Police called to Travellers at Sidford rugby pitch – live updates

A large group from the Traveller community has arrived at a rugby pitch in Sidford this afternoon, and police are in attendance.

Alex Green www.devonlive.com (also features in the print edition of The Times)

Photos show a large number of vehicles, including cars and caravans, with a police car in attendance as people look on at the pitch from the edge.

Peter O’Brien, Honorary Secretary at Sidmouth Rugby Club – which uses the Sidford pitch – said that the club is aware of the situation, and informed us that the authorities had been informed.

He said that the most worrying part was the potential that the pitch, which has seen money invested in it to get it into top-quality condition, could be damaged.

Peter said: “The club is aware of it, and has informed the authorities. It’s not our pitch, it belongs to the East Devon Council.

“Obviously it’s not good for us because of the amount of money we’ve spent. Hopefully they won’t be damaging it, but I heard about some damage caused at Topsham recently, so it may well be.

“We would have the council repair them if they were damaged, but we’ve spent a lot of money to get the pitches to the quality they’re at. As I said, we’ve informed the authorities, but there’s not much we can do.”

We have approached Devon and Cornwall Police for more information on this matter.

We’ll keep you updated on this with all the latest developments and photos from the scene via the live news blog below.

Key Events

16:43Alex Green

Sidmouth Rugby Club is ‘aware’ and has informed the authorities

Peter O’Brien, Honorary Secretary at Sidmouth Rugby Club – which uses the Sidford pitch – said that the club is aware of the situation, and informed us that the authorities had been informed.

He said that the most worrying part was the potential that the pitch, which has seen money invested in it to get it into top-quality condition, could be damaged.

Peter said: “The club is aware of it, and has informed the authorities. It’s not our pitch, it belongs to the East Devon Council.

“Obviously it’s not good for us because of the amount of money we’ve spent. Hopefully they won’t be damaging it, but I heard about some damage caused at Topsham recently, so it may well be.

“We would have the council repair them if they were damaged, but we’ve spent a lot of money to get the pitches to the quality they’re at. As I said, we’ve informed the authorities, but there’s not much we can do.”

15:58KEY EVENT

More photos of the Travellers pitched up in Sidford

Travellers arriving at a rugby pitch in Sidford (Image: Submitted)

Paramedics declare critical incident due to extreme pressure

South Western Ambulance Service has declared a critical incident due to “extreme pressures” currently on paramedics in the region.

Sam Beamish www.devonlive.com

The NHS Foundation Trust has tweeted that some patients may need to wait longer for an ambulance while others might need to seek help elsewhere.

Patients are also being urged to only dial 999 if they’re in a life-threatening emergency.

The statement on Twitter does not give an explanation as to what the extreme pressures are that the service is dealing with, but people are being urged to “make the right call”.

A spokesman for South Western Ambulance Service said: “We have declared a critical incident due to extreme pressures on our service.

“As a result, some patients may wait longer for an ambulance while others could be advised to access alternative services if their call is not life-threatening.

“We need you to only call 999 in a genuine, life-threatening emergency so we can help those most in need.”

South Western Ambulance Service responds to around 2,650 emergency incidents a day.

The service is encouraging people to contact NHS 111 if you have a non-life threatening but urgent medical problem, for example, broken or fractured bones, sprains or burns.

There are also a number of other NHS services available.

South Western Ambulance Service has been approached for further comment on the situation.

Staycation boom forces tenants out of seaside resort homes

The lockdown shackles are off. The great half-term getaway began with predictable traffic chaos on Friday night as Britons finally got the chance to escape to the seaside.

James Tapper www.theguardian.com

But some people living in the resorts are being forced to head in the opposite direction along the clogged-up roads, priced out of their homes by a coastal housing crisis that has been turbocharged by the pandemic.

Landlords in popular seaside destinations are favouring holidaymakers over long-term tenants, leading to a catastrophic shortage of homes. Cornwall currently has more than 10,290 active Airbnb listings. Yet, in comparison, the housing website Rightmove had only 62 properties available to rent across the whole county on Friday evening. Renters in seaside towns are facing unprecedented competition, with some landlords in Cornwall, Kent and Norfolk given the choice between up to 80 prospective tenants chasing a dwindling number of properties.

People who kept their jobs and accumulated some of the estimated £192bn that Britons have saved since March 2020 have been spending it on second homes. Others have moved away from cities, taking advantage of the stamp duty holiday to find a place large enough to make working from home a comfortable option.

Airbnbs are also booming, with the number of active listings on the website up by 43% in Great Yarmouth, 34% in Scarborough and 40% in Bridlington in April compared with the same time last year, according to AirDNA.

Louise, a 42-year-old deputy headteacher, moved from Leicester to Newquay in Cornwall with her husband, a delivery driver, and two daughters in December to take up a job at a primary school. “We started looking in September last year,” she said. “

We sold two properties – I had one and my partner had his. We’ve got a decent deposit, but there was nowhere to buy and nowhere to rent. Estate agents told us that hundreds of people were fighting for the same properties.”

They settled for an off-season Airbnb at a cost of £1,300 a month – just about manageable on her salary of more than £40,000. “I was sure we’d find somewhere but it hasn’t happened. We had to be out last week because the owner would double her money in holiday season.”

On Saturday, Louise and her family packed up and drove back to Leicester to stay with her parents over half-term, with nowhere to live when they return.

The crisis has forced even those who would normally be considered comfortably off to resort to food banks to feed their families. DISC Newquay, a charity for homeless people, was handing out 60 meals on a Monday evening before the pandemic. That has risen to 4,000, according to its manager, Monique Collins. “I think there are over 500 people in the Newquay area who don’t have a home,” Collins said. “I’ve got a pregnant woman who is sofa-surfing. A hospital porter and his wife. I’ve had a girl text me today saying she has to leave by the weekend. People are being turned out because their landlord wants to turn the property into an Airbnb.

“There are no homes. If they don’t stop this second-home ownership, it’s going to turn Newquay into a ghost town.”

Cornwall’s reputation and climate have made it a favoured location for second homes for many years, but Collins said lockdown had turned the situation into a crisis.

House prices have risen by 15% across the county since April last year, but the buying frenzy has seen extraordinary situations – a bungalow sold for £315,000 five minutes after it was listed, according to local reports.

That mirrors a nationwide trend. Rob Love, co-founder of Crowdfunder, which is based in Cornwall, said they had seen nine times as many food bank projects registering for help between 2019 and the pandemic hitting in 2020.

He said: “Cornwall has been badly hit, but food bank use is rising everywhere. It’s a terrible indictment on the UK in 2021 that so many people are struggling to put food on their tables.”

In north Norfolk, Theo Wakeman said he had only been able to view three flats since he started hunting in the Cromer area a year ago. “The estate agents will say, ‘We’ll take your number but we’ve had 80 other applicants’. It’s never less than 20. It’s horrible. I feel trapped.”

The Norfolk coastline from Blakeney to Burnham is known as Chelsea-on-Sea to locals. “The village shop shut down, and now it’s reopened as a hat shop,” Wakeman said. “You can’t buy a loaf of bread, but you can buy a hat.”

Kent’s seaside towns are showing similar scarcity for renters, according to Rightmove. Margate (population: 61,000) and Whitstable ( 32,000) both had 11 properties to rent, and Herne Bay (39,000) had six. Inland, Canterbury (135,000) had 893.

Dan Thompson has lived in Margate in Kent for nine years after being priced out of Worthing in Sussex, but the 47-year-old artist and writer says he is being forced out again.

“I don’t want to go but there’s nowhere to rent here,” he said. “My landlord is selling and there is literally nothing to rent here. I just don’t have a choice.”

Tory plan to turn town hall blue ‘sets a dangerous precedent’

Plans to turn a town hall blue in Darlington to match the council’s ruling Tory group’s colours set a “dangerous precedent” opponents have claimed.

A “Rainbow” Blackdown House? – Owl

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk 

Darlington Town Hall

Plans to turn Darlington Town Hall blue have not been universally popular among councillors: image Google

They said Darlington Borough Council’s £20,000 rebranding would undermine the position of non-political staff.

Conservative deputy leader Jonathan Dulston said the changes reflected an overhaul of the council’s identity.

The town hall’s concrete exterior has not changed since it was opened in 1970 by the Princess Royal.

Labour shadow portfolio holder Nick Wallis said the “botched rebranding” could lead to long-term damage to the council’s reputation.

“They are fixated with PR and the promotion of themselves at all costs,” he said.

“They don’t care about wasting public money if they believe it advances their political interests.”

‘Palette of colours’

The rebranding plans include painting the concrete outside wall of the town hall and changing the authority’s logo to reflect what the council called a “progressive agenda”, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

Assets featuring the council’s logo, such as bins, would only be updated during scheduled works or when they needed replacing, Mr Dulston said.

In-house skills and resources had been used, keeping costs to a minimum, he added.

Green Party leader Matthew Snedker said council building paintwork and coronavirus publicity had already changed to blue and further works set “a very dangerous precedent”.

Publicising it on social media before it had been approved by cabinet appeared “to do away with the political process”, he said.

Liberal Democrat group leader Anne Marie Curry said the town hall needed to remain a politically neutral colour and there was a “massive palette of colours they could choose from”.

1,250 new Exeter student flats approved on campus

“Best way to reverse the trend of family homes being occupied by students.” 

Was pressure to find student accommodation one of the driving forces behind the “Greater Exeter Strategic Plan” (GESP) and Exeter’s expansion?

Daniel Clark, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

They’ll replace existing campus accommodation.

Plans for an extra 1,250 student flats on the University of Exeter campus have been given the go ahead.

The development of the Clydesdale, Nash and Birks Grange Village halls of residence off Stocker Road, has been overwhelmingly supported by Exeter City Council’s planning committee.

Councillors agreed with planning officers recommendation of approval, saying that purpose-built accommodation on the university campus was the best way to reverse the trend of family homes being occupied by students.

Backing the plans, Cllr Rachel Sutton said that it was for the redevelopment of a part of the campus which already accommodates students. She added: “Yes it is at a greater density, but I am quite certain that there are residents in other parts of the city who will welcome this as it means housing currently occupied by students comes back into occupation by families.”

Cllr Ruth Williams added: “The only way to reverse the trend is to build more purpose built student accommodation so we have to recognise if we want to halt the loss of family homes in Exeter, this is what we have to do in providing purpose built student accommodation.”

But Cllr Michael Mitchell said that he was concerned about the building density and the scale of the current proposals and the impact on residents. He added: “This is a massive increase in floorspace and student numbers in the area and up to 1,200 extra bed spaces, on top of what  already exists on site. I don’t have confidence that for local residents this wouldn’t be overpowering and overshadowing and it needs to be scaled back to get my support.”

The outline proposals were approved by 10 votes to one, although councillors called for further discussions around the impact of light pollution.

The planning officers said: “Given the recent number of student accommodation schemes submitted in off-campus locations, the proposal for such a significant number of bed spaces within a sustainable location on campus is to be welcomed. It is accepted that the quantum of development proposed is substantial, however, it is considered that the parameter plans effectively limit the level of development to an acceptable scale.

“The proposed building heights to accommodate this would have a considerable impact on the character and appearance of the area, however, it is an accepted planning practice that where development is considered acceptable in principle, most efficient use of the land should be sought.

“In addition, the Passivhaus approach to the scheme is to be welcomed and is accepted will in some instances dictate the orientation, form and design of the resultant buildings.”

The application will see:

  • The demolition of the existing two and three storey buildings at Clydesdale and Nash Halls and replaced with new student accommodation ranging in height from three to eight storeys. These buildings will include ancillary service such as shops, cafes at the ground floor level and arranged in courtyard settings with associated hard and soft landscaping.
  • The demolition of the existing service centre and replace with student accommodation buildings varying in height from three to four storeys, with a replacement estates service centres to be located to north east part of the University campus
  • The demolition of the existing Birks Grange refectory building and construction of a new six storey student accommodation building, with ancillary social and amenity space on the ground floor.
  • Refurbishment of existing accommodation block A-E of the Birks Grange to achieve equivalent Passivhaus standards to include external alterations to the walls, windows and roof to include solar panels. The demolition of the refectory removes catered halls from this part of the campus, resulting in the need for new kitchens within each flats and which as a consequence reduces the overall number of units.

They are even Changing the Guard in leafy Surrey!

Spelthorne Conservatives ousted from leader and mayor roles

Julie Armstrong http://www.getsurrey.co.uk

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The Conservatives have been ousted from four major roles on Spelthorne Borough Council as a new style of administration was voted in.

John Boughtflower, who has been leader since last June, had the support of all his Conservative colleagues in Thursday’s annual meeting, but 18 Tories are outnumbered by 21 councillors in opposition and Cllr Boughtflower lost the vote to the Liberal Democrats’ Lawrence Nichols.

Despite the opposition being made up of seven different groups, they all also stuck together to choose Joanna Sexton, leader of Independent Spelthorne Group, as deputy leader over Conservative Jim McIlroy.

Independent councillor Ian Beardsmore said: “Just as a historical note, this is the first time in the history of Spelthorne the Conservatives have lost five major votes in a row. I am delighted.”

Cllr Boughtflower fought off a motion of no confidence less than three months ago when the Liberal Democrats and Labour decided to abstain.

The role of council leader has since changed, as Spelthorne council introduces the more democratic committee system, a bottom-up approach.

Decisions will now be made by all members in full council, not just a select few of the ruling party in a cabinet chosen by one person. Expect them to take longer, but everyone who won their ward’s vote will have a say.

Cllr Tom Fidler, who seconded Cllr Nichols for leader, said: “Had we operated under the strong leader model, this would never have been appropriate for Lawrence, because that is not the person he is.

“For him it isn’t about the power, it’s not about the title, it’s about the corporate responsibility.”

Cllr Nichols was accountable for more than £500 million of trade credit risk in his former role as director for a Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary.

In recognition of the leader’s role no longer including executive responsibilities, the Independent Remuneration Panel has recommended reducing his allowance from £14,616 to £11,000, in addition to the £6,403 allowance received by all councillors.

Ian Harvey elected as 2021-22 mayor

Continuing the trend of removing Conservatives, Ian Harvey outraged some councillors by breaking with tradition to challenge the deputy mayor for the role of mayor – and won.

Proposer Olivia Rybinski, also from the United Spelthorne Group, said Cllr Harvey had “protected Spelthorne council from financial disaster” by making “investments that now generate over half the net council income”.

Normally, after a year of supporting and understudying the mayor, Tony Harman would have progressed to the position.

Cllr Tony Mitchell, who proposed Conservative Cllr Harman for mayor, said: “I have known only once, in 2002, that there was another nomination against the councillor who was to be the mayor.”

He said Cllr Harman had been a “mediating force” as deputy to Cllr Harvey’s recent council leadership and “without his support, Cllr Harvey might not have been able to maintain his role as leader”.

On accepting the robes, Cllr Harvey thanked Cllr Harman for his support to outgoing mayor Colin Barnard.

As mayor, Cllr Harvey will chair all full council meetings for the coming year. He said: “It is unfortunate that we are in such a fractious and divided situation. It is my desire that we can operate in an atmosphere of constructive cooperation and civility and preferably with cordiality. I will do my best to further this.”

He promised that where it was necessary to use the mayor’s casting vote in a tie position, it would not be decided along political lines.

He has not yet chosen his charity of the year but said he wanted to help young people with special educational needs.

Cllr Sue Doran, leader of the Labour group, was elected as deputy mayor.

Pressure grows on Matt Hancock over Covid policy for care homes

Guardian reports on Dr Cathy Gardner’s demand that the health secretary now releases crucial internal documents.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Matt Hancock is facing further pressure over the measures put in place to protect care homes early in the coronavirus pandemic following allegations from Dominic Cummings that he misled the prime minister over the issue.

A woman whose father died of Covid in a care home that admitted an infected hospital patient is demanding that the health secretary release crucial internal documents about his risk assessment before thousands of people were discharged into care homes without tests.

The move is part of a potentially explosive high court case against Hancock, the NHS Commissioning Board and Public Health England scheduled for a three-day trial in October. It is likely to shed new light on this week’s claim and counter-claim between the prime minister’s former chief adviser and Hancock over care homes policy in the first weeks of the pandemic.

Cathy Gardner, who lost her father, Michael Gibson last April, said her lawyer was seeking the key documents before the autumn hearing to decide whether the discharge policy had broken the law. Government research this week concluded that hospital discharges had caused 286 Covid deaths, but the actual toll is likely to be significantly higher when fatalities who were not tested before death are counted.

Cummings told MPs about a discussion in government of the risks associated with the discharge policy, which he recalled as “Basically, ‘Hang on, this sounds really dangerous, are we sure?’”

He said the view was that there was no alternative because of the need to free up NHS beds to deal with the coming wave of patients. Crucially, he said, Hancock assured him and the prime minister that people who were being discharged into care homes from hospital would be tested.

Hancock responded on Thursday by saying he had told Downing Street they would be tested when sufficient capacity was available. He said it hadn’t been possible to test hospital discharges at the start of the pandemic, but he put that capacity in place.

Government guidance issued on 2 April 2020 said: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.”

The UK already had capacity for 10,000 daily tests at the start of April 2020, but Hancock said “we had to prioritise it by clinical need”. Between 17 March and 15 April, when tests were finally required before admission into care homes, around 25,000 people were discharged from hospitals into facilities, the National Audit Office has found.

The row has left people bereaved by Covid angry and frustrated at a lack of transparency. “People need the facts, instead of all this ‘He said, she said’,” said Gardner.

Gardner alleges that Hancock, the NHS Commissioning Board and Public Health England contravened the European convention on human rights, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act when their policies allowed people to be discharged into care homes without being tested. The health bodies strongly dispute the claim.

Political allies backed Hancock on Friday. The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said care home residents “were protected as far as we could. We were absolutely focused at that time on saving as many lives as possible”.

But Sam Monaghan, the chief executive of MHA, the UK’s largest provider of not-for-profit care homes, which lost 121 residents to Covid in the three weeks to 7 April 2020, described the discharge strategy as “like putting kind of a live explosive into a box of tinder”.

Sarah Knowles, whose father Graham died of Covid in a Manchester care home on 27 April 2020, said the policy was “just wrong” and highlighted other vulnerabilities. She said her father’s carers were improvising face masks from plastic document folders in April.

“They should have had PPE,” she said. “It makes me angry. If people were discharged into the care homes, they should have been tested.”

Amos Waldman, 41, whose grandmother Sheila Lamb died of Covid on 2 April 2021 in a care home in north London, said: “It feels as though they are trying to cover their own backs with one eye on the future public inquiry.”

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

Mid Devon District Council gets £50K to develop “Beautiful” design codes

  • 14 councils across England given £50,000 each to develop new design codes [includes Mid Devon]
  • Codes will set out design principles for new development in local areas
  • Local design codes will be expected to enhance the character of the local area – for example by using honey-coloured stone in the Cotswolds or red brick in the Midlands
  • Selected areas will test how to give communities a real say in the layout, design and appearance of buildings in their area – helping the country Build Back Better

[Is six months long enough for a serious trial? – Owl]

www.gov.uk 

A new national design code meaning areas are beautiful, well-designed and locally-led is being tested across 14 areas in England, Housing Minister Rt Hon Christopher Pincher has announced today (21 May 2021).

The code will ensure future developments are beautiful and fit in with local character.

It gives local planning authorities a toolkit of design principles to consider for new developments, such as street character, building type and façade as well as environmental, heritage and wellbeing factors

The shortlisted councils [includes Mid Devon – Owl] will take part in a 6-month testing programme to apply the National Model Design Code (NMDC) in their area and help Britain Build Back Better, by making sure current and new residents alike will benefit from beautiful homes in well-designed neighbourhoods.

It is intended to provide councils with the guidance and parameters to shape new developments in a way which reflects what their communities truly want.

The measures mean the word “beauty” will be prioritised in planning rules for the first time since the system was created in 1947 – going back to a previous time when there was a greater emphasis on whether a building was considered attractive to local people. The government recently consulted on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework to take this forward, alongside the draft NMDC.

The Conservative Party received tens of thousands of pounds from non-existent companies

  • EXCLUSIVE: The Conservative Party accepted tens of thousands of pounds from companies that had been struck off, an investigation by Insider has found.
  • Tory politicians, including one currently serving government ministers, received the donations.
  • Political parties are obliged to carry out checks on any company offering them a donation.
  • Labour is calling for the Electoral Commission to launch an urgent investigation.
  • “This just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds told Insider.

Henry Dyer www.businessinsider.com

The Conservative Party pocketed nearly £30,000 from companies that were no longer trading at the time the donations were made, an analysis of Electoral Commission records and Companies House data by Insider has found.

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, UK political parties can only receive donations from actively trading companies and they are obliged to carry out permissibility checks on all donations from companies.

However, Insider’s investigation has found four donations from three companies that official records show were either dissolved or in the process of dissolution, with two of the donations received by currently serving government ministers.

Following Insider’s findings, the opposition Labour party called for an official investigation into the donations.

Anneliese Dodds MP, Chair of the Labour Party, told Insider: “This just doesn’t pass the smell test. The Conservatives need to explain why it seems they pocketed tens of thousands of pounds from companies that only existed on paper.

“The rules are clear: political parties must check that companies making donations are carrying on business in the UK. The Electoral Commission must launch an urgent investigation to find out what’s happened here – and any breaches of the law should be punished fully.”

Two donations received by a government minister

The first donation identified by Insider was to Wendy Morton, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, and a junior minister in the Foreign Office, from a company called Unionist Buildings.

Companies House records show that Unionist Buildings was struck off the register on 17 January 2017, following an application, filed on 21 October 2016, by its directors.

However, Electoral Commission records show Morton’s local association received £6,000 from Unionist Buildings on 2 June 2017, less than a week before the 2017 general election. The donation was accepted on 5 June 2017.

Nearly three years after Unionist Buildings was struck off the register, Morton declared a further £4,000 received by her local Conservative association from Unionist Buildings and registered on 9 January 2020. Her entry also contains the £6,000 donation from 2017.

At the time Morton received the £4,000 donation in January 2020, she was a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Unionist Buildings, who did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. Morton did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication either.

Donations were received from dissolved companies

Another donation was received from a company whose sole director was Conservative minister Charlotte Vere.

Vere is a Conservative life peer and a junior minister in the Department for Transport.

Companies House records for the firm Conservatives In, established to support the Remain vote in the 2016 Brexit Referendum, show it was struck off the register on 2 May 2017 following an application, filed on 3 February 2017, by Vere, the company’s sole director from June 2016 onwards.

On the application which Vere signed on 10 January 2017, she declared that “none of the circumstances described in section 1004 or 1005 of the Companies Act 2006 […] exists in relation to the company”.

Section 1004 of the Companies Act 2006 states that a company may not apply to be struck off if it has, “at any time in the previous three months […] traded or otherwise carried on business”.

But Electoral Commission records show that less than three months prior to this, Conservatives In gave £9,754.98 to the Conservative Party’s central office. The donation was made on 22 December 2016, the day after Vere was appointed a government whip in the House of Lords. 

Vere’s entry on the register of ministers’ interests in November 2019 disclosed that her husband, Mike Chattey, is the head of fundraising at the Conservative Party. He has held the position since 2009.

Baroness Vere did not respond to a request for comment.

A company listed as a donor denies knowledge of donation

for the firm Stridewell Estates show it was also struck off the register in November 2016, following an application made in August 2016.

Over three years later, the Conservatives accepted a donation of £10,000 from Stridewell Estates. 

A spokesperson for Stridewell Estates told Insider that the entry on the Electoral Commission’s website “must be a mistake.” She said “no payments were made from this company after it was dissolved. It is very possible that the company that donated has been recorded incorrectly.” 

The spokesperson was unable to provide further details by the time of publication.

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Stridewell Estates.

“This just doesn’t pass the smell test”

Insider referred all of these donations to the Conservative Party. A spokesperson for the party said: “Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission and are published by them.”

The party did not seek to claim that any of the donations did not occur.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “Political parties can only accept donations over £500 from permissible sources. This includes companies who are registered and incorporated in the UK, and who carry on business at the time they make donations. 

“We carry out our own permissibility checks on donors, though the legal responsibility lies with the parties to ensure that they only accept money from legal sources. Should there be evidence that the rules have been broken, we would consider it in line with our Enforcement Policy.”

Campaigners say there needs to be a stronger set of regulatory requirements for parties to ensure that they are receiving donations from permissible sources. 

Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider: “It is high time that political parties be placed under a proper legal obligation to do thorough background checks on the origins of donations and the Electoral Commission be given robust powers to penalise them when they fail to do so. 

“The public need to have confidence that electoral finance is squeaky clean and there aren’t any loopholes that would allow illegal or foreign donations which might skew our electoral process.”

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Covid: What happened to care homes early in the pandemic? Reality Check

Testimony from the prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings highlighted the issue of care homes during the first wave of coronavirus.

By Reality Check team www.bbc.co.uk

“We were told categorically in March [2020] that people would be tested before they went back to care homes. We only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened,” Mr Cummings told MPs. He claimed it was Health Secretary Matt Hancock who said this.

Mr Hancock said: “My recollection of events is that I committed to delivering that testing for people going from hospital into care homes when we could do it…I then went away and built the testing capacity… and then delivered on the commitment”.

So, what actions did the government take and what guidance did it give the care sector in England, where there have been more than 40,000 deaths involving Covid-19.

Moving patients from hospitals to care homes

On 19 March 2020, NHS guidance said that “unless required to be in hospital, patients must not remain in an NHS bed”.

This policy was implemented to free up beds in advance of an expected surge in coronavirus patients.

On 2 April, the rules on discharging to care homes were clarified, saying “negative [coronavirus] tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home”.

Even elderly patients who tested positive could be admitted to care homes, according to the document, if measures – such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and isolation – were used.

From 15 April, the government said that all patients discharged from hospitals would be tested for coronavirus.

By this time, an estimated 25,000 patients had been discharged to care homes. In July, Panorama gathered data from 39 hospital trusts, which showed three-quarters of people discharged were untested.

Up to this point more than 5,700 care home residents had died in England and Wales (either in homes or in hospital).

Public Health England has published research into the impact of hospital transfers. It found that 1.6% of the lab-confirmed outbreaks in care homes that they knew about by mid-October 2020, had come from people discharged from hospitals.

But it is not clear what percentage of outbreaks up to 15 April (when the testing policy changed) were the result of patients being moved to homes.

And it is important to note that, at this time, there was a lack of testing so not every outbreak may have been recorded. Also, the figures do not count people who were not previously care home residents who were transferred into them from hospitals.

The government has repeatedly said that decisions to discharge patients from hospitals during this time were made by medical professionals on a case-by-case basis.

Testing

On 14 March 2020, the government began prioritising the most vulnerable individuals for testing, including those in hospitals and care homes.

If an outbreak was suspected, a handful of residents at a home could be tested.

Reality Check understands that some care providers found access to testing to be very limited at this time.

Chart showing coronavirus deaths

Figures for March to May 2020

On 15 April, the social care action plan was launched, as care home deaths in England were peaking at around 400 a day. This included a pledge to test all care staff who needed one, for example if they were in a household that was self-isolating.

At that point, just 1,000 care staff had been tested out of an estimated half a million who work in care homes.

All care home residents with coronavirus symptoms would also be tested.

On 28 April, this was extended to all care staff and residents, regardless of whether they had symptoms.

It’s important to remember that early in the pandemic it wasn’t widely understood that people who didn’t have symptoms could pass on coronavirus.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

In March 2020, specific guidance related to coronavirus said that the PPE in care homes should be similar to that used in hospital settings.

The government launched the National Supply Disruption Response on 13 March, a centralised line for care and health providers to raise concerns.

This was followed on 19 March by a promise to deliver 300 masks to each care provider.

Concerns over PPE peaked at the end of March and early April, as bodies such as Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and care homes themselves highlighted shortages.

Because care homes are generally privately-run, they are responsible for purchasing their own PPE. Many found their local suppliers were running low and that they were competing with better-funded hospitals.

A letter from the government on 2 April recognised “the challenges providers may have experienced in obtaining PPE supplies over recent weeks,” and promised that the supply chain would be bolstered, with support from the armed forces.

On 10 April the government announced a PPE action plan, which included freeing up up 34 million pieces of equipment to “local resilience forums” who would then distribute it to care homes through local authorities.

By this point, 3,100 care home residents had died in England and Wales.

Visiting care homes

General guidance produced on 25 February 2020 included advice for carers on what to do if they came into contact with someone with Covid-19 – but there was nothing advising against visits to care homes.

In one section it said: “It remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected.”

Another section said: “Currently there is no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom. There is no need to do anything differently in any care setting at present.”

However, the government’s own Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had advised on 10 February that “it is a realistic probability that there is already sustained transmission in the UK, or that it will become established in the coming weeks.”

Updated chart

Figures for 2020

On 3 March, the government released its coronavirus action plan – the document did not mention restricting visits to care homes.

By 5 March, England had had 273 cases of people with the virus.

That day the Chief Medical Officer for England Prof Chris Whitty told a committee of MPs that as there were cases that could not be traced back to people who had come from abroad, it was “highly likely therefore that there is some level of community transmission in this virus in the UK now”.

Italy suspended visits to care homes at this point, five weeks after recording its first case. A day later, Nursing Homes Ireland, which represents hundreds of care homes in Ireland, banned non-essential visits, just six days after the first confirmed case in the country.

On 10 March, Prof Martin Green, head of Care England which represents independent care providers, directed criticism in an Independent article at the government for its response.

At this point in England nearly 800 people had caught the virus, but the article noted that the generic guidance published by Public Health England appeared out of date, as it said there was no evidence of transmission within the UK. Prof Green said: “There is no evidence of a plan. I’m not even certain they have these plans and aren’t just making them up as they go along.”

Nevertheless, some homes were deciding to close their doors to visitors, with care groups Barchester and HC-One stopping non-essential visits on 10 March and 12 March.

Scottish Care – a representative body for social care in Scotland – advised care homes to close to visits on 11 March.

On 13 March, the government’s guidance from 25 February was updated to say that “care home providers are advised to review their visiting policy, by asking no-one to visit who has suspected Covid-19 or is generally unwell, and by emphasising good hand hygiene for visitors”.

On the same day Bupa and Four Seasons care homes stopped non-essential visits.

It wasn’t until 16 March that it was announced that social distancing should be carried out by everyone, in particular those aged over 70 and vulnerable people.

That day, the prime minister was asked about care homes and said: “We don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.” By this point there had been 3,200 cases in England (although the figure given by the authorities at that point was less than half of that; positive cases are now dated to the day the sample was given).

In the period between 25 February and 16 March, 14 deaths of care home residents were reported along with 30 outbreaks in England’s 15,000 care homes.

On 21 March, guidance was introduced to encourage medically vulnerable people to remain indoors as much as possible until the end of June – a process known as shielding.

On 24 March, lockdown began with people ordered not to leave their homes at all except for “essential” reasons, which didn’t include visits to care homes.

Finally, on 2 April another document from the Department of Health and Social Care said that “family and friends should be advised not to visit care homes, except next of kin in exceptional situations such as end of life”.

Speaking on 15 May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that on the basis of the 13 March guidance “many of the care home providers, for instance Care UK, at that point stopped visitors”.

There have since been extensive changes to the guidance, with restrictions relaxed as lockdown eased.

This piece was originally published in July 2020 and has been updated to include the findings of the PHE report into the impact of patients discharged from hospitals to care homes in 2020.