No 10 admits Matt Hancock did use private email for official work and refuses to say if rules were broken

Matt Hancock and his deputy did use private emails for official work, No 10 has admitted – while refusing to say if they complied with government rules. 

On Monday, Downing Street insisted the pair had not used personal accounts – despite leaked minutes suggesting otherwise – but it has backtracked 24 hours later.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman was then asked if the former health secretary, and his deputy Lord Bethell, copied in all important information onto work accounts, as required.

But he repeatedly ducked the question, saying only that all ministers are “aware of that guidance”.

That official guidance states that all “substantive” government information must be “accessible” by, for example, “copying it to a government email address”.

The controversy has blown up because leaked minutes showed a top health department civil servant warned Mr Hancock “only” deals with his private office “via Gmail account” – and, extraordinarily, that he “does not have” an official email inbox.

Meanwhile, Lord Bethell, “routinely uses his personal inbox and the majority of [approvals for Covid contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox”, the documents obtained by The Sunday Times said.

The Information Commissioner has revealed she is weighing up an investigation, arguing there is genuine public concern that vital information is being concealed.

“It is an important principle of government transparency and accountability that official records are kept of key actions and decisions,” Elizabeth Denham said.

On Monday, Downing Street insisted that both ministers “only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses”.

Mr Hancock quit on Saturday for breaking Covid rules by embracing his lover in his office, but Lord Bethell remains in his post – despite Labour calls for him to be dismissed,

In the Lords, the peer also ducked questions when challenged, saying: “I have read the ministerial code, I signed the ministerial code and I seek to uphold it in everything I do.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Lord Bethell used his private email account to sign off contracts and the government tried to cover it up.

“Sack him, publish the private emails and hand them over to the public inquiry.”

Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, had ridiculed No 10’s denial of any personal email use as “nonsense”, tweeting: “I can prove it with screenshots from my phone”.

They included examples of Mr Hancock using WhatsApp to “discuss procurement issues” with Tory donors and with Downing Street officials, he claimed.

Asked, again, if personal emails had been used for government work, the spokesman said: “Yes. Ministers are able to communicate in a variety of different ways as long as they adhere to the guidance as set out.”

But, asked if Mr Hancock and Lord Bethell had copied information to official accounts, he replied: “What I am saying is that ministers are aware of the guidance and government business is conducted in line with that guidance.”

Warning from SAGE scientist over same lockdown mistake as last summer

A scientist advising the Government on coronavirus response has warned against making the same mistakes as last summer.

Neil Shaw 

Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) subcommittee on behavioural science, said the country was in danger of repeating last summer’s mistakes.

He told Times Radio: “My fear is that we’re on line to repeat the mistakes of last summer – if you remember, the Prime Minister told us it was our patriotic duty to go to the pub, that people should go to work or they might lose their jobs, we had eat out to help out.

“The consequence was we never got infections low enough to be able to deal with the disease and so when conditions changed in the autumn, when schools went back and people went back to work and universities went back and the weather got worse and we went inside, so infections spiked.

“And I think this time round, we should learn from that and we should get infections low to a point where we we’re in a much better place in the autumn, where we don’t have to reimpose restrictions.

“So I think the real question is how can we do that without inconveniencing people too much?”

He said test and trace was still not working properly or contacting people quickly enough, and pointed to the lack of support for people to self-isolate.

He added: “It seems to me that if we got right the basic public health moves to suppress infection, we wouldn’t be talking about a high reservoir of infection which can then spike very quickly when conditions change.”

Professor Reicher said he believed vaccines had weakened the link between cases and hospital admissions but it was not broken.

He told Times Radio that “vaccination has made a huge difference but the danger is if we overstate it, and we over-rely on it, actually we undermine all its good effects”.

He added: “So it’s belt and braces, of course vaccination makes a difference but it doesn’t mean you forget about everything else.”

Dominic Raab’s mobile number freely available online for last decade

Last year from “the secret diaries” we learned that Hugo had “Dave’s” personal phone number. In retrospect was this such a big deal? – Owl

Jessica Elgot 

The private mobile number of Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, has been online for at least 11 years, raising questions for the security services weeks after the prime minister’s number was also revealed to be accessible to anyone.

Raab’s number was discovered by a Guardian reader using a Google search. It appears to have been online since before he became an MP in 2010, and remained after he became foreign secretary and first secretary of state – de facto deputy prime minister – in 2019.

The web page showing the number also contained other personal details for Raab. It has since been removed following extensive correspondence with the website by the Guardian, and the number no longer appears online or via Google.

The foreign secretary has previously warned of the cybersecurity threat posed by rogue states.

In April, it emerged that Boris Johnson’s personal mobile could be found at the bottom of a press release and had been online for 15 years, raising questions over why the confidentiality of senior politicians’ contact details was not thoroughly investigated.

The former UK national security adviser Peter Ricketts said the breach regarding Raab’s number showed more attention must be paid to online security.

“The wide availability of Mr Raab’s personal phone number must increase the risk that other states, or even criminal gangs, have been able to eavesdrop on his calls,” he said. “It also means that anyone who happens to have had his phone number … is able to lobby the foreign secretary, bypassing the official channels which everyone else has to use. Anyone taking on a role as sensitive as this should in their own interests pay as much attention to online as to physical security.”

The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, called for an investigation. She said: “This is a staggering lapse in security from a foreign secretary who, only last month, was lecturing Nato allies about the cybersecurity threat posed by authoritarian regimes.

“It is typical of the government’s approach that when it comes to national security and defending democracy they say one thing but do another. This should be the subject of an investigation. Both the prime minister and foreign secretary have failed to protect their own phones. How can we be assured they aren’t as careless with sensitive intelligence and diplomatic cables too?”

The government said it had requested the removal of the web page containing Raab’s details after being alerted by the Guardian.

Johnson’s number was found on a thinktank press release, unearthed by the newsletter Popbitch, related to his work as a shadow higher education minister when he was also MP for Henley, inviting journalists to contact him for comment. The number has since been disconnected.

Last week, the Mail on Sunday reported that MI5 had been given the go-ahead to examine the phone for possible hacks.

Concerns are also said to have been raised over the amount of government business conducted on WhatsApp amid fears over the risk that significant private information could be read if a phone were stolen or hacked.

Senior officials had reportedly advised Johnson to change his phone number due to concerns about how many people had access to it from his time as a journalist, MP and mayor of London, but he is said to have refused.

Johnson was criticised for text message exchanges with the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Dominic Cummings, formerly the prime minister’s most senior aide, recently revealed details of government WhatsApp groups that coordinated the coronavirus pandemic response, involving the prime minister, health secretary and the country’s most senior medical and scientific advisers.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said: “Private information was wrongly retained online, before the foreign secretary’s appointment. Once we were made aware, we had it removed immediately. Most of it was out of date, and no security was compromised.”

The Tory donors, peers and former aides who have been appointed non-executive directors

More than a dozen Conservative donors, peers and former aides have been handed top jobs overseeing Whitehall departments as non-executive directors, it can be revealed today.

John Stevens

Ministers are facing growing scrutiny over the roles after Downing Street yesterday admitted Matt Hancock personally appointed Gina Coladangelo – who was revealed as his lover last week – as a NED at the Department of Health.

The departmental board members are supposed to be recruited through ‘fair and transparent competition’ and come ‘primarily from the commercial private sector, with experience of managing complex organisations’.

But at least 13 of those currently holding the positions – which carry an average salary of £15,000 per year – have close links to the Conservatives.

They include donors who have contributed hundreds of thousands of pounds to party coffers. 

Lord Nash, who is the Government’s lead non-executive director across Whitehall, is a former Tory schools minister who has donated more than £484,000. 

The peer is also a NED at the Cabinet Office led by Michael Gove. He gave £3,250 to Mr Gove’s failed 2016 Tory leadership campaign.

Another Cabinet Office NED, Henry de Zoete, is a former special adviser to Mr Gove.

At the Department for International Trade board members include former Tory vice-chairman Dominic Johnson, who has donated £290,000 to the party.

He is a business partner of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg – they co-founded investment firm Somerset Capital Management.

Former Tory MP Douglas Carswell also sits on the department’s board. Baroness McGregor-Smith, who ran to be Conservative candidate for London Mayor, is a NED at the Department for Education along with Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former No10 joint chief-of-staff.

Eleanor Shawcross, who was a special adviser to former chancellor George Osborne, is a NED at the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Baroness Wyld, who worked in No10 as an aide to ex-PM David Cameron, is one at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

Lord Hill, who served in Mr Cameron’s Cabinet as Leader of the Lords, is a NED at the Treasury.

Fellow Tory Baroness Morrissey has the same role at the Foreign Office.

Ben Goldsmith sits on the board at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs where his brother Zac is a minister. 

He has donated £76,000 to the party, including £2,500 to Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, who is also a minister in the department.

Nick Campsie, a NED at the Ministry of Justice, states on his LinkedIn page that he ‘campaigned on behalf of the Conservative Party during the EU referendum and has made donations in support of the party’s activities’. 

Wol Kolade, who is a non-executive director at NHS Improvement, has given more than £859,000 to the Conservatives, including £15,000 to Mr Hancock.

There were fresh questions yesterday about the appointments after No10 said former health secretary Mr Hancock had personally handed Miss Coladangelo her role as a NED last September.

Mr Hancock stood down on Saturday after leaked footage showed him in an intimate embrace with Miss Coladangelo on May 6 when such contact between households was advised against. 

The PM’s spokesman said: ‘I believe ministers are entitled to make direct appointments. Her appointment followed correct procedure.’

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson said: ‘The Government must publish all documents relating to the appointment of Gina Coladangelo. 

‘The role of a non-executive director is to challenge and scrutinise the minister. 

‘We need to know if the nature of their relationship was declared and whether the recruitment process was carried out in a fair and transparent way.’

It remains unclear if their romance began before she was appointed to the department or if this was ever declared as a conflict of interest. 

But Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News: ‘Everything that I understand so far leads me to believe due process was followed in the appointment of this person and any declarations that should’ve been made were made.’ 

Up for sale: What is happening to your Health Data?

Looks like the Tories were stitching up a deal to sell NHS data in 2019.

On 12 May this year, then health secretary Matt Hancock quietly issued a legal direction to every GP in England, instructing them to upload their patient records to a central database, with patients given just a few weeks to find out about the plans. This has now been paused.

However, if you live in Somerset tough, because Somerset Foundation Trust has already done a deal.

Opendemocracy is holding a free webinar on the subject.

Principle stitched up in Davos in 2019 (from Politico website)

The U.K. government began courting U.S. data and surveillance firm Palantir to work on ways to tap patient data from the NHS back in January 2019, according to documents seen by POLITICO’s Graham Lanktree that shed light on the relationship with the controversial company.

In a meeting at Davos that year, former Trade Secretary Liam Fox encouraged the U.S. data giant’s executives to make use of “untapped” NHS data. Internal emails, meeting briefings and readouts obtained through freedom of information law show that efforts to help Palantir win U.K. government work were underway long before the coronavirus crisis, with ministers and officials making direct references to the potential of Britain’s health service as they tried to drum up inward investment.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust has already done a deal

NHS data sale ‘an invasion of privacy’, campaigners say

BBC News

An NHS trust has said it will consult patients before selling 1.1 million medical records it owns to a private firm later this year.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust struck the deal with Sensyne Health in November 2020 but is yet to transfer any information.

Campaigners have labelled the plan “an invasion of privacy”.

The trust said: “We will not share information with Sensyne that can identify a patient.”

The deal is worth up to £1.25m and Somerset is one of 11 NHS trusts which have signed deals with the Oxford-based data firm.

NHS Somerset Foundation Trust runs mental health and community services, 13 community hospitals in Somerset and hospital services from Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital.

Earlier this month, the creation of a central digital database using GP records in England was pushed back, amid concerns patients needed more time to understand the system.

Sensyne said it uses “anonymised” data, which it analyses on behalf of other organisations, including drug companies, enabling its clients to produce new drugs and treatments.

In return, NHS trusts can get shares in the company and a proportion of profits.

However, privacy campaigners have disputed whether the data really is anonymised and have claimed it could still be used to identify patients.

Former IT consultant David Orr from Taunton has been campaigning against the deal since it was announced.

He said: “In my case I’ve got a particular combination of historical [health] conditions and it wouldn’t take a computer very long to work out that my age range, gender and a couple of historical conditions would only really be me.”

He also believes people should be able to opt out of having their data shared for commercial purposes.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has confirmed patients who have opted out of sharing information via the national data opt-out will still have their data shared under this agreement.

Mr Orr said this is unacceptable: “In the private sector, when we share our details for example to a phone company, you don’t expect those to be shared with other organisations.”

CEO of Sensyne Health Lord Drayson, said: “This agreement will enable research to improve patient care and accelerate medical research by helping to grow our overall data set to over 5.6 million patients.”

The trust has told the BBC it will supply a patient’s age range, gender and the first part of their postcode, as well as medical information. This fits the definition of “anonymised” data required by the data protection law GDPR, it added.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s director of strategic development and improvement David Shannon said: ” We will not share information with Sensyne that can identify a patient.

“The terms of the contract provide our organisation with the investment needed for us to anonymise the data before providing it to Sensyne Health and for us to benefit from any breakthroughs that Sensyne makes.

“The monies we receive from Sensyne Health will be invested in our analytical capability to support research and improve patient care.

“We want people to have confidence in how their personal data will be used and we know that it’s crucial that, from the start, we clearly explain this to people.

It has has promised “local engagement events” in the autumn.

A spokesperson for Sensyne added: “We never sell data, we never share data, data never leaves Sensyne, and we never use data for anything other than for the purposes of medical research.

“The data is owned by the NHS Trust not Sensyne. Sensyne complies with the strictest standards of data security and privacy.

What’s happening to your GP data and what can you do about it? 

Welcome! You are invited to join a webinar: What’s happening to your GP data and what can you do about it?. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email about joining the webinar.

Health data is both hugely sensitive and immensely valuable – to our health, and to big business. The UK’s NHS data has been valued at £10bn. And our GP data – with details of everything from diagnoses and medications to depression, abortions, sexually transmitted infections and addictions – is the most detailed, valuable and sensitive of all.

On 12 May this year, then health secretary Matt Hancock quietly issued a legal direction to every GP in England, instructing them to upload their patient records to a central database, with patients given just a few weeks to find out about the plans.

openDemocracy, along with a coalition of other groups issued a legal threat that has forced the government to pause the process. But what does this mean for your health data, what will happen next, and what can you do about it?

Join us (register here) in the free, live discussion as we explore this topic with an expert panel. Hear from:

Helen Salisbury – GP, lecturer, and writer for the British Medical Journal

Diarmaid McDonald – Lead organiser, Just Treatment

Phil Booth – Coordinator, MedConfidential

Chair: Caroline Molloy – editor, openDemocracy UK

Boris Johnson refuses to deny using private email for government matters amid security risk concerns

Boris Johnson has refused to deny using his personal email address to carry out government business amid concerns about the conduct of a sacked cabinet minister.

Asked by reporters during a campaign visit to the town of Batley whether he had had also broken the rules, Mr Johnson said would not comment on the matter.

It comes after Labour demanded an investigation into allegations that Matt Hancock and junior health minister Lord Bethell had used their personal accounts for official work.

During the by-election campaign trail visit to Johnstone’s Paints Limited, the Prime Minister said: “I don’t comment on how I conduct Government business.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland this morning admitted the practice of using personal email accounts was a threat to government security.

Asked in a Monday morning interview whether Matt Hancock’s use of a personal email account was a “huge security issue” that could potentially see hackers gain access to government communications, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC:

“I agree, and that’s why I think it’s important that we use the systems that we are provided with.”

Ministers are supposed to use their secure government emails and telephones for work to avoid hackers and foreign security services listening in on the inner workings of government.

The approach also ensures official correspondence is logged and subject to data protection and freedom of information laws.

Questions have been raised about whether Mr Hancock’s use of a personal email account will make it harder to scrutinise the process by which so many emergency Covid contracts came to be given to Conservative aquaintances and donors.

But commenting on the admission about security by Mr Buckland, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “It’s staggering that a government minister has admitted that the Tory party could be putting national security at risk by carrying out government business on private emails but hasn’t said that ministers are going to do anything about it.

“We already know that hostile actors target Ministers’ private email accounts to access sensitive information.

“We need a full independent inquiry to get to the bottom of how wide this goes, whether Ministers have put our national security at risk and what steps will be taken to protect vital information and our country’s security.”

Mr Johnson’s visit to Batley comes ahead of the Batley and Spen by election, scheduled for 1 July, where the Tories are hoping to win a seat off Labour.

Speaking on Monday morning less than 48 hours after Mr Hancock’s resignation, Mr Buckland claimed that under the rules, “anything that is very sensitive, I can assure viewers, isn’t actually viewed on email”.

On the question of an inquiry, he told Sky News: “We should use Government emails, I think that’s very clear.

“I think the Cabinet Office, if they’re asked to look at this, they probably will be, will need to satisfy themselves that if that was the case then the material is available.”

Mr Hancock quit on Saturday following revelations about his relationship with an aide and CCTV footage of them embracing and apparently breaking social distancing instructions in a government office.

Health minister Helen Whately used private email for government work

A third health minister, Helen Whately, used a private email account for government business, the Guardian can reveal, as the UK’s information watchdog said it was considering launching an investigation into the use of Gmail by Matt Hancock and James Bethell.

Jessica Elgot 

The Guardian can also reveal a number of emails were copied into Lord Bethell’s private email account. His address was copied into at least four official exchanges relating to a businessman who was attempting to get government contracts during the pandemic.

Bethell, who oversaw the award of Covid contracts, has faced calls for his resignation over his use of private email and his sponsorship of a parliamentary pass for Hancock’s married aide Gina Coladangelo, with whom the former health secretary had an affair.

In April 2020 the businessman had approached his MP, Oliver Dowden, as he believed his firm’s testing kits were cheaper than those being bought by the government.

Andrew Feldman, the former Conservative party chairman who had been brought into the government to advise on its approach to the pandemic, passed the matter on to a number of officials, copying in a private email address belonging to Bethell.

Later that day, a Department of Health and Social Care official (DHSC) circulated another email to his colleagues, again copying in the private email address belonging to Bethell. The emails were obtained by the Good Law Project, which has launched a series of legal challenges over the government’s handling of contracts during the pandemic.

Separately, Whately, the social care minister, copied in a private Gmail address to a diary invitation, according to a leaked email. Whately’s diary invitation, seen by the Guardian, was sent to both her official email and her Gmail and does not contain sensitive information, but will raise further questions about the routine use of private accounts.

Boris Johnson has also refused to answer whether he has ever conducted government business using a personal email account, saying: “I don’t comment on how I conduct government business.”

Hancock is reported to have routinely used a private account, according to minutes of an official meeting at the DHSC seen by the Sunday Times. The minutes said Hancock was only dealing with his private office “via Gmail account” and said he did not have a departmental inbox.

The minutes, which were to discuss a Good Law Project legal challenge over government contracts for faulty tests, also say that Bethell “routinely uses his personal inbox and the majority of [approvals for contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox”.

Cabinet Office guidance says ministers should use official email accounts in order to leave a paper trail for important decisions and to allow for scrutiny.

Elizabeth Denham, the UK information commissioner, said she was considering further action. “It is an important principle of government transparency and accountability that official records are kept of key actions and decisions,” she said.

“The issue of ministers and senior officials using private email accounts to conduct sensitive official business is a concerning one for the public and is one my office has advised on before. I am looking carefully at the information that has come to light over the past few days and considering what further steps may be necessary to address the concerns raised with me.”

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses,” and said using personal Gmail was “related to things like diary acceptances”.

Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings suggested the prime minister and Hancock routinely used WhatsApp messages instead of official communications channels. He said there were “WhatsApps between PM, [Hancock] and Tory donors which No 10 officials know exist cos they’re copied in to some … So dozens of No 10 officials know No 10 press office openly lying again.”

The Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez defended the use of private email addresses with regards to contracts, telling the Commons “a huge volume of correspondence was coming to ministers via their personal email addresses …”

Angela Rayner, the shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, called for an investigation into government use of private email. “Who is telling the truth, the Cabinet Office minister and the Department of Health and Social Care civil servants, or the prime minister’s official spokesperson?” she said.

“We need a fully independent public inquiry to get to the bottom of ministers using their private email accounts to discuss and agree government contracts, which have resulted in taxpayers’ money being handed out to Tory donors and their friends.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All ministers are aware of the rules around personal email usage and government business is conducted in line with those rules.”

No-show Tory health minister faces call to resign over private emails

Matt Hancock has gone but more allegations of sleaze are swirling around the Ministry he led. – Owl

Tory health minister Lord Bethell faces calls to quit amid allegations he used his personal email account to discuss PPE contracts.

Rachel Wearmouth

Labour’s Jon Ashworth told new Health Secretary Sajid Javid his minister should be “relieved of his responsibilities” following revelations some business may have been conducted in secret.

Minutes of an official Department for Health meeting, obtained by the Good Law Project, claim that he “routinely uses his personal inbox and the majority of [approvals for contracts] would have been initiated from this inbox”.

The news follows an explosive few days for the government, after Matt Hancock’s resignation in the wake of news he broke social distancing rules by kissing aide Gina Coladangelo.

It has also emerged that Mr Hancock appointed Ms Coladangelo personally and that he and Lord Bethell used private emails for government business – something Downing Street disputes.

Separately, Lord Bethell has been referred to the standards watchdog over claims he sponsored a parliamentary security pass for Ms Coladangelo, despite reports that she never worked for him, which is against the rules.

He dodged appearing at the despatch box in the Lords on Monday as the scandal rumbled on, sending Government whip Baroness Penn in his place, prompting allegations he was “in hiding”.

Mr Ashworth said to the Health Secretary in the Commons later: “Does he have confidence in this minister?

Promoted Stories

“Isn’t it time this health minister was relieved of his responsibilities as well?”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also pressed Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez over the issue.

She asked: “Can the minister now say from this despatch box categorically and on the record that no minister or prime minister has used or does use private email for Government business, especially when it involves spending public money?”

She said: “This morning a Government spokesperson claimed that all ministers only conduct Government business through their departmental email addresses, yet I have right here the minutes of a departmental meeting in which senior civil servants report Government contracts being approved from the minister’s private email address. Who is telling the truth?”

Ms Rayner also called for the government to refer the matter to the information watchdog.

Ms Lopez said “official devices, email accounts and communications applications” should be used for government business.

She added: “At the time at which we’re in the height of the pandemic, a huge volume of correspondence was coming to ministers via their personal email addresses, to their parliamentary email addresses, to their ministerial email addresses – I am not suggesting that there is something that we should not be looking into – my point is there were 15,000 offers of help in securing PPE that came in following the Prime Minister’s call for assistance.

“The important thing to note is that when PPE offers did come in, they went through the same eight-stage process, so no matter which way those things were communicated, they went through the same process and that should provide assurance.”

The final straw: how appeal from 80 Tory MPs sealed Matt Hancock’s fate

According to the Telegraph, 80 Tory MPs complained about Matt Hancock to the whips’ office. 

Owl wonders whether Neil Parish and Simon Jupp were amongst them. It’s all a question of being on the right side of history. Though in this case Owl thinks the choice was pretty obvious.

By Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent (Extract)

Matt Hancock resigned after being told that 80 Tory MPs had complained to the whips’ office that he had not quit over breaching lockdown rules with his mistress in his office.

Mr Hancock finally stood down on Saturday night, admitting that the news he had breached social distancing rules by kissing an aide in his Whitehall office had begun to “distract attention” from the Government’s response to Covid-19.

Separately, Mr Hancock is unlikely to accept the three-month pay-off  worth around £16,000 for resigning as a minister. Critics were already comparing it to the one per cent pay offer to nurses……

Are holidays causing regional surges?

Since the early days of the pandemic Owl has always regarded Tim Spector’s Covid study as providing the first indications of what is happening.  It is now ringing the alarm bells.

His latest symptom tracker results (28 June) suggest that East Devon has suddenly become a hotspot in the South West, along with Exeter, with a number of active cases estimated at 527 per 100,000. A week ago things were very different with case rates low in East Devon. Just a blip or is it a trend?

Are holidays causing regional surges? 24 June

According to ZOE COVID Study figures, it is estimated that among unvaccinated people in the UK there are currently 15,099 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID on average, based on PCR test data from up to five days ago [*]. An increase of 18% from 12,830 last week. Comparatively there are currently 4,023 new daily symptomatic cases in partly or fully vaccinated people, an increase of 37% from 2,930 new cases last week (Graph 1 below). The data continues to show that the positivity rate is much higher in those with just a first dose, compared to those who are double vaccinated (Graph 2 below). 

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on around one million weekly reporters and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 6,435 recent swab tests done between 6 June to 19 June 2021. The data excludes lateral flow tests.   

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 264 people in the UK are currently estimated to have symptomatic COVID [1] (Table 1 below). 

The UK R value is 1.1 and regional R values are; England, 1.1, Wales, 1.1, Scotland, 1.1 (Table 1 below). These are the lowest R values that have been seen since the third wave started in the UK. One of the highest R values is in the South West of England which appears to be driven by an increase in cases in Cornwall (map below).

According to the prevalence data by age, the number of cases in the 20-29 age group continues to rise, however cases in the age groups over 30 have begun to level off. (Graph 5 below). 

According to our data, a small proportion of those who have been vaccinated still get infected. ZOE collected reports last week from 487 contributors who had an infection after two doses of the vaccine, and 284 who reported an infection after one dose. The following approximate risk factors for infection based on one, two or zero doses of the vaccination, have been recorded using the latest ZOE data:

Current risk of new daily COVID infection:

  • In the unvaccinated: 1 in 1,664
  • after 1 vaccine dose: 1 in 4,374
  • after 2 vaccine doses : 1 in 13,506

This data shows that when people have received both vaccinations they have much greater protection against COVID-19.

The ZOE COVID Study Local Authorities’ Watch list for Active Cases of COVID-19‍

The following are UTLA regions with the highest estimates of prevalence rates averaged over the past week. Please note, that the local authorities’ watchlist is intended to be an early indication system of areas where cases might be rising, but these prevalence estimates might be volatile due to the limited amount of responders and positive cases in some areas.

Tim Spector OBE, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, comments on the latest data:

“ZOE COVID Study data this week shows rates in former hotspots, such as Scotland and the North West of England, continuing to plateau. At the same time, top UK holiday destinations like Cornwall are emerging as new areas with rapidly increasing cases. I think this is down to a number of factors, including the sudden influx of holidaymakers over half term, as well as the recent G7 summit and a previously unexposed local population. We need to remain vigilant of these UK holiday destinations as summer holidays approach, and ensure that we minimise outbreaks by following government guidelines.

Since early on in the pandemic, the data from the ZOE COVID Study has shown that there are over 20 different symptoms of COVID-19, not just the classic three: fever, cough and anosmia. The COVID-19 situation in the UK is different to last summer due to new variants and the vaccine roll out. We’ve found that the symptoms in younger people and post-vaccination are both different. People urgently need to know there are more than just the three classic symptoms. The top symptoms being currently logged in the Zoe app are; headache, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue and sore throat, which for many will feel more like a common cold. The earlier people can catch the infection, the quicker they can self-isolate until symptoms abate and stop the spread. We encourage anyone feeling under the weather to take a test as soon as they can and stay at home.” 

Professor Tim Spector gives more detail in his weekly video update on YouTube here

The app is delivered in collaboration with King’s Health Partners, an Academic Health Sciences Centre based in South East London.

Graph 1. Daily new cases of COVID in UK by vaccination status

Graph 2. Positivity rate in vaccinated (1st and 2nd dose) and unvaccinated

Table 1. Incidence (daily new symptomatic cases)[*], R values and prevalence regional breakdown table 

Please refer to the publication by Varsavsky at al. (2020) for details on how R values are calculated 

Graph 3. The ZOE COVID Study UK Infection Survey results over time 

The ZOE COVID Study map of UK prevalence figures

Graph 4. The ZOE COVID Study daily active cases by region in the last month

Graph 5. Daily prevalence rates by age group

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 14 June

Demolishing 50,000 buildings a year is a national disgrace

Demolition is construction’s dirty secret. If the government is serious about wanting to Build Back Better, it must recognise that the greenest building is one that already exists.

Will Hurst

This summer the government will strike a blow against our throwaway culture by giving consumers a right of repair on electrical goods. Under new rules, manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts available, slashing “e-waste” and carbon emissions in the run-up to November’s Cop26 climate conference. The plans will put “more money back in the pockets of consumers while protecting the environment”, according to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. In promoting intensive and long-term use of resources, the move is a commendable example of circular economy thinking.

Yet ministers have barely scratched the surface when it comes to harnessing this approach to help meet Boris Johnson’s world-leading pledge to slash carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. While the country generates 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste each year, the figure for construction is 126 million tonnes, almost two thirds of all waste produced in the UK.

Buildings, much like electronic gadgets, are quickly viewed as obsolete with 50,000 demolished annually. Many could be revitalised and enlarged where necessary. Instead, they are erased and replaced with shiny new structures built of fossil-fuel-hungry steel and cement. No wonder the construction sector accounts for about 10 per cent of the country’s carbon emissions, a percentage only likely to grow.

As we emerge from the pandemic, you might have thought that all the talk of a green recovery would have slowed the wrecking ball, yet the opposite seems true. Save Britain’s Heritage, a charity established almost half a century ago, says it has never been busier fighting for historic buildings under threat. Great chunks of towns and cities such as Worcester, London, Coventry and Grimsby are earmarked for demolition or already condemned to it. What’s perverse is that this wasteful system is encouraged by the planning rules and a VAT system that charges 20 per cent on most refurbishment work and a rate of zero on much new-build construction, including housing.

What if ministers promoted a new approach based on reusing existing buildings wherever possible? That is what’s proposed by the Architects’ Journal’s RetroFirst campaign, which has widespread industry support and is the subject of a new short film voiced by the architect and broadcaster George Clarke.

Demolition is construction’s dirty secret. If the government is serious about wanting to Build Back Better, it must recognise that the greenest building is one that already exists.

Will Hurst is managing editor at the Architects’ Journal

UK Covid live news: minister brushes aside claims PM does not care about standards by stressing he’s popular


They just don’t get it do they? Owl

Andrew Sparrow 09.25


Minister brushes aside claims PM does not care about standards by stressing he’s popular

Good morning. If Boris Johnson was hoping that Matt Hancock’s Saturday night resignation as health secretary was going to draw the line under the many questions about this matter – not least why Johnson did not sack Hancock as soon as it became clear he was ignoring his own lockdown rules – then this morning there will be a need for an urgent rethink. This became obvious about 30 seconds into Nick Robinson’s superb interview with Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, on the Today programme. Robinson started by asking why Hancock was not on Friday. Buckland responded by claiming to be “amazed” that Robinson was asking about this, and not probation service reform, given that Hancock has now gone, but Robinson just laughed this objection.

From there, for Buckland, it just got even worse.

The most telling moment probably came near the end. Buckland refused to accept the claim that Johnson does not care about ethical standards in government. But then, in what sounded a more candid defence, he suggested it was only Johnson’s critics who were raising these points, and that it did not matter much because Johnson was popular. Inadvertently, he seemed to be confirming Robinson’s point.

Here is the exchange.

NR: There is a sense that this government, in particular this prime minister, believes that the rules are for little people, standards are to be sneered at and ignored, provided the prime minister is ahead in the opinion polls. Is that the view of this government?

RB: I think it’s entirely the opposite of the truth. This government is all of the people’s priorities.

NR: I’m asking you about standards, not the people’s priorities, Mr Buckland, you well know. You see, there is an argument, and many people would have is, it doesn’t matter if the public don’t care about standards. Standards are standards. You’re a lawyer, you’re a justice secretary, I suspect you believe, to the very core of your being, that you should uphold the law and uphold the rules. I’m putting to you that that is not the spirit in Boris Johnson governs this country.

RB: I entirely disagree, I wouldn’t be in government, if I felt that the prime minister didn’t agree with me on those fundamental principles. He does.

And I think that, frankly, all the rest is just talk, and usually talk by people who have an agenda that clearly is against that of the prime minister.

I think the truth is a lot of people just don’t like the PM, and they veil their dislike in this sort of language. I think they can’t get over the fact that he is popular in the country and liked in the country, and has won a resounding election victory.

Burnthouse Lane baffled by Exeter boundary shake-up

If there’s one community in particular in Exeter where its residents love and are proud of where they live its ‘The Laners’ in Burnthouse Lane.

Remember the consultation on boundary changes is still open – Owl

Anita Merritt

There are even those who refuse to identity themselves as being part of Wonford because living in the Lane is deemed to be an area in its own right.

To have recently been told that boundary changes could mean the street would no longer be part of Exeter but East Devon instead has not gone down well among those who have heard the news.

The common feeling though seems to be that regardless of whether Burnthouse Lane – along with parts of Countess Wear, and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital – are moved ‘out of Exeter’ under proposals for a shake-up of England’s electoral map in 2023, it won’t make any difference.

That’s because the residents say they will always be part of Exeter no matter what anyone else says, and they don’t expect it to have much impact on their lives.

If the parliamentary boundary is changed it will not affect local government boundaries or services such as bin collections so the areas will still come under the remit of Exeter City Council.

As part of the proposals, Devon will gain an extra MP and arts of what is the existing Exeter constituency will be moved into a new Exmouth seat – which primarily covers the existing East Devon seat, with areas around Sidmouth and Ottery St Mary moving into a new Honiton seat covering the east of the county.

The proposals from the Boundary Commission for England says the aim is to make Parliament fairer by giving each MP a roughly similar number of voters, which involves redrawing and renaming some seats.

A final decision will be made on July 1, 2023, following a series of consultations.

Burnthouse Lane resident Terry Mills said: “It won’t change anything as this is Burnthouse Lane. We feel part of Exeter.

“I had not heard of the boundary changes before. I would rather be in Exeter and I don’t want an MP who I am not used to, and they would not know our issues.”

Mum-of-five Debbie Coles said: “I don’t agree with it because I’m in Exeter, not East Devon. I have lived in Exeter all my life and have lived off The Lane for five years.

“I don’t quite get it.”

David James, who works behind the bar at The Dolphin pub in Burnthouse Lane, said: “I never realised they were going to change the boundaries. I live in The Lane and it would not bother me at all because it does not really change anything; I’ll still be living in The Lane.”

Harry Crompton, who now lives in St Thomas but used to live in The Lane, said: “I find it some what disappointing in that the government is manipulating votes to get into more streets. It’s unfair for the people who have voted.

“It’s basically about adjusting the boundaries so they can inherit more seats in the House of Commons.

“It will reduce the chances of a Labour seat at the next elections.

“I think a lot of people are not going to be fussed as a lot of people don’t vote anymore, and they will just carry on with their lives.”

Samantha Welch said: “I didn’t know anything about it either. I don’t think it will change anything to be honest. I live in Burnthouse Lane and the changes don’t bother me because it’s always going to be Exeter to me.”

John Mills, 72, lives in neighbouring Hazel Road, said: “I’m not really worried about it at all. It is what it is. I was born and bred in Exeter, and I like living here. I will still say I’m in Exeter, not East Devon, if it does change. I’m Exeter and nothing else.”

Angela Sowden, who also lives in The Lane, said: “I have always liked Ben Bradshaw; I have always got on with him and he has helped my family. He’s a very good MP.

“I would be disappointed if the boundaries are changed because we’ve always known this part as the west of Exeter. I prefer things as they are thanks.”

Her daughter Rebecca added: “I don’t see what the point is personally. We’ve always been known as part of Exeter so what difference will it make?

“People have always voted for Ben here so there will probably be a bit of an uproar. I can’t see an MP for East Devon travelling all the way over here to ask our opinion or that they will feel like one of us.”

Pensioners Sylvia and Tom Crawford are also not keen on the proposals.

Sylvia, who has lived in the same house in The Lane since she was a toddler, said: “It’s horrible,” and joked, “but does it mean we’re going into the posh part?

“Everybody is mucking about with everything.”

Tom added: “It sounds a bit ridiculous to me after all these years. In all honesty I don’t think it will make a difference to me.”

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said: “I would strongly encourage anyone with concerns to make representations to the Boundary Commission’s consultation. It is quick and easy to do and it is common for the commission to change its initial proposals if enough people object.

“The people of the Burnthouse Lane estate have every right to feel they are an integral and historic part of Exeter.

“When making representations it is important to stress local community and historic ties and helpful to suggest an alternative solution, given the Exeter parliamentary seat must lose at least one local council ward under the maximum size rules.

“Any change in the parliamentary boundary will not affect local government boundaries or services. Everyone in Wonford and the rest of Exeter will continue to be covered by Exeter City Council and its services.”

A spokesman for the Boundary Commission said: “We encourage everyone to use this opportunity to help us shape the new constituencies – the more responses we receive, the more informed our decisions will be when considering whether to revise our proposals.

“Our consultation portal at has more information about our proposals and how to give us your views on them.”

Six arrested after Extinction Rebellion dumps manure outside Daily Mail offices in ‘Free the Press’ protest

Six people were arrested after Extinction Rebellion (XR) dumped a pile of manure outside the offices of the Daily Mail as part of a planned ‘Free the Press’ protest.

Climate activists dropped 7 tonnes of the fertiliser outside the entrance of Northcliffe House, in Kensington, west London, at 6.40am on Sunday and also targeted the offices of the Daily Telegraph at Victoria.

The environmental group said in a statement it wants to send a message to “the 4 billionaire owners of 68 per cent of the UK’s print media” and is demanding “an end to media corruption that suppresses the truth from the public for profit.” Protesters left signs behind saying “cut the crap” and “free the press”.

Police said five people were arrested in Kensington for an offence under section 148 of the Highways Act 1980, which is punishable with a fine. Four of the five were also arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

A 54-year-old man was also stopped by police as he attempted to empty manure from a truck onto the pavement near the Telegraph’s offices in Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria. “Had he succeeded, it would have caused disruption to employees and members of the public,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement. He was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving.

XR later posted a video of a small number of activists spraying paint on the News Corp building at London Bridge before they too were detained by police.

The protest was one of several different demonstrations to sweep the capital over the weekend.

On Saturday anti-lockdown protesters threw tennis balls at Parliament and Downing Street and also let off flares.

Protesters, many not wearing masks, carried placards bearing anti-vaccine and anti-restrictions messages, while others waved flags.

Meanwhile, in a separate action, the People’s Assembly, an anti-austerity group, held a demonstration against the government, which included criticism of a range of issues including the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Images and videos shared on social media by Extinction Rebellion showed people marching through London and speeches in Parliament Square, including from former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Other protesters sharing images on social media appeared to be marching for causes including the rights of Palestinians and trans people.

Three people were arrested during the protests for breach of the peace, assault on police and an individual who was already wanted for a previous assault.

On Sunday the Save Our Scene group held a “Freedom To Dance” march from Regent Street to Parliament Square in protest at the government’s treatment of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a post on Instagram, the group said: “We are demanding that the government lift all restrictions on the music & hospitality sector without any further delay.”

At the end of Sunday’s demonstrations, the Met Police confirmed that a total of 23 people had been arrested “as a result of the proactive operation”.

The damning emails that prove Matt Hancock misled the public about his friend’s Covid contract

  • Emails show Matt Hancock sent friend’s plea for business to senior civil servant 
  • Within weeks friend Alex Bourne had secured a £30m deal to supply test tubes
  • Ex Health Secretary as repeatedly insisted he had ‘nothing to do’ with the deal (Extract)

Matt Hancock is facing fresh scrutiny after The Mail on Sunday obtained bombshell emails contradicting his insistence that he did not help a friend win a lucrative coronavirus contract.

The messages, obtained after a Freedom of Information battle, reveal the ex-Health Secretary personally referred a plea for business by former pub landlord Alex Bourne to a senior civil servant in the Department of Health.

Matt Hancock is facing fresh scrutiny after The Mail on Sunday obtained bombshell emails contradicting his insistence that he did not help his friend Alex Bourne win a lucrative coronavirus contract

When Mr Hancock was asked about the contract in December, he insisted: ‘I had nothing to do with this contract. I don’t have anything to do with the signing of individual contracts.’

Last night, Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, accused Mr Hancock of misleading the public over the issue. 

‘The charge sheet against Matt Hancock grows by the hour,’ he said. 

‘These damning emails reveal the beleaguered Health Secretary misled the public over his help for his pub landlord friend winning lucrative public contracts.’

His officials fought tooth and nail to stop us getting bombshell messages

The Department of Health and Social Care battled for months to keep email exchanges between Matt Hancock and his friend a secret – and only caved in when threatened with court action.

The Mail on Sunday submitted a request for information on February 23, asking for copies of emails and WhatsApp messages exchanged by the two men between March and December 2020, as well as the transcripts of any relevant telephone conversations. The DHSC failed to reply to that or a subsequent request for an internal review.

The MoS then complained to Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who – after reminding officials of their responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act – issued a Decision Notice on June 15 in which she stated that a failure to respond was a breach of the law.

She warned that a failure to respond within 35 calendar days could lead to High Court action for contempt of court. Three days later, the DHSC capitulated.

Read details

Chris Whitty sent in to save Britain’s sick seaside towns

We have been here before, for example the deprivation of Seaside Towns was examined by Clive Betts MP’s committee in a benchmarking study 2006/7:

On Deprivation

  •  26 of the 37 principal seaside towns in England have an overall level of deprivation greater than the English average. 
  • On most individual domains within the Indices of Deprivation, with the notable exception of crime, a majority of seaside towns have above-average deprivation. 

The report concludes that, taking account of a range of evidence, on average England’s principal seaside towns are rather more disadvantaged than the rest of the country, but not markedly so. 

However, there is considerable variation between seaside towns, with some towns faring markedly better than others and in quite a number of cases better than England as a whole.

The ‘economic’ data suggests that Bognor Regis, Exmouth, Greater Bournemouth, Greater Brighton, Greater Worthing, Sidmouth, Southport, Swanage, Whitley Bay and Whitstable/Herne Bay have the stronger local economies among seaside towns.

The same data suggests that Bridlington, Clacton, Great Yarmouth, Ilfracombe, Lowestoft, Morecambe/Heysham, Penzance, Skegness, Thanet, Torbay and Whitby have the weaker local economies among seaside towns. 

Among the larger seaside towns/areas, with more than 100,000 people, the economic data also points to a ranking of disadvantage from Thanet (the most disadvantaged) through Torbay, Hastings, Greater Blackpool, Isle of Wight, Southend, Greater Brighton and Greater Bournemouth to Greater Worthing (the least disadvantaged).

Chris Whitty sent in to save Britain’s sick seaside towns

Ben Spencer, Science Editor

Professor Chris Whitty has turned his attention from the coronavirus to deprived coastal towns.

The chief medical officer is compiling a report, due later this summer, to highlight the “unique health challenges” faced by those living on the coast. It keeps a promise he made just before the pandemic.

Experts have long warned that seaside communities around Britain have been left behind. Employment levels, academic achievement, economic growth and health are all worse in coastal areas.

According to a Social Market Foundation report published in 2019, life expectancy is six months shorter for men and five months shorter for women living on the coast.

Employees in seaside communities earned about £5,000 less than those further inland.

That picture has been only made worse by the pandemic as the tourism industry was shut down for long periods.

Whitty is to oversee the new Office for Health Promotion, which will take over much of the work of the disbanded Public Health England. He has developed a special interest in the plight of people in rural and coastal areas, which has been long neglected in public health.

When Whitty was appointed chief medical officer in October 2019, he set out tackling health inequalities as a priority for his tenure. Last autumn he started a programme of visits to coastal towns and ports, such as Hull and Morecambe, to gather information for his report.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference in December, Whitty said more and more older people were living in rural and coastal areas with poor healthcare provision, but the problem could be solved.

“It is possible to raise the health outcomes of the least healthy closer to the outcomes of the healthiest — we should be aiming for that,” he added.

The Department of Health said: “Addressing health inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and levelling up the health of communities across the UK is a priority for this government.

“The chief medical officer’s report will consider the inequalities experienced in coastal towns and recommend actions to improve outcomes for people in these areas.”

Now we’ve finished giggling, can I just ask: does no one care about decency any more?

Camilla Long (Extract)

Why is personal character now so irrelevant, when it used to be what really mattered? Read the ministerial code and nearly all of it is a joke: of the seven principles of public life, Hancock has breached every one in this incident alone. No “high standards of behaviour” for him; no being “professional” with colleagues; no being transparent about the people who are working for you when you’re shipping in your old Oxford mates for shags in the office. No effort to make sure “no conflict arises” — just what was he doing even hiring the PR and marketing director of Oliver Bonas, a crime far greater in my view than the open-mouth kissing? In what way does hawking tatty candle baskets to Sloanes at railway stations qualify you for advising on Test and Trace? And at what point did she actually become his mistress: before or after he gave her the job?

Dorset National Park Team – Summer newsletter

Features articles on

  • The Dorset & East Devon National Park Proposal being considered by Natural England later his year
  • The Background and Opportunities for the Nation and for Dorset & East Devon
  • Some Questions Answered
  • How the National Park family promotes a collective vision.
  • News from the South Downs National Park
  • Passing on our Heritage to Future Generations.

Read the newsletter here.

Owl has already drawn attention to:

This interesting detail in the newsletter: National Parks are not subject to central housing targets. Neither would the whole of the Dorset Council and East Devon Council areas be subject to such targets since planning law enables the partner local planning authority and the National Park to develop a local approach to determining the housing need for their areas. So did the EDDC “Old Guard” regime, fearing they would lose control, never bother to read the small print?

Owl also noted: the immediate priorities Natural England has established to meet the Government’s aim that 30% of the country should be protected and improved for nature by 2030. Is EDDC working in step with this?

The sooner we learn whether the Glover proposal for a combined Dorset and East Devon National Park is going to get the approval of Natural England the better.