, 43, 43, 37, 24, 11, 13, 15, 6, 5, 2, 0, 3, 1, 2, 0, 1, 2, 1, 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 5, 1, 7, 10, 11, 15, 38, 44, 70, 85, 107, 90, 60, 16 and nine deaths registered.

In total, 1,222 deaths from coronavirus have been registered across Devon and Cornwall, with 703 in hospitals, 430 in care homes, 81 at home, two in a hospice, three in a communal establishment and three ‘elsewhere’.

Nine new hospital deaths across Devon and Cornwall in the latest figures.

The latest figures, released by NHS England today (February 2), show that four of the deaths occurred at the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the county’s community hospitals.

Two deaths were reported on January 31, one on January 30 and one on January 29.

Three deaths were also recorded at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance and St Michael’s Hospital at Hayle. Of those deaths, one occurred on February 1 and two on January 30.

There were also two deaths in Devon hospitals – one at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust and one at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

There have now been a total of 782 Covid-19 related deaths in hospitals across Devon and Cornwall since the pandemic began.

NHS England confirmed in a statement that a further 767 people across the country had died in hospital after testing positive for the virus.

Patients were aged between 23 and 102 years old. All except 31 (aged 23 to 102 years old) had known underlying health conditions.

Date of death ranges from 29 December 2020 to 1 February 2021 with the majority being on or after 27 January.

Their families have been informed.

Reflections from a former Northam Town Councillor: When A + B no longer = C

A former member of Northam Town Council, Daniel Bell, has questioned the bureaucratic inertia he experienced while serving the local community.

Raymond Goldsmith

Mr Bell, who was elected councillor from 2019 before quitting the post in 2020 said: “There is often a tension between trusting the sanity of your own experience and the work environment that you are operating in.

“The system of business as usual, and the pre-determined assumptions about how the thing is supposed to work.”

In 2020, he felt that a series of events had taken place when the World Health Organisation announced a global pandemic.

“They seemed to insist they were related to one another and deep down I could not pretend that I was with the programme I was operating in anymore,” he said. “There was something else going on that could not be ignored not least normalising lockdowns.

“The environment I was in was not conducive for asking questions or engaging at any deeper level of inquiry. It was time to move on.”

Mr Bell said he had previously found inspiration for local government’s potential from a group, Independents for Frome, and Peter MacFadyen’s book Flatpack Democracy.

“What I found refreshing about Independents for Frome was that they were non-party-political, had established shared ways of working together, were brave, took risks and were able to turn the role of their council from being a service provider to an enabler of the community,” Mr Bell explained.

“This engendered a shift from its traditional centralised power relationship with the people to one which made engagement with local government more accessible to everyone.

“People now began to have a significant say in what happened around them, resulting in new energy and sense of possibility.

“Along with this I felt drawn into this arena by a concern at the ongoing damage and destruction on our local environment courtesy of national planning policy ever since the Cameron administration altered legislation to put the presumption in favour of the developer.

“What would it look like if our local council’s truly reflected, represented the genuine hopes and values of the people instead of paying lip service to the colonising programmes and policies of the Westminster bubble directed and controlled as it is by the one per cent money machine?”

Mr Bell recalls a Northam Town Council planning committee disagreement he had.

“I was trying to point out the fact of the frequent disparity between Northam Town Council decisions to refuse planning applications and those of Torridge District Council which were often passed through.

“Surely both councils should be attempting to sing from the same hymn sheet.

He explained another situation in which members of the community were co-opted.

“I remember how all members sat around the table, and the single person from the community was assigned an outside seat.

“When I raised this most simple point asking why the co-opted member could not join the table, I was informed by the town clerk that it was how it was always done.

“Was this an intelligent working basis, simply because that is how it has always been done?

“The biologist Edward. O. Wilson, who once said ‘we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom’.

“So much of the obsolete inertia and dumbing down that happens in local government and our communities today seem to be rooted in the value judgements that they originate from.

“Is it about building bridges or putting up barriers? Relationships or arbitrary rule-following? The spirit of the law or the letter of the law? Collaboration or separation? People or profit?

“It can be a lonely and painful place when something within can no longer pretend or support the system of business as usual and the pre-determined assumptions about how the thing is supposed to work.

“When you can no longer pretend that you believe the official narrative anymore, something else is going on.

“Difficult roads can lead to beautiful destinations. It’s time to move on”

What is the link between Hugo Swire and Knotty Ash?

New Swire company partnering with a holding company with 988 subsidiaries! (Including Knotty Ash Woodworking Limited). 

Trencrom Holdings Ltd appears to be an accountancy company with Hugo as Director and sole shareholder.

Owl thinks there may be more than a tickling stick involved.