‘Boris Johnson’s delay over India variant is another unforgivable own goal’

Dawdling, incompetence and the threat of disaster are overshadowing what should be a day of joy as England’s lockdown rules are eased.

Kevin Maguire www.mirror.co.uk  (Extract to get the flavour)

They are the hallmarks of Boris Johnson who is once again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

India’s inclusion on the Covid-19 red list was delayed and now the rapidly-spreading mutation of the virus detected in that country is jeopardising the planned end to all restrictions in England, planned for June 21.

It’s another unforgivable own goal by a charlatan who will eventually burst his vaccine bubble…..

Rock Feilding-Mellen: the Tory councillor forced to resign after Grenfell

Rock Feilding-Mellen has run a property development company since 2009, and in 2011, at the age of 32, was promoted to a cabinet position at the Conservative stronghold of Kensington and Chelsea council.

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com

Socially Conscious Capital helps obtain planning consent for housing on greenfield sites.

While in charge of housing and regeneration at Kensington and Chelsea, he was treated to dinners and entertainment by property lobbyists, his register of interests shows. But since the Grenfell fire that forced his resignation, he has developed wider interests.

In January he became the director of a new “psychedelic venture studio” company, according to records at Companies House. It intends “to build and invest in companies devoted to providing safe and wide access to psychedelic medicines”.

Based at his family’s Tudor stately home in Oxfordshire, Beckley Park, Beckley Waves works with the Beckley Foundation, which is “progressing innovative formulations and applications of well-characterised psychedelic agents such as psilocybin” and is designing “new chemical entities” that improve upon existing psychedelics.

His mother, Amanda Feilding, is the chair of its scientific advisory board. Also known as the Countess of Wemyss and March, her interest in alternative medicine led her to drill a hole in her own skull in 1970 to better understand the potential benefits of trepanning.

East Devon prosperity rises according to the Legatum Institute

But still outside top 100

East Devon is the area in the south west which has seen the biggest improvement in overall prosperity in the last decade, according to a new study.

[The Legatum Institute is a think tank based in London run by Philippa, Baroness Stroud, a Conservative member of the House of Lords. It is funded by a Dubai-based investment firm. Owl thinks it would be reasonable to describe it as “Centre-right”.] 

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

The United Kingdom Prosperity Report 2021 published by the Legatum Institute ranks the 379 local authorities across the UK by 12 key measures covering crime, personal freedom, local democracy, family and social relationships, the  economy, quality of life, health, education and the environment.

East Devon has seen the biggest rise in the region stretching from Cornwall to Gloucestershire, up from 180th to 102nd place after improvements in governance, personal freedom and natural environment.

It is the highest ranking area of Devon, with Torbay bottom for the county and the South West region in 292nd place, down from 284th in 2011.

Top of the UK list is Wokingham in Surrey, with Blackpool in Lancashire at the bottom for the second year in a row.

The south west ranks second behind the south east, coming out top for safety and security but last for infrastructure, with 25 of the 30 local authorities in the top half of the index. It has strong institutions, social capital and health, and relatively low rates of poverty.

The report adds: “Its major weakness is economic: local employers face skill shortages, there is a lack of adequate infrastructure, and financial pressures on local councils are increasing.”

It says the index was set up to help drive the government’s levelling up agenda by providing an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of every region and local authority area.

The report says the UK is the 13th most prosperous nation in the world, with national prosperity increasing from 2010 to a peak in 2018. Since then, every region outside London has seen a small decline.

It says: “Overall, the UK is continuing to build a strong and open economy. It has achieved big improvements in the quality of its infrastructure, labour force engagement and competitiveness. 

“But these gains are currently being undermined by a deterioration in several specific areas: 

  • in the quality of conditions for local enterprise, which are needed to bolster business dynamism and entrepreneurialism; 
  • in the safety and security of communities, which are struggling with increasing violent crime;
  • in the physical and mental health of people; 
  • in key indicators of social capital, including weaker family relationships, evidenced by an increase in looked after children; 
  • and, to a lesser extent, in the quality of local governance.

The report warns that the national conversation about ‘levelling up’ is too simplistic, with wide variations between and within regions.

It says: “Prosperity is currently being undermined by factors that lie outside of the traditional focus on ‘bridges and trains’. 

“These include a decline in the safety and security of communities due to rising violent crime, a deterioration in people’s mental and physical health, an erosion of social capital, including fraying family relationships, weakening enterprise conditions, a loss of public trust in institutions and deteriorating local democracy.”

East Devon could close public loos in major shake-up

A major review of East Devon’s public toilets is set to be launched.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

More than six years after a review of the toilets run by East Devon District Council was first mooted, councillors on the cabinet last Wednesday unanimously agreed to launch the consultation over the public toilet service in the district.

Councillors were told that the continued provision at the current level is no longer sustainable, with the review seeking to balance the savings requirement with protecting a level of toilet provision, enhancing and investing in retained stock.

And while public toilets matter to everyone, as the provision is not a statutory service the council is required to provide, and with them facing a £3m budget gap, the review aims to reduce the costs of providing the service, review the ways in which it is provided, the number of overall toilets they provide, particularly in locations where demand is less or alternative facilities exist.

All of the council run toilets have been provisionally split into three categories. Category A, where provision will be maintained and investment made to bring them up to standard. Category B, where they will look to consider marketing a lease opportunity for a different offer such as a café, to include a publicly accessible toilet. And Category C, where there would be no commercial alternative and would be offered to town and parish councils to run, but if they turned down the chance, they would be closed.

Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for the environment, said: “Most of our public conveniences were built in the 1950s and the plumbing and structures are not as they were. Some of the toilets closed for over a year there has not been much call for. Let’s face it, the loos are passed their sell by date and some will soon need to be shut as they will fail environmental standards. The world has moved on but our loos are a flashback to the mods and rockers.”

The proposed categorisation of the toilets run by East Devon

CATEGORY A

Promoted Stories

  • West Street Car Park, Axminster
  • Cliff Path, Budleigh Salterton
  • East End, Budleigh Salterton
  • Jubilee Gardens, Beer
  • Foxholes Car Park, Exmouth
  • Magnolia Centre, Exmouth
  • Manor Gardens, Exmouth
  • Phear Park, Exmouth
  • Queens Drive, Exmouth
  • Lace Walk, Honiton
  • West Walk, Seaton
  • Connaught Gardens, Sidmouth
  • Triangle, Sidmouth
  • Market Place or Port Royal, Sidmouth

CATEGORY B

  • Station Road, Budleigh Salterton
  • Imperial Recreation Ground, Exmouth
  • Orcombe Point, Exmouth
  • The Maer, Exmouth
  • Harbour Road, Seaton
  • Seaton Hole, Seaton
  • Market Place or Port Royal, Sidmouth

CATEGORY C

  • Brook Road, Budleigh Salterton
  • Dolphin Street, Colyton
  • Exmouth Bus Station, Exmouth
  • Jarvis Close, Exmouth
  • King Street Car Park, Honiton
  • Marsh Road, Seaton

In his report to the cabinet, Andrew Hancock, service lead for StreetScene, said: “The review proposes to invest in toilets that are retained to ensure the right toilet in the right place, this is important since no capital investment has been made for a number of years. Many of the sites need updating to meet modern standards and expectations as well as incorporating Covid secure/improved hygiene design features.

“While there have been a handful of local complaints about the inconvenience of some of our public toilets being closed during the pandemic, on the whole the open blocks have coped with the community need and we’ve had less complaints about the facilities as they are maintained to a higher standard.

“Even in the height of summer 2020 when we saw record levels of use at our parks and beaches, the toilets we had open were sufficient for most, so one has to ask if we know we need to invest significantly in re-building or refurbishing our outdated toilets for modern requirements, and we know we have a high number of toilet blocks compared to neighbouring areas.

“Moving forward, it would seem sensible to provide a smaller number of better provisioned and better maintained toilets, with other sites re-purposed, for example, the Seaton Chine Hideaway café, and still providing some form of toilet access, particularly as the positioning or use of some public toilets are questionable.

“It is very important that we continue to provide high quality public toilets for our residents and that we recognise they have an important role to play in our visitor economy; but that future provision is financially sustainable and that we are making the best uses of our sites. Continued provision at our current level is no longer sustainable. This review seeks to balance the savings requirement with protecting a level of toilet provision, enhancing and investing in retained stock.”

He added: “The overall objective of the council should be to provide high quality, modern facilities that are mainly located in town centres, tourist areas and parks which help support these areas. The council should look at other means of operating toilets and be concerned with overall levels of provision, but not necessarily direct provision in all cases.

“We recognise that public toilet provision is an emotive subject and an important service. It is however non-statutory and costs almost £900,000 per year including recharges. With budget pressure from reducing government grants we must look at transforming how we operate services, and our medium term financial plan sets out targets for savings from different ways of operating.

“This review is looking to ensure East Devon continues to provide high quality public toilets in a sustainable way, but also recognising in some situations other methods of provision might be appropriate, indeed beneficial to the public, particularly where there are multiple toilet blocks or toilets are less well used and some sites could add a café, bar or other commercial offer.”

Cllr Paul Hayward, portfolio holder for economy and assets, added that change was necessary and the council had to think about what was considered necessary going forward.

He called for all the towns and parishes affected to be invited into the discussion to see if they can run them more efficiently, and said there would need to be some innovative thinking, and that ‘some things won’t be palatable, but this needs to be done’.

Cllr Cathy Gardner said that she was concerned about any charging for toilets as it would be a retrograde step for public health and as charging reduces the use of toilets, the council should do all they can to avoid it.

Cllr Paul Millar added that there should be one free of charge toilet in each town where there are areas of deprivation whatever the outcome of the review was, while Cllr Steve Gazzard said that they had to take the public with them on the review, and Cllr Marcus Hartnell said lessons needed to be learnt from the Seaton café example to ensure a minimum level of provision was still provided.

The cabinet agreed to the basis for the toilet review to ensure ‘we have the right toilet in the right place’, which will focus on the provision and support for Category A public conveniences at the key locations, seeks to provide opportunities for others to take on Category B sites, and offers Category C sites to Town & Parish councils if they feel continued provision here is necessary.

The review will also determine whether to install contactless paid access on the retained toilets to enable a future income to help meet deficits and improve toilet standards and whether in-house operation, which is more cost effective than private sector operators, and whether they resolve to continue operation on this basis.

It will also see them agree to consult with all stakeholders to obtain their views of these proposals in order to gain understanding/agreement that public toilets need investment to modernise them, whether to investigate charging for their use to protect future provision, and to provide a concessionary card for those with medical needs.

A recommendation that a capital budget of £3.15 million be set as part of the 2022/23 budget for the rebuild or refurbishment of all Category A public toilets, subject to the results of the consultation, was also made to full council.

Prior to any decision being made, the cabinet also asked the Overview Committee to review the consultation responses and equalities assessment and provide its views, with Cllr Paul Arnott, leader of the council, saying that this was the time for concerns around the individual toilets mentioned in the review to be raised, rather than at last week’s meeting.